It all started with the book.
"...and Constable Luc Laberteaux has no choice but to hide Alixandra in his cabin while he fights to clear her name and prove her innocence!" Frannie said to the crowd gathered around her desk. She'd found the novel on the train and started reading it immediately. To think, if the news crew on the corner hadn't made her miss her usual train, she never would have found the book. It was fate. She sighed happily.
"Fraser would never harbor a murder suspect," Dewey said. "It'd go against his moral code."
"He hid Ray," Huey pointed out. He hadn't meant to get sucked into this, but the fax he wanted was somewhere on Frannie's desk and he couldn't get close enough to find it because his stink bomb of a partner was in the way.
Dewey scratched his cheek. "That was different."
"How is it different?"
"Ray's his partner."
"He was a murder suspect," Huey said, making sure to enunciate.
"But he was innocent!"
"So's Alixandra," Frannie interrupted. "It's a total frame job. Her ex-husband's trying to seize her mink farm or gold mine or something. Anyway, that's Luc on the cover. He's brave and handsome and in touch with his feelings." Unlike some Mounties she could name. "Isn't he wonderful?"
Luc could have been Fraser's brawny, French Canadian twin. Michael from booking agreed he was scorching hot and Sherry said he could eat trail mix in her bed any day, but Dewey thought his hair was too long. It should have been short, like Fraser's. Of course this guy had a busty chick in half a silk nightie and Fraser didn't, so he had to be doing something right.
"I wonder if they got porn with Mounties in it up there in Canada," Dewey said. The metal fan on Frannie's desk buzzed as it swung back and forth. No one spoke. "What? What'd I say? Why are you looking at me like that?"
"I hope I'm not interrupting," Welsh said, coming up behind them with a sour look on his meaty face. "But the most remarkable thing has transpired and I've travelled here to share it with you. Would you like to hear about this miracle, Detective Dewey?"
Dewey broke out into a nervous sweat. His life tried to flash before his eyes but someone must have programmed the VCR wrong because all he got was that commercial with the kids singing the Oscar Mayer song, over and over and over.
"There's been a murder," Welsh said, waiting for someone to care. He was going to be waiting a while.
Dewey was humming to himself. Huey was smiling unpleasantly, caught up in a fantasy where his partner fell in a large vat of pudding and was forced into early retirement because he could no longer take the stress of police work. Frannie wasn't allowed to solve crimes, and the new kid from Eureka was hiding in the supply closet. Every detective in Welsh's squad was either out of the building or out of their mind. Just when he thought things couldn't get any more absurd around here, they went ahead and proved him wrong. It was like watching clowns pile out of a radio car.
"Harding!" Francesca stuck a hand out and waved him over, her collection of mismatched bracelets clanging together as they slid to her elbow. "I'm reading the best book, way better than Sword of Desire. It's got a Mountie in it."
"You don't say." Welsh had no idea what he'd done to deserve this. Maybe God was punishing him for being a Cubs fan, as if that weren't already punishment enough.
"There's this part in the beginning where he rescues a helpless little puppy from these awful wolves -- here, lemme find it. I'll read it to you."
If there was a God, Cubs fan or no, he must have decided to cut Welsh a break because Frannie hadn't gotten more than a sentence out before Ray and Fraser came striding into the squad room like a couple of action heroes. Ray even had a sawed off shotgun. It was so hot outside he'd actually disarmed a wanna-be criminal by giving him a Slurpee. The kid had sucked it down so fast he crumpled in half and Ray took the gun away while he rolled around on the sidewalk clutching his head. Ray'd felt kinda sorry for him. It was a rookie mistake.
Welsh almost smiled. "Gentlemen, have I got a job for you."
Ray took his sunglasses off and hung them from the neck of his t-shirt. He scanned the report. "Dead guy. I got a stack of these on my desk. What makes this one so special?"
Francesca's Mountie radar, overloaded by the fictional Laberteaux and only functioning at half-power, finally locked onto Fraser and sounded the alarms. "Hey, Frase!" She stood up and tried to push in close to him but his puffy pants were acting like deflectors and she swore that was his elbow jabbing her in the ribs. She shook it off. "Have you ever worked with a Constable Luc Laberteaux?"
"Not that I recall," Fraser said warily, holding his hat in his hands and maintaining a defensible front.
Ray took in the scene with a glance. "That guy is fictional, Frannie."
She crossed her arms over her chest, book held in one hand. "For your information, bro, sometimes they base characters on stuff real people have done. So I'm just askin' if Fraser knows this guy. He's real tall and has thick dark hair and piercing blue eyes and he's kind to animals. You know anyone like that, Fraser?"
Fraser cleared his throat and tugged at his collar. It was obvious, to Ray at least, that Fraser was about to launch into some rambling monologue about how Canada was the second largest country in the world and the RCMP provided a total federal policing service to all Canadians as well as policing services under contract to the three territories, eight provinces (except Ontario and Quebec), approximately 198 municipalities and, under 172 individual agreements, to 192 First Nations communities. Then maybe he'd throw in a story about how his detachment was once the subject of a public radio segment on illegal beaver trapping. Just to make sure everyone was nice and bored. It was amazing Fraser was as well liked as he was considering he spent a good deal of his time making people wish he'd go away.
Ray took pity on him. "We gotta roll. Left the wolf in the car."
"Yes!" said Fraser. "Right you are, Ray. Francesca, Lieutenant Welsh, De--" Ray hauled him off before he said goodbye to the entire building. Fraser gave a crisp wave over his shoulder.
"We got a case," Ray told him. "Dead guy in the carpet district."
"I wasn't aware Chicago had a carpet district."
"Nah, it ain't official or nothing," Ray said. "I just bought a rug there once."
The day he'd signed the divorce papers he'd gone home to his crappy post-Stella apartment, kicked the table over, then gave some serious thought to getting shit-faced. She'd never even set foot in the door, but there was still space for her there, holes on the wall where her upwardly mobile, yet totally ugly, modern art would have hung, a spot on the kitchen counter for her keys, a whole side of the bed he never slept on. Then he stopped thinking about getting drunk and went out and did it. He woke up on the floor the next morning, a turtle staring at him through the holes in its battered shoe box. The rug was sleeping in his bed. He didn't remember much about the night before, but apparently at some point it had involved a rug and turtle store.
Enough time had passed that the memory was almost more funny than it was pathetic. Almost. And he liked the rug, though Stella would have hated it.
They stepped outside and headed for the parking lot. Ray put his sunglasses back on, and Fraser donned his hat, swiping his thumb along the brim like he did when he was feeling jaunty. It was all an act. The fact of the matter was the temperature was in the nineties and he was wearing wool.
When they got to the car, Dief was sitting in the driver's seat with a soft pretzel and a lemonade.
"I do wish you'd pay more attention to your diet," Fraser said, frowning at the empty calories. Diefenbaker had an unhealthy fondness for simple carbohydrates that Fraser could not break him of, no matter how many times he explained their lack of nutritional value. "You should eat more leafy greens."
Dief whined, letting him know what he could do with his leafy greens. It wasn't like there were a lot of kale vendors in Chicago, and the hot dog guy wouldn't take Dief's money after what happened last time. He had to take what he could get. He was a wolf.
"Then I suggest you act like one. Perhaps you'd like to start by walking to the crime scene." Fraser waited patiently for Diefenbaker to concede, but Ray didn't have time for that. He jerked a thumb over his shoulder. "Move it, fur face, I'm drivin'."
The wolf jumped into the back seat with his pretzel and Ray picked up the slobbery lemonade with two fingers and set it out on the asphalt. It no longer freaked him out that Fraser talked to Dief. These days he was more worried that their conversations were starting to make sense.
Their dead guy had a hole in his head and half a pair of toy handcuffs, just a bracelet trailing a couple of chain links on his left wrist.
