Frannie huffed and rolled her eyes as she heard Ray pass her door yet one more time. "Stop pacing!" she shouted over her shoulder.
"I'm not pacing!" Ray shouted back from the other side of her closed door. He sighed audibly.
Frannie didn't take the bait. Ray was a grown man. She wasn't going to coddle him. She inspected the fresh layer of polish on her nails and grinned at how even they were. She wished there were Olympics for things like painting all ten fingernails in under two minutes without a single blob; she'd win a gold medal for sure.
Ray sighed again from the other side of the door.
Frannie rolled her eyes. She wasn't going to let him annoy her into asking what was wrong.
Ray walked away from her door, then walked back. Away again, then back. He sighed. He walked away, halfway back, away, then all the way back again.
Frannie jumped up from her dressing table and yanked open her door. "What?"
Ray was standing there in the hallway with his shoulders hunched. "Nothing," he said.
Frannie said, "Don't make me grab you by the collar and pull you in here because I just painted my nails and if you make me smudge them, I'll smudge your face."
"That doesn't even make sense."
Frannie turned and pointed into her room. "Now," she said.
Ray hurried into her room and started talking before she even got the door shut again. "Okay, here's the thing," he whispered, pacing all the way to her dressing table, then turning around again and pacing back. "Here's the thing, Frannie, but you gotta promise me. You have to promise that Ma will not find out about this. Ma cannot know, do you understand? Ma cannot ever know."
Frannie crossed her arms and leaned against her dresser, suddenly much more interested in whatever it was that had Ray so uptight.
"Do you promise?" he asked.
"Sure," she said, crossing her toes. "Sure I promise. Now you going to tell me what kind of bee you've got in your bucket or what?"
Ray blinked at her, then shook his head. He sighed again and his shoulders drooped even more and he ran his hands over his face. He took a breath, seemed to hesitate, then said, "Fraser's missing."
"What do you mean he's missing?" she demanded, taking a step forward. "What did you do with him?"
"It's a case," Ray said. "We're on a case, we've been on this case, and Benny had this hunch about a possible connection to this cobbler and you know what? You don't need the details. He had this hunch, he followed it on his own without waiting for me, and I haven't heard from him in three days."
Frannie put one hand to her stomach and used the other one to steady herself as she lowered herself onto her bed. She didn't even care about smudging her nails. Fraser was missing. Fraser could be dead. She looked up at Ray with wide eyes.
"This is why I didn't want to tell you anything," Ray said. "You cannot panic, all right? I need you to keep it together because I need an inside girl. I need you to blend in, to be my eyes and ears, to get into places I can't go. Can you do that?"
"I...I think so?" Frannie asked. She shook her head. "What? Ray, this is nuts. Why do you need me when you've got a whole police force on your side?"
"Because I need a dancer. Believe me, I tried doing this without you. We've wasted days trying to find an undercover officer who can dance well enough to look like they do it competitively, but we can't. The first round starts tomorrow, Frannie, and you're my last hope."
Frannie took a deep breath. Of course she could dance. She didn't have a partner, but if it meant rescuing Fraser from whatever he'd gotten himself into, of course she could, "I don't have a partner!" she cried. "Bobby moved to Hoboken forever ago!"
"I got you a partner," Ray said. "God only knows how it's possible, but you're going to have the best partner you've ever hit the floor with."
"Miss Vecchio," he said, smiling at her. "I've taken the liberty of watching the tapes of your performances during your pro-am career--"
"There are tapes?" Frannie asked.
"Oh, yes," he said with a delighted expression his face. "I've spent many a lonely night in a remote cabin with no source of solace except videotapes of amateur dance competitions and a high performance fiberglass curling brush."
"Oh," she said, then decided not to think too hard about that.
"I hope you don't think it's presumptuous of me, but as soon as Detective Vecchio informed me that you had agreed to help in the investigation, I went right to my library of tapes and I've been doing nothing but watching your old competitions ever since. I wanted to get a feel of your strengths, after all, to know where we should start, and I have to say, I think we couldn't go wrong with a rumba."
