The Adventures of Benton and Ray
Perils of the Mad Trapper
Fraser and me were heading to Chicago for Thanksgiving. The negotiations began in August for the trip in November. It seemed crazy that a simple visit to see family and friends and have dinner needed such careful maneuvering. It took me days after we decided to go to work up the nerve for the first phone calls. It was easier for me to face down loonies and their henchmen than to talk to friends and family. And it was hard to explain why I was so freaked out. Fraser sure didn't get it.
"I don't see how our staying at a hotel would cause such consternation when none of the parties who've offered lodgings have sufficient space," he said reasonably. We were having supper that night after the first round of talks with all the parties involved and some who weren't.
"And that makes perfect sense, Frase," I said. "But this has nothing to do with perfect sense. It's a family thing. If I don't handle this just right, someone's feelings will get hurt. That'll fester for weeks and then one wrong word at the Thanksgiving table and -- BAM! Turkey leg through the china cabinet."
Fraser looked horrified. "Ray, you have to be exaggerating."
"Not by much," I chuckled. "Maybe not a turkey leg, but flying peas or mashed potatoes ain't fun either."
"Do you want to stay with any of them, Ray?" He asked. The voice was soft, but I knew him well enough to know that wasn't anywhere near a casual question.
There was no way I could allow that. I needed the way we came together every morning and every night. I couldn't see ten nights of innocent glances at each other in our pajamas after nearly two years of touching and licking everything we could think of on any surface available. I don't think we were capable of looking at each other with anything but heat. We weren't used to hiding. I knew Fraser didn't know how to give quick kisses even for hello and goodbye. He needed to hear me moan before he would let me go. And I gave as good as I got. We needed that contact to keep us going. I didn't take that lightly. And it was a about more than just getting off.
I reached over and covered the hand that was fidgeting with a fork. "No, Ben. I do not want to spend ten days and nights with no privacy on a fold out bed that couldn't handle the stress. Okay?"
He blushed a little but smiled at me. "All right. I'll let you handle it."
"And you can arrange our Thanksgiving up here."
It was really great that Canadian Thanksgiving was in October. That eliminated the pull of having the holiday dinner by ourselves. We could have our own, and we could still have dinner with the Chicago gang. Not that we had Thanksgiving Dinner alone up here. Not exactly. We'd make sure to have a meal with just us and Dief. That was a pretty picture afterward. All three of us laying around in a food coma with big bellies snoring at the television. Fraser was nowhere near the romantic image of the super Mountie. He could belch with the best of men. And that was fine for our little family.
But we also had dinner in the community center with the locals. It was a potluck and it was some good eats and a good time. The food was different, but not. I was surprised at the turkey and stuffing. There was even pumpkin pie. But like my family would also have pierogies and kielbasa along with the traditional stuff, the folks up here also had local game and their own family dishes. Some were First Nations, some Swedish some Scottish. I don't know what was in most of the covered dishes, but it was all greatness. Dief made out like a bandit for a second time during the same holiday.
Fraser let the Constables go home for the holiday. All of them had family in other parts of Canada. It was a relatively quiet time of year. And he had me and some of the local men to help take up the slack. Thanksgiving was when I get the strongest sense of the community up here. It's an odd mix of people that somehow made a tight knit group. I couldn't imagine myself being part of a wacky Mayberry on the Arctic, but somehow I managed to fit it. I really enjoyed that holiday in Inuvik.
But I also missed Thanksgiving in Chicago. That meant figuring out where to eat dinner. And that was as complicated as figuring out where we would stay. Our time would be limited in the city and the people we were visiting had to fit us in around their jobs for the most part. We had my folks (back from the warm and dry of Arizona to help my brother and his kids), the Vecchios (not including Ray), Ray and Stella (a whole different kettle of fish I'll get into later), and the gang at the 2-7. It felt like when we got to town, we were going to get pulled in four different directions at once. I knew we had to make it work. Everyone was really looking forward to the visit. And we wanted to see all of them. I knew we were going to spend a lot of time shuttling all over Chicago making sure no one got left out. That's a lot of time on busy city streets with people in a big hurry.
Another reason why we needed to have a place that was ours while we were in Chicago. Fraser and I both knew that it would be hard to be back in the city after all those months of quiet. We would need a place to be still and in relative peace. If we didn't have that, Fraser would suffer through the entire trip. And I wouldn't be much better. Then there was coping with all those people. Even the most casual socializing in Chicago was not as laid back was it was in Inuvik. We'd need a break from the people we were visiting or we'd never rest. There were many nights when we did very little talking. We didn't need to. Neither of us was used to making hours of casual conversation. We'd really need a break. I didn't want us to come back from vacation more tired than when we left.
But there was one more reason we needed our own space in Chicago. My possessive Mountie. Now, I knew there were not legions of panting women and leering men waiting for the return of Stanley Raymond Kowalski. And even though I knew he wouldn't be able to point out any of these panting parties, Fraser believed they were there. As for me, I knew there was a Mountie love fest waiting in Chicago. I had independent witnesses. Lots of them. I was not looking forward to the fawning attention at best or the outright interference at worst even though I knew Fraser didn't welcome any of it. We both needed a quiet place to reclaim each other
Eventually, I got Frannie on our side about the hotel. That seemed to take forever. She didn't grill me over it exactly, but I did have to give her a peek into our heads to get her to understand. I didn't mind. I knew how she thought. Why would we want to be in an impersonal place like a hotel when we had family? I got that. There was something to be said for late night talks or early morning coffee for catching up. Her kids were cute as buttons and that funny sort of crazy that toddlers are. I looked forward to hanging out with them. But I wasn't looking forward to having my eyelids pried open to see if I was still in my body. And then there was the privacy problems toddlers have with use of the bathroom let alone any strange 'wrestling' in bed. Besides, there were six of them. We'd have to sleep in shifts to protect ourselves. So I let Frannie see a little bit of our lives. In the end, it was the quiet that she understood. A house that full of kids and Ma Vecchio had maybe a couple hours a day that were sort of quiet. We knew that a hotel could never be as still as an arctic night. But she finally understood that we had to try to get as close as we could. That was great to have her support in shouting down the Vecchios about it.
Welsh and Huey each accepted the polite decline. I think they were only offering to be nice and it was a relief when we said no. That left my Mum and Dad. That was the real minefield. There was no argument I could make that couldn't be turned into an insult to them. If I mentioned the quiet, the response would be 'What we're too noisy for you?' If I mentioned that we didn't want to make too much work for Mum, the response would be 'Are you saying I'm too old to take care of a couple of house guests?' I didn't dare besmirch the sofa bed or the fact that they only had one bathroom. And I couldn't argue that we were compromising so nobody's feelings would get hurt, because we weren't really related to the Vecchios. And if I didn't want them to have a coronary, I couldn't say that Fraser and me needed space so be could boff like bunnies in private. They were going to have enough to cope with as far as our relationship.
In the end, I took a page from Fraser's book and just said straight out that we were staying in a hotel and that was that. I thought I'd have it easy because we were going to have dinner with them. They ate the earliest of the people who offered. And I really had a taste for Mum's pierogies. We were going to have seconds and dessert with the Vecchios. But Mum and Dad had us for the main event. It shoulda been simple to float the hotel past them.
"But Stanley, your father and I don't understand why you would want to spend all that money," Mum said. "You being retired and all."
"Mum, I have plenty of money, I swear," I said. "I hardly spend any up here. I got a bank account you wouldn't believe."
"I don't understand. How can you not spend money?"
Okay. I think the only way this was going to work was to send my tax statements. "The house is paid for. And I have a job that covers whatever I need day-to-day. Fraser and me can afford a hotel. I mean, it's not like we have to worry about food, right?"
"Well, no," she said. "We'll feed you. If you're sure."
I took a deep breath. "We're sure, Mum. Everything will be great."
"Can we at least pick you up at the airport?"
I wasn't sure if there were other bids in for that, but I couldn't keep turning her down. "Sure, that would be great. We may have a little wait at the airport for Dief, if you don't mind."
"No, that will be fine," she said. "I'll tell Damian. Thank you, Stanley."
"No problem, Mum. I'll call you when we have our tickets," I said.
Okay, that wasn't so bad. I could feel that she didn't understand, but I knew she knew I was determined. She wanted to see me and that was that for her. I was glad Mum answered instead of Dad. She'll figure out a way to smooth things out. He'd grumble a little in the car and when he saw the room. We found one of those residential hotels where the units were apartments. The place was cool about Dief and it had a kitchen. There was even a big sofa we could lay on together. The place was pricey, but we thought it was worth it. Dad would grouse when he saw the place, but I was pretty sure we were over that hump.
That left Ray and Stella to deal with. They would be up from Florida for the holiday staying in Stella's condo. The problem there wasn't an offer of crash space. They didn't offer. The problem was Ray Vecchio. He still didn't get us, and he blamed me. Fraser never admitted to that, but I picked up enough of his end of conversations to figure it out. Stella would never come clean and admit it either, but I knew how to read between the lines with her. Her recent letters kept talking about 'keeping family harmony' and wanting a 'peaceful and pleasant dinner.' That meant Vecchio was unhappy enough to say something that might provoke me.
A couple of years ago that would have been something to worry about. I've done my share of vegetable tossing at Thanksgiving dinner. And there was a time when the fact that Stella married Vecchio stuck in my crawl. But I was lonely and miserable about a lot of things then. It was before I bought a clue about me and Fraser. But now as long as she was happy, I was fine with them. And I knew that Vecchio's opinions wouldn't affect the way Fraser felt about me. I nearly bawled when Fraser showed me the letter he was sending Vecchio shortly after I settled in with him. I never read nicer things about me. Said he felt deeply for me long before he had any hope that I felt the same. I brought laughter and joy to his life and he hoped that Ray would be happy for him. In his own subtle way, he told Vecchio that the subject was closed to discussion. To draw a fine line on that point for me, most of the times when Fraser talked to Vecchio on the phone, he had me pinned against him along the sofa petting my hair. I couldn't wait to see his behavior when we were in front of them.
