by YS McCool
Author's website: http://www.squidge.org/~flashpoint/
Disclaimer: Due South characters belong to Alliance Television, no copyright infringement is intended. Original characters are the sole property of the author YS McCool.
Title : A Token of Friendship
Pairing : Fraser/Vecchio
Rating : NC-17
Category: Series, AU, First Times
Series : Don Vecchio #01
Author : YS McCool
Date : February 28, 2003
Summary : A Mountie arrives in Chicago on the trail of his father's killers and crosses paths with a sophisticated mafia Don.
A Token of Friendship By YS McCool
Frankie Drake didn't like being the hunted. Few predators did. He especially didn't like being hunted in what should have been his safe territory, his hometown of Chicago. The Mountie had been asking around for days, with and without the help of the local cops, and his guileless manner and impeccable good manners was actually getting him help instead of the brush-off.
Drake had changed locations twice since the Mountie and his white dog had rolled into town and had now finally settled into his last location of choice, a nondescript rat-hole of an apartment in Chinatown. He'd felt safe for all of two days, then he'd spotted that hated brown jacket and stupid tan hat once again. The Mountie was on the street across from his apartment and looking up toward Frankie's floor. "Let him come," Frankie whispered.
He hadn't idled these last two days away. Oh no. Instead, he had a very unpleasant surprise waiting for the Canadian. 'Cross this threshold if you like, Benton Fraser. It will be the last, the very last, thing you do. I'll be the only one who gets his man this time.'
. . . .
Benton Fraser was finally within striking distance of his quarry. He could smell it, and it was not the smell of the nearby garbage, which seemed to have been swept away from the lake and steadily pushed until it had arrived in this neighborhood. But that was unkind. There were signs all around that this neighborhood was currently struggling back to its feet. Construction scaffolding surrounded this building, dumpsters sat nearby ready for debris, and large signs declared "Another Vecchio Property Renovation". Apparently those signs were a badge of honor for the neighborhood as three people had taken great pains to point them out to Fraser, though they were hard to miss.
And in that building the man who had killed his father was hiding, waiting, and maybe even laughing.
Fraser had promised Detectives Jack Huey and Louis Gardino that he would wait until they could back him up before he continued his investigation with the information they had given him, but that was before the men had gone out on a kidnapping case involving a nine-year-old girl who had been taken from the bus stop in front of her school. Ben could not take those men from that case for a single moment to help him. The girl might still be alive, but his father was most definitely dead, buried, and haunting him for the solution to his murder.
Ben bent low and got almost nose-to-nose with his friend Diefenbaker. "Stay here while I go check on our suspect," he ordered the white wolf. Diefenbaker had suffered damage to his eardrums while pulling Fraser from a frozen lake and was now deaf. Ben had strived to look after the animal since then, as the wolf had been the best partner a man could ever hope for.
Getting into the building was simple as someone buzzed him inside without asking who he was or what he wanted. Not a very smart thing to do in such a dangerous city. Back in the territories, nature itself was your biggest enemy and people were compelled to work together. The same could not be said for this city. Ben had spent the six hours of his flight studying maps and crime reports. In Chicago, people killed for money, drugs, sex, or a pair of shoes.
The first thing Fraser noticed when he entered the building was the sign, written in English, Spanish, and Mandarin, reminding the tenants that they had less than two weeks to complete their move from this building to another where they would remain while this building was being renovated. It was good to know these people weren't just being dumped on the streets to make it on their own.
Ben made his way to the third floor of the apartment building. Time and again he spotted those signs reminding people to sign up for their time slot with the movers and that the utilities to the building would be shut off on the first day of the month so that it could be gutted. He could see that most of the apartments were already empty and all fixtures had been removed. Apparently the Vecchio Company moved the tenants out of the building they were about to redo and into buildings they owned until the present building was renewed.
And this place needed a lot of renewing. The plumbing leaked, leaving vivid water stains on the walls, naked and faulty bulbs hung from the cracked ceiling, and in places the floor groaned under Fraser's weight. Since he only weighed 190 pounds, that wasn't very encouraging.
When he walked out onto the third floor landing, the slight feeling of unease Fraser had been experiencing grew to the point that he came to a halt and just listened. Radios played different stations from both the third and second floors, at least three different televisions, denoted by the announcer stating they were "watching the Super Station WGNTV", were tuned to the same basketball game, and various conversations, which were mostly shouted, completed the cacophony. All those competing sounds were so foreign to him.
Fraser had been born and raised in the Northwest Territories of Canada, spending his entire childhood in villages with smaller populations than this building could hold. Back then televisions were rare and the preferred entertainments were the radio and conversation. All of these people were shut away from each other and forced to survive alone.
Benton shook himself and continued his search for the apartment his source had assured him Frankie Drake had gone to ground in.
'So you find him and then what?' the voice of reason in his head inquired. Ben had thought his voice of reason had died in the white-hot fire of his rage over his father's death but apparently it had survived.
"I make him tell me why he killed my father," Fraser answered back. "I have to know why. It won't bring my father back, but maybe--"
'Maybe what?' the voice inquired. 'Maybe you'll start sleeping through the night? Maybe you'll feel better?'
"Maybe I'll feel something besides anger," Fraser finished. The voice didn't respond.
He found the apartment. There was a light coming out from under the door and the place smelled of lengthy human occupancy. Someone had smoked a marijuana cigarette, a quite common thing in the Territories where the locals tended to grow their own and were more likely to give it away before selling the weed, within the last hour. There was another scent underneath the smell of the marijuana, but Fraser couldn't put his finger on what it was.
Fraser knocked on the door. "Frankie," he called.
"Come in," a man answered.
Fraser turned the knob and pushed open the door just as another voice that he referred to as his 'voice of survival' spoke. This voice had something to say that Ben found very interesting. 'This is Chicago, Fraser, people don't just ask you to walk in unidentified.'
Ben threw himself back into the hall, expecting the air to be sliced through with bullets. Instead an explosion knocked him back into the wall so hard that he was momentarily stunned. Smoke and heat poured from the room and a high-pitched tinny noise erupted from further down the hall.
"Fire, fire," Fraser called as he forced himself to his feet. Just as he stood up, Fraser saw the man he'd been chasing climbing out of the broken window at the far end of the apartment. The lack of a door and a good deal of the wall made looking into the place all too easy. "Stop!" he called.
Frankie Drake didn't hesitate as he slithered out of the window. Fraser was about to follow when he heard the sounds of panic coming from all around. Help to evacuate a burning building full of people or pursue the man who Fraser believed had killed his father and who had just tried to kill him? It wasn't really a contest.
Fires in the Territories were all too common of an occurrence. Fraser had dealt with things as small as a smoking trashcan to a forest fire that covered hundreds of acres. You had to stick to the principle in order to survive: keep your head, never let yourself be cut off, and respect the power of the flames.
The glass pane protecting the fire hose was already broken and the water hose partially vandalized. The smoke was so thick now that Fraser had to count his steps in order to return to the doorway of the gutted apartment. Turning on the water, Fraser aimed the surprisingly strong spray into the base of the flames. A few minutes later the fire was out but the heavy smoke remained.
Fraser's eyes were stinging and tearing as he banged on doors. At the third door, he found a woman lying on the floor and calling underneath the bed. "Ma'am, may I help you?"
"Geordie won't come out," she explained without looking back. "Come on, Honey," she pleaded.
Thinking they were dealing with a pet, Fraser simply lifted one end of the bed. The woman moved under and pulled out a child. A small boy, no more than three years old, clutched fiercely to the woman. His lips were pressed together so tightly that they were like a white slash in his dirty pale face.
"We have to go," Ben cajoled. "Let me carry him."
"No, you're a stranger. You'll just panic him," she responded worriedly.
Ben led them out of their apartment and to the stairs. The little boy looked down at the floor, which they were practically crawling across in order to stay below the smoke, and counted the tiles. Fraser could hear the boy continuing to count the steps as they descended, even over the sound of fire trucks and shouting firemen.
Fraser went back to banging on doors and kicking them open when he saw a light. On the sixth and final one, he found an elderly man asleep on his couch. "Sir, sir, there's been a fire and we have to get out."
The man jumped, saw all the smoke, and promptly wet his pants. Fraser ignored that as he helped the man to his feet. "My teeth," the man said as he grabbed a glass with a set of dentures. They made good progress until they were going past the elevators. "I can't do those stairs," the old man complained.
"No problem," Fraser insisted. He hefted the man, who was distressingly light, over his shoulders and moved him down the two flights. The smoke was thick, but there was no way Fraser could lower himself with the man over his shoulders. He stepped outside into the chaos and some much fresher air. Police and firefighters were working on the first and second floors and Fraser was relieved of his burden and hustled out of the way so that the local professionals could take over.
"I've checked the third floor," Fraser informed the fire chief. He coughed. "I didn't check any of the apartments without lights showing." Fraser coughed again, this time bending over with the effort.
Diefenbaker trotted over and pressed himself against Fraser's legs. His fur was smoky. "I'm okay," he lied.
"Get me some O2 over here," the fire chief called. He clamped his strong hand onto Fraser's shoulder as if he expected Benton to bolt. "Do you know how this started?"
"Some kind of incendiary device," Fraser answered as he attempted to stifle his cough. It was a fruitless effort. "Frankie Drake must have rigged something up to the door," he finished.
"Drake?" the chief inquired.
Fraser was going to answer the man, honestly he was, but he was busy first coughing and then breathing in the extra oxygen his body was so obviously craving. Ben felt cold and clammy, though the weather was quite balmy when compared to what he was used to back home. He was sweating, shaking, and looking for all the world as if he were going into shock. Which was nonsense of course. He was a Mountie and that meant he was trained to deal with life and death situations with quiet aplomb. It was only because he was a guest in their country that Fraser allowed the two paramedics to load him into the ambulance. Diefenbaker climbed in too and would not be dislodged by the paramedics.
"He's going," the nice lady paramedic taking his blood pressure announced.
"Who is going?" Fraser demanded indignantly just before he passed out.
Jack Huey did not need this. They had specifically told the Mountie to wait for them. Just because they'd been caught up in a kidnapping, happily resolved with rescued child, caught kidnapper, and the press falling over themselves to praise the police, didn't mean the man should take matters into his own hands. What had that idiot been thinking?
Canada might not have a death penalty, but the US did, and carrying out a contract killing on foreign soil qualified Frankie Drake for a Federal conviction and a Federal death penalty. All of which meant that Drake had piss little to lose. He could only be put to death once, so what was another dead Mountie with a floor or two's worth of semislum tenants along for the ride?
Huey pushed his way into the emergency room and flashed his badge. Other than having a child with a scalp wound reach for it, the badge didn't get him much attention. "Detective Jack Huey, I'm here to see a witness, Constable Benton Fraser."
The smile on the nurse's face told Jack she had seen the Mountie. The "cat with a bucket of cream" look was a common reaction to the man, with or without the fire truck red monkey suit on. "He's in room 916. He already has a visitor," the nurse announced, "and he's only allowed one at a time."
"Visitor?" Huey asked. Cold dread hit him in the stomach like a Heavyweight Champion's fist. If Drake was up there, then Huey would suddenly have two dead Mounties on his hands. He rushed to the lobby's elevators and briefly considered taking the stairs instead. Luckily for his calves and sanity, the elevator arrived and Huey was its lone occupant for the ride to the ninth floor.
Two "strictly business" types were standing on either side of the door to room 916. Neither of the men, both white, dark-haired, well-dressed, and wearing guns, were from beneath the poverty line, the only place Drake could hire from.
Huey displayed his badge. "Detective Jack Huey, I need to see Constable Fraser," he announced in his best badass cop voice. It did nothing for either of the two men.
"He's still asleep," man on the right responded after giving Jack's badge and ID a very professional going over. "The boss is waiting for him."
"The boss?" Huey inquired, not liking this one little bit.
"Mister Vecchio wished to express his thanks for the rescue of his tenants and for putting out the fire," man on the left explained.
Mister Vecchio could only be Ray "Light Foot" Vecchio, also known as the Don of Chicago. Well shit.
Forget Al Capone, Frank Nitti, George Moran, or even Julius Stern, they were just well dressed thugs. Vecchio was much more dangerous. He was respectable. Legit, as they say. Every dime he had was twice blessed by the IRS and untouchable. He could and did look down his long nose at the street crime his predecessors helped entrench. While you knew those other men would eventually go down because they were crooks, Vecchio wasn't going out like that.
Huey peeked in and found the normally Dapper Don sitting on the couch located on the far wall away from the bed in the private room. He was wearing a casual and colorful silk shirt and charcoal gray slacks with a matching jacket. By the Don's side, as if he would be anywhere else, was Vecchio's right hand man, Joseph "The Bone" Valdone.
Canadian insurance was obviously a lot better than American insurance. Huey's own city-issued HMO wouldn't mind if his bed were located in the hospital's parking lot, butted up against the bus stop. He would never qualify for a private room unless he was being hunted down by Saddam Hussein himself.
Both men were tall, dark-haired, and swarthy but there their physical resemblance ended. Joey Valdone was muscular, long-haired, blue-eyed, and classically handsome, while Vecchio was more on the slender side with an oddly handsome face, a receding hairline, and jade green eyes that seemed to be able to laser right into your molecules.
Huey had had official business with the Don only twice, once when his beautiful wife, Irene, was murdered along with her chauffeur and a second time when his brother-in-law, Frank Zuko, died in custody while attempting to escape after being arrested for arranging for the car bomb that had killed his sister instead of his brother-in-law. Those weren't exactly the best circumstances to get a feel for the man and his inner workings. What Jack remembered most were those eyes staring out of a smooth and unmoving face, reflecting a world of pain he could no longer keep at bay.
The detective squared his shoulders and went into the room to personally check on the constable. "Excuse me, gentleman, has he said anything?" he inquired. Huey knew that the Mountie had told the fire chief Drake had set the explosive that had started the fire, but he wondered if Vecchio knew that and how many little pieces Drake would eventually be found in if he did?
"Just a couple of moans, Detective... Huey, right?" Vecchio inquired.
"Yes, Mister Vecchio. Jack Huey." Huey offered his hand, which Vecchio accepted. Huey noted the smoothness of the other man's hand, the recent manicure, and the still-present wedding band. Irene Zuko Vecchio had been dead a year, but Vecchio still wore her ring. Since Jack had never been married, he had no idea how long you were supposed to wear the ring after your spouse died or if you were expected to keep it on until you remarried. "They said he wasn't hurt at the scene, just signs of some smoke inhalation. Do you have any idea why he collapsed?"
"His blood sugar was too low, his blood pressure was too high, and his electrolytes were out of balance," Vecchio ticked off. "Do you have any idea how he ended up in that condition? He doesn't look the least bit out of shape."
Huey cringed. Fraser was at the station before Jack arrived and still there when Huey went home for the day. Fraser was beside Jack and Louis while they were questioning witnesses and hunting down clues. When did the man sleep? And other than feeding that big white dog of his, when had Jack seen him with food? "We've been working on his father's murder," Huey began. "His dad was also a Mountie and he was found shot to death out in the snow. Tracks from some Americanmade all-terrain tires led to a rented Jeep that was then tracked back to a group of American dentists from Chicago. We found out that one of the dentists was actually Frankie Drake."
"I see." Vecchio leaned to the side and whispered something into Valdone's ear. The two men conversed quietly, then Valdone stepped out into the hall while extracting his cell phone from his pocket.
"My partner and I were working a kidnapping case and Fraser must have decided to track down another lead without us," Huey continued.
"He didn't have a gun or backup," Vecchio pronounced. "Yet he decided to go after Drake by himself?"
Huey knew it was useless to try and explain the unconscious man's mindset. You had to spend some time with him to truly appreciate it. "He's a Mountie, Mister Vecchio, and the murdered man was his father and last living relative." If that didn't explain things to a man who had lost both his wife and his father to violence, then nothing would.
A fresh-faced Candy Striper, no more than sixteen years old if Huey was any judge, walked into the room with the dog trailing behind her like a love-struck fool. She must have fed him. "Here you go, fella. Now you have to stay very quiet or Nurse Ratchet, I mean Nurse Kilgore, will have you tossed." She smiled at the two men and breezed back out of the room.
"How did you managed to get him in here?" Huey asked, pointing to the dog.
"He came in with Fraser and I managed to persuade them to let him stay with a few palms greased and the promise that the animal would make no trouble," Vecchio answered. "Besides he's better behaved than most people's kids and I owe him."
That surprised Huey. "You owe him?" he asked.
"That dog helped people out of the building and alerted the rescue personnel to a couple of kids who had hidden themselves in a closet in the basement instead of coming out." Vecchio petted the animal in question on the head. "Who knows how long those kids would have been down there before they were found, or if they would have been found before they died."
Huey was impressed. "He's pretty amazing. Fraser tells me he's also a sled dog."
"A fine animal like this pulled a sled?" Vecchio asked aghast. "No way. You're too clever for that kind of thing, aren't you fella? Next time he tries to harness you up, you should negotiate for steaks and a bitch to be named later."
Fraser laughed. "Please don't give him any ideas," he pleaded softly. The Mountie made a grand attempt to sit up, but it was Vecchio, showing surprising strength in those slender arms, who managed to lift the larger man fully up into position.
"Easy," Vecchio said softly as he used the bed's controls to raise it into an upright position. Vecchio depressed the "Nurse On Call" button beside the patient's bed. "We'll get you looked at."
"Thank you kindly," Fraser said as he blinked and looked around.
Huey could understand the man's confusion. Not only was he in a hospital room, he was in an opulent one at that. "How are you feeling?" the detective inquired.
Fraser reached his large hand out and stroked the top of the dog's head. "Much better than I expected," he admitted. "I'm not quite sure what happened."
"You saved a lot of people's lives, that's what happened," Vecchio supplied. "Raymond Vecchio," he announced, holding out his hand, "but you can call me Ray. buono per incontrare un amico dal nord." Fraser looked at him in confusion. "It is good to meet a friend from the north," Vecchio repeated in English.
Huey wondered if anyone outside his inner circle called Mister Vecchio anything but Mister Vecchio.
"It's nice to meet you... Ray," Fraser said as he shook the other man's hand and a flush suddenly touched his cheeks.
An African-American doctor strolled into the room. She was tall, robust, with a head full of short reddish-brown braids. "It's good to see you awake, Mr. Fraser." She paused and looked at the big white dog. "He'd better be a toy or a service animal," she warned.
"Actually--" Fraser began.
"He is a service animal," Vecchio assured her as he interrupted the Mountie. "He saved two children's lives just this afternoon." Vecchio's soft smile was directed solely at the doctor. Those green eyes of his were luminous. Or maybe it was the lighting. Jack wasn't an expert on these things. Whatever the reason, the doctor's stern expression melted away.
"Okay," she agreed before turning her attention fully to her patient. "Mr. Fraser, I'm Doctor Sarah Payton. You were in rough shape when you were brought in."
"I'll admit to p-pushing myself lately," Fraser stammered, "but it's nothing I haven't dealt with before."
Payton crossed her arms and tapped the clipboard against her muscular upper arm. "When was the last time you got a full night's sleep?"
Fraser looked down at the thin white sheet, which was obviously the only thing keeping him from exposing himself in one of those flower-patterned and tragic-looking hospital gowns. There was something inhumane about those things in Jack's book. "It's been a few days," Fraser admitted before he looked up with a full fire burning in those light blue eyes of his, "but I've gone on short sleep quite a few times while I was in pursuit of a criminal."
Payton nodded and pursed her full lips. "Did you also go without food at the same time?" she asked.
"No...," Fraser answered, "but--"
"But nothing, Mr. Fraser. You're dehydrated, showing signs of malnourishment, and are fully on track for a heart attack or stroke." A solid silence held for almost a minute but was finally broken by the dog, who whimpered and nosed Fraser as if he'd understood what the doctor had just said.
"Do you have anyone to look after you for a few days?" the doctor inquired. "Otherwise, I seriously can't release you in good conscience."
"No, I don't," Fraser answered, "but I'll be much more careful about my routine."
Vecchio shook his head. "He can stay with me," the man announced. If Vecchio had professed a deeply held belief in the Tooth Fairy at that moment, Huey would not have been more surprised than he already was. Vecchio taking a stranger into his home, and a cop at that?
"That's totally unnecessary, Mister--" Fraser was cut off by a directed glare from Vecchio. "Ray," he continued. "I can look after myself."
"I just know you wouldn't be so rude as to turn down my hospitality," Vecchio declared, hands waving through the air. "Your introduction to Chicago has been sadly lacking in the warm welcome of our northern neighbors we normally pride ourselves on."
"I couldn't--" Fraser tried again.
"Nonsense," Vecchio interrupted. "I insist." Vecchio smiled and that big smile transformed his oddly handsome face into a stunning show of beauty that would have left even Joey Valdone in the dust.
Fraser blushed like a schoolboy and his mouth actually hung open for a few seconds before he closed it with a slightly exaggerated movement. "Thank you kindly," he finally managed.
"You're welcome," Vecchio said firmly. He turned to the doctor. "When can I take him home?" The Don missed seeing the Mountie blush again.
