Damn that noise. Ray clicked off the tape recorder, took two quick paces to the window, and slammed the sash down. The howls and chants of the protesters subsided to a dull roar.
Ray scanned the crowd, which seemed to have grown some since he'd last checked. There were a couple of new signs, too, bobbing and weaving on the ends of sticks. A bunch of uniformed officers were quickly assembling barricades, trying to keep the entrance to the station clear—and fuck, there was that damn WCTV van again. Didn't those guys ever stop?
Ray groaned and turned around, bracing his ass back against the sill and rubbing idly at his eyes. "And if you have any suggestions for dealing with that, Fraser," he said with a sigh, "I'd just love to hear 'em."
Fraser was sitting quietly at the interrogation room table, head bowed, fingers laced in front of him. He was sitting up straight, as if good posture could somehow compensate for his casual clothes. "Um. Not at the moment, I'm afraid." He looked up and met Ray's eyes. "Ray, I am sorry. I am so very sorry."
Ray shook his head, moved away from the window, and dropped into his chair. "Let's just get this over with already. We gotta do it, let's do it. Where were we?" He reached over, snapped the tape recorder back on, and took a deep breath. "Third robbery. Samstel Corporation. Date, haul, disbursement. Date?"
Fraser's head dropped miserably. "The 14th of June."
"Haul?" Ray repeated mechanically.
"About...two million." Fraser stared intently at the metal table top. "Two million and forty-seven thousand, to be exact. The two million was in bearer bonds. The forty-seven thousand was in cash, from the lock box in the safe."
"And where's the cash now?" Ray asked for the record, even though he knew.
"The cash has been turned over to the authorities. The bonds..." Fraser trailed off, then collected himself and tried again. "The bonds are..." Fraser looked up and met Ray's eyes.
Ray groaned and slumped forward onto the table. "Christ, turn it off, turn it off..."
Fraser silently stretched out an arm and clicked off the tape recorder. He still had smudges of ink on his fingertips.
"What a mess, what a fucking mess..." Even through the double-paned glass Ray could hear the chanting from outside. Let! Him! Go! / He's! Our! Hee-ro!—which was annoying the first time he'd heard it, and was now on the verge of driving him postal.
"Ray. Ray, I'm sorry," Fraser said for what had to be the thirtieth time this half hour.
"You just have to be so damn good at everything, don't you?" Ray muttered into the table.
"Well," Fraser said tactfully, "you did catch me, Ray."
Ray lifted his head and glared at him. "You stole thirty-two million dollars, Fraser."
Fraser coughed and looked away. "Well—thirty-seven actually. And change. You missed about five million or so." Fraser flexed his tightly laced fingers a couple of times and bit nervously at the corner of his lower lip. "I was going to point that out, Ray, really. At a...well, at a more appropriate time."
Fraser flexed his fingers again, and Ray frowned. "Are you jonesing again?"
Fraser shook his head, but his knuckles were white. "No, I'm fine."
"You can smoke in here. If you need to." Ray sat up, pulled a pack of Marlboros from his pocket, and slid it across the table. "We let you do that before we take you out and shoot you."
Fraser shook his head again, more firmly this time. "Please. Let's just go on."
"You shouldn't stop cold turkey," Ray objected.
Fraser stared grimly down at his hands. "I started cold turkey."
Ray sighed. "You can't start cold turkey, Fraser; cold turkey is for stopping—"
"Ray," Fraser said, squeezing his eyes shut. "Please. Go on."
"I can't," Ray mumbled, surprising himself; he hadn't known he was going to say that. He launched himself out of his chair and began to pace. "I can't do this, Fraser. You wanna talk conflict of interest? I have got conflict of interest up the proverbial wazoo."
Fraser's eyes were open now; Fraser's head was moving slowly, tracking him back and forth across the narrow room. "Ray, you have to, it has to be you. I couldn't possibly confess to anyone else—"
Ray felt like punching the wall, would have punched the wall, except he might find a dead body or something, which would make this day even worse. "Talk to Huey. Talk to Welsh. Talk to anybody but me, here, Fraser—"
"It's your case, Ray," Fraser said quietly.
Ray wheeled on him and exploded, "I know it's my case—of course it's my case! Which is why I'm going to be fired and you're going to be deported—"
"Ray, I'm sorry. I'm so, so sorry—" Fraser whispered.
"—and we're all of us going to be sued to holy heaven and," Ray yelled, "and—and—and how on earth are we gonna tell the Little Sisters that we need that two million back?!"
"Seriously, it's a great idea," Ray insisted, banging on Welsh's desk for emphasis. "You know what Fraser's like: he's a wonder. Two days in a cell with Fraser and Carlo will be spilling his guts, I swear—if only just to get Fraser to shut up."
Welsh was already shaking his head. "I don't like the idea of using Constable Fraser for this. He's not CPD—"
"Which is why it's perfect," Ray interrupted. "Carlo knows everybody around here—we've all had our run-ins with the slimy little fuck. Except Fraser—Carlo doesn't know Fraser from Adam Bede. So we put Fraser in stripes, stick him in there—dollars to donuts Carlo tells him where Vito is. I'd bet my badge on it."
"I think you are just slightly underestimating the complexity of this situation," Welsh said pointedly. "For instance, Constable Fraser does not strike me as having any particular talent for undercover work."
Ray grinned and popped a toothpick into his mouth. "Thought of that already, got it all worked out. It's all about getting the right cover story, giving Fraser something to say that Fraser can say without not being Fraser. I got a whole scenario figured—trust me, it's perfect."
"Why don't we just pull in someone from another precinct?" Welsh insisted. "A pro, a professional—an American—"
Ray felt his head start to throb. "Because then I lose control of the case! This is my case, this is my case, I put in all the legwork on this one—or me and Fraser did, anyway. So why does some Johnny Come Lately get to swan in at the eleventh hour? Then later I got to sit through—what?—some sort of press conference where we talk about 'collaborative policing'—blah-blah and bite me. Just let me put Fraser in there and get the fuck through already." Ray could see Welsh waffling and went in for the kill. "I am this close, I am this close!—a couple more days and I could have Vito right in there with Carlo. Reuniting a family, makes me all sentimental inside, like a bad TV movie. And then the press conference says, 'The 2-7 has successfully brought down the Salmonelli brothers....'"
"All right. Christ. All right," Welsh said, blowing out a breath, and Ray threw a fist in the air and whirled around in a tight little circle. "Three days, Vecchio—Fraser goes in there for three days. And I had better not live to regret this—anything goes wrong, and it's your ass in the sling, you hear me?"
"Oh, come on!" Ray said, flinging his arms out. "Seriously! What could go wrong?"
Carlo Salmonelli shoved the headset of his Walkman down off his ears and around his neck. "That is your bed, okay?" He pointed at the cot across the cell, neatly made with its gray blanket and dingy white sheets. "So you just fucking stay there, all right? The rest of this cell is mine."
Fraser clutched his book to his chest and looked around from his vantage point near the cell door. "That doesn't seem quite fair."
"Life isn't fair." Carlo was slumped against the wall near the head of his cot, his face sullen and twisted into what seemed like a permanent scowl. He was a relatively young man, certainly younger than Fraser himself, but his unpleasant expression made him look older, and distorted what might have otherwise been pleasant features. "'Specially not in here, okay? Learn to live with it."
Fraser nodded slowly and crossed the small cell to his bed. "There is some merit to that position, I suppose." He sat down on the bed and then pushed himself backwards, until he was sitting, cross-legged, with his back to the wall. "Still," Fraser mused, "that phrase has broader implications than most people realize. Because life isn't fair, we sometimes get better than we deserve, do we not?"
Carlo's eyes narrowed. "First time in prison?"
Fraser showed him a smile. "No, I'm afraid this is a return visit for me."
"Huh." Carlo looked Fraser up and down. "You got money?"
"No," Fraser replied.
"I'm afraid not," Fraser replied. Carlo's face collapsed further into sullen disappointment, and so Fraser added: "They did, however, allow me to bring in a book from the outside. I confess I made my selection based on length as well as on quality." He reached into his lap and held up the thick, hardbound book. "Dante—and this volume has the entire trilogy, which is handy. Of course, I'd be happy to share...."
Carlo sighed and closed his eyes. "Great. So what are you in for?"
"Fraud," Fraser replied promptly, stifling a smile. Ray's plan really had been terribly clever. "Misrepresentation. Impersonation. In other words, I'm something of a con artist, I'm afraid."
Carlo opened one eye and peered narrowly at him. "Oh yeah?"
"Yes. They put me in prison because I'm an impostor. And something of a compulsive liar. I lie all the time, I lie constantly, I wouldn't know the truth if I fell over it. In fact," Fraser added, now allowing himself the luxury of a smile, "I could be lying to you right now." Which was, of course, strictly the truth—oh, clever Ray.
For the first time, Carlo looked genuinely interested. "So you swindle people?"
"In a manner of speaking, yes," Fraser admitted. "Certainly, I have tried to convince people that I am other than what I am."
"Were you any good?" Carlo asked.
"Oh, I was very good. I am very good. It's how I've managed to stay out of prison. I find that if you're good," Fraser added earnestly, "you generally don't go to prison."
"Yeah, so what went wrong this time?" Carlo sat up and leaned forward, his hands dangling between his bent knees. "You fuck up, or what?"
"No," Fraser sighed, "I'm afraid that I was set up. Framed by the police. They didn't have a shred of evidence against me, I assure you."
Carlo was nodding grimly. "Yeah, well, the cops are bastards."
"Well, they certainly don't mind putting innocent people into prison on occasion, that's for sure," Fraser said, and smiled at Carlo again.
"'La bufera infernal, che mai non resta, mena li spirti con la sua rapina; voltando e percotendo li molesta. Quando giungon—'"
"Wait," Carlo said, and Fraser looked up from the page. "Bufera? Is that wind?"
Fraser nodded. "Whirlwinds, more precisely—but yes. 'The infernal whirlwinds—'"
"'—which never rest,'" Carlo said softly, "'drive the ghosts before their'—uh..."
"'Violent power,'" Fraser finished, and then considered that for a moment. "It's a metaphor for lust, I believe."
"Racy shit there," Carlo said appreciatively. "I like it. Keep going."
"All right," Fraser said agreeably, and turned back to the book. "'Quando giungon davanti a la ruina, quivi le strida, il compianto, il lamento—'"
"Wait, hang on!" Carlo said, raising a hand. "What the fuck—that's not nice!"
Fraser coughed. "Well, no, it isn't—no. Dante's not very supportive of lust."
"But he's torturing those guys. And for what?" Carlo demanded.
"It only gets worse, I'm afraid. 'Intesi ch'a cosi fatto tormento enno dannati i peccator carnali, che la ragion sommettono al talento.'"
"'To torment were damned the carnal sinners, who put their reason second to lust,'" Carlo translated with satisfaction, and then he fell silent. "Still, though. Seems fucking unfair if you ask me."
"Well, it is a bit, yes." Fraser looked across the cell at Carlo, who was lying flat on his bunk, staring meditatively at the ceiling. "Should I go on?"
"Yeah. Sure. Hey," Carlo added, looking over at Fraser, "do you believe in ghosts?"
"Oh yes," Fraser replied firmly. "Absolutely."
Carlo propped himself up on his elbows. "What about hell? Do you believe in hell?"
Fraser thought about this for a moment or two. "I don't know," he said finally. "I'm not sure."
"Me neither," Carlo said, but he looked nervous.
The dinner siren began to blare at twenty minutes to six. Fraser winced at the noise, marked his place with a slip of paper, and set the book down. Five minutes later the automatic doors clicked open. The inmates stepped out of their cells and began drifting down the hallway toward the cafeteria.
The room was already crowded and loud with rough, male voices. Fraser picked up a metal tray and joined the line. A row of bored-looking men wearing masks and plastic gloves glopped various beige-colored foods onto his tray, but the meal seemed nutritious if not particularly appetizing.
Carlo waved him over, and Fraser gratefully accepted a seat at his table. He ate quietly, listening to the conversation of the other men, trying to get a sense of his fellow prisoners. Osserling was a medium security facility, so the most violent inmates were quartered elsewhere, but the men still seemed to run the gamut in terms of temperament. Some were sitting together peaceably, making quiet dinner conversation; others were more raucous, yelling and laughing. Some men didn't seem to be able to sit still at all, as if a live electrical current were surging through their bodies, jerking them around like aggressive puppets.
As Fraser was finishing his meal, Carlo nudged his arm and said: "Baseball tonight."
"Oh really?" Fraser asked. "Who's playing?"
"We are. It's a pick-up game—when it's hot like this they let us go out, play a little ball. Better than being trapped in this goddamned oven."
"Oh. Oh, I see. That sounds very pleasant." Fraser stood up, taking his tray with him. "But I need to make a telephone call first. I need to, um, call my brother."
Carlo nodded and took a swig out of a tin cup. "Well, the game's in Yard B. Ask someone in the rec room, they'll tell you where to go. Game starts at seven."
"I'll be there," Fraser said, just as the end of meal siren began to sound.
Ray swiped the phone off the breakfast counter on the first ring. "Yeah, yeah, I'll accept the charges," he told the operator and then quickly said: "Fraser? Is that you, are you there?"
Fraser's voice was oddly tinny, but he sounded all right otherwise. "Yes, I'm here and I'm fine, Ray."
"Okay, good. Good." Ray drifted across the living room and sat down on the sofa. "How's life on the inside?"
"Very nice," Fraser replied. "In fact, at the moment, it's something of a holiday."
Ray grinned and put his feet up on the coffee table; only Fraser would find prison life soft. "Oh yeah?"
"Well, I have a semi-private room with en suite toilet and a good book. I'm being adequately fed, I don't have to do any washing up, and I now have the choice between television, cards, or baseball." Ray could hear the smile in Fraser's voice. "In fact, I may not come back, Ray."
"What about Carlo, how you doing with Carlo?" Ray asked.
"I'm doing well, I think. We appear to be bonding over a mutual love of classical Italian literature."
Ray burst out laughing. "Oh yeah, of course you are. Should've figured that. The classic Italian literature thing works every time—why didn't I think of that?"
"Is Dief all right?" Fraser asked.
"Dief is fine," Ray reported. "I called Turnbull to check—figured you'd ask."
"Thank you, Ray." Fraser sounded moved, and Ray was instantly glad he'd thought to do it. "And you—you're all right?"
"I'm fine, Fraser. I'm not in prison, remember?" Ray waved his hand around idly. "I'm here in my own home."
"I'd venture to say that I'm in a somewhat safer environment," Fraser replied.
"You got a point there." Ray put his feet back on the floor and bent forward, speaking intently into the phone. "Seriously—be careful, okay? Watch your back. It's always the ones you least expect, do not forget that."
"I won't. And I will be careful, Ray—I promise."
Ray felt oddly reluctant to hang up the phone, to sever their connection. "Call me tomorrow, all right?" he said finally. "Same time?"
"Same time," Fraser confirmed. "Yes, Ray. Certainly."
Fraser found his way to Exercise Yard B with little trouble. He pushed out the door into the cool night air and saw the brightly lit diamond, the players on the field, the men gathering on the bleachers. He took a seat behind the foul line and settled in to watch the game.
Quite by accident, Fraser caught a foul ball that had been hit in his direction. Gamely, he stood up and threw it back to the mound—and to his surprise, he was drafted to play third base at the beginning of the next inning. He put up a token protest, but apparently such mid-game replacements were common; two innings later, the other team tossed their first baseman and pulled another spectator off the sidelines to replace him.
Fraser tried to focus on playing well, and so the next time he really took account of his surroundings was when he was sent up to bat. Carlo was still sitting behind the foul line, and as Fraser watched, Carlo leaned over to say something to another man, then gestured toward him with his cigarette. And then the pitcher yelled something and Fraser turned his attention back to the game, getting into his stance and hefting his bat.
His first turn at bat, Fraser hit a triple; on his second attempt, he was directed by the pitcher to bunt, which he managed very creditably. Fraser handed off the bat and had nearly reached the makeshift dugout when he heard the shouting and saw that the catcher and the next batter were roughly shoving at each other.
He ran back across the field, reaching home plate just as the batter raised the bat, presumably to bash the catcher's head in. Fraser grabbed the man around the chest and heaved backwards, so that the bat sliced down harmlessly through empty air.
To his surprise, the batter shook him off and wheeled on him, red-faced and furious. "Fuck you! Whose side are you on, anyway?"
Fraser ducked away from the bat, which glanced off his shoulder. His own punch connected solidly, and the other man reeled, stumbled, and crashed down hard into the dirt.
The catcher took an aggressive step toward him. "So, what are you, a tough guy?" Fraser stepped backwards and raised his hands, attempting to placate. A circle of men—players and spectators both—began to form around them.
"I'm not interested in fighting you," Fraser said.
"Oh yeah?" the catcher retorted. "Well, I'm interested in kicking your ass." He lunged forward, fists raised; Fraser dodged the blow easily. But any possible retreat was blocked by the wall of men, who were now clearly interested in the outcome of the fight.
Reluctantly, Fraser took a deep breath and raised his fists.
The catcher was a big man, but his very bulk made him clumsy. Fraser circled him carefully, avoiding his blows and looking for a clean, clear opening. It didn't take long—the man was no boxer—and Fraser jabbed out with his fist in a clean uppercut to the jaw, knocking him out cold.
Fraser heard a murmur of approval from the crowd and turned around, relieved. A dark, grinning face and another pair of raised fists greeted him.
"Oh, come now," Fraser said and sighed. "This is just...." But the other man's grin merely grew wider, and the spectators pressed closer—apparently baseball wasn't the only sport where competitors could be instantly drawn from the sidelines.
"Really. I'm not interested in fighting you," Fraser insisted, moving slowly backwards as the man moved steadily forward. "Any of you," he added, looking around. "I cede the fight. I acknowledge you the winner. The match is yours."
A tall blond man with a sallow complexion laughed and shook his head. "Sorry, guy—it doesn't work that way," and then Fraser felt a pair of hands at his back, pushing him forward into the makeshift ring.
Fine, Fraser thought blindly. Fine, then. He raised his fists and took two quick steps forward, careful to keep his weight evenly balanced. It took three punches and a broken nose to wipe the grin off his opponent's face, and Fraser was breathing hard and sweating a little when he finally turned around. "All right—who's next?"
This time there was a bit more hesitation, and some whispered consultation, before a wiry, bald man stepped into the circle.
Fraser raised his fists. "Ready?"
The bald man showed him a vicious smile; he was missing a few teeth. "Are you ready?"
"Oh, I'm ready," Fraser replied firmly, and cracked his neck.
To his surprise, the bald man just lunged at him, grabbing him around the waist and toppling them both down into the dirt. Hardly Queensbury rules, but Fraser managed to roll them over and land a solid punch in the man's right eye just as he felt a hand pulling viciously on his hair. Out of nowhere, Fraser saw a glint of metal and heard someone yell, "Knife!"—
—and perhaps this was where community rules set in, because suddenly they were in a sea of bodies, and there were hands grabbing at him and grabbing at the bald man and pulling them apart, and Fraser was surrounded by striped arms and legs and some of them were blue—guards—uniforms—and he turned his head and—
His eyes hurt; the light was too bright. He squeezed his eyelids shut, twisted his face away, and abruptly the light clicked off. Carefully, he opened his eyes and saw a gray-haired man peering down at him curiously, the penlight still in his hand. "Are you all right, son?"
"I—yes, I think so." His tongue felt surprisingly thick in his mouth, and he swallowed a couple of times and tried to clear his throat.
"Do you know where you are?"
He looked around surreptitiously; saw the metal cart full of medical supplies, saw the nurse waiting for instructions at the foot of his bed. "In hospital?" he ventured.
The doctor smiled faintly. "Yes, but where?"
He tried to think; where was he? He realized he hadn't the faintest idea; his brain felt as thick as his tongue. It also seemed to be pounding, and gingerly he reached up. His fingertips made contact with the rough cotton bandage just as the doctor said, "You've taken a pretty nasty blow to the head. Baseball has been suspended pending investigation—which is a shame, really. It's not summer without baseball."
Baseball? Was he—a baseball player? Why on earth had he been playing baseball?
"Let's start with something simple," the doctor said genially. "Can you tell me your name?"
"Certainly, yes, of course," he said, and then realized with a pang of fear that he couldn't. "I'm— I—"
The doctor must have sensed his panic. "It's all right, don't worry—it's not unusual. There's often a period of disorientation after a concussion. I'm sure your memory will return any moment now." He picked a clipboard out of his lap, pulled a pen out of his breast pocket, and began scribbling notes.
The doctor answered without looking up. "Osserling Penitentiary. You were knocked out in a yard fight—though apparently you took down four other inmates before somebody clocked you, so well done. Wish I'd had money on you."
The world went fuzzy with shock. Osserling Penitentiary? Fighting? Four other men? He felt totally disoriented, utterly lost. "Are you...sure?"
The doctor's head jerked up, and he was smiling. "Of course I'm sure."
"I'm in prison?" he repeated numbly. "What...what did I do?"
"I don't know," the doctor said, absently jotting down a last note. "I can pull your sheet if you like. Might be a good idea, in fact—jog the old memory." He signed his name with a flourish and hung the clipboard back on its hook. "I'm going to keep you here for the night," he added, standing up. "Under observation. Get a good night's sleep, and we'll see how you are in the morning."
"I—uh. All right."
"I'll get the nurse to bring you your records," the doctor said as he moved away to continue his rounds. "It should make for interesting bedtime reading."
And indeed it did. Apparently his name was Ben Fraser, and he'd been arrested for—dear God. Fraud. A string of burglaries. Resisting arrest. Assault on an officer. His head pounded, making it difficult to read the tiny computer print. Arrested last month, tried, sentenced to ten years at Osserling—ten years?! The paper grayed out momentarily in front of his face. Ten years. Inside for ten years? No freedom for ten years? Even with parole for good behavior he'd have to serve at least three—
—and dear God, how did he know that? How did he know that a ten year sentence could be commuted to three?
It was true, he realized; it must all be true. His name was Ben Fraser, he was a criminal, he was in prison.... He blinked a couple of times and stared down again at his rap sheet. Fraud. Burglary. Assault. Arresting officer: Ray Vecchio, 27th Precinct—and the name rang a faint bell.
Ray Vecchio. Familiar...a glimmer of a memory...who was Ray Vecchio?
The arresting officer, Ben reminded himself. It's right in front of your face, there in black and white. That's why you remember—you would remember someone like that, wouldn't you. Except he didn't quite remember Ray Vecchio—couldn't put a face to the name, couldn't remember being arrested, couldn't remember being tried or sentenced or anything much at all.
Ben put the rap sheet down on the bedside table, leaned back, and closed his eyes. He needed to calm down, relax, let his brain heal and his memories flood back to him. His name was Ben Fraser.... He was in Osserling Penitentiary.... He was a fraud and a burglar.... He was serving a ten year sentence.... He'd been arrested by Ray Vecchio...
...except that wasn't right somehow...
On the verge of falling asleep, he thought, stupidly: "Kowalski."
"So," the doctor said the next morning, "do you know who you are?"
Ben paused in the act of buttoning his shirt. "I'm Ben Fraser," he said, and it came off his tongue easily enough, like he'd been saying it all his life, which he supposed he had. "I'm serving a ten year sentence for burglary."
The doctor grinned at him and extended his hand. Ben took it and they shook. "Nice to meet you, Ben. I take it your memory's back?"
"It's coming back, I think." Ben frowned, trying to concentrate. "I remember some of yesterday...but just bits and flashes, really. I'm still sketchy on details." He finished buttoning his shirt and then looked up at the doctor with a frown: "Does the name Kowalski mean anything to you?"
The doctor tilted his head and considered this. "Stanley Kowalski?"
"Yes!" Ben said instantly, feeling his heart lift. Except—no, that was wrong. "No. Yes. No." It was right but it was wrong—but it was right somehow. "Who's Stanley Kowalski?"
"He's a character from A Streetcar Named Desire," the doctor replied with a wry grin. "I think you've scrambled your eggs a little, son. I'd spend most of today lying down if I were you."
Ben hesitated just inside his cell—dear God, these were close quarters, airless, stinking of disinfectant and urine. He felt a sudden horror at having to spend the day here...and then realized with surging dread that this would be the first of many days, the first day of thousands...
His cellmate looked up from his book. Dante, Ben noticed; apparently he'd been paired with the local intellectual. The man laid the book aside and greeted him. "Hey, you're back. How's the head?"
"It's...all right," Ben said carefully. "I—uh—I'm sorry, I've forgotten your name."
His cellmate barked out a laugh. "Whoa, hard knock there, huh?"
Ben crossed the narrow cell to his bunk. "Yes," he admitted, sitting down slowly. "It appears so."
"Still, though—you were great," his cellmate said with some enthusiasm. "You took out Kimball and Franklin and Jackson and Durnell before the bastards clubbed you. You got great fighting form." He raised his fists and took a couple of mock jabs at the air.
Ben could feel his headache coming back and closed his eyes. "I'm sorry—what's your name again?"
"Carlo," Carlo said. "Carlo Salmonelli."
"Carlo, yes, of course." Ben lay back on his cot and draped an arm over his eyes.
He heard the creak of metal springs as Carlo got up and came over. "Wow, you really don't remember nothing, huh?"
Ben moved his arm off his face and stared up at him. "Not a lot, no. And what I do remember isn't very encouraging. They tell me I've been sentenced to ten years."
"Hey, that's nothing," Carlo said, sitting down at the foot of the bed. "Me, I'm here for twenty—but I figure with good behavior, I can cut it down to seven. You'll be out in three if you watch yourself."
Three years...he couldn't stand to be caged up here for three years; he felt like the walls were closing in on him, like the stale air was choking him.
"I won't make it," Ben said quietly. "I'll go crazy."
Carlo shrugged. "Well, you ain't got much choice, pal, so you'd better chill out about it."
Ben felt anger rising up from deep within him. "Who says I don't have a choice?"
Carlo raised a skeptical eyebrow. "Uh—the guards, and their guns, and—"
Guards...guns...he could face down guards and guns, he knew he could. "I'm getting out of here," Ben said, sitting up abruptly.
Carlo rolled his eyes at him. "Whattaya gonna do, Ben—escape?"
"I bet I could," Ben said, narrowing his eyes.
"You said you were a con artist, not an escape artist."
"Maybe I lied," Ben said softly. "I lie a lot. I lie all the time—my rap sheet says so."
"Ben." Carlo shook his head sadly. "It ain't so easy, believe me. First you gotta get through that door—"
"Not a problem," Ben said.
"—past the guard at the end of the block—"
"Piece of cake," Ben said.
"—and then outside, over the wall, past the towers—" Carlo stopped suddenly and squinted at him. "You really think you can escape?"
"I'm sure of it," Ben replied. "The security here, as I remember it, strikes me as remarkably lax."