As for Stella, well that was a different can of worms. Granted, after our divorce I acted like an idiot. But I think even then that I was trying to run away from what I was feeling about my Mountie. Since coming up here, I've written Stella dozens of long letters about life up here. She even said that I was calmer and more open and even funnier than ever. Said we were talking like the good friends that she hoped we would be. That made me feel terrific, because the thing I missed most about Stella was talking to her. We used to talk about everything. That was great. But there were still times that she would try to get me to talk about how I felt when we broke up. I know she believes that I love Fraser, but she still seems to think that she pushed me over to the other team. This was going to be interesting.
All the players were dealt with by October. As far as I knew, all Fraser and I had to worry about was living in a fish bowl for ten days and getting a lot of Christmas shopping done. Of course I knew that the weirdness that often endangered us with surprise visits would not stay in the Northwest Territories. After all, it started in Chicago. I wondered what would find us while we were there.
But I couldn't worry about that. There was a lot to arrange. We had to pack and make sure Dief's vaccinations were in order. We were going to do Christmas shopping for everyone while we were there. It was too hard to travel during that time of year, so a visit then wasn't possible. My Mum would store all the gifts for our friends there and we would ship the ones for the Inuvik crowd. So I had to make arrangements for shipping. Nothing about getting something to or from Inuvik could be done at the last minute. And I had to get my all jobs done and out.
Before I knew it, the night before the trip was on top of us. Fraser had been away for two days chasing down poachers and that left me stowing everything and shutting down the cabin by myself. Since snow could sneak up at any time at that part of the year, we had to make sure all our wood and anything that could rust was dry and safe. I had to get rid of anything that could spoil in the kitchen while we were gone. The list seemed to keep going. I didn't think I'd be ready. I made it, but I was antsy from worrying about everything that could go wrong.
When Fraser got back, Dief managed to wear on my nerves in short order. He took exception to the dog carrier that was in the living room with the rest of the luggage and kept growling at it. I got wound up tighter than a drum in less than an hour. The third time I snapped at Fraser over some small comment, he turned his back on me and shut himself in the bathroom. I didn't hear anything after that. I was slumped on the sofa with my head in my hands feeling like a jerk. I was already picturing a ten day trip where we were barely speaking to each other. Then I felt Fraser's large warm hand close around my wrist.
"Ray," he said softly and pulled me up. He was in his robe. His face wasn't covered in two days of stubble anymore. He was shaved clean. The skin was pale against the slight windburn on his cheeks. I reached up and ran my fingers along the smooth skin and watched his eyes get darker. Then I kissed his jaw while he pulled at my clothes and moved me toward the bathroom. Eventually, I stepped back to help with undressing. Then, I noticed the lit candles and felt like a jerk all over again.
"Ben..." I said. My voice came out in a croak.
"Shhhh, Ray," he said. His expression was kind, but I could see how tired he was. I did as he wanted and shucked out of my clothes.
We didn't say anything for a long time while we soaked in the steaming water. I lounged against him with my head resting on one shoulder. Fraser was caressing me body through the water. He was soothing us both.
"Ben, it wasn't you," I sighed.
"I know, Ray," he murmured. "This trip is troubling you despite your preparations."
"I'll say," I sighed.
Fraser sucked at the curve of my shoulder then tongued up the side of my neck. "We'll be fine. I promise," he said. "If ever we feel uncomfortable, we go back to our hotel. I don't want you to make yourself unhappy trying to please everyone else. I mean that even if it means Thanksgiving room service."
His tone surprised me. There was firmness beneath the quietly spoken words. I looked back at him.
"I care for everyone back in Chicago, Ray. I always will," he replied. His tone was gentler. "But you are my family. If all we ever have is each other, I am very happy for that."
I leaned back against him and let the water do it's thing. Eventually, we got around to soaping each other then rinsing in the shower. Later, he was feeding me sandwiches on the sofa. Dief was curled up on the love seat. He seemed to be sorry, but he was still glaring at the dog carrier.
"Does he think that he can sit up front in a seat?" I asked.
Fraser looked at the wolf then nodded. "Yes, he does. He'll have to get past it or stay with Mrs. Thompson while we're gone."
Dief whined at that then closed his eyes.
"He's willing to adjust," Fraser said. He rolled his eyes.
I felt a lot better. "I missed you. I was here alone with crazy thoughts in my head."
"I'll have to make sure I give you something more pleasant to dwell upon the next time," Fraser said with a hotter than hot smile.
I put down my plate. "It's a long trip to Chicago, Frase. Lots of time for crazy thoughts."
"Really? I can't have that," Frase murmured. He pulled me to my feet then into the bedroom. I knew he was hungry for me because he left the dishes undone.
He wanted kisses for a long time. It had been two days since he last tasted me and it took him a while to get his fill. I was pinned under his warm, naked body and he held me still by my wrists. I knew he would be like this. Slow and deliberate. He would hold me still the whole time he made love to me. He was always like this when we're separated or facing something strange. Most of the time, we went at each other like wild men. And I still tied him down when I wanted to take my time with him. But there were times when he needed me this way. I needed it, too.
"I'm very selfish, Ray," He whispered in my ear before sucking at it. "I don't relish ten days of sharing you with other people. I fear I'll resent it."
"I hate the Mounties sometimes... oh, God... for taking you away from me..." I said. "I won't neglect you... I can't..."
I moaned as he tongued down my neck. Fraser was going to make me his own buffet tonight. He had two days of tasting to catch up on. And he did that very slowly. He murmured happily as he licked and sucked at my nipples. And he seemed especially happy to re-acquaint himself with my navel. I swear he smacked his lips. For my part, I was going crazy being held down. I needed to touch him, but he wasn't allowing it.
"No. Ray. I want you to dwell on this. My tongue on your skin," he whispered. "My mouth surrounding you..."
Then his wet heat was surrounding me. Took the erection to the root. I would have been on the ceiling if he hadn't pinned me. Then he was working me over and over to the point of exploding then pulling back. I pleaded with him until my voice was hoarse before he finally pushed me over the edge.
Fraser suckled me through the aftershocks lapping up everything I had to give. He wasn't finish. He still held me down. And his eyes were still so dark.
"God...Ben..." I rasped before he kissed me hard and deep and demanding.
"Ray..." He murmured over my lips after a long nearly bruising kiss.
I knew what he needed from me. "Anything..."
Fraser still wouldn't let me go. He turned me on my side but still kept me pinned. Like I could or would fight him. My limbs were jelly and what he was doing felt too good. He had me ready for him quickly. He was impatient and that made my blood rise again. And then was deep inside me nuzzling my neck.
"I love when you're like this," Fraser murmured. "I love it when all you want to do is open for me and let me in."
I dropped my head back with a moan as he moved in me. He clutched me close and pumped hard. He wasn't willing to wait any longer. I was down for the count, but it still jolted through me each time he slammed home. When he finally groaned through his orgasm, I was bruised from where he held me. I had no voice. But God, it felt good the way he loved me. I would remember that for the entire trip and then some.
It was a very long trip to Chicago. With the layovers and delays between legs, it was almost 24 hours. I really hoped my folks listened to me about checking with the airline before heading out to get us. I hated to think of them hanging out by luggage claim for hours on end. By the time we got to O'Hare, I felt like a wrung out dishrag. Even Fraser looked red eyed and wiped. I couldn't wait to find out what the wolf was like.
Fraser left me to get Dief while I looked for my folks. The search didn't last long. They were in a corner of the luggage claim area trying stay out of the way of the crowd. My Mum got all big eyed and I was in a bear hug before I could get a hello out.
"Stanley, you look... wonderful," she sniffed.
"You're kidding," I said running a hand through my hair. "Well, absence makes the heart grow fonder."
My Dad slapped me on the back. "She's right. You've put on some muscle. Your face is fuller."
"I eat a lot up there," I said. "Maybe it's caught up."
"It isn't fat, dear," Mum said stepping back to look at me. "You look healthy... and strong."
I felt my face heat. "Yeah, well... I work outside a lot. Get lots of sleep."
Mum pinched my face. Thank God, Fraser strolled up then. He already had our luggage on a cart with the dog carrier. Dief was prancing alongside happy to be free. I noticed that there were women already checking My Mountie out. Even tired and rumpled, he looked damned good in that black leather jacket and jeans. Then there was the warm, sweet smile at my folks. That turned to a blush pretty quick when Mum startled him with a hug.
"I'm so glad to see you both," she said.
Fraser patted her on the back. "Thank you. We're glad to be here. Good evening, sir."
My Dad nodded at him and shook his hand. "Well, let's get moving. I'm in short term parking."
I was so glad that my Dad was as weirded out as I was, and that he was a man of action. Moving to the car meant we could focus on getting all our crap over to it and arranging us all in the back seat for the trip to the hotel. After that there was plenty to keep us distracted from the fact that my parents were taking their son and his male lover and a wolf to a hotel. There were the events of the trip to talk about. We could focus on the details of all the weather and equipment delays that made the trip more than twice as long as it needed to be. And when that subject ran its course, there was all that was going on in Chicago in general and with my brother and his wife and kids in particular. We made it all the way to the room without one awkward moment. Of course it helped that Dad was unloading the trunk and my Mum was in the gift shop buying us a paper when the idiot front desk clerk kept pointing out that we'd only reserved one bed in the room. Even Fraser was glaring at him by the time we'd signed in and got our keys.
But we made it to the room. I noticed that there were more bags on the bell hop cart than we'd packed, but didn't say anything. Can't keep Mum from being a Mom. Of course, Dad fussed about the suite.
