Ray rolled his neck from side to side, wincing when the vertebrae snapped back into alignment. "Nah, just sit still and let me finish this up, then we can go get something to eat."
Not that there was a hope in hell of Fraser actually being able to sit still. Ray fed a report sheet into the typewriter, watching his friend and partner fidgeting restlessly. Fraser kept lifting the edge of his Stetson and peering at the piles of envelopes beneath it. Ray began typing, sure than any moment Fraser would…
"Ray, you seem to have rather a lot of unopened mail here."
With a theatrical sigh, Ray lifted the Stetson and poked the teetering pile with his index finger. "Actually my friend, I think you'll find that they're all for you."
Out of the corner of his eye, he watched the play of emotions on Fraser's face as he began flipping through the assorted and multicoloured envelopes, occasionally stopping to sniff one. Eventually Fraser blinked and turned confused eyes on Ray. "I don't understand."
"Fourteenth of February mean anything to you buddy?" Ray pointed at the calendar on the wall and began typing again to hide his grin. Half the females in the precinct had stopped by his desk this morning asking if Fraser would be in later and leaving a card for him. Ray had tried really really hard not to be insulted or upset. One card addressed to him would have been nice. But no, he didn't stand a chance next to the Mountie!
"Oh dear," Fraser muttered, flicking through the sweet smelling pile again. "I'm afraid I didn't think to buy cards for so many people…"
"Fraser, the idea is you buy a card for one person only. The person you want to spend the rest of your life with. Don't sweat it. It's nothing more than a popularity competition these days anyway."
"Ah, there's one here for you," Fraser exclaimed joyfully.
Ray hit the K instead of the J and cursed. "Lemme see?" he held out a hand and Fraser placed a lavender coloured envelope in his palm.
Ray examined the neat block capitals on the front, which simply said 'RAY', then raised it up to his face and gave it a suspicious sniff. It didn't smell of perfume but there was a familiar odour about it. He shook it a little, sniffed it again then handed it back to Fraser. "What's that smell?" he asked, watching Fraser examine the envelope.
"Neat's-foot oil," Fraser stated confidently handing it back to Ray.
"Neats… what the hell is neat's-foot oil?"
"It's used for the protection of leather. Rubbing in a little oil three or four times a year protects the leather from drying out and…"
"Leather huh?" Ray's face broke into a wide grin. "What do you know? I have a secret admirer who's into leather. Greatness! You gonna open yours?"
"Um, no. I'll … no, I won't bother right now." Fraser stuffed the envelopes into the pocket of his peacoat.
Ray shrugged and quickly ripped open his envelope. A dried leaf fell onto his desk and he picked it up. "Okay, that's… different. You'd expect a dried rose or something but a withered, old oak leaf is just weird."
Fraser cleared his throat. "Um, it's a maple leaf, Ray," he corrected softly.
Ray dropped the leaf onto the pile of paperwork and looked at the card. "Maple, Oak, Weeping Willow… it's still weird." The picture on the front of the card wasn't exactly what Ray would expect from a valentine card either. It was just a very nice picture of a snow-capped mountain. There was no verse inside; just the same neat block capital letters saying -
'Be mine - today, tomorrow, forever. All my love - B'
Ray scowled at the neat handwriting. "Okay, so this girl, this secret admirer of mine, she's a bit nuts I think. 'Course she'd have to be nuts to want to go out with me, I suppose but still…"
"Ray, you sell yourself short," Fraser chided.
Ray stuffed the card into his jacket pocket and got stiffly to his feet. "That's sweet Frase, but we both know I ain't no catch. Let me pay a visit to the can and then we can grab some lunch while I try to figure it out."
"I'll be right here waiting for you," Fraser said cheerfully.
A little later, they sat across from each other in a booth at the local diner. Ray shoved their empty plates aside and laid the card on the table between them. "Okay, so I'm a detective. I should be able to work this out. Let's look at the facts. She works at the precinct and she's into leather, She's a little nuts, probably Canadian and her name begins with a B. That narrows the field down a bit, huh?"
Across the table, Fraser frowned. "You're making a lot of assumptions here, Ray."
Ray snorted and got to his feet. "Well, sure I am but that's half the fun. I mean, maybe the maple leaf wasn't a clue to her identity at all. Maybe she was trying to tell me she'd like to drizzle maple syrup all over my…"
"Drizzle?" Fraser interrupted, "I wasn't aware you even know such words, Ray."
They walked back towards the precinct and Ray continued his musings. "Hey, I know lots of words. Not all of them cooking related. Okay, let's start with the name. How many women at the precinct have names beginning with B? There's Barbara in records…"
"Barbara is Scottish, Ray."
