PART ONE – Boy Meets Girl
Fraser was usually considerate of his assistant’s feelings but in this case he was adamant that Turnbull would not have his way. In this he was supported by their commanding officer, who came down in favour of Fraser’s plan and vetoed what Turnbull wanted, even though it was Turnbull’s own party. Turnbull was NOT going to be allowed to cook his own going-away dinner, nor to bake his own cake. The three of them were going to a restaurant and having a cake delivered there by a bakery – and that was that!
So, in the chic Chez Quel-qu’un heads turned to look in admiration at three figures all in red serge: a lovely brunette flanked by two striking men - one long and lean and the other a little shorter, a little wider, but indescribably cute.
At their table a bucket of champagne was waiting. Fraser’s eyes went wide not only at the label on the champagne but at the general extravagance of the surroundings.
“Don’t worry, Fraser, this party is on me,” Thatcher whispered to him as they all sat down.
Over the first glass of champagne, the Inspector proposed a toast. “To our own member of the RCMP Musical Ride. May he never get saddle sores,” she said, mischievously, to the surprise and discomfort of both men.
They all drank - Fraser taking a small sip for form’s sake. “I imagine he’ll be instructed in how to prevent them, but in case he does suffer from saddle sores it is best to cover the affected area with a mixture of . . .”
Thatcher cut him off. “I’m sure he’ll get all the treatment he needs. Turnbull, it’s only going to be six months, but we’re going to miss you, aren’t we Fraser?”
Fraser agreed, thinking that as annoying as Turnbull was, he was certainly no less annoying than himself. He was kind and obliging, and his cooking, decorating and cleaning skills made life at the Consulate almost luxurious. “I don’t imagine the replacement is going to be able to hold a candle to you in the culinary department. It’s going to be a lean six months for all of us.”
As they all ate, Inspector Thatcher told about the email she had received that very morning identifying the temporary replacement. “He’s coming down from Montreal the week after you leave, so I’m afraid Fraser will have to train him in your duties. Sergeant Ely Trudeau.”
“I wonder if he is any relation,” Fraser remarked, as casually as he could, not showing how troubled he was by the name. A sergeant. An officer higher in rank than himself certainly wasn’t going to be his assistant. Fraser didn’t like to think too much about status. An officer in the RCMP could honourably finish his career as a constable – promotion was by no means easy to come by. And since he was unpopular with the brass, he had no real expectation of ever reaching even his father’s rank.
Deputy liaison officer wasn’t a particularly prestigious post, but Fraser had held it for nearly four years and, to his own surprise, it bothered him that he would have to drop down on the totem pole. City living has corrupted me, he thought. I never worried about such things before.
Looking at Turnbull to see his reaction to Thatcher’s news, Fraser caught Turnbull smiling slightly and exchanging a look with the Inspector. This confused the issue for Fraser, since he knew Turnbull liked and respected him. Heck, when Ray had asked “What are you, a king or something?” Fraser hadn’t been joking when he said, “To Turnbull, yes.”
“Sir,” Fraser ventured, “Did you say SERGEANT Trudeau?”
“That’s right,” She choked on her wine as she said it. Turnbull gurgled.
Fraser decided to brave it out. “Well, then I suppose he won’t be expected to serve as an assistant to a constable.”
“No, I don’t suppose so,” she pronounced with a finality that signaled the end of the conversation. “Look, our cake is coming.”
A waiter approached the table bearing a cake decorated with little candy horses and the words “Good Luck Turnbull” in blue icing.
“This looks so good, I think we should have another,” said the Inspector. With this, she nodded to the waiter, who waved to another waiter, who in his turn brought another cake.
Fraser’s eyes teared when he saw what was written on this second cake. “Congratulations Sgt. Fraser”.
It took Detective Huey to make Ray understand why Fraser kept putting off the celebration dinner Ray wanted to arrange for him. It felt strange for Ray to ask anybody else's advice in handling his own partner, but Jack had been around when Fraser was with the old Vecchio. Ray had all the briefing files about Vecchio at his disposal but Jack had been there and seen what was important to Fraser and Vecchio and what wasn't.
“Jack, I don't get this.” Ray had complained over coffee in the canteen. “Fraser never turns down a free feed. But every time I try to pin him down, he wiggles away. I even talked the owner of Ierfino's into letting the wolf in; he still won't commit. Do you know what gives?”
“Yeah, I know what gives. And so should you if you'd done your homework when you took this assignment. Go back and check out what went down the night Ray took a bunch of us out to celebrate his promotion.” Huey's look was so grim that Ray didn't have to be a detective to know he'd better drop this line of inquiry – and fast.
That night at home Ray sat down with a pineapple pizza, a bottle of beer and the relevant file. He read about a bomb meant for Vecchio that killed Guardino, a Mountie ostracized,
Irene Zuko shot. When he was done reading the pizza and beer were still untouched and remained there getting cold and getting warm, respectively.
