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 Four: Your Own Personal Ghost

Ray wakes up.

Kicks back the comforter, scratches a little, does the things a guy's got to do. The first thing his hand touches in the closet is the shirt he wants.

He dances across the living room to his kitchen freestyle in his candy-striped underpants and his Rawhide tee. Sets the coffee going and runs back to his room to grab his pants and socks with nearly no holes. Opens the kitchen cupboard to find some instant oatmeal that sure as hell isn't his. Looks at the label. Doesn't seem hard to do. There's a glass of chocolate chips by the coffee jar, sticks some in his mug and some on his mess of oats.

It's still too hot, so Ray makes like Goldilocks and creeps over to hit on some music. Gets a blast of Oh What A Feeling before he switches the cd to something less likely to have the neighbours kicking down his door. Pulls his shitkickers from under the couch and laces them up right.

Ray eats chocolate oatmeal and drinks chocolate coffee and doesn't even notice his alarm hasn't gone off yet. He wonders why there is always only half an inch in the bottle of Dawn by the sink and remembers to get more. Or ask Fraser which of the generics actually cuts the grease. The Ice Queen probably won't pay up for Dawn. But she'd draw the line at Fraser doing it with moose bile or something.

Ray dumps his stuff in the sink and holsters up. Swings down the stairs past the broken elevator and heads out of his apartment building and drives the Goat out of the lot.

The streets are still quiet; he's beaten the rush hour. By the time he's at the Consulate, things are just starting to get busy and Ray's bouncing down the path like one of the kids from Fame to pick up a Mountie with imperfect hair and blood-red armour still draped across his office chair.

They've got to get over to Oriole and look for the evidence they know the uniforms missed. The complicated reason why the blank cartridges aren't bagged up and in Evidence, now, that's your cover-up theory. Any dumbass can come up with a conspiracy theory and wear their tinfoil hat with pride. Most times they're just dumb and have more holes than Turnbull's macramť cheese holder. The other time, you're in serious trouble, 'cause conspiracy people have serious money, or power, or hydroelectric dams.

Ray doesn't want to think about blood and snow and drowning caribou.

Instead, he explains the simple theory to Fraser. You wouldn't expect Fraser to get the simple theory, but he does. He seconds the plan while he's tightening up his Mountie boots. The only hold up is writing a note to Thatcher to say that they are investigating the shooting and think the valuable testimony of the film students has been overlooked and they would be more amenable to somebody with the same cultural milieu.

Sneaky Mounties, Ray's plenty amenable to those.

This sneaky Mountie at least. Ray grins and Fraser blushes almost as red as the Serge and starts making little circles on the perfect linoleum of the kitchen.

Even nosing the Goat through the rush hour crowds is a kind of Zen. They don't say anything, because everything's perfect. Sure, they talk about the case, but they don't say anything.

The sun is shining in Oriole Park, with sunbeams like the ones on cereal packets.

The kids are there. To Ray's surprise, so is Patrick. He's moved the kids over a little from the crime scene. It's not enough to seriously muck with their continuity stuff, just enough so that if Fraser and Ray turned up, they could do their job without having to weave around girls in poodle suits.

Drew isn't on her own – this time – and she isn't looking down at her scuffed pumps. Looks like Turnbull's done things for her self-confidence. There are a flock of girls looking at a piece of paper that she's holding.

She tucks it away when she sees them coming.

She's pretty damn sharp under the layer of uncertainty. Ray smiles at her, he knows where she's coming from and it ain't Guelph he's talking about.

They make what Fraser would call a cursory examination of the scene. They know what they want isn't there, but it doesn't hurt to check. Fraser would cite proper procedure, except he doesn't. Fraser doesn't need to; he isn't doing this because of proper procedure, he's doing this because he just knows how they are going to play this.

Fraser looks at his boots for a moment, before striding up to the kids. Patrick isn't the only actor on the lot.

"I suppose there might be some merit in your idea, Ray," Fraser begins. He's hiding a smile. Ray doesn't think that anybody's noticed.

"Hey, listen up. The Canadian liaison and I are looking for some evidence. We can't find it, which is surprising because Fraser here has the best eyesight this side of the Yukon. And when we can't find stuff that we know was here, we start thinking about how it could have grown legs and walked away. And I'm thinking it has Canadian legs, attached to some Canadian student who wanted a little souvenir of Chicago. And if you don't give over my damn cartridge casing this minute—"

Fraser interrupts, "Ray, calm down, please. I'm sure all we have to do is ask politely." Fraser's got his back to the students; they can't see his eyes.

"Don't give me this polite shit, Fraser," Ray's almost screaming, he's found his grove. "We tried it your way, and all we have is a bunch of dumb statements that say more about Canadian poultry filming than about the crime. Now, we try it my way." Ray's punching the words out, like he's hitting the bag at the gym, he's half aware that he's doing footwork. "Listen up; you either give over your little Chicago tschotkse now and your fingerprints so we can check that you haven't compromised the forensics too much. Or you can have a real Chicago experience to remember. I can bust you for Obstruction of Justice, and you can cool your socks in a holding cell over at my precinct awhile before my buddy's boss can negotiate you outta there. A real American experience for you. Something to tell your folks back home about."

Ray's not sure whether he's overdoing things. He's about to start in on prison toilet paper, cutting the sexual hi-jinks for a more mature audience, when he notices Fraser's microscopic nod.

They've hit the jackpot.

Kid wearing a shirt that would blind if Ray's eyesight didn't suck already is trying to get his attention. Ray tries not to notice the spreading dampness at the groin of his khakis.

Fraser's the one to take it off him, wrapping a handkerchief around his fingers before dropping it in one of those little bags he keeps in the Sam Browne. He has an inkpad and some paper in there too and they take the boy's, Art Winfield's, fingerprints at one of the picnic tables. The rest of the gang are trying to covertly watch and Fraser makes sounds about minimising distress and how he's certain the young man didn't mean to subvert the course of justice.

Patrick was right, the guy was firing blanks. The bullet casing, the way it flares and the huge folds in the metal, prove him out. Ray knows that any fingerprints on bullet are small beans; they're after whoever put up the money for this stunt. It's not as if professional actors are likely to have priors, anyway, not outside of Hollywood. Fraser knows it's small beans too, that they need to go for the guy at the top, not waste more time looking for some actor and possibly warn off the guy ponying up the cash. Fraser thinks Ray has a hunch. What Fraser doesn't know, is that Ray knows. He knows who's pulling all the strings. All Ray has to do is prove it.

And to prove it, Ray needs to explain what he knows in a way that he knows Fraser will understand.

"You see, Fraser, I had this dream." Ray doesn't let Fraser get in some stealth-snark about how nice that must have been for him. "And, I thought, what if you got caught working for some dead guy, doing the same things day in day out, nothing ever changing because the guy is dead and can't change things. It would be like being haunted, like your own personal ghost and you'd go kind of crazy."

"Ah," says Fraser, but not in the encouraging Ray to talk some more way, more like the way he does the Ice Queen. Ray can't figure why. "Yes,–" for Fraser that is a huge pause "– You know, Ray, I once met a man who dreamt about being dead and covered in horse flesh in a meat freezer."

Ray doesn't know why Fraser put that in, but then, maybe it's just word association. You know; car, goat; star, Stella; bad guys, kick in the head. Maybe Fraser has one that goes ‘dream, meat locker guy’. "So,–" Ray goes with the flow "– what happened with that one?"

"Sadly, we resorted to fisticuffs and it was necessary for me to lock him in the meat locker. I turned the temperature up to a non-dangerous level before I left."

"Yeah, that's one of the considerate things you do," Ray says, more because he needs to say something than for any other reason. It's only when it's past his lips that he realises that Fraser could think that Ray's needling him or something. Which Ray isn't, because everything's greatness and they're going to find Twyker and kick him in the head.

"It is one of those considerate things we do, Ray," Fraser's gentle, correcting. Yesterday, Ray would have thought it was one of those ‘me and Vecchio’ things but for some reason it's taken Ray that long to realise that Fraser isn't excluding him. Fraser isn't trying to brush up his undercover technique and tuck him into the Armani. He's including Ray, showing him his favourite bits, showing him the past the only way he can.

"Like I was saying,–" this time Ray's going to put it in a way that isn't going to spook his Mountie "– those guys, the ones in the bunker, they've been working for a dead guy since before my uncle went crazy, right? That's got to do things to you. See, I figure, there are two ways you can go in that situation. You either go crazy or try to get out. It's the second one that's dangerous. You go crazy and carry on doing things the way your boss always did, you're not going to cause trouble, because trouble has not happened for the umpety-ump years your boss has been dead."

"Ray, may I ask what has led you to this astonishing insight?" They're away from the kids, now. The Goat's parked on a vacant lot a few blocks over. Ray wants to keep his baby safe and it's not as if Fraser or Dief objected to the exercise.

"Sure, ask away." Ray twirls and would have walked into the water spraying kid toy things, if it weren't for Fraser grabbing his arm and reeling him in.

They're real close. Sure, there's a gap, but that's just public decency covered. The way Fraser is looking into Ray's eyes isn't decent, and there sure as hell isn't a gap between them. "Ray, what has led you to this astonishing insight?"

Playful Fraser, and when they are fighting for the cause of justice too. Next thing you know… Ray pulls himself up short, this isn't Fraser; this is the guy behind the curtain, isn't it? Ben. Or at least Ray thinks it's Ben. He's never asked.

He almost asks, but chooses to play it the way Ben wants to play it. "I'm telling you, I had a dream, a vision, and everything fell into place like dominos." Ray's still walking backwards, making eye contact, trusting Fraser to steer him away from anything, everything. Sleeping dogs and other things Ray could too easily trip over.

"Ah. Intuition." Fraser licks his lip.

Ray can intuit a lot right now, he wants to intuit more, but… Maybe Fraser can intuit here among the grass and leaves in the still empty play-park, but Ray can't let him. Ray has to get back into his cop-work groove and hope that Fraser trusts him enough to follow.

There's only one problem with this, Ray doesn't want to.

Fraser's hand is resting on the ‘e’ of Rawhide. It's the smallest of touches; it's barely grazing, hovering like a butterfly or a promise.

Ray wants to lean into that touch. His whole world is narrowing down to Fraser's hand. He's losing himself in the whorls and calluses, imagining what they feel like on skin, what they taste like.

Dief barks, his claws crunching upon the gravel and suddenly loud.

Ray's head snaps round. Before he knows it, he's rubbing the wolf behind the ears. "Hey, you found something, Dief?"

Fraser drops onto his hands and knees and sniffs at the gravel. Then he picks a bit up, the smelliest bit Ray guesses, and licks it. He makes a face before hiding it under a mask of calm and, well, Fraser. "It's only of interest if one's interest lies in female poodles."

Ray gives Fraser a hand up, because it's the gentlemanly thing to do. "Wolf," Ray says, "I can't really rag on you for being horny, but we've got a job to do and that comes first. I'm sure you've heard it often enough from Benton-buddy, but it happens to be true."

Diefenbaker yips in frustration, bouncing up on his hind legs.

"He wants to know if there are any donuts in it, at the very least, and perhaps a trip to the Vecchios' to, ah, visit Ante." Fraser sounds pretty peeved, but resigned. You let a wolf help you in your investigation and you pay and pay and pay.

Ray thinks about all the Sunday lunches he owes Ma for letting him have his Armani coat. "Sure, we're going over on Sunday. The donut hound can come if he helps us out."

Dief whines, turns tail, and runs. Ray hopes the wolf doesn't just want to play tag or has seen a sugar-frosted squirrel. The way Fraser starts running says it's probably not. So Ray gets his skates on and chases the wolf.

Ray's in the lead, legs spiralling; Fraser's building speed up behind. Ray knows that those legs are working like pistons, those arms swinging with military precision. If there had been a high school in the Northwest Areas, then Fraser would have made the track team and his performance would have bought a tear to the coach's eyes. Fraser would win all the cross-country events and end up on Team Canada.

Good thing they don't have track teams in the frozen north. Even if Ray thinks that Fraser in teeny-tiny red running shorts would be hot. Even with snow shoes.

But Ray's supposed to be chasing the wolf, not risking losing Diefenbaker again by popping a woody imagining his partner in running shorts. And if they lose Dief, Fraser really won't be in the mood to do any of the things that Ray wants to do. And, the wolf's led them straight to the entrance to the tunnel. It's only yards from where they got intimate with the gravel looking for the bullet the first time round.

When it comes to deaf, donut-scarfing half-wolves, Diefenbaker is in a league of his own. When Fraser stops a few seconds later, he isn't even breathing heavily. Ray's still gasping and bent forward, his fingers idly scratching the scruff of Dief's neck.

Ray pulls himself upright, takes a couple of deep breaths, and says, "Fraser, we need to go down there. I think that if any of those guys are behind this –" Ray waves his hands trying to capture the enormity of fake shootings, Canadian film students, and dead gangsters gangstering on from beyond the grave "– thing, then they'd have the brains to be goneski. Because faking all that, takes being smart not crazy. Though they could just be crazy smart, like some people I know –" Ray's staring at Fraser "– but that person uses his crazy smart for good. But this has to be crazy, 'cause we don't know nothing about the motivation thing."

Ray stops for a moment, tries to cut the pieces of his dream up and jigsaw them into sense. He knows that it's Twyker doing this to screw over the dead guy, Valentino, but he can't, you know, articulate it. And he sure as hell can't sit Fraser down and point out the evidence and lead him along every step of the way.

Fraser has to trust Ray on this and Ray has to trust himself not to be unhinged like a revolving door. Ray has to sound like little green fairies aren't whispering the answers in his ear.

Ray's trying not to think about dead Mounties in his backseat, shouting out the answers and flustering Fraser. Ray tries not to think about Bob Fraser shouting out answers to everything except the real problem.

Fraser's looking at Ray like he has all the answers, which he doesn't yet, and this makes Ray feel like shit. A voyeuristic shit, putting duty before his friendship. Ray isn't sure it's friendship anymore; it's something stronger and harder. Ray's never had this before, not with Sam Franklin, not with Jack Lancer, not even with the Stella. And Ray's doing the duty-thing, the cop-thing, instead of making everything greatness and shoring it up tight. Ray could lose this, but if he does, he deserves to lose. Deserves to fall.

Fraser's looking at Ray. Like Fraser thinks that Ray has the answers here.

All Ray really has is a crazy hunch, a crazy dream, a crazy notion that Twyker is getting revenge on a guy long since pushing up daisies.

"And, huh,Ė" Ray makes a really good start "Ė what we know is that Rudolph Valentino faked his, uh, continued existence. My theory is that one of the guys he has caretaking for him, has got really fed up with this bullshit. He could just be trying to tear everything up, but, I don't think the guy's that stupid, okay? I'm talking the younger one, Twyker, the guy who hit us over the head. Now, that is a dumb thing to do, hit a cop over the head. And hitting Mounties is even dumber. Now, I'd only do something that dumb,–" like being on a sinking ship, "– if I had a really good reason. Fraser? Did you get a good look at the vault stuff?"

Stupid, Fraser was freaking terrified in that vault, tied up in the dark and freaking terrified.

"I didn't have time to investigate in depth, feeling it better to leave with some alacrity; however, there seemed to be an assortment of items. There were stacks of documents wrapped in a manner suggestive of bearer bonds, and also a number of money bags and some cases that probably contain jewellery and other items of substance. If any part of this haul is a target, I'd warrant that it would be the bonds. They are easiest to dispose of in large numbers. The case at St Fortuna's, if nothing else, proved that one cannot fence large amounts of prohibition-era memorabilia without arousing considerable interest."

Fraser was filling in the gaps for him, a bit at least. "We have motivation, we have crimesó"

"Crime, Ray," corrects Fraser, "I'm not sure that the business in the park constituted a crime, at least, not in the legal sense. I'm not sure what item of law could be applicable."

"So, we still have Assaulting a Police Officer and Manhandling a Mountie. And, yeah, we'll get Stella onto the fake-o shooting. If somebody's going to find something that sticks, it will be Stella." 'Cause Stella found Ray and he stuck like glue.

Fraser starts examining their surroundings for some hidden entrance, and comes eyeball to eyeball with Dief, who has been sitting on the damn trapdoor the whole time they were talking over the crime.

"Fraser, there are two things that I need to do before we go down there and kick some Untouchables-rejects in the head."

Ray didn't expect that look in Fraser's eyes. Somewhere in there, there was a very horny Mountie; no, a very horny guy, the Mountie was the stuff on the outside, the guy behind the curtain was horny. Fraser hornier than Ray; who would have thought of that?

Ray grabs Dief by the muzzle and makes sure that the wolf can see his lips. He hears a faint giggle from Fraser. "Listen up, wolf, read my lips. Stay here, and if we're not out again in thirty, run to the 2-7 and do whatever you need to do to get backup. Steal the donuts if you need to." Ray pauses and loosens his grip, wolf slobber on his hands. "Fraser, you synchronise your watch for that."

"Understood. An admirable strategy, though, I'm sure you realise, you put your safety in the hands of a half wolf and you pay and pay and pay." Fraser's smiling, but he's more in his groove now. Ray will shake him out of it later, he hopes Fraser understands that the way he does the plan.

Ray pushes Fraser all the way back into his groove and beds him down nicely. "Second thing, how come the pocket protector punk wasn't causing his brand of trouble today?"

"Ah. I didn't mean to tattle tale, however, when I returned to the consulate, Inspector Thatcher –" Fraser reaches for the words, tries to find some that feel right "– it was just that the Cabinet Minister's son was placing himself and his compatriots in some danger. And, of course, disregarding the advice of the supervising adult. And this hardly reflects well on Canadian youth abroad…"

"And, what? The Ice Queen phoned daddy and pointed out that this is totally not the sort of thing a Closet Minister's son should be doing?"

"Something of that sort might have occurred. However, I do not feel it my place to make a detailed enquiry into the actions of my superior officer." Fraser's barely controlling that grin.

"Fraser, third thing?"

"Ray, I thought you only had two things."

"Why the hell aren't we in this damn tunnel already?"

The tunnel's dark, but it smells like libraries and old book stores, not damp and mould. Ray can't hear dripping water, but he can't hear the hum of air conditioning either. And they went in through a hole, it's not like it's hermetically sealed or something. Ray's pretty sure Fraser would tell him something about the way the construction encourages air movement. But, they're being quiet and sneaking so they can catch these fart hammers with their pants down. Ray doesn't want to see either of the guys with their pants down, it's just a figure of speech. The only two people he wants to see with pants down are… Ray isn't fifteen and he can get through a gig without thinking about sex. Is trying not to think about sex as bad as thinking about sex?

Maybe it's as frustrating.

Ray decides to channel that frustration down his arms to his piece.

As he kicks open the door of the office, the frustration is right at the muzzle ready to blaze out like a flamethrower. He does it by the book, shouts "police" and everything; because Fraser's doing it right and staying behind Ray, who has the gun and the vest he keeps in the Goat's teeny trunk.