"He was attached to someone," Ray said.
Fraser knelt beside the body on the loading dock. "Or something."
"So where's his missing half?"
A uniform ambled up with his notepad. "Got the call at 7:34 am, shots fired. Paramedics pronounced him at 7:56. Victim's got nothing on him 'cept the clothes on his back and the bullet in his head. He's all yours."
"Mystery dead guy," Ray muttered, keeping an eye on Fraser in case he tried to taste something, but Fraser was more interested in a hair he'd found on the victim's sleeve. He studied it with jeweler's loupe, then dropped it into an evidence bag and passed it to Officer Penado, who took it with a sneer. He was going to have to log it now and his name was going to be on the paperwork and he'd get called in to testify if this ever went to court. He fucking hated court.
Ray snapped his fingers at Penado to bring him out of his belligerent daze. "Hey, do we know why this guy's suddenly taking a concrete nap?"
"Fuck I know. We got an eye witness. Ask her."
Mercedes al-Barazi was sitting on a fake Louis XIV chair outside the flea market next door, drinking a half-caf skinny mocha latte and talking on her cell phone. She hung up when she saw them. "I suppose you want to ask me some questions."
She had a classy accent, like someone off one of those public television shows Fraser was always watching. She was smart and sexy and thought she was better than him. Just Ray's type. He grinned at her, but Fraser already had all her attention.
"Did you see what happened, Ms. al-Barazi?" Fraser asked.
"Part of it. I was in the store looking at a set of antique egg cups when I heard a shot. I went to the window and saw a man with a gun and a red lunchbox--"
"A lunchbox," Ray muttered. "What kind of a bozo carries their valuables in a lunchbox?"
"--or something shaped like one. He got into a white Cadillac parked on the wrong side of the street and turned left at the alley. The car had Illinois plates M-O-N-E-Y."
Fraser nodded. "That's very good, thank you."
"Hold on," Ray said, suspicious. "You got the plates? Are you for real?"
"It was a word. It wasn't difficult to remember."
Ray squinted across the street. "But how did you see 'em?"
"I have perfect vision, detective."
"Good for you," he said, patting down his pockets to make sure he had his glasses with him in case he needed to shoot someone later.
"Ms. al-Barazi." Fraser took off his hat and began the delicate process of apologizing for Ray's behavior while still making it seem like he was defending him. "You'll have to excuse my partner. Normally our witnesses' accounts suffer from a lack of clarity and no great attention to detail. You, on the other hand, have delivered a remarkably cogent statement. May I inquire as to what you do for a living?"
Now it was her turn to be suspicious. "I'm a translator. I work at the Algerian Embassy in Ottawa."
Fraser was delighted to meet a fellow member of the diplomatic diaspora. No one else understood what it felt like to serve your country by living in another. Ray watched him light up and say something in French. She replied, then said something in some other language and Fraser tried that one too and laughed. Ray stomped off to the car. Except for a few Polish swear words, the only language he spoke was English and he didn't even do that one too good.
"Et les pamplemousses en petits--" Fraser broke off as Ray pounded down the steps to the street. "Excuse me, Mercedes, thank you for all your help."
He inclined his head, put his hat back on, and leapt off the loading dock after his partner. He left so abruptly it wasn't until several hours later that she realized she hadn't told him about the kangaroo.
Ray sat in the car with the radio in his hand.
He thought he'd gotten over this. He'd been fine for weeks. Hadn't once thought how good Fraser's ass looked in those stupid Mountie pants. He'd kept his hands and his queer thoughts to himself and he'd been fine. Okay, maybe he'd had a couple impure thoughts about Fraser's ass, but he couldn't help the places his mind went when he was alone and horny and sorta drunk. Still, he was supposed to be playing it cool. Getting all pissy and jealous just because Fraser smiled at some woman who could speak three languages was not cool.
He groaned and bounced his head off the steering wheel a few times. "I suck."
Dief licked his ear.
"Ray?" Fraser set his hat on the dash and got in the car. "Is something wrong?"
"Just wanted to get on those plates." Forehead still pressed to the steering wheel, he brought the radio to his mouth and got Frannie on the line. "I need some tags run, Frannie."
Her voice crackled from the speaker: "What's the magic word?"
"I need some goddamn plates run," Ray said, then winced. "Please."
"Sheesh, someone fell asleep on the wrong side of the bed last night." She dog-eared the page she was on -- Luc and Alix had just gotten into a huge fight because Luc thought she'd lied to him -- and moved over to her computer.
Ray didn't bother to correct her, just thumped his head against the steering wheel. Fraser wanted to intervene, but when Ray got like this it was often better to just let him bang his head against things. As odd as it was, it tended to calm him down, or at least wear him out.
"Ms. al-Barazi didn't recognize the man with the gun," Fraser reported, getting his notepad out to pass the time. "She described him as white."
Another blow to the steering wheel.
"She said she might be able to identify him if she saw him again, but I'm afraid she's only in town for her sister's wedding. That gives us a rather limited period in which to find the shooter."
The radio squealed.
"Ray, you there? The car's a 1977 Cadillac Eldorado. It belongs to Jonathan Kasch. K-A-S-C-H." Frannie gave him the address. "He's got priors for assault."
"Ka-ching!" Ray sat up, making the international hand signal for money. To Fraser, unversed as he was in the language, it looked more like Ray was piloting an invisible tugboat or perhaps milking a goat.
"What's wrong with the Yank?" Bob Fraser asked from the backseat.
"I can't say."
"Is it a distress signal? Do you think he's choking?"
"On what?" Fraser scoffed.
Ray glanced over at him. "You can't say on what?"
"I can't say that I've ever seen that particular gesture before," Fraser said smoothly. "What is it meant to represent?"
"Money, you know, like--" Ray demonstrated a few variations until it lost all meaning and he wasn't even sure what he was doing anymore, then he stopped. "I don't know."
"Ah," said Fraser.
"Maybe he hit his head," his father offered. "Check his eyes."
Dief hated it when the dead guy came along.
"Call me Johnny" was the first thing Jonathan Kasch said to them after he opened the door. He was twenty-three and gorgeous, even half awake and with the kind of bed head money couldn't buy. His wife beater showed off his sculpted chest and the pointy black tattoos on his arms. He made Ray feel old.
"All right, Johnny," Ray said. "Is that your Cadillac parked in the driveway?"
"Where were you this morning around seven?
Johnny scratched his stubble. "Here?"
"Are you asking me?"
"Look, man, I just woke up." He flashed his killer grin at Ray. "I'm not in any trouble, am I?"
The kid had an amazing smile, and if Ray was going to be queer -- and it looked like he was -- then he figured he got to enjoy stuff like that. So when Dief jumped out of the car, Ray was distracted by Johnny, Fraser was distracted by Ray's distraction, and neither of them noticed the kangaroo. By the time they did, it was too late.
Fraser had told Diefenbaker to stay in the car, but the dead guy was telling a story about the time Grizzly Flanders had accidentally made a pass at Polecat Barnum and got thrown into jail for inciting a riot.
"Of course it was an honest mistake," Bob said. "Polecat was wearing a dress at the time because he'd just stepped out of the community theatre's auditions for--"
Dief stepped over the old guy and bailed out the open window. Because he was a wolf, he spotted the kangaroo immediately. It was lurking in the doorway behind Kasch, picking its way nervously across the carpet and fine-tuning its seditious marsupial plots. Dief lunged between Ray and Fraser and into the house. The kangaroo darted down the hall, through the kitchen and out the doggie door in back, Dief in pursuit. Fraser didn't want to leave Ray alone with Johnny -- the young man seemed to have a strange hold over him -- but it couldn't be helped. He got to the back door just in time to see Dief disappear over the fence.
"That was a fucking kangaroo!" Ray said from behind him. Johnny yawned.
