Episodic Romance

Episodic Romance, a due South adventure of the Fraser/Kowalski variety.
Rated as "R" for your sanity convenience. Somewhere around 70,000 words.
Film students, dead gangsters, becoming Ray Vecchio, Old Chicago, and familiar faces.

Written for the Red Ships Green Ships 'zine and findable here

Introduction and Story Notes
Episode 1 Shadows and Men That Do Not Exist
Episode 2 Not Greta Garbo at all
Episode 3 Nothing like drowning
Episode 4 Your Own Personal Ghost
Episode 5 Nothing Would Be Easy Ever Again

Episode Three: Nothing Like Drowning

Ray wakes up.

Ray wakes up and for the first time in years he wonders why there isn't a body beside him. The comforter is off the bed and slithering slowly towards the bathroom like the floral monstrosity it is. And Ray feels strange, not angry or sad, not wanting to hit the bottle, the sidewalk, a perp. Ray feels… empty. It's like one of his masks. It's not like he's being somebody, somebody else. It's just as if there's nothing, nothing at all. Here. Inside. Nothing at all, 'cept a pulsing lump of muscle.

Ray drinks his coffee, makes it properly not with tap water, and eats a couple of cookies with it. He finds some grapes that aren't all wrinkly in the ice-box so he eats those as well. Then he sails serenely through the traffic to the 2-7 and makes it in before nine hundred hours. And he pushes aside the mime artiste to get to his desk, lifts his duckie out of his inbox, and gets on with his paperwork.

It isn't as if the stuff will disappear by magic, now, is it?

So he pulls out the case he solved about the missing silver that wasn't really missing and boots up his computer, properly, not with his foot, and starts picking out the letters that make the words that say what a good bust this was and how even Stella is a hundred percent sure that these finks are going down.

It's not as if he hasn't got stuff to do, and it isn't as if there are leads for anything else, really, 'cept the kind that lead away from the stuff they're supposed to be investigating.

He figures he'll have this one on Welsh's desk by eleven at the latest.

The Ducks are still ‘elsewhere’, and it's Welsh's regular scheduled meeting with the higher-ups right now. Frannie's taking the opportunity to go over his couch with a handvac and replenish the secret stack of Oreos that the Lieu thinks nobody knows about.

It's quiet in the Bullpen, it's only Ray and Winfield and a mime waiting to give his witness statement in Interrogation One. It's almost like drowning. It's nothing like drowning, nothing like the cold pulse of Ray's blood in his ears and the water pushing into Ray's eyes. Nothing like drowning at all.

Ray keeps his head down and gets on with his work.

He breaks the surface before he even realises that he's heard a voice.

Jack Lancer is standing there. There's a brief flash of concern illuminating his face, and then that's gone. Ray, looking up through his eyelashes, only notices it because he's made it his job to pick up on these things. Fraser would say that Ray's "quick on the uptake", except Ray's not thinking about Fraser. So he thinks about Frannie and emotional literacy as Jack goes all Tales from the Crypt. Ray ignores the way his pen's just torn a hole in his report cover form.

Ray pretends he's really interested in Jack's "It's alive! It's alive!" routine. Ray pretends he's playing along, that everything is still greatness. It's not quite Tales from the Crypt, more like Young Frankenstein; Jack's that kind of guy. Still Ray's glad the "wrong brain" comment he was expecting doesn't come. That would just be too much.

Ray's kind of dead here.

And Jack Lancer is the last person Ray wants to see.

And the way Jack's hand is twisting into a twitching fist, brushing loosely against his slacks, it's pretty clear that Jack feels almost the same way.

Jack's wearing a suit. It's nicely cut, nowhere near as loud as the ones Ray's meant to wear. It's the opposite, really, it's a quiet suit. You don't notice somebody in a suit like that. Sure, you see them, but then filter it out. Average guy. Jack Lancer is anything but an average guy. He still has the ear-ring though and nothing could quite tame that hair. But, still… Jack used to say that the only suit he would ever wear would be the one in his grave. Ray would lean back in the department Chevy, keeping his eyes on the warehouse, and say that it wouldn't be. He'd get buried in his uniform, same as everyone else. Jack said, no, it's in his will and everything, suit or buck naked, he ain't going to meet his maker in polyester.

Two undercover cops meet in a car… now, that could be a joke.

Two undercover cops meet in a bullpen… you'll be waiting a really long time for the rimshot.

Ray still plays the game, trying to make himself sound light and easy, "Hey, Lancer! Long time, no see! How are things in the field of housing regulation? You ever get bored; I'll have a word with the Lieu and get you a desk right next to mine." That's the way things should be, and Ray's surprised that he can't keep the bitterness out of his voice. He must be losing his touch.

"It's going okay," Jack says and the bastard is doing it over easy. "It's interesting enough. We brought down some scumbag landlord who was packing them in like battery hens. And the folks, they wouldn't go tell anyone, 'cause they were afraid of getting themselves deported." Ray doesn't notice how he's got fewer lines around his eyes, no bags, doesn't shave while hung-over.

"I got hit over the head by a bunch of weird fucks dancing the whack-a-cop waltz," Jack knows all about dancing. He worked the Crystal Ballroom heist with Ray, got to hear it all close up – tied up – with Ray watching and nodding agreement once in a while. The guys liked Ray; he was easygoing and didn't ask questions. No, they didn't like Ray; they liked the person Ray was. He was a nice, quiet, helpful guy. It wasn't as if they wanted to clean up their guns so that they'd fire like new, didn't know how…

Jack doesn't like Ray; he liked Ray. He liked Ray before things went bad.

Maybe it would have been better if Jack had got his golden bullet after all.

But then, Ray would be totally less than good at his job, his life.

Even when Ray's good, he still manages to suck, fuck things up, over, in a tree.

Ray just stares at the paperwork. It might as well be written in Chinese.

Turns out Jack's still got it. Can still read people – Ray – like an open book. They still have it, almost. They've got the "badda" and the "bing" and right now, Jack's trying to avoid the boom.

Those hands Ray spent so long not studying fall gently onto the desk as Jack leans in. "Christ, Ray. It's not your fault. You're having a shitty week, and… what happened back then wasn't your fault." Jack pauses, trying to see whether Ray's got the message, but really, the only thing that Ray's got is that Jack's treated him like a sudden widow.

"Ray –" Jack's trying again, trying to beat through Ray's thick Polack skull with a feather "– it wasn't about you. It was just… I mean look at you, you're in doing paperwork with a head injury… I just couldn't face it. I thought I could, but in the end I couldn't. I just couldn't face it. And Luticia, Ray, she was getting terrified that I wouldn't come home again 'cept in a casket."

Ray doesn't say anything. Doesn't think anything. Ray's just frozen and all this is just words and they can't mend anything at all. Nothing important, at any rate, nothing Ray needs mending.

There's just nothing.

