The voice that had been murmuring soft and low for some time finally stops, and there is silence.
It is late, and the apartment is dark, except for a slice of orange light that falls through where the blinds don’t meet. Beside the couch, a pair of standard issue RCMP boots stand, gleaming even in the dark. On the coffee table is an empty glass and several sheets of paper torn from a large yellow notepad.
Fraser is stretched out on the couch, half-covered in a blanket. His breathing is low and steady, his face slack.
He is deeply asleep, at last.
Ray wasn’t jealous that Fraser had met up with some of his old Mountie-school buddies the night before, and gone to a bar with them. He’d had things of his own to do: cleaning out the turtle tank, calling his mom, searching for that sock that had slid down behind the dresser about five months ago that he’d kept meaning to fish out again but had forgotten about until Fraser had tugged at his collar and said, “I would like to join you for dinner, Ray, but I’m afraid I have a previous engagement. Some old acquaintances of mine from Depot are in Chicago for a conference this weekend, and I agreed to meet them.”
And that was cool, because Ray had suddenly remembered a whole list of things he had to do. Which he did. And he didn’t once stop to stare into space and wonder about Fraser’s old acquaintances from Depot – and who called their old school buddies acquaintances, anyway; except well, Fraser, obviously – and what they were like, and what Fraser was like when he was with them, and whether they’d spend the whole evening reminiscing about moose or something. Which, Ray was fine with missing out on that. But if they were reminiscing about other stuff, like when they were training together and what Fraser was like back then, he might maybe have been kinda interested to hear it. So it was a good thing he had all these things to do to keep him busy instead of thinking about how Fraser hadn’t asked him along.
Fraser swung by the station the next day, just in time for Ray to swing him right back out again, into the car, and onto the trail of some guy who’d been robbing liquor stores and whose only distinguishing feature was that, to quote one witness, “he smelled funky.”
“So, uh, how was your night last night?” asked Ray as he drove them to the scene of the latest robbery. Fraser was sitting with his hat on his knees, gazing blankly out the window.
“It was quite fine, thank you,” he replied, distantly.
“‘Quite fine?’” repeated Ray. “Wow. Sounds like you had a blast.”
Fraser managed to pull himself back from wherever his mind had been, and made an effort to inject some enthusiasm into his tone. “Well, I have to confess that Moriarity’s Irish Bar wasn’t exactly my ‘scene’ – ” he crooked his fingers around the word, making Ray grind his teeth, “ – it being somewhat noisier and more crowded than I would usually prefer, and since the bar didn’t have any milk and I had to settle for somewhat over-processed orange juice, but it was certainly interesting to catch up with fellow officers, and hear some news from back home.”
“Any good moose stories?”
Ray didn’t explain, just pulled into the parking lot of the liquor store. The moment Fraser stepped inside the store he took a deep sniff, murmured, “Hmm, badly cured alpaca hide, if I’m not mistaken,” and started off on the robber’s trail, with his nose in the air, looking like one of those cartoon characters when they get lifted up and carried along by smell waves.
After a block Fraser admitted that even he couldn’t follow the trail much further, Chicago being somewhat more of a confusion of scents than the tundra, and they had to go get Dief from the Consulate.
Maybe the robber was trying to get the money to buy a car, Ray thought, because he sure wasn’t using one now. He’d walked about a hundred blocks, and caught about a hundred buses, and ridden the El, and caught a cab – so Dief had to sniff every single yellow cab they could flag down and lucky Ray had to try to explain the giant half-wolf to cab drivers of many nations and many grades of sanity – and by the time they’d finally tracked the robber down to his two-bit apartment Ray was about ready to either kick the guy in the head or fall asleep on his couch. Apparently the guy was exhausted by his big night of knocking over liquor stores followed by wandering all over the freakin’ city all day, because he was out for the count, and Ray got to kick his door in when he didn’t answer it, so that was kind of a silver lining. The alpaca leather jacket that had left its tell-tale scent all over the city was draped over an armchair, and was given a wide berth by Dief and Fraser. Ray used a chopstick from the coffee table to pick the thing up, and carried it out to the car as evidence.
It didn’t take long to get the guy to confess, and it turned out, yeah, he needed the money to buy a car.
“Why not just steal a car, genius?” Ray snapped.
“I really don’t think incitement to crime is – ” began Fraser, but Ray growled at him, and hustled the robber out to the cells to get locked up nice and snug.
Now Ray was slumped over his desk, eyes crossing as he tried to finish his report. He rubbed the heels of his hands into his eyes, then looked across at Fraser.
“You okay there, buddy?”
Fraser looked up, eyebrows raised.
“Of course, Ray.”
“Just you haven’t turned a page in twenty minutes. I can’t have made that many spelling mistakes.”
“Of course not.” Fraser licked the tip of his index finger, and carefully turned the page. Then he offered Ray a small smile, and got back to proof reading. Ray looked at him narrowly.
“Something up?” he asked.
Fraser lifted his head again, and for a moment Ray was convinced he was going to get some variation on the traditional response. “Not at all, Ray,” perhaps, or, “Not that I know of.” Instead, Fraser tugged at his earlobe.
“I’m quite tired,” he said. “It’s been a long day.”
“That it has.” Ray was thrown. He tried to remember the last time he’d heard Fraser admit to being tired, or whether he’d ever heard it. “Maybe we could leave this till later,” he suggested.
“Perhaps that would be best.”
Okay, something was up. Fraser hated leaving jobs half done, especially paperwork. They should stick it out for another hour and be done, and then they could enjoy the weekend without unfinished business hanging over their heads – or so Fraser usually said when Ray suggested ditching work in favour of beer and leaving till tomorrow what could be done today. But Fraser was standing up and straightening the files on Ray’s desk and turning to go, so Ray grabbed his coat and got out of the office while the getting was good.
Dief was giving little high-pitched sighs as they walked out to the car, and Fraser was saying how he couldn’t help it that they’d had to track the robber over asphalt, and maybe Dief would give further consideration to the dog-shoes Fraser had shown him the other day.
“German police dogs seem to find them quite efficacious. Well, I’m sorry, but if you’re more concerned with your appearance than with practicality then you have no one to blame but yourself.”
Ray ignored this little interlude, and drove them back to his apartment. There was nothing on tv but sitcoms and a documentary on moss that even Fraser couldn’t summon up the interest to watch, so Ray left it on ESPN just to cover the silence. They ate cold pizza, sitting side by side on the couch. Ray had a beer. Fraser had water. Ray considered grilling Fraser on what was bothering him, then decided that neither of them had the energy. He’d let the guy get some sleep, and grill him tomorrow.
“You wanna crash here tonight?” asked Ray, flipping the pizza box shut with one foot. His feet hadn’t hurt this bad since he was a uniform cop.
“Well, if it’s no inconvenience, Ray, that would be good,” said Fraser, blinking hard and yawning. “Inspector Thatcher has demonstrated a flattering reliance on my dedication to duty, even on my days off.”
Translation: she’d wake him up and have him dusting doilies or whatever at eight tomorrow morning. Ray patted Fraser on the shoulder.
“Cool. Sleep here tonight, buddy, I promise I won’t wake you up early. Um.” Ray hesitated, hand still on Fraser’s shoulder. “You know you can… I mean. Yeah.” He cleared his throat, unsure what he’d been going to say, except that it was meant to be comforting. Fraser looked up at him, and for the first time that day Ray got the feeling that Fraser’s mind wasn’t on something else. Then there was that small smile again, and Fraser nodded a little.
“Thank you, Ray.”
He fetched a pillow and some blankets, and left Fraser stretching out on the couch. Dief had disappeared at about the point when the pizza was finished, and now Ray discovered that the wolf felt he’d earned a night in a proper bed. Ray didn’t bother arguing, just shoved in next to him, and was asleep in seconds.
Ray scrunched his eyes open a tiny bit, on a world that was way too bright, and way too early. Then he heard it again: a low, tense whine. And there was a wolf paw scratching at his shoulder. That wolf paw was going to get ripped off the wolf’s arm, or whatever it was, if it didn’t stop that. He growled, and the paw got the message and stopped. There was a thump as Dief jumped off the bed, and the ticker-tacking sound of his toenails as he trotted out of the bedroom. Ray turned over and went back to sleep.
There was a cold, wet nose pressing into his neck. With a yelp, Ray jumped up, suddenly, heart-poundingly awake. Dief cocked his head at him.
“What the hell are you doing?” croaked Ray. “What the hell? What time is? What are you thinking? Get off of me!”
He found the clock in the debris of his bedside table. Eight in the morning. For God’s sake!
Dief was standing in the doorway, still making that annoying whining noise from earlier. Ray groaned long and loud, and pushed himself out of bed. Goddamn wolf. Goddamn Fraser, why couldn’t he let the goddamn wolf out the goddamn door to do its business. He stamped out of the bedroom.
Fraser was sitting on the floor in the middle of the living room, wearing his Henley and boxer shorts and white socks, and playing with Ray’s toy cars. His head came up when Ray appeared, and a big, goofy smile washed over his face.
“Hi!” he said.
“Whatever,” snarled Ray, rubbing his hands over his face. He stumbled blindly over to the window and pushed it open, but Dief didn’t jump through. He was standing next to Fraser, radiating concern. “What, now you don’t wanna go out? Fuck!” yelled Ray. “What is the matter with that wolf? He woke me up at eight o’clock in the morning on a Saturday, Fraser, what the hell?!”
Fraser’s face fell. His lower lip trembled.
Then Fraser ducked his head so his chin was tucked into his neck, and he started to cry.
Dief looked at Ray.
Ray had never been able to understand the wolf like Fraser did, but he knew an “I told you so!” when he saw one.
He didn’t want to call Welsh. Definitely not on a Saturday morning, and definitely not about something like this. But he’d pretty much got no other options. He couldn’t call the Consulate – Turnbull was as much use as a lump of Swiss cheese even on a good day, and as for Inspector Thatcher… Ray shuddered to think what the Ice Queen would make of this. What Ray needed, what he was pretty sure Fraser needed, was a shrink. Ray didn’t have any shrinks in his Rolodex.
Welsh was going to keep his mouth shut, if only because he hated, really hated, how Fraser and Ray kept having shit like this happen to them. Welsh seemed to figure that if he ignored it, it might stop happening. Hadn’t worked so far, but Ray had heard on tv that denial was a powerful force. So there was a chance Welsh would do whatever it took to help Ray sort this out, and then say no more about it.
As opposed to finally flipping out in some extreme way, which was also a possibility.
So they were in Welsh’s office. Welsh had been surprisingly calm, for a Lieutenant who’d been woken up first thing on a Saturday by Ray asking for help with his freaked-out partner. And, it turned out, Welsh had a shrink in his rollerdex.
“Hi,” said the shrink. “My name’s George. What’s your name?”
Ray had dressed Fraser in the Henley and pumpkin pants. He’d left the tunic and lanyard and all the weird buttons and clips off, because there’s only so much a guy could handle when he was dressing his partner, who was helping by patting his hair with the flat of his hand and saying, “It’s all prickly!” He’d driven them to the 2-7 and thanked God that normal cops didn’t like Saturday morning shifts and would be laying low, so he could guide Fraser through the station without attracting too much attention.
Fraser had been fine right up until the point where he’d found himself shut in a room with three men who were all staring intently at him. He’d sat down abruptly on the Lieu’s couch, hands lax at his side, and looked as if he was about to cry again.
The shrink, who was in actual fact a little bald guy with a beard, and was bucking the shrink stereotype only by failing to have leather patches on the elbows of his jacket, fished out a toy truck, and offered it to Fraser.
“Will you tell me your name?” repeated George the shrink.
Fraser sniffed, looking seriously upset. Then he looked up at Ray, seemed somewhat reassured, and whispered, “Ben.”
“Well, hi, Ben. It’s good to meet you.”
The shrink sat next to him on the couch and chatted to him for a while. He kept his voice all light and carefree, as if he was talking to a little kid, not a guy who had him beat by about a foot and thirty pounds. Ray wondered what kind of training shrinks went though to make them able to do that kind of thing without feeling like a complete moron.
Welsh and Ray stood propped against Welsh’s desk, watching.
“What did you tell him?” asked Ray in a low voice.
“I told him one of my department’s associates had gone nuts,” replied Welsh in the same low tone. “Detective. I realise that this is a question I’m not actually going to like the answer to, but I feel compelled to ask. What is going on with the Mountie?”
“I don’t know, sir,” replied Ray. “That’s the problem. He woke up like this.” They’d been through this on the phone. Evidently Welsh had been doing that suppression of knowledge thing prematurely.
“Has he received any blows to the head? Taken any drugs that you know of?”
“No, sir. I told you. He was fine. We worked all day yesterday, then we had pizza and he crashed on my couch. And then…” Ray waved a hand at his partner, the Super Mountie, the guy who could face down mobsters and get hardened criminals to confess with only a twitch of his eyebrow and an Inuit story. And who was spinning the wheels of the toy truck against his palm with all the concentration he usually reserved for examining evidence.
The shrink stood up and came over to the two of them, taking out a notebook and a tiny pencil. He repeated a lot of Welsh’s questions, and Ray repeated his answers, raising his voice perhaps more than he should, and dropping it again quickly when Ben looked over, disconcerted.
“Everything’s fine, Frase,” he called over.
George the shrink wrinkled his forehead.
“Could his food or drink have been tampered with? Does he have any history of mental illness that you know of?” He was making notes, as if he was writing down evidenece. It made Ray itchy.
Welsh pinched the bridge of his nose.
“Nope,” said Ray.
“How about strange behaviour?
“Oh, like talking to himself,” put in Welsh, his voice flat, “almost like there was someone else there that nobody else could see? Or losing his memory? Or licking evidence? Or invoking Inuit or Voodoo rituals as strategies for disarming felons? That kind of thing?”
The shrink looked alarmed.
“No,” said Ray stubbornly. “Nothing like that.”
“Perish the thought,” muttered Welsh, looking away.
“Hmmm,” hummed the shrink. He rubbed a hand over his beard. “From his general demeanour, his physical health, and your information about his recent activities, there really is no indication of any chemical or medical influence, and it seems unlikely that he would suffer a psychotic break without experiencing a severely traumatic event – which I assume you would be aware of?” He raised his eyebrows.
“Sure,” said Ray. “I mean, he was a little down yesterday, but he wasn’t, like, psychotically broken.”
“Is there any chance he might have been exposed to some form of hypnotic suggestion?”
Welsh closed his eyes.
“Hypnotism?” said Ray. “That’s crazy.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t say that,” said the shrink. “Unlikely, certainly, but possible. And we seem to have ruled out the more likely causes. If it weren’t for the unusual circumstances, I’d say that Constable Fraser’s demeanour is perfectly normal for someone in an advanced trance state. I’ve seen many of them in my time, even used the technique myself for therapeautic purposes.”
“But how?” asked Ray. “When? Who?”
“You’re the detective,” said the shrink, with a smile. “All I can do is diagnose him. Although I can tell you that a person can’t be hypnotised by someone they don’t trust, or be hypnotised against their will.”
“Has Fraser been in any situation recently when he might have…” Welsh grasped for a possible scenario. “When he might have been susceptible to hypnosis?” He winced a little as he said it. When he’d gotten promoted to Lieutenant he hadn’t envisaged having to deal with this kind of thing.
“I would imagine it happened within the past few days,” the shrink said.
“He’s been with me, or he’s been at the Consulate,” said Ray. Then he added, “But he spent the other night with some buddies from Depot. They were in town just for the night. That was Thursday.”
“And you weren’t present?” Welsh was just checking, but for some reason Ray answered defensively.
“No. He was catching up with buddies. We’re not joined at the hip.”
Welsh raised an eyebrow, but said, “So you don’t know what happened on Thursday night? Where they went? Who was there? They might have gone to a show?”
“Fraser didn’t say anything about that. Turnbull probably knows who the guys were, though. But this is stupid. Fraser would never let someone do this to him, he wouldn’t let that happen.”
“He is letting this happen.” The shrink was watching Ben thoughtfully. “Even if you can get someone to allow you to hypnotise them, you can’t cause them to do something they don’t want to. You couldn’t hypnotise someone to kill on command, for example – unless they were the kind of person who would kill on command anyway.”
“But you always see stuff like that at those shows,” Ray said. “People get up and get hypnotised and dance around like idiots and do all kinds of weird shit.”
“Those are volunteers. They know the kind of thing they’re letting themselves in for. And if they weren’t willing to do those things, the hypnosis wouldn’t work. They would wake up. That’s why the hypnotist always starts with small things, escalates the activity, so that the subjects are eased into complying, and anyone who isn’t going to comply is weeded out early.”
