Ray stood in his bedroom and studied his reflection in the mirror affixed to the back of the closet door.
“You clean up nice, buddy,” he said to himself as he straightened his tie and smoothed the front of his already impeccably starched uniform shirt. Reaching up, he pulled his heavy, navy blue, standard issue jacket off its hanger and carefully inspected each of the highly polished brass buttons. He knew that if he stared into any of the tiny shining surfaces, he would be able to see his own face grinning back at him. But he didn’t have that much time left to admire his handiwork.
Ray shrugged into the jacket and then went to sit on his bed to put on his shoes. After lacing them up and knotting them securely, he rose and buttoned the jacket. The mirror called out to him for a final check so he returned to it and twisted this way and that to make sure that he was spotless before leaving the room. Satisfied that there were no errant stains or loose threads, he grabbed his cap and coat and was out the door.
Fraser was waiting for him on the sidewalk in front of his apartment building. When Ray brought the car close to the curb, Fraser quickly finished his conversation with one of the neighbours standing out there with him and got into the car.
The shabbily dressed housewife was watching, so Ray only said, “Hey, Benny,” accompanied by a warm smile instead of the welcoming kiss he wanted to give.
“Hi, Ray, how are you?”
Ray chuckled and scratched at his clean-shaven chin.
“I slept like a rock,” he said. “Frannie had to pry me out of bed with a crowbar.”
Ray paused and arched a sly brow.
“You miss me last night?”
“Ray, I am capable of sleeping alone these days. Besides, I had the impression that you did remain with me in bed for an unspecified interval. It was only this morning when I woke up alone that I realized you must have gone home later.”
“Geez, Benny, indulge a guy once in a while, okay?”
“Ah. Well then, I was unable to get any sleep at all without you stealing the covers and kicking me in the most inappropriate places.”
Ray’s eyes widened and as he came to a stop at the traffic light, he turned to face Fraser.
“Benny!” he all but shrieked. “You don’t mean that, do you?”
Fraser lifted a hand and tried to hide his grin by casually brushing at his bottom lip. Ray saw the amused smile and before driving forward with the green light, he slugged Fraser in the shoulder.
“Besides,” he said with a smile. “You shouldn’t talk, considering the way you snore.”
“Oh, Ray,” he clucked.
“I’m just kidding,” Ray replied, laughing, “But would it really bother you if I said you snore?”
Ray was not surprised to see his love fall serious upon the posing of this question, giving it careful consideration.
“That’s an interesting question, Ray. Snoring often has negative connotation. In fact, it often signals the presence of sleep apnea, a condition which, although it does not pose an immediate health hazard, markedly increases the risk of . . .”
Changing the subject, Ray interrupted, “Which area of the room are you working?”
Fraser paused in his lecture, thought for a moment, and then had to consult his assignment packet. Drawing out a small stiff card from the envelope, he read, “Areas 6, 7 and 8. And it lists the names of attendees for whom I’m responsible. Did you know that Joan Tribedore is going to be in my area?”
Unaware of any significance of that bit of information, Ray put on his happy face.
“No kidding? Really? Wow, you got lucky!”
Fraser grinned down at the card and nodded in agreement.
“I have areas 22 to 24. Way in the nosebleed section.”
Fraser creased his forehead in commiseration.
“I’m sorry, Ray. I would gladly switch with you.”
“No, no, I don’t want us getting in trouble because “Fraser” comes before “Vecchio”. It’s not your fault they went alphabetically.”
Fraser made a noncommittal noise.
“That means that I won’t be able to see you until the breaks.”
Always ready to tease, Ray suggested, “Maybe I’ll just jump up on the mezzanine railing and do that . . . um . . . semaphore thing you did that one time.”
Fraser laughed in surprise. “How would you know how to do semaphore?”
“Benny,” Ray said patiently, “You gave me the instruction book. I read it . . . c’mon.”
“All right, Ray, I’ll look for it then.”
Ray pulled into the back parking lot of the convention center and spotted a large aggregation of cops in their dress blues milling about by one of the doorways. Among the sea of blue, he could see a small cluster of bright red uniforms. Parking the Riv, Ray grabbed his cap and got out of the car.
