The Rest, Nowhere
Author's Notes: Fraser/RayK preslash-ish. Humorous casefic with mild angst.
Big thank-yous to llassah and capt_spork for beta work, without which this story would be rather flat (and much shorter)
Story Notes: I read another fic where there was discussion of who was the sidekick, Fraser or Ray. I meant to use it as a throwaway line in this story, but it ended up being a major thematic element. Go figure. I'd credit whoever wrote that other story for the idea, but I don't know who it was. I read a lot of fic that week.
Ray sat on his hands. Literally. He didn't know how much he could get away with moving, without ending up like one of those guys in the movies who ended up buying a really ugly lamp for ten thousand dollars because his nose itched.
Fraser didn't seem to have any compunctions about waving his hands around, pointing out things that he thought Ray ought to be interested in, but recent experience had proved that he wasn't the comedy sidekick in this particular duo. They'd been running neck and neck for a while, but when they were investigating that barnyard last week, Ray had gotten his foot caught in a bucket while running away from a bull (what he thought was a bull, anyway), stepped on the head of a rake and been whacked in the head with the handle, and slid into the manure pile. Twice. Those things only happened to the comedy sidekick, so that answered that question once and for all. Buying ugly stuff at an auction by mistake was another thing that only happened to the comedy sidekick, so Fraser had nothing to worry about.
"Hey, is that it?" The auctioneer was still trying to flog the ugly lamp, but behind him, Ray could see the assistant-guy setting up a painting on an easel. They'd been here for hours, and his butt and hands were numb.
"No, Ray. That painting is of the Bylerly Turk."
"It looks like a horse to me." And was Turk really the PC word these days? Ray didn't think so.
"The Bylery Turk was a horse. It's fairly easy to tell, Ray. Eclipse was a bright chestnut with a sock on the right rear leg. That horse is dark bay with no markings. The painting is also about a hundred years older than the one we're looking for." He patted Ray's shoulder comfortingly. "But they usually show like items together, so if they're displaying equestrian art now, maybe it'll show up soon."
"Great." He sat back in his chair and folded his arms across his chest, tucking his hands under his armpits, just for the change.
"And this fine example of an ormolu lamp is sold! to number 527," the auctioneer yelled.
"Who's 527? That's not us, is it?" Ray demanded. He had to go and move just when they were getting ready to sell the ugly lamp, didn't he? There was no way Welsh was going to let him expense an ormolu lamp, whatever that was.
"Of course not. We're 639." He showed Ray the little number-on-a-stick they'd gotten when they came in.
"Yeah, well, watch what you do with that thing." Of course, if Fraser accidentally bought the painting of the Bylerly Horse-of-Turkish-Extraction, it would turn out to have the Eclipse thing behind the canvas or painted under it or something. Because Fraser was not the comedy sidekick.
"Certainly, Ray," Fraser said calmly.
The auctioneer started talking up the Turkish horse painting. Ray nudged Fraser with his elbow. "Is it just me, or is that horse's head, like, four times too small for its body?"
"According to contemporary reports, he was a strange-looking animal, and artistic representations tended to exaggerate his anatomical oddities," Fraser answered, with Ray figured meant it wasn't just him.
A couple more horse paintings came up next. Ray didn't mind them too much--horses were nice to look at--but he didn't quite get why paintings of horses were considered classy, but pictures of cars weren't. Most of the really expensive horse paintings came from before there were cars, right? And sure, the kind of horses they did paintings of weren't the kind of horses regular people drove to the grocery store, but a Ferrari--or a GTO--wasn't a driving-to-the-store kind of car either.
Could be it was just that the paintings were old. The Eclipse thing they were after had been painted about 300 years ago. Maybe in another 300 years, a cop would be sitting in an auction house wondering why a photo of a 1967 GTO was worth big money and a hologram of a hover-bubble, or whatever they had then, was something only white trash or a kid would have on their wall.
After the third horse painting was sold, the auctioneer moved on to dogs, and then some still lifes, and then off of paintings entirely. Ugly vases were up next; Ray checked to make sure his hands were still completely out of sight before he whispered to Fraser, "So that's it, huh?"
"There was never much change that he'd sell the painting at an open auction, I'm afraid," Fraser whispered back. "No matter how long it's been. But we can still attempt to speak to Mr. Symons after the sale. I wonder if a small purchase would help to establish our bona fides?"
"Maybe," Ray answered.
"I wish I'd thought of that while the art was still up. The one of the two grouse was modestly priced."
"What's the deal with the dead bird paintings, anyway?" Ray asked. "Seems kinda depressing to me."
"Paintings that evoked country life enjoyed a great vogue in--" He sat up straight and waved his number-on-a-stick.
"You're buying that?"
"It's Wedgwood," Fraser answered, like that meant something. "From the era of the second Josiah Wedgwood. Valuable, but not too valuable."
"Oh." But lots of other people were showing their numbers, too, and the price of the Wedgwood whatsit quickly went up past what Fraser was apparently willing to spend.
Another hour or so of sitting perfectly still, and the auctioneer announced the final lot of the day: a little side table that he described as "Louis Quatorze, of uncertain provenance."
Fraser elbowed his ribs at the last part.
"That means they can't trace the ownership of the piece back to its production."
"Oh. So you mean it might be stolen? Or a fake?" A fake would be more relevant, since the big Horse Painting Case involved forgery at one point.
"Exactly. Unfortunately, because of all the intervening wars, uncertain provenance isn't particularly unusual when it comes to French antiques from that period."
"And even 19th-century reproductions can be quite valuable," Fraser added.
He was apparently right, since the table ended up selling for what struck Ray as a ridiculous amount of money for a possibly-fake old table.
As soon as people started getting up and moving around, Ray stood and stretched. He never wanted to sit that still for that long until he was dead, and possibly not even then. "So where's Symons?"
"Over there." Fraser indicated the direction with a tilt of his head, and they started making their way over.
Another piece of evidence as to who was the comedy sidekick: Fraser was wearing a sport coat and tie that he'd borrowed from Welsh--who wasn't even the same size as he was in any direction--and looked like he'd been born going to art auctions. Ray had on his blue suit, and looked like he was getting ready to go to court. As a defendant.
Fraser chatted with some of the people who'd bid on the horse paintings, mentioned some stuff that he supposedly had in his imaginary collection and that he was looking to acquire a Stubbs. Stubbs was the guy who painted the stolen Eclipse, so Fraser was establishing his cover, not just randomly schmoozing.
It would be nice if just once they had a case involving fake classic cars, so he could be the guy who knew what he was doing, and Fraser could be the guy standing there with his hands in his pockets nodding whenever someone looked at him, like one of those birds that sat on the edge of a glass of water.
