“Detective? Is Constable Fraser with you?”
Something had to be terribly wrong for Inspector Thatcher to call the 27th in the middle of a Thursday morning to ask this.
“When did you last see him?” Ray didn’t bother with any small talk or preliminary questions. If the Dragon Lady was expecting Benny to be somewhere and Benny wasn’t there and hadn’t reported his whereabouts then he had to be hurt, sick, kidnapped or dead. Ray swung immediately into professional mode, picking up a pencil to record whatever clues the Inspector was about to give him.
“He left the Consulate yesterday evening at the same time as usual . . .”
“Left Consulate at five.” Ray scribbled as he listened. “Wearing?”
“His red serge as far as I know. I didn’t watch him leave but he usually walks home in uniform. I have no reason to believe he changed his clothes but I can’t be sure.”
“Red suit,” Ray repeated and scribbled. “What steps have you taken so far?”
“I called Mr. Mustafi. He knocked on Fraser’s door and there was no answer. Then I sent Constable Turnbull over to investigate. Some slimy superintendent was there . . .”
“ Dennis,” Ray wrote.
“ . . . and let Turnbull in. Fraser wasn’t there and his bed didn’t look like it had been slept in. The wolf wasn’t there either.”
“That’s when I called you, Detective. I thought if anyone would know where he was . . .”
“I don’t. But I’m on it. And you call me if he shows up.”
While Ray had been on his phone in the squad room, Diefenbaker came limping in through the front door of the 27th. Diefenbaker’s white hair was matted with blood. He dragged himself, more than walked, and got as far as the front desk before being swamped by cops and aides. The desk sergeant flew out from behind her desk and threw her arms around him. “Diefenbaker? What are you doing here all by yourself? Oh you poor puppy, what happened?” She looked up. “Somebody get Detective Vecchio!”
A uniform went to the squad room, opened the door and called inside. “Fraser’s wolf just came in. All by himself and all full of blood. Where’s Vecchio?”
“Sweet Jesus!” Ray breathed and then said quickly to Thatcher, “I’ve got a lead. I’ll call you back later.” Without waiting for her acknowledgement he dropped the phone and followed the uniform out to the front.
The crowd around Diefenbaker parted to let Ray through. From behind him, Welsh also came up, having noticed Ray’s mad dash from the squad room and followed along to see what was up. Detective Huey trailed afterwards.
The desk Sergeant stood aside to let Ray have access to the wounded animal. “We better take him to a vet. I’ll find an address and get somebody to drive him.” She looked to Welsh for confirmation.
“Get the address, but we’re not going yet.” Ray said. He dropped to the floor so that he was level with the pained eyes of the wolf. “Dief, can you take me to where Benny is?”
Diefenbaker whined and strained his head towards the doorway.
“What’s this all about?” Welsh wanted to know.
“Fraser’s gone missing. Dief must have come here for help.”
“Take two cars,” Welsh instructed, taking over the situation. “Somebody can take the wolf straight to the vet as soon as you locate the Constable. You two. . .” he pointed at a couple of uniforms, “. . . go get a squad car. Vecchio, go get your car and somebody will meet you out front with the wolf.
“I’ll go,” Huey said.
“Okay, whatever. We’re the only precinct in town with our own Mountie and our own wolf. It’s rescue time. Move!”
Ray in the Riv and the two uniforms in the squad car pulled up together in front of the 27th as Huey came out carrying Diefenbaker. Ray jumped out and pulled open the back door of the Riv, then thought better of it. “He’ll have to lead us on foot. I’ll walk along with him. You guys’ll have to follow.” Ray reached over and took the keys out of the ignition. “Put him down, Jack. Gently.”
Gingerly, the tall detective lowered Diefenbaker to the ground. The animal whimpered a little as his legs touched pavement, then he rallied and gave Ray a pleading look.
“Just lead the way, fellah. Show me where Benny is.”
They formed a procession as they went along the street, first a wounded wolf, trying to run as fast as his limp would allow, an Italian at his side, and following as best they could were the Riv driven by Huey and the squad car behind him. At one point Diefenbaker staggered and dropped, exhausted, to the sidewalk.
Ray bent to caress the hairy head, “You want to go by car, pal? Is there any way we can do that?” Ray doubted that the wolf - for all that it seemed as though he had a person inside - would be able to tell them where to go from inside the car. Still, he looked to Dief for an answer. The wolf had surprised him often enough before.
But Diefenbaker only whined in a tone that Ray was ready to swear conveyed negation.
“OK, Dief. what about if I carry you?”
Dief’s yip sounded encouraging, so Ray picked him as best he could and staggered down the street. From time to time Dief would turn his head and emit a brief bark, instructing Ray which way to turn. Normally Ray wouldn’t have had the strength to carry the wolf for a long time but on a quest such as this one there was no question of faltering. They went on along streets where the cars could follow for another hour and half.
Diefenbaker ordered a left turn into an alleyway, then started squirming. Ray set him down to the ground as carefully as he could. The cars wouldn’t be able to follow, so Ray called out to Huey to park and follow them on foot and told the uniforms to wait in the squad car for instructions.
Ray stalled a moment before following Diefenbaker. The wolf glanced back at him and made an interrogatory noise. “I’m coming, Dief,” Ray said, but he didn’t actually follow after. Huey came up beside him.
“I’m afraid this is going to be bad, Jack,” Ray said softly.
Huey put a reassuring hand on Ray’s shoulder. Ray patted the hand in appreciation and they went along behind the wolf.
Diefenbaker led them to the end of the alley and around a bend to an inner parking lot. To one side was a large dumpster, high enough that the interior could not be seen from the ground. Diefenbaker staggered towards it and forced himself to jump up and rest his fore-paws against the grimy dumpster walls.
Ray and Huey exchanged a horrified look. Then Ray inched forwards towards the dumpster, saying, “Jack, get your phone ready.”
“Let me look first, Ray.”
Ray waved a dismissive hand vaguely at him before grabbing hold of some protruding handles on the outside of the dumpster and heaving himself up with a grunt. He came to rest balancing his stomach against the rim steeling himself for what he might see. The dumpster was half full with plastic bags of various sizes and colours. Some of the bags had broken open and bits of garbage - papers, cans, dirty paper, various other slimy unidentified objects - had spilled out. The stench slapped him the face.
Scanning the trash, he made out a bare leg protruding from a pile of bags. Ray swung over the edge and picked his way along the uneven pile, his stomach rebelling against the smell and his mind angry at his stomach for distracting his attention from Benny’s plight.
He reached the spot. Fraser’s whole body was visible - literally - he was naked. He lay half on his side with his back towards Ray. His arms and legs at different levels, resting on piles of garbage bags on to which he had been apparently tossed. Shit, Benny. This is more of you than I ever needed to see, Ray thought as he sunk to knees in the putrid trash and reached a shaking hand out for Fraser’s neck to check his pulse.
At Ray’s touch, Fraser turned his head, his eyes still closed, and let out tiny moan.
With this assurance Ray’s mind, frozen before with fear and horror, now melted enough to allow Ray to take care of some basic business. “Jack! Call 9-1-1! Then send Dief to the vet!”
