The Killer Replacements
Note: Thank you Mia! Thank you Kat! Thank you Sandy! Thank you Resonant! Thank you Anne and Miriam for brilliant contributions. Thank you LaT, for the title! Thank you, thank you all! And I am *outta* here!
It was not quite four o'clock on Wednesday afternoon when Cadet McPherson, red-faced with the cold, appeared at the door to the apprentice barracks and said, "Constable Fraser, you have a telephone call."
I looked up from the map, surprised at both the interruption and its reason. Around me, the cadets looked at each other and then at me with renewed respect.
I had a telephone call.
"It's from the States, sir," McPherson added helpfully, and I could hear the shuffle of boots around the table and feel the rustling of bodies. Obviously I was a person of tremendous importance.
I had a telephone call from the States.
"Very well," I said, removing my hands from the table and straightening up. "Recruits, I leave you to your study of the MacKenzie Delta. I will return shortly." They nodded and I stepped away from the table. "Where precisely should I receive said telephone call?"
Cadet McPherson looked at me apologetically.
Five minutes later, I was at the top of a telephone pole, receiver pressed to my ear. Ray's voice was faint, though clearly recognizable. "....Fraser?...are you there?...is that you?"
I braced myself against the pole and jiggled the connection with my free hand. "Ray? Hello, Ray?"
"Fraser." Ray's voice was clearer now, and marked with relief. "Hey. How's Canada?"
I raised my head, looked over the snow-covered mountains, at the blue, blue sky overhead. "It's beautiful. It snowed again last night—"
"Color me shocked."
"—but it's not too cold, all things considered." I tightened my cold-numbed fingers on the receiver. "How is Chicago?"
"Cold. Wet. Damp. Tell me what you've been doing."
"Well," I began carefully, "I've mainly been schooling the new recruits in the geography and environmental conditions of the Territories above the..." I paused; this was the point at which Ray would normally cut me off. "Ray, are you there?"
"I'm here, go on," Ray said.
"All right. Above the Arctic Circle, then. Coastal areas mainly: Tuktoyaktuk, Paulatuk, Mackenzie Bay, the Amundsen Gulf. Those are my particular areas of expertise."
Again I paused. After a second, I heard Ray's voice. "Go on?"
All right, this was definitely rather strange. "Ray," I asked, "are you all right?"
"I'm fine. Go on. How are you schooling them?"
I stared out at the mountains; this really was a wonderful view. "Mainly with maps, actually. "Though we have discussed the idea of a field—" I stopped again, tried to focus on the splintering wood of the pole. "Ray, are you sure everything's all right?"
I blew out a breath, a visible puff before me in the cold air. "Is there—any particular reason that you called?"
Now it was Ray's turn to pause; I frowned and listened to the line buzz and crackle in the sudden silence. "I just... wanted to hear your voice, is all," Ray said finally. "Nothing else. I mean—not really."
I frowned. "Not really?"
"Just that—uh. Look, maybe I'm not at the train to pick you up next week, okay? Just—that's possible. So if I'm not, you just take a cab or something, okay?"
Suddenly the mountains were gone, the view was gone, the pole was gone—there was nothing before my eyes but empty space. "Ray..." I managed, feeling my throat close up.
"Geez, it's good to hear your voice," I heard Ray say, and suddenly I could hear that Ray's voice was tight too. Why hadn't I heard that before? Why hadn't I noticed? "It's really good. Say something else—say one of those things that you say."
I swallowed hard, willing my voice to work. "Ray, tell me what's happening."
Ray didn't reply for a long moment. "That's not one of those things that you normally say, Fraser—"
"Ray, tell me," I repeated, more forcefully.
"I can't," Ray said sharply. "You know I can't. Just shut up and talk. How many of the new recruits are of native descent?"
"About fourteen percent," I replied automatically, and then said: "Ray, don't move, I'm coming back—"
"—I can't not move, I can't not move. I am not in control here—"
"Stall them," I said brutally. "Get sick. Something—-"
"I can't. This is not my show, Fraser; I am not running this show. I got no control over where, how—"
"There has to be some way you can—"
"—when, nothing. I got no way of—Fraser, I love working with you," Ray said, abruptly. "I loved working with you, do you hear me?"
"I hear you," I repeated numbly.
"I loved working with you. If I'm calling for anything, I'm calling for that."
"Ray, just don't move." My voice sounded rough to my own ears. "I'll be right there—"
Ray cut me off. "You won't make it. There's no time. I got no choice in this, Fraser—believe me in that—"
"Ray, I believe you, I do believe you, but can't you—"
"No. I can't. I loved working with you, I love you, I'll see you when I see you, okay?"
The line clicked, and then vibrated with a thick, steady hum. I sat, listening to it for a while. And then there was another click and a woman's voice said, "Fort Good Hope, how may I direct your call?"
I licked my lips and glanced at my watch. "Air Canada, please."
It was precisely eighteen hours later—ten o'clock, Thursday morning—when the taxicab jerked to a sudden stop in front of the 27th precinct. The driver hadn't inquired about Diefenbaker's ancestry and I hadn't volunteered the information; just once, just for this once, let them take him for a dog.
