It was only when the desk sergeant told Fraser to stow his gear in the corner that the Mountie realized how silly he had been to come straight to the police station before even stopping at his hotel. Feeling just a little foolish, he dropped his knapsack, bedroll and other paraphernalia where the desk sergeant pointed, then came back to the desk.


The desk sergeant puzzled Fraser: he addressed him as 'Nanook of the North'; he talked incomprehensibly about dogs and pigeons.


Fraser played along for a decent interval then got down to business.


"I'm looking for the officer assigned to this case," Fraser said, pushing a scrap of paper across the high desk to the obliging if puzzling American.


The man studied the paper, then consulted a screen (presumably the list of which officers had which cases) then looked with a smile at the Mountie.


Fraser found this a hopeful sign.


"Oh, yeah. You'll like this guy."


It was another hopeful sign. Fraser was feeling, in these first confusing hours in Chicago, that hopeful signs were something he badly needed. He'd grasp at any small ones he could get. "Yes?" he prompted the sergeant.


"His name's Vecchio. Well, it isn't really, except it is."


Fraser's gently rising hopes plummeted. Nothing in this city made sense. "I beg your pardon?" was all he could come up with at this point.


"I mean, he's a nice guy, don't get me wrong. He's just not the guy he used to be."


This was hardly helpful, but the Mountie waited for more just in case it might start to make sense.


The desk sergeant leaned forward conspiratorially, even though given the size of the desk the move hardly brought the two of them very much closer together. Still the act itself suggested confidentiality so Fraser moved right up against the desk to be as close to the sergeant as possible.


"I'm not supposed to tell you this but . . ."


Then why ARE you telling me? thought Fraser.


" . . . Vecchio had to go off and be somebody else. So this other Vecchio, who isn't him, is him for now. He's an okay guy. You just have to get used to the fact that he isn't who is."


"I see," Fraser lied, albeit politely.


"That'll be easier for you than it is for us, though," the sergeant became philosophical, "because you're not used him the way he used to be, so it won't seem strange to you like it does for us."


Oh, my good man, it seems strange enough to me already, Fraser thought. After a brief moment's deliberation, he figured out what must be going on. "So, you're saying the man I'm about to meet is assuming the identity of another detective who used to work here?"


"Yeah, you got it."


"And by saying he had to go off and be someone else, you mean that he went under cover?"


"Exactly! But don't tell anybody."


Just when Fraser thought he had the situation understood, it eluded him again. "What do you mean 'don't tell anybody'? You just told me. So, presumably, this is common knowledge."


"Not for you. You're not supposed to know."


Fraser gave up. "Would it be too much trouble for me to speak to this detective, whoever he might be?"


"I'll call him out for you," the sergeant said, and picked up his telephone.




Ray sat at Vecchio's desk, his own desk now, he had to remind himself, reading through the pile of unfinished case files he had inherited. The 27th wasn't too much different from the 9th, except that here, thankfully, nobody knew about his breakdown. Except maybe his new lieutenant, but Welsh seemed like a decent guy who wouldn't go blabbing.


Let's see. Did Vecchio have any murders to work on? Shuffling through the pile of folders Ray came across three homicide cases: a police informant found knifed in a warehouse, a drugged out dude whose dope was laced with cyanide, a request from Canada to follow up on a case. Seems a Mountie was found shot on the side of a mountain.


Well, the Mountie wasn't really Vecchio's own case, just a follow up. So, call it two and a half, not three.


Vecchio's phone rang. No, his own phone. He picked it up and said "Ko . . .um . . . Vecchio."


There was sniggering on the other end of the line. "Cum-Vecchio. Cute. But don't let the brass hear you say something like that."


"You called me. Maybe you had a reason?" Ray wiped one hand over the top of his head, doing no damage whatsoever to the jumble that served as his hairdo.


"You got a visitor. Actually he's got a visitor. But you're him. I mean, you're you. So you both got a visitor."


Ray moaned. "Okay, send them both through." He buried his face in his hands.


