The Due South Fiction Archive Entry


Six Degrees of Separation


Author's Notes: The first indication (to myself) that--ha--maybe I had a new obsession here.

SequelTo: Learn to Speak Canine in Seven Easy Steps

I. Reflex.

Diefenbaker has had many years to become resigned to the fact that his pack-alpha has a desire to help others that equals-- and in some cases exceeds-- his survival instincts.

He lectures Ben about it, says I told you so at intervals-- frequent intervals-- but has otherwise resigned himself to the fact that Ben feels the need to step in front of bang-sticks... and pick up blows-things-ups, offer his hand to people wielding knives, jump from the roofs of large buildings, use windows instead of stairways as a means of exit, and otherwise endanger himself (and sometimes those around him) in a wildly bizarre fashion.

It's like some kind of reflex; see an evil, thwart an evil.

Of course, Dief would prefer it if Ben used the Spiky-Ray method of thwarting. Whilst loudly expressed desires to kick people in the head and the waving around of a bang-stick tend to cause excitement (and make Big-Boss-Welsh pull faces like he's just eaten a sour bit of carrion) they do have the advantage of being better for the health of the thwarter.

Spiky-Ray doesn't approve of Ben doing the whole endangering thing. Shortly after each incident involving blows-things-ups, or knives, or unorthodox exits, is usually when the most descriptive threats of violence occur.

To be fair to Ben, after he finally listened to Dief and actually made Spiky-Ray really-pack, the frequency at which he has jumped onto the top of speeding vehicles or into deep water has decreased.

To an extent.

And while that is a good and reassuring thing-- and means that Spiky-Ray doesn't have "a goddamned heart attack, Fraser!"-- the counterbalance seems to be that when Ben does start with the thwarting, everything seems to get rather more extreme.

Like now, for instance.

Diefenbaker is pretty sure that Spiky-Ray's offer to buy a lunch of Ben's choice did not include the Chicago Art Museum; nor did it include the current exhibition (and stage show every day at 11am, 2pm and 5pm) on the history of illusion and magic. It definitely didn't include Spiky-Ray recognising one of the magician's assistants as a well-known fine art thief, fond of referring to herself as La Madame.

Dief is also pretty sure that Spiky-Ray's lunch plans didn't include Ben-- through a set of circumstances that don't bear explaining at this juncture-- being taken hostage and subsequently hustled into a large prop cabinet along with the art thief and the magician.

Spiky-Ray, uttering all kinds of bad language, pushes through the noisy, milling crowd, bang-stick in one hand. Dief follows close behind him and bounds up on to the stage ahead of him.

The second magician's assistant-- dressed in what appears to be too little tin foil-- is wringing both hands together and trying to make up her mind whether to scream or faint when Spiky-Ray scrambles up on to the stage.

the Hell d'ya open the damn box?" Spiky-Ray demands, torn between advancing on the bewildered assistant and assaulting the cabinet single-handedly.

Dief has no such problems; he circles the magic cabinet, nose down, and whines to himself. Something doesn't smell entirely--


Dief yelps and leaps backwards at the explosion, fur standing on end. Thick, white dry-ice smoke billows up from around the bottom of the magic cabinet, making Dief sneeze violently.

"Goddamned voodoo shit!" Spiky-Ray yells from somewhere over to the left.

Boss-Ben! Dief cries, unable to see anything other than swirling white.

Something large and rectangular looms in front of Dief, and he narrowly avoids being hit over the head by what turns out to be one of the sides to the magic cabinet. As it hits the floor with a clatter, it displaces the smoke, clearing the stage just as the other three sides also fall, revealing the cabinet to be completely empty.

No magician, no Madame and definitely no Mountie.

II. Acute.

"--kidnapped by some foreign psycho thief with a thing for crappy old paintings!" Spiky-Ray is in fine form: stamping around, arms waving wildly, with the sour scents of worry and anger gusting from him.

Diefenbaker presses himself close to the side of the decrepit green couch that graces one wall of Big-Boss-Welsh's office, the better to avoid being kicked (or punched or stamped) in the head, and whines softly to himself. Ben has been missing for all of the afternoon, with not the slightest hint of where he-- and his two captors-- have vanished to.

The how-- oh, the how was easy. The stage had been set up, at the magician's request, directly over an old service trapdoor that led straight down to one of the basements used for storing paintings and sculptures that weren't on display.

Or, at least, that was what Diefenbaker heard Huey telling Spiky-Ray, as neither of them were allowed down in to any of the basements. Diefenbaker because, without Ben, signs that read No Dogs Allowed really do mean that, and Spiky-Ray because the museum curator was utterly convinced that he would shoot the Botticellis and kick holes in the Picasso that's being painstakingly restored.

Dief watches as Spiky-Ray downs the last of his coffee and proceeds to reduce the paper cup to as near to its constituent molecules as is possible. Shreds of soggy white cardboard drift down onto the worn wooden floor like snow.

The museum curator was probably correct.

"If you've quite finished with the arts and crafts, Detective?" Big-Boss-Welsh leans over his desk and frowns at Spiky-Ray, who throws the remains of the cup into the trash can on the opposite side of the couch to Dief.

"Why the hell aren't me and Dief out looking for Frase and the crazy bitch?" Spiky-Ray demands.

Big-Boss-Welsh narrows his eyes and crosses his arms over his chest. "Because, Detective, the City of Chicago does not have enough money to pay reparations for the trail of destruction that the pair of you will leave in your wake."