"Oh dear," Fraser said. "I do apologize. He doesn't react well to marsupials. Where he comes from they're practically unheard of. I'm sure he won't do anything rash. He's more curious than anything."
Johnny shrugged. "Whatever. It's not mine."
"You have a kangaroo in your house and it's not yours?" Ray said.
"It's more of a wallaby," Johnny said, about to smile again. Fraser stepped between Ray and the suspect.
"Mr. Kasch, did you lend your car to anyone today?"
"Nope," said Johnny.
He didn't own a gun, half a pair of handcuffs, or a red lunchbox either.
Johnny frowned. "Lunchbox?"
"We have an eye witness that places you and your car at Stagnitta Imports at 7:30," Ray said, hoping to cut this short. "Any idea how that is?"
"Oh," Johnny said, "you must be looking for my twin brother Murl."
This made Ray grouchy. He was old and stupid and he had a thing for his partner. He didn't have time for this evil twin crap today. "Don't tell me. Murl Haggard?"
Johnny looked surprised. "You know him?"
They took a look in Johnny's car, but didn't find anything useful, like a murder weapon or a signed confession. The alleged Murl supposedly had a set of keys to the Cadillac, but he was at work. Johnny watched from the porch, sitting on an empty keg and eating a piece of pizza he'd found on the kitchen counter. Ray was sure the kid was guilty of something. He probably hadn't killed anyone, but nobody looked that innocent without having something to hide.
Ray tossed the spare tire back into the trunk. "What do you wanna bet it's illegal to have a kangaroo in the house like that?"
"Hm," Fraser said, then realizing Ray expected an answer, looked up from his inspection of the rear bumper. "Why on earth are you asking me? I don't have the slightest clue."
"You, what--" Ray spluttered.
"Even I have my limits," Fraser said, crouched at Ray's feet, a smile teasing the corner of his mouth.
Ray stared down at him, at his hand braced on his thigh, the little frown lines between his eyes. He'd taken his hat off to look over the car and his hair was stuck to his forehead in dark sweaty points. This was Fraser. Sometimes Ray lost him under all that red serge, forgot that in Fraser's case the clothes didn't make the man, they hid him. The real Fraser giggled at his own jokes. He got frustrated when people didn't listen to him. He yelled at the TV during hockey games and made funny faces at babies. He was a real guy, and the way he licked his bottom lip drove Ray absolutely crazy. So crazy it was all he could do not to grab Fraser by the neck and haul him up to do some licking of his own.
He spun around and slammed the trunk. "Let's see if Johnny wants to go for a ride."
Fraser blinked and got to his feet. Ray had been acting strange lately, staring at him, then looking away abruptly, heart rate elevated, cheeks flushed, pupils dilated. In anyone else, Fraser would have classified the behavior as desirous but Ray didn't seem aware of it half the time. The day they'd met, Ray had made it quite clear that any advances Fraser might make would be unwelcome, and Fraser had honored his wishes, doing his best not to touch Ray's calves or inner thighs except in the case of extreme emergency. It was a mental loophole Fraser was rather proud of, as they often found themselves in situations that made it necessary for Fraser to touch Ray, and, really, it'd be nearly impossible to prove Fraser occasionally got them into such scrapes on purpose, or that not all of the post-trauma inventory wasn't strictly necessary.
Ray clomped up the porch steps. "You said that kangaroo wasn't yours. Whose is it?"
"Murl," Ray muttered. He hadn't even met the guy and already he hated him. "Why don't you hop in the car, Johnny? You can tell us some more about your brother."
"Sure." Johnny looked around for shoes, found a pair of flip flops under a box and stuck them on his feet. He left his pizza on the porch railing. "I got work later though."
When no hairy hearing-impaired Canadians snapped up the crust, Ray remembered they were missing part of their international crime fighting team. "Hey, what about the wolf?"
Fraser came back from whatever far off place he'd been visiting in his head. "Oh, I suspect he's sulking somewhere, having discovered that his pursuit of the kangaroo was in error. He'll return in his own time."
Several blocks away, Dief sniffed the side of a dumpster. The marsupial was clever, but disorganized. It had the attention span of a French fry. Mm, French fries. They were still warm and he ate a couple before continuing on. It had definitely come this way.
Johnny was happy to come back to the station with them to answer some questions about his brother, but Fraser doubted his enthusiasm stemmed from civic duty. There was something curious about him, and he kept smiling at Ray. They put him in an interview room with a soda and a bag of chips from the snack machine, then had a short conference in the hall:
"I'm going to see if Johnny's brother has any prior convictions or outstanding warrants. Like yourself, I have some measure of doubt that Johnny actually has a twin, but if he does have one, I'll contact Ms. al-Barazi and see if she's available to identify the man she saw today. Though that could pose a problem if the brothers are, in fact, identical."
"I'm gonna take a leak."
That decided, they went their separate ways.
Frannie had her glasses on and her nose in her book. She caught a flash of red in her peripheral vision, though, and quickly pulled the glasses off. There was only one thing in the city that particular shade of red. In the beginning, she'd had a couple of false positives with various doormen and elevator operators and that first Christmas had been hell with the bright red Santa Clauses in all the department stores, but eventually she'd developed a sixth sense about which red meant Fraser. Even then he sometimes messed her up by wearing jeans, or that brown uniform which was so totally boring it made him look like a park ranger. She didn't have an extra sense for that.
"Fraser! Can I ask you a question about Mountie stuff?"
"Certainly, Francesca," Fraser said, pleased someone was finally showing an interest in the rich tradition of RCMP protocol.
"Okay, so, in my book? When Constable Luc Laberteaux is making love to the feisty secre--"
Fraser fled, bright pink.
"Heh, Caroline and I used to play a little game like that," Bob said, reading over Frannie's shoulder. "Though never with the lanyard. It chafes, you know."
Fraser hurried down the hall, irritated with himself. This was his own fault. He'd played dumb with Francesca, and now she was treating him like he was dumb. If only that were actually the problem. Frannie was a delightful young woman, but if she became any more direct, one of them was going to be slapped with a sexual harassment suit. He ducked into the men's room. It seemed unlikely she'd follow him in there.
Ray was at the sink, washing his hands. "Got something?"
And normally it'd take Fraser ten minutes to answer that question, so right away Ray knew something was up. In the mirror, Fraser's reflection looked spooked and a little annoyed, like he did when he'd made a mistake.
"Did you talk to Frannie?" Ray asked. There weren't any paper towels so he wiped his hands on his shirt, making a big wet spot that Fraser found unduly distracting.
He ran a thumb over his eyebrow. "I spoke to Ms. Vecchio, yes. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say she spoke to me."
"Oh no." Ray leaned back against the sink. It was going to leave a wet stripe along the seat of his pants, and once they left the bathroom, Fraser would be unable to look directly at him until it dried. Ray went on, oblivious, "What'd she say this time?"
"Nothing important," Fraser said.
That wasn't the right answer either. Ray pointed at him, all puffed up like an angry cat. "It's that book, isn't it? She's gettin' all wound up over that fake Mountie and taking it out on you. Someone oughta point out that you're a real person, with real actual feelings."
Ray took a step toward the door, volunteering himself to set Frannie straight on the matter, but Fraser darted in front of him. "No, Ray. She's not hurting anyone."
"Are you and I on different planets again?" Ray narrowed his eyes at him. "Because I seen what you look like when she's got you cornered, and it ain't pretty."
"I don't want to make her uncomfortable," Fraser said, which was true, though not entirely the truth. His real reason was far more self-serving, as there were times when saying no made you much more vulnerable than simply not answering.
"Listen." Ray went to take Fraser's thick head in his hands, ready to shake some sense into him, but the moment he touched Fraser it was suddenly too personal, too much of what he wanted, and he let go with a showy gesture like a tent preacher casting the demons out.