So much for the celebration dinner. That's out, Ray decided, feeling guilty about having caused his friend to have to think back on that horrible time. But Ray still couldn't let the Mountie’s promotion go unrecognized. Maybe he could buy him a present. Yeah. Fine in theory, but that would necessitate shopping. One of Fraser or Francesca always accompanied him on such a mission but on this occasion Fraser was out and Frannie was on vacation in the Caribbean.
Ray knew Fraser's likes and dislikes as well as anybody by now, but the thought of going unescorted into a store froze him with fear. Thinking over the list of possible alternate companions, he decided to approach that new sergeant that was taking over for Turnbull. That had been funny, how they all had thought it was a man, Ely, but it had turned out to be a typo. Sgt. Trudeau turned out to be going by the first name of Ellie, and her gender turned out to be female.
Ray knew she didn't know Fraser all that well yet, but she was a Mountie and, more to the point, a woman. So they might go shopping together – Ray providing knowledge of the Mountie and that Trudeau woman providing defense against Ray's shopping demons. Ray decided to call her at the office tomorrow.
"So 'Ellie', that’s short for something?" said Ray as he pulled away from the consulate with Ellie in Fraser's usual shotgun seat. The plan Ray had talked her into was that she would accompany him to a mall after work, shop with him and then he’d buy her something to eat in appreciation. He hoped she wouldn’t misunderstand and think it was a date. Her appearance in jeans, a loose sweater and no make-up alleviated his fears in that department.
“I guess we may as well be on a first name basis. I’m Ray.”
When they got to a red light, Ray turned to peer more closely at her. A pleasant-looking woman, easy on the eyes without being spectacularly gorgeous. Thick jet-black hair, white skin and deep blue eyes. Something was familiar about her. So familiar that Ray gave in to the use of the cliché “Don’t I know you from somewhere?”
Once saying it he immediately felt stupid. It sounded like such a come-on, there was no way she couldn’t be insulted.
Instead, for the first time since getting into the GTO, she smiled. The smile was cautious – warm and genuine, but not too wide. “It’s possible. I lived in Chicago for a few years when I was young. Went to high school here. That's why I put in for the assignment to take over for Turnbull. Thought it would nice to see the old stomping grounds, you know.” Now she, in her turn, seemed to be examining Ray’s face carefully.
“I knew a guy that looks a lot like you in high school. But, you're Italian. I guess you couldn't be related to a guy named Stanley Kowalski?"
It was fortunate they were still stopped at a red light, otherwise Ray would probably have lost control of the car at that question.
“And if I was? Related to Kowalski, I mean.”
The light turned green, but just before Ray re-directed his attention to the road he saw her blush. “Nothing. Only, I had sort of a crush on Stanley. I never told anybody. God! That was so long ago.”
They cruised the mall parking lot looking for a free space.
“It sure is crowded here for a Wednesday night. Crush on Stanley,” Ellie remarked, looking out the window.
Ray started, then realized the last three words were only sounding in his own head, echoing her previous confession.
“There’s a spot! Over there! Crush on Stanley!”
Ray actually shook his head to try to get his brain to shake out the extraneous material and register only her actual words. She caught the motion.
“There’s something wrong with that spot? Crush on Stanley?”
It was going to be hard to concentrate on shopping for Fraser, Ray figured.
They had ambled about halfway down one of the mall corridors when Ellie stopped and looked up at some directory signs.
“Would you mind waiting a few minutes? I want to go take a leak,” she said with another one of her cautious not-quite-smiles.
“Do Canadians really say that? Fraser never says that.”
“Say it?” she tossed off, “I don’t think he even DOES it. My guess is the only thing tighter than that dude’s ass is his . . .”
“I’ll wait for you here,” Ray interrupted.
She shrugged, then took off in the direction of a ladies’ room. Ray took off back to high school, although his physical body only dropped into an empty spot on a bench.
Crush on Stanley. Impossible words. They triggered a jumble of memories, not of events but of emotions. Ray sat there reliving his devotion to Stella, man and boy, throughout the years. He never had believed he could love anyone else, but it had taken the distance of these divorced years for him to realize something else. He had never believed anyone else could love him either.
Sitting on the bench, Ray began to question something he had accepted for most his life. He had always known, or thought he had known, of no quality in himself could make him worthy of the divinity that was Stella. Love was her boon to grant him, unworthy creature that he was. It was his unbelievable good fortune to be loved by her, and certainly no other girl, or later, woman, could be expected to make such a sacrifice.
But now it seemed that was somebody out there, who had wanted him and he hadn’t even known.
A thought struck him. Perhaps it was brand new or perhaps it had been bubbling in his mind since the divorce and was only now breaking the surface. Mixed with his love for Stella was always a large measure of gratitude and that had always felt normal. But this Ellie – he could have dated her, maybe fallen in love with her, without owing her anything at all. How many other girls might there have been that he could have simply got to know, if only he had believed any could be interested?
Years later, Ray would recall that his life had been changed in a few minutes while Ellie went to the bathroom.
They carried on walking down the mall.