Carlo stared blankly at him for a moment, and then suddenly his face split into a warm grin that made him look ten years younger. "Hey, can I come?"
"Certainly," Ben replied. "Why not?"
Carlo laughed, reached into his shirt pocket, and pulled out a pack of cigarettes. "Okay, so tell me the plan," he said, putting a cigarette into his mouth and lighting up. He extended the pack to Ben, who hesitated for a moment, then shrugged and took one. "How, where, when?"
"Today. At lunch." Ben took the lighter from Carlo's hand, flicked it, took a tentative puff, coughed. "We'll do it at lunch, right in the middle of the day, when things are most chaotic. Listen carefully: here's what we'll do..."
The bullpen went totally nuts around 1:00. Shots had been fired at the 34th Annual Mascots Convention, currently being held at the Chicago Hilton. Huey and Dewey, the first officers on the scene, had been unable to sort out the source of the trouble, and so had simply decided to arrest everybody they could lay their hands on.
Now Ray found himself arguing with a man dressed as a giant moose. "I am the Chairman of the United Mascots Association," the moose declared.
"I don't give a fuck who you are," Ray retorted. "Tell it to your mother."
"This has all been a terrible mistake," the moose insisted. "We are not violent people—"
"Maybe you ain't, Moose-man, but Binky over there," Ray pointed at a giant kangaroo, "had a Glock semiautomatic in her pouch, and Fishy-Dude, Giant Bear, and Donkey Guy are all carrying unregistered handguns. Plus Chicken Lady just has a bad fucking attitude."
The moose sighed. "Yes, we know—we've sent her to Anger Management classes, but they don't seem to have had much of an effect."
"Yeah, well, I'm thinking about a field trip to KFC." The phone rang and Ray snatched it up. "Vecchio—what?"
"Detective Vecchio, this is Warden Judy Kramer down at Osserling—"
Ray frowned and put a finger into his other ear to block out some of the noise. "Yeah, what? Is something wrong?"
"You had asked me to report anything unusual regarding Constable Fraser—"
"Hey, Ray?" Dewey asked. "How would you handcuff a shark?"
"Shut up!" Ray yelled, and turned his back on the bullpen. "What's unusual? Is Fraser okay?
"Yes, I believe he's fine. He got into a fight last night—"
Ray felt his insides go cold. "Fight? Did you say fight?"
"—with some of the other prisoners, yes. It's all too common, I'm afraid."
Ray sank down slowly into his desk chair. "Is he all right?"
"He's fine, Detective. He's already been released from the hospital—"
"Hospital?" Ray repeated numbly.
"—and sent back to his cell. It was just a mild concussion, but I thought you'd want to know."
Ray felt his brain whirling: should he pull Fraser out of there? leave him? what kind of fight had Fraser gotten into? Mild concussion—what the fuck was a mild concussion? Could be anything or nothing. "Can you send someone to check on him?" Ray asked.
"Certainly," the warden replied. "He'll be at lunch, I imagine."
"Find him and get him to call me—here at the station. I'm gonna talk this over with my Lieutenant. You just find him, okay?" Ray slammed the phone into its cradle and shoved Mooseman out of the way.
"Ray, seriously," Dewey said despairingly, "how do you cuff a fin?"
Ray burst into Welsh's office and slammed the door behind him. "Fraser's hurt."
Welsh looked up, his broad face instantly creased with concern. "How hurt, where hurt?"
"Concussion, the warden says—and mild, but what the fuck does that mean?" Ray paced nervously in front of Welsh's desk. "Fuck, you were right. I should never have—should we pull him? You think we should pull him?"
Welsh raised his hands. "Vecchio, slow down," he said, "and tell me the story again."
Ray took a deep breath. "Warden Kramer called, said Fraser got into a fight, came out of it with a mild concussion. Bad enough to send him to the hospital, but he's out now and back in the general population. So what do we do?"
Welsh rubbed his forehead. "You talk to him?"
"They're gonna get him to call me," Ray said.
"Go wait for the call," Welsh said, reaching for his own phone. "I'll get the paperwork started—if you want to, we can pull him tonight."
Ben stood on line in the crowded cafeteria with Carlo right behind him. He waited until they were near the end of the line before turning and stumbling a bit, overturning his goop-laden tray onto Carlo's chest.
"Fuck!" Carlo yelled, and shoved his own tray hard at Ben. Mashed potatoes splattered onto his shirt. "What the hell is your problem?" Carlo shouted. "You retarded or something?"
Ben took a step backwards and murmured, "I'm terribly sorry," as he wiped gravy off his chin with the back of his hand.
The other prisoners gave them a wide berth as they stepped out of line toward the trash cans. They scraped their trays into the garbage and wiped globs of spilled food off themselves. Ben jerked his head toward the kitchen, and Carlo nodded once, quickly, shaking potatoes off his hands. Ben watched the pattern of traffic into and out of the kitchen, and when he was sure that all the workers were outside, he darted behind the counter and through the swing doors.
The kitchen was empty; Ben glanced around at the huge ovens with their blinking red lights and timers, at the row of sinks and the industrial dishwashers, and then spied the set of double doors. "Here, quickly," he whispered, and passed into the staff locker room, Carlo at his heels.
"Now! Hurry!" Ben reached for the hem of his prison uniform, pulled it up over his head, wriggled out of his pants. Beside him, Carlo was doing the same thing—and then they were re-dressing themselves rapidly, putting on kitchen scrubs and face masks and plastic gloves.
"The food service industry seems very interesting," Ben mused. "It must take military precision to get hundreds of people nutritiously fed on a regular basis—"
"What about these?" Carlo said in a low voice, picking up their discarded uniforms. "What do we do with these—they're a dead giveaway."
"Hmm." Ben glanced down at the row of lockers, all of which bore combination locks. There were no other obvious hiding places—and then Ben had an idea, and pulled the uniforms out of Carlo's hands. "Follow me," he said, and went back into the kitchen.
On the far side of the kitchen were stacks of large metal catering trays. Ben put two of them onto the counter, folded their uniforms neatly, and used them to line the bottoms. He then put on two oven mitts, went to the stove, and picked up a gigantic vat of pasta.
"What the hell are you doing?" Carlo whispered, watching Ben pour the pasta over the uniforms.
"Making tuna casserole," Ben replied evenly. He moved to the refrigerator, found a large canister of tuna, and ladled it carefully on top of the pasta. "Is there any cheese?"
"Cheese?" Carlo boggled. "Did you say cheese?"
"Yes, cheese," Ben confirmed. "We have carbohydrates, protein, cotton-nylon blend uniforms—a little fat and we'll have all the major food groups represented."
So Carlo found a block of cheese, and together they cut slices and layered them carefully on top. "Actually, that looks pretty good," Carlo said admiringly. "Tuna surprise. You're a lunatic, pal."
There was a frenzied beeping, and two food workers burst in through the swing doors and headed straight for the ovens. "Ah, perfect timing," Ben said, picking up one of the trays. Carlo followed his lead and picked up the other. The workers opened the oven doors and pulled out two steaming trays of mashed potatoes. "Leave the doors open, please," Ben directed, and he and Carlo slid the casseroles into place to cook.
"We're out of beans," one of the workers called to Ben as he backed out the door.
"Coming right up," Ben said, and smiled behind his protective mask.
"What the fuck is taking so long?" Ray demanded, waving away an obviously distressed beaver. "You're a prison—how long can it take to lay your hands on someone?"
"The guards are looking for him in the cafeteria," Warden Kramer said calmly. "You will have to be patient, Detective—we feed over five hundred inmates at a sitting, and there isn't assigned seating."
Ray sighed and shoved a nervous hand through his hair. "Can't you just page him?"
"We don't want to give the impression that we don't know where our inmates are at all times."
"But you don't know where your inmates are all times!" Ray yelled.
"Precisely," Warden Kramer agreed.
"Right, I am coming down there," Ray said, pulling his jacket off the back of his chair. "I am coming down there right now. You find him, you call me on my cell, you got that?"
"Beans?" Ben asked, extending his ladle. "Beans? Beans, for you, sir? The USDA recommends at least five cups of vegetables a day, so I advise you to take advantage."
"Ben," Carlo muttered under his breath; he was spooning out creamed carrots. "Look."
Ben looked up and noticed a number of guards circling through the cafeteria, obviously searching for someone. "Keep calm," Ben answered softly. "Act natural. Beans, sir?"
Ray's cell phone rang as he was speeding down the highway to Osserling; he grabbed it and fumbled it up to his ear. "Fraser?"
"No, this is Judy Kramer again, Detective. I'm just calling to tell you that we're going to conduct a roll-call when third-shift lunch is over; we're having a bit of trouble pulling the needle you want out of this particular haystack."
"For Christ's sake," Ray yelled, "have you searched the goddamned place? You said he had a concussion; he could be collapsed somewhere—"
"Impossible," Warden Kramer said firmly. "Certainly we allow our prisoners some freedom of movement—but not that much freedom of movement. The inmates of Constable Fraser's ward adhere strictly to schedule B. They're in their cells till 1:10; they have lunch from 1:20 until 2:00; they take exercise from 2:00 till 4:00—"
Ray clicked the phone off, dropped it onto the seat beside him, and floored it.
The siren marking the end of lunch went off at 2:00 precisely, and suddenly a number of guards appeared at the cafeteria door with megaphones. "PLEASE PRESENT YOURSELVES FOR INSPECTION. ALL INMATES LINE UP AGAINST THE FAR WALL." The room erupted with loud groans, hisses, and boos, punctuated by shouted profanities.
Carlo shot Ben a look, but Ben just calmly continued to scrape food into the garbage cans. "Ben?"
"Hush," Ben said quietly.
"ALL INMATES LINE UP AGAINST THE FAR WALL," the guards repeated. "NOW! THE SOONER YOU LINE UP, THE SOONER WE CAN ALL GET OUT OF HERE."
"I wonder what the fuck is going on?" a worker muttered. "Christ, I hate this job."
Ben lifted his head. "Have you considered unionizing?"
Carlo joined the group which was ferrying catering trays back into the kitchen while Ben applied himself to scrubbing the counters with steel wool. He watched as the inmates slowly formed themselves into a line and began to shuffle past two guards, who seemed to be checking off their names on a clipboard. Behind him, the kitchen staff were moving efficiently, dispensing with the remains of lunch and getting the kitchen ready for the dinner shift. One worker brought out a mop and bucket, and Ben nodded and began to wash down the floor.
Suddenly the cafeteria door opened and a blond man in a leather jacket appeared, looking tense and vaguely dangerous. As Ben watched, the man began to make his way down the line, looking each prisoner hard in the face. Ben felt his heart start to pound and he stared down at the floor, working the mop more intently. He knew that man. He knew that man. How did he know that man?
"What the fuck!" Ben looked up helplessly, knowing the voice, not knowing how he knew the voice. The man had reached the end of the line and had apparently not discovered the prisoner for whom he was searching—now he flung his arms up in the air, clearly on the verge of exploding in sheer frustration. One of the inmates chose this inopportune moment to chortle—and suddenly the man in the leather jacket had him up against the wall, forearm braced against his throat. "You think this is funny? I don't think this is fucking funny, here, asshole!"
"Ben." Ben looked over, and saw Carlo standing just outside the doors to the kitchen. "C'mon."
"I'm not done yet," Ben replied, dunking his mop back into the bucket.
"Oh, for fuck's sake!" Carlo said in a frantic whisper. "Are you out of your mind?"
"Well begun is half done." Ben sped up, moving the mop back and forth rapidly across the floor, watching as the dangerous man stormed back to the front of the line and started arguing with a well-dressed woman in a navy blue suit.
"Ben, come on!" Carlo begged. Ben nodded, put the mop carefully into the bucket, and followed Carlo back through the swing doors into the kitchen.
The other members of the staff were loading the dishwashers, or pulling off their masks and aprons; a few were shrugging on their jackets and heading off in various directions.
Ben moved to the center of the kitchen, cleared his throat, and announced to nobody in particular: "We're going to go unload the van."
Carlo stepped close and muttered out of the side of his mouth, "What van?"
"Oh, there'll be a van," Ben replied with perfect confidence. "There always is. Follow me." He headed for a door on the far side of the kitchen and then stopped as a voice called out, "Hey you!—wait!"
"Fuck—run! run!" Carlo whispered, shoving hard at his back.
Ben just turned around and asked: "Yes?"
A man took a few steps toward them and said, "You'll need the keys." He reached into his pocket, pulled out a set of keys, and tossed them over. Carlo stared, dumbfounded, as Ben reached up and gracefully snatched them out of the air.
"Thank you kindly," Ben said, and proceeded through the door.
The next room was itself a large refrigerator; the room beyond that was an industrial-sized pantry. The fourth wall of the pantry was a corrugated metal gate; Ben strode over, studied it for a moment, and then reached out and flipped an electrical switch. Slowly, with a grinding, rumbling noise, the gate rolled up; beyond it was a garage and a large white van marked, "Bruno's Meat Products."
"You see?" Ben said triumphantly.
Carlo was already running toward it, hopping up into the driver's side. Ben crossed and got in on the passenger's side, and then dropped the keys into Carlo's outstretched palm. Carlo shoved the key into the ignition and turned, beaming as the engine roared into life. With a squeal of tires, he aimed the van toward the garage's exit.
"Carlo," Ben said reprovingly. "Slow down. Take it easy."
Carlo glanced over at him and made a face. "You ever see how these guys drive?" he retorted. "They all drive like they're escaping from somewhere."
Ben considered this for a moment and then nodded. "I take your point."
Carlo drove the van down the road toward the prison gates. "Pull up there," Ben directed, pointing at the guard booth. Carlo clutched the wheel tightly and nodded; his face and knuckles were white. Carlo brought them to a slow stop and rolled down his window. A guard leaned out of the booth and said, "ID?"
"Uh," Carlo sputtered, "um—" but Ben calmly reached across the cab, flipped down the driver's side visor, and pulled out a laminated pass. Carlo took it between his sweaty fingers and passed it over to the guard, who looked at it for half a second before handing it back. And then, before them, the iron gate slowly swung open—and Carlo shifted the van into drive and put pedal to the metal.
"How the fuck did you know that?" Carlo yelled, once they were clear and on the street. "What fucking psychic planet do you come from?"
Ben crossed his arms and stared irritably out the passenger side window. "You might say 'Congratulations, Ben,' or 'I knew you could do it, Ben,' or even 'We made it, Ben'—"
"Congratulations, I knew you could do it, we made it—and how the fuck did you know that pass would be there?" Carlo demanded.
Ben sighed and shook his head. "I find," he said, turning back to look at Carlo, "that you can never underestimate people when it comes to laziness and stupidity. Add in the stultifying dullness of workday routine and you're as near to a sure thing as makes no difference."
"We're out," Carlo declared suddenly, as if he'd only just processed that. "Ben, we're out! We're free!" He burst out laughing and drummed his palms wildly against the steering wheel.
Ben found himself smiling back; Carlo's joy was contagious. "Yes, so it seems."
"We gotta ditch this van. We gotta find a phone. I gotta call my brother," Carlo said rapidly, and then he turned to Ben and said, "C'mon, we'll go see Vito. He'll help us out—you'll like him, he's real smart."
"I do not believe this. I do not fucking believe this." Ray braced his palms against the wall of Warden Kramer's office and let his head fall forward—and then suddenly he raised a fist and started punching hard against the plaster.
"Detective, I just can't explain it," Judy Kramer moaned.
Ray reeled backwards, sucked on his bruised knuckles, and then pointed an accusing finger at her. "You lost a prisoner! A person! A cop! It ain't like losing a pencil, lady—we are talking about a full-sized Canadian Mountie—"
There was a knock on the door, and a guard stepped in, hat in hand. "Warden? All prisoners accounted for—except Benton Fraser and Carlo Salmonelli."
"Salmonelli?" Ray said, instantly turning. "Salmonelli's gone?"
The guard nodded grimly. "Yeah. And, uh—one of the kitchen staff has reported a van missing. They would appear to have—escaped."
Warden Kramer slowly rose to her feet. "Escaped?"
"Escaped?" Ray repeated. "Carlo Salmonelli has escaped?" Suddenly he was at the desk, snatching the telephone receiver up, and dialing furiously. "This is Vecchio," he said a moment later. "I need an APB on Carlo Salmonelli—now! right fucking now! And tell them to be careful—he is armed, he is dangerous, and he has got a cop as a hostage."
The two brothers rushed into each other's arms and hugged tightly; Ben hovered awkwardly by the door, embarrassed by the overt display of affection. Finally Vito pulled back, gave his brother a loud kiss on the cheek, and smacked him hard in the head.
"Vito," Carlo said, jerking his thumb over his shoulder. "This is Ben Fraser—he helped me escape."
Ben took a few, tentative steps into the room, put on his friendliest expression, and extended his hand. The elder Salmonelli brother stared at him, looked him pointedly up and down, and then grabbed him and pulled him into a bear hug.
Ben stiffened as Vito attempted to squeeze the life out of him. "You bring me my brother back," Vito murmured into his ear. "You're like family to me now."
Ben felt like his lungs were collapsing under the pressure. "You—don't have to kiss me," he managed.
Vito pulled back, barked out a laugh, and smacked him in the head hard enough to make his ears ring. "I like you, Ben," Vito declared, and Ben found himself wondering exactly how Vito treated people he didn't like. "Tell me about yourself. Who are your people? You got a gang?"
"I, um, don't really remember," Ben admitted.
"What about your brother?" Carlo asked him.
Ben frowned. "I have a brother?"
Carlo turned to look at Vito. "He got a head wound."
"It happens," Vito said prosaically.
"I don't think I have a brother. I don't think I have a gang, either," Ben added. "There was certainly no mention of a gang on my rap sheet. And I don't seem to strike myself as the gang type. So I suspect I was something of an independent operative."
"Gotcha," Vito said, nodding. "Well, hang around for a while. I got a little gang here, maybe you like it. Maybe you just never found the right gang, you know?"
Ben considered this. "Certainly that's possible."
"You never know till you try," Carlo said.
"Detective, do you know the old expression: 'A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush?'"
"Do not quote aphorisms at me. I cannot handle aphorisms right now."
"You wanted both Salmonelli brothers. Now you have no Salmonelli brothers. You are short two Salmonelli brothers and one Mountie."
Ray jerked his head up. "It's still my case, right?"
"Yeah, it's your case." Welsh sighed and leaned against the filing cabinet behind Ray's desk. "I mean, who else would want this mess?"
"It's my case because that bastard kidnapped my partner!" Ray leapt out of his chair and tried to stare Welsh down. "I don't know how or why but that's what he did! Somehow he made Fraser out for a cop and took him hostage."
Welsh nodded sympathetically. "You interview the kitchen staff?"
"Yeah." Ray made a face and turned away.
"So what do they say?" Welsh pressed.
"They say nothing—they say he was a model employee." Ray sat down in his chair again and rubbed at his eyes. "They didn't see a weapon but that don't mean there wasn't one. And they say it was Carlo who was all anxious to get out of there—"
"What about prints?" Welsh interrupted.
"Prints, yeah—in the van, not in the kitchen. They were wearing gloves in the kitchen. So we got prints in the van—so what? They tell us nothing, just that Fraser was there which we knew already, big deal."
Welsh nodded, considering this. "Where was the van found?"
"Downtown, parked under the el—they could've gone anywhere from there." Ray swiveled in his chair and stared down at his desktop: pictures of the van, inside and out, statements from the kitchen staff. He couldn't meet Welsh's eyes. "What if they kill him? Carlo's out, probably with Vito by now—they don't need a hostage no more..."
"Detective, I think you're underestimating Constable Fraser." Ray looked up and Welsh nodded at him reassuringly. "The guy is no great shakes at undercover work, I grant you, but he is still pretty damn capable. I don't see how Carlo kidnapped Fraser without Fraser in some way going along with it—"
"But he had a concussion," Ray protested, wanting Welsh to explain that away too.
"Still," Welsh replied. "I'd put Fraser with a concussion up against three of most people. Probably Fraser realized that when Carlo got out he'd go straight to Vito. And that was his job, right? To find Vito." Ray nodded miserably. "Fraser knows you want Vito Salmonelli—so I bet he's out there getting him for you. Probably bring him back to you with a bow on his head—"
The phone rang and Ray snatched it up. "Yeah, Vecchio. Uh-huh. Uh-huh. Yeah—thanks for calling." He hung up and stared up at Welsh with a frown.
"What?" Welsh demanded.
"They just found Fraser's prison uniform in tonight's tuna casserole." Ray braced his elbows on his desk and shoved his hands up through his hair. "I think I'm gonna have to rethink this."
Ray read the official report of Fraser's fight with growing fury. They claimed that Fraser had been out of control, had savagely attacked other prisoners—and that they'd been compelled to use force to subdue him.
Which was bullshit. Total fucking bullshit. Dollars to donuts the bastards had been watching—probably had a nice little kitty going, betting pocket money on who would win. And then something had gone wrong and they'd waded in and busted heads.
He'd worried about putting Fraser in with the criminals; he hadn't even thought about the fucking guards....
Fraser had been brought to the hospital, totally unconscious, at a quarter to ten. The doctor on the night shift—Abramson—had diagnosed a concussion and bandaged Fraser's head. Fraser had regained consciousness shortly before midnight, but had been confused and disoriented—
"Night, Vecchio!" Huey called from the door to the bullpen. Ray looked over and raised a hand.
—and suffering from short term memory loss. The patient had evinced surprise upon being informed that he was an inmate at Osserling Penitentiary. The patient appeared to have no recollection of the events leading up to his concussion.
The patient was kept overnight for observation.
The next morning's notes were more reassuring. The patient was easily able to recall his name, current location, and prison sentence. The patient could now remember details of the previous evening's altercation. The patient's memory appeared to be returning at a normal rate.
Patient released back into the general population.
Ray frowned, picked up the phone, and called the hospital at Osserling, only to be told that Dr. Abramson would not be arriving until half-past nine.
Ray called again at a quarter to ten, but was told that Dr. Abramson was making his rounds, and would call him back as soon as he could.
Ray called again at ten-thirty, but was told him that there had been a stabbing, and that Abramson was in emergency surgery. Could the doctor call him back?
Finally, the phone rang and Ray grabbed for it. "Ray Vecchio."
"Vecchio, go home," Welsh said tiredly. "Get some sleep. It's past midnight already."
Ray groaned and closed his eyes. "Look, I'm just waiting for—"
"Whatever you're waiting for, it'll wait till morning," Welsh said firmly, and then he sighed and muttered: "Christ, I knew you'd still be there—you're such a stubborn fuck sometimes. Detective, listen to me and hear me well. If you are not out of there in five minutes, I'm sending someone up to escort you home."
Ray sighed. "All right, all right. I'm leaving, I'm going...."
"I mean it, Detective. I am calling the front desk. There will be a uniform up there in five minutes—so you had better be gone."
"I got him into this," Ray said, clutching the receiver tightly. "I gotta get him out—and I got nothing here, I got absolutely nothing."
"Tomorrow," Welsh said firmly. "Work on it tomorrow."
"Yeah, okay," Ray said, and hung up.
The next morning, Ray called Osserling from home. "Look, I gotta talk to this guy. I mean, I really need to talk to this guy. It's important."
"I'm sorry, Detective," the nurse said apologetically, "but I am not able to give out the home phone numbers of anyone on our staff. It's a security issue, as I'm sure you—"
"Gimme the warden," Ray interrupted. "Now." He waited as the nurse put him through to Warden Kramer, and then demanded: "Now, look, lady—you lost my Mountie, so you're gonna find me this Abramson guy. I need to talk to him, like yesterday."
Warden Kramer sighed and then said: "All right, Detective. Just hold on." She put Ray on hold and— Raindrops keep falling on my head....but that doesn't mean my eyes will soon be turning red....cryin's not for me....no!.... I'm never gonna stop the rain by complainin'—The line clicked and Judy Kramer said: "Detective? It's apparently his golf day."
"Christ, I hate that song," Ray moaned. "So where does the bastard play?"
Doctor Abramson apparently had a prompt 9:00 a.m. tee-off time. Ray ran down onto the green and flashed his badge at a fat guy in a visor. "Sir, I need your vehicle. Police business." Ray climbed into the driver's seat, muttered, "Nice pants," and headed pell mell down the course.
Unfortunately, 'pell mell' in a golf cart was maybe 20 miles an hour, so it took him almost fifteen minutes to catch up with Abramson and his cronies somewhere near the fourth hole.
"Hey! Stop!" Ray yelled, wishing he had a siren on this thing. The four elderly men stopped, turned, and Ray slammed hard on the brakes, nearly flipping the cart over. "Which one of you is Abramson?"
One of the men stepped forward, smiling pleasantly. "That would be me. And you are?"
Ray flashed his badge. "Ray Vecchio, Chicago P.D. Get in the cart, sir—we're gonna take a little ride."
Ray pulled over into a grove of trees, switched the engine off, and wheeled on Abramson. "Okay, look—I need some more information from you about Benton Fraser."
Abramson's face creased into a thoughtful frown. "Benton Fraser? You'll have to refresh..."
"At the prison," Ray said. "Osserling. Couple of nights ago."
Abramson shook his head. "I see many patients at the—"
"Guy with a concussion, lost his memory—"
"Hmm..." Abramson mused.
Ray slammed his hand hard against the steering wheel. "Guy! Lost his memory! Got hit in the head—which is at least an excuse—"
Abramson's face cleared. "Oh yes. Ben Fraser. I remember him perfectly well—the fighter."
Ray took offense on Fraser's behalf. "Fraser ain't a fighter."
"He was brought in for fighting," Abramson pointed out. "He was out cold when they brought him in, but he recovered rather rapidly. He must have a very hard head."
Ray shrugged, admitting the truth of this. "He does, yeah."
"He was a little fuzzy at first, but I had the nurse print out his rap sheet so he could review it. Sometimes it just takes as little as that—he seemed very much better in the morning."
"So he knew who he was?" Ray asked.
"Oh yes," Dr. Abramson assured him.
"You're sure about that?" Ray pressed. "I mean, you're positive he didn't have—like—amnesia or anything?"
"Certainly not." Dr. Abramson seemed offended at the very idea. "I wouldn't have released a patient with amnesia. Ben Fraser was perfectly clear about who and where he was. By morning, he was lucid, and his memory appeared to be returning rapidly."
"Appeared. To be. Returning," Ray repeated. "So it had not yet returned?"
"He had the basic building blocks," Abramson explained defensively. "It's not like in the movies, Detective—memory doesn't return all in a rush. The patient begins to remember things, and starts to work what he knows into reasonable patterns. It's like reweaving a tapestry that's gotten a few holes punched through it. And Ben Fraser's memory was clearly knitting together. In fact," Abramson added, "it was evident to me that he was already sifting through his memories, putting them back into the correct order."
Ray's eyes narrowed. "Oh yeah? How so?"
