You Just Have To Leap
"P-R-O-C-E-" Ray chanted to himself as he typed.
"Ray," Frannie interrupted him.
He held up one hand. "E-D, E-and another-D. Okay, what?"
"What are you doing?"
Like Frannie doesn't type out loud. "Shut up. Did you come over here just to bust my balls, or do you want something?"
"Like I would have anything to do with your nether regions. Harding wants to see you."
Ray wished she would call him "Welsh" or "the Lieu" like everybody else--hearing her say "Harding" all the time made him feel like he accidentally stumbled into a porno film.
Being called into Welsh's office unexpectedly was always kind of a sent-to-the-principal's-office feeling, but he hadn't done anything recently, that he could think of. Could be whatever Welsh wanted to tell him wasn't anything bad--maybe a hot new case or something like that.
That hope was dashed as soon as he saw the Lieutenant's face. No, he definitely hadn't called Ray in to tell him what a good boy he was. "Shut the door," he said.
That was really bad. He obeyed.
"You remember the Recu case?"
"Vividly, sir." Michael Recu was an import-exporter with connections in Eastern European organized crime. Employees of his who became inconvenient had a nasty habit of turning up dead, but they hadn't been able to make anything stick until he'd lost his temper and gotten his hands dirty when a cleaning woman overheard a phone call she shouldn't have. She'd been considering going to the police with what she knew; Recu got wind of it, and she ended up with her head bashed in in the parking garage of the same building she cleaned every day. Finally nailing Recu on something had been a good day.
"Judge Bowen threw out all the evidence. Everything from the search of the car onward."
Which meant everything except the body itself--the bloodstained clothes, the golf club, the shoes that matched footprints left at the crime scene, everything. "What? Why? That was a stand-up bust."
"The defense attorney sent a whole laundry-list of reasons, but it all comes down to you, Detective."
"Me? What did I do?" This could not be happening.
Welsh opened a folder and slowly put on his glasses, giving Ray just enough time to start to feel sick. "The paperwork for the search of the car was dated eight months after the search took place."
"No, it wasn't."
"I pulled a copy. You dated it December 4th."
And it was actually.... "April 12th. I switched the--I've done that before. They can't be throwing it out for--"
"You're not helping yourself, Detective. The name of the deceased was spelled four different ways in your case notes, creating doubt that all of the evidence pertains to the same investigation."
"Her name doesn't have any vowels in it! How many dead women named Ramona Krztykbldt do they think there are in Chicago?"
"That's something we'll never know. Mr. Recu states that he was not Mirandized properly, to wit, that he was told 'if all of your crooked lawyers are too busy drinking blood and sleeping upside down to represent you, one will be appointed for you,' which Mr. Recu is choosing to interpret as an ethnic slur."
Ray did remember saying that. It had seemed clever at the time. "An ethnic slur? He's white!"
"He's Romanian, Detective." Welsh closed the folder. "There's more, but I'll let you read it at your leisure. The defense suggested that this pattern of errors presents a picture of a careless and biased investigation, and the judge believed it. He threw out the search of the car, and everything after that is fruit of the poisoned tree."
Because the blood on the floor mats had been what got them the warrant for Recu's house. "That's crazy! Throw out the car, fine, we've still got a case, but everything else is--it's obvious he did it! He might as well be walking around with a big sign that says he did it. She was beaten to death in the parking garage six stories down from his office."
"In a building used by several hundred other people, the vast majority of whom did not do it. Unless we can put together a new case before the trial starts on Monday, the DA's got nothing to go with but a tiny pile of circumstantial evidence. He'll be back on the street hitting golf balls with the murder weapon by lunchtime."
Maybe he was dreaming. He had nightmares like this every once in a while. This could be one.
"This is insane. I didn't--you know that was a good collar."
Welsh didn't look like he knew that at all. "I know Recu did it, and I know he's going to walk." He didn't add and I know it's your fault, but then again, he didn't have to. "I'm giving the case to Huey and Dewey, on the off chance they can find some clean evidence. Give them any assistance they require."
"Huey and Dewey?" Welsh wasn't even going to let him try to fix it?
"I think you've done enough."
"I've made my decision, Detective. And don't let this happen again."
"No, sir. I'll try harder."
Ray left the office. He had to get out, before he lost it, just totally lost it. He plowed through the squad room, too angry to see straight, counting on everyone and everything else to just get the fuck out of his way.
And everyone and everything else, from Francesca down to the trash cans, was smart enough to do just that, except Dewey. He stepped in Ray's path, saying, "Vecchio, do you--"
Ray saw him just in time to swerve to the left. Dewey, having the same sense of self-preservation as dryer lint, stepped to the right. Ray slammed into him, sending Dewey's coffee cup flying in one direction, and the papers he was holding flying in the other. "Why don't you watch where the fuck you're going, you stupid sack of shit?" Ray bellowed without stopping.
He was heading for outside, somewhere he could walk around and scream without anyone thinking anything worse than that he was an unusually clean mentally unhinged bum, but he caught a glimpse of red coming in the main doors, and this was not the time for a chat with Fraser, so he detoured into the men's room instead.
Fortunately, there was nobody else in there. He looked himself in the eye in the mirror. There was the stupid sack of shit he ought to be yelling at. Stanley Raymond Kowalski could change his name--twice--but he couldn't change the fact that he was D-U-M dumb.
He splashed some cold water on his face, hoping to cool his temper, but it didn't help. Suddenly, he whirled and pounded his fist into the stall wall, once, twice, three times. It left a satisfying dent, and sent an even more satisfying jolt of pain up his arm. "Fuck!" He shouted, loud enough that the Lieu probably heard it in his office, and hit the wall again.
He whirled and saw Fraser standing by the doorway. "Fuck! Warn a guy!"
"I'm sorry, Ray. Did the wall do something to offend you?"
"No." He put his back to the abused wall and slid down to the floor, holding his head in his hands. "Fuck, Fraser," he said again, his voice coming out all small and wobbly.
Fraser hunkered down next to him, even though the floor was gross--okay, probably not much grosser than things Fraser licked on a daily basis, but still. "What happened?"
Ray shook his head. He could really do without talking about it, but Fraser was bound to find out sooner or later. "The Recu case. All the evidence is getting thrown out."
"Because I fucked up, Fraser. That's the long and short of it."
Of course, Fraser wouldn't let it go at that. He kept asking for details, and Ray kept giving them to him, even though he hated the whiny way his voice sounded, and hated even more the one or two furious tears that he had to knuckle out of his eyes. When he finished, Fraser said, "That is strange."
"Strange," Ray echoed. "That's what you think it is?"
"Well, yes." Fraser sat back on his heels. "None of those errors strikes me as particularly damning. I've seen your paperwork--your approach to spelling is...creative...but your prose style is pellucid, and--"
"Pell-what?" Ray asked, figuring that must be some kind of insult, some Canadian way of saying stupid.
"Pellucid," Fraser repeated. "Clear. Literally, admitting of light without distortion. Minor irregularities aside, I can't imagine how a careful reader would receive the impression that your work was anything but thorough."
Ray wasn't sure what to think of that. "Yeah. Well. That's not what the judge thought." He raked his hands through his hair, ignoring the pain in his fingers.
Fraser winced and took his wrist. "You're getting blood on your hair."
Ray looked at his hand. His knuckles were bloody, and his fingers were already starting to puff up. "Oh."
"Let's--" Fraser waved a hand toward the sinks.
"Yeah, okay." He got up on shaky legs and stuck his hand under the cold tap. When his fingers started to ache from the cold, he leaned his forehead against the mirror. "This is totally fucked, Fraser."
"I agree." Fraser handed him a paper towel to dry his hand, then dabbed on some stuff he got out of the pouch on his belt. Ray didn't ask if it was powdered horn or pregnant mucous or something else he hadn't heard about yet. Probably not the pregnant mucous stuff--it stung going on, but didn't stink too bad. "I think we should start by reviewing the case."
"Welsh gave it to Huey and Dewey," Ray reminded him.
"He also told you to assist them," Fraser pointed out. He finished with the moose goop or whatever it was and put the jar back in his belt pouch.
Ray wasn't too happy to be walking back into the squad room. Even if everyone hadn't heard about the Recu case yet, it was a sure bet they'd heard him beating himself up in the bathroom. But everybody made it easy for him to avoid them, and he made his way to his desk without having to look anybody in the eye. Fraser was going on about picking up the case file, and maybe looking at other cases he'd brought before the same judge; Ray just tuned him out and went back to the typewriter.
After a while, Dewey came up to the desk and asked Fraser, all cautious-like. Ray kept his head down--just a regular guy doing paperwork here, nothing to see. "We, ah, we need the Recu file," he said to Fraser.
"Hm? Oh, help yourself. I'm through with it." He handed it to Dewey.
Ray wasn't sure what he was looking at, if he was done with the Recu file, but he didn't ask anything except, "How do you spell argument?"
Fraser spelled it for him. "You should learn to use the computer, Ray. Most of them have a spell-check program that would help you considerably."
"Yeah, shut up."
Ray finished his report and pulled the form out of the typewriter. "Here, check this for me."
Fraser looked it over and circled a couple of things in pencil. "It's fine, Ray. The 'i' in 'receive' comes after the second 'e,' but that's not important. And 'Smith' is generally spelled with the t before the h." He handed the report back and stood up. "If you need me, I'll be at the courthouse."
"What--" Before Ray could get the rest of the question out, Fraser was gone.
Ray's sitting in the bathroom stall trying not to puke when the lawyers come in. It's his first time testifying in court about an arrest he made, and he's nervous as hell. His partner tried to help, told him it's easy and everyone there is on their side, except the perp and his lawyer, but Frank's done this a bunch of times. He doesn't get it. Ray's worried he won't understand what the lawyers are asking him, or that he'll mess up the sequence of events, even though he went over it a dozen times last night. Or that he'll get some of his words mixed up and they'll figure well, if he can't talk right, maybe he caught the wrong guy. That's reasonable doubt.
"--hope this guy doesn't drool on the stand," one of the lawyers says, stepping up to the urinal and pulling down his zipper. It's one of the prosecutors from his case--the one who went over his testimony with him that morning.
"Don't they at least have to have a high school diploma?" The other one asks. "He can barely read and write. Look at this." A rustle of paper. "We're spelling proceeded with an S now."
"Cops. They should stick to words of one syllable. Walk. Go. Shoot bad guy."
Fuck. Until then, Ray'd been telling himself they were making fun of the perp. But they're not. It's him. So fucking stupid they think he's going to drool on the stand.
He's not sure whether to puke or burst out of there and pound those guys' heads against the porcelain until they pop. Instead he just sits there on the can with his head in his hands until they finish up, and he's almost late for court.
Ray hauled his aching body up the stairs to his apartment, deliberately not thinking any further into the future than a couple of aspirin, an hour or two of TV, and bed. He'd hurt worse in the morning, but that was just one of the things he wasn't thinking about.
He'd spent the rest of the work day torturing himself with paperwork, then took himself to the gym. The thing with the wall had bled off enough aggression to get him through the rest of the day, but he needed a couple of hours with the heavy bag to wear himself out enough that he'd be able to sleep. He'd had to talk himself into taping his hands up right--part of him felt like he deserved worse than bloody knuckles--but he had a lot more typing to do the next day. If he was gonna turn over a new leaf and stop screwing up so much, going in with his hands all fucked up wasn't exactly the best way to start. He'd compromised by taping his hands for the bag work, but then sparring with a guy two or three weight-classes above his. He hurt like hell, but at least the outside matched the inside, now.
When he got to his floor, he found Fraser--in civvies, sitting on the floor by his door, looking at something in a file folder. "Ah. Ray!" He sounded like seeing Ray there, in front of his own goddamn apartment, was some kind of terrific surprise.
Ray knew perfectly well he was no prize. And he'd sure given Fraser a good look at his best qualities that day--dumb and violent. Everything Fraser liked in a guy. If he even liked guys, which he didn't.
Ray'd kind of hoped Fraser would be busy elsewhere for a couple of days, until the shame of it all died down some. But he'd pretty much punched himself out, so instead of asking Fraser what the hell he thought he was doing, stalking him or something, he just said, "Hi."
"Are you well?" Getting to his feet, Fraser looked at him with concern.
"Tired. I was at the gym." He let himself in the apartment and tossed his gun on the counter--he had it in his hand, since just thinking about putting the holster on made his arms hurt. "You want a beer?"
"No, thank you, but I'd enjoy a glass of water."
Ray got himself a beer and filled a glass at the sink. Who the hell enjoyed water? That was like enjoying air or something.
Of course, if you were drowning, air was the best damn thing in the world.
He gave Fraser the glass and flopped on the couch with a groan.
"I hope you didn't overexert yourself," Fraser said, sitting on the other end of the couch.
"You here for a reason, or just checking up on me?"
"Well." Fraser smoothed his eyebrow. "I took the liberty of pulling the records on all of your cases from the last six months that went before Judge Bowen. Four of them have similar transposition errors in key dates--"
"Yeah," Ray said. "I know. I'm dumb. That's not news." He really did not want to hear this, but he was so worn out that just raising the beer bottle to his mouth was about all the effort he wanted to put out.
Fraser continued, "Only one of those was brought to the judge's attention by the defense, but he summarily dismissed the motion to exclude the affected evidence, saying that typographical errors do not constitute grounds for reasonable doubt."
"So he changed his mind," Ray said.
"It appears so. I've also found another motion to exclude an interview based on a nonstandard version of the Miranda warning. The judge ruled that all of the key rights were explained, and noted that the defendant would only have recognized the changes in wording if he was already intimately familiar with the official caution, so he couldn't claim not to have been aware of his rights."
"And Recu's been arrested before." Ray nodded once, then let his head drop against the back of the couch. "Not indicted, but he knows his rights, sure," he told the ceiling.
"I've heard you caution suspects, and your versions of the warning tend to be more informative than the official one, not less. The putative ethnic slur is--well, regrettable, but--"
"I don't get that," Ray interrupted. "How is saying Recu's lawyers are dirty an ethnic slur, anyway?" He hadn't thought to ask Welsh, but that really hadn't been the time, anyway.
"It was the choice of metaphor that was, ah, potentially inflammatory," Fraser answered. "Vlad Tepes, the historical figure upon which the legend of Count Dracula is largely based, was Romanian."
"I thought Dracula was from, whatsit, Transylvania."
"Transylvania is a Romanian province."
"Oh. I didn't know that." Maybe they could get the ethnic slur thing reversed on account of how he was too dumb to know he was doing it.
"Clearly. And the supposed slur was directed at Recu's lawyer who is--hm." Fraser consulted a page from his folder. "Polish. So the evidence of ethnic bias is--"
"Flimsy, at best." He continued, "I didn't find any other examples where the names of victims, suspects, or witnesses had been misspelled--except for one or two unremarkable transposition errors--but the defense also spelled Ms. Krztykbldt's name two different ways, and the spelling on the death certificate does not match that on her immigration documents. Clearly it's a difficult name to spell."
"So, what, the judge is out to get me or something?"
"That seems unlikely." Fraser shut the folder and leaned forward. "No, it strikes me as more likely that these errors were used as a pretext for dismissing the bulk of the case against Recu. That Judge Bowen isn't out to get you; he was out to locate an excuse to release Recu."
It was a tempting thought, but...no. If it was Fraser they were talking about, sure, there'd be some big conspiracy. But they were talking about Ray, here. "What's that thing you told me about the razor?"
"Razor? I'm not sure I remember."
"Some guy's razor. Starts with an A, I think. Maybe an O. A vowel."
"Oh! Occam's razor--the principle that the simplest explanation for a given phenomenon is usually the correct one."
"Yeah, that thing. The simplest explanation here is that the case got thrown out because I fucked up, just like Welsh said."
"Well." Fraser hesitated. "I'm not sure I agree."
Big fucking surprise. "How come?"
"First of all, Occam's razor is primarily a scientific principle. When describing the behavior of physical objects or natural events, the simplest explanation is, indeed, usually best. But human behavior--particularly criminal behavior--is often more complex."
"Yeah, I don't remember exactly when you told me about the Occam thing, but I bet we weren't talking about gravity."
"You have a point," Fraser admitted. "I have applied Occam's razor to criminal behavior in the past, but not always successfully. Another, perhaps better, objection is that I'm not convinced your explanation is the simplest one. The evidence that I found today strongly indicates that Bowen didn't have to throw out the evidence in this case. He chose to. The question of why remains open."
He had a point. Ray thought about it. "Judges are smart guys. I mean, you have to be pretty smart to get through law school, and those guys are better than average, top of the class. Maybe he's had the shits of dealing with dumb cops all day." Even to him, the explanation sounded weak.
"That's...not impossible, but it strikes me as unlikely that he'd allow a dangerous criminal to go free simply to make a point about your spelling."
When he put it like that, Ray had to admit he was right. "Okay, then why did he let him go? Bowen's not crooked."
"He has a reputation for honesty," Fraser agreed. "But perhaps that's changed recently. It's possible that Recu found a way to motivate him."
Even tired and banged up, Ray had to move to think. He got up and paced over to the kitchen counter. "Like what?"
"I don't know. The courthouse closed before I had time to look into his recent history."
"Not money. He'd have been offered bribes before."
"He might have expenses now that he didn't before. Medical bills, gambling debts....those are things we can look into."
"Could be blackmail. Not sure when he's up for reelection, but he's one of those family image guys, always has his wife and kids in his campaign ads. If Recu found out he's having an affair, or paying a pro to spank him, anything like that, he'd be pretty anxious to keep it a secret."