Frannie nodded. The rumba had always been her best. "But we'll have to dance all five, and with only one day--"
"Never fear," he said confidently. "We'll be competing as pure amateurs which is, perhaps, a bit unfair, however, qualifying for the second round will get us access to the backstage area where we believe Constable Fraser is being held. If we perfect the rumba, we'll stand out to the judges since many amateurs believe it to be less complex than the other, flashier dances. Then we can dance the other four as we would any social dance, which isn't ideal, but with our combined talents, it should be enough to get us in." He held his hand out towards her. "Shall we begin?"
Frannie reached her hand out it and placed it in his outstretched palm.
Ray sighed miserably.
Frannie rolled her eyes, but Turnbull didn't look at all annoyed by Ray's attitude. He simply turned his head towards Ray and said, "Never you fear, Detective Vecchio, we'll get Fraser back to you safe and sound. I promise."
Frannie sat on a metal folding chair in the ballroom of the Hyatt Regency and chewed on her thumbnail, waiting to see if they'd made it to the second round. Then she pulled her hands away from her mouth and put them in her lap.
"It's quite nerve wracking, isn't it?" Turnbull asked softly.
She shrugged. She'd never been good at just sitting and waiting. She was much better when she could just go after what she wanted.
"May I ask you a personal question?"
She turned to look at him, then shrugged. "Sure." She wondered where Fraser was. She wondered why Ray thought he was being held captive in a Hyatt Regency.
"Why did you ever stop dancing? You're quite talented."
She smiled at the compliment and shrugged again, feeling her cheeks heat up. "I never stopped dancing, really, I just stopped competing. I only ever competed in the first place because of Bobby. He was my first love in, like, second grade." She laughed just thinking about it. "We never hung out, really, but he liked to dance and so did I, so we started competing. Then his boyfriend got a great job in Hoboken, so they moved, and without Bobby, it didn't seem right."
"Oh," he said softly. "Oh, I'm terribly sorry. I didn't realize that coming back to competition would be painful for you. You hide it quite well, I didn't even--"
She laughed and put her hand on his arm to calm him. "I'm fine, Turnbull. It's nice, dancing again, even if they're going to kick our asses." She tipped her chin towards the most talented couple from the first round.
"The Kowalskis," Turnbull told her, nodding. "They came in second place last year, though everyone in the audience was convinced they'd given the clearly superior performance. It was quite a scandal."
"I'm sure it was." She tipper her head towards another couple walking past them in matching sequined navy blue costumes. "Those are the Horvaths and those are the same costumes they've been wearing every year since I started competing."
"Their take on the paso doble was...interesting," Turnbull said.
Frannie laughed again. "Bobby always said they looked like cranes trying to mate."
Turnbull giggled behind his hand.
"Oh, man," she said with a sigh, looking around the ballroom. "I missed this. I didn't even know how much until right now. Does that make me a jerk? Fraser's missing and Ray's a train wreck and I'm thinking about how much fun Bobby and I used to have."
"You miss him a lot, don't you?"
She nodded. She really did. "It's better for him out in New Jersey," she said. "He had a pretty rough time growing up in the neighborhood, you know? Kids were always picking on him. Ray was one of the worst."
"Detective Vecchio?" Turnbull asked, seeming surprised.
"He's a big galoot, if you haven't noticed," Frannie said. "Not that you can call him that. He's my brother, so I can call him a big galoot, but if anybody else does, I'll have to fight for his honor since he's my brother and all."
Turnbull straightened up and said, "I would never call Detective Vecchio a big galoot," so sincerely, she had to smile at him.
"I don't think he actually has anything against gay guys, it's just machismo. Ugh. Talk about something I wouldn't miss for a second. Oh, you're so tough you have to pick on a gay kid your little sister's age to prove it. It's so pathetic. Not that you can call Ray pathetic--"
"Because he's your brother," Turnbull finished.
Turnbull pursed his lips, then said, "I think that perhaps young Detective Vecchio, before he was Detective Vecchio and, well, perhaps even after he'd become a detective and was, therefore, rightfully called Detective Vecchio, I think perhaps he was merely. That is to say that sometimes men are insecure in themselves, which causes them to lash out at people who are representations of, well, that is to say, oh, look! They're announcing the results!"
Frannie slumped in her chair with relief when the judges read their names. They'd advanced to the second round, which would take place just after lunch.
"Ow," Frannie said as Ray fitted her with an earpiece.
"Stop fidgeting," Ray grumbled.