"Well--" the doctor began.
Valdone stepped back into the room and whispered something into his boss's ear. Vecchio nodded, whispered something back, and then turned to face the doctor again. His smile never wavered, but Huey knew something was up. "You were saying, Doctor?" he inquired.
"Mr. Fraser can leave in about two hours. I just want to run another strip on his heart to be sure his rhythm is fully back to normal," Doctor Payton responded.
Huey hated that hospitals pushed people through the doors so fast these days. The man had collapsed after nearly being cooked alive, for heaven's sake; surely he needed to stay overnight.
"Thank you, Doctor," Vecchio replied, shaking the woman's hand. "We'll take good care of him." The doctor had just been dismissed. Any fool could see it.
Payton smiled and strolled out of the room as if it had been fully her idea.
Vecchio's smile never wavered, but his eyes went from soft and warm to intense. "Drake owed some big money in town and people expected that he wasn't going to be able to pay it off. Strangely enough he paid off the last of his debts six days ago."
Fraser looked thoughtful then poured himself some water. "I knew he didn't know my father and that someone had paid him for the... hit."
"It was a cash deal because Drake doesn't have a bank account in the city and the apartment he blew up was leased to someone else," Valdone announced. It was the first time he'd spoken to anyone but Vecchio. Valdone's voice was deep; closer to bass than baritone and his dark blue eyes were intent upon Fraser. Huey had been dismissed as harmless by Valdone, which hurt the cop's feelings.
"How do you know he doesn't have an account?" Fraser asked, clearly puzzled.
"It's the Computer Age," Joey answered. "I ran a credit check on him." The big man's phone rang and after checking the displayed number, he stepped out into the hall to take the call.
"Mister Vecchio, I need to speak to Fraser about the explosion," Huey said in his best "cop" voice.
Vecchio glowered and Huey was convinced he was about to receive the sharp edge of the man's tongue, which was not a very pleasant thought. Men with money and power had a way of ruining your career.
"I'd like Mister... Ray to stay," Fraser interrupted. "There are some things I'd like him to know about his tenants."
"You mean besides the one who tried to blow you up, right?" Huey inquired flippantly.
Fraser didn't rise to the bait. He never did. "Where should I begin, Detective Huey?"
"Who told you that Drake was in that apartment?" Huey asked.
"I found out that Drake had a liking for female dancers at an establishment called the Pig Whistle," Fraser began. "I was able to talk to a couple of dancers and they were able to get his address from him on the pretense that they wanted the information for themselves."
Huey suddenly had the image of the Mountie stammering pathetically as he found somewhere to stare other than the two barely dressed women. "Do you think they might have helped set you up?" he had to ask, though he'd pretty much seen only two reactions by women to the Mountie--"Fuck me stupid" or "let me mother you, you helpless man". And the guy worked it for all it was worth while almost convincing Huey he didn't know exactly what he was doing.
"I don't think so," Fraser responded. "If they really wanted to misdirect me, they could have refused to help or just sent me to the wrong location."
"Who else did you ask?" Vecchio inquired, arms crossed, but otherwise showing no impatience with the recovering Mountie. "I can't imagine the Pig Whistle was your first stop."
Fraser blushed beet red. "N-no," he assured them. "I tried the local bars and liquor stores, followed by the leather repair shops--"
"Leather repair?" Huey interrupted. Leather and Drake didn't immediately seem to go together. "Why did you go there?"
"Several pictures I found of Drake in the last few days showed him as somewhat unkempt, but his boots were always shiny and well-kept," Fraser responded. "That struck me as someone who would take his boots to a professional for maintenance."
Vecchio nodded. "That's a lot of people to talk to, and a lot of chances for the word to get back to Drake."
"How did you manage not to get blown up?" Huey asked, truly curious. Drake had put enough explosives on that door to have left Fraser in nine hundred different bloody pieces.
"I knocked, called his name, and he told me to come in without asking who I was," Fraser reported. "I realized that here in Chicago, no one would have let me in without first asking who I was. I threw myself back expecting to be shot at. That's when the door, frame, and a part of the wall blew."
"Are you sure it was Drake?" Vecchio asked, eyes fierce. His jaw had tightened as Fraser described the explosion. Huey had to admit he was watching Vecchio more than Fraser, because Fraser was on his back and Vecchio was the much more dangerous man.
"I saw him going out of the window and laughing," Fraser reported. "I couldn't follow him with the building filling with smoke and a fire spreading." He looked down at his hands and twisted at the inadequate sheet.
"You did the right thing, Fraser," Huey assured him. "You helped a lot of people, and we're not going to let Drake get away."
"No, we're not," Vecchio agreed.
Huey knew that Drake's life expectancy had just dropped dramatically.
Frankie was going to give the Mountie four more minutes to show, then he was leaving the garage and town. It was bad enough he had missed Benton Fraser, but he had also made the no doubt fatal mistake of damaging and setting fire to one of the pet projects of Raymond Vecchio.
If his victim would have just died like he was suppose to, then he wouldn't have gone blabbing to everyone who was listening that it was Frankie who had set the bomb and not Arnold Dent, the man who the apartment belonged to and who had an airtight alibi because he was doing thirty days in county lockup on a drunk and disorderly. Dent was going to fuck him up over the damage, the loss of his stuff, and making Vecchio mad at him.
Drake was actually walking away when the man he'd been waiting for stepped out of the shadows. For an old guy, the man moved quietly. "You're late," Frankie accused.
"I had to make sure you were alone," Gerrard answered. The Mountie looked more like someone's uncle in his plaid shirt, faded jeans, and well maintained boots. Frankie nearly had a hardon for those knee-high boots the crease just above the older man's calves hinted at. They were handmade, dark brown, and covered with an animal skin Frankie didn't recognize. It had to be very exotic for Drake not to recognize the skin.
"I'm alone," Frankie assured the other man. "You can tell by the way I'm still breathing."
Gerrard scowled. "What's that supposed to mean?" he demanded. "Surely you don't think Benton's going to gun you down. He won't. The man's an uptight little mannequin and I'm frankly shocked he got close to you in an urban setting."
"Close enough that he could have breathed on me," Drake reported. "I thought you said you had him under control?"
Gerrard shrugged. "I'd arranged for a new posting for the boy, but he slipped the trap by requesting a transfer here. He must have irritated his post commander even more than I'd thought, because he agreed to it right away without sending it through channels, and therefore me, first."
"I can tell you this much, Gerrard, Benton Fraser isn't going to stop until he finds me and I don't intend to be the only new butt boy in prison." Drake got closer to the older man. "I think you know what I'm saying." Frankie wasn't worried about Gerrard, the man was so old that his face looked like a relief map of Canada, and if he'd had anything close to balls, he would have killed Robert Fraser himself instead of paying Drake to do it.
Gerrard didn't respond, letting his face set in even harder and unflattering lines. "I understand," he finally said when he turned away from Frankie's stare. "You better kill Benton then. I understand that American jails make Canadian ones look positively civil."
"Yeah, and what they do to cops doesn't need to be harped on, does it?" Frankie asked, liking the way the pale man lost even more color in his face. Maybe he'd caught an episode of OZ across the border. Drake had watched quite a few episodes and was amazed how much they toned things down. "Where's my money for the second hit?" Frankie asked.
"What?" Gerrard queried. "I've already paid you."
"You paid for one Mountie, old. This is a second Mountie, young. That requires twice as much money," Drake reminded the man. "Now pay up." Frankie pulled his favorite sidearm--a Ruger .22 with a silencer. "You can think of it as a stickup if that will help." He grinned.
Gerrard dragged open his wallet with exaggerated care, almost as if he knew Frankie wouldn't hesitate to blow a hole in him and empty the wallet for himself. The old man was right; the difference in one cop killing and two was nonexistent in the eyes of US justice.
Frankie accepted the nice wad of colorful Canadian bills and ignored the six American Express Traveler's Checks. People required ID to cash those and he couldn't afford anything but cash transactions until he was safely out of the city and out of the reach of Raymond Vecchio. "Nice doing business with you, Gerrard. I don't think we need to see each other again." Drake eased away before the other man could respond.
It was dark as the limo drove out of the hospital's parking deck and onto the streets of Chicago. At first Fraser tried to look out of the window so he wouldn't stare at Ray, but it wasn't working. Every movement from the man immediately drew Ben's attention.
"So where were you posted?" Ray inquired. His long fingers were almost touching Ben's knee as the two men faced each other in the back seats.
Valdone was beside Ray in the forward facing seat. The man did not smile and did not speak to Ben.
"Rukatulak near James Bay," Ben answered quickly. "I believe the block we just passed has a bigger population." He smiled and Ray rewarded him with one.
"You must miss the quiet," Ray suggested. "I would hardly know from quiet." That got a smile out of Valdone. "But you're in luck, Benton. My boys are in college and my daughter, also known as the quiet Vecchio, is the only child still at home."
"You have children?" Ben asked, knowing that children also equaled a wife and a wife meant Fraser's little mental fantasy was going to have to stay one.
"Three beautiful children," Ray answered proudly. "RJ and Daniel are in college, and Gayle is in high school." The car began to slow down as they came to a stop in front of a three-story white Victorian. "That's the house I was raised in. We'd go in, but we wouldn't get out until you'd been overfed and forced into an engagement with one of my many cousins."
Valdone chuckled. "Good one, Boss."
Vecchio pressed a button on his armrest. "We're not stopping today. Drive on." The car moved on without another word from either Ray or Valdone.
They only went three more blocks, staying on Octavia, before pulling into a driveway flanked by thick hedges. Ben noticed the cleverly concealed cameras around the only easy path into the yard. The car came to a halt in front of a three-story brick house with a rounded facade facing the street. He believed the home would have been called a brownstone.
"Home, sweet home," Vecchio announced as he tapped in his security code. "Gayle, we're home and I've brought a guest with me," he called once he'd opened the door.
One of the most beautiful young women Fraser had ever seen came into the entry hall. She was tall, slender, darkhaired and by a singular blessing had her father's green eyes. Fraser was right about the mental assessment he'd made earlier about one of the man's most striking features: only a woman or a willing gay man should have had eyes like that. Gayle Vecchio wore those fabulous eyes well.
"Sweetheart, this is our hero Constable Benton Fraser. He will be staying with us for a few days," Vecchio announced. "Benton, this is my daughter Gayle."
"It's nice to meet you, Miss Vecchio," Ben said formally as he shook the young lady's hand. She had a strong grip and good lower arm musculature. "I see you ride," he surmised.
She looked surprised. "Yes, I do. You could tell that by shaking my hand?"
"Your grip is exceedingly strong, your lower arms are very muscular for a woman your age, your walk also indicates strong legs, and your carriage indicates the kind of back muscles usually developed from riding horses," Ben explained.
"You're watching my daughter just a little too closely, Constable," Vecchio drawled. His grin said he wasn't serious, but his daughter gave his arm a glancing blow. The two Vecchios wore identical grins.
Diefenbaker and Valdone came into the house together. They'd taken a very short walk. Fraser would have liked to have seen to that himself, but Ray insisted he was too weak for such tasks. The wolf needed a real workout to counter long hours of sitting, not just an opportunity to relieve himself.
"Miss Vecchio, this is Diefenbaker," Ben announced. His friend and partner walked up and sat right beside the young lady. Dief knew a soft touch when he saw one.
"You're a beauty," she declared as she ruffled his fur. Diefenbaker thumped his tail happily as if he knew his new pastry habit had just been guaranteed by the acquisition of a new supplier.
"Well I see that Diefenbaker is in good hands," Vecchio noted. "Benton, would you like to rest a bit before dinner? We could warm you up something later."
Ben wanted to say no just so he could spend more time in the man's presence before his wife arrived, but he was very tired. Then his stomach took the opportunity to embarrass him by growling. Diefenbaker barked in agreement.
"You poor man," Gayle declared. "My grandmother heard your stomach from her house and blames me for not feeding you." She took Fraser's arm and helped him into the dining room as if he might fall at any second.
The dining room occupied the lower floor portion of the rounded part of the front of the house. It had hardwood floors, stuccoed walls, with extensive dark woodwork. The table was oblong with eight white armless chairs and two matching chairs with arms on either end. The table was already set for four at the end facing the bay windows.
The conversations started as soon as the four of them were seated at the end of the table. Gayle seemed to direct the conversation, drawing in both Ben and Valdone, on subjects from horses to the Canadian driving age. From this Ben discovered that Gayle was seventeen, went to a private Catholic girls' school, and had been driving for over a year.
Though Valdone had been strictly business and nearly silent during the time Ben had interacted with him, around Gayle he was a completely different person. Valdone laughed, joked, imitated people, and went from English to Italian and back with no discernable pattern to his choice of words.
A middle-aged African-American man entered the dining room, followed by two much younger men of possible Italian descent guiding a cart. "For dinner," the older man began, "we will start with a cucumber and tomato salad, lentil soup, followed by lamb chops with an onion glaze and roasted sweet potatoes." The two young men served everyone their salads.
"Try this," Ray insisted as he passed a fluted bottle of salad dressing. Just before Fraser took the bottle, Ray shook it vigorously and then removed the stopper. "Malcolm makes that himself. One day I'm going to talk him into letting me market it."
Ben accepted the bottle and poured some of the contents over his salad. He passed the bottle on to Gayle, who was sitting at his left, with Ray sitting at the head of the table directly to his right and Valdone on Ray's right.
The lettuce was so crisp and fresh you just had to believe that it had been picked quite recently. The tomatoes reminded Fraser of the produce you got in the market during the summer back home. The food came straight out of the ground and onto your table, often on the same day. In the US, so much of their food was commercially grown with the produce designed to last during the shipping process. It never tasted fresh to Ben. This was fresh.
The salad dressing lived up to the reputation Ray had been building for it. It added a fully welcome dash of spice that served to heighten your appreciation of the fresh produce instead of detracting from it. "Delicious," Ben declared.
"Thank you, Constable," Malcolm said as he directed the cart to be placed by Ray. "Will you need help serving this evening, Sir?"
Ray shook his head. "No, no, Malcolm, we can take care of this. That will be all for the evening."
"Very good, Sir," the older man replied. Ben had only had a short time to watch the man, but he could tell that the training for serving meals was long ingrained, that he'd sustained some kind of devastating shoulder injury at some time, and that his face, though now repaired, had once been slashed. Fraser also believed that the man's hearing was better to his left side as he would sometimes assume a somewhat awkward position so that his left side was to whoever was talking to him. He also noticed that Malcolm's two unnamed assistants also only spoke to the man from the left.
Fraser finished his salad and found himself disappointed there wasn't any more. That changed after the soup was served by Ray's steady hands, and Ben began to wonder if he'd have room for the rest of the meal.
Try as he might, Ben couldn't stop himself from watching Vecchio. The man was so still and intense. It was almost impossible for Ben not to stare; to drink him in visually and savor every drop. It was torture knowing the man was untouchable.
"Are we going to wait until RJ and Daniel get home from school or have them meet us in Florida?" Gayle asked.
Florida? Ray's family had another house in Florida, where they apparently spent their holidays. Florida would be warm and Ray would shed his stylish but figure-hiding garments for small swimming trunks that would do little to conceal his bulge and nice small ass. Better yet, Ray would be nude and invite Ben to lick him from head to toe. Yummy.
They could swim in the warm waters, lie on the beach, and kiss each other breathless. Ben barely managed not to sigh.
"I want to wait until they get home and leave as a family," Ray answered.
A companionable silence descended on the table as everyone pushed back from their plates. Fraser was surprised to find his plate empty. "That was wonderful. I'd like to thank Malcolm."
"He's already gone to bed by now," Valdone informed him. "You'll have to catch him at lunch time."
"Lunch time?" Ben asked, not understanding.
"We're responsible for our own breakfast, Malcolm cooks lunch, dinner, and is in charge of any parties," Gayle explained as she began gathering the many dirty dishes with Valdone and Ray's help.
Ben attempted to rise and assist, but Ray placed his hand on Fraser's chest and pressed him back into the seat. "Sit," he said firmly. Even Diefenbaker would have obeyed that command.
"Yes, Sir," Fraser responded automatically. Ray smiled, sending a blush from his curved lips straight to Ben's face.
Fraser sat alone in the beautiful dining room as laughter, Italian phrases, and snatches of songs came from the kitchen as his three dinner companions dealt with the dishes. Diefenbaker padded out of the kitchen and settled by Fraser's feet. "Overfed, old friend?" he asked.
Diefenbaker huffed indignantly and stretched out on his side. A slight groan came from the animal as he attempted not to lie on his distended stomach, but Ben decided to ignore it.
The three emerged from the kitchen. Gayle moved to stand beside Ben's chair. "I have some phone calls to make and you'll probably be asleep before I finish. So I wanted to say goodnight now." She smiled. "Goodnight, Constable Fraser."
Ben rose to his feet and bent over Gayle's hand. "Goodnight, Miss Vecchio. I can't thank you enough for your kind hospitality."
"Now here is a man who knows how to treat a lady," Gayle declared as she beamed at Fraser.
"I pay your phone bill, don't I?" Ray asked sarcastically.
"Deliver me," Gayle begged sotto voice. "Goodnight, everyone." She kissed both her father and Valdone on the cheeks.
Valdone pretended to fight her off, but it was so obviously an act to cover up a deep emotional attachment. The big man grinned as he watched her walk away. "Her mother's daughter," he said wistfully.
"That she is," Ray agreed. He took Ben's arm and that almost full-body contact made Fraser sway. "You poor man, you can barely stand up and that hospital shot you out of there like you couldn't afford an aspirin," the other man mumbled.
"I'm fine," Ben insisted as he allowed himself to be led along.
"Sure, sure," Ray replied, his voice dipped to the perfect pitch for addressing skittish horses.
If Ben were a stallion, then he would immediately accept Ray to his saddle. From the moment he'd laid eyes on the man, Ben had felt a pull from the man. It was an almost magnetic attraction that Fraser, the iron filing, was simply incapable of resisting.
The doomed attraction seemed to be Ben's lot in life.
"I'm putting you in the best guestroom. It's the one I set aside for my Aunt Sophia when she visits," Ray explained as he gave Ben some unneeded help out of the dining room and down the hall.
Ben came to a halt as they passed a huge oil painting of the artist Irene Z by... Irene Z!!! My goodness. He had never heard of a self-portrait of the famous artist. Fraser had had the singular honor of providing security when Irene had come to Ottawa with her exhibit about three years ago. The force had asked for volunteers and Benton had pushed down his fear of large cities to serve for two days. It had been magnificent. Her use of color and way of capturing light made the men and women in her paintings look ready to step out of the picture and kiss the people looking at them.
"Are you alright, Fraser?" Ray asked. "There's a bench just a few steps away."
Ben turned his face away from the magnificent painting. "I met this artist three years ago in Ottawa," he explained. "I was a part of the official guard. After the show, she gathered us all up and thanked us individually for protecting her and her work. Some people thought her frank depictions of people exploring their sexuality was pornography and objected to the National Trust sponsoring the show."
"Did you think it was pornographic?" Ray asked, sounding serious.
Ben shook his head. "Oh no. They were so beautiful," Fraser replied, remembering. "I felt I was in those paintings," he confessed. Ben opened his eyes and was mortified to realize what he had just revealed. Irene Z's work was bisexual or gay in theme. He had found himself in those paintings by recreating the scenes with lovers willing to experiment. Even though each painting captured a single moment, you could always imagine what happened before and what would happen next. "Her career was ended far, far too soon."
Ray's beautiful green eyes were suddenly very sad. "Far too soon," he agreed.
"Were you one of her patrons?" Ben had to ask. Why else would Ray have her painting?
"In a way," Ray answered as he looked up at the raven-haired beauty depicted in the stylish artwork. "Irene was my wife."
Ben hung his head. He remembered sobbing with a friend and part-time lover, Constable Edith Bricasaw, when the news had been broadcasted that Irene Z had been assassinated along with her driver when the Rolls Royce she was riding in blew up. Later they tracked the explosive to her brother and not some outsider who objected to her outspoken support of sexual choice. He and Edith had sat in the "I've Got Your Back", one of Irene Z's most famous paintings, pose before making love for hours. That night Edith's older brother and fellow RCMP had stumbled in and pounded out his fear, anger, and hurt by fucking Ben's mouth and ass until he fell down with exhaustion. In a way it was good to know that zealots had not killed her, but it didn't bring the woman back.
"I'm so sorry for your loss," Ben declared inadequately.
Ray patted him on the back, put on a brave smile, and led Ben into a beautiful bedroom with creamy, almost peachcolored, walls with a beige carpet, and a four-poster queensized bed. There was a joke in there that could be wrapped around an Inuit story, which was one of his favorite ways of inviting a seduction, but after discussing the man's murdered wife, Ben no longer felt such a move was possible. Besides, a handsome man like Vecchio probably would have countless beautiful women throwing themselves at his feet with their large bosoms, baby-making hips, and Italian ancestry. Fraser didn't stand a chance.
"This is a lovely room," Ben acknowledged.