"Well, think about all the memories that you have. People you know, places you've been, life experiences—but also movies you've seen, books you've read, stories you've been told by somebody else. If suddenly all those memories are radically rearranged—say, by a blow to the head—you'd have to sort them out again, wouldn't you? Did this actually happen to me, or did someone tell me about it? I remember a man called Sherlock Holmes—do I know him, or is he a fictional character? We have to remember not only what we know, but the context within which—"
"So Fraser was doing this?" Ray interrupted. "Talking about Sherlock Holmes?"
"Well, no. Ben Fraser's literary taste seemed to run more in the Tennessee Williams-type direction." Ray felt the bottom fall out of his stomach. Abramson continued: "He seemed to think that he actually knew someone called—"
"Stanley Kowalski." Ray closed his eyes and slumped back in his seat, hands going up to cover his face.
"Why, yes," Abramson said, sounding surprised. "Precisely so! How on earth did you—?"
"What did you tell him?" Ray murmured behind his hands.
"Well, I disabused him of the notion, of course. Tried to help him clarify the line between reality and fiction—"
Ray dropped his hands. "Reality in terms of the rap sheet?"
"Exactly," Abramson said with a smile.
"Oh boy," Ray said.
"Okay, so look," Vito said, spreading the blueprint out on top of the card table. "We enter here, go through this hallway and stop here. The night guard should be sitting right here and—"
"Pardon me," Ben ventured, and Vito, Carlo, Pietro and Little Ricky raised their heads to stare at him. Ben was discomfited by the sudden attention, and nervously took a drag on his cigarette.
Vito smiled at him, but the smile didn't quite reach his eyes. "You got something to add, here, Benny?"
"Well, just that..." Ben coughed politely and leaned forward. "It seems to me that if we enter here instead of here," he said, gesturing toward the map with his lit cigarette, "then we avoid the guard entirely, do we not?"
"He's got a camera," Vito retorted.
"Yeah, he's got a camera!" Carlo repeated. "He'll see us with the camera!"
"Yes, I understand that," Ben said patiently, "but certainly it would be easier, and safer, to disable the security system than to risk an encounter with the guard. Besides, if we get caught—not that we will, but it behooves us to plan for every eventuality—we're then facing a simple burglary charge, uncomplicated with any crimes against persons."
Vito peered narrowly at him. "Disable the security system how?"
"Well," Ben said, contemplating the map, "I'd say that we'd have to cut wires here, here, and here. It's a three person job, but if we're even remotely synchronized, the guard should be unable to locate the source of the system failure. He'll have to go investigate—"
"Yeah, and then he comes after us," Vito growled.
"No, I doubt that," Ben said, shaking his head. "The logical place for him to start his investigation would be at the electricity closet—here, on the second floor. If the scale of this map is at all accurate, it should take the guard, oh, at least fourteen minutes just to—"
"Listen, Benny," Vito said, straightening up. "I appreciate that you want to contribute to this enterprise. Really, it sounds like you got some very promising ideas—so A for initiative, okay? But I'm running this gang, here. I've been running this gang for seven years. The way a gang works, I tell you what to do and you shut up and do it. Capisce?"
Ben bit his lip and then nodded, once, briskly. "Si, io capisco. Scuzi. Io non voglio lagnarsi—"
"So don't," Vito snapped. "Now let's go through it again, okay? We enter here, and we go down this hallway and stop here..."
Ray called Welsh on his cell from the GTO. "Okay, so I got good news and I got bad news. Which you want first?"
The line was quiet for a moment as Welsh thought it over. "Gimme the good news," he said finally.
"Fraser's probably not dead."
"Well, that is good news," Welsh agreed.
"Yeah, I thought so, too."
Welsh's voice grew suspicious. "So what's the bad news?"
"He may not know who he is," Ray told him. "When he got hit on the head, they refreshed his memory based on his rap sheet. He may have bought his own press."
"Wait a minute," Welsh interrupted. "You're saying Constable Fraser might believe—"
"He might, yeah. Which figures, see? Picture you're Fraser—Mr. Great Outdoors, Mr. Wide Open Spaces. And picture you wake up in the hospital and someone tells you that you're gonna be in jail for the next ten years for a bunch of crimes you can't remember committing. What would you do?"
Welsh's sighed loudly into the phone. "Try to escape."
"Correctamundo," Ray agreed. "And if you're Fraser, you can actually do it. I mean, face it, Lieutenant—that tuna casserole thing just smells like Fraser."
Welsh sounded confused. "You're saying that Fraser smells like—?"
"I'm saying it's a Fraser kind of plan!" Ray yelled. "Diabolical and nutritious! Fraser thinks he's innocent and that the cops are after him. So he's laying low— which is why we can't find him. He don't want to be found!"
"Oh boy," Welsh muttered.
"That's what I said," Ray said. "Thing is, we really gotta be hoping now that he's still with Carlo and Vito. Because if he ain't—if he's hightailed it off to Rio de Janeiro or somewhere—"
Welsh groaned. "We'll never find him."
"You got it," Ray said. "Listen, I'm gonna go talk to some people I know, try to find out the word on the street. I got Carlo once—I just gotta get the bastard again and hope that Fraser's still with him. Otherwise we are in deep, deep doo-doo here."
"Detective," Welsh said, "you are eloquence incarnate."
Ben stopped at the door, and turned around. Pietro and Little Ricky darted past him out the door, and Carlo looked nervously from Ben to his brother before stepping out and pulling the door shut behind him.
Ben cleared his throat. "Yes, Vito?"
Vito waved him closer. "C'mere."
Ben approached the card table warily, not knowing what to expect.
"Listen to me," Vito said quietly. "I know you ain't been in a gang before, so I am gonna cut you some slack here on account of your inexperience. But you do not ever—ever—contradict my authority again. Do you understand that, or are we gonna have problems?"
Ben opened his mouth to answer, but Vito cut him off: "Cause I would hate to have problems with you. You being like family to me and all."
"I..." Ben felt irritation rising within him—what had he done besides suggest improvements to Vito's scheme? Vito smiled thinly at him and shifted his body, letting his jacket fall open and giving Ben an excellent view of the large gun holstered under his left armpit. Ben took a deep breath and managed to keep his face and voice neutral. "I don't think we'll have any further problems, Vito."
"Good." Vito smiled warmly at him, and then reached out and smacked him hard in the head. "Because I like you, Benny—really, I do. Go make yourself a sandwich."
Ray went into the deli and approached the counter. "Gimme...uh...a pack of Marlboros."
The man at the register nodded, reached up, and tossed a red box onto the counter. "Three seventy five."
Ray looked quickly from left to right and then leaned forward. "Can you talk, Sammy?"
Sammy nodded and dropped his voice to a whisper. "Yeah, I got a minute."
"Carlo Salmonelli," Ray prompted.
"Escaped from prison," Sammy murmured. "Nobody was workin' yesterday—Vito took the day off to celebrate. Was like a federal holiday around here."
"So Carlo's back with Vito?" Ray murmured back.
Sammy jerked a nod at him. "Yeah, so they say. And today, all of a sudden, Pietro Denati and Ricky Kazinski crawl out of the sewer. Everybody's jockeying for position—because now that Carlo's back, Vito might drop the small stuff and go back to big time robbery."
"Sammy, listen," Ray said urgently. "Carlo escaped with somebody else. Another inmate. You hear anything about that?" Sammy shook his head. "New member of the gang?" Ray pressed. "Strange face nobody recognizes?" Sammy shook his head again. "Okay, look—you hear anything about that—anything—you call me right away, okay? Day or night."
"Okay, Ray, sure," Sammy said agreeably. "That'll be three seventy five."
Ben was getting ready for bed when he heard a knock at the door. "Come in?"
The bedroom door opened and Carlo came in, carrying a brown paper bag. "Hey, it's just me. Can we talk for a minute?"
"Certainly, Carlo." Ben gestured for him to sit down. "Please..."
Carlo sat down on the bed with the paper bag in his lap; he looked ill at ease. "So listen. Vito means well, okay? I just want you to know that. Vito's like—really, really smart, way smarter than me. He plans all our heists and he never gets caught."
"But you were caught, Carlo," Ben said quietly. "Your last robbery—you were caught and arrested and sentenced to twenty years in prison..."
Carlo was instantly defensive. "Hey, that was my fault, okay? I fucked up. That had nothing to do with Vito—that was about me being an idiot, which just happens sometimes."
"Still." Ben looked away. "If Vito would simply plan his crimes with a little more care..."
"You don't say nothing about my brother, okay?" Carlo yelled, jabbing a finger at him. "He is doing you a favor by letting you into this gang. Don't get me wrong, Ben—I like you, I respect you, you got me outta prison which I ain't never gonna forget. But you are broke, pal—and your cut outta this heist is gonna be nearly a hundred grand, so I think you should shut the fuck up about my brother."
"Yes, all right," Ben said, raising a hand to rub at his aching temple. "I take your point, Carlo, and I apologize. Certainly someone has to be in charge, I accept that. I'm just...not used to being in a gang, I suppose."
"Yeah, that's what Vito said—see, I told you he was smart." Carlo opened the paper bag and dumped its contents out over the bed—handguns, all shapes and sizes. "Here—I don't know what you use."
Ben frowned and stared down at the guns.
"Pick one you like," Carlo said, and then he looked up at Ben and added: "You're good with guns, no?"
Ben's headache grew worse, and he rubbed hard at his temple again. "I—yes," he said, surprised to find that this was the truth. "I'm—familiar with a variety of firearms." He selected a pistol, checked the chamber, and then flicked it shut. "I'll have this one, thank you."
"No problem," Carlo said, gathering the other weapons together and putting them back into the bag. "Now go to bed, get some sleep. We got a big day tomorrow."
Ray stared up through the darkness at the ceiling over his bed, watching the blur of lights as the occasional car drove by on the street below. He couldn't sleep—but he just had to sleep, he needed to have his brain fresh and working for tomorrow. He groaned, shifted, rolled onto his stomach and pulled the pillow over his head. Sleep. He needed to sleep.
Fraser was out there, somewhere; he was probably sleeping too, or trying to. Ray hoped that Fraser was sleeping in a nice comfortable bed, and not, like, tied up on the floor in somebody's basement, or on a Greyhound bus heading for Mexico. It seemed wrong, really, really wrong, that he didn't know where Fraser was right this second. He felt like he had a right to know, that it was his right to know where Fraser was...
Ray squirmed again and his t-shirt rucked up uncomfortably beneath him. Everything was uncomfortable: the sheets and blankets were all tangled, the pillow was hot, his shorts were riding up—and he rolled again, lay flat on his back, and wrapped his arms around his head.
His tiny bedroom had never seemed so big; his entire life had never seemed so empty.
"It looks like something might be cooking," Ray reported to Welsh the next day. "Nobody knows for sure, but the Salmonelli brothers don't seem to be wasting any time getting back on the horse."
"What about Constable Fraser?" Welsh asked. "Is Fraser with them?"
"Nobody knows nothing," Ray sighed. "He could be with them, he could be gone. I just sent a description to the airport, in case he tries to leave the country—"
"What about the Canadians, you tell the Canadians?" Welsh asked.
Ray blew out a long breath. "Um. Not exactly."
Welsh raised his eyebrows. "Not exactly?"
"I notified the border patrol—told them that if Constable Fraser tried to cross they should detain him and call us. Told them we got an important message for him."
"What about Inspector Thatcher?"
"Uh." Ray scratched at the stubble on his jaw. "Do I have to tell Inspector Thatcher?"
"Constable Fraser is missing, Detective. He's been missing for three days—don't you think we should mention that?"
"Okay, but follow me here," Ray argued. "Far as Thatcher knows, Fraser's working undercover with us. And as far as we know, that's still the truth, right? I mean, all this stuff about Fraser's memory—it's all hypothetical. It could be just what you said—Fraser escaped with Carlo in order to catch Vito and bring him in. They could all turn up at any minute."
"From your mouth to God's ears," Welsh muttered. "But it don't look like it's going that way."
"I would just hate to misinform the Canadian Consulate, sir," Ray said earnestly. "I mean, that would just be bad. To worry those poor people for nothing. Could set U.S.-Canadian relations back fifty years—"
Welsh sighed and shook his head. "You're afraid of the Ice Queen."
Ray looked away. "Terrified, yeah," he admitted.
"All right, Vecchio," Welsh relented. "We'll keep it quiet for the moment. Until we're sure about what's going on."
"God bless you, sir."
"Everybody ready?" Vito whispered.
It was hard to see him in the dark; it was hard to see everybody, as a matter of fact. The black clothes they were wearing sucked up all the light—and in the darkness of the van, all that was visible were the whites of their eyes and the glow of reflected light on their faces. Even that disappeared as, one by one, Carlo, Pietro, and Little Ricky pulled on their black masks. Ben took a deep breath and followed suit.
"Everybody ready?" Vito repeated.
"Ready," they mumbled in unison.
"Let's go!" Vito flung the back doors of the van open and instantly they were running the few feet to the west door of the Illinois Brokerage building. Everyone stepped back as Little Ricky jimmied the revolving door with a dangerous looking steel implement—and then they were revolving through, one by one, stepping into the high ceilinged west lobby.
Ben, as the newest member of the gang, had been assigned the position of lookout—and look out he did, keeping a few paces behind the other men as they headed down the south corridor to dispense with the guard. Little Ricky reached into his pocket and pulled out a small, silver ball-bearing, and with a quick glance at the others he rolled it down the corridor like it was the world's smallest bowling ball. The sound of steel against the granite floor was loud in the silence—and when the guard appeared at the end of the hallway Vito and Carlo were ready for him, grabbing him by the arms and holding a gun to his head.
Pietro pulled a roll of duct tape out of his bag. He quickly slapped a piece over the struggling guard's mouth, taped his wrists together, and threw him to the floor.
"Go!" Vito yelled at Carlo and Pietro, and the two men hurried past the front desk and disappeared up the corridor on the other side of the building.
Ben noticed a light flickering on the guard's console and ran toward the desk, gun drawn. The label underneath the flashing light said, simply, "SILENT ALARM."
Ben looked up at Vito. "We've got to abort—now!"
Vito turned toward him, his entire body projecting fury. "What? We can't, we—"
"He's set off the alarm," Ben explained—and already, dimly, he could hear the sound of faraway sirens. "The police are already on their way."
Enraged, Vito pulled his gun, whirled on the trussed guard, and aimed between his eyes.
"No!" Ben yelled; and in an instant he had grabbed Vito's arm and yanked it upwards—the shot was deafening in the huge atrium. Vito roared and tried to shove Ben to the floor—but Ben simply pulled the gun out of his hand, flipped it around, and whacked him hard in the head with it. Vito stumbled back against the marble wall but didn't fall—he just crouched there, staring at Ben, outraged and shocked.
Slowly Ben revolved the gun in his hand and pointed it at Vito's head. "Now," Ben said quietly, "you will please listen to me."
"So now you know what I know," Ray told Diefenbaker, "though I'd appreciate it if we could keep this between ourselves. I'm not ready to tell the Canadians. The human Canadians," he added quickly. "You know."
Dief barked at him and Ray sighed and scratched first Dief's head, and then his own. "Yeah, I know I don't come off real good in this story. But I swear to you, I just was not expecting—"
His cell phone rang and Ray yanked it out of his jacket. "Vecchio! What?"
"Where are you?" Welsh asked.
"I'm at the Consulate—I just wanted to bring Diefenbaker up to speed," Ray explained. "What's up?"
"Alarm's gone off at Illinois Brokerage. I asked dispatch to notify me if anything unusual happened at a bank or a securities firm or—"
"I'm on my way," Ray said instantly.
"Don't get your hopes up," Welsh cautioned him. "It's probably nothing."
"Nothing my ass," Ray retorted. "It's Vito—I'm sure of it."
Ben ran full speed up the east hallway, following the increasingly loud sounds of banging and muttered Italian curses. He darted through a series of interlocking doors until he found Carlo and Pietro, who were struggling to unlock a massive steel door.
"Mission aborted!" Ben said breathlessly. "On your feet—now!"
Pietro grunted and shoved a steel implement harder against the lock. "Just give me a few more minutes—"
Ben shook his head. "We don't have a few minutes. The police are—"
"Shit, fuck, goddamn!" Carlo yelled, beating his fist against the door. "We haven't gotten any money yet!"
"Get away from the door," Ben ordered.
"What?" Carlo repeated, not moving.
"Get away. From the door," Ben repeated; and when neither of them moved, he pulled his gun and fired into the air above their heads. They jumped, shocked at the sudden noise, and leapt away from the door. Ben lowered his gun and fired a bullet into the elaborate combination lock, which exploded outwards.
"That doesn't help!" Pietro shouted at him.
"It helps if you know electronics," Ben said; and then he was yanking wires from the smoking ruin of the lock system, stripping and twisting and making sparks. The door suddenly clicked open, and Ben grabbed the handle and turned—and then they were all in there, grabbing everything they could get their hands on and stuffing it into Pietro's black bag.
The sirens were now unbearably loud—and Ben heard the faint screech of tires as the police pulled into the lot. "Now!" he yelled. "Come on!" Ben swiped the black bag off the floor and swung it over his shoulder.
"Hey!" Pietro protested. "That's mine!"
"I'm sorry," Ben said firmly, adjusting the strap. "Not anymore. Please follow me if you want to stay out of prison."
The GTO turned into the parking lot of Illinois Brokerage on two wheels—and nearly collided with the black van that was careening out of it. Ray jerked the wheel to the right and thus narrowly missed colliding head-on with the van and the two police cars which were in hot pursuit, lights flashing and sirens blaring. Ray cut the wheel hard and turned the GTO around, taking up the chase.
The van sped furiously down the service road toward the highway, the police cars slowly catching up. Ray, bringing up the rear, stared as one of the van's back doors flew open and a black-clad arm holding a gun was extended outwards—and then bang! and bang! and bang!—and one of the police cars in front of him veered wildly and crashed into the other, which went flying off the road and into the concrete sound barrier that separated the service road from the highway. Ray jammed his foot on the brakes to avoid crashing into the car in front of him, frantically turning the wheel left! left! left! He sailed around the disabled police cars, leaving skid marks on the asphalt, but by the time he could work back up to speed the van was gone, gone, totally fucking gone.
Ben sat back against the side wall of the speeding van, Pietro's bag in his lap, and pulled his mask off. He was overheated and vaguely sweaty; he felt flushed with excitement and keyed up with adrenaline and anger.
"That," Ben said, breathlessly, "was one of the greatest displays of incompetence I have ever had the misfortune to witness."
Vito ripped his own mask off and glared at Ben, enraged. "Don't you ever—"
Ben raised his gun and pointed it at Vito, who instantly shut up.
"As I was saying," Ben continued evenly, "that was incredibly incompetent. First of all," he said, turning to look at Little Ricky, "why on earth would you break in through a revolving door? Didn't it occur to you that we might need to leave in a hurry? And you," Ben added, turning to look at Pietro, who was driving the van. "You're trying to open a sophisticated combination lock with a hammer and chisel. Kindly join us here in the twentieth century, if you please. And Vito—honestly! You have to anticipate that any reasonably competent guard would trigger the alarm before investigating a strange noise. And why were we interfering with the guard when it's so much simpler to disable his cameras? Under your magnificent leadership, we'd all be in the custody of the police right now, facing felony murder charges."
"Are you finished?" Vito growled at him.
"No," Ben answered, narrowing his eyes. "But I'd be happy to entertain a rebuttal."
"Don't bother," Carlo said quietly; he'd pulled off his mask and was staring dejectedly at the floor of the van. "He's right, Vito."
Vito's head jerked around to stare at his brother. "What did you say?"
Carlo looked up. "I said he's right. That was a disaster. It's a miracle they didn't catch us—and felony murder is twenty-five years to life." Carlo looked away again, perhaps not wanting to meet his brother's eyes. "I'm thirty-three years old, Vito. I've already spent six years in prison, and I just got sentenced to another twenty. And okay, maybe it'd only have been seven, but that still would make me forty when I got out. Twenty-five years...." Carlo shook his head slowly. "I don't want to spend the best years of my life in prison, Vito."
"Carlo..." Vito's voice was pleading. "What are you saying?"
Ben transferred the gun from his right to his left hand, still training it on Vito, and then reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out his cigarettes. "I've learned quite a lot about being in a gang these last few days," Ben said, jerking the pack up and catching a cigarette in his mouth. "It's been most instructive. As I understand it, the way a gang works is—I tell you what to do and you do it." Ben flicked his lighter, lit his cigarette, and inhaled. "Capisce?"
Vito looked at Carlo, looked at Little Ricky—but they both looked away. Vito turned back to Ben, teeth clenched. "You had better think twice about this, Benny. You had really better think twice..."
Ben smiled and flicked the safety off the gun. "My name," he said, "is Benton."
Ray propped his feet up on his desk and rewound the footage from the security camera for the seventh time. He then played it again in slow motion, gesturing at it with the remote control. "Okay, that's Vito," he told Welsh, "no question but that's Vito. The paunch and the psychotic body language just give it away."
"Yeah, right, I see that," Welsh muttered, rubbing his forehead. "He was gonna shoot the guard."
"Looks like it, yeah. Except then this guy—" Ray raised the remote control and paused the tape, "—stops him."
Welsh stared at the tape and then began nodding slowly. "You're thinking Fraser?"
"I don't know," Ray admitted. "Could be—the body type is right. Guy stops the murder, yeah—but then he bashes Vito on the head and starts giving orders. Watch this."
Ray let the tape roll again, and they watched as the man finished giving instructions and then disappeared down the east corridor.
"Camera picks him up againnnn...here," Ray murmured, and then the tape cut to a different room and they watched the man blow the lock apart and hotwire the door. "And see, this is where I'm just not sure. Is that Fraser? I dunno."
"Fraser had trouble stealing Milk Duds," Welsh noted grimly. "I don't see him robbing banks."
"No, me neither," Ray said. He squinted and leaned forward a bit to peer at the tape. "But still, you know..."
"...it does kinda look like Fraser," Welsh sighed.
Ray looked up. "Yeah, it does, don't it?"
"Maybe it's like...you know." Ray waved the remote control around. "That thing."
"What thing?" Welsh demanded.
"Patty Hearst. Stockholm Syndrome."
Welsh's eyebrows flew up. "Stockholm Syndrome?"
"Yeah," Ray said, nodding. "Ain't that the thing where you take somebody hostage and they go over to the other side and become gun-toting lunatics?"
Welsh frowned. "Yeah, but—"
Ray flung his arms toward the television screen. "So what would you call that?"
Welsh thought about it for a moment and then said, reluctantly: "Stockholm Syndrome."
"My genius is legend," Ray said.
"All right, everybody pay attention," Benton said, spreading the blueprint out on top of the card table. "Vito and I will enter here, on the south side of the building. Carlo and Pietro will come in through the garage, and they will break into the janitor's closet here. Now according to this map, which I have obtained from Chicago Gas and Electric, disabling the electrical system will give us precisely nine minutes before the emergency generators kick in." Benton raised his head: "Everybody with me so far?"
Carlo and Pietro nodded. Vito muttered, "Why do I have to go in with you?"
"Because," Benton answered, narrowing his eyes, "I keep my friends close... and my enemies closer."
Vito crossed his arms over his chest and looked away.
"What about me, what am I doing?" Little Ricky asked eagerly.
"You will be in the van. You will be given a precise timetable—you will fetch Carlo and Pietro outside the garage at precisely twenty minutes to three, and then you will swing around and meet us at the back door of the building at precisely 2:52 A.M."
"Can I have one of those cool radio headsets?" Little Ricky asked.
"Yes," Benton said, nodding. "You may have a cool radio headset."
Little Ricky beamed. "Excellent!"
"They are indeed. Now," Benton said, spreading open another blueprint, "the moment the power goes off, Vito and I will proceed to the fifth floor via Staircase B. The firm of Carter, Phillips, and Thompson will be making a six million dollar deposit to the First National Bank of Costa Rica on Monday—"
"Six million dollars?" Carlo repeated, seeming shocked.
"Four flights of stairs?" Vito groaned.
Benton looked at Vito sharply. "You could do with dropping a few pounds. And yes, Carlo—our target is that six million dollar deposit. I don't think we should take the risk for any less. That last heist was...was....p-pathetic," Benton stuttered; suddenly his brain was pounding, and he raised a shaking hand to his head. "We only netted...uh...three hundred thousand dollars. Which is...n-nothing. Especially if you're going to...t-tithe."
"Tithe?" Carlo repeated. "Did you say—tithe?"
"Yes." Benton took a deep breath, and shook his head to clear it.
Pietro frowned. "What does that mean—tithe?"
"It means giving money away," Vito growled. "He wants to give our fucking money away."
"Really?" Pietro looked at Benton.
"Really, yes," Benton confirmed with a nod.
"But what about us?" Pietro asked petulantly.
"If we want more money, we'll just steal some," Benton said irritably. "We're thieves. That's what we do."
"But Ben," Little Ricky protested. "The point of stealing is not to have to work so hard!"
"Hard work is good for the soul," Benton said firmly.
"You see?!" Vito nearly yelled. "I told you this guy was a nut!"
In a flash, Benton had reached into his holster and whipped out his gun. "Please do not contradict my authority, Vito. I would hate to have problems with you, really I would."
Vito raised his hands and stepped back. "All right, all right, all right—Jesus! You have become a touchy little fucker, Ben—do you know that?"
"It was really very strange," Debra Tolland said, laughing and shaking her head. "Wonderful, of course—but really too good to be true."
Ray nodded grimly and bent over to examine the pile of bills on her desk. "Well, you know what they say—if it seems too good to be true, it probably is."
"You simply can't imagine how I felt when I opened our donation box and saw all that money! At first I thought I was seeing things." She reached down and picked up two giant handfuls of crumpled green dollars. "But then I touched it and it was real! And then I thought—oh, some kind benefactor has decided to help us! Because we've been so desperately in need of funds..."
The dark-suited man standing behind Ray coughed discreetly into his fist. "Well, I am sorry, ma'am—but that money is the property of Illinois Brokerage."
Debra Tolland looked pleadingly at Ray. "Is that really true? Is it really stolen money?"
"Yeah, it is—I'm really, really sorry," Ray said, giving her shoulder a small, comforting squeeze. "The serial numbers match."
"Oh," Debra Tolland said quietly. "Yes. I see."
"However," Ray added, wheeling on the dark-suited man, "I seem to remember you guys yelling and screaming about offering a reward. I mean, didn't you?"
The man looked suddenly nervous. "I—uh—we did have a thought about—uh. Yeah. We did."
Debra Tolland beamed and clapped her hands. "You can make out the check to the New Hope Soup Kitchen."
The man looked uncomfortably at Ray Kowalski. "We said, what—five thousand?"
Ray scowled at him. "You said ten."
"And remember," Debra Tolland said joyously, "it's all tax deductible!"