"I'm not fidgeting, I'm objecting to you poking your fingers into my skull."
"It's not my fault your skull is deformed."
Frannie gasped and considered slapping him. He knew how she felt about the shape of her head. He knew it and he used it against her even when she was doing him a favor.
"Ah," Turnbull said, opening the passenger side door of the Riviera. "A combination earpiece and microphone, I see. Very clever, Detective Vecchio."
"I got one for you, too," Ray said. "So the three of us can talk to each other without it looking like we're talking to each other."
"I brought my own," Turnbull said, turning his head to the side to show them the tiny beige earpiece.
"You have your own earpiece?"
Turnbull frowned and said, "Of course I do. It's standard issue. And Miss Vecchio, I hope this doesn't seem untoward, but I took your measurements last night--"
"You took my what?" Frannie asked. "When?"
"When we were dancing, of course. When my hands were on your, well, your body, I simply--"
"Wait," Ray said darkly. "You're supposed to be helping find Fraser and instead you're getting touchy feely with my sister?"
"Not at all," Turnbull said, shaking his head quickly. "I swear to you, Detective Vecchio, it's merely that when we were practicing last night I made note of Miss Vecchio's measurements and, well, you mentioned that you didn't have a dress that you felt was up to snuff, so I thought perhaps presenting you with this would be a nice way to celebrate making it into the second round." He held a garment bag out towards her.
Frannie unzipped the bag a few inches, then gasped. "It's a dress."
"It's not much, I know," Turnbull said sadly. "If I'd had more time to work on it, I could have created something more worthy of your talent and grace on the dance floor. It's simply a humble offering from me to you."
Frannie took the garment bag from him and said, "It's perfect."
It was perfect. It was red. The eight-panel skirt flared out in a flurry of ruffles when she spun and the short sleeves were slit from shoulder to elbow, held together with delicate silver clasps. It wasn't nearly as flashy as her old hot pink sequined salsa dress, but that old dress was missing half its sequins, anyway, and it had never fit as well as the slinky jersey dress Turnbull had made for her.
"You're a vision," Turnbull said when she came out of the dressing room.
She smiled and did a twirl to show off the skirt. "I can't believe you made this," she said. "I can't believe you made this in one night!"
"Hey, hey, hey," Ray's voice was cranky in her ear. "Less twirling, more looking for Fraser."
"How do you know I was twirling?" Frannie muttered under her breath.
"You're my sister. I know when you're twirling, and if you get a new dress with a flouncy skirt, you're going to twirl. Now, we think the vendor Fraser went after is this guy named Walter Steiger, runs Windy City Dance Shoes. We checked out his stall out here on the floor and it's clean, but he's got all his inventory in a room back there where you are."
Frannie looked up and down the narrow, crowded hallway. She wouldn't have been able to find her way to the dressing room if there weren't huge signs every ten feet complete with helpful arrows pointing you in the right direction. "It's a maze back here," she said.
Turnbull tipped his head up and sniffed the air, licked the tip of his finger and held it up, then turned his head the other way and sniffed again. "This way," he said. "I clearly detect the scent of new shoes."
"What is it with you guys?" Ray demanded. "Frannie, don't let him lick anything."
Frannie snorted as she followed Turnbull down the hall. "In his dreams."
She followed down the hallway, then down another, then yet another. There were so many twists and turns that Frannie had no idea which direction they were going or after just a few minutes. When they passed a loading dock she said, "Where are we?"
"Near the back entrance," Turnbull said. "For a fee, the vendors can rent a storage room in which to secure their wares overnight. Most of them choose to keep their merchandise much closer to the action than this, however. It seems that Mr. Steiger, ah, there it is!"
Frannie looked to where he was pointing and rolled her eyes. There was a paper sign on the door that said, Windy City Dance Shoes: Keep Out.
"Not exactly stealthy, putting his company name on the door like that," she observed.
"Criminals are often not nearly as smart as they think they are," he told her, reaching for the handle. "It's locked. Perhaps we can find a maintenance worker with a master key."
"I got it," Frannie said, squatting down and running her finger over the lock. It was a simple pin and tumbler lock, and she reached up into her hair to remove the lock picks she always kept there.
"Are...are those lock picks?" Turnbull asked her.