“You know, Detective, I’m really not sure why I’m here. I hardly know Sgt. Fraser.”
“You don’t have to know him. I know him. You’re here ‘cause I’m no good at shopping. I need a woman to help.”
Ray became aware, as we was walking along, that Ellie was no longer walking beside him. He turned to see her standing several paces behind, having stopped dead in her tracks.
“So, we’re into stereotypes, I see. You son-of-a-bitch. You think because I’m a woman I’m good at shopping? Newsflash. I hate shopping. I absolutely and totally suck at shopping.”
“So why did you agree to come?”
“You sounded so pathetic on the phone. How could I say no?”
Ray was totally unaware that at that moment he was wearing a pleading, little-lost-boy look that Ellie found as irresistible as his voice on the phone had been.
“Okay, I’m sorry. I’m a male chauvinistic pig. But, um, we’re already here so couldn’t’ we give this a shot?”
Ellie paused. Against her better judgment she said, “Buy me a cappuccino first, and we can sit down and plan our attack.”
“Yeah, but if I pay that makes me more of a male chauvinist pig.”
Ellie’s smile crept back, a little wider than the last one. “That’s okay, I’m a hypocrite. I like guys to buy the coffee. So sue me.”
There was a Second Cup outlet a little further down the mall. Ellie claimed them a tiny table and a couple of chairs while Ray fetched the coffees. “Get lots of sugar,” Ellie called out to him. Presently Ray joined her with a cappuccino in each hand and pluncked them down.
“And the sugar?”
He fished a fistful of sugar packets from his pocket and tossed them onto the table. “I like sweet stuff,” he confided.
“Me too,” she said, taking a sugar packet from the table. She took hold of the end of it between her fingertips and started shaking it to settle the sugar into the other end before tearing the paper open. She held it just a little too loosely, causing the packet to go sailing out into the mall. Both the detective and Mountie started laughing.
She’s got a nice laugh, Ray thought.
They were walking again. At the window of any store that had anything that could possibly interest any man, Ellie stopped him and ran through lists of possibilities for gifts. Ray shook his head at every suggestion. Finally, in desperation, Ellie exclaimed, “Work with me here! What kind of presents does he give other people? Maybe that’ll be a clue.”
“He makes his own presents,” Ray told her, thinking back on all the wooden carvings Fraser had distributed over the years Ray had known him. “He whittles stuff.”
“Good. That’s a start. I have an idea. There was an outdoors store a little ways back. Let’s have a look at some knives.”
Inside the shop was a cornucopia of outdoorsy items. Ellie peered into a display case filled with blades that looked at once elegant and lethal.
“I think we’re onto something. Now all we have to do is ask a salesman what kind of knife is best for carving, then you say if he already has one like it or not.”
Ray stood embarrassed. “I wouldn’t know. I don’t know one knife from another.”
“Ah, then Detective, I’ll say two words to you and then we can go home.”
Fraser couldn’t quite put his finger on what it was that felt was just a little bit false in his new colleague. Even so, he was the one that brought to Thatcher’s attention that Sgt. Trudeau was being subjected to some very distressing comments and even touches inflicted by male passers-by while she was standing sentry duty.
This caused Thatcher to re-examine the whole concept of keeping any experienced, well-qualified officer motionless by the door for long periods of time. When she thought about it, she could put either sergeant to much better use and, to the amazement of Fraser and all the Americans that knew her, called a halt to sentry duty completely.
Another important change was that Ellie was able to get through in a couple of hours the various clerical tasks that would have taken Turnbull the better part of day. With this and the lack of guard duty, Thatcher found herself with two very under-used staff members. Over a period of weeks she dug into her file of projects that she previously had no time for and shunted them down to Fraser and Trudeau. Fraser found himself with so many speeches to write and deliver, and so many delegations to meet with and win over, that he found he had less and less time to spend at the 27th.
But his regular Tuesday lunch with Ray was sacred.
Ellie took a room for herself in the Consulate, even as Fraser had done, but showed no inclination to cook or clean. She made do with fast food for the first few weeks, but shortly thereafter started having most of her dinners with Ray – first in restaurants and later at his apartment.
Part Two – Something is Rotten in the State of Illinois
To say that Ray was out of the habit of dating would be to suggest that he had ever been IN that habit. But his evening shopping with Ellie had proven so pleasant that he took the risk of asking her out to dinner.
Normal courtship, slowly spending more and more time with a woman until they both got to know each other, was entirely foreign to him. His pattern was to deify somebody and tremble in her presence thereafter. Somehow he could only function when the object of his affection was a goddess and himself a lowly worshipper.
However that pattern couldn’t be maintained with Ellie. When Ray picked her up at the Consulate for that all-important first dinner-date she appeared at the door in slacks and a T-shirt. She looked over his carefully pressed suit and sniffed his carefully applied cologne.
“Shit. You got dressed up. Come in and park it, I’ll go put on a dress.”
Before the night was over Ray was an atheist, but a very devout one nonetheless.