"Ah," Fraser said to the guy he was talking to. "I see Mr. Symons is free. Come along, Ray."
Next time, he ought to whistle, or snap his fingers. That would be even more demeaning. Ray trailed him over to the art dealer.
He wondered why he was even here. Fraser actually had jurisdiction for a change, since it was a Canadian case. Back in the 1975, the Eclipse painting had belonged to a Canadian art investor--a guy who didn`t know much about art, but knew what was going up in value. He'd sold it to another collector, an American--supposedly, at least. The sale contract had included a two-week period during which the buyer could change his mind--and at 13 days, he had. Unfortunately, the a few months later the investor had tried to sell the painting again--but this time the potential buyer had been some kind of expert in this Stubbs guy, and he determined that the painting was a fake. The provenance-thingy up to the first sale was spotless, so the whole thing had been turned over to the RCMP's Art and Antiques division, who figured out that the only explanation was that first guy had gotten a fake made while he had the painting, and kept the real one when he returned the fake. Of course, when they'd gone to the first buyer's apartment, there was no sign of the guy, and his lease and bank accounts were all under the same fake name he'd used to buy the painting in the first place.
The real Eclipse had been missing ever since, but the Art and Antiques guys had picked up some rumors that maybe this Symons guy had it, and they'd tapped Fraser to check up on it. Ray had figured, okay, road trip with Fraser, but really, this seemed like something he could handle on his own. The art auction seemed unlikely to turn into a shooting match.
Next to Symons was a blonde girl in a gray dress--the kind of dress that probably cost a fortune even though it was just two pieces of fabric sewn together. Elegant. Classy. Wife, or girlfriend? She was easily ten years younger than Symons, maybe fifteen. She smiled and asked him, "I take it this is your first art auction?"
"Oh. Yeah. He's the collector." Ray hooked his thumb at Fraser. "I'm just along for the ride." If Fraser was establishing a cover, he'd better establish one too, and "clueless friend" was pretty much the only identity open to him. "I kept worrying I was going to buy something by accident."
"That hardly every happens," she said. "And if it does, the worst that could happen is that you'd be blacklisted from receiving a bidding number at a future auction--they can't actually force you to pay for something you didn't mean to buy."
Classy woman who obviously thought he was an idiot. Just his type. "I'll remember that for next time," he said, and tried to focus on Fraser's conversation.
"--Stubbs, of course. But they're terribly hard to find." Fraser smiled winningly.
"Yes, few collectors who have a genuine Stubbs are willing to part with it," Symons agreed. "Mine, I'm afraid, is only a minor Stubbs, but I'm rather attached to it."
Ray knew just enough to know that the Eclipse, if it really was the Eclipse, wasn't a minor anything. But if he did have the stolen Eclipse, he'd hardly be bragging about it to a complete stranger.
"I suppose it's in your personal collection, then, not at the gallery," Fraser hinted. "A shame. I'd enjoy seeing it, even if it's not for sale."
"Yes, I keep many of my finer pieces at my home. But I am having a small get-together on Sunday, if you'll be in the area that long. You can have a look at the Stubbs, and perhaps I'll be able to interest you in something that is for sale."
"Perhaps," Fraser agreed with a slight smile. "But I do feel that Stubbs is the only significant gap in my collection."
"Well, it's just brunch. We'll be sitting down around eleven." Symons scribbled something on the back of a card. He looked Ray up and down, dismissively. "Bring your young man, of course."
Great. Just great.
Naturally, Fraser had to have a few more pointless conversations after that, because heading straight out the door would be as good as hanging up a neon sign saying, "Got what we came for, thanks."
Finally, they got out to the car. "That guy thinks I'm your boyfriend," he pointed out as soon as Fraser's butt hit the seat. So had the woman. Definitely not flirting with him, then. Maybe that was girl talk?
"He does appear to have formed that impression," Fraser answered calmly.
"Not just your boyfriend, either. Your--like your boy toy or something." Because it was that obvious, even to complete fucking strangers, that he couldn't have much to offer, right?
"Well." Fraser cleared his throat. "I'm afraid it may have been obvious that you don't know much about art."
"Yeah, no shit." He started up the car and pulled out of the space. "What I don't get, is how come you do. You grew up in a fucking igloo." Chicago at least had art museums. Not that Ray spent much time in them, apart from school field trips. But they were there.
"I didn't, as a matter of fact, although I recently learned that I--that's not important. I read a book on the subject."
"And you remember everything you ever read? What is that?" He knew it wasn't Fraser's fault he was smart--it came naturally. To him. But sometimes it was just plain irritating.
"I read it last night," Fraser answered stiffly.
Of course he did. And if they ever didthat and wind up coming across like he knew more about the subject than Ray did. There wasn't anything he could say to that without coming across like a dick, so Ray just shook his head and drove.
The art auction was on Friday, so they had the whole night and then Saturday to kill before they could go to Symons's place and check out the maybe-Stubbs. And since they were in--honest to God--Peoria, there wasn't much to do. Saturday, Ray tried to talk Fraser into breaking into Symons's place so they could look at the painting and get the hell out of there.
"You know that would be unwise, Ray, not to mention illegal. We have an invitation to look at the painting tomorrow."
"Yeah, well, I want to go home," Ray said, even though that wasn't what he wanted at all. His apartment, the squad room, this hotel in Peoria--it didn't really matter. What he really wanted was to be back in the world that made sense, making arrests and threatening to kick suspects in the head. Someplace where Fraser could rely on him to hold up his own end, instead of leading him around like a dumb kid.
"You'll be home tomorrow," Fraser pointed out quietly.
Fraser hadn't been home in a long time. "Yeah, I know. I just--I don't know. I'm itchy."
"I have some bear fat salve that's good for dry skin," Fraser offered.
"No, thanks." He hadn't meant that kind of itchy, but he was pretty sure Fraser knew that.
He wasn't sure if it made it better or worse, to know that Fraser didn't care that he was pretty much useless on this case. Ray was his buddy; Fraser would give him the bear fat salve off his back and not complain. He sighed. "So what happens if we find out Symons does have the Eclipse painting?" He was pretty sure that head-kicking wasn't on the menu, but a guy could hope.
"If possible, we leave without giving him any indication that we're law enforcement, and the Art and Antiques Division will come in with a warrant."
"It's more likely than not that if he does have the Eclipse, he actually does have a minor Stubbs as well, which he intends to show us. It might be necessary to separate ourselves from the rest of the group and inspect areas of the house not normally shown to visitors."
Ray perked up. "Hey, good point."