I paid the driver and then bolted out of the car, Dief at my heels. Detective Huey pushed through the front doors just as I reached for the handle. "Detective Huey. Is Ray here?"
Huey frowned at me and said, "You mean Detective Vecchio?"
I felt my heart start to sink. "Yes. Ray Vecchio the detective."
But Huey's answer reassured me. "In the break room, I think," he said, jerking his head toward the bullpen.
Thank God. "Ah...thank you kindly." I brushed past him and down the corridor to the lunch room.
Ray wasn't there, but Francesca looked up from her yogurt with a smile. "Hey, you're back! How was your vacation?"
"Very relaxing, thank you," I replied quickly. "You haven't seen Ray, have you?"
Francesca took a deep breath and fixed me with a look. "You mean Detective Vecchio."
"Yes," I said, firmly. "Precisely right. Detective Vecchio—your brother.
Francesca suddenly looked uncomfortable. "Yeah, well, about that part of it, Fraser—"
Suddenly, I felt panicked; I had come too late after all. Rudely, inexcusably, I rushed out of the breakroom and into the bullpen, toward Lieutenant Welsh's office.
And then, out of the corner of my eye, I caught sight of a tall, skinny figure leaning over Ray's desk—spiky dyed blond hair, t-shirt and jeans, check. I instantly adjusted my course, swerving to intercept him—
—and he straightened and turned and smiled and—-oh, dear God.
They're not even trying anymore, are they.
"Hey there! Fraser, sweetie! Good to see you—I've missed you!"
"Ah," I said narrowly. "And you of course would be—?"
She had a dazzling smile that was nothing at all like either Ray's. "Rae," she said. "Rae Vecchio," and then she gave me a hug.
"Now look here," I said, barging into Lieutenant Welsh's office and slamming the door behind me. "I may be a few cards short of a deck, but that is not Ray Vecchio, nor is it the person to whom I have come to refer to as Ray Vecchio over these last two years. My patience is elastic but it is not infinite. I'd provide you with detailed comparative measurements to support my case if I didn't think the results would be...obscene." I folded my arms across my chest and glared at him. "At the very least, they'd violate state decency laws and probably warrant a charge of sexual harassment."
Lieutenant Welsh leaned back in his chair and scrubbed at his face. "Constable. You're back early. How wonderful for us all."
"Yes, I adjusted my itinerary with the hope of perhaps catching Ray Vecchio. Or the person we have come to call Ray Vecchio. Who is not that person," I said, pointing toward the door. "That person," I added acidly, "calls me 'sweetie.'"
Lieutenant Welsh had the good grace to wince.
"Now both of my previous Ray Vecchios have seen fit to gift me with a number of charming sobriquets, including but not by any means limited to: Ben, Benny, Benton-Buddy, Fraze, and the rather detestable 'Big Red.' However, neither of them, to the best of my knowledge, has ever called me 'sweetie,' which I now take to be the definitive low point of my long relationship with this department, and possibly with Chicago in its entirety."
"Look, they pulled him," Lieutenant Welsh said with a groan. "Okay? They pulled him, he's history, he's gone."
"Yes, I gathered that." I took a deep breath and tried to calm myself. "Who pulled him? And to where did they pull him?"
"Like I know," Lieutenant Welsh replied glumly. "Like anyone tells me anything. Listen, I don't run Kowalski; he's not a member of this division. Kowalski's an undercover guy—and I guess they needed him undercover somewhere else. Central took everything when they took him—they took his file, his personal things, the works."
I passed a hand over my forehead. "All right. So to whom do I need to speak?"
Lieutenant Welsh was already shaking his head. "I'm sorry, Constable; really, I am. But nobody's going to tell you anything—I doubt they'll even talk to you. You're not involved in the operation, you're not CPD—hell, you're not even an American citizen. You're gonna hit a wall there, I promise you."
"Perhaps," I replied after a moment. "But of course, I've hit walls before."
"Constable, I realize that this is a difficult situation. Just—nobody has any choice here. We're all doing our jobs. And Rae—her name's Rachel Perrati—is a pretty good cop even if she is a woman."
"Well, at least she's genuinely Italian," I replied, looking away.
"She's really Italian, she's really a Rae, and I'm sure she won't call you 'sweetie' if you ask her not to." Lieutenant Welsh shifted in his chair, which creaked a bit under his weight. "Just give her a chance, Constable, okay? Please?"
I looked at his exhausted face and didn't have the heart to say no.
I decided to approach my task methodically, as if this were just a normal 'missing persons' case. This first required a thorough search of Ray Vecchio's desk; however, to do that, I had to lure Rae Vecchio out of the vicinity.
To that end, I sought Francesca's assistance. She seemed glad to help and assured me that the task of waylaying her...um...sister would be simple for her. Alas, I had forgotten Francesca's particular brand of cunning—it wasn't until she had actually shaken the can of soda and I heard the crack as she pulled the tab that I realized what she intended to do.
"Oh, honey! I'm so sorry!" Francesca was wide-eyed and rather a convincing shade of red. "Let me help you with that—we can wash it out. I'll loan you one of my extra blouses..." She herded Rae toward the ladies room and then waved a violent hand behind her back at me: go! go!
