Higher Authority

The ambulance went screaming through the gritty Chicago night. In the back, two passengers, or, perhaps, two clients. One was a Mountie, not moving, unconscious and bleeding from a blow to the head with an iron bar. The other, a blond detective pretending to go by the name of Ray Vecchio, was not moving either. He was crouching in the corner of the ambulance, watching the paramedics as they worked on his friend.

Ray was babbling as he usually did when panicked. "Hang on Fraser, come on, buddy, hang on. You're gonna be okay." Over and over again.

At last they reached the Emergency and white-coated people whisked Fraser away, leaving Ray in the waiting room alone. He pulled out his phone and called Inspector Thatcher at home. Then he gave it some thought and decided to call Francesca, too. What the hell. If he dies (Ray almost stopped breathing himself at the thought) she'd probably want to be here.

Thatcher arrived first some ten minutes later. She was dishevelled, eyes puffy and red from either sleep or crying. She wore an old pair of blue jeans and a sweatshirt with an RCMP logo. When Ray could give her no news she launched off in search of someone in charge.

Soon afterwards, Francesca arrived. She wore heavy make up and her hair was arranged in an elegant wave. She had on a tight leather mini-skirt and an even tighter tank top. Enough of her bulged out that even frantic with worry as Ray was, he couldn't ignore all that skin.

"You're not going to impress him, Frannie" said Ray, exasperated, and not a little disgusted. "They brought him in unconscious. He can't see what you're not wearing."

The barb went completely unnoticed by Francesca. "Where is he? How is he?"

"Somewhere in there. Don't know."

Thatcher returned. She had managed to bully a doctor. "He's in a coma." She reported, "We just have to wait. The doctor said..." here she faltered slightly, "the doctor said if he doesn't wake up in the next two hours . . . he won't wake up at all."

Francesca gasped. "Where is he? We have to be with him!"

"Down this way. They said we could stay and wait", Thatcher answered and led them through a series of doors and corridors to a room. Fraser lay in the room's only bed, his head bandaged, covered with a sheet up to his chest, his arms and shoulders showing that he was dressed in a blue hospital gown.

"So," said Ray, "What are we supposed to do?"

"I guess we wait," said Francesca.

"I'm not good at waiting. This doing nothing, I'm no good at it, Frannie."

Francesca rummaged about in her purse and produced first one, then two sets of rosary beads. "You're Polish. Raised Catholic, right?" She dangled one of rosaries in front of him. "So here, do something useful."

Ray didn't take them. Francesca shrugged. Then she held the rosary up in front of Inspector Thatcher. "How about you?"

"United Church of Canada", answered Meg, "I'll improvise." She went around to the side of the bed where she could see her deputy's face clearly, gazed at him for awhile, then took a deep breath, inclined her head ever so slightly, closed her eyes and started murmuring to herself.

Francesca took a position beside her by the bed and dropped to her knees. She rested her elbows on the mattress and began praying, using one of the sets of beads. The whole thing made Ray very uncomfortable. Praying in public? That would be too embarrassing. Still, this was Fraser. Ray was ready to run, jump, and fight or even kill to help his friend. So maybe, it would be alright to be embarrassed for him.

He went over and knelt beside Francesca. She smiled and handed him the other set of beads. It had been years, but no matter. It had been drummed into him from childhood - he knew what to do.

Father Flaherty and his younger assistant were just finishing their day's visiting of parishioners. They saw the tender scene through the open door of Fraser's room. Two women and a man, praying for someone. The two priests exchanged looks and came in.

"Excuse me, I couldn't help notice as we were passing." said Father Flaherty, politely. He looked at the bed to ascertain the patient's gender. "Is he Catholic?"

"I don't know, Father. Probably not," answered Francesca, "But us two, we are. Would you mind helping out."

"Is it last rites you'd be wanting for him, then?"

"No Father. He's in a coma. If he doesn't wake up soon, he'll die. What he needs is a little edge. Please?"

The older priest nodded, made a sign of the cross over the Mountie and both priests went, as it were, into action.

A group of Hare Krishna had been visiting one of their own, who had been having eye surgery. The scene they passed as they went through the corridor was irresistible. Their leader motioned them into the room and they gathered at the foot of Fraser's bed. As they started chanting, swaying and ringing small bells, everyone else in the room (except Fraser, of course) glared at them. They lowered their voices, their chanting hardly audible, and continued to sway and jingle.

This expanded group was noticed by five nuns coming down the corridor together, nursing sisters who had come to the hospital for a seminar and were on their way home. They paused at the doorway, noticing the Catholic priests. The Father waved them inside. All the better to even the odds. He explained to them what was going on and they arranged themselves on the other side of the bed.

That left room for three more people just beside Fraser's right leg. The space was soon filled by Protestant seminary students who came in, curious about this eclectic gathering, and stayed to help out, too.

It wasn't long before four bearded, orthodox Jews, in wide brimmed black hats and long black coats just happened along the same corridor. The eldest of them addressed his friends. "They've got everything else in there. What do you think?" The group discussed it briefly amongst themselves and entered, taking the only spaces left near the prostrate Fraser, on either side of his head at the top of the bed. The eldest asked everybody in general "Excuse me, somebody's in charge here?"

The three original visitors weren't sure who was in charge. Thatcher was nominally the highest in rank. She raised a timid hand, overwhelmed by all the crowd. "I am, I think."