Ray tuned out the sounds of Huey first telephoning and then shouting for the uniforms to come and get Dief. His whole being was focussed on examining Fraser, seeing what he could learn from his friend’s condition.
Crouching in the trash, Ray saw that Fraser’s rear was bloodied and bruised. He looked closer, too worried to be embarrassed and noticed some sort of dried substance on his friend’s buttocks and in the crack between them. Then he stepped carefully over his friend’s prone form to position himself where he could see the front of Fraser. Spots on his chest and abdomen leaked blood, but not excessively. There were more bruises. Bending closer Ray saw the cuts were near the nipples and low in the groin near the genitals. Bile rose in Ray’s throat as he thought of somebody taking a knife to Fraser, just a little lower and . . .
Never mind the danger of moving a wounded man. Ray had to see if what he feared was really true. Gently he took hold of Fraser’s hips and eased his friend’s haunches just enough to get a look. . Benny still had all his equipment. The turning of his body had moved Fraser’s head out of the trash and now he faced upward. Ray looked at Fraser’s face. The area around his mouth was smeared lightly with blood. Again Ray bent down closer to look. The same kind of dried gunk that Ray had seen on Fraser’s rear also caked the Mountie’s lips and the corners of his mouth. It had taken this long for Ray’s brain, still partly numbed, to click to what the residue was. Ray’s stomach heaved as the realization hit.
Grabbing some of the higher bags for balance, Ray was somehow able to stagger to his feet and make his way to the edge of the dumpster, his feet sinking in soft surfaces as he tried to walk. He was barely able to grope for the dumpster wall and lean over the side before the vomiting hit. Tears came as his stomach emptied. “Why him?” Ray sobbed, between bouts of wretching, “This is going to kill him.”
The cuts hadn’t caused much blood loss and none of Fraser’s bones were broken. But there had been internal bleeding, caused from blows from blunt objects, Ray was told. The results from the rape kit would be some days in coming, but it was apparent to anybody that Fraser had been assaulted repeatedly. Nor did it take genetic testing to figure out that the soiling of the Mountie had to have been done by many men.
By the time Fraser had been taken in for surgery, Ray had cried all he was capable of crying and waited, dry-eyed but still stunned, in the waiting room. Jack sat vigil with him, and then Welsh, and then Francesca, with Ray barely noticing when one left and another arrived.
Ray had no awareness of the passing of time, but when a doctor finally came out to talk to him, it was evening. At the news that Fraser was not in physical danger, he burst into tears again and fell against his sister’s tiny shoulder.
“Are you his wife?” the doctor asked.
“Fraser’s not married,” replied Francesca, cradling her brother’s head as she spoke.
“No, him.” the doctor inclined his head to Ray who was just beginning to recover again.
“I’m his sister.”
The doctor nodded, then said, “Take him home.”
“No, we want to be here for Frazsh.”
The doctor had “firm but kind” down to a science. “‘Frazsh’ is going to need a lot of support. But your brother’s going to have to be strong if he’s going to be of any help.” He dug into a pocket of his white coat. “I’ll prescribe something to make him sleep.”
The squad room was abuzz with the angry voices of detectives and uniforms.
“What the hell? He’s OUR Mountie!” declared Huey.
“Yeah,” confirmed Dewey and a fresh chorus of agreement rose from the men and women all around.
Welsh was having trouble keeping order. In fact he had failed to contain the outburst when his staff heard that it was the Special Assault Unit in the 10th precinct that was going to investigate the assault on Fraser, and not the men and women of the 27th .
Nor did he particularly want to control the outrage that he shared himself. But orders were orders and the Special Assault Unit were better equipped to handle the investigation of an attack so horrific as the one on the Mountie. But that didn’t mean he felt better about it. To hell with professionalism - he wanted to personally rip the scum apart. Still, it was his job to try to keep the troops in line, no matter how he felt about it personally.
“We look after our own here!” Huey marked his point with a violent downward thrust of his long fingers.
“Like you stood by Fraser when we lost Louis?” Welsh shot back. “Or maybe you forgot you let the poor son-of-a-bitch hang out to dry.”
Huey had his answer to that. “Hey, how we treated Fraser was wrong. That’s why we got to stand by him NOW. We owe him.”
Another chorus of “Yeah” and “You tell ‘em” swelled up.
Ray hadn’t been in the squad room for this discussion. He had, with Welsh’s full blessing, been sitting by Fraser’s bed while the Mountie drifted in and out of consciousness. Even if the investigation had been left with the 27th, there was no way Welsh would have allowed Vecchio to work the case.
“You guys all just get this straight,” Welsh announced when there was a lull in hubbub, “Lieutenant Shannon’s unit is going to work the case. End of story. Now get to work and solve some fucking crimes.”
“That’s what we want to do,” muttered Huey as he moved back to his desk.
Welsh didn’t see any value in pursuing the remark. Huey needed to let off steam. The lieutenant went back to his own office and sat down behind his desk to think.
Of all the people for this to happen to, Welsh figured, it had to be the straight-laced and tight-assed Fraser. Well, it should teach the Canadians not to let a good-looking son-of-a-bitch like that run around Chicago in that red outfit. Like a neon sign, attracting perverts.
Ray had reported that Fraser was still disoriented from the pain medication following the surgery. So far the Mountie had said nothing about what had happened. Ray found him unconscious in the dumpster and there was a huge bump on his head. Maybe, MAYBE, the constable had been knocked out for the whole thing. Maybe he wouldn’t remember what happened. Maybe.If there was a God.
Then the policeman in Welsh took over the mental discussion. If Fraser had been awake for the attack there’d be no better witness in the world. He’d describe the criminals down to their fingernails. And if they came to trial, he’d be there to put them away. So, at least there could be some good in this.
Welsh decided he needed a sandwich, a really big one with lots of meat. And lots of fortifying fat on the meat. What he really wanted were at least a dozen long swigs of bourbon but that would set a bad example for the troops.
Fraser had been five days in hospital. The tissue damage from the actual assault was minor and healing well. The internal injuries, however, didn’t seem to be healing to the doctors’ satisfaction.
Fraser complained delicately to his attending physician about a sore bottom without making any reference to the cause. A staff psychiatrist had counselled patience and advised Ray and all the medical staff to let Fraser maintain silence on the matter of why he was there until such time as the Mountie felt ready to bring the subject up.
There was one person with whom this delicacy did not sit well. Lt. Shannon, head of the Special Assault Unit, was champing at the bit to get a statement from her newly assigned victim.
Twice during Fraser’s first week in hospital she had arrived and tried to get in to take a statement from him. Ray was there on both occasions, sitting guard by his friend’s bedside, and shooed the eager policewoman away.
On her third try, Lt. Shannon found the Mountie alone. Using the simple technique of carrying a clipboard and looking as though on some hospital business, she marched past the nursing station and directly to Fraser’s room. Seeing him alone, she strode inside and stood at the foot of Fraser’s bed.
“I’m Lieutenant Shannon, Special Assault Unit, 10th precinct,” she introduced herself and held a business card out towards the man in the bed. Fraser made no move to take the card, only regarded her with mild, patient eyes.
“How do you do, Lieutenant Shannon,” he said blandly, “I’m Constable Benton Fraser, Royal Canadian Mounted Police. What can I do for you?”