When he looked up again, a few moments later, his eyes bugged out. Standing in front of Vecchio's desk (no, his desk. okay, THE desk) was the hottest man Ray had seen in a very long time. He barely looked real. The man, whoever he was, wore a tight fitting, dark uniform. Leather belts hugged his waist and one shoulder. He was about the same height as Ray himself, but was just a little wider all over. His dark hair was very short shorter than Ray usually liked to see but it suited the man's overall clean-cut look. As the new arrival walked closer to Ray, Ray tried to make out the colour of his eyes. Hard to pin down: not quite blue, not quite grey. Ray got up and walked around to the front of the desk so that he was standing toe to toe with his visitor.


The stranger's lower lip slipped slightly askew as he said his first words to Ray.


"Detective Vecchio?"


Damn. This is one drop dead gorgeous dude. And his first words to me are somebody else's name. No wait, it's okay. It's my name.


"Yeah," he said, briefly, then immediately thought, Oh, way to make a first impression, Kowalski. Trying to get hold of the situation and appear in control.


Ray put out his hand.


The gorgeous dude took Ray's hand in his own. God, what a small hand for a man his size. And so pale. If his hand is this fair, the rest of him must be pure white. Nonetheless his handshake was strong and definite. This guy may look delicate but he's got confidence. I'm in love. I don't know who this sucker is but I love him.


While shaking Ray's hand, the man identified himself. "Constable Benton Fraser. Royal Canadian Mounted Police."


The name rang a bell. Fraser. Royal Canadian Mounted Police. He was sure he had just read something like that. "Weren't you murdered?" Ray blurted out.


"Since I'm standing right here, I would think most likely not," the Mountie said, with a hint of a smile. "You most likely read about Sergeant Robert Fraser. I'm told you are the one that's assigned to investigate his possible murder. We have reason to believe the perpetrator may have been from the Chicago area."


As loathe as Ray was to let go of the Mountie's hand, the handshake was done and he had no choice but to drop his hand. He went around his desk again and shuffled through his pile of files. "Yeah, this one. RCMP. Fraser." He looked up at his guest. "Any relation?

"My father."


This unhappy revelation took the edge off Ray's lust.


"Ah, geez. That's a shame. I'm sorry. That's tough, losing your father. But if it's you're own father, how come you're allowed to work the case?"


"I'm not. May I ask what progress you've made so far?"


Ray dropped into his chair, motioning Fraser to sit in the visitor's chair on the other side of the desk, but the Mountie remained standing.


"Thing is, I haven't had the case for very long. Actually I haven't had any of my cases very long." Ray admitted.


"I see."


Ray wished the hot Mountie would say more. What an amazing voice he had. Smooth. And the smell that clung to him. Ray couldn't quite place it, but it was as though the Mountie had just been doused in furniture polish and buffed to a sheen. Ray's lust came creeping back. No, come on, Kowalski. Poor guy's father just got snuffed, he's not going to be in the mood for fun with you. Have some respect, for Chrissake.


"Might I ask you to contact me at the Canadian Consulate as soon as you have anything? I don't have any business cards yet, I'm afraid, but the number should be in the telephone directory."


"Oh, yeah, card," Ray muttered, and rummaged about Vecchio's desk (his desk. the desk) for a card to give the Mountie. He located one and extended it.


The Mountie reached out his own white hand and took it. God! What a hand. What I wouldn't give to feel those all over my . . . oh, give it a rest. His dad just got murdered.


"Thank you, kindly. I won't take any more of your time, Detective. But, if it's not too much trouble, I would like you to keep me informed. And if I can be of any help, please feel free to ask. I'm not allowed to work the case officially, you understand, but . . ."


"But you want to see this solved. I hear you. I totally hear you."


Ray figured he could get away with another handshake to say good-bye, another chance to touch that unbelievable hand and get another whiff of that clean/oil smell. Then, just to be polite of course, he walked the Mountie back through the station, stood by while he signed out and returned his visitor's pass, helped him pick up his gear and saw him off at the front door. As he turned to go back to the squad room, the desk sergeant called after him.


"Hey, Vecchio."




"How'd you like the Mountie?"