"Don't know what you're talking about, Lieu," Spiky-Ray protests.

"Vecchio." Big-Boss-Welsh leans back heavily in his chair, making it, and the floorboards beneath it, creak loudly. "You caused a distressed young lady to faint, menaced the curator with your gun and actually assaulted a museum guard--"

"I didn't know he was standing behind me!"

"-- nevertheless; he required five stitches, and the Assistant State's Attorney is breathing down my neck."

Spiky-Ray freezes suddenly and sits down awkwardly, balancing on the edge of the couch. "Oh," he says, softly enough that Diefenbaker is forced to rely on deciphering his body language to understand him.

"Oh, indeed." Big-Boss-Welsh agrees. "You're staying in this office until I'm convinced that you won't go and do something..."

"Fraser-like?" Spiky-Ray manages, patting Dief on the head as the half-wolf leans against his leg, whining.

"Exactly." Big-Boss-Welsh unbends enough to knock his expression down from Lord, why hast thou forsaken me to this budget meeting? annoyed to I have a Mountie liaising with my detectives irritated-- pretty much his ground state of existence during working hours, as far as Diefenbaker can determine.

This, in turn, makes Dief relax slightly; it's hard to keep your mind on the matters of comforting what pack you've got left when the local not-pack-alpha looks like he wants nothing more than to hamstring you. Dief noses at Spiky-Ray's hand to attract his attention. Spiky-Ray, we need to find Boss-Ben!

Spiky-Ray scratches Dief's ears, his expression worried. Worried and full of incomprehension.

Dief stifles an irritated yip. You need to learn to speak a proper language, Spiky-Ray!

"If you think you have your homicidal tendencies under control, Detective, Huey and Dewey are talking to the remaining stage assistant in Interrogation Room Three." Big-Boss-Welsh's posture indicates that he is somewhat sceptical of this.

"I'm fine," Spiky-Ray insists, standing up abruptly. "Dief and I will--"

"The wolf stays here," Big-Boss-Welsh interrupts. "Miss Schriner is both allergic to, and scared of, dogs."

What? Dief whines and sidles up to Spiky-Ray's leg. I need to help Spiky-Ray find Boss-Ben, not sit in the scary den of not-pack-alpha!

"--oh." Spiky-Ray looks non-plussed.

"You're beginning to act as weird as Fraser about that animal."

Hey! Dief objects, but from halfway behind Spiky-Ray's legs. He doesn't want to risk angering Big-Boss-Welsh without the protection of his own pack-alpha, Ben.

Spiky-Ray tenses and bristles slightly; Dief can feel it in the way that his leg muscles tense, and his weight balance shifts slightly forwards, but he doesn't otherwise react. "Dief'll be happier at my desk," he says, and Dief is thankful that-- while Spiky-Ray can't speak Canine-- he's getting a lot better at picking up on overt body language.

Mainly Ben's, of course, but Dief is grateful for small miracles. Particularly those that mean he doesn't have to stay in Big-Boss-Welsh's work-den.

Spiky-Ray turns suddenly and heads for the door. Diefenbaker, who is leaning against Spiky-Ray's legs, overbalances and has to scrabble at the floor for a moment before making it to his feet and hastily following him.

Once at Spiky-Ray's desk, Dief sits down and whines. Spiky-Ray collapses gracelessly into his chair and bends forwards to stare Diefenbaker in the eyes, his hands fidgeting in his lap.

"Okay, wolf," Spiky-Ray says, speaking much more clearly and slowly than he normally does; Dief has figured out that Spiky-Ray only uses this voice when he really wants Dief (or, Turnbull) to pay attention. "You need to stay here and be g-o-o-d because the last thing I need is Welsh ragging on my ass on top of everything else."

Big-Boss-Welsh is scary, Dief agrees. I'm quite happy to stay here. The I-n-t-e-r-r-o-g-a-t-i-o-n rooms smell like old urine and scat.

"I'm going to find Fraser," Spiky-Ray says. "We're going to find Fraser." He sounds as if he's trying to convince himself as much as he is Dief. The half-wolf is uncomfortably reminded that-- while humans can be solitary-- once they've made a pack-of-two, they tend to go all to pieces when that pack-of-two is broken.

We're still pack, Spiky-Ray. Dief noses at Spiky-Ray's hand, encouraging him to scratch his ears. And we will find Boss-Ben because you can hunt in the city and I can hunt anywhere.

Spiky-Ray pats him on the head, heaves himself to his feet and heads in the direction of the Interrogation rooms, his posture radiating worry and unspecific anger.

Alone, Diefenbaker reverses himself under Spiky-Ray's desk and awaits his return. He finds comfort in the hints of coffee-and-sugar-and-leather-and-wool that linger in the still air under the wooden desk.

III. Three-Sixty.

The sky outside the windows of what used to be Spiky-Ray's apartment (but what Dief now thinks of as Den) is the overcast sodium-yellow that indicates night time in the city.

The television is on mute; the picture flickering with bright colours as a trio of over-paid actors prance about in a scene that's heavy on the `sit' and light on the `com'. The light from the television reflects off the glass side of the turtle tank and augments the muted glow of the chilli pepper lights at the pass-through to the kitchen.

Diefenbaker is sitting at one end of the couch, watching Spiky-Ray sitting at the other end of the couch.