“Look, Benny,” he said pointing. “There’s Jasmine. I haven’t seen her in a long time.”
Squaring his Stetson, Fraser walked to Ray’s side as they made their way to the crowd of cops.
“Fortunately or unfortunately, whenever fundraisers are afoot, they try to get every RCMP officer in the area to participate. Although, Inspector Thatcher elected to remain at the consulate.”
“Lucky, break,” Ray muttered and the brightened when he saw a familiar face. “Hey, Stony Lonesome!”
Recognizing the old nickname, a tall, blond-haired man paused in his conversation with a few of the other officers and swiveled in Ray’s direction.
“Hey, Vecchio! Where have you been, man?” he asked shooting out his hand.
Ray took it and they shook hands hard in greeting.
“I’ve been buried down at the 27th. What about you? You still running with Steve and Keith?”
The man’s face contorted oddly with his grin and he said, “We gotta keep the city clean after you guys fuck up your cases. They’re around here someplace.”
Ray scoffed noisily and turned to grab Fraser’s arm.
”Yeah, anyway, listen, this is Benton Fraser R.C.M.P He’s over at the consulate on Bleeker. Benny, this is Mike Swanson. He works the violent crimes unit in the 6th.”
The two men shook hands.
“Oh yeah, I ran into you guys at the consulate. Is uh… Moffatt still there?”
“Ah, no. Commander Moffatt returned to Ottawa.”
“He went back to the Mother Ship,” Ray quipped.
“Who’s there now?”
“Inspector Margaret Thatcher,” Fraser told him.
Swanson’s brows rose inquisitively and Fraser headed him off at the pass.
“Same name, entirely different person.”
“Entirely,” Ray chimed in.
Fraser shot him a look.
“So what area are you in, Mike?” Ray asked.
Swanson dug about in his pocket to retrieve his card and Fraser took that moment to excuse himself.
Ray called after him before he got too far. “Hey, if I don’t see you, we’ll meet up at the break.”
Fraser gave him a curt nod and weaved his way through the crowd.
“Where’d you find that one?” Mike asked, watching the Mountie walk away.
“It’s a long story,” Ray sighed. “One that takes approximately two hours to tell.”
Swanson gave him a quizzical look and then referred to his own assignment card.
“I got areas 19 to 21. It should be interesting.”
“That area between us, that’s where they stuck all the patrol cops. Gotta keep an eye on all those young bastards.”
“Great. We’re babysitting the kids,” Ray groused then checked his watch and the crowd started to surge towards the building. “Looks like we’re starting.”
The convention hall was massive and Ray felt his mouth drop open in awe. The vaulted ceiling was lit with opaque white lights and there were so many people mingling and talking that the noise coming from them rose to a low dull hum.
Someone bumped into his back and two hands came around his shoulders, clutching him in a tight hug. Ray turned.
“Hey, Ray. I thought that was you.” The pretty civilian aide smiled up at him.
“Hi. What are you doing here?”
“I couldn’t get out of it!” she shouted above the roar. “I got stuck with door duty!”
Ray grinned. “At least you won’t be trapped inside,” he said, tossing a glance at the front doors.
Elaine released him.“Are you kidding? It’s freezing out there.”
Ray straightened the lapels of her coat and fluffed out her scarf. “Aw, you can handle it,” he teased.
“Listen, I have to go. Is Fraser here?”
Ray turned a bit and pointed in the general direction of Fraser’s area. “He’ll be over there somewhere. I’m pretty sure you won’t be able to miss the red serge.”
Elaine laughed. “Probably not,” she said then added. “I’ll come find you later, yeah? We can get something to eat.”
“Sure,” he answered as she left him there.
Ray took the stairs to the crowded second level and threaded his way through smartly dressed people and other cops. He saw a lettered sign that read: Sign In Please! “U-V”
After signing in, he found the cloakroom, dropped off his stuff and emerged into the crowd again and found his station.
He had a great view of the entire room and wasn’t surprised that he had spotted Fraser’s distinct form right off the bat. Tempted to call out to him, Ray cupped his hands about his mouth then stopped himself and fell to crowd watching.