“You’re saying Fraser could snap himself out of this if he wanted to?” asked Welsh.
“Not exactly. But if he hadn’t been willing to regress like this, then it wouldn’t have happened. What’s more, it’s exceptionally unusual that a hypnotic state should be maintained for this long. He must have an extraordinary capacity for trance. Do you know if he’s been hypnotised before?”
“He did say something once,” said Ray, looking to Welsh for backup.
“Once or twice,” amended Welsh.
“Not like he does it every weekend.”
“That we know of.”
“It’s not like, you know, a hobby.”
“Another trick up the Constable’s sleeve,” concluded Welsh.
“Something like that,” said Ray. He crossed his arms over his chest. The whole conversation was making Fraser sound even nuttier than he really was. Any moment now the shrink might grab a phone and call for the wagon to come take Fraser away.
“Interesting,” breathed the shrink, and jotted another note in his notebook.
“So how do we make it stop?” asked Ray, and that was the million dollar question. The shrink, however, shrugged as if it wasn’t that interesting.
“I have no idea. Whoever hypnotised him will have a way of waking him up. Or it may just wear off. If he woke up like this, there’s a chance he’ll wake up as normal tomorrow morning.”
“Great, thanks, that’s a huge help,” snapped Ray.
“You should consider the possibility of putting him into care until he’s – ”
Ray broke in before he could finish. “No way. He’s not going to the funny farm.”
The shrink pulled his shoulders back, and Ray straightened up off the desk, and for a moment they were squaring up to each other, until Welsh, who appeared to be reaching the end of his already stretched-tight tether, decided to wrap things up.
“Thank you so much for coming in on a Saturday, George,” he said, taking the guy by the arm and leading him to the door. “I think it’ll be best if we take it from here. We can always call you again if anything…” he glanced over at Fraser, and chose not to finish his sentence. “Is there any special way we should be treating him?”
“He’s a five year old child,” the shrink said. “He may not look like one, but he is. So treat him with all the care you would use with a child. Don’t let him run into the road, don’t let him play with matches, make sure he eats, and supervise him when he goes to the toilet.”
“Are you kidding me?” Ray’s voice ratcheted up several notches, making Ben look up, startled.
“You may want to find someone who has experience with children to look after him,” the shrink said pointedly. “Good luck.” This last comment seemed to be directly purely at Ben, who waved him goodbye enthusiastically.
“I’m taking care of him,” said Ray firmly, when Welsh had shut the office door behind the shrink.
“Perhaps it would be a good idea to find someone – ” Welsh began, but Ray was already saying, “No way. He’s my partner, I’m gonna take care of him.” He looked over at Ben. He was still engrossed in the toy truck,
running it up his own arm, over his head and down his face, making “brrmm, brrmm” noises. “I don’t want anyone else seeing him like this.”
The Lieutenant grimaced.
“I can understand that. All right, detective. He’s your responsibility for now. Huey and Dewey will try to track down these friends of Fraser’s – ”
“You’re putting the Duck boys on this?”
“Who do you suggest, Detective?” Welsh raised his voice. “You think you can go tracking a bunch of Mounties through Chicago while you’re babysitting at the same time?”
They looked at Ben. Whose lower lip was trembling. Boy, this kid did not like conflict.
“Hey, it’s okay, it’s okay,” said Ray, making placating gestures. He edged over, and patted Ben gingerly on the shoulder. “We’re all done fighting. How about I take you home and we… We should maybe walk
Ben nodded jerkily.
“Okay,” said Ray. “Let’s do that.”
Ray leaned against the counter, and watched Ben playing. He had never seen Fraser’s face so relaxed, so calm and contented. Of course, he’d never seen Fraser sit on the floor with his legs splayed out, his back hunched
over, barefoot and playing with building blocks, either. He was wearing the emergency clothes Fraser had stashed at the station for those occasions when he and Ray ended up soaked, stained or covered in goo. He
looked weird in them, as if he was playing dress-ups in adult clothes; but he looked a hell of a lot more comfortable than he had been in the Mountie uniform.
Ray had wanted kids, when he was with Stella. She’d told him he didn’t know what he was asking for, that kids were hard work, that he wouldn’t be able to handle it. But he’d always thought he would just kinda know
what to do, how to look after his own kids, that it would come naturally.
The fact was, though, that he didn’t have that much experience with kids, and now he had one on his hands. A great big one who could floor Ray if he wanted to, although Ben probably didn’t realise that. What would he do when Ben got bored of the blocks? What happened when he got hungry? Did he need formula or something?
Snap out of it, Kowalski. Of course he didn’t need formula. His body was Fraser’s body, all grown up and normal. He just needed to be entertained, kept happy until… until they could get this straightened out.
They went for a walk in the afternoon, to the park, and Fraser – or Ben, Ray was thinking of him as Ben, now – played with Diefenbaker. He looked a hell of a sight, this big, built guy running around with all the coordination of a little kid, yelling and being an airplane, and tumbling over on the grass. He seemed like the sturdy kind of kid, not the sort who cried when he fell down, although he looked worried when he got up and saw the state of his jeans. There were big grass stains on the knees, and mud on the cuffs. He came traipsing back to Ray, who was standing watching with his hands in his pockets, trying to ignore the people staring at Fraser. He figured they’d think he was disabled, and he didn’t like people thinking of Fraser like that, but there was nothing he could do about it, so he was ignoring them.
Ben came and stood in front of him, and dropped his head, as if he was owning up.
“Ready to go?” asked Ray. Ben peeped up at him from under his long, dark eyelashes. “Don’t worry about the pants, buddy, they’ll wash out. Let’s go home.” Ben flashed him a relieved smile, and grabbed his hand.
What really freaked Ray out was that it didn’t freak him out. Holding Ben’s hand seemed… right.
He ignored people real hard all the way back to his apartment.
He was rustling up some lunch when things got weird. Ben was wandering around the apartment, picking things up and putting them down. Ray asked him if he wanted to play with the blocks again? No. Did he wanna watch tv? No.
His cell rang. It was Lieutenant Welsh, checking in.
“Any leads so far?” asked Ray, folding ham onto sandwich bread. He rolled his eyes at the Lieu’s answer. Huey and Dewey couldn’t find their own asses without a map. He shot a look at Ben, then held the phone away from his mouth. “Ben! Ben, put that down.”
Ben looked up from the vintage Stones LP he’d been holding like a Frisbee, and his mouth tightened.
“Ben, put it down. That’s very special. Put it down.” Ray was talking to him like he was a perp, like he’d taken a hostage. One hand went out towards Ben in a placating way, and he kept a firm, calm tone of voice as he repeated the instruction. “Ben, put it back. You don’t wanna play with that.”
Ben huffed out a sigh, dropped the record on top of the player with a clatter, and slumped down onto the floor, making the furniture jump and the dishes rattle on the draining board. His chin dropped to his chest, and his shoulders drooped. Dear God, this was Ben throwing a tantrum. Ray stared. Then he heard the Lieu’s voice yelling faintly from the cell phone, and put it back to his ear.
“Nah, he’s okay. He’s just… you know. Acting kinda weird.” Inspiration struck. “I think he needs a nap.”
Ray heard Welsh let out a little grunt, as if he was in pain, and couldn’t help grinning to himself.
“Gotta go, Lieu, I got a Mountie I gotta tuck into bed now. I’ll check back in later.”
He got off the phone, finished making the sandwiches, and brought them over to the coffee table. Ben stayed slumped where he was, refusing to come eat. Ray went and stood over the sullen form beside the bookcase.
“Okay, buddy,” he said firmly, “time for a nap.”
He could just about see Ben’s bottom lip push out. The kid was pouting.
“Don’t want to,” Ray heard him mutter.
“Well, you’re gonna. Come on, get up.” He wondered what he would do if Ben wouldn’t get up. He couldn’t exactly pick him up and carry him off to bed. He pulled at Ben’s shoulders, and bullied and cajoled him to his feet, and through to the bed, where he stretched out without any further argument, and was asleep within seconds. Ray covered him with a blanket, and put the sandwich and juice on the kitchen counter for when he woke up. Then he phoned Huey.
While Fraser napped in the bedroom, Ray tidied up. He’d borrowed the building blocks and some other old toys from Mrs. Spanos across the hallway. Her kids were all in middle school now, and playing with video games instead of Tonka trucks. Ray figured even a remote control car might be a little advanced for Fraser – surely they didn’t have that kind of thing in the Canadian wilderness when Fraser was growing up.
Mrs. Spanos was a nice lady, and she was a good neighbour, which meant she was happy to lend Ray the toys for as long as he needed them, and if she didn’t actually see the so-called visiting nephew within the next few days she’d probably call the cops. Ray lined this up at the bottom of his list of things to worry about. There was still plenty of space down there. It was the top of the list that was getting crowded. Along with all the cop questions – what had happened to Fraser, who’d done it, and why, and how could they undo it – there were what he was already thinking of as “dad” questions. What was he going to do with Fraser after he woke up from his nap? What if he turned his back for five second and he tripped and whacked his head on the coffee table? And then there was bedtime. What did you do with a five-year-old at bedtime? Vague memories told Ray that you gave them a bath, made them brush their teeth, got them into soft pj’s and tucked them in, maybe told them a bedtime story. He really, really didn’t want to have to give Ben a bath. Giving Fraser a bath, well – he blinked hard, and shook his head. Nope. Not going there.
Ray spent an hour tidying the apartment, leaving messages for Huey, and jotting down notes on a pad of yellow paper. The pad was lying on the coffee table amid a drift of pages already torn out and covered in writing and scribbles, along with blocks and a jumble of rocks, sticks and flowers Ben had brought back from the park. Who knew such a good kid could still make such a mess? Ray picked a couple of old action figures and a bottle-opener out of the mess, and scooped up everything else and dumped it into the trash. He was going to have to kid-proof the house, only he couldn’t figure out how. It wasn’t as if he could just put stuff up high out of reach, and Ben was clearly a curious kid.
Ray picked the yellow notepad and a pen, then put them down again, went back to the trash, and picked out the flowers and a couple of the rocks and sticks, and put them back on the coffee table with a sigh. Then he sat down and tried to remember if Fraser had said or done anything weirder than usual over the last couple of days.
It was only when Ben woke up from his nap that Ray realised he really should’ve napped himself. The kid was pretty self-sufficient in a lot of ways. He could play by himself, and could turn practically anything from a toilet roll to a half-empty bottle of Jack Daniels into a toy. But he was curious and inventive, which meant that Ray was always hovering over him, telling him no, answering questions, snatching half-empty bottles of Jack Daniels out of his hands and then trying to explain why this was a grown-up treat that kids weren’t allowed to have.
Another thing that threw Ray off his stride was the touching. Not that he and Fraser had exactly been keeping each other at arm’s length before. But Ben was doing that thing that kids did, always reaching out and touching him, on the leg, on the arm, on the shoulder, always taking his hand. He seemed to do it without thinking, as if he was just reassuring himself that Ray was still there, as if it was the most natural thing in the world for them to be as close together as possible. And it was nice, Ray couldn’t deny it. It’d been a long time since someone had got so close to him so easily, without an agenda or any mixed messages. But it was weird. No getting away from that.
Ray chickened out of bathroom duty and made Dief go in with Ben to make sure he didn’t get scared by the flush toilet or try to eat Ray’s shaving cream. Dief did not take the duty gracefully, and sulked for hours afterward, allowing Ben to cuddle and pet him clumsily, but ignoring Ray.
They walked over to a grocery store that Ray never usually went to and picked up some food for dinner, and then made macaroni and cheese together. Ben grated his finger when he was trying to grate cheese, at the same moment that the macaroni started boiling out of the pot. Pretty much the only thing Ray felt really good about by the end of the day was that he’d kept the swearing to a bare minimum.
At about seven o’clock Ben gave a huge yawn and a stretch, and asked, “Where’s my bed?”
“Uh. You can sleep in my bed tonight, buddy.”
“Where will you sleep?” His eyelids were heavy. He wasn’t asking because he cared that Ray would have to take the couch, it was just that auto-questioning thing kids did, like asking why the sky was blue.
“I’ll sleep here on the couch.”
Ben nodded sleepily.
“Where are my pyjamas?”
The thought of going into the Consulate with Fraser in this state, maybe even running into the Ice Queen… Jeeze, she’d probably make the little guy cry. Correction: she’d definitely make the little guy cry. So, no pj’s, no other change of clothes, nothing until Ray could get a sitter or someone to look after Fraser while he went and got his stuff out of his office. Who would sit for him? Frannie? The thought gave Ray an actual pain in his head. With any luck at all, Fraser would wake up normal tomorrow and they wouldn’t have to worry about that stuff, they could just track down the mystery hypnotist and kick the crap out of him.
“You can borrow some of my pj’s tonight,” said Ray.
A big grin broke through Ben’s sleepiness.
“They’ll be too big!” he laughed.
They weren’t, of course. They were only just big enough. A pair of old sweat pants with elastic so worn that they barely stayed up around Ray’s skinny hips were about right to sit comfy on Fraser’s body, and an equally worn CPD t-shirt was loose enough to stretch to fit him. Ray thanked God that Ben was perfectly happy to get changed by himself, in the bedroom, while Ray tidied up in the living room. Ben left the door wide open, though, and Ray could hear muffled thumps and thuds as Ben negotiated pants legs. Then there was the sound of the bed creaking, and a big, happy sigh.
He was stretched out on top of the covers, face down, arms and legs akimbo, when Ray came in. He gathered up Fraser’s clothes from where they lay pooled all over the floor – and it was real weird to know there was a time when Fraser hadn’t folded all his clothes up in a neat pile; Ray wondered when he’d been trained to do that – maybe once he went to live with his grandparents – and stood by the bed.
Ben was still awake, just. He opened an eyelid a crack and looked at Ray. Ray looked back. He cleared his throat.
“Aren’t you gonna get under the covers?”
Tucking Ben in was tricky. He was boneless and heavy, and at one point he flung out an arm and almost broke Ray’s nose. And while Ray was hauling the covers out from under him he found himself surprised that he couldn’t just lift Ben up in his arms to do it. Ben was so thoroughly a little kid that Ray was kinda forgetting that he was actually a full grown man.
As soon as Ben was halfway settled, Dief jumped up beside him and lay down, chin on his paws and nose pointing at Ben. Ben’s hand automatically reached out and rested on Dief’s ruff, fingers burying deep into the soft, warm fur.
Ben smiled sleepily at Dief. Dief twitched his ears in reply.
“Don’t get too comfortable, fur-face,” muttered Ray. “You can sleep there tonight, but it’s not gonna happen again, you hear me?” Dief ignored him.
Then Ray really was tucking the Mountie into his bed, snugging the covers around his shoulders, and brushing a hand over his hair. Ray snatched his hand away again when he realised what he was doing. But Ben had already given another of those huge, satisfied sighs, and drifted right off to sleep.
Ray watched him for a while, then went and stretched out on the couch.
Scratch, nudge, whine. Whine, scratch.
Whine, whine, cold wet nose.
Ray jumped up, heart hammering.
“Jeeze, Dief, you gotta find a better way to wake me up, that’s fucking nasty!”
Diefenbaker gave him a Look, then trotted round the couch and into the bedroom. Oh no. What was wrong? Ray scrambled up and into the bedroom, a dozen worst-case scenarios already playing out in his mind. Ben had choked himself with the sheets. Ben had fallen down and whacked his head on the bedside table. Ben had wet the bed.
Ben was still thoroughly asleep. One arm was covering his face, and the other hand rested low on his belly. He’d kicked off the covers during the night, and was sprawled loosely across the bed, taking up just about the whole mattress.
Dief stood beside him, and whined again, softly, looking from Ben to Ray.
“What?” whispered Ray. “He looks okay to me.”
Ray hadn’t known that wolves could roll their eyes. Dief did it with a jerk of his head that wrote Ray off as a complete moron, then sat down and stared at Ben. Or maybe it was Fraser again now? Maybe Dief was picking up some kind of change – maybe Fraser was back to normal. Ray wanted to wake him up and see, but then he didn’t know if that was a good idea. He rubbed his hands over his face, then shuffled into the kitchen to get coffee.
While he was peering into the fridge and wondering if it was safe to reach right into the back to see what was there, the phone rang. It was Welsh.
“How’s the, uh, the Constable?” he asked, sounding as if he didn’t really want to know.
“That’s it. I don’t wanna wake him up in case he flips out or something.”
