I leaned against the wall of the alley, scraping my boot down the bricks. I'd stepped in something on the way here, and I had more than a sneaking suspicion that if I could smell it above the general stench of the alley, I'd be really disgusted.
"So what the hell does this have to do with the Allied Salvage case, Fraser?"
Fraser didn't look up from the (apparently completely fascinating) mud puddle in the middle of the alley. "Mmm," he said, which roughly translated to "I'm paying absolutely no attention to you, Ray, but please, continue." I rolled my eyes. This was bullshit—I'd been off the clock for hours now, and there was a cold beer and a Hawks game at home calling my name. Not to mention, Allied Salvage wasn't even really our case, but try telling that to the Mountie.
From somewhere nearby, there came a sudden flurry of sharp barks. Fraser's head jerked up, his eyes narrowing.
"What the—is that Dief?" I demanded. The barking stopped, followed by a mournful howl, the sound bizarrely out of place in the middle of Chicago. The hairs on the back of my neck raised, and I instinctively went for my gun.
"Yes," Fraser said, and took off running without even waiting to see if I'd follow.
I sighed, jammed my glasses on, and headed off after him. After all, someone had to make sure the Mountie didn't get himself killed.
"You look like shit, mate."
"Thanks." Ray accepts a styrofoam cup of coffee from the new guy, Ollie something-or-other, from somewhere in England that isn't London or that city that the Beatles came from, which is Ray's sum total knowledge of British geography. All that it really means to him is that the new guy is even harder to understand than Dewey after oral surgery, which is pretty damned impressive, considering that they're both supposedly speaking the same language.
He's thinking about all this, trying to distract himself, because about ten yards away there's a body being loaded onto a gurney, and her picture (naked, pale, long blonde hair trailing across her face) is burned inside his retinas, and he can't make it go away. He hates this part—the part where he can't do anything except sit there and wait—can't do anything to bring her back to life, give her back the toys and homework and junior high school dances that this girl will never, ever have. Jesus, give him a car chase, give him a shootout, give him anything except this long hopeless waiting in the cold and the dark, while Fraser wanders around the riverbank sniffing things and Ray just sits here, tired and sick at heart, useless.
"He's really somefin', in't he? Your partner," the new guy says, pointing to Fraser.
And Ray is about to take offense—he's not sure if Ollie meant anything bad by that, but the problem is that everything the guy says sounds sarcastic to him—but just that moment Fraser turns and strides toward him, with that look in his eyes that says Fraser's about to tell him something crazy about mud or bugs or whatever. Ray flashes a quick grin at Ollie and says, "Yeah, he really is," and goes to meet Fraser, ready to have his life endangered in wildly bizarre ways, again.
He wouldn't have it any other way.
Greasy food has its purpose in the world. Like bad coffee and stale doughnuts, it's what keeps you going when it's three o'clock in the morning, there's a dead body in the morgue that you're going to have to look at again (no matter that you almost hurled into the bushes the first time you saw her, naked and pale, washed up on the riverbank like a broken toy), and all you really want to do is crawl into bed with a bottle of vodka and try to wash the taste of this day away. But you've got a job to do, don't you, and your crazy partner is sitting across the booth from you, red uniform unbelievably bright against the dingy faded vinyl, looking tired and drawn, still gorgeous but human right now, accessible, and much as you'd like to crawl into bed with that vodka, you'd rather crawl into his bed, pull the covers over the both of you and see exactly how human he really is, under all that red serge armor. That's not the way this story goes, though, not the way your life goes, and so you swallow the disappointment and the last bite of your burger, wash it down with bitter coffee, smile at him and say, "Pitter patter, Frase. Time to get the bad guys."
My nose was smushed up next to the stapler, but I didn't care as long as no one made me open my eyes or lift my head. The surface of the desk was cool and comforting against the side of my face, and if I kept my eyes shut I could pretend that I was somewhere, anywhere other than here. In some other universe, there was a Ray Kowalski whose crazy partner hadn't dragged him down to the dockyards to check out a lead from a case that wasn't even theirs. In some other universe, Dief hadn't found a dead girl on the riverbank. In some other universe, Mary Rose Connelly was alive and well and getting ready for another day of school.
Not in this universe.
I didn't answer. Maybe if I wished hard enough, this whole day wouldn't have happened.
"Ray. Ray. Ray!"
"What?" It came out sounding a lot less pissy than usual. I was just too tired to care.
"Ray, the lieutenant wants you to go home."
"What?" I pulled my face off the desk and brushed a paperclip off my cheek as I glared at Fraser. "I'm fine, Fraser. Tell Welsh he can stick that up his—"
"Ray!" Fraser looked horrified.
"—and twirl because there is no way—"
"Detective." The incredibly less than amused voice of God came from right behind me.
"Lieutenant," I said, turning around and attempting to look innocent.
"Constable." Welsh grimaced, looking like his acid reflux was bothering him again. "Take Detective Vecchio home and make sure he gets at least five hours of sleep before he returns to this station. Is that understood?"
"Yessir." I jerked my head at Fraser and turned to go. I'd worry about the fact that Welsh seemed to think Fraser was sleeping at my place (god, I should be so lucky) later. Right now, I had a date to keep with my bed and a bottle of Stoli, not necessarily in that order.
A quiet cough. Then: "Are you awake?"
Startled, I pull the freezer door open a little faster than I planned, causing the bottles to rattle against each other. I wince, sure that Mr. Bat Ears will correctly identify the noise as a quarter-full bottle rattling against a full bottle of Stoli.
"Uh, yeah," I say, slamming the freezer shut and leaning against the refrigerator casually. Smooth, Kowalski.
It's gotta be just past dawn. I can barely see Fraser's expression in the faint grey light. He doesn't look disapproving, so much as—sad? Upset? There's something very wrong in Fraserville, at any rate. He's lying flat on his back on my uncomfortable couch, the blanket I gave him down around his waist, revealing his white undershirt. My eyes flick briefly to below his waist as I half-guiltily wonder what else he's wearing.
"I couldn't sleep," he says.
"Yeah, I know, that couch is an instrument of fucking torture. Listen, Frase, I'll take the couch and you can—"
"I can't stop thinking about her," he interrupts. Fraser almost never interrupts.
"About the kid?" I prompt after a few moments of silence. I cross my arms over my chest, freezing in just a pair of boxer-briefs.
"Yes." Fraser sits up. Usually he's Mr. Perfect Posture, but right now he's sitting slumped, with his elbows resting on his knees and his head hanging pensively. He runs his hands though his hair and mutters, "I've been thinking about what my father would say."
Oh boy. This could be a bad one. I cross to the couch and sit down next to him, almost close enough to touch. "What would your father have said?"
"Oh, something vague and inspiring about duty and honor, I'd imagine," he says, sounding terrifyingly cynical, for him.
My mouth opens and closes a few times without any words coming out. I have no idea what to say to him to make him feel better.
"It's never enough. For every person you can help, ten more, twenty more, that you can't. Sisyphus and his boulder…" Fraser turns his hands palm-up, staring into his empty hands as if there's some kind of answer there.
"Listen, Fraser. Listen to me." I reach over and grab one of his hands, sandwiching it between both of mine. "You remember that stuff you told me about how we do this so that parents can tuck their kids in at night?"
"You were right. Okay? We can't save everyone, Fraser, no one could, but what we do helps. And you know what else? We're gonna find the sick bastard who killed her, and we're gonna make sure that he fries. Got that?"
Fraser doesn't say anything. I put my arm around his shoulders, tugging him toward me, and he doesn't resist. I press my forehead against the soft hair over his ear, closing my eyes, and hold onto him as hard as I can.