Ray wondered what he meant by that. Am I that obvious about the direction I swing in?


The sergeant's eyes were wide and innocent, his tone only friendly. "Seems like a nice fellow. But it's a little hard to understand him. Must be the accent."


"Must be," agreed Ray, relieved, and went back through the maze that was the 27th building to the bull pen.


Welsh, standing in his office doorway, waved a paw at him as he went past. Ray went over, wondering whether he was in trouble and what he could have done to get that way.


"When I see a uniform I don't recognize, I can't help but be curious," Welsh said.


"Canadian uniform. RCMP," Ray supplied.


"Oh, the dead Mountie thing. Detective, you don't have the authority to bring witnesses down from Canada. It's expensive. I don't have the budget for that unless it is a very important case. And you would have to clear it with me in advance. Remember that."


"Yes, sir, but . . ."


"And with all due respect to our fellow officers north of the border, this isn't an important case for us."


"I understand that sir."


"And your explanation is?"


"I haven't done anything on the case yet and I didn't bring the Mountie here. He arrived on his own, just now. I wasn't expecting him or anything. He's just following up. Seems the dead Mountie was his father."


"Oh, well, that's another matter. But don't waste too much time this. Carry on."


I wish I could, Ray thought, as he drifted back to his desk (not his, mine, my desk). Would I ever like to carry on with the Mountie. All night long.


It was only after Ray sat down and got settled with his files again that he recalled that he hadn't asked the Mountie his first name. Damn. I'm in love with a man and I don't know his name. He could find out from the desk sergeant's sign-in log, if he really wanted to, but that would require making up some story about why he wanted to do that.


Bummer. The trouble with lying was you had to keep track of what you said when and to who. Never mind. Later when he called the consulate he knew to ask for Constable Fraser, and hopefully there wouldn't be too many of those.




It was still early enough in the afternoon for the consulate to be open, so Fraser decided to head right over there and report in. He indulged in a taxi, figuring that he would be able to claim it as a traveling expense.


As he rode, he went over his impressions of the experience he had just had with the American detective.


The man had been a stereotype of an inner city cop: unkempt, informally attired in jeans and t-shirt, his shoulder holster exposed. He looked like a little boy playing cops and robbers. Yet, he was apparently a fully qualified detective. Fraser chided himself. Didn't his grandmother always tell him not judge people by external appearances?


The original Detective Vecchio was under cover. An Italian name but someone had chosen a man fair in hair and complexion to impersonate him. Italians from the north of their country were fair, still it seemed an odd bit of casting. Fraser wondered what the man's real name was. Something eastern European, he guessed, from the man's voice. But second generation for sure.


This Vecchio was looking rather oddly at me the whole time, Fraser thought. I can't make out why.


It bothered him that he couldn't make out why; he prided himself on being able to read people's intentions from their face and body language. Vecchio was having a strong reaction to him, undoubtedly, but the nature of that reaction was a mystery.


If I fascinate him in some way, perhaps it will spur him into working harder on Dad's case, he decided.




For the next three days, Ray was a very model of a hard-working detective. He dug into Vecchio's files and slaved away diligently at the ones he figured would be the easiest to solve. His pile of completed cases bought him Welsh's approval, exactly as Ray had planned.


All through those days Ray hoped that Constable Fraser wouldn't call (so Ray wouldn't have to tell him that he hadn't started work on the case) and at the same time hoped that he would call (so that Ray could hear that exquisite voice again).


On the fourth day, Ray felt he had bought himself the right to spend a morning working on the dead Mountie case. It was surprisingly easy. Beginning with Constable Fraser's list of dentists, it didn't take more than a few phone calls to determine that one of the dentists was a phony. Most of the dentists had pictures of their trip and the third one he visited produced a picture of a dentist none of them had met before the expedition.


Frankie Drake was a hit man Ray knew well. It was an auspicious beginning.




Ray drove the GTO up to the Canadian consulate, buoyant with the information he was about to bring Fraser. A telephone number in the Yukon that Drake called and received calls from. It couldn't be coincidence. But Ray's reverse directory didn't cover northern Canada. Just as well. It would please the Mountie to be able to connect the last dot himself.