In another universe, Jack's pulling up, getting all upright and average and knocking some of the creases out of his suit. Slips a blunt hand into a pocket, and the light from his rings reflects and traps itself in Ray's eyes. Jack slips a business card on Ray's desk. "Ray, when things start going your way and you've nailed those bastards to the wall–" there's something strange in how calm he sounds when he says that "–we'd love to have you over to supper, like the old days. And you can bring your new partner and I can bore you rigid about the dangers of non code compliant electrics and how they contributed to that big apartment block fire down on Racine. Some folks in the office just say it was a slum, but what they don't get is that it was some people's slum, the only one they had."

Ray's still dreaming. "Fraser's slum," he mumbles.

Jack looks at Ray like he's the word of god fallen from a mountain, "I didn't know that. Didn't put it together like that; just saw the report about the electrics before it was taken out of my hands. Arson. That was you, wasn't it, Ray?" There's a ghost of a real smile. "I'm going to give you something, you don't even need to take it out of my hands. There's something strange going down in Bolingbrook. I'm not sure it's really my field, sure as hell isn't my district. Everything's telling me that it's something bad. Ray, if you can do anything, just get the word out on this, get it on the grapevine so people look out for it when it comes."

Ray's awake. "You got more than that?" he asks. Instinct's fine, but there are times when what you really need is logic. Instinct is telling Ray that this is important, that Jack's instinct on this is good, but that doesn't help him find an end on this big ball of case-string of his.

Jack shakes his head, just as Welsh looms into view.

"Vecchio –" Welsh stresses it in that way that Ray figured as displeased on his first day at the 2-7 "– while it normally pleases me to see that you are being industrious, I would like to draw your attention to something. To whit, you should be in the company of the Constable and investigating the shooting in Oriole Park and the ancillary matter of you both being rendered unconscious. Normally, I would afford you the luxury of leave. To be frank, I think you're in need of taking some of your accumulated leave elsewhere, preferably somewhere relaxing with good fishing. However, it transpires that the son of a member of the Canadian Cabinet—"

Ray interrupts, it's instinct, he's flying, "The punk kid who hasn't seen Frank's cock?"

Sometimes instinct is good, sometimes it's just trouble. This time it's both.

"Vecchio, do I really want an explanation for the comment?"

Ray mumbles, "Canadian movie about chickens."

And it seems like Welsh caught Canadian by association. "Ah. Now, Detective, it is said that a Mountie always gets his man. It is my opinion that a Chicago Police Detective should always get his Mountie."

That's all she wrote. Ray always wondered who the ‘she’ was, but right now he's really trying not to think of bad dreams and typewriter tapping. Jack has to split, because he needs to find the right office to check on his pension and shit. You have to be a damn good detective to find it. Maybe it's a proficiency test or something. He turns right when Ray turns left, and then Ray's in the Goat and cruising over to Stetson.

Ray can tell who is statue du jour even from across the street. And even if he couldn't, the presence of the Yukon Donut Hound is a big clue.

Ray's not sure where the blonde standing between Fraser and the wolf fits into it. One of his old tutors at the Academy was all "shershay la femme" which is all well and good, but Ray's got one here and he doesn't know how she fits.

Ray knows better after he's crossed, dodged all the cop-icidal drivers, and can make out the way her lips move.

"He can't speak to you, you know. Orders," Ray says, hands in pockets, not sure if he's playing tough-guy cop or plain hostile to this chick. Ray needs to know who he is, otherwise, everything screws up. Ray just doesn't know where he is, who he is, on this page.

"Detective Ray!" she squeaks. Ray didn't know folks' voices could go that high but Ray's got his answer. He's still Ray, tough-guy-with-a-heart-of-squishy-cop Ray, not the psycho pod person Ray he thought he was turning into a moment ago. Since when is he the jealous type? Ray thinks of Orsini and a car door and decides it's best not to answer that one. So, okay, rephrase a little, since when is Ray the kind to get jealous of jail bait that was wearing a poodle suit when he first met her?

Since never.

"Yeah, –" Ray pushes his glasses back up his nose, "– that's me. Uh. This is how we'll work it –" Ray turns a little, includes Fraser in all this "– me and my new friend here will talk and you'll listen and when the Ice Queen thinks you're a sorry Mountie, we'll blow this lemonade stand and do some investigating."

"Well, I came by to take your dog home." Kid still isn't sure how to deal with Fraser the statue. "Because he followed me all the way back to the dorm, and Patrick wasn't happy with that and even less happy…"

Her voice is running away without her, and she looks like she's going to cry. Ray raises a hand, palm out, "Whoa, back to the beginning. Who's Patrick? The punk kid?"

"Patrick's our chaperone, kinda." She's looking at her violet pumps.

There's so much behind that, and Ray needs to dig it all out. Fraser's eyebrow's twitching and he must be dying to rub it. But Fraser can't talk, well, he could but Ray isn't sure what Thatcher does when some Mountie breaks the rules while on guard duty, since statue-time is her punishment for everything. Ray doesn't want to find out. So he has to do this the old fashioned way, detecting, not picking the brain of the guy who can probably recite the whole report backwards.

And the first thing Ray needs to do is calm things down, "So Patrick's not the punk fan?"

Ray gets a slightly muffled giggle before she pulls herself together. "Hell, no. On the bus down, he had the Arrogant Worms on, between attempts to get us to do the Wheels on the Bus."

Even trying to get a bunch of teenagers on a field trip to sing kids' songs takes either balls or stupidity. "Did he manage?"

"Eventually, yeah, and we all died laughing. Except Josh."

"Punk kid?" It's not really a question.

Poodle girl thinks it is. "Yeah, Josh. How did you know?"

"That's what makes me the detective and you the witness." The choice of words is deliberate, making her feel important. Ray would put ten dollars on her being a small-town girl who's gone to college and not fitted in too good. That's ten dollars US, not ten dollars Canadian.

"Josh is really cool sometimes, he's directing and he has all these really neat ideas, but he thinks the whole world revolves around him."

"Not cool," Ray chimes in, "got an important daddy and thinks that can get him everything. And maybe it can, I mean, this is Chicago, home of mayors called Daley."

"Everyone agrees with him, because it's easier that way, and he is really smart. Smarter than me."

"Hey, you're in college, I bet you're plenty smart. Smarter than me. I'm a cop because I'm d-u-m dumb." That gets a little giggle. "Trust me, smart isn't everything. I mean, Fraser's smart–" Ray points at Fraser, which is something smart folks don't do "–but I have to get him out of trouble all the time."

"Tell me about it." And she's staring at her pumps again. They're scuffed around the edges and don't really match her outfit. Probably the only pair she's got with her.

"That's my line. You're the witness, I'm the detective. You tell me things." Ray's keeping this light. Really he should be thanking her from saving Dief from a carpet shop or something.

"Patrick banned us from going back to the park until the cops had cleared up. He'd declared yesterday tourist time. Josh—"

"I don't think I need you to paint me a picture here. Patrick was being sensible and doing his thing as your chap… chappie… chaperone. I told you I was dumb, right?"

"Ray, I don't think you are ‘dumb’ in the least." Ray almost jumps out of his skin, Fraser's supposed to be playing statue.