"So, you're sure that you want to spend money on this?"
I expected the question especially when I saw the room. It was really nice, and it had an amazing view of the lake. I didn't expect it to be so big. It was more like an apartment. We actually got a really good deal on all that room. Fraser left me to handle Dad's reaction. He took the luggage into the bedroom. My Mum was already in the kitchen unpacking something.
"Yeah, Dad. We don't splurge too much up North. I'd like to be a big spender for once," I said. "Why don't you bring your poker game down and live large while we're here?"
That got him. He smiled at that. ""I'd love to see Petey Wilson's face when I bring him here. He thinks his boy is a big shot."
"Sure," I said. "Order room service while you're here."
He liked that. He went over to the dining room table to check it out for size. Fraser smiled at me as he passed through for another bag. I joined Mum to help her. Of course, she'd gone grocery shopping for us. She musta found out that there was a fully equipped kitchen.
"Mum!" I said. "You didn't have to do all this. Jeez, you even got beer and coffee."
"I knew you'd be tired when you got in." she said. "I made some sandwiches and soup for tonight and something for tomorrow's dinner."
I shook my head. There was even more in the bags than the covered dishes she was stashing in the fridge. There was a teapot and kettle and boxes of tea. There were even a couple of mugs. Fraser walked in then and stopped still holding Dief's bowls in his hands. Mum blushed and put the things away.
"I got them at the Goodwill. Only cost a few dollars," she said. "You wrote in your letters how much Corporal Fraser likes his tea..."
"Ben," Fraser said quietly. "Please, call me Ben. Thank you kindly for all of this."
She smiled at him. "I'm Barbara. And it's no trouble. You're... you're my Stanley's family... He looks... so... good..."
Fraser gave her one of my favorite smiles. That made her hug him again. This time, he hugged her back. My Dad was there then. He cleared his throat.
"Damian," he said holding out his hand. "Ben."
Fraser put down the bowls and shook his hand. I tried not to start bawling. I musta been really tired.
"Well, we should let them be, Barbara," Dad said. "You'll be by soon?"
"Yeah," I said. "We wanna get some shopping done tomorrow. Maybe drop in on Frannie and the kids. But we'll be by a lot while we're here."
"Most certainly," Fraser said.
And then, before I knew it, we were alone. I let my folks out after some more hugs and we had the place to ourselves. No arguments. No strained silences. No accusing stares. I stood in the living room completely confused. Luckily Fraser's brain works better when times get confusing. He put down food and water for Dief then pulled me toward the bedroom.
"The room has robes we can wear," he said. "Let's shower then have something to eat."
"Sounds good," I said. It felt good, too. I knew we were beat, because all we did was shower. There were one or two lazy kisses but that was it.
Fraser pulled on some sweats and took Dief out while I heated the soup and made tea. I picked something without caffeine. Mum would be surprised that I didn't even want beer. I didn't drink much anymore and not before bed. Tea was fine. By the time Fraser got back and slipped into his robe again, I had the food arranged on the coffee table. We demolished it and the tea while watching the local news. Most of it barely registered. Fraser had to take away the plates and mugs.
"Ray," He said softly. "Let's get some sleep."
I know I agreed, but I was really fuzzy. The next thing I knew, I was naked under cool sheets. Fraser was naked and pressed against my back with his arms around me. The unfamiliar sensations were tugging at my mind, but I let them go and focused on the warmth around me. I slid into a deep sleep.
I'm not sure how long I slept. Everything that usually woke me up was way off. A couple of things were familiar. Fraser was pressed alongside me though he wasn't holding me. And he was watching me sleep. I smiled without opening my eyes. I could almost feel the weight of his stare.
"You've been up," I said. Fraser's body wasn't the furnace it usually was after a night of sleep.
"I took Dief for a walk," he replied.
I opened my eyes. It hit me again by how gorgeous he was even in the morning all rumpled and scruffy. His eyes were so blue in the sunlight and they were drinking me up. And his lips had the smallest smile like he was enjoying what he was seeing. I stopped trying to figure out what he saw when he looked at me this way. It was the exact same look he had on his face the morning after we woke up in bed after rescuing me from Snidely. I was just glad he still looked at me that way. And I used those times to look at him. We'd stare at each other until someone had to touch. That morning it was Fraser who reached over to trace along me hairline with his finger. Then he brushed the back of his hand along my cheek before he lowered his head to kiss me.
He got me to moan right away. It was a deep kiss and I soon had the weight of him on top of me. I wrapped my legs around his when he moved to align our morning erections. The kiss never broke. I wouldn't let it. I threaded my fingers through his thick, silky hair and held his head still. I wanted to feel him come against my body with his moan in my mouth. He had me pinned, but I wanted him to know he was mine. I wanted to hear and feel it. That moment when he came so hard that his cry ripped through me would help me deal with a long day of women pressing themselves between us.
We were having breakfast an hour later when the phone rang. It was Welsh giving the big welcome and then asking to talk to Fraser. I watched as he listened intently to whatever Lieu was saying. He was still thoughtful when he hung up the phone.
"Do we have definite plans for the morning, Ray?" Fraser asked.
I shrugged. "No. I made it clear that people would see us when they saw us. Why?"
"I need to see an old acquaintance," he replied. "It seems someone has left me a message."
Our errand got really interesting when Fraser directed me to the more seedier and dangerous of neighborhoods. I don't think I'd ever seen that many hookers of as many varieties as we saw tooling around on those streets. Fraser kept looking at them as though he was trying to recognize someone. Okay, that was strange.
"Ah, there she is," he said after the third block of talent began.
I looked to where he was pointing. There I saw a short, African-American woman in a mini skirt and a short purple fur coat. Her hair and her boots were the same bright lavender-purple. And she was dancing to what must have been some pretty funky music on a set of headphones. I stared at Fraser as he smiled at the woman that I recognized.
"Um, Frase. I didn't know you were acquainted with hookers."
Fraser glanced over at me with a disapproving frown. "Ray, just because a woman likes to dress fancy, and stand on a corner near prostitutes doesn't mean she is one."
I looked at him sideways, but didn't have time to say anything. The lady in question was walking over to the car and Fraser was already getting out. I turned off the ignition and joined him.
"Who is this?" The lady said. "He looks like my big ol' Mountie man but where is your fly red suit?"
"Hello Miss Shorty. I left my red serge at home. I'm on vacation," he said. "Ray, allow me to introduce Miss Biggie Shorty."
"It's Biggie Shorty Tang now, Mountie Man," she said holding out her hand. Above the amazingly long pink nails was a really big rock of a wedding ring.
"Congratulations," Fraser said. "I was confident you would get your man."
"You got that right," she laughed. "Now, who is this skinny blonde thing with the pretty eyes?"
I knew I was red to my hairline. Fraser beamed at me.
"Mrs. Tang, this is my partner Ray Kowalski," he said.
She looked us both over then cocked her head sideways and laughed. "Seems like you found your man, too Mountie Man. Seems we both like some skinny men."
"Indeed," Fraser said. My mouth hung open. He really wasn't going to hide us. "To what do we owe the honor of your call?"
"You know that fool Froggy?"
I nodded. "One of Dirty Dee's guys."
"Not no more. Fool thinks he's a master gangsta now," Biggie replied rolling her eyes. "He's going all over town trying to deliver a message to the Mountie Man. Seems word got around that you were coming back. He's trying to play the big in between to some badass coming into town."
"What's the message?" Fraser asked.
"Watch out for the angry hunter," she said rolling her eyes. "Don't make no sense."
"Who's coming to town?" I asked.
"Somebody connected with BC Bud big time," she said. "Same ol' shit, blah blah blah, he wants to make a name so he's making a big noise. I don't know how sending a silly warning is gonna impress anyone. Even them whores down the street got more sense than that."
I was thinking about the message. There was something there. "I think he got it mixed up."
Biggie chuckled. "That fool was born mixed up. But that's what he said."
"Frase, I think he meant 'Beware the Mad Trapper.'"
"And what the hell does that mean?" Biggie asked.
"Same ol' shit, blah blah blah," I replied. "He's gonna try to kill Frase."
"And as many other officers as he can," Fraser said.
It's a mark of how screwy our lives were that this sort of message barely broke our stride. There wasn't any sense in getting upset. Besides, we knew the job was dangerous when we took it. I called Welsh when we left to have it find out about Froggy's known associates. We took the threat seriously, but we already knew that his plan wouldn't happen spur of the moment. We had some time. Frase was a little quiet, but that was all. He voted for swinging by the Vecchios to see Frannie and the kids. I tried to give him an out in favor of Mum's for lunch, but he wanted to get the first meeting over with. Seems six kids was scaring him and he just wanted to face it head on. I called Mum and told her she'd have us for a late supper. I had to figure in for a nap.
We could hear them before we knocked on the door. There was squealing and laughing and yelling and running and I couldn't tell what the other noises were. I knew it was loud. Even Dief looked concerned. Maybe it was our expressions at the door. Maybe that ungodly noise could pierce deafness.
"No, you may not wait in the car," Fraser said. "And you will be at your most patient."
Dief whined at that but stayed by our sides. Fraser squared his shoulders then knocked on the door. It took a little bit, but eventually, there was a voice on the other side.
"Who is it?" I could barely hear Frannie over the noise inside.
"It's us, Frannie. Open up," I said.
The door swung open and there she was still tiny and cute. Still a spitfire. She looked at us with big saucer eyes and then I had an armful of her.
"Ray! You're gorgeous!" She laughed.
I hugged her back wondering just what the heck everyone was seeing. "You look great, too."
I set her down. She looked at Fraser with a smile. My Mountie smiled back then pulled her into his arms. "You look wonderful, Francesca. It's good to see you."