One Tuesday over burgers Ray shared an amazing discovery with his best friend.
“It’s so easy! Fraser, I never thought it could be this easy! I don’t worship her, I don’t dream about her, I don’t sweat when I see her. We’re just, like, together!”
“I’m happy for you, Ray,” said Fraser, in a cautious tone that didn’t exactly convey happiness.
“I’ve never had a relationship like this! It’s just so freaking normal, it kills me!”
“That’s nice, Ray.”
Ray finally noticed the Mountie’s lack of enthusiasm. “What gives, Fraser?”
“Ray, it’s just . . . have you told her your real name?”
Ray seemed hurt by the question. “I may be in love, but I’m still a cop.”
“A cop undercover. In the throes of . . . well . . . passion, it’s possible you might forget that.”
“And blow my cover.”
“Yes, and blow Ray Vecchio’s cover.”
It had been nearly a year since either Ray or Fraser had spoken of the other Ray.
Ray drifted awake to the feel of tickling against his lips. Light pressure. Soft motion. With a little sigh, he enjoyed the feel of her fingertips as they circled his mouth then traced a loving path all around his face – nose, eyelids, once around the forehead then down one cheek back to his mouth again.
He popped his mouth open and snapped it shut again, trapping the fingers between his lips. “Godya,” he mumbled around her captive fingers, “You-unner-arreth.”
She pulled her hand away and grabbed hold of some unruly blond spikes. “Oh yeah? I got you by the short ones, copper.”
He reached for her. There was something delightfully frantic about making love first thing in the morning and then having to rush to shower and dress so as not to be late for work.
At first Fraser told himself he wasn’t spying on Sgt. Trudeau. The only reason he was checking to see if her bed was slept in was because he was concerned for her safety. The fact that he still felt something was wrong and that his partner was now close to that wrongness had absolutely nothing to do with it. That self-justification only lasted a few days, and then he had to admit to himself and Dief that, yes, he was spying.
But only for Ray’s sake, he explained to the disapproving wolf.
Another Tuesday. Tacos instead of burgers.
“Fraser, remember we were talking a couple weeks ago about telling Ellie my real name.”
“Actually, Ray, we were talking about NOT telling Sgt. Trudeau your real name.”
“Her name’s Ellie.”
“No, actually, it’s Eleanor.”
Ray sighed. “You’re in a contrary mood, aren’t you?”
Fraser appeared to be giving his full attention to taming an unruly taco.
“I can’t believe you’re giving me a hard time over this! I’m happy, for Chrissake! If you were a real friend, you’d be happy for me too.”
Fraser had been increasing the intensity of his snooping. The question was, what would damage Ray less – hearing the truth from his friend or discovering it on his own?
“You were saying about your name?”
“Oh, yeah. I was thinking there’d be maybe one reason I’d have to tell her my name.”
“If I ask her to share it with me.”
Fraser said nothing.
“If I marry a Mountie, does that make us related?” Ray grinned. Fraser remained somber but Ray was accustomed enough to that from the moody Mountie. He munched the rest of his lunch without letting Fraser’s silence worry him.
Fraser entered Ellie’s office to find her frowning at her computer screen.
“Oh, Benton. Good timing, you can help me with this. I can’t get this fucking animation to work right. Margaret wants me to put some more life in my Powerpoint shows.”
Instead of coming behind her to look at the screen, he sat down on the other side of her desk on her visitor’s chair. “I don’t think the Inspector meant for you to put that particular activity into your presentation.”
She looked up, surprised. “Something terrible must have happened to you when you were little.”
“Something terrible did happen to me when I was little, but that’s not important right now, Sergeant.”
“Ellie,” she insisted.
“No, I’d rather not be on familiar terms with you, if you don’t mind. And I’d just as soon you not call me ‘Benton’.”
She straightened in her chair and dropped all semblance of levity. “All right, what should we call each other?”
Fraser leaned forward and stared her straight in the eyes. “How about – you call me Mister Fraser, and I’ll call you Missus Trudeau?”
He waited. She turned away, biting her lip, seeming to focus on the screen, then looked back at him. “How did you find out?”
“Just a little judicious observation.”
“You’re spying on me? That’s . . . that’s . . . despicable!” she sputtered.
“I don’t like to use the ends to justify the means, but Detective Vecchio has been hurt in the past. And now you’re going to hurt him again. I can’t stop that entirely but if there’s anything I can do to minimize it, I will. So, yes, for Ray’s sake I’m willing to let you think I’m despicable. To be honest, it would pretty much make us even.”
“Meaning you think I’m despicable, too. I guess from your point of view you’re justified. But it’s not what you think.”
“It is of no consequence what I think. It’s what Ray thinks that matters, and he thinks you are free to love him.”
“I am. In a way.”
“He thinks you are free to marry him.”
She leaned her elbows on her desk and dropped her head into her hands.
For all his deductive abilities, Fraser couldn’t make out what she might be thinking but that didn’t bother him. So great was his contempt for her at that moment that she hardly seemed human, so her thoughts were irrelevant. He stood up.