"What do you think of these?" Benton asked Carlo in a quiet voice. Carlo peered down through the glass case at the micro-transmitters, the tiny fitted earpieces, the miniature microphones.
"They're really nice," Carlo murmured. "But they're kind of expensive, no?"
"You can't do a good job without the proper equipment," Benton countered.
"Sir is absolutely correct!" The salesman came over, rubbing his hands. "And this system is well worth the money! It's our very finest model! Two years ago it was classified, top-secret, government technology. We've since sold this particular system to a number of different companies—because it's so lightweight, you see? Plus it's guaranteed to work at considerable distances—"
"We'll take it," Benton interrupted, and reached for his wallet.
"Sir has excellent taste."
Carrying their bags, Benton and Carlo walked down the street toward the car. And then suddenly Ben stopped and drifted over toward a shop window.
Carlo turned and backtracked a few paces. "Ben?"
"Hm?" Ben glanced over at Carlo and then back up at the window.
Carlo tried to follow Ben's gaze. "Whatcha looking at?"
Ben raised his hand and pointed. Carlo saw the black leather jacket—it was chained to its gold hanger at the back of the window, looking thick and dark and buttery soft. "What do you think?" Benton asked, looking slightly embarrassed.
Carlo grinned and slapped him on the back. "Ben, I think it's you."
Ray did a shocked doubletake. "Uh—did you just say six million?"
Ted Carter, managing partner of Carter, Phillips, and Thompson, nodded grimly. "That's right, Detective. Six million dollars in cash—oh, this was no amateur job here, believe me. They knew precisely what they were looking for; we didn't even know the money was missing until an hour ago—"
"What the hell were you doing with six million dollars in cash?" Ray demanded.
Carter looked sort of embarrassed. "We were investing it for one of our clients," he explained, "whose securities had recently matured. The vagaries of international business meant that we could not effect the transfer of funds over the weekend, and for a number of complicated reasons we decided to liquidate the entire amount and—"
Ray pursed his lips. Complicated reasons, sure—the only reason to put that kind of money into cash was to do something you really shouldn't be doing, like getting a larger profit by bringing hard American currency into some foreign country. "Where exactly was this money supposed to go?"
Carter looked away. "First National Bank of Costa Rica."
"So what was the investment—stripping the rain forest?" Ray demanded. "Harvesting the shells of giant turtles—"
Carted glared pompously at him, his fat neck turning red. "I assure you we were pursuing a perfectly legitimate investment strategy—"
"—with six million in cold hard cash. Uh-huh, sure," Ray said, narrowing his eyes.
Benton Fraser, black leather satchel slung over the shoulder of his black leather jacket, strode purposefully through the lobby of the Chicago Hilton to the reception desk. He had his share of their latest robbery—five thousand dollars—tucked away in his wallet, and he supposed that five thousand dollars would be enough for him to be able to rent the penthouse suite, at least for a while.
He'd be happy for a bit of privacy. Carlo and Vito were like family, but—well—perhaps a bit too much like family, really.
He waited patiently while a man dressed as a giant moose attempted to resolve some sort of issue with the beleaguered-looking concierge. "Don't you know who I am?" the moose demanded. "I am the Chairman of the United Mascots Association—"
"I'm sorry, sir," the concierge said firmly. "That's simply not our policy—next, please!"
Benton smiled pleasantly as the concierge waved him over, but the moose rather stubbornly refused to give way. "You don't understand," the moose insisted. "My credit is excellent—and I have been compelled by circumstances beyond my control to raise bail for a number of my colleagues—"
The concierge ignored him. "Sir," he said, addressing Benton, "how may I help you?"
"I have a reservation," Benton explained politely. "The name is Kowalski—Benton Kowalski."
The concierge instantly brightened. "Oh, yes, sir. The penthouse suite, sir." He turned and searched for the key in the great mahogany cabinet behind him.
"I wouldn't stay here if I were you," the moose said with some bitterness. "The service is dreadful."
Benton considered him thoughtfully. "You know—your antlers are quite the wrong size."
The man raised a self-conscious hand to his head. "Are they?"
"Oh yes. Much too small. Unless you're a female moose," Benton added quickly. "In which case I most sincerely apologize."
"Here you are, sir," the concierge said, handing him a key. "I'll have the bellhop escort you up to your suite..."
"That won't be necessary," Benton said with a smile. "I'm sure I can find my way."
This was not going to be fun. Ray could see that right away—this was not going to be fun at all. The kids in the playground all had bright new uniforms, and their white sneakers hadn't even had a chance to get scuffed up yet. Inside the building, a group of workers were up on ladders—they were spackling, painting, making what even Ray could see were desperately needed improvements.
"Ah, Detective," Sister Mary Louise said, crossing the hallway and extending a plump hand to him from the folds of her large black habit. "Sister Beatrice said that you had something you wanted to discuss with me."
"I, uh, yeah," Ray said nervously; he hated talking to nuns, it made him feel like he was in some Japanese monster movie, being attacked by giant but benevolent penguins. "Um. We heard a rumor," he began, and suddenly there was a horrible banging noise from overhead.
"Oh, don't mind that," Sister Mary Louise said, taking his arm. "They're just fixing the roof. Let's go into my office."
She guided him gently across the hallway into her office and shut the door behind them. "Now tell me how I can help you."
Ray shuffled from foot to foot. "We, uh, heard a rumor that the orphanage had just come into some money...."
Sister Mary Louise's lined face instantly brightened. "Yes, isn't it wonderful? I've been praying so hard—and anyone who says prayers aren't answered just does not understand the ways of the Lord. God works in very mysterious ways, Detective—oh, he was just the loveliest young man: so polite, so charming, so—"
Ray swallowed hard. "I have to tell you, Sister—that money might be stolen."
"Stolen?" Sister Mary Louise's face clouded momentarily, and then cleared. "Oh, no, Detective, that's not possible. Believe me, if you'd met the young man in question, you'd just know that—"
"Sister, I would love to meet the young man in question," Ray said urgently. "Could you maybe give me a description?"
Sister Mary Louise stared at him for a moment, and there was a flash of something in her eyes. And then she was raising a hand to her head, her face the very picture of confusion. "Well, now, let me see....he was um...short...and um....a bit on the heavy side...with, uh....bright red hair."
Ray ground the heel of his hand into his right eye. "Any distinguishing marks?"
"Um, no. Yes!" she amended quickly. "He had a mole! A rather unfortunate mole! Right here!—above his eyebrow!" Sister Mary Louise pointed at her own, deeply wrinkled forehead. "I noticed it particularly."
Ray sighed. "Great. Thanks."
There was a knock at the door and Sister Mary Louise practically rushed away from him to answer it. A young man wearing the orphanage uniform stood there. "I'm sorry to bother you, Sister—but the painters want to ask you something."
"Oh, yes," Sister Mary Louise replied instantly. "Of course." She turned back to Ray and said, "You understand, don't you, Detective?"
"Oh yeah," Ray said quietly. "I understand perfectly, Sister."
"Oh, and this is Billy," Sister Mary added, looking up at the boy proudly. "Billy's one of our most stellar students. He'll be going to Yale in the fall."
"She said he was a short, fat redhead with a mole," Ray said, slumping back against the closed door to Welsh's office.
"Sounds just like Fraser," Welsh deadpanned. "What's the problem?"
"No, no, no—" Ray whined, letting himself list sideways, "—don't you see? She's a nun—she's a shitty liar! Fraser's tall; she says he's short. Fraser's dark; she says he's a redhead. Fraser's built; she's says he's dumpy. Fraser's beautiful; she gives him a big fat ugly mole right in the middle of his face—"
Welsh raised an eyebrow. "Fraser's beautiful?"
"That woman gave me a description of the Anti-Fraser," Ray finished, ignoring the interruption. "She couldn't have described anyone who looks less like Fraser if she'd tried, which is exactly what she damn well did. Which is how we know it's Fraser—QED. Nobody else could look so much not like Fraser—"
"That ain't gonna hold up in court, Vecchio," Welsh objected. "You're gonna accuse a nun of perjury? I don't think so."
"I know, I know..." Ray groaned.
"What about the serial numbers? Did the serial numbers match?"
"Get this," Ray said, crossing his arms. "Carter, Phillips, and Thompson claim that they lost the serial numbers. Whoops!"
Welsh frowned. "What do you make of that?"
"I make that they didn't record them in the first place," Ray said flatly. "They were gonna do something dirty with that money—and they didn't want it to be tracked."
"So then there's no way to connect it to the orphanage money," Welsh mused.
"Nope," Ray agreed, "and you know what? Just serves those slimy bastards right."
"Now this should be a very simple robbery." Benton slowly looked around the card table at the members of his gang. "So simple, in fact, that it will require only three of us—myself, Carlo, and Little Ricky, I think. You've gotten very good with that headset," he added, smiling at Little Ricky. "Plus you're becoming a wonderfully defensive driver."
Little Ricky blushed and looked down at the floor.
"So where does this leave the rest of us?" Pietro demanded.
"Don't worry," Benton assured him. "Everyone still gets an equal share."
"Yeah, a crummy five thousand dollars," Vito muttered. "I mean, our total haul is now something close to seven million—where's the rest of it?"
"Vito, you've made ten thousand dollars in less than a week. At that rate, your yearly income will be something in the area of four hundred and eighty thousand dollars. Only four percent of Americans make more than a hundred thousand a year. I advise you to count your blessings and file a tax return." Benton cleared his throat. "Now, as I was saying, this should be a very simple matter if we just stay focused and organized. It's not a very big target—we're looking at about two million dollars in bearer bonds—but the Samstel Corporation's security is a disaster, partly because they refuse to pay the union wages required by decent security firms..."
Ray's phone rang at about four o'clock in the morning, scaring the shit out of him. He kicked the sheets from around his legs, fumbled for his glasses on the nightstand, and stumbled into the living room in his boxer shorts and t-shirt.
"Yes? Yeah? Hello?" Ray said, fumbling the cordless phone to his ear.
"Ray? It's Sammy."
"Sammy? Sammy who? Oh Sammy—yeah, yeah—talk to me." Ray collapsed down onto the sofa.
"You said you wanted to know if I heard anything about a new guy in the Salmonelli gang," Sammy said cautiously.
"Yeah," Ray said quickly. "What'd you hear?"
"That there's a new guy in the Salmonelli gang."
"Yeah, I know that, Sammy." Ray shook his head. "What else have you heard?"
"Word on the street is that the new guy has taken over," Sammy told him. "Vito's apparently furious, but Carlo's behind him, and Little Ricky apparently thinks that he's God or something."
Ray propped himself up on his elbow. "Oh yeah?"
"Yeah. Apparently the new guy's pretty talented—has an eye for a safe heist and a real talent for organization. Ricky feels like he's finally getting some on-the-job training. And Carlo—all he wants is a safe, steady income. Cause see, he's got this girl, Gina—"
"Gina?" Ray repeated.
"Gina, yeah. Carlo's just nuts about her, but the burglary business is always a little hand-to-mouth, you know?"
Ray made sympathetic noises.
"But he's feeling like maybe now he can make a commitment. So he's happy as a clam—behind the new guy a hundred percent. Even Pietro's apparently coming around. The only problem is Vito."
Ray sat up and frowned at the floor. "Vito's not happy about being ousted, huh?"
"Nope," Sammy agreed. "I mean, he ain't saying nothing about it—he's like being the big man, pretending it was all his idea to get the new guy. But the thing is, Ray—he's talked to some people, you know?"
"No," Ray retorted, "I don't know. Talked to some people—how?"
Sammy gave a significant-sounding cough. "I mean, he talked to people. Talked to people...."
"Ohmigod," Ray whispered. "You mean a hit? He wants the new guy whacked?"
"I didn't say that," Sammy said instantly. "You said that. I did not say that."
"Sammy, for Christ's sake," Ray yelled, "did he make the contract?!"
"Not yet—not that I've heard," Sammy replied. "Cause see, nobody's seen the new guy yet—nobody besides Carlo and Pietro and Little Ricky. Nobody's gonna set a price until they know what they're dealing with. But Vito is talking to people..."
"Sammy, you listen to me. There is cash and prizes and a trip to the Bahamas in it for you if you let me know the second Vito makes a contract! You hear me?" Ray pounded his fist hard against the sofa arm. "And if you help me find the new guy, I will personally buy you a fucking car, your choice of model."
"Okay, Ray. I will do my best," Sammy said, and then he added: "I like the Hyundai, you like the Hyundai?"
"Take a left," Benton said to Little Ricky, and Little Ricky nodded and instantly turned the van to the left. "Let me know when we get to Michigan Avenue."
Carlo was sitting on the floor of the van counting the money. "We taking a detour, Ben?"
"Yes, I think so," Benton agreed, sitting down next to him. "How much do we have?"
Carlo grinned up at him. "Two million in bearer bonds, like you said—and forty-seven thousand in cash from the lockbox."
"Oh, that's wonderful," Benton said enthusiastically. "Very convenient. We can make payroll out of the cash, and still have extra money left for expenses."
Carlo nodded, stripped five thousand off the top, and stuffed it into his shirt pocket. "I think I'm gonna buy Gina a ring. One of them nice, round-cut diamonds—big as the moon."
Benton smiled at him. "That sounds lovely. I'm sure she'll be very happy."
"We're coming up on Michigan!" Little Ricky called back to him.
"Take a right on Michigan," Benton called back, "and then go until you reach St. Andrew's."
"What you got planned for the two million?" Carlo asked curiously.
"The Little Sisters of the Poor provide a number of services for substance abusers out of the church basement at St. Andrew's," Benton explained to him. "Recently, however, their funding has been cut—largely due to the controversy about providing clean needles to addicts."
Carlo nodded slowly. "Two million bucks buys a lot of needles, Ben."
"Well, it's not just needles. They provide beds, food, medical care, counseling, job placement—"
"Hey." Carlo raised his palms. "I'm not complaining here, okay?"
Benton stared at him for a moment and then nodded slowly.
"'Mal dare e mal tener lo mondo pulcro ha tolto loro, e posti a questa zuffa,'" Carlo said, and smiled shyly. "Have I got it right?"
Benton smiled back at him. "You've got it, Carlo. Exactly right."
"What the hell does that mean?" Little Ricky asked, glancing back over his shoulder. "I'm Polish."
Carlo burst out laughing. "It's about hell, Ricky—that's exactly the point."
"'Bad giving and bad keeping have deprived them of loveliness and sent them to scuffling,'" Benton translated.
"It's about being greedy," Carlo added in clarification. "Fourth level of hell."
"Canto seven," Benton said, and smiled at him.
Ray burst into Welsh's office and slammed the door behind him. "We may have just caught a break."
Welsh looked up quickly. "Oh, yeah?"
"Yeah. Look at this." Ray slammed an 8 X 10 photograph down on Welsh's desk; Welsh looked down at it. It was blurry, yeah, but it was pretty clearly Benton Fraser's face.
"The Samstel Corporation's security is for shit," Ray explained. "Which is why the robbers practically strolled in and out. But here's the thing—because the bastards were so cheap, they just threw these store-bought cameras up. They weren't all connected, you see? So Fraser and his guys, they cut the wires and all, but a couple of the cheap cameras just kept on rolling."
Welsh nodded grimly. "So now we've got proof that Fraser's involved in the robberies."
Ray felt suddenly sick. "Well, uh—yeah. Yeah. I mean I hadn't really—yeah."
Welsh looked up at him. "You know what this means."
Ray swallowed hard. "Uh—what does this mean?"
"It's time to talk to the Canadians."
Ray went still for a moment and then whirled and started kicking violently at Welsh's file cabinet. "Oh, fuck, fuck, fuck!"
"Be brave, Detective," Welsh said somberly. "It is a far, far better thing that you do than you have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that you go to, than you have ever known."
"Somebody pass the snow?" Carlo asked, and Pietro reached over and handed him the small, crystal bowl of parmesan. "Thanks, Petey. So Ben—you got any ideas about our next heist?"
Benton quickly sucked up his forkful of spaghetti, and then wiped sauce off his lips with his napkin . "Yes, actually. I think we'll hit the Boorman Corporation next. Possibly on Thursday, weather permitting."
"What's the target?" Pietro asked.
"Diamonds," Benton replied. "They'll be getting a shipment of South African diamonds on Wednesday night. I was hoping that Carlo might find a way to broker them though his jeweler—"
"Oh yeah," Carlo said, breezily, waving his fork. "Not a problem." He turned his head and caught Vito glaring at him. "Vito, will you just lighten up? Life is good, okay?" Vito grimly reached for the bread basket, and ripped a piece off the end of the loaf. Carlo shook his head and looked back at Benton. "What kind of numbers we talking about?"
"Well," Benton said, considering this, "of course that all depends on how honest your jeweler is. But certainly we should accept no less than five."
"Which will be bringing our total haul up to over thirteen million dollars," Vito growled, "of which we've each seen what? Twenty grand apiece?"
"Vito, shut the fuck up, will you?" Carlo muttered.
Vito suddenly pounded his fist onto the table, sending the plates and glasses and silverware lurching and clattering. "No, I will not shut up!" Vito yelled, jumping to his feet. "I don't know what the fuck you've done to brainwash my brother," he added, pointing an accusing finger at Benton's face, "but I have just about had it with you and your bullshit schemes!"
Benton calmly put his fork down. "Vito, I know that transitions can be difficult—"
Vito whipped his gun out of his holster and pointed it at Benton's head. "You want a difficult transition? I'll give you a difficult transition—"
With a loud scrape of chairs, Carlo, Pietro, and Little Ricky were all on their feet, guns trained on Vito. Benton leaned forward, put his elbows on the table, and continued talking placidly: "As I say, change can be very, very stressful—I'm well aware of that. So I'm going to take that into consideration in evaluating this situation. Because we're like family, Vito, aren't we?"
"Yeah, Vito," Carlo said quietly. "Aren't we?"
Vito looked around at the three pistols, and then slowly reholstered his own gun. "Yeah," he muttered. "We're like family all right."
Benton smiled and nodded. "Of course we are. And what family doesn't have its little problems? And meals can be specific focal points of tension. Please," he added, gesturing. "Sit down. I'd hate for you to miss the spumoni."
"Oh, I love spumoni," Pietro said brightly.
"So do I," Benton agreed.
Ray sat in his chair and cringed while the Ice Queen stormed around the office, waving her arms and doing a pretty creditable imitation of a Fury.
"Are you saying that Constable Fraser has amnesia?" Thatcher demanded.
"Uh—yeah. Or Stockholm Syndrome. Maybe both."
"And that he's robbing banks?" Thatcher demanded. "With a gang?"
"Uh—yeah. Banks, securities firms, various corporations—"
"And you didn't see fit to tell me?" Thatcher demanded.
"Well, uh—we weren't entirely sure of the facts of the situation until—"
"Do you have any idea how embarrassing this is going to be for the Canadian government if this comes out?" Thatcher demanded. "That we have a renegade Mountie who has embarked on a major crime spree?"
"Hey," Ray protested. "Nobody's gonna come out of this smelling like a rose, lady. Least of all me."
Thatcher flung herself back into her desk chair, and put both her fists on the desk. "I always knew there was something not quite right with Constable Fraser. His psychological profile intimated that he could snap at any time. But this! I never imagined anything like this. You have to find him, Vecchio!"
Ray rolled his eyes and slapped his forehead. "Find him! Oh, hey, thanks—I hadn't thought of that! I've been playing air hockey in the basement!"
"This is not a situation that calls for levity," Thatcher said tightly.
"No, that's right!" Ray leapt to his feet and jabbed his finger at her. "This is a situation that calls for a little fucking international cooperation, okay? I am looking for him! I am trying to keep this quiet! I am doing as much damage control as I possibly can! I am informing you out of courtesy—"
They were interrupted by a meek little cough from the doorway. "Um, excuse me, sir," Constable Turnbull said; both Ray and Thatcher turned to glare at him.
"What is it, Constable?" Thatcher said from between clenched teeth. "Can't you see I'm in the middle of something?"
"Yes, but—today's paper has arrived," Turnbull said brightly, extending it to her.
"Put. It. Down. On. The. Table." Thatcher looked like she was barely keeping herself in control. "I. Will. Read. It. Later."
Turnbull's face fell; he looked like he might cry. "Yes, but—you see, sir—"
Ray strode over and grabbed the paper out of his hand. "Oh, fuck," he muttered.
Thatcher got to her feet. "What?"
Ray held the paper up so she could see it. "CHICAGO'S MOST WANTED," the headline blared, and then the subtitle: "Does Chicago Have Its Own Robin Hood?"
Underneath was the blurry photograph of Fraser.
"Oh dear," Benton said, frowning down at the newspaper.
"Yeah, that's what I said," Carlo agreed nervously.
Benton dropped the paper on to the table, shook his head, and took a deep drag from his cigarette. "That's really a most unflattering picture."
"Ben, they're on to us!" Carlo nearly yelled. "What the hell are we gonna do?"
Benton looked up at him, surprised. "Carlo, they've been 'on to us', as you so charmingly put it, for some time. The police know that you and I have escaped from prison. The police are well aware of the robberies we've committed. The police are no doubt looking for us as we speak, and have probably been looking for us for some time. Nothing's changed. In fact," Benton added with a smile, "I believe that the police generally find media attention to be a hindrance rather than a help. And really, photograph aside, the article is quite flattering."
Carlo frowned and sat down next to him. "You think so? You think we're all right?"
"Of course we're all right," Benton assured him. "We proceed as usual."
The station was a madhouse when Ray pulled the GTO into the lot. The courtyard was thronged with reporters—who all ran for the car when they saw him, crowding him and shoving their microphones in his face.
"Detective, is it true?"
"Who is Robin Hood?"
"Can you confirm or deny the—"
"Are all the robberies related?"
"—story reported in this morning's Tribune?"
"Are you in charge of the case?"
"How long have the police known about—"
"Is this related to the recent wave of charitable donations?"
"Are the men in fact merry?"
"No comment!" Ray yelled, pushing his way through them and heading doggedly for the station door. A uniformed officer held it open for him, and blocked the reporters from following him inside.
The scene inside the station wasn't much better—he found himself surrounded by people the minute he walked through the door to the bullpen.
"Ray, is it true?" Frannie demanded. "Is that really Fraser?"
"Is Fraser missing?" Huey asked. "I thought he was just undercover."
"Boy, you really fucked up this time, didn't you?" Dewey said with a smirk.
"Or is he undercover? Is this a sting? You can tell me," Huey said.
"Cause it sure looks like Fraser," Frannie insisted. "And I'd know Fraser anywhere—"
Welsh came to his rescue, booming from the door to his office. "PEOPLE!" he yelled and everyone stopped talking and looked at him. "The official word on this is NO COMMENT! You are under the strictest of orders not to discuss, confer, or speculate about this with anyone. The strictest orders—is that understood?"
"Yeah," Dewey muttered. "We understand." He shot a mean grin at Ray and whispered under his breath, "Heh. You are in trouuuu-ble..."
Ray sneered at him. "Oh, fuck off, Dewey."
"Vecchio—in my office! The rest of you—get to work!"
Benton rappelled quickly through the darkness down the side of the Boorman building; Pietro and Carlo were there to catch him in their arms at the bottom, settling him onto his feet and rapidly detaching the huge, metal climbing hooks and nylon cords from the leather harness he wore around his waist and chest.
Benton raised his hand to his ear and pulled the microphone toward his lips. "Now would be a good time, Ricky," and instantly the black van zoomed around the corner and screeched to a stop. Vito flung the back doors open and they all leapt in.
"Didja get 'em?" Vito asked.
"Yes, of course." Benton reached into a pouch on his belt and pulled out a small black velvet sack. Vito extended his hand, and Benton overturned a cascade of glittering diamonds into his palm.
"Oooh," Little Ricky said.
"Ahhh," Pietro said.
"Pretty," Carlo added.
"Yeah, and who the fuck gets 'em, huh?" Vito asked, staring down at his palm.
"I thought we might make a little donation to the battered women's shelter over on Jackson Avenue. After all," Benton said with a smile, "diamonds are said to be a girl's best friend."
"I'm sorry, Detective," Lisa Robertson said, though she didn't seem the slightest bit sorry. "I didn't see who brought us the money, though we're certainly grateful for it." She folded her hands on the desk in front of her and stared at them thoughtfully for a moment before looking up at Ray again. "Do you really think it's Robin Hood?"
"I dunno," Ray said with a shrug. "It fits the pattern, though. There's a robbery, and there's a donation. This time it was you guys."
"Will we have to give the money back?" Lisa asked quietly.
"I dunno that either," Ray said honestly. "Depends if we can connect the money to the diamonds that were stolen. At the moment, all this is correlation, not connection, do you follow me?" Lisa Robertson nodded slowly. "I mean," Ray added, "it's possible that the donations are not connected to the robberies. Not really possible—but legal possible, okay? So we're obligated to investigate, but we can't take the money away from you unless we can prove that it wasn't a genuine charitable donation."
"I understand, Detective," Lisa said, and then she showed him a faint smile. "I hope you don't mind me saying that I hope you fail to make such a connection."
"Yeah," Ray said with a sigh. "There's a lot of that goin' around right now. Listen, is there anybody here who might have seen something last night?"
"We have over fifteen hundred women and children currently living in our shelter," Lisa said, and Ray felt sort of shocked at the number. "You're certainly free to ask around."
"Thanks," Ray said, getting up and flipping his notebook closed. "I'll do that."
He let himself out of the administrative offices and wandered around the shelter, making inquiries. The women were generally pleasant enough to him until they learned who he was and what he wanted—and then Ray could practically see their faces closing down, growing shuttered and defensive.
Ray turned to leave and found his way blocked by a tall, redheaded woman. Ray winced and took a step back—the woman's face was badly bruised, her left eye swollen so terribly that Ray doubted she could see out of it at all. He'd seen boxers who hadn't looked as bad as this.
"Whose side are you on, anyway?" she said softly, glaring at him through her one good eye. "Now you guys come out of the woodwork—and why? Because somebody might have stolen some money—yeah, sure, if it's money, the cops are all over it. Where were you guys when we needed you, huh? And now you want us to help you put this man in prison? You ought to be ashamed of yourself...."
Ray looked away and mumbled, "That isn't fair."
"I couldn't agree with you more," the woman said, and moved aside to let him pass.
ILLINOIS BROKERAGE, Ray wrote in block capitals, and then drew a box around it.
CARTER, PHILLIPS, AND THOMPSON.
THE SAMSTEL CORPORATION.
THE BOORMAN CORPORATION.
There had to be a pattern. He had enough information to find a pattern. Where was the pattern?
Cash, Cash, Bonds, Diamonds...
Local Bank, International Financiers, Trading House, Diamond Exporters....
Ray propped his head on his elbow and stared hard at the paper. There just had to be a pattern here. They were all pretty rich companies. And they were all local companies, headquartered here in Chicago. Which was nicely ironic, when you thought about it, considering how they were now funding a bunch of local charities...