"Bowen is ambitious," Fraser added. "And Recu has his fingers in a lot of pies. Perhaps he has, or has convinced Bowen that he has, enough pull to get him to the state supreme court. Even a man of slightly above average honesty might convince himself that a moral compromise is acceptable if it would move him to a loftier position from which he could affect justice on a larger scale."
"Yeah. Okay. So that's the big three: money, sex, and power." Ray picked up the phone. "I don't know about you, but if I'm gonna bring down a crooked judge, I need to eat. What do you want on your half?"
Ray doesn't tell anybody when, halfway through his first semester at community college, he changes his major to Criminal Justice. It's an Associate's Degree program, so technically it meets the deal he made with his parents, but he knows Dad won't see it that way. And he doesn't tell Stella, either, but for a different reason.
She's studying pre-law. And Criminal Justice is like, Vocational-track pre-law. He doesn't want her to think he's just following after her--or worse, tell him there's no way he can hack being a cop. They never talk about it, but he knows she remembers what happened that day in the bank, when she decided a field trip would be just the thing to get him to understand compound interest.
The brochure about the Criminal Justice major talks about how you can get other jobs than being a cop--you can be a prison guard, or enter the exciting world of private security. But Ray wants to be a cop. He knows his dad won't like it, knows there's a good chance he can't do it. But he's wanted it, in a way, ever since that time at the bank. Ever since Stella looked at him like he was a hero, he's wanted to make that lie true.
If he doesn't do well enough in Criminal Justice to get into the police academy, he'll just keep working at the Coca-Cola plant. And if he ends up doing that, Stella doesn't even have to know.
But it turns out he does okay in his CJ classes. There's a lot of stuff to learn--laws and procedures and stuff like that--but a lot of it is common sense, and the stuff that isn't, most of the teachers aren't afraid to say, "This doesn't make sense, but you just have to know it." There's a lot of reading, but Ray's not the only one who can't get it all done, and just about everything that's going to be on the test gets mentioned in class. He has to do reports sometimes, but they don't mark off for spelling much.
One of the teachers, an old guy named Santoro, starts off class half the time by telling them about a case. Some of the other guys snicker about "story time," but Ray figures out pretty fast that every story ends the same way--the bad guys gets off, because of some mistake the cops in the story made. If you pay attention instead of using story time to catch up on your sleep, and you at least glanced at the reading the night before, you can figure out what they did wrong and tell Santoro when he asks.
The final exam is half stories, and Ray gets the only A of his entire life.
Ray stood under the shower, letting the hot water pound some of the ache out of his shoulders. He and Fraser had stayed up late--well, late for Fraser--planning out how they were going to investigate Judge Bowen. Fraser was headed back to the courthouse to check out Bowen's other recent cases, to see if he'd done anything else hinky--he was probably already there, since they opened the doors at seven-thirty. He was also supposed to talk to Bowen's secretary--who'd probably know if he was having an affair--and check out the newspaper morgue, to see if there were any articles about the judge's medical history, political aspirations, or anything else relevant.
Ray was supposed to hit the street and do the stuff that he was good at--shaking bad guys and bad girls to see what fell out. Check if Bowen was in deep with any of the bookies, show his picture around to the hookers. A judge would be more likely to go to one of those ritzy escort agencies with better confidentiality policies than Ray's divorce lawyer, but maybe he'd get lucky and find out Bowen had an itch a high-priced call girl couldn't scratch.
If he could manage to put his shirt on, which right now he had serious doubts about.
Hell, he even skipped conditioning his hair because it hurt too much to raise his arms. Here he was in the shower, with a decent amount of time to enjoy the hot water, thinking about Fraser--any other time, that was only gonna end one way. But right now, he hurt too much to even get it up.
And there was another thing. When Fraser was here, last night, it had seemed completely reasonable that there was something queer with Bowen, that the case hadn't fallen apart because Ray fucked up. But in the cold light of day, he wasn't as sure. If it was that clear, why hadn't the DA noticed? Or Welsh? Hell, maybe the DA's office had already looked into it, found out there was nothing to it but what was right there on the surface.
But Fraser was following up on it, so he might as well play along.
He managed to get into some clothes, draped his holster over his shoulders. Trying to fasten it made his biceps scream for mercy, so he left it unhooked and hoped it didn't fall off. It was early enough that a few of the working girls (and working "girls") were still out hoping for one last trick. None of them had seen anybody that matched Bowen's picture. Some of them sent him to a diner where some of their co-workers were having breakfast before they went home for the day. None of the girls there had seen him, either, but Ray got himself around a cup of coffee and some eggs, and felt marginally human enough to go shake his snitches.
By the time he got to the station, he'd gone back to feeling like there was something to this case. Not because he'd found anything--he hadn't--but he had sort of a feeling, a dog-on-the-hunt feeling.
That came crashing down when he walked past Frannie's desk and she said, "Welsh has been looking for you since he got here."
Oh, shit. Ray's first thought was that he knew what Ray and Fraser were up to--that he was working on this case that Welsh had pretty much given him a direct order to stay off of.
But how would he know? Not unless Fraser had told him--which wasn't completely impossible, but if Welsh wanted to yell at them about that, he'd want Fraser to be there for it, too. So it was probably just that he figured out he had more he wanted to say about Ray's fuckup screwing the case for them.
Which was another kind of problem. He didn't know how well he'd be able to stand there and take it without telling Welsh that he and Fraser thought maybe he hadn't fucked up that bad at all.
Maybe Ray should just go ahead and tell him. They'd have to bring him in on it eventually, if there was anything to it. But Fraser could explain it better than he could.
He hadn't made up his mind what to do when he knocked on Welsh's door.
He went in and shut the door behind him. "Sir?" he said again. He might be overdoing it with the "sirs." There was a fine line between getting a brownie point or two for being respectful and just plain brown-nosing.
"Yeah? I mean, yes?"
"You'd be surprised how easy it is for a building full of cops to solve the little mystery of who beat up the wall in the men's room. Didn't even require any DNA analysis."
"Oh. Yeah. About that, sir...."
He realized that it was either the wall or Dewey wouldn't make him sound any better. "I got nothing. I'm sorry, sir."
"Don't do it again. This is your official warning--next time you break, damage, spindle, or mutilate anything in my station, you're going to anger management."
"Seriously? Come on. I don't need that. I manage my anger pretty good." Most of the time. "I don't kick puppies, I don't beat my wife, I don't even beat up on perps." And he didn't want to do any of those things. He didn't want to hurt people. He just got mad sometimes.
"I know. That's why you're getting a warning. You want to punch the walls at home, that's your business, but I can't have it in my station."
He wanted to argue about it, but he knew there wasn't really a way to make it sound like flying into a rage in public was okay. He was--as Fraser would say--an officer of the law. The citizens wouldn't exactly feel safe if they saw him acting like a maniac. "Yes, sir."
"Okay." Welsh leaned back in his chair. "I looked over the Recu file."
"I'm not surprised you were ticked off. You got screwed."
That made him feel better in a whole different way from when Fraser said it. With Fraser, it was hard to be sure he wasn't just trying to make Ray feel better. "Royally hosed, sir."
"Yeah. Be careful, anyway. Have Fraser check over your stuff for you."
"Good idea." Like he didn't do that already, if he wasn't in too much of a hurry. Or annoyed with Fraser. Or if he didn't want to feel like the dumb one for a change.
Stella's been at the University of Chicago for two weeks now, but the semester at Ray's college is just starting. Dad doesn't like that's it's just community college--he wanted Ray to go away, like Marlon did--full scholarship to the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana. But Ray's known since ninth grade that he isn't smart enough for an academic scholarship, and there's no such thing as college boxing.
And it turns out, forget about scholarships. He barely graduated high school; no one but the community college will take him, and they want full tuition. He got a job lined up at the Coca-Cola plant, and he thought he'd keep on living at home for a few years, while Stella went to school, so he could save up enough money to put a down payment on a house when they got married. But even though it was a union shop, something with a future, no dead meat stink, Dad wasn't happy. He said Ray couldn't keep on living at home unless he was in school, so he worked on the numbers and figured out he could save more money working part time and living at home than he could getting an apartment and working full time.
So now he's here for his first day at the community college. It's not too bad so far. The other students look like his kind of people. In College Composition, his first class, the teacher has them introduce themselves to the person next to them. Weird, but OK. The guy next to him is called Mark. He's doing the Automotive Repair program, which sounds cool. Ray would do that, but it's a certificate program, not a degree. He's not sure exactly what that means, but he knows it's not good enough for Dad.
Which is total bullshit. If you can fix cars, you'll always have a job. "That's smart," he tells Mark, the guy next to him. "If you can fix cars, you'll always have a job."
"Fuckin' A," Mark agrees. "What are you in for?"
"Uh...Associate in Arts."
"Huh." He can tell Mark doesn't think Associate in Arts is a very cool major.
"Yeah. My parents want me to, you know, transfer. Get a four year degree. I dunno. Right now I'm working the bottler at the Coca-Cola plant."
"That's a good job. My cousin works there."
"Yeah. I'm savin' up to get married." He takes out his wallet and shows Mark the picture he's got in there. "That's her. Stella."
"Beautiful." Ray puts his wallet away.
College Composition goes downhill from there. The teacher has them introduce the guy next to them to the rest of the class. Mark tells everybody his name's Stanley and he's majoring in Art. Then the teacher hands out some paper and pencils and they have to write a letter to themselves five years in the future.
Ray writes, "So your alredy married to Stella you lucky basturd," and can't think of what to put next, so he spends the rest of the period wondering what Stella's doing, and when the teacher tells them they have to pass the letters in, he knows he's fucked.
It was well after lunch time when Fraser showed up, which sucked because Ray had sort of been waiting for him. As soon as he saw that beacon of red coming toward him, he jumped up. "Hey, Fraser, buddy, let's go get lunch."
Fraser glanced back and forth between him and the desk, looking a little confused. Finally he said, "Ah. Certainly."
Ray hurried out of the building, with Fraser trailing after him. "What are you in the mood for? Chinese? Tacos? I could go for a taco."
"We're going for lunch?" Fraser asked.
"Isn't that what I said?"
"I assumed it was some kind of code."
"Yeah, Fraser. Lunch is code. It means lunch."
"It's two o'clock in the afternoon."
"Yeah, you're late." He unlocked Fraser's door and walked around the car to get in. Once they were on their way, he said, "Yeah, you're kind of right. I mean, I thought the station might not be the best place to talk about this investigation. So I was waiting on lunch so we'd have an excuse to leave, and now I'm starving."
"I see. So this investigation is a secret?"
"I think so. For now."
"That sounds fine, Ray."
Once he'd inhaled his first taco, he unwrapped the second one and said, "I didn't find anything yet. Snitches don't know anything, hookers haven't seen him. I figure if it's that, he probably uses one of those escort agencies, and I don't have an in with them."
"My investigation was also fruitless, I'm afraid. Those of his financial records that are available to the public don't show any unusual activity."
"No sudden withdrawals from his campaign war chest?"
"Right. And he hasn't taken out a second mortgage on his home, which would be a more logical first step than accepting bribes, if he were in financial difficulty. His secretary hasn't been asked to order flowers for anyone other than his wife, or to make any restaurant reservations other than for business dinners. He's appeared in the newspapers frequently over the last few months, both in hard news and the social columns, but none of the coverage suggests any difficulty. He has three years left in his current term, and he hasn't declared intent to run for any other public office." Fraser ticked off the items on his fingers.
"Huh. Okay, so where do we go next?"
"Well. If there is anything unusual going on, it's possible that there might be talk about it at the State's Attorney's office."
It took Ray a minute to figure out what Fraser was trying to get at. "You want me to ask Stella?"
"I could try, but my working relationship with her is rather...." He thumbed his eyebrow. "Strained."
Yeah, Stella and Fraser were like oil and water, only when you put them together, you didn't get rainbows. "Yeah, she might talk to me. It depends what kind of mood she's in." He picked at the shreds of lettuce that had fallen out of his taco. He'd hoped he could avoid bumping into Stella for a while. She'd probably heard about the Recu thing, even though it wasn't her case, and she'd either be annoyed with him or feel sorry for him. He wasn't sure which was worse. "Stuff like this, sometimes she takes my side, sometimes she doesn't."
"Stuff like what?"
He crumpled the taco wrappers into a ball. "She took a lot of flak, before, about being married to someone who's, you know. Not very smart."
"She was married to someone else?"
"I'm sorry, Ray, but I'm not sure by what standard of achievement you could be considered 'not very smart.'"
For a bright guy, Fraser could be so fucking blind sometimes. He held up his index finger. "There's the 'graduated from high school with a 62% average' standard." A second finger. "The 'didn't finish college' standard." A third finger. "The 'can't fucking spell' standard. She's a lawyer, Fraser. She works with lawyers. These people see my paperwork, they know I'm an idiot. Sometimes she got tired of trying to explain what the hell she saw in me."
Fraser looked away. "You're not an idiot, Ray. You're--"
"Don't give me that 'you're smart in your own way' bullshit, either. Stella used to say that, and I know what it means. It means 'you're good at things smart people aren't good at.' I know I can dance and fuck and fix cars, Fraser. That doesn't make me smart."
Fraser blushed, ducked his head, smoothed his eyebrow. "Ah--"
Yeah, he probably shouldn't have mentioned fucking. Anyone who'd ever seen Fraser with a woman knew that sex made him uncomfortable. The idea of sex, anyway. Maybe he got over that when he was actually having it. He'd almost have to, right? But Ray was suddenly struck with an image of Fraser blushing and stammering and trying to have sex at the same time. I, ah, seem to have developed an erection, er, terribly sorry.
Reason three hundred fifty-seven why he and Fraser would never work out. Ray liked sex--he liked it a lot--and Fraser seemed like he'd be more comfortable if the whole topic of sex didn't exist at all, and maybe people reproduced with spores or something.
On the other hand, at least no one else was having sex with Fraser, either.
Ray crumpled up his taco wrappers and stood up. "Come on. We have to get back to the station."
Fraser threw away their trash, then followed him out of the taqueria. "Ray, I didn't mean to suggest that you--"
Fraser nodded crisply.
In the station parking lot, he got out his phone. "You go on ahead. I'll call her from here." He hated talking to Stella in front of Fraser. Hated Fraser seeing the guy he turned into around her. Even though he didn't have the faintest ghost of a shot with Fraser--he knew that; he was stupid, not delusional--he didn't always love having Fraser see him at his absolute worst.
Fraser only went as far as the station entrance, but at least he had some privacy. He dialed Stella's office number, where the secretary picked up. "ASA Kowalski's office."
"Hi, Lauren, it's Detective Kowalski. I need to talk to Stella."
"Just a moment." He was put on hold for about half a minute. When Lauren came back, she said, "I'm sorry, Detective, Ms. Kowalski isn't available."
Bullshit. "It's about work. It's a work thing."
"I'll give her that message."
He knew from experience that arguing with Lauren would only make it less likely that Stella would call him back. "Yeah. Yeah, okay. She has all my numbers, right? It's important."
"I'll be sure to tell her that."
He hung up and went to meet Fraser, who looked at him expectantly. "She's, ah, in a meeting or something. She'll call back."
"I'm sure she will, Ray."
Stella's wearing a sleeveless dress, white with little flowers on it. He's so close he can smell her shampoo, and with his hand on her shoulder, he can feel the heat of her body. He's holding her other hand in his, and he knows it's all clammy and gross; he wants to wipe it off on his pants, but the teacher yells at him when he does that, and it's hard enough to concentrate anyway.
"Gentlemen, step forward right, step forward left, annnnnnd quickstep to the left."
He gets the two steps forward right, but on the third step, he ends up going the opposite way from Stella, and bumps into the couple dancing next to them. "Dam--darn," he says, frustrated and embarrassed, taking the opportunity to scrub his sweaty palm against his good pants. "Sorry, Stella."
"Sorry," she says to the other girl. "Let's try again."
Now they're behind everybody else, and it's even harder to figure out what they're supposed to be doing.
He wants to quit already--he's wanted to quit since ten minutes into the first class--but his parents had to pay for eight lessons up front, and he knows without even asking that they're going to make him take all eight, whether he likes it or not. Taking dance classes was his own dumb idea--when Stella told him she was going, he started babbling about how lots of the famous boxers take dance lessons, for the footwork, and she suggested he take them too. It had seemed like a good idea at the time--he'd get to spend more time with Stella, and instead of her tutoring him like normal, they'd both be learning, so maybe he'd look like less of a moron.
But it's not working out like that at all. Stella's great, a real natural--when the teacher makes them dance with other people, she floats around the room like she was born doing it. When she dances with him, it's like he's some big dumb anchor, dragging her down.
But she still picks to dance with him when the teacher lets them. He's not sure why.
After a few more minutes of stumbling around, the teacher calls for a five-minute break. Stella drags him over to the row of chairs where they leave their coats and stuff. "I almost forgot." She digs around in her purse and comes out with one of those string bracelets, like girls make at recess when it rains. "I made you this."
"Give me your right hand. No, your right." She ties it around his wrist. "Now if you're not sure which way's right, you can just look which side the bracelet's on."
He yanks his hand away from her. "I know my right from my left! Jeeze, do you think I'm five or something?"
"I know you're not five, Ray. But I noticed sometimes you get mixed up. This way, it's one less thing to worry about."
She has a point. He does know right and left, but sometimes he has to think about it. "I can't wear this. It's a girl's bracelet."
Stella smiled brightly. "It's a friendship bracelet. We're friends, aren't we?"
He looks down at the bracelet. At least she made it black and red, not a girly color like purple. "Yeah. Yeah, we're friends."