I went. Unfortunately, it didn't take long. Ray's desk was utterly devoid of Ray-like items—and was already full of things that would have sent either Ray into conniptions. Lipstick. The Hunk-A-Day Desk Calendar. Feminine hygiene products. I had a moment of hope upon spotting a tube of hair gel—but one quick whiff assured me that this was not the scent of my Ray.
I carefully closed all the drawers, then ran my fingertips over the surface of the desk, feeling underneath the in-box, around the edges of the blotter. Then I searched quickly through the trays themselves. Nothing. Nothing left of him at all.
Finally, I turned my attention to the bulletin board at the side of Ray's desk. I carefully peeled back the official memos, the Interpol bulletins, the cluster of pictures of Rae Vecchio amidst the rather stunned looking Vecchio family—and looked behind them. Nothing.
I had just turned away from the desk when an idea hit me; I turned back, flipped the blotter over, and—yes, there it was. There was a photograph taped to the underside, picture side down. Carefully, I slid my fingers underneath the edge and pulled the tape away. There was an inexplicable message scrawled on the back, two short words in Ray's sharp script.
I considered this for a moment and then flipped the picture over.
I found myself smiling helplessly—yes, this was Ray all right; well, Ray and me together, to be exact. Ray was standing beside me, scowling at the camera through his glasses as if he were irked at the very idea of being photographed. His right arm was blurry, caught in the act of being raised to block his face. Or perhaps he'd intended to make a rude gesture. The photograph was taken at last year's Christmas party. I was holding a glass of punch that someone had foisted upon me, and looking at Ray—
I frowned. I was looking pretty intently at Ray. Ray had spotted the camera, but I hadn't. I was looking at—
"I see, Ray," I murmured, tapping the picture gently against the back of my other hand. "Yes. I see indeed."
The next stop was Ray's apartment, but even as I opened the lobby door I could smell that something was amiss. As I climbed the stairs to the third floor the odor of paint grew only stronger, and by the time I moved into the hallway I could see Ray's door open, and the white-smocked painters moving in and out.
I hesitated, not really wanting to see this, but feeling compelled nonetheless. A few more paces brought me to the doorway. I stopped and stared: Ray's apartment was bare, aside from the drop cloths and a random aluminum ladder. The walls were glossy white, bright and clean and utterly un-Ray-like. All his things—gone. The chili pepper lights, his bicycle, his stereo-system—all gone. I felt a sudden clench in my stomach—it was as if Ray were dead.
Except he wasn't. Except he was not. Except that some very efficient someones had simply come in, packed Ray's things, and put them into storage somewhere. Rae Vecchio certainly couldn't have moved here—Ray's nosy neighbors would certainly have noticed the abrupt and rather disquieting switch in gender. A way would have to have been found to account for his absence. So Ray Vecchio, it seemed, had moved once again.
I went back to the Consulate and changed my clothes; I was going to have to resort to increasingly irregular methods, and I wasn't going to do so as an official agent of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Instead, I donned jeans and a sweater, slipped on my leather jacket, and again left the Consulate.
My first stop was a photocopy shop; I was reluctant to use the Consulate copier for such unofficial business as this. This was personal, this was my own private case. And I didn't have time to answer Inspector Thatcher's questions—I had to hurry if I was going to have any hope of success.
My second stop brought me back to familiar territory. This building was nearly as decrepit as my old building had been, which saddened me. I found the apartment I was searching for and knocked; there was no doorbell. "I'm coming, I'm coming!" I heard; and then the shuffle of feet. "Hang on a second!" The door opened.
Mr. Mustafi seemed pleased so see me. "Hey!" he exclaimed. "You! What happened to you?"
"Well, rather a lot of things, really," I told him. "Mainly involving—well, exploding vehicles of various sorts and heavily armed criminal types. Please allow me to ask you a question—do you still drive a taxi?"
Mr. Mustafi frowned for a second and then nodded, once. "You need me to drive the wolf? Turn a blind eye?"
"No, no, nothing like that," I said quickly, not mentioning that I'd already violated the taxi code once today. "I'm looking for this man," I said. I'd cropped myself out of the picture and enlarged it so that it showed only Ray's scowling face and the blurred edge of his rising hand. "I'm hoping that you might be able to mobilize your colleagues in the taxi and limousine industry—find out if anyone's driven him anywhere within the last twenty four hours. Will you help me?"
Mr. Mustafi took the photocopy from me, peered at it, and looked up at me with a smile. "Yes," he said. "I do it."
My third stop was at Henry Lee's restaurant; my fourth stop was the pizzeria which Lenny Milano now managed. If Ray Kowalski ordered either Chinese or pizza from any establishment within Chicago in the next 24 hours—I'd have him.
My fifth stop was at Mrs. Miriam Schwartzmann's. I'd saved Mrs. Schwartzmann's poodle Schatzi from a bizarre accident involving a dump truck, a cement mixer, and another poodle. I knew that she still felt she owed me a debt of gratitude; I also knew that she spent most of her days sitting in her parlor, watching the people go by. Most importantly, I knew that she had an extensive telephone network of fellow seniors committed to doing precisely the same thing. Mrs. Schwartzmann was a powerful ally and a terrible enemy, it seemed to me, and I found myself grateful that I counted her among the former and not the latter.