Ray had been down at a vending machine getting coffee and came in to find a large but trim woman standing by Fraser. “I thought I threw you out of here before?”
“You did, because I let you, but now I’ve lost patience,” Lt.Shannon repeated her name and gave Ray a card. “I’m sure you’re aware that my department has been assigned to Mister Fraser’s case.”
“CONSTABLE Fraser’s not in any shape to answer any questions. So you can scram until he feels better.”
Lt. Shannon was spared the need to respond by Fraser himself saying, “That’s all right, Ray. It’s time I gave my report.”
Ray dropped into a chair close by his friend’s bed and peered into the Mountie’s eyes. “Benny, do you know what happened to you?”
“Most of it, yes,” said the Mountie, softly. “I lost consciousness towards the end, but I remember . . . enough.”
“Don’t tell if you’re not ready, Benny. It’s okay.”
“It’s not okay, Detective. The faster we have the details from him, the faster I can have my people on the street looking for these bastards.”
Fraser didn’t change his expression but Ray gave her a scathing look. “Down at the 27th we come down heavy on the perps, not the victims.”
“May I sit down?” She directed the question to Fraser and at his nod, dropped into another visitor’s chair near the foot of Fraser’s bed.
“There’s a reason I’m being so abrupt,” the woman went on. “I know there’s been some complaints from the 27th that you want to handle Mister Fraser’s case . . .”
“Constable Fraser’s case,” Ray repeated.
“Constable Fraser’s case yourselves. I’ll tell you why headquarters gave the case to us.”
Ray gestured for her to continue. Fraser said nothing.
“My Special Assault Unit has been investigating a series of assaults that have been going on for three years now. Constable Fraser is the thirteenth victim during this time to have suffered almost the same pattern of attack. It’s a swarm of men, the victim is always a white male in his twenties or thirties. Always, you’ll forgive me for saying this, Constable, a looker. And we haven’t been able to make a single arrest yet.”
“If you’d have had Benny on the case, you’d have it solved by now. He’s more than a pretty face.” Ray interjected sourly.
Lt. Shannon didn’t find this amusing. “Our problem has been that the twelve previous victims were found dead. Beaten to death. These attacks were almost identical to the one on Constable Fraser, except he is the only victim to survive.”
“Jesus!” said Ray.
“Constable, there’s so much you need to tell me, but I have to admit that one of the things I’m dying to know is why they let you live.”
Fraser finally joined back into the conversation. “They didn’t,” he said.
“They didn’t let you live?”
“Not as such, no. I was able to - what is the expression? - impersonate a marsupial. I have excess lung capacity and was able to hold my breath for as long as their attention was focussed on my chest. Which was very little of the time. Most of the time their attention was on - other parts of my anatomy.”
“You knew they were intending to kill you?” Shannon pressed him.
“I was already feigning unconsciousness, trying to work out an escape. I could hear constant talk of “snuffing” me. Now, I’m not familiar with that term but I deduced its meaning in context. I was already at a disadvantage from the blow to my head. Given their number and my weakened state I didn’t think my chances of getting away were very good. When they started beating me, I reasoned that they would stop if they thought I was dead.”
“Constable, you’re a police officer yourself so forgive me for being blunt here. I’ve got twelve men - dead and not able to tell me their story. And you lived. I have to be clear on this . What you’re telling me is: you were struck on the head, raped, and beaten - to death as far as your assailants were concerned.”
Fraser blushed. Very softly he said, “Not necessarily in that order.”
“Holy Christ,” Ray swore under his breath. “The bastards, the motherless fucking bastards.”
“That’s consistent with the evidence we found in the other cases,” Shannon said, also very softly. “I needed to know that to be sure we had the same pattern. I’m so sorry.”
There was a long pause. Ray studied his friend to see how Fraser was holding up now that he had begun to talk about his experiences. The Mountie was calm, too calm. He hadn’t even sat up in his bed but had been talking to them still lying back propped up by only a couple of pillows.
Finally, Lt. Shannon said. “I’m going to have to ask you to describe everything you can remember. I won’t ask you to tell it to me directly. I have a system where I give the victim a tape recorder and allow them to tell it in private. Later, when we have an arrest, you can sign a transcript. I can bring you a tape-recorder tomorrow, if you feel ready.”
“I’m willing to make a complete statement,” said the Mountie.
“Everything you remember.”
Ray felt it was time to lighten the moment. “I hope you got enough hours of tape. When Benny makes a complete statement, the statement’s REALLY complete.”
Shannon didn’t take this as a joke. “That would be amazing. I know you were trying to appear dead, but if you can tell me anything, ANYTHING, about what they looked like, or if you heard any names . . .”
“If you bring a sketchpad and a pencil, I’ll draw some of them for you and label them with whatever names I overheard when they were talking amongst themselves. Bear in mind, I could only sneak my eyes open briefly when I thought they wouldn’t notice. It takes more concentration to appear dead than many people realize.”
The brusqueness the woman had come in with had completely gone now. “You have no idea how important this is to me and my team, Constable.”
“I’m an officer of the law, Lieutenant. Of course you’ll have my complete co-operation. But, I am a little tired right now.”
Ray swung around to stare at Fraser. He’d spoken in exactly that defeated, hopeless tone Ray remembered from the time Fraser had been in the hospital recovering from his gunshot wound from Ray and his heart-wound from Victoria.
Lt. Shannon got the hint. “I’ll . . . I’ll . . . let you get some rest now.”
“I would appreciate that, thank you kindly,” replied the Mountie.
Lt. Shannon held out her hand out to Fraser, who took it for a brief shake.
“You feel warm, Constable. I think you have a fever,” she added.
“Oh, you want to take over for the doctors now. Taking over Fraser’s case wasn’t enough for you?”
“Nice to meet you too, Detective,” she said, rose and headed for the door. Just before going through she stopped and turned around. “Impersonate a marsupial?”
“He means he played ‘possum.”
“Oh, I see,” she said, and then she left.
When a nurse came by to check Fraser’s vital signs half an hour later, Lt. Shannon’s observation was confirmed. “Only a couple of degrees, but a fever is a fever. We’ll get a doctor to have a look at you.”
The diagnosis was an infection where he’d had surgery. Fraser was put on antibiotics and his hospital departure, scheduled for two days hence, was indefinitely delayed.
Ray felt guilty about returning to work, but still spent every evening at Fraser’s bedside. They made small talk, when Fraser bothered to talk at all. Ray found him each evening more or less as he left him the evening before, on his back, staring at the ceiling. Ray respected his friend’s desire “not to talk about it” for a few nights only, and then decided to force the issue. For Benny’s own good, he told himself.
“You have to talk about it. I know you don’t want to but it has to happen.”
“I know that Ray. Perhaps in a few days.” Fraser was calm and totally obliging but it didn’t fool the Italian.
“Benny! For a week you wouldn’t even let us know if you remembered ANYTHING.”
Fraser yawned a huge yawn. Ray had been noticing the dark circles under Fraser’s eyes for some days now but hadn’t thought much about it. Well, considering what he had been through, you wouldn’t expect him to be jumping up full of energy. And then there was the infection. Even so, this seemed suspicious.
“You getting any sleep, Benny?”
“I’m fine, Ray.”
