Ray came out of the hospital only to find Fraser gone. In his fight against blaming Fraser for running off, Ray kept telling reminding himself just who it was that told Fraser to go get his man.
History repeats itself. When he first met Fraser he got hurt saving the Mountie, then came out of the hospital sooner than he should to help him solve his case. This time it started the same: first getting hurt for Benny’s sake and then dragging himself out of a sickbed for him yet again. And again he found that Benny had taken off north. But what was different? He’d taken another Ray with him this time, rather than waiting for his old partner to make the trip to join him.
Don’t feel betrayed, Vecchio, he told himself. It was a just a case and Kowalski had already been in on it. This reasoning lasted only for the few days before they all learned Muldoon had been captured. Then came the blow. Fraser was going to take a long vacation and go off on some trip with Kowalski - just the two of them (if you didn’t count Dief and some dogs).
God, Fraser was such an idiot. He couldn’t even see the way Kowalski looked at him, like a mooning girl in love. Ray knew the Mountie was arrow-straight, but of course Benny was so innocent, he’d never pick up on Kowalski’s vibes. And now the two of them were going out into the wilderness? You’ll be sorry, Benny. You’ll be sorry you didn’t come right back to Chicago.
One day Inspector Thatcher appeared at Ray’s desk.
“You’re back.” Ray stated the obvious.
“Yes, Turnbull and I are back. I suppose you heard Fraser is staying in the north for a while.”
“Yeah, I heard.” Ray didn’t used to feel uncomfortable in the Dragon Lady’s presence but now it seemed they were like strangers. They needed Fraser between them to give them a reason to interact.
“I came here to give you this.” Thatcher held out a sealed envelope. “Fraser insisted I give this directly into your hands.”
Ray took it. “Thank you kindly, Inspector,” he said with just enough of a sad smile for her to catch and return. “You want, um, coffee or something?”
“No thanks, Detective.” She turned to go then stopped and faced him again. “Don’t blame him. He’s probably got some things to sort out. I . . . I think he’ll be back.”
“Yeah, sure.” Ray wasn’t in the mood to make more conversation with her. She never understood Benny anyway. She had the hots for him, sure, but she didn’t understand him.
He watched her leave, waiting until she was gone before opening the envelope. An ordinary white envelope with the word ‘Ray’ written in Fraser’s familiar tight-ass handwriting. Plain blue ink. What else? Ray tore the envelope open and unfolded as single sheet of notepaper, filled with tiny, tight script.
‘Ray. I want you to know I never blamed you for leaving without an explanation. I realize you did your best to say good-bye and after a long time I came to terms with the fact that you had to put your duty above our friendship. Imagine me, of all people, having trouble with a concept like that: duty above all else.
The tears welled slowly as Ray read this first paragraph. Yes, he had been the first one to abandon a friend. He’d forgotten that. He read on:
‘Now, dear friend and partner, I find I am the one with a duty. It is time for Stanley and me to part company and he is not taking it well. I fear his feelings for me are more than friendship. I cannot help but be flattered, since he is a good man and worthy of any decent person’s love. But we are all as Nature made us and I wasn’t made to be able to love in that way.’
Well how about that. Benny wasn’t such a babe in the woods after all.
‘I’ve been pretending I don’t know for many months now, but my conscience has been bothering me. Somehow I feel the right thing to do is to allow him and me some time alone so that he can admit how he feels in the safety and solitude of the wilderness. And to allow me time to console him. The time we spend alone will reassure him of my affection for him, as a friend, and allow us to make our proper farewells.’
The tears were joined by a tightness in Ray’s chest. ‘The world’s nicest person’ is how he had referred to Fraser in jest to Mrs.Gamez that time. Ray wiped his eyes and kept reading.
‘Francesca may have told you that she and I declared our feelings for each other in the hospital corridor outside your room. It was done without much words, but I consider the two of us to have plighted our troth.’
Ray laughed aloud, and it was a welcome break from crying. Plighted their troth! Wasn’t that just like Benny? Then the import of the words hit him. Fraser and Frannie. He’d been wrong to think it couldn’t happen.
‘If Fate brings me safely back to Chicago, expect me to ask you, as head of your family, for her hand. For the record, I did not compromise your sister’s virtue that night that she came to my room. You may recall that was the same night I was beaten quite severely. I confess I was sorely tempted, but too sore to go much beyond temptation, if you take my meaning.
In anticipation of seeing you soon, I remain,
Over the few weeks, Ray slowly re-adjusted to being home. It was all so much easier after hearing from Fraser. He and his sister drove to work together. His own mother, not Nero, brought him buttermilk. He bought a new car – not a Riv. He was getting older now and had developed a taste for plush and for armrests. Fraser would be back when the time was right for him to come back. Ray and Francesca worried for his safety but it was a healthy kind of worry – only for his physical well-being. They both had no doubts about his loyalty and intention to return.
Ray’s eyes drifted upward from the papers on his desk as he sensed someone standing right in front of him. Red serge. Not Fraser. A woman. Blonde. Extremely good looking. It quickly flashed through his mind that he had never yet seen an ugly Mountie.
“Can I help you, um, Constable?”
“Yes, I’m a constable. I’m looking for Ray Vecchio. He used to sit at this desk.”
“He still does. Anything I can do for you?”
“No thank you. I’ll just wait for him here, if you’re expecting him back soon.”