Spiky-Ray is watching the reflection of the television on the side of a bottle that contains significantly less whiskey than it did when Dief and Spiky-Ray got home about four hours ago.

Neither of them are looking at the empty space between them: the vacant middle cushion of the couch.

IV. One-Eighty.

With the benefit of hindsight, Fraser has come to the conclusion that he should have waited a few seconds more, allowed Ray to catch up with him, before jumping onto the stage and trying to arrest La Madame.

Goodness knows, given the brevity of her costume, where she had managed to conceal the rather sharp switchblade knife with which she so competently menaced his left kidney whilst kidnapping him in a rather effective manner. Unfortunately, as the cabinet was only of sufficient dimensions to comfortably contain two adults, Fraser rather got the short end of matters; when the trap door opened, he had been the first to fall, and, therefore, the object that broke the fall of La Madame and her accomplice.

In direct consequence to this, Fraser is feeling more than a little concussed, and has only just now regained enough of his faculties to take in his surroundings in a sensible fashion.

The first thing Fraser notices is that he's tied up to a chair-- rather effectively-- with what appear to be an eclectic selection of ribbons and streamers. The second thing Fraser notices is that he appears to be in some kind of warehouse; opposite him is an open-topped wooden crate, poking out of which half a ventriloquist's dummy, a reproduction longbow and a tattered seventeenth century French Court gown are visible.

The third through ninth things that Fraser notices are the bruises, the most painful of which seems to be the partial impression of a lady's chunky-heeled shoe (American size seven and a half) that covers most of his right temple and cheekbone. This, obviously, explains the faint feeling of nausea and that fact that Fraser's head feels like someone jumped on it. Someone has.

"This ees Chicago!" The heavily French-accented voice (female, so quite possibly the cause of the shoe print on Fraser's head) catches Fraser's attention and he tries to ascertain where it is coming from.

"I know it's Chicago, Evie, the `Welcome to the city of' signs kinda gave it away." A second, male voice, joins the first. Fraser can't see either speaker, but, from the direction of their voices, and the lack of substantial echo, they are off to his right, behind a shielding wall of wooden crates.

"My name is Evelyn--" female voice, irritated, "--and, if this ees Chicago, why ees there-- there-- une Gendarmerie Royale du Canada?"

"You mean the Mountie?"

"That ees what I said!"

"I have absolutely no idea, Evie." The male voice sounds resigned, and is underscored by a low scraping sound. "Instead of complaining, would you mind helping me pack so we can get out of here?"

"Evelyn--" the woman bites off. "I `ave packed already, you are taking... junk."

"Fine, you go admire your pretty sparkles--"

"Heh--" a loud snort, "--these `pretty sparkles' are worth deux mille, smallest."

"I think you mean `least', Evelyn," footsteps echo slightly as both voices fade off.

Fraser doesn't really notice; the last little exchange between the man and the woman has kick started his memory with a painful jolt--

Ray is going to be terribly worried.

Fraser struggles fruitlessly with his bonds; an unfortunate side effect of being tied up by a stage illusionist appears to be the use of very competent knots. Fraser's arms and legs-- in fact, his whole body-- also feel curiously dead and numb, indicating that he's probably been in the same position for at least a few hours. Tipping his head back, far enough to make his neck crack, gives Fraser the view of a grubby line of windows up near the metal roof. The light shining through them could be late afternoon light.

Then again, given the state of the glass-- and the thick stripes of paint scribbled over the panes-- it could be any time at all during the day. After a moment of squinting at the windows, Fraser realises that the paint is words, viewed from the wrong way.

Squinting harder-- even though this makes his eyes water and his head pound-- Fraser manages to decipher ATRICAL AND STAGE COSTUMERS. Which isn't really helpful as the boxes full of stage props and costumes had pretty much given that away already.

Fraser sighs loudly, tries not to worry-- tries not to worry about Ray and Diefenbaker, but mainly Ray-- and tries to think of a way to escape his bonds.

"Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him well." Fraser turns his head slowly to the left (not entirely unconvinced that the top of it isn't going to fall off) and finds his father standing next to a set of open-sided metal shelves, face to face with a replica skull.

"This isn't exactly the best time, Dad." Fraser heroically resists the urge to vent a groan.

"Why ever not?" Bob Fraser continues to eyeball the skull. "I finished my tax forms and I thought I'd come check up on my son."

"The afterlife has taxes?" Fraser can't help the incredulity that creeps into his voice.

His father finally turns to look at him and blinks with surprise. "Everywhere has taxes, son. Is there any particular reason that you're tied to a chair--" he suddenly breaks off and looks around with a faintly worried (embarrassed?) expression, "--the Yank isn't around is he, have I interrupted something?"

"Dad--" Fraser hisses, flushing hotly.

"Well, he is a strange one, I wouldn't put anything past him," Bob Fraser says placidly, apparently reassured that there are no detectives named Ray in the vicinity.

Fraser can't stifle the groan this time, nor can he help but pray that this is all some delusional product of a concussion.

"Mind you, last time I saw him, he was working his way through a bottle of liquor, so I doubt that he's even conscious yet," Fraser Senior says musingly, leaning forwards to examine the crystal ball that's sitting next to the skull.

"What?" Fraser tries to sit upright, and succeeds only in tightening his bonds and making every single muscle in his back wake up and begin to ache. "When was this?"

