Couple of days go by before I have to visit the consulate again. I have to pick Fraser up so we can check out some leads on the other side of town. I stand at the door with my hand raised in a fist, ready to knock but before I get the chance, the door flies open and there he is. My secret admirer, who is not keeping it so secret.
"Detective Vecchio! Welcome to Canada!" he gushes happily, throwing his arms out as if he's gonna hug me or something. And what is it with these Mounties anyway? How come they gotta be so damned neat all the time? Would it kill them to leave their shirttails hanging out every once in a while?
"Uh, thanks. Is Fraser ready?" I look down at my watch while backing down the steps, cuz, you know, he's a big guy, and if he did take it into his head to hug me, I doubt I could stop him. Not fast enough though. Next thing I know, I'm being dragged by the arm inside the building.
"Oh, he'll be right along. Inspector Thatcher had a few last minute instructions for him. She's flying off to Ottawa this morning. May I just say how much I adore those boots?"
I blink. Boots? I look down. Oh, right, my cowboy boots. I seem to remember that Turnbull is into Country music. "Thanks... they're kinda comfy, you know?" And I do not want to be making small talk with this guy. I stare longingly at the door to the Ice Queen's office. C'mon Fraser, get a wiggle on.
"Oh yes, I just bet they are. The leather looks nice and soft. You obviously take great care of them."
He's staring down at my boots like he wants to lick them or something. Maybe he does want to do that. Maybe it's a Canadian pastime or something. Licking stuff. Who knows?
"Do you oil them?"
"Do I what?" What the fuck is he banging on about? Oiling my boots? Jesus, Fraser, what's taking so long? Turnbull's kinda got me backed up against his desk and if Fraser don't come out of that office in the next three seconds, I am outta here. Even if I have to kick 'boot-fetish-boy' in the nuts to get past him.
"I have some Neat's-foot oil back at my apartment. If you'd like to..."
There is no way on God's Earth he is finishing that sentence. I start coughing, and he helpfully begins pounding me on the back, but I forget about that little piece of gum I've been chewing on all day. It gets itself lodged in my windpipe and suddenly I'm choking in earnest.
"Are you having difficulty breathing?" Turnbull asks, and I nod frantically, thumping my fist repeatedly into my chest. I must be going blue by now.
"Never fear. I know exactly how to deal with this." He whirls me around, wraps his arms around my middle and squeezes hard while lifting me right off the ground. I feel all the air I have left in my lungs whoosh out along with the piece of gum. It hits the far wall just as Fraser emerges from the office.
Time kinda freezes on the little tableau. Turnbull standing behind me pressed up real close, me panting for breath. Okay, it looks bad. It really does. Fraser's face is a picture. I wish I had a camera right now. Then again, maybe not.
"Turnbull?" he asks tightly.
Finally the idiot lets me go and I drop back to the ground. My ribs are aching but I guess I should be grateful. He kinda saved my life there.
"Ray was choking to death, Sir," Turnbull reports a little too gleefully for my taste. "I administered the Heimlich manoeuvre to remove the obstruction and he appears to be the picture of health once again." And he slaps me affectionately on the ass. If I weren't still a bit giddy from lack of oxygen, I would break his arm for that.
"I see," Fraser replies coldly.
"Um... yeah, thanks Turnbull. Quick thinking there. Good work." And can we please get the fuck out of here before he invites me back to his apartment to rub oil into our various leather belongings again? Not that I have any! Well.... There's the boots... my gun holster... and okay, one pair of leather chaps, but they were Stella's and I only keep them for sentimental reasons...
"It was my pleasure, detective," he beams and I just bet it was. I grab Fraser and haul him through the front door. I gun the engine and roar away from the consulate to the sound of honking horns. Okay, note to self - start checking the rear view mirror before driving off.
About a week later, I'm drowning in a sea of paperwork. The only light at the end of the tunnel is the upcoming trip to the country at the PD's expense. It's a simple prisoner transfer from Willison County Sheriff's office but it gets me the hell out from under this paperwork, and allows me to spend some nice, quality time with my partner. Getting away from my desk is good, but the time with Fraser - that's special. We haven't spent much time together this last week and I'm missing him like crazy. I know, I'm a sad fuck. I can't help it.
I hear someone clearing their throat and I look up. Oh dear God, what the fuck is hedoing here? On the other side of the desk, Turnbull is nervously fiddling with the brim of his Stetson. "Detective Vecchio... Ray... Constable Fraser sends his regrets but he will be unable to accompany you on the prisoner transfer today."
Fuck! Double fuck with smarties on top!
