About A Dog
Author's Notes: A big thank you to all my betas on this one: Julad and Resonant and Te and Mia and above all Terri, who picks nits like no other and really held my hand a lot this time around. This story is for LauraKaye because I think she loved the idea most, (and it's really kind of a nutty idea.) This story is also for Lee, who wrote me a while ago and mentioned that "finding fic with deaf people in, especially in fandom, is incredibly rare," whereupon I realized that I was in a fandom with one of the few canonically deaf characters. I have no idea if I've done a good or bad job on that front, but I swear to you, Lee, and to any other deaf readers out there that I tried and that the attempt is sincerely well-meant.
He should have known that those would be the last words he would ever say to Diefenbaker, would have known if he'd ever bothered to give the matter a moment's thought. But he hadn't, and now, as Dief bounded down the cracked concrete sidewalk after Raphaella La Scala, Fraser could only stare in horror at the burning building directly ahead of them, at the flames licking the windows.
Raphaella La Scala was heading straight for the fire, and Diefenbaker was right behind her.
"Dief! Wait!" Fraser pounded down the street after them, shouting, knowing that it did absolutely no earthly good to shout. "Dief—!"
It was only a matter of time before something like this happened. Dief would never abandon a chase. Dief would chase the blasted woman straight into the heart of hell, if necessary. Why hadn't he ever taken the time to talk to Dief about what constituted "reasonable pursuit"?
Ahead of them, Raphaella La Scala took the brownstone's curved concrete steps at a breakneck pace and disappeared into a cloud of gray smoke. A flash of white, a twitch of tail, and Diefenbaker was gone, vanished into the burning guts of the building.
Gasping for air, Fraser stopped short to evaluate the situation—it looked like the fire hadn't entirely consumed the ground floor—when something came slamming into him from behind. He lurched forward from the impact, but somehow managed to keep his feet. Behind him, Ray flailed for balance and then steadied himself, his face flushed with the exertion of their cross-town sprint.
"Where—?" Ray looked around, panting. "Where did they—?" He suddenly seemed to really notice the burning building in front of them, and his eyes widened. "God, tell me they didn't—?"
Fraser nodded grimly. "They did. Come on, we have to hurry—"
He had a momentary glimpse of Ray's aghast expression before Ray literally dived for him. "No way!" Ray gasped, grabbing him tightly around the waist and chest and trying to dig his boot heels into the concrete. "You're not goin' in!"
It occurred to Fraser that the truth might not be expedient at this particular juncture. "No, of course not, Ray. I just want to get closer to—"
"No— way—" Ray yanked hard on each syllable, tugging Fraser one stumbling step at a time away from the building. "You go in for— fish— I've seen it—"
Fraser struggled with him, but couldn't seem to break free; instead, they stumbled together like awkward, exhausted dancers. "Ray..."
"Shut up, Fraser!" Ray yelled into his face. "I don't care!"
Before them, the building visibly shuddered—and then, with a sudden, ear-splitting groan, the second floor gave way. A cloud of dust and ashes exploded out of the rubble. Orange-yellow flames shot out from the upper windows.
Fraser barely had time to process this. Ray was dragging him violently across the street.
Three firetrucks pulled up, sirens wailing. One parked halfway on the sidewalk. Swarms of rubber-suited firemen snaked their hoses up the steps and pumped gallons of water inside.
Fraser stood across the street, arms crossed, and watched them work. Ray had made their presence known to the fire chief, and now he was sitting on a nearby stoop, smoking a cigarette and watching the building with narrowed eyes.
"I didn't see him come out," Fraser said finally, turning to look at Ray. "Did you see him come out?"
"No." Ray's voice sounded casual enough, but he didn't meet Fraser's eyes. "But that don't mean nothing," he added in a low voice. "There's windows in the back. And Dief's smart. I don't need to tell you how smart Dief is."
Fraser nodded slowly and turned his attention back to the fire. Ray also didn't need to tell him that if Diefenbaker had gotten out, he would certainly have rejoined them by now.
Finally, the fire chief signaled to Ray with a wave of his clipboard, and Ray sighed and ground his cigarette out under his boot before standing up. Ray looked tired—old, even—an effect that was, Fraser realized, exacerbated by the gray ashes dusting his hair.
"Okay," Ray muttered, brushing off his hands on his jeans. "Time to boogie. Hang on, wait here for me." Fraser watched Ray lope across the street to confer with the firemen, a conversation punctuated by much pointing and gesticulating on Ray's part.
Fraser rubbed his temple. Ray's body language was clear as day. We were chasing a suspect. (Ray leaned over the clipboard, and Fraser knew he was spelling the name out for them: L-a S-c-a-l-a.) She ran into the building, (Ray stabbed his index finger toward the brownstone's still-smoldering door,) followed by my partner's wolf, Diefenbaker. (Ray jerked his head surreptitiously toward Fraser, but the fire chief gave the game away by giving him a prolonged and frank stare.)
Ray looked annoyed, and he grabbed the front of the chief's jacket and yanked him around so that he wasn't facing Fraser. Ray was still talking, and Fraser squinted to read his lips: "...to Chicago on the trail of the killers of his..."
Fraser stared into the fire-scarred wreckage, still hoping for some sign of Diefenbaker. Raphaella La Scala, of course, hadn't made it out either, but he couldn't even pretend to be looking for her. As far as Fraser was concerned, she'd deserved whatever she got.
But Diefenbaker... goddammit. Fraser dropped his eyes, training them on the sidewalk before him, irritated at himself for his self-pity. But it did seem too...well, just too goddamned much. He didn't think he could stand to lose Diefenbaker—Dief was all he had left. Diefenbaker, and his job, and perhaps a dufflebag's worth of clothes, and—
Fraser looked up into Ray Kowalski's pale, dusty face. And Ray, of course. Ray was searching his face intently, as if he were evaluating him—and then Ray raised a hand and brushed soot off Fraser's shoulders, the front of his tunic.
"You're filthy. Come on, I'll take you home."
Fraser wanted to say, "Is that it, then? Is it over? Is he dead?" Instead, he pressed his lips together firmly, unable to ask the question.
Ray answered it anyway. "They don't know, it's too early to tell," he said, looking away, looking uncomfortable. "They got to wait for things to cool out, then they'll dig through the rubble, see what they see."
Fraser nodded slowly. Ray gnawed at his lip for a moment, then touched Fraser's arm.
"Come on," Ray repeated quietly. "I'll take you home."
He let Ray take him back to the Consulate.
Part of him expected to see Diefenbaker sitting on the Consulate steps—perhaps a little singed or damp, but practically speaking, none the worse for wear. Dief wasn't there, though, and he knew that the Consulate's doors and windows were locked—and while Dief was a half-wolf of many talents, Fraser didn't expect him to be able to materialize through glass or wood.
Everything seemed simultaneously normal and surreal. His key sliding into the lock. His own hand gripping the door's brass handle. Perhaps it was shock. Ray's boots thudded softly down the hallway's hardwood floor, and he glimpsed the back of Ray's leather jacket as he disappeared into the kitchen. A glass thunked in front of him on the hallway table—the good crystal, the set they brought out only for official guests. Fraser couldn't remember sitting down at the desk, but here he was, sitting down and staring at the crystal tumbler of whiskey that Ray'd set out for him.
"Drink that," Ray said.
It was probably the good whiskey, as well. Macallan, eighteen year, served neat. He seemed to remember that it was a gift from the Minister of Finance, thereby making the bottle official property of the Canadian Consulate. The inspector would have a fit.
"Just drink it," Ray said.
"All right," Fraser said, and picked up the glass.
Fraser heard the clatter of Inspector Thatcher's heels on the floor of the hallway well before she came into view and assumed, from the depth and frequency of the sound, that she was wearing her three-inch, alligator slingbacks. Which meant, he further presumed to assume, that she had plans for the evening. Rather elaborate plans, he would have guessed had he been asked.
When he looked up, she was standing in his doorway wearing a little black dress that left very little to the imagination. Which was a pity, really, because Fraser had quite a lot of imagination, and he liked to give it a workout whenever he could. "All right, I'm off," she announced, with a little demonstrative spin. "How do I look?"
Fraser quickly got to his feet. "You look, um. Very nice," he told her, and that was the truth. She beamed at him, and really, she was a most attractive woman, particularly when she smiled like that. "But—"
The smile fell off her face. "But what?"
Fraser felt suddenly, sharply annoyed at himself; why could he never leave well enough alone? "Your shoes," he confessed, feeling his face heat up. Inspector Thatcher looked down at her shoes, which were, in fact, high-heeled, open-toed slingbacks. "They—"
"You don't like them?"
"No, sir. I mean, it isn't a matter of liking, sir. Just that they—"
Inspector Thatcher's smile was now—hmm. Patronizing, perhaps, was the word. "You're going to tell me that they're not practical," she said.
"No, sir." Fraser agreed. "I mean, yes, sir, that's right: they aren't terribly practical, I'm afraid. Especially considering—"
"Well," Inspector Thatcher said gently, sweetly, and really, she didn't have to work quite so hard to make him feel like a bumpkin. It wasn't as if he didn't know it already. It wasn't as if the city of Chicago didn't make sure he got that particular telegram every morning along with his newspaper. "Sometimes we women have to sacrifice practicality for style, Constable. Not all of us can wear mukaluks."
The correction came unbidden to his lips. "You mean—"
"Whatever," Inspector Thatcher snapped, and right then Fraser decided that there was no point in telling her about the forecasted snow. Besides, they were only predicting ten to fourteen inches, and a little snow like that hardly required mukluks. "Make sure you lock the door precisely at six," she said, and clattered back down the hall to her office.
At five minutes to six, Fraser capped his pen and put it into the top drawer of his desk. He got up, reached for his peacoat, put on his hat and gloves—and he was halfway down the hallway to the door when he remembered that he didn't have to walk Diefenbaker.
It had been nearly a week, but he still couldn't seem to remember that Diefenbaker was gone for more than a few minutes at a time. It was as if his brain was in denial, experiencing some kind of selective amnesia. But you couldn't break the habits of years in a single week. He had a routine: close the Consulate at six, take Diefenbaker for a long walk, buy something for them to eat on the way home. Cook, eat, wash up, do whatever nightly chores needed doing—shine his boots, oil his Sam Browne, iron his uniform. Then he'd read for a while, or perhaps listen to an hour or so of radio programming, if there was something good on. A cup of tea, a last turn around the block with Diefenbaker, and then to bed.
He supposed he could just go through the motions. The walk in particular would do him good, and he should probably eat something. Except it all seemed so completely and utterly—
Fraser opened the front door just as the police car pulled up in front of the Consulate. Its revolving blue and white light was flashing, but the siren hadn't been turned on.
The driver's side door opened, discharging an officer he'd never seen before. Fraser tilted his head slightly to the side to read the fine print on the car's door. 18th Precinct.
Fraser stepped out onto the landing to greet the officer, who was now trudging dutifully up the steps. Above them, the sky had gone dark gray, and there was a cutting chill in the air. Snow was coming for sure.
"Can I help you, Officer?" Fraser asked.
The policeman stopped two steps below him, and squinted up suspiciously. "This the Canadian Consulate?"
Fraser tried very hard indeed not to look at the bronze plaque just to the right of him which read, clear as day, "Canadian Consulate." Never mind the bright red maple leaf flag flying just above them. "Yes, sir, it is."
"And you work here?"
"Yes, I do," Fraser said, offering his hand. "Constable Benton Fraser, Royal Canadian Mounted Police, at your service."
"Uh-huh. Okay." The officer shook his hand, then heaved himself up the remaining two steps, so that he was standing on the landing with Fraser. "So, the thing is—" The officer stopped, then looked Fraser up and down. "You were leaving, weren't you?"
"No," Fraser said, politely. "I just—I often wear my coat."
"All right," the officer said. "Cause I could talk to somebody else," he added.
"You're perfectly welcome to talk to me, Officer Donaldson."
"Yeah, okay. Thing is," Officer Donaldson said, and then he stopped and frowned. "How did you know my name was—"
Fraser pointed with a gloved finger. "It's embroidered on your coat."
Donaldson glanced down, nodded, then looked back up again. "Right, yeah. So I got this guy in the car," Officer Donaldson said, and jerked his head toward the car.
Fraser looked, and yes, it did in fact seem that there were two people sitting in the back seat of the police car. "All right?" Fraser said, just to show he was still following.
"My partner and me, we arrested this guy about an hour ago. He came running out of Dinatorre's Bakery, over on Augusta—led us on quite a chase, let me tell you. He's a big guy, but he runs like nobody's business. We caught him trying to climb over a chain link fence, but his coat had gotten stuck."
"Ah." Fraser nodded sympathetically; he'd caught many a perpetrator that way himself. How often the criminal element underestimated the value of a streamlined figure. "Very well done."
Strangely, the officer just looked uncomfortable. "Yeah. Well. We figured this guy had robbed the register from the way old man Dinatorre was screaming. Turns out he didn't."
Fraser's felt his eyebrows shoot up. "Oh?"
"He stole a tray of pastries," the officer admitted. "By the time we caught up with him, he'd eaten most of 'em, which is really pretty disgusting, when you come to think of it." Officer Donaldson made a face. "Cannoli cream everywhere."