"Oh look-- that's a costume from the opera Hannibal." Fraser's father adjusts his fur hat and stares entranced at the intricately detailed costume hanging on a rack next to the shelf containing the skull.

"Dad--" Fraser says with exasperation.

"What? Oh..." Bob purses his mouth and thinks for a moment. "Must have been... last night, your time. The dog looked like someone had fed him lemons for dinner, and the Yank was going about pickling his internal organs."

"Oh, no." Fraser swallows hard and has to squeeze his eyes shut for a moment and fight for control. This means that he's been missing, not for an afternoon, but at least twelve hours, maybe more.

"What's wrong, son?" Bob leaves off studying the Hannibal costume and looks over at Fraser, a concerned expression on his face.

Fraser has to count to ten-- twice-- before he can reply. "Dad, do you think you could possibly go and find Ray, check that he's okay and lead him back here?"

"You know he can't see me," Bob protests.

"Please, Dad," Fraser says softly, "I'm sure you'll think of something."

Bob Fraser finally seems to actually look at his son, and his face reflects concern-- then he abruptly isn't there any more, and Fraser is left to contemplate the now-silent warehouse alone.

V. Obtuse.

Diefenbaker, sitting uncomfortably in the passenger seat of Spiky-Ray's car, is feeling more than a little carsick.

In retrospect, a breakfast of old, cold pizza (with anchovies, because Spiky-Ray mumbled on the phone, then couldn't seem to find the energy to complain to the delivery boy) and half of Spiky-Ray's (very stale) donut, was not the best idea. Dief's stomach is inclined to agree with him on this, particularly since they've been in the car since five this morning, a time that Diefenbaker wasn't even aware that Spiky-Ray knew existed before this point.

Spiky-Ray's determination to drive in a fashion that seems to hold traffic lights, stop signs and road markings to be optional, rather than a matter of law, combined with the fact that every other driver on the roads today is under the same delusion, are not helping Dief's gastronomic woes at all. Spiky-Ray himself is looking somewhat worse for wear, but Dief can smell that this has more to do with last night's bottle of whiskey than anything else.

"-- and the horse you rode in on!" Spiky-Ray manages to brake, swerve, lean out the open window and gesture wildly at another car simultaneously, following up by leaning on the horn and uttering a string of very bad words.

Diefenbaker is about to admonish him for the foul language, but the braking finds him unexpectedly introduced to the finer points of the GTO's passenger foot well, nose first. It smells like Ben and Ben's boots and dry mud.

Spiky-Ray! Dief struggles to free himself. Pack does not mean stuffing other members of the pack into funny not-animal-goat-car places! He makes it back onto the passenger seat, pins back his ears and shoots Spiky-Ray a filthy look.

"Jeez, I suck." Spiky-Ray is looking at Dief, his expression mournful. Mournful and hung over.

I will not disagree with you on that, Diefenbaker says with a sniff, not entirely willing to forgive the way that his nose now feels.

Spiky-Ray continues to look at him for a moment, then sighs heavily, scrubs at his pale face with one hand and returns his attention to the road. After another deep sigh, followed by a short bout of coughing, Spiky-Ray shifts the car out of neutral and pulls out into the traffic once more.

Dief isn't sure that Spiky-Ray has an actual destination in mind; he just seems to be driving aimlessly.

"That was a red light." Dief jerks slightly and turns around to stare at the back seat. Sitting there, complete with fur-lined jacket and hat, is Not-Here-Bob, his expression disapproving.

Spiky-Ray knows what r-e-d lights are; he is just ignoring them today, Dief tells Not-Here-Bob.

Not-Here-Bob harrumphs, "I'm not in the least bit surprised."

Spiky-Ray is worried about Boss-Ben. Dief shuffles further round in the passenger seat to look fully at Not-Here-Bob. We are both worried about Boss-Ben.

"Hm, yes, well I suppose you should be; he's tied to a chair at the moment and has a bit of a concussion, if I'm any judge--"

What? Dief half springs up, catching Spiky-Ray on the elbow and making him swerve.

"Watch it, wolf!"

You have seen Boss-Ben? Where is he? Take us to him now! Dief ignores Spiky-Ray and concentrates on interrogating Not-Here-Bob, emphasising his questions with yips and barks.

"What, you want a pit-stop or something?" Spiky-Ray flicks on the turn signal and pulls up to the curb, next to an abandoned lot.

"Of course I know where he is." Not-Here-Bob sounds affronted. "He's my son."

Spiky-Ray gets out of the car, and Diefenbaker looks at him with confusion as he opens the passenger side door and gestures at the rectangle of neglected land. "Come on; go take a piss, already."

Dief decides to take Spiky-Ray up on the offer, although he is slightly mystified by it, and hops out of the car. Not-Here-Bob; follow me! Diefenbaker demands, trotting the short distance to the crumbling remains of a wall.

The ghost, although he grumbles objections, follows after Dief, arms crossed over his chest. "What has the world come to when a man takes orders from a dog?"

I'm only half-dog, Dief says, as he sniffs absently at a dead weed before focusing his attention on Not-Here-Bob. Where is Boss-Ben?

"There's no need to be snippy," Not-Here-Bob admonishes. "Malachi's Theatrical and Stage Costumers. It's a large warehouse full of the most fascinating things; they have a truly wonderful costume from act two of Hannibal--"

Where is this Malachi-den, Not-Here-Bob? Dief interrupts.