"I know you don't wanna hurt her feelings, but if you're not interested, you gotta tell her. She's got this whole thing in her head of how it's going to be once you finally notice her, and the longer you wait, the harder it's going to be for her to get over it." Then, a horrible thought. "Unless you're, you're really...are you? Interested?"
God, he was an idiot. Frannie wasn't the only one making a fool out of herself over the Mountie, but at least she had an actual chance with him. They'd get married and Ray would be the one crying at the wedding. Him and Ma Vecchio.
But Fraser just tilted his head. "No, not in Francesca."
That was good. For Ray. Bad for Frannie, but good for him. "You maybe got your eye on someone else?"
It wasn't in Fraser's nature to take what he wanted. He had been raised not to draw attention to himself, to keep the peace, and he had learned the hard way that satisfying his own base needs was never worth the cost. But if Ray were to make an overture, surely then Fraser could be excused the indulgence. It would be mutual, harmless.
"Maybe," Fraser agreed, looking steadily at Ray, whose palms were sweating.
Ray wanted to kiss him. He would have if Welsh hadn't walked in.
The scene: A detective and his liaison stand toe to toe by the urinals and look deep into each other's eyes.
It was the kind of thing Welsh didn't like to see in the men's room. To their credit, they sprang apart as soon as they spotted him. Or, Ray sprang. Fraser just went straight up, drawing on an unknown reserve of attention and gaining several inches of height. It was possible he was secretly seven feet tall.
"Sir!" said Fraser.
"This is not the place for a staring contest," Welsh said.
"Of course not!" Fraser replied, somehow getting even taller.
Welsh went into a stall and locked the door. "Leave me now."
"Okay," Ray said, feeling jittery from the near miss. Fraser held the door open and Ray lurched out into the hall. "I'll talk to Frannie. You see if Johnny has anything to say."
Ray took a detour past the snack machine and armed himself with a bag of M&Ms. He wasn't hungry, but he needed something to do with his mouth. He almost kissed Fraser in the bathroom. He was beyond unhinged. He was unscrewed.
"Yo, Frannie, I need to find a guy."
"Tell me about it," she said. "It's just like in my book when Alix's best friend goes to the attachment because she hasn't seen Alix in days and she's really worried, but Luc's best friend -- he's a Mountie too -- he can't tell her anything because..."
Ray may or may not have blacked out. When he came to, Frannie was still talking.
"--that's why Frase ran off? Maybe the question I asked him was top secret, like sensitive government information I shouldn't know because I'm not Canadian. Maybe he thinks I'm a spy!"
And Ray was the Easter Bunny. "That's great, Frannie. Can we do some police work now?"
"I guess. What do you need?"
"Look up Murl Haggard," Ray said. "M-U-R-L."
She poked it into the computer. "What kinda name is Murl?"
Ray tried to do some deep breathing exercises Fraser had taught him.
"A dumb one," she muttered, getting an error. She tried another database. "It does sound sorta familiar, though. Huh." She brought up a new screen. "No record, but here, is that him?"
The picture was awful, like someone had forced Murl to stand against a wall, then told him no one would ever love him and he would die hungry and alone. The birth date matched Johnny's, but the photo was so overexposed it was impossible to tell if his face did.
"Yeah, print that out for me."
"I wonder where I heard his name before."
"Got me," Ray said, standing over the printer and urging it on as it wheezed and clanked.
"Maybe I went to school with him."
"Maybe you heard him on the radio," Ray said, using that sarcastic tone of voice that always made people want to punch him.
She frowned. "No, that's not it."
Huey and Dewey walked in dragging a skinny guy in a brown cardigan, followed by a nervous woman with a clipboard and an onlooker inexplicably wearing a ruffled collar and a kilt. Two teenagers circled them like drunken electrons.
"O Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou Romeo?" cried the girl. She wore a sundress over a pair of ragged jeans, like Juliet had been raised in a commune instead of a castle.
Romeo was wearing eyeliner. He struck a dramatic pose. "Shall I hear more, or shall I speak at this?"
Huey herded them over to his desk and made them sit down, but Juliet popped up a second later. "'Tis but thy name that is my enemy!" She climbed onto her chair, and Frannie dropped her book and hurried over to see if Juliet was suffering from anything the snack machine could cure or if she needed an actual doctor.
The guy in the cardigan had taken his role as apothecary a little too seriously and now Romeo and Juliet, both underage, were higher than two kites and waiting for their parents to come pick them up. A small riot had broken out during rehearsal when Juliet claimed to have seen a kangaroo backstage. Romeo insisted it was a wolf, and in the resulting stampede, Tybalt got pushed off the stage and broke his leg and Mercutio called 911. Officers at the scene saw no wildlife, just two extremely high teenagers who were more than willing to point a theatric finger at the apothecary.
"Call me but love, and I'll be new baptized!" Romeo said, reaching up to Juliet.
With all the iambic pentameter flying around, Ray figured no one would notice if he walked out of there with Frannie's novel. He owed it to Fraser. If anyone was going to torment the guy with Mountie porn, it was going to be Ray. He stuck the book in his back pocket and went to collect his partner.
Murl Haggard didn't have a record, but he did work for the DMV, which, to Ray's way of thinking, was a strong indication of a deranged mind. It also explained the photo.
Thirty people were sweating in the waiting room's yellow plastic seats, fanning themselves with their paperwork. There was only one window open at the counter. Ray stopped at the booth where you got a number and flashed his badge at the woman inside it.
Fraser tipped his hat. "Good afternoon."
"Is Murl Haggard here?" Ray asked, feeling like an idiot.
"I'd have to check," she said.
"We'd like to speak with him if it's possible," Fraser said.
"I'm sorry," she said, not sounding sorry at all, "but you'll have to take a number and wait your turn like everyone else."
Ray leaned over the counter to glare at her better. "Look, lady, I'm not here to get my license renewed."
"Ray," Fraser said.
"I'm a detective with the CPD," said Ray, medium-loud.
"You'll have to take a number, sir."
"I don't want a number!" Ray yelled. People were staring, but, like the undead or the heavily sedated, they were looking through him rather than at him. Apparently it was impossible to make a scene at the DMV. But if anyone could do it, it was Ray. Fraser had a tremendous amount of faith in him.
"Ray, perhaps this would go better if Mr. Haggard weren't expecting us."
"I can't help you without a number."
"--lording your tiny power over--"
Fraser pulled a number from the lolling tongue of the dispenser. The lighted sign over the counter indicated they were now serving twenty-three. His ticket said forty-eight.
"Ray," Fraser said into his ear, "let's go sit down."
Ray growled, but Fraser was reasonably certain it wasn't at him. They got seats by a fake ficus that had several cigarette butts stubbed out in its fake dirt. Ray found a toothpick in his pocket and stuck it in the corner of his mouth. He squirmed in his plastic chair. "I hate this place."
"Now, Ray. Try to look at it as an opportunity to observe--"
This time when Ray growled, Fraser knew exactly who it was directed at.
On the way there, Ray had tried to warn him that the employees at the DMV weren't real people. They maybe looked and smelled real, but they were actually soulless drones from outer space who wanted nothing more than for all of humanity to be stuck in plastic chairs listening to soft rock hits until the end of time. Fraser had dismissed Ray's concerns as ridiculous, but now he was starting to wonder if he hadn't been hasty in that.
"Um, is it possible the heating system is on?" Fraser asked.
Ray gave him an I told you this was hell on Earth look, but Fraser just took his hat off and wiped his forehead with his handkerchief, sending his hair up in sweaty spikes. He looked good messy, and Ray suddenly had to find something else to look at before he lost all control over himself and grabbed Fraser by his punked out hair. There was a driver's manual on the seat next to him, but once you've driven a burning car into Lake Michigan, things like right-of-way no longer held any appeal. He tossed it back.