It seemed to Fraser that this was insult to injury as far as the poor fellow was concerned; not only was he starving, but he was being judged on his table manners besides. "He must have been pretty hungry," Fraser suggested gently, and he was relieved to see Officer Donaldson wince in sympathy.
"Yeah," Officer Donaldson agreed. "That's what we figured. And it seemed kind of a shame to arrest a guy for something like that, but like I said, old man Dinatorre was howling bloody murder. Apparently, those pastries went for three bucks a pop."
"Hmm," Fraser said, because he really didn't know what else to say. Sad as this story was, he wasn't sure where he, or the nation of Canada, came into the business. Were the police looking for a donation of some kind? He thought he had a twenty dollar bill in his hat—or he supposed he could offer to provide the poor starving soul with a hot dinner.
"Anyway, so we cuff him and read him his rights, ask him if he understands," Officer Donaldson said, "and that's where it gets sticky. Cause it turns out he don't understand, and when he talks, his voice is off, it's all aaauulala. Like a record that's playing too slow."
The answer came to Fraser in a flash. "Is he deaf?"
"Aren't you smart?" Officer Donaldson snapped, and then he sighed tiredly. "Yeah, he's deaf. We figure that out maybe two minutes later when we finally uncuff him and he starts talking with his hands. Actually, you can make sense of how he talks if you listen close," Donaldson admitted. "It's distorted and fuzzy but you can pretty much follow everything. But he can't hear, and so that kind of mucks up the whole 'resisting arrest' charge we were gonna add onto the larceny."
"Oh?" Fraser asked.
"Yeah. Because we were shouting, 'Stop! Police! Stop! Police!' but—"
"But he didn't hear you," Fraser mused. "Or at least, that's the argument any half-competent lawyer would make in front of a judge."
"Right. So that leaves us with arresting a deaf guy for stealing a tray of pastries. Which I personally don't feel so good about. So I'd rather not."
"I understand perfectly," Fraser said warmly, "and for what it's worth, I think you're doing the right thing."
The relief on Officer Donaldson's face was palpable. "Okay, good. That's really good," he said, and then he reached into the depths of his navy blue parka to pull out a sheaf of paper and slid a pen from the leather loop on his belt. His breath was a puff of white in the twilight sky. "So if you'd just sign here..."
Fraser didn't think he could have heard that correctly. "Sign? Why would I...?"
"You know—the paperwork," Officer Donaldson explained. "Just so we can say that we delivered him to a responsible person. Not like we left him on the street or something."
"I am a singularly responsible person," Fraser agreed, beating his gloved hands together to defeat the cold, "but I don't see why I, of all people, should have been singled out for this particular responsibility."
Officer Donaldson's eyes opened wide. "Oh, didn't I say?" He jerked a thumb over his shoulder at the car. "Guy says he lives here."
Officer Donaldson stood by the side of the police cruiser and knocked on the glass. The window whirred down and Fraser bent to peer into the car's back seat. Beside the nervous looking policewoman was a husky man in a sheepskin jacket.
Rather disconcertingly, the man's face broke into a giant grin upon seeing him. "Ehhhya!" he said, looking really positively delighted.
"Er, hello," Fraser said, enunciating very carefully indeed. Thankfully, it was something he was used to. "I don't believe we've met?"
The man frowned at him, and for a moment Fraser thought he hadn't understood. The man turned from staring at his face to staring at the policewoman's face, then he stared back at Fraser again—and Fraser suddenly realized that the man was younger than he'd taken him for; that he was, in fact, probably only in his mid-thirties. His face was young, and his eyes were very, very young. It was the salt and pepper hair that deceived, Fraser decided; the man had obviously gone prematurely gray.
"Unomie," the man said firmly; and then, with surprisingly graceful hands, he signed it quickly—a finger pointed at Fraser, a brush of the thumb past the temple, and the quick jerk of his thumb back toward himself. You know me.
"Do I?" Fraser asked politely.
"Yeah!" The man bobbed his head up and down enthusiastically, then thumped his chest hard. "Yeah! I'm Diefenbaker."
Fraser felt a sudden, stabbing pain in his head, and pressed his fingertips above his right eyebrow, where a bird was apparently trying to peck its way out of his skull. He'd always vaguely suspected that it would come to this, ever since his dead father had told him about Uncle Tiberius in the back seat of Ray Vecchio's Buick Riviera, having apparently forgotten how often he used to say to Fraser, "Oh, my boy, how you remind me of my Uncle Tiberius." He'd been suspicious of cabbage from that point onward, and hadn't been able to eat sauerkraut since.
Oh, but the more fool he for expecting some subtle sign, some warning signal like an early aversion to cole slaw. But no—when madness comes, it comes not in single spies but in battalions—or in this case, in reincarnated pastry-stealing Canadian half-wolves delivered to your door by officers of the law.
"You all right?" somebody was asking him.
"Yeah. Sure," Fraser said. "I feel fine." Papers were being pressed into his gloved hand and he looked down at them. A Canadian passport with a picture of the man in front of him grinning—well, rather wolfishly—into the camera. Fraser's head throbbed, and he forced himself to focus on the name: Dave Von Baker.
Fraser looked up in surprise. "You're German?"
Dave Baker was staring at his mouth, and then he was nodding enthusiastically. "Shepherd," he explained in the slightly thickened voice of the deaf. "On my mother's side."
"If you don't mind," Officer Donaldson said tactfully, "maybe you two can continue this little reunion inside? It's getting dark and the snow's starting..."
"But— I—" Fraser quickly looked down at the other papers in his hand. Name: Dave Von Baker. Address: Canadian Consulate. Impossible.
"If you'd just sign here..." Officer Donaldson coaxed, and Fraser abruptly decided that yes, of course he'd have to sign. After all, the man was his wolf and therefore his responsibility, and even if he wasn't, Fraser was damned if he'd let a fellow-creature be arrested for stealing pastry. He pulled his right glove off with his teeth, reached for the pen, and signed Officer Donaldson's incident report.
"Thanks a lot," Officer Donaldson said, putting his report book away as he moved toward the driver's side door. "You guys have a good one."
Dief—Dave—whoever—leapt out of the car and hugged him tightly, knocking his hat to the ground. Fraser, his cold face mashed hard into the warm sheepskin, estimated that Dave was at least 6'4", maybe more. Which was pretty terrifying, really. Dave's mittened hands were pawing at his hair, flattening it to his skull—a gesture of either affection or aggression, Fraser wasn't sure which.
Okay, he thought. Either this really is Diefenbaker, or I've just adopted a huge deaf pastry thief. He strained backwards so that he could enunciate his words clearly. "Come inside," Fraser said, jerking his head sideways at the Consulate. "You must be hungry—"
At the mention of food, Dave lifted him clear off the ground.
Fraser brought Dave inside and steered him straight to the kitchen, where he proceeded to heat some canned soup and make sandwiches. Dave went for the food as if he hadn't eaten in days, which maybe he hadn't.
Fraser began edging nervously toward the door. "Excuse me," he said. "Pardon me," but Dave was completely engrossed in eating and didn't even look up. Fraser coughed, but that of course did no good. With Dief, sometimes he stamped on the floor so that Dief would feel the vibrations, but it seemed rude to do that to another human being.
"Excuse me," Fraser repeated, but Dave was clumsily smearing peanut butter and jelly onto slices of white bread. "I'll just..." Fraser said, backing away, "...be right back," he said, and then he fled down to his office and into the closet.
His father was sitting, whittling, by the fire. "Dad," Fraser said hurriedly, "is Diefenbaker with you?"
His father lifted his head, peered over his glasses, and looked around the room. "I'm not seeing him, Son."
Fraser sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. "No, Dad—"
"Though my eyes... They're not what they were in the old days."
"I mean—is he dead?" Fraser asked, attempting to clarify.
"In the old days, I could see for miles. I could shoot a butterfly off a tree branch."
"Dad, I really need to know. It's important."
"Not that you'd want to. Beautiful creatures, butterflies. How would I know?"
The unexpected return to topic brought Fraser up short. "What?"
"How would I know if he's dead?" his father asked. "It's not as if I have a directory."
Fraser frowned at this. "I just thought you'd—"
"And even if I did have a directory," his father mused, "it wouldn't be up to date. I suppose they could send supplements..."
"I guess I just thought you would know." Fraser slowly sat down in a chair on the other side of the fire. "And I really need to know before I say, or do, something embarrassing."
"How can you not know?" his father asked.
Fraser looked up. "Hm?"
"How do you not know whether Diefenbaker's dead?"
Fraser rubbed his fingers over his chin. "He chased a suspect into a burning building. I didn't see him come out. He hasn't come home."
"Well." His father considered this. "Sounds like he's dead, Son."
"Yeah," Fraser said, somewhat testily. "I'd reached that conclusion, Dad, thanks."
His father carefully put his knife and block of wood down on the side table. "So what changed your mind?" he asked, and really, that was the key question.
"There's a man in the kitchen who..." Fraser wasn't quite sure how to put this. "...who seems an awful lot like Diefenbaker."
To his surprise, his father simply nodded. "You think he's some kind of incarnation?"
For some reason, the question irked him. "Yes," Fraser said, trying very hard indeed not to snap, and snapping anyway, "I think he's he's some kind of incarnation. But then again, I'm notoriously out of my mind, as most people who know me can tell you."
His father picked up his whittling again. "You seem sane enough to me."
Fraser sighed and leaned forward, letting his hands dangle between his knees. "Yeah, well, that isn't terribly encouraging, Dad, thanks."
His father shrugged. "Why don't you just ask him?"
Fraser looked up. "Ask him what?"
"If he's Diefenbaker. Why not just ask if he's—"
Fraser was driven to his feet in blind outrage. "Because you can't go asking your houseguests if they're reincarnated animals, Dad!"
"Well, I don't see why not," his father objected. "It's a simple enough question."
"It's a rude question." Fraser paced back and forth in front of the fireplace. "It's the rudest question I've ever heard."
His father looked upon him with a kindly expression. "You need to get out more," he said, and Fraser closed his eyes and sighed. "Talk to some people," his father advised. "Live a little..."
"Well, thank you, Dad. This was spectacularly unhelpful."
"Don't mention it. It's what I'm here for."
By the time Fraser had gotten back to the kitchen, Dave appeared to have eaten everything in sight, including the entire can of soup (straight from the saucepan) and the greater part of a loaf of bread. "Feeling better?" Fraser asked nervously, watching Dave guzzle down his third glass of water. It was only after Dave put the glass down and showed him a broad smile that Fraser realized that Dave hadn't been watching him, and therefore hadn't "heard."
"Feeling better?" Fraser repeated.
"Yeah," Dave said, nodding vigorously. "Very much so, Captain."
"Constable," Fraser corrected. "And I'm glad to hear it." Fraser came over to the table, pulled out a chair, and sat down; he and Dave were clearly going to have to have some sort of conversation about what was going on. "I think you and I should talk."
"Yeah," Dave agreed instantly, licking his lips in apparent anticipation. "Me too."
Ah. They were on the same page, then. "Because I have to confess that I'm very confused."
Dave's response took him aback. "You're confused? You're—I mean, I— I—" and then Dave gave up on speech entirely and started signing furiously with his big, graceful hands. Fraser stared, trying to follow the verbs and nouns flying through the air. "Look at. This. Awful—" (What was that sign?) Body. "This awful human body," Dave Von Baker signed.
Fraser felt that bird pecking at his skull again. Peck. Peck. "I'm not sure what you—"
Dave ignored him. "Ithh's crazy!" Dave said thickly, and then he was signing, "What a d-r-a-g! Okay," he amended, with a very Dief-like tilt of his head, like he could smell some imminent objection in the air. "I like the o-p-p-o-s-a-b-l-e t-h-u-m-b," he signed, and when Fraser nodded to show he understood, Dave showed him an enthusiastic thumbs' up. "But the rest of the human body?" he signed. "You. Can. Keep. It."
"You're..." God, he really hoped that this wasn't some kind of sanity test, because if so, he thought he was doing very poorly. "You're saying you...er. Don't normally have a human body?"
Dave snorted with disdain. "You know I don't," he signed, and then he added, thickly, "You've got to help me, Captain!"
Fraser raised his hands and tried to push his eyes into the back of his skull. When that didn't work, he marshaled his will, dropped his hands, and glared across the table at Dief. "It's Constable. Which you should know if you're Diefenbaker!"
"I am Diefenbaker!" Diefenbaker growled.
"Prove it," Fraser demanded.
"I can prove it!" If Dief still had a tail to thump, he would have been thumping it mightily; Fraser recognized the look all too well. "I can! You bet I can! I've lived with you my whole damn life!" Dief signed, and then he clenched his hands into fists and said, threateningly, "What I don't know about you. Ain't worth knowing."
A shiver traveled up Fraser's spine as he saw, with sudden clarity, that this was true—the knowledge was positively glinting out of Diefenbaker's eyes. For a moment, Fraser stopped worrying about his rapidly deteriorating sanity and started worrying about having Dief in human form, pissed off and communicative.
"All right, all right," Fraser said quickly, raising his hands placatingly. "Let's accept for the moment that—"
Dief's hands flew into motion. "You never paid your library book fines before we left I-n-u-v-i-k, and I reminded you. Twice. You used to disobey orders from S-e-r-g-e-a-n-t G-o-r-d-o-n by saying you never got them. And you lied to Mrs. B-o-w-m-a-k-e-r when she invited us to—"
The words were out before he could stop them. "She wanted to set me up with Minnie!" Fraser still shuddered at the thought of having to spend an entire evening in the parlor alone with Minnie Bowmaker. "We were invited there under false pretenses!"
