Sam specifically asked for Fraser and Ray K working on an “odd” case.
After Fraser finished his early shift on guard duty, he dropped in, as was his habit, to the squad room of the 27th to hang around until Ray was ready to drive them both home. On days when Fraser had later shifts, Ray picked him up at the consulate after work. This had become their routine for the six months they had been living together.
He found Ray sitting at his desk, absorbed in some photographs, picking up first one and then another from the pile on his desk and running his free hand absently through his blond spikes.
“Oh, hey, Fraser. Come here and look at these. You’ll like this case. Doesn’t do anything for me but it should be right up your alley,” Ray said as Fraser dropped into his usual seat on the other side of Ray’s desk. “There’s some nut out there with a chainsaw. A victim every night for the last week.”
Fraser gasped. “A chainsaw massacre? Here in Chicago? How have you kept this out of the media?” The Mountie hadn’t seen anything about this in the newspapers nor heard anything on the radio or television.
Ray grinned. “The victims aren’t people, buddy. They’re poles.”
Fraser was doubly aghast. “Ray! You’re of Polish descent yourself!”
“No, I mean not humans.”
Fraser only sputtered as his outrage continued, “All living things should be your concern!” he scolded.
“Couldn’t call them living either.” Ray pushed the pile of photographs across the desk towards Fraser. “Victims were already dead, sort of.”
Fraser’s eyes were now wide in horror. He snatched one of the photographs and steeled himself before looking at it, expecting to see the sawn up remains of a corpse. Instead he saw a picture of a uniformed police officer standing by the side of the road in a residential area. At the officer’s feet were logs, all of the same diameter and about a foot long. Several of the pieces of wood were piled up, others were scattered about.
“It was supposed to be a new telephone pole. The work crew left it out overnight to put it up in the morning and when they came back they found it all cut up like that. This is from about a week ago. There’s been poles found cut up in the same neighbourhood – one a night for a week.”
“After the first was damaged, they didn’t take away the rest afterwards?” Fraser asked.
Ray shrugged. “Maybe some union thing. Maybe didn’t have a place to put them. Dunno. I guess it makes sense to somebody to leave them out.”
“It’s rather odd, all the same,” Fraser opined.
“Rather odd. So, do you have anything else brilliant to contribute here?” Ray pressed.
“Well, I’ve seen something like this in the north . . .” Fraser began.
“I knew it,” interjected Welsh, who had come out of his office, “I knew he’d have some experience with crimes involving logs.”
If Fraser suspected he was being teased, he didn’t show it. He delivered his answer to the Lieutenant with an entirely deadpan expression.
“In those instances, Lieutenant, the pieces of the logs that went missing were found in old Mr. Carmichael’s woodpile to be used as firewood.”
“He couldn’t just go get wood in the forest?” Francesca put in from across the room.
“It was above the tree line. Wood was scarce,” Fraser explained.
“I’m thinking maybe the dude wanted to take the logs away but somebody came along before he had a chance,” Ray said.
Fraser examined more of the pictures, each of a different cut up log at a different location. “That would make sense if it happened one night. But this is a pattern. It’s baffling, Ray. What steps have been taken so far?” He looked up towards Welsh.
“After the first night, I had two uniformed officers patrolling the area where logs were left out. Every single night a cut up pole was found on the ground near where they were watching.”
“The officers were on foot?” Fraser wanted specifics and he wasn’t getting them.
“They were in a patrol car but they were ordered to spend most of their time patrolling the area on foot.”
“Yeah, and I bet they were thrilled to death to draw that assignment,” Ray muttered. “So what do you think, Fraser?”
“I think it is very odd. What evidence do you have that a chainsaw was used, and not a handsaw?”
Ray answered. “The uniforms canvassed the neighbourhood. Lots of the residents heard the noise of a chainsaw. I was thinking of taking you out to the crime scene so you could lick the logs and tell us what kind of saw.”
Fraser picked up his hat from Ray’s desk and rose to his feet. “Different saw blades leave different kinds of residue. I should definitely have a look.”
“You mean a taste,” Ray said, also getting up.
“Let’s start with the log that was cut up the first night, then check out the others in order of occurrence.”
Ray looked to Welsh, who scratched the back of neck before answering.
“I really don’t think this is something you need to concern yourself with, Constable. Ray and the other officers can handle it.”
Ray swiveled his head back towards Fraser to see how the Mountie would react to this put-off. He was not at all surprised when Fraser said. “Understood. But you actually forbid me to get involved?”