"It's probably best if you take on that task--since your cover persona can reasonably be expected to be bored by the conversation, it shouldn't excite comment if you wander off." He dug a book out of his suitcase. "This isn't actually the painting in question," he explained, opening it to a large color picture, "but it's very similar. The stolen painting has more clouds, and there's a dog in the lower foreground, about here." He tapped a spot near the horse's feet. "But the pose and setting are the same. I think the barn, here on the side, may take up about an inch more of the painting than in this one."
Ray had glanced at a Xerox of a photo of the fake painting before they headed out on this gig, but he hadn't been paying much attention. Now he looked at the painting over and over until it was time to go to the brunch on Sunday. It would be pretty damn embarrassing if the RCMP art boffins came all the way down here because he'd picked out the wrong painting.
Sunday morning, Fraser knocked at the door to Ray's motel room. Despite it's being almost 10 AM, Ray was still in his sleepwear--undershorts and a t-shirt--when he opened the door. "Good morning," Fraser said. "I brought you some coffee from the machine in the lobby." He handed Ray the Styrofoam cup. "They had doughnuts as well, but they didn't look particularly fresh, and since we've been invited to brunch--"
Ray took the cup out of his hand and drank from it. "Yeah, thanks. I'm ready to go. I mean, I've been up. But you have to dress me."
Fraser blinked. "Pardon?"
"My `cover persona' is that I wouldn't know my brunch from my backside, right? So I'd better look like you dressed me, and the best way to do that is for you to dress me," Ray explained.
Ah. Ray meant that Fraser should pick out his clothes, not--well. That made a lot more sense. "I see." Ray had apparently opted to unpack his clothes onto the extra bed, rather than into the closet or dresser. A logical and efficient choice, if one didn't care about wrinkles--which Ray obviously did not. The only drawback was that it was a little difficult to tell which items had already been worn and which had not. He sorted gingerly through the pile and selected a pair of jeans. "Here. These, and my jacket from the other day." The juxtaposition of casual and formal attire would suit Ray's style, as well as the cover persona he'd established the other day. "Is the black t-shirt clean?"
Ray snagged it off the bed and sniffed it. "Close enough."
Unless Fraser was mistaken, Ray's behavior had become more than usually uncouth over the last few days--possibly some kind of reverse snobbery.
"Welsh's jacket isn't going to fit me," Ray pointed out.
"It doesn't fit me, either," Fraser reminded him.
Ray just said, "Huh," and started pulling his t-shirt off over his head.
Fraser tore his eyes away from the strip of pale belly that Ray was unwittingly exposing. "I'll--get your jacket," he said quickly, and escaped to the corridor before Ray could untangle himself from his shirt.
He'd recently come to the conclusion that if he couldn't stop himself from leering at Ray when he was in a state of partial undress, he would stop himself from having the opportunity. Unfortunately, Ray didn't make that easy--he either didn't realize what a tantalizing picture he made, or thought Fraser was too much of a cold fish to notice.
He didn't hurry getting the jacket, making sure that Ray had plenty of time to get dressed. When he ventured back to the corridor, Ray was just coming out of his room. Fraser held the jacket up, and Ray put it on, juggling his badge and wallet from one hand to the other as he slid his arms into the sleeves.
Ray was a bit narrower in the shoulders than either Fraser or Lieutenant Welsh, and the sleeves came down to his knuckles. "See?" he demanded. "This isn't gonna work."
"Hm." Fraser rather thought it would. He took Ray's arm, saying, "May I?"
He turned up the jacket sleeve twice, revealing a slice of wrist. "That works."
"I look like a kid wearing his dad's jacket," Ray complained.
Fraser didn't quite think so. "You look like you're wearing your boyfriend's jacket." He almost wished it really was his jacket. "Let's go." He turned on his heel and walked briskly to the car.
Ray followed, stowing his badge and wallet in his inside pockets as he went. "So, what? It's cute or something?"
"I don't wanna be cute."
"Well." Fraser looked at him. "I don't think you have a choice," he admitted.
"Great. Just great."
Ray didn't say much else until they neared Mr. Symons's residence, which proved to be a sizeable property: not just the house itself, but also a stable, several outbuildings, and a considerable amount of land, crisscrossed with miles of white board fencing. "Looks like he collects real horses, too, not just the painted kind," Ray said, spotting several in the pasture as they approached.
"That's not unusual," Fraser answered. Many collectors were inspired by their involvement in equestrian sports to an interest in equestrian art.
"Yeah, I guess if you're rich enough for art, you're rich enough for horses, too," Ray said, which hadn't been exactly what Fraser meant. Turning up the long gravel driveway to the house, he groused, "this place is not exactly classic-automobile friendly."
"I used to have a horse," Fraser pointed out.
"Yeah, well, that's different," Ray said, but he didn't explain how.
They got out of the car, and Fraser started to head up the stairs to the entrance, but Ray held up one hand in a "wait" gesture. He rolled his shoulders, stretched, and when he'd finished, he looked ten years younger, and carried himself a bit more aggressively, with just a hint of animal wariness that was somehow--very--appealing. "Okay. C'mon."
Something in the way he moved put Fraser in mind of a peacock, or perhaps a bower-bird. "Ray?"
Ray turned his head slowly. "Yeah?"
If he said, how did you do that, Ray would likely ask what? and he didn't know how he'd answer. "Nothing."
They went inside. There were about a dozen guests--to Symons, that apparently was a small gathering, although Fraser had some difficulty wrapping his head around the concept. He'd lived in plenty of places where twelve adults comprised, if not the entire local population, at least enough of it to constitute a quorum.
The conversation was equally foreign to him, but he'd learned early on that the secret to being thought a good conversationalist was simply to appear completely interested in whatever the other person was talking about. So he allowed the woman seated to his right to tell him about a friend of hers whose daughter had chosen to forsake her debutante season in favor of becoming a lesbian anarchist, and to hold forth on why Venezuelan housekeepers were more reliable than Dominican ones, and her husband to speculate irresponsibly about whether Klimt was a good investment, and was fairly confident that they'd gather the impression that he held exactly the same opinions on these subjects that they did.
Ray was making a bit less of a success of himself. He was seated next to Symons's woman friend, a young lady named Kerry Ann. She seemed perfectly friendly to Fraser, but whenever he checked on them, Ray seemed to be snarling.
Near the end of the meal, Ray evidently decided it was time to implement his part of the plan, searching the house for the stolen painting. He was picking at a platter of Nova lox when Kerry Ann said, "You might want to be careful with that. It's very salty."
