Ray Kowalski was at his desk peering at a very faint fax. His eyes and forehead were crinkled and his nose was down close to the paper. He shifted position, the better to focus, straightening in his chair and lifting the paper up into to the air, moving it closer and further in front of his eyes. Just beyond the paper, he became aware of his glasses, seemingly hovering in the air in front of his face. Lowering the paper, he looked and saw the glasses were not in defiance of the law of gravity; they were simply pinched between the thumb and forefinger of Lt. Welsh.
"In your in-basket under a pile of urgent mail. By any chance are you distracted by anything these days, Detective?"
To make sure Ray wouldn't be able to get a way with a dismissive 'no, sir'and end the conversation, Welsh dropped into Ray's visitor's chair beside the desk.
Ray essayed the "No, sir" anyway.
"Wrong answer, try again," Welsh insisted.
Ray dropped the paper he was trying to read and settled his glasses on his nose, all the better to see that although Welsh's tone of voice was stern, his facial expression was not unkind.
"I'm fine. I'm just a goof-up. You know me, always goofing things up." He was disappointed to see that Welsh still wasn't buying this, but only continuing to look seriously at him.
They looked at each other for a few more moments until, at last, Welsh had to come right out with it.
"I went to see the Mountie yesterday. He's worried about you."
"Me? He's the one in the hospital and paralyzed below the waist."
"He asked me if you were all right. He was afraid you were injured or sick and nobody was telling him because we didn't want him to worry."
Ray sighed. "Um, yeah."
"I guess he must have thought the only reason you could possibly have for not coming to see him was that you COULDN'T come. It wouldn't occur to him that you were avoiding him on purpose."
"It's . . .uh . . .just so hard for me to see him like that. Vecchio's used to seeing him in the hospital. It's easier for him."
"Oh yes, of course. Vecchio and his sister and his mother and Jack and Tom all the rest of us, we're not upset at all. We're just as happy the Mountie's paralyzed. Oh, you're onto us, all right."
Ray turned away towards a window, avoiding the Lieutenant's gaze. "I sort of feel responsible. I guess it's silly, but I keep thinking I shouldn't have let him and Vecchio drive off like that."
"I thought that way at first too, Ray."
Ray looked back in surprise; Welsh seldom addressed him as Ray.
"Me and my wife thought we should have stopped them. And so did Francesca. But the fact of the matter is, it was Vecchio that grabbed the steering wheel and forced the car out of control. He caused the accident. Think how bad he feels, but he still goes every day."
"Lieu, the last time I was there they had him in this wheelchair and - oh Christ - he had a strap around his chest to keep him sitting up. I almost lost my lunch when I saw it."
"All I can say is, as much as it hurts you to see, think how much it hurts him to BE it."
"Fraser's doing fine," Ray protested, "He's in better spirits than anyone. Vecchio says he's full of all kinds of plans. Says he feels liberated."
"Come again?" This was news to the Lieutenant.
"Vecchio says Fraser says that now he's not going to be an active duty Red-dude, he's free to do anything he wants, as long as it doesn't involve walking. If he'd been healthy he'd be a Mountie for the rest of his life."
"That's an interesting thought," Welsh allowed, "But I have a feeling he's rationalizing. Anyway . . ."
"Yeah, yeah, get my ass down to the hospital."
"I can't order you to do that, Detective. It's not police business."
"No, but it's partner business. Permission to leave work early, sir? I'd like to see him alone before anybody else from the station gets there."
"Yeah, get out of here."
Ray arrived at the hospital before any visitor from the 27th arrived but Fraser was not alone. Ma Vecchio was sitting beside his bed, knitting. The scent of tomato sauce and oregano filled the room and Ray saw a large casserole dish on Fraser's meal tray, together with a bottle of homemade red wine.
Fraser was sitting up in his bed, with a sheet pulled up over his chest to about the level of his armpits. If he were strapped in place to stay up, Ray couldn't see it. Maybe that was why he was wearing the sheet. Ray had to put the thought from his mind if he were going to get through his visit with any kind of equanimity.
As he came through the door, both Fraser and Ma Vecchio said "Hello, Ray" to him at the same time. Their perfect synchronization was comical, and Ray had to smile.
"Hey," he said, hoping it sounded light-hearted.
"I made some rigatoni and there's plenty for you, too," Ma Vecchio said, gesturing to another chair by Fraser's bed, inviting him to sit.
Ray;s smile widened. Vecchio's mother had made Fraser's room an extension of her own house, it seemed. She'd taken it upon herself to greet and feed Fraser's guests. Fraser had better get out of that hospital soon or she'd have doilies and potted plants around, Ray thought. He sat down and immediately Ma reached across Fraser to hand him a plate, fork and napkin. He had little choice but to accept them.
"You'd better eat, Ray," Fraser said,"or the consequences could be dire."
It was a joke, Ray realized. He can make jokes. Well, that's more than I can do.
Rather than gainsay an old lady, Ray scooped some of the rigatoni from the casserole dish onto his plate and set to. It was no chore. The food was as tasty as he expected it would be, and the heavy pasta, together with the wine she poured for him into a plastic glass, had a pleasing, sedating effect on his nerves.
When he had finished one plate of food and declined a second, Ray forced himself to confront what was for him an embarrassing topic.
"Look, Fraser. I know I haven't been here to see you all that often but I . . ."