“Just so that the situation is clear: Ray is one of my two best friends in the world. If you don’t tell him the truth, I will.”
He left her office.
Snuggling with Ray had a different feel entirely from snuggling with Pierre. Wherever Ellie laid her cheek on Ray she was met with bones: arms, shoulders, rib cage. Even when she slid down and rested against his belly, her face came up against protruding hipbones. Pierre was softer, but his snuggles were becoming less satisfying. Something not quite right in the way his arm felt around her as she lay against his chest. It was not quite impatience, not quite tenseness, but almost those things.
Ray’s snuggles, ah, what a difference! At the slightest touch of her he pulled her closer and pressed her against him. When she tried to shift position, as she often had to do in order to relieve the pressure of those bones against her face, he resisted. And how flattering was that involuntary little flinch when she pulled away and sat up.
Forget Pierre. Just love Ray. It should be that simple but of course nothing in life was that simple. Pierre had been as attentive, in those early years, as Ray was now. It had taken a long time for his snuggles to lose their “snug”. How could she know the same wouldn’t happen with this American?
She shifted her head a little northward on his torso to expose his belly button. What kind of a belly button was that for a grown man? It was so tiny and delicate. She poked it and he giggled.
“Ray, you’re just too bony to be a good pillow. Wait, I have an idea.” She picked up an actual pillow from her side of the bed, put it across his chest and lay down on it. “There, now you feel a little less like a skeleton.”
“So, maybe now I feel like your husband?”
“Husband?” She said it as coolly and innocently as her decade and a half as a cop had trained her to be. She caught just the right tone, a little confused, a little surprised, in no way guilty.
“Yeah. Those dudes you marry.”
Don’t let him corner you, she told herself. You might just bluff your way out of this yet. “I don’t follow you.”
Ray pushed both her and the pillow off himself and sat up. “Ellie, I keep trying to talk to you about marriage and you keep putting me off. We’re not kids.”
Ellie took a few moments to let the relief pass through her before answering. To Ray it just seemed like she was thinking his words over. “No, we’re not kids.”
“Then what’s the problem? Is it where to live?” She actually saw the deep breath he took to brace himself expand his protruding ribcage. “I . . . if it’s that much of a problem . . . I . . . I’m willing to come to Canada with you.”
When was the last time Pierre had made an offer as selfless and loving as that? Years ago. She knew she should be focusing on Ray now, on his amazing statement, but all she could hear in her mind was Pierre’s voice saying, “I think you should take that assignment in the States. It’ll give us some time apart to think things over. And if you wanted to see other people, just to get some perspective, I think that would be all right.”
She knew what that had meant. It never had been a question of whether Pierre was cheating on her, only whether or not she could prove it. Wouldn’t it just suit his purpose if she started doing the same? She hadn’t said yes or no to his interesting offer at the time, thinking there was no chance it would ever come to the test. So she could make a point that she wasn’t cheating now. Most of the time her conscience let her get away with that.
It should be so simple. Divorce Pierre. Stay with Ray. One problem. She still loved Pierre too much not to try to keep him.
Ray’s voice interrupted her thoughts. “Ellie, I just proposed to you. You think maybe you could at least PRETEND to be paying attention?”
Poor Ray. He didn’t deserve this kind of treatment. She should tell him the truth. If she didn’t soon, that insufferable Fraser would spill the beans, of that she had no doubt. Holier-than-thou son-of-a-bitch. She’d read his file. How Ray could stay friends with him after Fraser betrayed him like that was past understanding. Ray had been entirely right to shoot him in the back. What a shame the bastard hadn’t died of his gunshot wound then and there.
Then she caught herself. Never mind how she might feel about the asshole personally, he was right about her treatment of Ray. She was all the angrier at Fraser for being right.
“Oh sorry, Ray. I sort of drifted.”
Lost in her own thoughts, she hadn’t even noticed Ray was now out of bed and pacing the room in his boxers.
“I quess that’s pretty flattering. I just offered to give up everything for you and you sort of drifted.”
“I said I was sorry.”
“What does it take to get your attention? I say I’m willing to give up my career! I say I’m willing to give up my whole life! No, damn it, you may as well know the truth! I’m willing to give up two lives!”
“I don’t understand.”
Ray sat back down on the bed beside her. He picked up her hand and pressed it tightly between his own two hands.
“Ellie, Fraser’ll kill me for telling you this but there’s something you’ll have to know if we get married. I’m not Ray Vecchio. I’m Stanley Kowalski.”
“What? You’re Stanley?” Her attention certainly was focused on him now.
“I’m undercover. I couldn’t tell you.”
“Then, there’s no such person as Ray Vecchio?”
“There really is a Vecchio, but I’m not him. I’m covering for him.”
The first flash of anger rose from her gut, but she swallowed it down. She had no right to be mad at him for deceiving her. He had an official reason; she had no such justification. She sat for a while letting the idea settle.
“You ARE Stanley after all. I can’t believe it.”