The transfer is a two-man job, and without my partner, Welsh will give the job to someone else. Just fucking great. I get to spend the next few days chained to my desk, with no Fraser to brighten my existence, while the duck brothers get a nice break in the country. Fucking typical! My life sucks.
I throw my pen down in frustration and watch it roll off the desk. Turnbull immediately retrieves it and places it reverently atop the files littering my desk. "Perhaps you would consider a substitute?" he asks hopefully.
My mind isn't really on him to be honest. I look at the pen in confusion. "What you mean, like a pencil or something?
He slides smoothly into the chair at the side of my desk and leans forward. "I was referring to the transfer. I would be honoured to accompany you on your mission in the place of Constable Fraser." He sticks his hat back on and gives me those puppy dog eyes again. Jesus, he makes it so hard to say 'no, fuck off and die'.
Just then Welsh's door opens. "Vecchio, you and the Mountie better get on the road if you want to reach Willison before dark."
Before I can explain that there's a slight problem with that, he's slammed the door shut again and I'm left with a bit of a choice to make. Welsh said 'the Mountie'. He didn't specify which Mountie. And I really do want to get out of here. Dillemaaaaa!
"So, Ray? What do you say?"
I chew my lip for a moment. "Yeah, okay, whatever."
Fine, I admit it; this wasn't one of my best ideas. It takes four hours to drive to Willison, and if I have to listen to one more educational ramble about the height of telegraph poles, or the state of agriculture in the Midwest, I swear, I'll strangle the bastard with his own lanyard thingie. I mean, sheesh, I thought Fraser's Inuit tales were boring? Compared to this, Fraser is the most interesting person on the planet. Seriously, next time he makes with a tale about some guy who lays out traps dressed in a full business suit - I'm all ears!
"Of course, it's a well established fact that the Midwest plays an important part in U.S. agriculture. This holds especially true considering Iowa is the leading state in the production of corn and is number two in soybean production. But you know which state is number one?"
"I have no idea," I sigh. I've found it's easier just to let him talk.
"Why, Illinois of course," he beams.
"Uh-huh. I'm real proud." That lanyard option is looking real good right about now. Which is why it's a relief to see the sign for Willison looming up out of the darkness. I can't stand much more of this. I step on the gas a little. What they gonna do? Arrest me?
"You were doing 50," the deputy sneers and once again, I'm thrown by how much she looks like Frannie. It was scary as hell seeing her saunter up to the car with that shotgun. Still, she don't scare me that much.
I suppose I kinda pissed her off by not pulling over until we'd actually reached the Sheriff's office. "I was doin' 45 and you know it," I sneer right back, bracing my arms on the table and leaning forward, right into her personal space. I can do belligerent. It's what I'm best at.
"Well, in actual fact, Ray..." Turnbull starts but I cut him off.
"It's a 40 zone," the Frannie-clone yells at me. "So you were speeding, and I'm giving you a ticket. I don't care who the hell you think you are." If I told her I was a cop once, I told her a hundred times but she's just not interested.
Just then Sheriff Wilson Welsh comes in to the office looking a little harried. He does a double take when he sees me going toe-to-toe with his deputy.
"Detective Leery? Good to see you again."
"It's Vecchio, Sir. 'Ace Leery' was just a cover name." No point in confusing him any further by explaining that Vecchio isn't my real name either.
"Right," Welsh still looks confused, more so when he turns to Turnbull. "And Constable...."
"Turnbull, Sir. I'm substituting for Constable Fraser for the duration of this mission." Turnbull pumps Welsh's hand until the Sheriff has to tug it away.
Welsh looks down at the ticket his deputy just wrote out and sighs. "Bernie, we don't ticket other cops, okay?"
"Yeah, well maybe that's how they do it in the 'big city', sir, but here in Willison, we stick to the rules..."
Fuck, this is what Frannie would be like if she actually did go to the academy. That is scary. That is really terrifying. I may have to change careers.
"How admirable!" Turnbull gushes. "And may I just say how lovely you look in that hat?"
Welsh rolls his eyes and motions me into his office, which turns out to be more of a stationery cupboard with a desk. "She's a little over zealous, detective, but a damned fine officer. So, can I get you coffee?"
"Nah, I'm good. How's the team doing?" I'm genuinely interested in the answer. They were good guys. Even the one that slapped me on the ass. And now that I come to think about it... he kinda looked like Turnbull...
"Well, fine. Consentino got scooped up by a scout for the Yankees, so Huck's lookin' for a new hitter. You interested?"
What, throw in my nice comfortable job of chasing violent perps through the rainy streets of Chicago to play semi professional baseball for a living? Actually, put like that...!