Dief narrowed his eyes. "You told her you had a c-o-n-t-a-g-i-o-u-s skin c-o-n-d-i-t-i-o-n."
"Well." Fraser felt his non-contagious skin getting warm with embarrassment. "It was almost true. Nearly true."
"It was a rash. You got it off C-h-e-s-t-e-r from when he had ticks."
Fraser coughed. "I didn't know that till later," and at Dief's look of skepticism, he added, somewhat defensively: "Well, it could have been a contagious skin condition—"
"More like M-i-n-n-i-e gave you h-i-v-e-s. Ugly lady, eh?" Dief added, grinning at him wolfishly.
This was so staggeringly close to the truth that Fraser had to gnaw on his lip to keep from smiling. "Dief!" he said reprovingly. "That's a terrible thing to say!"
Diefenbaker pointed a finger at him. "Hahh! You called me Diefenbaker."
Fraser looked away, trying to keep his expression neutral. "No, I didn't."
"Yes you did."
"It was a mistake," Fraser said, and looked away.
"You are one stubborn bastard," Diefenbaker muttered thickly, and suddenly it didn't matter to Fraser that he was probably going crazy, because it was really nice having Diefenbaker back. Nobody else knew him well enough to be this rude to him.
Well, except maybe Ray.
"What the hell happened to you?" Fraser asked.
Dief sighed and slumped back in his chair and told him the whole crazy story. "That woman," he began. "The one you made me chase. She's a witch, Captain," and it took Fraser nearly half an hour to understand that Diefenbaker meant that literally.
Dief described how he had just chased Raphaella La Scala into the burning building ("Yes, and we'll have to have a little talk about that, now won't we?" Fraser interjected,) when she stopped and turned to face him, towering over him. Dief had pulled back on his haunches and growled up at her. But she'd seemed unafraid, despite the billowing gray smoke and the flames that were already starting to consume the staircase behind her.
"You," La Scala said, pointing a long fingernail at him, "are a persistent little beast."
Dief showed her his teeth and growled louder still, poised to jump. The smoke grew thicker. It burned Dief's lungs.
Just as he was actually about to spring, La Scala twisted her wrist and made her hand into a claw-like cup. Thick smoke began to rise out of her cupped palm, and then it was if she was holding a bright light, like a lantern or a powerful torch. Dief began to bark furiously, determined not to give an inch of ground, but inside, his stomach was twisted into knots. ("I thought I'd piss myself," Dief confided, and Fraser nodded sympathetically.)
La Scala raised the light up, up, as if she were offering it to the sky. With her other arm, she pointed at Dief. "Tell your master," La Scala said darkly, "that he has maligned me. I am not the person he seeks for this crime. And as for you, little one... I know the perfect punishment." And with that she drew back her arm and hurled the golden light at him. It exploded in his face—and the flash, which hit him with the jolt and buzz of an electrical shock, was the last thing he remembered.
"When I woke up..." Dief said slowly, like he was still dazed by the experience, "...I was like this." He looked down at himself somberly.
"But how did you get out of the building?" Fraser asked,
"I don't know," Dief said, frowning.
"Well, where were you when you woke up?"
"I don't know," Dief said again, and now there was a frightened look in his eyes; Fraser couldn't remember seeing Dief so scared since he'd gotten his leg caught in Forrester's bear trap on the wrong side of Sutton's Peak. "I don't know where I was. Nowhere I'd been before, anyway." Dief's thickened voice dropped to a whisper and he licked his lips nervously. "S'awful, though. Horrible, ugly place. All twisted metal, like the oil rigs out by —"
Fraser blinked. "Oil rigs?" He slapped his hand down on the kitchen table. "You know, Dief, I'll bet you dollars to donuts that—"
Dief winced and lowered his head. "Don't tease me, Captain."
"—she dropped you smack in the middle of Gary, Indiana. You think you were in Gary?"
Dief glowered at him. "How should I know?"
"Well, there must have been signs—" Fraser began, but Dief let out a loud sigh, folded his arms on the tabletop, and put his head down on top of them. "All right, all right, never mind," Fraser said, but it was already too late; Dief was no longer listening. "Dief?" Fraser said, first poking him, then shaking his arm vigorously.
Finally Dief lifted his head and scowled at him. "I'm sorry," Fraser said. "Please continue."
Dief sat up, sat back, and started signing, as if he were no longer willing to go through the effort of speaking. "I woke up somewhere horrible. I woke up in this terrible body."
"You keep saying that," Fraser said, "but the human body is extremely well designed. Clearly our trip to that Leonardo Da Vinci exhibition taught you very little indeed."
Dief made a face, his nose crinkling in almost comic distaste. "Terrible. Human. Body," Dief insisted, signing the words decisively. "No coat, and two legs put you off-balance, never mind how you're forced to expose your—"
Fraser felt his eyebrows shoot into his hairline.
"—to everyone, which is really not smart, if you ask me," Dief concluded.
"Point," Fraser admitted.
"So I couldn't find my way home and I was so hungry and— I'm so glad to be home, Captain," Dief said fervently, bursting into speech. "I have never been so glad to be home in my entire life. So!" Dief added, clapping his huge hands together and sitting up straight in his chair. "What do we do now, eh?"
Fraser was taken aback by the question. Dief was waiting for his answer with complete and utter confidence, as if he would most certainly know exactly what to do when a witch turned you into a human being and forced you to expose your genitals to predators. But at the moment, Fraser just wanted to bask in the fact that he seemed to be handling this situation really well—by which he meant that he wasn't weeping or rolling in cabbage leaves.
So he stroked his chin, stalling for time, trying to look as if he were just putting the final touches on some incredibly brilliant plan. Dief stared at him with hopeful eyes and Fraser realized that there was no way he could let Diefenbaker down. He'd really have to think of something.
"Well," Fraser said slowly, hoping that some inspiration would strike. Dief leaned forward, staring at his mouth, hanging on his every word. Fraser swallowed hard, his brain empty, his mouth dry—and then he clapped his hands together, as if this was in itself a sign of decisive action. "Let's go for a walk, shall we? And perhaps, to celebrate your heroic return, we'll stop somewhere for pizza."
The snow was falling thick and fast outside, and there were several inches on the ground already. Everyone seemed to have taken this as their cue to stay indoors, which suited Fraser just fine—it left the streets quiet, the snow pristine and untouched.
Not for long, though, because Dief, apparently amused at his inability to coordinate his new and gangly arms and legs, began to skid and slide through the snow, playing like he used to when he was a puppy. And then suddenly Dief gave a cry of joy and just took off through the snow, and Fraser, not wanting to lose him in the storm, followed at a run, sucking the cold, clean air into his lungs as he pounded down the sidewalk.
The chase ended, unsurprisingly, outside of Papa Vitelli's pizzeria, where Fraser found Dief plastered against its plate glass window, staring hungrily at the steaming hot pies on the metal shelf inside. Fraser grabbed Dief's arm, mouthed "Be good," and then held the door open for him. And Dief was good, Dief was very good, shifting from foot to foot with barely contained excitement as Fraser ordered and paid for a large pie—but Fraser realized with diamond-sharp clarity that Dief wasn't going to be able to restrain himself until they could bring the pizza back to the Consulate. So he nodded for Dief to seat himself at one of the small, faux marble tables at the far side of the pizzeria.
Thank goodness the place was empty. Dief ate like an animal.
"You're going to be sick," Fraser cautioned, but Dief ate six pieces of pizza without the slightest hesitation and licked his fingers afterward. His mouth was smeared with tomato sauce. Fraser handed him a wad of paper napkins, but when Dief stared down at them as if they were some exotic form of dessert, Fraser snatched them back and swiped Dief's mouth clean as if he were a toddler.
Dief gingerly touched his now-clean lips and chin with his fingertips. "Strange, eh?" he said, and Fraser was forced to agree.
They made their way back to the Consulate at a much slower place, largely due to Dief's post-prandial languor. The snow was still falling heavily, and Fraser tried to make good use of this momentary interlude to come up with an actual plan to help Dief get his natural body back. The cold was stimulating, and Fraser beat his gloved hands together briskly—but he still couldn't seem to think of anything. He wondered if perhaps he ought to consult a priest, or maybe a shaman—
Beside him, Dief suddenly put on a burst of speed, and Fraser looked up and saw that there was a taxi ahead, pulled up in front of the Consulate, its tail lights bathing the snow in red light. Beside it, a small figure in a dark coat was bent over, flailing for balance—Inspector Thatcher, Fraser saw after a second, trying to negotiate a foot of snow in those damned alligator heels. As he watched, Diefenbaker ran to her and simply plucked her up off the ground, swinging her legs over his massive forearm. She shrieked as he carried her carefully through the Consulate's wrought iron gates and up the snowy steps to the door.
Fraser hurried after them. Dief was standing on the landing, looking bemused as the Inspector flailed at him with her purse. "Let me go! Put me down! You beast!" Inspector Thatcher turned her head and saw Fraser coming up the steps. "Fraser, thank God!"
"Good evening, Inspector," Fraser said nervously, taking his hat off and clutching it tightly by the brim. "I must apologize for the rather—aggressive chivalry of my friend, here."
Thatcher blinked at him for a second, then glanced nervously at Dief, who showed her a broad, toothy smile which unfortunately had the effect of making him look like really happy, slightly-hysterical serial killer. Thatcher turned back to Fraser and squeaked, "Your friend?"
"Er, yes, sir." Fraser thought he was getting his bearings now. "May I present, er— Mr. David Baker, my, um, former partner. We used to work together up North. I think he was merely trying to compensate for your weather-inappropriate footwear."
"Ah." Inspector Thatcher turned to inspect Diefenbaker again with a more critical eye. "I see. Well, hello, there."
Dief smiled again, and this time Inspector Thatcher didn't seem to find him so menacing. Fraser quickly got his key out of his hat and unlocked the Consulate door. Dief stepped into the hallway and set the Inspector down gently. She skittered away from him, smoothing her hips obsessively as if she wasn't sure her skirt was properly in place. "Um. Thank you, Mr. Baker. That was very kind."
Dief opened his mouth to reply and Fraser quickly came forward and said, "You're very welcome, sir."
Inspector Thatcher wheeled on him. "Can't you friend talk for himself?" she asked sharply.
"No," Fraser said, ignoring Dief's look of surprise. "No, I'm afraid he can't. He had a terrible accident where his vocal cords were severed by a...walrus." He coughed. "Which is unusual, as I'm sure you know, because the walrus is generally a—"
Inspector Thatcher, thank God, was already ignoring him. "Oh, that's terrible," she said, showing Diefenbaker a face softened with sympathy. "I'm so sorry."
Dief managed to muster a look of mute, brave suffering.
Inspector Thatcher reached out and gently squeezed Dief's arm in an "I-Feel-Your-Pain" sort of way. At least, that's how Fraser decided to think of it; any alternative being, well, unthinkable. "Mr. Baker," she said, showing the kindness that she kept in reserve for strangers, "we're delighted to have you as our guest here at the Consulate. If you need anything, you just ask Constable Fraser."
Dief nodded vigorously and then shot Fraser a sly, narrow look of triumph.
Fraser sighed. "Sir, I believe your taxicab is waiting. Is there something I could assist you with?"
"Oh!" Inspector Thatcher quickly strode to her office closet. She kicked off her heels, slid her stockinged feet into a pair of green wellingtons and then crossed to her desk, squeaking slightly. "I came back for my palm pilot. I thought I had it and—ah!" She picked up the black plastic square and clutched it briefly, but sincerely, to her chest before dropping it into her handbag and snapping the bag decisively shut. "Right, Constable," she said, dismissing Fraser with a glance as she came back around the desk, squeak-squeak, squeak-squeak, "have a good weekend. Mr. Baker," she said, stopping in front of Dief and craning her neck to look up at him, "I trust that we will meet again."
Affectionately, Dief dropped a huge hand on top of Inspector Thatcher's head and patted her well-coiffed hair. Fraser felt a small shock of horror. The Inspector ducked away from Dief's hand and nervously backed away toward the door. "Well—good night!" she said nervously, and quickly squeaked away.
It was strange how easily Dief re-integrated himself into their nightly routine—all right, so he walked on two legs, took up more space and badly needed a haircut, but he was still Diefenbaker, and therefore easy to be around. It was Friday night, which for Fraser usually meant cleaning his boots and listening to a concert on the radio. Fraser changed out of his uniform, pulled his box of brushes and oils down from the closet shelf, and flipped on the radio—WDSE, Chicago Public Radio, a Vaughn Williams: "Dona nobis pacem." When Fraser turned around, Dief was sitting on the floor with his back against Fraser's cot, long legs bent at the knees. He was wearing a dreamy expression—one that Fraser recognized as signaling equal parts contentment and exhaustion.
Fraser sat down on his cot, balanced his left boot on his knee, and set to work. Sure enough, by the time he'd finished that first boot, Dief's head was lolling against the cot, and by the time he'd done with the second one, Dief was snoring softly, his head pressed against the side of Fraser's leg. Fraser found this physical contact oddly reassuring, and he knew that Dief needed reassurance as well—Dief generally only sought physical contact with him when he was anxious, when he'd been stalked or encountered a predator or otherwise come into contact with something that threatened his status in the pack. Tentatively, Fraser touched Dief's hair, which was softer than his coat normally was. Dief snuffled, and Fraser quickly snatched his hand back.