She stepped back from us in time to get a face full of the wolf. That made her laugh. She hugged him and let him lick her face before dragging us all inside to meet the kids. There were only two in the living room, but I figured they were like sea gulls. They had some kind of way of letting each other know that a new set of toys was in the house. Without anyone calling anybody, we were soon hip deep in dark haired moppets with huge dark eyes and really good lungs. They were in their mid-morning, far from naptime strength. Fraser and I were climbed on, drawn on pulled and chased around the house. We were laughed at, cried at, yelled at and babbled at. At their lunch, we were used as tables and napkins. Of course, the one with the most entertaining personality was Ray. So I heard his name a lot in various tones and volumes. Made me jump every time he got called on something. The second most frequent name yelled was Vinnie followed by Sophia. There was a Benton namesake who seemed quiet enough. I soon realized that he was orchestrating a lot of the mayhem. I had to let his mother know that he needed watching.
Dief tried to keep a low profile under furniture but that wasn't really successful. He was patient though and found that the occasionally big swipe of the tongue across an unexpected face could give him an exit. And then at the point when we didn't think we could stand anymore, they all passed out in turn right where they were playing. It was like someone threw an off switch. We helped Frannie gather them up and put them to bed. Then, they were the beautiful angels she wrote about. Not that they weren't adorable awake, but asleep they weren't nearly as loud or dangerous.
I realized as we headed out of the house, that we hadn't really talked to Frannie. She looked too tired once they were asleep. The mothers I knew always told me that they learned to sleep when the kids did, so we left her alone. We would see her at the 2-7 during the week and certainly at Thanksgiving. It was best to let her get some shuteye. Fraser looked a little ragged around the edges anyway. I gave her a hug goodbye and told her to stop by our hotel anytime. Then we left.
We picked up lunch on the way to the hotel. Fraser put it out while I walked Dief. He was one tired wolf, so he did his business pretty quick. When I got back to the room, he found himself a safe corner to curl up in. I made sure he had food and water for later then joined Fraser on the sofa. We ate most of the food, but fatigue won out. The whole day had been noisy. I didn't realize how much it bothered me until we were in the quiet of the hotel suite. I was dragging. Fraser was really beat. He was stretched out on the sofa before I finished eating. I had to pull off his shoes and his belt so he was comfortable. I stripped down a little then got an extra blanket from the closet. A little while later, I was squeezed on the sofa partially on top of him. Fraser wrapped his arms around me to hold me in place. I was asleep a little while later.
There was knocking at the door. I wasn't sure how long we had been sleeping. It was long enough to get really drooly. I was feeling better, but was still really sleepy. Fraser didn't budge at the noise. He let me get up after a little grumbling.
"I'm coming," I said hoping the knocking would stop before Fraser woke up. I found Frannie standing there.
"We still friends?" She asked.
I motioned for her turn down the voice and had her come in. She saw Fraser and just about bolted, but I told her it would be okay.
"Why wouldn't we be friends?" I asked. We were in the kitchen I got us both some juice.
"The kids were kinda excited with you two and Dief. We don't get many visitors," she said. "I thought they might have scared you."
"Frannie, your kids are great. They're all crazy, but that's what toddlers are," I said. "We had a great time. We're still coming off a long trip. And the city just takes a lot out of us, too."
Fraser stirred then. He murmured my name. I knew that if he didn't find me soon, he'd wake up.
Frannie looked ready to bolt again. This was silly. She was our biggest supporter with the family. We had to be comfortable around her if nobody else. I had her follow me to the living area and take a seat in the easy chair near the sofa. I sat on the couch at Fraser's middle. He looped an arm around my waist right away.
"Ray?" He whispered. I felt him stirring.
"Shhh, I'm here Ben," I said. I ran my fingers through his hair very lightly then gently stroked his face. He settled back into a deep sleep.
When I looked up Frannie was staring at us. She was a little teary.
"I always knew he would be like that... so sweet," she said softly. "It makes sense that you were the one."
"You two never did anything half way. He needed someone that would care about everything he loved," she said. "I wouldn't have followed him up there. I sure wouldn't love it there the way you do. He needed that. You needed someone that would love you as fierce as you love. Stella was stupid."
"Frannie," I said. I was red as a beet.
"She was. Women shouldn't throw away guys for a few rough edges," she said. "Guys who can commit like you are hard to find. Believe me, I know."
"Stop," I said with a chuckle. "Stell's been real cool about this. Well, she is now. I'm more worried about your brother."
She rolled her eyes. "My brother seems to forget all the times he yelled at Fraser for being stubborn. He thinks he doesn't know his own mind. I worry he'll make trouble for you two."
"He'll only make trouble for himself," I said. "Ray has to respect Ben's choices. Or he'll lose a friendship."
Frannie looked at where Fraser was holding me. He had me tight against him. He even managed to find some skin between my shirt and may waistband. His face had a small smile.
"I can see that. I hope he does, too," She said. "I should get going. My gang will be up soon."
"You get some shut eye yourself," I said. "And we'd like to take you to lunch where grown-ups eat."
Frannie smiled at that. "With real table cloths?"
"You got it."
She clapped silently at that. "You're on. Don't get up. I'm history."
As soon as the door shut, I was plastered against my Mountie again. We were loafing, that's for sure. But we had no official duties at that moment. And Mum wasn't serving dinner until seven. We had eight days to get our shopping done. I just couldn't think of any good reason not to loaf and enjoy each other's skin.
That night with my folks was weird even by my standards. Dinner was fine. Mom scored with her meatloaf and mashed potatoes. I barely had room for dessert, but I ate it anyway. I'm just a sucker for cobbler. We talked about Chicago politics mostly. Fraser and I followed things online but there were always great stories that never made it to print. Things got strange after dinner. Dad and I went into the living room and watched TV with Dief while Fraser washed dishes with my Mum. I passed through the kitchen getting us beers and, well snooping. First they were talking about putting up vegetables. Later it was about buying a quilt. Finally, they were talking stews over a cup of tea.
Now, Fraser and I don't do the role thing. We're just us. But the way he is with me -- so physically protective and possessive and demanding --- makes me forget that he feels just as manly hanging out with an elderly lady talking about quilts. That evening probably gave Dad a totally wrong impression of what went on between us. But for me, it made me fall in love with him all over again.
The next day we hit the stores early and got our Christmas list for Inuvik knocked out. It had to be shipped out with some care, so we wanted it done as fast as we could manage. I picked up a bunch of touristy post cards to send home. The townies would get a kick out of them. I had to get different ones for each because they would exchange them. I would have to write a funny little story for each picture. Give them some Chicago urban legends to talk about.
"I miss them," I said as we piled the loot into the trunk of the car.
"Everybody... Mrs. Swenson, Arvid, Eustace, Murphy... the whole gang," I said.
Fraser smiled at me. It was one of those melty smiles I got when I said something really wonderful.
"What?" I asked.
"I was being silly, Ray," Fraser said. "Every time we come back here, I'm convinced you'll want to stay."
"At least you know you're being silly," I said. "Get in the car, Mountie."
I swatted him on that very nice butt as he passed me. Fraser turned and gave me such a look. For a minute I thought I was going to get bent over the car trunk. That didn't happen, but I knew he'd make me enjoy the punishment for that little move later. And I couldn't wait. But we had a lot ahead of us for that day. The next stop was the 2-7. We figured that Welsh had enough time to get everyone up to speed on their day. We could stop by without taking too much away from his other cases.
"It's Nell!" Was the first thing I heard as we strolled into the Bullpen. Dewey, of course.
"Ha, ha Dewey," I muttered. "I've sent a lot of material since then. I'm sure you can do better than that. Hey, Huey."
Huey gave me one of those manly, backslapping hugs. Dewey shook my hand.
"Hey, Red," Huey said. "I can't believe how good Kowalski looks. What you been feeding him?"
Dewey looked like he wanted to say something, but Fraser frosted him before smiling at Huey.
"Whale blubber. He actually likes it now."
"Fraser! Ray!" Frannie exclaimed. She was loaded down with files. "Why didn't you tell me you got someone after you?"
Fraser went to help her with the files, which were threatening to escape her grip.
"I thought you wanted to hear news," I replied. "What's all this?"
"All the people with reason to kill you both," she replied. "Welsh had me pull them when you called."
"That was kind of him, but we've got them compiled on this set of CDs," Fraser said holding up the cases.
She looked at us in amazement.
"It comes up a lot," I said. "Lieu in there?"
"Yeah. He's expecting you."
"Greatness. Let's get to it, Frase."
"Right you are," Fraser replied. "Francesca, would you care to join us for lunch? Rob Feenie is a guest chef at the Ritz and has a lovely prix fix lunch."
Her eyes got huge. "I don't know who he is or what that is, but I'm in. I gotta change!"
Welsh looked the same. Stilling yelling at his phone and surrounded by files. He smiled and waived us in. We pulled up some chairs in front of his desk. He was grinning at us as he hung up the phone.
"You guys still know how to mix it up. Even on vacation," he chuckled. "It's great to see you."
"Same here, Lieu. Don't miss the place, but it's good to see you," I said.
"I feel the same, Sir." Fraser said. "And thank you kindly for your help in this matter."
"It looks like we have our work cut out for us if you're puling old files," I said.
"It did until I got a fax from Canada," Welsh said pulling it out from a pile. "Your Constable Murphy sent this down."
"Ah, yes. Well, things are quiet in Inuvik so I thought he might do some research for us," Fraser replied. "He's a good man. Oh, Ray he says that Mrs. Swenson wants to remind you about the spices."
I pulled out my notepad. "I got it on the list."
Welsh looked at me.
"I'm bringing her some fancy vanilla bean, cinnamon and nutmeg from one of those fancy cooking places for her holiday baking," I explained. When Welsh continued to look at me sideways, I explained further. "Food Network Canada is one of the channels that comes in real good, okay?"