"Yeah, silly question huh?" he sighs. "Who, in their right mind, would leave the bright lights of Chicago for a backwater town like Willison?"
You know, this guy's problem is that no one tells him when he's doing a good job. Willison is a nice place. The crime rate is real low. And that's down to him and his ... what did he call her... zealot? Yeah, his zealot deputy.
"So tell me about Fernando?" I change the subject to matters of a more specific nature. I already know that I'm here to take the guy back to Chicago to stand trial. He turned over a bank back home and then went on the run, ending up here. But I'd like to know how they caught him. I mean, the guy is a nasty piece of work. He was armed with a sawn-off.
"Well, he walked into the coffee shop and ordered an espresso. Miriam Walters, she runs the coffee shop, told him they served it black, white or with a bit of foam on top but for anything more fancy, he'd have to drive on to the next big city. Of course he wasn't too pleased..."
"Naturally." Seems like everyone in this town was over-whatsit - zealotus - in one way or another.
"When he started yellin' she set her dog, MacGyver on him, and called me to come pick him up. I arrested him for disturbing the peace. Can you believe that?"
"That she called her dog MacGyver?" Sure, it's weird, but it's no weirder than calling your wolf Diefenbaker.
"No, not that." He shakes is head good-naturedly. "I had him in the cells when Bernie got the bulletin about him heading our way. So I called Harding right away. And you know what? He still hasn't had any coffee!"
After checking the prisoner to make sure they definitely got the right guy (they do), I make enquiries about a place to stay for the night. There's only one guesthouse in the town so that's it I guess.
I suppose I could have insisted on driving back down to Chicago tonight, but we wouldn't have gotten there until about 3 a.m. I'm too damned tired to face the drive so I follow Welsh into the foyer of 'The Hitching Post'. The proprietor lives in the eighteenth century or something. She dresses like a Quaker, and wears these tiny little round glasses perched on the end of her nose. They don't seem to help her sight any, cos she's squinting at me suspiciously.
"How long will you be staying mister..." she squints down at the register, "... Mister Veck-he-o?"
"Um, just the one night." Damn, she reminds me of my grandma. Right down to the thick Belfast accent.
"And will you be wanting breakfast in the morning?"
Behind her, Welsh is shaking his head frantically and waving his arms about. I don't think I can face a four hour drive with Turnbull and a bank robber on an empty stomach, so I nod. "Sure, that would be great. Thanks."
She smiles happily, slamming the register shut. "You're in room 5. It's the bridal suite."
If my eyes could open any wider, my eyeballs would fall out. Bridal suite? What the fuck!!!? She tosses me the key and disappears into the back office.
"Oh she calls all the rooms the bridal suite, detective. Don't you fret," Welsh grins as he heads out of the door. "I'll see you tomorrow morning after.... Um... breakfast."
What the hell is that supposed to mean? What does he know that I don't know? Why am I getting a really bad feeling about all this?
"Which side of the bed do you prefer, Ray?" Turnbull beams happily at me.
Well, I finally managed to get between the sheets with a Mountie. Just not the right Mountie! Imagine my surprise when I find out that the bridal suite really is a bridal suite, with one double bed in it. At first, I seriously consider sleeping on the floor, but my back ain't what it used to be and I have a longish drive ahead of me... so I tell Turnbull to sleep on the floor.
He looks so fucking crestfallen, but there's no way. Just... no. Not even before I knew he lusted after my boots. Besides, he sleeps with a husky. A stuffed husky. The man is not right.
After about an hour of listening to him toss and turn and moan, I relent and tell him to get in. Not before erecting a barricade of pillows right down the centre of the bed, mind you. I do not want to wake up in the morning to find the guy draped all over me. And then I lie staring at the ceiling for another couple of hours, listening to him snore. Sounds like a fucking leaf blower.
I finally drift off around 4 am only to wake up a couple of hours later to the sound of someone pounding on the door. "All right, all right, keep your shirt on," I bitch, throwing back the covers and staggering to the door.
The Quaker lady squints at me from the dark hallway. "This is your early morning alarm call," she announces, ringing a little silver bell right under my nose.
"But I didn't ask for..."
"Breakfast will be served in ten minutes." She starts to turn away.
"Hey, it's six in the morning!" I complain.
"Yes, sorry it's late. I couldn't find my teeth. Left them sitting in a glass of bicarb on the dresser it seems." And she wanders off muttering under her breath. Then behind me, I hear the sounds of my bed mate stirring.
"Good morning, Ray. Would you like to shower first, or should we share to conserve water?"
I'm in the fucking twilight zone.