"Good. My name is Weintraub. This guy, I'm guessing he's not Jewish."

"Not as far as I know."

"And the problem?"

"He's had an head injury. He's in a coma. If he doesn't wake up in a couple of hours, they say he never will."

"Um hmm, um hmm. You don't mind if we . . ."

"I don't seem to have any control over this."

"Fine, fine. So, what's his first name?"


"This is a first name?" he muttered something in Yiddish and his friends laughed, but not unkindly. "And his father's first name?"

"It was Robert."

Weintraub consulted with his friends again in Yiddish, then they started in on a Hebrew prayer. The rest of the group resumed their own devotions, having paused temporarily to listen in.

When Fraser opened his eyes, some twenty minutes later, the first faces he saw were the bearded ones, up-side-down from his viewpoint, leaning over his head. An hallucination? He looked down towards his feet at the robed, dancing figures, then to either side at the assorted Christians. His own friends were there, too, but they seemed somehow lost in the crowd.

"Hello?" he ventured. "Um, excuse me, but am I . . ."

A general shout of satisfaction and some cheering greeted his hesitant words. The nuns all clasped their hands together with delight. The youngest kissed his cheek. Chattering happily amongst themselves they headed out. Then one by one, everybody affectionately patted whatever part of Fraser happened to be closest to where they were standing, his foot, leg or arm, gave their own particular benediction and left the room satisfied. Soon only the three original friends and the group of Jews were left.

The Jewish men were all shaking each other's hands, slapping each other's backs and congratulating one another. Finally Weintraub went around to where Fraser could see him right-side-up. "We'll be going now," he announced, grandly, "I hope you don't mind, we had to give you a Hebrew name. We called you 'Benjamin ben Reuben'. So, have a speedy recovery, and good-bye." They headed out.

Fraser, after his first attempt to talk, had been left speechless by the goings-on. Suddenly he spoke up. "Ray, those men. Get them back. Please."

Ray went after the Jews and ushered them back to where Fraser could see them. It was still hard for the Mountie to speak. The men had to bend low over him to hear. "Ben Reuben is right," Fraser said, with effort, "But it's not Benjamin, its Baruch. Baruch ben Reuben. I . . .I . . . thank you kindly."

The men all beamed. Weintraub reached into the side pocket of his long coat and produced a business card. He put it on the bedside dresser. "You're quite welcome, young man, quite welcome. You want to come to services with us sometime, give me a call." After more comments to Fraser and one another in Yiddish they finally left. The room felt much, much emptier.

It was still only slowly occurring to Ray, Francesca and Meg that somehow in all the fuss Fraser's life had just been saved. Thatcher, with her usual efficiency, was the first to recover her wits. "We'd better tell somone he's awake. Vecchio, go to the nursing station," she ordered.

"I don't work for you. I'm staying here with Fraser." Then he touched his partner's shoulder, the most he would permit himself to do to express his relief. "Welcome back, buddy."

Thatcher looked at Francesca. Francesca shook her head and moved protectively closer to her crush. She wasn't going either. "Oh, really" declared Thatcher, and went herself.

Fraser asked, weakly, "Ray, who were all those people?"

"That's not important right now, Fraser. Christ, I've been waiting a long time to use that line on you. What is important is - you made it. You're gonna be okay."

"What happened?"

Ray ran down the recent events.

"Then, you were all praying - for me?"

"You got it, Fraser. Except don't tell my mother, she'll want me back in church every week if she hears about it."

"Understood" Fraser managed to say, taking him literally.

Hospital staff started to arrive, nurses and doctors, who shooed Ray and the women out, assuring them they could come back and visit tomorrow.

Francesca was the only one with a car there. Ray had ridden in the ambulance, of course, and Thatcher, it seemed, had taken a taxi. So Francesca offered to drive the others home. As they drove, (the two women in the front, Ray in the back), Thatcher and Francesca were trying to outdo each other with how worried and frightened they had been.

Something was bothering Ray. When there was a pause in the conversation he spoke up. "Inspector, is Fraser Jewish?"

"It would seem so, I mean from what he said to those men."

"Didn't you know before? Like from his file. Or maybe his Mountie application form?"

"Absolutely not, Detective. We're not allowed to ask any job applicant anything like that in Canada. Especially not in the Federal government."

"Jewish," mused Francesca, "so now at least I know if he's cir . . ."

"Miss Vecchio!"

They say Jewish men make good husbands," Francesca continued, dreamily.

"Miss Vecchio that's a stereotype. What a horrible thing to say."

Francesca again missed the whole implication. "You think being married to Fraze would be horrible? Good... that's great." Then, after a pause, "You want a ride to the hospital tomorrow, Inspector?"

"That's an idea. Or I could let Turnbull take me in a consular car. He'd probably want to visit too." The women went on discussing transportation plans for the next day's visiting.

Alone in the back seat, Ray's mind went back to thoughts of himself as a boy, maybe six or seven years old. He remembered a day there had been a new kid in the schoolyard. Older boys were throwing stones and calling a certain name. Ray remembered picking up a stone to join in. Just to be like the older boys. Then just as he was about to throw, blood burst from the new kid's forehead, from a sharp stone someone had thrown. The kid ran home, bleeding and crying. At the time Ray hadn't known the meaning of the name the older boys were calling. He learned that much later.

Fraser was his own age. Thousands of miles due north at the same time...maybe Fraser had been a new kid. Ray was silent the rest of the way home.

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