Fraser interrupted him. "It's all right, Ray. I know it is uncomfortable for you." He paused then went on philosophically. "I do keep putting you in uncomfortable situations, don't I? You had to pretend I was dead and see me in a coffin. And there was the time I was beaten up outside of Warfield's. And now here I am, laid up and unable to move around. It hurts to see someone you care for in a situation like that. I don't hold it against you, Ray. Really."
What the hell was this? He was saying how much he knows I care about him, but implying I'm weaker than he is and can't take stuff? This isn't making sense. This is so not making sense. He frowned slightly.
Ma Vecchio picked up on it. "Boys, boys. Let's talk about things we can do to make the situation better. Ray, if you're willing I have a favour to ask for Beniton's sake."
"Ma, please," Fraser protested but the woman shushed him to silence.
"You be quiet, Benito. You know a lot about people but you don't know everything. It will make Ray feel good to do something for you. Isn't that so, Ray?"
He had no choice but to nod agreement. Vecchio's mother was right, being able to help in some tangible way did make people feel more comfortable when their friends were in real difficulty - Ray knew that much.
"Il Lupino has been staying at our house. Sorry, I mean Diefenbaker. I call him Il Lupino. I've tried and my Raymondo has tried and Benito himself has tried to get him in here to visit but we can't get permission. Maybe you could try. Talk to somebody at the hospital and get them to let him in. Then maybe you could come over to the house and pick him up and bring him here. It would be so nice for Benito. You could try that, couldn't you?"
"Yeah sure," Ray again had no option but to agree. He doubted he could me more persuasive than either the loveable Mountie or the concerned mother figure, but then, wouldn't it be a coup indeed if he could pull it off. He thought back to descriptions he had heard and read about the time Fraser had been cooped up at St. John's, years before when Vecchio shot him in the back. Diefenbaker had been allowed to hang around - and a good thing too, but apparently it was not the case in this hospital.
"I'll see what I can do," he offered, somewhat lamely, but it was enough to satisfy Ma Vecchio, who beamed approval at him.
"Now, Ray. Tell us all the gossip from the station. When my Raymondo is here he's so serious all the time, he never tells Benito anything really funny."
Nothing had seemed really funny to Ray lately but there was always a parade of oddball characters going through a police station. He dug into his memory for any events during the last few weeks that qualified as even mildly amusing and recanted them. Ma Vecchio poured herself a glass of wine and sipped while she listened. Fraser nibbled at the occasional piece of rigatoni and he, too, appeared engrossed. With such an appreciative audience, Ray began to feel like a gifted entertainer and kept on for a good twenty minutes. Ma Vecchio refilled his wine glass, which also aided in his efforts as a raconteur.
After a while, Ma Vecchio yawned loudly, which took Ray a bit by surprise, since it seemed like she was having so much fun.
"Oh, I'm sorry Ray. I'm just getting tired. I've been here since . . ." she looked at her watch " . . . oh dear, it's so late. Who knew it was so late? My children will be home for dinner any minute. Ray, if it's not too much trouble, could you drive me home?"
It was a sudden change of mood and Ray was taken a little aback. The emotional showdown he'd been afraid of hadn't even happened yet and now he was going to leave? Not that he minded much; it was kind of a relief.
Ma Vecchio set about putting her knitting away in a large embroidered bag. "Maybe you could bring your car around to the front door, Ray, if you don't mind. I'll meet you downstairs in a few minutes."
Ray made vague noises indicating obedience and got out of his chair. To Fraser, he said, "I'll be back and if it's humanly possible I'll have Dief with me."
"Thank you kindly, Ray. It was good to see you."
With Ma Vecchio and himself dominating the conversations, Fraser hadn't said much during Ray's visit. But, Fraser did look genuinely pleased to see him and that gave Ray a feeling of satisfaction. The guilt he'd been feeling at avoiding Fraser was easing and he was already planning in his mind the eloquent appeal he was going to make to some hospital dude to get Fur-face into see his daddy.
"Good, then, um, I'll see you downstairs, Mrs. Vecchio, and, um, Fraser, I'll . . . I guess . . .I' ll be back."
"I look forward to it, Ray," Fraser said, simply.
With a last look at his friend, Ray headed out of the room. Fraser didn't get a single bit of sauce on that white sheet, he thought, as he left. It was a comforting thought. Fraser was still Fraser, paralyzed or not.
Once he was safely out, Fraser took the sheet down off his chest and tossed it as hard as he was able. It didn't quite clear his lower body, so Ma Vecchio took it completely off him and folded it down by the foot of the bed. Fraser activated a button on his bed and lowered himself to a flat position. Once there, he unbuckled the strap that had been holding him upright before.
"You're very good with him," Fraser said, half into his pillow as he snuggled in.
"I raised four children. You learn things."
"You're good with me, too."
She patted his arm. "Should I leave the rigatoni?"
He shifted slightly to look back at her. "You may as well take the pan back and wash it, I'm not going to be able to."
"You will be able to, in time. I'd better go. Ray will be waiting. I can't come again until Thursday. I'll call you." She planted a kiss on the top of his head, then re-arranged his hospital gown so that it covered as much as it was capable of covering, before heading out, leaving the food and the wine behind as Fraser knew she would.
Ma Vecchio ended up waiting for Ray a few minutes. On the way out he had stopped to inquire at an information desk in the hospital's main lobby to find out whom to call to get help with a patient's special needs. The volunteer, an elderly man, gave him the telephone number of Patient Services and assured him that one of the social workers would be only too happy to talk to him - during regular office hours.