He'd stuck Frannie's book in his jacket pocket before leaving the station, thinking he could dump it somewhere, but since he had it he figured he might as well take a look at it. The book fell open to what was obviously a favorite passage and Ray slouched in his chair to hide the cover and started reading. He landed right in the middle of a sex scene, the French Mountie all over some chick with a heaving bosom. It was like porn, only with more talking about feelings. He turned the page.
Fraser, having acquainted himself with his surroundings and formulated three different escape routes in case of fire or flooding, looked over to find Ray sprawled out in his seat with a paperback. "Is that Francesca's book?"
"Yeah," Ray said. "She let me borrow it."
"Somehow I doubt that," Fraser said.
"Okay, so maybe I took it."
"No way, Fraser. It had to be done. She was one step away from jumping you and acting out the dirty parts. That's not buddies."
"Indeed." Fraser cleared his throat. "I was going to say thank you."
"Well, good," Ray went on, still reading. "'Cause this is one kinky Mountie. He'll put his mouth anywhere. I mean, back here he's sucking on her toes."
Fraser got a sudden flash of Ray stretched out on his back, not even naked, just barefoot, shirtless, biting his lip while Fraser knelt at the foot of his bed, holding Ray's ankle in one hand, running his tongue up the sole of his foot, biting gently at the arch. Ray's stuttered breath as Fraser took his big toe into his mouth.
"Sounds like something you'd do," Ray said, and Fraser's fantasy popped like a soap bubble. The tips of his ears went red.
"He's flirting with you, son," Bob said. "I can't say that I approve."
Ray chewed on his toothpick. "You're always putting weird things in your mouth."
"You see what he did there?"
"Yes," Fraser said slowly, answering both Ray and his father. "I'm known for that, aren't I?"
"Still, he cares for you. That's obvious enough, and he hasn't shot you yet. Maybe it's for the best." Bob sighed and took a seat on the other side of Ray. "You can always trade up later."
Fraser concentrated on ignoring his father. Unfortunately, this took up most of his mental resources and he didn't hear what Ray said in response. It wasn't easy to ignore Bob Fraser. Especially when he was wearing that hat with the antlers on.
After what had happened in the bathroom, Ray thought he and Fraser were on their way somewhere, but here he was, trying to flirt with Fraser -- and, yeah, maybe he was doing it wrong, he was new at this -- but Fraser didn't even seem to be listening. Fraser didn't look even remotely flirty. Fraser looked like a guy who'd put his keys down somewhere in the Yukon and was trying to mentally retrace his steps. Either he was letting Ray down easy, or Ray was full of it and they weren't going anywhere.
He really hated the DMV.
The number changed from twenty-three to twenty-four and the clerk at the window put a hand up and made a sharp come-here gesture. A woman with three kids and the wrong paperwork scurried forward. Ray gave up on flirting and pulled out their blurry picture of Murl. "Do you think that's him?"
"Who else would wear that hat?" Fraser muttered.
Ray bowed his head and ran both hands backwards through his hair. "Why me?"
"Oh," said Fraser, picking up the photo. "There's a resemblance, yes."
Twenty-four got sent back to her seat with a new set of forms to fill out, and Ray slid up to the window before the clerk could call twenty-five. He looked nothing like Johnny. His brother was blonde-haired, blue-eyed and gorgeous. Murl was greasy-haired, weasel-eyed and his white oxford was buttoned up to the neck. Not even Fraser buttoned his shirts that high.
"Isn't that what the sign says?" Murl snapped, flinging a hand at the name plate slotted into the window. It identified him as Shirley Dalbeck-Stabenau.
"Great." Ray flipped open his badge. "We'd like to ask you some questions."
Ray pressed his shield against the window. "Do you not see this?"
"Your authority isn't recognized here," Murl said, making Ray laugh in hysterical disbelief.
"What the fuck? Since when is the DMV a sovereign nation? Fraser, help me out here."
"Mr. Haggard, if y--"
"Nice try," Murl said smugly, "but bringing the Canadians into this will only hurt your case."
Ray shoved in front of Fraser and beat on the foggy plexiglass with his fist. The time for diplomacy was over. "What have you been doing, Murl? Where were you this morning? What'd you take from the guy you shot in the head? Where's the gun?"
"Ray!" Fraser said. Half of the time Ray exploded like this, he was putting on a show for the suspect. Ray was so good at losing his temper that Fraser could never tell when he was faking. Either way, he'd learned to treat each outburst as if someone was in imminent danger of getting their head kicked in. It made for good theatre. Not that anyone in the DMV seemed to care.
"I'll get you, Murl, and your kangaroo, too!"
Murl's blue eyes went wide in shock. Fraser pulled Ray back, apologized to Murl and led Ray outside with a firm hand on his back.
"Did you see that?" Ray said, bouncing on his toes and throwing mock punches at Fraser's shoulder. "It's him. I know it."
"We have no evidence linking him to the crime. No motive, means, or opportunity."
"He did it." Ray unlocked the car, took his jacket off and tossed it in the back seat. Because his shoulder holster had a tendency to draw attention, he tried not to go out in public without a coat, but he had his limits. He had no idea how Fraser could go traipsing around the city in that wool get-up in this heat. If it were him, he'd take off the tunic, the suspenders, the henley, the boots--
"Perhaps we should find some evidence, then," Fraser said, unknowingly breaking into Ray's fantasy where he took off Fraser's tunic and suspenders and henley and boots. "In my experience, it's difficult to get a conviction based solely on gut instinct."
"Pfft," Ray said. "What do you know about gut instinct?"
"Funny you should mention it. I just recently read a treatise..."
Meanwhile, back in the DMV, Murl closed his window and called his brother. The machine picked up, which meant the lazy bastard was still asleep and Priscilla was safely locked in the bathroom. The police had nothing on him. He decided to celebrate with an extra-long lunch. He put up his will return at sign with the missing clock arms and went into the break room.
"That boy reminds me of Crazy Steve Okpik. They never did find his other boot." Bob peered at his ticket. It had an i on it. He looked at the biker sitting next to him. "Trade you?"
The marsupial was smelling a cart of half-off items outside a used bookstore when Diefenbaker came around the corner. It flicked an ear at him.
Dief had been tracking the kangaroo for most of the afternoon, but now that he'd caught up with it, he wasn't all that interested in what it had to say. Also, he was hungry. He sat down and thought about lunch.
The kangaroo browsed through a stack of old Rolling Stones.
Fraser and Ray sat in the parking lot for a while, but after twenty minutes, Fraser had unfastened his collar, a sure sign he was one step away from heat stroke. Murl hadn't left the building to destroy evidence or make a run for Canada, and Ray was already thinking about leaving when Frannie called to say the autopsy results were back. She didn't have any specifics because Mort refused to divulge that kind of information over the phone. Ray hated the morgue, but Mort liked to put on a show and it was always possible Fraser'd want to lick something, so they headed back to the station. If asked, Fraser would have denied pushing his face into the blast of the a/c vents.
Ray parked on the street, dodged the news crew on the corner and loped up the steps, Fraser following sedately along behind. Inside, they found Johnny leaning against the intake desk.
"Mr. Kasch," Fraser said. "You understand you're free to go?"
"Sure, I'm just gonna stick around here a while longer."
Ray couldn't imagine voluntarily hanging around a police station if you'd just killed someone. Johnny wasn't the brightest bulb on the string, but even he had to know that wasn't a great idea. Further evidence that Murl was the guilty twin. "Hey, Johnny, you said Murl was your twin brother."
"But he doesn't look anything like you."
"Oh, we're not identical or anything, we had different fathers," Johnny said, as if that didn't raise more questions than it answered. Fraser opened his mouth to explain the mechanics of fraternal twins, then thought the better of it.
Ray just ignored that bit of information. "Your brother's a real piece of work."
"You should have seen him in high school," Johnny said.