“You keep telling everybody who comes in that you’re tired. The nurses, the doctors, the shrinks, that Shannon . . .”
“To get rid of them Ray. I’d rather just be left alone. I’m fine.”
“Fraser, you’re so far from fine they don’t even have a word for it! After I leave every night, are you getting any sleep?”
“I’m fine, Ray.”
“Because they’re supposed to give you sleeping pills. Your body heals while you’re asleep, didn’t your grandmother teach you that?”
But the Mountie, Ray could see, was in full clam-up mode. He would only stare placidly at the ceiling and wait for Ray to finish spouting off.
“If you don’t want to talk to ME about what happened, and believe me I totally understand if you don’t, you still have to talk it out with somebody. They got shrinks . . .”
“I’ve given Lt. Shannon a complete report of everything I remember.”
“You know that’s not what I mean.”
“Could we please talk about something else, Ray?”
Ray threw up his hands in mute appeal to the Heavens. He was stuck. If Fraser wasn’t able to talk about it yet then he, Ray, would not be so cruel as to force him.
“Okay, okay, whatever. You want to talk about the weather?”
“There’s no need to sulk, Ray.”
“I’m not sulking,” Ray sulked.
An orderly came in to pick up Fraser’s dinner tray. Ray hadn’t thought much of the fact that Fraser had left his dinner untouched. Hospital food sucked, everyone knew that.
“I’ll bring you some decent food tomorrow. Ma’s dying to cook for you but she’s waiting for you to be better.”
The orderly was a man in his early twenties, dark of complexion. He said “Hi, Mr. Fraser” with a Hispanic accent.
“Good evening, Julio. Are you on day shift now?”
“Just for a couple of weeks. Sure is different around here when everybody’s awake.”
Fraser watched him leave with the tray.
“Julio doesn’t usually come on duty until two in the morning. I imagine it will be hard for his system to adjust to the new schedule.”
“Uh hunh. Well this sure is an interesting conversation. I was worried about Julio getting enough sleep.”
“You’re being sarcastic, Ray.”
Instead of going right from Fraser’s room to the elevator that night, Ray lingered outside his door and then made a stroll around the now-familiar area: the nurses’ station, the visiting rooms, the public washrooms. Something in his last talk with Fraser was nagging him and he didn’t want to leave the building before figuring out what it was. As he watched hospital staff come and go about their business, he recognized Julio who had come in before to pick up Fraser’s supper tray, making his way down the hospital corridor pushing a large laundry cart.
Ray thought back on his brief conversation about Julio with Fraser. Julio usually comes on duty at two in the morning. Something in Ray’s brain pounced on that comment of Fraser’s. Something wasn’t right about it.
“Hey, man,” Ray hailed him and Julio rolled his cart to a stop.
“Hey,” the younger man answered, politely but uncertainly. It was unusual for a visitor to talk to him.
“I’m Constable Fraser’s friend. I was in his room when you came in before,” Ray explained.
“Oh yeah. Can I help you?”
Ray decided to try something. It was not quite a full-fledged hunch that Ray had but more like a little niggle. He followed it up. “I wanted to thank you for being so nice to Fraser.” Fraser had said nothing to Ray about Julio other than the comment about his changing shifts. Ray was fishing.
“Well, he gets pretty depressed. I mean, who wouldn’t after what got done to him. I don’t know how he stands it.”
“He talk to you much?”
“Not really. Kind of funny, mostly he just listens to my problems. I guess that sounds strange but I think it distracts him, you know. Man, if it was me, I think I’d kill myself.”
“Fraser’s like that. He gets people to talk to him.”
“Not many people to talk to on the night shift. The patients are asleep and the nurses are all talking chick stuff.”
“Yeah, I guess,” said Ray.
“Well, I got to go,” said Julio, pleasantly. “Nice talking to you.”
Ray gave him a little wave as he went off down the corridor with his laundry cart.
So Fraser was awake in the middle of the night. That’s how he knew when Julio’s shift started. Ray knew the hospital routine well enough - sometimes they shook you awake to take your temperature or annoy you in some other small way, but with all the dope you get, you just go back to sleep afterwards.
But Benny was alert and chatting in the wee hours. What the hell? Weren’t they giving him sleeping pills or something? No wonder he had bags under his eyes big enough to drive a truck into and dark enough to lose the truck in once it got there.
That couldn’t be helping Fraser’s infection either. After five days on antibiotics it still didn’t seem to be clearing up. The doctors had put him on a different antibiotic and delayed his departure yet again.
When Ray saw Lt. Shannon coming out of Fraser’s room, he spun on his heel and followed her down the corridor.
“Hey, Lieutenant. Remember me? Vecchio..”
As the woman swung around to face him, Ray fought to control his hostility. It wasn’t this woman’s fault that her unit and not the 27th were investigating the attack on Benny.
“Of course, Detective. I’m glad I ran into you. Do you have a few minutes?”
“You. Now. If you have time. It’s important.”
“Let’s go down to the cafeteria,” Ray suggested, intrigued. “Let me just tell Fraser I’m here and that I’ll be back in a few minutes.” Ray returned to the Mountie’s room, stuck his head in the door and delivered his message. Then he returned to where Lt. Shannon was waiting by the elevator.
They rode down in silence. It was only as they approached the glass doors leading to the hospital cafeteria that Ray spoke up. “I’ve seen way too much of this place.”
“You spend a lot of time visiting Constable Fraser.”
“You might say that.” Ray knew, logically, that he had no reason to be rude but he didn’t see any reason to be nice either. What would she want to know from him that she couldn’t ask Benny himself? It would be too much to hope for that she had a breakthrough in the case to tell him about.
They moved into the cafeteria line. Lt. Shannon took tea. Since Ray was not hungry and had no reason to want to impress this woman with his nonchalance he didn’t bother with a pastry but took only a coffee. They found an unoccupied table near the back as far away as possible from the candy-stripers on break and the pajama’d patients with their visitors.
They settled in. Neither police officer touched his or her beverage. Ray started off. “I guess you had something you wanted to ask Fraser? That’s why you came?”
“Something to tell him. Based on his description we’ve identified a few suspects. I’m hopeful of making an arrest soon.”
“Doctor told me they found ten different DNA samples on Benny. So at least ten different guys . . .”
“I have the reports.” She cut him off.
Ray stirred his coffee - unnecessarily since he had put neither cream nor sugar in it. Lt. Shannon dunked her heretofore untouched tea-bag a few times and then let it drop into the now-tepid water in its styrofoam cup. They eyed each other.
“What do you want from me?” Ray said, finally.
“Help with the case,” she told him.
Yeah, sure. What’s she trying to pull? “I’m not allowed, you know that.”
“You’re not allowed to get involved with the arrests. But you can help me get the convictions.”
Lt Shannon subjected her tea-bag to another bath before going on. “I’ve been working with rape cases exclusively for eight years now. There isn’t much I haven’t seen. When I told Constable Fraser I was close to an arrest, I saw in his face a look I’ve seen in the faces of a lot of male rape victims.”
“Let me guess. He was calm. Too calm, right?”
“You two are pretty close?”
“Like brothers, why?”
Shannon leaned forward and stared straight at Ray. “With the details I have from Constable Fraser, I’m pretty sure I’ll be able to make some arrests. The man’s incredible.”