Ray muttered his disapproval, grousing that patients could very easily need help outside of office hours.
The old man was quick to agree, and punched a button on the telephone on his counter. "If it can't wait, we can talk to the head nurse on his floor. Does your friend need something right away?"
Ray regretted his ill-temper. He was still on edge. He assured the kindly man that tomorrow during office hours would be fine, thanked him for his help, pocketed the card and went out to his car.
He called the next morning and made an appointment with a Ms. Walter for later in the afternoon. From what the old man at the desk told him, he supposed she was some kind of social worker. Actually he didn't know what kinds of social workers existed. The only people in that profession he had ever dealt with were those who were trying to help the youngsters he sometimes arrested.
Ms. Walter met him at the door of Patient Services. She was maybe ten years older than Ray himself, but with a trimness of body and handsomeness of face that generally did not change with the passage of time. She was tall, only a few inches shorter than Ray and carried herself with a straight back, and confident air. She might have come off as aloof and haughty but for her bright eyes and warm smile.
They did not go into the Patient Services office, but instead she led him to a separate room furnished much like one of the common rooms on the patients' floors. It had couches and armchairs that were institutional but not too uncomfortable. Ray supposed this was supposed to be a nicer environment than an office, a place where she and her colleagues could put people at ease while they worked out problems a bit more perturbing than wanting a visit from one's wolf.
Ray told his tale and she nodded from time to time, doing the kind of active listening that Ray had taken a mandatory course to learn but never employed in his own questioning of suspects. He wound up his plea, and waited.
"If I'd known this was for Mr. Fraser before we made the appointment, I would have referred you to his assigned caseworker," she began.
"Great, so I just wasted my time. This doesn't make me happy, lady," Ray countered, ready to be belligerent.
"You haven't wasted your time. I agree with you that it would be beneficial to have his wolf with him. I don't think any reasonable person would disagree."
"Except whoever keeps telling him no," Ray pointed out.
"We do have patients that are allergic. Is he able to move around in his wheelchair?"
"If somebody puts him in and straps him down."
"Well, in that case, there's always the option of spending some time with his animal outside the hospital building. It's not as convenient as having, what do you call him . . ."
"Diefenbaker," Ray repeated, thinking, yeah they taught us that in the course - use names as much as you can. People like to hear names. God, what a racket.
"Diefenbaker. It's not as convenient as having Diefenbaker come right up to his room but at least now that Mr. Fraser is able to go about in a wheelchair he doesn't have to be completely cut off.
When he was in St. John's before, his wolf stayed with him, kept him company. Kept his spirits up."
"We've discussed Mr. Fraser's case at staff meetings. My impression from his case worker was that he was in pretty good spirits."
"Oh, I see. So you'd help him if he were suffering more, but if he's brave he gets shafted. Excuse me while I wrap my head around that one."
"That's unfair, Mr. Kowalski. I'm just trying to give you a little perspective," she stood up. "I'll see what I can arrange. There are legal issues we have to deal with. Patients who have allergies to pet hair have been known to sue the hospital. We do have a therapeutic animal program on some of the wards, though. Perhaps if we use that avenue. Anyway, you'll have to leave it with me."
She remained standing, looking down at him. Ray got to his feet. The meeting was clearly over as far as Ms. Walter was concerned but she didn't look particularly annoyed. He remembered what Fraser kept trying to tell him, that he shouldn't remain seated when a lady was ever standing. It occurred to him that Fraser couldn't quite do that anymore and he smirked at the irony of it.
"I'm sorry. Did I say something funny?" Ms. Walter asked, catching the change in his expression.
"No, sorry. It's just . . . Fraser's a polite guy. He's Canadian - always super polite. He used to bug me to always stand up when a lady is standing. Now he can't do that anymore. Must bug the hell out of him, but he never shows it. I was with him yesterday and he was just happy as a clam."
Ms. Walter surprised Ray by sitting back down. "You're pretty close to him, obviously."
"We used to be partners."
Her eyebrows shot up, prompting him to clarify. "No, not that kind of partners. Police partners. We're both cops. Well, maybe he won't be a cop anymore now."
"And he's in good spirits whenever you see him?"
Ray didn't want to admit how seldom he actually saw Fraser, but he had been hearing everyone else's reports. Not once had he heard anyone say they'd found Fraser despondent. Never even cranky. All he said in answer was "Yeah."
"hat's very interesting. Well, as I said, I'll try to see what I can do about the wolf."
This time it was Ray who signaled the end of the encounter, holding out his hand. "Sorry about being so pissy. It just hurts, you know. I guess you would know how people can feel."
"I do indeed," she assured him, taking his hand and rising at the same time. She gave his hand a brief, polite squeeze and turned to escort him back to the corridor. "Leave me your number. I'll be in touch."
After Ray had gone, Julia checked out the file of Mr. Fraser. Her colleague, Lottie, had been the one to meet with this patient in his room, evaluate his situation and determine that no intervention was necessary. She knew this basic information, but now, with the file open in front of her on her desk and her full attention on the matter, she found Mr. Fraser intriguing. He was paralyzed, most likely permanently, but with a small chance of recovery. Most certainly he couldn't leave the hospital alone, much less live on his own in the future, but no exit strategy was on file.