She drags him back on to the dance floor. As much as he hates to admit it, he has an easier time of it in the second half of the class--it takes him about a second to check for the bracelet when he's not sure which way he's supposed to be going, but that's better than going the wrong way and banging into people. It frees him up to work on not stepping on Stella's feet.
By the time they went home for the day, Stella still hadn't called back. Fraser'd talked about coming over, and Ray even sort of wanted him there, but there wasn't anything new with the case to talk about, and he had to draw a line somewhere. They weren't married or anything. So he went home by himself, had some dinner, washed up the dishes. Tried not to think about Fraser standing next to him with the Mountie jacket off and a dishtowel in his hand. Because thinking about having sex with Fraser was all kinds of wrong--the guy was his partner, and he had to deal with enough people slobbering all over him in the course of a regular day--but fantasizing about doing dishes with him was just sad.
The thing was, Fraser was a lot like Stella. Smart, capable, good looking--and he thought Ray was better than he was. Growing up, he'd been like Stella's project car. If you knew your way around a junkyard, you could get a really nice car by buying a junker and doing the work yourself. The thing was, you had to start with something that was good to start with--a Mustang, a Camaro, a GTO. Something like that. If you put all that time and effort into a Nova or a Pinto, well, that was just stupid.
And maybe Ray wasn't quite a Nova, but he was, at best, a Tempo, or maybe a Malibu. Good for getting where you wanted to go, but if that's all you needed in a car, you were better off buying new.
It had taken a while, but Stella had eventually figured that out. Fraser, he thought, saw him pretty much the same way Stella had. He thought there was more to him than there was. That was probably why Ray liked him so much--it was hard not to get sucked up in the idea that maybe if he tried hard enough, if he had the right help, he could be better than he was.
But if Fraser really got in there and started digging around under the hood, he was going to find out there wasn't much of anything there to work with. You couldn't turn a Pinto into a Mustang, no matter how much work you put into it.
Well, Ray supposed you could take the Pinto and gradually swap out all of the parts until you had a Mustang, but then all the Pinto would be was sort of a scaffold for the Mustang you were building. And you couldn't do that with a person.
The point was, Fraser hadn't caught on yet that Ray wasn't a Mustang, but he knew what would happen when he did. He'd been there, done that, survived--barely--the divorce. Sometimes he thought, you know, clean break. Kill the fantasy that he and Fraser would one day go riding off into the sunset on a dogsled or something. But only sometimes. Call him a coward if you wanted to, but most of the time, if Fraser liked the guy Fraser thought he was, Ray was going to do his best to pretend to be that guy.
The phone rang. "Yeah. Vecchio," he answered.
"Ray," Stella said.
"Um, hi. How are, you know, things?" There was something about Stella that still made him go all tongue-tied and stupid.
"Fine. You told Lauren you'd called about work?"
"Oh. Yeah, that."
"What, Ray?" she asked, with a huffy little sigh.
"I should have guessed. It's not my case, Ray."
"I know. It's, um, Tim Rainer."
"Yes, I know."
"And Judge Bowen."
"I know. Believe me, I've heard all about it."
In other words, even though they were divorced, Ray was still embarrassing her. "Sorry, Stella."
"You wanted something?"
"Yeah. Uh, yeah. Fraser thinks--well, me and Fraser both think, and Welsh kinda too--we think somethin's queer."
She wasn't gonna help him one little bit, was she? "Queer like it doesn't make sense Bowen threw out all the evidence. It was a good collar. I made a couple of mistakes--spelling and stuff--but nothin' that bad."
"I've told you before that you need to be more careful with your paperwork. I know you don't think that it's important, but it is, and if you keep screwing up, things like this are going to happen." He could almost see her shaking her head and doing that pursed-lips thing. "I thought Fraser was helping you."
"He is. He does." He closed his eyes and pressed his forehead against the cool paint of the wall. "I know. I'm dumb. But I don't think this is about that. Can you, uh, look at the file, and tell me if you think it shoulda got thrown out."
She sighed. "There isn't anything I can do, Ray. It's not my case."
"I know. I know. I just think...look, like I said, we think there's something hinky. Is there anything going on with, with Bowen? I mean, have you heard anything?"
"Bowen's an honest judge, Ray. If he threw out the case, he had a reason."
"I know. But it might not be the reason he said. Look, Fraser pulled some older cases, and he found some of the same kind of mistakes. He didn't throw those out. Why this one?"
Stella sighed again. "I'll look into it."
"Thanks, Stella." He rubbed his forehead. "Yeah. I really was careful."
She drew in a breath like she was about to say something, then changed her mind. "I know. I'll see what I can find out."
"Sometimes it helps if you spell it out loud to yourself while you're writing it. S-E-P-A-R-A-T-E." She says the letters in a little rhythm. "We used to do clapping games for spelling, at my school, and it helps a lot."
"Uh-huh. Yeah, I can see that." Ray would've said the same thing no matter what Stella said, but she doesn't have to know that. "Let me try one. Okay. P-A-T-E-N-C-E. P-A-T-E-N-C-E."
"Um, yeah. Good. Like that. Only it's P-A-T-I-E-N-C-E."
"Oh, right. I knew that."
"Once you know which words you have trouble with, you can just make sure you go back and check them before you hand it in. I keep this list in my binder." She opens her binder and shows him a short list of words. "So I can check."
If Ray makes a list like that, it'll fill up a whole notebook. "Yeah, maybe I'll try that. That's a good idea."
"Did you get started on your composition?"
"Oh, yeah. Last night. I got a lot done," Ray lies.
"Do you want me to take a look at it?"
"Uh, no. It's at kind of a, you know. A stage. I'll show it to you Friday."
"Isn't it due on Friday?"
First thing in the morning, Fraser called and asked Ray to swing by the Consulate and pick him up. When he honked the horn, Fraser came jogging down the stairs. He smiled when he saw Ray--a real one, the kind that reached his eyes, not his "thank you kindly" smile. Even though it was way too early to be that damn happy, Ray smiled back.
Fraser let himself into the car. "Did Stella return your call?"
Way too early. "Yeah. She doesn't know anything, but she's looking into it."
"Good. I've been thinking--this might be a good time to go straight to the source, and see what Judge Bowen has to say about the situation."
"Huh." It wasn't like Bowen was going to say, "Oh, yeah, I threw that out because I'm as bent as the day is long." But maybe they could find something out from what he did say. "Okay. We just going to drop in?"
"I took the liberty of making an appointment. The judge has a few minutes before he has to go to court."
They went up to Judge Bowen's office on the fifth floor of the criminal court building. It was funny how much nicer the floors where they didn't let the criminals were--there was actual carpet up on five, instead of tile.
Bowen's secretary let them in, ad while Fraser was introducing them and talking about how he came to Chicago on the trail of the killers of his father, Ray took a look around. Big desk, big window, low cabinet-thing--a credenza, Stella called hers--with a green plant and pictures of the judge's family on it. Picture of Bowen shaking hands with one of the Chicago Bulls on the wall. Pretty standard judge stuff; nothing that screamed "crooked."
"What can I help you gentlemen with?" Bowen asked, when Fraser wound down.
"The Recu case," Ray said.
"We were distressed to hear that the evidence had been thrown out," Fraser added. "And Detective Vecchio is eager to learn what he can do to make sure nothing similar happens in future."
Bowen's eyes darted around the room as he moistened his lip with his tongue. "Ah. Yes."
Guilty as hell. "Yes," Ray said.
"I would, ah, urge you to be more careful about completing paperwork, and caution your suspects appropriately." Bowen stacked up some papers that clearly didn't need stacking. "It was an unfortunate situation." He glanced over at the credenza. "But I really had no choice."
That, Ray thought, he was telling the truth about. "You think Recu didn't do it?"
"It would be irresponsible of me to come to a conclusion without evidence," Bowen lied. "Is that all, Detective, Constable? I'm very busy."
"Recu killed that woman," Ray said. "And she wasn't the first person he's killed. She won't be the last, if you don't put him away."
"I'm sorry, Detective." He looked over at the credenza again.
Fraser was making "let's go" motions, but Ray wasn't ready to let go. "What do you want? What kinda case against Recu can I bring you that you won't throw out?"
"I'm not sure I like what you're implying, Detective."
"Yeah? What's that? Spell it out for me, Your Honor. You know I'm not a smart guy."
"If you bring me a solid case, a clear chain of evidence, justice will be served," Bowen lied.
"Thank you for your time, Your Honor," Fraser said.
They left. "He's lying, Fraser," Ray said as they clattered down the stairs. "He's lying through his lying teeth."
"I had that impression as well. I think, however, that a man who had decided to embark on a path of corruption would be a more polished liar. Dishonest men tend to lie without shame."
"Hm. Yeah." Bowen lied like Fraser--all hesitation and misdirection. He hadn't said that he thought Recu was innocent; he'd said he couldn't come to a conclusion without evidence. Because he did have evidence, and he had come to a conclusion. Just one he couldn't talk about. "Maybe we're looking at this all wrong."
"Yeah." Ray colleted his guns from the security guard and they went back out to the car. "Yeah. Suppose it was you. What would make you let a guy like Recu walk free?"
Fraser thought about it. "Perhaps--no. Nothing." He shook his head. "The only thing that would lead me to consider it would be a threat to--to someone I cared about. But I don't believe that--anyone I did care about would want me to sacrifice the safety of others, nor would I be convinced that, if freed, Recu would keep his word. Once one has been bought by a man like Recu, one tends to remain bought. Having successfully made one demand, he would make more. Bowen would know that as well--he's served as a judge in the criminal court for several years, and as a state's attorney before that, so he must have more than a passing acquaintance with the criminal mind."
Ray pounded the steering wheel with his fist, thinking. "But if Recu's threatening him, he might not be thinking straight. I mean, not everybody's as logical as you."
"Yes--he might have panicked, or perhaps the threat is sufficiently dire that he's willing to gamble everything--his reputation, his sense of honor--on the chance that it might not be carried out."
"He's gotten death threats before. He's a judge; they all get 'em."
"Perhaps this one is more credible than usual."
"Maybe--no. I remember this one case, back when he first became a judge, he was on some big case--damn, I forget what it was all about, some mob thing, I remember it 'cause I was on his bodyguard detail a couple of days. I was still in uniform then. He had to wear a bulletproof vest when he left court every day, and they had the bomb squad check out his car every morning for a while. He didn't crack then. That kind of cemented his reputation as a judge who couldn't be bought."
"Something's different now," Fraser suggested.
"Maybe." He replayed the short conversation in his head. Bowen's eyes had been all over the place, but he kept going back to the credenza. "His family. What if Recu's threatening his kids?"
Fraser nodded slowly. "That might do it."
For once in his life, Ray's glad to be dumb.
It all started when his junior high class schedule came in the mail, and it said he was in Vocational Track. Ray didn't really mind. Most of the kids he likes are in Vocational Track, too. His schedule didn't look too bad--he had two kinds of shop, English was only three times a week instead of five like Marlon, and his math was something called Business Math, which sounded good. Like maybe he would have a garage or a gym or something when he grew up, and Business Math would give him just as much math as he needs to know to add up the money, and not any extra.
But Dad took a half a day off work to go in and talk to the principal, and when he got back, Ray had a new schedule, and it was College Prep Track. Algebra, English every day, and shop was gone completely--he has to take Spanish now, which is going to be a disaster. He can barely pass English, and he speaks English.
"I liked my old schedule," he told Dad when he saw the new one.
"The old schedule, you'd be stuck in this neighborhood, stuck in some crummy job for the rest of your life. That's not for you. You're going to be somebody. To be somebody, you need college."
"You didn't go to college," Ray had pointed out.
"And I'm nobody. I work all day just to put food on the table, and I come home smelling like blood and guts--your mother won't even talk to me until I take a shower. That's no kind of life. You let these people label you now, you're never going to have a chance."
Ray wanted to tell him that it was a label either way--either they labeled him Vocational or they labeled him College Prep. It's just that one is the right label. One's what he actually is.
Before he can say that, Marlon wandered into the conversation. "A lot of the Vocational kids are smart in their own way, Dad," he says, looking at Ray out of the corner of his eye. "Vocation means a calling from God. It's Latin."
"You think the Vocational kids get any Latin?" Dad asked.
Ray didn't know what God had to do with anything, or Latin. "Vocational means you're going to work for a living. I don't mind hard work. You taught us that." He'd thought that would be a good argument, but Dad just said, "There's a difference between working hard and being a slave," and that was pretty much that.
When he'd gotten to school on the first day, he found out that the deal Dad had made was that he had to have a tutor, three days a week after school. Some private-school kid. He'd figured that was going to be hell--some stuck-up kid who thought he was doing Ray some huge favor. Helping out the little people, type of thing.
But he gets to the library, where the tutoring program is, and it turns out his tutor is the most beautiful girl he's ever seen. Like something out of a painting. "That's her? That's my tutor?" he asks the librarian, just making sure. Because he is not that lucky.
"You're Kowalski? Yes." She gives him a little shove in the girl's direction, and he walks over. "Uh, hi. I'm Ray. Ray Kowalski."
She smiles up at him. "Hi, Ray. I'm Stella."
Turns out he is that lucky, this once.
No two ways about it, it was time to bring Welsh in on what they were thinking. He leaned back in his chair and listened to Ray and Fraser give their report. When they finished, the first thing he said was, "I took you off the Recu case."
"We thought we were investigating Bowen, sir," Ray said.
"He didn't tell you that he's being threatened."
"Not in so many words, sir," Fraser said. "But it's--" he glanced at Ray "--the most parsimonious explanation for his behavior. It requires neither assuming that he's suddenly become corrupt, nor that he's taken a quixotic stand against typographical errors."
"If he's going to throw out every case that has some stupid mistake in it, we're all in trouble." Welsh sat back, the springs in his chair squeaking. "Look, I know you don't want this to be your fault. I don't want it to be either. But are you sure you're not reading more into this than what's really there?"
Ray wasn't sure, not totally, but Fraser said, "Yes, sir."
Welsh sighed. "Look into it. But keep it quiet. If you're wrong, I don't want this blowing up in our faces. And if you're right--"
"If we're right, and Recu finds out we're onto him, the kid'll be in danger. I got that."
They went back to his desk. "So what's next?" Ray said. "Rattling Recu's cage is out, since we don't want him to know we think anything's up. And Bowen's not going to confide in us."
"Perhaps not. What about his wife?"
"You think he told her?"
"He might have."
"Good enough for me. Let's go find out."
They tracked down Bowen's home address and drove out there. It was a big house, fancy neighborhood. Lots of trees. The kind of place Stella would have, someday, if she kept going the way she was headed.
They parked on the street and walked up to the front door. Ray was a little surprised that the woman who answered the door wasn't a maid or anything--at least, she was white, the right age and dressed right to be Mrs. Bowen. But he asked anyway, "Mrs. Bowen?"
"Yes." She had a kid on her hip--big kid, looked almost too big to be carried, with a funny-shaped head. "Can I help you?"
"I'm Detective Vecchio, Chicago PD, this is my partner, Constable Fraser, RCMP. Can we come in?"
She hesitated, her arms tightening around her kid. "What is it? Is my husband all right?"
"Your husband is fine, ma'am," Fraser said. "We just want to ask you a few questions."
She stepped back and let them in. "I only have a few minutes. I'm expecting Rhys's occupational therapist--when I heard the bell, I thought it was her." She took them into a living room where there were lots of little-kid toys out on the rug. But even though there were plenty of places to put him down--a little chair, one of those mats with the things that hung down for the kid to kick at--she kept Rhys in her arms.
"You educate your son at home?" Fraser asked.
"Yes. He was going to an early intervention school three mornings a week, but my husband--that is, we decided to have his therapists come to the house instead."
"That's interesting. I've heard that interaction with a developmentally similar peer group can be beneficial, sometimes even better than one-on-one attention."
"We decided to do this for a while. Did you come here to talk about my son, Constable?"
"Ah, no. Well, not exactly." Fraser thumbed his eyebrow. "Was the decision to take your son out of school a recent one?"
Ray was pretty sure if he'd asked, she'd have asked why the hell he wanted to know, but since it was Fraser, Mrs. Bowen just hesitated for a moment and said, "Last week. Did something happen at the school?"
"Not that I'm aware of. Was there anything at the school that gave you cause for concern?"
"No. We just thought it was time for a change."
"The move was your husband's idea?"
She was a little on edge, but nowhere near as on edge as she'd be if she knew about any threat to her kid. She'd let them right in the door without even asking to look at ID--sure, he had his badge clipped to his holster, like normal, and Fraser was in uniform, but you could get decent fakes at a costume shop. She didn't know. "Has your husband done anything else weird lately?"
"Yeah. You know, funny. Strange. Out of character."
Mrs. Bowen said, "No," but Ray didn't entirely believe her.
"Hm. Has he had any unusual visitors, packages, phone calls, anything like that?" Fraser asked.
"No. He tries to keep his work and family life separate. What's going on?"
"We're not sure," Fraser answered. He glanced at Ray, asking silently if he had any other questions.
Ray stood up. "Thanks for your time." Mrs. Bowen had pretty much confirmed that they were on to something, but she didn't know anything about it.
Fraser repeated his thanks, and they left. On the way back to the car, they passed a young woman carrying a rolled-up exercise mat and a tote bag full of other stuff. Fraser gave her a careful look over his shoulder, and detoured to take a look at the car parked behind theirs--it had to be hers, since it wasn't there when they parked. Little hatchback, parking sticker from one of the local colleges. "She looks legit to me," Ray said.
"To me as well." They got back in Ray's car. "I think our next stop should be back at the courthouse."
"Fine with me. What for?"
"Since Mrs. Bowen told us that the judge keeps his work and family lives separate, if he kept evidence of the threat--a note, or a tape of a phone call--it should be at his office."