"It's just up north of that abominably large airport," Not-Here-Bob says, adding, "I think the Yank wants you to go back to the car."

Dief glances over at Spiky-Ray, who is balanced against the hood of his car, one foot agitatedly tapping at the ground. We are quite-a-bit far south of the a-i-r-p-o-r-t, he tells Not-Here-Bob. How are we going to get Spiky-Ray to go north?

"C'mon, Dief!" Spiky-Ray jangles his keys from hand to hand. "Pitter-patter!"

Dief trots back over to the car and noses at Spiky-Ray's hands, whining. Spiky-Ray pats him once on the head then pushes him towards the open passenger door. Dief climbs in the car and is unsurprised to note that Not-Here-Bob has installed himself in the back seat once more.

"We need to get him on to the Eisenhower Expressway," Not-Here-Bob says authoratively.

Dief wrinkles his nose. No, the Kennedy Expressway, he disagrees.

"Hmm." Not-Here-Bob crosses his arms and looks around as Spiky-Ray slides into the driver's seat and keys the ignition. "I'm not sure I trust the street navigating abilities of a dog."

I have lived in Chicago with Boss-Ben for more than two years, and we have hunted all over it. Dief looks over his shoulder at Not-Here-Bob. You lived in the big-wide-open and now you are dead. Who is the better navigator?

"Kennedy Expressway then," Not-Here-Bob agrees grudgingly, as they pass an advance warning sign for the road in question. "At least we're heading towards it."

But how do we get Spiky-Ray to go on it? Dief asks. He can't talk a proper language and he can't see you. Dief doesn't mention that he believes that Spiky-Ray would probably have a panic attack of epic proportions if he saw Not-Here-Bob, particularly under the present circumstances.

Not-Here-Bob looks thoughtful. "I believe I know a way," he says.

We need to turn at the next left. Dief looks out of the windscreen, then back at Not-Here-Bob. So you'd better do what you're going to do.

Spiky-Ray is fiddling with one of the air vents when, apropos of nothing, the GTO's left turn signal suddenly lights up and begins ticking. "What the--?" Spiky-Ray looks confused and flicks at the control stalk, trying to turn it off to no avail.

Diefenbaker blinks and glances at Not-Here-Bob. The ghost is wearing an expression of concentration, and his right hand appears to have sunk into the upholstery of the back seat.

Spiky-Ray mutters to himself and continues driving, just as they approach the junction they need to turn at-- which Spiky-Ray is obviously all set to sail straight over-- the engine coughs and stalls and the GTO coasts to a stop just shy of the stop sign. Immediately, a chorus of car horns begin sounding from behind.

"--the Hell?" Spiky-Ray is staring at the dashboard in utter confusion.

I am impressed, Not-Here-Bob, Dief says. If we don't make this turn, we can turn at the next one.

Spiky-Ray starts the car, leans on his own horn a couple of times, mutters under his breath and pulls out across the junction.

The GTO is barely across when the left turn signal starts ticking again and Spiky-Ray glares at it. As the second junction approaches, the engine starts to cough once more. Spiky-Ray uses donuts-are-bad-for-you words and makes no attempt to move over in preparation for a left turn.

I don't think he understands, Not-Here-Bob, Dief says dubiously.

"Hmm." Not-Here-Bob sniffs.

We're going to miss the turn, Not-Here-Bob. Spiky-Ray isn't going to turn left. Dief flattens his ears and looks at Spiky-Ray, who is dividing his attention between the road and giving the blinking indicator light a foul look.

The radio suddenly clicks on, display lighting up green, and Dief starts as music begins to blare out.

"--but I'm showing you that door, you gotta have faith, yeah, you gotta have faith--"

Spiky-Ray actually jolts in his seat, staring at the radio like it's possessed.

"--say please, please, please don't go away, because you're giving me the blues--"

Diefenbaker is actually quite impressed that Not-Here-Bob has managed to synchronise the indicator light with music. Seemingly in a trance, Spiky-Ray turns left, onto the entrance ramp for the Kennedy Expressway. As soon as he does, the indicator stops ticking and the radio turns off.

Spiky-Ray is pale-- even paler than he was before-- and Dief can see several muscles around his eye have developed a tic. But he's driving in the right direction, which is a good thing. Hopefully, Dief thinks, he won't have a breakdown until after they've found Ben.

Not-Here-Bob, when Dief twists his head round to look at him, is wearing a smug expression, one hand still buried in the car upholstery. "I told you I'd think of something," he says.

Hopefully it will work when we get to the other end of this big-fast-road, Dief says.

"Of course it'll work; it's gotten us on to this road, hasn't it?"

Yes, yes, Dief agrees hastily, but I am worried about Spiky-Ray. The not-animal-goat-car talking to him might make his mind stop working and then we will crash and then nobody will know where to find Boss-Ben.

"A car crash wouldn't hurt me," Not-Here-Bob says.

Nobody else apart from Funny-Buck-up-north can see you, Dief points out. Funny-Buck-up-north would not be much help to Boss-Ben.

"You have a point." Not-Here-Bob frowns slightly. "Very well, I will try to be subtle."

The rest of the drive to O'Hare International Airport takes place in silence.

VI. Right.

I told you that was the wrong road, Dief says smugly. We should have gone right and then left once off the Expressway, not left and then right.