"Ah, that explains why I never understand a damned word she says. How about Beth from Violent Crimes?"
"Born in Wyoming, and married three months ago to Dennis from Traffic."
"Bonny Leonard? I doubt she would be interested in you, Ray."
Ray held open the door to the station and let Fraser step through. "Gee, thanks buddy!"
"Oh, I simply meant that Bonny has been seeing Mort's assistant for a couple of months now."
"Who, Barry? The guy who dresses like a vampire?"
"No, Felicity, the girl with the crew cut who wears combat fatigues."
Ray didn't have any answer to that except, "Oh."
Ray rounded the corner to the bullpen and froze in his tracks. His desk was covered in flowers. He stood there blinking for a moment while people walked around him smirking or making smutty comments. One jerky step followed by another took him to the desk. He picked up one of the bunches and read the card.
When crimson sky and flamy cloud
Bespeak the summer o'er,
And the dead valleys wear a shroud
Of snows that melt no more,
I'll build of ice thy winter home,
With glistening walls and glassy dome,
And spread with skins the floor.
The white wolf by thy couch shall play;
And, from the frozen skies,
The meteors of a mimic day
Shall flash upon thine eyes.
And I -- for such thy vow -- meanwhile
Shall hear thy voice and see thy smile,
Till that long midnight flies
"Whoa! What the hell does that mean?" he wondered aloud.
Fraser took the flowers and read the card too, smiling. "It's from a poem called Artic Lover by William Cullen Bryant although it seems to have been altered a little… for example, the original spoke of a white fox rather than a wolf."
Ray scratched his head. "Crimson sky? That means red right? I don't get it. What's so great about a red sky?"
Fraser sighed, dropping the card onto Ray's desk. "I believe it's symbolic. You're supposed to think of other things which are red, Ray. Stop signs for example…"
"My dress uniform…"
"Hearts!" Ray exclaimed triumphantly. "Love hearts are red! "
Fraser shook his head and flopped down into the seat at the side of Ray's desk. Ray carefully moved the flowers onto the floor and then blinked in surprise at what was revealed on the desk. He poked the yellow rubber ducky suspiciously.
"Frase, this woman is seriously touched in the head. Unless sending me a bath toy is her way of saying she wants to see me wet?"
Ray opened his desk drawer to put his gun away and noticed a wooden chess piece. It was a knight. He lifted it out and stared at the crude carving of a horse. This had been hand made. "The Thomas Crown Affair?" he wondered out loud. "She wants to blow me, Fraser!"
Across the desk, Fraser let out an exasperated sigh. "Really Ray, you must stop jumping to all these conclusions. There isn't enough evidence to support your wild theories."
Ray dropped his gun into the drawer and reached for the typewriter again, only to see that there was a small toy balanced on the keys. Picking it up, Ray saw that it was a tin soldier, painted to look like a redcoat, complete with bayonet and round red cheeks. "Okay that one, I have no explanation for," he laughed, placing the toy soldier beside the duck.
"Perhaps your secret admirer is in the military," Fraser snapped. He seemed to be getting pissier by the minute.
Ray leaned back in his chair. "Hey, no need to get all bent out of shape. You got way more cards than I did. Maybe you got a secret stalker too?"
Fraser looked startled. "You think you're being stalked by this person?"
Ray laughed, "Of course I'm being stalked. She's been in my desk drawers, she's obviously been watching my movements, knows when I'm here and when I'm not. It's kinda creepy to tell you the truth."
Fraser looked uncomfortable. "Ray, I…"
Before he could finish the sentence, the mail delivery boy appeared behind him. "Detective Vecchio, there's a guy dressed as a pirate at the front desk, says he's got a message for you."
Ray's eyebrows disappeared into his hairline and he threw a quick glance Fraser's way, but the damned Mountie was studiously examining his fingernails. "Right, Joe, thanks. I'll be right down."
When Joe had disappeared, Ray leaned forward. "Pirate, Fraser? Gonna tell me she's into dress-up sex now?"
Fraser's face was as red as his uniform. "Ray, I'm, sorry. I never imagined…"
Ray grabbed him by the arm and dragged him along behind. "If I gotta sit though a singing pirate-o-gram buddy, then so do you."
At the front desk, amidst the usual assortment of bikers, mimes and transvestites stood a tall guy in big boots with an eye patch and a floppy hat. One look at the cut-off denims and muscle shirt the guy was also wearing and Ray decided that it would be safer to remain behind the desk.