Oh, that's Turnbull with his head around the door. "Shall I tell the Inspector that you will be assisting Detective Vecchio in his investigation, Sir? And of course, acting on information provided by this lady; who, I must say, has proved herself the very model of young Canadian citizenry by coming forward."

Poodle-girl blushes. Ray thinks it's kind of cute.

"Yes, Renfield. Although, I'd be deeply grateful if you'd be so kind as to fetch the file from my desk first." Fraser puts a lot of stress on first. Ray likes a guy who has his priorities right.

"While I do not normally condone postponing an unenviable task…" Fraser stares at Turnbull until he gets a desperate-sounding "understood" and the most junior of junior officers ducks back into the building.

"Fraser, we got a statement from this Patrick guy? I mean, if he was chaperoning, he must have been on the scene when it all went down." It's only then, you see, that Ray realises he's never seen inside that damn file. Maybe that bump on the head was harder than he thought.

"Strangely enough, no." Fraser rubs his eyebrow. Miracle he's still got one, the way he rubs it. Maybe he thinks it makes a genie appear or something.

"You know where Patrick's going to be right now?" Ray asks the kid.

"In his room at the dorm, he's sulking. He tried to ground Josh…"

Ray doesn't need her to finish that, he already has it down; the minister's kid is a brat and won't listen to the guy whose job is to make sure he gets back to Canada unmugged and snowy-pure. Before Ray can say anything like that, Turnbull's back with a smile that is only slightly unhinged. "There you go, Sir. I put together your notes and placed them in this folder, in addition to the case file."

"Thank you kindly, Turnbull."

"Oh, is that Diefenbaker? Hello, Diefenbaker, your daddy was so worried about you. You must have been awfully hungry out there, come in and I'll fix you something – I've got some very nice liver – and then we'll have a little talk about staying put and waiting for your daddy."

If looks could kill, the one Fraser's giving Turnbull would be full out homicide. The kind where you didn't so much find the body as get bits of it delivered care of the United States Postal Service.

The look Poodle Girl was giving Turnbull starts off as something different entirely. And gets even more so when Turnbull begins talking to her, "I say, did you find Diefenbaker, Miss…"

"I'm Drew." Drew sure as hell isn't looking at how the tip of her pump starts drawing circles on the sidewalk.

"Well, Miss Drew, thank you for returning Diefenbaker to us. You must be cold out here, if you come in, we'll have tea in the red drawing room and I'll tell the Inspector about how you have been helping us in our investigation and, in fact, been a positive example of Canadian youth."

Maybe Turnbull's smarter than he looks; Thatcher can't really hang him out to dry with Drew in tow.

"Turnbull's holding the fort and keeping the world safe for Canadians, so pitter patter, Fraser." Ray has no desire to play gooseberry. Doesn't think it's going to get that way, he isn't picking up that kind of vibes from Turnbull. But it's what Drew needs, to feel valued and important for a change. And give the inevitable mean girls something to chew on. It's not every girl who has a Mountie show her his Cream Horn.

Ray gets another smile from Drew, who clearly still thinks he's cool, and one he wasn't really expecting from Turnbull. For a guy who smiles pretty much all the time, Turnbull sure has a lot of smiles.

Right now, as Turnbull ushers Drew into the Twilight Zone, Ray's wishing he could read that file and not have to rely on Fraser explaining everything. Not because he feels it threatens his manliness or anything like that, but because it's so damn unprofessional. You can't really have your partner explaining everything to you in front of the witness unless you're playing. You know, good cop/bad cop, good cop/dense cop, good cop/fucking psycho. Playing.

And Ray isn't playing here; he wants to nail these bastards' balls to the wall. And the gangsters' balls just for equality's sake. And if they don't have balls, balls will be provided.

And it's like Fraser's got the whole mind-reading thing back. Like everything's back to normal. Not that Ray's sure he wants normal, but Fraser offering to drive so that Ray can get in some quality time with the files and Fraser's Cliff Notes. And Ray shouldn't worry about the Goat, because if Ray can trust Fraser with his life, he can trust him with his automobile, right?

Ray just kicks back in the passenger seat, Fraser's seat, and reads a report that stinks of fish. And not the way that Dewey stinks, either. Something is rotten in the state of Oriole Park. Ray can't get why the hell they didn't interview the nominal responsible adult, he's on the list, but there's no interview, and this thing stinks worse than any dumpster Ray's ever dived.

Fraser must be a decent driver when he wants to be, because Ray doesn't even register the journey to Lincoln Park, managing to bury himself in Fraser's notes which say pretty much the same as Ray's thinking right now. The investigation stinks. If it hadn't been pulled off local what with the diplomatic angle, it would have probably got itself misfiled. Like misfiled in the trash can, or under the coffee machine, the desk sergeant's filing cabinet, or somewhere else it will never be found.

They spend a while trying to find somewhere to park the Goat and then Fraser admits that parallel parking is not really his thing. Which is cool. There probably aren't many occasions where you have to park your snowmobile between an elk and a caribou. So, it's all change and then the Goat's parked and boom, boom, they find Patrick's room.

Ray lets Fraser do the knocking; people don't tend to swear at Mounties for wrecking their mope time. Not unless they're Ray, and then, it's because he knows the Mountie. If you suddenly switched Fraser for Turnbull for the whole evils of alcohol and general moroseness, it would be different; Ray would be on his best sulky behaviour.

Okay, that's a big guy behind the door.

Ray's heard the term ‘man-mountain’ but he's never felt the need to use it before. And Ray works out in gyms that are so tough that even the tough guys run home to momma. It's not as if the guy's fat or nothing, he's in proportion and everything, it just happens that the proportion is big. He has that sort of soft, quiet voice that Ray associates with big guys, if you're the biggest thing in the yard come recess; there are only two ways to go.

"Ah," Patrick says, clearly not expecting Mountie, "I don't suppose you're here to tell the little idiots to behave themselves and stay away from guys with guns, are you, eh?"

When Ray thinks about it, he's never really heard Fraser ‘eh’, or Thatcher, and if Turnbull ever has, Ray must have missed it, his brain turned into mush by exposure to curling.

It's out of Ray's mouth before he even thinks about it, "Do you like curling?"

"It's okay, but I prefer hockey. There's nothing like being in a bar, with some beer, and watching the Leafs."

"Leafs suck." Sucking. Ray doesn't want to think about sucking. If Ray keeps on doing this, he's going to start screaming that he's queer for Fraser and wants to know exactly what unhygienic things the Mountie is willing to do with that tongue the moment Ray hits the bullpen. Out of the corner of Ray's eye, he sees Fraser's doing statue. Ray's pretty sure he'll later say something that translates as you're more social than me and I'm sure you had everything in hand.

"You're more than fully entitled to that opinion," the guy says, showing Ray that he's as much a Canadian as Fraser. A good thing, since Ray was getting a little disorchestrated. Being able to say politely that somebody is wrong and that their brain has been eaten by a stray half-wolf is one of the requirements to become a Canadian citizen. Ray knows because he has the informational leaflet stuck to his refrigerator.

