Ray looked up from his desk, without really knowing at first why. Something had attracted his attention on a subliminal level, it seemed, and it took him a few seconds to register consciously just what it was. What had attracted his attention was a sound - specifically the sound of a familiar tread across the squad room floor.
Fraser - in civilian clothes. And he'd known what Fraser was wearing even before looking up. Ray's mind somehow was able to tell the difference among the soft slap of Fraser's casual boots that he wore with his jeans, the more definite clump of his leather boots worn with the red serge and the sharp clop of the dress shoes Fraser wore with the brown uniform. Today he heard the "slap" meaning that Fraser was in his civvies.
Once actually looking at his partner, Ray noted that he was dressed and shod in a completely normal fashion, but that Fraser was carrying a fish in a plastic bag filled with water.
Fraser was strode purposefully past Ray, giving him a brief wave with his non-fish-bearing hand and went directly through the room and down the stairs - presumably towards the canteen. He was gone before Ray had a chance to return the wave.
Ray was not the only person to note the passage across the room. Huey also looked up from scribbling on a yellow legal pad (he hated computers) and observed, casually, "A Mountie carrying a fish. Must be somebody's birthday."
From another part of the bull pen Elaine said, a little more forcefully, "I can't believe that statement actually makes sense to me."
Welsh appeared in his office door, "I saw a Mountie with a fish. Whose birthday is it?"
"Mine, sir," admitted the latest addition to the 27th detective squad, a female officer named Jodie.
Ray looked back up from his work. Somebody was going to have their first introduction to a Fraser-birthday-celebration. This was an event to behold. The other detectives seemed to share his anticipation, all looking up from what they were doing and exchanging knowing looks amongst one another.
"You've in for a treat, Jodie," Welsh said with a smile, "Elaine, if we're going to have a party, you might as well order in a cake."
"Fraser will have taken care of that already, sir," Elaine pointed out.
Jodie hadn't had occasion to meet the Mountie before, and since he was in jeans and a lumberjack shirt, the fact that he was with the RCMP hadn't quite registered with her. Understandably, she asked the room in general to explain what was going on.
Ray answered on behalf of the room. "The man you just saw escorting a trout is Constable Benton Fraser, Royal Canadian Mounted Police."
"Ray's pet Mountie," Huey put in. Elaine and several others in the room told him to shush.
" . . . who happens to be the nicest person in the world and one of the ways he shows that is to make birthday parties for everybody he knows."
"He doesn't know me. I never met him," Jodie protested.
"Which only goes to prove how nice he is," Ray pronounced.
Jodie didn't quite follow the logic but having someone make her a party didn't seem an entirely bad thing, as long as Welsh didn't object and apparently he didn't. Being new to Chicago, she was not a little lonely and hadn't anticipated anyone even knowing it was her birthday, let alone throwing a celebration.
"Is he going to cook me that fish?" she asked Ray, who seemed to be the one that knew most about the Mountie.
"No, it's for a party game."
Jodie looked puzzled.
"We bob for trout. Apples aren't plentiful in the far north."
"They're plentiful in Chicago. Much easier to find than trout," Jodie told him, struggling to make sense of it all, "I've got an apple right here in my desk." She was about to open her drawer to prove her claim but Ray waived at her so as to suggest she shouldn't bother.
"We don't like to spoil his fun," he said. "Fraser's the nicest guy in the world. He suffers enough because of it so there's no harm in letting him play with fish every now and then."
Jodie subsided, resolving to just enjoy her party. Briefly she wondered if the Canadian had also ordered a fish-flavoured cake. If so, she would have to eat some, she supposed.
Returning her attention to her computer, where she was trying to write up a file, she mused aloud, "I wonder if this Constable Whoever is one of the thirty-six?"
A chorus of voices around her demanded to know what she meant.
"Oh, did I say that out loud? Sorry. I was just thinking to myself. No big."
"Big," insisted Huey, "Now that you've said it you have to explain it."