Ray smacked his hand down on the table hard enough to make the silverware rattle. "Thanks for your help, but you know, he has taken me out in public before." It was one of Ray's many talents that he was able to make a series of perfectly reasonable and accurate statements sound like something better off yelled from a street corner.
She jerked her head back and said stiffly, "I'm sorry. I just thought--"
"Yeah, whatever." He finished his coffee with one swallow and nudged Fraser's foot with his. "I'm gonna go find the can."
Fraser mouthed over his shoulder, understood.
Just his luck, the first door Ray opened and peeked inside was the can, but a place like this probably had a half a dozen. If anyone asked any questions, he could get away with saying he hadn't noticed the first one. The next door was a closet, looked like where the Venezuelan maid kept her mop and vacuum cleaner, and after that was a little sitting room; the only things on the walls were some family pictures and a little landscape watercolor.
He'd probably have been better off waiting until after Fraser had seen Symons's Stubbs before he went off looking for another one, but he'd had just about enough of sitting around listening to Fraser make new friends while being condescended to by a pretty girl. There was only so much a guy could stand, even in the line of duty.
Maybe what was getting in his head so much was the character he had to play here. Fraser's trashy boyfriend was an easy role to play, but it was the hard kind of easy. All he had to do was knock about ten years off his age and a semester and a half off his education. Subtract Dad's determination that he make something of himself, and while he was at it, take away his own determination that what he was going to make of himself was a cop. What he ended up with was something like what Stella's friends had always thought he was: a skinny punk who'd better be damn good in the sack, since she'd have her work cut out for her making him fit for mixed company.
He'd finally gotten to the point where he liked not being that guy, and here he was again.
And who was Symons to act like he was better than anybody, anyway? Ray wondered as he looked in a couple more rooms--a coat closet, yet another bathroom, another dining room, this one with a smaller table than the one they'd been in before. Symons was a crook. Maybe they all were. Either crooks or dupes. So what if he didn't have stuff on his walls that cost more than most people made in a year? He was one of the good guys.
A few more doors, and he hit pay dirt: Symons's private office. Big desk, oriental rug, paintings of horses and dogs on the walls.
None of the horses was Eclipse, though. There was another funny-looking dark brown horse--maybe the same horse as the Turkish one they'd seen at the auction, or one of his cousins or something. Another one was just the horse's head, and the last one had somebody riding the horse.
But something stopped him from moving on. Symons was really into his horses--keeping up those miles of white board fence couldn't come cheap--and really into his horse paintings. They were a good way to impress people, but he liked them, too. Sort of like Ray and his GTO. He didn't exactly mind that it was a cool car, and having it made him, by extension, at least a little bit cool, but he'd still have liked it even if nobody else did. If Symons felt that way about his horse paintings--and Ray thought he did--he'd want to have the Eclipse somewhere he could look at it whenever he wanted.
Ray started by looking under the paintings. There was a safe behind a picture two hunting dogs and some kind of bird, but no hidden paintings. Where else?
If Symons spent a lot of time at the desk, the painting would be somewhere he could see it from there. Ray circled around behind the desk and sat in the big leather chair. Swivel left, swivel right--there was a big armoire, the kind people put their TVs in if they didn't want company to even know they watched TV.
He got up out of the chair, made himself take the time to push it back where it was. The armoire was locked, but it was just one of those flimsy furniture locks, the kind that's more of a "Please don't look in here, if you don't mind," than an actual security device.
The hardest part of picking it was finding a cheap ball point pen in Symons's desk drawer, one that he could take apart for the spring.
Once he had the armoire opened...there was the Eclipse. Signed and dated at the bottom, and everything. He closed the doors and did the lock back up, and then, just for good measure, wiped his prints off everything he could remember touching.
By the time he got back to the dining room, no one was there except the housekeeper, cleaning up. She looked up at him for about half a second, then back down at her work. "Uh, do you know where--"
"The terrace." She pointed.
Out on the terrace there was a tray full of mimosas and Bloody Marys, but no Fraser. Even without the here-I-am-shoot-me-now uniform, he was easy to spot. Ray waited a few minutes, thinking he was maybe in the bathroom or something. Then he noticed Symons wasn't there either, and figured he'd better find out quick--just in case.
He finally settled on asking Kerry Ann. She thought he was an asshole, but as the girlfriend, she was a good bet for knowing where Symons went. She was about to finish up a mimosa, so he took over another one, like a peace offering. "Um, hi," he said. "Thought you could use this."
She looked at him for a minute like she wasn't sure if she should take it or leave him hanging, then said, "Thanks," and took it.
"So, um, do you know where Fraser went? The guy I was with?"
"He and Ned went to look at his Stubbs--the painting--then down to the stable to see the horses."
The steps were over on the other side of the terrace from where the barn was, so Ray hopped over the railing--he was getting old for that shit, but he was playing a guy ten years younger, so he went for it. But before he went more than a step or two, he saw a flash of movement out of the corner of his eye, and turned back to see Kerry Ann halfway over the railing and looking sort of stuck.
She'd managed to get far enough that getting the rest of the way over would be easier than going back, so Ray took her hand and helped her down. "Thanks, but I think I can find it," he told her. "Big red building with the horses in it, right?"
"I like horses," Kerry Ann answered, smiling slightly
Unless she thought he was really stupid, she was flirting with him. Only not really him, but the guy he was pretending to be. She was a pretty girl and all, but he didn't even like that guy.
Still, the plan was to blend in, and Ray didn't have any real reason to think anything bad was going to happen, or he'd have found a way to send her back to the terrace--another good "I can take care of myself, so fuck off," would have done it--so he just shrugged and did his best James Dean. "It's a free country."
She smiled and they walked on down to the big red building with the horses in it.
It was dark in the barn, and quiet. He realized he'd been expecting it to smell like a stockyard, but it wasn't like that at all--there was more than a hint of horse shit, but over that was a smell like mowed grass and sweat. Not bad, really. A horse stuck its head out over the half-door, and Kerry Ann came up with a sugar cube somewhere to feed to it. Ray didn't have any sugar, but he petted its nose, like it was a dog. "You've got a nice room, there, buddy," he observed. Bigger than his childhood bedroom. "And I bet you don't have to share with your brother."
"I don't know where they went," Kerry Ann said.
"Hm? Around the corner, probably," Ray said. He'd seen from outside that the barn entrance was on the short end of an L-shape.
"The lights aren't on," she pointed out. "Ned always turns on the lights when he's in here."
Maybe Kerry Ann had a little more going on upstairs than he thought. But it didn't matter anymore whether a rich guy`s trophy girlfriend wanted him to be her walk on the wild side or not--he had work to do. "Go back up to the house."