Welsh shrugged. “Technically I can’t forbid or permit you to do anything. You don’t report to me. But there’s really no need for it.”
Fraser was pleased. He thanked Welsh kindly, took Ray by the sleeve and guided him out of the squad room so eagerly that it looked as though he were pulling him along.
Ray took Fraser around to the back of the 27th where the remains of the pole found the first night were piled up in the corner of the parking lot.
“Disturbing the evidence,” Fraser disapproved.
“Well, they got pictures first,” Ray said.
“I still can’t see a motive for cutting up the poles and leaving the wood there night after night. Unless, well, unless there is a faction in Chicago that objects in principle to telephone poles. I suppose if any group had taken responsibility you’d have told me about it by now,” Fraser said with all seriousness.
Fraser picked up one of the logs and looked it over carefully. “Typical of the kind used in Chicago telephone poles. But this was definitely cut by a handsaw, not a chainsaw. Why would the residents say they had heard a chainsaw?”
“I guess they don’t know a hawk from a handsaw,” Ray quipped.
“That’s just silly, Ray,” Fraser told him. “I’d like to talk to the officers who were on patrol when we finish these examinations.”
“Okay, I’ll set it up. Anything else you need here?” Ray asked, waiting for Fraser to lick or at least sniff one of the pieces of wood. But he was disappointed. Fraser only tossed the log onto the pile and turned towards Ray’s car.
“Let’s move on to crime scenes that haven’t been interfered with.”
While they drove, Ray called Welsh (with Fraser glowering his disapproval of Ray’s telephoning while driving) to set up an interview with the two officers who had been on watch all week. They were scheduled to be out again that night so Ray found out where their assigned location was, so that they could go see them after Fraser was finished his investigating.
At first one site then another Fraser satisfied Ray by picking up logs, sniffing the cut surfaces and running his tongue across the log faces. It was evening when they finished and Fraser announced his findings.
“The pole attacked on the second night was also hand cut, but not by the same blade. All the rest were cut with a chainsaw and always the same one. But I can’t tell the brand of the saw.”
“Don’t feel bad,” Ray said, since Fraser did indeed look crushed at this failure.
“Why would the culprit change his modus operandi? Two different handsaws the first two night and then a chain saw all the rest of the nights?”
“He got tired?” Ray said, helpfully.
Fraser was not impressed with this logic. “Perhaps. Or perhaps there is more than one perpetrator. However you look at it, Ray, it’s very odd. The uniforms may be able to shed some light on it,” he said, dejected.
Ray drove up to the street corner where Welsh had advised them to find Officers Nate Williamson and Bill Nathanson. The uniformed men were in their patrol car and emerged when Ray and Fraser pulled up. One was a fresh-faced rookie, slight of frame, barely meeting the Chicago PD’s physical standards. The other was quite a bit older. Ray and Fraser could tell by his demeanor as well as by his age that he was the senior partner.
They introduced themselves all around. Then the older man, Nate Williamson, began describing their activities of the past several nights. According to him they both drove and walked the neighbourhood, never seeing anything out of the ordinary. The people in the surrounding houses reporting having heard chain saws but the officers never saw any cutting activity.
Fraser was clearly not believing them. He insisted that the officers specify exactly which nights they went knocking on doors and which nights they didn’t. When pressed, Officer Williamson told them that the sounds were only reported in the last two nights. Ray did notice that the younger policeman said little and whenever a question was put to him, he looked to his older partner to answer.
After a time, Ray felt they had heard all they were going to hear of interest, assuming that he found any of it interesting, which in fact he didn’t. He couldn’t quite get excited about mutilated telephone poles.
So, Ray was not at all happy when Fraser said, “Do you gentlemen mind if Detective Vecchio and I keep watch with you tonight.”
“Hey! This gentleman minds. We’re talking telephone poles here, Fraser.”
“No we’re not, Ray. We’re men.”
“We aren’t telephone poles, we’re men. Homo sapiens.”
“Hold the phone, who said we weren’t?”
Williamson and Nathanson were beginning to snicker, which annoyed Ray all the more.
“You’re not making sense, Ray.” Fraser said.
“I’m not . . . Damn you, Fraser.” under his breath he added, “Wait till I get you home.”
“Ray, you said we were talking telephone poles. There’s no such thing as a talking telephone pole as far as I know and even if there were, I certainly am not one. I’m a person.”
The uniform cops couldn’t hold back their laughter. They burst out in guffaws.
Ray caught on. “No, damn it, Fraser. I mean we’re talking ABOUT telephone poles.”