"We're here about the shooting at Oriole Park. Uh, did the guys on the scene get a statement off you, because we can't find one?" Ray already knows that there is no statement, because Ray can tell from the dots what the picture's going to be. And no, it's not a zebra, because those detail lines between the dots aren't stripes, they're scales because the whole thing stinks like bad fish. Or like Stella's first and last attempt at pierogi.

"I thought it was a bit odd." While Ray's playing nice, he wants to get down to the bottom of this fast and he hustles them all inside and says they'll do the whole interview-statement thing now and his colleague the liaison officer from the Consulate will take it all down and explain anything the guy doesn't get. You know, to prove that it isn't all Americans that have a thing against their northern neighbours and that in fact the safety of visitors to the city is a paramount concern.

Ray talks a bit too fast sometimes, throws people off balance when really all he wants to do is get the stuff he needs to whale in on the bad guys.

And that's why the poor mook is like two steps off freaking and Ray has to get him to ease back from the edge without falling down the great yawning chasm of bad himself.

Start with what the witness already knows. "So, how did you get this whole chaperoning gig? I mean, you don't look like a teacher or something. And you must have something pretty mean up your sleeve because no normal guy could get a bus-load of teenagers to sing the bus song. So, what are you, an ex-SEAL?" Ray's building a rapport, one of those things they try to teach you, but really you can only learn yourself. Ray knows his signals; I'm a cool guy, I think you're a cool guy. And clearly, I'm not only cool but good 'cause somebody's told me something about you that I couldn't pull out of any file.

"Heh," says Patrick, "we had a sing-song to the Pizzicato Five too, you know. I photocopied song-sheets and everything."

"I am sure I would be overwhelmed by the cool if only I knew who the Piezoelectric Five were." Ray knows Fraser's watching him, he just can't tell whether it's because you know, Fraser might like Ray, or because he wants to see how it's done. Anyway, Ray needs to get on with the show. "So how does a guy like you get lumped with kids like these?"

"I'm resting," Patrick sighs. Ray doesn't get it. Like, what? The guy can't be after a time-out because they're hardly started here.

Apparently Ray just wrote that all over his face in bright red marker, the kind that doesn't wash off however hard your mom scrubs. "I'm an actor, but right now, I'm not acting. It was this or retail." Patrick sticks his head in his hands, his elbows resting on the rinky-dink table. "I should have gone for retail."

"The kids are driving you nuts," Ray says, it ain't a question; it seems that Ray isn't the only person with magic marker on his face. "They like you, but when it comes down to the crunch, they won't do a damn thing you say."

"Yeah" is all that gets them.

"We need to get to the boring bit now. What did you see?"

"I, ah, saw this gentleman. He was black, not dressed up in any way even half-way interesting. He, uh, pulled a revolver and fired. It was weird, because it was like acting class." At least now, the head was out of the hands, giving Ray a great view of Patrick's furrowed brow.

Ray interrupts, "Pass that by me again, how was it like acting class?"

"It's like firing blanks," Patrick says, "I was an assassin in this experimental play thing we were doing." He skips a bit when he sees Ray making circles in the air with his hands, picks up that he needs to motor to the facts. "Blanks don't have enough recoil, not if you're using a revolver or something like that. I don't know about other guns, because I'm a city boy, and the only thing I'm likely to shoot back home is the wind. So, you do the recoil. Only, the guy's timing was really off, good couple of seconds. I don't know, maybe they have cameras in the park so's you can see for yourself. The guy's arm was going back before the gun actually fired."

Ray was expecting a set up, but the set up Ray was expecting came from the Mayor's office and involved really dumb cops. "You got a pretty good eye there," he says, his voice all flat and weird.

"Thanks,–" The guy gives a little tip of his head "–movie geek. Pretty much everything 'cept curling geek when you get down to it."

Ray figures that's as close to an explanation as he's going to get. "Just one thing,–" Ray says, all casual, 'cause this isn't really investigation, "–how did you get on the acting gig? Nothing important, I just like to know how people get where they are."

Patrick cracks a grin, the type that would tip his head forward if his neck didn't get in the way like that. "Mister Dressup, you couldn't peel me off the box for it. Still can't, only these days, I only watch it with the godkids,–" And he looks to Fraser, "–you can't really beat it, can you?"

Fraser looks like he's lost, which is weird in itself, because Fraser is never really lost. "I'm afraid I'm not really familiar," he begins.

"Not familiar?" It's like Fraser has just suggested doing something illegal to Patrick's cat or something. "How can any Canuck not be familiar with the great Ernie Coombs?"

And Fraser's in there like a shot, a machine gun, something that rattles stuff out without really thinking. "Ernest Coombs, awarded the Order of Canada in nineteen-ninety-six for services to televisual entertainment and the education of generations of Canadian youth."

"You know that, but you don't know that he's Mister Dressup?" Fraser might well have been saying that the moon landings were a fix-up by Disney and Werner von Braun for the reaction he's getting. "Where are you from?"

Ray gets in there. "He's from the northwest areas."

"Ah, the Territories." Patrick proves his Canadian citizenship again. "You don't get much television up there, eh?"

Fraser just nods and almost mumbles some pleasantries as they get out and back to the Goat. Ray's skipping and twirling. If you didn't know him you might think it was because Ray is happy and full of the joys of spring, summer, whatever. But it isn't that at all. Ray's angry, furious; he wants to mash somebody's face in with his boot.

Fraser knows that, because Fraser knows Ray. This makes Ray wonder, sometimes, not now because he's busy being angry, frustrated, and desirous of face to boot contact. You see, it makes Ray wonder whether any of those other people knew him at all. Sometimes that makes Ray angry too, but sometimes it makes him want to mash his own face in with his boot. A mean feat of gymnastics.

"I can not fucking believe it, Fraser. I want to find the son of a bitch who got this thing so cockeyed that I can't even look at it straight and kick him in the head." Ray punctuates this with a pirouette that the enlightened could interpret as an impressively powerful kick to a prostrate imaginary head.

Ray has a vivid imagination. Unlike their witness, it has nothing to do with early exposure to Ernie Coombs and his puppets.

Ray doesn't get a lecture on language of the inefficiency of violence. "Ray perhaps it would be better for you to direct your anger towards the miscreants who organised this misuse of mimesis and use the solving of the case as a weapon against those who would silence the truth and fail in their sworn duty to make things more agreeable for persons unknown."

And yeah, there's a lot of truth in that. It's good advice, and Fraser doesn't argue when Ray gets behind the wheel and drives them to the 2-7 in a way that would normally have Ray pulling himself over.

Fraser knows Ray needs this.

Greatness, because Ray gets so few of the things that he needs.