Finally, the Vaughn Williams drew to its triumphant conclusion, and Fraser nudged Dief's shoulder. "Dief," he hissed pointlessly. "Diefenbaker!" but Dief kept sleeping. Finally Fraser sighed and shook Diefenbaker in earnest.
Dief opened his red-rimmed eyes and stared at him in bleary confusion.
"Bed," Fraser said, intentionally over-enunciating the word for emphasis, and Dief nodded tiredly. Fraser stood up, winced a little; his leg had fallen asleep. "Being that you seem to have earned Inspector Thatcher's good will," he said, "I suggest that you sleep in the—"
But Diefenbaker was no longer looking at him, and therefore no longer hearing him. Instead, Dief curled up on the floor at the foot of Fraser's cot and went right to sleep.
In the end, Fraser conquered his horror at the idea of a Consular guest sleeping on his office floor by forcibly reminding himself that said Consular guest was his dog. Still, he'd carefully draped a blanket over Dief's snoring form before changing into his long johns and putting himself to bed.
In his dream, the shaman was drumming slowly, rhythmically, and the dancers were moving in unison. He was outside of the circle but inside the tent, allowed to be present, allowed to share the warmth of their fire, their rugs, their furs—the warmth generated by their swaying, circling bodies. Dimly, he heard the shake of the deer hoof rattle, watched the shaman raise his arm and—
Not drums. Not a rattle. Dimly, Fraser realized that he was hearing footsteps in the hall, the rhythmic knock of a fist against his office door. And the rattling sound was keys jangling. Someone was unlocking his—and the warmth was—?
Fraser's eyes flew open. Diefenbaker was on the bed with him, curled tightly around his torso and legs, face pressed into his hip.
And that sound was the knob turning...
Ray stood in the doorway, mouth open, keys still dangling from his hand.
Without thinking, Fraser gave a massive heave and shoved Diefenbaker off the bed. Dief fell onto the floor with a massive thump and let out a pitiful yelp.
To Fraser's surprise, Ray was instantly crouched on the floor next to Dief. "Hey, you okay down there?" Ray asked, and then he turned his head to glare at Fraser: "What the hell is the matter with you?"
"Well, you see, that's my wolf, and I throw him off the bed all the time," Fraser didn't say—no, not a bit of it. "Um. Good morning, Ray," Fraser said.
"Remind me never to sleep with you," Ray said, and then he turned his attention back to Diefenbaker, who was whimpering softly and rubbing his head. "You all right?"
Diefenbaker nodded, and then winced, like nodding hurt him. "M'okay."
"You want some ice or something?" Ray asked, wincing in sympathy. "Because you fell right on your head there."
"M'okay," Dief repeated vaguely, and then he blinked a few times and seemed to focus on Ray. "Heyyyyyy!" he exclaimed happily and literally dived for him.
Lord Almighty, Fraser thought. He looked away quickly, and closed his eyes tightly for good measure, because it was entirely possible given past history that Diefenbaker was licking some visible, protuberant part of Ray's anatomy.
"This is my former partner," Fraser heard himself say from a great distance away, fifteen miles perhaps. "We used to work together up North. I've, er—I've told him all about you."
Ray's voice floated back to him, dripping with sarcasm. "What the hell did you tell him?"
Fraser forced himself to open his eyes and saw that Ray was sitting up, but only barely—Dief was hanging around his neck so tightly that Fraser could barely see Ray's disheveled hair and confused expression over Dief's massive flannel-clad shoulders. Fraser became aware that Dief was now whimpering very, very faintly, and that Ray was rubbing reassuring circles between his shoulder blades.
He felt—well, he wasn't sure exactly what he felt.
Fraser sat up, pulled his blanket up around his waist, and opened his mouth to say something, anything. He hoped that some reasonable explanation for Dief's behavior would suddenly occur to him, though he wasn't very optimistic on that score.
But Ray didn't give him the chance to exercise his creativity. Ray just raised a finger and gave him a look which conveyed, "Shut up, Fraser," as clearly as if he'd said it aloud.
So Fraser shut up and watched as Ray gently pried Diefenbaker's arms from around his neck. "Why don't you go get some water?" Ray suggested, and while Dief was in no position to appreciate the perfection of Ray's, "I'm-just-going-to-have-a-little-chat-with-the-boss-man," tone, he seemed to get the message anyway, looking from Ray to Fraser and back a couple of times before nodding and heaving himself to his feet and out the door.
"So." Ray rose to his feet again. "What's his name?"
Fraser made the split-second decision to give Ray only as much information as he asked for, and not a jot more. It was a tactic that had worked well for him in the past. "Dave Baker."
"Huh. Former partner, you said?" Ray's tone was casual, but Fraser knew Ray's interrogation techniques pretty well, and this deceptively casual tone was one of them.
"Yes," Fraser replied cautiously.
Ray nodded thoughtfully at this as he scratched the back of his neck. "Don't remember you ever talking about a partner."
Fraser noticed that his fingernails needed cutting. When had he gotten so slovenly in his personal habits? "Perhaps I neglected to mention it."
The cot dipped as Ray sat down beside him—quite close to him; in fact, rather too close to him, Fraser thought. It wasn't like Ray to...well, actually it was like Ray to position himself within Fraser's personal space, but this was really quite close, even for Ray. Ray's denim-clad thigh was lodged firmly against his fleece-clad one, with only the thin blanket between them. If Ray got any closer, he'd be sitting in Fraser's very lap.
And then Ray did lean closer. "You neglect to mention a lot, Fraser—anybody ever tell you that?"
"I." It was an effort not to swallow, but at this range, swallowing would be highly noticeable, and he didn't want Ray to gauge the state of his emotions. "I suppose that's true."
Ray looked away, giving Fraser a moment to swallow and inhale and generally compose himself. He thought he was doing pretty well until Ray turned back to him and put a heavy, warm hand on his thigh. Fraser felt sure that his eyes were about to fall out of their sockets, but he couldn't stop himself from staring at Ray's ragged fingernails and scarred knuckles, at where Ray's long fingers were clutching his leg—and even as he watched, Ray's hand convulsed and gave Fraser's thigh a suggestive little squeeze.
Fraser's head jerked up; Ray's eyes were huge and intent and blue and locked on his. "I'd never have guessed he was your type, Fraser."
"Wwwwhat?" Fraser could barely get the word out; he felt like somebody'd rolled a boulder onto his chest. Maybe he was having a heart attack. Was his arm tingling strangely??
"You know," Ray said softly. Suggestively. "Big guys." Ray jerked his head toward the door, toward where Diefenbaker had gone—and then suddenly Fraser saw it, the wicked glint, the sparkle of mischief behind the extremely thin veneer of sincerity, and in a burst of fury Fraser heaved and knocked Ray off the bed and onto his ass.
Ray was laughing before he even hit the floor. "Hey, no wonder you never get laid. You're too damn picky!"
"You—!" Fraser felt positively beside himself. "I can't believe you'd—" He reached for the nearest hurlable object—his bedside copy of Paradise Lost, as it happened—and hurled it at Ray, who defended himself with raised forearms.
"Oh, come on! You're supposed to be a good sport!"
"Sorry to disappoint you." Fraser's hand closed around Tristam Shandy, which he promptly chucked at Ray's head, missing by mere inches. His face was hot and the back of his neck burned with shame. "You're—incorrigible."
Ray just grinned at him, and when it looked like there were no more literary volumes within reach, he drew up his knees and dangled his hands between them in a pose that was half-slouch, half defensive crouch. "Hey, come on—I'm corrigible. Where there's life, there's hope, right?"
Fraser found his eyes drawn back to Ray's scarred knuckles and quickly looked away again. "Possibly not in your case."
"Yeah, maybe not," Ray said, and his voice was so full of good humor that Fraser was ashamed of himself. Ray was right—he wasn't being a very good sport. But he could still feel Ray's hand clutching his thigh. "Anyway, I just came over to tell you that the forensics are in," Ray said, abruptly shifting topic, his tone growing more serious.
Fraser looked at Ray, the suspicion already forming in his brain.
Ray nodded in confirmation, like he could read Fraser's mind. "Yeah," he said. "La Scala wasn't in that building. And neither was Dief—"
Relief made him so weak it was all he could do not to sink back onto his pillow. He wasn't entirely cloud-cuckoo crazy.
"—but I guess you know that already," Ray said, flinging his hand vaguely toward the hallway. "What the hell happened there?"
"What?" Fraser asked nervously.
"Diefenbaker," Ray replied—and then Ray boggled at him, briefly bugging his eyes out in what Fraser could only guess was a cruel parody of his own expression. "Who looks a lot like Jeff Daniels, by the way," Ray added, relaxing his face again. "You notice that?"
Fraser fell back onto his pillow and stared at the ceiling; clearly his insanity had been too close to call. "Ray, for God's sake—"
"You know—Jeff Daniels, he was in that one movie, and then that other movie, and also the movie with Michelle Pfeiffer and the piano. Or maybe that was Jeff Bridges, I'm not sure. Anyway, Dief looks just like him. Are you having a seizure?"
"No," Fraser managed. "I don't think so."
"Okay, good. Just checking. Bang on the wall if you need an ambulance or something."
"Ray." Fraser rolled onto his side to stare at him. "How on earth did you recognize Diefenbaker?"
Ray snorted. "He licked my face, Fraser. Believe me, I don't normally get so lucky on a first date. Besides," Ray added, absently gathering and folding the blanket Diefenbaker had slept in, "he looks like Diefenbaker."
"I wouldn't have thought you believed in the supernatural."
"You'd be surprised," Ray replied with a shrug. "I believe in lots of impossible things. You, for instance."
Fraser suddenly wanted to provoke Ray out of his complacency. "Diefenbaker says that Raphaella La Scala is a witch."
But Ray wouldn't be provoked. "Yeah," he said, and fumbled his notebook out of his inside jacket pocket. "Her landlord says the same thing."
Fraser sat up. "Excuse me?"
Ray studied his notes with a furrowed brow; Fraser knew that Ray's penmanship tended toward the erratic. "Also, she filed as a witch on her tax return."
"Really?" Fraser asked, surprised.
"No." Ray, still staring at his notebook, cracked a small grin. "I made that last part up. But she reads fortunes for a living: tarot cards, tea leaves, that sort of a thing. Her business card says she's a Spiritualist. Me, I think if you've got religion you should keep it to yourself."
"Hmm," Fraser said, rubbing his chin. "You think she could've turned Diefenbaker into a person?"
"Like I know." Ray absently flipped a page of his notebook. "But you got any other explanation for Jeff Daniels out there—hey, I'm listening."
Fraser swung his legs out from the covers and put his bare feet on the floor. "You know, neither philosophy nor theology admits that animals have any real intelligence, let alone a soul. Yet I've always believed that Diefenbaker possessed both."
"Of course Dief has a soul." Ray sounded offended on Dief's behalf. "At least as much as anyone does. And more brains than most people."
"Unfortunately, no philosopher would agree with you. Descartes was quite clear on the point: cogito ergo sum does not extend to animals, I'm afraid."
"That's ridiculous—I mean, some police dogs I know are smarter than human cops," Ray insisted. "And what about those horses that do math?" Ray gave a creditable neigh and then thumped the floor three times with his booted foot. "That's intelligence right there—how would a philosopher explain that?"
"I suppose," Fraser said gravely, "he would say that we're putting Descartes before the horse."
"You should die," Ray suggested with great sincerity.
Dief appeared at the door, looking anxious, carrying a glass in his hand. "I brought water," he said, looking from Fraser to Ray and back. "I thought the Captain might need some water."
"Diefenbaker," Fraser sighed, "I'm not a Captain and you know it."
"I'm not p-r-i-m-e m-i-n-i-s-t-e-r," Dief pointed out, spelling the difficult words as he slurred through them. "Didn't stop you."
Ray grinned at this. "He's got you there, Fraser. You name him—he names you right back."
Diefenbaker looked triumphant and recited, in a rough voice:
"'O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done, The ship has weather'd every rack, the prize we sought is—'"
"Whitman." Fraser let his head hang. "Since when do you read Whitman?"
"Since you do," Dief said, rolling his eyes. "It's not like I have a library card."
"I think that's very touching," Ray opined.
Fraser glared at him. "You don't know how the poem ends." He extended his hand for the water, and Diefenbaker crossed the room and gave him the glass, which he downed all at once. His head was swimming.
"Be careful with that stuff," Ray chided. "It's a slippery slope to lemonade, Fraser, and next thing, you'll be doing one, maybe two quarts a day." Diefenbaker sniggered, but quickly covered his mouth with his hand. "We'll have to check you into Betty Ford."
"Out." Fraser stood up and pointed toward the door. "Now. Both of you."
At this, Dief twitched and looked nervous. Ray raised placating hands. "Hey, don't get your knickers in a twist—" Ray began.
"I have to get washed and dressed," Fraser said with as much dignity as he could muster. "And then we have work to do: Raphaella La Scala told Diefenbaker she was innocent."
That seemed to jolt Ray, who turned to Dief with a startled look on his face. "Oh yeah?"