Michael from booking came around the corner with two paper-wrapped sandwiches and handed one to Johnny. They were going to have sex after Michael got off from work. Hard, sweaty, uncomplicated sex. Ray envied them. If he was lucky, he might get a sandwich. If he was really lucky, the wolf wouldn't have drooled on it first.
It was the little things.
The morgue was full of dead people and Ray went in sideways, carefully not looking at anything. "What do we know, Doc?"
"He's dead!" Mort announced, his accent making him sound like a cheerful vampire.
Fraser went over to observe Mort's findings while Ray clung to the coat rack like a man on a sinking ship. He could hear noises, Mort and Fraser talking, something sort of wet, a squish, a crunch. His shoulders hunched up around his ears and the world started to tilt backwards.
"Excuse me a moment," Fraser said to Mort, watching Ray and the coat rack starting to topple. Fraser took two big steps, righted the coat rack and transferred Ray to the file cabinet, which was far sturdier and less likely to tip over. Ray hugged himself to its metal breast.
"I'm okay, I'm okay."
"Are you sure?" Fraser asked.
This was not true, but Fraser let him have his pride, illusory as it was.
"You got any ID on this guy?" Ray yelled over his shoulder, his eyes squeezed shut.
"Not yet," Mort said.
Fraser returned to the body. The victim was a thirtyish caucasian male, perfectly healthy if one discounted the bullet hole in his forehead, which, after some poking around, Mort had declared to be the cause of death.
"Bullet is a small caliber, maybe a .22," he said. "I had to dig it out of his skull."
"It was in there pretty good," Mort confided.
"Did you find anything that might point to why he was killed? Or by whom?"
Mort threw up his hands. "He had perfect teeth. Beautiful teeth!"
Fraser pondered that as a motive for murder while Mort started humming Largo al factotum from The Barber of Seville and moved on to his next guest. It was cool in the morgue and Fraser would have liked to stay a while longer, but he thought he'd better check on Ray as Ray always left the morgue feeling like he had something to prove. It was hard to predict exactly what form it would take, but in past times Ray had thrown a fax machine across the squad room, gotten into a shouting match with a pimp, and, on one memorable occasion, given himself a black eye.
Ray wasn't in the hall or harassing anyone on the stairs, so Fraser paused at the water fountain for a drink. He didn't mean to overhear the conversation going on in the restroom, but it shared a wall with the water fountain and suddenly, without knowing why, he could hear three women talking about him.
"--like in the book."
"I know, there's just something about him."
"Yeah, it's that red uniform."
"And the boots."
"No, like the uniform doesn't come off, like he isn't...real under there."
"With his plastic underwear!"
Fraser didn't know who Ken was, or why he wore plastic underwear, but it didn't sound like a favorable comparison. Fraser was a sexual being! He had thoughts and feelings and sometimes even acted upon them!
The women dissolved into giggles and Fraser strode off, resuming his search for Ray. Frannie looked up when he passed her desk and he didn't even make eye contact. The break room was empty. Ray was brooding next to the supply closet, one foot braced against the wall, hands in his pockets, his head thrown back, throat vulnerable and exposed.
Something snapped open in Fraser's chest. "Ray."
Ray raised his head.
Fraser took him by the wrist, the one with ball chain bracelet, threw the new kid from Eureka out of the closet, and pulled Ray in.
The light was on and Fraser could see the confused hope in Ray's eyes. "Fraser?"
"I apologize if--" But it was too late for that, so Fraser just cupped Ray's face in his hands and kissed him.
Ray didn't understand at first. Fraser was kissing him. Fraser was touching him with his hands and his lips and Ray's first instinct was to push him away, but then he remembered he wanted this and pulled him closer, pushed into the kiss, knocked the Stetson off, fisted his hands in Fraser's flat, sweaty hair, and kissed him back.
Two thousand miles away, Armando Langostini, né Ray Vecchio, felt a little queer and had to sit down.
They had approximately five minutes, the shortest period of time Fraser had been in the closet without being interrupted. The left side of his brain kept track of the time while his right concentrated on kissing Ray, stroking the inside of his wrist, fingers tangling in his bracelet. Ray groaned and climbed Fraser like a tree, kissing him, muttering tiny satisfied words against his chin. It was exactly what Fraser needed. His father didn't know the first thing about him or Ray.
The door opened and Fraser broke the kiss and reached over Ray's head to pick up a box of thumbtacks.
It had been exactly five minutes and twenty-five seconds. They would have been interrupted even earlier, except Bob was stuck at the DMV and would be for several weeks. They were somewhere in the mid-forties and i hadn't come up yet, and even though he'd gotten there ahead of the clown and the young lady with the surfboard, they'd both been called before him. He probably would have had more luck with a real number, but no one would trade.
Dewey walked in, not at all surprised to see Fraser and Ray. The supply closet was a popular place. It was more unusual to find it empty.
"Thank you for your help, Ray," Fraser said. "The thumbtacks were exactly where you indicated they would be."
Ray discreetly wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. "Yeah, no problem."
"Is there something I can get you, Detective Dewey?" Fraser asked. "We have some lovely highlighters today."
"Paper clips," Dewey said. "It's the weirdest thing, but I'm totally out of paper clips." Juliet had stolen them while his back was turned. They were shiny and she wanted to make a necklace to give to Romeo.
Fraser handed Dewey his paper clips. Dewey thanked him and shut the door. Fraser and Ray looked at each other.
Ray launched himself at Fraser. They'd just gotten their noses organized and their mouths back together when Ray's phone rang. It rang and rang and Ray finally gave up on Fraser's lower lip and answered it. Except that wasn't the right button, so he answered it again.
"What?" Ray snarled. He handed the phone to Fraser. "It's for you."
Fraser didn't look that enthused himself. "This is Constable Benton Fraser speaking."
"Ben, your wolf dog is here staring at me, and he brought a friend."
Kat looked down at the sidewalk in front of her espresso cart. Dief and the kangaroo looked back. He usually went there with Fraser, who grumbled but could often be coerced into buying him a beignet. Today, with no cash of his own left, he was winging it. The marsupial was no help in that department. Despite having a pouch, she carried no money.
"Where does an arctic wolf pick up a kangaroo, anyway?" Kat asked.
Fraser sighed. "We'll be right there."
"Hurry, they're scaring away all my customers." She hung up.
"It seems Diefenbaker has befriended Murl Haggard's kangaroo," Fraser said to Ray.
"Uh huh." It might have been the most ridiculous thing Ray'd ever heard in his life. Also he'd just made out with Fraser in the supply closet. He needed a minute to think.
"Perhaps we can use the kangaroo as leverage," Fraser said.
No, thought Ray, that was probably the most ridiculous thing he'd ever heard. "What are you talking about?"
"Mr. Haggard became visibly distraught when you threatened the kangaroo. If he knew the animal was in our possession, he may change his mind about talking to us."
Ray pointed at him. "See, that makes sense. That is a plan." He stopped pointing. "Uh, okay, but us, we're good right?"
"I'd really like to kiss you again," Fraser blurted. Ray only had time to grin before the door opened and Frannie stuck her head into the closet.
"Either of you guys seen my book?"
Kat had managed to convince the dog and pony show to sit under one of the benches and out of the way of foot traffic, but the moment Fraser appeared, Dief jumped up and ran back over to the cart with a sharp yip. He needed a beignet. It had been hours since he'd last eaten.
"Yes, I see," Fraser said. "You're practically skin and bone."
Dief snorted. He hadn't been the one stuffing his face at the Consulate mixer last week.
"You know full well I ate that devilled egg in the line of duty!" Fraser protested.
