Fraser awoke, stretched both his arms out and knew at once something was wrong. With his arms out wide and his fingers fully extended he still touched bed, all the length of his arms and hands. This was not his own narrow cot. This was some other bed, very wide and, as he became aware of more sensations, very soft. He ventured his eyes open to see that he was in one of the VIP bedrooms of the consulate. There were four fluffy down pillows on the king-sized bed and he himself was wearing – wait, this couldn’t be right – silk pajamas of a deep royal blue.
His first impulse was to bolt out of the bedroom back to his own cubbyhole, but he suppressed it. Was he here for a reason? He had no memory of getting into either the bed or the pajamas. Had he been placed in both while unconscious? As he gained more wakefulness a practical thought occurred. What time was it? What if the Inspector and Turnbull saw him dashing down the corridor wearing this bizarre get-up? Silk pajamas indeed.
He sat up and noticed fuzzy slippers beside the bed. They looked the right size, so he swung around and slid his bare feet into them. They felt as ridiculous against his skin as the pajamas did. Perhaps some of his own clothes were in the closet? He padded over and opened the door to a closet as wide as the room. Inside was business suit after business suit of somber black, blue and navy. Beside them hung a battalion of white shirts, and bringing up the rear a couple of racks of non-descript neckties. None of his uniforms. None of his civvies. He stood looking into the closet, wondering what to do.
There was a knock at the bedroom door. Fraser didn’t know how or if to answer. To say ‘Come in" would suggest he was the rightful occupant of the room and that it was his prerogative to grant or withhold permission to enter. But to remain silent would suggest there was no one here – an outright falsehood.
"Yes?" seemed a safe response.
"Sir, are you awake?"
At the sound of the voice, Fraser forgot all about where he was and what it was he was wearing. Ray! Ray’s voice! After more than two years! Fraser dashed to door, threw it open and found himself face to face with his old partner. He threw his arms around the Italian, paying no attention to any thought of propriety.
"Ray! It’s so good to see you!"
Ray Vecchio allowed the unexpected embrace, and waited politely for Fraser to disengage. At last Fraser stood back and beamed at him.
Ray cleared his throat in embarrassment. "It’s, um, rather late, sir. Did you want some breakfast sent up or would you like to dress and go down right away?"
Fraser was at first puzzled but then figured this must somehow be part of Ray’s cover. Perhaps his exuberant greeting had endangered his old friend. Fraser resolved to play along as best he could in the hopes of not making the situation any worse. "I’ll go down," he said, cautiously.
"Very good sir," Ray answered with practiced servility. It seemed he was playing a valet, so Fraser went along with it. He let Ray choose an outfit and lay it out on the bed: Grey pinstripe and maroon tie. Then Ray took socks, undershirt and shorts from some dresser drawers and put them beside the other clothes. Last of all Ray pulled a pair of gleaming black shoes from the bottom of the closet, put them by the bed, bowed slightly and said, "I’ll get some coffee going sir," before leaving Fraser alone in the room again.
Fraser had three choices: put on the suit, emerge in the pajamas, or stay in the room and hope reality would somehow change again. Ray seemed to want him to dress and had indicated what he should wear. Presumably it would be safest for Ray if he complied. The clothes fit him perfectly. Fraser wasn’t sure whether to be surprised or not.
Fraser made his way through the consulate, feeling self-conscious in his pompous outfit. Some of the offices looked normal, others had unfamiliar people in them with unfamiliar nameplates on the doors. There were many more people than just himself, the Inspector and Turnbull. His own room was now being used for storing office supplies. He followed the smell of coffee to the kitchen and started pouring himself a cup. Inspector Thatcher rushed down the corridor towards the kitchen. She paused at the doorway and seemed to quail with fear.
"Oh, sir. I’m so sorry! Let me do that. I’ve left your morning briefings on your desk. No, let me . . ." she came closer, timidly, and eased the coffee-cup from his hands. "I’ll get you a muffin. There should be time for a muffin before the trade delegation arrives."
It made no sense but there was no doubt that the Inspector wanted him to sit at a desk and have a muffin. The problem was that a cabinet full of pens and paperclips took up the space where his desk should be. He had an idea. She would probably go put the coffee whereever it was she expected him to sit. So he waited while she poured, sugared and milked a mugful and then followed it and her to – oh no – her own office. She put the coffee on her desk and then stood aside respectfully. Fraser resolved to stay as cool as possible until all was somehow explained. He sat down in the Inspector’s chair and made as if to read the papers in front of him. This seemed to satisfy Thatcher. She smiled at him and left him to himself.