Julia caught up with Lottie when she came into the office later in the day and asked if she remembered the case.
"The Canadian? I'll remember him as long as I live. He's my proof, once and for all, that there is no God."
Julia blinked in confusion. "Again, please?"
"You haven't seen him yet, have you?"
Julia shook her head. "No reason why I would have."
"Jul, no compassionate God could create a man that looks that good and then paralyze him below the waist. It's unthinkable. Ergo, there's no God."
"You're just lacking in imagination," Julia teased her, and the two woman enjoyed a laugh together. "No, but really. Why aren't we doing anything for this guy?" Julia pressed.
Lottie's good humour vanished at once. "How many good reasons do you need? One: he's a foreigner, not even a resident of this country officially and you and I and everybody in this office gets paid with American tax-payers' money."
Julia sniffed, unimpressed.
"Two: even if we wanted to take action, he's out of our jurisdiction. Three - and this is the biggie, Jul - his government is already taking care of him. On top of that, I understand he's got a pile of friends falling all over themselves to do stuff for him."
"Still, there's no reason we can't try to help arrange some little thing that all of them can't," Julia countered.
"Christ, Julia! Don't you have enough of a caseload to keep you busy? Because if not, you can freakin' well take some of my clients. I just came from a woman, she's going out of here tomorrow on crutches and she has no place to go except back to the same house where her husband's probably going to break her other leg. Unless she takes three kids with her to a shelter. She's got more to worry about then getting a visit from a doggie. So if you've got time to spare, you can help me with some of these cases, because I don't have enough time to get to them all."
Lottie's point was compelling but Julia was convinced there was a flaw in the logic somewhere, she just didn't know where. She muttered a vague "Yeah, I guess so" to placate Lottie and went back to her own desk, deep in thought. It was a good thing that this Mr. Fraser had a lot of resources to help him, but it wouldn't cost her too much time to look into the wolf situation. She had promised his friend she would do that, after all, and it was only right to try to keep that promise.
The friend, what was his name? She consulted her notes - Detective Kowalski. He's not bad looking either, Julia mused. I wonder if there's a possibility in this for me? She laughed softly to herself and resolved to go have a visit with this Canadian, if only to find out if he was as attractive as Lottie seemed to think he was, or at least as easy on the eyes as Detective Kowalski. She looked down again at the paperwork. The Canadian was a cop too, apparently. Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
As she sat there, a response to Lottie came to her in the form of a quote from 'The Merchant of Venice'.
The quality of mercy is not strained. It falleth like a gentle rain from Heaven.
It falleth like a gentle rain from Heaven.
Except for the few minutes spent with Detective Kowalski and a half an hour to get some lunch, Julia had spent her day working with case after heart-breaking case and all of them had fewer people pulling for them than did this Canadian cop. But that wasn't important right now. What was important was that nobody had a right to quantify other peoples' suffering and help them according to some arbitrary scale of 'deserving'. Mister Fraser, I'm going to get you your doggie, she resolved.
Since that horrible, agonizing time when her son and Fraser went missing during their vacation in the wilderness, Ma Vecchio didn't have many occasions to see Lt. Welsh. But she certainly recognized him when he showed up at her front door one evening.
Diefenbaker joined them at the door, bounding down the stairs at the sound of someone's arrival into his temporary domain. He snuffled Welsh in greeting and Welsh gave him a quick pat.
Ma Vecchio greeted him somewhat less demonstratively, and she told him that her son was out - visiting Fraser, in fact.
"That's okay, Mrs. Vecchio. It's you I want to talk with, if you have a few minutes."
She brought him in and sat him down in the living room. "Let me just get you some coffee," she began.
"No, thank you Mrs. Vecchio. I won't be staying that long. I just wanted to ask you something. Vecchio . . . Ray . . . your son . . . tells me you're over at the hospital a lot."
"I think of Benito . . . Fraser . . . as one of my own children. I wanted him to move in with us but he refused."
"I didn't know that. I mean that you offered to take him in," Welsh paused and then said, "Actually, if you already have the coffee made and it's no bother . . ."
For all that Ma Vecchio didn't want to interrupt this train of conversation, there was no way she was going to let such a request go un-fulfilled. She shouted for Maria and when her daughter came down she ordered her to the kitchen. She waited for Maria to be out of earshot then asked Welsh to go on with what he wanted to talk about.
"You spend more time with Fraser than anybody else does, even your son. How does he seem to you?" he asked.
It was an absurdly open-ended question and Ma had to ask him to be more specific.
"This cheerful act. Like he's looking forward to some wonderful new adventure and everything is lollipops and roses," Welsh explained.
"He wants to make the most of his situation, I guess," Ma said, cautiously.
"He's not like that all day long, is he? I mean, does he keep it up non-stop?"
It seemed that Welsh had already surmised quite a bit about Benito's mood but still Ma hesitated to confide in him. Benito would not like it.
"Look, Mrs. Vecchio, your son and I have both seen Fraser in many different moods. When something personal upsets him, he has a tendency to sulk. He gets depressed easily. Ray tells me that after the incident with that Metcalfe woman he went into a real funk."
Ma appreciated Welsh's tact. He had said 'after that incident with that Metcalfe woman' and not 'after your son shot him' and that reminded her of the concern he had shown the family back when the boys were missing. Yes, he had Benito's welfare at heart, she was sure and decided to confide in him after all.