“One way to describe him, I guess.”
“Making the arrests doesn’t mean I’ll get him a conviction.
Ray noted her phrasing. “I’ll get HIM a conviction”. She was thinking of Benny. That was encouraging.
“But if I can get Constable Fraser to appear in court. . . If I can get him up on the witness stand . . . telling straight out what happened to him. . . not a jury in the world would let the bastards off.”
It hadn’t occurred to Ray that Fraser would fail to testify. He said as much to Lt. Shannon.
“I’m sure you’re right. If he’s alive, he’ll testify,” Shannon said.
“I don’t follow you.”
“What I need your help for, Detective, is keeping him alive.”
“Well, I don’t think anybody’s going to attack him right here in the hospital, at least not this time,” Ray started off, thinking of the time that Geiger’s men had come after Fraser while his leg was being treated.
“That’s not what I mean,” said the Lieutenant.
Ray caught on. “Kill himself? Benny? Never happen. It’s not like him.”
Shannon sighed. “I don’t know how many times I’ve been to the funerals and listened to the families say that - the mothers, the wives, the girlfriends - they all say it. ‘I can’t believe he did this’ they say. ‘It’s not like him.’ Those are the victims we have to worry about, Detective. The ones that look like they’re handling it. Your friend is in grave danger. I know the signs.”
Ray stayed a few more minutes with Lt. Shannon and then headed back up to stay with Fraser. He ran into one of Fraser’s doctors coming off the elevator. He collared the physician and steered him over to one of the common sitting areas. “I need a word with you about Fraser,”
The doctor seemed agreeable enough but he did sneak a glance at his watch as Ray began speaking.
“Why aren’t you giving him something to help him sleep?”
“The Ativan isn’t working? You friend sure has a high drug resistance.”
“First the antibiotics don’t work on him. Now you tell me the Ativan isn’t working either.”
“You mean he’s getting sleeping pills?”
“A general sedative. I would have thought half a milligram would be enough, but if he’s still having trouble sleeping, he should have told me.” The doctor made a move to leave, “I’ll ask him about it on my next rounds. Thanks for bringing this to my attention.” He strode off, other things on his mind.
I’m an idiot, Ray thought as he headed back to Fraser’s room. I’m a first class, gold-plated moron. They ought to take my badge away.
A nurse was changing Fraser’s IV bag as Ray came in to his room. Ray waited for the woman to finish her work and leave before fixing his eye on Fraser.
“Give me the pills, Benny.”
Fraser looked quizzically at his friend. “What do you mean, Ray?”
“You know exactly what I mean. Hand them over.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
Ray was becoming angry. “You think you can pull that shit with me? Give me the pills or I’ll go through your stuff and find them myself. You never get out of bed so they have to be around here close.” Ray moved to Fraser’s bedside table, pulled open a drawer and started rummaging through it.
“Ray, stop it!”
“You going to get up and make me?”
“You’re not sleeping. But you’re getting a sleeping pill every night. What are you doing with the pills? Saving them, right? Until you have enough to overdose with, right?”
Ray came across an envelope that had originally held a get-well card. He poured a handful of small white pills out of the envelope and into his hand. He shoved the handful of pills into the Mountie’s face. “You’re slipping, Fraser. That wasn’t much of a hiding place. You can do better.”
“I’ve had a lot on my mind, Ray.”
Ray took the pills to the bathroom and flushed them away. Then he came back and sat down on his friend’s bed. “What about the infection? Are you faking that? Or did you find a way to stop the antibiotics from working.”
Fraser answered seriously. “The antibiotics are going directly into my bloodstream. I can’t get at them. But if I could . . .”
Benny suicidal. It was incomprehensible. “You’re a cop.” Ray said. “Haven’t you given the speech a million times back home? It’s not the victim’s fault.”
“I’ve given the speech, Ray. To young women, to old women, to little girls, to little boys. I’ve given it too often. And they never seemed to get it into their heads when I told them it wasn’t their fault. I never understood why, until now.”
“Benny . . . please get some help. You can’t keep this all bottled up. It’ll kill you.”
The Mountie’s chuckle was chilling, there was not trace of humour in it. “‘Tis a consummation devoutly to be wished.’ That’s Hamlet, Ray.”
“Then Hamlet was a pretty sick, screwed up guy.”
“I think he just knew how much he could take.”
“Hamlet’s stronger than he thinks he is. And he’s not alone. You tell him that for me, okay?” He looked to his friend’s eyes, hoping to find tears there. He rejoiced to see Fraser’s eyes gleaming just a little wetly. It was enough. He’d broken a tiny crack in the wall. “I was talking to that Shannon. She says she needs you to testify. Benny, if you care about justice, you have to stick around. You owe it to the twelve guys before you who didn’t have excess lung capacity. You got to get justice for them and you got to help get these perverts off the streets. You’re an officer of the law . . . Constable.”
The gleaming in Fraser’s eyes deepened and a tear leaked from the corner of one eye. “I’m an officer of the law. It’s my duty to stay alive until justice is served.”
This didn’t satisfy Ray. “And afterwards?”
The Mountie turned away from his friend and towards the window. “Let me take this one step at a time, Ray.”
Ray agonized while he drove home. What was there he could do to get his friend over this hump and into a place where he could face life again? He couldn’t force him to talk. He couldn’t force him into therapy. Would it help to snitch on him to the doctors or to a social worker? Benny would see it as a betrayal and it certainly wouldn’t help his career any. But if it saved the Mountie’s life? Well, now let’s see. Would it actually save him?
He imagined the scenario as he drove along. He tells somebody Fraser’s suicidal. What do they do? Put him on anti-depressants? He wouldn’t take them and they couldn’t force him against his will. Send him to the psych ward? No good. Ray knew from personal experience that Fraser could outwit the staff and do anything thing he wanted in a psychiatric hospital: from avoiding medication to wriggling out of a straightjacket to hacking into the computer system.
Damn him, Fraser was brilliant, resourceful and stubborn. Which meant that if he wanted to off himself there wasn’t much anybody could do to stop him.
Fraser had to be persuaded to WANT to go on. But how?
When he got home, he lay both his head and the question into the lap of the one person he’d grown up to believe was the source of all wisdom: his Ma.
She stroked his head to quiet him. “You’re right, Raymondo. Our Benito is too smart for his own good. If he wants to die he’s going to die.”
“So what do I do?”
She sat thinking while she petted her boy. “He lays there and broods all day long. That’s not good. He has to get busy again, go back to his work.”
“Well, the new antibiotics seem to be working. They’re talking about sending him home by the end of the week.”
“Try to get them to send him home on a Sunday, so he goes right to work the next day. He need to feel valuable again. When somebody gets . . .” she paused and coloured slightly, “. . . taken advantage of like that, it makes them feel dirty. Ashamed.”
“But Ma, he’s a cop. He should know better.”
“To know better is one thing. To feel better is another.” She bent down and kissed the top of her son’s head.
Diefenbaker who had staying at the Vecchio house since his release from the vet, came upon the tender scene and wanted some affection too. He nuzzled his snout into Ma’s lap, inviting a caress.
“It’s too bad they won’t let you in to see Benito in this hospital. Maybe he would talk to you,” Ma mused as she tickled the wolf’s nose.