That made sense, but, "How are we gonna get him to show it to us?"
"When I made our appointment this morning, he indicated that he would be in court for the rest of the day."
"So, what, we're going to break in?"
"I doubt any actual breakage will be required. I thought I'd discuss the matter with his secretary--she may have received a phone call, or signed for a package, for instance. If she becomes sufficiently absorbed in the conversation to leave the judge's office unattended...." Fraser shrugged.
"You're going to flirt with the secretary to distract her while I go in and root through the judge's drawers?" That sounded all kinds of wrong. "Uh, file drawers, I meant."
"Do you have a better idea?"
"Well, no, but it doesn't strike me as your kind of plan."
"It's for Judge Bowen's own good. I'm sure he'll be relieved if we find a way to preserve his family's safety without violating his integrity."
Fraser was so upright, so damn straight, that sometimes Ray forgot he wasn't actually a by-the-book guy. He had some basic principles he wouldn't violate for any reason, but there were plenty of rules he was willing to bend if the reason was good enough. "Yeah. He'll thank us later."
Ray kind of lurked in the background while Fraser worked his magic with Bowen's secretary. He wasn't too worried about her remembering he was there and locking up, if Fraser got her to take a walk with him. Women tended to not to notice he was even alive when Fraser was around.
Ray knew the feeling. It wasn't even that Fraser did anything as direct as making a pass. He was just so damn interested. The secretary didn't know anything, but she kept working on it, trying to think of a phone call or delivery that was the tiniest bit suspicious, just to keep Fraser paying attention. After a while she offered him a cup of coffee. There was a little coffee machine right there in the office, but she said the coffee in the judges' lounge was better--which maybe it was, but maybe she just wanted to make sure some of the other women who worked there got a good look at the guy who was chatting her up.
Which, you know, Ray wasn't in a position to throw stones about. Even though he knew perfectly well Fraser didn't like him that way, every time a woman threw herself at Fraser, it gave him a sort of thrill that he was the one who got to walk out the door with Fraser.
Whichever it was, Fraser went along with it, and as soon as they were out of sight, Ray ducked into the office.
He didn't have much time--he figured both Fraser and the secretary would be taking their time, but there was only so long anyone could milk a cup of coffee. He decided to start with the credenza--maybe Bowen had only been looking there because of the family pictures, but maybe there was more to it.
The cabinet had a little lock on it, but nothing tricky--about thirty seconds with a paperclip, and he was in.
Ray rifled through the vertical hanging files. He didn't have time to look at anything closely, but it all looked like standard legal stuff. He was about to give up and go on to the desk when he saw a manila envelope shoved behind the hanging folders, flat against the back of the cabinet. He fished it out.
Jackpot. The envelope was full of photos--black and white, looked like telephoto lens stuff. There was one of Mrs. Bowen putting Rhys in the car seat, one of them in the grocery store, one--that made the hair on Ray's arms stand up--of Recu sitting with Rhys, on one of those alphabet rugs like you'd see in a classroom for little kids.
He heard Fraser out in the hallway, asking a question about one of the pictures on the wall, way too loud. Letting Ray know he was almost out of time. He shoved the photos back in the envelope, hoping he got them in the right order, put it back behind the files, and locked up the cabinet.
He was back in the outer office, looking like nothing had happened, by the time Fraser came back in. "Thank you kindly for your time, Miss Chatham."
"Call me Rachel, please."
"Rachel," Fraser agreed. "And I'll be sure to call if we have any further questions."
As they left the building, Ray told Fraser what he'd found. "So now we know we're right. Recu's threatening his kid."
"He was actually inside the preschool?"
"No wonder the judge is alarmed. I wonder what pretext he used to gain access to the classroom--it's not as though they let strangers wander in and out. Security issues aside, too many visitors would disrupt the curriculum."
"So let's go to the school and find out."
Ray's been sitting at the kitchen table for hours. As soon as the table was cleared after dinner, Mom announced it was Homework Time, and they were both going to sit at the kitchen table and do it. Usually they get to do their homework wherever, so Ray knows this is his fault.
Marlon knows it too, and he kicked Ray's shins under the table almost the whole time he was there. Ray's going to be black and blue tomorrow. But Marlon finished his homework pretty fast, and he got to go watch TV. Ray's still sitting here.
He remembers his Dad saying, "My son isn't dumb. He's a smart kid." He felt sort of warm and happy just remembering him saying it. Mrs. Winter, she's the dumb one. Bet she didn't think his Dad would stick up for him like that.
He's got his spelling homework in front of him. He already did the part where he wrote a sentence with each of the words in it. That wasn't too bad; he just had to remember to check the spelling-word list to make sure he was spelling them right. Mrs. Winter gives them an extra point if they can use more than one spelling word, correctly, in the same sentence, and it's kind of like a game, trying to make up a sentence that makes sense and uses a bunch of the spelling words. (The first week he wrote: "This week the spelling words are" and then listed them all. She gave him the points, too, but told him he'd better not do it again.)
Now he's on the worksheet where all the words are listed down one side, but with the letters all mixed up. He's supposed to unscramble them and write the words the right way down the other side of the paper. It's really dumb. The point of spelling is to be able to get the words right, isn't it? He's always getting in trouble for mixing up his letters.
Maybe when he grow up his job can be mixing up the letters for spelling worksheets.
A while ago he figured out a trick for this worksheet: if you count how many letters in each spelling word, you can match them with the number of letters in the scrambled-up words. Once you know that "retophelic" is either "helicopter" or "meanwhile," it's not too hard to figure out which one it is. But this week most of the words have eight letters, and the ones that don't have seven. His trick isn't helping him much.
If Mom wasn't checking to see if he did everything, he'd just shove the worksheet down in the bottom of his schoolbag and say he forgot it. But Mom's checking, so he has to put something.
Marlon comes in to the kitchen and opens the refrigerator. "You still doing that?"
After he pours himself a glass of soda--Ray could use one, but Mom said no snacks until he was done--Marlon leans over his shoulder. "Spelling, huh?" He takes the pencils out of Ray's hand and quickly goes down the sheet, writing the words out.
"Mom's gonna know," Ray says. Mom knows his handwriting. So does Mrs. Winter. She's dumb, but not that dumb.
"Duh. Just erase 'em and write 'em again." Marlon finishes the sheet in about a minute. "Do it fast--Happy Days is on in a couple minutes."
"Happy Days stinks," Ray says, erasing the first word.
"Happy Days rules," Marlon answers on his way out of the kitchen.
Finding Rhys Bowen's preschool wasn't quite as difficult as Ray thought it might be. A call to social services got them a list of Early Intervention programs, and they picked out the one closest to the Bowen home.
Ray had thought that maybe the Early Intervention place would creep him out, like a hospital, but it looked more like a regular little-kid school-- nice playground outside, kids' drawings on the walls, lots of kid-sized furniture, bright colors. It wasn't too bad.
The director's office was right inside the front entrance. They introduced themselves, and Fraser took out a copy of Recu's mug shot. "Has this man visited the school?"
She studied the picture. "Yes--he's a local business leader; he's interested in helping to fund our program. Is he in some kind of trouble?"
Fraser didn't answer, of course. "Did you give him a tour of the facility?"
"Yes, of course--he wanted to see where his donation would be going. He toured the school, and watched one of the classes for about half an hour. He seemed perfectly pleasant."
"Which class was it that he visited?"
"Carrie Rainer's group. Developmentally delayed three-year-olds."
"The class Rhys Bowen was in."
She hesitated just long enough to let Ray know he was right. "What's going on?"
"Did Recu bring any press with him? Photographers, maybe?" Ray asked.
"Guy in the picture. What did he say his name was?"
"Williams. Brian Williams."
Figured. "Doesn't matter. Press?"
The director shook her head. "No. He said he didn't want any publicity, he just wanted to help the children."
So he'd had the pictures taken from outside somewhere--maybe from a car, maybe from a building across the way. "We'll need to see that classroom."
"There's a class using it now."
"It's okay. We won't bother 'em."
The director showed them to the classroom. Six or seven kids and two adults were standing or sitting around a table full of sand. They all turned to look at him and Fraser when they came in; one kid shrieked, a sort of sharp bark that didn't even sound human. That set the others ones off, and the teacher was too busy settling them down to ask what he and Fraser were doing there.
Ray just glanced at them--he couldn't tell what was wrong with them, just to look--and focused on the floor. It had the same alphabet rug that Ray had seen in the picture. "Do all the rooms have rugs like this, or just this one?" he asked, before the director could go over to help the room teacher.
"Just this one. The infant room has jungle animals, and the twos have farm animals. Why?"
"This is the room," Ray told Fraser, crossing the room to stand on the spot where the picture had been taken. "He was right here, next to the L."
Fraser nodded and paced a line from where he was to the windows, checking lines of sight. After Ray was sure he had the spot, he joined him. "The parking lot of that veterinary office, I would think," Fraser said.
"Yeah. Unless he was hanging from the monkey bars, that's where he was," Ray agreed. The hair on his arms stood up again. He knew perfectly well what the point of the picture had been: if Recu could put a guy with a camera outside Bowen's kid's school, he could put a guy with a gun out there just as easily.
The school director left off helping with the kids to come over and look at what they were looking at.
"Ma'am, have you seen any unusual activity outside of the building?" Fraser asked her.
"Anyone lurking, maybe taking pictures. Vehicles parked outside for an unusual amount of time?"
"No." She shook her head. "There's the optometrist's office across the street, and the veterinarian--patients park there, of course."
Right. It was a pretty good place to park if you were stalking someone--if the same car was there for a couple of hours, maybe even for a couple of hours a few days in a row, the natural thing to assume would be that the car belonged to someone with a sick pet. If anyone had noticed the car and thought anything different, it would have to be the staff at the vet's office.
"We'll need to speak with Miss Rainer," Fraser said.
The director hesitated, then nodded. "You can use my office--I'll have to take her class while she meets with you. It may take us a few minutes to make the change--transitions can be difficult for this group."
By now the kids had lost interest in the sand and were staring at them, a couple of them wailing, for no reason Ray could see. He was glad enough to get out of the classroom and head back to the office. Back in the hallway, he shuddered. "I don't know how they do it."
"Do what, Ray?"
"Work all day with kids that ain't right."
"You have something against disabled children?"
"It's not that. I mean, they just kind of give me the creeps." Fraser had this sort of disapproving look, so he added, "I'm not proud of it. It's just one of those things." Ray knew he was only a few IQ points from being special ed material himself. More than one of his teachers had wanted to have him tested for, well, for not being right. Dad hadn't let them, but it had been hard to pass those poor bastards in the school halls, wearing helmets and crapping their pants, and not think that could be me. But of course Fraser didn't get that--he was a long, long way from riding the short bus.
Fraser was still giving him that I'm disappointed in you look when the teacher came in. She hadn't seen anything, either--teaching her classes didn't give her a lot of time to look out the windows, she said, and Ray believed it.
"Did the Bowens give any particular explanation for taking Rhys out of your class?" Fraser asked.
Ray thought he might get the same line about not discussing specific students, but after a moment, she shook her head. "Mrs. Bowen just said they thought it was time for a change. Rhys was doing very well here, and he enjoyed coming to school. I thought maybe they'd decided to put him in a private program--they do have more options than some of our families."
Rainer didn't know anything else, so after Fraser thanked her kindly for her time, they headed across the street to the vet's office. Now that it was just them, Fraser was back to giving him those disappointed looks. "Hey, it's not like I throw rocks at them or anything."
"At who, Ray?"
"Retards. Developmentally delayed. Whatever."
"They're people just like you and me, Ray."
"Not that much like you," Ray muttered, opening the door to the vet's office. A girl in a scrub shirt with cartoon cats on it asked if she could help them. "Yeah, we want to know if you've seen any suspicious activity out there in your parking lot."
"Suspicious? Not really."
Clearly there was something. "What? Even if it didn't seem important at the time, it might help us."
She shrugged again. "Last week somebody parked an old van out there for most of the day. It was taking up two spaces, so we asked around to find out whose it was, and it didn't belong to any of the clients, or anyone who works here. I called the towing company we use, but it left before they got here." She shrugged. "But that's not suspicious, just annoying."
"Did you happen to write down the license plate number?" Fraser asked.
"I gave it to the towing company, but I didn't write it down."
Bingo. They took down the towing company's name and number, and went back outside. "What do you mean, not much like me?" Fraser asked.
Of course he'd heard that. You'd think with his bat ears, he'd have learned not to talk about things he obviously wasn't supposed to hear. "I mean, you're smart, stupid."
Fraser paused in the middle of the street. "You're saying that you're uncomfortable around the mentally handicapped because you think you're like them?"
"Can we just drop it? And get out of the middle of the road before you get hit."
"As you wish."
"Thank you for coming in, Mr. and Mrs. Kowalski. As I said on the phone, I enjoy having Stanley in class, but have a few concerns."
Another thing he hates about Mrs. Winter is that she makes the kid come along to a parent-teacher conference. It's not like he wouldn't hear all about it when they got back home, anyway.
"Stanley, is there anything you'd like to say about your experience in class so far this year?"
What's he supposed to say? "Uh, no? I mean, it's good. You know. Okay." Only it's not okay, or Mrs. Winter wouldn't have made Mom and Dad come in here and talk to her.
"I'm glad you feel that way. Your work is generally very creative and, as I'm sure you know, you're a lively contributor to class discussions."
Oh. Maybe this is about language. Which isn't fair at all--he knows way worse words than dumbbutt. Dumbbutt is the clean version.
"Lively," Dad mutters. "That's one word for it."
Mrs. Winter keeps talking. "But while Stanley is obviously very bright, his reading and writing skills are below grade level in a number of areas."
Like that's news. He knows he almost got held back last year.
"For instance, as part of our recent unit on folklore, I had the class write their own Tall Tales." She opened up a folder and took out Ray's story. "Stanley set his tale in modern-day Chicago, which was a very original choice."
Meaning, the rest of the kids figured out they were supposed to make it about olden days, like the stories they read out of the book.
"His story is about two larger-than-life figures battling crime with the help of an albino wolf--it shows an excellent intuitive grasp of the similarities between tall tales and modern-day comic book superheroes. I was very impressed by the setting, the characters, and the storyline."
Okay, so she doesn't care that it wasn't in pioneer days. Then what's wrong with it?
"But as you can see, there are a number--a large number--of spelling errors, almost no punctuation, and the penmanship is--well, is very difficult to read."
"He's always had bad handwriting," Dad says, shrugging. "Couldn't ever color inside the lines, either. He's a clumsy kid."
"Mr. and Mrs. Kowalski, have you ever considered the possibility that Stanley might have a learning disability?"
"No," Dad says.
"I see. I'd like to arrange for--"
"My son isn't dumb. He's a smart kid. He just doesn't apply himself."
"No one is saying that Stanley isn't intelligent, but he might benefit from some special attention. If we could have him tested--"
"He doesn't need to get tested." Dad gets up, and hauls Ray up too. "If that's all you wanted, I'm taking my family home." After about a second, Mom gets up too.
"Mr. Kowalski, I apologize if I've offended you. I certainly didn't mean to. But Stanley--"
"I'll make sure he tries harder."
They got the plate from the towing company and ran it. The van belonged to one of Recu's corporations. He wasn't even trying to hide--but then, if you wanted to intimidate somebody, you didn't keep it a secret.
"This is crazy. We know what he's doing, but the only thing we can pin on him is a parking ticket." Ray got up from his desk and went to the break room for a coffee.
Fraser followed after him. "We could stake out Recu's home, trace his movements," he suggested.
"What for? He's already bought himself a judge; he doesn't need to do anything else."
"Perhaps if we could catch him in some other criminal activity and arrest him, the judge would feel safe enough to come forward."
"Not unless we can arrest his whole organization. We're back where we started--the bastard's going to walk, and there's nothing we can do about it." He wanted to give the vending machine a good kick, but he was pretty sure Welsh meant what he'd said about anger management.
"The situation does seem rather hopeless." Fraser fed some change into the vending machine and pushed the button for an apple. "But the Inuit have a saying--"
"Not now, Fraser." The last thing he needed when he was already ticked off was some dumb story he wouldn't get the meaning of.
"I'm sorry." He lifted the little door and took out his apple. It was bruised and a little withered. "This is disappointing." Fraser dropped his chin to his chest for a moment. Uh-oh--sad Mountie. Over an apple. Freak.
"Yeah, they only change the fruit in there about twice a year. Nobody buys it."
"I had a very nice apple from this machine once. I keep hoping for another one."
"Yeah, well, I'd give up on that if I were you. Go for the Fritos. Consistent quality."
"Perhaps you're right." They went back to his desk, and Fraser took out that big knife of his and started cutting out the bad parts of the apple, which was pretty much the entire thing.
Ray, meanwhile, was poking around on his desk, trying to find something he could do on one of his other cases, the phone rang. "Vecchio. Squad room."
"Ray, it's me."
"Hi, Stella." He turned toward the wall, so he could pretend he had some privacy. "What's up?"
"I looked at the Recu file, like you asked."
"You shouldn't be making those kinds of mistakes, Ray. You have to remember to check your work, especially if you're tired. You make a lot of mistakes when you're tired."
Stella never seemed to get that he couldn't tell his Lieutenant, "Sorry, I can't do any work now because I get dumb when I'm tired." The job just didn't work that way.
"Anyway, me'n Fraser figured out what's going on." He told her about the pictures--skipping over exactly how they'd gotten to see them--the school, the license plate. "So that's what happened. Recu has him over a barrel--we haven't figured out what to do about it yet."
"If it was something like that, why wouldn't he go to the police?"