"Go back up to the house," he repeated.
"I heard you. I mean--" She looked like she thinking about saying, who do you think you are? But in the end she decided on, "What's going on?"
"Probably nothing." He hoped nothing.
"If it's not nothing, what is it?"
He rubbed the back of his neck. "There's a chance your friend Ned isn't such a nice guy," he finally said. "Don't know for sure." Just owning one stolen painting didn't mean Symons was bad to the bone. It could be he'd just wanted the damn thing bad enough that he didn't care if he couldn't get it honestly. Ray could kind of understand that. "Like I said, it's probably nothing. But if it's not, you need to be back up at the house where there's other people." Shit. He should have gotten her out of the way back at the terrace. Now she was going to run back up to the house and say, "I don't know what's going on, but Ned's in some kind of trouble!" And then the scene would be full of civilians. And some of them might be crooks, but there'd be no way to tell which ones.
Kerry Ann was staring at him. "Who are you?"
Best thing, out of the list of crummy options available to him, was to just tell her. If he didn't, who knew what she'd come up with in her head--maybe she'd decide he was the bad guy and Ned needed rescuing. "Chicago PD," he answered, and dug his badge out of the jacket pocket.
She studied it. "And your friend--?"
"He's a cop too." He decided not to get into the whole Mountie issue. It was hard enough getting people to wrap their heads around the idea of a Mountie in Illinois when he had the uniform on. "Just go back up there and act natural. No need to embarrass Ned if it turns out nothing's going on, okay?"
"Okay," she finally said. "I'll just, um...do that."
"Thanks. See you."
There was--as Kerry Ann had suggested--no sign of human life in the barn, just a few horses. A lot more stalls than horses, which maybe meant Symons had money trouble--except there were all those horses outside. Probably the empty stalls belonged to them.
There was a little office with a metal desk, much less fancy than the one up at the house. No art on the walls unless you counted a calendar advertising horse dewormer. He glanced over the papers on the top of the desk, but there wasn't anything there to make it obvious where Symons would have taken Fraser if he'd made him--no map with "Torture Room" labeled in big block letters or anything like that.
No trap doors or hidden rooms, either--the barn looked about as big on the outside as it did on the inside, or as near as he could tell without breaking out his tape measure. But there were some other small buildings, so he checked those out.
One was full of big sacks of horse feed, and bales of hay or straw--Ray wasn't 100% clear on the difference. Another one had a couple more horse stalls, empty. The third was the equipment shed, and it held a couple of tractors, an ATV with the engine cover off, and another one of Symons's employees. Possibly another Venezuelan--some kind of Hispanic, anyway. "I help you?" he asked suspiciously when he saw Ray.
He could tell from the guy's tone that he didn't particularly want to help, but he decided to take the question straight. "Yeah. Your boss, Symons, he and my friend went somewhere." He smiled stupidly. "I was supposed to meet up with them in the barn, but I guess they went somewhere else."
They guy must've not had much English--he didn't look like he was understanding much of what Ray said. "You look for Mr. Symons?"
"He take guest to breeding shed."
"Huh?" That couldn't possibly be what it sounded like.
"Where we take stallion to cover mare," the guy explained. "Top of hill. He use for private conversation with guest."
So the breeding shed was another farm building, but it was apart from the others. The perfect place to do business--like selling a stolen painting kind of business--if the house was full of potentially-nosy guests. "Okay. Okay, where?"
The guy came over to the door and pointed out a tiny dot of a building at the top of a hill. "He take other ATV. You take this one, if it working." He shrugged. "Not working."
There was sort of a road going up the hill, but it was a dirt track with deep ruts. The GTO would get hung up before he made it a hundred feet.
Maybe he ought to just wait. If Symons was going to try to sell Fraser the stolen painting, Ray blundering into the middle could queer the deal. But the plan was that they'd just find out if the painting really was the painting, and then leave. Buying it--or going off to a secluded place alone with the suspect for any other reason--wasn't part of the plan. He could walk, if he had to, but that could take a long time. Too long, if Fraser was in trouble. "You have a truck I can borrow?"
"No truck." He wiped his hands off on a rag. "You ride horse?"
Ray had been on a pony ride at a carnival once. He'd been about six. But how hard could it be? "Sure. I can ride a horse."
He started having second thoughts when the guy took him back to the barn and started putting a saddle on the horse. It was the one Kerry-Ann had given the sugar to, but it looked a lot bigger, all of the sudden. Way bigger than the one at the pony ride had been. He thought about asking if there was anything smaller, but before he had a chance the guy was handing him the reins and saying, "Have nice ride."
"Um...thanks." He looked at the horse. At the pony ride, he was pretty sure Dad had just picked him up and stuck him on there, but that wasn't going to work here. The stirrups had to come into it somewhere, but they only came down as far as the horse's belly--and his crotch--so that wasn't much help." "Uh...."
"You want leg up? Give me leg."
He grabbed Ray's leg and heaved, and somehow Ray ended up in the air and swinging his other leg over the horse. "Thanks. Great." He got his feet into the stirrups and took one side of the reins in both hands. Steering couldn't be too hard--you pulled the way you wanted to turn, right? But he didn't have any idea where the accelerator was. "Uh...giddy-up?"
The horse flicked its ear back at him.
The groom-mechanic guy clucked his tongue and smacked the horse on the rear, and it started moving. It was a weird sensation--more like being on top of a very small earthquake than like riding anything with wheels. Every step it took, the horse's whole body swung back and forth.
Weird. But he got the horse's head pointed toward the track going up to the breeding shed, and after that he was free to concentrate on staying on.
It didn't take him too long to figure out that the trick was to move when the horse moved, like leaning into a turn on a bike. The horse took a step with a right leg, its body swung to the left, he let his body swing to the left with it. A few dozen yards of that, and he noticed the horse was weaving back and forth just a little bit. He tried keeping his hands and upper body mostly still, and that worked better. "Good horse," Ray told it.
As the track went uphill, the horse started walking faster. Huh. Okay--the faster he got there, the better. But then all of the sudden the horse was tossing him up and down instead of side-to-side, and he didn't like that at all. "Stop! Bad horse! No running!" he yelled, grabbing at the mane, the saddle, anything he could find to hang on.
The horse went faster. Apparently horses didn't listen to him any more than deaf wolves did.
"Bad horse! You are a bad horse! Stop!" He was going to fall off. If Fraser wasn't in trouble, he was going to look like the world's biggest idiot. And if Fraser was really in trouble, he was up shit creek, because Ray was going to be laying here in the road with horse stomp-marks on him.