"Like my Nonnie always said, never leave the house without a tube of lipstick, a nickel for the telephone, and a torsion wrench." She wiggled the wrench at him while she slid the hook pick in and pressed upwards so she could count the number of pins it had.
"I'm not sure that's entirely legal," Turnbull said nervously.
"Nah, it's fine. It's like owning a crowbar. It's legal unless you use 'em to commit a crime. Oh, come on," she grumbled, wriggling the torsion wrench into the keyway.
"Just kick the door in," Ray snapped.
Frannie jumped. He'd been silent for so long that she'd forgotten he was listening. "Jeez, Ray, give me more of a heart attack next time. And this'll just take a second, the springs are pretty old so they don't have much--" She grinned as she twisted the torsion wrench and turned the plug, unlocking the door. "Done."
"Is he there?" Ray demanded. "How is he? Oh, God, is he not there?"
"Cool your horses there, bro," Frannie said, standing up and opening the storage room door. She felt along the wall for a light switch and flipped it on, then looked around at the boxes and boxes of shoes. "Lots of shoes," she said, lifting the top off one of the boxes. "Kind of ugly, even for dance sneakers which, let's be honest, are never very flattering." She held her breath when she heard a soft groan from behind a wall of boxes.
"Constable Fraser!" Turnbull cried, pushing his way through the stacks and stacks of shoeboxes. Frannie hurried after him, narrowly avoiding spraining her ankle more than once, and she couldn't do anything but gasp when she saw Fraser.
He was curled on the floor, hands cuffed behind his back so tightly that she could see where the skin had rubbed off his wrists. He had a swollen black eye crusted with blood and more blood matted in his hair.
"He's here," Frannie said. "Ray, he's here and he's alive but you should probably send an ambulance."
"There's no need for that," Fraser said, struggling to sit up. "Ah, Turnbull, how are you? I take it the carrier pigeon reached you."
"The what?" Frannie demanded, then hurried around behind him so she could pick the handcuff locks.
"The carrier pigeon," Fraser said. "Of course, the message had to be sent in Morse code as I was immobilized at the time and unable to attach any sort of communication to its leg, however it seemed to understand my meaning and the urgency in which the message needed to be relayed, therefore--"
"Ray, you definitely need to send an ambulance," Frannie said. "He's hallucinating. Or delusional. Or both."
"Have you seen any jugglers?" Turnbull asked gravely, squatting down in front of Fraser. "Think very carefully. During your moments of, ah, shall we say during your less lucid moments, did hallucinations of jugglers try to communicate with you?"
"Is there a hole in your bag of marbles?" Fraser asked.
Turnbull sighed and sat back on his heels. "Perhaps," he said softly. "Perhaps there is."
"Ha!" Frannie cried as the cuff on Fraser's left wrist snapped open.
Ray stormed into the room just then and dropped to his knees, shoving Turnbull to the side and reaching out for Fraser. "What did they do to you?" he demanded, curling his fingers into Fraser's hair. He pressed their foreheads together and whispered, "Damnit, Benny, what did I say? I said wait for backup. You always wait for backup. You keep doing stuff like this and I could lose you, and you know what that would do to me? You know what would happen to me if I lost you? I wouldn't make it. I can't fucking lose you."
"I'm sorry, Ray," Fraser murmured, tipping his face up. "I knew I could uncover Mr. Steiger's nefarious dealings and, well, I admit I underestimated his capacity for violence, but as everything's worked out in the end I don't see why we can't just--"
And Ray kissed him. Right there in front of Frannie's face, Ray kissed Fraser. He kissed him hard and rough like he was angry and he was scared and he didn't want to kiss anybody else but Fraser for the rest of his life.
"Oh," Frannie said, getting to her feet. "Oh, you're, the two of you are. Well. And that's what you meant about not telling Ma."
There were voices coming from down the hall and Ray pulled away from Fraser before the paramedics rushed into the room.
Frannie stepped back to let them examine Fraser, then stepped around the side of them to stand next to Turnbull and a collapsed stack of lyrical sandals. They stood together silently as the paramedics insisted that Fraser needed medical attention and Fraser insisted it was nothing a little bear fat and rest couldn't cure.
"You knew," she said softly as the tiny blonde paramedic gave Fraser her most unflinching glare.