“Poor fellah. You tried to defend Benny and you got bashed for it. But at least you walked away,” Ray told him.
“No, I know you did your best. They were just too much for you. You were lucky to get away alive.”
The wolf grunted and Ray could swear he was expressing agreement. Ray took the animal’s face in his hands and met his eyes. “You understand when something’s your fault and when something’s not your fault. So you got the jump on Benny. I guess you’re smarter than he is.”
Again came the lupine grunt.
“Well, just don’t tell him I said so.”
Ray brought Fraser some clothes in which to go home. He’d been successful in persuading a doctor to let Fraser stay until Sunday, even though discharges usually were ordered for weekdays.
As Fraser dressed (not asking Ray to leave the room as he would have before the attack) Ray considered begging Fraser one more time to talk to a therapist. Then he thought better of it. Let it be for a few days. See if Ma was right and if being busy helped.
Instead, Ray tried to make conversation.“Lt. Shannon tells me they never found your uniform. They looked all over the crime scene, in the dumpster, all around the streets. Nothing,”
“I told her she wouldn’t find my clothes,” Fraser answered, while buttoning a flannel lumberjack shirt. “I heard them all laying claim to my things for souvenirs while they were stripping me. I couldn’t open my eyes and let them know I was alive while that was going on so I didn’t manage to figure out who took what. All I recall is somebody named ‘Rob’ said he was going to take my hat.”
Fraser grimaced and Ray figured that was as close as the Mountie was going to come to actually smiling. “I should put my head into every Stetson in the city, like Cinderella and the glass slipper. Then Lt. Shannon can arrest whoever has the hat that fits me.”
“Or your boots. Remember how we had to go looking for your boots that time?” Fraser didn’t join in with the offered chance to reminisce, so Ray changed the subject. “I guess you’re looking forward to getting back to work tomorrow. Turnbull and the Dragon Lady should be happy to see you.”
“I’m sure Inspector Thatcher can’t wait to put me back in my red serge and out on display. Let me tell you something, Ray. It was my uniform that sparked the attack.”
This was more talking than Fraser had done since the attack. Ray encouraged him to go on. “How do you figure that?”
“I stand out there making a spectacle of myself. I run around the city in that ridiculous get-up. Nobody back home wears red serge on a daily basis. The Inspector dresses me up like some kind of dress-up doll. It was only a matter of time before . . .”
“Benny,” Ray interrupted. “Stop making connections where there aren’t any. You got attacked because you were a good-looking white guy who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Some random honky hunk. Don’t read so much into it.”
“I’m supposed to be an officer of the law. And I was. Once. Before I came here. Now I’m a decoration. I stand at the front door and let tourists take pictures of me. Oh no, I forgot, sometimes I DO work inside. That’s when I push papers around and take time off to be fetch and carry for a spoiled brat of an Inspector. It doesn’t matter if I die, Ray. I’ll live forever in all the pictures every tourist ever took of me. I’m immortalized in scrapbooks the world over. Nobody needs me actually breathing. Thatcher can have me stuffed and mounted and set outside the door. Get the same effect.”
“Damn it, Benny. What the hell is wrong with you?” Ray shouted in exasperation, and then mentally kicked himself for the outburst.
“I’m not really a police officer anymore. Not while I’m here. And I can’t go home.”
“Okay, look, you’re taking this too far. You’re depressed - and God knows you’ve got reason to be - but this doesn’t have anything to do with your job. You’re projecting.”
Fraser tucked his shirt into his jeans. He zipped the pants up with a definitive little tug. “This is your psychiatric opinion, Herr Doktor Vecchio?”
It was so unlike Fraser to be sarcastic that Ray actually shuddered.
“Well, maybe that’s not the right word but you know what I mean. What you do for the Dragon Lady hasn’t got anything to do with what happened to you that night. You’re just getting it into your head that you’re worthless and everything you do is worthless. Think, Fraser. If you had a rape victim and she talked like this, what would you tell her? Think like a policeman.”
“If I were still a policeman, I’d think like one.” Fraser said with some finality.
Ray let it drop. He wasn’t doing any good. With a sigh he picked up bag containing the pajamas and toiletries he’d been bringing to Fraser in the hospital over several weeks and led the way out of the hospital room. The orderly, Julio, was waiting in the corridor with an empty wheelchair.
“I know you’d probably rather walk, but we got a policy. You have to go out the door in this. Sorry, man.”
All that Ray had heard Fraser say and do, all his acts and words of despondency, even to the suicide attempt, didn’t prepare Ray for Fraser’s quiet acquiescence as he sat down without a word into the waiting wheelchair and made no move to propel himself. He waited placidly for Julio to push him.
Even with Victoria and the shooting, Fraser had eventually snapped out of his depression. Ray thought about that as he walked along beside Fraser and Julio. What had it taken? A case to solve. Maybe now that he was out Fraser would work with Ray on some of his files. That might perk him up a little. Ray still trusted his mother’s judgement. Benito, as she called him, needed to feel like a dynamic agent of justice. And he wasn’t going to get that playing gopher to the Dragon Lady.<*************************************************
The thing is, Ray thought as he lay in bed that night, that Fraser really is a crackerjack at solving crimes. He’s wasting his talents down here and he knows it. When you think of the number of no-good-niks that we could get off the streets if we could only let him loose and do his stuff, it really was a shame.
And then an idea came to him. A long shot. Tomorrow, he’d call Lt. Shannon and . . . who knows?
“You wanted to see me, Detective?”
They were in Shannon’s office at the 10th precinct. Ray reasoned that she’d feel more comfortable on her own turf and if she felt comfortable maybe she’d be more agreeable to his plan.
“I was wondering. Do you have a big turnover of staff in the Special Assault Unit.”
She eyed him curiously. “Are you asking me for a job?”
“In a way,” his green eyes twinkled mischievously. Now that he had a plan and was working on it he was feeling much better about life - both his own and Benny’s.
“Forget it, there’s no way you’re going to work Fraser’s case. Nice try though.”
“It’s not for me. It’s for a friend.”
Shannon studied him for a moment, then leaned back and folded her arms. “Okay, I’ll play along. No, I don’t have a big turnover. Once I get somebody they tend to stay with me a long time. The problem is finding them in the first place. I’m very strict in my requirements.”
“And those requirements are . . .?”
“This friend of yours, he’d have to . . . is it a he?”
“It’s a he.”
“Okay. First requirement, and I don’t allow any exceptions, everyone in the Special Assault Unit has to have been raped themselves or had somebody close to them raped.”
Ray found this sobering. “Everybody. Even . . .”
“The boss,” she supplied. “Yes, everybody.”
“My friend qualifies,” Ray said, all flippancy gone now.
She picked up on his change of tone and became business-like herself.
“And then some.”
“People skills. He has to get people to trust him and make them do what he says. Big part of our job is talking the victims into laying charges and making sure they follow through. Charming, comforting, coax the victims onto the witness stand.”
“Oh Lieutenant, I’m about to make your day.”
“I’m listening,” she said. “Give me a name.”
“Here’s a name: Constable Benton Fraser, Royal Canadian Mounted Police.”