Looking across the length of the mezzanine, Ray could see other uniformed police officers taking their own posts that would position them all at regular intervals along the aisles in between the seated guests. Ray was glad to be right at the railing because he could look down at the crowd below him and also have a clear view of the people who would be speaking and pumping the attendees for cash.
As the crowd started to become more settled in their seats, Ray heard a voice calling to him. Turning he saw one of the officers gesturing to him to come over. Ray joined the knot of policemen gathering around the one who was waving at him. This worthy had the honour of wearing a bright yellow sash that said “Marshal” in black stenciled lettering. The marshal had to give his instructions mostly by arm waving, showing his crew by what path they would escort their assigned charges to the stage when their turns came.
The fundraiser seemed to be proceeding without a hitch from what Ray could tell but except for the periods when Fraser was visible in his line of sight, he was mostly bored. It did seem that those being escorted by Mounties were pledging a great deal more money than the average, so at least he was doing without Benny for a good cause. During breaks Ray and Fraser milled about with the other cops in a crowded cafeteria and Ray had the chance to grouse good-naturedly about how bored he was.
“I knew this was going to be long, Benny,” Ray said sipping his coffee. “But I didn’t know I was going to contemplate throwing myself over the railing to end it.”
Ben chuckled and finished off a small buttered roll. “It’s almost over, Ray,” he consoled.
“I know.” Ray crumpled the small paper cup in his hand and reached to tighten his tie. “How do I look?” he asked with a sly grin.
“Perfect,” Fraser answered and almost reached out to smooth down Ray’s lapels. He stopped himself and cast a suspicious glance around at the people surrounding them.
“Not a good idea,” Ray said casually, noticing his hesitation, “unless you want to start a big fight with all these cops.”
“I’d rather avoid that,” he said.
“Good idea,” Ray laughed. “And brush those crumbs off your uniform. If I do it for you, we’ll be lynched.” He then checked his watch. It was almost time to return to their posts.
“Listen, Benny, if we get separated in the rush, just meet me at the car afterwards. Then we can go and get some real food, not this crap.” He cast an irritated glance at the catered luncheon table.
“All right, Ray,” Fraser said over the ringing bell that signaled the end of the break.
Afterwards, it wasn’t hard to find Ray. He was leaning against the hood of the Riv having a rather loud and lively conversation with a group of other men, Jasmine and Elaine. When Fraser came into view, she greeted him with a smile and Ray took the moment to make introductions all around. To his surprise, most of them had already come in contact with the obviously popular Mountie and knew him by name. The conversation soon wound down and the cops began to make their way home.
“Elaine’s coming to dinner with us,” Ray told Fraser once the three of them were alone, raising his eyebrows only slightly to tacitly ask if this was okay with the Mountie.
“That’s delightful. She’ll be our guest, of course. ” Fraser met Ray’s eyes with a mischievous look that said “your guest”.
“Don’t worry, Ray. I’m a cheap date,” she teased. “Most of the guys are going to Conley’s, if you want to go there,” she suggested as Fraser opened the passenger door for her.
“Ray?” Fraser asked, closing the door behind her and coming around the front of the car to the driver’s side.
“Yeah, yeah, sure.”
Fraser got into Dief’s usual place behind the front seat. Ray hopped in and yanked the door shut behind him.
Conley’s was a dive of a restaurant, but the food was just plain fantastic and by the time Ray got them a booth, the place was already beginning to fill up with officers blowing off a little steam.
“Get a tuna sandwich for me, Ray, while I go to the bathroom, okay?” Elaine said to him as she rose from the table.
When she had gone, Ray sat back against the creaking red vinyl of the booth and stretched his legs out in front of him. Fraser, sitting across from him, removed his Stetson and set it on the seat next to him, presumably where he could keep it safely under observation in this crowded environment. Ray gave him a small grin and was about to say something when someone came to stop beside the table. Thinking it was the waiter, Ray flipped open the thick plastic menu book and began to rattle off his order.
“Do, I look like a waiter, Vecchio?” asked the uniformed cop.
Looking up and seeing a middle-aged patrol cop that he didn’t recognize, Ray grinned a little sheepishly and shook his head.
“Hey, sorry. I didn’t notice.”
The man stood there a moment looking from Fraser to Ray and then back again. Noticing this, Ray ventured to make introductions.