Fraser scanned the pages then handed them to me. "Frank McPherson aka Lawson Lambster and I tangled before I came to Chicago. He like many before him thought that the Territories an easy place through which to smuggle goods. His capture was very humiliating to him."
I was still stuck on the guys handle, but this sounded good. "Humiliating?"
Fraser cracked his neck. "Mr. McPherson was unprepared for the weather and unfamiliar with the terrain. His goods got lost in a crevasse almost immediately. When I caught up to him, he was wet and near freezing."
"Exactly Ray," Fraser said. "You see, Leftenant, I had to get him out of his wet clothes or he would freeze. I brought him in dry and warm strapped in my sled."
Welsh started laughing. "You brought the big bad drug dealer in naked?"
"Yes, sir." Fraser replied. "It saved his life."
"I don't think he cares," Welsh laughed.
"Yeah, he has to try to whack you," I said. "Something like that is going to follow him here. And you are well known to that element. He'd have no chops here if he didn't take you down. But I don't think he's any better organized. He's mixing up his metaphors."
"What do you mean?" Fraser asked.
I rolled my eyes. His Saturday morning education was sorely lacking. "Lawson Lambster?"
"Oh, come on. He might as well be Hap Hazard or Ali Ben Scheemer evading Inspector Detector."
Fraser looked more confused. Welsh even more so.
"Never mind," I muttered. I refused to get any more obvious. He'd never get it anyway. "This guy sees himself as a sympathetic criminal with good reasons for what he's doing."
"So you learned to profile while fixing transmissions?" A voice said from the door.
Vecchio was here. Oh joy. Fraser stood up and greeted him with a hug that surprised his former partner. But before I could get worked up about that, Fraser was having Ray sit in the chair next to me while he stood behind me with those warm hands were resting on my shoulders. Vecchio noticed. So did Welsh. If I tilted my head back, I could rest on his firm tummy. And I don't think he would have cared either. I was okay with that.
"I'm sorry to be distracted from our reunion, Ray. But the Leftenant has granted us a little of his time to figure out who might be trying to kill me," Fraser said.
"Frannie told me, that's why I came by," he replied.
"Thank you, kindly. To continue then. Ray is correct about McPherson's view of his own exploits," Fraser said. "He believed that he was providing an essential service as a drug dealer and couldn't understand why the government was interfering."
"So what's that got to do with the Mad Hatter?" Welsh asked.
"Trapper," Fraser said.
"That's what I'm saying," I said. It was beginning to cheese me off. "The mook is mixing up his symbols. That story isn't about some Robin Hood. It's about killing Mounties."
"Of course there's a story," Vecchio said. I was almost amused at the tone in his voice. I've felt that way more than once.
"A riveting one," Fraser replied. "Ray is very good at telling it."
Welsh and Vecchio looked at me with owl eyes.
"You're telling stories now?" Vecchio asked.
I shrugged. "This one is so strange. I don't know. It got to me. You don't see or hear of much senseless violence up there. It just stood out for me."
Fraser gently squeezed my shoulders. "Tell them, Ray."
It wasn't the same as telling it at the Mad Trapper Pub, but I could make do. I got comfortable.
"His name was Albert Johnson or so he said. There were no records of him anywhere when it was all over and no one ever came forward to claim him as a relative. But that was the name he used when he came to Fort MacPherson and built a cabin along the Rat River. He built a sturdy 8x10 cabin with views on three sides. It was perfect for trapping. Thing was, he didn't get a trapping license. Folks there thought that odd but didn't kick much. You live and let live there. Besides, that's what Mounties were for. But then, the locals noticed that their traps were being messed with. That made them call on the law. Enter Constables King and Bernard. They made a friendly visit to the cabin to have a chat with Johnson. They knew he was home but he never responded to their attempts to talk to him. Since it was 40 below and they knew he was armed, they left to get back up," I said. "Let me tell you, unlike Frase here, when Mounties get back up they get back up."
"I get back up, Ray," Fraser said indignantly.
"You do now," I replied.
"Get back to the story," Welsh said.
I chuckled at that. "So they come back with two more Constables and a civilian. This time, Johnson responds by shooting through the door and wounding Constable King. The Mounties leave again riding 20 hours in a dog sled to save King's life. And get more back up. This time it was nine men, 42 dogs and 40 pounds of dynamite that they kept next to their bodies to keep it from freezing. This time, no talking. They threw the dynamite in and blew the roof off the cabin and caved in one wall."
"Jesus," Vecchio said.
"That's what I'm saying," I replied. "So the posse goes in expecting to clean up body parts. But Johnson was in a foxhole. He came up shooting and almost got a couple of Constables. After a 15 hour siege in frigid weather, the Mounties retreated to regroup."
"When they came after Johnson again, he had left the cabin and was on the run," I said. "They chased him through two blizzards and 50 below temperatures. Everyone in Canada was listening to reports about this on the radio. They corner him again two weeks later. This time, he kills a Constable Millen. Shot him through the heart. And the chase was on again. What no one gets to this day is how he was surviving out there without proper gear. No one knew how he was keeping his clothes dry and himself warm in that severe weather. And he's a freak in other ways. The Mounties would block the one pass through the mountains, so he would go over. Finally, they had a plane sent out to track him -- and that was the first time in Canada that air surveillance was used. Finally, they corner Johnson again. This is over five weeks this has been going on. Still, it took nine bullets to bring him down. They never really knew who he was or why he was carrying two grand and gold in his pockets. And throughout all of this, he had never said word one to the Mounties."
"I didn't think stuff like that went on up there," Welsh said.
"We do have our share of violent criminals," Fraser said. "But the mysterious nature of Albert Johnson's behavior still fascinates the department to this day. It's certainly a story that McPherson would know. And he would know that I would be familiar with it."
"But how is he going to use it?" Welsh said.
"He would have to set up a siege situation in which I would be compelled to enter," I said. "But as I am a civilian here now, the only way I'd get involved in such a situation is if something extremely personal is at stake. He would have to take Ray."
Fraser's response was matter of fact. Vecchio seemed surprised by that.
"But they can't know..." he said.
"They know," Fraser said with certainty. "I left with Ray and returned with him. It wouldn't be much of a leap in logic."
"You don't sound very worried," Vecchio said. It was a dig. I tensed but Fraser's hands stilled me.
"I take Ray's safety very seriously," Fraser said. He knew it was a dig, but he let it slide. "We have learned the best way to deal with such a threat is not to play the criminal's game. He will not be allowed anywhere near Ray. Eventually, frustration and limited time will cause him to improvise. Then, he will make mistakes."
"Are you going to glue him to you?" Vecchio asked.
"Adhesive won't be necessary," Fraser said. I got a shoulder squeeze again. I could tell he was smiling.
"I like staying close to Frase," I said smirking at Vecchio. "We got this thing worked out. Things get hairy, we don't separate -- ever."
"What about when you're patrolling, Benny?"
"If it's feasible, he accompanies me. Ray has authorization to act as a deputy of sorts from the RCMP," Fraser replied. "When a danger presents and I've already gone, Ray either stays near the detachment or someone is with him."
I smiled at that. One time when an idiot gang calling themselves the Idea Men (their big idea was smuggling with a blimp like no one would notice) was causing mayhem aimed at Fraser, I had a lot of visitors that found reasons to stay all day or had to stay the night. That was strange enough, but they were also well armed the whole time. I eventually bought a clue and just let them protect me.
Fraser seemed to be reading my mind again. "The town is quite attached to Ray. I'm not worried anymore about his safety there. Here is another matter."
"The thing is that the Mounties behaved according to a pattern with Albert Johnson," I said. "They tend to respond to most situations in a predictable manner. We have to break the pattern to throw him off."
"So what are your friends supposed to do while you make like Siamese? And I'm sure Ray has people he'd like to talk to alone," Vecchio asked.
"There is still over a week of vacation before we return to Canada," Fraser said. "I am confident that McPherson will do something unwise during that time and get himself apprehended. Meanwhile, I understand that people find us amusing as a pair."
I laughed at that. "I think that was sarcasm, Frase."
"Really?" He replied. "Well, in any event. Our friends will have to enjoy us together. I'm sure, given the circumstances, no one will object."
"I think that's the most sense you two ever showed about your personal safety," Welsh said. "I'll have the heat turned up on McPherson. Between that and you guys not playing into his hand, we'll make him do something dumb."
"Thank you, Leftenant," Fraser said.
"Thanks Lieu. We'll see you before we leave," I said. "We gotta take Frannie to lunch. You want to join us, Vecchio?"
"And horn in on her fancy lunch?" he laughed. "I know how to keep me safe, too. I'll catch up with you guys later. I'm gonna hang out with Lieu for a few."
"Oh, goody," Welsh said.
I got up and shook Welsh's hand. Vecchio shook mine as well. I knew he was going to talk about Frase, and me but I didn't care. Fraser gave his old partner a level look as he left him. If Vecchio was smart, he would back down. Maybe Welsh could talk some sense into him.
We didn't forget about McPherson or Froggy, but they weren't on our front burner after the meeting with Welsh. The Vecchios knew to watch out for trouble and Welsh agreed to but a light tail on my folks. I didn't think they would go after anyone we were connected to. The naked thing made this really personal for McPherson.
After a few days, we got some anonymous phone calls trying to draw us apart to make sure our friends were safe. But we knew where everyone was and that they were safe. The last one was McPherson calling on the phone in our room. I told him it was lame for him to call on phones that can be traced then hung up on him. The calls stopped. We remained careful, but we were going to enjoy our vacation.
And that's what we did. We got our Chicago shopping done and wrapped. It was hard to pick up the special items I had in mind for Fraser with him at my elbow all the time. I gave that list to Frannie. I suspect that my Mountie did the same thing because she found my note really funny and wouldn't tell me why. Beyond the chores, we got to spend a lot of time with our friends and family. We got to know the Vecchio kids a lot better while we helped with some repair projects around the Vecchio house. I would have thought that Ray would be around for that, but he'd been making himself scarce since that day in Welsh's office. Fraser didn't comment on it, but I was pretty steamed.