"Back then I didn't know Benito well enough to consider him my own boy, like I do now. I never saw him in the hospital but my Raymondo has told me about those times. You're right. He plunges very easily into darkness, and he knows it. I think . . . from what I'm seeing these days . . . he�s afraid to give in to any bad thoughts. He's afraid if he falls into a hole, he'll drop too far into it to ever get out."
"What about hope, Mrs. Vecchio, does he give in to that ever?"
"Give in to hope? What do you mean, Lieutenant?"
"From what I heard, the doctors tell him he's got a chance he'll get feeling back - a small chance, but a chance all the same. Does he ever talk about that?"
"Never. Sometimes when we are alone together he allows himself a little bit of sadness. I think he rations it out to himself, carefully, in little bits. But not hope. When he is alone at night, who knows?"
It was at this moment that Ray came through the front door, opened the vestibule to put his jacket away and saw a coat and hat inside that didn't belong there but somehow seemed familiar. Then he heard Welsh's voice coming from his own living room and made the connection.
"Is he staying in Chicago?" Welsh was saying, as Ray hung his coat up and ambled into the living room.
Welsh and Ma turned as he approached and Diefenbaker trotted over to greet him at his homecoming.
"Raymondo, you're home," Ma stated, unnecessarily.
Ray slouched, hands in his pants pockets. "So, mind if I join you?" he said then slid onto the couch beside his mother, since his own usual chair was occupied by Welsh. Diefenbaker took position at Ray's feet so that Ray could pet him as they talked.
"Your lieutenant came over to see how Benito was doing," Ma said.
"Uh, Ma, shouldn't he go over to the hospital if he wants to see how Benny's doing?"
"Caro, at the hospital he would see what Benito shows him. For the truth, he knows to come to me." She returned her attention back to their guest. "Our Benito is a clever boy. He talks and talks and keeps saying that he has so many options and you have to really listen to notice that he never says which one he intends to take."
"So what do we do?" Welsh asked her.
"Whatever he'll let you do. It's easier for him to take help from me - I'm a mother. Any boy can let a mother take care of him and it's not so embarrassing. Letting a friend help, that's another story. Even so, sometimes I feel like I'm not accomplishing anything."
"Are you kidding? Mrs. Vecchio, you're a worker of miracles! You should see Kowalski. He's perkier than I've seen him in weeks. It was you that sent him off on that wolf-quest, wasn't it?"
Ma smiled. "Ray is easier to help. That's a good way to say it: I sent him on a quest."
"What better way to make a man feel like a hero," Welsh said, philosophically.
"Is it working? Does he feel better?"
Ray answered. "I saw him this morning and he said he was going to the hospital to chew out some social workers. You could just see him twitching to kick someone in the head. He was his old self."
"Thats okay for Kowalski. He CAN go back to being his old self. That's not an option for Fraser."
"Say amen to that, sir."
Diefenbaker whined for their attention. Ray leaned down to him. "How's that, Dief?" He listened to Diefenbaker's brief oration of yips and then sat back thoughtfully. "Dief"s got a point. Some kind of quest might not be bad for Fraser either. Working with M.A.D.D. is helping me a lot."
"Raymondo, of course!" Ma exclaimed.
Diefenbaker woofed in an annoyed tone.
"Yes, Lupino. It was your idea first."
"What was Diefenbaker's idea?" Maria asked as she entered the room carrying a large, ornate silver tray with a coffee pot, three cups and saucers, a plate of pastries and the various accoutrements that went with all of that.
"You want to get me a cup too, Maria?" Ray tossed in.
"No," his sister said. She put her burden on the coffee table, poured Welsh a cup of coffee and handed it to him. Then she did the same for her mother and herself. Only then did she settle into the one unoccupied armchair left and repeat her question. "What idea?"
Ma hadn't intended for her children to be part of this discussion but it didn't seem as though there were any way out of it, save ordering them from the room. She resigned herself to including all of the family in the talk. "To get Fraser interested in some project." She explained to her daughter.
"It worked after Victoria," Ray pointed out, helping himself to two cookies. He ate one himself and held out the other for the wolf. "But that just happened by accident. If he hadn't seen that doctor through the window and got interested, who knows how much longer he would have been depressed. We can't expect another crime to just happen in front of his eyes."
"Agreed. We can't expect that kind of good luck again," Welsh said.
"Excuse me, sir. I don't call a bullet in any part of my personal body any kind of good luck."
Welsh ignored him. "Mrs. Vecchio, do you at least know his immediate plans when he leaves the hospital?"
"This I do know. His consulate has arranged for him to go to some rehabilitation place in Toronto to start off with. The RCMP is arranging his transportation so that much is settled."
Ray nodded. "He's not thrilled about going to Toronto but he says it's a good facility and he hopes he won't have to stay there too long."
"I've been to Toronto," Maria put in. "Fraser will hate it."
"If he gets out to see enough to hate, he'll be doing well," was Ma's pronouncement. "But getting back to our problem, I'm not sure what we can get Benito interested in. There's so little time."
If Julia wanted to go see Mr. Fraser, she'd have to do it on her own time. He wasn't on her caseload so she couldn't justify an official visit. As luck would have it, there was a family whose various members could only get together after office hours and Julia had already arranged to meet with them the next evening. It was after ten when they left. Since regular visiting hours were over by then, she could expect Mr. Fraser to be alone in his room.