He doesn't need to be cornered by Brightman, her hair in a high pony-tail just under the band of her hat. "Hey, Ray. You know you asked whether I wanted to go to the Crystal Ballroom with you?" Ray still doesn't know why he asks folks to go with him there. They never do. Ray doesn't know why he does it. Asks to take them back to the scene of the crime, to the place where Ray either fucked up a perfect heist, or pulled his undercover partner's fat out of the fire with minutes to spare. The place where Ray fucked up big time and said the words that doomed his partnership forever. Maybe Ray's a closet masochist, wants to take them to the scene so they can hand him his ass just like Jack did, the moment his hand slips as they tango.

Ray doesn't even know why he asked Brightman. She's too close to being Stella and yet so different. He'd end up saying the wrong name, hopefully not in bed, and then it would be cyanide… sayonara.

It's not as if he's here to date, he's here to figure out what happened to any bullet casings on the scene. Ray's trying to gloss over the bit where he's yet to figure out whether Fraser is his cop partner or the other kind of partner. Instead he's thinking hard about the way the casing on blanks is crimped around the edges, and how he should have mentioned it to Patrick, in case one of the kids walked with it.

Ray's trying to think about the case; only Brightman keeps bringing in the things Ray isn't thinking about. All of them.

Ray doesn't mean to snap.

"I heard you got hit on the head, so I'm going to be nice and put the Prince Charming impersonation down to that. Oh, hello Constable Fraser, you take care of him, all right? Look, Ray, I've got a date and remembered you like dancing, and do you know anywhere that runs dancing classes. Intensive ones. Please?"

Ray pinches the skin between his eyes, getting hand prints all over his glasses for his trouble. "I'm sorry, Linda, just not much sleep. Plus blunt-object induced headaches do not make me a nice guy, I guess." Ray isn't saying it to make himself feel better, because he knows it's a big fat lie, he's saying it to make her feel better. "But, uh, sorry, but it's been a real long time since I've needed dancing classes."

Linda thanks him, not kindly, but she thanks him as she walks on out of the station her nightstick bouncing against her thigh. Ray looks after her until Fraser starts gesturing him towards the bullpen. Ray's sure he missed something there, but he doesn't know what it is. Maybe he's just tired.

Clearly his feet can still think even if his head's full of mush, since he doesn't even notice he's arrived until Dewey asks him to open something and almost fucking wraps Ray's hand around the jar for him.

Ray just wants his thoughts to be quiet and stay still so he can get on with checking things with the 1-6 and then persuade Frannie to check things more quietly and with more cleavage.

What Ray doesn't want is a dozen spring loaded worms exploding under his nose, because he wasn't paying attention to the fake-o can.

Can. Of. Worms.

Ray tries again. Can of worms. Still doesn't get that gnawing feeling in his stomach.

And then he gets it, this is his life, chock full of exploding uncatchable worms and totally free of… Ray looks at the can… totally free of nutritious peanutty goodness.

It's enough to bring the whole anger thing back, and the funny thing, the really funny thing is that the Ducks think it's about them. It's about Ray wanting to jump off really tall buildings. It's about Ray wanting to beat himself up for being so fucking dumb and screwing up every good thing that ever happened. It's about Ray thinking maybe it would have been better if his dad had pulled out after all. Although, Ray never thinks about the last one for long because parents and sex never belong in the same sentence.

Ray lets everyone get it wrong. If he keeps pretending maybe it will become true.

Jack decides it's clearly gone too far, Ray can't hear what's coming out of his own mouth, but he hears Huey just fine. "Hey, cool it, Vecchio, it's like you've fallen out of your tree or something…"

Dewey wedges his fist under his chin and looks thoughtful, or at least what passes for thoughtful. "Yeah, a pineapple tree, with hair like that it's got to be a pineapple tree."

"You're so not helping here," Huey almost snarls and Dewey looks taken back a bit. Jack's only got so much patience and clearly knows that pissing Ray off more is not a smart move. Dewey wouldn't know a smart move if it landed on his head.

Even that doesn't seem to stop Dewey mouthing off about Ray's hair, and Ray would be offering to kick him in the head, but he's so far away Ray isn't sure his leg would reach so far. Ray skipped lunch, that's why he's feeling so out of it now.

"Actually, gentlemen, there is no such thing as a pineapple tree. Ananas comosus – the plant commonly known as the pineapple &ndash is in fact herbaceous…" Fraser doesn't even need to go any further; he's like the guy who defuses bombs. Not the guy who defuses them in movies with only seconds to go, but the guy who really defuses bombs and leaves two minutes on the clock and the wires neatly laid out.

As they head out to the Goat, enquiries rained off because off Ray's head hurting, Ray asks, "Fraser?"

"Yes, Ray?"

"That true?"

"Ray, I do not tell lies." There's a whole load of dirty linen in that Ray could pull out to dry, sure the guy never lies, but…

…but not today. "Pineapple is an herb, I'll have to try that one on Tony"

And everything is greatness, no really, it is. Ray drops Fraser off at the Consulate; he needs some quality time with the Diefster. Anyway, Ray's back in shape, isn't he? His hair is spiked and his nose is wet. He'll be kicking them in the head some time soon.

Ray doesn't realise it until he's long past his front door, his apartment door, and looking in the ice box door. The vodka's gone, the whiskey's gone. Ray's got… Ray's got air and besides the air a whole bunch of things he wants rid of.

Strangely, Stella doesn't even make the short-list.

And that's when the light bulb turns on above Ray's head.

When you divorce you hang on to a lot of the other person's junk in case they need to come back for it. Or maybe that's just Ray. He read something in the Tribune about a chick who gave her husband's Armani suits to Goodwill. Maybe that was Vecchio's ex-wife, there's got to be some explanation for some of the plain god ugly outfits the guy is wearing in the photographs they showed Ray. A style hound will not wear polyester, let alone polyester with the sleeves in a different pattern from the rest, and the yoke of the shirt in yet another pattern, and all of it orange.

Ray would admit that he's been a hoarder since day one. Ray's mom would back him up on this one, and wait until he brings his date – you know, the one he hasn't got, because all he's got is a car, a wolf and a Mountie who might just believe in lip-locking for therapeutic purposes only; Ray's doesn't know any more – home and she pulls the embarrassing tales thing on him. Ray knows it's because she loves him, not in a date way, a mom way. And the more disgusting or just plain wrong a thing he did was, the more adorable it is. To Ray's mom at least. She's setting out the stall, selling Ray… just doesn't get that her brand of adorable isn't likely to be the sort of adorable the hypothetical date is looking for. Okay, Ray knows that there's somebody out there for everything on earth in the getting off stakes, maybe there is somebody writing lonely hearts for an understanding guy with a gift for the perfect worm pie. Ray's mom eventually got fed up and told his dad to help him make a wormery; it might as well be educational. It broke a year or two later, after Ray won the science fair with it, and he was on the way home… and for once, Ray didn't screw up… and the universe adjusts for these things, which is why he ended up crying on the sidewalk, hands bleeding from trying to rescue his worms from the glass mess.

And years later, Ray's still cutting his hands on glass things. In the darkness, when he's supposed to be quiet. Because Ray isn't really meant to win at things.

That's why every good thing ends up sucking; Stella, his career built on sending an innocent woman to her death… the whole shebang.