There was a sigh from Welsh’s end of the line.
“Huey and Dewey find out anything about Fraser’s buddies?”
“I’m afraid not.”
“What?” Ray slammed the fridge shut. “I’m stuck babysitting and they can’t even be bothered to get off their asses and find out who did this?”
“Calm down, Detective,” the Lieutenant warned. “This is not a priority case for them. In case you hadn’t noticed, this is a highly unusual situation, and as you mentioned yourself, the fewer people who know about this, the better. I wasn’t able to give Detectives Huey and Dewey the full picture, and therefore this is not their top priority right now.”
“Oh, so what is?”
“A double murder on the south side.”
Ray deflated. “Oh. Right.”
“Keep me informed of the Constable’s health – ” there was a crash and a babble of voices in the background. “And I certainly hope you can get this whole problem worked out and get your ass back here first thing Monday because I would really appreciate having some Detectives in my precinct who do not allow criminals to run riot in my bullpen!” The last bit was shouted away from the phone. Ray hung up quickly, preferring not to know what exactly was going on down there. He hoped they’d have it under control soon, because he was going to have to swing by and kick Huey and Dewey in the pants.
By the time ten a.m. rolled around, Ray knew something was really wrong. He stood in the bedroom doorway and looked at Fraser. He was on his stomach now, his face pressed into the pillow.
What happened when you woke up a hypnotised person? He’d heard you weren’t supposed to wake up people who were sleepwalking in case they died, or something. Was it like that?
Dief, sitting at Ray’s feet, looked up at him questioningly.
“I dunno,” said Ray softly. “Should we wake him up? Fraser never sleeps this late, so maybe something’s – hey! Wait!”
But Diefenbaker had already jumped up on the bed and was sniffing Fraser over. When his nose touched the bare skin of Fraser’s back where the t-shirt had ridden up, there was a jerk, a cry, and Ben was scrabbling away, pressing his back against the headboard, staring wild-eyed at Dief.
Dief gave a whine, and jumped down off the bed again. He sat with his head cocked, looking disappointed.
“Hey,” said Ray. Ben sent him a startled look. “That’s Dief. Don’t freak out, he’s cool.”
“He’s… a wolf, isn’t he?” Ben managed.
Dief yipped at him.
“Part wolf,” Ray confirmed. “How ya feeling’?”
Ben frowned a little.
“I feel quite fine, thank you.”
Ray rolled his eyes, and pushed off the doorframe. Goddamn it. This still wasn’t Fraser.
“Well, when you feel like getting your ass out of bed, there’s breakfast in the kitchen.”
He was grumpily slicing mushrooms when he heard Ben pad out of the bedroom and hop up onto a stool at the breakfast bar.
“Hungry?” Ray asked, without looking over his shoulder.
“Yes,” came the reply. Ben’s tone was guarded. “You’re… Ray, aren’t you?”
“Yeah.” Ray shoved some bread in the toaster, then turned and leaned against the counter, arms crossed over his chest. He needed a shower and a change of clothes. He also needed today not to be as weird as yesterday, although it looked like that ship had already sailed. Or sunk. But first things first.
“How old are you?”
Ben’s eyes narrowed.
“Fourteen,” he said, and no shit, kid, only a fourteen-year-old could get that much contempt into one word, one look. Ray groaned, and scrubbed a hand over his face and through his hair. “Is that a problem?” said Ben, snippily. Ray shot him an exasperated look, then tried to calm down a little. It wasn’t the kid’s fault. Plus, Ben at five had been pretty much oblivious, but Ben at fourteen was probably going to notice that he was nearly six feet tall, built, and looked like a grown-up man, not a kid. So Ray was going to have some explaining to do.
“Let’s eat,” he said. Why cut to the chase when he could delay the inevitable? “You like scrambled eggs?”
“Actually, I’d prefer an omelette,” said Ben. He was looking over at Ray’s chopping board.
“I don’t do omelettes,” said Ray. “I got eggs, I got milk, I got butter and I got mushrooms. That equals scrambled eggs, buddy.” Ben raised a quizzical eyebrow at the mushrooms. “Yeah, they’re mushrooms,” said Ray defensively. “Grew them myself. Under the sink.”
They were maybe a little past their best-by, but hey, they were fungi, how much damage could be done by leaving them in a dark cupboard for a week? And anyway, it was Fraser who’d brought the damn things over and tried to make Ray eat them in the first place, so it was his own fault if they were the weird health-food kind instead of the ordinary supermarket kind.
Ben was giving him a narrow-eyed look, as if he was trying to decide if Ray was a) joking, b) serious, or c) a dick. Not really wanting to know which option he was going to settle on, Ray turned all his attention to frying up breakfast and piling it in front of his new guest. Ben shovelled it down quickly, with two rounds of toast, and about a quart of orange juice. Ray was officially cleaned out in the food department. He remembered when he was fourteen how his mom would say, “The boy’s got hollow legs! He’ll eat us out of house and home!” and only just managed to stop himself saying the same thing.
Maybe there was a silver lining to Ray not having kids: if he had, he clearly would have turned into his mom.
Ray stacked the dishes in the sink, poured himself another cup of coffee, and said, “Okay, here’s the thing.” He stopped, and ran a hand through his hair. Ben regarded the blond, spiked tufts as Ray searched for the right words. “Something weird’s happened. And when I tell you, I need you to not freak out.”
“Freak out?” repeated Ben, a little distantly.
“Yeah, you know. Go nuts, flip your lid, lose your shit.”
Ben’s face registered faint scorn. Ben at five had left his clothes in crumpled heaps on the floor. Ray was starting to suspect that Ben at fourteen was probably neat and well-behaved but with the amazing teenage talent for being an asshole at the same time.
“Here’s what,” Ray ploughed on. “You got hypnotised.” There was no particular reaction to this, so he carried on. “For some reason, you did this, uh,” Ray’s hands cycled in the air, “regression thing. So you, like, you think you’re fourteen. But you’re… not. You’re thirty-two.”
There was a long, awkward silence. Then Ben stood up, and wandered out of the kitchen and into the bathroom. Ray trailed along behind him. Ben stood in front of the bathroom mirror, looking at himself. He tilted his head from side to side, leaned in close, then backed up, squinting.
“You all right there, buddy?” said Ray.
Ben shot him a sideways look, then went back to gazing into the mirror. He raised his hands and touched his face.
“Huh,” he said. Then, rubbing thoughtful fingers over his cheeks and jaw, he added, “I think I need to shave.”
It had been two days since Fraser shaved last, and there was only the faintest suggestion of stubble on his face. He wasn’t one of those hairy guys who had a five o’clock shadow at eleven in the morning. In fact, Fraser had just miles of smooth, pale white skin.
“You might be okay,” Ray suggested. He, on the other hand, needed to shave, shower and shit, and Fraser standing there gazing into the mirror like, well, like a fourteen-year-old, was not conducive to any of those things. “But, yeah, sure. Here.” He opened the bathroom cabinet, and pulled out a razor and some shaving foam.
Ben looked at them.
“My father shaves with a straight edge razor and shaving soap,” he said evenly.
“Good for him,” said Ray. “I've got disposables. You wanna shave, this is what you got.” The sceptical look on Ben’s face started to fade into something Ray didn’t recognise at first. When Ben’s hand came out, hesitantly, and took the razor, and as the kid stood looking at it, Ray realised what was happening. Ben didn’t know what to do, and he was panicking.
Which was why, a few minutes later, Ray was sharing his bathroom mirror with Fraser’s face. He stood just behind Ben’s shoulder, and talked him through the whole process of shaving. Wash your face first, in warm water. Yes, this is an aerosol can, don’t give me shit. Shave with the grain, not against it. Might pay to take the cap off of the razor before trying to use it.
Ray tipped his head back and demonstrated the best way to reach the tricky bit under the chin.
“You gotta be careful, or you’ll – yeah, cut yourself.” He grabbed some toilet paper, and turned Ben around to dab at the blood. It was only a small cut, and he tore a little square of paper to soak up the blood. “Okay, you’re good to go.” As Ben dropped his chin again, their eyes met. Ben looked away quickly, rinsing his razor in the sink. Ray shifted uncomfortably behind him, and, to fill the silence, said, “So, you’re, uh. You’re taking this real well.”
“It’s only a scratch.”
Ray looked sideways at him.
“That’s not what I meant,” he said, not sure whether Ben was for real. The kid didn’t seem to be particularly worried by the fact that he was looking in the mirror and seeing a thirty-something man instead of a fourteen-year-old kid. “I mean you being all, ya know, hypnotised and stuff.”
“Do you know who’s responsible for it?” Ben asked, lifting his chin again and scraping carefully along his jawline. Ray leaned around him to rinse his own razor, and got back to work on the two-day stubble on his cheeks.
“Not for sure.” He flicked some foam into the sink. “Looks like it had something to do with some buddies of yours from Mountie school.”
“Depot,” corrected Ben.
“Whatever. Anyway, today we’re gonna go track them down and get this whole thing straightened out.”
“Oh, good,” said Ben, his voice lifting with enthusiasm. “My grandfather says I have an aptitude for tracking.”
Ray looked back at him blankly. When he was fourteen his dad had clapped him on the shoulder one day and said, “Stanley, you throw a mean curve ball.” He’d grinned for the rest of the week. “Stanley, you have an aptitude for pitching” just wouldn’t have had the same ring. Yet Ben seemed to be grinning the same grin.
“I mean track them down Chicago-style,” he said. “No sniffing things or licking things. Definitely no licking things.” He emphasised that by pointing his razor meaningfully at Ben’s reflection, which looked confused. “We’ll go to the Consulate and pick up your stuff, and see if Turnbull knows anything about your friends. Then, we follow leads.” Ben shrugged his acceptance of this peculiar approach, and rinsed his razor again. There seemed to be a lot more foam than stubble coming off it. “You’re, uh, you’re doin’ good,” Ray said – blurted out, really.
Ben’s eyes flicked to his in the mirror, then away again.
Ray finished up as fast as he could without drawing blood, and said, “You take the first shower.”
He fetched some of his oldest, baggiest jeans, and another old, stretchy t-shirt, and was thankful it was warm out so Ben wouldn’t need a jacket, because Ray didn’t think he had one big enough.
While Ben showered, Ray got his own clothes ready so he could get dressed in the bathroom; he really didn’t want to have to come out in his towel and walk to his bedroom, and he also really didn’t want to think about why that was. Then he made tea while having a whispered conversation with Diefenbaker in the kitchen. Ray didn’t have any dog food, so he gave Dief what was left over from breakfast and promised food from the first fast-food stand they saw.
“What do you think?” Ray asked, as Dief licked up the remains of the scrambled eggs. “He seems okay. And fourteen’s better than five, right?”
Dief gave a whine. Ray wasn’t sure how to interpret it. Either the wolf was saying, “This is so fucked up, and you’re grasping at straws – if I were you I’d be panicking,” or “I’d kill for a breakfast bagel.”
“I’ll get you a bagel, I promise,” Ray said, and that got him a half-wave of the tail as he picked up the empty plates and piled them in the sink. “We gotta work together on this, though. You gotta help look after him, because we have to go find whoever did this, and I can’t keep an eye on him all the time. okay? We got a deal?” Dief sat, and cocked his head. “Yeah, yeah, doughnuts till you die, fine, whatever.” He was about to make a snippy comment about canine loyalty and man’s best friend, but thought better of it.
The bathroom room opened, and Ben stepped out, barefoot, tousled, and looking self-conscious. His clothes from yesterday were bundled up in his arms.
“There’s tea,” Ray said, grabbing his own clothes. “You left some of it here. I think I made it right.”
Ben wrinkled his nose.
“Bark tea? I hate that stuff.” Ray came to an abrupt, astonished halt. “My Grandmother says it’s an acquired taste, though,” Ben added, moving towards the tea pot that Fraser, in another life, had brought round so that he could stop having to drink Ray’s coffee out of politeness. “Who were you talking to?”
“Dief,” Ray said, going into the bathroom.
When he emerged, Ben was sitting on a kitchen chair, elbows on his knees, staring intently at Diefenbaker, who was returning his scrutiny with ears ever so slightly laid back. There was half a cup of cold tea on the kitchen counter.
“Where did you get this animal?” Ben asked, without looking away.
“I didn’t,” Ray replied, dumping his towel on the floor outside the bathroom and stepping into his boots. “He’s yours.”
Ben’s eyebrows flew up.
“Oh, really? He’s not very well trained.”
Dief gave a bark of utter disgust, turned his back on Ben and went and stood at the door, scratching it pointedly.
“I don’t think Dief does training,” Ray said as he scooped up his car keys and jacket. “He usually just does what he wants. He’ll do pretty much anything for a doughnut, though,” he added. “Saddle up, kid, we’re out of here.”
Ray stuck his badge in his pocket and put a jacket on over his gun, while Ben was in the bedroom lacing up the Mountie boots. He came out with the jeans tucked into the boots, and Ray had to explain that he could not be seen in public with Ben looking like that, and the boots had to be loosened and the jeans pulled out and over them before they were ready to leave.
Dief took off ahead of them as soon as Ray opened the apartment door, and was sitting by the Goat when they got downstairs.
“Are you saying he’s deaf?” Fraser was asking, sceptically, as they got into the car. Dief gave a long-suffering whine, and lay down in the back seat.
“Nah, you say he’s deaf,” Ray replied.
“He doesn’t seem deaf. I mean, he evidently hears things, although perhaps there is some limitation to his range. I think he’s just being difficult.”
“Yeah, I wonder where he picked that up from,” muttered Ray.
“I gotta check in with my boss before we go to the Consulate,” Ray said, as they drove through downtown Chicago. Ben was sitting very upright, but his eyes, Ray saw when he glanced over, were everywhere. He was playing it as cool as he could, but he’d never seen a city like this before, and if he hadn’t been so uptight he probably would’ve had his nose pressed to the window.
“What do you do?” asked Ben distantly. Ray thought he’d just caught an eyeful of the working girls under the El, and his mind was probably somewhere else.
“I’m a cop.”
“Ah.” Ben’s attention was back to him. “An officer of the law.”
“Yeah, a cop,” said Ray, an edge entering his voice. “But I’m not supposed to bring kids to work with me, so you gotta keep quiet and not draw attention to yourself.”
“I’m not a kid!” said Ben, stung.
“Sure you’re not. Just stick with me and if anyone talks to you just say ‘Thank you kindly.’” Ben shouldn’t attract so much attention at this age as he would when he was falling over his own feet and holding Ray’s hand, and pointing out pretty flowers or big trucks. The chances of this Ben holding Ray’s hand were slightly smaller than the chances of finding the Lieu dressed all in pink today.
Whatever had happened in the bullpen earlier that day had left a cleared area where there used to be a couple seats, and the linoleum was looking clean enough to suggest that someone had had to mop something up. Ray skirted that area, and knocked on Welsh’s door.
The Lieutenant looked up from his pastrami on rye, and took a beat to look at Ray, then Fraser, before setting the sandwich down carefully, and wiping his fingers on a paper napkin. He’d been called in to work on a Sunday, which had already set his blood pressure to a new, higher default level.
“Good morning, Vecchio,” he said. “Do I take it by your presence here that Constable Fraser has returned to full health and you’re ready to resume your duties as a paid employee of the city?”
“Uh, no,” said Ray. Welsh waved them in, standing up and coming around his desk to inspect Ben at closer quarters.
“How’s he doing?” he asked Ray.
“He’s fourteen, sir.”
Welsh looked Ben up and down.
“Yes, sir,” confirmed Ray.
“That’s too bad,” murmured Welsh.
“Tell me about it.”
Ben shifted his weight from one foot to the other. He was dying to say something pissy, Ray could just tell, but the kid was clearly trained not to talk back to a police officer. Or at least, not one who wasn’t Ray.
“Could I have the number for the shr – for that, uh, friend of yours? George? I figured I might call him to, you know, check.”
Welsh nodded. “You’d better collect Detective Huey’s notes while you’re here,” he said, as he circled back to sit behind his desk and pulled open a drawer. “He and Dewey are otherwise engaged in solving major crimes.” He held out a business card to Ray, giving him a dark look at the same time, and continued, “They tried to make enquiries at the Consulate, but the constable they spoke to was either being deliberately obstructive or is remarkably stupid.”
“Turnbull,” said Ray. The business card read “George Beard” and a bunch of letters. It didn’t say “shrink” but Ray figured Welsh only knew so many guys called George.
“Ah, yes. I remember.” Welsh sounded as if he wished he didn’t.
“You just gotta know how to ask the right questions with Turnbull.”