"With a lovely bathroom," Ray added. "It's through there and all yours." He walked to the closet and opened it and indicated Ben's clothes, personal belongs, and uniforms that were inside. "Joey had you checked out of your hotel and your belongings brought here." He walked over to the bedside and Ben's heart started to race as he imagined the man reclined on the bed and demanding Ben strip down for him. Unfortunately, Ben would be a very sorry bedmate at the moment. He was exhausted.
"This is the phone," Ray explained as he opened the solidlooking box on the nightstand, "with a private line."
"Thank you," Ben said, just before a yawn overtook him. He made a step toward the bed and would have fallen if Ray had not caught him. "I'm not normally so clumsy."
Diefenbaker leapt up onto the bed and sniffed worriedly at Fraser.
"Off the bed," Ray commanded.
"He's deaf," Fraser tried to explain.
Ray gave him a half smile because Diefenbaker jumped off the bed and circled near Ben's feet. "Deaf period or deaf for a wolf?"
"I fell through the ice, and he jumped in to pull me out. His eardrums burst," Fraser explained. "He has some hearing, but compared to what he had before... it's not--" Fraser was choking up. It was like he was suddenly seeing his entire life as nothing but a series of losses. His mother had died when he was barely old enough to remember her. His grandparents were taken when he was in his teens. Now his father was gone and all he had left in the world was one deaf half-wolf and a burning desire for revenge. He began to weep and was so ashamed.
"It's okay, Benny," Ray promised as he held Ben tight.
Benny? No one had ever called him Benny before and he liked it. Fraser tried to staunch the flood of tears but to no avail. He kept crying and Ray kept holding him. As he finally made it to the sniffling stage, Ray began to undress him. Boots first, followed by socks, his pants, tunic, and undershirt. This wasn't a claiming like he'd been hoping, but the movements showed such care that Fraser would be more than satisfied to have only these moments to take back to Canada and use them to fuel his sexual fire when his hand was all there was to give him comfort.
Ray tucked him in. "Don't be alarmed if you hear someone come in the room. I'm going to have the boys take turns looking in on you, Benny." He turned off the light. "Do you need anything?"
"You," Fraser whispered.
Ray leaned down, turning from shapely silhouette in the darkened room to moonlit angel. "What?"
"Could you stay for a little while?" Benny asked. He must have sounded like a lost little boy. He was lost and Ray had suffered a similar, but probably more painful loss. Ray knew what he'd lost, while Ben's loss was more of what he could have had. The father he loved without equal, but a man he hardly knew and who he had wanted to know more than anything.
Ray smiled. "Sure, Benny." Ray climbed into the bed, fully dressed, and put his arm over Ben's chest.
Fraser's nipples went into immediate peaks and his cock, already on alert, hardened painfully. This may have been a mistake.
Trying to calm himself, Ben took a deep breath and filled his lungs with the heady scent of Ray. The man wore a subtle cologne that was spicy and undeniably masculine. Just like Ray.
For the first time since his commander read that damn message to Ben stating his father was dead, Benton Fraser slept through the night.
Superintendent Mark Gerrard had two problems: the first the son of an old friend and the second a former tool who had become too much a liability. His main goal now was to make sure the two problems did not get together and become a single bigger problem.
Benton had proved himself more wily than Gerrard had thought, but that may have been more by accident than anything. Gerrard had waved the temptation of a posting in France under the man's nose to tempt Benton out of the country and out of his hair. Even if Benton had turned down the posting, an almost certainty as the largest city the young man had ever served in for more than two days had been Moose Jaw, then Gerrard planned to place Fraser at a post even further out in the Yukon.
Instead, Benton had asked for the Consulate post in Chicago and some of his almost untouched vacation time for six weeks of bereavement leave. He had only checked in at the Consulate when he'd arrived and hadn't touched base since. He had left the name of his hotel and his room number, but Benton had checked out soon after he'd landed in the hospital. Since then, the man had dropped off the planet.
Gerrard had laughed at the thought of Benton Fraser navigating the urban jungle, but the boy had managed to elude Gerrard quite handily. But surely he wouldn't elude a determined hunt from a local predator. Drake would have to serve Gerrard one more time.
"27th Precinct," some jowly-sounding desk sergeant answered. "How may I help you?" The 27th Precinct served the area surrounding the Consulate.
"I think I saw the Chinatown Bomber by that Canadian place," Gerrard responded in a passable Yankee accent. The newspapers had labeled Drake the "Chinatown Bomber" as if he'd blown up the entire neighborhood and not just a single apartment in a single building, but that was the media for you. Labels sold papers. "I'm calling from the payphone across the street, and I swear I saw him standing in the alley. I woulda told the guy in red standing in front, but they never answer ya."
"Can I have your name, Sir?" the desk sergeant asked.
"I don't want him to blow me up!" Gerrard squealed. He hung up just before he started laughing. "Americans," he chuckled.
The stage was set and now all he needed was the first of the two players. Benton needed to die first, followed by his alleged assailant, Drake.
. . . .
Joey closed his cell phone and stepped back into the breakfast room. The Don did not tolerate phone calls during a meal and if you had to take a call, you didn't do it at his table. "Boss, that was my contact at the 27th. They just got a citizen tip that Drake was seen near the Canadian Consulate," he reported.
Ray frowned. "That's the last place I would expect him to show."
"Perhaps he's hoping to come across me there," Fraser, a.k.a. Joey Valdone's Canadian pain in the side, suggested.
"How many times have you been to the Consulate since you arrived in Chicago?" Ray inquired.
"Not once," Fraser reported, "but I did check in and leave my hotel room information with them."
"Then he wouldn't be waiting for you around the Consulate," Joey said firmly. "The guys in red out front may look like a breathing postage stamp, but they are still cops. Drake can smell a cop in his sleep."
"Where would you expect to find him?" Fraser asked. He may have been looking at Joey, but Valdone knew the man was really directing his question toward Ray.
The Canadian sucked up to Joey's boss every chance he got. He batted his lashes, gave Vecchio the doe-eyes, managed to get Ray to hold him until he fell asleep, and pulled a role Joey could never manage--"man-sel in distress". How a cop could pull that off was one of the great questions of the ages. Joey was counting the days until they could find Drake, beat the name of his employers out of him, and point the offending Mountie at them.
"There are three places you can turn Canadian money into American dollars close to where Drake would feel comfortable. We have a contact in each of those locations, as well as a general lookout on the street. Since we know he's a killer, we've only asked for information and have cautioned people not to approach him."
"The man's got little to lose at this point but his life," Ray added. Naturally this made Fraser turn to look at the man and smile stupidly. Joey itched to punch out those big blue eyes.
The problem was that the Canadian had obviously set his stupid-looking hat for Ray. A fact that had, as usual, washed right over Ray. Ray Vecchio had many, many good points and had a way of looking right into people's souls and getting the best out of them, but in one area he was blind. Ray Vecchio walked around with the promise of sexual bliss dripping from his slender, sexy body and he hadn't a clue.
While he was young, he only had eyes for Irene. While he was married, Irene was the center of his sexual world and despite his numerous harmless flirtations, most witnessed by his wife, he was totally true to Irene. Now that his year of mourning was up, Ray Vecchio had become one of the great prizes in the fiercely competitive Chicago Husband Hunt.
But Joey didn't want Ray to become a new husband. Joey wanted his boss and friend to become his wife. Perhaps there was a better word for it. Calling Ray his wife would probably get Joey drawn and quartered almost as fast as calling the man his bitch. Only one other man had tried that and he was now blessedly dead. That incident and Ray's violent reaction to the attempted rape had been the beginning of Frank Zuko's downfall.
And there it was. Joey's mode of love for Ray would always remind the man of the way Frank Zuko had tried to turn him out when he was sixteen years old. Even today, Ray came down harder on rapists among the ranks than murderers.
So if Ray would be appalled at Joey's desire to top him, why was Joey so worried about Dudley-Do-Right? Because the Mountie was a Bottom Boy of the first rank. Joey could smell it on him. If Ray suddenly decided to fuck the man on the breakfast table, then the Mountie would be stripped off with his legs in the air and a blindfold for Gayle before the echo died down.
Joey couldn't do that. Not even for Ray. Which meant the Mountie had to be sent back to the frozen north as soon as possible.
Valdone finished his breakfast and counted up the number of times Fraser touched Ray, 31, and the number of times Ray touched Fraser, 5. As long as the disparity remained, then Joey still stood a chance to live his dream of having Ray in his arms.
Breakfast was finished and Joey's hopes that Fraser would go perch himself at the police station again were quickly dashed. Fraser was coming with them.
First stop, the Vecchio family home where they would be dropping off Gayle. Gayle usually spent her Saturday mornings with her grandmother and aunts so that she could drive the older woman around town to do her shopping. This used to be Irene's routine, even when she was painting. The two women had been very close and Gayle seemed to think that her weekly shopping trip with her grandmother made the older woman a little less sad about the loss of her "third daughter".
The Vecchio household was chaotic as usual. The children, Maria and Tony's four little ones, Rose, Anthony, Megan, and Mike, bum-rushed their uncle in a semi-coordinated gang. The way they carried on, you would have thought Ray hadn't been there for months, not days. Even the presence of Diefenbaker did not spare Ray one second of their raucous greeting.
While Ray tried to introduce the kids to Fraser, Joey slipped into the den where he knew his best friend and coconspirator, Francesca Vecchio, would be. Frannie had her own place on the North Shore, but like clockwork, you could expect to find her in her mother's home for Saturday morning shopping and Sunday evening dinner.
Despite it being a Saturday, Frannie was typing furiously into her laptop. She acknowledged his presence with a nod of her head. Joey sprawled out in the overstuffed chair closest to the desk and waited.
Frannie owned, with Ray being her silent partner, a day spa that was located in the heart of the Million Dollar Mile, where local and national celebrities, as well as the wellheeled came to have their bodies pampered. The Magnolia had been Frannie's baby from concept to execution. The place was doing so well that Frannie was close to being able to buy Ray out. Ray was very proud of his little sister and not at all distressed about losing out on future profits.
Joey smiled when he saw Frannie close her laptop. "Hello, Gorgeous. I've come to whine and complain."
Frannie smiled. "What's going on now? Has Sophia Tortelli stopped by with another one of her inedible meals?"
Sophia was a neighbor, a widow, and bound and determined to be the next Mrs. Raymond Vecchio. She just didn't understand that since Irene couldn't stand her, then Ray wouldn't even consider the woman as a possible partner.
"No, this may be an even bigger problem than a gorgeous rich widow who used to be a showgirl," Joey grumped.
Frannie leaned closer, her dark eyes serious. "What is it?"
"The Mountie who fought the fire and rescued those people spent the night," Joey reported.
Frannie frowned. "Unless he spent the night on his back in Ray's bed, I don't see the problem."
"Ray held him until he went to sleep," Joey reported. "It made me want to go in there and beat the man to death."
Frannie shook her head and gave him her half-smile. "Joey, Ray didn't fuck him. The road is still open for you."
Joey grasped his friend's hand. "Frannie, the bastard was heroically injured, is recently bereaved, and he's drop dead gorgeous. How can Ray resist that?"
Frannie lifted Joey's chin. "Joey, you make it sound like you've already lost him. Ray has had plenty of Irene's models offer themselves up to him before and since Irene died. He's never even acknowledged them. This Mountie is a stranger, and you and Ray have known each other since you were kids. Now if he doesn't know you love him 'that way', how do expect him to--" Frannie stopped. "Joey, if this man really scares you that much, you'd better declare yourself to Ray."
"What if he hates me for changing our relationship?" Joey asked. "He needs me as his good right hand, not as someone who wants to give him a handjob."
Frannie tightened her mouth in a move that always told Joey that she was about to say something she thought he would be uncomfortable with. "Joey, Ray values honesty above everything else. But I don't think you're really worried about his reaction to your declaration. What's eating you is that Ray is a top. You're a top. That leaves no bottom. Is this Mountie a bottom?"
Joey nodded. "He probably has those rubber stoppers strapped onto his body to keep him from sliding across the floor while he's being fucked."
Frannie's hand flew to her mouth, but she wasn't fast enough to cover the near hiccup his exclamation caused. "O... K," she managed to say. "Look, Joey, take out those toys I gave you and use them. Get yourself ready. You've got someone your instincts have labeled as a sexual threat in your playing field. You're going to have to make a decision. Is Ray worth going on your back for?" She leaned closer. "You know you can't live without sex and you know he won't allow you to cheat on him, so can you give yourself to him?"
Joey felt Frannie had one major flaw; she was entirely too fond of the truth. No, Joey couldn't live without sex and neither could Ray once he settled with someone. So if he knew that Ray will want to top, could Joey bottom? Even if they switched off, there would be times when Joey would have to be the receiver. The idea still left him cold, even when he put Ray's beloved face on the man fucking him. Damn!
Frannie's arms surrounded and supported him and Joey managed not to cry... this time. What was wrong with him? Didn't he love Ray enough to at least fucking pretend to want to be his woman?
"Break up the gossip in there, Joey, and bring out my sister so she can dazzle our guest," Ray ordered. Oh it wasn't phrased as an order, but Joey had known the man too long not to know an order when he heard it.
Joey kissed Frannie's lips, checked to make sure he hadn't smeared her lipstick, then rose to his feet and offered her his arm. "May I?" he inquired.
"Always," Frannie promised. The two friends walked out into the living room. Maria, the older of Ray's two sisters, her husband Tony, Ray's mother, Gina, who was affectionately known as Ma Vecchio by almost everyone, were all gathered. Gayle must have already succumbed to the siren call of her cell phone. Gayle and her phone had an intense relationship and it was best not to interfere.
"Benton, this is my sister Francesca Vecchio," Ray introduced with a grand sweep of his hand. Joey had a wonderful feeling. Ray was trying to set up his much-chased and never caught sister with the Mountie. Frannie would eat the man up and spit him out, but Joey was all for it.
Ben bowed over Frannie's hand. "It's wonderful to meet you, Miss Vecchio. Ray has told me so much about you that I feel I know you." Fraser grinned at Frannie and continued to hold her hand. "About all of you," he added quickly as he released her hand.
"Les frres voient rarement des soeurs pendant qu'ils sont," Frannie replied.
"What?" Anthony inquired, clearly puzzled. The little boy had no problem understanding Italian but did not know French.
"Brothers rarely see their sisters as they are," Frannie interpreted, "but I'm lucky." She smiled at Ray, who grinned back.
Joey was a bold man, he wouldn't be where he was today if he weren't, but did he have the nerve to ask Frannie to run interference with the Mountie? Or was he working himself up for nothing?
Frannie and Fraser began chatting to each other in French while the rest of the family peeled off into nine or ten other conversations. Joey watched Ray. If Fraser made Ray horny, then it didn't show. Ray turned to look at him and Joey prayed that those green eyes would show more than brotherly love toward him. Ray smiled and Joey felt a shiver go throughout his body. What a smile. What an enrapturing event that smile caused.
Gayle strolled in while closing her cell phone. She immediately relieved Ray of some of the burden of his cash. Such a thoughtful daughter. When RJ and Daniel were still living at home, they didn't hesitate to hit Joey up for cash, but Gayle only took money from her father. It must have been a woman thing.
"We're on the move," Ray announced. Fraser may not have understood the phrase, but he rushed to keep up with Ray and Joey as they kissed their way down the family line and went out the door. The Mountie must have rubbed a small bald spot on his hat as he held it like a shield between himself and the family. They climbed into the back of the limo with Fraser sitting in the back-facing seat with his dog while Joey and Ray shared the front-facing seat.
They had a small list of places to check as well as ordinary day-to-day business that had to be taken care of, even on a Saturday. Their first courtesy call would be on Derrick Wright, who had the street name Maximus.
Derrick was 29, ten years younger than Joey, and the younger brother of Joey's old and dearly missed friend, Darius "The Preacher" Wright. Darius had been killed in a drive-by, and when the resulting turf wars threatened everyone's security, businessman Derrick had given up his job in a major brokerage firm, stepped in, took over, and reestablished peace. Darius's killer, John Cutchell, was caught and even lived long enough to be convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment, which for Cutchell had translated into exactly nine days. US prisons are a dangerous place to be.
They pulled up to the gate of Derrick's place and were admitted right away.
"Fraser, I need you to stay in the car," Ray said firmly. "We need to speak to Mr. Wright and currently he is a very unhappy man."
"Did he have some connection with one of the tenants?" Fraser asked, innocently. God, did it every stop?
"You might say that," Ray answered. "He sold me the property with the understanding that the people would receive the same kind of treatment the tenants in my old neighborhood received. Naturally that didn't include having them nearly blown up." He got out just ahead of Joey.
"Stay in the car," Joey repeated. The last thing they needed was for the man to stumble out and fuck things up before assurances could be made to Derrick that his trust in Ray to take care of the people in the building he'd sold him had not been misplaced.
. . . .
Fraser watched the other two men walk up to the front door and be admitted by a man who could have been mistaken for an English butler if it weren't for the obvious bulge of a shoulder holster.
Dief whined at him, his accusations plain.
"I'm sure they're not going in there alone so they don't have to share any pastries they find. If that were truly your concern, you could have stayed at the house this morning or even remained at Mrs. Vecchio's home. The aroma from the dining room alone promised endless meal opportunities." Sometimes Fraser didn't know why he bothered, Diefenbaker had his own view of the world and little Benton could say would sway him.
The chauffeur, Roger, rolled down the partition window. "Constable, two of Wright's men are heading toward the limo. It would be considered rude for me not to acknowledge them, but I will if they make you nervous."
"I'd be glad to meet them," Fraser assured the man. Fraser wasn't quite sure how Derrick Wright fit into Ray Vecchio's world and why he rated an in-person meeting rather than a phone call. Back home, a phone call after a tragedy would have been unthinkable unless you were so far away that days would pass before you could get there. In America, that wasn't a consideration. People called their neighbors who lived across the hall.
One of the men knocked on the window to Ben's right and he rolled down the window. "Hello," he said cheerfully.
He was young, maybe twenty-two or so, incredibly fit, with short curly black hair, almost black eyes, and was very dark skinned and exotic looking. For Ben, men with dark skin were automatically raised two or three levels in looks. Maybe an American would see this man as nothing very special, but for Ben, this man was at the height of erotic exotic looks simply for his dark skin. Ben had been nineteen before he'd ever seen a dark-skinned man in person and he'd lost his virginity to him.
"You the Mountie?" the man asked.
It was a fair question. Ben wasn't in one of his uniforms and the dark blue turtleneck sweater and black leather jacket did not say RCMP. "Yes, I am."
The second man, who was even more handsome than the first man, leaned down. "We'd like a word," he explained. The second man was much lighter-skinned than the first man, with soft brown eyes, longer hair, and a fuller mouth. He was also a little older, closer to thirty but still much younger than Ben.
"Certainly," Fraser agreed as he opened the car door.
The two men slid inside.
"Roy," the dark man announced, pointing to himself, "and William," he finished, pointing to the second man.
Fraser offered his hand, which both men shook. "Benton Fraser. Nice to meet you, gentlemen. What can I do for you?"
"First, I want to say that I appreciate your taking the time to bring the people out of the building," Roy explained. "It took guts to go back into all of that smoke."
"Is this the dog they were talking about?" William asked. He held his hand forward, palm flat, and allowed Diefenbaker to sniff it. It was obvious he'd been around dogs before.
"Actually, he's a wolf," Ben corrected, "but he was the one at the fire."
"Looks like a husky to me," Roy insisted.
"Half-wolf," Ben explained. "He's a little touchy on his parentage."
For some reason this struck both men as funny because they laughed.
"Okay," William acquiesced. "Good going, Wolf."
"Diefenbaker," Ben supplied.
"Like the Prime Minister?" Roy asked.
"Yes," Ben agreed, surprised. Few Americans knew the name of the Canadian Prime Ministers.
"How is your search for Drake going?" William asked, changing the subject.
"He seems to have gone to ground, but Mister Vecchio believes he's still in town," Ben answered.
"Drake is very stupid," Roy announced. "Not only did he blow up part of a building in Derrick's territory, he had to blow up one that Don Vecchio owned."
Fraser frowned. "I thought Mister Vecchio's first name was Raymond."
Again the two men laughed in unison. William was the first to recover. "Don as in title. You do know that Vecchio is the Don of Chicago?"
Fraser swallowed. He couldn't have heard that right. Ben had seen nothing to make him think Ray was anything but a very busy and respected businessman. "Are you saying that Mister Vecchio is a criminal?"
William rubbed at his forehead as if he had a headache and Roy crossed his arms over his chest and stared hard at Ben. "Mountie, Vecchio is not a criminal and only a man looking to die would ever call him that."
Fraser nodded, realizing he'd been given some very sound advice. "Then why do you call him the Don?" he had to ask.
"He took over the Zuko organization when the old Don died," Roy explained. "Carl passed up his own son, Frank, for Vecchio, who happened to be his son-in-law. Vecchio took them to the legit side, cleaned them up, and weeded out what you might call 'the bad elements'."