"Recu probably told him if he does, his kid's a goner."
"He's been threatened before."
"It's different when it's your kid. I mean, it would have to be." Bowen knew he was taking a risk when he took the job, same as Ray did with his job. Rhys had never made that choice. Maybe would never even be able to understand a choice like that. And a situation like that, Bowen probably hadn't faced before--hurting a kid was a line most criminals wouldn't cross.
"Maybe. Anyway, I just called to let you know that I looked at the file, and that I haven't heard anything about Judge Bowen. Ray, I really think if he was being threatened, he'd have said something to someone."
"He might not. Not if he's really freaked out." Stella didn't quite get that even smart people did dumb things when their feelings were involved.
"He didn't say he was being threatened, did he? There could be some innocent explanation for the photos. What did he say about them?"
"Uh, nothing. He didn't know I saw 'em."
"He wouldn't have had them sitting out, if they were evidence of a threat he's going to considerable trouble to keep secret."
"They weren't sitting out."
"Where were they?"
"They were kind of...hiddenatthebackofacabinet." It was crazy how Stella could make him feel like a kid who'd just done something dumb, when he wasn't even married to her anymore.
"You conducted an illegal search of a judge's office, in the courthouse. Ray, do you want to lose your job?"
"Well, that's what's going to happen if you're not careful."
"Yes, Stella." Three bags full, Stella. "Sorry. So you, uh, you don't....thanks anyway." He hung up. When he turned around, Fraser was holding the carved-up apple in one hand and his knife in the other, looking kind of like he'd forgotten about them. "Nothing."
"No help, I mean. She thinks we're wrong. Fooling ourselves or something."
"What's that mean? You know I hate that 'ah' shit."
"In this case, it means that I think Stella has a sizeable blind spot where you're concerned."
"Yeah, a lotta people think that."
Fraser threw his apple core in the trash and carefully wiped the blade of his knife with his handkerchief. "I meant that she doesn't give you enough credit."
"She's known me a hell of a lot longer than you have."
"Maybe that's the problem."
"What's that supposed to mean?" It sounded like he was saying Stella'd known him so long she got sick of him--which, yeah, was probably true, but didn't seem like something Fraser would say.
"I'm sure you've changed considerably since you were thirteen--everyone does. I'm not sure she sees that."
"You mean how she treats me like I'm a dumb kid."
He didn't want to talk about this here. He didn't want to talk about it at all, but Fraser'd been hammering away at the subject for the last couple of days. "Let's go get lunch." Maybe it was for the best if they had this out. Between Stella and his dad, he should have learned his lesson about letting people think he was smarter than he was. It always ended badly.
He could tell Fraser thought it was code again, but it kind of was, so Ray didn't argue about it. He left the car this time and headed toward the corner pizza shop on foot. "Look. There's a reason Stella treats me like that."
"What's that, Ray?"
He sighed. "Because. I. Am. Dumb. I don't know why you don't get that."
"Possibly because it's not true." And that was pissy Fraser, right there, the Fraser nobody got to see except him and Dief.
"Says the guy who thinks his wolf can talk," Ray muttered. He knew it was a cheap shot, but really. Was Fraser the best judge of what was real and what he just wanted to be real? Not in Ray's book.
"I don't see how that's relevant."
"You wouldn't." They were at the pizza shop, but he shook his head and kept walking. Suddenly, he wasn't real hungry. If they were going to have this out--and it sure seemed like they were--he was going to have to do it walking. "How old were you when you learned to write your name?"
"I'm not sure. Four? Five?"
"Yeah. I was in third grade before I could spell my name right every time. Third fucking grade--how dumb does a guy have to be not to be able to spell his own name? Tell me that."
Fraser didn't tell him. Instead, he said, "The first effort to standardize the spelling of English words occurred in the 13th century. Nothing came of it--perhaps because the number of people who could read and write was so limited at the time. It wasn't until the invention of the printing press and the concurrent increase in literacy that standardized spelling was even considered a worthwhile goal, and it took several hundred years for that goal to actually be achieved. In fact--"
"Is there a point to this?"
"Yes. William Shakespeare--who I'm sure you've heard of--spelled his name at least four different ways during his lifetime, and I doubt the argument could be made that he was a particularly unintelligent man. Well, unless perhaps you subscribe to the theory that--that's not important. My point is, accurate spelling can't be considered a measure of intelligence, since spelling itself is a fairly recent invention."
"That's not the point. The spelling thing is just an example."
"All right." Fraser seemed to be waiting for him to say something else. "Perhaps you could share some other examples."
"So you can tell me how they prove I'm not really stupid? See, the thing about you being the smart one means that you're going to win the argument. That doesn't mean you're right--it just means you can outsmart a dumb guy, which, face it, isn't that hard."
Fraser smiled, and ducked his head like he didn't want Ray to see that he was. "I see."
"'I see'? Is that like ah?"
"Well, yes. I was attempting to avoid 'ah' since you just mentioned that you hate it."
"It doesn't matter if you say it a different way; it's still ah."
"Understood. I see in this instance means that in the face of overwhelming logic, I'll concede your point. You are, in fact, extremely stupid."
"So if I understand the terms of your argument correctly, I've been outsmarted by an, ah, dumb guy."
"Do not do that, Fraser."
"Admit that I'm dumb, and then turn around and say you must be even dumber. Because you're not. You're a smart guy--I mean, you have an anecdote about how Shakespeare spelled his name right there, ready to go when you need it."
"Well, I read a lot."
"You know who reads a lot?"
"Smart people. Dumb guys like me, we watch TV."
"You read. I've seen you do it."
"Well, yeah. Newspapers and stuff."
"You read Ring World every week."
"Ring World ain't exactly Shakespeare."
"I didn't say it was." And Fraser sounds a little baffled, like he really doesn't get the difference between reading a magazine about guys who hit each other for a living and reading actual books.
"You know what your problem is?"
"I'm sure you'll tell me, Ray."
"You think everybody's like you. You're smart, and nice, and you believe in doing the right thing, and you think that deep down, everybody else is too. With the doing-the-right-thing thing, sometimes it works out because you have this other thing that makes people not want to let you down. But that doesn't work for smarts. I mean, if I could just snap my fingers and poof, I'm not dumb anymore, I woulda done it a long time ago. But it don't work that way."
"I don't understand why you're so attached to the image of yourself as unintelligent."
"I have this weird obsession with acknowledging reality." It would make more sense to ask why it was suddenly so important that Fraser see how dumb he was. Hell, he'd been trying his best to hide it for the whole time they'd been working together.
He didn't want to think about it, but he already kind of knew. Fraser acted like he liked him, sometimes--but it wasn't really Ray that he liked, it was the smart, brave, nice guy that lived in Fraser's head and looked sort of like Ray. That really ought to be good enough for him, but it was getting so that he thought it would be better if Fraser knew who he really was and didn't like him as much, than if he kept on liking this guy that wasn't really Ray. "Look, it's not that bad. I bet for a smart guy like you, it seems like being dumb must be kind of awful. But I do okay."
"For a dumb guy."
"I think I see now."
Ray figured Fraser was just fucking with him again. "Yeah?"
"Yes. Thinking of yourself as unintelligent allows you to maintain low expectations for yourself, which you can then meet. It saves you the difficulty of setting goals which you may not be able to achieve. Very reasonable, when you think of it."
Ray stopped in the middle of the sidewalk and smacked his forehead with the heel of his hand. "That ain't it, Fraser."
"Look." He took out his cell phone. "Here, I'll prove it." He dialed his parents' trailer, hoping Mom hadn't left yet.
She hadn't. "Hello?"
"Yeah, Mom, it's me."
"Stanley! I was just about to come over to do your ironing. Do you want me to get you some groceries on my way? You know you don't eat enough."
"Yeah, I know. I don't need any food, but do you still have that box of stuff you got out of Aunt Hazel's basement? With my old report cards and stuff?"
"Yes, it's in the storage unit."
"Can you bring it over? I want to look at it."
"Well, sure. I can get it out. Do you want any of the other things? There's another box with your trophies, and your baby book, the prom pictures?"
"No, just the school stuff. Thanks, Mom." He hung up.
"I don't know what you think showing me your school report cards will prove."
"You'll see." They've walked far enough that now they wee on the edge of the park, with a hot-dog cart right there. And they were supposedly out for lunch. Ray got them a couple of dogs, a couple of cans of soda. The hot dog guy had a basket of apples that looked slightly better than the vending machine ones, so he got Fraser one of those, too.
"Thank you, Ray." Fraser took his food, and they found a bench to sit on that no bums were using.
He popped the top on his soda and took a bite of his hot dog. He wasn't hungry--his gut was still churning, kind of--but going through the motions might settle his stomach. Maybe. "Look. We're friends, right?"
"Of course, Ray. And partners."
"Yeah. So that's why...." He realized before he said it that Fraser hadn't asked the question he was answering.
"Why what, Ray?"
"Why you need to get this. I mean, I know you don't carry, right? If I convinced myself that you really did have a gun and you were just, I don't know, embarrassed about it or something, that could be dangerous, right?"
"So that's why you've got to understand that I'm, you know. Unarmed in the brains department."
"For my own safety."
"Yeah. And mine, and Dief's, and anybody else that happens to be there."
"I see." Fraser nodded. "I'll do my best."
"Good." He finished his hot dog. "I guess what we do now is let this Recu thing simmer for a while. Nothing else we can do right now. Maybe Huey and Dewey'll find something, or something'll change. Tomorrow--I don't know. Maybe go lean on Bowen some more, if we don't have a better idea by then."
Fraser nodded. "I should put in a few hours at the Consulate, if you don't want me."
Buddy, you have no idea. "OK. Come over after work. I'll feed you. The wolf, too, if he wants."
"That's not necessary, Ray. I could bring something."
"There'll be something waiting for us in the crock pot when I get there. Mom. It's like I've got elves or something."
Ray figured he probably had the wrong mythical creature, because Fraser ducked his head and smiled again.
"What are they, then? Gnomes? Pixies? Fairies?"
"Elves will do nicely."
"Then what's that look about?"
"That one, with the blushing and ducking and stuff."
Fraser ducked his head again, and got very busy gathering up their trash. "I'm very fond of you, Ray."
Huh? What the hell was that supposed to mean? Before Ray could figure out something to say, Fraser stammered something about the Consulate and took off in that direction.
He hates it when Mrs. Winter makes them read out loud. It would be bad enough if they just had to read out loud during Reading, but it's not just then. Science, social studies, even math--it's never safe.
"Mr. Kowalski, your turn," she says. She always calls them by their last names. He hates that, too.
"Um...." He should have been paying attention, because he doesn't even know where they are in the story.
"Bottom of page 279. The paragraph that starts, 'When she came....'"
It feels like everyone in the class is staring at him while he tries to find the page. This damn Reading book, pages stick together too much. Finally, he finds it. He glances over the paragraph before he starts reading. Only a couple of big words, and they're near the end. He'll worry about them when he gets to them. "'When she came to the stop sing, she--'"
Jerry Fisher is laughing, which means he's screwed up already.
"Mr. Fisher," Mrs. Winter says. "Let your classmate concentrate, please. Mr. Kowalski--the stop what? Remember to use your context cues."
Which is her way of saying, "There's no such thing as a stop sing, you dumbbell." "Stop sign," he corrects himself. "Anyway, when she got to the sign, 'she realized she had lost the di--'" He knows that word, he's seen it before, and if Jerry Fisher wasn't messing up his concentration, he'd be able to say it.
"Directions," Mrs. Winter says.
"She lost the directions. 'She did not know whether to turn right or left. If she choose the wrong road, she would miss her train.'" This was a stupid story. Why did he care if some dumb girl missed her train or not?
"Let's pause for a moment," Mrs. Winter says. Ray's glad--she's going to ask some dumb question about the story, like "How do you think Sally feels?", but while she's waiting for somebody to answer, he can read the paragraph to himself so he doesn't mess it up when he has to read out loud some more. "If you were in Sally's situation, what could you do to get to your train on time?"
That's not as dumb a question as some of the ones she asks. Mary Harper says, "She could try to remember. She wrote out the directions at the beginning of the story, so if she closes her eyes maybe she can picture what she wrote."
"That's good, Miss Harper. Any other ideas?"
"She can just ask somebody," Jerry says, like that's really obvious.
Ray's trying to concentrate on the paragraph, but his eyes go up to the picture on the top of the page. It's Sally sitting at the stop sign, and there's just corn fields on either side--nobody around to ask. Jerry's dumb.
But in the back of the picture, only about half an inch tall, there's a train.
If you want to find a train station, you can just follow the stupid train. "Or she could look over where the train is and go that way," he tells Jerry. "Instead of driving around looking for somebody she can ask."
"What train?" Jerry says.
"The one in the picture, dumbbutt." He points to it in the book.
"Language, Mr. Kowalski."
I'm very fond of you, Ray.
He didn't let himself think about it until he was done with work and heading home. Because the thing was, Fraser was a freak, but Ray didn't think he was so much of a freak that he thought doing flirty things with his head and saying I'm very fond of you was normal partners stuff. He didn't mean he thought Ray was a good cop or a nice guy. I'm very fond of you was Canadian for I want you. It had to be. Ray was sure. Almost.
And if that dip of his head, the one Ray had always figured was Fraser trying not to let on that Ray's stupidity was funny, actually meant I want to fuck you, then Fraser thought about it a lot. Maybe even almost as much as Ray did.
Fraser was coming over tonight, as soon as he got off the leash at the Consulate. Ray could have him. He could feed him whatever Mom left in the crock pot, and flirt with him, and watch him duck his head and blush, play it out for a couple of hours and make his move. Or he could back him up against the wall as soon as he walked in the door, grind against him, make him come before he even had time to take his coat off.
Fraser might put up a fuss--are you sure this is prudent, Ray?--but now that Ray'd cracked the code, he'd know better than to back off. Fraser wanted Ray to talk him into it. Or maybe even not talk--maybe just do, and not give him time to think twice about it.
He hadn't done much more with guys than jerk off together, but with Fraser, he was up for more. Up for everything. Ray didn't just want him--which he did--he loved him. Loved being with him. Could almost see getting old with him.
And that was it. That was why thinking about what he could have tonight was making him feel sort of sick, and not turned on. Fraser didn't love him. Maybe he thought he did--maybe--but if he did, he was in love with the guy he thought Ray was. The smart guy. All Ray was bringing to the table was a body for Fraser to put his fantasies in.
He'd fucked people who didn't love him before. It was okay. But fucking--being with--Stella when he still loved her, but she didn't love him anymoe, always left him feeling sick and disgusted with himself.
So it couldn't happen. He'd go with the plan he'd made before--shove Fraser's face in what he was really like. Make him see. Once Fraser stopped fooling himself, he wouldn't want Ray anymore. Ray would still want him, but he was used to wanting things he couldn't have.
The apartment smelled like cabbage. He peeked under the lid of the crock pot--sausage and kraut, possibly the least seductive meal he could think of. Perfect. The box with his school stuff was there on the counter, with a note from Mom next to it.
Here are the things you asked for. I brought one of the photo albums, too. We have a lot more of your old things in the storage unit, if you want them.
Stella told me you were in trouble at work. Remember to try hard and do your best. We love you!
That was great. He should have known Stella would tell his mother about the Recu case. She wouldn't have said he was in trouble, but even if Stella tried to explain what really happened, Mom probably didn't quite understand. What did she need to know about how the courts worked? Nobody she knew ever got arrested.
He moved the box over to the couch, and checked on Speedy. He'd had to tell Mom to leave the turtle alone after the time he'd come home to find Speedy huddled on his rock in a tank that stank of bleach from how thoroughly Mom had cleaned it, but she still put stuff into the tank sometimes--mostly things that were okay for Speedy to have, but not always.
This time, she'd put a cabbage leaf in there. Cabbage was okay for turtles, but the leaf was so big Speedy could use it as a tent. Shaking his head, he went to the refrigerator for mealworms.
He was floating them in the water for Speedy to eat when Fraser knocked on the door. "It's open!"
Dief came charging in, jumping around like he hadn't seen Ray for days--which, okay, he hadn't--and a moment later, Fraser came in too. He'd changed out of the uniform. Damn. Ray liked him in civvies--even if he did dress like he was supposed to be on the front of paper towels. He looked...touchable.
But Ray wasn't touching. "There's, um, food. On the counter."
"Ah. I brought wine."
"What for?" It wasn't like Fraser eating over at his place was some big occasion. Plus Fraser didn't drink, and he knew perfectly well Ray liked beer, not wine.
"I don't know."
"What, it just appeared or something?"
"No, I just--I didn't think it through." He put the bottle, still in a paper bag from the liquor store, on the counter. "'Caution Turtle Food'?"
Huh? Ray turned and saw he was reading the lid to the mealworm container. "Yeah, that's so if Mom decides to clean out the fridge while she's here, she knows not to open it."
"There was an incident with a box of crickets."
"Yeah. I'm not sure if she thought the leftovers had been in there so long they turned into crickets, or that they were getting into the fridge somehow, or what. It was a month before the apartment stopped chirping." He snapped the lid back on the mealworms and put them back in the fridge.
When he turned back to the room, Fraser had gone over to the turtle tank. "Despite living in an urban environment, Speedy manages to hunt and consume live prey. You would do well to emulate him."
Ray was very confused until he realized Fraser was talking to Dief. "It's not like Speedy goes to the park and finds his own bugs. I buy them for him. I guess you could buy bunnies at the pet store and set them loose in the Consulate for Dief to hunt down, but that might be kinda cruel to the bunnies. And, you know, messy."
"Hm." Fraser looked down at the wolf. "Perhaps we'll stick with kibble."