He still had hold of her hands. “Does that change anything?”
“Give me a minute, Ray . . . Stanley . . . I have to absorb this. You’re Stanley.”
“Yeah I’m Stanley. I said, does that change anything?” He was watching her face so hopefully.
“Yes, it changes everything. I’ve got something I have to tell you, too.”
One of the advantages of living in the consulate was that Fraser now had a phone. It woke him up at about quarter past midnight.
“Consulate of Canada, consulat du Canada,” he mumbled automatically.
“Fraser, it’s me.”
“What are you doing right now, Fraser? I mean right this very minute.”
Technically, the answer would be that he was talking to Ray himself, but even the ever-literal Fraser could gather the question was rhetorical. “Ray, is something wrong?”
“I need somebody to talk to. Right now. I don’t want to be alone.”
“Ray, what’s happened?”
“I broke up with Ellie. We’re finished. I need some company, Fraser. I’ll come pick you up.”
Fraser was now fully conscious and thinking. “No! I don’t want you to drive. I’ll come to you. Are you at home?”
“I’m in my apartment. I don’t think I’ll ever have a home.”
“Ray, just stay there. I’m on my way.”
Fraser hung up and dialed for a taxi.
Fraser found his friend face down on his bed. Any worries he may have had that Ray might do something desperate were alleviated by the sight of his thin shoulders heaving as he quietly sobbed. His partner was suffering but, for what it was worth, at least Ray was doing his suffering in a healthier way than some men might. Fraser sat down on the edge of the bed and rested one hand on Ray’s back.
Under the gentle pressure of Fraser’s hand, Ray relaxed and slowly grew quiet. With a final deep sigh, he flipped over and faced his friend.
“She’s married. She says she loves me, but she still loves her husband.”
Fraser waited. Ray didn’t need input - he needed prompting.
“What did you say?”
“I told her to get the hell out. What could I say? I was ready to give up everything for her – leave the department, leave Chicago. I’d have stayed home with the kids if that’s what she’d wanted. But she’s married, Fraser.” A thought occurred to him in his despair. “Did you know?”
Sometimes Fraser’s commitment to always telling the truth weighed hard upon him, but he’d always found that no matter how painful it was, it was better than a lie. Well, most of the time.
“Yes, Ray. I knew. I didn’t want to tell you. I hoped she would she would tell you herself.”
Fraser was relieved to see Ray nod his understanding. “I hear you. I probably would have just got mad at you anyway.”
“It was so right! Oh God, Fraser, it was perfect!” Ray let out a moan and started crying again. “I don’t deserve this! What did I ever do to deserve this?”
“I’ll make us some coffee,” said Fraser, hoping he’d be of some help during what would surely be a long, painful night.
Part Three – Predicable But Well-Intentioned Resolution
Each sergeant has his and her own projects so they seldom needed to interact in the line of duty. Thatcher didn’t like the tension between her two subordinates but as long as they were cordial to each other and performed their duties, she didn’t think she had any right to interfere. On the rare occasions when Fraser and Trudeau had to work together they managed to interact without overt friction, so she decided to be satisfied with the situation.
After the breakup, there was no improvement in the relationship between the Mounties. Each figured they had cause to blame the other. Consular life for both of them settled into a daily pattern of bearable discomfort. Both started watching the calendar, counting the weeks until Turnbull was expected home.
Ellie appeared at Fraser’s office door. Instead of actually coming in, she just stood there framed in the doorway as if some kind of force field stopped her from entering his personal space.
“Sergeant Trudeau.” He rose. They were of equal rank but she was a female. Standing in the presence of a woman was a habit he knew he would never outgrow.
She cleared her throat. “May I ask a favour?”
He shrugged and motioned to his visitor’s chair, but she shook her head. “I’ll stand,” she said to his unspoken request to sit.
“I can’t sit down until you sit down, Sergeant.”
Here she was needing to ask his help, but she couldn’t resist tossing her head and rolling her eyes. “You really are stuck up on that high horse of yours, aren’t you?”
But she did sit, and so did he.
“You were talking about a favour.”
“Yes. Would you take over my lecture at the senior’s center Thursday evening? I’ve got some personal business I’d like to attend to.”
Fraser turned to his computer to take a few small swings of his mouse and tap a few keys to consult his planner. “What time on Thursday?”
“I can do it.” Fraser tapped a few more keys.
“Do you want me to leave you my notes? I’ve put together . . . “
“That won’t be necessary,” he interrupted. “I’ve done senior’s centers before.”
“My husband’s coming down from Montreal. I want to meet him at the airport.”
Why did she feel like telling him this? What was it his business? There was just something so begrudging in his attitude – maybe she wanted him to know it was really important or she wouldn’t be asking. Or maybe, just maybe, she still felt guilty and figured she still deserved his scorn.
Fraser’s eyebrows rose just a little, telling her he was actually interested in this news. “Is this a good thing?”
“I think he wants to patch things up. I mean, why would he come all the way down here otherwise?”