"Ah," Turnbull said. "Well. You know that Constable Fraser would never talk about his personal life, especially to a subordinate."
"But you knew."
He nodded. "Not that there's anything to be known, but if there was, then yes, I knew."
She smiled wryly and shook her head. Her brother and Benton Fraser. Go figure.
The tiny blonde paramedic won the fight and Fraser limped out slowly behind her, blanket draped over his shoulders. Frannie caught Ray's arm as he was on the way out and yanked him into a hug.
"I love you, doofus," she said before kissing his cheek. She squeezed him hard and smiled when he squeezed her back even harder. Then she pulled away and said, "Go after him. Make sure he doesn't try to slip out of the back of the ambulance while nobody's looking."
After Ray was gone, she slumped against the wall. "Well," she said. "That was way too much excitement for one day."
"That was very kind of you," Turnbull said.
"What? Picking the lock? I learned when I was a little girl. I'm telling you, my grandmother was one hell of an interesting woman."
"The way you gave Ray your blessing like that," Turnbull said. "I know that you, that is that you may have. I'm not saying that you were in any way attracted or, no, that is, I know that you have always been a very loving woman and--"
She bumped him with her hip and said, "I have a history of throwing myself at Fraser. It's not like it's a secret. But surprisingly, I'm not upset. I'm happy. It makes sense, you know? Maybe I knew, too, somehow."
"Well, you are quite perceptive."
She ran her hands down her skirt. "I only wish I'd gotten to dance in this dress. It's a fantastic dress."
Turnbull held his hand out for her and said, "If we hurry, we might be able to make it before our names are called."
The rumba had been Frannie's favorite dance ever since she'd learned its basic figures. The slow, pulsing rhythm, the way her body wound around and through the steps, the barest touch of her partner's hand to her wrist, all of it had always added up to something magical. She never felt more beautiful than when she was dancing the rumba. It was a dance of desire, of slow, lingering glances, of celebrating the thrill of longing.
She never felt more beautiful than when she danced the rumba, and she'd never felt more beautiful than she did in that moment dancing the rumba with Constable Turnbull in the Hyatt Regency ballroom.
He looked so dashing in his high-waisted pants and shimmering white shirt with the collar split down to his navel. When his hand came to rest on the back of her shoulder during a series of side breaks, she could feel the heat of his palm through the silken material of the dress he'd made for her, and she shivered. As they twined around one another, they came so close to touching in so many places, but it was only ever his hand over hers, her hand on his chest, his fingers brushing the inside of her elbow. Her knees felt weak and she felt powerful and elated and like she was the most beautiful woman in the world.
After their routine was over, she barely even heard the applause. She was aware of it, she was aware that they'd been amazing, but it was on the edges of her consciousness. All she could think about was how handsome Constable Turnbull looked in that moment, how kind and gentle he was, and how she wanted to dance with him forever.
"That was," he said breathlessly. "You were. You were wonderful."
She couldn't look at him as she said, "You, too." They walked to the side of the ballroom as the next couple took the floor and she smiled to herself as she stretched and gently cooled down. "Is your first name Constable?" she asked, then bit her lip. That had been a stupid way to put it.
He laughed and said, "No. It's Renfield, as a matter of fact."
"Can I call you Renfield?"
"I'd like that very much." They watched the next couple for a while, then he said, "We should probably get to the hospital and see how Constable Fraser's doing."
"Yeah," she said. She wanted to see Ray, too, wanted to make sure he knew how happy for him she was.
"Hey," she said, tugging at Renfield's sleeve as he turned to go. "I never asked you about how you learned to dance, how you got so good. Because you are, you know. A really good dancer."
Turnbull blushed and smiled a soft, shy smile. "Thank you, Miss Vecchio," he said softly.
"Frannie," she told him. "Or Francesca if you prefer."
"Francesca," he said softly.
"So what's your story, anyway? You grow up in a traveling dance troupe?" Ugh. When had she gotten so bad at flirting? A traveling dance troupe? Where had she even come up with that?
He laughed and shook his head, "No, nothing quite so colorful, but it is an interesting story if I do say so myself. I'd like very much to tell you about it one day. Perhaps over dinner?"
Frannie reached out and took his hand in hers and said, "Yeah. I'd like that a lot."