"If you want to find some criminals, look to those bastards in Enron," William directed. "I know people who got ten years for taking one percent of one day's interest of what those people stole. Do you think any of those creative financial types will spend one day in jail?" he asked.
"I would hope so," Ben answered though he suspected none of them would. Fines would be levied, bleeding the stockholders yet again, and the guilty would walk away with enough of what they stole to live quite comfortably for the rest of their lives while the stockholders lost everything they had invested as well as their peace of mind.
"We all hope, but this one is already lost," William said firmly. "In justice, even stolen money talks."
"Which brings us to another subject. Why are you chasing Drake?" Roy asked.
"I believe he killed my father for a fee," Ben answered. Detective Huey had taken great pains to explain to Fraser that his continued dancing around the subject when he needed answers from people was bound to get him hurt in the US. "I want to find out who hired him and bring him to justice."
"In that order?" Roy asked.
Fraser frowned. "What do you mean?"
"I mean that some people on the street would be more than happy to get the information out of Drake, if you weren't too particular as to what kind of condition he was in once they had the information," Roy responded. "Money wouldn't even have to change hands. Burning old people, cripples, and autistic children to death makes Drake a mad dog, and mad dogs have to be put down."
"No offense, Diefenbaker," William added quickly as he rubbed the wolf's head.
Fraser blanched. As much as he wanted Drake brought down and the truth behind his father's death revealed, he didn't want to sanction the man's torture and execution. "I think we can handle Drake," he promised.
The two men exchanged a look and then exited the limo. "Suit yourself, Mountie," Roy said as he closed the door. He leaned in the window and rubbed Diefenbaker's head again. "But Drake is in a bad position with a lot of people. The fire reminds them of some bad times and they need for certain elements to understand that those bad times can't happen again."
Fraser wasn't quite sure he knew what the man was referring to, but he nodded anyway. Roy and William walked away and disappeared into the house. Ben rolled up the window and leaned back into the seat. "There are too many players and not enough ice, Diefenbaker," he remarked to his friend.
Frankie walked confidently into the Rose and Thorn Leather Shoppe and waited his turn at the counter. He placed his purchase, a simple leather band to be worn around the wrist and imprinted with your initials. He placed his wad of Canadian bills down in payment. At the current exchange, a single one of those bills would have easily covered the cost.
The shop's manager looked up and spoke a single word. "Fifteen," he announced. There was no room for negotiation. The manager would give Frankie the current exchange rate, minus a fifteen percent commission, further cutting into his getaway money.
But unless he wanted to take his money to the bank and risk being spotted by some overeager employee who had seen his picture on TV then he had to take it. Frankie nodded in agreement. His money was whisked off the counter and replaced less than one minute later by the expected amount of money, minus the purchase price of the leather strap. His five thousand Canadian dollars was now only $2742.96. The $8.29 for the strap was taken out of that, leaving him $2734.67 to live on until the next job.
If the Mountie crossed his path, then Drake would kill Benton Fraser. Otherwise he didn't plan on slowing down until he was as far from Chicago as he could get.
Drake stepped out of the shop and headed toward the "el" to start the first leg of his trip. Frankie was watching for the approach of the train when he noticed that he was getting less not more crowded at the stop. He looked around and saw his picture on the television screen that had previously been playing a commercial. The crowd that you could normally count on not noticing a thing were moving back. A few ran and others were busily talking on their cell phones. He couldn't shoot them all and they seemed to know that.
Trying to appear as casual as possible, Frankie started moving to the south. As he walked toward an Asian woman and her child, a black man, who so obviously had nothing to do with either the woman or the kid, put himself in front of them. He didn't say anything, but the man's body language told Frankie he would have to empty his gun into the man to get to the boy to use him as a shield.
Until that moment, Frankie hadn't even thought about using a hostage. Hostages slow you down and make cops shoot to kill. This told Frankie two things. One, he'd waited too damn long to leave the city and two, his stunt with the rigged apartment door had gained him a reputation that was going to get him killed. The Chinatown Bomber was on a par with the Oklahoma City Bomber and just as dead on the streets if he didn't find a good place to hide.
. . . .
"We've got him," Valdone announced as he snapped his cell phone closed. He and Ray climbed into the limo, pulling Fraser out of his daydream.
As the two men settled themselves in the backseat, Fraser tried to equate the phrase "Don of Chicago" with the face of Ray Vecchio. They just didn't seem to match. He couldn't see this man leaving horses' heads in people's beds or having his men mow down the competition with machine guns. Maybe it was all fanciful and that kind of mafia no longer existed except in movies and on television. Canada had its own problems with a spreading Canadian mafia and occasional forays from the even more dangerous Russian mafia. Fraser's encounters with them had been both vicious and bloody.
And he couldn't see that kind of lifestyle as being part of Ray's world. He couldn't even see it as being part of Valdone's world.
"Drake's just taken a runner from the train station on Park," Joey reported. "They were flashing his picture on the monitors down there and he spooked. He's heading south."
. . . .
Frankie came to a stop in an alley and tried to pull some much needed oxygen into his starved lungs. "Calm down, Frankie," he told himself. "Calm the fuck down. Nobody is chasing you and you're only drawing attention to yourself by running."
"Talking to yourself ain't helping either," a bum complained. "If ya gonna play the crazy game, do it on someone else's turf." He rolled back up into his thin blanket, letting the cloth shield his face from the almost relentless wind that came around these buildings. It was the curse of being so close to Lake Michigan.
Frankie looked back onto the street. No one was watching and no one was pointing. 'Calm down, Frankie. This is Chicago and no one wants to get involved.' He had cash. He could take a taxi out to the Greyhound station and be out of Illinois in a couple of hours. That was better. He was thinking now and not just reacting. Things were so much easier when he was the hunter and not the hunted.
Squaring his shoulders, Frankie stepped out onto the sidewalk and headed to the coffee shop just a few paces away. It would be easy to hail a cab from here. This was middle-class territory and taxis roamed freely in the area.
The bright yellow of salvation parted from the eastbound traffic and pulled up to the sidewalk. "Greyhound bus station," Frankie ordered as he opened the back door. He almost didn't see the sleek black limo that pulled up behind him.
Joey Valdone got out of the limo. "Where are you going, Frankie?" he asked, though you could tell he didn't really want to hear any answer Drake could come up with.
Frankie did the second stupidest thing of his life, he shot at Joey Valdone through his coat pocket and into the door of the limo. Valdone's expression hardened and Frankie ran faster than he'd ever run in his life. Straight across traffic and onto the other side of the street. He ran and ran.
. . . .
Fraser leapt out of the limo and pursued Drake on foot. The limo peeled out and, from the sound, seemed to be following him. He was gaining on Drake even though the other man seemed to be breaking the North American sprinting record.
The limo somehow had gotten ahead of them and was now coming down the side road Ben and Drake were running on. The limo was coming straight for them and Drake fired off three useless shots into the vehicle before turning around and clotheslining Fraser across the neck and sending him into a pile of refuse. Drake continued up a narrow passageway the limo could not follow him through.
Fraser jumped to his feet, grabbed a heavy trashcan lid, and threw it. The lid sailed across the street and into the back of Drake's legs. The man tumbled to the ground and lay there panting. Ben hurried across the street.
Drake had made it to one knee when two shots hit him from overhead. One hit him in the shoulder and the second one came through the top of his head and exited out of his lower jaw. Frankie Drake was quite dead.
Ben tried to leap onto the lower rung of the fire escape so he could climb the building and grab the shooter he knew to be there, but a third shot almost hit him in the hand.
Valdone grabbed and covered him with his body. "Don't be an idiot," the big man insisted as he held Ben tight.
Fraser listened to the sound of running feet over their heads. Older. Male. Used to physical labor. No hesitation in the strides. Heavy work boots.
Valdone let him up. "You don't have a gun, you're not wearing a vest, and your father proved that Mounties aren't bulletproof." The man's face was hard and his anger was a physical thing standing between them.
Fraser acknowledged the truth of the other man's words with a nod.
Joey pressed a single button on his cell phone. "Martin, it's Joey. We're all right, but a sniper took out Drake right in front of us and nearly shot the Mountie too." He looked around. "We're on Summit and Stetson. About two blocks north of the Canadian Embassy."
The Canadian Embassy? Fraser had only called the Embassy; he had not been there in person. Valdone had said that the best place to exchange a lot of Canadian cash into American cash was very close to the embassy and that if Drake had been paid in Canadian money again, then this was where he would have had to come. And someone had known that and waited for their chance.
Fraser looked around. This building made a perfect nest for someone with a high-powered rifle. Some people would have suspected Vecchio, but the limo could have easily run Drake down with little suspicion during the chase, but the driver had slowed down, indicating to Ben that they had wanted the man alive.
Ben wanted to get up on that roof and look for any clues the shooter might have left, but he could hear the sirens now and unless either Detectives Huey or Gardino arrived, Fraser would not be allowed anywhere near it.
Ray came up and took Ben by the arm. He moved Fraser around the corner until they were out of sight of Valdone. "Benny, that was just plain stupid. You could have gotten your Canadian head blown off." He put his hand on the wall just over Fraser's left shoulder, effectively pinning Ben to the wall with his body. "This isn't over, capisca? We're still looking."
"You've got your bomber," Ben reminded the man. Ray's problem was solved, in a very permanent manner. Fraser's had just gotten bigger. His line back to the who and the why was lying dead in an unnamed alley.
Ray's expression was unreadable, and it was frightening. "Whoever was paying him may not have ordered the man to put a bomb in my building, but I still want to have words with them."
Ben wasn't exactly sure what "having words with them" would entail, but it didn't bode well for someone.
Jack Huey felt that times like this called for him to resign the force and open up a coffee and pastry shop somewhere near the 27th so he would only have to hear about other people's cases. He had one dead alleged contract killer with a big wad of cash in his pockets and two slugs in his body. Though both Vecchio and Valdone had guns, with the proper permits of course, neither of them had been fired recently and the ammo they used did not match the bullets in the corpse. Besides, Drake had been shot from the top of the building and not street level. A rookie could see that. And they had the Mountie as a witness. All of which meant that after taking their statements, Huey had to let Vecchio and Valdone go.
Back at the station, Huey had to contend with his boss, Lieutenant Welsh, his partner, the press, and ADA Mary Wilson. Not one of them were happy campers and seemed to make it their personal mandate to make sure that Jack was also not happy.
After completing his share of the paperwork, the Mountie had gone silent. Huey hadn't known the man could be quiet if he was still conscious. After a bit, Vecchio showed up, collected the man, and took him back to his home.
Huey wasn't quite at his wit's end. He had a few ideas to follow up on. All he needed was a break in the madness to get to them.
Joey hadn't jumped on the Mountie to keep him from getting killed out of some weird hope of getting Ray's attention. It hadn't occurred to him. He just didn't want his best friend to have to see the idiot have his negligible brains splattered all over that alley. Valdone's coat was a present from Ray, a bullet-resistant garment that covered him from neck to ankles. All Fraser had was his Shield of Canadian Righteousness [TM], which was not actually bulletproof, though he acted like it was.
So without trying to, Joey had done exactly the right thing to end up naked and moaning in his bed as Ray's strong hands massaged his shoulders, back, and ass. 'This is Ray touching me. Ray, my love, touch me. Touch me all over. Make me cum, my beautiful Ray.'
He could do it. He knew he could. If it was Ray touching his ass like this he wouldn't tighten up. He wouldn't fight. 'Please Ray, just keep going. Keep giving me pleasure. I'm almost there. So close. So close.'
Ray's thumbs brushed the crack of Joey's ass as his hands rode the crest of Joey's asscheeks. Valdone could see Ray parting his cheeks and swirling his tongue around the hole. 'Yeah, Ray, that's so good. Tongue me, Ray. All around. All round.'
Joey was leaking as he imagined the soft sounds Ray would be making as his tongue probed Joey's hole. Joey would go up on his knees. 'Yeah, Ray, I'm your bitch. I'm on my knees for you, Ray.' Joey was actually whimpering as he imagined Ray pushing his cheeks even further apart. First a thumb and then two fingers would replace the tongue. And then Ray's big cock would skewer him.
Joey's erection vanished and the sexy scene dissolved like spilled salt left in the rain. He turned over as Ray directed him by the pressure of his hands and presented a thoroughly uninterested cock and flat nipples. As bad as that was, it was made worse by the expression on Ray's face.
"Oh, damn," Joey moaned despite himself. "Ray, I--I--"
"It's okay, Joey," Ray replied, even though Joey hadn't finished the sentence. Ray covered up Joey and got off the bed. He turned off the lights. "Goodnight. Get some sleep. We have a lot to do tomorrow." Vecchio exited the room and closed the door.
Joey could stick his gun in his mouth and pull the trigger. Ray had been there, hands on Joey's naked body, and the invitation had been in his eyes, but Joey had been so horrified at the thought of being penetrated that he had shut down. It was as if someone had dropped gallons and gallons of freezing water on his body.
Ray had thought it was a reaction to his invitation, and Joey had been too frozen up to tell the man the truth. "Ray, it's not you, it's me. I'm scared." Joey dialed Ray's private number.
"Hello?" Ray inquired.
"I was enjoying it, Ray. God, I was. But I got scared," Joey confessed. "Please, Ray, please give me another chance," he begged. 'Don't go to the Mountie,' he almost added.
"All this time you've been giving me the come hither looks. Since Irene died you've hardly left my side. I've seen you looking at me, heard you whispering things when you thought I was asleep, and felt you taking my hand when I was at my lowest." Ray sighed. "Everything you did said you wanted me."
"I did and I do, Ray," Joey swore. "What happened... the way I reacted... It was a mistake."
"It was my mistake," Ray said firmly. "I crossed the line I should have avoided altogether."
"No, Ray, there is no line you can't cross with me," Joey swore.
"Apparently there is, Joey. Maybe your body is trying to tell you something your head won't admit." Ray sighed. "Damn, man, you looked at me like you thought I was going to gut you. I don't think I can get that image out of my mind."
Joey closed his eyes and tried to see those moments from Ray's perspective. Joey had all but humped the mattress until, just as he was rolling over to look into Ray's eyes, the image of being penetrated by the other man's cock rolled through his head. "I'm afraid of being fucked," Joey blurted.
"I'm guessing you mean that in the literal and not the figurative sense, right?" Ray asked, his voice surprisingly flat.
"Yeah," Joey responded quickly. "Frannie says I have power issues."
"You discussed this with my baby sister?" Ray asked horrified.
"She's my best friend after you, Ray," Joey explained, "and I couldn't discuss this with you."
Vecchio sighed. "I guess you couldn't," Ray admitted. He was silent and Joey held his breath waiting for the next words. "I'm going to bed. See you in the morning, Joey."
"Goodnight, Ray. I love you," Joey added. He'd said it before but only after a suitable number of beers had been consumed and men could brush off those kinds of statements, but he was stone-cold sober right now. Sober, naked, and limp like ninety-year-old man.
"Thanks, Joey," Ray replied before closing the line.
He didn't say it back, but Ray had just been physically rejected by Joey. Hell, Joey wouldn't call a woman back who had given him the kind of look that must have been on his face.
Damn, this was fucked up.
It took the Canadian Embassy less than five hours to track Ben down after the shooting. They would have received a copy of the police report concerning his involvement in the shooting of Frankie Drake. As a Canadian police officer and future member of the Embassy staff, his presence warranted that the Embassy be notified. That was exceptionally good police work considering he hadn't bothered to tell them where he was after he'd left the hospital or to even to check to see if he had any messages.
He was summoned. Mild protests about him being on leave were quickly pushed aside as only a seasoned bureaucrat could do. The Liaison Officer, Inspector Moffett, wanted Ben in his office at nine in the morning sharp Monday to explain himself to both him and Superintendent Mark Gerrard, one of Robert Fraser's, Ben's father, closest friends. What Gerrard was doing in Chicago was quite a puzzle.
The family was up and the good-hearted bickering had already begun in either the family room or the kitchen by the distance of their voices. Ben was guessing the family room since the kitchen had a hard floor and the family room was carpeted. Gayle seemed to be about to, as Ray put it, "invite half the hormone-driven horde" to the house for lunch, while Ray "might as well send Gayle to the convent" by keeping her friends away. The conversation then degenerated into Italian and Fraser couldn't understand enough of the words to follow the conversation.
Chiding himself for sleeping so late, Ben walked into the bathroom, stripped out of his shorts and climbed into the shower. With his hands nice and soapy, Ben imagined Ray walking into the bathroom, stripping off his clothes, and climbing in with him. "Ray, Ray," he moaned as the other man's large hands caressed him, becoming more and more possessive with each touch. "Oh yes," he encouraged.
Ray would be gentle yet his mere presence would be overwhelming to Ben. "You want me don't you, Benny?" he would ask/demand.
"Yes, I want you, Ray," Ben would confess in his weakened state. "I want you so bad, Ray."
"How bad?" Ray would demand as he rubbed his body against Ben. "How bad do you need it?"
"God please," Ben would whimper.
"Say it," Ray would insist.
This was Ben's weakness, for as much as he did love to talk, there were so many things he found hard to say.
"Say it," Ray would repeat.
"Take me, Ray. Mount and ride me to heaven," Ben begged as his hand pumped furiously at his cock.
"Take your hand off your cock, Benny," Ray ordered. "I don't want you to cum yet."
Fraser froze. He slowly looked over his shoulder with his heart beating so hard he feared he might collapse. Ray was standing in the bathroom. He was fully dressed, but his pants were unzipped and his cock was starting to peek out.
"Ray?" Ben inquired as he turned around. "How long have you been standing there?"
"Long enough, Benny," Ray answered. "I called out to you to make sure you hadn't fallen down in here. When you didn't answer, I walked in to check on you." His voice didn't sound smug, shocked, or even annoyed. "Were you offering?"
Ben nodded, afraid to speak for fear of gibbering like an idiot. Any thought that this vision of Ray was yet another manifestation of his overactive imagination ended when Ray took the showerhead, rinsed the soap off Ben's body, turned off the water, and helped him out of the shower. The other man's hands were too real to be part of some fevered imagining.
"You've done this before, right?" Ray asked.
"Yes," Ben answered simply. He was too much of a gentleman to give names, places, or even a general count of his partners.
"I haven't. Do you have stuff with you?" Ray asked. His voice sounded husky and dangerous.
"In my kit," Ben answered.
Somehow they got into the bedroom and Ben retrieved condoms and lube from his bag. Ben placed a large towel on the bed to absorb the water from his still-wet body and went on his back with his legs spread wide.
"I'm big," Ray warned as he stripped down.
"I could tell," Ben admitted. In other words, he had been looking over the banquet of the man from the moment he'd laid eyes on Ray.
"No promises," Ray said as he rolled a condom onto his generous erection. "It's been a while and I might not last."
Ben nodded. He didn't care, he could finish himself as long as Ray stayed close enough to touch and smell.
Ray put too much lube on his fingers and pressed them inside Ben. Ben humped up on those fingers and smiled. He looked between his legs and witnessed Ray's erection pointing back at him and noticed that it was even larger than he'd hoped.
"Let me," Ben insisted as he gripped the other man's cock and guided the head into himself. Ray was thick and long and barely made it past Ben's restrictive ring of muscle. Taking a deep breath, Ben pushed out and accepted only a quarter of Ray's length.
"Damn you're tight," Ray hissed. "A good tight," he added quickly.
"Thank you kindly," Ben replied as he relaxed. Throwing back his head, he pushed up and more of Ray's magnificent cock slid home. "Oh yeah," he moaned.
Ray leaned over him now. His smile was brilliant and those gorgeous green eyes were firmly fixed on Ben's face. "You've got one hot ass, Benny," he informed Fraser.
"It'll be hotter in a minute," Ben promised. "Use your weight and come on in."
"You Canadians are so polite," Ray teased. He did something Ben hadn't hoped for, he kissed him. Ray kissed Ben. Not a soft kiss, but a strong one with tongue. He pulled back, then lowered his face beside Ben's. Ray's hips pumped forward with far more thrust than Ben had thought the other man capable of producing.
Ben almost shouted. He felt very, very full, but Ray's balls were still not touching him. "Do it, Ray. Just go for it."
Ray pulled back, slid more in, pulled almost all the way out, then lunged forward with a power thrust that made his balls slap Ben's ass. "Like that?" he asked, holding perfectly still.
"Yes, I like that," Ben moaned helplessly. Ray might not be the only man who didn't last long.
A tremble passed along Ray's body that translated into a strong vibration and finally into a series of full-length thrusts. The mattress was strong and didn't squeak, the box springs were well made and did not give out their secret, and Ben buried his mouth into Ray's shoulder to keep from howling out loud and summoning unneeded help.
Bingo, Ray found the spot. "That's it," Ben said into the smaller man's shoulder. He flopped back so he could watch Ray's beautiful face.
Some men closed their eyes the first time they're with another man, others found a spot over or beside your face to stare at. Ray was looking him in the eyes. He hardly blinked as he fucked Ben to an orgasm that nearly made him buck Ray off. But Ray wasn't going anywhere. He continued to pile on the pleasure, stroke after stroke, until Ben was going to have to beg for mercy. It was too much. It was too good. It was going to make him get it up again.