Dief nodded glumly. "Yeah. Just before she did this to me."
"Huh. And you believe her?" Ray asked him.
"I got to," Dief said, looking suddenly very young. "She could have killed me. I got to believe what she says."
"Okay. Okay." Ray rubbed his stubbled chin, which rasped softly against his palm. "What we need is some kind of plan—"
"Could you please," Fraser said, speaking as distinctly as possible, "give me a moment to collect myself? And then perhaps we could discuss our options like civilized creatures."
Ray and Diefenbaker exchanged "hooo-eee!" looks and headed for the door. "All right, all right, sheesh," Ray said. "I'll make coffee."
Ray's voice continued to be audible even as he headed down the corridor toward the kitchen. "No way," Ray was saying to Diefenbaker. "No coffee for you, buddy. You're a fuckin' dog."
By the time Fraser had washed and dressed himself (casually, in jeans and a blue flannel shirt, since this wasn't technically Consular business, and he didn't want to have to explain himself to anyone) and made his way to the kitchen, Ray and Dief were apparently hard at work. Fraser stopped at the door and just watched: they were sitting at the kitchen table, bent over some kind of diagram. Ray had also apparently caved on the coffee, as a second mug was sitting right near Diefenbaker's hand.
"Not officially, I can't," Ray was saying. "What am I gonna say: 'I got evidence which was presented to me by my friend's wolf?'"
"I could say something myself! I could talk—I can talk now," Dief protested.
"Okay, but miraculous as this is? Legally, you got nothing—you got a hearsay statement of innocence. We only believe you because you used to be a dog," Ray explained. "Without the miracle aspect, your statement isn't really worth much. No," Ray mused, banging his fist softly upon the table, "what we need is hard evidence against somebody else— something we can use to reopen the case, get a change in the indictment—"
Dief reached out and pointed at the diagram with a thick finger. "I think we should take another look at the lawyer."
"Oh yeah? Why?"
"He smelled funny," Dief replied.
Ray snorted at this. "Lawyers always smell funny. It ain't probable cause."
Dief looked so thoroughly disappointed that Fraser felt compelled to intercede. "Perhaps not," he said encouragingly, "but it's certainly a start." Fraser crossed the kitchen to the table and looked down at the diagram they had drawn: a rough map of the crime scene.
The victim in this case had been Randolph Schlect, an accountant. He'd been found dead in his office at 14 Wallace Street, a four story professional building down on the south side. A lawyer named Thomas Dolenz occupied the storefront offices on the ground floor. Schlect had been renting the second floor, and the third floor was occupied by a computer design firm called Veni Vidi Vici, which turned out to be a group of dazed-looking youngsters apparently living on computer code and pizza.
The tiny top floor had been occupied by Raphaella La Scala, who was living in commercial space in flagrant violation of the city's zoning laws. They had interviewed her in her makeshift apartment, an already claustrophobic room made even more so by its dim lighting, thick tapestries, overstuffed velvet sofa, and sickly-sweet-smelling flowers. She had struck them as a fairly suspicious character, and they hadn't been surprised to find her fingerprints on the thin, intricately wrought stiletto that had apparently served as the murder weapon.
Ray was groaning and rubbing his face tiredly. "You want coffee?" he asked, as Fraser pulled out a chair and sat down with them. "I made coffee."
"Coffee's good," Dief seconded, with a satisfied lick of his lips.
Fraser narrowed his eyes at Ray, who clearly bore responsibility for this. "I suppose you'll be taking him drinking next."
Ray brightened at the suggestion. "Great idea," he said, and turned to Dief. "Plus we should go bowling, because you should use that thumb while you've got it. Waste not, want—"
"Can we please," and the sharpness in his voice brought them both to attention, "focus on the matter at hand? I think these celebratory plans are premature, don't you?"
Ray and Dief exchanged quick glances and then stared down guiltily. "Yeah, okay," Ray said, finally, reluctantly. Dief nodded in mute agreement.
"Very good. Ray, could you please summarize the case as it stands?"
"Yeah." Ray flipped open his notebook again. "How it stands is that we got an indictment against La Scala mainly because 1) she was kind of creepy, which boy if we only knew how much, and B) she was living in the building illegally," Ray now was ticking the points off on his fingers, however illogically numbered and lettered, "which C) put her on the scene at the time of the murder which Forensics estimates was sometime between midnight and four, not to mention that D) she owned that fruity little knife which her fingerprints were on."
"Hm." Fraser frowned at this. "So she had both means and opportunity. What about motive?"
"Beats me about motive," Ray replied, scratching his head, "though her running away sure doesn't look good."
"No," Fraser agreed. "I'm afraid she didn't help herself there."
"Though, you know—points for creativity in terms of turning Dief into a person."
Fraser ignored this and turned to Dief instead. "What do you think? Any insight?"
Dief thought about it for a moment and then said, "I think she smelled funny."
"Right." Fraser's head, momentarily refreshed from a good night's sleep, began aching anew.
"Hey, wait..." Ray said slowly. "I just thought of a motive."
"For La Scala?" Fraser asked.
"Yeah. Yeah." Ray was quickly flipping through the pages of his notebook now. "Remember how I joked about her filing as a witch on her taxes?"
"She never filed taxes," Ray crowed. "And I checked—that's why I had taxes on the brain. I've been looking through her finances, and it looks like she ran a cash business and never paid a dime to Uncle Sam."
"And Schlect was an accountant," Fraser mused. "Perhaps he found out."
"He threatens to audit her and she stabs him through the heart with the fruity stiletto." Ray dramatically illustrated this scenario with a violent stabbing mime. "Works for me!"
Dief let out a faint snort, though he didn't appear to be aware of it.
"What?" Ray demanded, bringing his mime to an abrupt end.
"I thought we were trying to prove she didn't do it," Dief replied.
Ray's face fell. "Oh yeah. That's right."
"We need another suspect," Fraser said.
"I think we should take another look at the lawyer," Dief maintained.
"Okay. Right," Ray said, and looked at Fraser. "Dolenz."
"All right, then," Fraser said, and stood up decisively. "Let's go interview Mr. Dolenz."
"And get donuts, eh?" Dief added hopefully.
"That's hardly a nutritious—"
"Second," Ray murmured.
"Oh, all right," Fraser said.
They stopped and got donuts, along with a variety of beverages: tea for Fraser, more coffee for Ray, and cafe au lait with four sugars for Diefenbaker, who'd apparently developed an instant addiction to Ray's light and wildly sweet version of coffee.
Ray glanced at Dief in the rear-view mirror and grimaced; Fraser turned and saw that Diefenbaker was sitting there, enraptured with joy, strawberry jelly smeared all across the lower half of his face.
"Napkins in the glove compartment," Ray sighed.
"Right. Thanks," Fraser said, and leaned forward.
"Dief, you're a pig!" Ray yelled into the mirror.
But Dief couldn't hear him, and just sat there happily, lapsing into a sugar coma.
"We should take him to a hot dog eating contest," Ray said conspiratorially, as if he'd forgotten Dief was deaf. "He'd be a shoo-in—"
"Ray," Fraser chided.
"All right, all right, just a thought." Ray parked in a metered parking spot up the block from 14 Wallace Street. Fraser handed Dief a wad of napkins.
A little bell rang when they pushed open the door to Thomas Dolenz's storefront law office. A severe looking blonde with tightly pinned hair looked up at them. "Can I help you?"
Ray showed her his badge. "We'd like to talk to Mr. Dolenz," he said, and Fraser found himself admiring how Ray included them all in that royal we—himself, Ray, and Diefenbaker.
The blonde frowned at the badge and then said, uneasily, "What's this about, Detective?"
"The Schlect murder." Ray snapped his I.D. shut and showed her a smile that was all teeth. "We'd like to ask him a few more questions."
She stood, and said, looking nervously from one to the other of them, "Let me see if he's available." She disappeared through a side door, and then reappeared a moment later and gestured for them to enter the inner offices.
Thomas Dolenz was already coming toward them with his hand extended; he was a good-looking man in his mid-forties, with thick wavy brown hair and a broad smile. If Fraser privately found him a little too slick—well, his grandmother always used to say that he had an uncharitable streak. "Detective—Vecchio, isn't it?" Dolenz said, taking and shaking Ray's hand vigorously. "And Constable Fraser. Good to see you again. And who's this?"
Dief, who was taller than any of them by several inches, took a nervous step backwards as Dolenz approached him with his slick smile and his outstretched hand. Ray was instantly on it: "That's, uh—that's Detective Baker, Homicide First Division, he's uh, just taking this opportunity to demonstrate some new evidentiary techniques."
Fraser and Dief stared at him. Ray shrugged nervously and looked away.
"Ah," Thomas Dolenz said. He continued to proffer his hand, but straightened up even further now that he understood that he was dealing with a person of some status. "I'm delighted to—"
To Fraser's horror, Diefenbaker took Dolenz's hand, yanked it up to his nose, sniffed it, licked it, and let it drop.
Ray didn't miss a beat. "Like that," he said, pointing his finger in the direction of Dief's unmentionable activity, "that would be a new technique right there. He got training for that," Ray quickly assured Dolenz. "In Switzerland."
Dolenz looked down at the glistening stripe on back of his hand, looking like he desperately wanted to wash it off but wasn't sure if that was appropriate. "I see," Dolenz said, and Fraser had to give him credit for remaining polite under such circumstances. "That's...fascinating. How can I help you gentlemen?"
Ray pulled his notebook out of his pocket and asked Dolenz to confirm the answers to questions he'd already been asked on the first go-around—where he was the night of the murder? What was his relationship to Schlect, his upstairs neighbor?—and as Ray talked, Diefenbaker wandered around the perimeter of the office, picking things up, sniffing them, licking them, putting them down. Fraser tried to stand casually in between Diefenbaker and Dolenz, but he could see Dolenz glancing over nervously, especially when Diefenbaker began sniffing the armpits of Dolenz's suit jacket, which was hanging on a hook near the door.
Dief looked up at him with eyes full of meaning, and Fraser hesitated for only for a second before going over and taking a deep whiff of the jacket. Hmm—Dief was right, Dolenz smelled funny. Kind of like... He closed his eyes and took another deep sniff of the bitter, familiar smell. Some kind of herb. Some kind of...
Dief was already ahead of him. Dief was looking over Dolenz's desk, picking up his coffee cup, sniffing it, sticking his long tongue into it. Fraser noticed that Ray was trying to look as if this were nothing unusual, merely standard procedure—but this time Dolenz wasn't buying.
"Hey!" Dolenz glared at Dief, who shrank back and handed the cup to Fraser.
Fraser saw that the bottom of the cup was full of strange, colorful dregs. "What kind of tea is this?"
"I don't see that it's any of your business," Dolenz said, crossing his arms. Fraser found it was vaguely satisfying to see his slick demeanor so thoroughly disrupted.
"It doesn't look like a commercial product," Fraser explained.
That was Ray's cue, and he was ready for it. "I can take it down to the station, have it analyzed—"
Dolenz let out a long sigh. He clearly didn't think the tea was worth making a federal case over. "It's just tea. A friend made it for me. She said it would help ward off colds."
Fraser suspected that he knew which "friend" that was. "Raphaella La Scala?"
Dolenz bit his lip. "Yeah."
"Is there any more?" Fraser asked, and this brought out another long sigh from Dolenz, who reached into his desk drawer and brought out a small, colorful tin canister.
"Yes, but I can assure you—it's just tea." Dolenz's voice was full of irritation, but he handed the box over compliantly enough. Fraser gently pulled the top off. The box was still half full of various leaves and herbs. "It tastes terrible," Dolenz confessed, with a shrug, "but I have to admit, it really helped with the cold, and I haven't been sick since."
"Interesting," Fraser said, closing the tin box again. "May I keep this?"
Dolenz stared narrowly at him, all his lawyerly instincts aroused. "Why? I've already told you, it's just tea. There's nothing illegal about—"
Ray was instantly between them, bristling and defensive. "Yeah, how do we know that?"
Fraser unobtrusively pressed a hand to Ray's leather-jacketed side to signal that everything was all right. "I'm sure it's just tea, Mr. Dolenz."
"So why do you want it?" Dolenz demanded. "How do I know that you won't tamper with it and then use it as evidence against her?"
"What is she, your girlfriend?" Ray shot back. "You guys do Schlect together, or what?"
Fraser quickly slid his hand forward, curling his arm just below Ray's rib cage, and pulled him a half-step away from Dolenz, like he was partnering him in a waltz. "Actually," Fraser clarified, "we're looking for exculpatory evidence."
That evidently surprised Dolenz. "You are?" he asked, and Fraser nodded. "You're looking to clear her?" and Fraser nodded again.
"Yeah," Ray agreed, but Ray managed to make even his agreement sound hostile.
"So any help you could give us would be greatly appreciated," Fraser said.
Dolenz gave them the tea. Ray then led them upstairs to Schlect's office, which was crisscrossed with yellow police tape. Fraser slit the tape neatly, and Ray reached into his pocket and took out a small envelope containing a duplicate key.
"Now Dief, be careful," Fraser warned as Diefenbaker ran into the apartment ahead of them. "This is a crime scene."
Ray shut the door and turned to Fraser. "What do you make of the tea?"
"I think that's what makes him smell funny," Fraser explained.
"Okay, great—mystery solved—but I don't see where this is getting us," Ray said—and then, across the room, Dief howled joyfully.