She locked up the Patient Services office and took the elevator to his floor. Pausing first outside his door, she listened to see if there was anything going on that she shouldn't interrupt. At first she heard nothing, but listening more closely she made out sounds. Sniffling. It was a sound she knew all too well, of someone about to cry. It only took a moment for this to be confirmed and she heard a man's sobbing. Unwilling to embarrass him by walking in at that moment, she decided to go get a coffee and give him time to cry himself out.
When she came back twenty minutes later the light was still on in Mr. Fraser's room. Good, he wasn't asleep yet. She knocked at the open door as a courtesy before entering.
Mr. Fraser was sitting up, strapped into an upright position as Detective Kowalski had led her to believe she would find him and he was writing in a notebook. When she entered he put it aside and took hold of the sides of his bed, pressing his arms down. She wondered why and then remembered what Detective Kowalski had said. He was, by force of habit, trying to stand up because a woman had entered the room. A brief wave of pity washed over her, seeing this gesture. He'd momentarily forgotten he was paralyzed as well as strapped down. His arms relaxed and he addressed her politely.
"Good evening. Have you had any success with getting me my wolf?"
"Excuse me?" Julia was startled.
"Aren't you a social worker?"
"How would you know that?"
"You walked in here with an air of confidence, as though you were accustomed to entering a patient's room. So you're connected to the hospital in some way, but you're not wearing any kind of uniform or lab coat. You're not here for a medical procedure or you would have come in right in when you first arrived twenty minutes ago. The rest is conjecture. My friend, Detective Kowalski, told me he was going to see someone about my wolf. You might have been some kind of administrator but you came here after hours and someone in an administrative function wouldn't likely do that. You also had the delicacy to go away and come back later. I appreciate that, by the way. I hope it hasn't disrupted your schedule too much."
"As it happens, I'm off duty." Julia hadn't intended to confide that to the patient but it slipped out.
"And you still came to see me. I appreciate that too," the man in the bed said.
She stood studying him. It seemed only fair enough since he had deduced her first. He was as handsome as Lottie described him, but in a different kind of way than Detective Kowalski. He had a boyish, innocent look, all the more so for the residual redness of his nose and eyes from his crying spell. He seemed of average build, neither thin nor fat. A sheet covered him to the waist and above that he wore a short-sleeved t-shirt with some kind of coat of arms on it - an RCMP logo perhaps. The arms that he showed were well-muscled. So, this is what a Mountie looked like.
"About Diefenbaker?" he prompted her.
"Yes, sorry. I was drifting. It's late, I've had a long day."
The Mountie motioned to a chair. "Won't you be seated, Ms . . .?"
"Julia. This is unofficial, Mr. Fraser."
"Unusual name. Is it typical Canadian?"
He smiled. "No, just unusual. It's really a surname. When I was born my mother was living in the far north. She was out in a cabin in the bush when she went into early labour. She had a CB radio with her in the cabin and she used it to call for help. There was a doctor in the closest town, a Dr. Benton. It took him an hour by dogsled to get out to her and he stayed there for two days while she was in labour. Then he drove her and me back to town on his dogsled. I'm only just thinking of it now, as I tell you the story, that I rode my first dogsled when I was only a few hours old."
"By which I take it you ride dogsleds quite often."
"Yes, I've lived my whole life in the north, until five years ago when I came to Chicago on the trail of my father's killer and for reasons which don't need exploring at this juncture I remained attached to the Canadian Consulate."
"You came looking for your father's killer all those years later? That's must be quite a story."
"Oh no, Dad was alive when I was born, but he was out on the trail. It was only five years ago that he was killed. But it is quite a story. Takes about two hours to tell and I wouldn't keep you that long. Dad was a Mountie too. I was supposed to be named after him, Robert Junior, but my mother insisted on naming me Benton to thank the doctor. I would have been Bob, otherwise. Actually, I wouldn't have been anybody, otherwise. I doubt mother or I would have survived if Doctor Benton hadn't been there." He paused and looked thoughtful. "I have no idea why I'm telling you all this."
"It's my job for people to tell me things."
"Apparently you're good at it. I used to be good at my job. But now I won't be able to do that job any more and I'm being to wonder if I can be good at anything else. Oh dear, I'm sorry. You're off duty. You ARE here about Diefenbaker, aren't you?"
"I've made some enquiries. It's like I told your friend, the problem is with other patients' allergies. We normally don't want to risk introducing dog hair - wolf hair - into the hospital environment."
"Understood," the Mountie said, resignedly.
"I'm sorry. At least it's summer and you won't be too uncomfortable seeing him outside the building. The best I can arrange is to make sure there's someone available to take you downstairs if you let me know when your friend is bringing the wolf over."
"I'm going to be separated from Dief for a long time. He may never be able to live with me. I know he'll have a good home with my friends but we've been together a long time - Diefenbaker and I. I was hoping to spend more time with him. But, I guess I understand. Thank you for stopping by, Julia."
His last sentence had a tone of dismissal, but Julia didn't take offence. The man had every right to be upset and was more polite in this unhappy mood than most people were at the best of times.
An idea came to her. "Benton, is your wolf good with kids? Would he stay calm among a group of children. Let them get close and pet him?"