I put it aside though for harmony's sake. Besides, we were having a good time without him or Stell, for that matter. I was really happy about the time we spent with my folks. We hosted Dad's poker pals one night and then invited him to the 2-7 poker game we had another time. We shuttled Mum around for her errands or hung out with her while she was cooking. One of the best days with her was an afternoon I told her about our days in Inuvik while she and Fraser made dinner. The best with Dad was when I spent a whole day with him going over all kinds of auto and truck and appliance manuals and talking about some of my harder repair jobs while my Mum taught Fraser about putting up vegetables. I don't ever remember connecting with them like we did over those days. Dad was still a little uneasy around the edges, but in the end he and Fraser could talk hockey and fishing. And that was about all we'd ever done when I was growing up, so that was pretty good.
At day six of our vacation we were two days from Thanksgiving. That's when we started noticing the tail to and from the hotel. It was a lime green sedan, so it wasn't hard to spot. Had to be Froggy. We gave Welsh a heads up. He let us know that Narcotics had been leaning on Froggy, but he'd been too dense to give up McPherson. He was too determined to make his own mark. We decided to let everyone know that we were going to keep away until Thanksgiving. Frase and I could visit some places we used to like back when while we waited for them to make a move. It was a sure bet they'd do something before the holiday.
That's how we ended up at my favorite deep-dish pizza parlor. Our waitress remembered me and may have paid me more attention than she should have. I mean it amounted to really keeping our water glasses filled and some extra napkins. Sure, she shouldn't have petted my hair to see if it felt spiky. It wasn't my fault, but I knew my Mountie. I was in for it. He was talking normally and our walk to the hotel wasn't strained at all, but I knew. I could feel how much he wanted to get his hands on me.
Fraser was well behaved in the elevator talking about the things we might do the next day. We checked our floor and our room thoroughly for intruders before locking the door. I was then pushed against the door with a hot Mountie pressed against me. One leg pushed my thighs apart. He held my arms still by my biceps. He was scenting my hair then my skin with such focus I thought he was going to absorb me.
"I must be neglecting you, Ray," he murmured in my ear. "For you to behave so outrageously."
I tried to push against him. He may have budged a quarter of an inch. "I just wanted some water."
"Really?" Fraser asked mildly. "Why were her hands in your hair?" He shifted his hips sending a jolt through me.
"Not may fault," I gasped. Fraser bit me at the curve of my left shoulder then sucked at it. He was so hard. I think I was even harder. But I wasn't ready to give in. My possessive Mountie was right in one way. I missed this from him. I was going to push him until he went wild. I tried to push him back again.
Fraser raised his head to look at me. God, his eyes were so dark. Then his mouth was on mine and that tongue was working me. I struggled again because I wanted to touch him. But he held me still and kissed the breath out of me. Soon, struggling was less appealing. But there were other ways to make him crazy. I moaned for him and let my body relax and mold against his. He moaned in my mouth.
Then Fraser's cell phone rang.
His head dropped for a few seconds. Without releasing me completely, he pulled the chirping thing out of his jacket pocket.
"Benton Fraser," he said resting his forehead against mine. Jesus, that voice would tell anyone what he was doing. "Oh, hello Ray. Thank you but we've already eaten... Yes, that had crossed my mind. I'm sure you believe you do... Very well. It's room 1529."
Fraser hung up the phone then lifted his head. He kissed me again just as deeply as before but more gently. His hands left my arms to slide around my waist to pull me close. Mine slid up his arms. I sunk both hands into his thick hair moaning again. After a long moment, he pulled away.
"Ray and Stella are on their way," he said. I sort of heard what he said. My body was busy reacting to what he just did to me and how hot he still looked. His eyes were still dark. I could barely see the blue in them. His lips were red from kissing me and I'd done a number on his hair. I had to close my eyes and take a deep breath before I jumped him.
"Okay... okay," I said. My voice was still husky. "I'll go put on the kettle."
I grinned at him as I got to the kitchen. "Saved in the nick of time from 'punishment' huh, Ben."
Fraser gave me a hotter than hot glare. "Hardly, Ray. It's merely delayed."
I was hard as a rock again. I had to focus before Stella got there. Thinking about her helped. Thinking about Vecchio helped more. That was good because they were at the door a few minutes later. Must have called from really close by. I started running water for the kettle.
"Ray?" Stella said from behind me.
"Hey, Stell," I replied turning to give her a proper hello.
"Jesus, Ray," she whispered. "Look at you. Did I ever make you look like that?"
"Sure, Stell," I chuckled hugging her.
She pulled my shirt a little at the collar. "I've never done that."
"Maybe not," I smiled. "You look great."
"So do you, Ray," she said. "Besides the obvious, what are you doing up there?"
I turned on the kettle. "You want some wine? I picked up your favorite."
She smiled. "Thank you. That would be nice."
"I got some beers that Ray might like," I said opening the fridge. "You pick one."
I opened the bottle and poured her a glass. "I work outside a lot. I eat good food -- not much junk food up there and I get plenty of sleep. No crazy cases keeping me up for days."
"And you're in love," she said. Her voice was soft. "I wasn't really sure before, but I can see it now."
I smiled a little. The kettle kept me form answering for a minute. I poured water into the teapot and gathered the cups.
"Yeah, I am," I said. "Feels great."
"I really am happy for you, Ray," she said. "No matter what happens, remember that."
No matter what happens? "What does that mean? What's Vecchio been saying?"
"You guys will have to deal with this yourselves," she said taking the beer and wine into the living area.
I followed with the tea. Fraser and Vecchio were still standing. I thought that was strange. And Fraser was his most Mountie stiff. Dief stopped trying to get some attention and bailed for a corner with an indignant wuff. That wasn't good. Things didn't get any more relaxed when Vecchio noticed the hickey that Stella exposed.
"I hear from Frannie that you two have spent quite a bit of time with the kids?" Stella said.
I set up the tea and took a seat in the middle of the sofa. "Yeah, they're a lot of fun. I think I'm even used to the squealing. Right Frase?"
My Mountie sat next to me. His body touched mine from hip to knee. He draped an arm around my shoulder touching my skin near his handiwork. I turned my head and gave him a smile. His eyes softened and he relaxed.
"Yes, they are quite a group of characters," Fraser said. "Though Miss Sophia hits a note at times that still disturbs my equilibrium. They are joyful to be around nonetheless."
"Joy to the extreme," I chuckled pouring the tea.
"You wanted kids, didn't you Kowalski?" Vecchio asked. I knew there was something in that question on my own. Fraser tensing up again confirmed it.
I handed Fraser his cup then squeezed his thigh. "Yeah, I did. But that was part of a life that was a fantasy. I wasn't really cut out for them. As it is, I need a nap after Frannie's brood. Even young Mr. Swenson tires me out after a few hours. I'm liking the uncle thing."
"Young Mr. Swenson?" Stella asked.
"Arvid Swenson," Fraser said. "A five year old who keeps Ray busy with breakables."
Fraser and I smiled at each other. We were both remembering the debacle of Arvid's attempt to hitch Dief to his little red wagon. Dief made sure that wagon was out of service for a long time. It had been undignified for the wolf, but it was funny. My breath caught at that blindingly happy smile.
"Benny, I'm sorry. I just don't get this," Vecchio said. "How did this happen?"
"Ray!" Stella snapped. "You said you would spend time with them."
"I can't! I just don't get this!" Vecchio said.
"I'm sorry to hear that, Ray," Fraser said. "I have written you all that I am able about how happy I've been the past couple of years. I had hoped that you would try to be happy for me."
"Ray, please don't go any further," Fraser said. "I made a promise to myself and to Ray that we would no longer suffer through situations that made us unhappy trying to live up to others expectations. We spent too much time apart and miserable doing that. That said, we will forego attending dinner at your Mother's home. We've spent quite a bit of time there; I'm sure they won't be keenly disappointed."
"And if we dispense with McPherson prior to leaving, I'm certain Ray would like to take you to the Rob Feenie lunch," Fraser said to Stella. "I understand that you would enjoy that."
"Yes, but..." Stella said.
"Forgive me, but I have to ask that you leave," Fraser said. "I do not want to fight with an old friend, but I cannot allow our relationship to be disrespected."
"I understand," Stella said standing. "It was good to see you, Ray. Thanks for having us up, Benton."
"Thank you, Stella," Fraser said. He was still staring hard at Vecchio who was staring hard back.
Stella gave me a quick hug. She snagged her husband by the arm as she stalked towards the door. The way her ears had turned red, I knew that there would be hell to pay in that car. Served him right. I locked the door after they left then leaned against it. Fraser was looking at the floor.
"God, I'm sorry Ben," I said. I felt a lump in my throat. "I didn't mean to cost you..."
"No!" Fraser said. His intensity startled me. He crossed the room to press me against the door once more. "He cost himself, Ray."
I wanted to say something to make it better, but Fraser had other plans. He wrapped his arms around me and pulled me flush as he kissed me gentle and sweet.
Fraser pulled out of the kiss to look at me. "When we were partners here, I used to watch your eyes. As I got to know you, I learned that nothing was hidden in them. Even when you face told one story, your eyes would always give you away to me. I was delighted when your eyes would light up when they saw me. Even at times when we were most conflicted as partners, your eyes gave away your feelings for me. I didn't believe they were the kind of feelings I wanted from you, but knowing you felt for me at all meant so much."
He kissed me again still gentle and slow. My punishment was forgotten for the time being. He wanted to gently make love to me.