“This is Benton Fraser, Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and you are . . .?”
The man looked back at Ray and smiled very slightly.
“My partner over there says that he already knows you two.”
Ray didn’t look in the direction that the cop had gestured; he held the man’s eyes, waiting for an explanation.
“Yeah, so? We know a lotta people,” Ray said, cautiously.
“You don’t remember last night, do you?”
It was a difficult question and Ray’s heart clenched just a little. He hoped that he hadn’t done anything to embarrass himself, because he certainly couldn’t remember anything after he and Fraser had finished off the second bottle of wine. At that point they had been safely in Fraser’s apartment. After that, he only remembered Frannie shaking him awake in his own bed. He must have got home from Fraser’s somehow but he had no memory of it.
“This has a point, right?” Ray asked with a studied shrug and a glance at Fraser’s worried expression.
“You were drunk off your ass and jumping around in the rain. My partner, Jake, he went to check you out.” The cop inclined a thick neck towards a younger officer at a nearby table. “You were doing a really shitty “Singing in the Rain”. Makin’ like Gene Kelly. Right out in the street.”
Ray still didn’t have any recollection of performing show tunes outside of his own bedroom, but he could see Ben’s eyes widen at the man’s comments, so he knew something was definitely wrong.
The man interrupted as he leaned one hand on the edge of the table. “Then some dog came out and showed us your car. You were too pissed to drive, so the dog took you and Jake up to some apartment. Wouldn’t have believed a dog could be so smart, but I seen it with my own eyes.”
“Diefenbaker was wet this morning,” Fraser mouthed, softly to himself.
“Jake said another guy was up there in bed, dead to the world. And the dog showed him the bed and made him put you in it with this other dude. I didn’t believe Jake, though. Dogs can’t be that fuckin’ smart.”
The cop leered. “So I didn’t take it serious until we saw you sittin’ here and Jake sees this guy with you.” He jerked a thumb at Fraser.
The Mountie stiffened in his seat but said nothing.
“Hey, Jake!” the cop shouted over to the table he had indicated before. “Come on over here and talk to these guys.”
The younger cop rose from the table where he was sitting, but it seemed to Ray he was reluctant. He wore a small, scared smile as he picked his way among the crowded tables to come stand near his more senior partner.
“These the same ones, Jake?”
Jake ducked his head and said, “Aw, never mind, Rick. Let’s just go eat, okay?”
“Are you kidding? No fuckin’ way! Didn’t you tell me this dude was a celebrity or somethin’?” Again, Rick indicated the Mountie.
Jake was clearly both embarrassed and over-powered by his older and louder partner. He said to Fraser in a tone that was almost apologetic, “I thought you were the guy on the cover of the Guardian.”
Fraser swallowed hard to loosen his tightening throat. “I don’t think it can worsen the present situation, so, yes, it was I.”
“So you’re doing pretty well for yourself, Vecchio. You got a pretty boy here AND he’s a fuckin’ celebrity.”
A muscle twitched in Ray’s clenched jaw and he could feel his fingers curling into fists.
The cop paused as if to savour the moment. “So, you two fags, you just fuck-buddies, or what? I mean… I just wanna know.”
Rick said this so conversationally that it took a moment for Ray to register the anger rising within him. With quick glance first at Fraser, Ray said through clenched teeth, “Why don’t you take your ass back to your table and out of my face before something gets rearranged.”
Rick grinned slyly and held up his hands in a placating motion.
“Cool out there, guy. We’ve just having a friendly conversation, right?
The man glanced in Fraser’s direction and reached out to lightly punch the Mountie’s shoulder. “Just a friendly conversation, right, pretty Mountie?”
“Maybe you want to keep your hands to yourself,” Ray went on, very low.
“Aha. Don’t want nobody else touching your boy-toy.”
“Hey, lay off, Tom. It’s not any of our business.” Jake interposed nervously.
“What? I ain’t sayin’ nothin’. Just havin’ a friendly chat. No harm, no foul, right?”
He turned away from their table to see Elaine, who had come back some time during this encounter and was standing behind him. She slid into the booth beside Ray, keeping her eyes carefully away from any one else’s.
But Rick wasn’t finished. “Hey, hey, what do we have here?” the boorish cop piped up.