"And the occasional soft pretzel."
He woofed again.
"And so forth."
While Fraser settled the issue with the wolf, Ray got out some plates and dished up the food, thinking that he ought to get a dog dish for his place one of these days--if Mom knew he fed the wolf off of the same plates human beings used, she'd either faint or clip him one around the ear. Or both.
He was just about to put Dief's plate down on the floor when Fraser said, "Oh. I'd rather you didn't give Diefenbaker any cabbage. It disagrees with him."
"No problem." He slopped the cabbage back into the crock pot and gave Dief an extra sausage, to make up for it.
They started eating. "This is very good," Fraser said after a few bites.
"I'll tell Mom you said that."
Ray tried to think of something to talk about that wasn't sex, him being dumb, or the Recu case. Having all three of those things laying on the table between them gave him a lump in his throat it was hard to eat around. The best he could come up with was, "What's new and exciting at the Consulate?"
Fraser tilted his head to one side and went "Hm." He chewed meditatively at a chunk of sausage. "Ottawa has issued a new form, Form 37 dash J, Request for Supplies, replacing the old form B stroke 82, Requisition of Materiel."
"Wow. Big changes."
"Well, the new form came into effect on Monday, at which point we had still not received any of them. Personally, I suspect that Inspector Thatcher simply forgot to order any, but that's neither here nor there. She had Turnbull requisition some as soon as the problem was discovered, but--I'm sure you see the difficulty."
Ray thought about what he knew about bureaucracy. "They wouldn't send you the new forms because you used the old form to ask for them?"
"Exactly. Inspector Thatcher was very cross, and evidently Turnbull had to spend several hours cleaning the Queen's Bedroom to soothe his nerves. He was doing so well about not bursting into tears when she yells at him, but I fear this incident has set him back."
"Turnbull is a sensitive soul," Fraser agreed. "Eventually he realized that he could have his friend Constable O'Reilly in Toronto express-mail him one of the new forms. It arrived today, so assuming he remembers to use it to request additional forms, and not any of the half-dozen other things we need, the crisis should pass by early next week. In the meantime, we're out of paper clips, toilet tissue, vacuum cleaner bags, #2 manila envelopes, and ink for the self-inking date stamp."
"You know, they sell all of those things in Chicago. You could just go to a store and buy them."
"That would be against regulations."
"What, you'd rather wipe your ass with leaves than buy American toilet paper?"
"No, not leaves. We have a considerable number of the outdated B-stroke-82s left."
Ray could never be quite sure that Fraser was joking when he said stuff like that. He almost had to be, but it was that almost that got you. "Sounds scratchy."
"We all knew the risks when we joined up."
Ray made a mental note not to use the can at the Consulate for a while, just in case.
After they ate, Fraser insisted on helping with the dishes. Ray wanted to let him, and didn't want to, at the same time. Finally he decided that since he wasn't having sex with Fraser, he'd let himself have Fraser's help with the dishes.
Since Fraser was out of uniform, he didn't have the jacket-thing to take off, but he rolled up his sleeves. Ray had to work pretty hard at keeping his eyes on the dishes and off Fraser's forearms.
He didn't do that good at it. When he let his eyes linger a little too long after handing Fraser the silverware, Fraser did that head-duck-and-smile thing, and it occurred to Ray that if he just did a quarter-turn and leaned a little, he could be kissing Fraser. Right there in his kitchenette.
Resolutely, he turned away and dried his hands on another dishtowel. "You want some coffee?"
"Sure. If you're making some."
Ray made some--if Fraser wasn't having any, he'd probably have gone with instant, but since Fraser was going to, he got out the grinder and the whole beans.
Fraser didn't say anything while he made the coffee, but Ray could feel the weight of his eyes on him. Stupid. It wasn't like this was a date. He didn't want to impress Fraser. The other way around.
"So, here," he said, handing Fraser a cup of coffee and opening the box of his school stuff. "We've got--ok, photo album, I don't know why she brought that. Picture I did of a Stegosaurus." He passed that to Fraser. "Spelling test I got nine out of ten on. OK, here we go. Report cards."
"It's a very nice Stegosaurus."
"I think I copied it. OK, here's kindergarten. I did okay in kindergarten. That was my best year. I flunked sitting still and the alphabet, but I did okay in colors and shapes and sharing with others."
"You didn't flunk sitting still," Fraser said, studying the paper. "The teacher marked 'needs improvement.'"
"Yeah, that's how they say F in kindergarten." He kept digging through the box. "I don't know why my mom saved some of this stuff. Here, hold this." He handed Fraser a pile of old papers and stuff. "If you think my handwriting's bad now, take a look at that." Finally, he found more report cards. "There's eighth grade."
"You got a B plus in Home Economics," Fraser pointed out.
"Yeah, that was embarrassing. We had to sew these stuffed animals. Mine was a turtle."
"As fascinating as this is, it's really not necessary. I believed you when you said that you did poorly in school."
"But any number of very intelligent people have done poorly in school. I was educated at home myself, you know, and the few times I went to school with other children were frankly disastrous--I've told you about the incident with the otter."
"Yeah, that's not the same." He got up and paced over to the turtle tank. Fraser just didn't get it.
"I know, but that experience and a few others did convince me that success in formal schooling has, well, very little to do with intelligence, or even genuine learning. I once--well, that's not important. Ray, I work with you nearly every day. I know you."
"I know you think you do."
"Have you been hiding something from me?"
"No." He leaned over the turtle tank, clutching the sides of the shelf so hard his fingers hurt. "No, it's just that there's something you're not seeing."
"Is this something new, or are we still talking about your intelligence?"
"Look, I'm sorry I'm boring you, but I already said why this is important."
"You're not boring me, I'm just trying to keep up."
Ray might not be smart, but he was a fucking genius at screwing up relationships. Here he'd managed to skip right over all the good parts and get right to the messy breakup. "Look. I just don't...I don't want you to be disappointed in me."
Fraser crossed the room to stand behind him. "I'm not."
"You will be." He straightened up and ran a hand through his hair, the beads of his bracelet clicking as it slid down his wrist. "Look." Fraser was too close, and if he kept standing here, if Fraser kept being so fucking nice, so understanding, Ray was going to do something they'd both regret. "I'm taking a walk. I'm not mad," he added, because Stella always thought he was mad when he had to take a walk in the middle of some big stupid relationship conversation. "I just...have to take a walk."
But Fraser nodded, like he got that sometimes a guy just had to take a walk.
"Okay. So you hang out here, and I'll be back." He gathered up his coat and his gun. By the time he got to the door, the wolf was waiting there for him.
"Diefenbaker, I think Ray wants to be alone."
"It's okay; he can come with. He's a good listener."
"He's deaf," Fraser pointed out.
"Yeah, that might have something to do with it. C'mon, Dief."
It wasn't real cold, but cold enough that there weren't any kids playing in the street or people sitting out on their stoops. Ray and Dief had the sidewalks to themselves, which suited him just fine. He wasn't sure if he was out here to think or to stop thinking. Fraser had a way of twisting up his head until he barely knew which way was up. He wished Fraser would just...hell, he didn't know what he wished Fraser would do.
Ahead of them, a stray cat scuttled out from under a parked car. Dief woofed softly and took off after it.
"Aw, what are you doing? Leave the kitty cat alone."
Dief, unsurprisingly, didn't obey. With a sigh, Ray shoved his hands in his pockets and kept walking.
He wanted Fraser. Fraser--he was almost completely mostly sure--wanted him. It oughta be real simple. But all he could think about was how it would end.
Stella had worked on him for years: the tutoring, the dance lessons, all the little tricks she taught him to help him pass for a smart guy. But eventually, she'd figured out that her ugly duckling was never going to turn into a swan.
But hell, at least she had known that he wasn't smart. She thought he could change, but she wasn't in complete fucking denial the way Fraser was. So maybe the thing with Fraser was more like with his dad. When he was a kid, he'd liked it when his dad stuck up for him with his teachers. Told them he was a smart kid. But maybe if he'd faced the reality of it, he'd have realized that Ray was never going to be a doctor or a lawyer or even a hotshot businessman like Marlon, and that being a cop was good, for Ray. Maybe he'd have seen that Ray was doing about the best he could with what he had to work with, and he'd have been proud of him, instead of not even really talking to him for all those years.
So, yeah. Maybe if Fraser would just realize that Ray was kind of dumb, he'd eventually come around to being okay with that. He probably wouldn't want to be with him--cause, face it, that would be like a turtle and a swan or something; different worlds--but maybe he'd still sort of like him.
But that didn't get him any closer to figuring out how to get Fraser to face the facts, which was the big problem.
Fraser was just being pigheaded, and it wasn't fair. The whole point was that Ray was the dumb one, so Fraser ought to meet him at least halfway. Maybe he could do something with that--convince Fraser it wasn't, dunno, chivalrous or something to take advantage of the fact that he could think circles around Ray just to get his own way.
Ray noticed a car coming up the street, way too fast for a neighborhood like this. "Dief! Get your ass out of the road!" That would just be great, if he let Fraser's wolf get hit by a car. Maybe then Fraser would admit he was dumb.
The car skidded to a halt right next to him. The back doors opened and two men got out.
Fuck. Fuckity, fuck fuck fuck. "Dief!" Ray yelled again, and reached for his gun. Before he could aim, the closer of the two men kicked his elbow, and the gun clattered to the sidewalk. The man raised his own gun, and then--
This was why he shouldn't drink. Sure, it killed the pain for an hour or two, but then he had to wake up with a jackhammer going in his head, mouth stuffed with cotton, arms and legs stiff from sleeping--or passing out--tangled up in his clothes.
He pried one eye open. He'd fallen asleep with the overhead light on. Damn. He let the eye close again.
Funny, usually after a night of drinking he woke up dying to go to the can. Felt okay now, though. Maybe it wasn't morning yet. If that was it, he ought to drink some water and take an aspirin.
Fraser? He hadn't--he'd better not have....
"Ray, now that you're awake, if you can manage to sit up with your back to mine, I might be able to untie your hands."
Untie his hands? What the hell had they done?
He got his other eye unstuck. He was lying on carpet--short gray carpet, like in an office building. He didn't have anything like that in his place. Neither did the Consulate. He turned his head the other way, and he was looking at Fraser's hiking boots and the cuffs of his jeans.
Now that he thought about it, he didn't remember any drinking. He'd been out walking with Dief, and then--
They were captured. That explained the being-tied-up. What a relief. "Okay," he said. "This, uh, might take me a minute."
"Take your time. Your head wound has stopped bleeding, so it might be best if you can manage to avoid disturbing the scab."
With a lot of wriggling, he managed to turn over onto his back, and then tightened up his abs and sat up, like a crunch. The effort made his head hurt worse; he had to lean forward until it stopped pounding.
Now he could see more of Fraser than just his feet. He was sitting up against the wall, not a hair out of place except that his hands were tied behind him, like Ray's were. "You okay?" Ray asked.
Fraser nodded. He tucked his legs under him and got up on his knees, turning around so his back was to Ray.
Ray copied him, a lot less gracefully. "Dief's, uh, I don't know where Dief is," he admitted. "He was up ahead."
"Good. If he hasn't been caught, perhaps he'll be able to summon help." Fraser squirmed backwards on his knees until his hands brushed Ray's. "Hold still."
"What, he's going to run to the nearest police station and make like Lassie?"
Fraser's fingertips skimmed over his hands, exploring the knots. "He sometimes manages to make himself understood with Turnbull."
"Oh, that's great."
"Yes, we had better not count on receiving outside aid. That way, if it arrives, we'll be pleasantly surprised."
The ropes on his wrists started to loosen. "So, what's the plan?"
"After we've managed to untie ourselves?"
"Then we'll assess the situation."
"You mean you've been conscious all this time and you still don't have a plan?"
"Not as such." The ropes momentarily tightened. "Whoops. I think we can safely assume that Recu is behind this."
Good to know. "Yeah?"
"Yes. Judge Bowen and his son were in the car that brought me here. We were separated at the elevator--I'm not sure where they were taken."
So they didn't just have to escape--they had to free Judge Bowen and the kid, and, if at all possible, get some evidence against Recu. And Fraser didn't have a plan yet. "Great." The ropes suddenly loosened enough that he could pull his hands out. "Thanks." He rubbed his fingers together to put some feeling back into them.
After that, he felt gingerly at his head. There was a large lump forming on his forehead, and dried blood crusting over his left eye. That explained why it had been so hard to get his eye open.
"Ray?" Fraser said.
Ray turned and saw that he was waggling his hands. "Oh. Sorry." He got to work on untying the knots. It would have been easier if he could get a good look at them, but if he tried to put his head down, the bump on his forehead started throbbing so much he thought his head would split open. "You don't still have that knife on you, do you?"
"No, I'm afraid Recu's men took my knife very early in the abduction."
Figured. He kept working on the knots, and eventually Fraser was free. Well, untied. He got carefully to his feet, pulling Ray up after him.
The room they were in was a plain square, about ten feet on a side, with no furniture and a set of windows on one side. Funny how Ray had never noticed how much an office could look like a cell. He went straight to the door and tried it--it was pretty damn unlikely that the criminals were dumb enough to tie them up but leave the door unlocked, but hey, you never knew.
Locked. The door opened inward, so chances were, they couldn't kick it down, and anyway, a few cautious thumps proved it was heavier than most interior doors, and made of metal--probably aluminum. They weren't going to get out by bashing through it. "The hinges have inset pins," he told Fraser. "You don't have a Phillips-head screwdriver, do you?"
"Neither do I." So lifting the pins and taking the door out of the frame was out, too.
"The windows are tempered glass, and even if we managed to break them, we appear to be at least twenty stories up."
Ray went over to look out the window with him. Yep, that looked like about twenty stories, straight down. It was a modern skyscraper, all glass and steel, with no convenient ledges to climb around on. "Okay, we're going to die."
"Let's not give up hope. Look, a heating vent."
Ray looked where Fraser was pointing. Sure, there was a heating vent, but it was only about the size of a hardback book. They weren't going to crawl through it to safety. Or even to greater danger that might eventually be followed by safety. "Yeah, that looks real useful."
"Give me a boost."
"Let me stand on your back so I can investigate the heating vent," Fraser explained.
"Why do I always have to be the guy that gets stood on?"
"You don't. I'd be more than happy to let you stand on me." Fraser handed him a tiny flashlight and got down on all fours below the heating vent.
This wasn't exactly what Ray had had in mind any of the times he'd fantasized about mounting his Mountie. "Okay, yell if I hurt you."
Ray carefully put one foot on Fraser's shoulder and the other down near his hips, steadying himself against the wall with his hands. "Okay? I'm not stepping on where your bullet is, am I?"
"No, I'm fine."
"Great." He shined the light into the vent. It was...a vent. "Am I looking for anything in particular?"
"Does the duct widen after the opening?"
"Nope." He started to step down. "Wait--do you hear that?" It sounded like a cat crying, but, given the context, maybe it was the kid.
Ray climbed down. "Here, you listen."
He made like an ottoman and let Fraser climb on top of him. "Your Honor? Judge Bowen? My name is Constable Benton Fraser of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Yes--I first came--that's not important right now. We believe you have been taken prisoner by a criminal by the name of Michael Recu. Yes, sir, I understand. We--that is to say, my partner Ray Vecchio of the Chicago Police Department and I--are going to rescue you. As soon as we manage to escape ourselves. Yes, sir. You're welcome!"
Fraser climbed down. "Judge Bowen and his son are being held prisoner in another room connected to that vent. The Judge's hands are bound, as ours were, but he's attempting to remain calm so that the child doesn't become unnecessarily upset."
"Great." He sat down on the floor, rubbing his back. "How's that plan coming along?"
Fraser hesitated, then shook his head.
Fraser started going through his pockets. "Ah. I do have some powdered horn, if you'd like it for your head."
"Okay." He tilted his head back as Fraser knelt in front of him.
"It looks as though you were struck with the barrel of a handgun. Probably a semiautomatic."
"Uh-huh." Fraser was so close Ray could smell him--pine and fabric softener and saddle soap.
"Before the abduction, I had a chance to read some of your writing."
"Mm-hm. I especially enjoyed 'Turtles!' but 'Which is better, Ford or Chevy' was also very informative." He dabbed some of the horn stuff on Ray's head.
"You read my school papers?"
"I never pass up an opportunity to learn. Until now, turtle care and American automotive rivalries are areas in which I've been woefully ill-informed." He sat back on his heels and put the little jar of powdered horn back in his pocket. "But I think my favorite was--"
Ray pointed at the ceiling. "It's an acoustic drop ceiling. Sometimes in the movies they escape by climbing up into the ceiling and crawling into another room."
"I've never known that to work in real life."
"Yeah, well, maybe you should stop talking about turtles and come up with the plan, then."
"The ceiling is worth checking. Here, climb on my shoulders."
Ray climbed. When he pushed one of the ceiling tiles aside, they were showered with gray insulation material. "Ugh." He brushed enough of the stuff aside so that he could see into the crawl space. "The walls go all the way up."
"How much space is there between the drop ceiling and the main ceiling?" Fraser asked.
"About a foot."
"I have an idea."
"Great." He stepped down. "What's the plan?"
"It's not so much a plan as the barest suggestion of a notion that may be potentially of use."
"It occurs to me that the criminals may have seen the same movies that you have. So if we hide in the ceiling, and perhaps leave one of the tiles on the floor, they may believe that we've escaped through the ceiling, which may, I emphasize may, lead to a moment of inattention that we can use to overpower and subdue them."
"You mean, we hang out up there in the ceiling until they come looking for us, and then while the bad guys are scratching their butts and saying, 'duh, where'd they go?' we jump down and kick 'em in the head?"