Ray doesn't think Fraser knows about the vest. And it isn't as if he's good at spotting them, the first day on the job proved that. But Fraser might just have been distracted by a performance arsonist with a gun trained on Ray.

Ray isn't surprised to see Twyker's gone.

The empty space where the hat and shoes should be, now, that's a mite surprising.

Sadly, the older guy, Fairbanks, gibbering and crying in a corner is nowhere near as surprising as it really should be. If it was just Ray on this case, then he'd be hoping that Twyker would resist arrest and just ask for a kick in the head. Twyker is not somebody nice. There's no honour among thieves, Ray knows that, from cop work and undercover and everything, but sometimes Ray meets somebody who manages to drag things down to an all-new low.

There's something wrong about exploiting crazy old men. Ray's not thinking about Lorenzo, because he was doing it for the right reasons and if there was any way Uncle would talk to Ray Kowalski, Ray would have taken it. No, this type of exploitation takes time. It's faking a, what do they call it, the Bonnie and Clyde thing, the Leopold and Loeb thing; a folly a ducks. This takes time and malice. Malice is the only thing that burns that long.

Ray knows it had to take a long time, because Valentino must have trusted Twyker once. But that's Ray's weird dream, and this is what Ray's actually seeing in the office.

Fraser's shushing the guy like a baby and gently peeling those nobly old person fingers from what the guy's holding to his chest. It's a mess of leather ribbons. It takes them both a moment to realise that it's the shoes.

The crying's slowing now, and Ray can hear gulped words between the tears. "That boy" and "how could he?" and "What's Mister Valentino to think?"

Ray's beginning to believe that Twyker would not just steal candy from babies, but would eat it in front of them and his mocking would cut more deeply than any knife. This guy is bleeding. Ray knows the feeling, and how sometimes something would happen to tear apart the barely healed scar of Stella and it would start bleeding all over again.

Ray isn't sure how to do this, how not to hurt the guy more. But, Fraser, now Fraser would have even less of a clue.

Ray catches Fraser's eye and moves his head, come on, over here, Fraser.

Fairbanks probably isn't up to listening, but Ray still whispers, "Whatever's going on here, Fraser, this guy had nothing to do with it. I have the instinct here, and you have to follow me in the dark for a bit before we get the evidence to join all our dots up."

"Ah," says Fraser.

It doesn't look like he's going to say more, so Ray continues, "Look, we can't drag him back to the precinct. One, he's unhinged. Two, it will take five minutes, him and the wrong guy in interrogation to make him confess that he killed Sweet Fanny Adams." Ray doesn't name the wrong guys, never does, but you know there's going to be somebody in every precinct who cares a little more for results than for truth, justice, or the American way. "We need to stash him somewhere safe, where Twyker can't get at him. I figure if we don't get results today, and that's an outside chance because this mook is panicking like there's no tomorrow, he would have to be to leave his poor dupe sobbing in here where we can find him; then, we'll get him tomorrow and nail his ass to the wall."

"Where do you suggest?" Fraser rubs his eyebrow. "While Constable Turnbull always appreciates an extra attendee at afternoon tea, a day is somewhat stretching things, and I would not like to unbalance the Constable further."

"I know just the place."

Ray grins.

Getting Fairbanks into the Goat and away is kind of hard.

It's easy to guide him out of the tunnels – really surprising – but the guy's catty tonic, catatonic. Ray and Fraser take a shoulder each and just lead him out like a preschooler.

Dief's waiting at the top of the tunnel; he sniffs Fairbanks then escorts them with his tail held high. Not a growl, nothing; that wolf is a pretty damn sharp judge of character and can sniff out the real bad guys better than his master, even. Not that Fraser sees himself as Dief's master or nothing, they're just best friends.

Outside, Ray figures Fairbanks hasn't got out enough for a real long time; his eyes just keep getting wider and wider. Like a cat, all seeing, but not really, you know, involved. Engaged, that's the word, even if it makes Ray think of Stella and a too-tight ring and expensive spaghetti. He's like a kid watching television, entranced by the unreal world. Ray tries to stop him staring at the Goths walking hand in hand to the park with his-and-hers matching labrets. He doesn't manage it, but a few well placed growls from the wolf persuade the Goth kids not to… Ray doesn't know what they do… be miserable at them, maybe?

Fairbanks doesn't really engage until they get him to the Goat. Then he begins to engage with a vengeance.

"You can't get me into that queer boiler crate; –" Dougie pulls back, wrenches free of Ray's grip but Fraser is hanging on for the Queen and Canada "– you won't get me into that anymore than you can get me into a wooden kimono. I'd rather take the jump than get into that thing. I ain't no weak sister or nothing…"

Ray tries to turn the Goat into something that Fairbanks understands, but he knows in his heart that it isn't going to work. Automobiles started changing faster and faster after the roaring twenties and DeLorean had his foot right on the gas when he made the Goat. "What you are looking atÖ" Ray hesitates, unsure of how to play it. "What you're looking at, Mister Fairbanks, sir, is one of the top performing American built cars. This is a piece of performance machinery, hit the open road in it, and it runs like a dream." Maybe Ray missed his vocation, maybe he should be writing brochures for Pontiac. "And better than that, I know every inch of this automobile. I spent a whole summer just working her over, nothing else, and painting her with coat after coat of black enamel." Ray doesn't mention that it was close to twenty years ago.

Ray knows it isn't going to work; the words are just going through Fairbank's ears and out his ass. The guy's scared of the new, and as far as he's concerned, a 1967 Pontiac GTO might as well be a space rocket.

Ray's waiting to see what Fraser's going to do, going to say. Fraser's patient, keeps going at things until he wins. He has to be. He won Ray's heart.

Fraser doesn't say a thing, just opens the back door to the car and lets Diefenbaker hop in. Dief turns to look at Fairbanks and yips. Ghostly words swim in the back of Ray's head. "Come on, this travelling box is safe, and if we're good there are donuts and we can lick golden Ray behind the ears." But Ray knows he didn't hear that, maybe he just read too many books with talking animals in them, cats wearing lederhosen and eating pickles and all that groovy shit.

Fraser just looks at him, when he realises where they're going; just looks and rubs his eyebrow. Ray looks back. He hopes his eyes say, "Trust me, I know what I'm doing here." Ray hopes that the smile he gets means that Fraser's onboard with this. At least, Fraser ain't arguing with him, or at any rate not in front of the witness.

And he needs that propriety to last. So, when they get to the Jeanne de Chantal's, he sends Fraser and the Diefster to take Fairbanks to see Ray's uncle, while Ray's goes to the office to square everything.

It's harder for Ray to get into the zone for this one.

Last time, it was easy, all he had to be was Ray Vecchio, concerned nephew; and with Motherwell he was just Ray Vecchio, guy you don't want to mess with. Here's he's got to be a concerned nephew (still), and a cop, and Ray Vecchio. And there's the kicker, Ray is not a natural multitasker. Sure, Ray Kowalski can walk and chew gum, but he's not sure he can keep all these plates in the air.

And this time, Ray didn't even think to bring the Armani.

Ray blesses himself before he knocks on the door marked Sister Bede. How the hell do you pronounce that?

Ray doesn't need doubt like that right now. He needs to be together. He needs to be somebody else, slip Vecchio on like slipping on the Armani. Ray needs to tailor himself to fit Vecchio the way he can't make himself fit the Armani.

You can't tailor bodies to fit, you can alter them with false beards and other dime store tricks, but that's all on the surface. Fake moustaches itch too much and come off too easily or not at all; paint stripper shouldn't be part of anybody's beauty routine. Everybody's nose is unique to them. Ray knew that before he even pulled the Vecchio gig. Vecchio got it right when he says he can recognise any nose. Same with any ears and the way folks walk. What you can change is the way you think, the way you talk, the way you breathe between seconds. Ultimately, that makes changes more real than any face paint and funny clothes.

Ray wonders a moment about what Fraser said outside this building, the last time. Fraser had gone under as a woman, on a case. It wasn't in any of Vecchio's files, so this must have been in the great white north, where it probably involved wearing a prettier parka and having braids. Ray wonders whether that made Fraser change… so it would have been no more Fraser than a hundred familiar faces haven't been Ray. Ray wonders what it feels like, being a woman.

It's one thing he's never been.

They never had the, huh, manpower shortages for that to happen.

Ray never even gets picked to play at being a trannie and hanging out in dive bars. He hasn't got the face for it, they say, and anyway, that's a Vice gig.

Ray Vecchio hasn't got the face for it either, even if he says that he inherited the nose from Aunt Ada, and Vice? He was in Vice once, but he got out fast, was afraid he liked it too much. Part of the reason he laughed in the face of those Feds when they came and offered him a starring role in Vegas. Ray Vecchio? In Vegas? Who were they trying to kid? They must have been pretty desperate to clutch at straws like that.

Ray Vecchio knows too much of the frailties and weaknesses of men.

And he drives shotgun with an angel dressed in red.

He can hear angels singing, all high and ethereal. Fraser would say that it was the music of the spheres; but Benny isn't here, he's with Ray's wacky uncle and the new houseguest. Not that anyone knows about the houseguest part, yet.

That's where Ray comes into the plan.

As plans go, it's not one of his best. Better than taking the Mountie into a dive bar armed only with the largest penknife in existence, better than taking a swim in the trunk of a junker, but not the best of plans…

Maybe it's on a level with covering his clothes in his friend Flicka. That worked, at least; though Ray figures that Benny's hat was more help and the only reason Benny could sock it to the philosophical goon was because, as far as Fraser is concerned, that was a bracing spring morning in the Yukon.

All Ray has to do is pull it off.

And stop the sleigh-rides of death running through his mind.

Three Buick Rivieras all in flames, but Benny only broke the two.

Ray's Ma would say they were portents, messages from God. For Christ's sake, he's trying to get a nun in on this crazy scheme here. But Ray thinks he's trying to chicken out. He wants to run without letting the head nun in on the plan, wants to drive away from here like a bat out of hell, wants to tell Benny… no, he doesn't want to lie to Benny, not at all.

Benny wouldn't chicken out.

It's not as if nuns are scary. It's not as if Ray's six or anything. Nobody's going to slap his hands with a ruler… and he gets the death glare every time he sees the Dragon Lady, so he must have immunity by now. And it's not as if he knows any Bee-Dees, so it's not as if he's going to get any nasty surprises there. Unless what they say about Dolores Hart is true, then he's going to have a tough time not imagining her in that bathing costume with bananas on it. As if it wasn't bad enough that he was perving on one of his Ma's school friends at fourteen, watching her dance around the screen in four hundred and eighty crackling lines of black and white, and getting more uncomfortable and hot by the second.

There's something about the sort of dedication that it takes to turn everything you are into this one thing. And it's such an enormous thing, it scares Ray. It's not just because he's a lapsed, divorced, and cynical guy who spends way too much time hunting down scum. It's taking all that energy, every single bit you have, and turning it to one thing. Not even the brides of god bit, so much as the scary dedication it takes. The dedication, that's what scares Ray, to turn everything you are into this one thing, this one ideal. Ray has a sudden vision of the Sisters in habits the colour of blood red serge.

Ray keeps reminding himself to just keep breathing deep breaths, and makes a hesitant rap on the door. He thinks he hears a voice commanding him to enter, the singing almost drowning it out, like water running down a blackboard full of noise.

Ray turns the handle, the brass cool against his hot sweat-slick palms, opens the door slowly, in case he's misheard.

Ray Vecchio steps into the room and…

Ray Kowalski thinks that the Sister has damn fine taste in music. Beautiful broken melodies curl around his legs like smoke cats as the singer growls lullabies. He can feel the rhythm in his feet. They feel light, like he's swapped his shit-kickers for the dancing shoes growing dust bunnies in the top of his closet. They sit there like the shoes in the office, only on top of a little sequined flapper dress instead of a desk. Maybe Ray should take a knife to them as well…

Ray Vecchio isn't sure why he's thinking about dancing. For all his attempts at sophistication, escape, he's never really done it unless there's a lady in the equation, a special lady or maybe some desperate wallflower or an aunt. And that's just ballroom. Ray's never felt like dancing all savage anger and fury – the way his feet feel right now. Ray doesn't know why, it's like the things have developed a mind of their own. They feel strangely heavy as well. Ray's stomach is lurching with nerves. It looks like his body, all the pieces want to do their own thing and none of them want to back him up.

And the racket of guitars and harmonica and a singer who needs a whole tin of Sucrets is really not helping.

This really isn't what Ray was expecting, even before he set eyes on the lady in question. She's young, and maybe beautiful; there's a strangely familiar light in her eyes, and it throws him, until he closes his eyes a second and sees red serge and utter belief in the goodness of mankind.

He realises he's been thinking too long with a start. What the heck does he look like?

"Er, hi," he says. He's totally lost the Vecchio cool. Maybe it's for the best; it wouldn't feel right, using it on a representative of God on Earth. Not that Ray's going to tell Benny that.

She smiles, giggles, her eyes flicker downwards. "It's pronounced bead. Don't worry, everyone has that problem. Now, no need to be nervous, I don't bite." She shows her teeth all perfect and godly. "We could start over, if you want."

Ray doesn't say anything. Sister Bede takes it as a yes.

"Good Ė" she glances at the clock above the door "Ė day, what was it you wanted to see me about? I take it you're a relative of a resident here, Mister?"

"Vecchio, Ray Vecchio." Ray's pulling himself together as hard as he can. Even then, the toes of his shoes, the leather suddenly two-tone, are pointing in different directions making his knees knock. "My uncle, Lorenzo, lives here. You probably know him, thinks he's living in the roaring twenties, knows everything worth knowing about Capone, Spike O'Donnell, and Bugs Moran, and anyone else within spitting distance of a speakeasy. He's a fascinating guy. Only, I'm not here because of him, not today; I'm a detective with the Chicago PD." Ray flashes his ID. "And I've got a pretty big favour to ask of you. I'm going to say now; you're not under any obligation to say yes… because this is kind of shady…" Ray's losing the way here. Why did he ever think involving a nun in this scam? Benny would say it's a subterfuge, but then Benny's polite, while Ray uses his voice like a blunt instrument, sometimes to dig a hole, sometimes to call a spade a spade, and sometimes to call black white. Okay, he doesn't as much as he used to, but Ray's discovering all new moral boundaries every day with Fraser. And nuns aren't insurance agents.

Ray feels really off-balance this morning, maybe the espresso he had with his biscotti was a bit strong. Frannie normally does the coffee, but she had to head out early… except Ray can't remember why. He has this vision of his sister behind a desk in the two-seven and feels his stomach lurch again. Or maybe the world's lurching, and it's Ray's stomach that's staying still.

Ray can't do anything smart here. His head is pounding like the music still oozing insidiously from Sister Bede's ghetto blaster. The volume's down, but it's still there, tearing him out of his rhythm. Changing the beat.

He's just going to throw himself on Sister Bede's mercy. Wait for her to say her piece, and hope she doesn't throw him out of her office with a slapped palm, and then tell her the proposition.

"You're not quite what I imagined." Ray just smiles, twitches his head on one side, and rolls with it. "Quite different, actually. Sister Anne told me about the business at St Fortuna's. I have the greatest admiration for Constable Fraser and yourself, even if your methods were – ahem – quite unconventional. Your handling of such a sensitive matter…"

Ray Vecchio's suffering from knees, bees' knees, amnesia.

It's all falling through Ray Kowalski's fingers. It's like he's been stripped to the core. It's like he's naked here. Except he's not, thank god, because being naked in the presence of a nun is so not good for the soul.

He wonders briefly if nuns take confession.

Not that it would help things any here. And Ray's always been a learning-through-experience guy. School was hell, sitting on his butt and listening to teachers yap things into boredom.

Ray's always liked things he can figure out for himself. It's why he's a cop. Strike that. It's why he's a good cop.

That's all Ray needs to be here, a cop. A cop using his connections to get the bad guys put away and the broken guys tucked away safe and unsound.

"I can't tell you everything, 'cause, huh we're not that sure of everything right now. But it comes to this; we have a guy, he's kind of a victim and a witness and possibly he was unintentionally aiding and abetting because he's kind of messed up in the head, and this other guy? He was totally exploiting and terrorising him." Ray pauses, lets that sink in. There's not a paunchy balding guy flashing in and out of existence behind Sister Bede's chair. Ray thinks it's sunk in enough. "The guy, the good guy, not the exploitative criminal guy, thinks he's in the roaring twenties. We need to get after the bad guy before he does something worse than scaring a class of Canadian film students out of a month's growth. Only, we've got this slightly crazy guy, who thinks we're in the roaring twenties…"

It's all tying into knots in Ray's head, and he's trying not to be blatant like a kid asking for a bucket load of candy.

Oh, and about the school? Ray is so blackmailing Frannie into telling all, as soon as he finds something to blackmail her with. Maybe he could ask Fraser, but then he'd have the same problem trying to untangle the knots in his tongue. Ray Kowalski isn't one of those people who can tie cherry stalks with his tongue.

Fraser could, if Ray explained it to him first.

Ray thinks this is Fraser's wool-gathering. He wants to know how the wool comes into it, because he can't see any here. But then, he can't see paunchy guy either.

Sister Bede pulls him back.

"I'm sure we can accommodate another guest, detective, particularly if he plays cribbage." And then she half-whispers, "We let them play for chocolate money," like she's indulging some little sin.

Ray thanks her, and explains that his partner is handling Mister Fairbanks, because he does people-wrangling so much better than him. He's Canadian, you know, and real polite.

Ray doesn't know what that twisted little smile on Sister Bede's face is about.

Outside, Ray leans against the cool earwax-yellow wall and waits for his head to stop spinning. His stomach wants to puke, and his fists are jonesing to punch something. He waits for them to get the message that nothing's happening. It's adrenaline. Ray tries some Fraser relaxation techniques and imagines all the adrenaline going down to his feet so he can hot foot it later.

And he dances away to the rhythm of his slowing heart.

They meet up in the entrance hall, set out the door all dignified and then almost run around the back of the building, to the parking lot. The Goat's parked in a bay marked Polite, which Fraser certainly is. They're running because Fraser figures that the hole in the malfeasant's bag of marbles must be growing increasingly large. Ray's already half way there; they both know that it's only a matter of time before the asshole stops firing blanks and making feints.

They're on the clock here and the meter's rigged to explode.

And yet, Fraser's still trying not to giggle. There's a hysterical edge under the surface, like razor blades in doughnuts. "Ray," he chokes out amid the silent giggles, "I'm not sure we should have done that."

Ray can hear the giggles like he has x-ray specs; he can see them behind Fraser's left hand curling into a twitching fist and the way he's getting more square-jawed by the second. No, not x-ray glasses, Ray has the Benton Fraser decoder ring. Unlike the glasses – the ones next to Charles Atlas in the back of comic books with smudgy ink printed on newspaper five seconds from dissolving in Ray's sweaty hands – the decoder ring works.