Ray rubbed a palm over his hair idly, and then got up from his desk to follow a hunch.
Benton sat on the front stoop of the Salmonelli house, smoking and watching the kids playing stickball down the street. He heard the screen door bang open behind him, and then Carlo came and sat down next to him, patting his pockets for a light.
Benton reached into the pocket of his black leather jacket, pulled out a lighter, and lit Carlo's cigarette.
"Thanks," Carlo said, inhaling. "Nice day, huh?"
"It's a beautiful day," Benton agreed.
"Yeah," Carlo said, watching the kids play. "Vito and me—we grew up not far from here. We used to play stickball just like them kids—it's a nice neighborhood. Friendly-like. I'm thinkin', you know, if things keep going good like they are, maybe I'll buy a little house around here, set up shop with Gina, have a couple of kids of my own."
"That sounds ideal," Benton agreed, taking a drag off his own cigarette.
"What about you," Carlo asked, "you ever think about getting hitched, having kids?"
Benton thought about that for a moment, and then shook his head slowly. "No. I don't think I'm wired that way."
"Oh." Carlo suddenly squirmed uncomfortably and looked away. "Well, hey, it ain't for everyone. Different strokes for different folks, right?"
"Absolutely," Benton agreed, tossing his cigarette into the street. "I'm going back to the Hilton," he added, getting up off the stoop. "I'm going to take a nap and perhaps have a bath. You do the same—I'll need you to be on your toes, tonight, Carlo. This one might be a bit tricky, and Vito's been...well, you know."
Carlo nodded grimly. "Don't you worry, Ben. I'll take care of Vito, no problem."
Benton nodded. "All right. I'll meet you back here at midnight."
Ray sauntered into Welsh's office, shut the door, and leaned back against it, grinning triumphantly. "I," he announced to Welsh, "have got it."
Welsh settled back in his seat, hands gripping the arms of his chair. "Well, I just hope you're not contagious."
"What have I told you about my genius?" Ray demanded.
"That it's legendary," Welsh sighed. "I must be reading the wrong legends."
Ray pushed himself off the door and laid a piece of paper on the desk in front of Welsh. "I spent the whole day at the library. Just take a look at that."
Welsh leaned forward to look. It was a photocopy of a page from Fortune Magazine, a list headed: THE CHICAGO HUNDRED. Ray had stroked through a few lines in blue highlighter:
6) Carter, Phillips, and Thompson 9) The Samstel Corporation 14) The Boorman Corporation
"So whattya think of them apples, huh?" Grinning, Ray slouched happily in the chair in front of Welsh's desk and hooked one long leg over its arm.
"Great," Welsh said, dryly. "There's only a hundred companies on this list, Vecchio. Really narrows it down—good job."
Ray's grin grew wider. "It does, yeah. Take a look at number one."
Welsh glanced down at the list. "Chicago CityCorp," he read, and then looked back up at Ray.
"'Proud Sponsors of the Chicago Special Olympics.'. Gimme number two."
"Merritt Sampson," Welsh read.
"'Merrit Sampson Reminds YOU To Get A Mammogram Every Six Months.' Well, not you, sir, but—gimme the next one."
"Intellicorp," Welsh read.
"AIDS Walk," Ray replied. "Keep going."
"Lanning and Price."
Welsh narrowed his eyes at Ray. "Carter, Phillips, and Thompson."
"Bupkis," Ray said with a feral grin. "Absolutely fucking bupkis." He swung his leg back onto the floor and leaned forward, hands dangling between his knees. "Interesting, no?"
"Interesting yes," Welsh said, leaning back in his chair. "Keep talking, Vecchio."
"Put Illinois Brokerage aside—I don't think Fraser picked that one," Ray said. "But the rest of 'em? Cross-reference The Chicago Hundred against the list of companies that give to registered charities and you get this." Ray reached into his shirt pocket and brought out another sheet of paper, which he unfolded and passed over to Welsh.
It was the same page from Fortune Magazine; the same list. But this time, there were about twenty different companies highlighted in blue: Carter, Phillips, and Thompson, The Samstel Corporation, The Boorman Corporation, Wentworth and Associates, Thomas Adams Incorporated, The Luhrman Group, Midwestern Telemarketing, Beatrice & Pierce...
Welsh looked up at Ray, and it took Ray a moment to figure out what was wrong with his face. And then he figured it out.
Harding Welsh was smiling at him.
"Carlo," Benton said quietly into his microphone. "Are you there?"
His earpiece momentarily buzzed with static and then he heard Carlo's voice. "Yeah, Ben, I'm here. So far, so good."
Benton leaned back against the wall and took a quick glance at his watch. "Are we still on schedule?"
"You bet," Carlo replied. "You should be clear to enter at precisely 3:06."
"Synchronize watches?" Benton murmured, and then said, "3:04....stroke."
"Stroke," Carlo replied instantly. "We're good."
"Excellent. Ricky, are you with us?" Benton inquired.
"All clear, Ben. It's dead out here—even the rats are asleep."
"That's fine," Benton said. "Pietro? What's happening with those cameras?"
"I'm in position," Pietro replied. "The minute Carlo cuts the power, I'll snip the wires."
Benton let his head fall back against the wall, took a deep breath, and smiled to himself.
Ray was nearly on the verge of falling asleep when the lights cut out. Instantly, he was on his feet, gun in one hand, flashlight in the other, his rubber-soled shoes making no sound at all against the thickly carpeted floor. Fuck, this was it, they were here—except where were they exactly? He'd hedged his bets by staking out the main lobby to Wentworth and Associates, which had a clear view of both the elevators and the office's main safe.
Except maybe Fraser would come in from somewhere else, and maybe he wanted something else....
The problem was that he had no idea of the target. Sure, Wentworth and Associates had a central safe—but the firm's twenty partners had twenty small safes in their twenty large offices, and each of them had their own, highly lucrative clients. So Fraser could be almost anywhere...
The office was laid out as a square, with staircases coming up from the lobby at each of the corners. Stealthily, Ray moved through the dark, carpeted corridor, passing dark offices with frosted glass doors. He reached Staircase A, raised his gun, and then wheeled around the corner, taking aim. Nothing. He made his way down the second side of the square, listening intently for something, some small sound, for anything at all.
Up ahead he could see Staircase B, bearing its large orange sticker giving instructions for escape In The Event Of A Fire. Ray took a deep breath, raised his gun again, and rounded the corner—
—and this time, in the darkness, he saw a flash of movement, just the tiniest flash of black on black—
Ray flicked on the flashlight.
Fraser yanked his hand away from the knob to Staircase C and wheeled around, first raising his arm against the light, and then peering intently down the hallway toward him. Even with the flashlight, it was hard to see Fraser clearly; he was dressed in black to the neck, had a black leather bag strapped across his chest—
—and was pointing a sleek black gun straight at him. "Don't move," Fraser said tersely, and Ray suddenly realized that while the light gave him a visual advantage over Fraser, it also made him a huge fucking target. Just aim into the light.
"I won't move, Fraser!" Ray called back. "I won't move if you won't move! Okay?"
Fraser went suddenly pale, and then he took a step forward, craning his neck, straining to see past the light. "Who is it? Who are you?"
"Fraser—it's me," Ray said, and then he flicked the flashlight back toward himself, trying to illuminate himself in the darkness. "It's Ray—see? Me." He couldn't see Fraser's reaction, but he could hear Fraser's shocked-sounding gasp.
"You," Fraser murmured. "You again."
"Fraser, we need to talk, okay?" Ray felt like he was walking on eggshells. "We need to get some things clear, here...just put down the gun."
Fraser shook his head, and the gun wavered not an inch. "Surely, you're joking. I don't know who you are or what you want from me, but—"
"I want to talk," Ray said desperately. "We need to talk, you and me—I'm your partner, remember?"
Fraser looked suddenly sick, and he raised one hand to his forehead. "I don't have a partner...I'm an independent operative..."
"You're a cop, Fraser!" Ray blurted. "You're a cop and I'm a cop and we're partners, pals, a duet—you set 'em up and I knock 'em down, remember?"
Fraser was looking very sick now; he was leaning forward, hand tightly gripping his head. The gun in his other hand wavered, and Ray took a couple of quick steps down the hallway toward him.
"Stop!" Fraser yelled, managing to steady the gun. "Stop right there or I'll shoot!"
"You won't shoot me," Ray said confidently.
Fraser lifted his head. "I might shoot you."
"You will not shoot me, Fraser!"
"I might so shoot you!" Fraser sounded annoyed.
"What are you—a killer now?" Ray yelled.
"I didn't say I'd kill you," Fraser objected. "I said I'd shoot you. Please pay attention."
Ray shook his head vigorously. "You wouldn't."
"Really, I might," Fraser insisted. "I could wound you," he suggested, apparently in the spirit of conciliation.
Ray stared down the hallway at the gun barrel and considered this. "Okay, yeah. You could probably wound me, yeah."
"And if I'm a cop," Fraser added, clearly intending to press his advantage while he was ahead, "then why am I robbing this company?"
Ray blew out a breath and tried to figure out what to say. "Well, that's very complicated..."
"I've had enough of this conversation," Fraser said suddenly, and reached for the doorknob.
"No, wait!—" Ray yelped, running forward. "If you'd only just listen!—"
Fraser bolted through the door and instantly Ray took after him, charging down the hallway and then flinging himself wildly down the staircase. "Fraser!" he yelled, taking the stairs two at a time and then leaping down onto each landing. "Wait! FRASER!"
Benton barreled down the staircase, one hand on his mouthpiece. "Ricky! Ricky! Get that van out front now—we're leaving now—"
He burst out of the building just as the black van zoomed around the corner and screeched to a halt in front of him. The back doors flew open and then Carlo and Vito were grabbing his arms, pulling him on board. "Floor it!" Benton yelled. "Now, now, now!!"
Little Ricky floored it, and the van jerked away from the curb, back doors still flapping, just as Ray burst out of the building, gun drawn and looking around wildly. "Fraser, wait—for God's sake!!" he yelled, and started running across the parking lot after the van.
"Holy fuck," Carlo said, sounding surprised. "That's Vecchio!"
Benton groaned and fell onto the floor of the van, holding his head.
"I lost him!" Ray paced wildly up and down in the empty parking lot, phone clamped to his ear. "I had him and I lost him, goddammit!"
Welsh's voice was calm; how could Welsh be so fucking calm about this? "Vecchio—slow down. Tell me what happened."
"He doesn't remember me—he doesn't remember himself—he doesn't remember shit!" Ray yelled. "No, no, I take it back—you know what he remembers? He remembers that he knows how to wound people with guns, that's what he remembers!"
"Ohmigod," Welsh muttered. "Vecchio—did he shoot you?"
"Nah, he didn't shoot me," Ray spat, kicking the curb. "I said he wouldn't shoot me. He said he would—and what do I know? Maybe he would, who knows?"
"Did he get the money?" Welsh asked.
"Of course he got the money—he's Fraser, he's organized, he's a fucking criminal mastermind, what do you think?! When Good Mounties Go Bad—Next On Geraldo!"
Welsh sighed loudly into the phone. "I'll send two units over; I'll claim I got an anonymous tip. Meanwhile, you get out of there, Vecchio—the only advantage we got in this situation is that list of yours, and we can not afford to have that information leaking out to anyone besides the two of us."
"Oh, you had better believe not," Ray said, suddenly going still. "Because this is personal—this is between him and me. I am gonna nail that Mountie's ass if it's the last thing I do!"
Welsh coughed discreetly into the phone. "You wanna say that again, Detective?"
"I am gonna catch that bastard or my name isn't—FUCK!" Ray slammed the phone shut and hurled it at the side of the building. The plastic pieces clattered to the ground.
"Ben? Come on, Ben—drink this, okay?" Carlo held out the glass of water.
Benton closed his eyes and twisted his head away.
"Come on, you need something to drink. You look like hell."
"You think he's got the flu or something?" Little Ricky asked nervously. "He looks like he's got the flu."
"Could be running a fever," Pietro suggested.
"Food poisoning, maybe," Little Ricky added. "Those calzones were kinda iffy."
Benton groaned and rolled over to face the wall. "I don't have the flu, I don't have a fever, and the calzones were just fine. If you could all—just—please—leave me alone..."
Carlo got to his feet and waved his arms, shooing the others away. "All right—everybody out! Everybody get the fuck out! Go watch TV or something!"
Pietro and Ricky nodded and left immediately; Vito lurked outside in the hallway for a moment, sneering, before vanishing out of sight.
Carlo strode to the door, shut it, locked it, and then turned back to the bed. "Ben, seriously," Carlo said quietly. "What's the matter with you?"
Benton lay there for a moment, and then he rolled over onto his back and stared up at Carlo. "Ray Vecchio."
"Ray Vecchio?" Carlo's eyebrows flew up. "Is that what this is about? You got freaked out by the cops?"
"Not by the cops," Benton said in a low voice. "By that one, particular cop."
Carlo sat down at the foot of the bed. "Well, I mean—Vecchio's a bastard, but what else is new?"
"You recognized him."
"Yeah, sure I recognized him," Carlo said easily. "Vecchio's got it in for me. He's the guy who put me away—and he was going after Vito, too."
Benton raised a hand to his head. "Could I have that water, please?"
"Sure, Ben, sure," Carlo said soothingly.
Benton took the glass and drained it, then wiped his lips with the back of his hand. "Vecchio was at the prison. He was also at Illinois Brokerage—"
Carlo frowned. "He was?"
"He was, yes," Benton confirmed. "He was driving a 1967 GTO, license plate number WE 761. And now here he is again. What do you make of that?"
"Shit," Carlo replied, scratching his jaw. "Well, I guess I'm not that surprised. He put me away, I escaped—he's gonna come after me, right?"
Benton licked his lips, which still felt unbearably dry. "He arrested me, too. My rap sheet said so."
"Huh," Carlo mused. "Double trouble—no wonder he's taking it so personal."
"But here's the thing." Benton cleared his throat. "He is not Ray Vecchio."
Carlo stared at him for a moment, but then his eyes filled with sympathy. "Ben, you're wrong about that. He's Ray Vecchio, all right."
Benton shook his head, which was pounding again. "He's not."
"Really—he is. I'm sure of it."
"He's not, I'm telling you he's not. But..." Benton winced at the pain and took a deep breath, "...he is the cop who put me into prison."
"Which your rap sheet says was Ray Vecchio," Carlo pointed out.
"Yes," Benton admitted.
"And which I say is Ray Vecchio."
"But he isn't," Benton insisted, and squeezed his eyes tightly shut. "God, I feel like my head is going to explode..."
"Look, did you talk to him?" Carlo asked. "Did he identify himself?—they're supposed to identify themselves...."
"He..." The throbbing subsided a little, and Benton took another deep breath. "He said his name was...Ray."
"Right," Carlo said firmly. "Ray Vecchio. There you go."
"Except he's not," Benton murmured.
"Christ, you are one stubborn son of a bitch, aren't you?" Carlo said with something near to admiration. "Look, pal, you had a head wound, okay? Your brains must still be pretty scrambled—which frankly scares the shit out of me, because if this is you with a head wound, God only knows what you're like when you're normal. But you have gotta be cutting yourself some slack here. Your memory isn't one hundred percent—you can't even remember who your brother is."
"I don't have a brother," Benton said firmly.
"Well, you said you had a brother," Carlo retorted.
"Perhaps I lied."
"Yeah, well, maybe," Carlo admitted.
Benton lay back on the bed. "I know him, but I do not know him. He is Ray Vecchio, but he is not Ray Vecchio. A logical mind cannot believe 'A' and 'Not A' at the same time, and yet... He said we were p-partners." Benton began to stutter. "And that is true; somehow that's t-true. But he sent me to prison, he put me in prison. And that is also true. 'A' and 'Not A'," Benton murmured, letting his eyes close. "'A' and 'Not A'...."
Drifting, he felt Carlo's hand touch his forehead, felt Carlo pull the light blanket up around his chest.
Ray took a deep breath, pushed open the door, and began to shove his way through the crowd of reporters.
"Detective, can you comment on—"
"Are you any closer to catching Robin Hood and his gang?"
"—last night's robbery of Wentworth and Associates?"
"There's a rumor that Robin Hood is a former cop. Can you—"
"Is it true that thieves got away with over four million dollars?"
"Have you heard about the rally scheduled for Saturday?"
Ray stopped and stared hard at this last reporter. "What rally?
The reporter shoved a big fuzzy mike labeled WCTV in Ray's face. "An anonymous group calling themselves 'Chicago's Most Wanted' has put out a press release calling for a rally in support of Robin Hood—"
Ray stared at her. "Oh, you have got to be shitting me!"
"Is that your official comment?" the reporter said with a smile.
Ray shook his head and doggedly continued to work his way toward his car.
When finally he got there, only the presence of a large crowd of reporters and at least fifteen television cameras stopped him from screaming profanities and jumping up and down like an ape locked up with a Samsonite. Instead he took a deep breath and forced himself to stay calm.
The GTO was covered in rotten eggs—they'd been pelted at the windows, all over the hood, like a squadron of giant birds had flown overhead and just decided to let loose. And then, across the windshield, someone had taken a can of shaving cream and written: "LEAVE HIM ALONE."
The photograph made the cover of the morning edition.
Welsh held up the newspaper. "LEAVE HIM ALONE," the headline blared.
"Do you have any idea how many times I had to take her through the car wash?" Ray demanded. "It was like driving a fucking omelet."
Welsh ignored him and began to read from the paper. "'The citizens of Chicago are banding together to support their newest local hero: the dashing thief who steals from the rich and gives to the poor. A rally has been scheduled for noon, Saturday in the meadow of Eaglecrest Park. Asked to comment on this, Detective Raymond Vecchio of the 27th Precinct replied, "Are you s***ing me?"'" Welsh dropped the paper and glared at him.
"All right, okay, so maybe I could have put that better," Ray said defensively.
"Can we leave the speeches to the PR department, please?" Welsh asked tiredly. "We're morons and we're inarticulate but I'd prefer the entire world didn't know that."
"Hey!" Ray shouted at him. "Gimme some credit here—you have any idea the kind of blue streak I wanted to let loose when I saw what they'd done to my car? I nearly burst a vein in my head," he yelled, and pointed to his head.
Welsh raised placating hands. "All right, all right. What are you gonna do about this rally?"
"I'm gonna go, that's what," Ray shot back.
Welsh stared at him. "You're going to go?"
"You bet I'm gonna go. Because I know Fraser," Ray said, crossing his arms. "And he will turn up—just because he is such a good freakin' citizen."
"Who the fuck is that—Peter Pan?" Carlo asked out of the side of his mouth.
Benton smiled, and then quickly covered his smile behind his hand. "I believe it's supposed to be...Robin Hood."
Though really, the woman at the podium did look quite a lot like Peter Pan in her green mask and doublet, the arrows strapped to her back notwithstanding.
"Today," Peter Pan yelled into the mike, "the citizens of Chicago have come together to say that We Have Had Enough! Our services have been cut! Our communities are under siege! The needs of the poor, of the disabled, of the disadvantaged, have been ignored by the City of Chicago for far too long! Never have the needs of so many deserving people been so ignored—by the few who are monopolizing all the money, and all the power, that rightly belongs to the people! Those to whom we have turned for help have failed us! It is time that we take matters into our own hands! Help is not coming from the law! Help is coming from outside the law! Which is why we have gathered here today to tell the Chicago Police Department—JUST LEAVE! HIM! ALONE!"
"Well, that's really very nice," Benton said.
The crowd took up the chant: "LEAVE! HIM! ALONE! LEAVE! HIM! ALONE!"
Suddenly Carlo's hand was grabbing tightly at the arm of his leather jacket. "Ben," Carlo whispered. "Vecchio at three o'clock."
Benton turned to look—and yes, there he was, wandering across the grass with his spiky blond hair and leather jacket, scanning the crowd. And then suddenly, as if he sensed Benton's eyes, Vecchio turned and looked straight at him. Benton felt his chest tighten, squeezing his heart up into his throat.
Ray Vecchio. Not Ray Vecchio. His partner. Not his partner.
He knew that man. He knew that man. How did he know that man?
"Ben!" Carlo was shoving hard at him now. "You gotta get out of here! Run!"
"Yes, all right," Benton managed. "You too—run, Carlo, run!"
And there he was—bingo!—right there at the edge of the rally, watching the Green Lantern do her rant up there at the podium. God, he looked so different, standing there in his black leather jacket—hell, he looked good, he looked really good—happier, calmer, and more relaxed than Ray'd ever seen him.
It took him a moment to realize that the guy standing next to him, acting like his fucking best friend or something, was none other than Carlo fucking Salmonelli. And then, as he watched, Salmonelli's head turned toward him—and Ray quickly looked away and pretended to just be watching the crowd.
Bastard. Who did that bastard think he was, anyway?
When Ray ventured another look in Fraser's direction, he saw instantly that the jig was up: Fraser was staring at him, staring straight at him, with that pale, lost expression he'd seen in the hallway the other night. Ray just stood still and stared back at him, feeling utterly empty, so completely unknown. It was like, if Fraser didn't know who he was, maybe he really wasn't anybody. Maybe he just wasn't anybody at all.
Salmonelli was shoving hard at Fraser, his face contorted in an expression Ray totally recognized. It was a protective look—and what right did Salmonelli have getting all protective of Fraser? Fraser nodded absently, and said something back to Salmonelli—and then suddenly they were both running away, Carlo turning left and Fraser turning right.
Ray instantly started after Fraser, dodging and weaving past people as he tried to make some speed across the lawn. He bumped into a man and muttered, "sorry, excuse me,"—but to his surprise the man didn't let go of him, just grabbed him by the shoulders and stared hard into his face.
"Hey!" the man yelled, startling him. "It's him! It's Vecchio!"
Ray didn't even have a moment to think about being afraid—he just shoved the man away and tried to run for it. But then there were hands on him, grabbing at him, ripping at his jacket and crowding him and screaming into his face, "How dare you be here! How dare you show your face here!"
And then he was falling, and a boot kicked him hard in the ribs, and hands were grabbing at his hair and yanking and his eyes were watering from the pain of it. An elbow made contact with his eye, and he winced and tried to at least protect his face—
—and then there was a hand on his bicep, grabbing him and pulling him up, and a voice that he recognized whispered roughly, "Ray, come on—run!"
Somehow he got his feet under him, and then he was being pulled through the crowd, out from under the crowd, and he was just running like all fucking get out—dimly aware that there were people chasing them, running after them, pretty much wanting to kill him.
They ran through the park, out the gate onto the sidewalk, and dodged through the traffic on Wacker. Horns blared and traffic ground to a complete halt as twenty or thirty irate Robin Hood Ralliers followed them out into the street. But the move had bought them a little time, and Fraser pulled him up a block and then cut across into an alley and then suddenly he was stopping, whirling, grabbing Ray around the middle and pulling him into the narrow crevice between two garages, shoving him up against the cinder block wall.
"Shh!" Fraser hissed, and covered Ray's mouth with his palm.
They both held their breath as the mob thundered past them, yelling and screaming. And then they were alone.
Ray sighed in relief, exhaling hard against Fraser's palm. Fraser moved his hand off Ray's mouth, looking somewhat embarrassed, and took a small step backwards.
"Thanks, Fraser," Ray managed.
Now that the threat had passed, Fraser looked oddly uncomfortable with him again. He swallowed, glanced away, and then looked back at him awkwardly. "Your...face," Fraser said quietly. "You've got a black eye coming up. And your jacket..." Fraser touched the sleeve of Ray's jacket and tugged gently, and Ray looked down and saw that the arm had been ripped apart from the shoulder. "It's only the seam—any decent tailor should be able to..."
"Fraser," Ray said, going limp against the wall, "they were going to rip my fucking head off. I don't care about the jacket."
Fraser smiled faintly at this and glanced away again, but his eyes soon returned to Ray's face, as if they were drawn there. Fraser stared at him intently for a moment or two and then said, "Tell me. Are you...Kowalski?"
Ray stared at Fraser for a moment and then he was laughing—he felt like shouting!—he felt like throwing his arms around Fraser and hugging him senseless! And so that's what he did; he just threw his arms around Fraser and tried to squeeze the motherfucking life out of him—because way to go there, Fraser! way to get that memory jumpstarted! god bless you and the horse you rode in on! And damn if that leather jacket wasn't even softer than it looked.
After a moment Ray pulled back and saw that Fraser was looking at him curiously. "I assume that's a yes."
"Yes," Ray said, grinning madly into his face. "That's a yes and a yes and a yes."
"Stanley Kowalski?" Fraser asked, tilting his head.
"Ray Kowalski," Ray corrected.
"And yet everyone refers to you as Vecchio," Fraser pointed out. "Can you explain that?"
"Certainly, my confused Mountie friend. I'm undercover as Ray Vecchio. For reasons that do not need exploring at this particular juncture."
"I see," Fraser said, nodding slowly. And then, to Ray's surprise, Fraser lifted one hand and braced it against the wall next to Ray's head. "And yet...I know that you're Kowalski. Which would seem to defeat the point of the undercover exercise. So why do I know that?"
"Because you're my partner, Fraser," Ray said, trying not to look at Fraser's hand. "That's what I've been trying to tell you."
"I see," Fraser repeated, and suddenly he seemed a lot closer, and his other hand was—where the fuck was Fraser's other hand? "I'm your partner."
Ray kept his eyes locked on Fraser's, forcing himself by sheer will not to go looking for wherever Fraser's other hand had got to. "That's right," Ray said, trying to sound definite about it. "You are."
"And yet..." Fraser murmured—and oh, yeah, there was that other hand, right there, skimming his waist, then dropping and skimming his—oh, shit. "...you sent me to prison, didn't you?"
"I...uh..." and oh christ, holy christ, sweet jesus, this was so not good. Except it was good, it was fucking great, and Fraser was sort of leaning closer now, leaning closer to him and sort of smelling his hair. "Yes, but—"
And then Fraser just went and fucking did it—suddenly Fraser's hand was warm against his waist and Fraser was pressing him back against the wall and kissing him hotly. Every nerve ending in his body was suddenly firing, like someone had switched on his engine and hit the gas—and all that empty space inside him turned out to be explosive, surprisingly combustible. Ray reached out and clutched Fraser's hair, yanking his mouth close, and they kissed roughly, trying to force their bodies into closer contact.
As suddenly as Fraser had started it, Fraser stopped it, breaking the kiss and turning his face so that he was breathing hard against Ray's left ear. "That explains it," Fraser muttered inexplicably, "that explains part of it, but...Ray, how could you do that to me?"
Ray opened his mouth to ask, "What? Do what?" but Fraser smothered the question with a quick, harsh kiss—
—and then brought his knee up hard into Ray's groin.
Ray doubled over, seeing red and purple stars, and when he managed to open his eyes again, Fraser was long gone.