Ray had been holding onto Ben's ankles, but he moved his hands to grip Ben's nipples. He twisted and kneaded them as if he'd read Ben's secret instruction manual. "Oh damn," Ben swore as he thrust up to meet Ray's strokes.
Ray jammed three fingers into his mouth and groaned around them as he came. His muscles tightened as he managed four more thrusts before lowering Ben's legs. "Sweet," Ray declared. He gave Ben another kiss, then another and another. Ben was almost breathless from those kisses as Ray extracted his still surprisingly firm member from Fraser's happy ass.
"Thank you for giving me your first time," Ben sighed. "I'll never forget it."
"You're welcome," Ray replied. He helped Ben to his feet and guided him back into the bathroom. The two of them climbed into the shower. "Are you expecting any trouble at the Consulate tomorrow?" Ray asked as he adjusted the showerhead's spray.
"Not really," Ben answered as the welcomed water washed away the physical evidence of their earlier activities. "I think they're more likely to be upset because I haven't informed them of my activities since I arrived."
"What business is it of theirs?" Ray asked. "It's not like they've done a thing to help you." He soaped up a shower mitt and used it on Ben's back.
"They may consider it a courtesy to let them know the progress of my case and if there had been any progress at all," Ben tried to explain.
Ray made a dismissive noise. "I wouldn't let them get away with it, Benny. According to what you told me, they were too quick to label your father's death an accident. Now they've got egg on their face. Bureaucrats hate being proven wrong, even if they weren't the ones who made the call."
Ben sighed. "You're right." He sighed again, but this time not in agitation. Ray was washing his ass. Actually, he was playing with it like he intended to fuck Ben again right up against the tiles. Ben would probably fall down, but was game if the other man had the stamina. "Mmmmm."
"I didn't hurt you at all, did I?" Ray asked, his voice touched with a kind of joy.
"Not at all," Ben promised. "You were wonderful."
Ray kissed the back of Ben's neck. "Thank you." He stepped aside letting more water hit Ben's back. "We'd better get a move on if we want some breakfast."
The two men hurried through their shower and dressing.
Ben wanted to sit in Ray's lap and feed him, but that would have been awkward with the man's daughter and Valdone also at the table. He wondered if Ray ever had any time to himself.
"Are you staying for lunch, Joey?" Gayle asked. They had been conversing for some time, but Ben had been too busy watching Ray and dreaming of his mouth.
"No, I'm taking my parents out for dinner, which means I have to spend a couple of hours hearing about all the eligible young ladies in their church in need of a good husband, i.e. me," Joey answered.
"Why don't you tell them you're marrying Aunt Frannie?" Gayle suggested.
"I can't marry Frannie," Joey protested, "she's my best friend. Who would I lament to about my tragic love life if I married my best friend?"
"If you married Frannie you wouldn't have a tragic love life," Gayle countered. "She's hot and you know it."
"Agatha Gayle Vecchio," Ray boomed, "you will not speak about your aunt that way."
"Dad, you promised you wouldn't call me that in front of company," Gayle accused as she gazed back at Ray with the same look of exasperation. "Besides you know I'm right. Aunt Frannie would be the perfect woman for Joey. She'd have you straightened out in a week."
"I don't want to be straightened out," Joey replied, looking hurt. "Don't you love me the way I am?"
"Of course I do," Gayle insisted while patting his hand. "But you're not happy this way."
"Yes, I am," Joey replied indignantly. "If I married, I wouldn't be able to blow my generous salary on wine, women, and song."
"Two out of three," Gayle replied cryptically.
Ray cleared his throat. "Joey's supposed debauchery is not a subject for the table. Neither is your aunt's 'hotness'."
Gayle turned to Ben. "Are you staying for lunch, Constable?" she asked. "I'd love for my friends to meet you."
"You'd better wear your chastity belt, Benny," Ray warned. "They're still worked up over the Boyz II Men concert."
"I'll protect you," Gayle proclaimed.
"In that case, I wouldn't miss it," Benton promised.
"Good," Ray said firmly. "I'd like you to join me in my study for a private chat, Benny."
"Yes, sir," Ben replied automatically. Fraser caught the hard expression in Valdone's eyes. The two men looked at each other. He thought of himself as a pretty good reader of eyes. 'He should be mine,' Valdone's eyes said plainly. He hoped his eyes said 'Then why weren't you in his arms?'.
The moment ended and Joey turned his attention back to Gayle. Fraser couldn't read her expression as she looked into his eyes. If Gayle were against him, then Benton Fraser could pack up his condoms and move along. It was a boundary he couldn't and wouldn't cross.
Breakfast was over and this time Fraser managed to help with the dishes. He didn't know the songs and hadn't a clue who most of the people they were discussing were, but he was with Ray and part of his family and that was good enough.
"I need to take Diefenbaker for a walk," Benton announced after they'd put away the last of the dishes. Dief whined, knowing Benton fully intended to exercise him and not just let him relieve himself.
"I'll go with you," Joey offered.
"Nonsense, Joey," Ray interrupted. "I know you want to get your Sunday off started. You run along. I've got this covered." He patted the larger man on the shoulder and whispered something into Valdone's ear.
Valdone closed his eyes as if he were in pain. He plastered a strained smile on his face. "Well... I'll see you later this evening. Have a good day, everyone." Valdone walked away, spine straight, strides purposeful, and looking like he'd taken a blow to the stomach.
Ray retrieved his and Ben's coats while Fraser sweet-talked Diefenbaker into his collar and leash. For an animal used to harness, Dief certainly resented the collar and leash.
"Let's head east," Ray suggested as they stepped out onto the front steps.
"Okay," Ben agreed readily. It was a brisk fall day with threatening clouds, but the sidewalks were still busy with people taking walks, pushing baby carriages, and children awkwardly riding bikes. Several packs of power walkers overtook them as they strolled at a more sedate pace.
"Do you think they'll try to send you back to Canada?" Ray asked as they went through the gate to a small park.
"They might recall me for an official investigation, but it shouldn't affect my posting to the Consulate," Ben answered.
"Look out for a friend who offers you something you almost can't refuse," Ray warned. "Someone will want to control you. They'll want to put you where they can limit your opportunities to continue your investigation. They played his murder off too much for someone high up not to have known what was going on."
"I was offered a posting to the consulate in France," Benton blurted. "At the time I thought it had to be a favor because of my father."
"Did you want to go to France?" Ray asked.
"Honestly, I'd never considered it before. I speak the language and have some understanding of the customs. A posting to such an important place could only help my career which has been somewhat stagnant."
"I was going to ask you about that. You're a constable but not exactly a kid. Shouldn't you be at least a sergeant by now?"
Fraser fidgeted. "Taking posts in very small stations severely limited my opportunities for advancement. Which was fine. I liked being in the field much more than being behind a desk."
"And a sergeant should spend some time behind the desk every week," Ray interpreted.
"Exactly," Ben agreed.
"But a consulate job has got to be more ceremonial than anything, Benton," Ray insisted. "It's not like we have any hostility between our two countries. Outside the ice hockey arena, that is."
Ben smiled. "There was that ugly incident back in 1812."
"But we learned our lesson and never came back," Ray reminded him. "I'm just warning you that you have enemies and reminding you that you have friends."
"Is Valdone a friend or an enemy?" Ben asked. He needed to know where he stood with Valdone. The man was dangerous and when push came to shove, Ray couldn't afford to choose Ben, a virtual stranger, over his right-hand man.
"He thinks he wants something, but when the opportunity presented itself, his reaction was less than favorable," Ray stated. "That's all I can say about that."
"I understand," Ben responded, "about the being unable to talk about it. You're a gentleman."
Ray grinned. "Yes, I am. You may hear different, but that's more of a legacy than the truth." He paused. "Do you understand?"
"Yes, I do, Ray," Benton responded. "I tend to judge people on their actions."
Ray nodded. "Good." The two men walked in companionable silence until they came to a grouping of chestnut trees.
Fraser released Diefenbaker and allowed the wolf to race around the open area in front of them. Despite his protests, Dief needed the exercise. Too much sitting around while indulging in human treats was bad for his constitution. The wolf twirled and let three frisky Golden Retriever pups give him a hard chase. The four dogs tumbled around then rushed over to the lovely young woman who had been handling the pups. Dief accepted some praise from the woman before taking off like a white streak toward Ray and Benton.
"Afraid we were heading to the coffee shop without you?" Ray asked the panting wolf. Diefenbaker leaned on Ray's leg and gazed up adoringly at him. "You just ate, you mooch," he complained. "Besides, Gayle is going to fill the house with treat-dropping teenagers. You need to save some room."
"You really shouldn't bribe him, Ray," Fraser admonished.
Ray chuckled. "I'm just telling him the truth, Benny. Teenagers equal mess. I ought to know, I'm on my third one." He leaned down over Diefenbaker. "Now go do your business so Benny can use this scooper if you drop it on the sidewalk." He handed the device and a white trashbag to Benton. "I wouldn't dream of coming between you and your wolf during this intimate moment."
Naturally the wolf went on the sidewalk. Benton scooped up Diefenbaker's waste and deposited it into the bag and then dropped the bag into the designated receptacle. While he was attending that duty, two beautiful women flanked Ray. One was just below average height, well-rounded, with a peaches and cream complexion and short gray-shot black hair and the second one was taller, thinner, with a wasp-thin waist and long blonde hair.
"No, I do not want you to chase them off. Ray isn't my mate," Fraser insisted.
Dief whined accusingly.
"I know you can smell him on me, but we've only just met," Fraser tried to explain. "It's different for humans."
Diefenbaker huffed, then trotted over to plant himself beside Ray. Though Ray continued to talk to the women, he reached down and petted the wolf's head. Fraser stayed back, willing the women to leave, and finally they did.
"Why didn't you come back?" Ray asked.
"I didn't want to interrupt you and your friends," Fraser answered.
Ray waved his hands, instantly dismissing Ben's statement. "They weren't friends, just neighbors. Agnes wanted me to meet her niece, Sheila, who's staying with her." He paused. "I never knew there were so many single women in the neighborhood, but I seem to meet a new one almost every day."
The man hadn't a clue. Both women had been panting and wetting their panties over Ray while he spoke to them. They probably only left to wring out their underwear before they caught a cold.
"You're too shy. We need to work on that," Ray insisted as he placed his hand in what Fraser hoped was a possessive manner on Ben's ass and propelled him along.
Dief huffed at Benton's obvious beta male position, but Fraser refused to acknowledge him. He remained silent all the way back to the house.
"So what are we having for lunch?" Ray asked as they walked into the kitchen.
Gayle was extracting pans, spices, and ingredients while checking a recipe in a well-worn leather-bound book. "Ravioli di Castagne e Treviso, a salad, and a strawberry sorbet," Gayle answered. "You might have to hold my hand."
"That's a chestnut and radicchio ravioli, Benny," Ray explained. "You'll love it."
"Did you learn to cook from your mother?" Benton asked.
Gayle threw back her head and laughed. Ray just chuckled.
"Mom couldn't boil water without major trauma," Gayle reported. "We would have starved to death if it weren't for Dad and our grandmothers."
"The kids were cooking for her while they were still quite small," Ray remembered. "RJ was still using a step stool when he started cooking."
Fraser smiled because he could almost feel the emotion coming off the other man. Emotional scenes normally made him nervous, but this was nothing but good memories and emotions. "That must have been very nice for you."
"The kid was a menace. RJ could spread flour over most of the city from a single bag, but I never tried to stop him from trying." Ray shook his head and kissed his daughter. "My kids... I can't wait to torment you all via the grandchildren."
"Deliver me," Gayle begged.
"Come on, Fraser, I want to talk to you in the study," Ray summoned.
"Uh-oh, Benton. I hope you don't get spanked," Gayle teased.
Benton knew he was red-faced.
"Don't worry, Benny," Ray soothed as he pulled him along. "I never spanked my kids. I never believed in spanking kids. It teaches them very little but violence. On the other hand, adults..." he grinned at Benton and wiggled his eyebrows, which made Fraser blush all the harder.
The study turned out to be on the second floor, with one end occupying the rounded space above the dining room. It was directly across from the master suite and seemed to form an adults' wing with the other large suite. The room was long and narrow when compared to that length, with hardwood floors, wood paneling, built-in bookshelves, two couches, three reading chairs, a large ornate wooden desk, and a high-backed, black leather executive chair sitting behind the desk.
It was a very comfortable-looking room. The most commanding part of the room, besides Ray, was three portraits all painted by Irene Z. One was Gayle, who was looking very grown up in a beautiful dress with her currently straight hair generously curled. The other two were of young men, who bore a strong resemblance to Ray.
"Are those your sons?" Ben asked, nodding toward the paintings.
Ray smiled broadly. "My pride and joy," he reported. "This one is of my oldest, RJ or Raymond James." Ray pointed to the painting on the left. The young man was standing in front of a mountain landscape. He had broad shoulders, a slim waist, black-black hair, and Ray's beautiful green eyes. "He's a business major at Yale University."
"He looks a lot like you," Ben noted.
"Nah, he looks like Irene but has my eyes," Ray corrected. "You've met Gayle, my youngest and only daughter, who is the very image of her mother." Ray kind of rocked on his heels as he looked up at the central portrait.
"She has your eyes, your complexion, and your gorgeous mouth," Ben insisted. He lowered his chin when he realized he had told Ray he was gorgeous. Straight men could be very uncomfortable around that kind of talk.
"Thank you, Benny," Ray said sincerely. "This is my beloved middle child, Daniel. He's a math major at Cal Tech." Daniel was dangerously handsome with curly black hair like his mother, Ray's green eyes, Ray's pouty mouth, Ray's complexion, and Irene's nose. In fact all of the children had Irene's nose. It was a pity because Ben had a soft spot for Ray's nose.
Ben turned away from the paintings. "You're a very lucky man, Ray. You have a beautiful, healthy family."
"I've been blessed," Ray responded. He glanced back at the paintings and sighed. "And I've been cursed," Ray added softly. "I wasn't supposed to be alone."
"You're not alone, Ray. You could never be alone if you tried," Ben insisted. He reached out and massaged the other man's shoulders.
"Good ears, Benny. I'll have to remember that." Ray straightened his shoulders and visibly pushed his grief aside. It had only been a year as of two days ago.
Fraser had no idea how long you would mourn a wife and partner. Maybe forever wasn't long enough or maybe a year was too long. The two men moved apart. "Is there something you wanted to discuss with me?" Benton asked, trying not to stand at attention. It was a lost cause.
Ray sat down on the smaller couch, which was facing the desk while the longer one faced the large fireplace. He patted the space beside him. "Yes, there is."
Taking the clue, Ben sat down beside the man he'd made love with just a couple of hours earlier. It was impossible to be this close to Ray and not remember the feel of his hands on Ben's wet skin. "What can I do for you?" Ben asked.
"Kiss me," Ray ordered.
Ben hadn't really meant to pounce the man and kiss him until they were both moaning, but that's what happened. He also hadn't really meant to strip them both naked and settle between Ray's thighs to feast on his large cock, but that happened too.
"Yeah, Benny, that's so good," Ray moaned softly. "God, you've got a hot mouth."
Ben was loving the way Ray tasted, loved hearing the man's voice as he moaned Fraser's name, and was about to cum from just the feel of the man's hands in his hair. Ray had such a possessive, yet still gentle, grip on his head.
"That's it, Benny. Yeah, yeah, yeah," Ray encouraged. "Back off a bit, I want to last."
Ben removed his mouth from Ray's cock and went down to caress and suck the man's large balls. A friend of his referred to big balls like this as "baby-makers". For Ray that was certainly true. He rubbed his cheeks across Ray's thighs then up onto the smaller man's firm, flat stomach. Nice definition. He hadn't exactly been in a position to notice and approve of this earlier.
The hair continued up across Ray's chest to surround his dark nipples. Benton licked across them, delighting in the hitch in the other man's voice as Ray attempted to say something. It didn't matter. Not when there was an unmolested neck just above his current location.
Ben licked his way around Ray's throat, chin, and finally back onto those beautiful lips. Ray's arms came around him and squeezed him tightly. His right hand cupped and gripped Ben's ass.
"Harder," Ben begged against Ray's lips. "Really hard."
Both of Ray's hands descended on Ben's ass and kneaded the flesh. Every time they managed to part the cheeks, Benton would moan wantonly. It was like he had no control while Ray was mauling his body.
Ray pulled his delicious mouth away and pressed their noses together. "Do you want to fuck?" he asked.
"Sweet Jesus, yes," Benton assured him.
"Roll over on your back," Ray ordered as he stood up. "I want to look at you."
Ben did as ordered, hoping that for once he was as handsome as people pretended he was.
Ray touched him from nose to toes and then back up to nipples. He played with them, his face set in a mixture of awe and concentration. Then he kissed the head of Ben's cock while working the foreskin back and forth. It took everything Ben had not to cum in the man's hand. He trembled with the effort.
"You can cum," Ray assured him. "It won't end the fun." Ray's right hand gripped Ben more firmly while his left teased his balls and asshole. A single finger penetrated him all the way to the second knuckle and Ben blew cum like Old Faithful. "That's good, Benny. You looked wonderful while you were cumming. Now roll over and put your ass up."
Ben did as ordered and moaned softly as Ray patted his ass. "Do you need lube and condoms?" he asked.
"No, I have some now," Ray responded.
Fraser replayed the morning in his mind, the part after the morning workout, and remembered Greg, one of Ray's men, leaving early and returning with a small bag. Ray must have sent him for lube and condoms. That meant he planned to fuck Ben again right from the first. That was good to know.
Ray was scissoring his fingers inside Ben's tight chute. "I thought you'd never done this," Ben inquired.
"I've seen it done several times," Ray reported. "I didn't think I'd be doing it."
Of course not. Ray was planning on being with Irene for the rest of his life. Ben lowered his head to the couch and tried not to think about Irene and whether or not she would approve of Ben offering up his ass on her couch. Maybe she would. Maybe she would even paint their portrait.
Ray slid home like the Major Leaguer he was meant to be. Ben howled into the cushions and kicked his feet as Ray fucked him into insanity.
"Squeeze down," Ray ordered as he gave Ben's ass a light smack. "That's it." He experimented with different thrust angles and speeds until he found two or three that had Ben writhing underneath him like a textbook nymphomaniac.
"Gawd, gawd, gawd," Ben begged into the cushions. Fraser almost wept from the joy of cumming on this man's cock and from feeling Ray's release.
"Oh Benny, that was the thing," Ray declared. He lay across Fraser's back and kissed a small circle pattern onto his neck. "I want to look at you again." Ray pulled out and helped Fraser to turn onto his back. "Very pretty," Ray promised. His expression was soft as he traced Ben's lips with two fingers. He leaned down and kissed away any stupid statements or inappropriate questions Benton could have used to ruin the supreme moment.
The two men snuggled on the couch feeling very content.
Joey asked the front desk to announce him to Francesca so that she would allow him to come up to her place. "Elevator two," the guard directed.
Valdone waited while the elevator was programmed to go to Frannie's floor. It would only go there and wouldn't continue to another floor, except the lobby level, unless Joey got off on that floor. Frannie required a high level of security. She had constant contact with famous people, the public knew that, and some felt to get to Frannie was almost as good as getting to the celebrity. There had been incidents that in the old days would have required a few bullets and the careful application of cement. They had been settled with restraining orders and Frannie moving into a secure building.
Despite the size of the building, there were only eight apartments on this floor and only four on the three floors above. When she gained full ownership of the spa, Frannie was threatening to sell her current place and move another floor up. Joey felt that was far too much money to pay for an apartment, even with Chicago's exaggerated housing costs.
Joey had his nerve showing up on her doorstep on a Sunday morning, which was also known as Frannie's time. She worked hard Monday through Friday, spent part of her Saturday with her family, and could most often be found at the family home for Sunday dinner, leaving Sunday morning exclusively as her personal time not dedicated to anyone else. But Joey needed his best buddy now that he was losing his other best friend.
Frannie opened the door and Joey's jaw dropped. Gayle's declaration that Frannie was hot raced through his mind. She was wearing a red sleeveless gown-like thing that had a heart-shaped neckline, a flimsy overlay of silvery lace, and a figure hugging satiny under thing. She was balanced on silver high heels and had her hair up to expose her long neck, a Vecchio trait. "Joey, I know this is going to be worth interrupting my fun."
Joey sniffled. "I blew it, Frannie. He was right there touching me and offering me everything. All I had to do was take it." Valdone choked. "He held out his love to me, Frannie and I slapped it away."
"Damn, Joey," Frannie groaned in sympathy. "Go into my office and wait. I need to send my company away."
"Thank you, Frannie," Joey said gratefully. He headed to Frannie's study and sprawled out on the couch. He fully planned not to snoop in on Frannie's closely guarded personal life until he heard raised voices.
"You promised," the man whined. "I've waited for two months for this date."
"Alan, this is a family thing and I have obligations," Frannie replied calmly. "Now be a good boy and run along."