No, he wasn't. If Fraser needed him, he was going to get there. Yelling at the horse wasn't helping, so he stopped doing that and tried something else. "Nice horse," he said in his best version of a soothing voice. "Good horse. Slow horse." It might have been his imagination, but the horse really did seem to be slowing down. "Slloooooooooooow horse," he said again, drawing out the slow as long as he could.
A few more jolting steps and the horse was walking normally again, rocking him side to side instead of jolting him up-and-down. "Good horse," he said again.
One good thing about all that bouncing, he'd gotten a lot closer to the breeding shed a lot faster. A few more minutes and it was time to think about the best approach. The shed had windows, at least, it did on the side he was coming up on. The ATV was parked over by the right side, so that must be where the door was. Maybe one of the other two sides would be blind.
He managed, with a lot of pulling at the reins and kicking, to get the horse to leave the track and circle around to the left. That end of the shed was windowless--perfect. Once he got close, he'd leave the horse somewhere and scout around on foot to find out what was going on.
He had no idea how you parked a horse, but he could worry about that when the time came.
And it looked like his luck was turning, because when he got up there, on the far side of the shed, out of sight from the road he'd been using, there was a little pen that had to be the horse parking lot. Steering the horse in through the gate was a little tricky, but getting off the horse wasn't bad--it was basically just a matter of falling off feet-first. He shut the gate and left the horse eating some grass.
With the horse squared away, it was time to find Fraser. If Fraser was having a private business discussion with Symons, him going in like gangbusters wouldn't be very helpful, so he'd better get the lay of the land first. He crept back around to the other side of the shed, where the windows were. They were pretty high up the wall, but if he stretched, he could just see in.
Ray hadn't seen a lot of business discussions that involved one businessman being tied to some metal railings while the other businessman waved a pistol around, so that answered that. Heart pounding, he pulled out his boot gun and jammed his glasses on his face. Fortunately, Symons's back was to the window, so he could hang around for a minute and figure out what was going on.
"--interested in purchasing the Stubbs," Fraser said. The only indication that he'd seen Ray was that his bland expression went even blander. "I had no idea that you were smuggling drugs into Canada inside the mares that were sent here for breeding." Okay, and maybe his tendency to play exposition-fairy. "And I don't particularly care. Law enforcement is not my job, after all. If the Stubbs is, in fact, for sale, perhaps I could be persuaded to forget I saw anything at all."
Symons clubbed him across the face with his gun. "I could persuade you--or I could just kill you now and keep the Stubbs."
He'd seen enough. He raced back around the building, yanked open the door, and shouted, "Freeze! Chicago PD! Drop your weapon!"
"What the hell?" Symons turned around.
"Drop your weapon and reach for the sky, dirtbag."
Symons looked back at Fraser, who spat out a mouthful of blood and said, "I'd do as he suggests if I were you."
Before Ray could point out that it wasn't a suggestion, Symons made a lunge for the door. Since Ray was standing in front of it, that incredibly smart move brought him close enough that Ray could quickly reverse the gun in his hand and clip him across the back of the head with the handgrip.
He went down--not unconscious, but dazed--and dropped the gun. Ray kicked it over toward Fraser and got Symons cuffed before he gathered his wits. "You okay, Frase?"
"Yes, but I'd like to be untied as soon as you have time."
"No problem." He put his foot between Symons's shoulder blades. "Are you staying down, dirtbag?"
"Yes," he moaned.
"You might want to advise him of his rights," Fraser pointed out.
"You want untied, or you want me to Mirandize the drug-smuggling art thief?"
"I'm not an art thief!" Symons protested.
"Tell it to the judge. I saw the Eclipse. Looked right at it. Where's your knife?" he asked Fraser.
"At the motel."
"That's great. Excellent place for it." He started picking at the knots that held Fraser to the railings. "Hey, dirt bag. You're under arrest for possession of a stolen painting, drug smuggling, beating up my partner, and bein' an idiot. You have the right to remain silent. If you chose to ignore that right, anything you do say can be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you can't afford one, which I don't guess is gonna be a problem, they have to give you one for free." Finally, he got one of the knots undone. "You wanna fill me in on what happened?"
"I'm not entirely sure," Fraser admitted. "Symons showed me the minor Stubbs in his collection--it's the gray horse with two cattle, a very nice painting in its own way. I said something about the particular painting I wanted being a Canadian import, and he suggested that we take a walk to the stables. He showed me some of the horses, and asked what I knew about Canadian imports--which is a great deal, as I'm sure you know. Something I said must've given him the impression that I was attempting to blackmail him into trading the Stubbs for my silence about his drug smuggling scheme. I regained consciousness as Mr. Symons was tying me to the side of this breeding pen here, and the rest I believe you know."
"Yeah, everything except what happened between when you woke up and when I got here," Ray pointed out. He'd skipped over how exactly he wound up unconscious, too, but Ray knew that was just Fraser. Somebody got the jump on him for a change, and he didn't exactly love talking about it.
"Very little," Fraser answered. "I elected not to correct Mr. Symons's mistaken assumption about my intentions, and you arrived as he was attempting to decide whether to eliminate the threat I pose to his operation by `paying me off,' as it were, or by killing me."
"Right, yeah, that's a very minor detail," Ray said, finishing up on the second knot.
Fraser bent down to take care of the ropes on his feet, and of course he got them off in about a second. "Judging by his hesitation, I doubt he's killed before, and I'd be very surprised if he had picked today to start."
"You wouldn't've been surprised, because you'd've been dead."
"Well, yes, there is that." He finished with the ropes and straightened up. "But I also knew that if he did elect to kill me, it would take considerable time for him to work himself up to it, so I really had nothing to worry about."
Fraser smiled blindingly. "Because you were coming to my rescue."
"And you knew that because....?"
"Well, we're partners, Ray." He grabbed Symons by the scruff of his neck and hauled him to his feet. "That, and I heard you yelling. I didn't know you could ride, by the way."
"I'm a fast learner."
Fraser collected the horse while Ray secured the prisoner to the ATV. A fast learner, indeed. He'd been able to hear enough to know that Ray'd encountered some difficulty--the shouts of "No, bad horse!" were a vital clue--but just as clearly, he'd handled it. Perhaps he ought to let Ray know that his own first ride had gone considerably less well. At some more appropriate time--
He decided not to mention that turning the horse loose with the saddle and bridle on wasn't a particularly good idea. The horse hadn't gotten the bridle caught on a stirrup, or put a leg through the reins. It could have happened, but it hadn't--as Ray would surely point out if he was foolish enough to bring it up. Perhaps he'd find a way to give Ray a riding lesson or two, just in case the situation arose again. He could mention the finer points of how to--as Ray would say--park a horse then.