"Well, the hospital does have a therapeutic pet visit program. We gather some of the children from the pediatric floor in one of the common rooms. The parents sign waivers and we bring the animals in as quickly as possible through the service entrance. Normally we have specially trained animals for this purpose but if you can get some authority to vouch for your wolf's good nature, I might be able to let you take him to see the children."
"I can get both the Chicago PD and the government of Canada to vouch for Diefenbaker. I think he'd like to bring some happiness to the children. It might very well do him some good."
"Yes. Your wolf is facing some difficult times. Being separated from you, I mean. I think if I were in Diefenbaker's situation, I might very well feel a little better if I could help someone else. I'm sure the children would be very excited to see a real live wolf. And you yourself might have some interesting stories to tell, since you have to be there with him anyway."
Were those tears welling up in the Mountie's eyes? Julia thought so but she wasn't close enough to him to be sure.
"I just might," he allowed.
"Whom should I call in the morning to set this up?" Julia asked him.
The Mountie picked up his notebook from beside him on the bed and turned to the back page. He wrote a name and telephone number, ripped the page out and handed it to her, saying "Wait until the afternoon. I'll call my commanding officer first and explain the situation so she'll know to expect your call. And I'll have my friends bring Diefenbaker over so I can explain it to him. I'm sure he'll be happy to oblige."
Since the man had seemed otherwise perfectly sane, Julia let this last bit go unchallenged. She took the paper and bade him goodnight.
There was no way Julia was going to miss seeing the wolf and the Mountie visit the children. On the appointed day and time she made sure to reschedule her appointments so that she would be free to go to the pediatric floor to witness the event. As she was on her way through the hospital corridor, a disgruntled mother of a patient recognized her and waylaid her with some tale of woe. It strained all of Julia's professional patience to get rid of the woman without seeming to be getting rid of her.
When she arrived at the pediatric floor's common room, Mr. Fraser (she couldn't think of him as Benton, the name was just too silly) and his animal were already there. The fine looking animal sat patiently beside the Mountie's wheelchair while the latter introduced both of them to the children. A dozen or so children sat around them - some on chairs, a couple on pillows on the floor and a few in wheelchairs. Julia had been wondering whether Mr. Fraser would be wearing his RCMP uniform but he was not. He had on a navy blue sweat suit. From her vantage point at the doorway she could only see his back but she noted with approval that he had not covered up the strap that held him in upright in his wheelchair.
Unwilling to disturb the group or call attention to herself, she at first stayed in the doorway listening. Mr. Fraser did not turn to look at her and the children were so accustomed to adults coming and going on the ward that none of them gave her more than a cursory glance before returning their attention to the much more interesting visitors.
Fraser had just finished explaining that the children should remain seated and the wolf would come around to them one by one to be petted. He also warned that the wolf was deaf, so it would be useless for them to call out to him. He, Fraser, would tell them some stories of his and Diefenbaker's adventures in the far north while they waited their turn. He instructed them to look directly at the wolf when they talked to him and call him Dief, and to call himself 'Constable Fraser'.
The children nodded and muttered to themselves, absorbing these instructions.
During this pause one of the children sitting on the floor, a bald-headed boy of about ten, called out belligerently, "I should get the wolf first. I'm dying."
A chorus of protests and shouts of derisions arose from the other children and Julia took advantage of the distraction to slip into the room and pull up a chair to sit in the back. She caught Fraser's eye briefly (from now on she would know to call him Constable) and he inclined his head slightly to acknowledge her presence. Julia was curious to see how the Mountie would handle the situation.
"I'm sorry to hear that," Constable Fraser said to the boy, mildly.
"Oh, he's always saying that," a younger girl whined. "You're not the only one with cancer, Billy."
"Yeah." a number of other children chimed in.
"Some others of you have cancer, then?" Constable Fraser asked the group.
Hands shot up from around the room, as the children answered as though in a classroom.
"Not me. I'm paralyzed," said one of the boys in a wheelchair.
"Me too. I have to wear this around my chest or I'll fall over," Constable Fraser said to him, conversationally.
"Sucks to be you!" called out an older boy. This evoked a general laugh around the room and Constable Fraser joined in with it.
The boy on the floor was not going to be upstaged. "I want to see the wolf first. I'm entitled," he insisted.
"Diefenbaker makes his own decisions, I'm afraid," Constable Fraser said, shaking his head sadly. "I try and try to get him to do what I say but he has a mind of his own." With this, Constable Fraser reached out and touched the animal on the shoulder. Diefenbaker turned and looked at him. "Go see the children now, please," he said slowly, enunciating each word in an exaggerated manner.
The Mountie's pretty smooth, Julia thought. Few people she knew would have been able to handle that situation without melting into goo.
Diefenbaker woofed a couple of woofs of acknowledgement, got up and ambled to the very back of the room where Julia was sitting.
"What can I say," the Mountie said ruefully, "He just seems to like the ladies best. There was one time when Diefenbaker and a pregnant Inuit lady and I were stranded in a cabin in a snowstorm. Her husband was out trapping and Dief and I . . ."
He launched into a story and then another and then another, while the children divided their attention between the Mountie and animal. An hour flew by before they knew it, and a group of nurses and candy-stripers appeared to take the children back to their rooms.
Julia was left with Fraser and Diefenbaker. An orderly appeared who announced he was there to ensure the dog left the building promptly.
"You'll have to go out the service elevator the way you came in, I'm afraid," Fraser said seriously to wolf. "I'll come along and see you out. Ray should be waiting. Julia, would you like to join us? We're meeting my friend Ray in the front."