“I wouldn’t know.”
The conversation seemed over. She got up and he followed suit only a fraction of a second afterwards.
“Thanks, I appreciate this.” Just before turning to go, she gave in to asking him something she had wanted to ask him for weeks. “Is Ray . . . is Stanley . . . is he all right.”
“No.” The terse, single-syllabled accusation made her feel as dreadful as she figured Fraser had intended it to make her feel. She wanted to know more, but she had no right to ask.
Stanley. Ray. Whoever he was, he had thrown her out of his apartment and out of his life and she really had deserved nothing less at his hands.
Pierre was coming soon. That was what she had to focus on now. Not Ray and the way he had looked when he had announced that he never wanted to see her again. Only a few more days, and then she’d have a joyful reunion with the man she should have been satisfied to love, for all his faults. It had to happen that way, or she wouldn’t be able to stand it.
Fraser would have had no particular reason to stop by Ellie’s room on Thursday night. The glance at her door when he walked by at about ten was, however, involuntary. Either she and her husband were in there now, or would be later, or they would go to a hotel.
He hadn’t told Ray about the husband’s visit. Ray would only hope that Pierre was here to break up with her and get his hopes up for a reconciliation.
To Fraser’s surprise, Diefenbaker was at Sgt. Trudeau’s bedroom door in a state of agitation, whining and pawing at her door. When the wolf saw Fraser, he let out a sharp yipe, and grabbed at his human friend’s pant leg.
“Dief, what’s wrong?”
Diefenbaker pulled him towards the door.
“No, she’s fine. That’s her husband in there. She doesn’t need us to rescue her. Come on, let’s go to bed.”
The wolf only growled softly around the fabric of Fraser’s trousers.
“Diefen . . . “ the eyes of the man and the animal met and they shared one of those moments of communication neither could really explain. “You think so? Very well.”
Realizing the man now understood, Diefenbaker let go the pant leg. Fraser tapped his knuckles softly against the closed door.
“Sergeant? Sergeant Trudeau?”
There was no answer. Perhaps they were asleep, although that seemed unlikely after a separation of many months.
He rapped a little harder and called a little more insistently. “Sergeant Trudeau?”
He increased the volume and intensity of both actions. “Eleanor! Are you in there?”
He turned to Diefenbaker for some guidance on how to proceed. The animal pawed at the door again, making it clear he wanted Fraser to go in.
“You can’t be serious, Dief. I can’t walk in on a man and wife.”
Diefenbaker’s nails, however, were already making scratches in the wooden door. Fraser knew the wolf’s judgment was seldom wrong (except in matters of snack food), so he steeled himself and reached for the doorknob. None of the consulate bedroom doors had locks. In the hopes of mitigating at least in a small way the embarrassment that was about to come, he called out a warning. “I’m coming in, Sergeant!”
He did so, to see Ellie alone in her bed, curled in a semi-fetal position with her back to him, apparently asleep.
“You see,” he whispered to Diefenbaker, “she’s just asleep.” Still it seemed strange for her to be there alone after picking up her husband at the airport only hours before.
Diefenbaker wasn’t satisfied. He motioned with his head to indicate to Fraser that the Mountie should look closer. Fraser walked around to the other side of the bed to get a look, just in case something was indeed wrong, and spied the empty pill bottle on her bedside table.
Since Fraser was only a co-worker, not a relative, nobody at the hospital wanted to tell him too much about Sgt. Trudeau’s condition. He learned from a very polite nurse that, yes, they had got to her in time and she was going to recover, but there was still enough of the drug in her system to keep her asleep until morning. Oh, and by the way, couldn’t he supply them with the phone number of a relative? He said he’d think about it.
Think about it he did, sitting on a plastic hospital waiting room bench. Fraser doubted she would want to see her husband. It was a pretty safe bet that whatever had passed between them had driven her to this. The Inspector might be called, but an official report of a suicide attempt wouldn’t help Sgt. Trudeau’s career much. Fraser was unaccustomed to thinking of Ellie as actually having feelings or being a person whose welfare he should consider. Still, anybody in her situation should wake up next morning to the face of someone who cared about her. He didn’t have to like the woman to come to that conclusion. He only had to be a decent human being.
Ray. She would want Ray. A shudder went through him at the thought. It was followed by a rebound shudder as he realized Ray would want to be here too. With a little nod to himself and a resolute slap at his own knees first, he got up and went back to the polite nurse’s desk.
“I can give you the number of Sgt. Trudeau’s boyfriend.”
Ellie woke very slowly. Through a groggy fog she registered people coming and going around her. Mostly they wore white, but one was wearing red. It came to her that she was alive. Somebody must have found her. The pills had been a bad idea after all, she should have used her service pistol.
A figure in red among the figures in white. God, no. Not Fraser. She fought for focus. “Ser . . . geant . . . Fra . . .” she started but only a groan came out in the place of the rest of Fraser’s name. The figure in red turned to her.
“Why . . . didn’t you . . . leave me . . .”