Joey peeked out to get a look at Alan. He was tall, well built, eerily pretty, with coal black hair, black eyes, and the kind of bronzed complexion that immediately tagged him as an exotic. Frannie definitely had good taste in men.
"I've waited so long, Francesca. Don't do this to me," Alan begged with a slightly European accent.
"Toy, heel," Frannie commanded. Instantly, Alan kneeled on the floor. He crossed his ankles and put his hands behind him. "You have offended me, Toy, and you will now serve my guest as if he were me."
"He?" Alan croaked.
"He," Frannie said firmly. "You will serve him or leave this apartment never to return."
Alan lowered his gorgeous head. "I will serve," he replied meekly.
Oh man that was hot. Frannie was less than half the guy's size, but she had him on his knees and fearful of her disapproval.
Frannie walked across the living room and into the office. She almost stumbled into Joey, who couldn't bring himself to stop watching the other man. "I should spank you for spying," she warned.
"Someone needs to beat me," Joey admitted as he threw himself back onto the couch.
Frannie sat down beside him. "Start from the beginning."
"We came up on Drake and the Mountie chased him down to the alley and knocked him off his feet with a thrown trashcan lid." Joey rubbed his forehead because it hurt. "Then a sniper takes Drake out from the rooftop. The fool Mountie decides to climb up, unarmed thank you, to go after the guy. I threw myself on him to keep him from getting his melon exploded."
"That was very dangerous, Joey. You could have been hurt," Frannie reminded him, as if he hadn't thought of it himself.
Joey nodded. "I just didn't want Ray to see that. Not so close to the anniversary... I mean he's got to be thinking about Irene. Maybe that's why he came to my room."
Frannie leaned closer, her voice was soft and comforting. "Tell me about it, Joey. Tell me about Ray and you."
"He walked into my room after doing that rapid fire knock of his." Joey smiled in remembrance. "I told him to come in. I was just out of the shower, my hair was still damp, and my nipples were hard because I'd been playing with them."
"While thinking of Ray," Frannie suggested.
"Yeah. I thought about him leaning over me and sucking on them, one after the other, back and forth, harder and harder, until--" Joey stopped, remembering who he was talking to. "Sorry," he mumbled.
"Don't apologize," she insisted. "I just want to see why this went so wrong and you're here and not with Ray."
Joey took a long, deep breath and let it out slow. "He had massage oil and that smile. You know the one. That smile he always wore for Irene after he said 'Come here' to her."
"I know the one," Frannie assured him.
"Yeah, but it wasn't Irene he was smiling at or for, he was smiling at me." Joey lowered his chin. "I dropped my towel when he said he'd come to give me a massage."
"Did you hesitate to lay out for him?" she asked, obviously setting the scene in her mind.
"Not at all," Joey swore. "I was so eager I nearly bounced off the mattress."
Frannie grinned. "Okay, I can see that. Go on."
Joey leaned his head back and closed his eyes. The entire scene replayed in his mind as he spoke. "His hands were magic on my body, Frannie. I was almost fucking the bed by the time he made it to my thighs. I even parted my legs for him."
"So what made you stop?" she asked when he didn't go on.
"He was working my ass, not even touching my hole or telling me he was going to fuck me, but I started seeing him do it. Not at first. First I imagined him tonguing me, then his fingers, and that was all good."
Frannie touched him for the first time. Her hand, strong and feminine at the same time, touched his stomach and soothed away the butterflies there. "I won't judge you, Joey. You know that. Tell me."
"Instead of just enjoying the fact that it was Ray who was giving me such pleasure, I started seeing that big dick of his going in me and I panicked. I just shut down. He rolls me over and I'm as limp as someone who's been dead for months." Joey covered his face with his hands as the shame overtook him. "Frannie, you should have seen his face. God, even now I can see the shock and hurt I put there. God, Frannie, I wanted to die. I just wanted to die."
Frannie pulled Joey's head into her lap and ran her fingers lightly through his hair. "What did you tell him?"
"I babbled something before he left the room looking and sounding like he'd been gutted," Joey reported. "I finally found my balls and called him on his cell. I apologized and tried to explain what happened. He wasn't interested."
"You're going to have to give Ray some time," Frannie informed him. "You struck him in the pride."
"That's it, Frannie, I don't have any more time. He fucked the Mountie this morning." Joey sobbed.
"He did?" Frannie asked, shocked.
"He went into the man's bedroom and he was in there for a long time--"
"Which doesn't mean they fucked," Frannie interrupted.
"His hair was damp and he'd washed off his cologne," Joey reported. "And Fraser had that just fucked look to his walk."
Frannie took a deep breath. "Okay, Joey, it isn't over yet. Ray was ready to be with a man who he happens to love and he was rejected. Then he fell into bed with the first willing piece of ass he came across. He loves you. He's hurt and he's mad as hell at you, but he still loves you," she insisted.
"This morning Ray told me he didn't want to look at me for a while, but he wasn't sending me away," Joey countered.
"What did he say next?" she demanded. "I know my brother. What he said next is the important part."
Joey nodded in agreement. She did know her brother. "He said that Monday was going to be busy and not to have too much fun tonight. So it's business as usual at Casa Vecchio."
"See, you're still in the fold, Joey. He still loves you," Frannie insisted. "You're family."
He smiled. "Gayle told me that I needed to marry you and Ray only protested because she said you were hot," Joey reported.
"I am hot," Frannie replied. "Nuclear, in fact."
"You certainly have some pretty men begging at your feet," Joey remarked.
"I have appeal," she admitted. "Now go in the bathroom to wash your face, then join us in the master bedroom," Frannie ordered. And Joey had thought that Ray could order people around.
"What am I going to do in the bedroom with you and Mr. Atlas?" Joey asked even though he knew he would obey her.
"You're going to start working on your fear of man-to-man intimacy with Toy," she explained, but didn't really.
"He's bisexual?" Joey asked, knowing Frannie wouldn't waste her time with a gay man.
"Yes and another confirmed top." She sighed. "Why is my life filled with men who are tops?"
"You always have Tony," Joey reminded her, referring to her brother-in-law. "Maria has him pussy-whipped."
"And he loves it," she reminded him. "Now go wash your face," Frannie ordered.
Joey walked into the half-bath and let the water run in the sink for a bit before scooping up two handfuls and washing his face. He'd been crying and his eyes were bloodshot. 'Did I make Ray cry?' he suddenly thought. Since he would have beaten anyone else who had made Ray cry into the dirt, that was a very uncomfortable question. "What is wrong with you, Joseph Valdone?" he asked himself again.
He'd been in love with Ray since they were teenagers. It was like his whole sexual life had led up to that supreme moment and he had failed. Utter and total failure. Perhaps he'd damaged their relationship for life. Maybe eventually Ray would forgive them and they could try again. Or maybe he and the Mountie would be a couple until the Canadian was sent back to the igloo. Maybe this would eat Joey from the inside out and leave him hollow.
Valdone turned off the water and dried his face and hands. It was time to face the music in every area of his life. Squaring his shoulders, he left the bathroom and made his way to Frannie's master bedroom.
He knew where it was because he'd helped Frannie move. That was the last time he'd been in her bedroom. Frannie walked a fine line between best buddy and lust object. Hanging out in her bedroom would blur that line. So when he was at her apartment, Joey stuck to the public rooms and kept his lustful thoughts in a box marked "do not open".
The box opened on its own when he stepped into the elegant bedroom. The last time he'd been in here, there had been minimal furniture. Frannie had been decorating since then.
The wall behind the bed had a curtain going from corner to corner. Since he knew there were no windows on that wall, his only thought was that the curtain was covering something Frannie didn't want people to see until she was ready for them to see it. That made his overactive imagination go into high gear.
Frannie favored heavier, solid wood, European-style furniture, which was all you found in her home. The bed was a four-poster with poles so thick and heavy that it would take several grown men to move it.
Next to the bed was a set of three matching armoires. At first he thought she must have had a TV and its essentials in it, but due to its placement Frannie would have had to watch the television on her side and that wasn't right. Sure the woman loved clothes, but why did she need three armoires unless it wasn't clothes but other stuff that occupied them. Visions of padded handcuffs danced through his head.
The room was so genteel. From the antique writing desk to the custom lounging couch, it was all about fine fabrics and decorating magazine layouts. Yet Valdone knew that underneath all of this elegance was a more dangerous aspect. Why else would Valdone and not her mother or sister be designated in Frannie's will as the person responsible for packing up her personal belongings, most especially the contents of her bedroom?
Alan was standing beside the bed, already nude and semihard. He was average sized, about five inches now and maybe six when fully erect. What stood out about Alan was his awesome body. The man must have lived in the gym. Joey wanted to ask what he did for a living, but he believed that the etiquette of the situation required him to keep his mouth closed for once.
Francesca was sitting on the couch, which was placed just under the large windows that had a beautiful view of Lake Michigan and the boat slips. Gauzy curtains now muted that view but let in all of the available fall sunlight.
"Joey, you will now be known as 'Boy' and Alan is called 'Toy'. Listen carefully so you do not respond to the wrong name," Francesca advised him. Joey was convinced getting anything wrong would put him on the wrong side of some pain.
"Boy stand in front of Toy and look him in the eyes while you undress. Take off everything," she ordered.
This was going to be awkward. Joey had two guns, a knife, a pair of brass knuckles he'd inherited from his grandfather, and a sap. Yet none of it ruined the line of his clothes. Frannie solved that dilemma by taking his weapons from him and placing them in the drawer of the writing desk. Once he was relieved of his weapons, Joey could return to his assignment of getting naked.
Alan blinked a few times, but he never looked down, up, or away. 'You want to look at my body, Alan. What are you afraid of?' Joey asked mentally.
"Look," Joey mouthed at the other man. "Go ahead."
Alan made the quickest glance possible then returned to looking Joey in the eyes.
"Toy, place your hands on Boy's shoulders," Frannie ordered.
Alan did as directed. He didn't squeeze, knead, or pat.
"Boy, place your hands on Toy's waist," she commanded.
This guy had a thicker waist than his clothes let on and his skin was almost hot to the touch. It was like he was blushing all over.
"Toy, pull Boy closer until your bodies are touching at the nipples," Frannie directed.
Since they were almost exactly the same height, 6' 1", this also meant their cocks would be touching. Joey was surprised to feel that his cock had risen and that Alan was now fully hard.
"Boy, kiss Toy's beautiful mouth. Take your time," she insisted.
Joey knew Frannie was not talking about a quick peck. He kissed Alan the way he should have kissed Ray last night. Naked in the arms of one man and thinking about another. Joey's life had officially breached the borders of the Twilight Zone.
"Caress the back of his head, Toy. Hold it firmly and rub your fingers against his skull."
Joey's hair was thick, so Alan had to get a real good grip on him to actually rub down to his scalp. The man had really strong hands but they were gentle on Joey's head.
"Boy, lower your hands to Toy's ass and squeeze it. Not too hard but be firm."
Alan had a real rounded ass, the classic Bubble Butt, the ads were always promising if you just bought the right exercise equipment. Joey's ass was one slight rise away from a straight highway. He envied Ray his peach-plump little butt.
"Boy, pull Toy's groin tight against yours. I better not be able to put a piece of paper between the two of you," she warned.
Joey did as directed. He wondered how long they'd been kissing and how long they could keep it up.
"Toy, pull back from the kiss and lick the tip of Boy's nose," Frannie demanded. Joey laughed softly when he felt the wet end of the other man's tongue on his nose.
Frannie's voice broke into Joey's consciousness. "Boy and Toy, step apart and move onto the bed. I want both of you on your stomachs, facing the headboard. Lie close together."
The two men did as directed. Joey found himself staring at the headboard as if the expanse of burled walnut was going to give him the next winners at the racetrack.
"On your knees, Boy," Frannie said from close to Joey's ear.
Joey went on his knees and nearly squealed like a schoolgirl when Frannie's hand went around the base of his cock. She placed something around him that was cool but warmed quickly.
"On your knees, Toy," Frannie ordered as she moved around the bed. Joey watched as she wrapped what looked like a tiny belt around the base of the other man's cock. "Lower your head, Toy, and push your ass up further. Boy, turn and face the headboard."
Frannie's voice never went up and her inflection was consistent with asking for the sports section of the newspaper. Yet Joey felt a threat in those words. He faced the headboard.
Alan began to moan and hiss. He panted as if he were working his way through some scary place and he was all alone. Joey reached over and gripped the other man's forearm in what he hoped felt like comfort. Alan's pants slowed then ceased.
"Boy, lower your head and push your ass back," Frannie commanded.
Joey outweighed this woman by almost one hundred pounds. Even naked and unarmed, he could defend himself against her and her muscle-bound friend. None of that would save him from her displeasure. He did as ordered.
A cool substance touched his asshole and was pushed in. Joey yelped. Frannie was pushing some gel-like substance into his hole. Her finger pushed past his backdoor and intruded into his passage. Joey hated going to his doctor because once a year, the man had to do this to him. Now Joey was letting Frannie put her finger in his ass.
Alan gripped his hand and Joey squeezed down on the other man's fingers. This was so scary. He felt... He couldn't put it into words. Scared? Yes. Vulnerable? Yes. Violated? Oh hell yes.
More of the gel was added and the finger was going in to the knuckle and a bit beyond. More lube. More finger. It didn't hurt, it just scared him.
"Don't move, Boy," Frannie commanded with the full spectrum of Vecchio Steel coming across.
Her finger came out and something smooth, warm, and hard came in. "Shit!" Joey protested as his body betrayed him by accepting this intruder and actually sucking it in.
Frannie stepped away. "Stay in position, Boy, and do not speak again unless I ask you a question."
Joey looked to the right at Frannie, shocked to the bone that she would put something in his ass when she knew how he felt about that.
She smiled at him and walked around to the other side of the bed. Joey watched as she caressed Alan's cock and balls. Alan moaned and rocked his head side to side.
Frannie licked Alan's back. "Boy, move under Toy and kiss him."
Joey was already on his back and almost under Alan before he realized what he was doing. He was going under a man. He checked his dick to discover it was still firm. "Why couldn't you stay up when it was Ray?" he asked his cock.
"You're not afraid of my Toy. He doesn't hold your heart. He isn't your fantasy. He isn't the man you've loved since you first understood the concept," Frannie explained. She moved over between the two men and gently touched Joey's cock. "Your head isn't getting in the way of your body."
Joey could only agree as his dick decided to point toward the ceiling like a missile. He moved under Alan and kissed the other man. He felt the bed shift as Frannie moved back behind the man. What she was doing to him, Joey hadn't a clue. All he could tell was that Alan was enjoying it a lot.
"Boy, move back and go onto your knees again. Toy, move under Boy and kiss him." Frannie moved behind Joey and knelt between his legs. Alan clamped his mouth over his and they kissed.
Whatever Frannie had put in his ass was gently removed and something larger was inserted into its place. Joey felt an odd tingle as if Frannie had found some extra special skin to breathe across. It made the hair on the back of Joey's neck stand up and his balls tighten as if they were about to shed their load.
She moved it. Joey nearly giggled because he expected to freak out now and have to explain himself to Ray as he lay in traction after Frannie beat his gibbering butt with a baseball bat.
"Breathe through it," Alan coached against Joey's lips. "It's good if you just feel and don't think."
'Don't think, don't think,' Joey thought to himself. 'Don't think. Feel.'
Joey relaxed into the thrusts letting them tempt him toward orgasm. He felt the lips on his and the tongue investigating his mouth. He felt the surge going through his body. "I'm feeling," he confessed against the other man's mouth.
Frannie did something to his balls and all the blood in his body seemed to rush to his nuts. The joy in his tunnel was suddenly magnified and he came.
"Very good, Boy. Roll over onto your back," Frannie ordered.
Joey moved into position. He was still wary but wasn't feeling as if he were going to lose it.
"Toy, move between Boy's legs and go onto all fours over him." Alan did as Frannie ordered.
Joey had a man who could never be mistaken for Ray over him with his dick hard. 'Make him Ray in your mind,' he told himself. If this had been Ray, Joey would beg the man's forgiveness and open his mouth for Ray's cock. 'Fuck my mouth, Ray.' He could almost feel it as Ray pumped in and out of his mouth.
Alan placed his head on Joey's chest, wrapped his arms around Joey's back, and hugged him tightly as Frannie moved behind him. Joey's eyes nearly fell out of his head as he watched Frannie's hips slamming into Alan's backside.
"You're fucking him," he stated.
"Six strokes for speaking again, Boy," Frannie announced as she continued to hammer into Alan's ass.
Alan squeezed him tighter as he gasped and humped Joey's groin. Joey should have been feeling confined and threatened, instead he was feeling turned on as he witnessed Francesca's power and Alan's submission. He was also seeing Frannie's care and Alan's joy. It was all mixed up together, and it was as confusing as it was exciting.
Then Alan was shouting and squirting cum on Joey's stomach, and it all became clear. Joey held it in his mind, turning it over and looking at it from every side as he helped Alan to sit up. He held it tightly as he was draped across the bed and held in place by Alan while Francesca smacked his ass six times with a wide paddle. Damn, that hurt. You wouldn't think such a tiny woman would have that much arm strength.
Joey showered alone, dressed, and then peeked into the bedroom to say goodbye. Alan and Francesca were cuddled together in the bed and feeding each other strawberries dipped in chocolate. "Thanks, Frannie, I'm heading out now."
"You can stay for a while," Frannie offered.
"Thanks," Joey answered, "but I want to be by myself for a bit before I pick up my parents." He left there to head out to South Holland where he kept a small house. His official residence was Ray's house, but this place was his bolt-hole and stress relief valve.
He sat in the living room with the lights off and La Traviata playing. Joey tried, but he couldn't come up with the perfect way to fix this. He did know that he couldn't let it go.
. . . .
Joey knocked on Ray's bedroom door. Vecchio opened the door just a crack, but Valdone knew that the Mountie was in the big bed. "Just a word, Ray."
Vecchio nodded, then looked over his shoulder. "Don't start without me," he quipped.
Joey led the way into the study and took a seat on the smaller couch. Ray, clad only in his boxers, sat down on the arm of the couch. "I know you're eager to get back to him, so I'll be brief."
"Go on," Ray prompted. It was his impatient voice, which meant the clock was ticking.
"I know you don't believe in us as a couple right now and if I were in your shoes, I wouldn't believe either." Joey took Ray's hands and held them to his chest. "I've loved you a long time, Ray. Here." He pressed their clasped hands against his chest. "And I love you here." He pressed their hands against his head. "I know the sex can be there for us, Ray."
Joey dropped his head back because the speech he'd so carefully practiced was falling apart now that Ray was so near.
"I'm listening," Ray promised. The impatience was gone from his voice and the understanding tone was there. "Talk to me."
"I'm not giving up on us. There can still be an us, Ray. Yeah, he can bottom for you and he's probably damn good in the sack, but he doesn't love you. He can't love you, not yet." Joey kissed the top of Ray's hand. "So I want you to enjoy that pretty boy. He's just warming you up for me, because I'm a long term kind of guy."
Ray cocked his head to the side and his expression was soft. "How do you know I won't fall in love with Benny?" he asked, sounding very serious.
In this Joey was confident. This was that moment of clarity that gave him hope. "Because he doesn't know you. He can't know you, you're too far apart. Dudley-Do-Right can't be at your back like Irene was and I am. He'll never fully understand you."
Ray sighed. "You're probably right."
"I know I'm right," Joey responded.
Ray got to his feet. He was probably getting chilled from hanging around in nothing but his boxers. Joey hugged the man and pressed his cheek against Ray's cock. He kissed Ray's dick through the fabric. "I have to be right," Joey whispered.
Ray's hands descended on Joey's head and stroked his hair. "See you in the morning, Joey. Goodnight."
"Goodnight," Joey responded, giving the man another hug.
Benton arrived in uniform, ten minutes before his scheduled appointment. He was met in the reception area by a young Mountie, R. Turnbull, who looked mere days out of the academy. He was taller, broader, and heavier than Fraser, and had mastered the "phone on the shoulder while typing" trick that still eluded Ben.
"Welcome, Constable Fraser," Turnbull said once he'd hung up the phone. "The Inspector would like you to go right in as soon as you arrive. The Superintendent is with him." Turnbull had the perfect voice for a bureaucrat, soft, melodious, and easily forgettable.
"Thank you," Fraser said before knocking on the Inspector's door.
"Come in," Moffett huffed.
Fraser stepped into the office. Superintendent Gerrard looked like he'd aged since Ben had seen him at his father's funeral. The two men began to talk at once.
"Constable, it would have been a simple courtesy to alert me that you were actively engaged in a local police investigation," Inspector Moffett stated stiffly.
"Benton, I've been worried about you," Superintendent Gerrard stated. "You should have called."
"I was on my own time and had the cooperation and the encouragement of the local police to aid in the investigation of my father's murder," Benton directed at Moffett. "A murder you, Superintendent, insisted did not occur."
For two such talky men, they certainly could get quiet very quickly.
Gerrard was the first to recover. "Well, obviously I was wrong about that. We were all wrong about that. That's why it saddens me to tell you that you're being recalled to Canada to assist us in our investigation into possible police corruption."