Fraser had come up with some goofy plans in the past--starting with driving the car into Lake Michigan on the day they met--but this one had to be one of the goofiest. "You're sure you don't have a Phillips head screwdriver?"
"Very sure. I really should carry a small toolkit with me for situations like this, but I just haven't gotten around to assembling one."
They were in a completely bare room, with a lock they couldn't pick, windows they couldn't break, and a heating vent too small to escape through. The ceiling really was the only choice. "Okay. Ceiling it is."
Fraser got up. "You should go first, since you're lighter. I should mention that there's a slight--well, more than slight--danger that the ceiling supports won't support our weight. Choose a spot near to the wall, and distribute your weight across as many of the supports as possible."
Of course. It wouldn't be a Fraser plan without the possibility of falling on his ass and breaking his neck. "Great. That's exactly what I was hoping to hear." He stepped into Fraser's cupped hands, and swarmed up into the opening in the ceiling.
When Fraser's hands left his foot, he tensed, figuring that any second the ceiling supports would pull away from the wall and he'd be on the floor, maybe even unconscious again. But it didn't. Digging a path in the insulation with his hands, he slithered closer to the wall. "Fraser?"
"How are you going to get up here?" Now that he was up, Fraser didn't have anyone to give him a boost.
"I believe I mentioned that it wasn't a fully realized plan."
Ray shifted another tile so that he could look down at Fraser. He stuck his hand out. "Okay. Grab my hand, and maybe I can pull you up."
"I doubt that the ceiling supports can hold our combined weight at one spot, Ray. The ceiling is already bowing where you are."
"Oh." Looking at what they had available to them--a couple of ceiling tiles and the insulation, which was dry, papery stuff, like old leaves, he flashed on the time when he was a kid that Marlon had hidden in a pile of leaves and jumped out to scare him--he must've been really young, five or six. It wouldn't have scared him except that Marlon had told him the night before how the swamp monsters that lived in the sewers liked to hide in leaf piles so they could jump out and eat kids. Ray'd been stupid enough to believe it, of couse. He'd just about wet his pants. "Okay, why don't I shove more of this insulation stuff down there, and you can make a big pile and hide in it."
Fraser thumbed his eyebrow. "Ah...why, exactly?"
"When the criminals come in, you can jump out of it like a swamp monster. It'll give you the advantage of surprise for a second or two."
"Ah. Well, if I were a criminal, and my prisoner jumped out of a pile of insulation like a swamp monster, I'd certainly be surprised," Fraser admitted.
"Do you have a better idea?"
"And then while you're surprising him with your swamp-monster act, I'll drop down out of the ceiling and surprise them even more."
"I don't suppose there's anything up there that could be used as a weapon."
He shined the flashlight around the cramped space. "Nope, just insulation. Do you want it or not?"
Fraser sighed. "Fine. I'll be a swamp monster."
"Good." Ray tunneled around in the ceiling like a giant mole, sweeping up the insulation with his arms and dropping it through one of the removed tiles. The resulting pile was smaller than he'd expected--crammed into the tiny ceiling space, it looked like there was a lot of it, but on the floor, it was only a little bigger than a load of laundry. "Um," he said, hanging down out of the ceiling to look back and forth between Fraser and the pile. "Maybe if you kind of prop that tile up in front of the pile, they won't notice you. Right away."
Fraser nodded. "Get back to the edge. You don't want them to see you in the hole."
He was right, but that meant Ray couldn't watch him try to hide in that crummy pile of insulation, which had to be worth seeing. He belly-crawled over to the wall. "Is it working?" he asked after a while.
"I'm not sure." Fraser's voice was muffled. "Look."
Ray slid a tile aside and looked. Fraser made a surprisingly convincing pile of insulation. It just figured that he'd even be good at hiding in a completely inadequate hiding place. "Your one foot's sticking out."
The brown hiking boot disappeared under the insulation. "Now you're good."
"I look like a swamp monster?"
"Yeah." That was them, Swamp Monster and his sidekick Ceiling Mole.
"So now we wait?"
After a while Fraser said, "This insulation is very dusty."
"I know. It was up here before it was down there, remember?"
"I might be a swamp monster with a respiratory condition."
"Any time you have a better plan, just go ahead and shout it out. Don't be shy"
"I didn't mean to disparage your plan, Ray."
"I get that it's a crummy plan, but right now it's all we've got."
"Given the constraints of the situation, it's a fine plan."
"I think that's what I said."
"So it is." Below him, in the insulation, Fraser sneezed. "As I was saying, while I greatly enjoyed the turtle-care and automotive rivalry papers, I found the fiction pieces especially interesting."
"Fraser, you know I wrote that stuff for school, right? The teachers made me. It's not like I wrote them because I felt like it."
"Nevertheless, Ray, you have a real gift for storytelling. Take, for instance, the story about the--oh, dear. Someone's coming."
After a moment, he heard them too--voices in the hallway, not quite loud enough for him to make out the words. Sounded like two guys. He got ready to jump down out of the ceiling.
The door opened. "What the hell?" one of the goons said.
"Oh, man, the boss is gonna be pissed."
With a roar, Fraser the swamp monster burst out of the insulation pile, swinging his jacket at one of the goons. Ray swung down out of the ceiling, managing to land a kick on the second goon's jaw, sending him sprawling, unconscious. Dropping the rest of the way to the ground, he relieved his guy of his gun and went to Fraser's aid.
Fraser's guy was pretty confused by the flying jacket attack, enough that he didn't notice Ray coming up behind him until Ray had the gun at his jaw. "Drop it."
The first goon dropped his gun. Fraser scooped it up. "Excellent. If you would be so good as to put your hands behind your back, I won't have to do something we'll both regret."
The guy started to put his hands behind his back, then spun, aiming a kick at Fraser's kneecap as he did. Fraser sidestepped the kick neatly, and Ray clocked the guy over the head with the butt of his new gun.
They tied the two guys up with the same ropes that had been used on them, and stuck them in opposite corners of the room, then frisked them both, and came up with a knife, two more guns, a set of brass knuckles, and--the best prize of all--a cell phone.
"Keys?" Fraser asked.
Ray shook his head.
"Hm." Fraser tried to hand him the gun he'd picked up.
"Keep it. Here, you want another one?" He offered Fraser the first goon's ankle piece, a .22.
"You know I'm not licensed to carry in the United States."
"Well, you can use it as a club."
"In that case, I'll take the .38. It's heavier."
"Good choice." Ray gave him that, the knife, and the brass knuckles. "Wish I had my glasses."
"It is unfortunate that the criminals didn't give us an opportunity to pack. We had better go--I'm sure the criminals were supposed to take us somewhere, or do something with us, and we may not have much time before their confederates notice that they haven't returned."
"Okay." Ray stuck his head out the door, and saw that the hallway was empty--not much of a surprise; if there was anyone else on this floor, they'd have come running when they heard the scuffle. "Go."
They hurried down the hallway. After a moment, Ray realized that Fraser wasn't following him. He backtracked. Fraser was lying in front of a closed door--locked, he saw, with a numeric keypad. That explained why they hadn't found keys. Fraser was talking to the gap at the bottom of the door. "--return with aid as soon as possible, Your Honor."
"Guess we shoulda asked for the code before we knocked those guys out."
"You couldn't have known." Fraser got up. "Ah. Stairs." He set off for them.
Ray hurried after him. After two or three flights up, he asked, "Where are we going?"
"The utility floor, at the top of the building. It should offer some strategic advantages. Unless you have a different plan?"
"No, I'm good."
Fortunately, this wasn't a particularly tall skyscraper. After another seven or eight flights, they got to a door marked "Authorized Personnel Only" and "Caution: Electrical Plant."
This door just had a regular lock on it, not the fancy electrical kind that had been on the office door. Ray picked it with his credit card, and they were in.
"Do you still have the phone?"
"Yeah." He handed it to Fraser.
Fraser dialed. "Lieutenant Welsh, if he's available. Yes! Lieutenant. Detective Vecchio and I were abducted from his apartment--yes, the Recu case. No, we haven't exactly escaped...well, to an extent we have, but I'd expect to encounter considerable difficulty if we attempt to leave the building. And the judge and his son are still confined. Yes. Well, it's an office building of perhaps thirty stories, modern in design. Mr. Recu probably either owns the building or leases space in it--hm, yes, that is rather a wide field. Ray, did you happen to notice anything which may provide the police with a clue to our location?"
He shook his head. "You were the one looking out the window."
"Indeed. No. I'm afraid we can't help. Yes, sir. We'll do the best we can. Yes, sir." He closed the phone. "Lieutenant Welsh is sending patrol cars to Recu's buildings, but since there are a number of them, it might be some time before we can expect any help. If you don't mind, I should also check on Turnbull and Diefenbaker."
"Go ahead. I'll just, um, look around." Ray gestured at the dark hulks of machinery that occupied the room with the flashlight.
Fraser nodded and dialed.
Ray wandered around. The top floor of the skyscraper was one large, low-ceilinged room. He couldn't really identify any of the machinery; it all blurred together into a mess of things that whirred, clanked, and hummed ominously. He was pretty sure that if he touched anything, he stood a good chance of losing a finger. He got back to Fraser as quickly as he could without letting on that he was scared.
"No, Turnbull, I don't think that will be necessary. The CPD are already--yes, I know. Yes. Constable, I think your abilities will be best exercised holding down the fort, as it were, at the Consulate. Yes, getting out the first aid kit seems like a sensible precaution. Yes. Thank you for looking after Diefenbaker. Yes. Goodbye, Turnbull." He closed the phone, shaking his head. "Diefenbaker did go to the Consulate, but Turnbull was unable to make heads or tails of what he was telling him. He was frantic, poor man."
"Yeah, Turnbull must be having a rough night."
"He worries about us."
"Us? I hardly know the guy."
"Worrying comes naturally to Turnbull. Besides, he's very fond of you."
So maybe "fond" wasn't Canadian for sex. Unless Turnbull had a thing for him to, which was just....no. Huh. It was a good thing he'd decided against shoving Fraser up against a wall and having his wicked way with him. That would've been embarrassing. "Okay. Um. So what now?"
"How many men abducted you?"
"There were four in my car. So that means Recu has a force of at least six, minus the two we've already taken out of action, plus however many we haven't seen yet."
"Which could be anywhere from none to a hundred."
"Probably not a hundred. But yes. We could stay here, wait for them to come to us. Pick them off a few at a time."
"But they could whack Bowen and the kid first."
"Yes," Fraser agreed. "So I think our next move should be to free the judge."
"How are we going to do that?"
Fraser went over to a circuit-breaker panel. "If we cut the power to the building, the electronic locks should stop functioning. There should also be a certain amount of chaos that should work to our advantage."
Meaning, they'd be running around in a dark building with a civilian and a kid, while an unknown number of armed thugs chased them. Of course Fraser would consider that an advantage. Well, it wasn't like Ray had much of a choice. "What are we waiting for?"
"The elevator. If we cut power while it's running, some of Recu's men will be trapped inside."
"Good idea. How do we tell when it's running?"
Fraser pointed. "Unless I'm mistaken, that's the elevator motor."
"Oh." They sat and watched the motor. "Fraser?"
"Today in the park. When you said that you were, uh, very fond of me." He probably shouldn't ask, but he really did have to know.
"Was that, uh. Did you mean--" The elevator motor started turning.
Fraser threw the all the breakers and started towards the stairs. "I'm afraid we'll have to continue this conversation later, Ray--once Recu's men realize that this building is the only one without power, they'll quickly realize that we must be up here. So it would be best if by that time--"
"We weren't here. Got it."
The stairs were creepy in the dark, with the flashlight throwing weird shadows, and Ray had to focus on walking just to keep from falling on his face.
At each floor, Fraser paused and put his ear to the door, shook his head, and moved on. Ray wasn't entirely sure which floor was the one they'd started out on, but fortunately, Fraser did.
As soon as he opened the door, Ray knew they were on the right floor, too--the kid was screaming. He and Fraser exchanged a frantic glance and jogged down the hallway.
The door opened easily. The judge, his hands still bound behind is back, was trying to reason with his son. "Rhys, I know it's dark, but there's nothing here that can hurt you. Just be patient, and--oh dear God!"
"It's okay, we're the cops." Ray handed the kid the flashlight; he quieted down some, going from full-out wailing to sort of hiccupy sobs. "Fraser, knife?"
Fraser got down on one knee and started cutting through the judge's bonds. "We've cut power to the building to confuse our captors. We've called for reinforcements, but they may be some time, as we were unable to specifically identify our location. We've taken two men out of commission, and trapped an unknown number of others in the elevator, but we don't know how many others there are. On the plus side, we do have several guns. Would you like one, sir?"
"I've never fired a gun," he said, taking his son into his arms and holding him against his chest. "Rhys. Rhys. Are you okay?"
"It's not too tough. You point it at the bad guy and pull the trigger," Ray said. "Here, take the .22. We've got extra." He shoved the gun in the back of the judge's waistband. "Okay, if they've got any sense, this is the first place they'll look. Let's move."
They started down the hallway. "Once we get to the stairwell," Fraser said, "sound will carry quite easily to anyone else using the stairs."
Bowen nodded, his face ghostly, or maybe ghoulish, in the weird light cast by the flashlight that Rhys was waving around. "Sssh, Rhys. Ssssh. We have to be quiet, like the bunnies, all right, Rhys?"
"Bunny," Rhys said.
"Yes. Quiet like a bunny," Bowen said. "I'm the daddy bunny, and you're my baby bunny, and we're both going to be very quiet."
Ray thought the bunny thing was kind of weird, but it seemed to work--the kid stayed quiet. It was even harder to get down the stairs when he didn't have control of the flashlight--he had to keep one hand on the railing and feel around for each step with his foot, and he still wound up trying to take a step that wasn't there on half of the landings.
They'd made it down five or six flights when a door below them banged open and someone said, "--keep some fucking flashlights in the building. I mean, how hard is it? I'm burning the shit out of my thumb, this fucking lighter."
Startled, Rhys screeched.
"Fuck it!" Ray hissed. "All right, c'mon." He herded their little group back up a few steps to the last landing, then back out into a dark hallway. "There's gotta be another staircase. Which way, do you think?" he asked Fraser.
Fraser looked back and forth. "Left?"
He nodded and set off.
"Or right is fine too."
Shit. "I thought you meant, you know, stage left."
After making two rights, they got to another staircase--which meant it had to be directly opposite the one they'd been in before.
Fraser motioned for them to wait, then opened the stairway door and listened. He pulled back, shaking his head. "There's more of them in there."
"Fuck." Ray slammed his hand against the wall. "A stairwell's got to be the worst place in the world for a firefight. We're stuck."
Fraser nodded. "Let's go into one of the offices. We'll be harder to find that way."
"Right. Let's try for a corner office. It'll have more furniture."
Rhys waved the flashlight their way, giving just enough light for Ray to see Fraser's confused look.
"We can make a barricade. Defensible position. Didn't you ever build a fort out of furniture when you were a kid?"
The first office they tried was tiny, and only had a flimsy desk and a little file cabinet in it. "Let's try the next one."
Jackpot. The next office was the real corner office; it had a desk the size of a barn door and bookcases alone the walls. Ray motioned for the judge to take the kid into the far corner, behind the desk.
He and Fraser each took one side of the desk and shoved it over onto its side. The computer and other stuff that was on it crashed to the ground.
The kid--who'd been holding it together pretty well, all things considered--screamed. "It's okay," Ray said quickly. "It's okay. Be a bunny, remember? A quiet bunny." Bunny seemed to be the magic word--the kid paused in mid-scream. Ray could tell that he wasn't done, he was just thinking over whether to keep screaming or not. "It's okay. We're just, uh, makin' a safe place for the bunnies. Like a burrow? I'm a mole, and I'm makin' a burrow for the bunnies, and Fraser's a swamp--" He realized at the last second that calling Fraser a swamp monster wouldn't help. "--turtle. He's a friendly turtle, and we're making a safe place for the bunnies."
Fraser did this weird thing where he puffed out his face--he didn't look even a little bit like a turtle, but it seemed to help. The kid settled down, and they got back to shoving the desk up against the door. "Let's get that bookcase next," Ray said, and while the judge talked about bunnies, they quickly swept the books off the shelves so they could turn the bookcase over and stack it up on top of the desk.
"Hey." Ray paused before starting on the second bookcase and tossed the judge the phone. "Call the station, tell them we're in the building with no lights on."
"Good idea, Ray," Fraser said, and told the judge the number. "You might also see if there are any landmarks visible out the windows."
They cleared the second bookcase, and both of them bent to lift it. "On three," Fraser said. "One, two--"
"Three." They lifted it. "When you said you were very fond of me."
"Was that, like, code?"
"Yes, Ray. It means I'm very fond of you."
"That's, uh, kind of what I thought."
"I'm glad we understand each other."
"But when you said Turnbull was fond of me--"
"That wasn't code. I just meant he's fond of you."
"Good." They added the bookcase to the furniture barricade. Ray was trying to decide where to put the file cabinet and the desk chair when he heard voices in the hallway. "Incoming."
They both took up positions in front of the judge and the kid.
"Your Lieutenant Welsh said that he'd have a car here in under five minutes," the judge said, passing the phone back to Ray.
"Great. We can hold 'em that long."
"Certainly," Fraser agreed.
"I'm, uh, kinda fond of you, too," Ray said.
"Pardon me, Detective?" the judge asked.
"Not you." He felt exposed, sitting here in the middle of the room. "Credenza."
Nodding, Fraser took one end of the credenza. They shifted it to a spot a few feet from the wall, so they and the judge and the kid could hunker behind it.