My sixth stop was at the home of the rather inexplicably named Richie The Fish, who drove his Chicago-Minneapolis route at least twice a week. I unfortunately awakened him in the middle of his afternoon nap; however, he was gracious, took a photocopy, and promised to put out a description of Ray on his CB radio.
That covered the highways; my seventh stop was at the Belford Hotel. Marguerita Gonzales greeted me with warmth, a kiss, and the offer of coffee. I explained to her that I had no time for coffee, but that if she would put out the word among the other hotel maids of her acquaintance that I was looking for this man—five foot eleven, a hundred and sixty pounds, spiky blond hair—I would be most grateful. She nodded, called in Spanish to another maid, and picked up the telephone. I left her still dialing.
My final stop of the day was the Robert F. Kennedy Junior High School, and I had to run the last few blocks to get there by the time school let out. Traci Jones waved to me and I waved back at her; in a few minutes she had deputized most of her friends, and in no time at all I had my communications network set up: fourteen eighth graders on bicycles, streamers flying out behind them.
It was enough. It was enough. I watched as they sailed away in different directions, then walked back to the Consulate. Suddenly, after the frenzy of activity, there was nothing to do but wait—wait, and keep up hope.
But after all, how difficult could it be to find someone in an overcrowded town like Chicago? It wasn't like trying to find a trapper somewhere between Inuvik and Tsiigehtchic.
Somebody would have seen something.
There was nothing, and there was nothing, and there was nothing, and then at half-past seven in the evening everything exploded. Suddenly there was a banging at the front door and I ran to open it: three of my messengers were standing there, arguing with each other, and as I watched, a fourth zipped up, jumped the curb, and abandoned his bicycle at the bottom of the Consulate steps, the wheels still spinning.
"We have pizza!" the boy yelled at me.
A girl with a blond ponytail turned and rolled her eyes at him. "Yeah, we know about the pizza already." She looked back at me and said: "He's at the Cheviot Hotel."
"Tenth floor," a girl with short brown hair added. "Room 1014."
"He took a taxi there last night," the blonde said.
"He had a pizza," the other girl added.
"With extra cheese and pepperoni," the boy at the bottom of the stairs called out.
"The taxi receipt says he got there at 8:42 last night," the blonde reported.
"He's ordered seven pots of coffee so far and he doesn't let the maids in to make the bed or change the towels," the brunette said, looking vaguely disgusted. "They think he's weird."
"He is weird," the boy added. "He gave the pizza guy a five buck tip."
The brunette seemed determined to one-up him. "He had eggs benedict for breakfast. He didn't eat his fruit cup."
The boy fished in his jeans pocket. "I have the receipt if you want it."
I held up my hands. "Wait, wait. Slow down. He's at the Cheviot Hotel, in Room 1014, and he's consumed nothing but coffee and high-cholesterol foods?"
The blonde grinned at me. "Exactly."
"That would be him," I said, nearly weak with relief and gratitude. "You are wonderful. You are all truly wonderful," I told them, and I meant it most sincerely.
I was at the Cheviot Hotel by eight o'clock. It was a mid-sized hotel, perhaps twelve stories high, and not the typical choice for either tourist or business travel. I crossed the rather threadbare red rug of the lobby to the elevator and took it up to the tenth floor. Room 1014 was tucked away at the end of the corridor, in its own little corner.
Now that I was here I found myself abruptly nervous; I had to steel myself to knock.
"Who is it?" a voice said, and honestly, if I hadn't already known, I wouldn't have pegged that voice as Ray's.
I touched my palm to the door, and said quietly, "It's me."
I heard a thunk and a scuffle and suddenly the door was pulling away from my hand. Ray Kowalski was standing there, looking shocked; his hair, I noticed suddenly, was a different color, a light brown rather than his usual golden blond. He was wearing black sweatpants and sneakers without socks, and he—
"Fraser," Ray breathed. "Omigod,"—and then suddenly he was yanking me forward, into the room, and then peering around the edge of the door frame, looking left and right before shutting, locking, and then bolting the door.
"I wasn't followed," I told him.
Ray wheeled on me, mouth agape. "How—? Why—? What are you doing here?" he sputtered.
The first question was perhaps the easiest to answer. "You took a taxi. You ordered a pizza. You really should eat your fruit cup—"
"Fraser!" Ray nearly shouted and I blurted, "I had to see you. I wanted to see you."
That stopped him. I saw the sudden twinge of regret on his face, and then he was taking a shuffling step back in his sneakers. I felt a sudden, hot blast of undirected anger: this wasn't fair. We hadn't even had time to start anything, and now here we were, already at the end.
Ray wasn't looking at me; he was standing there, arms wrapped around his chest, rocking nervously. "I gotta go tomorrow. This thing—it's Federal, it's gonna take me out of state."
"I see." I managed to sound calm enough, but that was bad news, simply rotten. "Do you know where—?"
