“You opened it,” Ray groused as he took a small envelope from Elaine. “See it says ‘Private and Confidential’ and you went and opened it.”
From his usual chair in front of Ray’s desk, Fraser offered, “I’m sure it’s just departmental policy.”
Elaine gave Fraser a look of affection, which was totally lost on him, and then said to Ray, “Great deduction, Detective. Yeah, I opened it. And so did a dozen other people before me. Have a look and you’ll see why.”
Ray first flipped the envelope over to the look at the return address on the back, but it was not familiar. Then he read the address on the hand-written envelope aloud for Fraser to hear:
Officer Del Vecchio and Officer Fraser
c/o Chicago Police Department
“Headquarters sent this to all fourteen Del Vecchios in the Department. Thank God they tried you before sending it to all the Officer Frasers. You’re lucky it got to you at all,” said Elaine.
As Ray was pulling a card out of the envelope, Elaine further informed him. “It’s a party invitation. The party was last Tuesday night. Your friends need some serious life skills training.”
Ray read the card and then handed it to Fraser, while saying to Elaine. “You don’t know the half of it.” To Fraser he said, “I swear, Fraser, some people can be so clueless. It’s from Louise and Vinnie Webber. Look at this: they’re inviting us to Joey’s first birthday party. They must have moved, that’s not the same address as before.”
“I haven’t seen them in the neighbourhood for months.” Fraser said. “I guess that explains why. Are you familiar with that part of town? What kind of neighbourhood are they living in now?” Fraser gestured to the envelope.
“Don’t know. Well, we missed the party. What do you want to do? Maybe we should call or something?”
“I would hate for the Webbers to think we just stood them up. Let’s go visit them and take some gift along for Joey.”
“Hey, it’s the week after Christmas. I don’t want to go near a store if I don’t have to. You take your life in your hands. Why don’t you whittle them something?”
“It might be a better idea to get them a gift certificate from Sears Roebuck, Ray.”
Ray was astonished. “What? Don’t you want to carve them something out of a moose bone?”
But Fraser seemed thoughtful. “The Webbers were in financial straits when we last saw them Ray. There might be something they want for Joey and can’t afford.”
“Gift certificate it is, then.” Ray dug into his pocket and pulled out some bills. “Here, take this and add something of your own. You’re used to fighting wild animals – you go to the department store when they’ve got all that after-Christmas mobs.”
Fraser observed that wild animals didn’t usually go to department stores, other than that one time a bear had wandered into the Hudson’s Bay Store in Tuktoyuktuk. Even then it had been an elderly beast, only wild in the sense that it was not domesticated but otherwise quite harmless.
Ray, in response, asked Fraser if he thought Vinnie Webber looked like Marlon Brando when that actor was young. Fraser said he supposed so, but what did that have to do with bears?
“Nothing,” Ray grinned. “But if you can say random things, so can I.”
Alone in his apartment that night, Fraser lay on his bed and thought back over the two eventful days that he and Ray had spent mixed up in the lives of Louise, Vinnie and Joey Webber. With a slight smile to himself he reviewed in his mind some of the lighter moments: the admiring waitresses wiping his sleeve for him, his enjoyment of his own uncustomary goofiness making the puffin-face for the child, the quest for the customers of goat’s milk.
Then he reflected on his friendship with Ray, the way the American teased him but, when the going was tense, Ray’s absolute faith in him. Ray had gone out to locate more goat’s milk and, after the grumbling they both knew to be essentially meaningless, he’d asked, quietly, “You know what you’re gonna say?”
Fraser remembered shaking his head at that.
“You’ll think of something,” had been Ray’s answer and Fraser had indeed thought of something. How well Ray knew him. How well Ray supported him, griping and poking fun but always trusting him.
Then Fraser replayed for himself the events at the airport. In his mind’s eye he formed the face of a couple of players in the drama that he hadn’t paid much attention to the time: the middle-aged couple waiting by their private plane, with a lawyer standing to one side and, just behind them, a lackey carrying a briefcase full of cash. It had seemed tawdry to him - legal but somehow just short of being ethical – this buying of a child.
His mental camera focused closer on the prospective parents’ faces. There had been too much going on that day for him to pay them much attention but now, in reflection, he had time to see their excitement, their anticipation, their joy. No, there hadn’t been time to note them very well during the fighting that ensued but Fraser found himself imagining their dismay at losing the child they had expected to be theirs.