Not-Here-Bob looks affronted. "Trying to communicate in a meaningful fashion with a set of diodes and transistors is not the easiest job in the world. I would like to see you try it."

Dief ignores him in favour of examining Spiky-Ray. They had gotten into an argument on which road to take just after the O'Hare exit ramp, and Not-Here-Bob had consequently (and, he claims, accidentally) set off both indicators, turned the radio on in the middle of what sounded like a Requiem mass and set off the windshield wipers and all kinds of hazard lights.

Spiky-Ray had nearly driven under a truck, and has since been crawling along at about fifteen miles an hour, expression indicating that he fully expects the steering wheel to eat him any second now.

I think he's in s-h-o-c-k, Dief ventures after a moment.

"What? Oh, the Yank," Not-Here-Bob sniffs dismissively. "No mental stability-- I've tried to warn Benton on several occasions."

Spiky-Ray is pack, Not-Here-Bob. Be nice.

"He's about to miss the turn, that's what," Not-Here-Bob moves his right arm slightly and the right indicator light clicks into life.

Spiky-Ray's hands tighten on the steering wheel and the GTO slows even further. Spiky-Ray himself looks as if he's giving serious thought to passing out.

Dief whines and half stands up on his seat, so that he can nose at the side of Spiky-Ray's face, trying to reassure him.

Spiky-Ray slowly makes the right turn, half turns his head and stares at Dief. "What the Hell is going on?"

You are better off not knowing, Dief sighs. It is quieter that way well as well.

Not-Here-Bob mutters something about uppity animals that have ideas far above their station. Dief wrinkles his nose at him in the rear view mirror. Are we nearly there yet?

Not-Here-Bob replies by cutting out the GTO's engine. Spiky-Ray doesn't make any attempt to brake, and the car glides along slowly until its front tires bump up against the curb at the end of a dead-end street. The building directly ahead of them is a large box, painted a distressed (and distressing) fashion; the sign over the main doors is peeling, but can clearly be read as MALACHI THEATRICAL AND STAGE COSTUMERS.

Diefenbaker looks up at the building, glad that he has none of that `colour vision' rubbish to deal with.

"I'll go let Benton know that you'll be along directly," Not-Here-Bob removes his hand from the depths of the back seat upholstery and waggles his fingers, apparently checking that they're still there.

Yes-- but where in the-- Dief trails to a halt as he finds himself talking to thin air and growls under his breath. Not-Here-Bob can be as irritating as a flea sometimes.

Spiky-Ray pulls the keys out of the ignition, pockets them and slowly leans forwards so that his forehead is resting in between his hands, on top of the steering wheel. "I need to stop drinking-- this is the worst hang over ever," he mumbles-- at least, that is what Dief thinks he says; it's rather hard to tell.

Spiky-Ray-- Diefenbaker nudges at Spiky-Ray's shoulder with his nose, eliciting no response. Spiky-Ray, we need to get out of the car and go into the Malachi-den to find Boss-Ben.

Still no response and Dief flattens his ears and groans, then decides to imitate his pack-alpha.

Spiky-Ray, Spiky-Ray, Spiky-Ray-- Dief paws at his arm. Spiky-Ray, Spiky-Ray, Spiky-Ray! Dief yips, sticks his nose in Spiky-Ray's ear and exhales sharply.

"Hey!" Spiky-Ray sits bolt upright and scrubs at his ear furiously with the sleeve of his coat. "--crying out loud, Dief!" Spiky-Ray twists in his seat to glare at the half-wolf.

We need to go in the Malachi-den and find Boss-Ben, Dief says slowly, and you need to get Boss-Ben to teach you to speak Canine soon. Anything further that Dief might have said is cut off when he notices two figures, one carrying a large briefcase, emerging from a side-door down near the far end of the warehouse. The man looks around furtively then scuttles after the woman, who is striding ahead; they appear to be heading towards the alley way that separates Malachi's from the next warehouse over.

Spiky-Ray! Dief jumps up, half sprawling across the human's lap as he presses his nose to the driver side window. It's the vanishing people!

Spiky-Ray tries to push Dief out of his lap, but the half-wolf refuses to be moved and Spiky-Ray finally follows his gaze, just as La Madame flicks her hair over one shoulder and turns into the alley.

"That's the bitch that got Fraser--" Spiky-Ray jerks into action, simultaneously trying to shove Dief off his lap, open the car door, pull out his bang-stick, yank out his cell phone and hit speed dial. He succeeds with the cell phone and the car door, which Dief immediately tries to jump out of, climbing over Spiky-Ray in the process. "--butt outta my face-- sir? Sorry, sir, not you, the wolf... no, listen, Lieu, we're at some warehouse dive jus' north of O'Hare; place called, uh, Malachi Theatrical and Stage Costumers and they're here-- she; that mad ham woman... what? Oh, it's uh--"

Spiky-Ray cranes his head around, looking for a street sign. The movement creates the extra space that Dief needs to slither out of the car, paws hitting the road just in time to prevent him unexpectedly somersaulting.

Come on, Spiky-Ray! Dief hops from foot to foot, tail wagging with the excitement of the hunt, watching as the human tries to get out the car, fails-- and nearly throttles himself-- because he's still wearing his seat belt, but manages on the second attempt, still taking rapidly into his phone. He then shuts the car door as quietly as he can, snaps shut the cell phone and pockets it.