Ray had been expecting her to be surprised but she wasn’t. Instead she steepled her fingertips and brought them to rest pensively against her lips. “You won’t believe this, but I was thinking the same thing myself. I asked your lieutenant about the Constable. What he told me about Constable Fraser - it was intriguing. Welsh told me the man can track anybody anywhere.”
“And he can charm a bird out of a tree.”
“Who am I to contradict my boss? Fraser would be perfect for you.”
“But he’s a Mountie. How would I get him?”
Ray hadn’t thought it through that far, yet. “We’d have to go through his own C.O., I guess.”
“You know him?”
“You know her pretty well.”
“Pretty well. She won’t want to lend him out. We need a plan.”
Shannon sat and thought some more. “Vecchio, what are you doing for lunch today?”
“Eating, I guess.”
“Wrong. You and me are planning. I’ll feed you while we do it. You like Italian?”
Ray rolled his eyes.
“You know Ierfino’s?”
“Be there at noon. We’re going to make like Mounties. You’re going to help me get my man.”
Lt. Shannon scheduled her meeting with Inspector Thatcher according to Ray’s instructions, at a time when he knew Fraser was going to be on guard duty. The Mountie had to stand immobile while the woman in charge of the investigation of his rape calmly strolled up beside him and pressed the buzzer to ask for Inspector Thatcher. She didn’t look at him and of course he didn’t dare turn to look at her. All he could do was stand there while Turnbull buzzed her in and try to image what these two women were going to say about him. Fraser knew nothing of Ray’s plan. The Italian didn’t want to get his friend’s hopes up.
The women exchanged courtesies, coffee was offered and declined, and finally the Lieutenant came to the point.
“This is about Constable Fraser, of course.”
“I saw him on the way in. Is that what you have him doing most of the time?”
This wasn’t what Thatcher was expecting. She had figured Shannon would want some background information from his file. “Door guard is part of his duties,” she said, carefully.
“He tells me he’s Deputy Liaison Officer. Is that true?”
“I’ve been talking to Lieutenant Welsh about the Constable. Welsh thinks highly of him.”
“As do I.”
“Un hunh. Fraser tells me he’s been a cop for nearly 15 years, all of it field experience. That must be a pretty dangerous door, if you need someone with Fraser’s qualifications to guard it.”
Thatcher stiffened. “Is there something specific you wanted, Lieutenant Shannon?” she asked icily.
“Yes, to be blunt. I want your deputy. I guess there’s some kind of paperwork we can fill out.”
“That’s out of the question!”
“Don’t get ‘em in an uproar, Inspector. I just want to borrow him. He can come back to you any time he gets tired of doing police work and wants to go back to being a mannequin.”
Thatcher rose from her seat. “Get out of my office!”
“We’ve got something in common, Inspector. I also like to get my man. In this case, your man. I can use him to get scum off the streets and behind bars. But of course if you think what he’s doing right now is more important . . .”
Thatcher was trapped. “I’ll check with Ottawa and get back to you.”
For the first few weeks of Fraser’s new assignment, Ray agreed to skip their regular Tuesday lunch so the Mountie could have his whole schedule free for whatever Shannon wanted him to do. She kept him going day and night and Ray hoped his friend was being paid overtime. Fraser sounded busy and happy on the few occasions that Ray called him at the 10th. He answered his phone with a crisp “Ben Fraser” and put Ray on hold from time to time to take other calls while they chatted.
At last Fraser agreed to take a lunch hour off to resume their old ritual. But instead of driving up to the Consulate door so Fraser could jump into the Riv when guard duty ended, Ray came and parked in the lot behind the 10th precinct and then went around to the front door.
The receptionist, a perky young blonde, asked if she could help him.
Ray was interested in seeing how the people around here treated Fraser. He didn’t show his shield.
“I’m looking for the Mountie,” he told the receptionist, breezily.
“I’m sorry sir,” the girl said, taken aback by his request, “This is a police station. I think you’d have to go to England to find a Mountie. They wear those red coats, right?”
“No, honey. I want the Mountie you have right here. Constable Benton Fraser. Haul him out for me, will you?”
The girl only continued to be confused. She consulted her computer screen and tapped a few commands. “We have a couple of Frasers but I’m sure none of them are British.”
“Canadian. Royal CANADIAN Mounted Police.”
“Yes sir. Um, the thing is, we have lots of American police officers. Would you like to speak to one?”
“I want the Mountie.”
“We don’t have any here. This is a police station. We have policemen here,” she explained to Ray as though he were a very small child.
An older woman had come to stand behind the receptionist and caught the last bit of this exchange. “Charlotte, you dork. He’s talking about Shannon’s new guy.”
“Ben’s British? He doesn’t sound like it.”
“Can’t you picture him in that red Mountie stuff” said the other woman. “Maybe we can get him to model it for us.”
“Just get him out here,” Ray had been amused by all this but time was running short on his lunch hour.
The older woman drifted away and the receptionist, now identified as Charlotte, pressed some buttons on her phone console and talked into her headset. “Ben. Sorry to disturb you. There’s somebody to see you out here.”
“Tell him it’s Ray,” said Ray.
“He says his name is Ray. But I don’t have him on your calendar.” There was a pause while she listened. Ray thought he made out Fraser’s voice faintly through the apparatus but couldn’t tell what he was saying.
Charlotte said, “Okay, Ben,” and then turned her attention back to Ray. “Ben says would you please wait for a few minutes and he’ll be out shortly.” The girl came out from behind her desk and led Ray down a corridor to what was once an interrogation room but was now a comfortable waiting room with armchairs, potted plants, a coffee machine and a tray full of pastries. Charlotte invited Ray to make himself comfortable and left him there.
It was in fact more than ten minutes before Ray caught the sound of Fraser’s voice again, coming from the corridor outside the waiting room. He emerged and stood in the waiting room doorway, eager to see Benny in action but not wanting to cramp his style.
Fraser and a tiny, elderly woman were making their way arm in arm towards him. As they walked, Fraser leaned far down to her face and whispered something in her ear. The old lady tittered and tapped him lightly on the arm. “Oooh, Ben, you’re terrible, just terrible.”
Fraser had on clothes that Ray was sure he hadn’t owned before coming to the 10th - charcoal-coloured, sharply creased dress pants and new-looking white wool turtleneck.
Fraser steered her towards the waiting room and Ray had to stand aside to let them enter. Fraser looked up at him briefly and said, “Hi, Ray. I’ll be with you in a minute,” before settling the old lady into one of the armchairs. “Mrs. Conroy, I’m going to get one of the officers to drive you home. Wait right here, okay?”
The old woman fairly purred. “Aren’t you going to take me home yourself, Ben? You know how much I love to ride with you.”
Ray nearly fainted to see Fraser plant a kiss on her withered cheek. “I’d love to drive you home, but see, my friend’s here to take me to lunch. You’ll be ready tomorrow morning for court, won’t you?”"If you say so, Ben."
“You’re going to wear your hat with the daisies for me and I’m going to walk with you right into that courtroom.”"And you'll stay with me?"
“Every minute. I promise. We’re going to put that nasty young man behind bars - you and me.”
“Whatever you say, Ben.”
“That’s my brave girl,” Fraser declared. “I’ll be at your house at eight-thirty to pick you up.”