"Very well," all eyes and ears, including Welsh's trained, themselves on the new detective's explanation, "I was reading this book about Kabbala a little while back. That's Jewish mysticism. Numerology mostly."
"Movie stars are getting into that stuff," Ray opined, not without some derision in his voice.
Jodie glanced at him, trying to decide whether he meant this as put down and was pleased that when she did catch his eye he smiled encouragingly at her. Apparently he was only inviting her to share his scorn of movie stars, not intending any insult to herself. She went on with her explanation.
"Thirty-six is some kind of mystical number."
"Yeah, it's the answer to life, the universe and everything," Gardino said with a snicker.
"Moron, that's forty-two," said Huey.
"Go on with the story, Jodie," Welsh encouraged her.
"You see, eighteen is the number of life - in Hebrew they use letters to represent numbers and the letters that make eighteen are also the letters that spell the word 'life'. Two times eighteen is thirty-six, so that makes thirty-six a significant number because. . ."
"Do you think she's Canadian too?" Gardino interrupted, to general laughter, "She lectures as good as a Mountie."
"As well as a Mountie," put in Fraser, from the squad room door. He had just arrived and caught the tail end of the comment.
"Keep telling it, Jodie, but cut to the chase," suggested Welsh.
"Yes sir. Well, there's a legend that says that because the world is full of evil people . . . "
"Which is good for us or we'd be out of a job," put in Ray.
"Let her tell it, Detective."
" . . . if God had any brains he'd wipe us all out, like he did during Noah's time. But he doesn't . . . "
"God doesn't have any brains? My mother would wash your mouth out with soap for that one," said Ray.
"Idiot. God doesn't have brains. He's incorporeal," said Huey.
Jodie struggled to finish over the interruptions. ". . . and the reason he doesn't wipe us all out is because of thirty-six really good people. As long as there are thirty-six good people - I mean totally good, no sins, no bad feelings, no bad actions - Mankind is allowed to survive for their sake."
"What if one dies?" asked Welsh.
"Another is born immediately, so there are always thirty-six at any time in history."
"If that's so, we owe our lives to these people, whoever they may be. We ought to make sure to be very nice to good people," said Welsh.
"Or very good to nice people," said Ray, "Just in case one of them is the one of the thirty-six we have to thank for saving us from being wiped out."
All eyes turned to Fraser. He seemed puzzled at the attention, then figured it out.
"Me? I hardly think so. I'm no saint." His eyes sought out Ray's and they each knew the other was thinking about Victoria, and the time that Fraser had nearly ruined his own and Ray's life by trying to run away with her.
"Let me guess," Elaine said, "these thirty-six - I bet one of the requirements is to be too modest to admit to being one."
Jodie nodded. "It would disqualify you immediately if you thought you were one."
"Catch twenty-two," murmured Huey.
"Catch thirty-six," Welsh corrected him. "Well, Constable, I guess we'll never know if we all owe you our lives, but this makes a good case for being polite to everybody. You never know if someone you meet is going to be a thirty-sixer." He pronounced this with some finality, and the detectives and aides had the feeling he was signaling an end to the discussion and inviting them to get back to work. One by one they went back to what they had been doing before.
Fraser dropped into Ray's visitor's chair. Ray whispered, "So did you know about this thirty-six business, like, from your grandparents' library?"
"Certainly. But I never thought of myself as a lah-med-vav-nik."
"What does that mean?"
"Hebrew slang for a 'thirty-six-er', Ray."
"I guess you can't be one, Fraser. You're too annoying."
"Yes, Ray," then the Mountie lowered his voice significantly. "By the way, you WILL, be staying around for Jodie's birthday party, won't you, Ray?"
"You don't have to whisper. She knows about it. She saw your fish."
"Well, technically, it's her fish. She can take it home later if she likes."
Ray glanced over at Jodie, working diligently.
"She'll be glad to hear that, Benny, I'm sure."
"I hope so, Ray."