Ray shook his head, once, in the negative. "There is no where. There's no one where—it's not that kind of thing."
"I see," I repeated quietly.
"I'm going to be moving around a lot, I think."
Ray still wasn't looking at me, so I don't know if he saw me nodding slowly.
"So you see..." Ray's voice was soft and gruff, but I could hear in it all the emotions he was suppressing: anger; and sadness; and grief, "this is my last night in Chicago for a while." He suddenly looked up at me, and if his voice was wavering, his blue eyes were cold and professional, putting distance between us. It's too late, his eyes were saying. There's no time, it's too late.
I took a deep breath and let it out slowly, knowing this was up to me, it was going to be up to me. Ray was already committed to a new project, a new set of duties. He was already officially working; I was the one wearing civilian clothes. So if anyone was going to make the argument, provide the temptation—it was going to have to be me.
"Still," I said finally. "There is tonight."
For a moment neither of us moved; for a moment we made our own sort of picture, me looking at him, him looking at me. I was suddenly conscious of the entire room around me—the hum of the heat coming up through the vents, the smell of Ray's leftover pepperoni pizza, the clutter of manila files on the desk, the abandoned carafes of coffee, and Ray staring at me, the tall, thin figure around which this chaotic universe revolved. And then suddenly Ray was moving toward me, shaking his head "no, no, no," but moving toward me, saying, "This is a bad idea, this is a bad idea, this is a terrible idea..."
"Yes, I know," I said softly; and of course it was.
Ray was in front of me, then, his blue eyes staring frankly into mine. "This is a bad idea, Fraser."
"Yes, I know, Ray. I know," but his hand was gripping my jacket then, and my arm was snaking around his waist, and we were making love, we were making love, we were finally making love.
It took forever before I could tear myself away from his mouth. He'd shaved closely, leaving the curve of his jaw smooth and tender. His ungelled hair was soft in my hands, uncontaminated by chemicals. But his mouth...his mouth was irresistible. His lips were sweet and dry, and then he hummed and leaned closer and opened his mouth for my tongue—and I was lost, utterly lost. I was drowning in him.
My hands were learning the rest of him, gliding under his sweatshirt and up his back before reaching down and skimming the garment up, over his head. His hands were on me, too—pulling my jacket off, tugging off my sweater, fumbling with the snaps of my Henley, the zipper of my jeans. And then he was pushing me backwards, onto the bed, his hands all over me—and I went down, pulling him with me, never letting go of his sweet, sweet mouth.
Even horizontal, all we could do for the longest time was kiss, basking in the luxury of it, communicating our deep desperation and our shared regret. Finally, I managed to tear myself away and move my mouth to his ear, down his neck, to his shoulder. I rolled him over so that he was on his back, pale and thin beneath me against the rumpled motel sheets, and spent a long time kissing his arms, kissing his chest, tracing his tattoo over and over again with my tongue.
Abruptly things turned frantic; Ray's muscles suddenly flexed beneath me and then he was grabbing my head and taking my mouth and this wasn't that slow, sweet drowning anymore—this was white water, rough and brutal, and we were struggling hard and loving hard, evenly matched as always. I found myself hard on my back, hissing as Ray grazed his teeth over my nipple—and before I could counter he had dropped down between my legs and he was on me, kissing and licking and sucking, orally stimulating me, exciting me with his tongue. I gasped and felt all my strength leave my limbs; all sensation was concentrated in my groin. I could see Ray's new brown hair, see his head moving rhythmically over me, feel his hands on me, hear the soft, clean sounds of his sucking mouth. And then I closed my eyes, the better to revel in the sensation—the feel of his hair in my hands, his mouth on my erection, the pounding of my own wild heart and the cresting wave of pleasure. I realized that I was clutching his hair, rocking into his mouth, and then the tip of his tongue drew a firm line around the curve of my foreskin and it was over—I was jerking, ejaculating helplessly, all sensation and sweetness drowned out by my own loud groans and ecstatic gasps.
I felt, rather than saw, when Ray lifted his head; my eyes were still closed, my blood thundering through my body. I tried to control my breathing and found I couldn't; I wanted to speak but I was lost for words; and so finally I found the strength simply to roll over, to turn and draw my leg up, to offer myself to him.
I heard Ray's sharp inhalation but, thankfully, he didn't hesitate: Ray's decisiveness was something I had come to rely on, and I relied on it even here. In a moment he was on me, strong limbs around me, loving me first with his mouth, then with his fingers, then with the warm press of his erection. His hands moved restlessly over me, caressing me through the first few shocks of pain, and then tightening on me as my body opened for him, as he slid deeper inside. And then he was clutching me, taking me roughly, panting hot breath against the side of my neck and whispering, "Fraser, Fraser, Fraser..." His hand was stroking my half-hard erection, which was thrumming with delicious, rolling aftershocks punctuated by sharp bursts of pleasure at each thrust inside me. I pressed back against him and just let it all overwhelm me—until I was shaking and moaning and Ray whispers had become cries of "god, god, god," and he was coming inside of me.
I fell asleep within the circle of his arms.