Leaving Ray alone on the sidewalk in the autumn dark crying about worms. Trying to snatch up the shattered fragments of happiness.

He's never stopped. He's never stopped cutting his fingers. Ray doesn't learn.

Stella coming in from the trip she took with her sorority to Mexico, Ray can't even remember where. Stella coming into Ray's shitty off-campus digs, the ones with hot and cold running roaches and the hole in the ceiling that Ray kept staring at as Stella proved that absence made the heart grow fonder, and pushed him back on the bed and stroked him, then pushed herself down hard on to him. She made soft wet sounds with her mouth. And as her voice rose in pitch and she rocked more frantically, Ray just stared at the hole in the ceiling. He just stared and tried to force it out of his head. Every single word about college and how he was only here to go and how he couldn't take it anymore… He tried to force them into the hole, with the rats that ran along the rafters at night.

He tried and failed.

And she didn't notice, never noticed, her eyes closed as she came screaming.

There's tequila in the dresser, wedged in with Vecchio's birthday presents.

Because Ray picks up the shards, however badly they cut his hands, they do a worse number on his heart.

Ray hopes Vecchio will be glad when Ray hands over the carefully rewrapped parcels full of glass and heartbreak.

Stella never touched the tequila. Ray can't even remember how she ended up with it, maybe it was some girl thing, a prize, or maybe they just ganged up on her to buy something, like a bunch of girlish crows giggling all the way to hell.

She probably just had time to kill in the airport.

Ray took her to the concert at the Palace Hotel Ballroom the next day.

He still didn't tell her, he was busy collecting shards of glass with which to furnish his nest.

Ray knows he should get rid of the stuff, but he just needs… Stella said that was his problem… so did every other girl who stayed for more than the night.

Ray wants rid of the past and he wants rid of the present. A coincidence that's real helpful. Normally, Ray is wary of helpful coincidences, half the time they're shit. You start doing that and next thing you're solving crime with Tarot cards and Ouija boards.

If something's been left out on the table for you, it's probably poisoned. Ray ain't paranoid, he just knows that there are some vicious fucks out there and the worst of them have brains or lawyers. Brains or lawyers: same thing really.

Ray wants to forget the present and get rid of the past.

And most of all Ray wants to sleep without a serge-clad angel watching over him.

Ray unscrews the bottle. It's hard, welded tight with time and dust and bad memories. It looks okay, well, like tequila right down to the little worm in the bottom.

Ray puts his lips to it and tips his head back.

Eyes closed, not looking at a ceiling without holes.

And Ray chokes.



Looks at the label on the bottle, just to check that he isn't drinking drain cleaner or something. And. There's. No. Fucking. Worm.


Ray even screws up at screwing up. That takes some special talent.

Ray doesn't want to spend the night scrabbling around in the dark, cutting his fingers and tearing his heart on shards and shadows of failure. Ray knows there's only one place where he doesn't screw. How sad is it that it's his bed?

Maybe Fraser's right about alcohol and the best thing would be for Ray to sleep or die trying.

So he goes to bed…

Everything fades into the fog of sleep.

Ray's in the Goat watching Fraser's lips move really slowly and Ray can get behind that because Fraser has awesome lips, especially when they aren't all soggy and tasting of fuel oil and lake water. And they're in the Goat and Fraser's wearing the red uniform. It's normal. It could be anytime in the last year or so.

Ray doesn't get why there's sweat beading down his spine and making his shirt stick to his body. And the hairs on the back of his neck are doing their best to imitate Diefenbaker. You know that feeling you get that there's something behind you? Ray's getting that.

And he's just figured it out as things start to get out of almost pornographic slow motion; Fraser's giving him some dirt on Valentino like he's reading it off an autocue, or somebody's whispering it to him.

Then Ray starts to realise that the sound he thought was rustling leaves really wasn't…

He just thinks to turn and find out what the hell is going on, when everything goes black.

The first thing Ray hears is screaming.

For a moment Ray thinks it's him doing the screaming, which is dumb, because Ray's not afraid of the dark and while what was happening in the car was creepy… if that was it, Ray would be screaming like a girl. And when Ray's angry he shouts, no way you can mistake that for screaming.

It's a guy screaming, it's not shouting because it's too shrill and too hoarse for shouting, that's all.

Ray can't pick out the words, it's just noise and he thinks he left his brain back in the Goat, but he's willing to bet that they include a whole bunch of words no guy would use in front of his mom. Unless the guy was a total asshole.

The second thing Ray notices is the way there's a room dissolving into the darkness. It could be the other way round, Ray's not sure of much right now. He's surrounded by fancy-ass mahogany chairs and those old-fashioned wall cabinets old ladies fill with tchotchkes.

Ray's lips are moving even though Ray isn't even fucking thinking about talking. It takes Ray a moment to piece things together. He's Ray Vecchio and he's grilling his favourite uncle for information in a way that would make you believe that they weren't blood at all.

Ray puts words to the sounds behind him and wishes he hadn't. "I don't know who you think you fucking are, but you are not my goddamn son…"

Ray doesn't turn around.

It doesn't sound like his father. The words make Ray feel like he's twenty and desperate, but it's all wrong. This isn't about disowning or denial; they're all abstract concepts when you get down to it. There's something carrying in the voice, like it isn't metaphorical at all.

Still Ray doesn't turn round. He's doing his job.

There's this fear nagging at the back of his skull like a really bad headache and it's talking to his stomach and making it jump and jive. Some of it is just because he doesn't know what's behind him and the rest of it, and it's a big rest, is some childish idea becoming less childish by the second. If he doesn't get this right, the way he did it, then he'll be stuck here in the house of the old, the crazy and the almost dead forever.

Ray's thinking to himself that he just needs to do his job and everything will be all right.

"Come on, son, you're here to do a job. No lollygagging." It takes everything Ray's got not to jump out of his skin. This voice sounds more friendly at least and possibly Canadian, as if Canadian is a byword for friendly or something.

Then the voice quits sounding quite so friendly, more like Fraser talking to Dief. "Oh, shut up."

The screaming stops and everything changes.

Then they're back at the precinct and Dewey's ragging on Ray and just about to be taken out by a concerted attack of Royal Canadian Mounted Snark, when Ray notices the other guy. Guy sitting with Huey, skinny, curly hair. Ray concentrates and he can hear him talking to Jack, "Come on, we can't get any further on this one right now. We're still waiting on Paul Dini for that interview. What about the Kevin Smith case? You know, I was talking with… it doesn't matter… thing is, I know the clerk is not being straight with you. Literally. Tends to go up onto Broadway and Clark and redistribute some wealth. And maybe it's all his own and it's nothing, but it's a lead, right? Just have a little word with the guy and see what happens. I'd leave your friend here, though."