“You better shut up,” Ray muttered looking down at the menu.
Rick ignored him and spoke to Elaine, “Sister, I hope you realize your boyfriend here swings both ways.”
All the while, Fraser had been breathing very hard but not moving a muscle otherwise.
“He’s been fuckin’ the Mountie. Just in case you didn’t know.”
Fraser stood up with the formal grace he usually used when he was enraged. “Officer, this is a family establishment and there is a lady right here at the table.”
The cop must have figured the delicate-looking Mountie in dress reds wasn’t much of a threat. Moreover he was had two inches on Fraser’s six feet and weighed quite a bit more. He glared at Fraser. The men stood motionless, toe to toe.
aproned and agitated, came rushing through his establishment. The two angry men
dwarfed him as he hustled up to where they stood. “Guys! Don’t start anything,
please,” he begged. He recognized the
larger cop. “Rick, maybe you better go.”
“Fuck that. I still got my dinner to finish, after I take this faggot apart.”
“Please, Rick. Look, I’ll give your dinner on the house. Anything you want, I’ll make it up to go. You name it.”
Even in the packed, noisy, restaurant this was too much of a scene to go unnoticed. All the other patrons had fallen silent and were watching. Some of Ray’s friends from the fundraiser were among the crowd.
Mike Swanson got to his feet and Ray caught sight of him out of the corner of his eye. Then a woman rose, followed by two more men. It was Jasmine, with Mike’s other friends Keith and Steve.
Rick faltered just a little
Ray jumped to his feet, and Elaine followed after.
Rick looked around to see if any of his own buddies were going to rally. The only person that moved was his young partner, Jake. He backed towards his own table and sat down there, looking defiant.
Rick was stupid, but not too stupid. “Make me an extra order of shrimp and pack all of my food up to go,” he barked at the cowering restaurant owner. “Bring it to me outside. I don’t need to stay in here with a bunch of fags.”
He marched towards the door and with what he figured to be a face-saving parting salvo, he shouted across the room. “See ya, Vecchio. Don’t wear your boyfriend out too much tonight!” Then he was out and gone.
A roar of laughter from the crowd relieved the tension. Everyone, including Ray, Fraser and Elaine sat back down. Only Conley was left standing beside their table.
“You three can have yours on the house too. That’s only fair,” he told them.
“I’m not hungry anymore,” said Ray while Fraser only studied his own fingers intently.
“I take it you didn’t have time to order me my tuna sandwich,” Elaine tossed off, trying to make it sound like a joke to lighten the mood.
“How about some nice steaks. And my wife makes the best carrot cake. Stay here and enjoy yourselves.”
Fraser leaned forward over the table and explained to his companions, “Mr. Conley wants us to stay inside so that the other gentleman will be well gone by the time we leave.”
“Your friend’s a smart man. So, how will you have your steaks? Medium all around?”
“I’m really not hungry,” Ray muttered. “Just make Elaine a tuna sandwich to go.”
“I don’t want any trouble outside my place,” Conley insisted. “Please. Stay and eat.”
They stayed only long enough to choke down in silence the food that Conley pressed upon them. Only when the last bites of carrot cakes were added to the growing lumps in their stomachs did Ray nudged Elaine. She scooted out of the booth and Ray followed, reaching into his pocket for his car keys. Fraser grabbed his Stetson and got up too.
Their departure turned several heads, but the three friends ignored the pointed stares and left the restaurant with such dignity as they could muster. The only person Ray looked at, as he walked passed the overly crowded booth where his friends sat, was Mike. Mike gave him a grin and a silent thumbs up.
Fraser left the restaurant first, standing holding the door open for the others. Ray motioned Elaine through next, ahead of him. So Ray was the last one out onto the street and to have his eyes slammed by the sight before them.
The front and rear windshields of the Riv were shattered.
“He said Dief showed them my car! He knew what my car looks like! God! Oh God!”
A beast within Ray Vecchio reared its ugly head. It strained to run off down the street, screaming, to find the son-of-a-bitch and beat him to a pulp. Ray reined the beast in. We were in there a long time, he told it, forcing it calm down. He could have gone anywhere by now. But, he’s a cop in the Chicago PD. I can find him.