Inspector Thatcher, upon surveying the buffet spread out for the Transport Minister, had had doubts regarding the fitness of the mayonnaise, and Fraser, perennially short in the area of self-preservation, had had the misfortune of being in the room at the time. She'd ordered him to eat one of the eggs, then, ten minutes later, after he'd failed to succumb to ptomaine, she'd seized the eggs and ran out of the room, overtaken by a fit of paranoia. Convinced Fraser's digestive system would survive a nuclear holocaust, she'd turned her attention to Turnbull, who had firmly declined the hor d'oeuvre, citing a previously unmentioned allergy to chives. He was still paying for that insubordination, though, as Thatcher had been hard-pressed to find a single tedious or demeaning job he wasn't already happily responsible for, his punishment was mostly theoretical.
Whatever. Dief had heard it all before. The point was that he wasn't the only one around here that could stand to lose a few pounds, and also he had some valuable information. The kind that deserved to be rewarded with a buttery French pastry. The pastry would come first, of course.
Fraser sighed in disappointment. "So quickly you resort to extortion."
"What's he telling you?" Ray asked.
"He says he has information."
"While this is a fascinating look into the world of law enforcement," Kat said, "could you possibly hurry it up? Animal Control's already been by twice. You have no idea how hard it is to hide a kangaroo in a coffee bag."
"Oh, very well," Fraser said. "But information first, then the beignet."
Dief looked to Ray, clearly hoping for a more favorable verdict, but Ray shook his head. "No way, wolf. Spit it out."
The kangaroo crept over, bent low to the ground like it was searching for a lost contact lens. It sat at Ray's feet and Dief told Fraser what the marsupial had told him.
"He what?" Fraser said. "No, no, it's not designed for that at all."
Dief hadn't thought so.
"What? What?" Ray was getting impatient with the Dr. Doolittle routine. He only understood about half of what Dief said, and only that much because it was obvious when Dief was begging for food or whining because he ate too much of it. The rest of the time it was like watching a foreign film with no subtitles.
"It seems," Fraser said, producing a latex glove from his belt and kneeling before the kangaroo. "May I?" He pulled the glove on. The kangaroo looked at him, then sighed and held its front paws up. Fraser carefully slid his fingers into the kangaroo's pouch. "It seems that Mr. Haggard--"
"Oh, gross!" Ray yelled, hiding his eyes. Fraser had his hand in a kangaroo! It was probably all gooey and disgusting in there.
"--was rather pressed for time after committing murder, and--"
"That is so wrong!" Ray shrieked.
"--hid the gun in the safest place he could think of."
Ray stopped jumping up and down and took his hand away from his eyes. "Gun?"
Fraser held up the ziplock bag containing the revolver. The kangaroo sat back and started washing its face like a cat, clearly distancing itself from the whole fiasco.
"That looks like a .22," Ray said.
Fraser opened the bag and sniffed. "And it's been recently fired."
"Woo!" Ray said. "I knew it."
"You knew we'd find the murder weapon in a kangaroo?" Fraser tilted his head.
"Yeah, Fraser, that's exactly what I was thinking. Gimmie that." Ray took the gun from him and returned to the car, holding the bag between two fingers and talking to it like it had a psychic connection to its owner. "Murl, you freaky bastard," he said to the gun, "we've got you now."
Fraser smiled at Ray's whimsy, at himself for feeling so light-hearted. It was an unfamiliar sensation, one that made it difficult to concentrate on the job at hand. He felt free. He'd kissed Ray. His smile went a little goofy at the thought and Dief barked a few times to wake him up. He was growing old here.
"I heard you the first time," Fraser said primly, although he hadn't. He disposed of the rubber glove and took five dollars, Canadian, from his hat. "I do appreciate your assistance," he said, looking down at Diefenbaker. "Though in the future you might consider providing your services for a reduced fee. I, for example, am not rewarded every time I--"
Dief snapped up his pastry and ran off to eat it in the car so he wouldn't have to listen to the Mountie's speech on the greater good, which always seemed to boil down to letting other people decide what you should or shouldn't do. Dief didn't care what people thought. He was a wolf.
"I don't know why I bother," Fraser sighed, briefly envious of his companion's stubborn disregard for things that didn't immediately serve to benefit him. "Diefenbaker has embraced a life of shameless hedonism. Nothing I say is going to change his mind."
In the backseat, Dief pounced on his snack like a pup playing with a stunned rabbit. Ray leaned into the car and told him to knock it off. He was leaving fang marks on the upholstery.
"He's a lost cause," Fraser said to the kangaroo. It tried to eat his bootlace.
Ray pulled his head out of the window and looked up to find Fraser jawing away at the kangaroo. The man would talk to anything. Ray'd caught him talking to furniture, to empty rooms. He wasn't entirely sane, but who was these days.
"Fraser, c'mon!" Ray yelled over the top of the car. "Murl Haggard's going down. Bring the marsupial!"
A line was forming behind Fraser. He selected an apple from the basket next to the cash register, tipped his hat at the woman with the guide dog, and jogged off, the little kangaroo following along behind him.
"Good luck!" Kat called, moving on to her next customer and stuffing the five dollars into the pocket of her apron. She'd put it in a collage or make paper out of it or something. Ben's crazy Canadian money was more trouble than it was worth. Literally.
"So, it's like this," Ray said, pulling away from the curb. "We got the gun, we got the bullet, we got Murl."
"But we have no motive still," Fraser said, getting out his hunting knife and cutting a wedge from the apple. He passed it back to the kangaroo, who took it between two paws, gave it a delicate sniff, then ate it.
Ray hit the steering wheel with both hands. "He's an angry little man! Dead guy probably said something mean about his social skills and pow! Instant dead guy."
"But who was he?" Fraser asked, cutting another apple wedge. "And why would Murl be carrying a gun?"
"This is Chicago," Ray said.
Fraser bit into the apple slice and refrained from rolling his eyes. Both Rays took an almost boyish delight in their city's tough reputation, as if bad behavior and thuggery were something to be proud of. He passed another piece of fruit to the kangaroo.
"While that is true," Fraser said, "I fail to see how it replaces the need for a viable motive."
"We don't need motive, we got evidence."
"That's assuming the gun and the bullet are a match."
"They'll match!" Ray said. "Trust me. We'll get Murl, enjoy our brief glory, then you and me can--"
Dief stuck his head between the seats to see if he was missing out on anything, but the Mountie only had an apple. The kangaroo seemed really happy about that though, so Dief left them to it, pressing a friendly nose behind Ray's ear before settling back down.
"Ugh," Ray said, using the sleeve of his t-shirt to wipe off his ear.
Fraser shot a look at Diefenbaker. "You were saying?"
"I dunno," Ray said, suddenly annoyed. "Why're you so wrapped up in why?"
"I suppose I like to know why people do the things they do. Certain acts can only be understood in context if they are to be understood at all."
Ray scrunched up his nose. Fraser was being deep again.
"Apple?" Fraser offered, going out on a metaphorical limb.
"Don't like 'em," Ray said.
Ray never was very interested in metaphor.
Contrary to popular opinion, life went on while Fraser and Ray were away from the station. When they got back, everyone was clustered around Frannie's desk. Again. Ray's first thought was that she'd somehow found her book and reconvened the peanut gallery, but the new guy was sitting in her seat and Stella was there with her briefcase, Frannie standing next to her.
"I knew I'd heard that guy's name before," Frannie said to Ray smugly. She spun her monitor around and slapped the screen. "He was in the paper. Murl Haggard collects Partridge Family memorabilia, and oh, what's this, in the same article there's a mention of Warren Lidie, vintage lunchbox collector and the proud new owner of a classic red Partridge Family lunchbox. Very rare."
There was a picture of Lidie. It was their dead guy.
"Haggard said, and I quote, 'That lunchbox belongs to me. Lidie's going to pay.' Ta da!" She twirled for emphasis. "End quote."
"We were only gone ten minutes!" Ray shouted.