"What?" Fraser asked instantly. "Dief, what?"
"Tea!" Dief held up an identical canister with a surprisingly dainty gesture. "He's got tea, too."
"Indeed!" Fraser pulled the tin cap off and took a whiff. It had the same bitter smell.
"I don't get it," Ray said, rubbing his neck. "What the hell was she doing?"
"Well, that's what's so interesting," Fraser said. He extended the can toward Ray's nose and said, "Take a sniff."
Ray glanced at Diefenbaker, who nodded reassuringly. He bent his spiky head over the canister, inhaled, and then made a face. "Okay, that's gross," Ray said, rubbing his nose. "Somebody tell me why I needed to do that?"
"The dominant smell," Fraser explained, "is an herb called rue—right, Dief?"
Dief nodded and repeated, with some confidence, "Rue!"
This sounded eerily like one of Diefenbaker's old barks, and it took Fraser a moment to remember what he'd been saying. "Rue is also known as ruta or ruda," he said, turning back to Ray, "and it's long been thought to have magical properties."
"So—was La Scala trying to hex everybody? Make Dolenz her love slave?"
"Well, that's the really interesting part. Rue is typically used as part of a protection spell. Italians in particular use rue defensively; they believe that it wards off the mal occhio, or evil eye."
"Yeesh." Ray looked down at the tea with what seemed like renewed respect. "So you're saying, this here tea—"
"—was meant to protect Schlect and Dolenz, not to harm them; correct."
Ray shot a sideways look at the outline of Schlect's body on the floor by the side of the desk. "It didn't do such a good job, really."
"Well, I doubt any herbal concoction protects against stab wounds, Ray."
"Fair enough. So you think we're looking for another witch?" and these words sent Diefenbaker nervously skittering over to Ray, who reached up and began to rub the base of Dief's skull with hard rhythmic strokes of his thumb.
"Possibly," Fraser said, considering it. "But not necessarily. As I recall, the mal occhio doesn't have to be intentional magic. You can hurt someone inadvertently, by looking upon them with envy."
"That's great, Fraser," Ray countered, "but considering that Schlect was stabbed in the chest, I think we can conclude that somebody was actually trying to hurt him."
"Yes, all right, I take your point. And it seems as if Raphaella La Scala knew that someone was trying to hurt Mr. Schlect, so she tried to protect him."
"With tea, yeah," Ray snorted, "very helpful."
"Well, it was better than nothing, wasn't it?"
"Uh—not really, no."
"It must at least have boosted Mr. Schlect's immune system."
"Yeah, and I bet he really appreciates that now." Ray cracked his neck with a sharp jerk of his head to one side. "C'mon, let's go talk to the geeks."
They went up to the third floor and pushed through the doors into Veni Vidi Vici—and were instantly transported into a different world. There were long worktables covered with computers, and wires snaking everywhere. Vividly colored posters covered the walls, advertising Dungeon Lord 2 and and Timesurfer and Ultimate Command and Total Auto Racer 3. Fraser found the illustrations truly appalling, but Ray seemed interested in the lurid designs.
One of the young men—Fraser recalled his name as Mark Saunders—looked up from his screen, rubbed his eyes, and grunted inarticulately. "Hey. What up?"
Ray seemed to understand this and was able reply in kind. "You got a minute?"
"Yeah. You're the cops, right?"
"Yeah. We came before."
"Yeah, that's right. You got more questions, or..."
"Same questions," Ray replied, pulling out his notebook.
"Yeah, okay. Shoot." Saunders pushed back in his wheeled desk chair and whirled round to face them.
Ray began to re-interview him with the standard questions, Where were you on the night of—? What was your relationship with—? Fraser became aware that Dief was growling softly. "What?" Fraser mouthed.
Dief looked warily around the room before looking back at Fraser with narrowed eyes. "I don't know. Something—something's not right."
Fraser opened his mouth to argue, and then shut it again. He was always wrong when he contested Ray's instincts, and Dief's would naturally be stronger and even more likely to be correct. It wasn't anything he'd given much thought to when Dief was in wolf form, but it was strange to watch Dief struggling to control himself now that he was human. Dief looked like he wanted to fly forward and start punching Mark Saunders in the head. It occurred to him that Dief, like Ray, might enjoy boxing.
"I really never saw him much," Saunders was saying. "Pass 'im in the hallway every once in a while. I saw her more, because like I told you, she was living here."
"She ever give you any tea?" Ray asked.
Saunders lifted an eyebrow. "What?"
"Tea," Ray repeated. "Tea, tea—you make it with leaves."
Dief growled louder and Fraser took his arm and gently led him away to stare at the art on the far wall, moving him away from Ray's interview. "Try to focus," he mouthed silently, "on what's disturbing you," and then Fraser suddenly realized that he was staring directly at a picture of the murder weapon.
Raphaella La Scala's intricately wrought stiletto was dripping blood and tucked into the white lace garter encircling a shapely but disembodied leg. The illustration was for a game called Revenge of the Demon Wench III. Apparently the Demon Wench's appetite for vengeance continued unabated after two previous attempts.
Fraser absently traced the curlicues of the handle with his finger. It was the exact knife, he was sure of it— and this weapon wasn't anything that one could buy from the Sears catalogue. They'd researched it, and it was one of a kind, made by hand in 1680.
And yet here it was in all its ornate and deadly glory.
He and Diefenbaker exchanged significant looks, and then turned back to where Ray was shaking hands with Saunders. "Okay, yeah, thanks," Ray was saying, and then he looked over at them and straightened up a bit, having instantly realized from their body language that something was up. Ray glanced from them to his young host and back again before stroking his cheek absently with a finger and asking, "Mind if we look around?"
Saunders waved his hand absently as he rolled his chair back in front of his terminal. "Suit yourself."
Ray shut his notebook and walked past the other programmers toward them. He was wearing a carefully neutral expression, but Fraser could see curiosity glinting in his eyes. "So," Ray said, casually tucking his notebook into his pocket. "You guys find anything?"
"They did it," Dief said in a hoarse voice.
Fraser shot him a sharp look, annoyed at the leap. "We know no such thing," he murmured. "However, we did discover something very interesting indeed," he added, and nodded his head with some delicacy at the poster for Demon Wench III.
Ray searched the poster with unseeing eyes for a second or two before zeroing in on the bloody stiletto. "Whoa," Ray said in a low tone, and then he turned to look at Dief. "Wow, you're right—they totally did it."
"Told you," Dief said smugly.
"We can't jump to conclusions," Fraser insisted. "There are many plausible reasons—"
"Why they got a picture of the murder weapon on their wall," Ray said, skeptically.
"Yes," Fraser hissed. "Perhaps their artist admired the design. It's a very unusual object, as you know. Perhaps—"
"They don't smell like tea," Diefenbaker said, signing as he spoke as if to underline the importance of the point.
Ray clapped his hands together. "I'm convinced. Let's book 'em."
"All of them?"
"Sure," Ray said. "Why not? This is my party."
"For what," Fraser inquired, "precisely, do we book them? Failing to consume tea?"
Ray waved a hand in the air. "Details," he said, and Dief growled agreement. "Look," Ray said, stepping closer and dropping his voice to the barest whisper. "Knowing the truth is half the battle, right? Now that we know what we know, the evidence will shake out, you'll see. Already we know that these guys had access to the murder weapon—to draw a picture like that, you had to really look at the thing, right?"
"Or take a Polaroid," Fraser said and showed Ray a thin, quick smile. "They could have photographed it, scanned it, sketched it—"
Ray's shoulders slumped. "Okay, yeah."
"And of course, there's also the question of motive. What motive would these young men have for murdering Mr. Schlect?" Fraser looked from Ray to Dief and back again.
Ray sighed and scrubbed at his face. "All right, all right. We'll hold off."
"I suggest that we investigate Ms. La Scala's apartment," Fraser said, and then he decided to throw his demoralized partners a bone. "Maybe now we'll find new evidence. Now that we're finally focused on the right suspects."
Raphaella La Scala had rented the building's smallest space, and if anything it was dustier and more claustrophobic than when they'd seen it last. Fraser had to fight the urge to tear the heavy velvet curtains down and fling the windows open. Ray was turning on light after light, but it didn't seem to make much of a difference as the bulbs were encased within heavy pink shades.
"I think I'm going blind," Ray said, peering around the room.
Diefenbaker was drawn directly to an ornately carved mahogany bureau that looked like a makeshift altar. Dief fell to his knees before it, a gesture that gave Fraser a brief chill of blasphemy before he realized that Dief wanted to investigate the contents of the bureau's many tiny drawers.
"Wait!" Fraser said.
Dief hooked his finger in a shiny silver drawer-pull; he wasn't looking, and therefore hadn't "heard."
Fraser crossed to Dief and touched his shoulder. Dief looked up. "Wait," he repeated. "We don't have a warrant."
"Fuck the warrant," Ray said, waving for Diefenbaker to continue. "The warrant would protect La Scala, and we're already protecting her—we're trying to get her off the hook, here. It's in her best interest for us to be snooping around."
Fraser bit his lip. This was fuzzy logic at best, and yet there was just enough truth there that he could accept Ray's version of the facts if he squinted. Certainly Raphaella La Scala was unlikely to complain about the invasion of privacy, though she might of course turn Ray into a newt. Fraser shot a quick glance at Ray. Or perhaps a squirrel.
Dief was already rooting through the first tiny drawer, which was about the size and shape of a drawer in a library's card catalogue. The drawer seemed to contain—
"That's the tea, isn't it?" Ray was saying, and then Ray was on his knees beside Diefenbaker.
Fraser left the bureau to them and took it upon himself to search the rest of the apartment. A small desk contained bills, receipts, and check stubs; apparently, even witches were required to have a checking account. La Scala had used a couple of Japanese screens to mark off a separate sleeping area, and Fraser, who knew better than anyone the trials of living in a commercial space, found himself admiring her ingenuity.
The makeshift bedroom, which he naturally hadn't been invited into on their last visit, consisted of a closely grouped bed, nightstand, and wardrobe. Fraser opened the wardrobe's doors and was nearly overwhelmed by the wafting scent of flowers—lilacs, he thought. Ms. La Scala's wardrobe seemed to consist entirely of silky, gauzy, floating fabrics. Fraser checked the hatboxes on the wardrobe's top shelf and found only hats.
Shutting the wardrobe, Fraser turned to the bed, which was so elaborately clothed, highly pillowed, and softly quilted that it looked like a wedding cake. Fraser felt uncomfortable with such manifestly female frippery, and had nearly convinced himself that the bed didn't require searching when he realized that Raphaella La Scala was quite smart enough to have counted on that when she selected her hiding place. That much lace, that many throw pillows, would certainly serve as a deterrent for all but the most dedicated of police officers.
Fraser took a deep breath and began to search the bed.
He stuck his hands under the pillows, ran his palms along the sheets, slid his outstretched arms deep between the mattress and the box spring. He felt like he was dancing with a good-sized woman wearing layer upon layer of petticoats, crinolines, corsets and hoops. In other words, he felt ridiculous—until his fingertips brushed a sharp edge tucked away under the mattress. He shoved his arm in further, wiggling his fingers until he could nudge whatever it was into his grasp. A moment later he had the thick manila folder in his hands.
He flipped it open and...ah hah, these were financial documents relating to the fiscal heath of Veni Vidi Vici. Fraser sat down on the edge of the bed and let his eyes drift down the complicated pages of numbers: it seemed that, simply put, the company was not earning as much as it was spending. And he was utterly unsurprised to see the signature at the bottom of the audit: Randolph Schlect.
He looked up and saw that Diefenbaker had come into the room and was looking around, sniffing the air absently. He waited until Dief turned to look at him, then held up the folder. "I found a motive."
Dief nodded, and held up his own hand, which was so large that it took Fraser a moment to see the silver chain wrapped around his fingers. "Necklace," Dief said thickly; he seemed to have trouble saying the word.
He handed the fine chain to Fraser, who saw that there was a pendant hanging from it. The pendant was finely wrought, and shaped to look like...
"Rue," Fraser said, frowning as the pendant spun and glinted in the light. "I've seen these before; they're meant to protect the wearer. I'm surprised she wasn't wearing it."
Dief sat beside him on the edge of the bed. "I'm not surprised," he said, and then he started wiggling all ten of his fingers. Fire, Fraser realized—that was the sign for fire—and of course Raphaella La Scala hadn't been wearing her pendant. She'd gone out without it, and she'd had rotten luck.
"You know," Diefenbaker mused, and Fraser turned to study his face, "I think you should fuck Ray."
Fraser stared at him, then opened his mouth widely, so that his ears popped. He could not have heard that correctly. "Excuse me?"
"I think you should fuck Ray," Dief repeated, and this time he made the letter "F" with both hands and smacked them together with a slow, unstoppable rhythm.
While this sign was new to Fraser, it was still perfectly comprehensible.
"What on earth—" Fraser began, and then he realized that stress had made him raise his voice, which was not only stupid with Ray on the other side of a Japanese screen but pointless in any case, as he was talking to his own deaf wolf, "—what on earth," Fraser repeated, in the barest of whispers, "would make you say such a thing?"