He swung into the saddle and rode over to the ATV. When he got there, Ray had his cell phone to his ear. "Uh-huh. Place with all the horses. Yeah." He looked up at Fraser. "Did he happen to mention any accomplices while you two were chatting?"
"No, but whoever assists with the breeding and drives the horses across the border would almost have to have been in on the drug-smuggling scheme," Fraser answered.
He said into the phone, "Just the one prisoner now, but we haven't questioned the staff yet. Yeah. Maybe. Ten minutes." He hung up. "Local police are on their way. Figured we'd need some help controlling the scene."
"Good plan." The arrest of an international drug smuggler by a Chicago cop and a Mountie in Peoria was bound to create a jurisdictional nightmare. Involving the local forces wouldn't simplify the larger situation much, if at all, but it would prevent him and Ray from having to keep Symons in their personal custody until the competing claims could be sorted out.
The horse danced backwards a few steps when Ray started up the ATV. Yet another strike against Symons--despite evidently using ATVs for travel around the farm, he hadn't bothered to desensitize his horses to them. Fraser guided the horse in a circle around the building--as he'd expected, once out of direct sight and sound of the horse-eating beast, it calmed considerably, and he was able to follow Ray down the track, maintaining enough distance for the horse to keep his composure, but staying close enough that he could provide assistance if the prisoner gave Ray any trouble.
Fortunately, they arrived at the stable yard without any further complications--fortunately, because being back on a horse again was fairly enjoyable, and the rest of the day was decidedly not. Much of the rest of the afternoon was occupied with taking statements from Symons's employees and guests, a task that took even longer than it otherwise might have because the Peoria police insisted on being included in every step of the proceedings. They'd come to Symons's home for brunch, and by the time they were able to leave, they were overdue for a late supper.
"I'm ordering a pizza," Ray declared as he swiped his card-key through the magnetic lock. "Fuck! If I can ever get in the room."
"Do you want me to--"
"I got it." Unlocking the door took two more tries, but Ray managed it. Fraser decided he didn't need anything from his own room, and followed Ray into his. Ray got the phone book out of the bedside table and paged through it. "Blubber and lichen on your half?"
"Just lichen. I'm sure they don't have decent blubber this far south."
"Huh." Ray found the page he wanted. "This place should be good. The parking lot was full." He dialed. "Do you deliver to the motel on 74? Good. Okay, large with Canadian bacon and pineapple--of course you don't. Mushrooms? Yeah. Room 348." He hung up. "I got you mushrooms. That's sort of like lichen, isn't it?"
Fraser thought about explaining that lichen was a symbiotic organism that included both fungal and green-plant components, and that it was generally not used as a food source, except in extreme situations. But Ray would certainly point out that fungus was mushrooms, which meant the answer to his question was yes. "Yes," Fraser answered. "In a manner of speaking."
"Great." He stripped off Lieutenant Welsh's jacket and threw it on top of his clothing-pile, then flung himself onto the bed. "Pull up a bed," he invited, gesturing toward the spare one. "My cruddy motel room es su cruddy motel room."
"Actually, my cruddy motel room is next door," Fraser pointed out, neatening up the pile of clothing so there'd be room for him next to it. "I'm sorry we won't be going home as planned," he said. The Art and Antiques Division had asked him to stay on the scene until they arrived late tomorrow, to make sure that their jurisdictional claims weren't forgotten. "I'm know you were looking forward to relief from your skin condition." He settled against the headboard and considered whether he ought to take his boots off. Finally, he decided that since motels didn't wash their bedspreads nearly often enough, any dirt transferred from his boots to the bed would only serve as a necessary reminder of proper cleaning procedures.
Ray squinted at him. "I'm okay. Not itchy anymore."
Ray leaned rolled over onto his side to operate the TV remote, which was--in a typically American display of trust--bolted to the nightstand. After flipping through only a few channels, he apparently grew tired of the device's poor ergonomics and said, "We'll just watch this. Whatever it is."
"Fine," Fraser agreed. He had no idea what the program would be, since the station was currently showing commercials, but then again, he didn't particularly care.
When the program came back on, it proved to be a police show--the one about the FBI agents who occasionally encounter extraterrestrials and mythological beings. Despite Ray's general dislike of cop shows, and his antipathy toward the real-life FBI, he watched it with evident absorption until the next set of commercials began. Then he reached for the remote again and turned down the volume. "So did you really know I was coming? Before you heard me, I mean?" Ray remained on his side as he had been to turn down the TV, facing Fraser's direction.
Fraser hesitated, wondering what Ray was really asking. Finally forced to conclude that he had no idea, he answered truthfully, "Yes. I was unsure how long it would take you to determine where Symons had taken me, but I knew you would quickly realize that something had gone wrong and begin looking for me."
Ray turned onto his back. "Did, um, did that bother you? That you were tired up and you just had to wait for me?"
"I don't particularly enjoy being at the mercy of armed criminals," Fraser pointed out. It did seem to happen to him a lot, to Ray's disgust, but it wasn't something he planned for.
"I know. I meant the other part. The me coming to your rescue part." He carefully studied the ceiling.
Now he was even more lost than he'd been at the beginning of the conversation. "I'm certainly glad I'm not still tied to the stallion pen, if that's what you mean."
Ray sat up just enough to knock the back of his head against the bed's molded-veneer headboard. After he'd done so three or four times, he said, "That's not what I meant."
"I'd gathered." Feeling uncomfortable having what was evidently a serious conversation--although he still wasn't entirely clear on the topic--while laying down, Fraser sat up on the edge of the bed, facing Ray, feet on the floor. "What did you mean?"
"I don't know." The commercials ended, and Ray turned the TV's sound back up. "Show's on. Watch the show."
They watched the show. Fraser hoped that Ray might share more of what was on his mind during the next commercial break, but instead, the pizza arrived just as the commercials were starting. Ray paid for the pizza and put the open box on the edge of his bed. Once they'd each helped themselves to a slice, Ray said, "So is lichen even really edible?"
Since Ray didn't usually display much interest in knowledge for its own sake, Fraser knew he was deliberately changing the subject, but opted to go along with him. "Well, most varieties aren't poisonous," he answered. "But most aren't particularly tasty, either. But they can survive conditions that are fatal to most other plants, so they can be useful as a food of last resort, in a famine or survival situation. The Japanese consider one variety a delicacy, so I suppose they might put it on pizza. I've heard that Japanese pizza toppings can seem strange to Westerners--Turnbull went there for his last vacation--but he didn't mention anything about lichen specifically."
"What did he mention?"