And it's like tall and curly is talking about Dewey as if he isn't there, just across from Huey and large as life. And Dewey is making a mouth like a fish while he works out what Fraser has just told him. And he sniffs his armpits and when he asks Jack whether he really does smell worse than a musk-ox, the skinny guy gets up and points and jump and screams, "Yes, you fucking do. I never thought anyone would piss me off more than Vecchio and you're making that easy. See if I save you from a massive fireball." Ray would have sworn that the guy is actually standing through some of the furniture, and that he had his foot in the trash can a moment ago, and he's still screaming and Huey's just smiling a little and shaking his head.

It's like Ray's life is on rewind, 'cause he's back in the bunker with the crazies and their hat. Maybe it's more like somebody's picked up Ray's needle and dropped him back a couple of tracks. Only that's not quite right, is it? Because Ray was never here.

Ray was never here.

Ray was down the corridor, waving his boot gun, and trying not to think about the most explosive kiss of his life and trying not to wonder how close he came to cutting open the wrists of the most explosive kisser in his life. There might be a theme there, besides Ray being a bundle of nerves.

Instead, Ray's in the office and there are two ranting gangsters in front of him. Okay, maybe not ranting, Ray doubts the older guy has the energy for that. He's kind of sunk in on himself, the way old folks do, and it's like he's almost all eyebrows. They're white and bristly and meet up in the middle and Ray could swear that they extended further than the guy's face by a good couple of inches.

None of this is real. A sense of relief begins to flood Ray.

And just to prove it, that none of this is real, that it's all metaphorical or maybe his psyche trying to explain the events of the day – that's what Fraser says dreams are. Ray doesn't talk about his dreams, because if he'd done that during the day he sure as hell wouldn't have to dream about it – there's another guy.

Ray knows he wasn't here, pressed against a book case full of dusty old ledgers, and he's pretty sure he would've noticed a guy dancing on the table.

Not dancing exactly.

Ray watches the tassels bounce on two tone leather. It's kind of hypnotic. It makes Ray think of those things with steel balls and twine.

The not-dancing-but-angry man is wearing those things around his arms, you know, those things that keep your sleeves from going over your hands. Stripped elasticated bands with golden catches. Not even Fraser wears them, and he has suspenders for his socks. Ray thinks you only see them on bankers in westerns. Maybe Fraser never saw any westerns either.

The guy has the other kind of suspenders, the type Fraser uses to keep the pumpkin pants up. The guy's suspenders are trying to pull his shirt out of his pants; the way he keeps moving as he stamps his feet is making the elastic snatch and pull at the pinstriped cotton in little increments.

This isn't real. Ray's only dreaming.

So Ray decides to look at the bouncing tassels. It's not as if somebody's going to tell him not to.

And none of this is real. Case in point, Ray never saw a man dance on the red leather of the desk, his feet going through…

His feet are going through the matching pair of shoes on the table, and the hat…

And it's like playing with those balls; you lose yourself in the movement, in the way the light bounces off polished steel, the gentle clacking. And then something catches your eye, or makes a noise and the world comes crashing in with the force of water entering a sinking ship.

Ray feels the air leave his lungs, hears himself gasp as everything becomes real.

This is just a dream.

This is just a dream, his brain processing the events of the past couple of days. Ray's trying to repeat this to himself like a mantra, but he can't fucking breathe. He's wheezing, but there's no air, because this is just a dream.

This is realer than real.

Where's Fraser when you need him? Down the hall, covered by a Ray who's getting progressively jumpier and is just about to decide that he's in no state to wield a gun in such close quarters and hand the derringer on to his partner.

Ray shoves his hand in his pocket, doesn't even think about it, he's drowning here. There's just too much. It's like the dream with the doors, Ray goes through a door and wakes up, then Ray goes through a door and wakes up, then Ray goes through a door and wakes up, then Ray goes through a door and wakes up.

Ray's gasping and wheezing and he wants to wake up and can't.

He doesn't know what's happening, but he doesn't want to be here, and his voice… Ray screams. It takes him a moment to realise that the word his lips are forming is Fraser, because he can't hear it, and everything is still happening and that's when Ray realises he can't move.

Junior gangster is beginning with the inevitable, "Fairbanks, Mister Valentino acknowledges that I was wrong to dry-gulch those buzzers—"

The guy on the table has stopped screaming and started shouting, "No, I'm not acknowledging anything, you shyster. You never listen to anything I say, and when you do you twist it into weasel words. Listen to me, damn it. You are going to get everything you deserve, it's coming for you. Kismet, nemesis, fate… one of those things. I know this because…"

Ray already knows why this guy knows.

He's Rudolph Valentino.

And he's so loud that he's drowning out Fairbanks and his Mounties get their men.

"He's still a buzzer," the lying bastard says and makes that gesture that Ray thought was fending off Fairbanks but is really directed at Valentino and close up it's less than polite. And now he's saying things about Ray's ass and that just isn't fair. The only person who should be saying things about Ray's ass is out in the corridor. Ray's afraid for a moment, that he won't ever get out of this nightmare, never be able to tell Fraser that he can say anything he wants about Ray's ass. And then he's caught up in this again, he needs to keep watching. He gets now why chicks can't peel themselves away from the soap operas and dubbed tele-novelas on cable.

"I don't know what you get out of talking trash like this, Twyker," snarls Valentino, "but I know that there's something bad coming for you. And the closer it gets the clearer I can see it. And, trust me; it will be paying you back in spades."

Twyker doesn't acknowledge it, doesn't even flinch. Ray might think he's a tough guy, but if he got a dressing down like that from Welsh, or his old man, or even from Thatcher; he would do something. Maybe only look at his feet and mumble some apology. It's not a threat, Valentino's not threatening; any threat would be as insubstantial as his feet. Even if Ray's wondering how he hasn't fallen through that damn desk. It's just a statement of fact, a litany of unintentional destruction on the trail of a perp. Except, it's clear Twyker planned this, it's not unintentional and what Valentino is talking about is consequences.

Ray blinks.

Valentino's looking right at him; one of his eyes draws briefly into a wink. "I can see your destruction, Twyker, what your perversion of everything you have, all your gifts, will lead to you. The ones I gave to you on my deathbed and the sight that God gave unto you; they will both be the instruments of your destruction."

He really is looking at Ray, focusing on him and not Twyker doing his Miss Cleo shtick. Ray wonders if he'd hear if he could speak, wants to ask him a few questions, like what this mook is after and whether he could answer without going all brides of March on him…

It all falls apart and Ray is a jumbled mess at the wheel of the Goat, his hands are concentrating on the road, even if his mind is racing at a hundred million miles per anywhere but along the asphalt.

Dief's cowering in the backseat. No, Ray can feel the pressure against the back of his seat, and knows without turning that Dief isn't in the backseat, the wolf's squeezed himself into the backseat foot well. And in cars like the Goat, that foot well's pretty damn near non-existent, because the designers don't intend you to put anything more than a six-pack on the back seat. The wolf likes wide open spaces, so why the fuck has he got down into there?

The other person who longs for the wide open spaces would say it was a quart into a pint pot situation. Only that guy – Ray looks at Fraser – is ranting into thin air. Just as he was the first time Ray drove down this street, took this corner, avoided this truck full of rubber novelties.