Ray stood up. He should have stood up long before but he’d been away from Fraser too long and was losing his manners.
“You’ve got it all wrong, Constable . . .?”
”Mackenzie. Maggie Mackenzie.”
“Pleased to meet you. I’m Ray Vecchio. So, for the third time now, what can I do for you?”
The woman frowned and shifted. “You’re not Detective Vecchio. You don’t look anything like him.”
Ray was about assure her of his own identity when Francesca came by clutching an armful of files. She dropped them all to the ground at the sight of the blonde Canadian. Both Maggie and Ray scrambled to help her collect her papers.
“Maggie! You’re here! Why didn’t you tell someone you were coming? Didn’t you know Frazsh was still up north?”
Once the files were safely on top of a filing cabinet, Maggie asked Francesca, “I came to see Ray. Who is this guy?”
“He’s my brother, my real brother. But didn’t you know Frazsh wasn’t here?”
Maggie sighed. “Of course I know he’s not here. I’m supposed to find us a place to stay and he’ll be flying in on Thursday.”
At this news Ray and Francesca first cried out, then hugged and then spun each other around. “He’s coming home! He’s coming home!”
This was all happening far too fast for Maggie to take in. “Does someone want to explain this?” she asked the question to the air around her since the Vecchio siblings were too busy dancing to pay attention.
Finally they settled down, breathless, and noticed Maggie again.
Francesca said “If you and Frazsh talked, don’t you know what’s going on?”
Maggie seemed embarrassed now. “I sort of disobeyed him. He said he wanted to explain everything when we got here and I was to find us a place to stay and just sit tight. I guess I just couldn’t wait to see Ray again.”
Now Ray, getting his bearings after his brief flight into pure joy, took his turn in asking what was going on.
“Maggie is Frazsh’s sister. When she was down here before, her and Kowalski . . .”
“Kowalski? Who’s Kowalski?” Maggie wanted to know.
“I think we all better sit down.” Ray decided.
It took some time and several cups of coffee before the whole thing got straightened out and everybody understood who everybody was. All agreed that Fraser would be due for a good tongue-lashing from the entire gang for not explaining matters to Maggie sooner but expecting her to sit patiently and wait until he got there.
“One thing for sure. You’ll both of you stay at our house.” Francesca concluded.
“Oh no, we couldn’t impose like that. And I’m sure you don’t have room.”
“Are you kidding, since Maria and her family left Ma’s dying of loneliness.”
“Look, Sis, you might get Benny under our roof but I’m keeping my eye on the two of you. No funny business before the wedding.”
Maggie explained that the plan Fraser had set out was for her to meet him at the airport and bring him to where ever it was she had chosen for them to stay temporarily. An extended vacation for Maggie was apparently in the works and Fraser no longer wanted to live at the Consulate. Anyone who may have thought there was anything untoward about half-siblings living together had never met Bob Fraser's kids.
Fraser and Diefenbaker came through customs to see Maggie, Ma, Ray and Francesca all waiting. Fraser stopped dead for an instant, then broke into a run and threw himself at them like a bowling ball against a line of pins. They closed around him and their group-hug radiated enough happiness to brighten the day of dozens of passers-by.
Fraser waited until after their first dinner in the Vecchio home to take his sister outside on the porch for a private talk.
“Maggie, I know you had certain expectations of Stanley, I mean Ray, and I’m sure he never meant to mislead you on purpose, but . . . ”
“He swings both ways, is that what you are trying to tell me?”
Fraser nodded, then looked away, embarrassed.
“I felt something was wrong when he kissed me. As though he wanted to but wasn’t comfortable somehow.”
“I’m sure he genuinely likes you, Maggie, but there’s just something stronger inside him that’s pushing him in another direction. I think now he is beginning to come to terms with what he really wants.
“You. You’re what he really wants. It’s okay, Benton. I’m good with it.”
Fraser rubbed is foot back and forth across the wooden porch
floor and kept his eye on the foot while it was moving. “I’m not good with it,”
he said quietly. “And it was hard to tell him that.”
“He’s not coming back to Chicago, is he?”
“No, he’s going to go with his parents to Florida. We both think it’s better that way.”
She touched his shoulder. “Can you handle two hugs in one day? I think you need another one.”
Fraser’s proposal to Francesca was as formal and flowery as she had dreamed it would be. In front of the whole family, the Mountie actually did ask Ray for her hand. Ray was up to his role, taking his sister’s hand and dramatically putting it into the Mountie’s outstretched palm. Everybody sniffled.
“That’s so sweet,” sighed Maggie, standing beside Ray.
“Yeah. Benny’s like that. Sweet.” Then it occurred to Ray that this moment might be just a little hard on her. “I guess this is kind of rough on you, what with losing your husband and then Stanley turning out to be . . . you know.”
“It’s okay. Benton’s been through a lot and your sister is fine woman. They’ll be good for each other. I bet we’ll have nieces and nephews before we know it.”
In all the excitement of the recent days, Ray hadn’t been paying too much attention to Maggie except to make her comfortable for Benny’s sake. Her looks ceased to be an issue once it was established she was Fraser’s sister. Ray was old-fashioned enough to afford her instant respect because of that.
But Ray couldn’t help noticing that Maggie was nice. Pretty well as nice as her brother – but that was no surprise, really. He’d have a chance to get to know her, now that she was going to be sort of part of the family. But not a blood relative. He’d have to remember that, just in case . . .