Fraser heard her voice outside the door. "Stanley, what time did you bring him home last night?"
The voice that he heard next belonged to his other Ray, the present Ray. "Not too late. A little past midnight."
"How did he seem?"
"He’s acting so strange. He hugged Ray this morning. Can you imagine?"
Fraser heard Ray a.k.a. Stanley snicker. "You’re just jealous, Margaret. Why don’t you give up? He’s already getting it from Vecchio’s sister." The voice of Ray who was now Stanley dropped to a purr. "Now me, I’ve got this great big car at my disposal . . ."
"His car. You’re just the chauffeur."
Stanley was undeterred " . . .and we’ve got all morning while he’s in meetings to go wherever our little hearts desire. Come on, babe. They only marry their secretaries in the movies."
Fraser felt a little relieved to hear her say, "Just go get him a muffin. The usual."
Fraser was experienced enough in consular work to bluff his way through two hours with men in clothing as pompous as his own, talking about trade issues. Everyone called him ‘Mister Fraser’ and addressed him with the utmost courtesy. Half way through the meeting, he went to the door of the office that seemed to be his and called out tentatively, "Margaret?" She arrived on the double, ready to serve. He had her do just that, bring coffee. She did it as though nothing in life could give her greater pleasure. Her obvious crush on him would have been startling if he had had any ‘startle’ left in him.
At last the suits took their leave. He escorted them to the door and watched them get into their waiting limousines. Parked outside he saw one of their own consular cars, Canadian flags flapping front and back, and Stanley sitting behind the wheel reading a newspaper. He shook his head and headed back to ‘his’ office. In the corridor, Margaret stopped him.
"Miss Vecchio’s been calling. She says it’s important."
Margaret’s tone of voice suggested her own view of whether Miss Vecchio’s messages were important or not. Fraser remembered Stanley’s words ‘he’s getting it from Vecchio’s sister’ and let the meaning of those words wash over him. Interaction between himself and Francesca was apparently intimate and frequent. He himself still slept here at the consulate, albeit in another room. So if he were indeed ‘getting it’ from Francesca it was not likely that she lived in the Vecchio house. Following this logic, he had no clue where to find her to call back.
"Did you get a number?" he asked Margaret.
She looked at him with disbelief. "Isn’t it still 23 on your speed dial? Did you erase it?"
He left her in corridor without answering her, headed back to his/her office, settled behind the desk and speed dialed 23.
It really was Francesca’s voice that answered "Hello."
"It’s me." He wasn’t sure how he was supposed to talk to her, so he said as little as he could manage.
"That bitch wouldn’t let me through. She kept saying you were in a meeting."
"I WAS in a meeting. I’m finished now."
"Well, okay, but sometimes I think she’s just trying to keep me away from you. You ought to get a man for a secretary, Benny."
‘Benny.’ She called him ‘Benny’. "You were saying it was important?"
"Yeah. Look honey, I can’t make tonight. Something’s come up."
Something about the situation felt familiar. An answer came out of him automatically, without his thinking about it.
"Tell him you’re not available, Frannie You know how this works. You’re exclusive or not at all. I’ll be there at eight and I’ll want dinner first. Wear something pink, I’m having a rough day and I want soothing." Where did these words come from? They felt right although this was something he never could imagine saying.
"Tyrant. Shall I cook or order in."
Again his answer bypassed his conscious thought and came out on its own, "Cook? You? They don’t give me hazard pay. Make it Chinese." His hand put the receiver down her before his brain caught up. He sat thinking. Until just a few minutes ago, it was only the people and things surrounding him that had changed. Now he was talking like a completely different man.
Fraser decided it was time to get some hard facts about just who he was supposed to be in this weird world. He came out of his office and sat down in a chair beside Margaret’s desk. She interrupted her tapping at her computer to jump to her feet, but he motioned her down with a wave of her hand. She sat, but didn’t relax.
"Mr. Fraser? What can I do for you, sir?"
"Margaret, I want to ask you some questions that will sound strange. Can I count on you to answer me truthfully?"
"Oh course, sir"
"What’s my full name?"
Margaret’s brow furrowed. "Benton Robert Fraser the third, sir."
"What’s my position here?"
"You’re the consul, sir."
It did make sense for someone to be the consul. Not since he had first come to Chicago had there been any official diplomat at the consulate. Until only this morning it had made perfect sense that the RCMP liaison office seemed to run everything on a skeleton staff. He reflected that was often the case in dreams, things made sense while you were dreaming them and it was only when you woke up that you realized how illogical the events were. The only trouble was, he couldn’t now tell what was reality and what was a dream
"How long have I been consul?"