Ray slumped back against the sofa, one hand pressing a bag of frozen vegetables to his eye, the other protectively cupping his crotch. At times like this, he was really glad for that speakerphone feature.
"So he saved my life and then he kicked me in the nuts," Ray told Welsh. "Which is pretty much a metaphor for our entire relationship, now that I think about it."
Welsh's voice came out of the speaker sounding all tinny. "Well, I take it that you got close enough to him to talk to him?"
"Oh, yeah, we got close all right." Ray figured he wouldn't mention the kissing part; this was already just too complicated without adding the whole kissing part into it. "The good news is—he remembers I'm Kowalski. The bad news is that he still doesn't seem to know who he is."
"I'm not seeing where that's good news, Detective." Welsh's voice had an edge to it. "You're telling me that Benton Fraser, who right now is cozied up with some of the most dangerous figures of the Chicago underworld, knows that you're Kowalski and not Vecchio? What if he tells somebody? Vecchio could get killed over this."
"Oh fuck," Ray said, letting his head fall back. "I didn't think of that."
Welsh let out a long sigh. "Listen, this is getting really bad. I know that it's Fraser—and of course we don't want Constable Fraser to get hurt. But other people are getting hurt now, Detective—you could have been killed out there, and I can not be putting the real Ray Vecchio's life at risk. If you can't bring Fraser in soon, I'm gonna have to let other people in on this. We'll have to announce that Robin Hood is Benton Fraser, that he's a renegade Canadian Mountie, put his description out over the wire—"
"You can't do that," Ray moaned. "Any other cop—Fraser runs away from them and they're gonna shoot him!"
"I know," Welsh said quietly. "But Ray—that's what we do. We say, 'Chicago P.D.—stop or I'll shoot!', and if they don't stop, we shoot. We've been trying to say that Fraser's not really a criminal. But right now, he's sure acting like he is."
"Lieutenant, I'll get him—I swear I'll get him," Ray pleaded. "I just need a little more time. And his memories are breaking through—if today he remembers that I'm Kowalski, maybe tomorrow he'll remember that he's Fraser."
"I sure hope you're right. Because it's starting to look like the fucking French Revolution out there. We're on the verge of some sort of major citizen uprising—and the governor, the mayor, the chief of police, the C.E.O.s of every major corporation, they all want to know why the hell we haven't managed to catch this guy." Welsh took a deep breath and then added: "You should probably prepare yourself for the fact that you and me are gonna get fired over this, one way or the other. The only question is do we get fired with Fraser alive or with Fraser dead."
Benton tugged on his thin black leather gloves, then picked up his earpiece and fitted it into his right ear. Beside him, Carlo was double-checking the integrity of the nylon cables they used to scale buildings. "You sure you're okay to go through with this?" Carlo asked him.
"Oh yes," Benton said. "I'm fine—fit as a fiddle. And tonight's heist should be simple enough—with a fantastic payoff, maybe as much as ten million dollars."
Carlo nodded and turned to help Benton adjust the leather climbing harness he was wearing over his black clothes. "What if Vecchio shows up?"
"Oh, I expect he will," Benton said, leaning forward to check his hair in the wall mirror. "He seems to be anticipating my moves with uncanny accuracy. I suppose he must know me very well—possibly better than I know myself at the minute."
Carlo stared at him, looking dumbfounded. "How is that possible?"
Benton stared at himself in the mirror for another moment or two, then took a deep breath and turned to face Carlo. "I suppose I should tell you; you certainly have the right to know. I suspect that Ray Vecchio and I have been...intimate...in the past."
"Intimate?" Carlo repeated in a low, shocked voice. "You and Vecchio? You and a cop?"
"Yes, it certainly seems that way," Benton replied, averting his eyes.
"Well...geez...." Carlo leaned back against the vanity, looking totally nonplused. "Wow. An affair with a cop—you've got balls, Benton, I'll give you that."
Benton sighed. "Well, yes—and I suppose that's the problem, really. Life would be so much simpler if we weren't subjected to the vagaries of...desire."
Carlo looked suddenly nervous. "You just watch yourself, okay? Remember what Dante says—'Intesi ch'a cosi fatto tormento enno dannati i peccator carnali, che la ragion sommettono al talento.'"
Benton nodded and closed his eyes. "'To torment were damned the carnal sinners, who put their reason second to lust.'"
"You got it," Carlo said firmly. "You've done great so far, Ben—just don't blow it now."
Ray wandered quietly through the dark offices of Thomas Adams Incorporated—this time he was gonna get Fraser, this time he was prepared and had planned ahead. He'd spoken to none other than Thomas Adams himself earlier in the day, and had told him that they'd gotten an anonymous tip that T.A.I. was next up on Robin Hood's hit list. Adams had removed all cash and valuables from the building, and given Ray a copy of the master key. So Ray had gone around and made sure that every door was locked and bolted and alarmed and absolutely the fuck burglar proof—
—all except one, the one he figured Fraser to use, knowing Fraser as he did, Fraser still being Fraser even if he was now a criminal mastermind and all. That door Ray had locked, but not bolted, and he'd strung a very tiny piece of wire up near the top hinge.
Every few minutes Ray crept back to check out that door, to see if the wire had been broken, if anything had been moved or touched. And on his 2:35 a.m. check, Ray saw that the wire had been snapped, which it hadn't been at 2:30.
Ladies and Gentlemen, Elvis has entered the building.
Ray locked and bolted the door, and then he pulled his gun and rushed onto the trading floor of the brokerage house, heading for the west wall, where the main safe was. He held his breath and tried to move quietly through the vast, empty room—because it had stone floors and thirty foot high ceilings and sound echoed in here like a bitch. He couldn't imagine what this place was like when it was jammed with wildly gesticulating traders, screaming and yelling: "Buy! Sell! Now!" But at the moment, all the computer terminals were dark, all trades abandoned until the market reopened in another few hours.
The safe just stood there, silent and massive in the darkness. There was nobody around, nobody even near it—and Ray stepped forward and inspected the thin wires he'd rigged around the huge steel wheel which served as a doorknob.
Nothing. The safe hadn't even been breathed on.
Suddenly a single, bright spotlight clicked on and picked him out of the darkness, encircling him for three feet on each side—like he was a star who had just come out onto the stage, or like he was about to be abducted by aliens again. Ray threw an arm up to protect his eyes from the light and yelled, "What the fuck?" up at the ceiling.
Twenty feet up, a ten by ten foot rectangle of light suddenly blazed out of the darkness—fuck, it was a booth, it was some sort of booth, set up high in the wall. Ray squinted up and saw Fraser, starkly visible in the brightly lit window due to his dark clothes. He was standing behind a console, wearing a massive set of headphones—and as Ray watched, Fraser raised his right hand and waved at him.
Ray took a few angry steps toward him and aimed his gun up at the booth. The bright spotlight followed him across the room. "You had better raise your hands if you see me," Ray yelled up at him, "because I am going to shoot you on sight!"
Fraser frowned at this, and then leaned forward and flicked a switch. Ray cringed as a whine of feedback shrieked over the intercom system, and then Fraser spoke into a round chrome microphone which was jutting out of the console. "I'm sorry that I kicked you in the testicles, Ray," Fraser said, his voice seeming to come from everywhere at once. "I wouldn't normally. But under the circumstances..."
"You don't know the circumstances!" Ray yelled up at him. "You don't know shit! Don't you understand?— You! Have Lost! Your Memory!"
"Yes, I know," Fraser replied, sounding perfectly calm about it. "But that makes me very vulnerable to people who are trying to lie to me. You have to understand that I must approach new people with suspicion, and take all new information with a grain of salt—"
"Fraser, I am your partner!" Ray told him for what felt like the fifty-seventh time; when was Fraser gonna get this particular piece of information through his thick Mountie head? "You know me! I am not a new person!"
"Yes, I know that, too," Fraser replied softly. "I remember you, Ray—I remembered you almost from the first. I remembered your name when I woke up in hospital. I remembered your face when I first saw you at the prison. I remembered your voice the first moment you spoke." Fraser was staring intently down at him, and Ray felt pinned into place by his eyes. "I remembered my feelings, Ray. I don't think...I could ever forget you."
Ray swallowed hard, feeling totally lost. "Um...so...uh...." His mind was a blank: he suddenly had no idea what to say or do next.
"But you arrested me once," Fraser said, his voice going rough with emotion, "and I have to believe that you'd do it again, given the chance. Because you are a police officer. And that is simply your nature."
Ray shoved his gun back into his shoulder holster. "Fraser, you are a police officer, okay? This is all a mistake! I didn't arrest you, and you weren't really in prison! You were in there undercover—"
"I thought you said you were undercover," Fraser objected.
"I am undercover," Ray shouted back.
Fraser peered down at him through the glass. "And I am also undercover, is that it?"
"YES!" Ray shouted. "Your name is Benton Fraser, you are a Canadian Mountie—"
Fraser's eyebrows flew up. "I'm a what?"
"—and you are also the Acting Deputy Liaison to the Chicago Police Department! You are also my partner! You were sent to prison undercover! You got hit in the head and—"
"I'm finding this all exceedingly implausible," Fraser muttered into the mike.
"Well, it is!" Ray yelled, flinging his arms up into the air. "It's totally implausible! But it's also the God's honest truth!"
Fraser shook his head slowly. "You're saying I'm Canadian," Fraser mused. "I don't feel Canadian."
Ray felt his frustration building. "What do you mean—feel Canadian? What does it feel like to be Canadian?"
"I don't know," Fraser replied with a frown. "But wouldn't I know if I was?"
"Apparently not!" Ray yelled back up at the booth.
Fraser glared down at him, crossing his arms. "This whole story sounds like a crock, Ray."
Ray glared right back up at him. "You find it easier to believe that you're a bank-robbing criminal having an affair with a cop?!"
Fraser tilted his head to the side, apparently considering this. "On the whole, yes."
"Fine!" Ray threw his arms up into the air. "Look, Fraser—if you come back with me, we can clear this whole mess up and go on with our lives. If you do not come back with me, some other cop is going to shoot you dead, do you understand? I am trying to save your life here! Because I—because we—"
"Because we're partners," Fraser murmured. "A duet."
"Please, Fraser!" Ray begged. "Please listen to me!"
"I wish we had met under other circumstances, Ray," Fraser said quietly. "It would have made this affair so much easier."
Abruptly the square of light winked out, and the spotlight vanished, and Ray was left staring up into the darkness. Squinting furiously, trying to get his eyes to adjust, Ray bolted from the room, hoping to intercept Fraser somewhere near the bottom of the stairs. Every door in the place was locked, every exit was blocked, there was just no fucking way that Elvis was gonna leave the building—
—except, shit. Ray skidded to a stop and stared at the wide open door, feeling the cool night air blowing onto his skin. He pulled out his gun and rushed through it onto the street, nearly colliding with an elderly black janitor who was sweeping the sidewalk with a broom.
"Did you just open that door?" Ray demanded.
The janitor looked up at him pleasantly. "Why, yes. I hafta sweep out here."
Ray looked up and down the street; it was totally clear. "Did you see anyone else?"
The janitor grinned and nodded at him. "Yeah. Robin Hood."
Ray wheeled on him, mouth agape. "You saw Robin Hood?"
The janitor nodded again. "Yeah. I opened the door for him. Let him out." He reached down, unhooked a large ring of keys from his belt, and jingled them.
"Why?" Ray moaned, nearly collapsing against the back wall. "Why did you do that?"
"Well," the janitor began, leaning against his broom. "Mainly because I've been working here for comin' on fifty years now. And that bastard Thomas Adams—he don't even know my name. And he gets himself a new car maybe every six months, whereas me? The only raises I get are cost a'living."
Ray groaned and closed his eyes. "Why don't you guys start a union?"
"We trying," the janitor replied seriously. "But in the meantime? I hope that Robin Hood stole everything he could get his hands on."
Welsh scrubbed at his face with his palms. "I thought you said that Adams emptied the safe."
Ray was on the sofa in Welsh's office, his back to Welsh, curled up in the fetal position. "He did, yeah," Ray muttered. "Fraser didn't even go near the safe. Instead he hacked into the T.A.I. computer system and made a ten million dollar transfer to an anonymous bank account in Switzerland. From Switzerland to Russia...from Russia to Cuba...from Cuba to Greece...and then who the fuck knows?...the money's just gone...."
"Ray, I have some bad news," Welsh said quietly. "The mayor called. As of this morning, you are officially off the case."
"That is great news," Ray mumbled into the sofa cushions. "That is greatest news I have ever had ever."
"The mayor seems to feel that, since Fraser has now stolen close to thirty million dollars—"
"...twenty-seven million, three hundred and fifty thousand..."
"—that we are working at something less than optimum efficiency."
Ray wrapped his arms around his head "...well, he got that right..."
"Furthermore," Welsh continued grimly, "I have been instructed to put you on suspension—"
"—until an I.A. hearing can be convened. They seem to feel," Welsh added with a sigh, "that you might know more about Robin Hood than you're saying."
Ray rolled onto his back. "You're not gonna turn over my list, are you?"
Welsh stared hard at him. "What list?"
"Good," Ray said with a sigh. "Good."
"So what's your plan?" Welsh asked quietly. "Now that you've got all this free time?"
"I do not have a plan, sir. I am fresh out of plans. I am planless." Ray took a deep breath and stretched out on the sofa, swinging his arms up over his head, so that they dangled off the end of the couch. "My car was covered with splattered tomatoes this morning. If this keeps up, I'll never have to shop for groceries again."
"Fraser's supposed to be robbing The Luhrman Group tonight," Welsh pointed out. "If he keeps to the list."
"Let him," Ray said, sitting up and swinging his feet onto the floor. "I don't care. I am going home, and I am going to sleep for about twenty-seven hours."
At first he thought he was dreaming. Blearily, Ray rolled over and squinted through the darkness at the window, listening to the sound of wood scraping against wood. The window sash...the window sash was slowly rising...and then a black-clad leg slid over the sill...
Ray bolted upright, fumbling for his glasses, fumbling for his fucking gun—but suddenly the black shadow rushed across the room and was upon him, grabbing his wrists and forcing him backwards onto the bed.
"Shh!" Fraser hissed. "It's just me!"
"I know it's you!" Ray furiously whispered back. "How many criminal masterminds do you think break into my room on any given night?"
Fraser seemed to give the question serious thought. "I don't know. I'm hoping not too many."
Ray rolled his eyes. "Don't worry, you're the only one at the moment."
"Well, that's good to know," Fraser replied, wrenching Ray's left arm upwards and back.
"Ow! Hey!" Ray yelled. "That hurts!" He craned his head and watched as Fraser lashed his left wrist to the headboard above his head. "What the hell are you doing?"
Fraser ignored the question, instead seizing Ray's right wrist and yanking that up and over his head as well. "Missed you tonight," Fraser said vaguely, tightening the thin nylon cords.
"Yeah, well, I have a life, you know," Ray said defiantly.
"So I see," Fraser said, sitting back and looking around the dark bedroom. "Nice place you've got here."
Ray sighed. "You've been here before, Fraser."
"I don't remember." Fraser got up and looked around the room. He spotted Ray's gun on the nightstand—picked it up, unloaded it, and put it back. Then he disappeared into the living room.
Ray took the opportunity to try to free himself, struggling furiously to work the tight cords over the pads of his hands. "What the hell are you doing out there?" Ray yelled.
"Would you mind terribly," Fraser called from the living room, "if I had a slice of this leftover pizza?"
"Sure!" Ray called back, gritting his teeth and tugging. "Fine! Help yourself! There's also hot dogs in the Tupperware and buns in the bread drawer!" Goddamned knots—the more he struggled, the more they seemed to tighten.
Fraser's voice carried. "When are they from?"
What, was he gonna be a critic?! "Last Tuesday, they're fine!"
"You want something?" Fraser asked.
"Nah," Ray said, finally going limp and just letting his arms stretch above his head. "I'll just hang out here."
Fraser came back with two hot dogs and a glass of milk. "You sure you don't want something?"
"No, I'm fine," Ray replied. "How'd the Luhrman thing go?"
Fraser sat down at the foot of his bed and started eating. "Great," he said, mouth full. "Four million and change."
"Thanks. These are really good hot dogs."
"I'm glad you're enjoying them," Ray said.
"Next time I'll pick something up on the way here—cake, maybe," Fraser suggested.
"There's not going to be a next time," Ray told. "I'm off the case."
Fraser paused in the act of bringing his second hot dog to his mouth. "Oh?"
"Yep. They took my badge, put me on suspension," Ray explained. "They seem to think I didn't do a very good job of catching you."
"Huh," Fraser said, then started eating again. "Well, they won't do any better. Is that why you didn't come tonight?"
"Part of it, yeah. Plus I'm kinda beat." Ray watched as Fraser polished off the second hot dog, and then chased it down by draining the glass of milk.
"Well, I hope you're not getting sick," Fraser said, standing up. "Hang on a moment."
Fraser disappeared back through the door and Ray hung there, sighing, listening as Fraser turned on the kitchen faucet and washed the glass and the plate.
When Fraser came back, he sat down closer to Ray. "So what does it mean that you're off the case?" he asked. "Does that mean you won't be following me around anymore?"
"Nah, I'll probably still do that," Ray said with a sigh. "Until someone catches or kills you, anyway."
"They won't catch me, Ray," Fraser said softly. "And I'm glad to hear that I'll still be seeing you. I really did miss you tonight."
Ray felt his heart start to pound. "Fraser, I've gotta tell you. We ain't partners the way you think we're partners."
"Oh?" Fraser raised his hand, and then gently settled it against Ray's rib cage. Ray inhaled sharply, and Fraser's lips twitched in a smile. "I find that difficult to believe."
"It's the truth," Ray insisted; Christ, Fraser was moving his hand, just skimming his side, and he was already getting hard. "We...never got quite that far."
"Oh." Fraser leaned forward and brushed his cheek against Ray's; Ray suppressed a moan. "Well." Fraser turned his head and traced a sweet, wet line around Ray's ear with his tongue. "That is a mistake which has now been rectified."
Fraser moved his mouth to Ray's. Ray moaned and leaned into the kiss; he could feel Fraser's hands skimming up his upraised arms, and then skimming back down again and moving across his body. The touch made him shiver with want—and Fraser was right, Fraser was always right; it was a mistake that they hadn't ever done this before now.
Fraser broke off the kiss and murmured against Ray's cheek, "I can't stop thinking about you. It's driving me crazy."
Ray swallowed hard and closed his eyes. "You're already crazy, Fraser. Maybe I just helped a little."
Fraser's lips slid along Ray's jaw toward his ear. "I want you, I really really want you."
"Uh," Ray gasped. Yes. No. Bad idea. "Yeah, okay."
Fraser lifted his head and stared at him intently. "I want you—but I'm not going to let you take me back to prison, Ray."
Ray squirmed underneath him; he was now feeling pretty desperate for it. "I—yes, fine!" he ground out. "Okay! I won't!"
Fraser reached out and gently curled his hands around Ray's tied-up wrists. "So we'll just have to keep doing it like this. Until we can work something else out."
"Yes! Okay! Anything!" Ray struggled again with the nylon cords; if he could just get free, he could fucking grab Fraser and just get on with it already!
Fraser nodded, quickly shucked off his black leather jacket, and pulled his thin black shirt up over his head. "Consider it a form of safe sex," he advised.
"I don't know what kind of manuals you're reading," Ray countered breathlessly, "but I think I like them."
Fraser tugged off his boots, shoved down his pants and underwear—and then he was on the bed and straddling Ray's legs. "C'mon," Ray moaned up at him. "Hurry!" Fraser reached for the hem of Ray's sleeveless t-shirt and tugged it upwards, over his head and up his arms, where it hung, upside down and inside out, suspended in the air behind Ray's head. And then Fraser's hands were at the waistband of his boxers, and Fraser was tugging them down over his erection and down his legs.
Ray twisted his wrists, grabbed the nylon cords, and held on tightly. Fraser settled himself down on Ray's body, dropped his mouth to Ray's cock and began to suck. Ray closed his eyes and tried to concentrate on breathing, because Fraser's mouth was wet and warm and Fraser was moaning softly—sucking and moaning around his cock like this was his very favorite thing to do in all the world.
Sucking cock and robbing banks. Fraser just hadn't been the same since prison.
Except...Ray drew in a deep breath and opened his eyes. He looked down his own pale, outstretched body and watched Fraser's head rhythmically moving over him, sucking him off with sweetness and tenderness. And that was nothing you could explain away by a blow to the head. Hell, you could bash him over the head until he was dead—and you still wouldn't be able to make him blow somebody he didn't wanna blow, or make him good at it if he wasn't already. You could maybe mess with someone's head but you couldn't totally rewire a person—and criminal mastermind or not, Fraser had still washed the dishes after he ate.
So Fraser...Fraser just had skills that lent themselves to...well, robbing banks and sucking cock.
Ray flexed his fingers, tugging again at his restraints: he wanted to touch Fraser, he wanted to slide his fingers deep into Fraser's hair. Panting harshly, now, he reached out to Fraser the only way he could, whispering: "Fraser, that's good, that's so good, I'm loving this, I am just....loving...oh..." And then he really couldn't breathe or speak because he was coming hard in Fraser's mouth—releasing every stress and fear and hope and want, everything that had ever been pent-up or held back inside him.
Fraser sucked him softly through the aftershocks and then buried his face in Ray's belly. Ray squeezed his eyes shut and clenched his teeth and groaned softly—goddammit, he wanted his hands free, he wanted his motherfucking hands free, he wanted to touch Benton Fraser so bad that it hurt.
And then Ray opened his eyes because Fraser was moaning again, inhaling and exhaling hot breath against his stomach. And Ray stared down his body and saw that Fraser was curled around him, clutching him and rocking gently, his forearm flexing—Fraser was hugging him tightly and jerking himself off.
"Oh..." Ray breathed, unable to tear his eyes away; it was hard to see from this angle, but the movement—the movement was unmistakable. "Fraser...you don't have to...I mean, if you want to...god, you can fuck me..." and suddenly Fraser groaned and shuddered violently against him. Ray's hands were clenched so tightly that his nails were digging into his palms. He wanted to hold Fraser through his orgasm, and he was just trapped here, strapped to the headboard and unable to do shit.
"For God's sake," Fraser muttered, lifting his head, "next time warn me if you're going to say something like that."
"Yeah, well, next time you untie me!" Ray retorted, struggling against his bonds for effect. "I'm too much of a control freak for this shit."
Fraser turned and looked toward the window—the sky was gray, slowly lightening. "I've got to get out of here. Before somebody sees me—"
"Fraser, don't!" Ray pleaded. "Stay! Stay here and sleep here and tomorrow we'll work everything out—"
Fraser sat up, his skin pale in the early morning light. "Ray, I can't do that. You know why I can't do that."
Ray kicked out at him violently, and Fraser quickly leapt out of his reach. "You are not a criminal! You are a cop! You are my partner!" Fraser went into the bathroom and switched on the light; Ray could hear the water running as Fraser cleaned himself up. "Fraser, for God's sake listen to me!" Ray yelled. "You are a Canadian Mountie! You were undercover in prison! You got hit on the head!" Fraser appeared in the doorway to the bathroom, totally naked, and Ray got one glorious moment of perfect view before Fraser snapped the light off. Ray knocked his head back against the headboard in frustration before suddenly thinking of another line of attack. "Fraser! Do me a favor—look in the desk."
Fraser was rapidly getting dressed; he poked his head through the neck of his black shirt and said, "Desk?"
"The desk, yeah," Ray insisted. "The top drawer of the desk. Over there." With his hands tied over his head he couldn't really point, but he jabbed his index finger vaguely in the direction of the roll top.
"All right," Fraser agreed, pulling his boots on. He stood up and strode over to the desk, moving out of Ray's line of vision. Ray heard the wood drawer scrape open.
"There are photos!" Ray called out. "There should be at least one photo in there of you and me—find the fucking thing, will you?"
"That was rather daring of us, wasn't it?" Fraser asked. "To be photographed together?"
"No, it was not daring, Fraser—there was nothing daring about it because we are cops and we are partners, a fact that everybody in the entire world knows except you."
"I found it," Fraser announced, and shoved the drawer closed. He slowly walked back into the room, studying the photograph curiously.
"Now, you see?" Ray insisted. "Look at yourself. Look at what you are wearing."
"Yes, I see," Fraser said, not sounding happy at all. "It's a bit loud, isn't it?" he added, looking up at Ray.
"Yeah, it is loud but it is what you wore every single solitary day."
"Even the hat?" Fraser asked, wincing slightly.
"Even the hat, yeah," Ray said, nodding as best he could with his arms all tied up. "I know this is a shocking thing to learn about yourself this late in life, Fraser—but You Are A Canadian Mountie."
"Or," Fraser added after a moment, "we could just have been attending some sort of bizarre costume party." He swiped his black leather jacket off the floor, shrugged it on, and then tucked the photograph into his pocket. "At least, I certainly hope we were."
"I. Hate. You," Ray told him. "I really really hate you. I hate you so much, I have no words besides hate in my vocabulary. I am a fountain of hate. I am a mountain of hate. Can you feel the hate, Fraser—waves of hate, flowing across this room from me to you?"
Fraser paused, one leg already over the sill, and shot him a smile so brilliant that it made Ray feel weak. "No, Ray. I don't think you do. I don't think you hate me at all." And then Fraser reached into his pocket, pulled something out, and said, "Catch, Ray!"
Ray flung his palm open and somehow managed to close his fingers around the knife.
"Where the hell are you?" Welsh grumbled into the phone. "You were supposed to meet me at nine."
"Sorry!" Ray yelled, flicking on the GTO's turn signal. "I got sorta tied up."
"Fraser's gang hit The Luhrman Group last night," Welsh began.
"Yeah, I know," Ray interrupted. "Four million and change."
"Yeah, that's right, " Welsh said, sounding surprised and a little suspicious. "How'd you know that?"
"I got good information," Ray replied. "So tell me something I don't know."
"Okay, fine—maybe you don't know that some guy's been calling for you. He musta left ten messages just so far this morning. He says you weren't answering your home phone."
Ray shifted uncomfortably in his seat. "My home phone kinda sorta unplugged itself during the night. So who is the guy and what does he want?"
"He calls himself Sammy. He said you'd know what it was about."
Ray must have grayed out a little, because next thing he knew he was slamming on the brakes, screeching to a stop, and there was a taxi cab in the intersection right in front of him—fuck, he'd run a red light! In his ear, Welsh was shouting, "Vecchio! Vecchio! Are you there?"
"I'm here, I'm here! Hang on!" Ray shouted back; horns blared at him as he drove the rest of the way through the intersection and double parked on the other side. "Lieutenant, listen to me—that guy—Sammy—he's probably calling to tell me that someone's put a hit out on Fraser."
"A hit?" Welsh's voice shook with disbelief. "You mean like—a contract?"
"Yeah," Ray said, staring at nothing out the window. "Probably Vito. Vito was trying to get someone to whack Fraser—and fuck, he's probably done it."