“I wish you luck, Detective.”
“That means I got this case, right, sir?”
“This is not a case, Vecchio. This is sick leave.”
“Sir!” protested Ray. “It’s assault on a police officer!”
Welsh leaned in. “You want to find some way to phrase this in the paperwork that won’t get us all committed, you go right ahead, and if at the same time you can find a way to explain to the DA’s office why you’re working on assault by hypnosis on a Canadian citizen, instead of the eight crimes against Americans that are sitting open on your desk right now, then that would be great, too. In the meantime, you’d better get this straightened out fast because all my other detectives are busy with official police work, and I would dearly love for that to be true of you as well.” Welsh took a breath, and possibly counted to ten in his head. “Otherwise, you’re officially on sick leave and you’d better get your ass out of here right now. Oh, and Constable?”
“He means you,” said Ray, grabbing Ben’s elbow as he made to high-tail it out of the office. Ben swivelled on his heel, swinging back to face Welsh with an expression of belligerence mixed with apprehension.
“My sincere condolences on your current… difficulties,” Welsh said, and his voice had dropped to that quiet tone that Ray had learnt to fear. “I certainly hope that, if Constable Fraser is anywhere in there, and if he can hear me, he will make every effort to rectify the situation as quickly as possible.”
Ben eyed the Lieutenant warily, and Ray had to grab him and hustle him out of the office.
There was a piece of paper on Ray’s desk, headed with the title “Assault on Constable Fraser, RCMP” and bearing a post-it that read, in Dewey’s scrawl, “Vecchio, what the fuck?” Underneath, Huey had added, “Enjoy your ‘sick leave.’” Ray crumpled the post-it and flicked it into the trashcan, folding the bigger piece of paper and sticking it in his back pocket.
“Hey Frase,” said Frannie brightly, dumping a load of files onto Huey’s desk, and turning her biggest, flashiest smile on Ben, who froze like a deer in the headlights, his mouth open. Shit. Ray hadn’t seen her coming. She should’ve been home eating Sunday lunch with the Vecchios, but it looked as if everyone’s weekend was getting ruined today.
“Frase?” said Frannie, cautiously, peering into his face. “Are you okay?” She laid a hand on his arm, and it had to be the one time in a million when she was touching him because she was actually concerned, not because she was trying to cop a feel – and it was also the one time in a million when it had the effect she usually wanted.
Ben gulped, and kept staring at her.
This was the most promising reaction she’d ever gotten out of him, and it was clearly throwing her off her stride. Ray grabbed Ben’s arm and dragged him away.
“I guess they don’t have girls like that where you come from, huh?” he said, and couldn’t help grinning, as they made their way back out to the goat. Ben shook his head mutely. His mind was clearly someplace else. Ray was happy enough with that: Ben allowed himself to be bundled into the passenger seat, and sat there in silence for a whole ten minutes. Ray switched on the radio, and was happy for those ten minutes. Who knew Frannie would have a use, after all?
Ray was sitting outside the Canadian consulate in the GTO, hands gripping the steering wheel, willing the Ice Queen to be tied up in a week-long meeting or off golfing with the ambassador from Peru or anything other than waiting for Fraser to show up. They definitely had to go inside. They needed more clothes for Ben, and Ray had to get Turnbull to help him find Fraser’s buddies from the other night. Ray was just going to need another minute to make Inspector Thatcher be somewhere else, with the power of his mind.
“I’m going to join the RCMP,” said Ben. He was looking hard at the Consulate building. “Once I’ve finished school.”
“Cool,” said Ray. Ben shot him a look. “Or, uh, not. Do you wanna be a Mountie?”
Ben’s chin lifted. “Yes,” he said definitely.
“Is that because your Dad’s a Mountie?”
“Partly.” Give the kid credit, he was honest. “How did you know you wanted to be a police officer?”
Ray cracked his neck. “It just kinda… seemed right. I couldn’t do much of anything else. And once I started at the academy, I knew I could do this.” He waved a hand in the general direction of the city. “It’s the only thing I was ever any good at. That, and dancing.” And Stella. And hello, there’s a whole can of worms to be avoided.
“You dance?” asked Ben, not bothering to hide his surprise.
“Yeah, sure. We used to dance in competitions, me and – me and my girlfriend, back then.”
Ben looked back at the Consulate, nodding a little, as if he was making a mental note.
Ray took a deep breath. “Okay. We’re going in there. Look, Ben, if we run into the Ice – I mean, if we run into this lady called Inspector Thatcher, just… Just only say ‘yes, sir’ or ‘no, sir’ to her, okay? Leave anything else up to me.” Ray wasn’t worried about talking to Turnbull. Turnbull could have a conversation with a table lamp. Turnbull wouldn’t notice anything was up.
It turned out Turnbull was manning the front desk, happily filling in forms, and looked up with a bright, empty smile when Ray and Ben came barrelling in.
“Ice Queen around?” asked Ray, in a low voice. Turnbull leaned forward, lowering his own voice in kind.
“Inspector Thatcher is on a conference call to Toronto at the moment, Detective Vecchio, but she has been asking to see Constable Fraser, and I’m sure she would be happy for me to interrupt the call in order to notify her that – ”
Ray laid a hand on Turnbull’s shoulder, resisting the urge to slap the guy’s head against his own desk.
“Turnbull, it is very, very important that Inspector Thatcher not see Fraser right now. Do you understand what I’m saying?”
“I understand, Detective. Would you prefer me to patch Constable Fraser in on the telephone call?” He lifted the phone questioningly. Ray’s fingers tightened on his shoulder.
“No,” he said, between gritted teeth. “No, I would not prefer that. Here’s what I want you to do. There was a bunch of Mounties in town on Thursday. Fraser knew them. He went to Moriarty’s Irish Bar with them. I want you to find out who they are, where they work, why they were here, where they’re going next, and I want you to find out any other interesting things about them that you can find out, like what hotel they’re staying at here in Chicago, and how I can get my hands on them. You got all of that?”
“A ‘bunch of Mounties,’ Detective?” queried Turnbull.
“That’s right. He said they were here for some kind of conference or workshop or something. They’re friends of his from Mountie School.”
“Depot,” chorused Turnbull and Ben together. Ray shot Ben a “shut up” look, then turned back to Turnbull.
“Constable Fraser rarely confides his social plans to me,” the Mountie was saying.
“I believe that,” said Ray. “But, Turnbull, you work here at the Canadian Consulate, right?”
“So it would appear, Detective Vechhio.”
“And you’re a Mountie?”
“To my honour, yes.”
“So if there was a group of Mounties here in Chicago there’s a good chance you could find out who they were and where they were staying. Right?”
“I’d say there was a fair chance of that, Detective.”
“Good, that’s great, greatness. And here’s where it gets tricky, Turnbull, so listen carefully.” Turnbull nodded seriously. “I want you to do all of that, while making sure the Ice Queen does not know anything about it. It’s a secret, okay? Got that?”
Turnbull was still nodding, like one of those bobble-headed dogs, and Ray lifted his hand from the guy’s shoulder carefully, not wanting to shake anything loose from his brain. Then he grabbed Ben’s arm and led him down the corridor and into Fraser’s office.
“What’s the matter with that man?” asked Ben, sounding genuinely worried. Ray was casting about, trying to figure out where Fraser kept his stuff. His cot was folded up neatly against the wall, and underneath was a little folded pile of red material: his jammies. Ray snatched them up and shoved them into a plastic bag from his pocket.
“Turnbull?” he said. “Turnbull’s an idiot.”
“But he’s an officer of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police,” Ben said.
“Yeah. Go figure.”
Where would Fraser hide his underwear? Ray was looking for a chest of drawers or something, when he realised Ben was standing there, looking shell-shocked, as if he was going to cry. Again.
Ray could not handle any more of Ben crying.
“What? What’s wrong?”
“Applicants have to work very hard to get into the RCMP,” said Ben, his voice a little choked, and now Ray wasn’t sure if it was with distress or anger. “I’ll have to study hard and apply myself and make sure I come top
in all of my lessons in order to gain entry, and once there I’ll have to redouble my efforts. One has to work very hard to be a Mountie. They don’t let just anybody do it.” He sounded as if he was reciting something he’d heard somebody else say, maybe heard lots of times. Then he waved a hand toward the door. “But they let him be a Mountie?”
“Hey, Turnbull’s okay,” Ray said. He’d never thought he might one day defend Turnbull against someone chalking him up for the single-celled organism that he was. Ray opened the closet, and started pawing through it, shoving more things into the plastic bag. Jeans, t-shirt, shirt, and a-ha, a neat little pile of boxer shorts and socks. He grabbed everything he could, trying to ignore the thought that he didn’t know how long this nightmare was going to go on, then saw Ben’s face.
The kid was staring into the closet like he’d never seen one before.
“Something wrong, Ben?” asked Ray.
Ben cleared his throat, eyes wide, and backed away.
“Uh, no. No, nothing’s wrong. Can we leave now?”
“Yeah,” said Ray, shutting the closet. “Let’s skedaddle.”
They were on their way out the door when Ray’s eye caught a couple of books sitting on Fraser’s desk. The one on top was titled Experimental Hypnosis. A very bad feeling turned over in Ray’s stomach, but he grabbed both books, tucked them into the bag along with Fraser’s clothes, and they got out while the getting was good.
They stopped outside a bakery and Ray sent Ben inside with Dief and a couple of crumpled fives from the bottom of his coat pocket. The wolf would probably be on a sugar high for the rest of the day, but what the hell. While they were gone, he dug out the shrink’s card, hauled out his cellphone, and dialled.
“Doctor Beard’s office,” a woman’s voice answered. “Ah, Detective Vecchio, we were told to expect a call from you.” So Welsh had been there ahead of him. Either helping him out or seeking help for himself, Ray wasn’t sure which. “Please hold.”
Paul Simon soothed Ray’s nerves for a moment, before there was a click, and George the Shrink said, “Detective Vecchio? How is Ben today?”
“He says he’s fourteen,” said Ray.
The shrink made a “hmmm” noise that made Ray want to choke someone.
“So?!” Ray prompted, when there was no further input from George. “He didn’t wake up better. What do I do?”
“Nothing,” said the shrink. “Do as I told you before: take care of him, keep a close eye on him. The fact that he has ‘aged’ overnight – ” Ray could hear the quotation marks falling into place, “seems encouraging to me. Whatever therapy Ben is creating for himself seems to be progressing. He’s finding something constructive, and moving on. I’d say there’s a good chance that this will continue until he does, in fact, wake up in the present day.”
“Continue,” repeated Ray. “Continue until when?”
There was another shrink noise, and Ray clenched his jaw, his fist and even his toes.
“It’s impossible to say, of course,” said George. “This is a very unusual case,” he murmured. “Your friend evidently has a strong inclination towards introspection, as well as towards trance.”
“He had some book,” said Ray, lurching around to grab the bag of Fraser’s stuff from the back seat. He pulled out the two books he’d taken from Fraser’s desk. “Yeah. Experimental Hypnosis, it says. Kind of a giveaway I guess.”
“Ah,” said George. “Lecron. Interesting choice.” The door of the bakery opened, and Ben came out, with Dief frisking beside him. Ben was holding a white bakery bag, and seemed to be giving some sort of speech. Dief looked hungry and impatient. “If he was already reading about hypnotism,” the shrink was saying thoughtfully, “and if he was familiar with it, indeed, if he’d been hypnotised before… yes, it all seems to come together, doesn’t it, Detective.”
“What?” demanded Ray, watching the human-canine drama playing itself out on the sidewalk. Ben was still lecturing; Dief was giving “shut up already” signals. “It all comes together as what? Some guys do some voodoo and my partner’s suddenly a little kid and what the hell am I supposed to do about it? Can I click my fingers and snap him out of it? What?”
“Calm down, Detective,” soothed the shrink. “I really think this will all resolve itself. Please do keep me informed of Ben’s progress – he is an intriguing case, and in fact, I would be very interested in talking with him some more and perhaps even publishing – ”
Ray snapped the phone shut as Ben opened the door. Dief jumped in, doughnut in his jaws, and slunk into the back seat.
“I tried to explain the detrimental effects of sugar and carbohydrates, and how a diet of doughnuts is essentially unnatural, but I’m afraid it went in one ear and out the other.” Ben crumpled the bakery bag with a sigh.
“You didn’t get me anything?” asked Ray. Ben shook his head. “Then where’s my change?”
The bartender at Moriarty’s took one look at Ben and said, “Yeah, I remember him.”
Ray leaned on the bar, wishing it was Miller time, and took out his notebook. Moriarty’s Irish Bar was small, with a couple booths and a long bar stretching the length of the room. There was a pool table at the back, a dart board, and a wide-screen TV. It was Sunday and the bar wasn’t technically open yet, but there was a game on tonight and the owner-bartender was getting things ready. He introduced himself as Joseph Breuer, adding, “Yeah, good name for a bartender, I know.” Ray had automatically gone to exchange a glance with Fraser, but Ben had been looking around the bar instead of paying attention, so he was left hanging. Now, he flicked to a fresh page in his notebook and hoped for the best.
“You remember who he was in with?”
Breuer cocked an eyebrow at Ray.
“Why don’t you ask him?”
Ben had wandered over to the dart board and was plucking the darts out of it.
“He got knocked on the head,” Ray said. “He’s fuzzy on the details. Just tell me what you remember about Thursday night, okay?”
“Sure. There were about five or six of them, I think. They sat in the corner table.” He nodded his head to the back booth near where Ben was lining up to take a shot at the board. “I think they were Canadian, ’cause they had these hats.” Ray nodded. “They stayed a couple hours, had some drinks. They were quiet. Polite, ya know?”
“Anything else you noticed about them, anything you overheard?” prompted Ray. “Anything like, I dunno, a name? C’mon, Mr. Breuer, six Canadians drinking together they musta been talking about moose or Inuits or something – something you’d remember.”
“Well.” He hesitated. “I don’t want to get anyone into trouble. It wasn’t a big deal. I had to go over to them, around nine. One of them was lighting matches then blowing them out, and they were all laughing like crazy. I asked them to stop, because I didn’t want them setting the place on fire by accident, you know? They were fine, they apologised and they stopped. Then, about a half hour later they’d went kinda quiet. So I went over to check on them.” The bartender scratched the back of his neck. Behind Ray, Ben got two bullseyes and sent his third dart into a ceiling beam. “Your friend there was doing some kind of trick, reciting something. The others all seemed to be enjoying it, but as soon as they saw me one of them snapped his fingers, and he stopped. That’s what was weird. They didn’t shush him, the guy just snapped his fingers, and then they all sat there waiting till I went away.”
“Is that it?”
“Yeah, they left soon after that.”
“Do you know what he was reciting? Like, a poem, or something?”
“Nah, it wasn’t poetry. It sounded like he was reading out of a book or something. I didn’t hear much.”
“Can you describe these Canadians?”
Breuer shrugged. “Tall, healthy-looking. One woman, the rest were men. I dunno, Detective, I mainly just noticed the hats. You could ask Janet, one of my waitresses. She served their table. I think she took a shine to your friend.”
“I bet.” Ray’s cellphone rang, and he dug it out of his pocket, saying, “You got Janet’s home address?”
“Yeah, I got it here.” Breuer dug under the bar for an address book. Ray tapped on his notebook, indicating that Breuer should write the details down, and turned away to flip open his phone.
“Ah, Detective.” Turnbull sounded happy to have found him, as if having Ray answer his own cellphone was a pleasant surprise. “I did as you requested, and found out about all RCMP officers who have visited Chicago in the last few weeks. There were only two groups of visitors. The first was Sergeant Bernheim and his twin daughters, who were in town for a cheerleading competition held from Monday to Friday last week at the University of Chicago campus.” There was a hopeful pause.
“I really don’t think that’s who I’m looking for,” said Ray.
“Ah.” There was the sound of a piece of paper being crumpled up. “The other group is a delegation of Royal Canadian Mounted Police attending a weekend workshop on ‘Handguns and the Average American,’ being run by Officer Barber of the Chicago Police Training Academy. It’s being held at the Barrett Hotel. I took the liberty of ringing the hotel to enquire as to whether any of the RCMP delegates were in residence there, and they confirmed that all attendees of the conference were guests.”
“Except for the Canadian delegation, who made their own arrangements.”
Ray braced a hand on one of the booth tables, and thought about taking some calming breaths. He’d seen Welsh doing that a lot. Didn’t seem to work that great, though.
“Do you know where they’re staying?”