I woke up about two hours later, squinting as I opened my eyes: we'd left all the lights on. I shifted carefully, trying not to wake Ray up—but he sensed my movement and tightened his arms around me, and then I forgot about anything as banal as lights.
I turned; we kissed; and then we were stroking each other. I brought him to climax first—I watched as his eyes closed and his head twisted and his hands lost their rhythm on me. I felt the flail of his hand against my erection just as he pulsed into the cup of my palm. The pleasure of watching his orgasm distracted me from my own—I was content to watch the rapid rise and fall of his chest, the way his eyes fluttered open and then closed again.
I leaned over him, quickly kissed his mouth and then his nose. "I love working with you," I murmured, trying to stifle a smile.
Ray didn't open his eyes but his lips twitched. "You're a bastard," he said, smile widening. "Ten minutes, just give me ten minutes, please..."
Ten minutes later Ray was deeply asleep, his face as clear of anger and aggression as I had ever seen it. I kissed him again and went to wash up, then brought a washcloth to the bed and gently swiped Ray's body clean. When I was finished, I quietly snicked off all the room lights except one—and then I ate the last three slices of Ray's cold pizza and drank the rest of his cold coffee as I read through all the files on the desk.
I didn't know what time Ray had to leave, so I woke him early, around five o'clock, not wanting to miss our last chance to make love. He came awake slowly, shifting through a series of emotions—shock, confusion, delight—and then suddenly he was wincing and saying, "Oh, shit, Fraser—I left you hanging."
I bent my head to his and caressed his lips with my tongue. "That's all right. You can make it up to me."
He made it up to me, and the morning's lovemaking was the mirror of last night's: this time I gave him satisfaction orally, stimulating him with my lips and teeth and tongue, and he allowed me to penetrate him, which I did, kissing each of the knots of his spine, licking his neck and biting the joint of his shoulder as he groaned and spasmed around me. And as he did—and as he did—I suddenly thought, this is it, this is the last time, this is the end, and I just couldn't let go of him, I couldn't stop thrusting, I couldn't let myself climax—
—couldn't, couldn't, had to, had to, Ray, Ray, Ray...and then I was shuddering through my orgasm and weeping soundlessly against the back of his neck.
"...ohmigod..." Ray was mumbling into the pillow. "...ohmigod, ohmigod..."
I moved my lips against the curve of his neck, which was salty with his sweat and my tears. "I love you," I murmured. "I'll miss you," and then Ray was rolling and turning and gripping my face.
"I'll come back," Ray said, "I will come back and I will find you, okay? Here, Canada, wherever—I will fucking find you, Fraser, all right?"
"All right," I agreed. "All right," and then we ended as we began, by kissing and kissing and kissing.
I sat on the edge of the bed and watched as Ray put on a pair of black jeans, a black shirt, a black jacket, black boots. With his newly-brown hair he looked—both younger and more sinister. I watched as he gathered his things together into a small, black case.
His hand stopped as he reached for the files; I'd neatly piled them on the desk when I'd finished reading them. Ray turned to look at me. "You read 'em?"
"Yes," I said.
Ray expressed neither approval nor disapproval. "So whattya think?"
"I think you'd better have gotten new glasses."
Ray quirked a smile at this, and then he nodded and reached back into his case. "I did, yeah. Three pair," and he held up three pairs of glasses with elastic cords stretching from the earpieces. "And dig this," he said, shaking them from side to side so the cords waved in the air, "I get to tie them to my head. That's how key this is, Fraser."
"Will you really have to kill anyone?" I asked quietly.
Ray stiffened slightly at this, though his face remained impassive. "I don't know." He looped one of the pairs of glasses over his neck and carefully stashed the other two away. "I hope not. This guy I gotta be—"
"Mark Chesney," I murmured.
"Yeah," Ray said. "Mark Chesney. He's not really anybody, he's a gun for hire. I met him, I talked to him, and he's an okay guy aside from the fact that he kills people for a living. The Feds have got him now, and they've turned him—they're collecting testimony. Except then, see, some guy had a bright idea and figured—"
"—why not put someone in his place? As a—sort of early warning system for impending assassinations?"
Ray nodded. "Exactly. Turns out Chesney's done some pretty famous hits—the stuff nobody got within a mile of catching. The guy's a 'telephoto lens on the roof' kind of gunman, and he's practically across state lines by time the stiff hits the ground." Ray stopped for a second, then showed me an edgy smile. "Look at this," he said. "Let me show you something."
I watched as Ray pulled a small black briefcase from the top of the closet. He put it down on the table and pulled his glasses onto his face, pulling the elastic taut behind his head. He stopped then and shot me a sharp look, and I realized that he wanted me to mark the time.
I nodded, glanced at my watch, waited for the second hand to cross the 12 and then said, "Go."
The case clicked, Ray's hands blurred before me, and precisely seven seconds later Ray had assembled a very long, very sleek, very dangerous-looking gun.
"And there you go," Ray said, glancing up at me. "That better have been eight seconds or I'm fucked."
"Seven," I reported, smiling faintly.
"Even better," Ray said with satisfaction. "Took me a couple of days to learn that little party trick, let me tell you—but it's one of Chesney's trademarks, so I gotta be ready to do it."