“Ah, well that makes a bit more sense. But it is stating the obvious, Ray. Of course we’re talking about telephone poles. I never said we were talking about anything else.”
“Wrongo. You were talking about staying out way past my bedtime to help these guys guard long bits of wood. And I’m talking about – no way it’s going to happen. We’re heading out. Now, just before we go – is there anything else you need to put in your mouth?”
“No, Ray. Not here.”
Fraser’s mischievous look couldn’t be seen in the night’s darkness. Nor could Ray’s little smile as he caught his lover’s meaning.
“So we don’t have to stick around. Lives aren’t exactly at stake.”
Williamson said “Yes, it’s really a minor case. Doesn’t need a detective. We can handle it, can’t we Bill?”
"Yeah, sure, Nate."
“It can’t be too minor a case if two fine officers such as yourselves are working on it every night for a week. There must be some importance that perhaps we don’t realize,” Fraser pointed out.
The older man shrugged. “The brass gives the orders. Whatcha gonna do? We take the cases we’re given. No need for you two guys to lose a night’s sleep.” He held out his hand towards Fraser. “Nice to have met you, Constable. Bye now, Detective.” Clearly he was dismissing them.
Fraser did not protest this time, but took the man’s hand for a polite handshake, nodded to Williamson, and then turned away and strode towards Ray’s car. Ray trotted after and they got in.
“Okay, this really is odd,” Ray said, settling in behind the wheel. “I mean it’s only telephone poles. We got barely enough cops on the street to cover real crimes. How come Welsh is even putting these guys out night after night?”
“Maybe the Lieutenant feels strongly about safeguarding municipal assets,” Fraser said, “but that wouldn’t be like him at all. Decidedly odd.”
“But not odd enough for me to lose a night’s sleep over it. Let’s go home.”
Now that they were living together for several months, their lovemaking wasn’t urgent as it was at the beginning of the relationship. Ray held Fraser to his implied promise, but that was all they did before settling in to sleep.
Ray appeared to drop off easily but Fraser remained wakeful, staring at the ceiling and thinking. After about half an hour, he shifted slightly, about to get out of bed.
From beside him in the dark came Ray’s voice saying, sleepily, “Don’t even think about it. You’re staying right here.”
“I barely moved a muscle,” Fraser protested.
“When you’re sleeping, you move around. If you’re not moving a muscle, that means you’re thinking. You even try to go wood-watching, buddy, and I’ll punch you out, so help me.”
Fraser rubbed at jaw, remembering what Ray’s punch had felt like that time on the dockside. He didn’t relish another experience like that. Still . . . there was something so odd about this case that he couldn’t stop thinking about it and wanting to be out to see what would happen tonight.
He sat up. Ray must have fallen asleep again because he didn’t comment. In a whisper, Fraser called Diefenbaker over, saying “Stretch out here and pretend to be me. Move around from time to time so Ray will think you’re sleeping, uh, I’m sleeping.”
The wolf understood and jumped onto the bed just at the instant that Fraser was standing up so there was the minimum shift in the weight on the mattress.
It took all of Fraser’s skill at moving silently and stealthily, to manage to dress without disturbing Ray. Diefenbaker helped by mimicking what Fraser sounded like while sleeping, letting out from his canine/lupine throat quite reasonable approximations of human snores.
“I do NOT snore,” Fraser whispered to the wolf, as he slipped out of the bedroom.
Knowing that there was a fiction to be maintained, Diefenbaker refrained from answering back. Let him think he didn’t snore. Whatever.
Fraser never took Ray’s car without permission. And since Ray never gave that permission, it may safely be said that Fraser, in fact, never took Ray’s car at all. His frugal nature quailed at taking a taxi but if he walked there would be very little left of the night for observation. The only alternative he could think of was public transit. It took him a little under an hour to reach the location where they had seen Williamson and Nathanson earlier that night.
Fraser got off the bus a few stops before and worked his way quietly through the middle class neighbourhood, keeping to the shadows of bushes and trees. He came to the spot where they had left the two cops.
Sure enough, as he was creeping unseen towards them, he heard the buzz of a chainsaw. It went on for only a few minutes, then stopped. He got close enough to see the two officers standing over sawn up pieces of telephone pole where Fraser had seen an intact pole only a few hours ago.
Caught red-handed! But something made Fraser refrain from jumping out right away and placing them under citizen’s arrest for destroying public property. He stayed out of their sight and watched. Williamson and Nathanson walked calmly over to their patrol car and got in. Fraser inched closer so that he could see what they were doing inside the car. They did nothing more than sip coffee out of thermoses, munch doughnuts from a bag apparently obtained from a nearby cop hangout and converse, apparently at ease. Fraser realized he had seen nothing furtive about their actions at all. They were as casual throughout the whole time as though had been just going about some routine, legitimate police business.