"I'd love to," she said, glancing at her watch. Her next client would be waiting but the chance to see Detective Kowalski again made her decide to let the client wait a few more minutes.
Fraser set off, wheeling himself in his chair, with the wolf trotting along on one side and the social worker keeping step on the other side, while the orderly tagged along behind, trying to look like he had a reason for being there.
On the elevator down, Julia commented that she was pleased to have been able to prove to Detective Kowalski that she could indeed be of help and looked forward to pointing that out to him when she saw him downstairs.
"Oh, I'm afraid Ray won't be here until about seven. Dief and I are going to meet my other friend, Ray."
"Are all your friends are named Ray?" Julia asked, amused.
"Actually it was planned that way," Fraser said, mischievously, "My friend Ray had to go on an undercover mission and another detective took his place to protect his identity. We had to call him Ray, to protect Ray's cover, but as it turned out Ray's name really was Ray. So it wasn't really all that confusing."
Julia wasn't sure she agreed with that last statement, but decided not to pursue the matter. Not being particularly interested in enlarging her circle of Rays, she parted company with them when the elevator got to the main floor and promised to come by Fraser's room a little after seven to say hello.
As the remaining trio headed towards the main doors, Fraser said to Diefenbaker. "I think she's interested in Ray. She's a bit older than he is but I think they'd make a good couple, don't you?�
Diefenbaker barked in response.
"That's true but I think he'd benefit from the influence of a more mature person."
When they all reached the large glass doors leading to the outside, Fraser addressed the orderly for the first time. "Thank you kindly for the escort. We'll be fine from here."
The young man happily made his escape and the two friends went out to find Ray Vecchio waiting for them. He held a Styrofoam cup in one hand and a paper bag in the other.
"Took you long enough," he groused when they came out. "How'd Furface do with the kiddies? Here hold this." He handed the coffee cup to Fraser so his own hand was free to take a cookie from the paper bag he was holding. Then he put the bag in Fraser's lap, saying, "Ma made cookies. Now gimme my coffee back."
Fraser handed back the cup, saying, "I think he had a wonderful time. It did him some good to be reminded how it felt to help others," Fraser said, while taking a cookie from the bag.
Diefenbaker fixed his gaze on the bag of cookies and started to whine.
"No, the rest of these are for Fraser. You get yours at home," Ray said, trying to sound stern.
Whether through lack of hearing or lack of wanting to listen, Diefenbaker paid him no attention. He came around in front of Fraser's wheelchair and whined more loudly and insistently.
"Ray said no, Dief," Fraser scolded.
Diefenbaker was not impressed. He pushed himself up on his hind legs, planted his front paws in Fraser's lap and whined all the more loudly.
"Ouch! You heard what Ray said. Now get down and get your claws off me."
Diefenbaker complied and Fraser absently rubbed his legs where the wolf's nails had dug into his skin.
The cup dropped from Ray's hand.
Diefenbaker leaped forward to lick up the coffee from the pavement, while Ray only stood staring at Fraser.
"What?" the Mountie said, puzzled.
"Your legs hurt?" Vecchio asked, trying to stay calm.
"Ray, have you trimmed his nails even once since the accident? I'm trusting you to take proper care of him and you're neglecting the most basic elements of that care. You're letting him eat sweets; you're letting his nails grow out of control. I can't imagine what other . . ."
"Fraser!" Ray interrupted.
"What!" the Mountie shot back, annoyed.
"He hurt your leg!"
"Which is totally out of character for Diefenbaker. He's not himself at all. Ray, how could you let this happen? I know you and Ma want to be nice to him but it is no kindness in the long run to let him get out of hand like this."
"Benny. Your leg."
"You're babbling, Ray."
"You don't get it, do you?" Ray felt around his pockets and located a pen. He reached over and dug it deep into Fraser's right leg.
Fraser yelped. Then he realized. "You hurt me, Ray."
"Yeah, I hurt you."
"I have feeling in my leg. Ray, I have feeling in my leg!"
"Took you long enough to notice."
Fraser was speechless. He sat looking down at his legs in shock. Ray had to take control of the situation. "Dief, you stay here. I'm going to take Benny back inside and tell somebody what happened. Won't be long, okay?"
He took hold of the handles of Fraser's wheelchair and steered the still frozen Mountie back inside the building.
The doctor warned Fraser not to be too hopeful of a full recovery. The return of sensation was a promising sign but it didn't guarantee the return of voluntary movement. Fraser, after the first shock wore off, regained his former outward composure. His friends rejoiced on his behalf, but in the days that followed he regained sensation, but no motor control.
Numbering among these friends now was Julia, whose relationship with Ray Kowalski was building slowly but steadily. Apprehensive though she had been at first about asking him out, she was never one to back off from a challenge.
The question arose whether Fraser should still go the rehabilitation center in Toronto or wait for further developments. It was settled by an unexpected agency: the administrator of the RCMP medical plan who notified Thatcher that since Fraser was now considered stable enough to travel, the insurance carrier would not cover any further out-of-Canada medical coverage. He was going to have no choice but to remain on Canadian soil as long as he needed any kind of active medical treatment.
"After a while, he'll either have his permanent disability pension or the use of his legs. One way or the other he'll have his freedom back eventually," was Ma's analysis of the situation. "At least Benito is a patient man."