"Um, what is this?" I prod at the bowl of grey gloop with my spoon. On the other side of the table, Turnbull is sprinkling salt on his bowl of gloop and grinning like a lunatic.
"Oh, it's Scots porridge oats, Ray. A hale and healthy breakfast full of protein, carbohydrates and fibre." And he begins enthusiastically shovelling the stuff into his mouth.
"How about some coffee?" I ask Quaker lady as she stirs her huge cauldron of porridge.
"Coffee? You'll get none of that here. I put a pot of water on to boil for a nice cup of tea."
"Bacon and eggs?" I'd settle for just the eggs if I have to. She shakes her head. "A Danish?"
Turnbull pushes his empty bowl towards her and grins. "Please, Ma'am, can I have some more?"
I was wrong. It's not the twilight zone. It's Oliver Fucking Twist.
Of course, as normal people don't get up at 6 AM to eat, we have some time to kill before we can go back to the Sheriff's office to pick up the prisoner. I could use a shower, but the lock on the bathroom door doesn't work and I don't trust Turnbull as far as I can throw him. I could go have a look at the ballpark for old time's sake. Maybe relive my past glory a little?
I've still got the videotape back home. Sometimes, when Fraser brings the wolf round for the evening, me and Dief watch it. Gotta love that wolf. He likes to watch that tape more than I do. Fraser - well he usually falls asleep after the first two showings, but that's okay. I like watching him sleep.
"Ray, do you like hats?"
"Huh?" I guess I must have a goofy look on my face. I usually do when I've been daydreaming about my partner.
"I was wondering what you think about hats. I think you would look amazing in a Stetson."
I blink at him stupidly. "Um..."
"Oh not like the Stetson we wear as part of our uniform," he suddenly looks all bashful. "I mean a real cowboy Stetson to go with your very lovely boots."
Back to the boots, huh? He mentions oil again and I'm kicking him in the head, I swear to God! This whole conversation is reeking of... what do you call it... youthisms. When he says 'hats' I hear 'gay sex'. Loud and fucking clear.
"Do you like John Wayne movies?" (what I actually hear is 'do you like to top or bottom?')
"Ah, sure. The Duke was, you know... yeah. Sure. True Grit. Great movie that." Flustered? Me? Forget about it!
"Ah yes, a classic. Do you ride?"
I choke a little on my nice cup of tea. "Pardon?" I'm not fucking you Turnbull so you can just get your head out of your jodhpurs!
"Horses. Do you ride?"
You know, being born in raised in Chicago to a Polish Immigrant factory worker and his Irish Immigrant wife didn't give me a lot of opportunities to rub shoulders with the horsey brigade. I shake my head. Closest I've been to a horse was playing the back end of one in the high school production of Cinderella. Hey, it was either that, or the fairy godmother, and I had my hard man rep to maintain.
"Well, it does take a great deal of... discipline."
Splutter! Oh yeah. I just bet it does.
"I'd love to see you ride bareback," he waggles his eyebrows and that's fucking it, I'm done-ski, I'm outta here. Mumbling something about a date with a bat, I stumble out the door, into the early morning mist. Even I can see a double whatsit... double entrée when it smacks me in the mouth.
God, I wish Fraser was here. He could hit on me all he liked and he'd get no resistance. 'Course the big problem here is that Fraser won't. Hit on me, I mean. Fraser won't hit on anyone, cos it's not in his nature. Which makes it kinda hard to figure out exactly what his nature is. Is he into guys or just chicks?
I mean, he's never really dated in all the time I've known him. Okay, there was that Janet what's-her-name, the bounty hunter chick, whose kids handcuffed me to a pipe. But that wasn't... I mean that was just cos they had the bear hunting thing in common and the... the scat, whatever the fuck that is. And I think he felt sorry for the brats. Big hearted, that's Fraser.
I often wondered about him and the Ice Queen though. There's something there, definitely. Or there was. I don't know shit about what happened before I came on the scene and he doesn't talk about personal stuff, but the evidence kinda points towards him only doing chicks. Which is why I've never bothered embarrassing myself.
I've driven all the way to the ballpark on the edge of town without even being aware of it. The mist's burned off now, and it's going to be a great day. I get out of the car and lean on the chain-link. Ah man, that was such a fun case. I wouldn't mind a few more like that. Of course, hitting that home run to win the game for the team was my crowning glory. I can still hear the crowd roar and see the fireworks going off. What a night! And Fraser had been so proud of me.
Almost jumped out of my skin there! I whirl round and what d'ya know, there's Fraser standing behind me. Fraser. Like I thought about him, and he appeared by magic. Uh-huh. I definitely need coffee.
"Frase. You're here. Wow. I mean... how?"