“I swear to God, I’m gonna come down there and –” He broke off, slammed a fist into the table, then said through clenched teeth, “Find out where they’re staying. They’re Mounties here on official business, they must’ve checked in with someone!”
“I’ll certainly do my best, Detective Vecchio. You know, working with you like this,” Turnbull’s voice took what, from anyone else, would be a thoughtful tone, “I begin to see why Constable Fraser is so devoted to his position as liaison to the police department. It’s an office that I myself might be interested –”
“Yeah, thanks Turnbull, gotta go.” Ray snapped his phone shut. “Hey!”
Ben turned with a guilty start. He had a beer and two shot glasses lined up in front of him on the bar. Breuer was just returning a tequila bottle to the ranks of liquor reflected in the bar mirror.
Ray strode over and snarled, “You don’t drink. He doesn’t drink,” he told Breuer, then added, “Besides, you’re under age.”
“Uh, Detective?” queried the bartender, sounding very confused.
Ray snatched up his notebook and pocketed it, hustling Ben towards the door with a hand tight on his elbow.
“I turn my back for one freakin’ minute,” he was saying, when Breuer called out, “Detective!”
They turned back.
“That will be twelve-fifty.”
“I can’t believe I had to pay for a round of drinks I didn’t even get to drink,” bitched Ray, slapping a hand on the steering wheel. “Seriously, kid, you are nothing but trouble.”
“Sorry to be a burden to you, Ray,” sniffed Ben, turning his head away to look out the window. He didn’t sound sorry. He sounded pissy. Well fine, that made two of them.
“Don’t you take that tone with me,” said Ray, and shot Ben a pure death glare. The kid was a pain in the ass, no question. But he had just made Ray’s Dad’s voice come out of Ray’s mouth, and that was the most disturbing thing since, well, since teaching Ben to shave. This day could possibly get worse, although he really didn’t want to know how.
“I didn’t ask to be here,” snipped Ben quietly.
“The hell you didn’t!” yelled Ray. A yellow light turned red and he ran it, and it was a measure of his own annoyance that he didn’t spare a moment to be smug about Fraser not telling him off. “This is pure you, Fraser – Ben – whoever the fuck you are!”
Ben turned scandalised eyes to him. “Surely you’re not suggesting that I wanted this to happen?”
“That’s what the shrink said.”
Ray ignored him. “It wouldn’t be happening if you weren’t letting it. There’s something about you, who you are now, that made you, the today-you,” the real you, said the heartless voice in Ray’s head, “the older you, want to be you again.”
Ben’s belligerence had segued rapidly into scorn.
“I can’t imagine what that could possibly be,” he said, in his prissiest voice.
“Yeah, well, me neither,” snarled Ray.
He pulled in at a diner and they went inside in silence, Dief following behind. Ray was thinking over their situation and planning their next move. Ben was sulking. There was an important difference between the two.
As soon as they’d sat down in a booth the waitress came over, swinging her hips and trilling “Hi, Constable Fraser!” She gave him a huge smile, and tucked her blond curls behind her ear as she fished a pencil out of her apron pocket. Ray bet she’d popped an extra button on her shirt before coming over, too. That much cleavage could not be safe in an environment with a lot of hot oil and condiments around.
Ben was doing his landed-fish impression, so Ray ordered for them. “He’ll have the usual. I’ll have a burger and fries. And a hamburger with cheese for the wolf.” Under the table, where he had slunk to keep out of the way of their fight, Dief gave a woof of appreciation. “And coffee,” Ray added. “Lots of coffee. Just keep it comin’.”
The waitress gave Ben a wink, and sashayed away. Ray was starting to be relieved that Fraser’s usual reaction to forward women was stunned silence. Apparently no one was picking up on the difference between a politely speechless Fraser and a knock-kneed, choked-up, teenaged Ben.
“Do I – do we know her?” whispered Ben, leaning across the table towards him. Evidently the female population of Chicago had the ability to distract Ben from anything, including a solid-gold sulk.
“She’s a waitress.”
“Yes, but she seemed… very friendly.” Ben shot a look at her across the diner, half scared and half intrigued.
Ray rubbed his eyes. He could explain to Ben that his grown-up self was the proverbial flame to which women, and some men, were drawn like moths; that his presence was guaranteed to make ninety-five percent of any group of people swoon; that he was, not to put too fine a point on it, beautiful. Or, Ray could brush right by the whole issue.
“You like the pancakes here,” he said. “They use real butter.”
Ben sat back. “Oh, so we come here frequently.”
Ray fished the results of Huey and Dewey’s investigations out of his back pocket. Turned out that on Saturday they’d gone to Moriarty’s, but Mr. Breuer had been away on a fishing trip and the bartender in charge hadn’t been there on Thursday when the Mounties were there. The Duck boys had gone on to the Consulate, and spoken to Turnbull, which equated to half an hour of wasted time. They’d left a message for Inspector Thatcher to get back to them about any visiting delegations of Mounties, which, fuck, could only make her suspicious about Fraser’s absence this weekend.
Every now and again Fraser would get caught up in a case with Ray, and Thatcher seemed to have gotten used to that. Fraser always notified her if getting drowned or set on fire or abducted or shot at was going to interfere with his regular duties, but Fraser had this weekend off, which meant that he wasn’t officially MIA until tomorrow. On the other hand, if Thatcher noticed that Fraser hadn’t been sleeping in his office, she would be curious, at best. At worst, she would smell a rat.
But Fraser might be better tomorrow morning. The thought made Ray’s stomach clench with longing. When Fraser was better – when Fraser was back – God, he’d be so happy to see the guy, he’d –
“Here ya go, Fraser,” purred the waitress, sliding Ben’s plate in front of him. She shoved Ray’s down as an afterthought. “Anything else you want?”
Ben shook his head, mesmerised.
“Coffee,” said Ray. “Coffee. Please?” She gave him an “Oh, yeah, you” look, smiled at Ben again, and hustled away.
They both picked up knives and forks, and looked at their food.
“Why does everyone here call me Fraser?” Ben asked. Ray got the feeling it was a question that had been on his mind since Frannie. Ray shrugged.
“That’s your name.”
“My last name.” He was paying close attention to cutting up the top pancake.
“It’s just what everyone calls you.”
“You don’t. You call me Ben.”
“Yeah, but – ” not normally, he was going to say. Not when you’re really you. “We’re friends. I know you better than all those other people.”
Ben raised his head for a moment, with a glimmer of a smile, then ducked it again, and Ray thought he could see a blush creeping up Ben’s neck. Ray chewed on his burger.
“Back at home,” Ben said, apparently talking to his lunch, “nobody knows me. They just know my father’s son.”
Wow. Ouch. Ray groped wildly for the right thing to say to that.
“Your dad’s kinda famous, huh?”
“That’s gotta be hard.”
“Ya know, my dad didn’t like it when I decided to be a cop. He didn’t like the girl I wanted to marry. I guess he was just an ordinary guy, not famous or anything, but I still wanted him to, you know, approve of me. To be proud of me. I guess I wanted to live up to him. I don’t think I ever have.” Ben frowned at him. Jeeze, he hoped he wasn’t just making the kid feel even worse. “I mean, we didn’t even talk to each other for, like, eight years. Not till a couple of months ago. I still don’t know if he’s proud of me or anything. But I think we’ve all gotta make our own way, ya know? You can’t be following in someone’s footsteps your whole life.” Unless you’re Benton Fraser, he reminded himself, who’s still trying to fill a dead man’s shoes. And possibly it was a good idea to steer the conversation away from Ben’s dad, because Ray would sooner eat glass than tell a fourteen-year-old Ben that his father was dead.
The rest of the day was pretty much a bust. They went to the Barrett Hotel, only to be informed by the concierge that the attendees of the Chicago Police Training Academy’s gun workshop had all gone out paintballing.
“Where?” Ray had asked. He had laid his badge on the countertop, but the concierge didn’t seem to give a damn.
“I’m afraid that information was not made public.”
“When do you expect them back?”
“I really couldn’t say, Detective.”
“This is a police investigation,” Ray growled. “You do not wanna get in my way, mister. Believe me.” Behind him, Ben was examining a potted ficus. “I have had a bad day, and the only thing that’s gonna make it better is if I get to talk to the Mounties who are at this conference – that, or getting to arrest someone for obstruction. And I don’t usually like to settle for second best, but right now…” He flashed his scariest grin, and tapped his fingernails on the countertop. The concierge’s upper lip twitched.
“I’m afraid I really cannot help you, Detective,” he said. “The conference attendees were expecting to return late. The Canadian attendees are not resident at this hotel. I can leave a message for the organisers, but apart from that, I’m afraid…” He raised his hands in a gesture of polite helplessness. “Conferences on topics such as these can be extremely delicate, and unless I’m authorised by one of the organisers, or unless you can provide a warrant, I’m not at liberty to disclose any of the details of the attendees or their whereabouts. Besides, you’re a cop. Can’t you just ask at the Academy?”
Ray ground his teeth, and with a soft and dangerous voice managed to extract three numbers for the conference organisers, as well as leaving a message for them to contact him as soon as possible when they returned to the hotel.
The first number was to an office where, unsurprisingly on a Sunday afternoon, there was only an answering machine. The other two were to cellphones that were evidently switched off or out of range. Ray left messages, and then other messages, rang the Academy and left messages there too, and then rang Turnbull but the Ice Queen answered, so he hung up. When his cellphone rang a minute later, he turned it off. Caller ID sucked.
“What now?” asked Ben, from his place in the passenger seat. A half-hearted whine from the back seat suggested that the day’s junk food was taking its toll on Diefenbaker.
“Now,” said Ray, “we walk your wolf.”
Ray was trying to remember what he was like when he was fourteen. Apart from being obnoxious, and throwing a mean curve, and being in love with Stella, he couldn’t remember much detail. He suspected, though, that he hadn’t been the kind of kid who would pick up sticks in the park, bring them home, and use a steak knife to whittle them.
Seriously. Whittling. Who did that, except toothless old men in rocking chairs on porches?
On the other hand, it was keeping Ben quiet. They’d had pizza, they’d watched tv, and now Ben was sitting at the kitchen table ruining one of Ray’s knives carving little spirit figures or something. Ray was on the couch, withExperimental Hypnosis, and the other book from Fraser’s desk. He’d called the Academy a dozen times, and there was still no one there who knew the timetable for the gun conference. None of his other messages had been returned. Apparently the conference hadn’t returned to the hotel yet. The investigation was well and truly stalled.
He’d read through the introduction to the book about hypnosis, and as far as he could tell it confirmed George’s opinion. Fraser was, apparently, predisposed to the hypnotic state. Ray sounded out that phrase under his breath. Fraser spent hours in a trance-like state, standing guard outside the Consulate. He’d been hypnotised in the past, plus he’d done, like, spirit quests in a yurt, or a whatever it was –
“Hey, Ben. What’s that thing the Indians have, with all the steam, in a tent?”
“A sweat lodge, Ray?”
A sweat lodge. Right. On the other hand, Fraser wasn’t the type to give up control easily, or at all. He trusted people in the blink of an eye, in some ways – but it had been over a year, and Ray still didn’t think he’d made it past the first few barriers of Fraser’s defences. He couldn’t believe that Fraser would let someone hypnotise him. But then, it sure sounded like that was what was happening at Moriarty’s on Thursday night. On the other hand, Fraser could recite stuff naturally.
Ray gave a deep sigh, and picked up the second book. It was a hard-covered notebook, filled with Fraser’s neat script. He’d known, as soon as he’d cracked it open, what it was. Fraser’s journal.
Fraser was always going on about his father, and how he’d kept a journal, so it wasn’t surprising that Fraser had one himself. Ray ran an uneasy hand over the black cover. He hadn’t read any of it yet, except for catching one page that had dates and comments about things like wind temperatures, and he was steeling himself to open it up when Ben asked from the kitchen, “What’s that?”
Ray tried to hide the book under his shirt.
Ben stared at him as if he was an idiot, which, fair enough, he had a book up his shirt. Ray sighed and brought it out again.
“It’s your – it’s grown-up you’s diary.”
“Were you planning on reading it?” asked Ben, his tone icy.
“Hey, we need all the help we can get, here,” said Ray defensively.
“You have no right to invade my privacy like that.”
“It’s not like it’s actually yours.”
“Yes, it is.”
“No, it isn’t. Did you buy it? Did you write in it? Do you know what’s in it? No. So it’s not yours.”
“It’s not yours either.”
“It’s what we cops like to call evidence. That means I’m allowed to read it.”
“If you’re going to read it I don’t see why I shouldn’t.” Ben came and sat beside Ray on the couch. Ray quickly tucked the journal under his ass.
“That’s too bad, because you’re not gonna.”
“You’re being childish.”
“Look who’s talking.”
They glared at each other. Ben’s jaw twitched and for a moment Ray wondered if the kid was actually considering getting physical. He’d already tested the joys of shaving and drinking – maybe he wanted to see if he could punch his weight. But then the moment passed, and Ben stood up abruptly.
“You never let me do anything.”
Ray couldn’t help a bark of incredulous laughter. Benton Fraser, typical teenager. Who’d’ve guessed?
Ben shot him a glare, then went back to the kitchen table, flung himself into his seat, and picked up the wood and the knife. Possibly not a great idea to let a sulky kid play with a sharp blade, but at least he was out of Ray’s hair.
Ray pulled the journal out again, and took a quiet breath. It wasn’t that he actually wanted to read Fraser’s journal. In fact, he really didn’t. Curiosity might’ve killed the cat, but that had never stopped Ray when he really wanted to know something. Sitting there with Fraser’s private journal in his hands, though, he discovered that there was a whole bunch of stuff he didn’t want to know. He didn’t want to know what Fraser thought about late at night. He didn’t want to know whether Fraser liked his job, whether he sometimes thought about going back to Canada, whether he got lonely or horny or sad. He didn’t want to know if Fraser wrote about Ray in that journal.
Those all seemed like things he might have wanted to know, but only if he could do something about them.
On the other hand, maybe the very last page had “This evening I will meet my old nemesis The Great Hypnoto, who can be found at this address…” So he really had no choice.
Ray open the journal at the back, and flipped through until he got to the last page that had writing on it. It was last Friday, and was marked simply, “Anniversary of the death of Sergeant Robert Fraser.” He flicked one page back. “Moriarty’s, 7.30.”
Ray blinked himself awake, vaguely surprised at not being woken up by Dief. He yawned, and stretched so his toes went over one end of the couch and his arms over the other, and his spine cracked satisfyingly all the way up his back. Then he blinked again, and opened his eyes properly, and Benton Fraser was sitting on the coffee table a couple of inches away, watching him.
“Jesus fucking Christ!” yelped Ray, and hello, there was that early morning heart attack he’d been missing. He pressed one hand to his chest and gasped until the adrenalin surge passed.
“I’m sorry to have startled you, Ray,” said… okay, who was this?
Ray pushed himself up so he was sitting opposite the Fraser person, and leaned his elbows on his knees, and squinted deep into those blue eyes. They were… well hell, they were beautiful. He could stare into those eyes all day. He would die a happy man if he could drown in those eyes.
The eyebrows above them were beginning to draw downwards and inwards, though, and Ray flopped backwards with a groan, covering his face with his hands.
“It’s not you, is it?” he muttered into his palms.
“I’m hoping you can explain what I’m doing here,” said Ben, and it must be Ben again. His face wasn’t bright and guileless like little Ben’s or shuttered and moody like teenaged Ben, and his tone sounded just like Fraser’s – and yet, it still wasn’t Fraser. Ray laced his fingers over the top of his head and stared back at Ben, who was sitting on the coffee table in his pumpkin pants and Henley and boots. This Ben knew how to work the pumpkin pants. So…
“I’ll tell you everything I can, Ben,” said Ray, “but first you gotta tell me: how old are you?”
Ben’s eyebrows drew further inwards.
“I’m twenty-one,” he said.
Ray let out a long groan and dragged both hands down over his face.
“Something about that distresses you?” asked Ben.
“O-kay,” said Ray on a sigh, and sat up straight. This brought his face within inches of Ben’s, which made him shy away again, and he stood up. “It’s like this. You’re not twenty-one. You’re thirty-two. You think you’re twenty-one because you got hypnotised and you, like, age-regressed. First you were five, then you were fourteen which, let me tell you, was not a picnic for either of us. Now you’re twenty-one. I got a shrink says that means you’ll probably wake up normal sometime soon, but there are no guarantees. We don’t know exactly how it happened, but you met up with some old buddies of yours from Mountie school and this,” he waved a hand in the air, “whole thing started a couple days afterward, plus we got a witness who described your buddies doing something that sounds a lot like hypnotism. So we’re gonna find them and kick the shit out of them till they tell us if they did it, and how to fix it. You get all that?”