He'd intended the words as a rebuke, but Dief seemed to take it as a perfectly straightforward question. "I think he wants you to," Dief replied, brow furrowed in thought. "He's sending all the signals. And I think it would make you—" Fraser watched as Dief patted his heart with the palm of his hand, "—happy," and really, Fraser thought, it was amazing how close the sign for "happy" was to the sign for "heart attack." Close enough for government work, even in Canada.
"That's—ridiculous," Fraser managed to stammer. "That's just— He—"
"He shows you his throat," Dief signed. "All the time."
"That doesn't— That—" But in his mind, he could suddenly picture the pale white of Ray's exposed throat. "He's never— "
"He won't make the first move," Diefenbaker signed deftly, matter of factly. "So if you're waiting for that, you'll be waiting a long time."
It felt like his throat was closing up. "I'm not—"
"You should grab him," Dief suggested. "Grab him by the hair and see what happens," and Fraser stood up so fast that the manila folder flew off his lap, papers flying everywhere.
"You guys find anything?" Ray yelled from across the room, and Fraser nervously dropped to his knees to collect the scattered papers. Dief was instantly beside him, helping him gather them up.
"Yes, I think so!" Fraser called to Ray. He turned back to Diefenbaker and dropped his voice to a low murmur. "You're out of your mind."
Diefenbaker merely shrugged his shoulders and handed him a fistful of crumpled paper.
"And you're not just insane, you're arrogant as well. Where on earth do you get the nerve to advise me on my love life?"
Dief raised an eyebrow at him. "What love life?"
"What'd you find?" Ray called, from the other side of the room.
"Nothing!" Fraser called back, before realizing this was wrong. "I mean—tax returns! Financial records! A motive!" He dropped his voice back to a whisper and glared at Dief. "Humans aren't animals. Not—not technically, anyway," he added, suddenly feeling rather less confident on this point. "Or rather just technically," he added, finding his way again. "The important point," Fraser declared, having finally put his finger on the important point, "is that human beings don't go throwing each other to the ground and sniffing each other's posteriors—"
"Hey," Dief shot back. "Don't knock it till you've—"
"What the fuck are you two doing?" Fraser looked up to see Ray standing there, one hand on the edge of the screen, boggling down at them.
"Nothing," he and Dief mumbled, almost simultaneously. Grabbing the remaining pages out of Dief's hands, Fraser stood quickly and said, "Just going through the evidence."
"Evidence of what?" Ray said, coming closer, and Fraser thrust the wads of papers at him.
"We had the right motive, just the wrong suspect," Fraser explained quickly, trying not to notice the smooth skin just beneath Ray's ear as he tilted his head to one side and considered the crumpled documents. "Veni Vidi Vici are not what you would call financially sound, and Randolph Schlect apparently discovered that."
"Huh." Ray squinted down at the mess of papers, then tugged his glasses out of his breast pocket and balanced them precariously on his face. "This looks to me like they were keepin' two sets of books. One for the investors, and one that was real. Lookee here," Ray said, tapping a flat-nailed fingertip at a specific part of the page. "That's what they reported as last quarter's income—that's totally made up."
Fraser leaned over to see where Ray was pointing, but couldn't seem to focus his eyes, because he was suddenly aware of the smell of leather—leather and sweat on Ray's collar, the bittersweet smells of coffee and stale cigarette smoke and, mmm, perhaps that was peppermint, on Ray's breath. His eyes drifted closed and he inhaled, slowly, deeply—
"Dief, you called it." Ray's voice was ringing with admiration, and Fraser instantly opened his eyes. Dief was smiling crookedly, and Fraser suddenly felt very warm. "Remind me never to doubt you."
"Never doubt me," Dief replied, looking at Fraser as he said it.
"S'enough for a warrant anyway." Ray flipped another page, then looked up, grinning. "Dief, ol' buddy, I think you've just made your very first collar," and then suddenly Ray was craning his neck and merrily yelling up at the ceiling, "Do you hear that, you stupid ol' witch? I'm going to arrest those bastards!" and Fraser felt a sudden sting of fear.
Because Dief was looking panicked, his shoulders hunched—and then he jerked back hard, almost convulsing. Ray didn't notice; he was still shouting at the ceiling in high spirits. "You're free to go, lady! I'll get the charges dr—"
"Ray, stop." Fraser felt like he was choking. "Stop," and a second later, he had Diefenbaker's arm around his shoulders, and he was clutching Diefenbaker's side. Dief's knees were buckling, but he was managing to keep his feet with a little help.
"Holy..." Ray seemed to have twigged on to the fact that something was wrong. "Is he sick? Should I get help? Fraser, should I—?"
But Fraser didn't even know what kind of help to ask for. Diefenbaker's eyes were huge and glassy and his knees were giving way—and then Diefenbaker turned to him and covered his heart with his hand and tapped it, slowly, three times, before—
There was a flash of light and a sudden bzzzt! of electrical shock, and that was the last thing he remembered.
He came to consciousness feeling achy all over, as if he'd been beaten. Electricity, he knew from experience, did that to you, left you feeling bruised. He felt cold concrete at his back, and cool, sticky wetness on his face—and then he felt another rough swipe of tongue.
Dief was licking his face, and he opened his eyes and saw that Dief was a wolf again, hairy and four-legged and familiar. Fraser felt strangely overwhelmed by the sight of him, and he sat up on the slushy curb and pulled Dief close, hard against his chest. Dief let out an enthusiastic bark! and pushed his head against Fraser's palm. Fraser rubbed the furry head and scratched behind his ears. He felt the warmth and strength of Dief's muscular form, and missed the kind human face, the blurred and distorted voice.
He looked up and saw looming metal towers, plumes of flame, and squat concrete factories belching black smoke. "Gary, Indiana, I presume?"
Dief barked, and if Fraser concentrated, he could almost hear the familiar voice. You got it, Captain.
"I suppose we'd better get a move on." He released Dief and hauled himself up to his feet, shivering in his snow-soaked peacoat. "It's a substantial walk, as you know—really, we should find a phone and let Ray know where we are."
They walked for a while through the industrial landscape of Gary, Indiana, eventually managing to hike a trail through the medians and dividers that paralleled Interstate 90. The highway led them back to Chicago, where they managed to scramble over a low embankment and onto the familiar city streets.
Once there, they looked for a pay telephone. The first telephone they found was really only half a phone, as the receiver had been detached and carried away somewhere. The second public telephone had what appeared to be gum jammed into the coin slot. The third phone wouldn't stop ringing, even when Fraser depressed the metal tongue several times, and the fourth phone ate his quarter and disconnected him.
It reminded him of a conversation he'd once had with Ray Vecchio, right when they'd first become partners. "The problem with you," Ray Vecchio had told him in that affectionately insulting way Ray Vecchio had, "is that you think that 'the public' is the public like in 'public television'—like they listen to public radio and go to the public library and have themselves a public opinion. Whereas you really gotta be thinking more in terms of public pools, public phones, and public toilets," Ray Vecchio said, ticking these things off on his long fingers, "every one of which is disgusting, believe you me."
He'd been right, of course, Fraser thought, racking the receiver with disgust. He was tired and hungry—it had already been a very long day, they hadn't eaten since breakfast, and it was now well past dinnertime. Diefenbaker whimpered softly, and Fraser agreed and bought them each a kielbasa and a bottle of spring water. Diefenbaker ate his in three snapping bites, but Fraser munched his more slowly as they trudged their way north through the dark Chicago streets.
An hour later, his spirit surged as he saw a woman actually using a pay telephone, and he sprinted across the street towards her just in time to hear her say, "Yeah, okay, I'll be there in ten minutes," and hang up. Fraser fished a quarter out of his pea-coat, picked up the receiver—and yes, there was actually a dial tone!—before dialing Ray's cell phone. But Fraser heard neither the slow rings of an unanswered phone nor the rather more rapid tones of a busy signal; instead, he was confronted with a harsh beeping sound that plainly illustrated that there was something wrong with the equipment on the other end.
Frowning, he depressed the metal tongue, and amazingly, his quarter was returned to him. He inserted it again and this time dialed Ray's line at the 27th Precinct. "Detective Vecchio's line," Francesca said, and her voice seemed wonderfully sane and real and normal.
"Francesca, it's Constable Fraser. I'm looking for—"
"Oh hey! Wait! Wait!" Francesca interrupted eagerly. "Lieutenant Welsh wants you—don't move!" He heard the phone thump to Ray's desktop, then heard Francesca yelling, "Lieu!! Phone! It's Fraser!"
Lieutenant Welsh was on the line a moment later. "Constable, are you all right? Where are you?"
"I'm fine. I'm near Evergreen Park," Fraser replied, "and I'm looking for Ray. His cell phone doesn't seem to be working."
"It's busted," Lieutenant Welsh replied grimly. "Shorted out. In fact, everything at 14 Wallace Street's shorted out. Ray's cell, the lights, the elevator—it's like the whole building was hit by lightning. Ray had to arrest everybody by flashlight."
"He arrested them?" Fraser repeated, surprised. "The owners of Veni Vidi Vici?"
"Yeah. They came pretty quietly, too. I guess their computers all fried when the bolt hit. They're at central booking now."
"Is Ray with them?" Fraser asked, looking down at his watch. Central booking wasn't terribly far, probably another twenty minutes' brisk walk.
"No. He's out looking for you—he was pretty freaked out when you disappeared on him like that. I had to, uh," and here Lieutenant Welsh coughed and dropped his voice, "give him a couple shots of bourbon. He said you, uh, vanished into thin air. That a wicked witch had gotten you, and it was all his fault."
Silence hung in the air between them for a moment, as Fraser searched his brain for something resembling an adequate response. "Well, er—she didn't!" he said finally, with as much cheer as he could manage. "She just sent me to Gary, Indiana. No," he added in anticipation of Welsh's next question, "I've no idea why Gary, Indiana. It seems to be a thing she does."
"Okay..." Fraser got the distinct impression that Lieutenant Welsh was going to need a couple of shots of bourbon himself. "And the witch?"
"Is wicked, yes. Mischievous at the very least."
"He's probably at the Consulate," Lieutenant Welsh said and hung up on him.
Fraser slowly hung up the receiver, and beside him Dief was making a snuffling noise that sounded particularly like laughter. "Oh, shut up," he said. "You of all people should sympathize."
Diefenbaker replied, I do. Being human is hard, and this struck Fraser as a real and profound truth.
It was nearly midnight when they turned the final corner and walked up the block toward the dark and looming Consulate. Fraser became aware of a sinking sense of disappointment; he'd been hoping to find the lights on and Ray waiting for him.
And then a shadow moved, and grew, and detached itself from the Consulate steps—and Ray was rushing up the block toward them, greatcoat billowing around his legs. Diefenbaker barked furiously, and then Ray was there, right in front of him and somehow everywhere at once. Fraser felt Ray's fingers digging painfully into his shoulders, and then Ray was lightly patting Fraser's arms and chest and side, like he was searching him for a weapon—or more likely, ascertaining that he was still all in one piece. "God," Ray was muttering between clenched teeth. "God. Are you okay?"
He wasn't actually sure that Ray was speaking to him, but he decided to answer as if he were. "I'm fine, Ray. A little tired, but otherwise okay."
"And Dief?" Ray slowly pulled his hands off Fraser and dropped into a crouch beside Diefenbaker, who instantly bounded close to lick his face. Ray buried his hands roughly in the thick white fur and dragged the wolf tight into his arms. "You stupid mutt!" Ray yelled with what sounded like real anger. "You scared the crap out of me!"
Fraser stared down at the bowed head, the spiky blond hair. You should grab him, Dief whispered inside his brain. Grab him by the hair and see what happens.
Ray rose to his feet, and Diefenbaker wisely took the opportunity to high-tail it out of there. "Where the fuck have you been? I've been out of my head over here," Ray shouted, pointing two fingers to his temple like a gun. "For all I knew, you could be a dog in Minneapolis!"
"Gary," Fraser said stupidly.
"Whatever!" Ray yelled, and for a second, Fraser thought Ray might haul off and hit him. But Ray just flung his arms up in the air, wheeled around, and stomped up the steps to the Consulate's door.
Fraser followed, feeling as if he'd had a narrow escape. "I hear you arrested Mark Saunders," he said, more to make conversation than for any other reason.
"Yeah," Ray replied, irritably. "Him and the whole damn lot of them."
Fraser unlocked the door, opened it, and flipped on the light. Diefenbaker raced into the hallway, nails clattering against the hardwood, and began running circles around the place—needing to re-mark his territory, Fraser suspected. Dief zoomed up the stairs, and Ray strode down the hallway and disappeared into the kitchen.
Fraser pulled off his peacoat and went into his office to hang it up, but when he got there, he was overcome by a sudden, overwhelming feeling of frustration, and slung the coat angrily into a corner. The hinge on his office door squeaked and Fraser turned to find Ray standing there, holding one of the Consulate's good crystal tumblers against his forehead. "Hell of a day, Fraser," Ray murmured, closing his eyes and tilting his head to the side. "Hell of a..."
He took two steps forward and gently pulled the tumbler from Ray's grip. The crystal was cold in his hand, and the whiskey smelled smoky, woody. Delicious. He closed his eyes and drained the glass, then set it down on the desk. He opened his eyes and saw that Ray was watching him closely, warily, with eyes that were huge and strangely dark.
Fraser raised his hand—and Ray didn't move, not an inch, not a muscle. Ray's eyes never even left his face to follow the movement of his hand.