Mrs. Conroy bestowed a look of pure love on the Mountie and warbled in a cracking voice, “I’ll be there to get you in a taxi, honey . . .”
“Gotta be ready by half past eight . . .” He sang back at her in his clear tenor voice. They finished the first verse and then the chorus of “Downtown Strutters Ball” together. With another buss on the woman’s cheek, Fraser bid Mrs. Conroy adieu, motioned authoritatively for Ray to follow him, and headed out into the corridor.
When Ma’s right, she’s right. Ray marvelled at the change in Fraser as he trailed after him.
Lt. Shannon waylaid her new underling before the two friends could make it to the street. “Ben. I need you for a line-up.”
“Can’t you use somebody else? I want to take Fraser out for lunch.”
“Vecchio. Are you here? Good. Ben, you may want a friend with you when we do this. I need you to identify a suspect.”
Both Fraser and Ray froze. “You’ve made an arrest.” Fraser said rather than asked.
“This way,” she said, soberly. “You know the routine.”
Fraser was suddenly so rigid that Ray was afraid he’d snap in two if he tried to walk. He took his friend’s elbow gently. “I’m here, Benny. I’m right beside you.”
“I don’t think I can do this,” Fraser directed this to neither the man nor the woman beside him, but to some point of empty air about three feet in front of him.
“If Mrs. Conroy can do it, you can do it,” Shannon said, firmly.
Shannon took the Mountie’s other elbow and together she and Ray moved Fraser along. He neither resisted nor initiated any motion of his own. He simply went where they pushed him, With Lt. Shannon leading the way and Ray assisting they got him into place and then stood back.
Fraser stared straight ahead without any expression while a line of men filed into his view. Fraser peered at them through the separating glass and then seemed puzzled. He leaned forward to get a better look, then turned to Shannon.
“We use the same line up procedures as they do at the 27th, don’t we?”
“I’ve never seen two suspects in the same line-up.”
“And you never will. If we had two suspects we’d do two separate line ups. You know that.”
Fraser lost interest in her and turned his gaze back through the glass at the men standing before him. “I know I’m not mistaken,” he muttered to himself.
Ray figured it out first. “Wait a minute, Benny. Are you telling me that two of the guys that jumped you are out there.”
“One of these men is the suspect and the rest are officers from this precinct,” Shannon told him.
“Then one of them has a hobby he probably didn’t put on his job application,” Fraser said, still eyeing the men on the other side of the glass. “I imagine you’ll be able to use that as leverage to get him to lead you to the others.”
“You haven’t identified them yet, Ben. Which two?”
“Number one and number five,” he told her.
“Number five is the suspect. Number one has been a detective here at the 10th since before I even came here.”
Fraser astounded her by asking, “By any chance, is his name Rob?”
“I’d like to talk to him,” Fraser said, “He has my hat.”
It was a little out of the ordinary as interviews go, but the situation itself was out of the ordinary. Michaelson sat in the interrogation room, tapping his foot impatiently until Fraser and Shannon finally came in. Ray stayed in the waiting area and helped himself to some crullers.
“What’s this all about? I’ve got appointments this afternoon.” Michaelson said to Shannon, ignoring Fraser.
Shannon sat down opposite the detective . Fraser remained standing and leaned against the wall with his arms crossed in front of him. He had pushed up the sleeves of his sweater and the muscles on his folded arms bulged. He said nothing at first, letting Lt. Shannon start the conversation.
“You’ve met Ben Fraser? The new guy on my team?”
Michaelson glanced at the Mountie. “Yeah, I seen him around.”
“I’ll bet you have. Ben wants to ask you a question, if you don’t mind.”
“Make it fast,” Michaelson spat out, but he was too nervous for his belligerence to impress anybody.
Without moving from his place against the wall Fraser said, deadpan. “I was wondering if you would please give me back my hat.”
“Don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Fraser and his boss exchanged a look. “Stetson. Camel-coloured. Leather band,” said the Mountie, “It has sentimental value for me, and I’d appreciate having it returned.”
“Why the hell would I take your hat?”stammered the other man.
“Ben didn’t say you took it, Rob. He only said you had it.” Shannon put in.
Fraser stood away from the wall to take a few steps closer to Michaelson and the detective shrank slightly away from him.
“You pose an interesting philosophical question, Detective Michaelson. Although I’m sure you meant it rhetorically, I think it’s worth pursuing. Why would any man . . . take another man’s hat? Why would a group of men get together for the purpose of . . . depriving another man of his hat?”
Fraser took another step closer. Perspiration beads started to form on the seated man’s forehead. The Mountie uncrossed his arms and rested his hands against his hips.
“You may not be aware of this, Detective, but losing your hat is a very, very painful thing. A lot of men don’t survive it.”
Michaelson was sweating hard now, wetting the collar and underarms of his shirt. Fraser stepped even closer.
“A man who loses his hat comes to doubt himself. He starts to feel worthless. Depriving a man of his hat, that’s a cruel thing, don’t you think?” Again, Fraser stepped closer to a spot where he towered over the seated man.
“I know who you are now and it wouldn’t be hard to find out where you live,” Fraser now bent his face close to Michaelson and fixed mild blue/grey eyes on him. “Do you think maybe I could come over to your house sometime and we could look for my hat?”
Michaelson pointed a trembling finger at Fraser. “Shannon, you keep him away from me. He’s nuts.”
Shannon ignored him.
“It’s important to me,” said Fraser, sweetly.
“What do you want from me?”
Michaelson was staring, terrified, at the Mountie but it was Shannon that answered.
“I want to offer you a deal. Ben doesn’t do anything more about . . . uh. . . . his hat in exchange for you introducing me to some of your friends.”
Michaelson’s mouth dropped open. He looked back and forth helplessly between Fraser and Shannon.
“Ben, you can go for lunch now. Rob and I can work this out,” Shannon said.
Fraser gave her a short sharp nod. “Understood.” As he turned to leave the interrogation room, Shannon said “Wait here,” to Michaelson and followed Fraser to the door.
In a whisper she said, “You managed to solve your own case.”
“I just feel strongly about my hat,” Fraser whispered back, and with a last disgusted look at the cowering Michaelson he went out to join Ray.
Ray wiped the last cruller crumbs from his mouth when he saw Fraser come into the waiting room.
“So, what happened?”
“I can’t be sure, but I have a feeling Detective Michaelson is going to squeak on his friends. He and Lt. Shannon are working out the details.”
“‘Squeal on his friends’, Benny.”
Ray slung an arm around his friend’s shoulder, “This place has been good for you, even if it is cutting into our Tuesdays. You’re almost like your old self again.”
“I have a long way to go before I’m myself again, I think. But yesterday I called the psychiatrist the hospital recommended and made an appointment.”
“I’m glad, Benny.”
Fraser swallowed and wiped his eyes with his fist. “How many times does it make now that you’ve saved my life?”
“I’m not counting.” Ray tried to sound flippant but the tears that were forming in his own eyes spoiled the effect. So, what do you want to eat? Chinese, Bar-be-que?”
“You decide Ray,” Fraser’s voice broke as he tried to stop from crying. “You always know what’s best for me.”
But Ray was of a more demonstrative nature. He threw his arms around his friend and let his tears fall without hindrance onto the Mountie’s sweater.