It was a few minutes before noon. Ray was using his lunch hour to visit the Mountie. He told himself he wasn't exactly afraid of Welsh. It felt weird to Ray to actually be trying to curry favour with a superior officer, but it was the price he had to pay to ensure he stayed at the 27th. Curry didn't taste as bad as he had been expecting. It was kind of like a game - to see if he could do enough of what the lieutenant liked for it to make a difference.


As he parked, Ray saw Fraser standing still like a statue outside the Consulate door. Son of a bitch, in that red get up he looked even hotter than he had the day he had come to the station. It hardly seemed possible. There he stood, ramrod straight, feet slightly apart and hands behind his back, looking straight ahead.


Ray got out of the car and walked right into Fraser's line of vision. Not a flicker of recognition crossed the Mountie's eyes. That's probably because he's not allowed to show anything, Ray decided. He can't have forgotten me in just a few days. . I'm the one solving his dad's murder after all. Oh God, please let him not forget me.


Loud bongs started issuing from the church tower up the street. Apparently it was the signal for the end of Fraser's shift, because the Mountie relaxed his pose and met Ray's eyes. Without hesitation, he strode over to where Ray was standing.


"You have something," the Mountie said, getting right to the point.


Ray saw he didn't want to be bothered with chit chat. Well, would he be, under the circumstances?


"A phone number." Ray briefly outlined what he had so far. He concluded with saying that it would be less suspicious if Fraser were to check out the telephone number, since the north was his home turf.


"The Canadian North is a very large area. I wouldn't quite call it all my home turf," the Mountie said, taking a slip of paper from Ray's hand, right there on the street.


"So, should we go inside and call?" Ray asked.


Fraser's attention was focused on the piece of paper. More than focused, he was staring at it, wide-eyed. Without looking up at Ray, he said, as though in some trance. "This can't be the right number."


"Don't tell me you know who it is."


"It can't be right. I refuse to believe it." The Mountie said. "I've called this number myself hundreds of times. No. It can't be."


Fraser handed the slip of paper back to Ray. "Thank you kindly for your hard work, Detective, but there is obviously some mistake. Leave this with me. I'll look into it and get back to you." With that, Fraser turned smartly and marched up the steps towards the consulate's big wooden door. Just before retreating into the building, he turned and said to Ray. "Take no action until you hear from me." With that, he disappeared into the building.


So much for asking him out for lunch, Ray thought. And so much for him being grateful. This totally sucks.




One good thing about the job of a detective is that you have freedom of movement. Nobody thought anything if you weren't at your desk. You were simply out on a case. This meant Ray was free to go cruising past the Canadian consulate every day just before noon for the next two weeks, hoping to see the Mountie standing there. Every day he was disappointed. The interval between days he went by slowly lengthened and after a couple of months he only drove past the outside of the consulate once a week.


One thing he would not do, he told himself, was call. 'Take no action until you hear from me" had been Fraser's last words to him before disappearing. Since when am I so obedient anyway? Christ, I'm obeying the Mountie, I'm obeying Welsh. I'm turning into a regular Goodie-Two-Shoes. The up side of the new habit was that he wasn't being thrown out of the 27th on his ass. That was an important factor. If the Mountie ever did come back, and if (faint hope, getting fainter) he wanted to look Ray up, Ray wanted to be there at the 27th waiting.




Outside, thirty-thousand feet in the air, raged a thunderstorm. Fraser watched it through the plane's tiny plexiglass window. This high up in the air there was no rain; they were above the clouds. But the lightning jumped from cloud to cloud, providing a bright, flashing show, as it seemed, especially for the entertainment of Fraser and the other passengers.


The words of Assistant Commissioner Underhill played in his mind as the lightning played in the clouds. "He's not the last of his kind. You are."


It fell short of making Fraser feel better, even though he knew Commissioner Underhill had meant it as a compliment. It was as sad a thought as Fraser had ever heard, second only to the news of his father's death. It was kind of like a death, he mused. A way of life that was obsolete. Could he, Benton Fraser, be the last police officer left in the world who believed that his vocation was to make it safe for decent people to tuck in their kids at night?