"Boiled eggs. Sweet corn. Squid." The last didn't strike Fraser as particularly odd--Japan was an island nation, so it made sense that seafood toppings would be more prevalent--but he correctly predicted that Ray would find it remarkable.
"Squid? God. Tony complains about my pineapple--imagine if I asked him for a corn-and-squid." Ray shook his head.
"What's considered a normal pizza varies considerably around the world," Fraser answered.
"Yeah," Ray agreed. "Somebody I knew back at my old precinct went to Italy and came back telling everyone how they don't even have pepperoni over there unless you go to Dominos." He took another slice. "What do they really put on pizza up where you're from?"
"Pepperoni, mostly." Knowing Ray hoped to hear something more exotic, Fraser added, "There's a place in Yellowknife that makes their own Italian-style caribou sausage. Quite good."
"I'll have to look them up if I'm ever in the neighborhood."
Fraser almost offered to write down the name for him, until he remembered that was just one of the things people said. Ray was unlikely ever to be in Yellowknife.
If he was, it would be because he was visiting Fraser, so he wouldn't need to know how to find the pizza place by himself.
But it was just one of those things that people said. He wasn't going to read anything into it.
Instead, he took another slice of pizza. "I'm sure it won't surprise you to learn that Chicago pizza is considerably better than Yellowknife pizza."
"Yeah? How's it compare to Peoria pizza?"
Fraser took an experimental bite, assessing the sauce, density of the crust, and quality of toppings. "About the same," he decided. "Different, I mean, but about the same overall quality."
"Hm." Ray turned the sound back up on the TV for the last segment of the show, even though they'd missed a portion of the middle, and Fraser now had even less idea than he had before of what was going on.
The show ended, and Fraser was trying to decide whether to bring up their previous conversation--Ray had denied knowing what he meant, but surely he had meant something--when Ray said, "You remember that thing with the bull, last week?"
"It was a steer," Fraser answered. "But yes." Ray had been searching the inside of an empty pen when the animal had emerged from the adjoining stall and trotted over to investigate the intruder. It was a very large steer, and Fraser didn't blame Ray one bit for being alarmed.
"And the bucket?" Ray's tone was high and urgent, as though the question were somehow very important.
"Yes, of course, the bucket." The farmer really should have secured the steer's water bucket to the side of the pen with a rope or hook, rather than leaving it in the middle of the pen where anyone could trip over it.
"Why do you figure stuff like that happens to me?"
Fraser looked over at him. Ray now sitting up on the edge of his bed, hands pressed over his eyes. "Stuff like what? Tripping over a bucket?"
"Stuff where I look like an idiot."
"Ray, that sort of thing happens to everyone. Last week I--"
Ray didn't let him finish. "It's not just the bucket. Or the bull. Remember the rake?"
"Garden tools should be properly stored in an upright position. Not your fault at all."
"The manure pile?"
"Very inconveniently situated."
"The manure pile again?"
Fraser hesitated. "That, I admit, I'm surprised you didn't manage to avoid, since you'd already learned where it was. The hard way, as they say."
"Yeah, well, I'm not surprised." He dropped onto his back, legs still hanging over the side of the bed. "Because I figured out what my job is in this particular duet. I'm the comic relief."
"You most certainly are not."
"Yeah, I am. You're definitely not. Even with the funny suit and the licking things, you're definitely the main one. I'm the sidekick."
"I can't be the main one" Fraser answered. "Nearly all of our cases belong to the Chicago Police Department--your department. If anything I'm the sidekick."
"No, see, that just proves it. My jobs are making the arrest and doing stupid stuff you have to rescue me from."
Fraser thought he saw a hole in Ray's logic--actually, he thought he saw several, but he focused on the largest. "But today you had to rescue me."
"Exactly. That's why I asked if it bothered you."
Now he understood. Sort of. "It doesn't bother me." A thought occurred to him. "Does it bother you when I rescue you from a difficult situation?"
"Then why would it bother me?"
Ray sighed. "Because you're the main one, and I'm the humorous sidekick."
"Except I'm not. And you're not."
Ray craned his neck to look at him. "I'm not the main one."
"Does there have to be a main one?" Fraser was fairly sure that between his father and Buck Frobisher there hadn't been a main one, but perhaps their partnership had been unusual in that regard. "We could take turns being the main one," he suggested. "Given the manure pile, I suppose last week was my turn. This week can be yours."
"That's not how it works."
"Then you can be the main one all the time. I don't mind."
"We don't get to pick who's the main one. It just is. Think about it. The bull, the manure pile, the bucket. Having to go after you on a horse when I don't know how to ride a horse. That is humorous sidekick stuff."
"But I lick things," Fraser pointed out. "And last week I fell off a chair while attempting to change a light bulb."
"Did anybody see?"
"Well, no. I was alone in the Consulate. If I'd been injured, I'd have had to wait hours for help."
"That's because you're the main one. When the comedy sidekick does something stupid, there's always an audience."
"You were at least running from a bull, and chasing a suspect, in the case of the rake and the first incident with the manure pile. I was, I remind you, changing a light bulb. Something small children, the elderly, the mentally disadvantaged, and even Turnbull often manage to accomplish without incident."
"Huh." Ray sat up and chewed meditatively at a pizza crust. "Was it a rolling chair? Like an office chair?"
"Folding chair," Fraser admitted. "I put my foot too far back on the seat, and--"
"It folded up? While you were standing on it?" Ray sounded positively gleeful at the notion of Fraser standing on a collapsing chair. "That woulda been worth seeing."
"I was lucky to escape serious injury," Fraser exaggerated.
"Yeah. Yeah. So there's that, and the getting tied to the stallion pen thing. By an art thief. Because he thought you knew something you didn't." He shook his head. "But I still don't think I'm the main one. I'm too ethnic and funny-looking."
"You're not funny-looking," Fraser said. "You're--" Beautiful. He didn't say it. Maybe one day he would, but this wasn't that day. "Not. Does there have to be a main one?"
"You mean, like, I'll be your sidekick, and you be my sidekick?"
Fraser still wasn't sure why sidekicks had to enter into it. "Partners, Ray."
"Partners," Ray echoed. "So, like, equal partners?"
"Okay," Ray said. "That'll work. Okay. Partners." He waved his pizza crust at the TV. "Like Mulder and Scully."
"On the show. You have to be Scully, though, because she's the logical one. Even though she's a girl. Uh, woman. And Fox, you know. Has a funny name. Like me."
Fraser considered. The female FBI agent seemed to be an intelligent capable officer of the law, as well as a loyal friend and partner. "Understood. I'll be Scully."
End The Rest, Nowhere by Alex51324
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