Ray sure as heck didn't get it in a box of Captain Crunch.

He doesn't know how he got it, or when, but he's real glad he got it.

"Fraser, we did it. You're a damn accessory in all this." Ray waves a hand and flips down his shades. "We're in this together, you know that, I know that."

"Oh dear." The decoder ring is giving Ray mixed messages on this one. Fraser isn't really worried, except he is.

As Ray pulls out of the parking lot, he thinks about Fraser and guys who fish over the limit with dynamite. It's not so much proper procedure that Fraser's worried about as, what, not getting a dressing down?

No, that can't be it.

"He's a friend of my uncle, he's just visiting, that's all." Ray's stupid mouth is just buying him time to figure out the puzzle sitting next to him.

The same moment that Ray realises that Fraser might be playing along, but he's short of all the pieces; Fraser confirms it. "But, Ray! Isn't this a tad irresponsible? The good sisters think that he's just here for afternoon tea."

Ray makes a left, then a right. Surely, Fraser knows what he was doing back at the Home? It wasn't as if he was just there for tea and cookies. Maybe Fraser just wants to make sure that Sister Bede knows the whole thing, or close enough. Makes Ray wonder if Vecchio, the real Vecchio, wouldn't have put out so far.

Then he makes things right with Fraser. "Put your big hat on ice, Benton-buddy. While you were escorting our witness to the Mad Hatter's tea party, I was clearing it with Sister Bede. If we aren't finished by the time the day is doneski, then she'll put him up." Maybe Ray can't give Fraser all the pieces. It's not as if Constable Rational would believe that Ray's following a dream. Hell, Ray doesn't believe it, either. Except he does, the way he believes in Fraser and the superiority of the American Muscle Car. He just doesn't think he can convince Fraser of it. Let Fraser think it's a hunch. Ray can't give him the dream yet.

"Ah," is the sound of one relieved Mountie and the yips coming from the backseat as Ray turns into Diversey again are the sound of a happy wolf. Diefenbaker thinks it's a good plan. He also thinks that the nuns are very kind with their cookies and certain humans could learn from this.

"I also have some developments on which to, ah, ‘give you the fat’" Fraser says, uncertain in the face of colloquialisms. Maybe Fraser can do rule breaking in the cause of the greater good; but he's still not used to the etiquette of doing it in a partnership. Ray thinks Vecchio took the lead when it came to that sort of thing. Fraser's used to blind trust, just not to the push-pull of them leading together, if you can lead together. Fraser's not used to being in on this sort of thing.

No, Fraser's not used to being allowed in on this sort of thing. He knows his inexperience is making him vulnerable. Ray doesn't like this Fraser, wants the one in the park back, the one happy to be in on the game. Ray might not like this Fraser, but he can't pretend he doesn't love him, not any more. Because Ray's beginning to realise that he loves everything about Fraser; that he won't throw him out for eating pemmican in bed, even if he loves the guy behind the curtain most.

Only, this vulnerable Fraser, that's the Ben behind the curtain as well. His red armour suddenly melting away, not protection enough.

Ray thinks the business with the Henry Allen taught them to trust each other. But it's taken this long to smell the faint undercurrent of fear. Fraser, some small part of Fraser, is afraid. Afraid of somebody he trusts leading him into darkness.

Ray can totally get behind that.

Ray needs to light up the darkness and show Fraser nothing's changed.

"That's the skinny, Benton buddy, and no, I don't get it either. So, tell me, how does Uncle Lorenzo like his new houseguest?"

"They appear to be already acquainted. They both seemed to be extremely glad to see each other."

"I'm pretty sure if we just sat and listened to them for the next couple of hours, we'd know a lot more about the case. 'Course that won't help us none, because our brains would have melted from the weird." Ray's brain is feeling pretty melted-toasty already.

"It would, indeed, answer a good many questions. Such as how your uncle knew about the conspiracy to conceal Rudolph Valentino's demise, or why he remained unmarried. I don't think they could help on the matter of how your Uncle Lorenzo causes me to recall my Uncle Tiberius, since, to the best of my knowledge, the gentlemen never met. Indeed, it would have been deeply unlikely for them to have done so, the Great Lakes hardly spring to mind when one thinks of brassicae." Fraser has that intense look he got when talking about curling or Justice or partnership.

Ray tries not to swerve off the road. The rubber duckies and oranges are still there, just swept to the edges, and Ray isn't sure what's taking so long about the clear-up. Not until he catches a glimpse of the Ducks out of the corner of his eye; they'd been saying something in the bullpen about a botched hold up. He's not sure what's thrown him most; the Ducks with the ducks, what Fraser's just said about his ersatz uncle, or what Fraser's just implied about his own actual real uncle. And they say this sort of thing runs in families.

"Fraser? You serious?" Ray glances out of the corner of his eye at Fraser, who nods blushing. "About dear Uncle Lorenzo, who used to buy, uh, me candy. In a previous life?"

Talk's good, familiar, like old boots. Ray wants to prove to Fraser that there is no such thing as uncharted territory. Just as Ray wants Fraser to show him some real uncharted territory; somewhere where the nights crackle with electric lights.

Ray's drifting here, into Discovery channel land. Fraser doesn't know the way he scours the listings, looking for home. Maybe if he wasn't such a coward he'd invite Fraser over and they'd watch Nanook the Polar Bear together or Ray could have just videotaped them and Fraser and Turnbull could watch them on the Consulate box when the curling season's out – Ray assumes there's a curling season – but… Ray's always been secretive and afraid and why? Uncharted territory. Ray's been trapping himself in the familiar, in his broken glass apartment that reeks of a failed marriage and a broken heart…

And he's the guy that's meant to be showing Fraser the way? Ray's meant to be the light at the end of the tunnel? Ray's meant to be the guy with matches.

Ray doesn't even carry a lighter anymore. It used to be a courtesy thing, and a snitch thing, and a baiting firebugs thing. Now, he doesn't get to do any of those. Anyone asking Ray for a light gets Fraser and the Dangers of Smoking. Ray's kind of hesitant on the snitch front, ever since one of them ended up deader than Elvis, but without the burgers. And with Garbo and Motherwell locked up in a padded cell made for two, no firebugs, either.

Ray's still gathering moose-wool under the northern lights, his hands doing the driving on automatic, when Fraser says that he was merely hypothesising from known facts. Taken on face value – the way Thatcher takes it and the way Welsh nearly always takes it, though Ray wonders about Welsh sometimes – it's all politeness and caution. Only Ray isn't some species of superior officer and Mountie powers of schmooze don't work on him right. He's picking up snark, no, not snark; it's just a little edge of snappiness like a sliver of lime in tequila.

Ray carries on with the normal reassuring presence of a contrary Chicago cop, "Fraser! They are old people!" Heís faintly surprised he doesnít hear anything from the real contrary deaf half-wolf on that. The donut houndís in the back seat – if Ray really loved the Goat heíd buy a rug – so it could just be the whole lip reading shtick, but Rayís not sure he believed it when he first met Fraser, let alone now.

And Ray needs to stop meeting real life like this; up a Canadian mountain gathering genuine wolf-wool.

"It is a fact of human existence, Ray, that all old people were younger people at some prior time; unless, of course, the nature of causality is completely subverted, though I cannot think of any scenario…"

Ray thanks the stars, it seems Fraserís grandmother found science fiction against her librarian instincts. And Fraserís taste in art house film. There arenít any art house films about robots, or time travel, or the end of the world; none of that stuff, just worthy and incomprehensible stuff. Thatís why Fraser likes them. And maybe chickens, which must have made an impression, like little chicken-y footprints on Fraserís brain.

Ray should say something about time-travel or something. Instead he asks, "Is that how you feel?" And only gets silence as he turns into the parking lot. He can just about see – Rayís twisting his head to see out the back windshield, parkingís kind of tough – the way Fraserís foreheadís wrinkling, like heís doing math or something. Ray knows that what he canít see is Fraserís thumb-nail making friendly with Fraserís eyebrow.

Ray fights down the feeling in his chest. He canít get jealous of Fraserís thumb. What species of lame is that? Next thing you know heíll be drawing love hearts in the margins of his reports.

If this was Hell, he would do it and Welsh would think they were for him.

Ray gets out of the car, moves the seat for the wolf, goes and opens the door for Fraser like he was a lady; and Fraserís still rooted to the seat. Ray figures that if he could smoosh his head behind the windshield and see into Fraserís eyes, heíd just see a message. Sorry, this Mountie is not in service.

"Ben," Ray starts, "Iíve been thinking about getting a bigger place and I went to that realtor on Milwaukee Avenue – you know, near the Polish museum – and he said there was an underground tunnel complex with only one previous owner that I just had to look at."

Ray tries not to laugh when Fraser apologises and asks him to kindly repeat that. He canít keep the smile off his face any more than Fraser can white-out the blush.

"Fraser, we have a tunnel to check out and this time I donít want a concussion."

Rayís smile breaks into a grin.

The tunnel is still the same dry barely-illuminated thing Ray remembers. What was Ray expecting? Some high-speed remodelling in the last couple of hours? Thereís a sort of nagging familiarity in the back of Rayís head, part the too-small too-close basement of the Crystal Ballroom – the thought enough to make his hands slick with sweat as they grasp his gun tighter – part the Greenbrier. Thinking of Stella on his arm on a ‘working holiday’ to an attorneysí conference over in Cascade and the sheer shame of being the only guy spouse on the scene with nothing to do except watch the progress of some crazed fuckhead with a taste for high explosives on the screen in the bar. Ray spent the time losing his loneliness at the bottom of his beer. It wasnít as if he was into high heels and Prada; and Stella, Stella star-girl, she was in some musty room with a hundred guys more like her than Ray could ever be. The visit to the bunker had been their only down-time together; at least, the only part of it where Stella wasnít screaming at him about the booze, and he wasnít shouting back about whose smart idea this was and how heíd like a vacation that was actually, you know, a vacation rather than play the dutiful fucking wife to the hotshot lawyer.

The cool dry air feels like that. Like electricity and bad ju-ju. And dry, like closets are meant to be and yet never are. Ray asks Fraser whether he can hear any A/C, and Fraser tells him, "Ah, no, Ray. Iíd venture that like various ancient Egyptian structures, this complex was constructed to encourage a natural circulation of air. And that vents in the ground are quite unremarkable in Chicago, and unlikely to draw attention." Thatís what Ray figured, kind of. This thing took serious money and know-how. Itís like the guy back from the Greenbrier on the evolutionary scale, normal provided you donít look at the way its knuckles are dragging along the ground.

Ray thinks theyíd have a tough time lighting this place by ancient Egyptian principles. Somebody in the little Lloyd-Wright houses above must have a humdinger of an electric bill. The tunnel looks like it goes on forever. Ray canít see an end of it. From the way his eyes are squinting under that broad hand, Ray figures Fraser canít, either.

Rayís done a lot of not smart things in his life. Walking down a really badly lit tunnel, where he and Fraser could get horribly ambushed and hit on the head – again – is not going to become one of them. "Ben, there is no freaking way that I am going all the way down this tunnel to, uh, find out where it goes without more than a deaf-half wolf for back-up…"

Ray doesnít get any further. Fraserís stuck a hand out to stop him walking any further. It bumps on the bullet proof jacket from the Goat, but Ray doesnít think Fraserís noticed it none; heís too busy talking and giving his head a little twitch like when he wants to crack his neck but decency – or something – forbids. "I never suggested anything of the sort, Ray." And thereís a little smile, the one that tells Ray to watch closely. Chances are this is going to get crazy.

Fraser pops open one of the pouches on his Sam Browne and pulls out a tuning fork. If it werenít for that hand on his chest – Ray canít feel the heat, not through teflon, but heís always had a vivid imagination – and that slight pressure, Ray would be on his knees now trying to figure how Fraser managed that. The forkís a good couple of inches too long to fit.

Ray thinks there might be special laws of physics for Fraser and not just because the paramedic at the Canada Mill warehouse said nobody could survive a jump into water like that even though he had two guys standing there and talking to him. Fraser was greatness; Ray had a small bruise above his left eyebrow.

Fraserís hand is crawling up Rayís chest and onto his neck until thereís just a finger on Rayís lips. Ray speaks body language and even Fraser knows that one. Hell, Ray can zip his lip. Itís not that hard. Unlike some of Ray thatís getting more than a little interested.

Ray wants to fidget a bit, make things a bit more comfortable down south. Heís not really hard, just, uh, interested. And Rayís interest is pressing just enough to hurt. Ray tries to shift his weight, only to get Fraserís hand back on his chest and… No, no, no; Ray doesnít want Fraserís hand there; he wants it back on his mouth.

Maybe this is for the best. Ray doesnít trust himself not to lick Benís hand. And Fraser has that intense… intent look as he dings the fork on the tunnel wall. Itís a tiny noise and then itís gone, but Fraserís still listening, his tongue curled to meet his lip.

Ray wants to move.

It has got to be a minute, and Fraser still hasnít moved his hand, still hasnít stopped listening. Ray doesnít do patient, just ask his mum. He was born in the middle of his Aunt Agnieszkaís wedding, just as she was meant to say "I do". She said, later, that it gave her second thoughts and was why she ended up in a commune in Orange County.

Rayís mum just thinks Rayís been in a hurry since birth. Ray agrees with her.

He still doesnít move, though. Heís been where hurrying gets him, and it wasnít good. Date the first girl who thought he was a hero not a skinny dweeb, marry her… fall for the first guy he got really tight with. Rayís fed up with always taking the first turning, heís fed up with always taking the shortest route, heís fed up with going to boring places. He wants to swap the Greyhound red-eye for a half-wolf and sledge.

Fraser blinks, like Dief has bounced up on him and given him full blast wolf breath. "Four minutes." His eyelids flutter and Ray wonders how his eyelashes donít freeze off. "Four seconds" His head twitches. "And eight tenths of a second."

And there was Ray wondering how long theyíd been making like statues. Next time Dewey rags on him for not staying still – like anyone cares whether he dances around the bullpen as long as he keeps kicking criminals in the head – Ray can tell him that.

Ray doubts Vecchio ever danced around the bullpen; put too many creases in his nice suits. But Dewey didnít know Vecchio, so itís not like an issue, just Dewey being an asshole. This screwy thing where Ray is and is not undercover all at once is doing a number on Rayís head. Thereís this thing about cats in boxes that Fraser tried to explain once. Right now, Ray feels like an uncertain cat.

"If we take the speed of sound as three hundred and forty point two nine metres per second, then the far end of this tunnel is–" Fraser scratches his eyebrow "–forty-one kilometres and six hundred and seventy meters–" Ray didnít see Fraser take out his compass "–due south-south-east."

"Iíve got a map back in the Goat. Figure we should drive to the other end, because Iím sure as hell not walking for forty-one kilometres – whatever that is in miles – down a badly lit tunnel that has ‘ambush’ written all over it. Iíve already got an egg on my head, I donít need another."

Fraser says they should check for bicycles at the other end. Ray thinks thatís kind of dumb, because a forty-odd klick bike-ride is still going to be a pain in the ass. What the hell did Rudolph Valentino need this tunnel for, anyway? It must have been pretty good for moving bootleg liquor during the Prohibition.

They check the strong room on the way back; Ray waiting outside with his gun ready while Fraser does a quick check. Nothingís gone that wasnít gone earlier. Proof of Fraserís theory that it would be hard to "wall" most of this stuff. So, Twyker might really be long gone; but, then, why should he go to all the effort of breaking with Fairbanks? Maybe the guy takes inventories like Thatcher does at the Consulate. Fraser buys his own pencils, so does Turnbull, because she insists that they get used all the way down. Itís not as if either Mountie has delicate little hands.

They get their hands licked at the top, and Ray wipes his on his jeans before he gets out the map and spreads it out on the hood of the car. Fraser lays his compass on top, and then a tape measure he had secreted inside the Stetson. Ray figures the reason the hat doesnít blow off or anything is because itís so weighted down with stuff.

Ray watches Fraser measure out twenty-five miles and hit Bolingbrook.

For some reason, Bolingbrook is giving Ray serious dťjŗ vu.

As they drive down to Bolingbrook – totally without anything interesting happening, not that this stops the wolf from drooling all over the window. Maybe wolves just define interesting differently – they talk over the case. So, Twyker wants out and away with Rudolph Valentinoís ill-gotten gains. Ray gets this, Fraser gets this; they just canít figure out what he gains from tipping Fairbanks over the edge.

"I mean," says Ray, swerving around a soccer-mom and her brood, "I can get it right up to there. He can play the old guy like a guitar, pull his strings and heíll come following. So why mess it all up? Iím sure a crazy and easily manipulated accomplice is the must-have accessory for a guy like that. You can set them up as patsies. Any good lawyer can tear their evidence to shreds…"

"Ray, I think that youíre assuming that Twyker is proceeding logically. It could be that our appearance in Oriole Park forced his hand."

Ray interrupts, "But, we were onto nothing. If he hadnít had us kissing the gravel…"

"Perhaps the assault was more symptomatic. If the initial plan was to out-live the erstwhile Douglas Fairbanks, then his continued longevity must have proved considerably annoying."

"But, why not just pop the old guy one and return him to sender?"

"I donít think that hypothesis accounts for the sheer power of human malice."

"Perhaps he needed something, like a code to a safe or something, that he wasnít letting him have. What we saw in the office, Fairbanks seems pretty tenacious. I figure that if Valentino told him not to tell, he wouldnít."

It hits them both at the same time; Twyker was trying to shake the old coot up with the fake-o shooting. They are a duet, even if Fraser puts things kind of different. Theyíre like harmony singers, except cool.

That leaves Ray only the one question, "What the hell are we expecting when we get to Old Chicago? More fake crime? Fraser get out of my face, Iím driving here!"

"I thought that your head injury might be more severe than anticipated. Bolingbrook is a relatively recent suburb of Chicago, certainly not what would constitute old Chicago…"

"Itís not the name of a place…" How does Ray explain this? "Iíll explain later, itís easier once you see it." And that was that, no polite protests from Fraser "Only, there canít be more fake crimes, because Fairbanks has lost whatever marbles he had, at least for the moment, and weíve gotta assume that…"

"Twykerís extracted whatever information he wanted." Fraser pinches the bridge of his nose, either Benís been sleeping bad or heís tired of Chicagoís special breed of asshole criminals. The guys whoíd sell their grandmothers. Rayís not sure what the market in second hand grandmas is like; it must be thriving, number of bastards passing through the doors of the two-seven.

Ray turns off the fifty-six into a parking lot with weeds growing up through the concrete. Pastel painted planters have long been colonised by soda tins and tumbleweeds. Thereís a decrepit building – part box, part Greek temple – with paint peeling and the huge semi-circular window at the entrance broken and part-filled with ply board. The paint scheme is only just hanging on, colours like a circus or old Greek statues before some renaissance mouth breathers figured they should be plain. The stone lions are long gone from plinths tagged by local gangs. They were like the ones outside the Art Institute, or maybe all lions look alike to Ray.