No, it couldn't be. There was still Buck Frobisher dear old Buck. And Commissioner Underhill himself, who hadn't hesitated to back Fraser in his accusations against Gerrard and crew. All was not dark. No, there was light in darkness of corruption, even as lightning sparked the dark night outside the plane.


Good cops still existed. Hadn't he met one in Chicago on his very first day the helpful if unkempt detective who was going by the name of Vecchio? It must be a very lonely thing to have to leave your name behind and be someone else. Fraser couldn't imagine himself answering to any other name but his own, the proud Fraser name he shared with his father.


He'd been abrupt with Detective Vecchio, leaving him standing, poor man, dumbfounded in the street. Through the months of inquiries first, then hearings and finally the trial, he really should have contacted him. Kept him up to date. The man who looked at him strangely. The man who had overturned his life with nothing more than a scrap of paper with a telephone number scrawled on it.


Losing dad was wrenching. But, as the Bard said through Hamlet's mother, 'Your father lost a father, and that father lost, lost his. Thou knowest 'tis common.' Losing faith in a whole outpost full of fellow officers, his father's friends, that was just a little less common, wasn't it?


I owe that detective a debt of gratitude, Fraser decided. He brought me the truth and a painful truth is better than none.


It was the beginning of string of positive thoughts small but encouraging that Fraser used to try to uplift his own mood as he flew through the storm back to Chicago and exile.


I'll do something nice for Detective Vecchio. I doubt I will be able to make it official, through the liaison office, but I'll think of something.


And he'd be able to pick up Diefenbaker right in the airport in Chicago, release him from his cage and walk with him. The Americans no longer imposed quarantine on dogs from Canada.


I'll get to know a whole new group of people in Chicago. New neighbours, after I have found someplace to live.


Fraser leaned back and closed his eyes. He pictured the blond detective's face and realized that seeing Vecchio again was something else to which he could look forward. Fraser wasn't sure why, but the thought made him feel a little better. Not exactly good but a little less miserable. The man who looks at me strangely.


I'll find out the reason for that look, Fraser pledged to himself.




The sound of the Mountie's voice on the telephone was a shock. Ray had given up hope of ever hearing that voice, seeing that face, inhaling that smell again.


Stay calm, Ray told himself even as he was listening to Fraser speak some preliminary pleasantries. Don't blow it. Don't say too much. Come on, Kowalski, just stay cool and don't start babbling.


"So, I was wondering if it would be possible to set up a meeting, just a short interview, among your commanding officer, you and me."


Shit shit shit. I'm in shit. How'd I manage that? Give up, Kowalski, you always manage that, Ray berated himself. Aloud he said, "Yeah, sure." Even as he kicked himself mentally, he felt just a little proud of not saying more than those two words. He may not be able to avoid getting in trouble, but at least he was handling it a bit more smoothly. Was that progress? He'd take it as progress. Take what you can get.


"When would be a good time?" Constable Fraser was saying.


Well, might as well take the bull by the horns. Get the worst over with. "My lieutenant's in all day today, if you want to come right over." Good, good, brave it out. You've got that much in the way of guts at least.


"I will, thank you kindly, Detective."


Fraser hung up first, leaving Ray holding a buzzing line. Finally he put the receiver down and opened his desk drawer. Now he actually thought of the desk as his, he was probably going to have to clear it out before the days was over. What the hell? What could that number have been to make the Mountie want to dump on me to my superior? What did I do? Well, what does it matter?




The Mountie was in yet another uniform this time. How many different outfits did these guys use anyway? Three times I see this dude and this is the third different uniform. This one was dark brown, a little old-fashioned looking. The Mountie could make Ray melt away no matter what he was wearing. Despite the trouble he figured he was in, Ray's mind wandered, as he and Fraser sat in front of Welsh's desk, and he found himself fantasizing about what Fraser would look like in no clothing at all.


Fraser's own voice startled Ray back to awareness. He was talking not to Ray but to Welsh.


