It began as a series of accidents reported in the papers. Gruesome, tragic, but hardly criminal. On the surface, they didn't even seem related.
Nevertheless, something bothered Benton about them.
Ray accused him of being bored because none of his cases were weird enough for him, but he went ahead and pulled the accident reports so that Benton could ease his mind. It had the opposite effect. Once he had full access to the details, a couple of striking similarities stood out. First, the victims were not nice people. Not that they all had criminal records, but the bad impressions they left behind could easily be read between the lines of the reports and witness statements. Second, the accidents themselves seemed tailored to their victim's suspected crimes and moral failings.
Benton tapped his pen against 'his' corner of Ray's desk. He had a pattern. An improbable, insane pattern. The question was what he should -- or even could -- do about it. He already knew he wouldn't be able to let it go.
The other pattern wasn't too difficult to find, once he realized the 'accidents' were connected. The victims all lived or worked within a five mile radius of each other. From there, it was just a matter of asking people in the area whether they knew any of the victims, whether they'd seen the others, whether they'd noticed anything strange. Eventually, he found the diner. The red vinyl seats and chrome accents were practically indistinguishable from a dozen similar establishments he'd visited with Ray and then Ray over the years. The misspelled sign on the bakery case, however, indicated he might have found the right place.
"Excuse me," he said, removing his stetson as he approached the counter and the uniformed woman working behind it, who looked remarkably like an actress cast for the role of 'diner waitress' -- young and buxom but with make-up and a hairstyle that even he could tell were forty years out of date.
"Yeah, honey, what can I get you?"
"I was wondering if you recognize any of these people?" He handed her the photos.
She gave him a head-to-toe once over, then flipped through them, smacking her gum as she examined them. "Might have seen this guy around and this one," she said, flashing him the relevant photographs. "Oh, he's a regular, haven't seen him around in awhile, though, come to think of it. Yeah, she's been here. And this guy stiffed me on a tip." She got to the end of the stack and handed them back. "You should probably talk to the boss. Hey, boss!"
A "yeah, yeah!" emanated from the back, followed by a disconcerting crashing noise. The source of the noise, when he finally appeared, was a fairly nondescript, brown-haired man, slightly shorter than Benton, wearing a white t-shirt and white half apron over blue jeans. The shirt and apron were both artistically splattered with what appeared to be ketchup, and he had a smudge of flour on one cheek. Although he held a metal spatula as though he'd been pulled away from the grill, there was not a spot of grease on him. He, too, seemed more like someone playing a role in a diner than someone working in one in truth. He stared at Benton for a long, searching moment, then tossed the spatula back towards the kitchen where it landed with a clang.
"Aw, crap, you're one of ours, aren't you?" The words were annoyed, but the accompanying smile didn't match.
That... wasn't the reaction Benton had been expecting. "One of yours?"
"Yeah. Well, his," he said, gesturing to himself. "But you're his and he's mine -- anyway, I promised him I'd look out for the kids, and a promise is a promise. So!" He clapped his hands together and rubbed them. The waitress vanished, and the city outside went ominously quiet. "One favor -- a small one."
"Stop killing people," he replied promptly, certain he was dealing with the correct being even if the conversation was confusing.
"Sorry, kiddo, I said small." He whipped off his apron and walked around the counter to stare at Benton expectantly. Benton tried to come up with a differently phrased request that would have a similar effect. After a moment, the man waved his hand in a small circle. "Seriously, nothing?"
Benton gestured to the window, where the entire world appeared to have frozen between one second and the next. "I'm trying to figure out what made that favor too big when you can do something like this."
The man shrugged. "This is just a party trick. You asked me to change what I am, and that's no easy feat even when I'm properly motivated. Those jackasses got what was coming to them. I'm not sorry, and I'm not stopping, though I will move this circus along to its next stop." He hopped up on one of the stools at the counter, picked up a spoon and started eating the sundae that hadn't been there a moment before. At the setting beside him, a plate of cookies and a glass of milk appeared. "Sit, eat. Think about something you want, for you. I promise, no tricks." The smirking grin was in no wise reassuring, and yet Benton found himself sitting down and reaching for a cookie.
The man systemically demolished his sundae, and Benton ate the cookie which was every bit as delicious as it had looked. He couldn't help thinking about the offer, but bearing in mind the adage to 'be careful what you wish for,' he opted to remain silent. He'd come here seeking to protect his home in exile, to help keep it safe for Ray's sake, not to gain supernatural favors -- and in any case, all his needs were met. He didn't want for anything.
Shaking his head, the man swiped a cookie from the plate. "You are an odd one, Benton Fraser."
Startled and a little alarmed at hearing his name from the being's lips, he jerked his head towards -- an empty seat, one of only two left standing in the deserted diner. Cobwebs hung from the ceiling, the front windows were boarded over, and Benton's footsteps showed clearly in the thick dust covering the floor.
A week later, Benton was not as surprised to see Ray Vecchio back in the streets of Chicago as he perhaps should have been.