Ben was still sitting on the coffee table, looking up at him. He took a short breath, letting his gaze drift away from Ray and around the room.
“That’s ridiculous,” he said eventually.
“I am well aware of that.”
“It doesn’t make any sense.”
“I’m not – I mean, I am – ” He stood up. “I’m not thirty-two! I would remember if I was thirty-two! I know how old I am. I know you. I remember you. I remember coming to stay with you when I was young.” He started pacing, raising his voice, running his hands through his hair. “You looked after me when my father was away. You… you took me to the park. You tucked me in. I remember.”
Woah. Fraser looked very freaked out. Ray raised his hands, trying for a soothing tone. “Think about it, Ben. Do you remember the park? Remember having to walk through Chicago to get to it? You got parks and cities like this up in the North West areas? Or do you think your grandparents swung by Chicago on the dogsled to drop you off for weekend visits?”
Ben frowned, coming to an abrupt halt in the middle of the carpet, as if he’d suddenly run out of steam. “I remember…” he repeated, then trailed off.
“I know you do. I know.” Senseless words. Dammit. Ray rubbed his hands on his pants legs, hating seeing Fraser’s face so crestfallen, so sad. And because of him. Well, not because of him exactly, but it was him here and now. “Do you remember when you were fourteen?”
Ben looked at him, a momentary confusion in his eyes, and then his gaze drifted away, into the past.
“Yes,” he said, eventually. “I came to stay again. Dad was… He was away, and my grandparents…” He shook his head. “It doesn’t make sense. It seemed to at the time.”
“That was yesterday.”
Ben’s head snapped round to him again, and he was looking desperate.
“It was seven years ago!”
“Nah, buddy. Sorry. It was yesterday.”
Ben jumped to his feet, and started pacing up and down.
“I was fourteen! You – you made me breakfast. Scrambled eggs and mushrooms. You said you’d grown them in the cupboard under the sink.” He spun round, and looked at the kitchen. Yeah, thought Ray. Same kitchen. Same dishes in the sink. Even Ray wasn’t that shitty of a housekeeper that he still had the same dishes lying around after seven years.
“We had this conversation yesterday, too,” Ray added. “You don’t remember that? I explained it to you then.” Ben shook his head helplessly. “Yeah, I kinda got the impression you weren’t really taking it in.”
Ben ran his hands through his hair again, and he was breathing pretty fast. Something occurred to him, and he looked around the apartment desperately, saw the bathroom door half open, and strode in. Ray followed. Ben was standing, looking in the mirror. He raised both hands, slowly, to his face, and touched it.
“You okay?” asked Ray. This wasn’t the wondering, intrigued mirror-gazing of the younger Ben. This was closer to blind panic.
Ben took several shallow breaths, still running his fingers over the skin around his eyes and forehead.
“No,” he said quietly, tightly. “No, I’m not ‘okay.’ I just had fourteen years of my life taken away from me. I – ” he broke off, and turned his head from side to side. “I’m old.”
“Hey!” Jesus, twenty-one-year-olds. To them, anyone over twenty-five was ancient. Ray remembered thinking like that. “You’re not old. And you didn’t get anything taken away from you but some of your memory. It’ll come back.” Ray used his most soothing tone of voice. “Listen, Ben, I know it’s freaky. Believe me. It’s been pretty goddamn freaky for me, too. But you’re comin’ out of this. Maybe tomorrow you’ll wake up and – ”
“And what?” Ben’s voice was frantic, and he searched Ray’s face with his eyes, as if he was looking for something. “I’ll wake up and be forty? Or fifty?”
“Uh. I don’t think it’s gonna happen like that.”
“You don’t think?”
“Hey, listen, I’m flying blind here, too. But we’re gonna catch whoever did this to you, and in the meantime you just gotta calm down, Ben, okay? Panicking right now ain’t gonna help anyone.”
This seemed to work. Ben drew in some deep, shuddering breaths, and pulled himself together.
“Of course. You’re right.” He met Ray’s eyes again, and hell, there it was. That Mountie look. He must’ve learnt that at Depot. Deliberate calm and control, even though he was breaking up inside. That’s the look, thought Ray, staring at it, that’ll turn into the patented Fraser blank wall, in a couple of years. He opened his mouth, had a crazy urge to say something, to stop Fraser perfecting that control, to beg him to keep something real in him, so in fourteen years’ time he wouldn’t drive his cop partner Ray Kowalski insane with his self-control and logic and pretty, blank face.
“I’m sorry, Ray,” Ben was saying. “I lost control of myself for a moment. I apologise.”
“It’s okay, Ben. It’s okay.”
Ben was keen to get on the trail of the Mounties from Moriarty’s, and was less than impressed with Ray’s first detecting move of the day, which was to call the Barrett Hotel. The hotel told him the Academy’s gun conference had arrived back late on Sunday night. The conference was winding up and the attendees would be checking out that morning. The organisers were currently unavailable to come to the phone.
“They weren’t available yesterday, either!” snapped Ray. “This is a police investigation. I need to talk to someone in charge there.”
“I’m sorry, sir, but none of the organisers is currently available.”
Ray hung up, and called the numbers the concierge had given him the previous day. He got answer machines and voice mail again. He rang the Academy secretary he’d spoken to yesterday afternoon. She put him on hold, and after ten minutes told him she wasn’t able to get in touch with the conference organisers, but they should be back in their offices around lunchtime.
“No luck?” asked Ben when Ray swore and hung up for the last time. Ben had dressed himself in the full red uniform, tutting to himself over the grass stains and general wear and tear inflicted by his five-year-old self, which apparently included an orange juice stain on the bottom of his Henley that Ray hadn’t noticed until it was pointed out to him.
Ray swigged the second half of his coffee while Ben fastened his Sam Browne and adjusted his lanyard with care.
“Where’s Diefenbaker?” asked Ray. Ben looked up from fixing his epaulettes.
“Buried in the grounds of the University of Saskatchewan. Why?”
“I mean the wolf.”
“Ah. He seemed keen to leave, so I let him out the window. It’s somewhat eccentric to be keeping a wolf in an inner-city apartment, Ray.”
“Even weirder to keep him in a Consulate. He’s yours.”
“Oh.” Ben raised his eyebrows. “He did act rather presumptuously.”
“Gave you the sniff-test, huh?” grinned Ray. He could imagine Dief’s disappointment on discovering that, yet again, the body that smelled like Fraser did not, in fact, contain Fraser.
“Shall we attempt to track down your suspects, now?” asked Ben, brushing down the front of his tunic as he changed the subject.
“Yeah, sure, let’s do that.” They’d go to the Barrett Hotel and find someone who’d been at the gun conference – the Mounties must’ve spoken to somebody, must’ve said where they were staying, when they were leaving, something.
Dief was sitting beside the car. He gave Ray a woof, and ignored Ben. “Yeah, don’t I know it,” muttered Ray, opening the driver’s side to let Dief in.
“It’s taken two full days to track these people down?” Ben asked, as Ray negotiated morning traffic.
“Hey, they’re Mounties,” said Ray defensively. “They’re always moving around, ya know – keeping active. Plus, what did I have to work with on the Canadian end? Turnbull?” Ben raised his eyebrows questioningly. “Let me tell ya, Turnbull leaves a lot to be desired in the liaising game. And the detecting game. Pretty much any game, really. Except maybe curling, but I wouldn’t know about that.”
“Ray, you’re babbling.”
“I’m just sayin’, there have been circumstances.”
“It sounds as if you’re rather over-compensating.”
“I mean, you’re working very hard to justify yourself.”
“Well, I’m not!”
“You’re certainly very defensive.”
“I am not!”
“Perhaps you’re so defensive because you suspect that, subconsciously, you haven’t been focusing all of your attention on the pure procedural practicalities of this case – ”
“Don’t you talk to me about subconsciously doing shit!” yelled Ray. “I’m not the one who decided to literally take a walk down memory lane!”
“If it were a literal walk –” began Ben.
“You have been walking the walk and talking the talk, Ben,” shouted Ray, “and it’s been pretty fucking literal from where I’m standing. It is not easy to do policework and babysit at the same time, plus while I’m trying to figure out whether my perps have even done anything wrong or whether my partner’s just decided to flip the fuck out and take me along for the ride!”
“Red light, Ray.” Ben’s voice was strained as they sped through the lights.
“Fuck the red light!” The sound of horns blaring behind them was drowned out by the sound of Ray losing his shit. He hauled the wheel over and screeched to a halt on the side of the road. “God, either you don’t change at all or you’ve changed completely, I can’t tell which! You’re still a goddamned pain in the ass, and don’t you sit there being all twenty-one and smug about it and saying I haven’t been trying hard enough to set this straight – all I want is to figure this out, all I want is to fix this, all I want is Fraser!” He panted for a second. “Back. All I want is Fraser back. The real Fraser.”
Ben was staring at him, mouth slightly open. Before he could gather himself enough to reply, Ray’s cellphone rang, and Ray hauled it out as quickly as he could.
Ray squeezed his eyes shut and thunked his forehead against the steering wheel. It was Thatcher.
“I assume that Constable Fraser is with you,” came the Ice Queen’s frosty voice. “Would you kindly pass the phone to him?”
“He can’t come to the phone right now,” said Ray to the steering wheel. “I’ll get him to call you back.”
“You can tell him that if would like to keep his job, he will be at the Consulate in time to start his nine o’clock shift,” said Thatcher quickly, before Ray could hang up on her. “He will also have a very good reason for failing to report in this weekend.”
“He wasn’t on duty this weekend,” argued Ray, rolling his head slightly to look at Ben out of the corner of his eye. Ben was watching him speculatively. Ray closed his eyes again.
“That may be so, but a situation has arisen and Constable Fraser’s presence was required. Besides, he is scheduled to assume duties at nine this morning, and if he isn’t here – ”
“Tell her I’ll be there,” said Ben.
“So he is there!” said Thatcher triumphantly. Did all Canadians have super hearing powers? “Let me speak to him.”
“Sorry, we gotta go.”
“I’ll talk to her,” offered Ben, stretching out a hand.
“Look!” exclaimed Ray, jerking upright. “A crime!” He hung up, and stuffed the phone into his jacket pocket. Ben looked around alertly for a moment, then gave Ray an exasperated look.
“That was childish.”
Ray looked at his watch. Ten minutes to nine. They could make it if he ran some more red lights.
On the way, Ray tried to explain about Thatcher.
“Have I done something particularly to aggravate her?” asked Ben, seeming intrigued.
“No, not something particularly, it’s more everything you do that aggravates her.”
“That must not promote a comfortable working environment for either of us.”
“Yeah, specially not when she’s busting your balls all the time.”
Ben’s face was a picture. “Busting my…?” he said faintly.
“Giving you a hard time,” explained Ray. “Look, the point is, you can’t spend all day at the Consulate. She’ll figure out something’s wrong. Plus, I need you to identify these guys I’m looking for. If they were at school with you, then you’d remember them, right?”
“Probably,” nodded Ben. “However, I don’t see how I can avoid duty.”
“We’ll just have to tell her there’s been a major crime against a Canadian citizen. Shot by a moose or something.” He pulled up outside the Consulate.
Turnbull was on the front desk again. Ray was striding in, saying, “You never called me back,” when Turnbull raised his head, and Ray saw the black eye. Turnbull’s right hand rested on the desk; it was in a plaster cast.
“Ah, Detective Vecchio,” Turnbull said, and his usual buoyancy was dampened. “I’m afraid that matters got somewhat out of – ”
Inspector Thatcher’s office door swung open, and she appeared. She was dressed in a dark blue power suit, with a red shirt and red lips and extra high heels. Her nails matched the shirt and lips. The woman was dressed for battle.
“Three minutes past nine,” she observed sharply, looking at her watch.
“I make it exactly nine o’clock,” said Ben. At the same moment, the sound of the clock tower chiming nine sounded faintly outside. Thatcher drew in a breath.
“Well, I can overlook it on this occasion, particularly if you have a good reason for cutting it so fine.”
Ben’s mouth curved a little. Ray was about to launch into a convoluted excuse, the end of which he hadn’t quite figured out, but he looked from Ben to Thatcher, and the words died in his mouth. Ben was looking very… something. Intent. He had his hands behind his back and was leaning in slightly, head cocked, gaze fixed, that something in his eyes.
“I can only apologise, Inspector. I’m afraid Detective Vecchio and I were engaged in pursuing a case concerning the assault of a Canadian citizen.”
“What?” Thatcher exclaimed. “Don’t tell me you were mixed up in that?” Ben blinked. Ray floundered, unnoticed. “Oh, I should have known. The whole mess had your name written all over it. And just what am I supposed to do about it? This is a PR nightmare!”
“Uh,” said Ray.
“I can’t imagine a situation you couldn’t handle,” said Ben. Thatcher faltered, confused. “I can assure you, though, that we are working on resolving the situation, and I’m certain that it can all be cleared up without any lasting implications for yourself, the Consulate or the Dominion of Canada.”
“Really.” She folded her arms, staring him down. Ray had to give her credit. He wasn’t sure Fraser had ever tried actual charm on her before, but she seemed to be fighting hard against it, despite being momentarily thrown off kilter.
In Thatcher’s office, the phone rang. She half-turned to it, then turned back.
“Turnbull will cover your duty this morning,” she said brusquely, ignoring the small whimper from the front desk. “It’s not as if he’s good for anything else right now. I look forward to hearing your full report, Constable. And whatever you do,” she added as she strode back into her office, “don’t talk to the press!”
The door closed, and Ray swung to look at first Ben, then Turnbull.
“What the hell?” he said. Ben shrugged, that half-smile still on his face. “Oh God,” said Ray, “I never thought I’d have to do this, but Turnbull: can you please explain to me what’s going on?”
Turnbull sent a nervous glance to the Inspector’s office door, and leaned conspiratorially over his desk.
“I’m afraid there’s been a bit of an ‘incident,’ Detective,” he said in a low voice, trying to do quotation marks in the air with his fingers, but finding the cast on his right hand restricted movement. “That’s why I wasn’t able to contact you yesterday. I did discover where the Canadian delegation to the conference was staying, and I was even able to obtain a list of names. However, before I was able to relay that information, Inspector Thatcher arrived. As it transpires, there was an altercation at the closing event of the conference – some kind of dispute over firearms proficiency and the ability to shoot an apple off a caribou’s head. Offence was taken, and the RCMP officers were called upon to defend the honour of Canada.” He set his jaw approvingly. Ray squinted at him.
“But you weren’t at the conference?” he queried, gesturing to Turnbull’s injuries. The Mountie deflated.
“No. I wasn’t. I was, however, detailed to go to Chicago General Hospital to collect a Sergeant Salter to bring him back to the Consulate for debriefing by the Inspector and the Consulate’s legal advisor.”
“And…?” prompted Ray, waving a hand to indicate that Turnbull should hurry up.
“As it happens, Sergeant Salter is a particularly aggressive individual. He insulted the Five Creeks Curling Crew, and I… well, I lost my temper.”
“He hit you?”
“And I hit him.”
“Who won?” asked Ben from over Ray’s shoulder.
“I knocked him out,” admitted Turnbull, blushing.
“Good for you,” said Ben.
Ray rounded on him. “I don’t think you’re helping!” Turning back, Ray placed both hands on the desktop. “So, the million dollar question. Where are the Mounties now?”
Turnbull awkwardly fished a piece of paper from his trouser pocket with his left hand. He handed it to Ray, who gave it a quick once-over then passed it to Ben.
“Those are the names of the delegates. Sergeant Salter is, uh, still in the care of Chicago General. The others have been staying at the St Christopher’s Lodge and are, I believe, due to return to Canada by train sometime in the next few hours.”
“Thanks,” said Ray.
“Thank you kindly,” said Ben. Ray rolled his eyes.
“She is a remarkable woman,” Ben observed, as they trotted down the steps of the Consulate and got into the Goat.
“Who, the Ice Queen? Yeah, I guess so.”
“Is she… I mean, did she and I ever…?” Ben waggled his eyebrows. Ray curled his lip.
“Not that I know of,” he said snippily. “In fact, I don’t think you even like her that much.”
“I don’t like her?” repeated Ben, disbelieving.
“She’s mean to you!”
“Oh, for goodness sake,” scoffed Ben. “Anyone can see that’s sublimated desire.”