"The Lieu said to wait for back-up." Spiky-Ray raises both eyebrows at Dief, "I think you're more than enough back up, huh?"

Yes! Dief bounces in place, ears pricked so hard he almost feels like they're going to fly off the top of his head.

"Thought so." Spiky-Ray grins viciously-- teeth bared, eyes hard-- pulls out his bang-stick and starts towards the alleyway at a half-run, keeping close to the side of the building.

Dief lopes along alongside him, sniffing at the air intently. The faint tang of jet fuel coats and confuses everything, but Dief can definitely smell La Madame, the magician and-- faintly-- Ben.

Spiky-Ray reaches the entrance to the alleyway, flattens himself against the dusty poured-concrete wall and ducks his head around the corner for a brief assessment of the situation. Dief steps away from Spiky-Ray's legs (he has a habit of kicking out unexpectedly when he starts running, as Dief has found to his own cost), and waits for him to act.

He doesn't have to wait long.

"Count of three," Spiky-Ray says, then springs around the corner, bang-stick up and in front, yelling, "Chicago P.D.! Freeze!"

Dief springs forwards and executes a tight turn, launching himself after Spiky-Ray and adding to his shouting with a volley of deafening barks.

Le Madame is standing frozen next to the open rear doors of a rusty, dark blue van, her expression one of utter shock as Spiky-Ray advances on her. The magician is by the passenger door, turning into the driver's cab, reaching for something.

You have hurt my pack enough, vanishing man! Dief closes on him quickly and flings himself bodily at the magician, sending them both careening into the van door and then to the floor. Growling and kicking, Dief manages to keep the upper paw, and they land hard, the magician flat on his back with Diefenbaker sitting heavily on his chest, jaws around one of his wrists, preventing him from using the knife in his hand.

Dief flicks one ear back as Spiky-Ray appears, but otherwise pays him no attention, continuing to growl at the magician.

"Drop the knife, or I let the wolf bite your arm off," Spiky-Ray says.

"Wolf?" the magician squeaks.

"Yep and you kidnapped ou-- his pack, so he's in a pissy mood right now."

The knife clatters to the ground next to the magician's right ear and Spiky-Ray steps forwards, grasping hold of the man's arm above where Dief is holding. "Okay, let him up," he says. Dief relaxes his jaws but takes his time about getting off the magician's chest.

Once the magician can sit up, Spiky-Ray hauls him to his feet and cuffs his hands behind him, before pushing him towards the rear of the van.

Dief stretches and follows. He finds that La Madame is sitting on the ground, handcuffed to the rear tow hitch. Spiky-Ray pushes the magician to sit next to her, and trains his bang-stick on them both.

"Evelyn Richeau and... I don't really care what your name is, I am arresting you on charges of theft of some stuff and the abduction of a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police--"

Dief blinks and shakes himself. Spiky-Ray, I need to go and find Boss-Ben, he says, trotting away from the trio, leaving Spiky-Ray to read the two criminals their rights... approximately. Dief is pretty sure that "--if you choose to exercise your right to an attorney, I will gladly kick him in the head--" isn't usually part of it.

Dief trots up to the side door of the Malachi warehouse and noses at it. As luck would have it, the latch hasn't engaged properly and the door swings open, letting out a gust of cool, musty air. Dief wrinkles his nose and steps slowly inside, letting his eyes adjust to the dimmer light. He can smell Ben in the air, but there's no specific direction to the faint odour.

La Madame and the magician have left a strong scent-trail though, and Dief circles around in front of the doorway for a moment, before finding the most recent trail and following it, nose a short distance from the floor.

The trail meanders through a maze of metal frame shelving units, stacked wooden crates and wheeled clothing racks stuffed with all manner of weird outfits that make Dief's nose itch with the smell of mothballs. He sneezes and snorts, then pauses, taking the time to sniff more carefully.

Boss-Ben! Dief yips and spins in a quick circle. Boss-Ben, Boss-Ben! Down the corridor formed by parallel rows of boxes, then a hard left, forcing his way under a rack full of frock coats and riding cloaks. Boss-Ben!

"Diefenbaker?" Ben's voice, croaky sounding and full of surprise, just on the other side of a set of shelves.

Dief lunges towards a gap between an astronaut's helmet and a large papier mache toadstool on the lowest shelf and wriggles through, making the whole structure creak and sway. He makes it through, just as a fake skull hits the floor next to him, cracking in half and making him spring to one side with a startled yelp.

"Diefenbaker!" And there is Ben: sitting practically in front of Dief, tied to a chair just like Not-Here-Bob had said, and looking entirely shocked.

Boss-Ben pack! Dief shouts delightedly, bouncing forwards to plant his paws on Ben's knees and sniff him thoroughly. That accomplished, Dief half-jumps into Ben's lap and messily licks his face, tail wagging the whole time.

I told Spiky-Ray that we would find you! Spiky-Ray and I are good hunters and we can always find our pack! Dief slithers out of Ben's lap, as he seems to be finding it somewhat difficult to breathe, and contents himself with sitting on the floor, tail sweeping a clean arc across the floor. How are you, Boss-Ben? We have both been very worried about you and spent lots of time looking for you even though Spiky-Ray has a h-a-n-g-o-v-e-r which is his own fault and makes him smell like the bottom left drawer in his r-e-f-r-i-g-e-r-a-t-o-r which has the forgotten bread in--

"Diefenbaker, slow down," Ben says. "Where is Ray?"