"Well, I drove, Ray."
It's not even 8 AM. He must have set off in the middle of the night. Why would he do that? And where did he get a car? And why am I grinning at him like a fucking idiot?
"You drove all night?" Like the song says...?
"Well not all night, Ray. I must admit, finding a hire car at three in the morning was a task in itself. Then I took a wrong turn somewhere, having accidentally positioned the map upside down on the dashboard. And of course then I had to listen to Dief complain for the rest of the journey about my map reading skills, but what with the low light and my unfamiliarity with the roads hereabouts, I fail to see how he could blame me. Yet despite all that..."
"Here you are." I'm still grinning.
"Yes, here I am." He smiles in the early morning light and it's the most beautiful sight I've ever seen.
I think I might be showing a bit too much of my feelings on my face so I resort to humour. "Thank God, cos you know, Turnbull? He's hitting on me. Wasn't sure I could keep him off much longer."
Fraser takes off his Stetson and scratches his eyebrow. "I was afraid of that. When I got back to the consulate and found his message... I was a tad concerned."
"Well, a lot concerned actually, if I'm entirely truthful."
He was concerned for my virtue? Wow. That's.... that's interesting. Suddenly I want to push him, I want to see how... concerned I can get him. "I had to share a bed with him," I tell him and watch his face go white.
"Oh Lord, did he...?"
"He was a perfect gentleman." The guy creeps me the hell out, but I don't want to get him fired, or excommunicated, or whatever they do to naughty Mounties.
We walk back towards the car and I feel the peace and tranquillity of this place seep through me. I love the city, I really do, but sometimes I can see what appeals to Fraser about solitude. Sometimes, I could use the silence to get my head straightened out. "Frase?"
"You like guys?" Don't know where the fuck that came from, but now that it's out there, I don't regret it. I need to know, one way or another. What's the worst that can happen?
"Indeed I do..."
Oh! Oh, okay. Great. Um...
"Although, obviously I don't like all guys. The killers of my father for example..."
I hold up my hand to stop him before he can really get started on that whole 'I first came to Chicago' thing again. And anyway, I can't tell if he's yanking my chain, or if he really did misunderstand the question. We stare at each other over the roof of the car.
"Do you. Find guys. Attractive. Question Mark." I enunciate clearly.
"Oh!" He bends his head down so I can't see his face. "Well now, that's a very leading question, Ray."
I lean on the roof, staring over at him. He places his hands on the car and looks carefully at them. I continue to stare. He glances up and looks quickly back down at his hands. I think he's trying to think of a way to let me down lightly. Shit!
"I remember a tale of an...."
"Please, no Inuit tales!" Just tell me straight, so to speak. I can take it. I can take it and move on from it. Eventually.
"All right. Well, once when I was about thirteen I had a friend called Mark. We used to play hockey together. I found him very attractive."
Oh! He did?
"But thirteen doesn't count does it? Cuz there's all those pubescent hormones and shit gumming up your head when you're thirteen." I get in the car and he follows. We strap in and I turn on the engine but don't drive away.
"Didn't you tell me that you fell in love with Stella when you were twelve?" he smiles softly.
I wish he'd stop with the smiling. I can't think straight when he does that. All white teeth and sparkling eyes... "Okay, good point. So. Mark, huh?"
"Yes, Mark. And there was Steve, and of course Ray Vecchio..."
"Whoa! Hold the phone! Vecchio?" The Mountie and Vecchio? Crap! Because, we both know that Vecchio is coming back some day. I don't stand a fucking chance do I? Not against the real McCoy.
"Certainly. He's a very attractive man. But Ray, none of these men found me in the slightest bit attractive in return."
They didn't? What, were they blind? Oh wait, no - not blind. Just straight. Trust Fraser to fall only for straight guys. That is so typical. I wonder how he sees me? Does he find me attractive? If he does, he ain't saying.
Guess it's up to me then. "Frase?"
I do it the Canadian way, just like Turnbull taught me. "Do you like hats?"
It turns out that Fraser does like hats.
More specifically, he likes Stetsons.
Even more specifically, he likes his Stetson on my head, especially when it's all I'm wearing except for my gun holster. He curls his fingers through the leather of holster and tugs me back, until I can feel his cock pressing against my ass. His fingers caress the leather, and I have to wonder if he wants me for my body or for my accessories.
I can understand the attraction though. All he's wearing is the Sam Brown and a grin. I can feel it brush against my back when he leans forward. The Belt, not the grin, although now that he's draped over my back, I can feel that too, pressed into the nape of my neck.
Later, he's promised to show me how to oil my leather, and you know what? I'm kinda looking forward to that.