Here were a couple of important players in the drama but they hadn’t many lines. Fraser wondered if they had undergone many medical procedures to try to have a child of their own. How much stress and disappointment had they undergone before being driven to the extremity of buying a child?
Thoughts of these people, whose names he would most likely never know, troubled him enough that he got out of bed and drifted towards his kitchen. Making a pot of tea would be as good a displacement activity as any, having the dual advantage of being an outlet for the restlessness these thoughts had caused and, on a more practical level, also providing tea. As he stood waiting for the water to boil, Diefenbaker came in and looked quizzically at him in the odd strident light of the glowing advertisements outside their window.
“I was thinking about those people who didn’t get Joey,” Fraser explained to his wolf-friend. “I guess Ms. Morisot just sold them another baby. I hope so.” Then Fraser frowned to himself and rubbed an eyebrow with his thumb. “Except I shouldn’t hope that, should I? Selling human beings is wrong.”
Dief’s eyes reflected the unnatural glint around him but didn’t convey any opinion. He was simply listening as best he could with his limited hearing and such lip-reading he could do in the dim surroundings.
“The thing is,” Fraser explained to the wolf, and to himself, “twenty years ago these people would have waited no more than a few years for their turn at getting a baby from some unmarried teenage girl. These days . . .” He broke off to attend to the whistling tea-kettle.
He continued thinking as he dropped a metal tea-ball into a metal pot. Society was changing and young mothers were keeping their children, raising them alone and the general society around them was all the prouder for expanding the definition of a family
Fraser continued his reflections as he poured hot water into the pot. Louise loved her husband, that much was certain. Her strident “You’ve got a lot to make up for!” had been her declaration that she would forgive him. And Vinnie, in going back on his agreement, must have known he would be killed for it. Love for Louise and the child was a powerful enough force to make him change his mind and sacrifice himself.
He poured a cup of tea and took a tiny sip of it. Love. Joey would have been loved and well cared for if he had gone to these other people. Were Morisot and her minions who canvassed the Webber neighbourhood the monsters Ray considered them?
“Any compensation the parents may or may not receive is fully allowable under Illinois law.” Well that was of no consequence. Fraser judged things according to the sense of right and wrong he had been raised with. The fact that the law of the land usually supported his judgment made it possible for him to hold the profession he did, but he had no compunction in going over, around or through the law to obtain what he thought of as justice.
‘We captured the criminals, we re-united the Webbers, so justice was served, I suppose,” Fraser told Diefenbaker. But the look of joy he had seen on the faces of that couple and the look of disappointment he imagined but didn’t see both haunted him as he sat sipping at his tea.
Millie was still the receptionist at Morisot and Associates. She didn’t recognize Fraser, but Ms. Morisot did. Morisot’s greeting to the Mountie was not friendly, but he did have an appointment and as such had a legitimate claim to at least a few minutes of her time.
Morisot didn’t mince words once they were in her office and out of everyone’s view and hearing. “If I’d known who you were I wouldn’t have agreed to give you an appointment, Constable. What could you possibly want that I’d be inclined to give you?”
She didn’t invite Fraser to sit, so he didn’t. He merely stood in front of her desk, his Stetson hanging from his hand and asked, “I’d just like to ask you about the couple I saw in your office and later at the airport. The people who were going to adopt Joey Webber. Did they get another child?”
Morisot’s professional poise wasn’t enough to stop her from sneering. “If you think I’m going to divulge confidential information to you – after what you two did - you’ve got to be as ignorant as your flat-footed friend. What happened to those people is none of your god-damned business.”
“What we two did, Ms. Morisot, is save the life of one man, possibly more if the crossfire had gone astray, and apprehended three violent criminals. As an instrument of the law yourself, you must allow . . .”
“Leave my office!” declared the lawyer. “Out, or I’m calling security.”
Neither her vehemence nor the threat would have deterred Fraser if he had sensed there was any information to be gained from her by staying. But he didn’t think any Inuit story, Ray’s faith in those notwithstanding, would bend Ms. Morisot at this point. Unlike Vinnie had been that night, she was sure of her ground and technically she was in the right. So he settled his Stetson back on his head, nodded to her and withdrew.
Fraser shared his musing and subsequent visit to Morisot with Ray as they drove to the Webbers’ new address two days later.