Instead, he slipped away.
During the long bus ride home he remained deep in thought and by the
time he was ready to get out at his own stop, he had a theory to explain the
oddities. With luck, he’d be able to
slip back into bed without disturbing Ray and tomorrow afternoon after work he
would come to the 27th to put his theory to Lieutenant Welsh.
The first part of the plan was a dismal failure. He entered the apartment to find a pajama’d Ray sitting in the living, watching an old movie and sipping on a bottle of cola.
“I’m not going to deck you,” Ray told him. “I already took it out on Dief.”
“Ray!” Fraser had been feeling guilty about disobeying his lover’s wishes by sneaking out. Now at the thought of Ray abusing Dief in any way, the Mountie was aghast.
“Nothing too terrible. I made him drink diet instead of real soda. For punishment, like. Now that you’re home safe, I can go back to bed and try to get some sleep for what’s left of the night.”
“Don’t you want to know what I found out?”
“Put it this way, Fraser. If I don’t let you tell me now, you’ll insist on telling me in the morning anyway. So, it’s not like I could ever avoid being told.”
“I suppose you have a point. Very well, I’ll tell you about it in the morning. It was very . . .”
“Don’t tell me, let me guess, it was odd.”
“And then some.”
They went to bed and Fraser did indeed fill him in over breakfast.
“Do you want me to tell Welsh for you this morning?” Ray asked while sipping his coffee and Smarties.
“No, I don’t think so, Ray. I have a theory I’d like to test out. I want to do it in person.”
“Suit yourself,” said Ray, and yawned hugely.
“You didn’t get much sleep. Here let me fix you another cup, you’ll need the caffeine and the sugar.”
Fraser knocked politely at Welsh’s door and, at the lieutenant’s behest, came in. Ray rose to follow but Fraser waved him back. Ray was just as happy to comply and drifted back to his desk.
To Fraser it felt much like another time when he had come to talk to Welsh privately, out of the hearing of the man who wasn’t really Ray Vecchio but going by his name. As on the previous occasion, Welsh sat while Fraser bent over him closely. As on the previous occasion, the Mountie had done his won research to back up his conclusion.
What was different this time was that on the occasion years ago, he had an announcement: that the blond detective was not Raymond Vecchio. Today what he had was a question.
“Something you wanted so see me about, Constable?” said Welsh, stated the obvious.
“Yes sir. About the telephone pole case.”
“Aw geez, Constable. I told you to lay off that one. It’s really not important.”
“Yes sir, but what I want to know is: which one are you protecting? Nathanson or Williamson?”
Welsh looked down at his desk, across to his window, up the ceiling, then over to the wall farthest from his desk. Finally his eyes completed their circuit of his office and came about the meet Fraser’s reluctantly.
“Nate Williamson is retiring in three months. He’s had a rough year and his nerves are pulled pretty tight. I wanted to spare him some stress.”
Fraser nodded thoughtfully. “The first cutting up of a telephone pole was probably was a one-time occurrence. After that you arranged for the city to leave more poles so it would look like Williamson and his partner were working on the case.”
“I’ve got a few connections in public works,” Welsh admitted.
“First they used a hand saw and then they switched to a chain saw,” said Fraser
“Bill was getting all tired and sore. He’s a kid but he’s not in much better shape than Nate.”
“The neighbours heard chainsaws only after the second night because that’s when the officers started using one. They could easily wait and do the sawing late enough that no one was around to see them. It’s a mature neighbourhood. Very few people out at night. Very clever, sir. You keep assigning Williamson to these night stakeouts, with his younger partner to help out, and you arrange that there will always be something to watch for. But no actual crime. No lives at stake, nobody to get hurt.”
“What are you planning on doing about this, Constable? Are you going to report me to the Captain?”
Fraser wasn’t sure himself what the answer was to that question. He thought as he stood there beside Welsh’s desk. No one had really been harmed except the wooden poles, and the trees that they were made of were already dead.
“I don’t suppose I need to say anything. But, sir, if I figured it out, somebody else might. It might be wise to discontinue the operation before someone else catches on.”
Welsh was genuinely grateful. “Thanks, Constable. I guess I’ll have to call a halt to it. But, you know, I don’t think there’s anybody in Chicago that could have figured it out but you.”
“It was intriguing sir,” Fraser admitted. “And it sure was odd.”