"What is this, Fraser?" Ray asks, waving a hand towards the hulking building.

Fraserís brow creases; itís a tough question. "It looks as if the owner of the building was unsure of what colour to paint it, and used the stratagem utilised by Christy Jovanic at the Seven Star Hotel – Incidentally, naming your hostelry the Seven Star Hotel is not false advertisement, as it is the de facto name of the inn, but claiming to have been awarded seven stars is – however, this individual, whose identity you seem to be with-holding for reasons as yet unclear to me, seems not to have either decided on a colour or maintained his building. Alternatively, it could be the abandoned warehouse of a former house-paint magnate."

"Close, Benton-buddy, but no cigar. Which is greatness, because you do not smoke and I do not smoke, and it would be bound to be a clue to an utterly freaky crime and I do not need another one of those right now."

"What would be the cigar-producing answer, Ray? Speaking as if I were somebody in need of a cigar." Ray had never thought pedantry could be so hot, mostly because he canít spell it. Still, thatís what Ben is, a hot, pedantic, tease.

"Old Chicago," Ray says, sticking his hands behind his head and leaning back in the driverís seat.

Even the wolf thinks that doesnít count as an answer. Slighted, he licks Ray in the ear. Fraser just looks on. The message is clear, explain and Fraser will call off the wolf.

Ray isnít sure how a tongue in his ear makes him remember Jack Lancer leaning across Rayís desk offering a gift. Bolingbrook. Jack said there was something funky going down there. Jack offering up the information, hoping that would patch up a ship long sunk. Except, there are guys who raise ships, arenít there? You can do it with ping-pong balls and airbags. Maybe thatís why Ray feels like heís floating.

Ray tells Fraser that heíll explain all in a minute, he just needs to make a call and get the wolf out of his ear.

Leaning up against the side of the Goat – he needed to get away from the wolf, and if this blows up in his face, he doesnít want it to get Fraserís face too – Ray takes out his cell phone. He pulls up the antenna and dials the number on the business card he hadnít even realised heíd stuck in his pocket.

Ray doesnít have a word for how he feels right now. Itchy and angry and sick, but thereís this little thing fluttering – scrabbling – in his chest. Itís trying to claw its way out like a rat – or an alien insect baby – but in a good way, except his stomach keeps lurching up to try and fill the hole the rat-alien-thingís leaving.

The thing in his chest is twitching with every ring of the cell phone. Thereís a tide of fear washing over Rayís head, almost drowning out his every thought; what if he gets put through to voicemail? He flexes the business card between fingers like crab claws, trying to get things under control.

Where the hell has Rayís control gone? He shouldnít be getting in a funk like this. Not about this guy. Ray means, he has another and this one has him, and thatís got to be better, right? But, then, Ray always does this… doesnít matter whether itís Stella and Orsini or Jack Lancer and Housing and Zoning…

Thereís a click, a slight buzz. "Hey there, this is Jack Lancerís phone. Iím out chasing scummy landlords right now, or maybe Iím watching the Hawks and eating tortilla chips – youíll just never kn—"

"Hey, Lancerís the name, hitting scumbag landlords is the game," Jack begins, "and not necessarily in the wallet, though pants are almost certainly involved."

Lancer doesnít recognise the number. Of course, Lancer doesnít recognise Ray Vecchioís number. Unless Ray Vecchio had realised that the only way to get Fraser out of his bed-bug penthouse was to institute a slum clearance or something. And then Ray has vague memories about a guy in red and a filibuster. Theyíre vague because Ray was somebody else at the time – theyíre not really his memories, itís like watching a second generation videotape copy of a bootleg movie – Ray hopes he remembers this. Fraser. Fighting crime. Wolf slobber. Everything.

This doesnít help the angry boiling feeling in his stomach none as Jack starts making hesitant helloes down the silent line.

"Ray." Heís being so amazingly articulate. Heís glad the wolf canít see him to read his lips. Ray doesnít mean it to come out like a bark.

Rayíll give Jack this; he still has the Lancer smooth down. "Ray, you sound like some finkís been using your head for percussion again. Take some deep breaths, stop butting your head against the case – it will keep, like Grandmaís prune preserve. Man, that stuff was indestructible. Didnít matter what you did, it was always in the larder. Tasted like putty. Bounced like putty. – and just kick back and stick your head under the pillow and leave dinner to Lancer and the Pan-Asian House of Noodles."

"Lancer. Iím gonna ignore that I have had window putty sandwiches and if your grandmotherís jelly tastes like that, she should have got herself a job fitting windows." Rayís brow wrinkles as he tries to remember what he was calling about "You said you guys were having trouble down at Bolingbrook? Wasnít Old Chicago was it? It was your guys getting hit on the head?" The last question is pushing it, a shot in the dark. Rayís a better shot in the dark than he is without his glasses.

"Ray, you down there? Ray, listen to me, donít go in there without more backup than a Mountie and a husky dog—"

"Itís a wolf." Who the hell did Jack think he was, telling Ray what to do? The fluttering-scrabbling thing was full out scratching now and Ray could taste bile. Jack just lost his bottle a long time ago; Rayís still got his – on the kitchen counter, without the worm – and… Ray just sees red and slams the phone closed.

Then Ray sees red for real, Fraser.

"Ray, are you all right? You seem quite disquieted or perhaps even discombobulated."

"Iím fine." Ray sticks his hand out, palm out, almost close enough to touch the red "Just been checking things out, asking folks in the know. This is the place. I know this is the place."

Fraser looks at him sidelong, a ghost of a smile dancing on disciplined lips. He licks his lip. Ray knows that Fraserís anticipating some action – Ray might say "gimme danger" but itís Fraser that really wants it, craves it – heíd be doing muscle stretches if he didnít think it was too gauche. Even though proper prevention prepares poor performance or something. Fraser wants to believe the best is going to happen, wants to believe that everyone has a twenty-four carat heart; preparing for the inevitable crazy showdown would be to stop believing.

No, it would be ceasing to dream.

In the story books, dreams come true. Ray should be up for one, all heís had this far is nightmares. Ray dreams of a Mountie and the only thing Ben loves – in Rayís dream – more than justice is Ray.

A thought runs through Rayís head – screaming faintly over an immeasurable distance – that maybe this is all just Fraser dreaming, or maybe this is just a television show.

Ray doesnít listen; heís too busy listening to the rhythm of his feet and the itching of his fists. Theyíre going to get this bastard; nail his balls to the wall. Play see-no-evil Mountie and psychotic cop in interrogation. This guy is going down like the Robert Mackenzie.

"Okay, Fraser. Iím just going to have a little word with my buddy Diefenbaker and then you and I will head over to kick ass and I will tell you a story on the way."

The wolf has squeezed through into the passenger seat, and is watching Ray with that deep intent look. Either Fraserís right about his intelligence or the wolf thinks thereís a Twinkie in it for him. Itís kind of creepy in that horror movie way – foreboding animals staring at the heroine as she enters the farmhouse of blood, ravens telling the hero not to look – Ray doesnít want to think about horror movies or haunted houses.

Some say that Old Chicago is cursed. Thatís the National Enquirer version.

The Chicago Tribune version is about land rights, and planning permission; new owners and lost money. Thatís the version Jack Lancer would go for. Neat, sanitised, sensible.

Ray was never good at math, but something never added up right. Itís not like he subscribes to the National Enquirer – though he reads Frannieís copy when she leaves it in the break-room, and Dewey gets the Weekly World News and circles things about human combustion, he says he mails them to his cousin in DC – itís just, guys with big bucks arenít that kind of stupid, are they? Okay, maybe they are – Orsini and his muscle, Capone and the IRS – but, yeah, thereís something that never added up right about this. Why would a guy nobody ever heard of decide to build an indoor amusement park in Bolingbrook?

Rayís just staring into space. Space occupied by a smart-ass wolf, who whines before he bares his teeth, like Rayís actually some pod-person. Ray hopes he doesnít smell like a vegetable.

At least Diefenbakerís looking at him. Rayís not sure about the whole deaf thing, but if Diefís looking at him, then thereís no way that the wolf can pretend Ray told him otherwise. Ray rolls the window down three inches as he talks to the wolf. "Listen, read my lips, stay here. We – me and Fraser – are going into the tastelessly painted building over there – you should be happy you see in black and white because it is not, repeat not, a pretty sight – and you are staying here. You are the nominated safety wolf." Diefenbaker whines. "The windowís down, so youíre not going to bake." More whining and then Diefís ears flatten and he tries to squeeze under Rayís arm. "No." Rayís five seconds away from asking Fraser to do this in Inuit. "This is not a place for wolves. See those signs, they do not say wolf hang-out. There are big holes you could fall down—"

Dief huffs, and Fraser gives him a really un-mountie-like look. "Itís all very fine you saying that, but I beg to differ. I would have got out of that mine on my own, whatever you might think." Fraser pauses. "I really must apologise, Ray, arctic wolves can be somewhat lax with the truth."

This gets a disdainful bark. "Thatís all very well, but what if youíd fallen down that mineshaft and I hadnít been down there?"

"Dief, listen to me. Weíre buddies, right? Iím telling you as your buddy that you do not want to go in there. They built this place with a big hole in it, the sort where youíd just go splat if you fell. And you can get lost in there real easy, and you wonít be able to hear us warning you about the hole."

Fraser looked at Ray. Maybe he thought buildings with big holes were some sort of American deviance. It would be really dumb to build a building with a fifty-foot pit in the Northwest Territories. Then again, it had turned out real dumb in Chicago too.

Thereís just something else, and then Ray will tell Fraser all about it and the mayor who pulled doves out of his coat-sleeves.

"Wolf, do not let anyone steal my car or jack it up and take my alloys, got it?

Dief barks and growls some. "Ray, really, thatís unnecessary," Fraser says in that mellow voice, "Wolves – and half-wolves – are naturally territorial."

"As long as he doesnít decide to mark his territory, thatís greatness, Ben." Ray mouths through the windshield to the wolf "Goat my territory".

As Ray struts across the parking lot – Fraserís taking those measured steps which say he could go for miles before he sleeps – Ray explains about Old Chicago. You see, itís like this: there was this mysterious land tycoon who decided that malls and theme parks were two great tastes that should taste great together, so heíd decided to build a mall with a fun park in the middle. Only, the fun park didnít fit too good; so he dug a fifty-foot pit in the middle of the building and then put a dome on top. And he ‘forgot’ to run his plans past Zoning. And the floor plan was insane and there were no big stores – no Jewel, no Schnuckís, and no K-mart – so the moms didnít think the place was their way out of shopping with kids. No amount of magicians, street artistes and authentic nineteenth-century style street lights was going to save it. The guy went bust, and Ray isnít sure what happened next, because the buyers didnít get it – the whole theme park and shopping thing – and the place kept bombing. The National Enquirer version has it that none of the concerned parties know who owns it any more, which is the only reason that itís still standing.

The main entrance, at the front between the long-gone lions, used to be this huge glass thing. Swinging glass doors under a huge semi-circular window. Somehow, Rayís still surprised that itís gone. Gone the way of chip-board and gang tags. Thereís a tiny door in the wall of screaming paint; the padlockís off. It doesnít look like it was forced; the galvanised-grey hasp is still intact, not bent out of shape. The bolts have been pulled back—

Fraser puts a finger to the bolts and then licks it. The channels – with their rust and crumbling black coating – were oiled before the bolts were pulled.

This was not done by kids, gangbangers, or random homeless guys looking for somewhere to doss down without getting the law on their tail. This was done by somebody who a) knew what they were doing and b) could pick locks better than Ray or c) actually had a key.

And the door opened inwards and there was no way they could see if there was somebody behind it.

Ray has a bad feeling about this. While Ray always thought he was a bit of Han Solo, he didnít want to end up in a block of metal. Or, you know, hit over the head again by a crazed gangster from the days before the Outfit was the only, huh, outfit in town.

From the look on Fraserís face, heís either come to the same realisation or the oil tastes really bad.

"Something stinks, Fraser," Ray snarls, unable to stand still.

"Actually, Ray, the oil is not rancid, so in point of fact, it does not stink. However, the anodised coating on the metal forced loose by the explosion of rust underneath… it reminds me of my grandmotherís bannock."

"What does bannock taste like? Strike that, what does your grandmaís bannock taste like?"

"Hockey puck." With that curt reply, it seems Fraser was refusing to be drawn further on his traumatic bannock – whatever the hell that is – experiences and how he knows what a hockey puck tastes like. Itís the second one that really interests Ray, but then Ray is master of body language and Fraserís is shouting, "not now, Ray, now we have to kick some malfeasant ass." So, Fraser wouldnít put it that way, but Rayís Fraser decoder ring does.

The chances of Twyker having an army of heavily armed goons waiting behind that door are rather slim. Why should Twyker have kept Fairbanks around so long if he had more convenient muscle, why go to the bother of hiring an actor to fake the shooting? Ray would bet Vecchioís Armani greatcoat that Twykerís school reports all said, "doesnít work well with others."

Fraser suggests that they scout around for alternative means of ingress. Ray knows just the place, provided ingress means what he thinks it does.

They skirt around the building, wary of the crumbling concrete of the decorative panels – Ray can see plants, fucking trees, growing on the ledges – at once glad and frustrated about the lack of windows. It makes it impossible for anyone in there to see them – unless they had security cameras and Ray figures if Old Chicago ever had them, they ran on Betamax and laser disks, an incomprehensible mess of tech out of the ark – but Fraser and Ray canít see in, either. It was like one of those mythic things Fraser talked about in quiet moments on stake out – Greek guys stuck between two terrible, wonderful, choices. Too afraid to take one in case they lose the other, or both.

Ray nods towards the addition at the end of a pier. Thereís a dumpster up against one candy-coloured wall. Fraser assumes the position to boost Ray up on top – hardly the good thing to do with a bad back – and Ray pushes him aside. More like shoves, but with love. Love, not lust; Ray isnít worried about Fraserís back not being up to some nookie, heís worried about Fraser hurting.

Ray pushes Fraser up, and then makes a jump for it, fingers scrabbling at rusted metal as he hangs on. He canít pull himself up. Heís a total wuss.

He can see Fraser reaching out a hand. That hand is all he can see of Fraser, besides his widely-planted boots. All he can see except sky and the annoying flat bits of hair doing their darnedest to get into his eyes. And the sun comes out and thatís in his eyes too, and it hurts and—

Ray lets go. He doesnít mean to, but the light… hurts and somehow it pulled a switch in Rayís head.

He doesnít fall for long. He stops with a jerk, like a bungee-jumper with a too-short cord. His chest thumps against the corroded metal, the thump all the harder for the vest pushing into his chest. Ray gasps. Fraser holds him there. Everything is slow, like Rayís underwater again, but he swings a hand up to the edge and takes some weight. Ray pushes his palm down as Ben pulls him up, anything to stop being a dead weight.

Thereís a sheen of sweat on Fraserís forehead and itís the single sexiest thing that Ray has ever seen. Ray just wants to touch.

The serge is soft and Ray feels like a sunbeam, floating and warm and perfect. He can feel the beating of Fraserís heart – still exertion-fast – and Fraserís eyes seem a deeper, darker blue, like the sea at night and Ray just wants to dive—

Thereís a crunching sound from the parking lot and Rayís head spins around like whiplash. Local kid, his bike too small for his gangly frame, riding over gravel. Rayís hands move faster than light, faster than sound, to Fraserís biceps. Heís holding him in one of those dumb man-hugs where you donít touch the guy – what is the point of that? Touching is what hugging is for, unless youíre so sure you need to express your masculinity that youíre five seconds away from getting a loincloth and some big thick vines to swing from. Like touching makes you gay or something. Ray might not be in a position to judge but itís kind of tragic, sick, that people are so afraid of what people are going to say, afraid of their own shadows, of the little voices in their heads.

Still, the momentís broken. "Thanks," Ray rasps out, still winded. If Fraser hasnít noticed Rayís extra tough and slightly polygonal chest, then… Ray doesnít know what to think. If Fraser canít see it, then Fraserís really distracted. Rayís the only distracting thing up there.

And the windows might only be eighteen inches high, but somebody has left them open an inch for ventilation. That inch is enough for Ray to slip his fingers under – grazing his knuckles on the concrete sill – and lift them up. Itís kind of dark in there; even with Fraserís penlight itís hard to make out the floor. So, Rayís going in feet first, hugging the ledge until he has to drop.

He still canít feel the floor and his chest hurts against the bright but flaking paint of the wall. His shoulders are burning like ice on fire.

Ray falls textbook-style, bends his knees, lands about two-three feet down… and the ground under his feet shift and he lands on his ass. Ray flails – he canít get any grip here – the ground keeps shifting and smells of rubber and sneakers. Maybe itís like quicksand, Ray thinks as he starfishes out on the rubber.

Ray can just pick out Fraser landing against the light from the window; feet first, arms out like heís crucified, a halo like a saint around the Stetson.

Ray hears – feels – the rubber sheeting tear and fall into the pit below as Fraser hits some weak point – somewhere the rubberís more perished, or worn thin with tiny feet – and the only thing Ray can do is try to roll with it.

Somehow Fraser just about keeps his balance until Ray rolls into his legs. Ray hasnít been so close to the Mountie boots since… since Cahill tried to fit him up but good for a pair of bracelets and – being a fine upstanding guy – was willing to fit him for the chains and orange jumpsuit for nothing. Nothing, he was doing it out of the goodness of his heart, he wanted nothing in return – except the DA gig.

Rayís thinking now, about the way some folks get about the thing they want – not a thing, any thing, but the thing; the one more important than living and breathing, the one they nurture up in their hearts – and how they ignore little things like right or wrong to get it. Rayís still on the floor, staring at Fraserís boots, unsure whether going for what he wants is actually a good idea. Heíd thought he wanted Stella, and look what that did to him, would you? He turned into a psycho stalker freak; even laid into his best friend – ignore that best friends are so Junior High – when he called him on it.

Ray didnít want to bring Orsini down for harassment and obstruction; he just wanted to get him down and away from Stella. It would have mattered none if the guy was a fricking saint and dedicated his large ex-wife-attracting fortune to something good and philanthropic.

Rayís wondering if itís right to want things; to want things as much as he wants those boots – their funky lacing staring at him, scuffs revealing layer after layer of polish – and more than that, if itís right to want the guy in them so much. He wants Fraser so much that he thinks heíll drown if he doesnít get him; like Fraserís some rocky island in a sea of… nothing. A great big sea of nothing, where thereís nothing to care about— no nothing that cares about Ray, nothing for Ray to care about; just distant shadows of what might have been, children heíll never meet, guys he passed up, riding shotgun with Jacky Lancer—

"Ray?" Fraserís wading into the sea, fearless as ever, reaching out. "Are you all right?"