“Remember I told you that breaking your heart over someone else’s kid wasn’t smart, Benny?”
“I remember, Ray.”
“So, and pay attention to this, breaking your heart over rich people is even not-smarter.”
“Money can’t buy happiness, Ray.”
“Your grandparents teach you that?”
Fraser was about to virtuously declaim that they did indeed teach him that, but then stopped to think about it.
“Well?” Ray insisted.
“They did teach me that, but, now that I think of it, they may not have been qualified. They didn’t have much of either.”
They drove along in silence for a while. Finally Ray said, “Money and happiness. Those things don’t get given out fairly, do they? You’d think at least they’d work it so if you don’t get one you could get the other. Just doesn’t seem fair sometimes.”
“Money can’t buy happiness,” Fraser quoted, “but it can buy some of the most remarkable substitutes. Of course, you can use money to make other people happy, not just yourself.”
Ray frowned and craned his neck forward to read a street sign as he drove. “Benny, isn’t that the street?”
Fraser consulted the party invitation he had in his hand. “Yes. Turn left here. The numbers increase as you go north.”
“I know that, Benny” Ray grunted as he made the turn. “But what you said about making other people happy when you have money, see, that kind of bugs me. I mean, remember at the end of Christmas Carol when everybody loves Scrooge? Well, that never seemed right to me.”
“Oh?” Fraser inquired, curious about this turn of the conversation.
“If he didn’t have all that money to buy a turkey and a coal scuttle and all that, well you think everybody would have loved him so much?”
Fraser frowned, “That’s a rather cynical way of looking at it, Ray. I’d rather enjoy a happy ending in the spirit of the holidays without reading too much into it.” Having said that, he felt slightly hypocritical. He hadn’t taken the Webbers’ happy ending at face value, had he?
Then he located the street number they were looking for and Ray pulled into the visitor’s parking lot of prosperous looking high-rise.
“Are you sure this is the right place?” Ray said, “What, did Vinnie win the Powerball or something? They can’t afford this place!”
“Apparently they can, Ray,” Fraser said, but that was only an automatic response. He was as surprised as his friend was.
The five of them were sitting around the kitchen table, Fraser, Ray, Louise and Vinnie on regular kitchen chairs and Joey in a highchair. Fraser’s and Ray’s invitations weren’t the only ones that had been haphazardly addressed, it seemed, leaving Louise lots of food left over, which she had put in the freezer. Certain foods had survived the freezing well, such as the cake, and others, such as the devilled eggs, had not.
Fraser reflected, as he manfully consumed both kinds of food, that Elaine’s idea about these people needing life-skill training wasn’t far off the mark.
The gift certificate was duly presented. Louise slipped it into a cookie jar. “Oh this is lovely. I’ve got my eye on some new curtains,” and bussed both visitors on their respective cheeks.
They talked about the weather and other non-specific things for a time before Ray started probing for details about their life.
“So, you moved?” he began.
Vinnie let Louise tell the story. Ray and Fraser exchanged looks of astonishment as she relayed what had happened during the last several months.
“Those people who wanted to take Joey, their names are Jack and Jill Forrester. They wanted to meet us. So, well, we told them about how Vinnie was getting into all this trouble . . .”
“Ah, geez, Louise,” Vinnie interrupted, but Louise ignored him.
“ . . . and that he couldn’t find a job anywhere. Well, Mr. Forrester hired him for one of his factories right here in Chicago. Put him in charge of the loading dock. Vinnie’s great at it. And he’s getting all kinds of overtime.”
“The guy with the plane? He gave Vinnie a job?” Ray asked, duly astonished, while Fraser only sat with his mouth hanging open.
“He really is a nice guy, it turns out,” Vinnie to told them.
“But, did they get another child?” Fraser wasn’t going to be satisfied until he knew this.
“They got one from Romania. The sweetest little girl – they flew over there to get her. One of those starving orphans they have there. He didn’t want to deal with Morisot anymore. Well, I think all that shooting freaked them out.”
“Then, you see them fairly often?”
“Oh yeah." We get together sometimes when he’s in town. Jill takes me shopping,” Louise told them. “She gets me all kinds of nice things for Joey, but I don’t let her buy anything for Vinnie and me.”
Ray and Fraser exchanged a smile. “Okay, Benny, you win,” Ray whispered to his friend, “I’ll take the happy ending at face value.”