It's clear now. Fraser isn't talking to his wolf; he's talking to whatever is in the back seat with Diefenbaker. It's making Fraser sound peevish, making Fraser struggle to hang onto rationality and reasoned debate. He's losing his mountie-zen and falling into darkness. In the dark, you can lash out and hit people you wouldn't even touch out in the fresh air. It's a constriction and a freedom. Kind of like confession. Except personal, and you never know whether the other guy's armed.

"You never actually considered…" Fraser told Ray that the guy who hesitates loses and Fraser is losing here. Ray's not sure what Fraser is losing, except maybe his marbles. Fraser's losing at losing it; he's struggling with the anger rather than letting it out.

He's interrupted. "You know, son, that's all very well, but you just have to face your fears." Condescension like a switch blade, or a bowie knife, cutting in and Ray's sure Fraser's smarting down to the bone.

His hands seem to be doing a damn fine job driving without Ray thinking or anything. Like those cars on tracks over at the fairground; Ray bouncing up and down next to his dad and sending the wheel round and round making no difference to their journey.

Ray can't stray from the path. He couldn't change nothing down in the bunker, and nobody noticed him. Except possibly the dead guy and that doesn't count.

Ray doesn't have to worry.

It's not some dream-trap.

There's a Mountie in the backseat.

Ray knows who he is. Ray's read his/Vecchio's files so often he can chant them backwards. A few weeks back, he was dreaming about drowning, not in a ship but in a bank vault and Fraser wouldn't let them out. It wasn't like the vault underground; this one had lights and water.

Ray knows who this Mountie is.

Homicide victim.

Ray has a dead man in his car, and for a moment, that freaks Ray out more than the way Fraser is losing it.

Robert Fraser; male, 57 years old, gunshot wounds to the chest, extreme cold made it hard for the coroner to establish the time of death and any forensic evidence was probably totalled by subsequent snowfall. Ray's read Vecchio's unusually well-written and rookie-complete files. Ray's seen this guy stare back at him from a handful of RCMP snap shots of a guy enjoying a drink with his fellow officers and the clinical ones of him later. All set out like stamps in an album, or rookie cards, or bugs in cases.

Ray hates bugs, always has. The big ones at least. Stella wanted to see the exhibit at the Field museum. Ray kept close and Stella thought it was romantic. They kept going back to the damn bug room.

There are really big bugs running down Ray's spine. They are making little footprints and tripping the hairs there. Their feet are so damn cold.

Ray realises what the bugs are trying to tell him.

Fraser must have read his father's own autopsy reports, studied where the bullets tore flesh and chipped bone, maybe he was even there for the grand event. Sitting there, quietly with his lips drawn like that, as some guy cracked open his chest and pulled out the bullets.

Ray feels sick and a dead man is sitting in his backseat.

The dead man doesn't notice Ray; Fraser's not the only one in a world of his own here.

Ray can't see any bullet holes, but then, he doubts that the guy was wearing his dress uniform out there looking for drowning caribou. Rudolph Valentino didn't look dead much, either.

The angry guy with curly hair, ranting in the bullpen with only Jack to see him, he didn't look dead either. Angry, yes. Dead, no. And he'd said… holy fuck, Huey's old partner. Ray'd read about it, but he hadn't known the guy.

Is the afterlife like this? You just carry on doing the same things you did when you were alive, but with nobody to see?

Ray wants to punch something. Instead, he hits the horn and nothing happens.

Ray can't carry on living like this, not while he's alive and not when he's pushing up daisies. Ray can't carry on ploughing the same furrow, not ever finishing, just doing the same one, the same things, over and over. He can't stand getting drunk and mooning over his ex-wife, he doesn't want to spend all his time being too afraid to speak and waiting for a chance until it's gone over the horizon. All this time he's been making his own fate, his own role, and he's fed up with being the guy whose heart is going to get broken into a thousand little shards.

He can't face the way he only faces his feelings when he's alone in the dark.

"Look at the yank, he faced his," Fraser senior is urging disconnectedly. Ray recognises the trick; he's trying to shift the conversation by talking about something that isn't quite the same. Everything Ray thought about Bob Fraser but was afraid to say turns out to be true. Fraser knows not to do that when things are serious, he might do it to Thatcher or to the Bolivian ambassadorial aide, but he does not do that to Ray, not about things like this anyway.

"My partner –" Fraser's trying to keep it conversational, polite, but his voice is inching higher "–Almost drowned in a sinking ship. He didn't decide to face his fears; he didn't choose that path…" Fraser starts to dither, the path has gone dark and he's a long way from home. It's all too close to home, but Fraser's so far from the light. The light's above Fraser, fractured by water and waves.

Ray's fed up with dreaming of drowning, about drowning; he is drowning.

Fraser isn't here to bring him air.

Ray's drowning and Fraser's sinking.

Fraser's sinking, his arms are moving but they aren't the carefully measured strokes of the swimmer, he's flailing, he's grasping desperately and all he gets is water rushing between his fingers.

"We all have to face our fears sometime, son, and the sooner the better." The old guy's trying the gruff worldly cop act. Ray remembers that from Sam Franklin. What kind of guy pulls that on his son?

"I was six years old,–" Fraser's voice is slow, calm like the snow before an avalanche "&ndash you left me in the woods, alone, at night. I was too afraid to remember how to strike my flint, or what made good kindling. I was cold, and alone, and afraid of the dark."

Bob Fraser murmurs something, trying to get in the way of the Fraser-snowplough as it accelerates towards him, but Fraser just carries on. "Mother didn't approve either, did she? I was in the back room, in the dark, and I was scared enough without you arguing like that. It was the only thing that scared me more."

Ray's been thinking about doing things, saying things, making things right and good. So, he turns to Fraser. He's pretty confident that the car will keep going and if it doesn't, well, at least he tried. At least he tried; it's more than Bob Fraser ever did.

Ray reaches out to Fraser only for his hands to go through his red chest, not touching anything, not even his heart, not even the leather of the passenger seat.

Out of the corner of his eye, Ray notices his hands still on the wheel, his nose, his face still looking towards the world's biggest orange crush. His hand with his ring right where it should be, walking along the dash to the glove compartment.

Ray realises that he's the ghost here, just as everything fades out into warm darkness.

Ray's heart is in his mouth. He doesn't know what's coming next, what could be worse than this, seeing his friend stripped bare and cut with a hundred unwitting barbs. But he does. He doesn't want to go back to the vault; he doesn't want to go back to the vault again. Not even if it's the price of having that kiss again.

It's getting darker, but it's a red darkness.

Nothing's tied around Ray's arms and legs.

He gives an experimental kick and is surprised when he rocks backwards.

There's warm fluid all around him, like an all-round water bed.

His left foot might have caught on something, but Ray can't keep his eyes open any more. Ray doesn't care, he's warm and sleepy and calm.

He's surrounded by water. It's nothing like drowning.

There's a heartbeat, swift and hugely loud.

Nothing like drowning.

Feedback should be sent here or left on the livejournal entry.