"What corruption?" Fraser asked carefully.
"I'm not at liberty to say at the moment, Benton, but we need you back in Canada immediately." Gerrard rose to his feet. "Your flight leaves at six this evening." His face became hard. "I'm sure it won't be necessary for me to have a warrant issued to get you back."
Moffett rose to his feet. "I'm sure you're not accusing Constable Fraser of any impropriety." His statement would have been touching if the man knew him at all, but Fraser was sure it was merely form that forced the man to speak on his behalf.
"Of course not," Gerrard assured him, "but there is little a loyal son wouldn't do for his father or his father's reputation."
Fraser almost grabbed the old man and throttled him. "How dare you," he hissed.
"Don't shoot the messenger, Benton. I could have just called. Instead I came in person because Robert Fraser was my friend for over forty years. Longer than you've been alive." His eyes, already close to dead in appearance, lost even more life as he stared at Ben. "Your investigation can't bring him back, but ours could at least protect what he left." He patted Ben on the shoulder, not realizing how close to death he was walking, and left the office.
"I'm sure it is all a mistake," Moffett said sympathetically. "Is there anything I can do to help you get ready to return to Canada?" It was an offer that he didn't expect Ben to take him up on, Fraser knew that.
"No thank you, sir, I can manage," Ben assured the Inspector. "If you'll excuse me." Fraser walked out of the office and closed the door. He took four deep breaths and forced a calm he didn't really feel to show. His father corrupt? There was no way. No way if a shred of sanity still existed in this world. It was far more likely that his father had discovered some corruption and he'd tried to confirm it alone before he made it official and ruined someone's reputation.
"A man's children, honor, and reputation are the only things which don't die with him, that mean a damn thing," his father had once said.
Benton had to protect his father and bring his killers to justice.
"Constable, may I have a word?" Turnbull asked, laying on the charming smile.
"Certainly, Constable Turnbull, what can I do for you?" Benton asked, hoping the other man would get to the point and quick. He only had a few hours to gather his things and prepare to return to Canada for an unknown period of time.
Turnbull waved him into a room so small it could have been a closet. "You'll find the cloakroom is the only place you can speak in private around here," the man noted.
"Okay. What can I do for you?" Fraser asked.
"It only took me a few hours to track you down once I was given the assignment," Turnbull stated. It didn't sound like the man was bragging.
"And?" Fraser prompted.
"The point is, if the Superintendent really was that concerned about where you were, why didn't he ask me to find you when he arrived here three days ago?" Turnbull asked holding up three fingers.
"Perhaps he didn't want to make it official," Benton suggested.
Turnbull shook his head. "When the police report about the shooting arrived, he made it official fast enough. When he arrived, he went through all the phone records, demanded your address you'd left with us, but never once asked me to officially help find you."
"I don't understand," Fraser admitted.
"Nine forms, with a copy of each going back to Ottawa, map out my paper trail in tracking you down. My guess is that he didn't want anyone who might ask other questions knowing he was looking for you," Turnbull explained. "The shooting just gave him a valid reason to find you."
"So what are you saying?" Benton asked.
"I'm saying that either this official reason for recalling you to Canada didn't exist when he arrived or it doesn't exist at all," Turnbull surmised. "Don't you find that odd?"
Benton thought on what Turnbull had said. If an official investigation had sent Gerrard to Chicago to talk to Benton in person had existed when he left, the first thing he would have done would have been to ask the Constable for help in locating Fraser. Turnbull was right, something was wrong.
"Thanks for the heads up, Turnbull," Benton said, shaking the younger man's hand.
"You're welcome, Fraser, but we'll keep this between ourselves," Turnbull replied, touching his finger to the side of his nose.
"Understood," Benton replied.
Turnbull plastered his smiling bureaucrat look back on and returned to his desk.
Benton walked out to the front of the Consulate and waved his arm to signal a cab. A dark green, older American-made automobile pulled up to the curve.
A slender figure leaned over and opened the door. "Hey Benny, need a ride?" Ray asked.
"Hello Ray, thank you kindly," Benton responded as he got into the front seat. Diefenbaker was comfortably stretched out in the backseat. "No limo today?" he asked.
"This is la mia automobile personale or my personal car in English. When I want to go around the city just as Ray Vecchio and not Mister Vecchio, this is what I drive," Ray explained. "It's a mint-condition, 1971 Buick Riviera, one of the finest cars ever built. No chewing on the seat back there, Dief," he warned. Diefenbaker whined indignantly. "Okay, okay," Ray conceded. "You're not a puppy and you no longer chew on things."
Benton nearly banged his head on the car's ceiling. Ray understood Diefenbaker.
"But no trying to grab the steering wheel when we come up on a bakery," Ray chided playfully. Diefenbaker lowered his head and snuffed, causing Ray to laugh. "See that, Benny? Your wolf was thinking about commandeering the car to feed his new habit."
"I'm sure he'll restrain himself, Ray," Ben promised.
"See that he does." Ray turned onto an older neighborhood street where three apartment buildings bore his sign in front. "This used to be a firmly upper middle class neighborhood, Benny. Then the money started moving out into the 'bedroom communities' surrounding Chicago and this area almost died." Ray parked the car. "The thing is, Benny, we have people who need places to stay and the decent places to stay cost a mint. The city is desperate for buildings like these to be put back onto their feet. All you need is someone who is willing to have an investment pay back in years not months."
"And that's where you come in," Ben surmised.
"Exactly," Ray agreed as he exited the car. He attached Diefenbaker's leash and led the wolf out of the car. Benton noted that the wolf didn't fight Ray at all. "No nipping the lazy workers, Diefenbaker, they're union." Diefenbaker snorted. "I know, I know, but what can you do?"
Benton was going to have a seizure. How could Ray, a man city born and bred, possibly understand the wolf? He decided to concentrate on other things. "How did you know when to pick me up?"
"First rule of a power meeting, Benny. Never let the underling see you sweat, and I know they're sweating now." He paused to nod at a man wearing a yellow hard hat with the word FOREMAN stamped across it. "What did they say?"
"I've been recalled to Canada to answer questions about police corruption," Benton reported. Again he found himself almost standing at attention for Ray.
"You?" Ray snorted as if that was the funniest thing he'd ever heard. "I'm trying to imagine the crime spree you would go on and I'm coming up empty. Now Diefenbaker would end up on the FBI's ten most wanted for donut snatching and snack intimidation."
The wolf grinned with pride.
"It's my father they're accusing," Benton reported. 'It's my father's reputation they're sullying.'
Ray's expression was odd and almost dead. "That smells of desperation, Benny. I've seen that one used too many times. They try to shut you up by promising to keep quiet about someone you would do anything for. It's always bogus, Benny. Remember that blackmail requires the cooperation of the victim."
Ben felt himself oddly heartened that Ray automatically assumed that Fraser's father was innocent. "I'll remember that."
"How long until you have to go back?" Ray asked. "I'd like to take you around the city."
'You could take me anywhere, Ray,' Ben wanted to answer. "I have a flight this evening. Gerrard made it plain that he'd issue a warrant if I weren't on it."
"This the same Gerrard who told you your father's death was an accident?" Ray asked suspiciously.
"Yes. He's also the one who offered me the French Embassy posting," Ben reported.
Ray's green eyes turned icy. "So even if he's not pulling the strings, he's definitely dancing."
"If I understand what you mean, I would have to say yes," Ben agreed. "We also have to consider that Gerrard is a lifetime bureaucrat, and their days are spent jumping through hoops without pausing to do much thinking on their own."
"The Lord knows that's true." Ray tugged Diefenbaker along. "Come on, fella. Even if you can't bite any of the workers, you can give them a wolf-growl of contempt."
Diefenbaker trotted eagerly ahead of them while looking about for slacking workers.
Ray extracted a small leather notebook from his coat's inner pocket and passed it to Fraser. "Take notes," he ordered. As they walked, Ray noted items that were not finished, places where the workers had left debris, and places where work had not even started.
Ben should have been taking care of his things in readiness for his departure, but he found himself fascinated by Ray's meticulous attention to detail, his encyclopedic knowledge of building code, and the obvious care he took for buildings that bore his company's name.
When they made it to the project manager's office, Ray was able to rattle off the items with only a glance or two at Ben's list. Fraser had never heard anyone so thoroughly chewed out in such a calm voice before.
"Mister Vecchio, there have been a few delays, but I promise you that our company will meet the contract deadline," Kelly MacKenzie swore. The woman had the yellowed fingers of a heavy smoker, her skin was pale, she was far too thin for someone with regular access to food, and her graying brown hair was held up with a series of sharpened pencils.
"I know you will, Ms. MacKenzie," Ray replied, "I have people waiting to get out of some very dire circumstances to come and live in these fine buildings."
"I know, Mister Vecchio, but the delays have not been our fault," she insisted.
"Make notes, Benny," Ray ordered. Fraser flipped to a blank page and waited. "What has caused the delays?" Ray inquired.
For the next several minutes Ms. MacKenzie reported the project's troubles and what she'd had to do to resolve them. Ray remained silent during the recitation.
"I've done my best," MacKenzie insisted at the end of her list.
"I see you have," Ray agreed. "During the next project you work on for me, when these annoyances start piling up, I need you to call my office and let them know what's going on. Sometimes we're able to work these things out a little faster because we have... capital with vendors and suppliers." Ray smiled. "I'm looking forward to the grand opening, Ms. MacKenzie."
She stood up and shook Ray's hand. "Thank you, Mister Vecchio."
"You're welcome," Ray responded. Ben noted that the woman was not offered the use of Ray's first name.
The two men and the wolf made their way back to the car. Ray drove them to a small gourmet shop and parked the car. He allowed Diefenbaker to exit the car without his leash and led them into the place.
The shop smelled of garlic, olive oil, tomatoes, fresh herbs, and various cheeses. The shelves were lined with bottles of Vecchio Olive Oil and Vecchio Aged Balsamic Vinegar, both imported from Italy, and wine from a California vineyard that also bore the Vecchio name. Ray nodded at the overweight man behind the counter and continued to the back of the place with Ben and Diefenbaker trailing behind him.
They went into an office occupied by a large desk with a multi-line phone placed on the desk and an oversized chair sitting behind it. "You can sit on the corner, Benny," Ray offered as he took a seat. Vecchio picked up the phone and tapped in a local number.
Ben looked around the room. There were no photos, no art, nothing to speak to the personality of the person who used it. The room was small, just a little larger than the desk, and anyone visiting the person behind the desk would have to stand. Diefenbaker went under the desk and stretched out. It was the only way the wolf could stretch out in the small room.
"Bonnie, some roughnecks are trying to muscle in on the apartments project on Battery," Ray said softly to the other person on the line. "I know my name is out front, but they either don't understand what that means or they don't care. Whatever the cause, I need you to patrol the site and watch out for the workers. There will be people who will literally end up on the streets or back in abusive situations if those buildings open up even a week late." Ray smiled. "That's the kind of fire I like to hear from you. You take care of it. I'll leave the situation up to your discretion. Thank you." Ray closed the line and made another call.
"Paul, get down to the docks and check on the holdup for the following shipments." Ray read off the numbers MacKenzie had given then earlier. "Thanks." He dialed a third number.
"Jamal, I have twenty-three jobs I need filled today." Ray held the phone away from his ear as if the other person had yelled. "That's right, twenty-three permanent jobs. Excons are fine if you can vouch for them. It's warehouse work, six to three, Monday through Friday, with an hour for lunch, the Vecchio Olive Oil Company on 4th and Crescent, right on the bus line, the number 17. That's a weekly check with medical insurance and one week vacation after the first year and two weeks after the third year, standard holidays, and twelve an hour to start." Ray paused and turned his chair slowly left and right. "Have them there by no later than four today. Report to Maggie Cole." He smiled. "I need all the blessings I can get, Jamal. Thank you."
Ray placed another call. "Susan, I've saved your life. Jamal is rounding up some workers right now and will have them there today no later than four. But he has men sitting around right now and I wouldn't be surprised for you to have a full crew there before lunch. I told him to have them report to Maggie. No, no, that's what I'm here for. Talk to you later." He hung up. "There's nothing like spreading a little cheer on a Monday," Ray said, addressing Ben.
"I'm sure you do that almost every day," Ben replied. Ray's hand settled on Ben's stomach and then moved up to his chest. "I guess I need to get my things together."
"Or you could stand up, strip down, then come and sit in front of me with your legs spread so I can kiss your cock," Ray suggested. "I need another taste of you to keep me satisfied while you're in Canada."
"They might not let me come back," Ben reminded the other man as his hand went to his belt and began removing it. He pulled off his boots and socks next.
"Then you'll fly down here and go on vacation with me," he leaned closer until Ben could feel the other man's breath going through his shirt and pooling in his navel, "or do you have some pale-skinned Canuck pussy lined up back home?"
Benton turned six or seven shades of red. "No, I don't," he admitted as he stood up and stepped out of his pants.
"I find that hard to believe, Benny. You're so lovely, you should have them lined up and waiting for you." Ray's hands descended on Ben's hips and then his ass as he pulled Fraser to him.
Ben slipped off his shirts, leaving him naked before the fully clothed man. "Not like you," he responded wholeheartedly. He sat down on the desk in front of Ray and spread his thighs in open invitation for anything the other man wanted to do.
Ray had said that he wanted to kiss Ben's cock and that was exactly what he did. Vecchio placed a devastating series of tiny kisses on Ben's rapidly filling member until Fraser's cock was actually weeping with need.
"Oh yes," Ben moaned as Ray sucked at the head. "Yes, yes, yes," he encouraged as more and more of his cock disappeared into that maddening mouth. "Oh, Ray." Ben leaned back, allowing Ray full access to his balls and the cleft of his ass. Ray's finger stroked across Ben's hole, making Fraser's entire body shudder.
Ray pulled Ben's legs over his shoulder and continued his sexy assault on Fraser's cock. His long fingers scratched soft paths along the back of Ben's legs until the entire surface of his skin was tingling with anticipation of the next move. When it came, so did Ben. Ray pressed his two thumbs against Ben's hole and worked them in opposing circles. For reasons that escaped Ben's addled brain, that pushed him over and he came without fair warning in Ray's mouth. Ray swallowed.
"I'm glad you liked that," Ray announced. "Now stand up and bend over the desk," he ordered.
Ben did as directed, spreading his thighs and balancing his stance so he could stay there as long as Ray wanted. "Nice ass, but I prefer you keep it smooth-shaven for me."
A prouder man might have balked at such a command from a new lover, but when you've been waiting to hear that kind of possessive tone from someone you wanted and admired for as long as Ben had, you can find your breath taken from you. "Would you like to shave me?" Ben asked, totally delighted by the thought.
"Eventually, but I'd like to watch you do it first," Ray responded before leaning forward and licking a path up from Ben's right thigh to the top of his ass.
Visions of Ray watching Ben as he knelt, reached back, and shaved himself in an act of submission before all that was the might of Raymond Vecchio threatened to cause Ben's brain to melt. Jesus, God in Heaven, what an image. "Damn, Ray, you drive me crazy," Ben panted.
Ray stood up and removed his clothes in smooth, deliberate motions. Ben turned his head so he could enjoy the show. He enjoyed it so much that he was slowly humping the smooth top of the desk. Ray moved up behind him and applied lube to Ben's hole with care and precision.
"When you're fantasizing about being taken by another man, Benny, what is the one thing you wish would happen that has never happened?" Ray asked.
Ben searched through his mind and attempted to find an acceptable answer because the truth would probably shock or disgust Ray.
Ray's hand descended sharply onto Ben's ass. The sting made Ben's eyes water. "You're thinking up a lie for me, Benton. Don't. I'd rather hear an unpleasant truth than a comfortable lie. I'm about to put my dick in your ass, Benny. I'm about to fuck you. I'm about to slam our flesh together and take my pleasure of you while giving you yours. Tell me the truth right now or I'll retrieve my belt and see if you'd rather tell the truth to it."
Ben didn't turn around and stare. He didn't dare. Not because he was afraid he'd see that Ray was serious, but because he was afraid that he'd see that Ray was smiling. He shivered. "Call me your bitch, Ray. Talk dirty to me."
Ray chuckled. "You've been fucking too many Mounties, Benny. Not one of them could have made you their bitch. Oh, you'd pretend for the sake of etiquette, but in your heart you're waving them off because you knew they were second string."
Ben howled as the other man's cock, surely twice as large as it had been the day before, pressed steadily into him as Ray spoke.
"I've never been second string, Benny, and you are my bitch now," Ray reported as he slammed home inside Ben. "Bitch," he hissed as he began to fuck Fraser.
"Oh gawd," Ben groaned as his fully erect cock was pressed relentlessly into the desk as Ray, Alpha Male Supreme, screwed him. Yes. Ben was being screwed, fucked, rode, shagged, and humped.
"God can't save you now, my hot Canadian whore. I'm going to leave this ass Maple Leaf red and wide enough for a hockey puck. I'm going to ride you until all the ice in your Mountie veins melt. Mister Cool, Calm, and Collected is going to be begging, whimpering, and on all fours around me from now on. Aren't you, Benny?"
Ben would have answered the man, but he couldn't draw deep enough of a breath to reply. He found himself looking into Diefenbaker's eyes as the wolf came from under the desk and observed the newest member of the pack. Ray was topping Ben and in Diefenbaker's eyes, Vecchio was now the Alpha. The wolf howled his acknowledgment as Benny lay there, topped and claimed.
"Beg me to cum inside you, Benny. I want to hear you beg for my cum," Ray begged. Ben attempted to beg, but his efforts were sub-par. "That's disgusting, tramp. You beg like a little girl. Beg like a man if you're up to it." Ray landed another smack on Ben's ass but this time on the opposite side.
"Ow!" Ben shouted, inspired. "Please cum, Ray. Please, please."
Ray pulled out and dragged Ben to his feet. "Almost," he said very menacingly. "On the desk and on your feet."
Fraser was just barely able to comply.
"Squat down for my cock, my beautiful harlot. You didn't think the roof over your head and the food in your mouth was free, did you?" Ray asked. "I've already paid for this ass." He lined himself up and pushed up into Ben's hole. "Now give me my money's worth."
"Oh, gawd!!!" Ben shouted uselessly. He placed his hands on Ray's shoulders for balance and bounced up and down on the other man's cock. Ray's smile was as electric as the warm glow of his jade eyes. Ben was mesmerized, caught, and held by those eyes as his body gave the other man as much pleasure as he wanted to take.
"So good," Ray moaned. He gripped Benny tightly and humped him like an arctic rabbit at the height of rut. Benny sagged over Ray's shoulder as his legs collapsed from his labors. "Cumming," Ray groaned. He squeezed Ben even tighter as his cock jerked inside Fraser's body. "Oh yeah."
Ben gasped as Ray held him off the floor and twirled around while still buried to the hilt inside him. "I'm too heavy," he managed to say even as he closed his eyes.
Ray didn't drop him or put him down, but he did sink into the lone chair in the room. He settled Ben in his lap, his big cock still rigid and firmly implanted into Fraser's hole. "Was that dirty enough?" he asked.
Ben nodded and transformed from Benton Fraser into Benny as he held the other man and shared a long kiss. Ray leaned the chair back and Ben's legs draped over the arms of the chair and his toes were touching the floor. If Ray wanted Benny to ride him again, he would need more purchase on the floor. Funny how he could think of that with his ass full and stinging and his heart beating so hard it could probably be heard in the next room. Fraser sagged against Ray, utterly spent. "That was wonderful."
"I just needed to make sure you don't forget me," Ray explained. He rocked his hips side to side, eliciting another moan from Benny. "I want you to be feeling that when the plane crosses the border."
"I will," Fraser swore.
When the cops on television needed a list of phone numbers that had been called from a certain phone and who they belonged to, it took mere minutes. In real life things didn't happen that way. Jack Huey had made the request Saturday, but because the phone company's office wouldn't be open until Monday, that did him no good. He would also normally have to wait for a court order in order to pull those records, but the owner of record, i.e. the Vecchio Real Estate Company had already given him permission in writing.
Frankie Drake didn't have a phone in the apartment he'd usurped, nor did he have a cell phone, so he'd been forced to use a pay phone. In this case that meant the pay phone in the lobby of the apartment building.
So by Wednesday Huey had the phone numbers that covered the time from when the apartment's real owner had gone into the county jail and the day Drake blew up the apartment. There were literally hundreds of calls on the sheet, but only five that went to Canada where this whole mess began. Now all Huey had to do was work through the Canadian Consulate to find out who these Canadian numbers belonged to. That shouldn't take more than a week or two. If Huey was lucky, and the Lord knew that the words LUCK and HUEY hadn't been used in a sentence together, unless the word NOT was also present, in a long time.
Ray looked up from the report Valdone had handed him. "How did you get this Canadian information so quickly?" he asked. "The cops probably don't have this information yet."
"One of Fraser's fellow staff members wanted to help," Joey reported. "He's the guy who tracked down Fraser to your house--a real stand-up kind of man."