Now, Ray could try and tell him the huge mess thatís cooped up under the experimental hair. But heíd get the words wrong and everything will twist up and theyíll be back on the waterfront with the taste of blood in their mouths.

No, he canít do that. "I think Iím going to have bruises on my tailbone tomorrow, Fraser."

"I suspect you shall." Thereís a strange pause that Ray refuses to read anything into, keeps listening to the little voice from planet normal that reminds him that this is just the lead in to some weird Canadian joke. "While it was not a considerable fall, the sudden acceleration followed by deceleration—"

"I get it Fraser; itís not the fall that kills you, itís the sudden stop."

Sure, thatís a gross simplification with an underlying truth; but they have to get this party started. Bring down this Twyker punk, like, blam, blam…

Blam… Ray punches a bag with a penguin painted on it – thereís no weight to it, and it swings dangerously – and gets a face full of dust and only just avoids a face full of faded-paint penguin. The chains squeak dangerously. Ray doesnít need to see Fraserís face, heís sending out waves of disapproval. But, Ray needs to get it out of his system now, before he really does start kicking suspects in the head, and moves onto the Yellow Pages for the born guilty.

Ray shivers. Lets it all out of his bones and into the disintegrating foam on the floor.

Itís silent here, eerie – like the Lake – and despite it all, Rayís brain keeps providing a soundtrack of kids playing and screaming. Thereís something wrong with the silence – it shouldnít be silent in the Fun Factory – that makes the hairs on the back of Rayís neck get experimental. Emphasis on mental.

And thereís something tragic about the broken wreckage of the lumpy bumpy slide as they pass it on the way out. Thereís a pile of those sack things the kids sit on, decaying and looking more like something youíd put on your garden, if you had one.

Theyíd probably do great things for the rosebushes outside the Consulate. Ray canít think of anyone else he knows with a garden – much as she tries, his mumís plastic grass and wobbly picket fence held up with cable ties just donít cut the mustard.

They move out into the mall like late night shoppers, like ships in the night, like something quiet and inconspicuous – or at least as inconspicuous as you can get when one of you is wearing red serge and the other is wielding a gun like itís part of your arm – gliding through the twisty passages between pastel-painted shops.

The shop windows are all painted out or gone. There are holes in the imitation marble flooring where the authentic replica Chicago street lamps have long since been taken out for scrap. Or maybe theyíre adorning the lawn outside little Canada.

Thereís a mountain trying to scrape the sky trapped behind the dirt and bird shit on the dome. It goes down into a pit out of Sunday School – Ray sees the shadows of graffiti tags on the walls, somebodyís tried to wash it away, but it wonít go; like old blood – there are skeletal side shows like cracked-open rib cages.

Those weird boxes still hang from the ceiling – looking dangerous and covered with rotting fabric – meant to kill the noise but Ray can still hear the regular thwumn thwumn of the Chicago Loop. A glance into the pit and thereís nothing left of it except the concrete anchor blocks and the ticket booths.

There are tire tracks on the ramps going down – looks like somebody at least has found themselves a good time at Old Chicago.

There doesnít seem to be anywhere with an overall view of the mall. Ray can feel Fraser looking for one. It would be the logical place to start any search, or for any bad guy with half a brain to hide out. The buildingís full of little faux-fake streets and passageways that must violate fire regulations. It kind of reminds Ray of the bunker, except pastel coloured and less well built. Pink brownstones built out of drywall and extruded plastic going yellow and brittle next to blue tenements where the inhabitants never moan about roaches. Itís a Chicago that will never be and never was.

It feels like shards of glass, beautiful and broken and ready to cut when you touch them. And you canít help touching them, theyíre so scintillating and shining and hypnotic. Maybe Rayís seeing things clearly for the first time; Fraser might be beautiful but he isnít perfect and all that beautiful form is wrapped around a lead slug of imperfection. Fraser might be an angel, but heís fallen a long way, down to Rayís level of street smog and hot dog vendors. They have as much chance of touching the dome above them as they have reaching the stars.

Whoíd want to touch the stars anyway? Theyíre small here and large and burning hotter than hot far away. And thereís nothing there— itís like moondust. Ray remembers going to the Alder with a hundred other booger-picking school kids and looking at the moon rock and wondering why it didnít shine. Surely, it should have been bigger and shinier than that.

Maybe folks make their own moon dust – the shiny, perfect, magic kind – like the way Ziggy Stardust was Bowie in enough make-up to paint a ship. The stars are dead. The real stars are the ones that walk on earth… and wear red suits and lick their lips when they think and…

Ray feels like heís looking at something so enormous and fantastic that he canít even describe it… something infinite that needs infinite words to describe it… maybe he is high. He feels like heís looking down on everything, watching the back of Fraserís neck where his hair just skirts regulation, watching Fraser walk behind him, everything.

And then he steps on a shard and comes down to earth.

Does Twyker know theyíre walking through his broken kingdom of smoke and mirrors? Can he see them the way Ray could see everything… no, not that way, because then it would just be too much. Is Twyker the monarch of all he surveys? And what is he surveying right now?

Ray hopes it isnít them.

The place must have had some kind of surveillance system – thereís nowhere that overlooks the entire complex – but Ray figures it was junked the same time as the rides and the street lamps. Thereís still some light from the dome and from the up-lighters on the fake-o buildings. Ray can just about see the Biergarten hanging over the edge of the pit; Fraser can see it for sure. What neither of them can see is the entrance to the place – probably at the end of a series of windy ersatz streets – but there are no lights on… so Rayís kind of hoping that if there is anybody on there, they canít see him and Fraser through the gloom.

It takes three steps for Ray to realise that Fraser is doing his best statue impersonation.

Heís listening, and then they both know that the branch on the left is the one they do/donít want to walk down.

Their feet echo on the imitation marble. They canít help it. The whole place echoes, the boxes on the roof high above the fake gables: they do sweet fuck all about it. Ray would have thought it was something about the toe-caps on his shit-kickers, but even Fraserís tap-tap-tapping out their location. Hopefully, Twyker doesnít do Morse code.

They pass the shop that sold – purely decorative – hubble bubble pipes. The paint on the windows there looks newer, cleaner. The street is widening out now, and Ray knows where they are now – the little theatre where the ‘mayor’ used to do his magic shows. Stella thought it was dumb; Ray loved it, didnít care that he knew how the magic rings worked, he just breathed it all in.

The windows have been cleared up some, but you can still see paint around the edges. Thereís a sign propped up against the ticket booth; extraordinary opportunities, guaranteed returns, low deposit.

Looks like theyíve hit pay dirt. Some kind of dirt at least, nothing totally legit sounds like that. The theatreís dark, which doesnít totally hide the holes in the nylon carpet where the seating used to be. Smoke and mirrors, and Rayís still kind of fascinated. Itís too much of a set up for one guy, and Rayís wondering if theyíre going to pick up the man behind the curtain at all.

Something lurches out of the dark; it has dorkier glasses than Ray. "Oh," it gasps, "Mister Twyker did say there would be some people along. Are you the financiers? Iím Doll, Charlie Doll, Charles Fitzroy Doll–" the shambling figure dressed like Jerry Lewis sticks out an ink-stained hand like he isnít sure what to do with it "–And you gentlemen are?"

Dollís brow winkles, clearly something isnít working right. Then he waggles his hand a bit, before realising that it needs to be more horizontal. Rayís seen absent-minded before, but itís reached a whole new level when the guy forgets how to shake hands. Sure, Ray gets avoiding shaking hands, if youíre not sure where the other guyís been or just want to avoid looking like a dork. But actually forgetting?

Ray takes pity on the guy and reaches out and gets his hand vigorously shaken. "Youíre supposed to let go," Ray hisses and flexes his hand open and shut hoping Doll will get the idea. Thankfully, he does, because otherwise Ray would have to break his fucking wrist and he seems a nice guy if a little dazed and confusing.

"Ah, Iím sure youíve seen the, ah, publicity material–" he says the word like a regular guy would say maggot-burgers "– about the development. This is going to be a real architectural first for Chicago! I shall prove them all wrong! And follow in the steps of my illustrious namesake!"

Ray thinks that if this guy doesnít stop to breathe soon… then theyíll have to call a wagon and getting medics in here will be hell on earth. Ray doesnít want to give Jerry Lewisí skinnier crazier brother… Wait a minute. Crazier. Crazy. Nutty as a fruitcake. Anthill short of a picnic. Possessed of a hole in his bag of marbles. Douglas Fairbanks, Charlie Doll; this is Twykerís plan, isnít it? Heís employing – using – crazy folks to do his hard work. But what does Twyker want from Old Chicago? This is more than just knocking around his fellow hench-person for money and… there had still been the faint possibility that it was just cabin fever – two crazy guys cooped up too long – but now it seems a lot more complicated than that. Ray hates being proved right, he really wanted to believe that thatís all it was – cabin fever – Fraser sure as hell did. Rayís not sure whether thatís Fraser wanted to believe or Fraser believed. These days he figures more the first one. He knows Fraser too well to make him some perfect saintly angel. He was messed up from the start as much as any other human being; as much as Ray. As much as Stanley Raymond Kowalski, and Doll said namesake, score another for the parents who should just have gone with the baby name book and not tried to be smart about it. Rayís old man had wanted him to be a contender, and Ray is, just not in the way he expected. Doll, what had his parents been expecting?

"A nine storey hotel in French Renaissance style derived from engravings of the Chateau de Madrid. On the front elevation there will be statues of the greatest Presidents of America—"

"My buddy, heís Canadian–" Rayís trying to shake things up some, architectureís great but kicking ass is better "–you can tell by the hat."

"Ah, Iím still undecided about the northerly elevation; perhaps we could place some famous Canadians there to honour our northern neighbours. Provided we can find some, of course." Rayís hand moves on automatic, knuckles up against Fraserís chest. Fraser isnít Turnbull, thank god, but still…"And the roofs and turrets shall have green fish scale tiles. And there shall be tall slab chimney-stacks with horizontal brick and terracotta bands."

"Excuse me," Fraser interjects, "there are a great many famous Canadians. You might be familiar with the Gang of Seven and the artists of the Canadian Impressionist movement."

Ray gets that Fraserís trying to do the same thing as he was, trying to shake Mr Doll out of his groove. But Ray figures the needleís stuck.

"Ha! They call it Art, but itís just daubs on paper and canvas! It serves no useful purpose! It will not endure like the pyramids. It will not raise the spirits of the common man!—"

"Hey, tune it down, Doll, weíre meant to be enticing them in, not driving them out. I do the pitching; you just chime in when they want architectural details, strike that, when I say they want architectural details. Thatís how we make the sales, Charley-boy."

Rayís already decided that he hates this snake – saying that to Doll is just plain mean – and he hasnít even seen him yet. He moves out of the darkness like a snake in a nylon lounge suit that was maybe cool four years ago – but Ray would swear never – and a tie with little car wheels on. The tie makes Ray think of those pictures – those ones in the papers – that make your eyes go all funny looking for some grey blurred out picture. It fits. Except that Ray canít see them at all, because, hello, astigmatism? This guy only wants Doll around so he can make any marks that come in see only the grey blurry picture. He washes out all the little details and makes it sound like a kindness.

Ray met enough guys like that helping Stella buy her new car.

He moves like the cool kid at the roller disco, the only one who knew all the moves and the other kids hated and admired. That strange gulping noise? That was the wheels falling off his skates, him doing unintentional split, and his Spandex pants ripping down the ass.

"Billy-Bob?" The guyís clip-board click-clatters to the floor.

Billy-Bob, Billy-Bob, Billy-Bob… sounds like a tongue tangler. And Ray knows that itís there, somewhere in his head, but he canít make it click. One of the Brothers of the Confederacy goons? No. There isnít anyone else here; the floor squeaks as you come in; Fraser would have heard it. Only problem with that is Fraser looks thrown for a loop. Could this guy be Billy-Bob – no, thatís dumb – imaginary friend? Not that Ray has met enough guys with imaginary friends looking over their shoulders – laughing at the jokes of the friend that isnít real, while the real guy thinks itís him – maybe thatís why Deweyís such an asshole, getting all the wrong signals.

Rayís thinking about this too much. Itís like the razor thing Fraser talks about.

The guyís staring at Fraser. The guy – who sounds like a car salesman – is staring at Fraser, has gasped "Billy-Bob" and is now making like a fish, opening and shutting his mouth like heís out to catch flies.

Ray gets it now. Billy-Bob Fraser sold the most cars in the state of Texas, Billy-Bob Fraser pulled more chicks onto that lot than anyone before or since, Billy-Bob Fraser would have been a god among salesmen if only he could lie worth a damn. Strange thing, Ray knows that Fraser can lie worth way more than a damn – which is a small Indian coin, thank you Clark Gable – he twists and turns the truth. Itís hardly lying; he keeps that sincerity in his eyes, he just makes it burn brighter. It doesnít even pass Rayís mind – okay, it barely passes Rayís mind – that Fraser might lie to him; he might be a bit quiet when it comes to some things. But then, soís Ray. There are some things a guy can never do in the Bullpen, in the street… Itís too risky, to forget that Rayís undercover, that Fraserís bosses in Ottowa would love to find one little thing to drum him out in disgrace. Fraser might talk about affirmative action and anti-discrimination laws, but Ray thinks theyíd discriminate fine on the fraternisation gig, going over the side… well, thatís too much.

Rayís thinking about that too much, as well, almost misses Fraser snapping to it and introducing himself. As Benton Fraser, RCMP; obviously. Ray doesnít think Fraser would go anywhere near Texas – heíd melt from the heat and would blend in like a duck at a NRA meeting.

Especially since Fraser is reluctant about carrying a firearm. Ray looked into the paperwork angle, and itís no real biggie. Fraser is diplomatic staff, heís probably responsible for security at the Consulate – because Ray canít see the Ice Queen doing it, and Turnbull might blend a hell of a lot better into that NRA meeting, but heís just a kid – and heís a cop. Ray thinks Hot Pursuit might figure into it some way, but at that point the forms start swimming around and he wishes he wore his glasses because astigmatism and forms are not a good mix. The lines swim and wiggle and he canít write straight.

This guy, clip board guy; Mr Gary Redfield, Fraser calls him; he couldnít walk a straight line even if he was under the limit. Heíd twist it around like a corkscrew.

Itís time for Ray to get into the action, before the action gets onto him.

He flashes his Shield. "Ray Vecchio, but I think you know that, Mister Redfield." Ray growls, sneers, bad cop to Fraserís good cop. Vecchio said this guy folded under pressure; Ray just has to find the right spot and press down.

Redfieldís lipís quivering. Doll just looks distracted and bumbles away to tend to his architectural drawings and artistís impressions. Clearly, if itís not about architecture, then it just doesnít cut it.

Redfield doesnít respond, doesnít do jack. Thereís a high pitched buzzing in Rayís ears, which he ignores, probably just shook up some from falling. Or that thing with too many tees in it; maybe delayed onset that from the initial hit over the head.

"You remember, Vecchio–" Ray stresses the name, like Welsh does when heís pissed "– guy you sent for a swim in Lake Michigan. Inside a car trunk? A yellow 1977 Comet; that ring any bells? I say yellow, but it was green until the night before, and blue before that. I have the entire lab report on the paint scrapings Fraser took off that car in my desk – were you trying to do a Dolly Parton on us–" So, okay, Ray had just made that one up, but it sounded good and that was the key to cop talk "–uh? Do a car of many colours?–

Keep it hard, keep it fast. Donít give them time to think about how heís gained hair and lost seven millimetres of nose. Itís Ray party-piece, the Kowalski technique.

"Youíre not Ray–" Gary stammers on the Ėay "–Vecchio. I know youíre not him and more to it, you know youíre not him either."

They say thereís always a smart one.

"You want a piece of me, huh?" Psycho cop.

Good Mountie. "Mr Redfield, I think we would be more interested in how you are, in fact, at large. Forging Vehicle Identification Numbers and related documentation is a serious crime in its own right, let alone in addition to stealing cars in such distressingly large numbers."

The buzzingís getting worse. Maybe this place has wasps or something.

"Diminished capacity, the balance of my mind was disturbed, she was exploiting my vulnerability." The way he says it, Ray almost believes him, almost. "And you, you-uh, are not Ray Vecchio."

The buzzingís louder now, Ray can pick out words. "Now you get off them there crazy pills, boy." Itís high-pitched like a third-rate Dolly Parton impersonator, one who needs the edges filed off her vocal cords some. "Iíve been telliní you all along that this thing is a prize scam, and I know these things—"

Ray doesnít need this now. Unreal voices. Teachers always said he had a vivid imagination, but this… this bites. Ray doesnít know what the hell is happening to him. He thought it was all a dream, but heís still picking things up, these ghost people. Rayís afraid and Rayís alone. Rayís alone, because itís lonely undercover. Itís lonely undercover and there are some things you canít let go of. And right now, itís this, the ghost voices. Not ghosts, kind of shards, like the shards that cut at you. The way things were, the way things should have been and never were. Vecchioís report says that Tammy Markles and Gary Redfield were going to split together. And Redfieldís unhinged, probably part of him, the part the crazy pills arenít reaching, thinks sheís the best thing to happen to him. Thinks she loves him.

And Ray canít tell Fraser any of this. Fraserís the only guy who wouldnít look at him like he was a carburettor short of an automobile. But, Ray canít tell him. Not now; now, theyíve got a bad guy to catch and a web of crazy-employing crime to unravel.

Rayís off balance. He should pass it on, pay it forward, give it all to his new buddy Gary. "And how do you know that I ainít Vecchio? Huh? Two things. A) Youíre crazy, fruit loops, bugfuck; who do you think is gonna believe you? Look at Fraser, heíd tell you Iím Vecchio and we all know heís a pathological non-liar. B) You wanna bet that I couldnít get you pulled in by the FBI? Theyíve got machines, you know, fucking machines that eat your brain. They can erase your memory. They can make you think that youíre a six-year old girl. And you know, Gary, I think youíre going to look real good in pigtails."

Itís like opening your piggy bank. You can break it – and good luck to you if you have one of those metal ones from the year one – or you can shake it up and see what comes out, then shake it up some more and slip a butter knife in. You slip the butter knife in when all the coins are agitated some, all shook up, not lying flat anymore, but experimental like Rayís hair.

And the shaking up is going kind of well; Ray thinks heís going to hit the jackpot, when somebody decides this is all taking too long and what you really need to open a coin bank is a grenade. You canít make an omelette without breaking eggs.

ĎCourse, to throw in a grenade means that you donít care much about the coins inside. But, Ray wouldnít expect anything else from the guy moving around in the backstage area.

Twyker.

Old Chicago is riddled with service tunnels. They turned some of them into a Tunnel of Love, once. Stella—

Rayís trying not to breathe; Twyker is on a hair trigger. But Ray has to let this – all this distracting badness, all these blades of glass – out before it cuts him up so fine you could call him sashimi. Ray needs to stay here, in the moment.