"Just a little over three years, I think. Shall I check the exact date you started?" Her hands moved to the keyboard.
"No, thank you." Just over three years in Chicago sounded right. Then, he realized he really couldn’t take anything for granted. "Are we in Chicago?"
"Yes sir. Chicago." He could see the worry in her eyes. She was probably scared the boss was bonkers.
He then allowed himself to ask a question that had been nagging him all morning. "Where’s Diefenbaker?"
"Um, dead sir," she said, very softly.
Fraser’s mind rocked with the sudden shock and grief. "What! When! How!"
"I sorry sir, I don’t remember. But I could check."
Her fingers, still on the keyboard, started typing. Relief flooded over Fraser. "No, not the prime minister. The wolf."
Her fingers froze in place. "Wolf?"
The hands left the keyboard and folded carefully in her lap as she considered her next words. Carefully, she said, "I wasn’t aware you had a wolf, sir. If you do, he doesn’t live here, at least as far as I’m aware."
"And the Mounties, where are they?"
"Mounties, sir? Here in the consulate? I’m afraid I’m not aware of . . . But of course it would be nice to have some, I suppose. Shall I contact . . .?"
"Never mind." Fraser decided it would be unkind to embarrass her any further. "Thank you kindly, Margaret. You’ve been a great help." He got up, smiled at her again and left. He heard her loud sigh of relief. Perhaps he WAS a tyrant.
As he went back to his own office his stomach reminded him it was nearly lunchtime and all he had had for breakfast was a muffin.
"I’ll have a roast beef sandwich today, please, Margaret," he said without turning around as he went back into the office everyone thought was his, "If they put mustard on again, send it back. Oh, and fries." Fraser had no feelings about personal status, but people around here did seem to obey him without question. There was certain efficiency in that, he decided.
Then it occurred to him that he might learn a little more by doing some judicious spying. He moved quietly back towards Margaret’s desk, stopping around the corner from where she sat, within earshot but out of sight. She was talking to Ray, the old Ray.
"I couldn’t believe it. He grabbed me and he hugged me!"
"He’s been acting strange all morning. He asked me about Mounties and about Diefenbaker. He doesn’t even seem to know who he is."
"Mounties? Well, that explains it. That stupid show with the Mountie. He’s obsessed with it. My God, he’s lost his mind. I’m going to take that damned VCR out of his office and smash it."
"Are you nuts? First he’ll kill you, and then he’ll fire you. Worse, he might take it out on your sister. Just play along, Ray."
The conversation seemed to end there with a few choice oaths from Ray as his voice receded. Fraser went past Margaret’s desk without looking at her and into his own office. There were rows of videotapes in one bookshelf. Grouped together he found three commercially produced tapes with the following titles: Due South – Two Hour Pilot of the Hit Series, Mountie on the Bounty, Call of the Wild. Beside them were a dozen home-recorded tapes labeled Due South in his own handwriting. He took down the one called Due South – Two Hour Pilot of the Hit Series and looked at the front of the cardboard cover. He saw a Mountie, looking out with a half-smile to an imagined audience. Another man in black and some outlandish yellow print stood grinning beside him. In front of the Mountie sat a white dog. It occurred to Fraser that the Mountie looked something like himself some twenty years ago.
Fraser turned the tape over to read the back: ‘Take a Mountie from the Far North with the morals of an Eagle Scout, team him up with an American cop with a flexible sense of morality, put them on the trail of a killer and what you have is Due South - ’
He decided Ray and Margaret were right. He was obsessed. This stupid show was taking over his life. The dream had been so real he had actually thought . . . well, it was just too ridiculous. Chuckling at his own folly, he buzzed Margaret’s desk and enjoyed her uneasy look as she presented herself for his orders.
He pointed to the shelf. "Tonight after I leave I want you to get all these Mountie tapes out of here and burn them."
She cleared her throat and rubbed her thumb along her eyebrow, embarrassed. "I guess you mean that figuratively, sir. An actual fire would set off the fire alarm."
Fraser stood up a little straighter and adjusted his glasses. "I said burn them. And get me my briefings for this afternoon. I’ll have my lunch in here."
"Yes sir," she whimpered and fled.
She was good-looking, no question, Fraser reflected, and far more intelligent than his compliant but empty-headed mistress, Francesca. But he knew from experience it was bad news to dip his quill in office ink. Too bad, he thought. Then he sat down and went to work.