“Enough with the modesty already, Ben, you’ll give yourself a complex.” Ray pulled down the radio and got through to Frannie. “Get me the number for the St Christopher’s Lodge, wouldja?”
“I thought you were on sick leave,” she said pointedly. She was in a bad mood. Not only had there been no sign of Fraser since their brief and disconcerting encounter two days ago, but there was a lingering smell from the other events of Saturday. She’d tried bleaching the floor, and now the bleach fumes were giving her a headache. She brought the hotel’s details up on the computer and read them out to Ray.
“Does it annoy you?” said Ben, when Ray had told Frannie never to say “roger” to him again, and hooked up the radio.
“Like a goddamn mosquito,” said Ray. “But she means well, I guess.”
“I mean Inspector Thatcher. Does it annoy you that she’s evidently attracted to me?”
“Jesus Christ, get over yourself.”
“Are you interested in her?”
“I’m warning you, Ben, you are really pissing me off now. Just drop it.”
Ray glared at him. Ben sat there looking smug.
They reached St Christopher’s Lodge in record time, and Ben didn’t make a sound about the various road rules that Ray broke. Ray had phoned the Lodge and established that the charming Canadian party had checked out but were having tea in the hotel lounge while waiting for their cab. He asked the concierge to call him the moment the Canadians left, and put his foot down. His phone still hadn’t rung by the time they swung into the parking lot and he screeched to a halt at the main entrance.
“You look over those names?”
“Any of them ring any bells?”
“All of them, in fact.” They pushed through the doors into the lobby, Dief at their heels, and followed a sign into a large dining room. “Not that I knew all of them personally, but by name, yes. That is, assuming that Sergeant Salter is the same man as Andrew Salter, and if his reputation as a bar fighter is anything to go by – ”
“Shut up. This is them.”
At the far end of the otherwise empty room were four clean-cut, neatly dressed Mounties. They had their tunics hanging on the backs of their chairs, and cups of tea in their hands, and were talking quietly together. Ray advanced on them, feeling his shoulders draw back and his fists clench of their own accord. If they’d done this to Fraser…
“Ben!” One of the men had looked up, and was smiling. The others looked over too, so the whole table’s attention was on them as Ray strode up, grabbed the man who had spoken by the front of his shirt and hauled him up out of his seat.
“If I said the words ‘hypnosis,’ ‘regression’ and ‘fifteen to twenty’ to you, what would you say to me?” he growled.
The guy’s eyes bugged out, and his face flushed red. Chairs overturned as the other Mounties jumped up. Dief growled low in his throat, and they froze.
“Dave,” said Ben cheerily, over Ray’s shoulder. “I see you gave up on the moustache. Nancy. Milton. I wouldn’t do that,” he warned quickly, seeing something Ray didn’t. “This is Detective Ray Vecchio of the Chicago Police Department and he’s investigating an assault on a Canadian citizen.”
“What?” came a babble of voices from the other Mounties.
“I thought we had to report to Ottawa,” said the woman.
“Why have they sent an American cop to arrest Dave?” asked one of the men.
“Goddamned Salter,” choked Dave.
“This isn’t about that,” snarled Ray. “You hypnotised Benton Fraser on Thursday night. Right?”
Dave gaped. “Well. Yeah.”
“And you told him he was five years old.”
Dave stared at him. “What?!” he exclaimed. “What? Of course not! That wasn’t – I have no idea what you’re – Ben, tell him!” He turned his appeal to Ben, who was regarding him sceptically.
“He can’t tell me anything,” Ray snapped. “He doesn’t remember. He’s twenty-one. You age-regressed him, and you know what, buddy – ” Dave found himself propelled backwards and slammed against the wall, Ray’s face inches from his own, “I want you do undo it. Now. Sooner than now.”
“I can’t!” wailed Dave. “I have no idea what you’re talking about!”
“You hypnotised him. The bartender at Moriarty’s saw you.”
“Yeah, but not like this!” Dave’s eyes were wide. “I swear, Detective, it was nothing like this! We used to – Ben, tell him – we used to hypnotise each other at Depot, when we were kids. It was just for fun. We got Ben to memorise our lectures, and then he’d repeat them back to us, word for word. And we made it so Nancy couldn’t see Milton unless he was holding a lit match. It was stuff like that – just kids’ tricks. It was never anything crazy, like, like regressing!”
Ray shot Ben a look.
“That’s true,” murmured Ben. “Sergeant Hull put a stop to it when Milton accidentally set fire to himself. Although that was, apparently, then.” He’d moved in, so he was standing at Ray’s back, and Ray felt Ben’s hand resting lightly between his shoulder blades. He repressed a shiver. “And this is now. And this is not a kid’s trick.” Ben’s voice was low and dangerous.
Dave gulped, looking from one of them to the other.
“C’mon, Ben,” he said. “You know me. Why would I ever try to hurt you? All we did was have a couple of drinks – you didn’t even have a beer, you had juice. And we did the old tricks again. That was it. You got halfway through Coue’s monologue on deer scat when the bartender came over, and we stopped. Please, Ben, you can’t believe I’d…” he trailed off.
Ray slowly let go of Dave’s shirt, and stepped back, shaking off Ben’s hand in the process.
“Do you believe him, Ray?” asked Ben, stilled staring at the other Mountie. Ray ran a hand through is hair uncomfortably.
“Yeah, I do,” he said.
He rubbed the back of his neck and looked at the other three, who were still standing around their table. The woman, Nancy, was folding her arm and her lips were pressed into a thin, angry line.
“Okay, that’s more than enough. What the hell do you think you’re doing?” she demanded. “You charge in here, you assault an RCMP officer, you throw wild accusations around. Ben?”
“It would appear,” said Ben slowly, “that there has been something of a misunderstanding.” He looked around the circle of old friends. “Would anyone like more tea?”
Ray sat and listened as Ben talked to his buddies from Mountie school. Dave and Nancy had been in his class; Milton had been in the year below, but the younger brother of one of their other friends. The fourth Mountie, Jean-Martin, who had remained silent and confused throughout, had joined them only in their final year, transferred from the training college in Montreal.
“Ben always went under like a dream,” Dave was saying. “He wouldn’t do anything edgy, but he had the most amazing recall, he could recite anything. We made him do Paradise Lost for the Christmas show one time.”
“Couldn’t he have done that without being hypnotised?” asked Ray.
“Well, yeah,” said Dave, “but it was more fun. Plus, he could mimic our teachers when he was under. He’d recite a whole lecture in Hull’s voice, it was a hoot.”
“Yeah, I bet those long winter nights just flew by,” muttered Ray.
“So what happened on Thursday?” asked Nancy, leaning in with a concerned hand on Ben’s arm.
“I don’t remember,” he replied. “I hope to, though.”
“You were doing the match trick,” said Ray.
“Yes,” the group agreed.
“I suppose the bartender told you that,” said Nancy. When Ray nodded, she said, “It was just… well, you know how it is. Old friends get together, you get to reminiscing. I suppose we just wanted to relive some of the old days. I haven’t let anyone hypnotise me since Depot. It’s fun. I’d forgotten that it’s fun.”
“Ben wasn’t keen at first,” put in Milton, who had been feeding Dief bits of cookies from the table. “He was kind of quiet all night.”
“How’d ya do it?” asked Ray. “Is there, like, a magic word, or what?”
There was a chorus of shaken heads and smiles.
“It took about twenty minutes to put Ben under,” said Dave, smiling wryly. “It didn’t used to take that long. If you’re doing it regularly you get into the habit and it happens faster and more easily. We had to do a warm-up relaxation and everything. But he went under eventually, and it was all still there. He still does Sergeant Hull like a tape recording.”
After a while the desk clerk from the lobby came in and announced that the Mounties’ cab had arrived. They got up, putting on tunics, buttoning buttons, and saying their goodbyes to Ben. He clasped each of their hands in turn, taking in their faces intently. Nancy hugged him, gave him a kiss on the cheek, and had tears in her eyes. Milton blushed when he shook Ben’s hand, and Ben clapped him on the shoulder. Dave hugged him, slapping him hard on the back. “Don’t let it be another six years, Ben.” Jean-Martin did some kind of cheek-kissing thing that Ray, standing to one side and watching, hoped was just because he was French.
Then they were leaving, and Ben was waving them goodbye outside the Lodge.
He climbed into the car with Ray and sat there with his hands on his knees, watching the cab pull out into traffic and disappear.
“They’ve changed,” he murmured.
“Yeah,” said Ray.
“Last time I saw them – I mean, the way I remember them… we were all so young.”
“Yeah.” Ray started the car, then turned it off again. He didn’t know where he was going.
“Do you know what happened to me?” asked Ben eventually.
“I dunno,” said Ray. He felt completely deflated. “Maybe.”
“It wasn’t them.”
“It wasn’t their fault, no.”
Ben seemed relieved at that. After a while longer, he said, “We must be very good friends. I mean, for you to take care of me through something like this.”
“Yeah,” said Ray, a smile breaking through. “We’re best friends.”
Ben nodded slowly, and it seemed that he was pleased with the idea.
“How long have we known one another?”
“About a year.”
“And we work together?”
“Yeah. Most of the time. I mean, you got duties at the Consulate, but when you’re not stuck there you work with me. We’re partners.”
“Partners.” He repeated the word, as if he liked it. A lot. He was smiling at Ray, and Ray felt something turn over in his stomach.
“Only, uh,” began Ray, then stopped himself. Maybe that wouldn’t be fair.
“What?” prompted Ben.
“You didn’t tell me what was going on with you.” Ray sat with his hands on the wheel, looking over the hood of his car. The desk clerk from the hotel came out and looked at them. Ray ignored him. “You didn’t tell me what was up. And something was up. That’s why all of this happened. Plus, you didn’t tell me about your buddies and what you used to get up to with them. I mean, you didn’t have to tell me everything, but you didn’t tell me anything.”
“I’m sorry, Ray.”
“It’s okay,” he said. “It wasn’t you.”
“I think the clerk wants us to move along.”
“I bet he does.”
“Are you hungry?”
They went to a Lebanese place. Ben seemed thrilled by the exoticism, and gave a short speech about the dearth of decent global cuisines in the Northwest Territories. Ray ordered him a yaprak dilma to shut him up, ordered the same for himself, and they slid into a booth.
“The shrink said you’d come out of it by yourself,” he said. Ben paused in the act of unbuttoning his tunic.
“I think I know what you’re going to suggest,” he said. “I’m afraid I can’t allow you to hypnotise me, Ray.”
“It might make you better.”
“I’m perfectly fine.” Ray opened his mouth to protest, but Ben cut him off with a raised hand. “The thing about practices such as age regression is that they are entirely subjective – they’re dependent on the individual in question. Now, I don’t know exactly what was going through my mind when all of this occurred. Evidently the meeting with my friends reignited my inclination towards trance, and for some reason or in some way I managed to implant in my mind the notion of regressing. Whatever my reasons were, I’m confident now that I have enough experience with hypnotism to bring myself out of it naturally. I believe the process will resolve itself, and I think it would be very unwise to attempt any sort of forced conclusion. Besides.” He flashed Ray a smile that was almost apologetic, but not quite. “I don’t want to.”
Ray thought about arguing. It must have been written on his face, because Ben added, “Surely you’ve picked up by now the fact that it is impossible to hypnotise somebody who doesn’t want to be hypnotised.”
“Great.” Ray slumped down in his seat. “So, what? What do we do? Have lunch? Go for a walk, maybe take in a show?”
“I’d like that,” said Ben brightly. “However, I feel it might be foolhardy to keep Inspector Thatcher waiting. I think it would be best if we went to the hospital after this, spoke to Sergeant Salter, and concocted some sort of report to make. I imagine I will be able to convince Inspector Thatcher that my activities over the weekend are irrelevant, and that our interview with my four ex-classmates was useful for Public Relations.”
They reported back to Thatcher, who took Ben into her office and closed the door. Ray could hear her voice, raised and angry, and then the low, smooth rumble of Ben’s voice. Then both voices were lower, and smoother, and after about ten minutes Ben emerged looking pleased with himself, and Thatcher emerged looking flushed. Ben was rostered for statue duty that afternoon, starting in half an hour. He assured Ray that he could manage without a babysitter, and Ray left him discussing curling with Turnbull, who was still blissfully unaware of anything being awry. Dief stayed with them. He hadn’t exactly warmed to Ben, but seemed willing to keep an eye on him. Besides, Fraser kept kibble at the Consulate.
Ray went to the station and reported to Welsh. Then he spent some time working on his backlog, and at five he left, giving Huey the finger instead of an explanation for the weird shit Ray and Fraser had gotten into that weekend. He picked up Ben and Dief from the Consulate, and they got pizza and beer and went back to Ray’s place. Ben had insisted on the beer, saying he wanted to celebrate a successful day.
They watched some TV, and Ben put his feet up on the coffee table and drank a whole beer. Ray was a little worried that Fraser’s body wasn’t used to the alcohol, but Ben waved his concerns away. Then the hockey game was over, and Ben switched the TV off rather than watch sitcoms, and they were sitting on the couch drinking beer together. It could have been any ordinary evening. Except it wasn’t. Ben had been relaxed and pleasant all evening, only picked one fight (and that was over hockey so it didn’t count), and Ray had actually started to enjoy his company. Then, as they sat back together and Ray drained the last of his beer, he caught Ben looking at him, and smiling.
“You want another one?” Ray got up, feeling antsy.
“No. Thank you.”
Ray went to the fridge, huffing out a sigh, getting a little space. He did not like the places his head had gone when Ben smiled at him like that. Ben at five had been sweet and clumsy and undeniably a little kid. At fourteen he’d been a pain in the ass. But now… he was still a kid, really, Ray reminded himself. Still had years ahead of him to turn into a man, to get those incredibly annoying habits ingrained, and put up those dumb-ass walls, and develop those super-Mountie skills that made him the man Ray knew.
Ray realised he’d been staring, unseeing, into the fridge for some time. He grabbed another beer, shut the door, and went back to the living room, where Ben was sitting on the couch, one leg propped up on the seat, one arm along the back, watching him. Ray sat at the other end of the couch, pretty much as far away from Ben as he could get, and took a long drink. Ben watched him do that, too. Fuck. He’d’ve thought Ben at twenty-one would be even more naïve than the Fraser he knew, which was a mind-bending idea in itself. But maybe naïve wasn’t the word he needed here.
“So what else do we do?” asked Ben.
“Apart from work together. You said we’re best friends. What else do we do together?”
Sometime in the eleven years between this point of his life and the point where Ray had arrived, Ben had learnt how to make his voice, his face, his posture completely innocent. He could stand in the middle of a strip joint and radiate nothing but polite enquiry. He could be boiling mad and show nothing but a slightly testy twitch to the lips.
Right now, though, innocent didn’t even come into it. Ben wasn’t shooting for innocent. Ben was broadcasting on all stations, and for a moment Ray, who was so used to tuning in through Fraser’s carefully constructed static, was thrown off his guard.
Shit. Ben was hitting on him. Ben, the pretty, twenty-one-year-old rookie Mountie who was top of his class and dying to please his father, was hitting on him, Ray, the rough-round-the-edges Chicago cop who had cool hair but who, in the cold hard light of day, would have to admit that, probably, he was too old for twenty-one-year-olds.
Ray cleared his throat.
“You know, the usual stuff.” He thought his voice was pretty near normal. No pesky tremors to give away the fact that, on the inside, he was about ready to flip his lid. “We go to games, we eat, we watch tv. You tell me Inuit stories, I tell you to shut up.”
Ben smiled widely at this. Ray got the feeling that he would’ve smiled widely at just about anything at this point. It was like he knew the effect his smile had. For example, it made Ray smile back, and also, it made Ray hard. Which really sucked, because right about now would be the perfect time to get the hell up and walk Dief or scrub down the bathroom, or do anything at all other than sit here with Ben, in the dim light of late evening, drinking beer and thinking, If I’d’a met him eleven years ago there’s no way I woulda said no. Those eagle eyes wouldn’t miss the bulge in his pants if he got up. So he sat where he was, jiggling one leg and trying like hell to imagine Lieutenant Welsh standing there and glaring at him, which in the past had been a sure-fire solution for any unwanted Fraser-induced hard-ons.
“Ray.” Ben’s voice had velvet in it. “Are you seriously telling me that there’s nothing else between us?” Ray jumped up, discretion be damned.
“Uh, look, Ben,” he began.
“We have this friendship, this connection, and I haven’t tried to make anything of it?” pursued Ben, a half-smile on his lips. “What am I, stupid?”