"Do you...resemble Mr. Chesney?" I asked him. "Is that why it had to be you?"
"Well, yeah. Apparently I look like the guy and—" Ray stopped, stared at the gun. "I can make the shots. If I have to. If somebody wants to test me. Or...if I have to."
The words hung there for a moment, and then I stood up. "I should go."
Ray nodded and looked away. "You should go."
"Please be careful."
"I'll be careful," Ray repeated.
"What time does your train leave?" I asked him.
Ray took a deep breath. "Quarter to one."
I nodded slowly and then reached for my jacket. "You're meeting...a client?"
"No. I'm meeting, uh, my broker." Ray's lips twisted ruefully, and he reached up and scratched at the back of his head. "This guy—he's gonna be taking me on. He gets the contracts, he passes them on to his network, of which I'm now gonna be one. Half of the operation is to get in good with this guy—he's the middleman, he'll be able to lead the Feds back toward—"
"—the paying customers. I see." I shrugged my jacket on and then touched Ray's shoulder. He turned, and then we were hugging tightly, clutching each other so hard that both of our leather jackets squeaked. "Christ, Ray, be careful."
"I will, I swear. You be careful, too. Don't jump off any buildings, don't do anything stupider than usual—"
I closed my eyes. "I'll be careful, Ray, I promise."
"I'll be back soon as I can." Ray's hand was groping aimlessly at the back of my head, smoothing over my hair. "And I will find you, Fraser, I will find—"
"I'll stay here in Chicago," I murmured against his cheek. "You call if you need me. I will come, Ray, I'll come just as fast as I can."
There didn't seem much more to be said after that; just one final squeeze and we were breaking apart, and I was walking to the door, and I couldn't bear to look back.
I was back at the Consulate in plenty of time to walk and feed Diefenbaker, change into my uniform, and be at my desk by 9:00. I spent the first hour or so dealing with unfinished business from yesterday, mostly routine matters that I could do nearly by rote. At half past ten, I walked down to Inspector Thatcher's office with my datebook and took a meeting with her, jotting down upcoming dates and deadlines, and discussing the priority of tasks to be accomplished in the upcoming weeks.
By half-past eleven I was back at my desk, and I steeled myself for the call to Rae Vecchio. She seemed pleased to hear from me, and did not call me 'sweetie' or 'snookums' or anything else of that ilk; instead she was courteous and extremely professional, and we agreed to meet later that day, around three in the afternoon, to begin the task of trying to form a working relationship.
At noon precisely I went into the Consulate's kitchen and made myself a quick lunch, which I took back to my desk. I carefully copied dates from my notebook into the large calendar which served the Consulate as a whole, but Diefenbaker was oddly restless, jumping and yapping and generally making a nuisance of himself. I gritted my teeth and tried to ignore him, but finally he leapt up and swiped a paw at me, causing my pen to skid and leave a rather unattractive sharp line cutting right across November the 12th.
"Diefenbaker!" I yelled, now utterly exasperated. "Now look what you made me do!" I reached into the top drawer of my desk for the corrective fluid, past neat collections of erasers and paper clips and stamps—
—and then suddenly I was shoving the drawer closed and on my feet and nearly tearing the uniform off my body. Two minutes to slip into jeans and a t-shirt, five minutes to throw necessities into a satchel, another two minutes to scrawl a note and hug Diefenbaker, hug Diefenbaker, my best and only friend. And then I was bolting past a confused looking Constable Turnbull, out the door, down the steps and waving my hand in the street for a taxi.
Twelve twenty-five and I was in the cab; twelve thirty-five and I was still there, stuck in noontime traffic. I threw a bill at the driver and jumped out, running outright for the train station, quarter to one, quarter to one thrumming in my adrenaline-numbed brain.
I bolted up the stairs and through the ornate classical entryway at precisely twelve forty two, pausing only a moment to crane my neck up at the DEPARTURES board: CINCINNATI, DETROIT, KANSAS CITY, MADISON, NEW YORK, ST. LOUIS—
St. Louis. The words burned on my brain; I could see the ticket in front of me: From Chicago to St. Louis, from St. Louis down to Dallas. Under my very eyes the board changed, the message NOW BOARDING ON TRACK 4 suddenly becoming NOW DEPARTING ON TRACK 4.
I turned and ran until my lungs were near to bursting, racing onto the platform just as the train began to slowly chug its way out of the station. Three quick strides and swing my arm up and jump—and I was on, I was on, clutching the metal handle and gasping for breath, bent nearly double atop the narrow steps, feeling the wind gusting my hair as the train picked up speed. I staggered back against the inside door, watching as the station abruptly vanished and we moved out onto the railway tracks proper.
When I'd gotten my breath and regained some semblance of composure I reached for the handle of the door and stepped into the train. The first car was composed of rows of seats, two on each side; I scanned them discreetly as I made my way down the aisle. The next car was the same; the third car was the dining car, and largely empty this early in the trip. The fourth and fifth cars were also standard seating; Ray was not in either of them.
