Dewey said they were Mexican jumping beans and he'd seen them move by themselves. Huey said they were perfectly ordinary dried kidney beans and if Dewey didn't quit putting them on his desk he was going to get his ass kicked. Frannie said a pinch of baking soda would counteract the effects of hard water so the beans would cook up tender instead of all hard and crunchy, because nobody liked that. The Lieu said the citizens of Chicago would be very grateful if the police force gave as much attention to its unsolved crimes as it was giving to a handful of dried beans.
And then Fraser showed up, and all he said was, "Oh, dear," and it made the hair stand up on the back of Ray's neck.
"What?" He had to walk around the desk to look at Fraser's face, because Fraser wasn't looking away from those beans. "They're notorious Canadian exploding beans? A warning from the vegetarian Mafia? Fraser, what?"
"Excuse me, but I need a closer look at these ... beans." He sounded like 'beans' wasn't the first word that had come to mind. "I'll be right back." And he reached for the beans.
Ray slapped his hand down over them. "Oh, no you -- holy shit," because one of them had moved.
Fraser took advantage of this to grab the beans out from under his hand. "I'll only be a moment." He took off toward the storage closet.
"No way." Ray actually had to take a couple of running steps to do it, but he got between Fraser and the door. "You do not grab the mysterious beans and take them into the storage closet without me, got it? Those are Chicago beans, and Chicago is going to be there when you deal with them."
Fraser stood there with his hat in one hand and the other in a weirdly careful fist around the beans, and then he sagged a little, defeated. "All right, Ray. But I must insist that you respect the confidentiality of my sources, as I do for yours."
"But you don't --"
Fraser pulled Ray into the storage closet, shut the door, dropped the beans in a rattling handful into his hat, and said, "Chrestomanci."
"Hey, I brushed after breakfast." But he'd had coffee, and these were pretty close quarters -- oh. There was suddenly somebody else in there.
Middling height, nondescript face, and wearing a satin jacket thing. It was the color of eggplant, shiny, and embroidered all over with gold.
He didn't look shocked to be here instead of wherever he'd been a minute ago, but it did seem to confuse him a bit to find himself in a storage closet. His eyes passed over Ray absently, but he perked up when he saw Fraser all dressed in red. "Well! This is an interesting variant." He had a British accent straight off of Masterpiece Theatre. "And you, I take it, are Canadian?"
"Exactly," Fraser said. Ray was looking back at the guy's face, because somehow he couldn't seem to keep it in his head. Such an ordinary face.
"So your people have responsibility in this ... region?" He said 'region' the way Fraser'd said 'beans,' like he really meant some other word.
"Yes, that's correct."
"And your associate?"
"He's a Chicago detective." Fraser said this sort of apologetically, like he would have made Ray be something else, but Ray had failed to cooperate. Ray glared at him.
"Oh, I see," the guy said, like Fraser had explained something. He hardly looked at Ray, but Ray had the impression that the guy knew a lot about him already. Whereas Ray would have been hard-pressed to give the most rudimentary description of him. Hair color, face shape, height, body type, all seemed to fall right out of his head.
And Ray was good with faces.
"I believe," Fraser said, extending the hat, "that these are --" He glanced at Ray. "That they belong in your precinct rather than in ours."
"Oh, my goodness." The guy leaned over the hat and then looked back at Fraser, and he started saying something in a low voice, something about nine lives and rogue enchanters, none of which made any sense, unless it was some kind of Canadian slang. He had light-brown hair and no beard, Ray thought, but as soon as he looked away, he started to doubt himself. He looked back again. The hair was more reddish, really. Gold-rimmed glasses. No, wait, that was a trick of the light. Ray screwed his eyes shut and opened them again. No glasses.
"I have no idea how they came to be here, of all places."
"I might have a theory or two." The guy scooped up the beans and dropped them into the pocket of his jacket. They hit something in there with a hollow metallic noise, though the pocket looked empty. "Thank you for taking care of this, Constable. Give my regards to the Inspector." He turned to Ray. His hair was black and curly. "Don't worry about it, Detective. It's the smoking jacket. I find that nothing makes so effective a camouflage as something unforgettable."
Between one blink and the next, he was gone.
"Fraser, what the hell was that?"
Fraser motioned Ray out of the closet before him. "You might say another of our brother law-enforcement officers."
He led the way to the exit, and Ray followed absently. Curly hair, right? Maybe just wavy. But the buttons of the jacket had definitely been shaped like lions' heads. He frowned down at the sidewalk.
"OK," he said at last. "You took some beans into a storage closet to give them to some guy who couldn't possibly really be there."
"And you're ... Canadian."
"And he's ... British."
"Yes, exactly, Ray." He sounded relieved that Ray got it.
"OK. OK, I can roll with that. But, look, Fraser. I'm Chicagoan, all right? And from here on out, Chicago beans are my department."
Frasr slowed down and gave a friendly squeeze to the back of Ray's elbow. "I understand completely."
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November 30, 2008