I think he wants you to, Diefenbaker whispered inside his head.
Fraser gently brushed the spikes of Ray's hair just above his ear. Ray didn't blink, didn't flinch—just kept looking at him steadfastly with those dark, blue eyes. Fraser closed his hand around a thick hunk of Ray's hair, tightening his fingers and tugging once, hard. Ray did flinch then, wincing with a short, sharp intake of breath—and then it was as if something was falling away from Ray, some near-tangible barrier that had previously stood between them.
Ray took a single, half-stumbling step toward him, but that step was enough to close the gap between their bodies. Fraser again yanked on his fistful of hair and pulled Ray's mouth to his, blindly reaching with his other hand to tug Ray's t-shirt out of his pants. Ray's lips were surprisingly soft, his mouth surprisingly wet. Ray's mouth had always looked hard to him, and now he wondered if that, too, was merely self-protective on Ray's part, another element of the barrier between him and the world.
Fraser slid his palm up the smooth warm skin of Ray's side, feeling the twist of muscle underneath, fingering the indentations in his rib cage. It felt like Ray was opening to him, opening and opening and opening until Fraser was half out of his mind with wanting him, wanting in. He burrowed helplessly into the warm, damp parts of Ray's body—sucking the slick, sweet tongue, groping the soft, faintly damp hair at armpits and crotch. He leaned back against the desk and pulled Ray to him, and when he finally broke away to breathe he saw that he'd pulled Ray half-across his thighs, and more than half out of his clothes.
He'd somehow managed to shove Ray's t-shirt up high enough to reveal one small, brown nipple surrounded by unruly brown-blond hairs; lower down, Ray's erection curved out of the V of his unzipped pants. The sight made his heart pound. He had no right to this, to any of this, but he didn't care—he wanted to touch everything, everything he could reach, from breastbone to groin. He ran his hands over Ray's body and he soon became conscious of the fact that Ray's chest was rising and falling rapidly, that the soft head of Ray's cock was leaking clear fluid onto his abdomen—that Ray was, in short, sexually aroused in the extreme.
Fraser experienced this revelation as strangely terrifying. He stilled his hands, clutching Ray's side and pale hip in his own white-knuckled grip, and tried to collect himself. Strange that he should be the one feeling vulnerable when it was Ray who'd been laid bare. Whom he'd laid bare. But aside from Ray's rapid breathing—which could, of course, have been a sign of fear or panic but was plainly neither fear nor panic—Ray seemed physically calm. Calmer than usual, in fact. Almost zen aside from his state of furious arousal.
And then Ray closed his eyes and twisted his face to the side, exposing his long, pale, stubbled throat. It was the easiest thing in the world to press his lips there, to let them drag and hover over the point of Ray's pulse. His own pulse was pounding loudly in his ears. Ray's hand was gentle on the back of his head, long, thin fingers sliding deep into his hair before moving down to cup the back of his neck. Ray's palm was warm and slightly sweaty against his skin. Fraser sucked the pulse point at Ray's throat and tasted salt.
But he was sweating, too. Blindly he unbuttoned his shirt and tried to wrench it off his shoulders, but his hands somehow drifted back to Ray's face as he drifted back to kissing Ray's soft mouth. More. More contact. He needed it—and finally, frustration focused him, and he managed to push Ray down onto his cot and flat on his back. Better. Much better, because now he could lick and kiss the glorious expanse of skin, the still-heaving chest tapering down to the narrow waist.
Ray also seemed to think this was better, if the soft moans vibrating through his body were any indication. Ray's erection was leaking copiously—smearing Fraser's belly and chest and even shoulder as he licked and bit Ray's hip. Fraser was now half-on and half-off the cot, one knee braced on the hard floor. He turned and took the head of Ray's cock into his mouth, and Ray's hands clenched. The strong fingers of one hand dug painfully into Fraser's shoulder, and Ray's other hand was in Fraser's hair, pulling hard.
Fraser found the sharp twinge excruciatingly exciting, and his own erection leapt in his pants. Ray's hand fisted in his hair and he was being tugged downward, forced to take in more of Ray's erection, which was thick, huge, almost suffocating. This was exhilarating, terrifying, because he wasn't at all sure he could manage to—
He felt, more than heard, Ray inhale deeply, and then he felt Ray's fingers ease and withdraw from his hair. Instinctively, Fraser lifted his head, letting Ray's cock slide, glistening, from his mouth, and watched in slow, thick lust as Ray draped one arm over his eyes and let his other arm fall to the floor. Fraser immediately understood the gesture for what it was: an invitation. Ray was proffering himself, all of himself, and the voice in his brain whispered darkly, "He wants you to." And as if this weren't enough provocation, Fraser felt Ray's left thigh muscle twitch under his hand—and then, slowly, Ray drew his leg up, just a little, just enough to invite him to... "He wants you to. He wants you to. He wants you..."
He slid his finger into Ray's body and Ray bucked upwards, into Fraser's waiting mouth. Ray was gasping, helplessly twisting his hips up and to the left, again and again, in a rhythmic movement that put pressure first against Fraser's tongue, then against the finger deep inside his body. Fraser wrapped an arm around Ray's thigh and held on, trying to keep the heavy body steady as he sucked and fingered him. He knew, from the way Ray was breathing, from the stifled but urgent-sounding noises Ray was making, that Ray was right on the verge of—and Fraser tightened his grip and held on as Ray convulsed beneath him with a loud, gut-wrenching sob and flooded his mouth.
Somewhere in the Consulate, Dief began to howl. Fraser's blood was shrieking in his veins, and he dragged Ray off the cot and onto the mess of blankets on the floor and got behind him. Desk. Drawer. Vaseline. Ray was making low, guttural animal noises as he fought to brace himself on his palms, but the worn wool blankets kept shifting under his hands, and he couldn't manage to get a grip. Not that it mattered—Fraser just slung one arm around Ray's waist and the other low around Ray's hips and pulled their bodies together, and as he sank into Ray, Ray let out a long, sweet groan that made the hair on the back of Fraser's neck stand up.
Ray's thighs were warm against his, and Fraser wrapped himself tightly around Ray's sweat-slick back and fucked him. So good, so good... Wave after wave of pleasure surged up his body as he swayed forward, burying himself in Ray. They moved together easily, as if they were one body, Ray's head lolling on his shoulders before he leaned back to press his hot cheek to Fraser's.
Ray was panting out what seemed like words, but they were faint and didn't seem to make much sense. "Frase, I...god, I...can't...in the...need to..."
Fraser's eyes were closed, and he pressed his face into Ray's hair. "Shhh," he murmured reassuringly, but he was thrusting very deeply now and Ray was babbling breathlessly.
"Shh. Shh," and that was it, he had to thrust hard and fast, now, and Ray's babble stretched out into one long, keening wail. Or maybe that was—just possibly that was—his own voice he was hearing—
Fraser buried his face in Ray's hair, hugged Ray as tightly as his arms would allow, and came with a muffled groan.
Later, when Fraser opened his eyes, he found himself lying in the mess of blankets, curled around a lot of sleeping Ray. The arm that was trapped beneath Ray was now entirely numb, but Fraser didn't mind—in fact, it seemed fair to him, a reasonable trade-off for the many joys of this moment.
Ray was warming his entire body, and how long had it been since he'd held another human being like this? He closed his eyes again, the better to bask in the delightful feelings—and had it only been that morning that Dief had been his bedmate? And all right, while today hadn't been precisely typical, it was true that Diefenbaker's had been the only warm body in his bed for years, and moreover, the only body he'd ever shared his bed with on even a semi-regular basis.
He supposed, come to think of it, that Dief really did know everything about his love life.
In fact, from a certain angle, Diefenbaker was his love life.
But not anymore. Fraser tightened his free arm around Ray's body and buried his face in his hair. "You're mine," he whispered—and to his surprise, Ray snuffled sleepily and said, "Okay."
Fraser smiled helplessly against the back of Ray's neck and murmured, half to himself: "He's going to be insufferable."
"Diefenbaker," Fraser replied, his lips twitching wryly. "This was his idea."
"Oh. Hm." Ray sounded like he was drifting off to sleep again, but he managed to add, faintly: "Good dog."
"I'm sorry," Fraser said sincerely. "I'm terribly sorry. I don't know how this happened. He did have them—"
"He's got to have his tags on at all times, Constable," Officer Franklin insisted. "It's the law."
"He does have them," Fraser insisted, "or at least, he used to. He must have lost them," he added, shooting an accusatory look at Dief.
Dief just looked up pathetically, and whimpered.
"Or perhaps they fell off," Fraser relented. "We have had a certain amount of...excitement, lately."
But Officer Franklin was not inclined to give quarter. "I'm sorry, Constable, but it's your responsibility to—"
"Oh, cut it out, Wally, willya?" Officer Diane Jefferson shoved Officer Franklin out of the way with a sour look. "Hi there, Fraser," she added, with a quick glance at him.
"Good evening, Diane," Fraser said, clutching his hat by the brim. "I'm terribly sorry to—"
"Dief's tags fell off," Diane Jefferson said to Officer Franklin, "and you gotta make a federal case out of it?"
"I'm just doing my job, Jefferson," Officer Franklin said defensively.
"Oh yeah, sure," Diane Jefferson snorted, crossing her arms. "And what do you think Ray's gonna do when he hears that you gave his partner's dog a ticket?"
"Vecchio can kiss my ass," Officer Franklin said, but he was noticeably nervous.
"Kick your ass is more like it," Diane Jefferson took the ticket from Officer Franklin. "Up and down the friggin' street."
Fraser shifted his hat nervously through his fingers. "I wouldn't want any special—"
"Fraser?" Diane Jefferson looked up at him. "You're gonna get those tags replaced, right?"
"Right. Yes. Immediately," Fraser replied instantly.
"Right," Diane agreed, and then she slowly tore the ticket in half, and in half again, grinning at Wally Franklin all the while.
Upstairs, Ray was on the telephone, but he grinned when he saw them crossing the bullpen, and he waved them over with his free hand. "Yeah, yeah, I got you. All right. Bye," he said into the receiver, and then hung up. "Hey, I wasn't expecting you," Ray said, standing up. "I thought you were gonna be stuck all day with the Ambassador."
Fraser took a deep breath. "Inspector Thatcher has apparently decided that I am an unfit companion for the Ambassador." He found these constant slights rather easier to take on a good night's sleep in Ray's full sized bed. "So I came by to see if you were free for lunch."
"I am, yeah. Love to. I've hardly managed to get two bites of anything into my mouth, today," Ray muttered, and reached for a half-eaten donut that was sitting on a coffee-stained napkin. Dief was instantly brushing past Fraser's legs, and Ray playfully slung the donut at him behind his back—true to form, Dief leapt and gracefully snatched it out of the air. "C'mon, let's go," he said, and grabbed his coat off the hook.
Fraser waited until they were outside and well down the street from the station before venturing to ask Ray, "You didn't happen to find Dief's license tags anywhere, did you?"
"No," Ray replied, glancing down at Dief. "Did he lose 'em?"
"Apparently," Fraser said—but this was met by a howl of outrage, followed by a series of short, furious barks.
"Whoa," Ray said, raising his hands. "All right, guy—chill out. He says you got 'em," Ray added, turning to Fraser.
Fraser frowned. "Me? That's not possible..." but he slid his hands into the pockets of his coat and began to search them.
He felt a little jolt of electricity shoot up his arm as his fingers brushed the stiff cover of Dief's Canadian passport. He pulled it out of his pocket, half expecting it to be something else by the time he laid eyes on it. No such luck, though, and he stared down at the gold-embossed cover. CANADA. PASSPORT/PASSEPORT. He flipped it open and stared down at the name, at the photograph.
Name: Dave Von Baker. Canadian/Canadienne. The shaggy salt-and-pepper hair framed the grinning, unlined face.
Fraser peered over the top of the passport at Diefenbaker, who stared up at him with the same pale eyes as in the photograph.
Ray, standing next to him, pulled the passport from his fingers. "Whoa. That's kind of creepy."
"Indeed," Fraser said, unable to take his eyes off Diefenbaker.
"Just like Jeff Daniels," Ray muttered.
"That must have been Diefenbaker's dog license," Fraser realized. "But I had it in my pocket, so it didn't change back when he did."
Diefenbaker barked again. Ray wheeled on Fraser and demanded, "Who tried to give you a ticket? I'll kick his ass from—"
"It's not important, Ray," Fraser said through clenched teeth, and then he mouthed at Diefenbaker, "Ix-nay on the icket-tay."
"—here to Des Moines, because that's somebody who's trying to fuck with me. By fucking with you. They know you're my partner, and they know that this is my adopted step-type-dog."
Diefenbaker showed Fraser a mouthful of teeth and a huge, lolling pink tongue, then sat down and ducked his head between his legs. Fraser sighed.
"I mean, nobody gives out tickets for dog licenses. That's like giving out tickets for jaywalking. That's like a thing that no self-respecting officer of the law should—hey, what's he doing?" Ray asked, brought up short.
"He's..." Fraser flung a hand in Dief's direction. "Being very rude," he said pointedly.
"Aw, you're just jealous," Ray said, grinning paternally at Dief.
"I am not. That is something that civilized people do in private."
They stood there for a while and watched Dief be a dog.
"Hey Fraser?" Ray asked, after a moment.
"Wanna go home and be civilized?"