The next car was composed of first class compartments, with a narrow corridor on one side, running alongside the window. I slowed down now, feeling that this was more likely territory, trying to make out shapes through the frosted glass doors, trying to listen to whatever murmurs of conversation I might overhear. And then, almost at the end of the car, I heard the familiar thrum of his voice.
I stopped dead, freezing outside the door. "Listen," Ray was saying quietly, "believe me, you need me a lot more than I need you, all right?"
"Mmm, I'm not so sure that's true," a man's voice said, and I took a deep breath and raised my hand and rapped hard upon the door.
"Who the fuck is that?" the man's voice hissed.
"Hell if I know," Ray replied, and then the door opened and Ray was staring at me, blinking and desperately trying to remain impassive.
I took advantage of his moment of discomfiture and brushed past him, pushing into the compartment and shutting the door behind me. There were two other men in the compartment: one was tall, blond, and heavyset; the other was taller, thinner, and mean-looking—clearly the muscle, I thought.
The heavyset man squinted at me, looked me up and down, and then looked at Ray. "You know this guy?"
"Um," Ray said. "Uh..."
I looked at Ray and said, "You can't cut me out, Mark. I want in on the deal."
"Um..." Ray said.
"You wouldn't be anywhere without me and you know it," I said as coldly as I could manage. "I don't know what you're trying to pull here—"
"Hey, I'm not pulling anything." Ray stabbed two fingers at me; thank god, he'd recovered himself, he was recovering nicely. "I was gonna cut you in—you know, once I established myself. Just you always gotta push things, don't you? You can't ever fucking wait—"
"Pardon me," I said icily, "if I don't quite trust you."
"Mark," the heavyset man said in a dangerous voice, and I saw that the other man was reaching under his suit jacket, reaching for his gun. "Who is this guy?"
In a flash I had pulled out my knife and hurled it across the compartment; it pierced the man's palm and he shrieked, stumbled, dropped the gun onto the floor. I turned back to the heavyset man and showed him a thin smile. "I'm his partner."
The heavyset man stared at me for a moment, then looked at his associate, who was clutching his bloody hand against his chest. Ray stepped over to him, yanked my knife out of the wound, and then wiped it deliberately across the man's lapels before handing it back to me with a smile.
"I see," the heavyset man said finally. "Won't you please sit down?"
"I will, thank you kindly." The three of us took seats; above us the gunman was desperately trying to wrap his bleeding hand in his handkerchief. "Phil, take that outside, will you?" the heavyset man growled. "You're bleeding all over everything." Phil nodded and left, shutting the compartment door behind him.
"So," he continued, turning back to Ray, "this changes the deal considerably, does it not?"
Ray slouched back in his chair and shook his head. "I don't see where it does."
"Well, now there are two of you. That's another mouth to feed—"
"Hey, look," Ray interrupted, "I don't need this job—"
"Oh, I think you do," the man countered. "Chicago's getting a little hot for you, isn't it?" He reached into his own suit pocket, and I was about to reach for my knife again when I saw that he was only holding a folded scrap of paper. He unfolded it with slow deliberate motions and then passed it to Ray. "Word on the street is the cops are lookin' for ya."
Ray stared down at the photocopied picture of himself, scowling into the camera, blurry hand raised, and then shot a vicious look at me. I looked away.
"Yeah, well, hey—Chicago's just one town," Ray said finally. "There's lots of others. And I got what you call skills, you know?" Ray jerked his head toward me and added, "And so does my partner here, as I'm sure you can see. Believe me, we ain't gonna starve to death. You can meet our terms or we can go work for someone else."
The man stared narrowly at Ray for a few moments and then sighed. "All right. Done." He turned to me and extended his hand. "We haven't been properly introduced. My name is John Flannigan. And you are...?"
I stared at him blankly, having carefully considered every angle of this enterprise except for the obvious one. I reached out and took his hand. "Ray Vecchio," I said.
"You know," Ray Vecchio said, "a guy comes back from two years undercover with the mob, looking as tanned and gorgeous and not shot in the head as me, you'd think maybe his friends, his partner, or his sister could maybe show a little freakin' enthusiasm."
Frannie tilted her head and considered her brother, who slowly turned around in a circle, hands raised. "Okay," she admitted, "you are tanned and not shot in the head—but gorgeous, you know, might be pushing it."
"Definitely pushing it," Huey muttered darkly.
"Yeah, thanks for keeping me real, guys," Ray snorted. "So where the hell is everybody? Where's Benny?"
Huey coughed discreetly into his hand. "You mean Constable Fraser?"
Ray rolled his eyes. "Yeah. The Mountie. Is he here?"
"Uh, yeah, sure," Frannie said cautiously. "He's here—he's in the break room."
"Everybody get lobotomized while I was away or what?" There was no answer to that, which maybe only meant that it was true. Ray shook his head and strode down the hall to the breakroom. Fraser was bent over, peering into the fridge.
"Hey!" Ray yelled, flinging his arms out. "Benny!"
The Mountie turned, a carton of milk in his hand; he was short, and round faced, and—well—Chinese. "Ray!" he exclaimed. "Buddy!"
And Ray Vecchio fainted.