"Hey, you're late," Carlo said, glancing at his watch as Benton came through the door. "You're never late."
"I'm sorry," Benton said quickly, dropping his bag on the sofa and hanging up his jacket. "I overslept, and then I had to do a little last-minute research on—"
"No, hey, it's cool," Carlo said, raising his palms. "Just as long as you're all right."
"Perfectly, yes." Benton unsnapped his leather bag and brought out the blueprints of Midwestern Telemarketing. "It's just that the curtains they have there at the Hilton—they're very thick, and they make it difficult to gauge the quality of the light, and therefore the time, if one is accustomed to—"
"You guys see this?" Pietro said, appearing at the door with a copy of the Chicago Tribune and a huge grin on his face. He held up the paper. The headline said simply: 31,450,000. "They say they might put up one of those digital clocks," Pietro added, beaming. "Downtown somewhere. Sorta like the national debt clock, keeping track of all the money we stole—"
"Well, I'm glad somebody's keeping track of it," Vito muttered, leaning back against the wall. "Since I've only seen thirty-five grand myself—"
"Oh, c'mon, Vito!" Little Ricky interrupted. "The people love us! I go into a club or something, the mugs tip their hats to me—I never had so much respect in my entire life! Plus, you gotta admit, it's making the jobs so much easier. People are helpin' us—it's like, they want us to get away with it—"
"Precisely," Benton said, spreading the blueprints out on the card table. "One never wants to be working against the elements; if at all possible, one harnesses the forces of nature to do one's bidding. And people—public opinion—is a very powerful force, possibly greater than wind or water."
Vito looked at Carlo. "He's doing that Zen shit again. I hate that Zen shit."
"Tonight," Benton began, pulling out a cigarette and lighting it, "we'll be paying a little visit to Midwestern Telemarketing."
"Good," Pietro muttered. "I hate those fuckers."
"It's not a particularly good target," Benton explained, taking a drag, "a little over three million—but, well, as you say," he added, looking up at Pietro, "they really are fuckers, aren't they?"
Pietro narrowed his eyes. "Yeah. Absolutely."
"All right, then." Benton tucked his cigarette into his mouth and rubbed his hands together. "Ricky, you'll be driving as per usual. Vito, I need you to—"
Vito looked away. "I can't make it tonight."
Everyone turned to look at him, and then they glanced back over at Benton, wanting to adjust their reaction to his. Benton just looked up calmly. "Oh?"
"Yeah. Got an appointment," Vito said defiantly. "Gotta see a guy about a thing."
Benton took a thoughtful drag off his cigarette, tilted his head, and said, "Hm. Fine then. In that case—Pietro, you will please help Carlo dismantle the security system. I'm afraid it's a two person job."
"Sure thing, boss," Pietro said, nodding.
"Here are the technical specifications." Benton handed over a sheaf of documents. "Dismantling the security system will open the electronic locks on the inner staircases. This, by the way, is a violation of the fire code," Benton added, absently brushing a lock of hair off his forehead with the back of his hand, "but really, that's the least of this company's sins. Once the doors have been unlocked, I will dart up to the third floor, crack open the safe, and take possession of the three million. Then, if all is going well, I'll make a quick detour to the main computer room and see if I can manage to delete their phone banks and damage their automatic calling system."
"Amen," Pietro muttered. "Testify."
"I will then proceed down the main staircase to the front entrance—by this point, you three should be back in the van and waiting for me outside. If we're on schedule, and I have no reason to believe that we will not be, I'd like to make a brief stop at the central offices of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless. Is that all perfectly clear?"
"Perfectly, yeah," Little Ricky answered, and smiled.
Ray went into the deli and approached the counter. "Hey, I'm looking for Sammy—you see Sammy today?"
The woman at the register frowned and shook her head. "No. He didn't come in."
"Shit," Ray muttered. "All right—look—you get in touch with him, tell him that his buddy Ray is looking for him. Tell him that Ray likes the Hyundai—you got that?"
She nodded earnestly. "I got it. Ray likes the Hyundai," she repeated, and tapped the side of her nose.
At precisely 2:45 a.m. the tiny lights on the all the doors of Midwestern Telemarketing abruptly flashed from red to green. Benton smiled, reached for the handle, and pulled the door open—and then he was running up the stairs.
The second floor was buzzing with life, and Benton paused outside the stairwell door and listened to the chatter of voices and the ringing of phones. Telemarketers never slept, he supposed—no rest for the wicked. Sighing, Benton ran up another flight of stairs.
On the third floor, where the executive offices were, all was dark and quiet—of course, no executive would be up working at 3:00 in the morning. Benton rushed down the dark corridor to the safe. The lock on this particular model was difficult to crack by hand, so Benton quickly set up a series of miniature explosives at the safe's structural weak spots, and then ducked down behind a desk and thumbed the detonator.
With a bang! and a puff of smoke the door blew open. Benton pushed the hot metal aside with his gloved fingers, reached inside for the wrapped stacks of bills, and stuffed them into his bag. He then proceeded down the hallway to the main computer room, flipped on the light switch, took a seat at a terminal, and got down to business.
Ray bolted up Staircase B of Midwestern Telemarketing and burst onto the third floor, looking around wildly for Fraser. He ran down the corridor, ignoring the still-smoking safe, and then noticed that lights in a room down the hall.
Ray ran to the door and flung it open. "Fraser—" he began.
Fraser didn't even look up from the terminal; his fingers were flying over the keyboard, and the screen was flashing DELETE, DELETE, DELETE. "Good evening, Ray, glad you could make it."
"Benton Fraser, you are under arrest for a whole bunch of stuff which I have no time to go into right now," Ray said breathlessly.
That got Fraser's attention; he stopped typing and he looked up at Ray. "I thought you were on suspension."
"I'm making a citizen's arrest," Ray retorted. "You have gotta come with me, and you have gotta come with me now—for your own protection!"
Fraser was instantly on his feet and looking warily at Ray. "I don't know what kind of law enforcement lingo this is, but—"
"Vito Salmonelli has ordered a hit on you!" Ray shouted at him. "Vito! Wants you! Dead!"
Fraser began to back away from him. "That's not true. He wouldn't do that to me. We're like family—"
"You are not like family, Fraser! You are like somebody he wants whacked!"
"Ray, this is beneath you. It's wrong of you to undermine my trust in my partners—"
"Vito is not your partner!" Ray yelled, and then jerked a thumb back at himself. "I am your partner!"
"Beware the man who sows scandal and schism," Fraser murmured, still backing away. "'Seminator di scandelo e di scisma'—"
"Fraser, I love you." Ray was moving steadily forward. "I am trying to help you—"
"I knew this relationship wouldn't work," Fraser said, shaking his head sadly. "We're from two different worlds, you and I—"
"No, Fraser, we're from two different countries," Ray retorted. "And right now we're kind of from two different planets—"
"Do you think counseling might help?" Fraser interrupted. "Because I'd be willing to try," and then suddenly he was bolting past Ray, out the door and running down the hallway toward the building's central staircase.
Ray was right behind him, running so hard that his lungs felt like they would burst—and then, at the top of the stairs, he stretched out an arm and managed to grab a handful of Fraser's jacket. Fraser jerked backwards and lost his balance and crashed hard into him, making him lose his balance—and then suddenly they were both falling down the massive curving staircase, crashing and tumbling and rolling together down the ornate stone steps.
"Go!" Fraser was yelling. "Now! Go without me!" and for a minute Ray thought Fraser was yelling at him, but then he realized that Fraser was actually shouting orders to the gang through his headset. Fraser was on his hands and knees on the second floor landing, trying to crawl away from Ray and give directions at the same time.
Ray flung his arm out and grabbed Fraser's ankle just as Fraser lurched forward. Ray stretched out his other arm and managed to hang on as Fraser pulled away, trying to get onto his feet. And then they were sliding bump! bump! bump! down the staircase to the first floor. Ray ended up sort of rolling and flipping over Fraser, who then crashed down hard on him, crushing him against the floor of the lobby.
"Get off me!" Ray yelled.
"All right," Fraser agreed, and then he was on his feet and charging for the wall of glass doors and the street beyond. Groaning, Ray stumbled to his feet and chased after him—and Fraser burst out onto the sidewalk just as a black luxury car with tinted windows zoomed up in front of the building and screeched to a stop in front of him.
The black-tinted window whizzed down.
Ray pushed through the door and grabbed Fraser around the waist and hurled him to the concrete just as the machine gun let loose. A wave of bullets crashed into the glass doors behind them, shattering them into a million pieces. Ray rolled with Fraser toward the car, hoping to get them out of the line of fire, and then sat up, gun in both hands. The car roared backwards, hit the brakes, and then zoomed forward toward them—and Ray got to his feet and emptied his gun at the windshield.
The black car sped off, weaving crazily down the street.
"Fraser," Ray said, turning around to look for him—but Fraser was already off and running down the street, a blur of black. Ray holstered his empty gun and ran across the street to where he'd parked the GTO. He gunned the engine, roaring away from the curb, and flicked his brights on—and there—up ahead!—he could just pick out Fraser crossing the empty street and darting into the park.
Ray didn't even hesitate—just cut the wheel hard and drove the GTO onto the sidewalk and through the gate into the park. Fraser looked sharply over his shoulder and then abruptly left the path and headed across the lawn—and Ray followed him, wheels spinning a little against the wet grass, but still maintaining traction. He kept Fraser firmly in his headlights and watched as Fraser headed straight for the fence that separated the park from Michigan Avenue on the other side—and then jumped over it like a world-class hurdler.
Ray gritted his teeth and floored it—and the GTO smashed straight through the fence, sending boards flying every which way, and careened onto Michigan Avenue.
Fucking demented Mountie hadn't even broken stride!—though Ray consoled himself that things were sure gonna be different when the whole cigarette thing finally caught up with him. Ahead, Fraser was flying down the street—and suddenly he took a hard left and bolted up the steps into St. Andrew's Church.
Ray screeched to a halt in front of the church, jumped out of the car, and ran up the stone steps after Fraser. He needed both hands to wrench open the giant wood door—and inside, the church was dark and cool. Scattered around the perimeter were a groups of flickering candles, burning in prayer and devotion.
Ray took a deep breath and looked around—what on earth?—was Fraser seeking sanctuary or what? Slowly he moved around the perimeter of the church, peering down through the darkness into the pews, trying to figure out where the—heck—Fraser might be hiding. The south wall of the church was lined with statues of various saints—gruesome stuff, a lady holding a plate of eyes, another woman looking like she was having some sort of seizure, a guy all bloody and pierced with arrows. The whole scene creeped Ray out, had creeped Ray out ever since he was a kid—though you know, a Mountie in full dress uniform with an arrow through his head like Steve Martin would just fit right in with these guys, he could just see it.
Suddenly a door creaked open behind him and Ray whirled around—but it wasn't Fraser, it was just another giant penguin. "Hello there," the nun said, smiling warmly at him. "Can I help you?"
"Uh, no," Ray stammered. "Well, yeah. I'm a police detective, and I think you got a fugitive on your premises. You didn't see anybody, did you, Sister?"
The nun smiled at him as if he were a bit simple, and then shook her head. "I'm sorry, Detective—I don't think I can help you."
"S'okay, sister," Ray sighed. "Thanks anyway." Still smiling, the nun escorted him to the door.
Dejectedly, Ray walked down to the steps back to his car, pausing to look back up at the church, which rose up solidly against the night sky. And then he yanked the car door open, got back in, and turned the ignition.
The GTO sputtered, refused to catch, and then fell silent. Ray stared down at the steering wheel for a second, confused, and then turned the key again. "Rrrr-rrrr-rrrrr," and then absolutely nothing.
Slamming his hand against the steering wheel, Ray popped the hood and got out to check the engine. All the spark plugs were missing. Ray raised his head suspiciously—and around the rectory door, a group of guilty-looking nuns suddenly averted their eyes and began whistling.
"Oh, for God's sake," Ray said wearily. "Keep 'em—keep the spark plugs. Just please don't sing."
"Tell me it isn't true," Benton said, aiming the gun straight at Vito's chest. "Tell me!"
Vito was sweating furiously; he raised his hands high and swallowed hard. "It isn't true!"
"You're a liar," Benton replied. "You're liar and a traitor and a generally bad person. And I don't like you."
"Um, uh." Vito looked over at Carlo, Pietro, and Little Ricky. "Guys, come on! Help me out, here!" They just stared at him stonily, and suddenly Vito turned and seized the door handle.
"Stop right there," Benton said calmly, "or I'll shoot."
Vito froze, and then looked narrowly at Benton. "You won't shoot me."
"He might shoot you," Little Ricky said.
"Mr. No Crimes Against Persons?" Vito snorted. "He's not a killer."
"He didn't say he'd kill you, Vito," Carlo said softly. "He said he'd shoot you. Pay attention."
Vito turned and stared Fraser down. "So are you gonna shoot me?"
"No," Benton said, but then he smiled slowly. "I have other plans for you. You, my friend, are about to become Robin Hood's next charitable donation."
"You know that your life has gone terribly, horribly wrong somewhere," Ray mused, staring up at the ceiling of Welsh's office, "when nuns vandalize your car. I mean—really. That has just got to be some sort of low point, right?"
Welsh rubbed his chin. "Yeah, well—sure sounds that way."
"I mean, when you're fighting nuns, you should just go jump in a hole. That's what I say. Meanwhile, I like this sofa," Ray said, wriggling. "Very comfortable. You think therapy's like this?"
Welsh sighed and braced his head on his arm. "Why, are you finally going to therapy?"
"Fraser thinks we should get counseling. Work out our disjunctive worldviews."
The door opened and Frannie stuck her head in; she was grinning from ear to ear. "Hey! Ray! You gotta come outside and see this!"
"Not now, Frannie," Ray groaned, covering his face. "I'm trying to figure out where my life went wrong. It might take me a while."
"Really, you'll like this." Frannie crossed the room, grabbed Ray's arm, and pulled—reluctantly, Ray let himself be hauled up off the sofa. "You too, Lieutenant," she added, pushing Ray in front of her. "You guys are gonna love this!"
Frannie pulled him through the bullpen, down the hallway, and out the door into the courtyard. The now-familiar crowd of reporters were there—but strangely, they were all facing away from the door, gathered around....
Fuck, his car. What had they done to his car this time?
Ray shook Frannie off and shoved his way through the throng of reporters, afraid to even think about what he might see when he finally broke through. He saw a glossy black fender first, and then—a leg—and—
Ray stopped and stared as flashbulbs went off all around him.
Vito Salmonelli, hands, wrists, and mouth bound in duct tape, was strapped to the hood of his car. Encircling and spiraling around his entire body was a wide pink ribbon, which culminated in a gigantic pink bow on the top of his head. Ray took a few staggering steps forward, eyes popping out of his head—and then saw that there was a tiny, gold card attached to the ribbon, with "For You" written on it in silver glitter.
He plucked the card off the ribbon and flipped it open. "Dear Ray," it said. "Thank you kindly."
"Of course, sir," Welsh said into the phone. "Yes, sir. Yes, of course. As soon as possible, we just have some papers to—" Welsh stopped, blew out a breath, and listened intently; Ray, perched on the edge of the desk, could hear the yelling even from here. "Yes, of course, sir," Welsh repeated. "Of course. As soon as we can." He dropped the phone into its cradle and sighed.
"How long have we got?" Ray asked worriedly.
"Till tomorrow morning," Welsh replied, wiping his brow, "and even that's pushing it. Right now I've got him locked up and incommunicado, but tomorrow the Feds are gonna want to talk to him, and when they do? That's it, it's all over."
Ray bit his lip. "Vito's talking, huh?"
"Vito is talking, singing, dancing and playing the flute," Welsh replied grimly. "He just hates Fraser; he just can't wait to tell the world who Robin Hood is. And once Fraser's name is out—"
"He's fucked. And you and me are both ruined."
Welsh nodded and scrubbed at his face. "If we could just have brought him in ourselves...at least we'd look like something less than total morons. We could have argued that we had a plan, that we were just trying to spare the department—"
"—and the city—" Ray sighed.
"—and the nation of Canada from undue embarrassment," Welsh finished, nodding sadly. "Precisely."
"Well...we've still got one more shot at it," Ray said, scratching his head. "It's Beatrice & Pierce tonight, if Fraser's true to form—and he's been nothing but. Maybe it's time to call out the troops—put a bunch of uniforms on standby, wait till Fraser hits the building, and then quickly surround the place, tightening the net—"
"Oh, yeah, right—and watch him slip right through it," Welsh scoffed. "Great, Vecchio, fantastic idea—let's invite a bunch of witnesses to watch Fraser elude us. Hey, better yet, let's invite the media—"
"There has gotta be a way," Ray muttered. "There has got to be a way to be sure that he doesn't elude us—"
"Ray," Welsh said quietly. "We have tried. We have tried and we have tried and we have tried, okay? Do not take this wrong way, because I think you are a damn good cop, one of the best—"
Ray smiled faintly. "But you don't think I can catch him."
"No, Ray, I'm sorry—I don't think you can. I don't think anyone can—Fraser's just too good."
Ray raised his hands in defeat, and then let them thwap softly against his denim-covered thighs. "Okay, you're right," he said, standing up and snagging his jacket off the chair. "I give up, I lose, I suck. I can't catch him. He wins."
"I'm sorry, Ray," Welsh murmured.
"Yeah, me too." Ray opened the door, stared out into space for a moment, and then slammed the door shut again. "Except I am an idiot," he said suddenly, whirling around. "I am a complete and total idiot! Hell, this is gonna be my last case, Lieutenant—I am resigning after this one on the grounds that I am just too stupid to live—"
Welsh shook his head. "Don't be so hard on yourself—"
"—but before I do that, I am gonna haul Benton Fraser's ass into this office." Ray strode to the desk and leaned over, bracing his palms on it. "Because I may not be able to catch Benton Fraser, but I sure as hell know who can."
Benton pulled his microphone toward his lips and said, "Carlo? How long to countdown?"
Carlo's voice was soft in his ear. "Um, about 30 seconds....15...10....oh, fuck, you fucking bastard!!—"
Benton frowned and clutched at his headset. "Carlo? Carlo, are you all right?! CARLO!"
"Hey, you know, these headset things are kinda cool. I see why you guys like 'em. They're really Star Trek."
Stunned, Benton wandered away from the safe. "...Ray?"
"The one and only," Ray replied. "Except not really, but that's not important right now. What's important is that I've got your boys here—Carlo, Pietro, and Little Ricky are all handcuffed and cooling their jets in the back of the van. Nice van, too, by the way."
"Ray," Benton said angrily, striding for the staircase, "you don't want to do this. You do not want to do this to me..."
"Fraser, I'm real sorry—but I do, I really do. Why don't you come down here and say goodbye to your little friends? We're just hangin' out in the garage, smokin' a couple of cigarettes—or I am, anyway, since their mouths are all covered in duct tape—"
Benton pushed through the stairwell door and began quickly descending toward the garage. "I gave you Vito," Benton whispered. "I gave you Vito, Ray—but you want more than that, don't you? They call that gluttony, Ray—they call that looking a gift-wrapped gangster in the mouth. Dante says—"
"Dante puts gluttons in the third level of hell—yeah, I know, I've been playing the home game."
Benton reached the garage level, and he paused outside the red steel door to unholster and check his gun. "You better watch yourself Ray. I might still shoot you, you know."
"Oh yeah? Well, I might shoot you right back—nyah, nyah, nyah."
Benton swiftly pulled the door open and moved into the underground garage, holding his gun out in front of him. He couldn't immediately spot the black van—the garage still contained a number of other vehicles, and so he circled around them warily. "Oh, I don't think you will, Ray," Benton murmured, slowly coming around a Volkswagen.
"But hey, I might. You just never know, do you? I told you that once. It's always the ones you least expect..."
Benton stopped, cocked his head to listen, and then continued moving stealthily down the line of cars toward the black van, which he'd spotted parked by the far wall. "How true. That's very good advice, Ray." As he got closer, he also saw Ray's GTO, parked across the aisle. Damn. This was all his fault—he should have reminded them about Ray, warned them to look out for the car. But he'd gone and put his reason second to lust...
"Of course it's good advice," Ray said in his ear. "I always give you good advice. But you just never fuckin' listen, do you?"
Benton was behind the van now, and he could hear the muted thump-thump-thump of his friends struggling inside. Taking a deep breath, he quickly moved around to the driver's side, gun-barrel first.
Ray was just leaning there against the side of the van, wearing Ricky's headset and smoking a cigarette. "Good evening, Fraser. Glad you could make it."
Benton looked at him suspiciously. "Where's your gun? I thought you said you were going to shoot me."
Ray took a deep drag from his cigarette and then smiled. "No, I said I might shoot you. Please pay attention."
Still keeping the gun trained on Ray, Benton edged closer to the driver's side door. "Ah, I see. Well, then. Thank you for keeping such a close eye on my friends. I think we'll all be going now..."
Ray slowly shook his head. "No way, Fraser—I can't let you do that."
Benton never took his eyes off him. "I have a gun, Ray, and I'm prepared to use it." He reached out and pulled the door open. "How precisely do you plan to stop me?"
"I can't stop you, Fraser. It's taken me weeks to figure that out, because I'm not always the brightest bulb on the tree. But I know someone who can stop you...or who will die trying." And then to Benton's surprise, Ray turned away from him and yelled across the garage: "NOW, DIEF! FOLLOW!"
Ray watched as Diefenbaker jumped out the window of the GTO and joyously bounded toward Fraser. Fraser seemed frozen for a moment as the wolf hurled itself toward him—and then Fraser threw himself into the driver's seat and slammed the door. Dief jumped up into the air, barking furiously in some sort of ecstasy, and scraped his paws against the door. Fraser switched on the engine, threw the van into reverse, squealed out of the space—and then floored it.
Instantly Diefenbaker was after him, running and barking—and Ray jumped into the GTO, burning rubber as he chased Diefenbaker out of the garage and down the street. The tracking device he'd attached to Dief's collar was sending out a nice clear signal—going ping! ping! ping! at regular intervals—and Ray grabbed the police radio. "All available units, all available units, this is Detective Raymond Vecchio of the 2-7. I am in hot pursuit of Robin Hood. He is currently driving a 1997 Black Hyundai van, license plate number C84-VW7! That is C as in Charlie-Eight-Four-V as in Victor-W as in Whateverthefuck-Seven! He is currently heading south on State Street—and please, be careful: he is being chased by a dog who is on our side!"
"....and those were the dulcet tones of the great blues clarinetist, Fuzzy Hampton. Stay tuned to K104, your station for the best jazz sensations. Just relax, kick back, and—holy crap, this just in! Robin Hood is apparently being chased down State Street by a big dog and fifteen Chicago police cars..."
"—and we now go live to our WCTV helicopter—Jack, are you with us?"
"I'm here, Susan, and boy! is this some chase! The sun isn't even up yet but you wouldn't know it from all the lights that are on right now in the city of Chicago! There must be ten police helicopters out here—and Robin Hood is still going, the dog is still on the trail, and behind him I can make out what looks to be a black sixties-style muscle car followed by what must now be thirty regulation police cars—"
"—lining the streets! They're bringing out chairs and blankets and having an early breakfast right there on the sidewalk! There's a real festival atmosphere out here, Chris; the city of Chicago is putting on a cops and robbers show like only it knows how, and everybody wants to join in the fun! Some people are carrying banners and signs: I can see one now that says, 'Go Robin Hood!' and another that says, 'Leave Him Alone!'—and oh-ho, here's one that says 'Marry Me!' Well, there's a young lady who sure knows what she wants!..."
"—here with Marsha Taylor, a member of the pro-Robin Hood organization 'Chicago's Most Wanted'. What brings you out here on this early Tuesday morning?"
"I think it's very important that all the citizens of Chicago come out to support the man who's done more for this city in a few weeks than most of our elected officials have done for us in years..."
"Okay, we got him, we got him, we got him!" Ray yelled into the police radio. "He's turning left!"
"I'm not seeing where we've got him, Vecchio!" Welsh roared back. "I'm seeing where he's leading the entire police force of Chicago on a wild goose chase in front of millions of people!"
"No, no—I'm telling you! Wait for it! Just wait for it!!!"
"—hang on a moment, the van appears to be slowing down! Jack, from what I can see here in the studio, the van appears to be slowing down!"
"Yes, that's right, Susan—the van has definitely slowed down! All the cars behind him are slowing down, too—so this has now become a low-speed chase; repeat, this has now become a low-speed car chase."
"But can you see why, Jack? Is there any reason why Robin Hood would be slowing down at this critical juncture?"
"I honestly couldn't tell you, Susan. There doesn't appear to be a reason. But Robin Hood, as we all know, is a man who works in very mysterious ways..."
"He's passing Robinson's!!" Ray hooted, joyously banging his hand against the steering wheel. "Don't you understand?! He's passing The Robinson School For The Blind!"
Ray stopped the GTO in the middle of the street and abandoned it, leaving the door open. He just ran down the center of the street after Fraser—the black van was now crawling at a lowly ten miles per hour, strictly obeying the limits of The Robinson School's slow-speed zone. Ray caught up quickly and tapped on the glass of the driver's side window—Fraser glanced over, saw him, sighed, and rolled the window down.
"It's over, Fraser," Ray gasped, jogging alongside the van.
Fraser shook his head grimly. "No, it isn't."
"No, really," Ray insisted. "It's over. It is totally over," and then in a blur of white fur, Diefenbaker charged up the left side of the van and leapt through the window into Fraser's lap. Fraser slammed on the brakes, jerking the van to a stop as Diefenbaker howled and furiously licked his face, lavishing weeks of pent-up concern and wolf-spit all over him.
"What's he's doing to me?" Fraser yelled, trying to turn his face away. "What's he doing to me?"
Ray grinned and leaned in the van's window. "I dunno. Could be a sign of affection maybe."
"Well, tell him to stop it!" Fraser flailed his arms around, trying to shove Diefenbaker off, but the wolf was persistent. "Ray, get him off me!"
"Hey, he don't always listen to me," Ray objected. "As you know, he's deaf."
"Diefenbaker!" Fraser shouted suddenly, enunciating very clearly. "Get! Off! Me!" Diefenbaker gave Fraser's face a final swipe and then settled down next to him in the passenger seat, happily thumping his tail. "Good god," Fraser sighed, letting his head fall forward against the wheel. "I don't think that wolf understands who's in control here. Or perhaps he does, but I just don't like the answer..."
"Hey," Ray said suddenly. "You remembered Diefenbaker's name."
Fraser didn't look up. "Of course I remember Diefenbaker's name. How could I forget something like—" Fraser lifted his head and stared at Ray in horror, then looked up through the rear view mirror at the thirty police cars behind them, at the spectators and the circling helicopters and the crowd of reporters running toward them. "Oh dear."
"It's your case, Ray," Fraser said quietly.