Spiky-Ray has tied the vanishing people to the back of their van and is telling them to kick their a-t-t-o-r-n-e-y-s in the head.

"Oh." This seems to stump Ben and he stares at Dief, expression confused and tired.

Dief decides to investigate Ben's restraints and sniffs around him in a circle, pausing to lick Ben's exposed hands before returning to the front. Boss-Ben, the vanishing people can do better knots than you, Dief marvels.

"Thank you, Diefenbaker, I had noticed that."

Spiky-Ray will be able to undo them, I'll go get him! Dief wheels about and gallops off in the direction of the faint breeze of fresh air that marks the open side door.

"Diefenbaker!" Ben calls behind him, but Dief ignores him and disappears around a corner.

Getting back to the side door proves a lot easier and quicker than the half-wolf expects and Dief shoots outside, barking wildly. Spiky-Ray, Spiky-Ray, Spiky-Ray!

It takes Dief a moment to find the third member of the pack; while he's been tracking down Ben, several strange men-- some wearing police uniforms-- have turned up and are busy questioning La Madame (who looks annoyed), the magician (who spots Dief and blanches) and Spiky-Ray (who is reducing one of the uniformed officers to a state of terrified silence).

Spiky-Ray! Dief skids to a halt in front of him and prances in a tight circle, barking and yipping. Come on, Spiky-Ray; I know where Boss-Ben is!

Spiky-Ray stops berating the junior officer and gives Diefenbaker a mystified look. "What's got your tail in a twist?"

Dief jumps up and snags hold of a corner of Spiky-Ray's coat, tugging at it, then turning in another tight circle before he dashes a short way towards the warehouse side door, stops and whines. You need to learn to speak more languages. This is demeaning, Dief tells Spiky-Ray. Come on!

"Jeez," Spiky-Ray mutters, "you let a wolf become your friend and you pay and pay and pay..." He starts to follow after Diefenbaker, hands stuffed in his pockets. "If you're leading me to the nearest vending machine, I'm not gonna be impressed."

Give me some credit, Dief snorts over one shoulder as he trots through the open warehouse door. He stops and checks that Spiky-Ray is following, before wagging his tail and following his own scent trail back to Ben. This way!

"Hey, hey! Will you slow down, some us feel like shit today-- Dief!"

Dief snorts and sticks his head back around a corner. Come on! he says, but before he can comment on Spiky-Ray's lack of athletic ability, the silence of the warehouse is broken.

"Ray?" Ben's voice: incredulous and close by.

Spiky-Ray trips over his own feet and stumbles to a halt. "Fraser?" He looks around wildly, then stares at Dief. "What you waiting for? Where is he?"

Typical human, Dief wrinkles his nose. Won't listen to a single thing that anyone says... He vanishes back around the corner, this time forced to move quickly in order to prevent Spiky-Ray from actually treading on his paws.

Two more turns and they have reached Ben. Dief dances forwards, tail wagging. Hello again, Boss-Ben! He can't say any more, as Spiky-Ray has barged past him and is doing his best to smother Ben.

"--freaking out! Do you have any idea how worried we were--" Spiky-Ray doesn't seem to know whether to lick Ben's mouth, hug him, or shake him by the shoulders; he compromises by doing a mix of all three while shouting nonsense.

"I'm sorry, Ray." Ben sounds contrite.

Uh, Spiky-Ray, I think you should maybe untie Boss-Ben? Dief noses at Spiky-Ray's knee, trying to get his attention. It's Ben, however, that manages to gain it.

"Diefenbaker is right-- perhaps you would be good enough to untie me?"

"Uh, right-- right." Spiky-Ray levers himself reluctantly out of Ben's lap and begins to pick at the knotted ribbons and streamers, muttering and cursing under his breath whilst Ben offers helpful pointers.

In a surprisingly short amount of time, Ben is freed and Dief huffs out a sigh as he and Spiky-Ray start licking each other's mouths. The half-wolf ignores them in favour of examining the fake skull lying on the floor, as well as the rest of the contents of the lowest shelf.

"Sorry I'm late, son-- there was a bit of trouble with my tax returns. All sorted out now, though and I just popped in to tell you that--oh."

Dief slides his gaze over to Not-Here-Bob, who is looking at Ben and Spiky-Ray with a startled expression. You're a bit late, Not-Here-Bob, Dief says with amusement.

"Hmmph," Not-Here-Bob shakes his head disapprovingly, "apparently so." He and Dief watch as Spiky-Ray helps Ben to stand up and begin to work some life back into his stiff legs.

#"Look at this--" Not-Here-Bob changes the subject, pointing to a hanging costume, "-- look at the stitching; you don't get workmanship like this any more."

Dief looks. Am I supposed to be impressed?

"This is Hannibal's costume from act two of the opera-- it's a classic, and this is a thing of beauty." Not-Here-Bob sounds offended.

Dief glances around and sees that his pack is beginning to make their way towards the exit. Dief shakes himself from head to foot and turns to leave. It looks like a cut-up old sheet and it smells like moth-balls.

"You're an animal."

Yes, I know. Dief gives the ghost a mystified look and trots after Ben and Spiky-Ray. As he leaves, he can hear Not-Here-Bob talking to the skull on the floor.

"There's no appreciation for culture anymore, it's shocking really... you know, you really do look like someone I know--"


End Six Degrees of Separation by etcetera-cat

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