“To die? It’s our job to take care of our fellow citizens. I, um . . .”
Fraser was interrupted by Ray, who came barreling through the door.
“Ellie! You weren’t supposed to wake up while I was out. Fraser, get out of the way!” Ray pulled Fraser’s arm, hauling him out of the chair beside Ellie’s bed. He sat down first, then fished under the sheets for her hand. “I knew I shouldn’t have gone for breakfast. Ellie, I’m so sorry.”
“I’m here for you, baby. I’m here for you. You’re going to be all right.”
“No, no,” she tiny sobs were so weak that it took the men a moment to realize she was crying.
“I’ll leave you two alone,” said Fraser, on his way out to the corridor.
“Why, Ellie? What happened?”
“You . . . don’t want to know . . . not your problem . . .”
One hand held hers and with the other he stroked her disheveled hair. “It IS my problem. I love you.”
“How did you . . . know . . . I was . . .here?”
“Fraser. He told them to call me. Ellie, why did you do this? Why didn’t you call me if you were in trouble?”
Her mind was clearing. “You never wanted to see me again, remember? That’s what you said.”
Ray had been hoping he could hold back his own tears but it didn’t work. Still, he forced himself to smile.
“And you believed me? You think I tell the truth all the time, like some kind of Mountie?”
“I’m a Mountie. I don’t tell the truth.”
“Tell it now. What happened?”
“Help me sit up first.”
Ray wrapped his arms around her and eased her to a sitting position. She didn’t let go of him. They just sat there, arms around each other, her head drooping slightly so that it rested against his thin chest. Oh, that wonderful snuggle of his. It gave her strength to tell the story.
“Pierre came down. He called and said he wanted to see me, that it was important. I met him at the airport. He told me right there at the airport – we didn’t even go outside. Ray, he wants a divorce. That’s what he came to tell me. He said he didn’t want to talk about it on the phone.”
“But, I don’t understand. What’s the rush? He could have told you when you came home.”
“He said his girlfriend insisted. I knew he was cheating on me but I thought it was just, you know, a little here, a little there. He’s been seeing her for over a year. The same woman. He said he loves her. He said . . .”
Ray squeezed so tightly she had to wriggle a little to get breath before continuing.
“He said she was pregnant,” she whispered. “He wouldn’t have a child with me. He kept saying we had time, we should wait. But he made HER pregnant. Oh Ray . . .”
Fraser glanced in the door to see the two of them clutching each other and rocking back and forth without words. He came in just long enough to snatch his Stetson from the windowsill and be on his way.
Ellie was kept another day for observation and psychological appraisal. The staff psychiatrist was puzzled that she seemed so happy and hopeful. Fraser and Ray spent Friday evening moving her belongings from the consulate to Ray’s apartment. On Saturday morning, Ray took her home.
An email to the Inspector, cc Fraser, from Turnbull arrived two weeks later. That was in no way unusual since Fraser and the Inspector got regular updates from him, always telling how happy he was and how well he and the horses seemed to be getting along. This email, however, contained some more interesting news. He was expecting any day to receive an offer of a permanent post in Ottawa as an instructor with the Musical Ride. Fraser relayed this news to Ray and Ellie that evening when he came over to their place for dinner.
“That makes it perfect for us!” Ray declared. “You keep Turnbull’s job. We all live happily ever after.” Then he realized something. “Unless you still want to go home. I said I’d go to Canada with you. I’m not going back on my word.”
“I don’t mind staying in Chicago, Ray. Only I really can’t see Benton and me working together permanently.”
Fraser looked up from his soup in surprise. He hadn’t shown any overt hostility to Ellie since she left the hospital. Ray was happy now, so any disapproval he still had was his own business. In fact the Mounties had agreed to be on a first name basis when in Ray’s presence – but that was a familiarity without any affection.
“You still hate my guts, don’t you, Benton?” she went on. “You still think I’m a deceiving bitch. That’s okay. I still think think you’re an arrogant bastard.”
“Well, we don’t have to like each other to work together,” Fraser allowed. “We’ve been managing fine so far.”
Ray tossed his spoon onto the table. “I’m not having my future wife and my best friend hating each other! Let’s have it out right now. Fraser, what bugs you about Ellie?”
The two sergeants finally had something in common, a disinclination to continue this conversation.
“Ray, let it be,” Fraser warned.
“No, you hate her because she lied to me and she hurt me. But we’re okay now, Fraser, so it’s time for you to lay off.” He turned his attention to Ellie. “And you don’t like him because he’s a judgmental son-of-a-bitch. Right?”
She ducked her head in embarrassment.
“Hell, everybody knows he’s like that. Even he knows he’s like that. But he saved your life when you were too proud and stupid to come crawling back to me after Pierre dumped you.”
“So here’s the deal. You two Mounties are going to make nice from now on. You know why?”
Both Canadians shook their heads.
“Because you both care about ME. Right?”
Neither sergeant could deny this was a serious motivating factor.
“Understood,” they said in obedient unison.