"Yo, Long John. I'm Vecchio."
The Pirate's grin was almost blinding. Talk about your daVinci Veneers! "Ooo cute!" he squealed, hitting the play button on his boom box and launching right into his dance number in a rapidly clearing circle in the middle of the crowded room. Ray winced when he recognised the tune as 'In the Navy' by Village People, at roughly the same time as he realised the guy was stripping! He was never ever gonna live this one down.
The pirate guy reached the end of his number to thunderous applause from the transvestites and raucous jeers from the bikers. The mimes remained understandably quiet.
Grabbing Fraser by the sleeve, Ray took the opportunity to slip quietly away. He dragged a very quiet Mountie into the men's washrooms and shoved him into one of the cubicles, closing the door behind them. "Okay Frase, let's see if I got this right…Clue one - Newt's-foot oil?"
"Neat's-foot. I use it on my Sam Brown and boots."
"Of course you do. The Maple leaf…"
"Is the National symbol of Canada."
"Uh-huh. And there you could have stopped my friend. Or do you think I'm really that dumb? I mean, talk about overkill? I got the message loud and clear."
Fraser's eyes widened. "You did? Then why…"
"…did I keep going? To mess with your head of course. And to see how long it would take for you to snap and just come right out with it!"
Fraser's eyes narrowed. "You understood the symbolism of the clues? all of them? Something red?"
"The Rubber ducky?"
"Well, we do seem to attract them, don't we?"
"The knight chess piece?"
"Ah! A double headed clue. It was supposed to remind me of the case we worked with the Russian Spies, but also, you chose the horse as a subtle reminder that you're a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. How am I doin'?"
"Frighteningly well. The toy solider?"
"The case where you posed as a corpse, though I had no idea you actually heard that comment I made."
"Of course I did, Ray. I wasn't actually dead was I?"
Ray narrowed his eyes. "You were showing me stuff that linked us both together, cases we worked, little moments in time that might have meant something. I really do get that. But the gay pirate strip-o-gram, Frase. That I don't get."
Fraser stood a little straighter. "I'm terribly sorry, Ray. I had no idea he would disrobe like that; although it would explain the extortionate amount of money it cost to hire him. I hoped that the pirate theme would remind you of our little adventure on board the Henry Allen."
Ray nodded slowly and smiled. "You're my secret admirer?"
"I am, yes. One of many, I'm sure."
"Don't bother tryin' to butter me up, Fraser. You're my stalker huh?"
"It was never my intention to…"
"The poem… you sayin' you want me to live with you in the Northwest territories? You wanna build me an igloo and make love to me on a bed of furs?" Ray lowered his voice and watched Fraser's face intently.
Fraser dropped his eyes to a point somewhere in the middle of Ray's chest and stuttered with embarrassment, "I um… I do, yes."
Ray leaned forward a little, placing one hand on the cubicle wall behind Fraser's head. "And as for seeing me wet…" he growled. "You've already seen me wet, Fraser. Remember, when you kissed me on that sinking ship?"
"Oh God!" Fraser moaned, closing his eyes tightly. "That wasn't… it was buddy breathing, Ray. Much though I wished… I mean…."
Ray used his other hand to lift Fraser's chin, forcing him to look up and into Ray's twinkling eyes. "Before you die of embarrassment, Fraser, I think it's only fair to tell you that at one of those cards addressed to you is actually from me."
Fraser gasped. "Really?"
"Yeah," Ray leaned in a little closer until their lips were almost touching. "Didn't spray it with aftershave, or stick a dead leaf in it though. I was a little more … direct in my approach. I just signed it."
"Fraser licked his lips and swayed a little closer.
"Oh, and for the record," Ray continued quietly "the whole igloo/furs scenario is really turning my crank."
The door to the men's washroom flew open and lieutenant Welsh stormed in. "Vecchio, get your ass outta there and get back to work. We got a riot going on downstairs between a biker gang and bunch of female impersonators, we got half the bull pen sneezing their heads off from all the flowers on your desk and I got a mime trying to find a secret exit outta my office through the glass. I need you out there. Understood?"
"Understood, sir," Ray yelled, and planted a quick kiss on Fraser's surprised lips. "You and me are gonna have the rest of this talk later over dinner. My treat. Oh and Fraser?"
Ray unlocked the cubicle and followed Welsh out into the corridor, throwing a look over his shoulder as he went. "Bring the Neat's-foot oil with you. We can see if protecting leather is all it's good for."
Fraser watched the door swing closed with wide eyes. He blinked a couple of times at the closed door.