Ray smiled and placed his folded hands underneath his chin. "What does he look like, Joey?" he asked as casually as possible.
"Alright, if you like them at 6' 5", 225 pounds of buff muscle with sandy brown hair, blue eyes, and a killer smile," Valdone responded with equal casualness. "The 'virgin as yet unwrapped' part doesn't hurt either."
Ray shook his head laughed. "You never let anyone pretty get pass you, do you?"
"I've always liked to look, Ray. You know that," Joey reminded him. "The problem is that my standards are so high, and my goals are even higher." Joey started to reach for Ray's hand, but pulled back at the last second.
Ray reached out and took Joey's hand. "I love you, Joey," he said firmly.
Joey squeezed Ray's hand. "And I love you, Ray." He blinked. "I failed you."
Ray nodded. "Don't let it happen again," he ordered. "We need to go on a little trip, Joey. See if this staff member can get us gun permits. If I read this right, then Benny is going to need more firepower than a donut-deprived wolf and a shotgun."
. . . .
Renfield Turnbull stepped onto the private plane with a diplomatic pouch and his official escort--Joseph "Joey the Bone" Valdone, Peregrine "Peri" Howard, Jack "No Street Name" Huey, and Raymond "Light Foot" Vecchio. The contents of the diplomatic pouch were inconsequential, but its mere presence gave him a lot of leeway as far as personnel and gun permits.
He'd been expecting Joey to return to the office with his dreamy blue eyes and bad-boy grin, but when his boss, Raymond Vecchio, arrived with him, Renfield had nearly swallowed his much-loved and non-regulation gum. But chewing gum kept him from jabbering on like an idiot when he was nervous. Joey Valdone made him nervous.
After passing the phone information onto Valdone, Turnbull had called Detective Huey at his home with the information the detective couldn't reasonably expect for another week from Ottawa. Renfield wasn't as overburdened with red tape as the official channels and he considered any delay in getting the information was another nail in the coffin of a good Mountie. Turnbull's dedication to duty didn't include getting fellow officers killed so he could say he'd followed the rules to the letter.
The four men, with the addition of professional bodyguard Howard, had met at Vecchio's beautiful home and conspired in his study. Renfield had his own theories as to why Vecchio was so dedicated to solving the mystery of Sergeant Fraser's murder but decided that his curiosity didn't warrant upsetting Vecchio. Benton Fraser had a sexual reputation of being hard to catch, very hard to please, and even harder to keep, but worth the effort. Vecchio looked like a man up to the challenge.
The plane was comfortable, the company quiet, and the meal, shrimp scampi, plump tender shrimp mixed with red, orange, and yellow bell peppers, cherry tomatoes, and fresh herbs in a garlic butter sauce served over linguini, was the best he'd ever had and Turnbull considered himself quite the gourmand.
"Where did you have this scampi catered from?" he had to ask Valdone. "I need to make note of it for our parties."
"I'm afraid it came from Ray's kitchen and is not commercially available," Valdone explained. Turnbull must have been pouting, a very bad habit he could not break, because Joey's expression softened immediately. "But if you're good, I'll invite you over for dinner sometime."
"How good do I need to be?" Turnbull asked innocently, a game he was very good at. "And at what?" He almost but didn't quite bat his lashes, but he did crank up the puppy look. It had always served him well in the past when dealing with certain members of the public.
Valdone's eyebrows rose so high they almost melded with his hairline. "I'll get back to you on that."
Vecchio chuckled and went back to reading his book.
Turnbull turned his attention to Peri Howard. "Have you been to Canada before, Miss Howard?"
"Toronto and Vancouver, but I was on assignment and hardly left the hotel," she answered.
"I'm afraid there will be nothing that could be mistaken for a hotel where we're going," he apologized. "I have arranged for us to have an all-terrain vehicle, but if it isn't ready you'll be forced to take a dogsled."
"Please be joking about the dogsled," she begged. Howard was an average height woman of African-American extraction with a very light complexion, almost black eyes, black hair, and a wide mouth that pretty much guaranteed she was a good kisser. With a few adjustments in her makeup, the woman could go from looking Caucasian to Hispanic or even Middle Eastern. It must have served her well in her occupation.
"I do quite well with a dog sled," he promised. "We all had to learn in the Academy. But the weather shouldn't be so bad since it's still fall. That's our first problem, bad weather."
"The first of many. I still can't believe this Fraser guy doesn't have a phone," Howard remarked. "We're not even sure he's still at his cabin."
"It's his best defensive position and that is where I will expect to find the son of Robert Fraser," Turnbull said firmly.
"Which means that's where Gerrard will know to find him," Valdone remarked.
"But only if Benton knows it's Gerrard and was stupid enough to let him know," Vecchio replied. He buried his nose back in his book. "Benton wouldn't be that crazy." Three seconds passed by before Vecchio suddenly looked up in a panic.
Valdone was already on his feet. "I'll see if they can get a little more speed out of this thing."
. . . .
Benton checked off the last deposit and sat back exhausted. He walked for miles in driving snow with hardly a whimper, but just sixteen hours cross-checking the origin of the mailed deposits against his father's actual location as recorded in his journals and his duty log had him sweating. And to think he'd signed up to be a Consulate staff member, forever staring hideous stacks of paperwork in the face. It gave him chills.
But it was nothing compared to the good job they had done framing his father. On the surface, the origins of the four deposit checks could be traced to post offices within range of his father's duties. But they didn't know about his father's journals.
Journals that recorded his thoughts and activities for those crucial two months in meticulous detail It was all there, from the people he spoke to, to the state of the roads, what he ate, and the wear and tear on his uniform. They knew about the work log, because that was what they used to frame the man, but they didn't know about his journals.
Benton hadn't known about them either. He'd learned more about his father from reading those words than from a lifetime of knowing the man, or in this case, not knowing the man. Robert Fraser could spill his guts to a small piece of paper but he couldn't tell his son he loved him. "You were a fucking coward, Dad," Benton proclaimed, even though Diefenbaker was the only one who could have heard him.
Ben had his evidence to clear his father's name and to bear witness from the grave against Gerrard and nine others who had conspired to cover up the ecological disaster that was occurring at the hydroelectric dam every night as they released extra water to take pressure off the structure. They were releasing so much water that a huge area was being flooded and wildlife, particularly the caribou, were being drowned.
Before he'd left for Chicago, Benton had left a dead caribou with a local vet to discover what had killed it. The day he'd returned to Canada, he had discovered that the caribou had drowned, yet Fraser had found it on dry land. There could be only one possible cause and he had waited to see it happen for himself. The valley was transformed into a lake overnight but by morning it was dry again. If his father hadn't been found and removed the same day he'd been shot, then it could have been swept out and never recovered. They might have been planning on that.
Fraser was given two choices when he confronted Gerrard with what he knew, shut up and keep the money in his father's account or have the public believe his father had been part of the conspiracy and had been killed for being too greedy.
Ben could still hear Gerrard quoting Robert Fraser about a man's reputation. He was proud of himself for not pummeling the man right in his office. Not only would he have been arrested, it would have ruined any chance of making this situation right.
As long as his father was dead, and he was most definitely dead, then there could be no right this time. God, how that ate at him. It was hard to stick to your often quoted principles when you knew that your father was dead and the men who killed him, with the exception of the triggerman, would get to live the rest of their natural lives at the expense of the state. Because some of them were police officers, they would be housed in special facilities where the smaller population would immediately improve their care and make keeping them alive and relatively unmolested would be easier.
Maybe it was that thought that made him drop that dead caribou on Gerrard's desk, effectively stating the second Fraser also wouldn't be playing along. It was dumb. He had no backup, no support, and a whisper campaign about the reasons behind his father's death had already begun. The love of gossip being what it was, when the truth eventually did come out many would prefer the rumor. If the cabin hadn't been so sparse, Benton would have found something to kick.
Diefenbaker sprang to his feet and went to scratch at the door. Outside, the wind had died down and Fraser could hear slow deliberate marching on snowshoes mixed with the confident stride of a seasoned snow walker. They'd come faster than he'd expected.
Benton lifted his shotgun, cracked open the door, and leveled it at the man on the steps.
"Is that the way you greet old lovers, Benny?" Ray asked indignantly from behind tinted and expensive goggles. "You must not get a lot of repeat business."
"Ray! What are you doing here?" Benton asked, almost throwing himself on the other man in gratitude.
"We're here to help you," Ray announced.
. . . .
It had taken three trips to empty the Humvee of their provisions. Diefenbaker was no help at all as the wolf seemed about to burst from joy from having Ray around. The pesky animal had even ignored a sausage Vecchio had attempted to slip him on the sly to lick Ray's face. Wolf germs for sure.
He'd expected rustic, but this was sad. One room, a wood stove to cook on, and the bathroom was in another building. Good lord, what had he been thinking? Ray could have sent Peri up here with a few of the boys who hadn't had a good violence fix in a long time, but he'd come himself.
Ray could have classified it as an act of honor, this Gerrard bastard had committed violence in Ray's presence after all, but he knew that wasn't it. Vecchio had to check on Benny. He had to tell the man in person he'd been betrayed.
Si deve sempre reagire pi---- duramente al tradimento di un amico, or in English, "betrayal by a friend must always be dealt with more harshly". Gerrard had been a friend of Robert Fraser. He had spoken at the man's memorial service. He'd asked Benny to think of him as a second father. Such a betrayal required total payback and Ray didn't think Benny was up to the task.
They got settled with the only bed being assigned to their lone woman. Ray had no problem with that. He'd hired Peri because she was the best, he respected her and used her skills judiciously, but that didn't stop him from holding her chair, acknowledging her entrance into the room with a token rise from his chair, and giving her the only bed. He also expected her to stand a watch, guard his back, and drop the bad guys when they arrived.
They laid in supplies, passed out weapons, then played cards on the floor because there was only one chair and unlike the bed they took turns with it. They walked the parameter in teams.
Ray was not a cold weather man even though he had been born and raised in Chicago, which had despite all other claims some of the coldest winters in the world. It was the wind. The unrelenting, merciless wind straight off Lake Michigan and sped on by the numerous tall buildings and narrow streets.
Ray tramped out with Benny and made a circuit around the cabin, outhouse, and a smokehouse. The cabin was on the high point in the area and that afforded them an unbroken view of all approaches. Ray wasn't expecting just one old man with a high-powered rifle. They'd put over $90,000 in Robert Fraser's account with no way to get it back, so they could afford some muscle. Ray was expecting 6 to 8 goons with Gerrard there to verify the kill for his masters.
Gerrard was looking at something more terrifying than prison, he was going to be broke. He'd already proved to Ray that he valued money above all else. It let you know what a man would do, i.e. expect anything.
"What are you doing here, Ray?" Benny asked, interrupting Ray's thoughts.
"Walking like I'm chafed because my pants are fat," Ray answered. "I looked on the website, but Armani doesn't sell a snowsuit and I had to buy off the rack," Vecchio confessed. "I'm not built for off the rack, Benny. My hips are narrow. Thank God Irene had the babies." Ray expected at least a chuckle, but Fraser had gone silent on him. "I had to come. You don't have a phone and I didn't know if you had a friend in uniform besides Renfield."
"Renfield. Turnbull's name is Renfield?" Fraser asked, amazed.
"A man named Benton has little room to diss someone on their first name, Benny. Besides, I think it's kind of stately," Ray declared, defending his friend. "It fits Rennie and his broad shoulders."
Fraser put his hand on Ray's shoulder and turned him around. That would have gotten a lot of people backhanded. "Why were you looking at his shoulders?"
"You can't miss them, they go on and on," Ray explained while demonstrating the width of Turnbull's shoulders. "The man is big." Ray stared into Fraser's eyes. The guy was chewing his lower lip and looking jealous. Obviously this was a new emotion and Benny had yet to process it. "He's got a nice ass, a pretty face, lovely eyes, a great body, and a good heart, but I'm not fucking him. I'm fucking you." A woman would have required some kind of present and flowery words spoken with as much sincerity as you could dig up in this situation. Ray didn't think another man would want that. He wouldn't.
Benny lowered his chin. "Sorry," he muttered. The man didn't apologize well.
"You can make it up to me later by shaving your ass for me while I sip wine, watch, and occasionally wiggle my toe against your hole," Ray offered.
"Gawd, Ray. We're standing in the snow with several layers of clothes between us and you say something like that," Ben declared in an exasperated voice. "What are you thinking?"
"You don't really want me to answer that while we're standing in all of these layers," Ray responded cryptically. "Come on, we need to move. If we're a minute late getting back, Peri will burst out of that cabin ready to take something on." Ray shrugged. "I don't need the drama."
Ben followed Ray as they passed on the far side of the Humvee. There was nowhere to shelter the big vehicle and they had settled for moving it behind the smokehouse to shield it from the road. Ray had put down a substantial deposit to rent the truck and he had every intention of returning it unscathed. Idiots with guns can really ruin a paint job.
"Thank you for coming, Ray," Benny said as they came around the smokehouse. "It means a lot to me. I really should ask you and your party to return home. Realistically, I could only ask Turnbull to stay."
"Those shoulders are working you up into a sweat, aren't they?" Ray asked mischievously. "Now I have to stay and defend my territory. I couldn't compete with a man that young."
"I think he's straight, Ray," Fraser said firmly.
"So does he and I think he also might be a virgin, but I don't have any unicorns to run by him," Ray said sourly. "Do you think he and Peri can fit on that bed of yours? I'd make snacks for that show."
"Ray!" Fraser protested primly.
Ray chuckled. The man was too easy to bait. They made it back to the cabin.
The night passed. Ray slept quite well on the floor in his sleeping bag he was sharing with Jack Huey. If he shared it with Benny, the man would have gotten fucked, and Fraser was just too vocal for that in the confined space of the cabin, so Ray selected the one person who had no interest in him to share the bag with. Joey shared with Turnbull and proudly told Ray he'd copped a feel on the fresh young Mountie. Fraser had to make do with Diefenbaker, who normally also shared the bed.
Ray cooked breakfast, had finished eating, and was about to go to the outhouse when Huey and Turnbull rushed back inside. "What?" he asked.
"Six snowmobiles," Turnbull reported. "They're coming in parallel to the road, so they haven't seen the truck."
"It's an advantage," Ray noted. He stepped aside and used the plastic jug the men had utilized for urination to avoid going out into the cold. Now wasn't the time for modesty and a full bladder could affect your concentration.
"Gerrard is our only link back to his controllers," Fraser reminded everyone.
Ray knew exactly who Gerrard was working for, the board of investors from the dam, who were up to their armpits in debt for the planned expansion. An expansion that could not and should not be granted because of the problems with the initial construction. If they didn't expand and generate electricity they could sell off-grid to the United States, then they were sunk. The place could close and hundreds would lose their jobs. But the alternative was actually worse. The place could blow and thousands would lose their homes and their lives.
Vecchio had a firm of forensic accountants who ate tax lawyers whole and made IRS agents wet themselves in fear. They would follow the money and the guilty would be at their feet. Fraser was under the impression that you had to follow the human chain back. The money chain was faster, cleaner, and unlikely to change its testimony.
When they'd arrived, Joey had asked Turnbull why they weren't heading out on snowmobiles instead of the slower Humvee. Turnbull had smiled at Joey as if the older man were a not very bright child. "The snowmobiles don't have the range, the carrying capacity, and they are very unsafe for the area we're going to. It's fall, the snow is very dry, the wind is high, and you could run across some very devastating voids."
"Voids?" Joey had asked.
"Places where the snow looks solid, but it's actually only a covering over a large open space. That's why the snowmobiles are limited to certain areas. A void can suck down snowmobiles or start an avalanche. We're much better off sticking to the road and taking this truck." Turnbull continued to smile like a guide at the museum. It took practice to learn to smile like that.
"Martin, it's Joey," Valdone announced into the phone. He was talking to Ray's main lawyer, Martin Joyner. He handled most of their legal entanglements that did not involve money. Joyner got a kick out of being called Ray's consigliere, but he was much better looking than Robert Duvall. "They're here. Send in the crew. We're reporting nine shooters on six snowmobiles."
Cell phones were mere decorations out here, but a satellite phone worked just fine. Joey would have gone into a coma without a working phone.
"Do you think they'll try to parlay?" Turnbull asked. The kid had to be joking. Okay, he was. Turnbull had his rifle sighted and he was waiting for his shot. They had a lot of ammo but not an infinite amount.
"No, and they won't ask us to dance either," Joey answered.
Ray's only worry was that the shooters were so well wrapped up that he couldn't tell which one of them was Gerrard, which just made them all equal targets in his mind.
The second rider on the first snowmobile lit a bundle of dynamite and threw it at the cabin. Peri shot it right back at them and the riders and snowmobiles scattered. A collision left snowmobiles two and five in the blast zone and the riders went flying. Ray didn't have time to enjoy the fun because he had some men to put down.
Huey shot like a cop--accurate placement but too much thought and time between shots. Turnbull shot like a hunter with a hungry family to feed and no money for extra ammo. Joey was a "center mass" man forced to go for less lethal shots. Fraser concentrated on disabling the vehicles. Ray went for the joints. There's nothing like losing a knee to make you lie in the snow and bleed.
Vecchio had learned to shoot and reload the hard way, target practice at the old brickyard with his drunken father hitting him on the head for every missed shot while yelling at the top of his lungs. That 'loving motivation' had ended when Ray was fifteen after he'd shot his father's outline into the brick wall holding him up. You could even tell that he was holding a sixteen-ounce can. The old man had shit himself. "Next time you're about to raise your hand to me or my mother, remember this little demonstration." That early training meant that Ray could calmly pick his targets and hit them no matter what other distractions were occurring. No amount of explosions, bullets impacting into the walls and windows, and screams could keep him from putting down his targets.
Unlike the movies, these kind of shootouts don't last very long, but it doesn't take long to expend a lot of bullets. Ray had less than half of a box left. He reloaded both of his revolvers and his backup rifle before he followed Fraser out into the snow.
The dynamite man turned out to be Gerrard. Ray had taken out the man's left kneecap and Gerrard was holding his hand over the wound to keep the pressure on.
Fraser started to say something, but Ray held him back. Vecchio reached into his pocket and extracted his tape recorder. He didn't have a real personal assistant and refused to be one of those men dragging a secretary all over creation, so he kept a recorder for notes, research requests, and orders that could wait.
"Mark Gerrard, I want you to tell me who started this shit and I want you to tell me now. That wound won't kill you, but the snow will. Fraser doesn't have a phone and I control all the ones here." Gerrard looked over at Fraser and Ray kicked him in the side. The old man screamed. "Pay attention. Tell me who started this."
"Ray--" Fraser tried to interrupt. The man was bigger, but Ray had been putting down bigger men most of his life.
"This is a token of friendship, Benny," Ray explained. "Un favore ti crea sempre degli obblighi, un regalo una cosa a se. A favor always comes with strings, a token is a thing onto itself. I'm giving you a kill you need that can't be blamed on you. It's the heat of battle and the old fool got blown away. The bullet came out of my gun, not yours. Let me kill him and avenge your father."
"Ray, I can't let you do that," Benny insisted like a good little Mountie. "He's down."
"Shut up, Fraser. I'm ending this right now. Either I can kill him for you right now and let my accountants hold out everyone's dirty underwear at the power station or he can tell me everything and I'd be honor-bound to let him live. You see he's shown me disrespect by shooting Drake mere feet from me. NO ONE fires their weapon around me, Benny. NO ONE disrespects me in my own city. I don't let that happen, and I'm not about to start with this old fool." Vecchio eyed the other man and watched Fraser back down. "Talk Gerrard, I'm getting cold." Ray pointed his gun down at the other man's groin, letting him know where the first shot was going to go.
"I'll talk," Gerrard squeaked. And he did. Ray had to turn the tape over to get it all. Gerrard was still talking when he was tossed into the back of the ambulance.
"That will never hold up in court," Huey complained after the last of the shooters were hauled away. "His lawyer will say it was coerced."
"That's not going to be a problem, Jack," Ray promised the cop. "I know the truth, and as long as I know the truth, the only safe place for them is in jail with full confessions in order that the spotlight is firmly fixed on them." He smiled as Huey swallowed nervously.
Fraser hugged Ray. "Ray, you really had me going for a moment. I thought you'd lost it and was about to blow holes into Gerrard. What an actor you are," he declared proudly.
"Well, what's the point of having a reputation if you can't put it to good use?" Ray asked as he waved his hands.
"But what would you have done if he hadn't cracked?" Ben asked, obviously curious.
Ray put his arm around the taller man. "Benny, I hear they have things called polar bears out here and that if you leave a wounded man out in their territory, they will oblige you by eating them." He chuckled evilly. "Of course the animal rights people would be all over me for serving them all that old, tough, stringy meat."
Benny frowned. "That's not funny, Ray."
Ray nodded in agreement. "Groups like that rarely are." He looked over his shoulder to see Joey making his gagging face and Jack and Peri shivering with disgust. Sometimes you have to take your fun in little bites. Their reactions were pretty satisfying.
End A Token of Friendship by YS McCool: email@example.com
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