"But as much as I love the light in your eyes for me, I also love how they darken when I touch you," he said the next time his kiss ended. "I was thrilled beyond words when I saw your eyes dark and hungry for me after that first kiss. You gave me your heart and your body and your strength and laughter. What we have is a gift. Never regret it for any reason."
I swallowed hard and tried to speak but couldn't. I set my mouth against his again. This kiss was more heated. We were moving against each other trying to get to the bedroom and undress at the same time. It was awkward and sometimes painful with flying elbows and bad timing. Finally, Fraser pushed me on to the bed and basically tore off my clothes then his own. For all that ferocity though, his mouth was still sweet and gentle when he got back to kissing. I wrapped my legs around him and began to move. He pulled back again to watch my face, as I got close. His eyes were almost black and his expression.... that did it for me. I came watching his face. Seconds later, his head dropped to my neck crying out my name.
The phone was ringing. The little red numbers on the clock told me it was 4:00 am. It took me four rings to snake my arm out from under the sleeping Mountie on top of me.
"We got problems, Ray," Huey said. "Got a tip from Biggie Shorty that one of Froggy's men rented a room in your building. We just lost Froggy in the area."
Fraser was getting out of bed and pulling on sweats. I did the same. "You can't let them get us back to Froggy's territory with all his men. McPherson wants Fraser to die in a siege."
Fraser took the phone as I finished dressing. "Detective Huey, would you get word to Mrs. Shorty-Tang. She'll know where they plan to take us. Right you are."
He hung up the phone. "They'll pick up the tail once we get outside. Narcotics has a team en route as well."
"Let's get out of here. I don't want them breaking down the door," I said. "What about Dief?"
"We'll take him for a walk," Fraser said. "Dief, if we get waylaid, you find Detective Huey and stay with him."
Dief barked. We headed out. I didn't like that we were unarmed or that we didn't know our back-up. Huey and Dewy were pretty good even with being comedians. But there was nothing like a detachment of Mounties for proper firepower. And it was easier to find people in the woods than it is down alleys and in abandoned houses. As always, Fraser was reading my mind.
"We'll be fine Ray," he said. "Our back up will be there as well Ms. Shorty-Tang. We just can't let them take us where they want."
I was behind that. This was one night when I was not willing to cooperate. "And we have to stick together, Ben. No matter what."
Fraser smiled at me. "No matter what."
There must have been some scrambling as we cleared the hotel lobby. We noticed someone in Froggy's car poke a head out as we headed away from them on foot. We were walking a good fifteen minutes before anything happened. As usual, Dief was in the bushes when the mayhem started. I'm convinced the wolf had a sense about that sort of thing. Anyway, the panel van screeched to a halt beside us just as I noticed that Huey and Dewy were in place. I knew they wanted more than just a quick kill, but for a split second my heart was in my throat facing the guns just inside that vehicle.
Well, they weren't talkative. That was good. Fraser and I climbed in and backed against the opposite side of the van. One of the henchmen called Froggy to let him know they had us. I couldn't hear where we were supposed to go. While we rode, I wondered how Froggy ended up with his nickname. He wasn't bugged eyed. Didn't have a deep, gravelly voice. Just short and liked to wear green. I wonder if some jerk hung the name on him in school and he just went with it. That would suck living down to a name like that just because of some jerk.
"Hey, go to the warehouse near 14th," Henchman One said.
Frase shot me a sideways glance. I didn't know what that meant, but I knew he had some sort of plan.
"Jeez, MickyP is sure pissed at you," the Henchman said. "What the hell did you do to him?"
Now, Fraser would have told him he did his Mountie duty by apprehending a miscreant who had broken the law. I told him the whole thing. And put emphasis on the naked part. The van was in an uproar then. They were laughing their asses off.
"Oh, he has to cap you!" The Henchman howled.
General hilarity ensued. Seems that tidbit uncorked a lot of disrespect for 'Mickey P.' There was a lot of dissin' and laughing for several miles as we made our way to the warehouse district. We sat still and relaxed. I laughed at some of the jokes because they were freakin' funny. Fraser shook his head a lot. The thing was that we were so laid back that the Henchmen forgot that they were supposed to be watching us carefully. I guess since we weren't gang bangers and we were old to them, we didn't seem dangerous.
Fraser shot me another sideways glance. I watched him for the move. When he pulled back his arm, I was right on it. We cold cocked our companions and were rolling out of the van seconds later. We righted ourselves almost simultaneously and hauled ass toward Huey and Dewey before the van could turn. By the time they did, backup had been called in. They had the van surrounded. Dief was with us seconds after that. Fraser didn't look happy. We weren't done.
"Detective Huey, is that Narcotics Unit still en route?" He asked.
"Yeah, they're a few miles back."
"Have them meet us at the 14th Street warehouse," he said. "We still have to draw out McPherson. Ray."
"Right behind you."
We jogged off with Dief in tow. I knew that we didn't get Froggy either. I was pretty sure his car was well back of the back-up. If that was true, he saw us split off.
"Frase... what about the siege... the Mad Trapper..." I huffed.
"Much of the accoutrements for the siege was in the van," Fraser replied not huffing at all. "I think they meant to catch us unaware and have the luxury of securing us in the warehouse -- most likely where we would get caught in the crossfire -- before the authorities knew we were gone. Had he actually been like Albert Johnson, he would have been better prepared."
"Yeah, right," I said wondering when he would need to breathe.
The warehouse looked locked up tight to me. There were windows, but they were on the second floor.
"No way in," I said. "And me without my bat grappling hook."
"Now who's mixing metaphors, Ray," Frase said with a smirk.
"I got your way in," I heard from behind me. Then I felt a gun barrel on my neck. Dief made himself scarce on a signal from Fraser.
"Oh, hey Froggy," I said.
"Shut up!" He shouted. "You assholes had me runnin' all over town for days. I still got to pick up a sweet potato pie or my Grandma is gonna kill me."
"A very fine pie," Fraser said. "I think I prefer it to pumpkin."
"Really?" I asked.
"Shut UP!" Froggy shouted again. He forced me over to a keypad by a large loading door then punched in a code. The door slid open. I was shoved inside. Fraser followed at a distance with Froggy watching him.
"So who's lame now, Kowalski?" A voice said from a catwalk. The speaker stepped out of the shadows. McPherson was tall and slight with red hair. Even dressed I could tell that him naked wasn't a good thing to see.
"I don't see no siege here, MickyP," I replied. "I see a big empty room and little Froggy here."
"Hey! Shut up!" Froggy insisted. He shoved the gun against my skin for emphasis.
"Horsemen seem to be resourceful even here," McPherson said with a shrug as he headed down the stairs. "But I have you and him and this..."
He pulled out a really big automatic weapon. That told me that he didn't look good naked and probably wasn't packing much either.
"That's all I need to humiliate him, make him suffer and then make him die," McPherson said. His quiet tone began to scare me. I wondered where the back-up was.
"He kept you alive, you moron," I snapped. "I'm sure he didn't get a kick looking at you. And by the way, you are no Lawson Lambster, freak."
The blow to the left side of my face took me down in a blinding flash. I didn't see it coming. When I looked up, Froggy was glaring at me.
"I told you to shut up," he said.
"Froggy, lay off him right now," McPherson said. "He's for part two and you can kill him really slowly then. Right now, Horseman... strip."
Froggy and I both looked at McPherson.
"Okay, I ain't going for that shit, MickyP. Froggy don't go that way."
"I'm not gonna fuck him," McPherson said. He pointed the gun at me. "I want to humiliate him. Strip!"
Fraser took a deep breath. Then he took his jacket off. He reached for the Stetson.
"No, leave the hat on," McPherson said.
"He's right MickyP, you are a freak. We gonna have to talk," Froggy said.
Fraser looked puzzled. "I have to take the hat off to get my shirts off."
"Okay... but then put it on."
Froggy looked at me at that point. I shrugged. I always wondered what would happen if a henchman didn't exactly embrace all of his leader's kinks. It must be hard to find guys that are bent in every way as the top villain. I thought I was about to find out.
Fraser took the shirts off then put the hat on. He then methodically removed his boots and socks then his pants and underwear. McPherson seemed angrier after Fraser did what he was told. Maybe it was because my Mountie didn't seem humiliated. He was standing there with the same sort of calm that he would in any other serious police situation. That aggravated our captor.
"Froggy, get him up!"
"What??!!" McPherson was losing Froggy fast.
"Kowalski!" McPherson snapped. "Get him on his feet."
I got up on my own and kept my distance from Froggy.
"Now, we have some fun," McPherson said.
"What the hell is going on up in here???"
We turned to find Biggie Shorty-Tang standing in the doorway. This time she was in a pink wig with matching jacket, boots and purse. She stalked into the room. Her moves apparently timed to some really funky beat in her head.
"Raisin' all this hell in the middle of the night... Hello... my Big Mountie Man," she said looking him over slowly. Then looking him over again. "Very nice... and it's chilly, too."
"Thank you, kindly," Fraser said with a blush.
"No problem," she said. "Where was I?"
"This ain't your business," Froggy said. "We don't want no mess from you or your man."
"That's too bad, 'cause I got out of bed in the middle of the night," Biggie snapped. "And you botherin' my Canadian brother and his man. That means I have to kick some ass. And then I'm gonna tell my husband."
I don't know what was in that purse, but when she connected with Froggy's head, he spun completely around before he hit the floor. I got his gun before he could remember where he was. McPherson made the mistake of taking his eyes off Fraser who grabbed the wrist with the gun before hitting him with a right cross. Then, we heard the sirens.
"Ben, give Biggie the gun and put your clothes on," I said. "I don't want anyone else looking at you."
"Can't blame you there, Blondie," she said with a leer. "I'd keep him tied up somewhere."
Fraser paused to smirk at me.
"I've considered that. Daily," I said. "Thanks, Mrs. Shorty-Tang. We owe you."