Itís got to be Twyker. Ray pushes local punk kids and treasure hunters to the back of his mind. It must be Twyker.

Chances are the tunnels under Old Chicago link into the tunnels under Oriole Park. Thereís some boring little door down there that nobody in the mall ever opened. The architects must have been in on it, at the very least.

Dollís crying. Somewhere between wailing and whimpering, heís trying to be quiet, to sink into the darkness of the theatre. To merge chameleon-like with his drawings.

It is Twyker, moving around in the shadows and Doll knows heís coming.

Gary Redfield, at least, has half a grasp on sanity – even if heís not listening to it right now, even if it sounds like some Southern belle gone sour with thorazine – he might not be balanced but heís not on the floor either. Heís just enticed along with promises of certificates and prizes, but somewhere in his head he understands whatís going on. He isnít living in the past like Douglas Fairbanks, or in buildings that will never be like Doll. The guy had the brains not to try and shoot Fraser; he probably has the smarts to tread carefully around his new boss.

Heís not on the floor, off-balance, but not on the floor.

And on the floor is where Twyker starts kicking people. Not people – that makes it better, more distant, makes Ray worry about it less – these guys. Fairbanks is safe and playing Old Maid with some nuns and Rayís favourite crazy uncle. Doll is here, vulnerable.

However much Ray wants to go after Twyker, this comes first. Rayís supposed to protect and serve. And right now, he has to protect these guys, even if they donít quite understand why heís doing it. Ray glances at Fraser. He expected Fraser to do things different. Heís all for maintaining the right, but it seems that people are different from river boats, light aircraft, all terrain vehicles, and a pontoon.

Ray doesnít know why heís surprised. Fraser had told him that people arenít like snowmobile parts. Freak. But he gets it; you can never get one just the same, so you have to take care of the ones youíve got.

It doesnít matter that Redfield is probably inadmissible as a witness and Doll certainly is. What matters is that theyíre going to get hurt.

Itís not telepathy, but Fraserís got the same answer as Ray, they just went different ways and met up in the middle. They have to get these guys somewhere safer than a dark, rotting, theatre with mysterious tunnels in the back.

Doll wants to take his pictures with him; Ray tells him that theyíll fetch them later. He doesnít even bother telling him that theyíre just pictures, replaceable like snow machine parts.

Redfieldís, well, meek. Itís a dumb word, but itís the only one that fits. The guyís resigned; probably doesnít know whether heís being rescued or arrested. Come to think of it, Rayís not sure, either. Fraser comments that theyíll have to come back for the sales ledger later.

Fraser says ‘later’ because right now theyíre leading the guys through twisty fake streets, relying on Fraser to find out – feel the breeze – because the signs are long gone, side stepping the skeletal remains of the hanging gardens, and pushing them through the plywood door onto the parking lot. Ray gives Gary his phone – sure, potentially, itís dumb; but heís doing the Fraser thing, thinking the best of people, and somewhere in his heart he knows that Redfield knows what side his bread is buttered – and tells him to call Dispatch for back-up. The numberís on speed-dial. And for Christís sake, look after Charlie no matter how annoying he is, or how much he wants his paintings and plans. Fraser fishes a piece of chalk from his Sam Browne and Dollís looking at the parking lot like itís a huge canvas. And maybe it is.

Ray wouldnít have done that – gone out, dumped the witnesses and gone back in again – except he canít get a signal in the building and they really need to catch Twyker. Signs are that heís not too balanced himself. Youíd have to be crazy to hit a Mountie on the head, and the whole gig reeks of twisted genius and thatís a smell Rayís been getting used to ever since he stepped into Vecchioís shoes.

Ray might be a freak, but he ainít a dumb freak. He knows – Fraser knows – hitting those tunnels must be a last resort. Like, only if they have the Cavalry at their backs.

Fraserís the one for tracking people, animals, cars; you name it and heíll track it. But, here, heís got nothing. This isnít his sort of terrain. He canít see anything out of place – he doesnít know this place well enough and itís a train wreck – so he canít see the signs. Thereís dust all over the place, enough to get up Fraserís nose when he takes a close look, but you canít tell the recent footprints from the older ones. And itís not as if itís a field day on the foot print front at that – Fraserís granny boots, Dollís brogues, Redfieldís non-descript -to-the-point-of-boring shoes, and Rayís size elevens.

Walking all over the mall waiting to find some clue – and more likely to find yet another lump on their heads – ainít the best move from here. They need to establish whether Twykerís above ground or in the tunnels.

Thereís only one place where you can see almost all of Old Chicago.

The Biergarten – really just a diner with girls in dirndls – hangs over the amusement park, over the fifty-foot pit housing the amusement park. Only diners with a real sense of adventure took the window seats.

Ray leads the way with sharp memories of him and Stella and a half-gone mall with empty shops and— No, Ray isnít thinking like that any more. No more taking that road, crossing that street, and causing a scene with oil on his jeans and a girl afraid of falling. Ray makes a wrong turn, trapped in the past, only for Fraser to correct him. Thereís a ramp up to the diner.

They step through the door with the fake folksy sign first. Ray ought to be clearing the room; but that would just announce their presence, so he just covers the room with a wave of his gun, until Fraser tells him what he already knows. The dust is thick up here; nobodyís been up here for quite some time. Ray gets this, the tables and chairs are gone; thereís nothing left except the bar stroke serverís area, the checkerboard terracotta tiles on the floor, and some really sorry looking fake plants.

Rayís at the windows – with their Art Deco, Nouveau, one of the two, corners – looking down over the park, and the edges of the mall. Fraser should be doing this job, he ainít got astigmatisms that you can strike matches on. Instead, Fraserís making all those hmm-ing and ah-ing noises behind Ray.

Fraserís over at the serverís station and starts pulling drawers, looking for plans, Ray guesses. The doors to the kitchen are right behind him. No, the door frames to the kitchen are right behind him. The kitchenís some dark and terrible place of stainless steel. Ray pauses, what if thereís a way in through the kitchen? Itís not as if they can take the trash through the diner, is it?

Ray turns to warn Fraser, but something else catches his eye.

"Fraser!" Get down, get out, Ray wants to shout, but he canít find the words anymore. Luckily, Fraser doesnít need them.

Rayís lost his words, because heís here, Twyker is here in the restaurant doorway. Heís standing there, a Hawks windbreaker on over his crazy clothes. He looks like somebodyís Grandpa – a funky one – who takes out his teeth after hockey practice and tells the kids that he lost them after a puck in the mouth from Chris Chelios back when he coached junior league. Heís somebodyís Poppa, cradling a tommy gun expertly.

The gun doesnít gleam. It isnít meant to; all that dark, dull metal Ray knows is in perfect working order. Rayís gun is in perfect working order, too, tucked away in his holster.

Rayís trapped and Twyker knows it. "Drop your roscoe."

Maybe Rayís hearing things funny. You know, a side effect of staring down the barrel of hot lead death. A vest isnít much good once the perps start spraying bullets around like confetti. Maybe heís trying to find out whether Ray really has an ass like a bindlepunk, whatever one of those is. "My what?"

"Your gun, dumbass. Drop your gun." And Ray drops his gun. "Good, now kick it over to me."

Ray kicks it over. He wants to kick it hard, but heís buying time for Fraser here, buying him time to save his life in some wildly weird way.

"Listen up, redcoat, if you donít get out of your little hidey hole, then Iím gonna perforate your buddy here like a string of stamps."

Rayís hoping, praying, that Fraser doesnít get out. ĎCause he knows that if he does, then thereíll just be two sets of stamps here in the cheap seats. This guy ainít one to keep his promises. Rayís just hoping – keeping the fear building in his feet and rising up his chest out with the hope in his heart – that Fraserís got the hell out of Dodge. Rayís hoping that Fraserís out there, getting the cavalry.

Ray canít see any way that Fraser – unarmed, as always – can save him now.

Twykerís fed up with waiting. "Listen up – youíre going to jump, go tweet tweet like a birdie."

Oh, hell.

"You never know, you might survive the drop," Twyker continues, "which is more than I can say for your chances if you stay up here. Iíll type your buddy a letter with my Chicago typewriter, if you do." He waves the nose of the tommy gun encouragingly.

Time, Ray needs to buy time. Sad that itís the one thing that money canít buy. Itís like something out of the movies, but it might just work. "Donít I at least get to know why…?" Ray waves his hand, indicating Twyker, Old Chicago, everything.

"I wanted out. I wanted what was mine." Twykerís lip curls. "No strings attached."

It dawns on Ray, this – Old Chicago and Dollís hotel-building scheme – is a money laundering racket. Twyker gets the investors, crashes the scheme and makes off with the money. And then, if he gets greedy, he can buy it up again and start over—

The bearer bonds in the safe. Heís done this before, got the money safe, bided his time a while – long enough for most folks to forget about how Old Chicago ended – and started over again. Only, this time, Housing and Zoningís a little more vigilant, keeps sending guys over to investigate, sets off Twykerís hair-trigger and he decides to get out with what he can and ditch the baggage – Fairbanks, Doll, and Redfield – and let them take the rap.

Still no sign of Fraser. Twykerís this far off tapping his feet in impatience.

"You know what," Ray begins, "thinking about it, I donít want to jump. You want me dead, then youíve got to get blood on your hands. You ainít got no catspaw this time, you always use them, donít you? When things need doing or need shaking up a bit?"

Fraser, it was great knowing you, Ray thinks, Iíve held onto him as long as I can, now itís up to you to get your man.

Rayís world is shrinking down to the darkly glinting end of a tommy gun. Timeís slowing down and will stop soon enough. Right now, the muzzleís swaying a little, reminding him of the Newtonís cradle on Stellaís desk. The way the light moves, itís almost peaceful. Almost hypnotic. Ray lets it all go – Stella, Jack, everything; everything except Fraser – and just closes his eyes. Ray thinks of that kiss.

Thunder breaks through the cloudless sky of Rayís mind. "Chicago Housing and Zoning. Drop your weapon, or Iíll fire."

Jack. Heíd told Jack he was here, hadnít he? Ray opens his eyes. Jackís got his gun out and is holding it steady, text book style, in the entrance to the restaurant.

Not quite the cavalry Ray was hoping for, but it will do. Rayís heart slows up some, until he realises that Lancer canít see that Twyker ainít carrying a nice normal 9mm or something. Twyker could just spin around and finish Lancer before he gets a shot off.

"Last warning, put it down and hug the floor or I shoot." Jack always has the safety on. Heís part punk and part boy scout. Rayís expecting the slide-click right now.

Instead, it stops half-way and… Jackís caught his finger; heís got to have caught his finger… "Oh, Christ," Jack curses, "Sorry, Luticia."

"Your nameís Luticia?" Twykerís chuckling, which is why he doesnít notice the napkin dispenser sailing over the counter to hit him on the head. He drops like a sack of something heavy.

Ray looks down at the unconscious body. "No, itís Stanley Kowalski. Punk."

Jackís sucking his finger where the catch cut it, as Fraser emerges from behind the bar. Once upon a time, Ray would have called Fraser on that. Asked what he called that, a rescue several minutes after the shit hit the fan. Once upon a time, Ray would have done a lot of things.

But not now. Now, thereís just one thing Ray wants to do.

Ray picks up his gun, holsters it, and walks up to Fraser. He grabs him, tries to bury his fingers in the serge, and pulls Benton close. He was thinking about this; when he thought he was going to die, die in a volley of hot lead. And now, nothingís going to stop him getting it. He barely feels Bentonís arms close around him, holding him, as Ray pushes forward to lick the faintest hint of stubble on Fraserís jaw before pressing against that perfect mouth. Bentonís tongue pushes against Rayís mouth, asking, but not too politely, to be let in. The kiss is warm, and hot, and almost too much. Thereís a hand in Rayís hair, tilting his head back—

"I hate to break you guys up, but there are people coming. And I donít know Vecchio, but if heís into guys, heís even further in the closet than Ray."

Part of Ray wants to punch Lancer for that, always has done; the rest of Ray is pretty damn glad of the warning. Ray spikes up his hair again, until itís almost a mirror of Jackís. Fraser rearranges his tunic, and makes infinite… really small adjustments to the lanyard. He really ought to do something about his hair.

Ray can make out the voices. Itís the Duck boys.

Jack shrugs, not quite apologetic. "I called your bullpen, but the nice girl on the phone, Francesca? She said that the Duck boys were already heading over there. I didnít expect to beat them to it, though if thatís how you always reward a dramatic rescue, maybe itís for the fucking best."

The Ducks are arguing about whose fault it is that Dewey took a wrong turning at Burr Ridge. Thereís a third reedy voice joining in, egging Huey on, and Rayís trying to ignore that and pay attention to his friend.

"Hey, uh, Ray. That was a close one, buddy." Jack has one hand on his chest, feeling his heartbeat. "If Fraser here didnít, uh, do what he did when he did, then I donít know whether the bullets would have got me, or my chest exploded first."

Thereís something about his strained tone that drives home to Ray that Jack leaving had nothing to do with him. And it wasnít cowardice either. Itís a brave thing to leave a job you love, even when the doctor says so. Ray wants to ask why Jack never told him about the doctors, left him in the dark about this; but now is so not the time. The Ducks are panting and groaning, having been herded up here by Diefenbaker.

"Ray-Ray, youíre staring into space. Something interesting happening there? See any dust angels?" Jack Lancer is annoying, but itís a soft, familiar kind of annoying. Maybe this is how Vecchio feels about his sister. "I was thinking–" Ray just gives him the stare "–give me credit, I do think. And I talked to Luticia. We think it would be great if you and your partner came round to dinner. When you arenít endangering each other in dangerous ways–" Like wildly dangerous ways? Ray can run with that. "–And you can tell us… nah, you can listen to my adventures in housing regulation."

Ray's surprised at the way the words ‘no, not that kind of partner’ don't even line themselves up in his head, let alone run to his mouth. Itís not as if it sounds anything but innocent to the Ducks, who are still busy arguing. The skinny guyís jumping up and down real happy about something. Why should it matter what kind of partners they are? Itís a strange feeling. Ray thinks about exactly what type of partners they are. Itís greatness.

Fraserís making noises about how they would be delighted and how wonderful it would be to hear about Jackís adventures with Ray. Jack looks awkward at that, probably thinking about the Crystal Ballroom heist.

And Ray moves; he needs to shake out some and make some things look slightly less obvious.

The floor lurches under Rayís feet. Maybe this place isnít as safe as it looks. Why isnít anybody else falling? Why isnít Ray falling, come to that?

Fraserís hands grip Ray tight, and Fraserís going all, "Ray, Ray, Ray" on him. Even Gardino looks worried, and he doesnít even know Ray, and oh yeah, heís deader than a doorstop. And thereís a Mountie talking but all Rayís hearing is mumbling and itís kind of like heís underwater. Valentinoís sitting on the counter, smiling at him; then he winks, freezes, and disappears.

Rayís skinny, but he doesnít normally feel cold, not like this.

He can hear Fraser talking far away, unable to keep the worry out of his voice, about delayed shock and post traumatic trauma. Rayís brow winkles. He doesnít understand why everything is moving so slow.

The colours on the floor are melting like candy left out in the sun too long. Rayís boots are sticking and nobodyís noticing. Itís making things hard as Fraser leads him out, telling the Ducks to watch Twyker and that heíd direct the back-up into here. Fraser hasnít even told them what they want Twyker for, besides the obvious trying to shoot a cop and a city official. Fraser hasnít told them anything about Oriole Park. Maybe heís distracted. Ray thinks Fraserís distracting. Fraserís holding his hand and leading him along. That hand is the only warm thing in the world. All the colour is melting everywhere but on the Mountie.

Ray drags his feet, trying to pull them loose from the taffy-floor. The wolfís at his heels, probably after the candy. The wolf has a sweet tooth. Ray giggles. How can a wolf get a fricking sweet-tooth in the damn Northwest Areas? Maybe he likes maple sugar candy. Ray likes maple sugar candy.

Theyíre standing outside with Doll and Redfield when the parking lot is flooded with screaming lights. The cavalry, yeah, right, the Seventh Cavalry at that rate. Fraser tells the guys to go with and theyíll be taken to the station and Lieutenant Welsh will deal with accommodation for them. Fraser points the rest of the cops in the direction of the Biergarten and tells them to step on it.

The air out here is cold and dust-free and itís making Ray feel better some. And the ground here doesnít stick to Rayís boots. The colours have stopped moving about, which is good because it was making him want to puke.

And the Goatís intact. Nobodyís lifted it up on cinderblocks and taken the wheels. Ray runs a hand against the side. The detailing is just fine. Fraserís trying to get into Rayís pocket for the key. It tickles so Ray fidgets some, which feels good. Ray wants to grab Fraser back, but heís still got enough sense to know that it is not a good idea in a parking lot full of cops. Ray doesnít know what Redfield told them, but thereís got to be half a division here, and local. The lights colour everything blue and red in flashes that make things look like jerky stop motion cartoons.

Getting into the passenger seat, Ray notices the paw prints on the window-winder. Diefenbaker is smarter than your average deaf half-wolf. Ray hopes he hasnít been walking in anything funky. Ray does a Fraser and sniffs; all he can smell is dirt and the stuff he does the upholstery with. Bentonís looking at him funny, concerned. Ray tells him whatís good for the goose is good for the gander. Benton smiles. Itís a shy smile, a hundred times realer than the magnetic toothpaste-commercial Mountie smile

Maybe timeís going faster, because the drive feels shorter this time. Or maybe itís because Rayís watching Fraser all the time, licking his lip when his homing-instincts come up against a contrary contra-flow.

In the bullpen, Ray watches Fraser type a preliminary report to clue everyone in on the case. He says a full report can wait until tomorrow, which is weird, because Fraser is a report in full kind of guy. Fraser types like Superman, really, really fast. Ray wonders if heís ever melted any typewriters like Clark Kent did. Maybe thatís why Fraserís so keen on computers; maybe theyíre harder to melt.

Rayís just sitting there, like a lemon, or maybe a gooseberry. Maybe the wolf feels like this in the bullpen, with nothing he can do to help. Paws arenít good for keyboards. Or at least Ray doesnít think so. Fraserís never told him the wolf can type.

Welsh comes up like a big land whale, slow and huge and ponderous. Heís got that look, the one where he needs to, has to, know something; but he already knows he wonít like the answer. Rayís learnt that look. Sometimes he looks at it in his head, when things are getting too hot, when Rayís getting too hot. That look is the one that wilts everything except Rayís attitude. Normally it makes Ray want to butt heads like a bull. Fraser says that bulls donít see in colour; itís not the red, itís the waving the rag around. Fraser never says how he knows these things.

Ray doesnít want to butt like a goat today. Heís mellow – unlike that time with Stella, and college, and the joint that made Ray jitter – and thereís stuff, stuff in his head, but right now it doesnít matter. He decided when the gun was pointing at him, when his eyes closed, waiting like sleeping beauty for a kiss he knew would never come, not this time. That it came, or rather Ray went and got it; that was just a bonus. Itís better when youíre not drowning, when youíre not gasping for air, when youíve got all the air youíll ever need.