"I suppose, Lieutenant, you're wondering why I'm here."


He said 'left-tennant', like those guys in old British war movies. He's so sweet I could eat him up right here, even though he's going to cost me my job.


"We like to extend every courtesy to our fellow officers north of the border," Welsh said, politely.


"Please understand, sir, that what I am going to say is unofficial. It's in no way part of my official position with the liaison office. I don't want you to get the wrong impression."


"Go on," said Welsh, evenly.


Yeah, go ahead and ruin my career. I'll still love you, said Ray to himself.


"Sir, I want you to know that your Detective Vecchio is as fine an officer as I've ever met. I never would have known the truth about my father's death without his help. You should be proud to have him under your command."


Welsh shot his eyes at Ray, slightly lifting the brows over those eyes. "Is that a fact?" was all he said.


Fraser went on, "I've recently had reason to be a little disappointed in the behaviour of some of my own people. I could only wish all fellow officers were as diligent and efficient as Detective Vecchio. If you'll allow me, I'd like to spend time here at your precinct, getting to know him and his methods better."


"We call it a 'District' not a 'Precinct', Constable," Welsh said, "But of course you're welcome to hang around here. We'd be happy to have you." Welsh paused. "Is there anything else?"


Fraser cleared his throat. "I . . . um . . . I suppose not, Left-tennant. I won't take any more of your time. Thank you again."


"Think nothing of it," Welsh grunted, and waved one hand with a gesture of dismissal and picked up a file folder in the other hand.


Ray stood up, and Fraser followed his lead. Welsh had stopped looking at them so they went through his office door out into the bullpen without saying anything more.


Once they were safely gone, Welsh put down the file folder, leaned back and chuckled to himself. So, Kowalski had gone and worked on the Mountie case after all. Seeing the Mountie in person, he could understand why. Well, the man was producing results despite the bad reports of his previous superior. Welsh supposed all Kowalski needed was the right atmosphere.


He's got the Mountie's good will, that's for sure. I wonder if he'll get anything else.




"You didn't tell me you were going to do that," Ray said.


"I hope you don't mind."


"Mind? Are you kidding? I can't remember when anybody ever said something nice like that about me. I owe you one, man."


"Nonsense. I owe you, and much more than, as you say, 'one'."


Suddenly it occurred to Ray that he still didn't know the Mountie's given name. He asked.


"You'll laugh." Fraser ducked his head, suddenly shy.


"You'll laugh at my real name. We'll be even. You first."


The Mountie sighed. "My name is Benton."


Ray smiled. "That's no big. What do they call you at home? Not Benton?"


"Ben, mostly."


"Ben it is."


"Now you have to tell me your name."


"Do you promise not to laugh, Ben?"


"Not at all. I've had a hard few months. I need all the laughs I can get."


Ray felt encouraged. It was the first really light hearted thing the man had said since he met him. "I'm Stanley Kowalski."


Fraser did burst out into laughter. Ray enjoyed the sight of his eyes sparkling and shifting between blue and grey as he shook his head back and forth.


"I bet you have a lawyer acquaintance," Fraser declared happily.


"Worse, I have a lawyer ex-wife," Ray blurted out.


Fraser stopped laughing. "Oh, you're divorced. I'm so sorry."


"Nothing to be sorry about. Everybody's divorced these days. Vecchio was too."


"That's a cynical attitude, Stanley."


"I like to be called Ray."


Fraser shifted nomenclature without so much as beat lost. "That's a cynical attitude, Ray."


"Maybe, but you still owe me the story of the phone number." Then Ray decided to take the plunge. It hadn't been a bad day so far, maybe the time was right to make a move. "Let me buy you dinner tonight and you can tell me the whole story."


Ray waited breathlessly.


"It's not a very happy story, I'm afraid. And it takes an hour to tell."


"Only an hour? Then we'll have to find something else to talk about afterwards."


To Ray's delight, Fraser looked right at him, meeting his eyes and turning the corners of his delightful mouth up into a little smile. "I don't think that will be a problem, Ray."




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