Ray wheeled on him and exploded, "I know it's my case—of course it's my case! Which is why I'm going to be fired and you're going to be deported—"
"Ray, I'm sorry. I'm so, so sorry—" Fraser whispered.
"—and we're all of us going to be sued to holy heaven and," Ray yelled, "and—and—and how on earth are we gonna tell the Little Sisters that we need that two million back?!"
"I don't know." Fraser groaned and laid his head down on top of his folded arms. "I just don't know. How could I have done such a thing? I mean, I don't mind facing my own punishment, but all those poor people...."
Suddenly the door was flung open, banging hard against the opposite wall. "Fraser, I strongly advise you not to say another word. Not a single, solitary word!"
Ray stared at her. "Stella, what the hell are you—"
"No, Ray," Stella said angrily, "what the hell are you doing? Where's his lawyer? How could you let him talk without a lawyer present?"
"He refused counsel!" Ray shouted back at her. "He refused counsel like three separate times! What do you think I am—an idiot? I mirandized him—of course I mirandized him!"
"He did, really," Fraser added, lifting his head. "He mirandized me several times, actually."
"Shut up, Fraser," Stella retorted; and Fraser nodded and shut up. "This interview is over—and I'm going to advise Fraser's attorney to argue that whatever tape you just made there is inadmissible. Constable Fraser was clearly not in his right mind when he—"
"Hey, what do you know about Fraser's mind?" Ray retorted. "And where do you get off, barging in here and—"
"Ray, I should tell you that Inspector Thatcher has already faxed over a number of documents supporting an insanity defense. Any lawyer with an ounce of sense is going to be pursuing a case along those lines. The man is off his rocker, and clearly has been for some time."
Fraser raised a finger. "Pardon me, but—"
"There is plenty of evidence to support that position," Stella continued, ignoring him, "not even taking the amnesia into account. Constable Fraser has a long history of seeing things, hearing things, talking to furniture—"
"All right, yeah, that's true," Ray admitted, "but—"
"—and just general weirdo behavior. Everybody's going to be telling the Feds that Fraser's a well-known nutjob," Stella added, "and with any luck, he won't serve even a single day in prison."
Fraser coughed nervously. "Well, I wouldn't want anyone to lie on my behalf..."
Ray rolled his eyes him. "Who's lying, Fraser?"
Ray kicked at the soda machine, which simply would not dispense his fucking Coke.
"Excuse me," a voice said behind him, and Ray turned around. The man approaching him had a hand extended and a shark's smile. "I'm Jeffrey Lewenstein," he said. "I'll be representing Constable Fraser. Are you Ray Vecchio?"
"Yeah," Ray said; he extended his hand to the man and Lewenstein slapped a folded piece of paper into it. "What's this?" Ray asked, frowning down at it.
"That's a restraining order," Lewenstein said sweetly, "forbidding you to have any further contact with my client."
Ray's mouth fell open. "Hey, but—"
"Have a nice day," Lewenstein said, turning, "and see you at the hearing tomorrow."
"What kind of bullshit is this?" Ray demanded, storming into Welsh's office. "Who the fuck is this Lewenstein prick? I mean, jeez, I'm the arresting officer, here—"
"You're also Fraser's partner," Welsh explained. "Lewenstein got a judge to agree that, under the circumstances, having you interview Fraser might not be in Fraser's best interests."
"Okay fine—I agree with that!" Ray retorted. "But I can't even see him?"
"The judge seems to feel that Fraser's fragile mental state might cause him to be confused about whether you're there to help him or hurt him."
Ray blew out a breath and turned away. "Okay, yeah, right. I get that."
"Everybody's wanting to be real sure that we follow procedure on this one. I mean, Fraser's sort of a cop."
"I get it, I get it," Ray said grimly.
"The judge did refuse bail, though," Welsh added. "They feel that Fraser's a flight risk, being Canadian and all. So he's gonna be staying downstairs in the cells. You just can't go near him, Vecchio, okay? So stay clear."
"I'll stay clear, I'll stay clear," Ray insisted. "I will stay completely and totally clear."
"Fraser," Ray whispered, peering through the bars. "Fraser, wake up!"
Fraser sat up quickly, blinked in momentary confusion, and then leaned forward to peer across the dark cell. As Ray watched, Fraser's face was transformed by another of those brilliant smiles. "Ray..."
Ray clutched at the bars and leaned as close as he could. "I just wanted to see you for a minute."
Fraser was up off the cot in an instant and silently crossing toward him. "Ray, you're not supposed to be here—" Fraser whispered.
"Yeah, I know, I know—"
"—but I'm so glad you came." Fraser stopped in front of him and they stared at each other for a moment through the iron bars. And then Fraser lifted his hands and curled them around Ray's, so that they were clutching the bars together from either side. Fraser's hands were warm and strong.
"I wish..." Fraser began, and then he bent forward and kissed Ray through the bars. Ray groaned and pushed his tongue into Fraser's mouth, feeling a bolt of heat shoot through his body. When Fraser finally pulled back, he was breathing hard. "I wish we had met under other circumstances, Ray."
"We did meet under other circumstances, Fraser," Ray replied quietly. "We just fucked it all up."
Ray arrived at the Chicago Federal Courthouse at precisely at 9:00 the next morning. Jeffrey Lewenstein had called a meeting and invited all the interested parties—and there were a hell of a lot of them. Ray slipped into the large conference room, which was already full of people milling and chatting: there was Lieutenant Welsh, standing with the chief of police and the mayor; there was Inspector Thatcher and Constable Turnbull; there was Ted Carter, Thomas Adams, and a number of the other victimized C.E.O.s; there was Deborah Tolland, Sister Mary Louise, Lisa Robertson—god, everyone was here, absolutely everyone.
In the middle of this was Fraser, just sitting quietly and staring down at the tabletop. He was still wearing the same clothes he'd been arrested in, and he looked like he just wasn't capable of facing anybody at the moment—not the victims, not the people representing the various charities, not anybody at all.
Nobody said anything to Ray, either, which didn't surprise him one bit—he was perfectly aware that he was now The Most Hated Cop In Chicago, hated by all sides, hated both for doing his job and not doing it well enough. So he took a seat further along the conference table and just waited for things to begin.
Finally, Lewenstein strode over to stand near Fraser and said, "Excuse me, ladies and gentlemen: if you'd just take your seats, we can begin." People nodded and began to sit down.
Fraser looked up, caught Ray's eye, and smiled faintly at him. Ray smiled back, trying to send encouragement telepathically.
"I've called all of you here today," Jeffrey Lewenstein began, "because you are in some way directly interested in the case of People v. Benton Fraser. As most of you already know, Constable Fraser was a respected member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. He was assigned to the Canadian Consulate of Chicago and was working there under the supervision of Inspector Margaret Thatcher."
Thatcher looked like she wanted to die.
"Constable Fraser had also been serving as Acting Deputy Liaison to the Chicago Police Department, and it was while assisting the CPD on a dangerous mission which necessitated his going undercover in prison that he sustained the blow to the head which has so unfortunately resulted in the preceding weeks' events."
Slowly, Jeffrey Lewenstein looked around at the faces of the people sitting around the table, and then he showed them his shark's smile. "I'm about to propose something exceedingly unorthodox. Drop the case."
The room exploded with noise—derisive laughter from the C.E.O.s, shocked exhalations from the government officials, wild cheers and clapping from the charitable organizations. Lewenstein's grin grew even larger and sharper, and he raised a hand to call for silence. "Yes, I know what you're thinking, but just hear me out. I'd like to direct my next remarks to the robbery victims," he added, snapping his briefcase open and pulling out a pile of papers. "If you would please pass this handout around, I think it will help you to understand my argument."
The papers slowly made their way around the table, and Ray watched with some curiosity as the expressions on the C.E.O.s faces changed from skepticism to surprise as they glanced down at the sheet.
"I'd first like to direct your attention to Table A," Lewenstein said, just as Ray got hold of a copy.
|FIRM||MONIES STOLEN||DONATION||THEFT||AMT. RECOVERED||AMT. DUE|
"Now as you can see," Lewenstein said, "the bulk of the stolen funds were donated by Benton Fraser and his associates to charitable organizations, while a small percentage was kept by the gang itself. Now if you'll turn your attention to Table B, I think you will find some information that is very much to your advantage."
|FIRM||YEARLY GIVING||TAX LIABILITY||DONATIONS||TAX REFUND||NET PROFIT|
"The net profits we have forecast are based on your most recent quarterly reports. As you will all certainly have grasped by now, being robbed by Benton Fraser has left you all at a tremendous financial advantage. However, I do perfectly understand that you might still be feeling robbed, as not all the stolen funds were redistributed in this financially advantageous manner. I confess that there is a part of me that wishes to subpoena the invoices sent to you by whatever individuals are currently passing for your accountants." Again, the sharky grin. "However, I will simply redirect your attention back to Table A, and point out that $105,749 has already been either confiscated, or in the case of Constable Fraser, returned, to the authorities. Benton Fraser and his group therefore owe the collected lot of you $94,251." Lewenstein's eyes narrowed, even as he kept smiling away. "One would think," Lewenstein added slowly, "that some sort of payment plan could easily be arranged...."
There was a shuffling of feet, a few mutterings, a few shared whispers among the various corporate chairmen.
Fraser did not so much as lift his eyes from the tabletop.
"Now," Lewenstein added briskly, rubbing his palms together, "I feel we should move to the more mundane matters of law and order. These next remarks will be directed at those of you who have a vested interest in this area, though I think that you will agree with me that, under the circumstances, it is difficult to know the right thing to do. Certainly, Benton Fraser and his associates did break into a number of buildings, and breaking and entering is a crime regardless of whether or not anything is stolen. However," Lewenstein added sharply, still smiling away, "I'm sure I don't have to remind you that these crimes were instigated by Constable Fraser while he was suffering from an injury he received in the line of duty while working for the very Chicago police force that now detains him. Not only was his injury sustained while actually on duty, but as a direct result of that injury, Constable Fraser was placed in a variety of situations that could easily have gotten him killed."
Suddenly Fraser moved his hand and touched Lewenstein's arm. Lewenstein leaned toward him, and Fraser murmured something in his ear.
"Over the last few weeks," Lewenstein continued, "Constable Fraser has been in near-constant danger—from the inmates at Osserling; from the guards at Osserling—who were, I remind you, responsible for his head wound; from the criminals with whom he associated during this period; and yes, from the Chicago Police Department itself! The fact that Constable Fraser is currently alive and well is in no small part a testament to the fine police work of Detective Raymond Vecchio—"
Ray sat up, startled at the sound of his name.
"—who managed to orchestrate a complex investigation, capture, and arrest under tremendous pressure from all sides."
Fraser's eyes flicked up for the barest of seconds, met Ray's own, and then flicked away.
"So I would suggest," Lewenstein continued blithely, "that assigning responsibility for this unfortunate situation is not a simple task. And as we share in the responsibility, so too do we share in the potential embarrassment should this case actually proceed to trial."
Lewenstein paused, and Ray noticed that the mayor, the chief of police, and the Ice Queen were all swallowing hard.
"Of course, I do understand that Constable Fraser was not the only participant in these robberies, and that the others involved do not have the excuse of a head wound. However, I think that we have to face the unfortunate fact that Constable Fraser did, as a result of his injury, actually instigate eight out of the nine burglaries."
Well, that killed the room, Ray thought glumly. Talk about your total downers—you could practically feel the deflation. Ray hoped for another however—or at the very least a but or a yet.
"And yet," oh, thank God, "Carlo Salmonelli is currently serving a sentence for a number of other crimes, and the business of capturing his brother Vito was the very task that Constable Fraser was assigned to accomplish in the first place. So while it is true, I fear, that dropping the charges against Constable Fraser does mean letting Pietro Denati and Richard Kazinski go free, you needn't fear that either of the Salmonelli brothers will be walking our streets any time soon."
Fraser twitched a little at this. Certainly, he wouldn't mind seeing Vito thrown into a cell somewhere, but Carlo...
"Last, but not least, I want to draw your attention to the somewhat more positive effects of the recent chain of events. Charitable donations are at an all time record high—inspired by Constable Fraser's example, the citizens of Chicago have opened their hearts and their wallets. In addition, Constable Fraser has spawned something of a grass-roots political movement, no mean feat in our apathetic day and age. Benton Fraser has won the hearts of the people of Chicago, who will no doubt," and Ray thought that he could practically hear the Jaws theme, "register their concern and displeasure if they feel he is being at all unfairly treated. I expect that they will also wish to share in his joy should the charges be dropped."
The charges were dropped.
Outside the courthouse, it was a mob scene. Ray could see Jeffrey Lewenstein doggedly trying to pull Fraser through the crowd of well-wishers, reporters, and other fanatics to the waiting car below, but he was having a hard time of it. Fraser himself looked damn near terrified—people were surging around him, yelling for his attention, grabbing blindly at his clothes. Everybody wanted to see him, touch him, talk to him—or just be near him—and Fraser seemed to be trying to shrink away from the press of their hands and bodies. A group of uniformed police officers were doing their best to keep order, but there were just too few of them, and things seemed to be spiraling rapidly out of control.
Ray began to elbow his way through the crowd, determined to reach Fraser and get him the fuck out of here. Fraser stopped dead and threw up a protective arm as ten-thousand flashbulbs suddenly went off in his face, and it was as if Ray could feel Fraser's desperation ratcheting up and up, coming to him on some frequency that maybe only dogs could hear.
So Ray sped up, pushing and shoving people more roughly now—he was already the most hated cop in Chicago, how much worse could things get? Even Lewenstein was starting to look panicked; he was whirling around and saying, "Please, people! Please!" Ray broke through the crowd at his shoulder and yelled, "Gimme!" and bless him, Lewenstein seemed to know exactly what he meant.
"Take him!" Lewenstein yelled back. "Go!" and Ray squirmed through another foot and closed his hand around Fraser's arm. Fraser jerked and turned, obviously badly startled, and then his eyes flooded with relief upon seeing Ray.
"C'mon!" Ray gritted his teeth and tugged him through the crowd along the fifteenth step, pushing people out of the way with his other hand. And then he broke through to the place where the staircase ended, their way blocked by a waist-high stone wall and a wrought-iron hand railing.
Ray looked back over his shoulder at Fraser and shouted, "Jump!"
Fraser nodded quickly and together they bolted forward and just leapt over the wall— landing, stumbling a little, in the small, landscaped garden outside the courthouse. Ray could hear the gasps and shouts of surprise from above them, but he didn't bother to look; instead, he just grabbed Fraser's arm and started running like all fucking get out.
The reporters were the first to get on the ball, screaming at their mobile units to go! go! after them! we're missing a fucking great story, here! aim those goddamned cameras the right way! But they kept ahead of the pack and then cut diagonally across the street into Eaglecrest Park.
Ray heard laughter and glanced back over his shoulder: Fraser was grinning from ear to ear. "All right, I'm with you! Go!" and suddenly Fraser was ahead of him, and Ray found himself laughing too and running hard to keep up.
They ran through the park, arms pumping, then through the gate on the other side and into the traffic on Wacker. Horns blared at them as they dodged cars, and then they were across and running up the block, into the alley—
—and then Ray tackled Fraser, grabbing him around the middle. Still laughing, they struggled together, lurching and stumbling around the alley, nearly losing their balance a couple of times and crashing to the heat-cracked concrete. Then Fraser spun around and drove forward, slamming Ray up against the wall of their alcove and kissing him roughly. Ray gave back as good as he got, shoving his body forward against Fraser's and forcing his tongue deep into Fraser's mouth. Fraser moaned and started rocking hard against him, and Ray thought, yes...yes... yes...no....no, wait!! and twisted his head away.
"Fraser!" he managed, thinking, "Fuck, we're gonna fuck right here!" "And? Your point? Is that a problem?" "Yes! No ! Maybe! I dunno!" Fraser ducked his head and bit not-so-gently at Ray's throat, making Ray groan. "Fraser! I—you—I think we should maybe go somewhere—"
"Your place?" Fraser muttered.
"Yeah. No. My place—" Ray stammered; he just couldn't fucking think straight, "—crawling with reporters—"
Fraser was pressed up hard against him, worrying his earlobe. "Mine too."
Something in Ray's brain snapped and he dropped his hands and grabbed at Fraser's ass. He'd done his bit in the name of public decency, but he wasn't gonna be a martyr about it. "So fuck it—c'mon—here—"
"Though," Fraser said breathlessly, lifting his head.
"Though?" Ray pulled Fraser's hips toward him, grinding their cocks together.
Fraser seemed to lose his train of thought. "I. Oh. Yes. I mean." He closed his eyes and seemed to pull himself together with an effort. "Oh, what the hell," he said finally. "After all, it's paid for."
Ray frantically stabbed the "UP" button of the elevator at the Chicago Hilton; the bastard thing seemed permanently stuck on the 27th floor. "C'mon, c'mon, c'mon, c'mon already."
Fraser was half turned away, as if he couldn't bear to look at him. "I told you. We could have taken the stairs."
"And I told you," Ray shot back, "it was either that or sex—I don't have the freakin' energy for both, I'm not so young anymore."
Fraser swallowed hard and turned completely away. "In that case, Ray, I think you made the right choice."
"You bet your ass, I did," Ray muttered, and stabbed the button again.
"I...oh, yes." The back of Fraser's neck had gone pink. "Yes, indeed, Ray."
18...17...16...Ray stood there, craning his neck and staring up at the lights above the elevator doors. 12...11...10...and he was cracking his knuckles, flexing his fingers, rubbing his hands together. 4...3...2....fucking finally!, and he turned to look at Fraser and saw that Fraser's eyes were glassily fixed on his hands.
Ray looked down; he was rubbing obsessively at his wrists.
He looked up just as Fraser looked up and their eyes met and the elevator binged and the door opened and two women and a man came out and christ, he wasn't going to make it up to the room.
Taking a deep breath, Ray stepped into the elevator and pressed the button for the 44th floor. Fraser was right beside him—and it felt like they were underwater, moving in slow motion, the air warm and thick between them. Slowly, the elevator doors closed; slowly, the elevator began to rise; slowly, the ground pressed up against their feet, and Fraser reached for his hand, and Fraser encircled his wrist. Slowly, Fraser pulled Ray's arm upwards; slowly, Fraser pressed Ray's wrist to the elevator wall just above his head, and Ray couldn't breathe, couldn't move, couldn't think.
He was dizzy with it; he was dying for it.
He didn't even bother looking for Fraser's other hand, he trusted Fraser's other hand, wherever Fraser's other hand landed would be just fine with him. He felt it stroke gently down his side, stop and press at his waist, then slide under his shirt to settle against the small of his back.
Ray inhaled sharply and closed his eyes. He wondered if Fraser could feel the throb of his pulse at the wrist.
Fraser's mouth touched his own and just stayed there; not moving, not kissing, just tasting the intimacy and sharing the air—
The elevator binged and jerked to a stop, and they broke apart and turned to see a giant fish standing between the open doors.
"Landshark," Ray said stupidly.
"Yes," Fraser said, and then he was turning and warding off the stunned-looking fish with a raised palm. "I'm sorry. Police business. I was until very recently a fugitive from justice."
The door closed on the shark's bemused face.
"C'mon already," Ray muttered. "Get it open—"
Fraser was struggling with the key card. "I—yes. Certainly."
"You broke into banks, Fraser—now you can't get into your own freakin' hotel room? I saw the video: you can blow the damn thing open if you need to—"
"That," Fraser said, as the little light over the door suddenly flashed from red to green, "won't be necessary."
Fraser swung the door open and went inside. Ray followed him, boggling at the size of the suite—living room, kitchen, double doors to the bedroom. "Hey, cool," he said. "Nice—"
Fraser's hands were back now and easy to track: one was gripping Ray's arm, the other was clutching at his hip. Ray met Fraser's eyes and grinned slowly. "Yeah, okay," he said, and then he was grabbing at Fraser and shoving him backwards toward the bedroom.
Fraser let himself be forced backwards through the double doors, and then they were tugging their clothes off and tossing them onto the floor: two leather jackets, two shirts, one pair of jeans, one pair of black twill trousers, two pair of white briefs, four boots.
And then whuff, Fraser came at him like a linebacker, and Ray found himself thrown onto his back on the king-sized bed with lots of warm, naked Mountie sprawled on top of him. They were still bouncing a little, and Ray grinned stupidly up into Fraser's face and said, "Now this is my idea of 'collaborative policing'."
"The consummate model of international cooperation," Fraser said with a smile. "So to speak."
"Or cops and robbers. Definitely my idea of—" The grin fell off his face as Fraser straddled him, grabbed his wrists, and pulled his arms up over his head. "Oh, God..."
Fraser leaned over and kissed him—so long and so thoroughly that his whole body was singing, thrumming with the need of it. And when Fraser lifted his head, his blue eyes were dark and sort of wild. He slid a foot down Ray's body and settled down again, his mouth closing over a nipple, his hand reaching down to grope Ray's cock.
Ray panted up at the ceiling as Fraser stroked him, first caressing and then speeding his hand as his palm grew warm and slick. And then Fraser moved his mouth to Ray's other nipple and traced it gently with his tongue—and goddammit, he wanted to touch Fraser, he wanted to touch Benton Fraser so bad that it hurt—
—and abruptly he realized that he could, that his hands were free because Fraser's hands were otherwise occupied, and so he reached down and plunged his fingers deep into Fraser's hair, which was thick and soft and—-
Shuddering, his orgasm overtook him; he came in four quick, hot pulses and sank into a state of blissed-out semi-delirium.
Dimly, he felt Fraser's hair pulling away from his fingers; dimly, he felt Fraser's lips move down over his chest, stop to press a kiss to his stomach. And then Fraser's hands were grazing the outsides of his thighs, rubbing and massaging—and Ray thought yeah, oh, yeah, bent his knees, and tilted his hips. Fraser moaned softly and tightened his fingers on Ray's legs, pushing them and moving him into position.
Fraser's slick fingers skimed over him, then pushed into him, and Ray opened his eyes. "Do it," Ray said hoarsely. "I can take it," and Fraser went still, throat visibly constricting as if he had stopped breathing—and then he nodded.
The first small push inward excited him, as it always did, bringing his erection up to half-mast. The second push made him gasp with the ache of the stretch; the third push made him teeter dizzily between pain and pleasure. And then suddenly he was pleasure-soaked, drenched and heavy with it, and he moaned as Fraser began to thrust in and out of him. Fraser himself looked simultaeously thrilled and relieved, like some long-borne weight was slipping off his shoulders, like some deep-seated tension was being eased.
And then Fraser moaned too, that soft little sound he made that said he was loving it, just loving this, just loving—
"...oh, Ray...Ray...Ray...." Fraser ground out, and came.
Afterwards, they ordered an obscene amount of food from room service and settled back on the bed to watch television. Fraser sat between Ray's legs, leaning back against his chest, and switched on the local news; Ray worked his hands obsessively through Fraser's hair and kissed his neck whenever it occurred to him to do so.
"There we are," Fraser said suddenly; and yeah, that was the footage from the front of the courthouse. There they were, dodging and jumping and running away down the street. Abruptly the scene changed to what they both instantly recognized as the front of Ray's apartment building, and the reporter explained that Robin Hood had fled the scene with Detective Ray Vecchio, the officer who had pursued and arrested him. She then went on to inform the audience that Fraser and Vecchio had been partners before Fraser's recent crime spree, and that their partnership represented an unusual but highly successful form of international cooperation.
"Heh," Ray said, nudging Fraser in the ribs. "She said 'international cooperation.'"
"Yes, Ray." Fraser smiled. "She did."
The scene changed again, this time to the steps of the Canadian Consulate. "Hey—it's Turnbull!" Ray exclaimed, and it sure was Turnbull, standing in front of the Consulate doing his best stuffed Mountie imitation. "God, he looks like an idiot."
The reporter, now in voice-over, told the assembled viewing public that Constable Fraser was a Mountie—"that's short for 'member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police,'" she added helpfully—who had been acting as Deputy Liaison to the Chicago Police Department. The image then cut to the front of the 27th precinct with its flag bearing the CPD insignia.
"God, it's a circus," Ray muttered, raising the remote control and flipping to another channel, which gave a slightly different view of their exit from the courthouse and the front of Ray's apartment building and the steps of the Consulate and the 2-7, but told essentially the same story. "I don't know how we're gonna live here after this. These guys—they make you wanna go live in the middle of nowhere."
Fraser tilted his head back and smiled up at him. "That, Ray, can be arranged."
Carlo Salmonelli returned to Osserling Penitentiary to serve the remainder of his twenty year sentence for armed robbery. He took a job working in the prison library and kept up an avid correspondence with Benton Fraser. Five years later he was paroled upon his acceptance to graduate school at the University of Chicago. Dr. Salmonelli is currently an Associate Professor of Comparative Literature at the University of Texas at Austin, where he lives with his wife Gina and their three children Ben, Giovanni, and Lisa-Marie. His monograph, "The Missing 'I' In The Novels of Italo Calvino" is available from the University of California Press.
Vito Salmonelli was sentenced to twenty years in Osserling for his previous robberies. Prison life suited him, and he was an especially popular catcher at the inmate pick-up games. Unfortunately he was killed one evening during an altercation with the opposing team's batter, who dealt him a deadly blow to the head with a baseball bat.
Pietro Denati borrowed $40,000 from his brother and opened up a successful locksmith business on Chicago's south side.
Little Ricky Kazinski decided to follow his dream of having bigger and better radio headsets, and is now an air-traffic controller at Chicago's O'Hare airport.
Lieutenant Harding Welsh survived the Robin Hood debacle, largely by swearing up and down that everything that had happened had been part of his and Vecchio's plan all along. Currently, he is sitting behind his desk wondering what the hell all that noise is in the bullpen.
Detective Ray Vecchio was pulled from his undercover assignment with the mafia after all the publicity of the Robin Hood case threatened to blow his cover. He returned to Chicago, and reassumed his identity, only to find himself The Most Hated Cop In Chicago. After the third time he found his 1971 Buick Riviera covered in tomatoes, lettuce, and eggs, he decided—in a rather literal application of the theory that 'when life gives you lemons, make lemonade'—to make Stella a salad for dinner. Stella Vecchio was so impressed by the dressing that she gave Ray $100,000 to patent and market the formula. "Ray's Famous Caesar Dressing" can now be found on supermarket shelves all across the country. Twenty percent of the price of each bottle is donated to charity.
Ray Kowalski emigrated to Canada shortly after the events of our story, and currently lives in a small cabin bordering the Yukon, free from prying reporters and hurled produce. He supports himself mainly by doing odd jobs and repairs for the locals, and selling paper-mache turtles to the occasional tourist at vastly inflated prices.
Benton Fraser lives with his lover Ray Kowalski, with whom he often plays cops and robbers. As of this date, he still owes his actual robbery victims over $63,471. But he is home, and he is happy.