Right now, Ray could be an air millionaire; Fraserís giving him all the air he could ever want. Rayís watching everything he ever thought was a certainty fall away, like a glass city sinking into the sea.

"Vecchio,–" And it suddenly dawns on Ray that he canít let go, that he has to pick things up and carry on "– Constable Fraser, would you care to explain why we have half a goddamn division in Bolingbrook? I really hope that there is a good reason, gentlemen."

"Sir, we were investigating that shooting. It was part of a plan by a really maladjusted nut cake–" Rayís voice catches there, thank god Frannie was gone for the day, sheíd never let him live that down. "– who had this incredibly complicated plan. The simple version is that he wanted his dead bossís money and he was orchestrating these fake crimes to scare the hell out of his co-worker. He was also running a money laundering property scheme thing out of Old Chicago. And heís been employing a whole bunch of people who are too crazy to recognise him as uh…" Ray waves his hand.

"Lieutenant, I believe the colloquial term would be a snake who would sell his own grandmother." Nice save there, Benton-buddy.

"And the long version?"

"Is kind of complicated. And listen, nobodyís to interview this douchebag until theyíre up on everything about this guy—"

Fraser interrupts, "And it will, indubitably take that long, since the malfeasant needs to come around." Welsh glares at the Mountie. "He… I… I knocked him out with a chromed napkin dispenser after heíd threatened both Ray and Mr Lancer with a tommy gun. He certainly intended to shoot Ray, but only after he failed to induce Ray to jump approximately one hundred and fifty four meters out of a plate glass window. In a downwards direction, sir; we were in a disused restaurant on the Old Chicago site."

"Constable, itís hardly as if anybody can fall upwards." The Lieutenantís eyes narrow "Actually, considering the stuff you two drag into my nice peaceful detectivesí bureau–" Ray shifts and slouches a little, pouts to remind Welsh that yeah, they noise up his station and he loves them for it "–performance arsonists, the crew of a ghost ship, demented parrot trainersÖ if anybody could do it, it would have to be you two. Anything else I need to know before you go, gentlemen?"

"Actually, yeah. There should be two guys in holding, they need putting somewhere safe, and they havenít done anything illegal. Well, nothing much and theyíre both crazy, so I donít think they actually understood what was happening. And one of them, Doll, he needs careful handling. His grasp on reality is really slippery."

They leave Welsh silently fuming. Let him figure out what to do with two certainly witnesses possibly perps. And Ray hadnít told him that Doll draws over everything. Nor had Fraser, how terribly remiss.

Fraser insists on driving the Goat over to Rayís apartment, and Ray lets him provided he lets Ray deal with the parking. If that isnít teamwork, Ray doesnít know what is. If Ray ends up driving Fraserís dogsled, heíll leave the reversing up to Fraser. Ray hasnít got a clue if you can reverse a dogsled, but it you can, it has to be more complicated than standing on the back and yelling mush.

In the apartment, the doorís shut and Fraser is already pushing Ray against the wall and leaning in… And sniffing Rayís breath. Freak. Still, if thatís what it takes to turn Fraser on, then thatís good with Ray. Fraserís tongue darts into Rayís mouth. Itís not a kiss, and itís too fast for Ray to make it one.

Fraserís got this face, the one that means heís cataloguing the taste and comparing it to the ones in his mental library. If he says Ray tastes like bear spoor, Rayís not sure what heís going to do, rethink the boundaries on kicking Fraser in the head, maybe. It looks like pieces of the jigsaw are falling together for Fraser. Ray doesnít have any idea why Fraserís doing jigsaws right now; Ray – some parts of Ray more than others – was expecting a re-run of the kiss in the Biergarten, or any other kiss, really. Heíll even let Fraser push him up against the wall.

"Ray, have you consumed anything out of the ordinary in the last twenty four hours?"

Ray just nods mutely towards the bottle on the coffee-table.

Fraser picks up the bottle, looks at the label, and then takes a swig. A look spreads across Bentonís face like heís found that the true meaning of enlightenment is realising that the light is really an oncoming train. Heís all puffin-faced, looking desperately for the glass Ray didnít drink it out of. What kind of slob is Ray that his best buddy expects him to leave out the dirty glass for him to spit into? Fraser swallows involuntarily – Tequila kind of burns – and gasps for air.

"Ray…" Fraser pauses, like heís suddenly remembered something. "My knowledge of alcoholic beverages is somewhat limited, but isnít tequila meant to have a worm in it for some unspecified reason?"

Ray stares at his feet. "I sort of swallowed it," he mumbles, "It wasnít a very big worm…"

"Oh dear. That makes everything so much clearer."

Ray doesnít care about the tequila, the worm, the sheer fucking weirdness of the last couple of days. Ray cares nothing about that. What Ray wants is standing right in front of him, frowning. Ray wants Benton, now, in every possible way. So many ways that Ray is being torn into little fucking pieces inside. Only thing, Fraser is caught up with the weird here, looking at the bottle, peering at the label.

Itís like theyíre on this train. Not an interstate thing, or even a little dinky one going from Bolingbrook to the Loop. Itís like the El, going around on a loop through a city. Everything just stays in Weirdsville, never leaves, the same scenery again and again. Rayís feeling trapped. No wonder, heís taking that street, catching that train and heís back again. Over, and over, and over, and over; always the same things. There arenít any stops on this train, no way out, and Ray canít find the driverís seat, let alone any brakes.

And the worst bit? The train makes a circle, and when Ray looks into that circle he doesnít see the U with its founder painted on the walls, or the Sears Tower, or Chicago. All Ray sees is what he wants.

Benton, hat off and hair mussed, looks at him through impossibly long eyelashes and loosens his lanyard. And then, the golden buttons of the tunic are popped one by one, a beautiful seductive tease. Only thereís nothing underneath except bare skin, pale against the scarlet of the tunic. Thereís no long-johns, no henley, no obstacles at all to what Ray wants. And Rayís there, slipping a hand under the gaping tunic, palm flat and feeling Bentonís heart beat faster and faster as Ray draws in close. Wonderful, beautiful, greatness except Rayís on the train, going in circles of weird and funky… And Rayís standing on the train half-listening to Fraser talk about shamanic rituals, while Ray/not-Ray dives in, plunges his tongue into Bentonís hot mouth, his other arm sneaking under Bentonís to curl in his hair. Ray/not-Ray pulls back a moment. For air, except that he looks Ray – on the train going in circles with nothing but weird – straight in the eye. And Ray/not-Ray glowers at Ray. Heís got everything that he wants, why hasnít Ray? And heís pushing all the stuff Ray let go of back in the Biergarten and stuffing it back into Rayís head. Stellaís screaming about what a lousy husband he is and doesnít want to go into Rayís head, the hairís messy and sticks to her feet, but what did she expect? Regular people do not live like this, Ray. They donít come home covered in blood and blowback and looking like somebody killed his cat. Jack wants to get in even less; he isnít wired that way, it was just stress, it might have unhinged Ray some to watch him almost get shot, but it was worse for Jack. How about letting me in on the fucking plan, Ray? Rather than let him think it was coming for him, right up until the moment where all the punks, a fucking firing squad, for Christís sake pulled the triggers and nothing happened…

Something in Rayís life has taken a wrong turning, and none of this is really happening, Rayís just freaking out under his comforter. Bad dreams – Fraser must have gone north or something and Rayís stuck making his own adventures only they go wrong – something twisting everything the wrong way. A dream that opens a box full of teeth – or worms, huge science fiction worms with teeth – that lurch up into Rayís face and eat into his brain.

Maybe this all ended with Fraser taking that transfer, and this is all some drunken hallucination. Or maybe Rayís decided that he ainít waiting to be written out any more; and got himself some opioids – heís a cop, heís seen enough suicides to put together a scrapbook of how not to do it – and a hot bath. Rayís lolling back in the now cool water, trapped in a beautiful one way dream thatís just grown teeth. No way out, now, no turning back. Thereís a note on the dresser. It doesnít blame anybody.

Rayís losing his grip. There are so many things, swimming out there, and he isnít sure which of them is real. Itís like the first day, back at Oriole Park, except not. Everythingís brighter, slipperier, and Ray canít get a grip as everything floats away and the sky gets darker and darker.

Rayís trying to find a ladder only they just melt away like cobwebs when he touches them. The darkness is closing in and thereís this cold seeping into Rayís bones. Nothing like the Henry Allen, nothing like drowning. Rayís floating on this tideless endless sea of cold.

And Fraser; Fraserís got his hand, leading him through the woods, through the darkness, guiding him onto the couch and giving him a glass of water, even though Ray doesnít think that Fraser ever left him and doubts the wolf could work the faucet.

"Ray." Ray doesnít respond, heís still so cold and thereís so much in his head that he thinks itís going to explode hot meaty brain chunks over the rug. "Ray." Ray looks up, heís not crying; his cheek is just kind of wet. "Ray." Fraserís thumb brushes Rayís cheek, wiping the wet not-tears from Rayís face. "Ray." And finally thereís a ghost of a smile, Bentonís glad heís back from wherever he was.

"Ray,–" Fraserís keeping his voice slow and gentle and itís like a warm bath "– I suspect that the worm in the tequila had been feeding on San Pedro cacti prior to… before it, ah, got pickled. Given the vintage, ah, age—"

"Stella, college," Ray mumbles.

"Ah. Itís likely that some of the concentrated mescaline from the worm has seeped into the beverage."

"Fraser,–" Rayís pulling himself up by his bootstraps or would be if he knew what they were "– All fine, but what is mescaline when itís at home?"

"A hallucinatory drug produced from the spine-less Peyote cactus. Itís often used by the indigenous peoples of Mexico and the Southwest United States to attain a higher level of consciousness or to go on spirit walks."

Walking spirits, Ray has those, walking, and screaming, and always talking. Louis Gardino making wise and cracking jokes along with his partnerís cases; like nothing changed. Like he never went up in a Buick-Riviera-shaped fireball; like he just carried on living the same life, like nothing ever changes, not even when youíre dead and gone. Same going with Rudolph Valentino, still trying to take it with him.

Once, Ray had craved stability – Stella and picket fences and everything – but now, it brings him out in a cold sweat. Ray doesnít want to go around in circles. Ray wants explosions and crazy criminals with crazier names… he wants Fraser and everything that comes with him. A spectacular package of unexpected change.

They canít really be ghosts; Ray doesnít want to believe that the dead just keep on doing what they did alive. No, they arenít ghosts, theyíre hallucinations. Itís Rayís brain at a higher level of coconuts trying to show him whatís really going on. Rayís brain has spent all the time since he drank the tequila sitting on cloud nine and trying to show him the view.

Rayís not going to pretend that heís the sort of guy thatís quick on the uptake. You just have to look at Stella to see that. If it werenít for Fraser, if heíd taken another gig, it would have taken a megaphone to get it across to Ray, an army of megaphones all blaring that Stella didnít love him like that any more and he was only deluding himself. Only, Ray would have been under – really undercover, not like the Vecchio gig – and the shock, the sound, the everything would have pulled him up to the surface. And surfacing without a plan can get a guy killed when heís supposed to be under.

Ray needs to check a few things. "Hallucinations?" Rayís surprised at how cracked and raw his voice sounds. Maybe he shouldnít be doing this – anything – after his day ended with him almost being blown away with a tommy gun.

Fraser nods, and Benton gets onto the couch besides Ray, unsure of what to do and how to do it, but certain that Ray needs him there. Heís holding himself awkwardly; the muscles of his neck are bunched up and must be hurting some. Benton shifts, trying to get the right angle and keep his boots off the upholstery, then pulls Ray close. The serge is warm at Rayís back, and heís surprised that he can feel Bentonís heartbeat. Ray swings his feet over the end of the couch, not giving a damn about his boots.

"Yeah, Iíve been seeing things, hearing things; the works. They could have been real, Ďcept I realised that it was just my brain trying to tell me things. You know the thing where they say we donít use most of our brains? I figure mine went into overdrive, trying to point out all those little things that normally go down as instinct… or something walking over your grave."

Nothing. Maybe Ray isnít explaining this right. Maybe Fraserís waiting politely for the rest of the story. Itís hard to tell. Ray canít see him, just feel him at his back, which is nice, but not so good for telling him how Benton is feeling. Itís not as if Ray canít figure out how his Mountieís feeling, but normally he has something to work from.

"People just keep hurting themselves, hanging on to the past, and it stops them getting onto the good stuff. Itís like Jack, Jack Huey, heís still hanging on to Gardino. Heís always thinking of him, and what he would do with the case, or what he would say… and itís making him blind. He canít see Deweyís good points, assuming the guy has some; heís a good cop… Thatís not the point. Huey canít see what a good partner Dewey could be, his potential, because heís still thinking about Gardino. It hurts when you lose a partner – I get that – but Jackís hanging on to the hurt. Heís making a whip for his own back, his own ghost to haunt him."

Fraserís becoming stiffer and stiffer, Ray tries to relax against him, somehow transfer some mellow vibes by touch. Making things more personal probably isnít going to help, but Ray has to do this. Rayís like a snowball running down a hill, going faster and faster, and a little out of control.

Ray takes a deep breath. "And you; youíre still introducing yourself as on the trail of the killers of your father. Itís been how long, three years, almost four? And youíre still behaving like it happened last month. You need to let go. You were prepared to let go of me, take that goddamn transfer, but you still canít let go of him. Youíre trying to second-guess yourself, trying to second-guess what he would do, and itís hurting you, cutting you up inside. Because youíre always thinking about him, how he would pull off this gig, and the more you think about him, the more things become clear. The less you can hide him behind the legend. And it hurts you, because you concentrate on your own weak points too much, and I donít know what happens when you turn that on the father you carry around on your head. Youíre unravelling every little memory and finding the imperfection underneath…"

Thereís so much Ray has to say – while he can still blame it on the peyote, blame the peyote for the visions and the talking and for the toes heís treading on – but his lungs arenít keeping up with his mouth. All Ray can hear is his own gasps for breath. Itís not as if Fraser fidgets, but Ray thinks heís gotten stiller. Ray needs to finish before he loses his bottle and turns around like the guy with the harp did only to watch his chick fall away into hell.

"He hurt you, even though he loved you. Because he loved you. He hurt you. And youíve got to let go. I know Iím not the poster boy for being carefree. Iíve got so many strings attached that I tie myself up in knots half the time. I hang onto things when I really need to let go… and sometimes I canít let go – when itís about more than me – and I need somebody to catch me when these things – these shards of glass – cut through my fingers, and I fall. Itís like we make our own ghosts and haunt ourselves—"

Rayís train of thought is interrupted by the sound of Fraser cracking his neck. And then thereís silence, Ray desperately scrabbling for the end of the string, trying to work out what to say next. Fraser begins to clear his throat, and then stops, like heís thinking better of speaking.

Fraser shifts and Rayís lying flat across his knees. Looking up into Bentonís eyes, Ray isnít sure of what he sees there. He thought it was only Fraser who hid behind masks, but it looks like all Rayís done is gone and found a whole new set of them. Itís like heís watching a ghost of Benton, barely there to the point of almost being see-through.

Ghosts, Fraser doesnít want to talk about them. "Ray, you said you needed to hold onto some things, even if they hurt you?" He might be changing the conversation, but he isnít faking the concern, itís as real as itís ever been.

How can Ray even explain it? The Vecchio gig is tearing him in two, pulling him in two directions at once. Ray just wants them to tell him how they want him to play it, call the moves; tell him whether heís under or out of cover. Thereís only one way Ray knows how to do undercover and thatís so far down that there are submarines going past. So far under that Ray isnít even a problem any more, that Rayís problems donít matter anymore, that there isnít anything youíd recognise as Ray anymore. Ray can be one thing, or the other, but the way things are going he doesnít know who he is anymore. Rayís finding it harder and harder at times, to tell which thoughts are Vecchioís and which are Kowalskiís.

"Canít explain." How can he? How do you tell somebody that youíre no longer sure who ‘you’ is? Rayís just hoping that Fraser will put together the pieces sometime. Or maybe once they get word that Vecchioís safe and the Iguanas are all going down, then Ray might be able to tell Benton, and maybe theyíll figure out how to deal with it. A twelve step detox programme for removing every trace of Ray Vecchio. "Just catch me, when it happens."

Itís not really a question, because Ray knows Bentonís going to catch him.

Ray tries to get up to kiss Benton, to show him that everythingís all right, like he did underground in the dark, only better. But Ray just jack-knifes; he canít get enough leverage to get there. The couch is old and the foam in the cushions has long disintegrated into the consistency of aerosol cream. The only thing Ray succeeds in doing is knocking the air out of them and heís sinking on a deflating cushion.

"Ray, are you endeavouring to fall off the couch?" Bentonís smiling and trying not to giggle. Maybe itís not a kiss, but itís clearing the air. Ray can feel a smile on his face, growing on him like some fungus.

"Want to kiss you." Ray sounds punch-drunk, maybe itís the last of the tequila, maybe itís just sheer relief that everything has worked out and it hasnít ended up in a fist fight or Ray getting perforated like a teabag.

"Youíre going to fall–" Yes, Rayís going to fall, but heís going to hang on for as long as he can. "–If you keep doing that." Firm hands are pushing Ray up until heís sitting with his feet over the end of the loveseat. "Maybe you should be somewhere safer – in bed – before you really fall over. The after-effects from the mescaline seem to be playing havoc with… well, quite a few things, starting with your balance."

"Iím only going to bed if youíre going to be there to catch me." Rayís not sure where that came from, but Benton looks like he really likes where itís going.

Bentonís seen where itís going, and thatís to Rayís bedroom. Now, Ray did not expect to be picked up like a blushing virgin bride on her wedding day a nd carried across the threshold, but heís not complaining. He feels different, he feels safe, even when heís falling the eighteen fantastic inches onto the bed.

Itís like heís falling in slow motion, feeling the air press against him and try to hold him up. It feels awesome, like his heart is running into his mouth, and itís the biggest adrenaline rush ever. And Ray bounces when he hits the mattress. He bounces again, just for the heck of it; because he liked it.

And Fraser dives on to the bed. None of this neat, lying on the floorboards stretched out like a corpse stuff; this is a full out belly flop – nose diving into the pillows – in full uniform and not giving a damn. Benton bounces, tucks his knees under himself, bounces again and ends up on his back with Ray. He smiles, giggles, looks Ray in the eye, and hits the bed hard, making Ray bounce again. Letís not pretend that Ray isnít the kind of guy to grab a clue when heís given one, Ray pulls his feet up and then kicks down hard on the comforter. Theyíre going to leave marks, but Ray doesnít care, it will wash. And besides, itís floral.