"I'll remember that, you pretty eyed thing," she said handing the gun off to Fraser then sashaying away as the back-up arrived.
McPherson was done in Chicago. By morning, all the street hoods would know that a chick and a naked, unarmed Mountie took down his operation. His best bet was to cut a deal with the DEA and spill what he knew about BC Bud.
But that wasn't our problem. We gave a statement to the Narcs. They didn't seem interested in much more from us. They had bigger fish to fry. That left us nothing to do but pick up Dief and headed back to the hotel.
Our door was intact. We locked it then got naked and fell into bed. I was all over Fraser. Not for sex. I needed to be in contact with as much of him as I could. I understood how he felt when he got so possessive. I couldn't stand that others had seen him. He was mine.
Fraser held me still after a while. He kissed the top of my head and stroked down the contours of me back gently.
"No one trespassed on us, Ray," he said softly. "You have me. For as long as you want."
"That long?" I asked.
I felt myself relax. Exhaustion was winning out over everything else. We fell asleep hard.
It was the ungodly hour of noon when we finally woke up. Even Dief hadn't budged. There were a dozen messages waiting for us on various phones. Welsh left one that gave the all clear. Seemed there was a lot of singing going on over night. Then there were a lot of arrests. The threat to us was gone. Fraser let me return most of the calls while he walked a still sleepy wolf. Mum and Dad were frantic despite Frannie's assurances -- or maybe because of them. Frannie was upset about her brother and the status of Thanksgiving. Stella was upset about our brush with death and about Thanksgiving. Vecchio left messages on the room phone and my cell. I assume there were more on Fraser's. All were demanding to talk things through. He musta got waylaid big time by the Vecchio women. Served him right.
I gave the messages to Fraser who nodded but didn't comment on them.
"We have to help your mother with the shopping for tomorrow," he said. "I'll contact Ray after we've finished there."
"Ben," I said handing him the phone. "We have time for a phone call. I don't want this gnawing at you all day."
"Very well," he sighed.
I didn't hear much of the call. I was on the phone with Dad letting him know that we were fine when we would be over. Fraser was pacing but he didn't seem upset.
"Very well, Ray," he said. "We'll see you then."
He looked at me as he closed his phone. "It seems our near miss last night gave him pause about his attitude toward our relationship. He's asked that we re-consider coming by his Mother's tomorrow. And he wants to see us today."
I could tell by Fraser's expression that the whole thing was up to me. "Frase, I don't want you and a good friend to split up without a fight. I'll go wherever you want."
"Thank you, Ray," Fraser said giving me a quick kiss.
It was a long day. My Mum and Fraser were really into examining vegetables almost on a cellular level before buying them. And of course they had to discuss their selections with every other shopper they found in an aisle. I sort of zoned out and pushed the cart. I didn't really mind. I gotta kick at how much Mum liked hanging out with Fraser. So we shopped and shopped while Dief mooched off my father at the house. Then at the house, we chopped onions and celery and carrots while Mum made us dinner to go. I surprised her by knowing my way around a knife and an onion. We had fun and she got a lot of the prep out of the way before my sister-in-law was due. I think Mum thought we did a better job.
It was about six o'clock when we got back to the hotel. Everything over the past few days caught up with me after dinner. I was dozing on the sofa before Fraser finished eating. I was vaguely aware of the dishes being cleared and washed. The there was a knock at the door.
When I heard Vecchio's voice, I tried to wake. But Fraser was there to keep me from getting up. In fact, he moved behind me to rest on against his body. His arms were around me protectively. I started to wake because I was worried about Vecchio wigging out and them fighting. But his warmth and his strength got to me. I relaxed and enjoyed the embrace. My eyes were too heavy to open, but I was aware of what they were saying.
"I thought he pushed himself on you," Ray said. "He's pushy and you always seemed so polite."
That made Fraser laugh. The rumbling rippled through me. "I am continually amazed at how polite people think I am. I couldn't live a lie to spare anyone's feelings."
"Yeah, I'm figuring that out," Ray said. "Stella never thought of you that way. She thought you pressured Ray into going to Canada after Muldoon. She was sure you were the aggressor in the relationship."
"Forgive me, Ray. But some of that is her guilt over Ray talking," Fraser said.
"That's why I didn't believe her. But she does know Ray," he said. "And she seemed to have a better clue about you than even I did."
"I didn't make it easy to really know me," Fraser said.
"I coulda looked harder. He did," Ray said. "Stella thinks that's what has me so steamed about all of this. We were supposed to be so tight that I needed you to keep my cover. And I didn't really know you."
"I still consider you a close friend, Ray," Fraser said. "It's not too late to mend what's been wrong."
"Thanks Benny," Ray said. "So we'll see you tomorrow... around five?"
"We'll be there. Thank you, Ray."
"Don't get up. I'll let myself out."
I heard the door shut. I nuzzled Fraser's shoulder. "You okay?"
"I'm fine," he said. I felt his lips brush my temple. "I'm greatness."
I smiled at that then fell asleep.
The big day did not disappoint. We ate and watched parades then football. We ate some more and watched more football. My brother and his wife managed to not put their feet in their mouths about Fraser and me. Their kids were even well behaved. Mum was so happy that I thought she'd bust something grinning like that. Fraser helped clean up while the rest of the men, including Dief made like zombies in the living room. And even though we kept telling Mum that we were going to another dinner, we still left with lots of leftovers.
We took a long walk before we headed for the Vecchio part of the festivities. It was partly to wake up and partly because we were convinced that Dief might explode if he didn't work off some of that food before mooching more. I was used to doing a lot of hiking in more severe weather, so an hour on the park trails went in a blink. I didn't feel like a stuffed sausage anymore. Fraser was brighter eyed than when we left my folks. It was time to face the children.
We could hear the uproar from half a block away. It wasn't angry or anything -- just loud. Fraser paused as Sophia squealed just before we knocked.
He nodded. "Just needed to get my balance. I'm fine now."
Frannie was jazzed that we brought flowers for her and her Mother. Everyone was still at the table when we squeezed in the dining room then sat across from Stella and Ray.
"Got through dinner with only one gravy hand print," I said to Vecchio pointing to his very nicely ironed blue shirt.
"You should see my pants," he replied with a smirk.
Sophia toddled over to Fraser and gave him a handful of peas. Fraser thanked her then ate them. Frannie corralled the mob of urchins to the kiddy table so we could enjoy our tiramisu and coffee in relative peace. Stella wanted to hear about my folks. Vecchio was curious about our cartoony crazies. His letters were more like Mountie reports. I provided the more colorful details. To his credit, Vecchio agreed with me that Chicago mooks had a better handle on nicknames. They told us about the whackos that find their way to Florida. I was glad I wasn't a cop there. I was amazed that we all had a nice conversation.
In the hours we spent gabbing, the kids had crept back to the table. Soon, we each had one asleep in our laps. Frannie liked those odds for getting them to bed. So that's what we did while Mrs. Vecchio cleaned up. Fraser tried to help but he got chased out of the kitchen. So he grabbed his namesake and headed up the stairs. After I dropped mine off, I found myself on the porch enjoying the frosty fall air.
"That wasn't so bad," Stella said from behind me.
"No. It was nice," I said. "He still doesn't get us."
"No," she admitted. "But he's trying to deal with it."
"That's good for him and for Ben," I said. "So you up for lunch tomorrow?"
She shook her head. "No, Ray. You spend the last day with Benton. You've managed to do more than your duty for family and friends and for the law. Enjoy your last day of the vacation together before you have to share him with his post and he has to share you with your customers. You never liked sharing. I don't think he does either."
I blushed at that. "Yeah. We really don't. Thanks, Stell. It's great to have you as a friend."
She smiled at me. "Same here."
Fraser called me in to say our goodbyes to Ma Vecchio. Frannie was tearing up at the door.
"I guess this is it," she said.
"Until next time," Fraser said. "It was lovely to see you again. And we really enjoyed the children."
She rolled her eyes at that then hugged him. I got a big one next. She was crying by then. That made me get all prickly. Stella kissed me on the cheek and Vecchio shook my hand. His goodbye to Fraser was warm. Fraser gave him a bright smile. We collected a sleepy wolf then were on our way.
Our last full day in Chicago was spent on foot walking through the neighborhood near the hotel. After a proper diner lunch, we packed. Stell was right. Running around all day before our flight wouldn't have been a good plan. The day went by in a snap. We turned in by eight after making arrangements with Dad for the ride to the airport. We were beat.
I was in Fraser's arms with my body half covering his body. My head was resting on his chest. He was gently stroking my back.
"You were very wise to put all that work into our trip before we left," Fraser murmured into my hair. "It seems your profiling skills aren't limited to police work."
"Yeah, I needed them with Arvid," I chuckled. "Found the old skills still worked."
He squeezed me briefly. "But you also had the courage to break old patterns once you knew what needed to be done. Had you not followed your instincts, I don't think this trip would have been so enjoyable."
"I've learned that good things can come of taking a chance," I replied nuzzling him.
I felt him kiss the top of my head. "I wish I had the same courage with Ray."
"You two okay?"
I felt him shrug. "I suppose. It's awkward. He's certainly apologetic, but I find I'm still angry."
"I get that," I said. "But we get that way with family or people who are like family. Sometimes they have to see for themselves that they were wrong about what they thought. Being around Mum and Dad did a world of good for us and them."
"Maybe we should have Ray and Stella come up for a visit," he suggested. "They could see how happy we are."
I sighed and snuggled closer to him. "Let's wait until the summer. This could take a whole lot of negotiating."
Fraser laughed softly. "All right, Ray. I'll let you handle it."
The Mad Trapper of Rat River by Jack Harley courtesy of The Mysteries of Canada Website. http://www.mysteriesofcanada.com/NWT/madtrapper.htm
Perils of the Burning Ice