“No, you’re – it’s not like that.” Ben was advancing on him, and for a second Ray thought he was drunk, because his head spun a little, and then he thought maybe he was just tired, because it had been a rough couple of days, and then he realised the turmoil in his stomach was excitement warring with fear, and by the time he’d figured out that the phrase he was searching for was “We’re just friends,” it was too late. Ben crowded him up against the wall, pressing the whole length of his body against Ray’s, and if Ray’d had any hope at all that Ben wouldn’t notice the effect he was having on Ray’s dick, that hope was shot to shit now. He felt Ben’s breath hot against his cheek, and Ben’s hands on his shoulders, and he suppressed a groan.
“Ben – ”
Then Ben’s mouth was on his, and Jesus, just. Wow. It had been a while since someone had paid this much attention to Ray’s lips and tongue, but it wasn’t just that causing the electric jolts surging all up and down him. Ben was a hell of a good kisser. He had serious skills. Ray wanted to know exactly where he’d learnt those skills – Depot? He was kissing with his whole body, one hand on Ray’s shoulder, the other on his hip, pushing up against him so their stomachs and hips and thighs were pressed tight together. Ray was crushed, flooded, overwhelmed. It felt like Fraser, pressing in so close; it smelt like Fraser, but with a weird combination of Ray’s own soap and aftershave. And Ray’s hands were clenched in Fraser’s Henley, and his eyes were closed and Fraser’s tongue was in his mouth, and this was everything, everything.
Ben drew back just a little, enough for them both to catch their breaths, and murmured, “I guess we haven’t done this before.” He sounded smug.
And that’s what snapped Ray out of it. Twenty-one-year-old Ben might be a flirt, and a good kisser, and bent as a paper clip, and he might currently be occupying the hottest body in town, the body Ray had dreamt about having plastered up against him like this – although, in the dreams, there had generally been fewer clothes involved, and more… other stuff, but that wasn’t the point here. The point was that Ben didn’t have any right to mess up what he had with Fraser. Ben didn’t have any right at all to make this happen. Ben sure as hell didn’t have any right to sound smug about it, the cocky little shit.
“Back off,” said Ray. He might’ve sounded colder, if he hadn’t still been panting a little. “Back off, Ben. This ain’t gonna happen.”
Ben didn’t back off. He stayed right where he was, and looked at Ray. His eyes narrowed; his mouth quirked a little. He didn’t believe it.
“You want this,” he said.
It flashed through Ray’s mind that a hell of a lot must’ve happened to this kid, to knock the confidence out of him, to turn him into the Mountie who wouldn’t even acknowledge another person’s interest, much less pursue it. That thought made him so sad that, despite still having Fraser’s body up against him, Ray’s dick lost interest. He pushed his forearms against Ben’s chest (knowing better than to splay his hands across those pectorals, which he bet would feel so good that, sad or not, his dick would perk up again).
“I said back off, Ben.”
He did, this time. And now he was looking confused, and a little resentful.
“Hey, look,” said Ray, rubbing the back of his neck as he stepped away from the wall, putting space between them. Shit. There was no easy way to shoot a guy down. “Me and you – I mean, the you you are most of the time, not the you you are now, which used to be you but isn’t really – you’re not the you I know, ya know?”
“I have no idea what you’re taking about.”
Ray winced. There it was. That phrase, that tone. What if this was one of the knock-backs that taught Fraser how to be cold, how to put up walls? But that didn’t make sense. This wasn’t time travel. He hadn’t been the one to hurt Fraser when he was really twenty-one. But he didn’t want to hurt Fraser at all, then or now or ever, so he’d better do this right.
Ray tried to put all his integrity into his voice and face.
“Ben. You’re a great guy. I can tell that, from spending the day with you today. But you’re not the guy I’m… friends with.”
Ben’s eyes narrowed.
“Come on, Ben. Think about it. You know this isn’t right.”
“This is my body,” Ben said, and ran his hands down it in a really fucking distracting way. “No matter what age I am, it’s still mine. And I’m still me.”
“Oh, you’re really not.” That didn’t go down too well. “You have no idea what’s going to happen to you between now – I mean, how you feel now – and now, like, real now, the now where…” he broke off, and closed his eyes, really fucking tired of the way this whole situation was making his head spin. Then he flicked his eyes open again, because Ben seemed like the kind of guy who might take advantage of a moment’s exhaustion, and that was score one for instinct, because Ben was in the act of closing the distance between them again. He had a predatory glint in his eye that was incredibly hot, and Ray groaned, and raised his hands to ward Ben off.
“You know how you felt when you were fourteen? Like, when you were fourteen you thought you knew everything, and all you wanted was for people to stop treating you like a kid?”
Ben, who had stopped where he was, nodded reluctantly.
“Okay, and now, when you look back, you realise that when you were fourteen you didn’t know jack, am I right? Since then you’ve learned all kindsa stuff.” Including how to kiss so you can turn a person inside out, but that’s not important right now. That’s right, Ray, it’s not important right now. “You’ve changed, right? You’re still you, but you’re different, and you do things differently. Well, let me tell ya, you change a whole hell of a lot more in the next eleven years. You’re still you, but different – and you’ve got a whole lot more baggage than you do right now. And it’s not right to make decisions now that you won’t have to deal with the consequences of.” That last sentence had gotten away from him, but it was about as good as he could do right now.
“That’s grammatically incorrect, Ray,” said Ben. “And frankly, it sounds to me as if the person you think I’m going to become is neither very well-adjusted nor very desirable.”
“What?” The idea of Fraser being undesirable. Yeah, right.
“You said I have baggage. Wouldn’t you prefer me not to?”
“Don’t say that, Ben. I like you the way you are.”
“Uptight, baggage-laden and apparently so moronically self-involved that I haven’t even kissed you yet.” His voice was heavy with sarcasm.
“Yeah!” said Ray. “And smart and weird and annoying and loyal and all that other shit, too. You don’t know you, kid, but let me remind you, you don’t know me, either. I got all my own issues, and Fraser – the Fraser I know – is good with that, because he’s been through shit too, and he knows what it’s like.”
“You were angry with me, before. You said I hadn’t told you what was going on. What kind of a friend am I if I don’t tell you something so important that it sends me into, what was it you called it? A literal walk down memory lane?”
“Yeah, I was angry. I am angry. And when you can answer my questions then I’ll ask ’em. That’s what friends do. They screw up and then they make up.”
“Ben. This has been a hell of a couple of days. I’m tired. I’m so fucking tired I might fall down. Can we just call it a night?”
Ben regarded him evenly for several long seconds. Then he dropped his head. “Sure.”
Ray made sure Experimental Hypnosis and Fraser’s journal were both safely in his sock drawer before he went to bed. Ben was going to stay up and watch TV. He called it a cultural experiment. Ray suspected he would also finish the rest of the beer. Dief curled up in the arm chair and gave Ray a knowing look.
“You need anything,” said Ray, somewhat against his better judgement, “give me a yell, okay?”
“Thank you, Ray,” said Ben, and for a moment his shuttered face radiated authenticity. Then his mouth twitch a little, and he turned back to the TV.
Ray went into his room, and stopping only to toe off his boots and take off his shoulder holster, threw himself down on his own bed for the first time since Thursday.
It took him a long time to go to sleep. He could hear the TV. He thought about Ben, and about Fraser. He stopped thinking about Ben and Fraser when he started getting hard, and fished out Experimental Hypnosis instead. Five pages into chapter two, he was out like a light.
Ray flung his bedroom door open at six thirty, and found Fraser standing outside it with his fist raised as if about to knock. Ray took one look and lunged for him, grabbing Fraser into his arms in a fierce embrace. For a moment Fraser swayed, taken off guard, and then his arms came up and he hugged Ray back.
Ray pulled away when he felt Fraser’s head turn. Fraser was nuzzling into his neck, just a little, just enough to make it more than Ray could handle right now. Ray held him at arm’s length and looked him over. He was wearing the Henley and white boxer shorts. He looked tousled and tired, as if he hadn’t slept well.
“Jesus, Frase,” said Ray, and his voice wasn’t breaking, it just sounded like that because he’d only just woken up. “You have no idea how glad I am to see you.”
“Ray, I’m not sure I understand what’s been happening. I don’t seem to remember – ”
“Don’t worry, buddy, I will explain everything. I will lay it all out for you.”
Ray got them each a slice of leftover pizza, and they sat down and he told Fraser what had happened over the last couple of days. He tried to skate over the bits where he’d been pissed off or irrational or kind of gay. Fraser was nodding along, as if he half remembered what Ray was saying. When Ray’s somewhat confused monologue at last came to an end, Fraser raised both eyebrows.
“My,” he said. “That is… that is quite remarkable.”
“That, my friend, is not the half of it.”
“I can only apologise,” Fraser began, but Ray grabbed his arm in a tight grip.
“Don’t you dare apologise, Frase. You can’t apologise to me. Not for this. Not until you tell me what was really going on. Why’d you do it? How’d you do it? Why?”
“I’m so sorry, Ray, I really didn’t know what I was doing. It was an accident. Or at least, it wasn’t entirely deliberate. The thing was…” He drew a breath. “I couldn’t sleep on Friday night. I haven’t been sleeping well for some weeks. It was… Well, it was the anniversary of my father’s death on Friday.”
“Yeah,” said Ray. “I read that in your journal. You didn’t tell me.” He couldn’t help the note of accusation that entered his voice.
“No, I didn’t tell you. I’m sorry. I was,” he cleared his throat, “I was upset. And I was unsettled by my meeting with my friends the previous night. It had been so much like old times at Depot. And I’d been thinking about Dad, and about back home.” He broke off, looking awkward. “I wouldn’t ever wish to denigrate my experiences here in Chicago, but I was thinking about home. About what I missed and what I wished,” he cleared his throat again, “what I wished I could have. When I was lying awake that night, with everything going round and round in my head, I just didn’t know what to do with myself. I tried having a glass of milk, and stretching, and walking around.”
“You coulda woken me up. We coulda talked.”
“You were sleeping so peacefully,” said Fraser, and Ray knew that Fraser had come and stood in his bedroom doorway and watched him sleeping. He wondered how long for. “I tried writing down everything that was on my mind, all the jobs I’d left undone and memoranda for the coming week. I suppose I just tried to write everything down, to get it out of my head. And then I tried some relaxation techniques – and now that I think about it clearly, of course I realise that they were very similar to the techniques Dave used to send us into trances. Simple things, about being aware of your breathing, relaxing all your muscles, going to a safe, happy place.” He rubbed a thumb along his eyebrow, and Ray realised with a pang that he’d been missing that gesture, that mannerism that must’ve gotten picked up somewhere in the last eleven years. “I don’t recall what happened after that. I mean, I remember, but it’s all very confused, as if it really were years ago, when I was young.”
“Jeeze, Fraser. You musta been pretty goddamned unhappy to make this happen to yourself.”
“Yes, Ray,” said Fraser softly. Then he moved, sitting on the coffee table directly opposite Ray, and his voice changed, became more urgent. “You have no idea, Ray. You’re in my memories, my earliest memories.” Fraser was staring at him with an intensity that had Ray pinned to the couch. He couldn’t have moved even if he’d wanted to. “I remember playing with you when I was just a little child. I remember trusting you entirely. I remember admiring you when I was a teenager, having…” he cleared his throat, and flushed bright pink, dropping his eyes for a moment, before continuing, “having a crush on you.” That must’ve been hard to say. But he met Ray’s eyes again, and that intense concentration was overriding any embarrassment. “I remember trying to act on it, when I was twenty-one.”
Ray shifted uncomfortably.
“You were very decent towards me, Ray.” His voice was very low, very soft. “Decent to me as I was then, and as I am now. I can’t… I can’t say how much I appreciate that.”
“Hey, you know,” said Ray uncomfortably. “You’re my best friend. I wasn’t about to jump your bones just ’cause you were kind of a slut when you were young.” A moment of panic, when he thought that might be the exact wrong thing to say – shit, he’d pretty much admitted he wanted to jump Fraser, plus he’d called him a slut – but then he saw Fraser was smiling.
“I did have a certain… confidence at that age.” He frowned at himself. “I acquired that confidence during my time at Depot, and lost it not long after.” Ray opened his mouth to ask what had happened – who had happened – but Fraser shook his head. “That’s another story for another time.”
“Did you just choose not to tell a story?”
“Well, I’m trying to tell you something important, Ray, and I don’t want to get distracted.”
That made Ray’s chest tighten. He was afraid, but not sure of what.
Fraser moved from the coffee table back to the couch, sitting up close and stretching his arm along the back, not looking directly at Ray as he did it. Then he said, “Waking up this morning and finding myself here, with you, the way… the way I remembered… It was like coming home.” His eyes came up on those last two words, and Ray felt them go straight to his heart. “I haven’t felt like that in a long time,” Fraser said, except he was almost whispering now. “I suppose I haven’t really felt like that since I was a child, or since I was at Depot. It… put some things into perspective for me. It made me realise… how important you are to me. Not just because I have those memories of you, those…” he waved a hand in the air, “those confused associations. But because those memories and feelings have made clear to me something that I had been avoiding. Something I had been too afraid to admit.”
“Frase,” croaked Ray. “You don’t have to do this. Not now. You’re still mixed up, you’re not thinking straight – ” Great choice of words, Kowalski. Remind me to kick you in the head later.
“On the contrary, Ray.” Fraser still had him fixed with those blue, blue eyes. “I’m thinking more clearly than I have done in years. I trust you, Ray. And I admire you. And, Ray, I…”
It was too much. Four days of full-on, freak-show weirdness, all of that was too much, plus finding out that Ben swung both ways, that was also too much, and this on top of it all, this was so much too much that something inside Ray, something that had been stretched out taught and twanging since the day he’d first seen the red tunic in the bullpen and wrapped his arms around it, that something snapped. He launched himself across the short distance between them and latched onto Fraser’s mouth with his own, his momentum knocking Fraser backward so Ray was sprawled on top of him, pressing down hard and desperate with his lips and body. He heard Fraser making muffled noises, but those subsided after a moment, and they were kissing. He was kissing Fraser, and Fraser was kissing him back.
The music that had been playing quietly from the stereo comes to an end, and there is silence.
It is late, and the apartment is dark, except for the lamp in the corner of the living room. Beside the couch, a pair of standard issue RCMP boots stand, gleaming even in the dark. On the coffee table is an empty glass, this morning’s newspaper and a diary which has just been closed.
Fraser gets up, and takes the glass into the kitchen. On his way back, he tosses the newspaper into the trash, but it slips to the floor. The trash can is already full of bits of paper and other detritus. Bending to shove the newspaper in with them, Fraser catches sight of bunches of yellow notepaper covered in scrawl. He pulls them out, and looks at them.
Some are scribbles and half-comprehensible drawings, such as a child might do. There are two stick-figures and what is probably a dog. The smaller stick-figure is holding the larger one’s hand. Above them, the sun shines, and there are lollipop trees and gigantic flowers. Fraser smiles.
He shuffles through more scribbles, more drawings, until at the bottom of the pile he sees something that makes him hesistate. There are pages filled with his own writing – it’s short-hand, and he guesses that Ray didn’t recognise it, thought it was just more childish scrawls.
It is a list. He remembers making it, now. Another night, weeks ago, when he couldn’t sleep. So much was on his mind. He hadn’t slept properly in a long time. So he had written it all out, pages of it – notes of things to do mainly. And then a few extra words at the end. He had been thinking of his father. He had been remembering his childhood, the times his father had been around and the times he had been absent. He had been thinking about being at home, and wishing he could go back there.
I want to go home.
He had written it down. And then he had crossed it out, and corrected it: I want to be home.
Fraser draws a slow breath. The memories have been settling, over time, sorting themselves into a proper order so that he knows, now, what happened and when. He remembers putting himself to sleep that night, imagining himself back in the snowfields of home and telling his tired mind to rest, to allow itself to rest. He remembers sinking into sleep, sinking into those memories that have always meant home, and safety. And he remembers the strange, almost numb feeling as different versions of himself carried him around over the next three days.
He wonders briefly if he should keep some of the drawings, as a reminder of that strange, important weekend. But then he tucks the yellow sheets back into the trash. That is over now, and he’s done with it. No more past selves. Just now, and the future.
Fraser moves to the bedroom door. Ray is stretched out in bed. His breathing is low and steady, his face slack. Fraser goes to the bed and climbs in, careful not to wake Ray. For a while he simply lies there on his back, staring at nothing, aware of the warmth around him and the sound of Ray’s breathing. Then Fraser rolls over, puts an arm around his partner, closes his eyes, and goes to sleep.
He is home, at last.