This is so different, so very different from Stella. When heíd finally swum the moat and stormed the castle and got into her bedroom, then theyíd fucked like minks while her parents were away on Lake Erie. But this isnít Stella. Stella doesnít live here anymore. Not in this too-shabby apartment with its mismatched furniture and sure as hell not in Rayís head with its crazy hair and shitty eyesight and messed up attitude.

Rayís so busy, bouncing, rocking like a walnut shell; it takes him a while to notice that Fraserís stopped. Ray stops being able to go so high, because Bentonís sitting cross-legged on the edge of the bed, eating up all the bounce, and staring at the wall like heís watching the curling.

Rayís brain starts using demister, and some of the mental fog clears. Ray pushes it to the back of his mind, uses a vacuum cleaner and sucks it up and then sticks it in the closet at the back. Then Ray puts two and two together and ends up thinking of Fraserís throat as he gulped down the tequila and of his chest heaving under the serge as he took desperate breaths. Ray tells his pants to quit being so tight and pushes up onto his elbows to watch his friend… the guy who was about five seconds away from being his lover before he started freaking out on the tequila. Rayís kind of hoping that the booze itself had less of the mosaic… drug than the worm, because he doesnít want Fraser going through what heís had for the last twenty-four hours. It isnít fun coming up against dead people, Ray canít imagine what it would be like to end up eyeball-to-eyeball with the father you put into the ground years ago. The image in Rayís brain – totally ignoring that the dead Mountie Ray saw was perfectly intact – is something out of a horror movie.

Fraserís looking at the wall so fucking intently. His lips are moving, silently trying out words for size. Ray knows that heís trying to build up some courage, trying to pull himself together. Heís not sure whether Bentonís looking at the wall and seeing something or staring at the wall as some kind of Canadian coping mechanism.

Ray doesnít say anything, he doesnít want to trip Benton as he makes his run up and jumps over whatever wall heís built around himself. Rayís watching Benton like Bentonís watching the wall. Rayís watching Benton moisten his lips and crack his neck. That never sounds good. If Benton was a car, Ray would be checking the gearbox if he heard something like that.

"Ray,–" Itís a raw, cracked sound, like the last wedge in a tree before it comes thundering down "– you were talking about the transfer. About how you thought… how…–" The dam bursts and the words come out in one torrent, in one breath "–how I could let go of you while I couldnít – canít – let go of my father."

Thereís another dry spell, like heís emptied out all the words in his word dam. Like he canít find the right words and has to have them made special.

"Ray… I… that is to say… there was no transfer. Not really. Ottawa. Ottawa is like being buried alive in mothballs."

What? Strike that about things adding up for Ray, heís got some impossible number here. No, not impossible, so big you canít even think about it, even if you sat on your ass everyday and tried to think it, and skipped things regular folk do like eating, sleeping and, oh yeah, having sex, which is what Ray thought they were going to do. Not just that, there are precisely that many questions in Rayís head. So, did the papers go but the mother ship turned down even his application to work for the Consulate in Southern Mongolia? Or, was Fraser lying about it up front, and never would have transferred anyway?

Or, was Fraser just going to head back to Canada and head up to the Northwest areas and the RCMP can go and screw their mounted asses? Itís only then that Ray realises that he said that one out loud. And that the silence coming from Benton could fill a room, and itís not just the silence itís everything about him, everything screams yes.

Oh.

Now that really is enormous. Like that number, but bigger, and Rayís trying to consider the rams… ramekins… ramifications of that. But he canít. Itís like an off switch has been tripped on his brain. Itís like every time Rayís tried to do his expenses and got ‘error’ written in blocky figure-eight letters on the calculator screen. Itís like itís really too big to think, and his brain has turned off for its own good.

Benton breaks the silence. He sounds loud, hoarse like heís been shouting and maybe he has. "I thought if that was what you wanted… I couldnít bear the thought of being in Chicago without you. If you had gone to another precinct…"

And itís too big for Benton to think about too – which is really scary – or maybe itís too painful. Ray doesnít know what Bentonís seeing – if anything – maybe heís one of those people who starts hanging loose when theyíve drunk a mouthful of drugged tequila. Maybe the tequila doesnít count as drugged if thereís nobody intentionally drugging it; then it would be adulterated, which Ray canít say and always makes him think bad thoughts about Stellaís boyfriends.

"My father…" Benton looks kind of lost, like the words have run away from him, deserted the bookish kid in the travelling library. Itís like heís seen something too big to describe and he isnít sure which part of it to describe. Maybe heís fed up with long digressions and pointless stories; maybe now just isnít the right time for them. Itís a long silence, Ray gets a lot of thinking done before Fraser decides to try again at the sentence-making game.

"My father… he was the reason I was in Chicago…" They never stopped to turn the lights on; Ray canít tell if Bentonís crying. Benton raises his hand to rub at his eyebrow; except he doesnít, heís rubbing the pad of this thumb across his cheek to pinch the bridge of his nose.

Ray sits up, scoots forwards, and starts rubbing at Bentonís back. Ray knows chicks like that when theyíre crying, but he doesnít know if itís different with guys. Some things, it really is different. Like this thing heís getting into here, the sex thing. Other things arenít so different after all, like love. And love makes none of it, not even the different stuff, look difficult. If anything, Rayís frustrated that there isnít more of him to give, more to give Benton, more things Ray can do to take these feelings away from him. Benton doesnít let himself feel… No, Fraser doesnít let himself feel, because Benton feels all too much. Fraser was prepared to leave the Mounties and head up north; otherwise, thereíd just be too much hurt. If he thought Rayís absence – in another precinct, being somebody else – would hurt, then he must have thought it best to make that distance real. Maybe itís just easier to hurt when the distance between you is enormously huge, then when itís just across the city. Thatís what Fraser thought. Ray knows itís wrong in spades.

But this isnít about what Ray knows and Benton doesnít. This isnít about logic and intuition; this isnít about the one-two punch. This isnít about any of that. This isnít about some pissing contest about who got the worst deal; Ray got a goddess who fell out of love with him, Fraser got a monster who put a bullet in his back. The only way that would matter is if all this crying, all this hunching forwards and letting it all out made Fraserís back hurt. And then Ray would rub it better, make it better every way he could. Heíd even fight the Ice Queen until she submitted and took Fraser off statue duty and let him take rest breaks.

"I was in Chicago…" Fraser repeats, trying to force himself along, "on the trail of his killers. And I needed to keep thinking of that just to…" Words become too much, too hard, and all Benton can do is feel. Ray holds him close as a hundred million tears come flooding out. Ray would bet his bottom dollar – hell, heíll bet his motherís bottom dollar – that nobody let Fraser cry, told him not to, like they told him not to be afraid of the dark. Like telling people things solves it all. Like you can tell criminals to go straight and gang bangers to walk old ladies across the street.

Okay, Benton thinks he can do that. But itís got to have come from somewhere. Somewhere that makes Benton assume that everyone is as eager – desperate – to obey and do the right thing. His mom had to have died pretty young, maybe Benton thought being good would bring her back, and when that didnít work, when daddy left, Fraser decided to be perfect as if that could lead him home.

Thereís a whole load of imperfection in there to come out. Fraserís hair is tickling Rayís nose, but he doesnít care. Ray keeps on holding him tight and runs his other hand through chestnut strands. Rayís shirt is getting all wet and snotty, but he doesnít care. Why should he care?

Why should he care about anything except Fraser?

Right now, there are no right answers to that question. Ray would mark each one wrong and scribble it out with red pen until itís wiped off the page of his life. His workbook would be full of blood-red serge-red kisses.

This is what matters.

Ray tilts Bentonís face up, gently, softly, and begins to wipe away the tears. Fraserís eyes are damp and swollen, vividly pink against his pale skin. Ray trails his thumb across impossibly flawless skin, as his fingers curl under Fraserís jaw tracing curves in stubble like the grass at third base.

Rayís whispering small beautiful things. How it doesnít matter, how Fraser can never run from him again, because heíll be on his tail, even if thatís right to the end of the earth. Even if they run so far they fall off the edge and end up running through the stars. How Ray loves how Fraserís eyes look, dark and clear like the sky after a rain storm. When Ray runs out of words, he goes into sounds, and when Ray finds that sounds arenít enough…

Ray leans in and licks Bentonís chin, tongue twisting in the dimple. His skin tastes of salt and electricity. It might be a tease, it might be a question. Good boys donít come in without an invitation.

Something heavyís on Rayís back, it makes him jump until he realises that Fraserís wrapping his arm around him and pulling him in. Bentonís pulling him in like Ray needs a clue. Like that warm, wet mouth sucking him in wasnít enough. Bentonís kissing him like heís drowning, like Rayís all the air heíll ever need. Itís nothing like buddy breathing. Rayís eyes are wide open, trying to capture everything, see everything, and store away every atom of this in Rayís brain, so he can bring it out on special occasions.

They say seeing is believing. Fraserís eyes are open – so maybe he does need to believe this, need like a drowning man needs air – and theyíre dark like night above the snow plains. Bentonís skin isnít smooth like it looks, itís been kissed a hundred thousand times by harsh arctic winds. Ray can see broken capillaries under the skin around those eyes; like rivers on Mars. They merge into the bloodshot streaks in the whites of Bentonís eyes.

There are times when Benton Fraser looks so damn young; this isnít one of them, thank God, Ray doesnít want to feel like heís some dirty old man. Ray doesnít want to taint that perfection Fraser works so hard to maintain. Ray needs the cracks, the fractures, the knowledge that Benton wants this as much as he does.

Benton – with a hand on the small of Rayís back and the other flattening his hair – pulls Ray back on to the comforter. Ray breaks the kiss, desperate for air. He knows Benton can go without for longer with those superior lungs.

Bentonís voice is hoarse, strange, murmuring again and again, "Ray, Ray, Ray. Wanted you, needed you, needed you so much." The words echo in Rayís ear, bounce off the curves like an eight ball. A magic eight ball telling the future with every touch. Benton wants Ray, needs Ray, will never let Ray go. He might endanger Ray in wildly dangerous ways, but heíll save him. Itís like a perfect circle. No, two circles, two circles that almost overlap each other. Benton saves Ray and Ray saves Benton. It doesnít matter what happens to one of them, because the other will bring him home.

No ship will sink their partnership. Ray just… Benton needs to know this.

Rayís hand trails down Bentonís back, feeling wool but desperate for flesh. Rayís hand sneaks under the tunic and into the small of Bentonís back. And Ray pulls Benton in closer. So close, Ray wants to be so close in that he cannot tell where Benton ends and Ray begins, fused together like an alloy.

Rayís got to thank the wolf for not letting anyone lift his alloys.

Right now, Ray wants to kiss, Ray wants to bite, Ray wants Benton hard against him forever. Heís warm and comfortable and oh Christ…

Bentonís rubbing against him, hard and firm, and it feels likeÖ Rayís not sure heís got the words, not sure he has words at all any more. Benton has words, so many of them, slipping from his unguarded mouth, "Ray, the world seems to empty without you, devoid of purpose, existence might depend on thought, but every ounce of…" Ray sucks on Bentonís neck, he smells of pine and camp fires. "Dear Lord!" Benton humps hard against Ray. Ray thinks the northern lights must be really good to have anything on the light show in his head.

This is good, fantastic, greatness. And Ray bucks against Benton. Thereís something in the back of Rayís brain, screaming something at him, but Rayís good and his cock is even better. His cock is happily grinding against Bentonís thigh until Benton shifts and their cocks touch and things canít get better.

Bentonís stopped talking. Ray had thought that Fraser would be quiet in bed; Rayís going to get complaints from his landlady. Speaking turned to mumbling, turned to mewling and growling, as Ray draws out purple bruises on his neck.

Rayís world is touch and feeling, and the taste of Fraserís sweat as he licks it. Itís the thrusting and the thrumming of blood in Bentonís cock against his own. Heís so close to the edge, to going over the cliff, to sailing over the edge of the world. Following Benton to the end of the earth, or maybe Bentonís following him. It doesnít matter. Ray wants more, more, more, more, more. His hands clutch at unyielding serge, then he scrabbles desperately at his own t-shirt, trying to get it off without stopping this without leaving this.

Rayís on cloud nine. Cloud eight. The cloud one step off from nine. Cloud eightís kind of small and pokey. Ray isnít sure he can get his pants off and keep his balance. But then, Fraserís there to catch him if he falls. And heís there to catch Benton if he falls. And if they fall, then theyíll be able to climb up again.

Benton isnít keen on Ray breaking away from his octopus-embrace. He pulls, no tries to guide Ray back to him, tries to guide Rayís ship back to sea, while Rayís heading to harbour. "Clothes, Fraser, clothes. I want you, I want to touch you. I donít want this to end with me coming in my pants, because the last time anything started with my pants–" Rayís babbling, he canít stop it, and the fearís welling up again "– it did not end well, not that I regret it, because if I hadnít taken that path, turned at that intersection, took the el over to Loop, then I wouldnít have met you. And when youíre a little more together…" No, Ray doesnít want to send Benton tripping, falling back to duty and Mountiehood and not soiling or desecrating the uniform. Ray can bring him back from that, he knows that now, itís just so deep, Ray doesnít want to dive that deep. Ray doesnít want to swim unless something makes him.

Rayís fingers are too-slick with sweat and too clumsy to get his motorcycle boots off. He struggles with the catches before he just tries to pull them off. Like brute force works. Like punching somebody when you canít find the words works. Rayís actually breathing faster, panicking, drowning. And he doesnít know how Benton got there, at Rayís feet, or how he has the magic touch that makes those boots melt away into nothingness. And Benton pulls off the socks, and rubs at the balls of Rayís feet.

Ray wants clothes off, now, desperately, but something in his head isnít working. His feet feel good, so good, like theyíve got a direct line to his dick. Heís so hot that there are lines of burning cold firing up through his nerves to the switchboard, and heís going to blow a valve if Fraser keeps doing that thing, circling his thumbs right there.

And he stops. Ray canít decide whether thatís a good thing or not. Bentonís up close again, tugging at Rayís tee-shirt and itís like everythingís slow, because it takes Ray so long to realise he needs to move his arms up. Benton throws it across the room, like he doesnít care about the mess, about anything except kissing Ray so damn hard. The angleís different this time, Rayís still on the bed, straining up towards Bentonís mouth. His chest is taught and the heís knows heís not breathing enough, but his chest isnít burning – nothing like drowning – and instead he feels like heís floating.

The comforterís shifting underneath Ray, trying to make for the ground, like his own personal avalanche. Rayís on the edge, splaying out his legs, trying to keep his balance there until Benton pushes him back.

Rayís laying there, stunned, a little confused as Fraser loosens his lanyard. Benton canít really be this calm. Only a moment ago, he was babbling like a baby. Itís not a striptease, Bentonís movements – the serge is gone and thereís the henley, damp with sweat – are automatic, robotic, drilled in until he can do them without thinking. Benton puts one boot up onto the bed, between Rayís feet, and Ray can only watch as Fraserís hands work swiftly at the laces. There are muscles moving underneath suspenders and the laces keeping the jodhpurs pumpkin-shaped look kind of silly. Benton rolls the suspenders off in one perfect movement that makes Ray rethink the striptease thing. None of Bentonís moves are redundant flourishes; heís not swinging his shirt over his head, itís a… Ray doesnít know the words, itís like stripping pared down to the essentials. Itís really hot.

Rayís cock insists that Rayís jeans are way too tight, but the pressure on his cock is so sweet that Ray just squirms. Bentonís hands are at Rayís fly and Ray thinks he might just have passed out and gone to heaven. Screwed cloud nine and gone all the way.

Ray lifts his hips and Bentonís got his pants off like a magician with a teacloth with the table set for dinner. Some things are better than dinner. Way better. Bentonís got between Rayís legs and Raysí staring at the ceiling, desperately trying to count the cracks – one and a half and one disturbing stain – trying to hold it together here. Because right now, Ray is totally behind togetherness, togetherness means not coming the moment the hot firm heat of Bentonís mouth closes on his dick. Togetherness is good, really good, good like&hellip

Everything bursts into starlight. The waves carry Ray away. They lap over the ceiling in time with his heartbeat.

…togetherness just isnít as good as Bentonís mouth, or the way Bentonís crawling up his body and hesitating about kissing him. Ray wants to pull him in, but his limbs have turned to water and heís just melting here, melting into the comforter. Ray giggles. He hopes heís going to come out of the comforter, heíll look stupid floral.

Benton chooses to lick Ray, a hot-cool line starting in Rayís armpit and drawing a arrow-straight line up to the soft spot where neck meets shoulder. Bentonís got one leg between Ray's legs and is rocking up against Rayís soft cock, sending beautiful delicious tremors up Rayís spine. Itís like ice-cream in his belly.

Bentonís rocking faster and Rayís stretching out, trying to push up to meet his thrusts, but the signal isnít getting through right. Rayís supposed to be the one with rhythm. Benton thrusts hard, throws his head back like heís flying and lands on Ray. Teeth bite at Rayís neck, like itís all too much and Benton needs to get it out somehow.

Another smaller wave comes for Ray and when it ebbs away Bentonís out for the count. He hasnít moved an inch; heís sleeping there with his head tucked up against Rayís neck like a gentle vampire. Rayís leg is kind of numb. No surprise, he has a Mountie lying on top of it. Not that Ray wants to move, heís really tired, just waiting for sleep to catch up on him. It canít be as if the sandman is far away, the evidence is up tight against Ray. Heís kind of scratchy there, but that really doesnít matter.

Rayís just waiting to sink into sleep. He can feel the waves coming.

Heís up to his armpits in sleep, when it thunders. Ray opens his eyes blearily.

Itís not thunder. Thereís a man in red serge standing by the bed, and that makes him start, because Ray doesnít see too good – he has astigmatisms – and it takes the weight on his side to tell him this isnít Benton, standing there, talking too loud.

Ray thought he was out of ghosts. He hopes you donít get flashbacks with this cactus juice shit.

"Probably not the best moment, but then the Frasers have never claimed any gift of timing when it comes to courtship, or anything else to that matter. Tiberius, for instance… no, thatís not important…"

Maybe itís some guy from the Mountie Academy; he sounds like this really absent minded lecturer that Ray had in his five-and-a-half-minutes of college. He went off on tangents and it was all Ray could do to stay awake in his classes. Which is greatness, Ray will go with this, and wait for the ground to fall out beneath him in sleep.

"You know I love him." The dream-ghost looks kind of wistful

Thereís something wrong, alien about the words. It doesnít add up, but the only thing Rayís counting is sheep or ghostly Mountie lecturers if thatís what heís given. And thatís easier, all he has to do is count to one.

"Heís got waterproof matches now." Ray mumbles, heís on automatic pilot and can half-see dream-Benton waiting for him. Heís falling asleep, heís tired, he always talks junk when heís tired. And itís not as if any of these ghost guys notice him. Except Valentino, but he never talked to him; the wink was probably a tic. Tick-tock, time to sleep, sugar-Ray

"I suppose he has."

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