Fraser opened the doors of the cabinet, one after another, stopping when he found a piece of blank paper.
Behind the desk and both bookcases, the door rattled open a fraction of an inch. "They're in here!" someone yelled. "They blocked the door!" Several shots were fired into the door.
Ray raised his gun and returned fire.
Fraser put a hand on his gun and pushed the barrel down. "You don't have an unlimited supply of ammunition, Ray."
"I've got enough," he said, but instead of firing, he looked over at Fraser, who was writing something, quickly but neatly, with a pencil stub he'd found somewhere. "What the hell are you doing?"
"Writing a note of apology to the person whose office we've just ransacked."
"Fraser. There are armed men on the other side of that door. Armed men who want to kill us. Is writing an 'I'm sorry' note really what you want to be doing right now?"
Fraser's pencil paused. He moistened his lip. "Ah." He cleared his throat. "Ray. As usual, your grasp of the essentials is--" His hand found the back of Ray's head, and suddenly, suddenly, they were kissing, and it was clumsy and sloppy and hot, with guns blasting to one side of them and Judge Bowen talking about bunnies on the other.
Ray broke away. "Fraser! I didn't mean--" Fraser went absolutely still, and just white, and the only way Ray could think of to make that look go away was to kiss him again, quick. "Okay. But--you know. Bad guys."
"Oh. Right you are." Fraser looked over at the door. "What should we do about them?"
"Just, uh. Be ready."
"Understood." Fraser peered over the edge of the credenza, radiating ready with every molecule.
Ray leaned across the top of the credenza, holding out his borrowed--stolen--gun. "You know I, uh, I like you a lot."
"I'm very glad to hear that."
"It's just that--" He ducked as a particularly loud shot blasted the door. "--that you're a swan, and I'm a turtle."
"I thought you were a mole, and I was a turtle."
"This is a different metaphor."
"So even though we really like each other, and we want to be together, you're up there in the sky flying around, and I'm down here in this swamp doing turtle stuff, so it's just...I mean, how does that even work?"
Fraser cracked his neck and moistened his lip. "Ah. Well, I have to admit I don't entirely understand this particular metaphor, so it's entirely possible that I'm suggesting something entirely inappropriate, but--"
"Freeze! Police!" All of the sudden, there were a lot more voices, and a lot more guns, out in the hallway. Rhys started yelling, too, just in case it wasn't loud enough already. Judge Bowen had apparently had about all he could take of bunny talk, because he got up and started yelling through a gap in the furniture barricade that he and his son were in here, and could someone please call his wife?
Fraser pulled Ray's head close to his, and for a second Ray thought they were going to do more kissing. But Fraser put his mouth to Ray's ear and said, "While swans do, of course, fly, leaving aside seasonal migration and escape from predators, flight is, in a sense, optional, while wetlands are vital to the survival of the species."
Even once Ray managed to take his mind off the shootout that was taking place outside and remember the swan/turtle metaphor, he was still pretty confused. "Huh?"
"Swans like swamps." Fraser thumbed his eyebrow. "Are you sure I'm the swan? I really don't understand--Ray, have you ever met a swan?"
"No." Who the hell met swans?
"They're very unpleasant birds. Attractive, but their personalities--I hope that isn't how you see me."
"Oh. Uh, no. Bad metaphor, then."
Before they could talk about the metaphor any more, someone outside the door yelled, "Vecchio! Fraser!"
"Yes!" Ray yelled. "What?"
"We've got 'em cuffed," Huey said through the door. "You and the judge can come out now."
"Okay," Ray yelled back. He got a grip on one of the bookcases. "Fraser? You wanna help me here?"
"Just a moment. Your Honor, this might be a good time to discuss the Recu case."
"The Recu case?"
"Yes. Not the new charges that will no doubt be emerging from today's events, but the case involving the death of Ramona Krztykbldt."
"Yes. Of course. I'll order a new trial and recuse myself from the case. I'm certain that the evidence will be admitted on retrial."
"Good." Fraser still didn't move to start shifting the furniture.
"Is there something else, Constable?"
"While I completely understand your concerns--a threat to an innocent person can be very frightening, of course--the pretext you used to dismiss the case was fairly upsetting to my partner."
"You called into question his integrity and his competence. I think an apology is in order. Don't you?"
Bowen rubbed his forehead and shifted his kid higher onto his hip. "Yes. Yes, of course. I'm sorry, Detective."
"Um. Okay. No problem. I mean, thanks."
"Tomorrow, I'll phone your lieutenant and explain."
Ray had just enough sense not to tell him he didn't have to; Welsh would believe him when he explained. "Uh, thanks. Your Honor."
He and Fraser cleared the barricade. It would have gone quicker if Fraser had let him just throw the stuff aside, but he insisted on putting everything back more-or-less where it had been. Once the bookcases were back, Fraser started picking up books and replacing them on the shelves.
"Constable," the judge said.
"Yeah, Fraser, let's--do that later."
"Ah. As you wish." They moved the desk back to the middle of the room, and opened the door. The hallway was full of uniforms milling around with flashlights, and Recu's guy's standing around in handcuffs. They handed the judge and his kid over to a couple of uniforms who could take them home, and Huey came over to them. "We'll need to get your statements soon. Are you guys okay?"
Ray said, "We're fine."
"Ray's injured," Fraser said at the same time. "But, ah, he's fine as well. Perhaps we should turn the power back on."
"Where is it? I'll send some of the uniforms."
"We'll go." Fraser volunteered them. "It's easier to do it than to explain."
So they borrowed a flashlight and started back up the stairs. They had a lot further to go this time, and somehow, not being in fear for their lives didn't make the climbing any easier.
"You didn't have to do that. Make the judge apologize to me, I mean. It's not...I mean, he's not like Warfield."
"I know." They climbed another flight. "Ray, I realize that I...no. Ray, there was a time when Buck Frobisher and my father didn't speak for almost three years. It was a dispute over a woman. My mother, as it happens. But then they met over the raging waters of the Nahanni River, and--no, that's not it, either." He sighed and tried again. "Ray, once upon a time in Chicago, there were two men. And a wolf. I believe it may have been an albino wolf, in fact, which is--well, that's not important. The point is, that these two men fought for justice together, and together, they were a force so powerful that criminals ran in fear from them."
Ray, to be honest, wasn't exactly paying that much attention as Fraser told his story. They had a lot of stairs to climb, and it had kind of been a long day, but there was something about that phrase that rang a bell. A far-off, distant bell, like maybe it came from a TV show he watched when he was a kid. But Fraser didn't watch TV. While Fraser told the story, he kept trying to remember where it was from.
"And the two men--well, actually, it was at that point that Recu's men came into the apartment and I wasn't able to read the ending. But I believe, if I understood the foreshadowing correctly, that next they jumped off of the burning building and into--"
That was it. It wasn't a show he'd watched, it was that story he wrote in fourth grade. "Jesus, Fraser, you read that? Damn. I mean, I forgot all about it until you started telling it." He was a little--no, a lot--embarrassed, just thinking about it. Because he'd almost forgotten that wanting to be a cop hadn't started with Stella in the bank; it had really started a lot earlier, with wishing he'd had a friend who'd run into a burning building with him.
"How did it end?"
"I don't remember. They caught the bad guys, somehow. And had a lot more adventures after that." He'd made up more stories, after that one school assignment. He didn't write them down, because he hated writing, but he'd made them up when he was riding around on his bike with nothing to do, or when he was sitting in school and couldn't pay attention to whatever the teacher was going on about. More adventures--had it really been about him and Fraser, all that time ago? "That's kind of freaky."
"Mm-hm. Well, you're very intuitive."
"Intuitive? That's good?"
"It's you," Fraser said, like maybe Ray and good meant pretty much the same thing in his book. "Ray. We're not turtles, or swans. We're both officers of the law--there's nothing that makes us particularly ill-suited to each other. And your insistence that your lack of intelligence--which exists nowhere but in your own mind--is somehow a barrier to our being together--at least, I assume that's what you were attempting to suggest with all this talk about turtles and swans--is growing quite frustrating. I know that my tendency to intellectualize can be intimidating at times; I know that about myself, it's one of my more significant flaws, I'm sure it's some sort of a defense mechanism, but honestly, Ray, I had hoped that this evening's events would help you to see that you really are quite intelligent--your thought processes may not be quite as, ah, orderly as, well, for instance, mine, but you have a creative approach to problem solving that is--"
Fraser stopped walking in mid-step. "Why?"
"I meant stop talking, doofus."
"Ah." He went back to climbing. "Why?"
"Because you're blithering."
"So did you, uh, you faked not having a plan so I'd have to come up with one? Back in the office?"
"Of course not. Lives were at stake. No, all I could come up with was that we could wait by the door until someone came in, and attempt to disarm them before they shot us. I'd never have thought of the, ah, swamp monster strategy."
"It wasn't that great of a plan."
"I admit I felt rather foolish hiding under a pile of insulation. But it did work."
"We lucked out."
"We often do." They reached a landing, and Fraser caught him by the arm, backed him up to the wall. He steadied Ray's head with his free hand, and Ray thought Fraser was going to kiss him again. But Fraser just looked at him, right in the eyes. Ray squirmed, half wanting to break away--he knew Fraser would let him--half afraid of what he'd be giving up if he did.
He and Fraser had lived in each other's pockets ever since he took this Vecchio gig. If Fraser didn't know him--well, he knew Fraser was a smart guy. Maybe whatever Fraser saw in him--well, maybe it was really there.
Sometimes, you just have to leap. It sounded like Fraser saying it--talking about that dumb story again?--but his mouth wasn't moving. Ray would have noticed.
He could try. Maybe it would end badly. But maybe it wouldn't.
He leapt. "Okay."
"Okay?" Fraser sounded like he wasn't sure, like he had to see Ray hanging there in the air before he'd leap, too.
"Okay," he said again.
Fraser did kiss him, then. It was better than the first try--this kissing-Fraser thing had a steep learning curve, maybe. He shoved the flashlight into Fraser's pocket, freeing up his hands so he could put his arms over Fraser's shoulders. His feet scrabbled against the wall behind him, like he was trying to climb Fraser--climb on top of him, climb inside him, Ray wasn't sure, he just wanted more, now.
Fraser broke away, too soon. "The lights."
"What about 'em?"
"We have to turn the power back on."
"Fuck the power." Ray kissed him again, this time keeping his feet on the floor so he could lean into Fraser's hip. Rubbing up against Fraser in a dark stairwell in a crime scene didn't quite match any of the fantasies he'd had about this moment--it wasn't very romantic--but he was here, and Fraser was there, and that was good enough for him.
"Ray, we really do have to go turn the power back on."
"Okay," Ray said, getting a hand on the front of Fraser's jeans. He'd better not be the only one who was so hard it hurt, here.
He wasn't. Fraser bucked into his hand, with a little moan that sounded like pain. "Ray, we're at, at...where are we? Work." He took a little shuffling step closer in to Ray, babbling like maybe Ray had found the off-switch for his brain. "We should do this at, ah, at the place that isn't work. Home."
Home. Yeah. "Okay. Let's go there," Ray said into Fraser's mouth.
"We have to...ah...we have to turn on the power, and then make our statements--Ray, if you would remove your hand from my, ah, from my--"
Damn, he was stammering, just like Ray had imagined. And it was really fucking funny. He had to bite down on his tongue to keep from laughing--which he knew wouldn't go over real well at a time like this--and that meant he had to stop kissing Fraser, to make sure he didn't bite the wrong tongue by mistake. "Okay." He leaned his head back against the wall, and managed to move his hand up to grab the front of Fraser's jacket. "Okay. Just, uh, let me catch my breath here."
Fraser nodded; excess lung capacity or not, he was breathing kind of hard, too.
"Okay," Ray said. "I think I've got it."
"Proof that I am one grade-F dumb bunny."
"Oh, dear," Fraser murmured.
"We coulda been doing that a lot sooner. I mean, you were ready, weren't you?"
"More than ready."
"So I was the idiot putting on the brakes." He grinned to show Fraser he was just messing with him, started up the next flight of stairs.
Fraser followed. "You had any number of logical and valid objections, Ray."
"Well, certainly. After your past experiences, it's only natural that you'd be concerned--gun shy, as it were--about the possibility of a mismatch."
"Stupid. You're perfect for me; any idiot could see that."
Between one thing and another, it was almost three hours before a pair of uniforms dropped them off at Ray's apartment. They managed to keep their hands off each other in the blue-and-white, but Ray, for one, had a hard time doing it. Fraser kept giving him these looks--ducking his head and licking his lip, but not blushing. A slow heat built in Ray's belly, spreading into his chest, making it hard for him to breathe, or sit still.
Ray only dropped the keys twice before he managed to let them in the front door to the building, and then they were grappling in a stairway again--if they weren't careful, stairways were going to end up being their song--but Ray managed to keep them moving, propelling Fraser backwards up the stairs a few steps at a time.
At the apartment door, he had to separate from Fraser long enough to manage the lock.
"I should warn you," Fraser said.
"What?" Ray's first, crazy thought was that Fraser had a trick dick--like maybe it had two heads or something.
"Your apartment is in some disarray--there was a brief struggle, with Recu's men."
He unlocked the door faster, glancing over his shoulder at Fraser. "Shit. Is Speedy okay?"
"I think so--I attempted to move the altercation to the kitchen area as soon as I was able."
"Oh, good." Still, the first thing he did once he got the door open was hurry over to Speedy's tank--which he was happy to see was intact. "You okay, buddy?"
Speedy stuck his neck out and peered up at Ray with one reptilian eye, then began slowly climbing up onto his rock.
"Is he all right?"
"I think so."
"Should we--straighten up?" Fraser gestured around the apartment--the broken dishes, the overturned coffee table, Ray's Stegosaurus picture with a boot-print right in the middle of it.
"I don't think so." Now that they were in the apartment--within shouting distance of a bed--he was suddenly shy. "Let's, um." He jerked his head toward the bedroom door.
"As you wish."
There was nothing broken in the bedroom, fortunately. Ray started shedding his clothes as fast as he could--this minute here, this moment where they both knew they were about to fuck, but they weren't actually fucking, Ray hated that moment. Best thing was to get it over with as fast as possible.
"Ray," Fraser said.
Ray tossed his boots into the corner.
He wriggled out of his jeans.
His t-shirt joined the boots in the corner.
Thumbs hooked in the waistband of his underwear, he stopped. "What? Fraser, you've got way too many clothes on."
"Ray, don't you think we're being a little hasty?"
"Christ, Fraser." He reached for his pants. "Don't do this to me. What, you're getting cold feet?"
"No, my feet are quite warm. I just wonder if, ah, well, the thing is, matters--that is to say, matters between us--have progressed very rapidly, and I wonder if--"
"Hang on." Ray held his jeans in front of himself, but didn't put them on. "This is that intellectualizing thing you were talking about."
Fraser dropped his head. "Yes. Yes, it is."
Fortunately, Ray knew where the off switch was.
Like he'd expected, once he got Fraser onto the bed and out of most of his clothes, most of the awkwardness went away. Fraser explored Ray with his mouth, dipping in to different weird spots--his collarbone, his elbow, the crest of his hip.
It was nice--definitely something Ray wanted to try more of later on, but not exactly a match for the urgency of his need. He was a man in a desperate state, and Fraser was browsing.
When Fraser decided to investigate his ear, Ray took matters into his own hands. It did take both hands--Fraser's dick was impressive, like the rest of him, and Ray was no slouch in that department, either. They were both slick with precome; his hands slid easily over them, up and down, as he jerked them off hard and fast. He wished he hadn't taken so long to get to this moment--this moment that he knew was only the start of something even better.
He knew this wasn't much--was just jerking off--but it felt like more, like it was more intimate than that. Like he and Fraser were one man--thrusting together, panting together, coming together.
When it was over, Fraser sprawled on top of him. "I'm sorry, Ray."
"What for?" A part of him--the small, squirrelly part of his brain that had almost fucked this up before it even began--started yammering that Fraser had just realized he made a terrible mistake; he never wanted to do this again; he was going back to Canada on the next dogsled, and we must never speak of this, Ray--Ray told that part of him to shut up.
Fraser wasn't like that.
"I wanted our first time to last longer."
"Oh. Well, I was in kind of a hurry."
"So it's all right, then?"
"Yeah, it's great. Greatness. We'll go slower next time."
"I'll look forward to it." Fraser shifted down a little, settling his head on Ray's chest. Stella used to do that--it was kind of different with a big guy like Fraser, but really okay, too.
"Not for long. I'll be ready to go again in a couple hours. You?"
"Twice in one night?"
"Is that against the law in Canada?"
"Hm. Not to my knowledge."
"I take it it's not against the law in Chicago, either?"
"Not even in the 1890 Criminal Code?"
"So what do we do until then?"
"You don't know? What do guys in Canada do after sex?"
"Feed the dogs? Hike the rest of the way into town? Go to work? Chop firewood? It depends on the situation."
"In Chicago, we sleep."
"Ah. Well. When in Rome." Fraser's eyes closed, and his breathing evened out.
"Fraser?" He might be asleep already-- Ray'd seen before how fast Fraser could fall asleep, like flipping a switch.
"This is good, right? I mean--" Not just the sex. He knew that was good.
"Yes, I know. Yes, it's good."
It had been one weird day. Ray woke up that morning believing he couldn't have Fraser, but then he walked down that street, went past that pizza shop, sat down in that park, and found out that he could. Then he'd spent the afternoon convincing himself he shouldn't have him. He'd taken another walk, tunneled through a ceiling, climbed some stairs--and found out that he should.
And that? That was genius.
End You Just Have To Leap by Alex51324
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