Fraser could see Ray thinking, the instinctive flash of anger that Francesca had stolen the spotlight, grudging pleasure that everything fit together so neatly, and eventually relief. "I got a gun," he said, placing it on Frannie's desk. "Murder weapon, maybe."
She beamed at him.
"This is remarkable," Fraser said. "How did you find this?"
"I did a search on the Internet," Frannie boasted. "Tom showed me how."
The new kid had been hiding in the supply closet since he'd arrived there that morning. It was his first day and he was terrified of getting shot. After Fraser ousted him from the closet, he'd been forced to take shelter at Frannie's desk, hoping to be mistaken for a secretary. He was good with computers, and when Frannie had asked him if he'd ever heard of a guy called Murl Haggard, he'd told her about the internet.
"Eureka!" Welsh yelled, getting off the phone.
"My name is Tom?" Tom said.
"Good work, Eureka." Welsh clapped him on the back. "Let's see more of that and less time in the closet. ASA Kowalski?"
Stella eyed them all like they were nuts. "It looks good, Lieutenant. If the gun and the eye witness pan out, I'd say we have a strong case."
"You spoke to Ms. al-Barazi?" Fraser asked.
"She just called," Frannie said. "Something about seeing a kangaroo at the crime scene?"
"It's possible she's delusional," Stella said, "but we're having her come in for a line-up. If this does go to trial, I'll have to downplay the kangaroo. The jury won't like it."
"It's really more of a wallaby," Johnny said, ambling into the room with Priscilla and Dief. "And she's harmless." Dief woofed in agreement. The marsupial was all right.
Stella blinked at the animal. "There actually is a kangaroo?"
"Yep. I heard you're arresting my brother."
"We've got officers on their way to his home and work," she said, casually holding her briefcase in front of her and keeping one eye on the wallaby and the other on the Mountie. She didn't trust either of them.
"She's so cute!" Frannie squealed, crouching down in front of the kangaroo. "What's her name?"
Ray squeezed over to where Fraser was standing. "Let's go," he said, barely audible over the rumble of everyone talking at once. Fraser raised his eyebrows and Ray jerked his head toward the hallway. "C'mon," he said, louder, "I'll give you a ride."
"Nah, it's a team effort. Frannie can do the interrogation. Besides, aren't you hot?"
Fraser cleared his throat. "I am a little warm."
"My apartment has air-conditioning."
"We can always talk to Mr. Haggard tomorrow," Fraser said, edging toward the door. Dief gave him a knowing look and flopped down next to Frannie's desk. He was going to stay at the station thank you very much.
"Tomorrow!" said Ray. "Exactly!"
They made a run for it.
Fraser started taking his clothes off in the car. Ray nearly ran over the news crew on the corner.
"Red light! Red light!" Fraser warned, unbuckling and unbuttoning and wiggling around in his seat, arms all over the place like half-naked semaphore. Not that he was showing any skin, but any time Fraser took off a piece of the uniform it was like he was that much closer to exposing himself. Like Fraser could be fully dressed and he'd still look naked if he wasn't wearing his hat.
Ray managed to stop for the light, sort of halfway up on the curb, and Fraser tossed his tunic in the backseat.
"Ahh," Fraser sighed, pushing up his sleeves. "I apologize, but I couldn't tolerate that straitjacket a moment longer."
"Uh huh," Ray said, staring at Fraser's arms, his chest, those dumb suspenders. His white henley was grey with sweat at the neck and armpits, and normally that wouldn't be a big deal, but Ray's normal was broken and instead it was really, really hot. Somehow he'd developed a sweaty Fraser fetish. It was going to be a long summer.
The camera crew waited to see if the Mountie was going to take anything more off.
"The longest day of the year might just turn out to be the hottest too," Nanci told the viewers at home. "As you know, we've spent the day on the street, talking to ordinary folks just like you, and we've heard some crazy things, including several reports of a kangaroo being spotted across the city! We'll be back with more after the break. For WFLD, I'm Nanci Senatra."
The light turned green and Ray eased them off the sidewalk and to his place, carefully observing the rules of the road and not once looking over at Fraser for fear of running over trash cans or little old ladies. Fraser, for his part, was quiet and didn't do anything particularly distracting other than breathing.
Ray had to park a couple blocks away from his building on account of there being no spaces any closer. He got out of the car, took a good look at himself, and had to pull on his jacket. There was stuff going on in his pants that the world just didn't need to know about.
"Hold it!" Ray held a hand up like a traffic cop. There was a time and a place for Fraser going on and on. This wasn't it. Fraser shrugged and collected his things from the back seat. Perhaps Ray intended for his jacket to be on inside out.
Ray twitched all the way to his apartment, fingers pulling at his jacket and pants, lips moving restlessly in time to his thoughts. Fraser had always admired his energy, the sheer kinetic power of his lanky body, but being allowed to look made it all the more intoxicating now. He purposely walked several steps behind Ray in order to better appreciate his charms. It made Ray feel weird that he was back there, trailing behind him like a servant or something, but it was just a few more feet to his apartment and then they'd be home free, and, if everything went well, naked.
The moment they stepped through the door, Ray pushed Fraser up against the wall, shoved a knee between his thighs and kissed him. Fraser's big hands went tight on Ray's hips, then slid down to his ass.
"Oh God," Ray said into Fraser's mouth.
"Yes?" said Fraser, and it wasn't that he thought he was God, he just thought maybe Ray had a request. But Ray had nothing else to say, and Fraser spun them around so that Ray was the one with his back to the wall, then licked a line up his neck and behind his ear. It was just an unlucky coincidence it was the same ear that Diefenbaker had slobbered on earlier.
"What do you like?" Ray kissed him and attempted to disarm his suspenders. He failed.
"Oh, well--" Fraser broke away to shrug off the suspenders and pull his henley over his head. "This is nice."
"It's greatness," Ray said, enjoying the sight of Fraser without a shirt, loopy suspenders hanging down against his thighs like ready-made bondage gear. "But what do you want to do, you know, next?"
Fraser could feel himself flush. "Do we have to talk about it?"
"You don't want to talk about it?"
"Couldn't we just..." Fraser waved his hand in a way meant to indicate that such sexual directness was difficult for him and couldn't Ray just this once overlook his embarrassment and allow him some small shred of dignity? He could most likely overcome this shortcoming given time, but today had already far taxed his ability to--
"There's something the Mountie doesn't want to talk about!" Ray said, predictably not allowing him any dignity, though whom exactly he was addressing was a mystery to Fraser. They were the only ones there except for the turtle, and it was taking a nap. Even if it had been awake, it wouldn't have understood. The turtle knew three languages, but English wasn't one of them.
"I think in this case, actions speak louder than words," Fraser said, grabbing Ray by his inside-out lapels and wrestling him out of his jacket. Ray wheezed with laughter.
"Oh, oh," said Ray, pulling the romance novel out of the pocket before Fraser tossed the jacket to the floor. "I know. I could tell you a few things that our Mountie in here liked, and you can just shake your head yes or no."
Fraser tried to reach around Ray and steal the book from him, but Ray danced away, protecting it with his body. He felt lighter than he had in years. Happy.
"While I appreciate your sensitivity and unique form of problem solving," Fraser lunged for the book, "it's really not necessary."
"We could do it standing up," Ray said, ducking Fraser's feints and grabs. "Outside, against a tree -- probably don't want to try that one, our trees all got cages around 'em -- blow job! Can't go wrong there."
Fraser got a handful of the back of Ray's shirt. Ray was laughing again. Fraser kissed him as they stumbled down the hall to the bedroom. Ray's hands went lax and Fraser divested him of the novel.
"Ouch," said Ray, rebounding off the doorjamb. "Wait, check it out, in the happily every after part, they're playing with his handcuffs. You wanna be the desperate criminal or the--"
Fraser tossed Ray on the bed and threw the book at him.