B&R109: Dear Ben
by Dee Gilles
Disclaimer: For entertainment only
Benny & Ray 109
May had turned to June by the time Ben Fraser returned to Chicago from Yellowknife. It was 84 when he and Carie emerged from the terminal and onto the packed curbside of America's busiest airport. Ben clutched his daughter's hand, loaded down with his luggage and hers. The two of them had been waiting for an hour, Ben stubbornly hoping that Ray was only running late and would show. He called several times and had gotten no answer at home or on his cellular. He finally stepped forward to get in the queue for the cabs as the sun set, a cold weight settling in his stomach.
They waited their turn before finally being offered a ride. The driver got out and loaded their things in the trunk. He was short, fat and hairy, with a big friendly smile. He smelled like body odor and cigarettes. "Thank you kindly," Ben murmured, once the bags were loaded in and the trunk slammed shut.
"Where to?" the driver asked, after Ben had moved into the back seat, settling Carie on his lap.
"St. Donatus Street."
"Little Italy. Off of Taylor. Do you know it?"
"Oh right. Little Italy, sure. Sorry, I'm new."
"Really?" Ben said disinterestedly.
"I've only been driving a cab for two weeks. I'm from Greece, actually. An island called Skiathos. You ever heard of it? Most Americans never heard of it."
"I'm Canadian, actually. Well, I am an American. I mean, I have dual citizenship. But mostly, I'm Canadian. Or at least I thought I was before. Perhaps not."
"Have you ever been to Greece?"
"Can't say that I have, no." Ben said.
"Oh, you should go to Greece. Greek women are some of the most beautiful and gracious and passionate in the world. Do you know this?"
"Nope." Ben looked out the window.
"Oh, this is true! Ah, Greece! The food is so delicious, the land is so lush and ...
Ben tuned the man out. He stared out the window at the passing cars and scenery. Carie jostled him, getting his attention. She stared back at him with large brown eyes, thumb in mouth. Her ever-present pal Pooh was clutched in her arms. She offered him up.
Ben smiled. "You hold him."
Carie laid back in his arms, and watched the scenery pass with heavy lids. Her little body was making him too warm and he shifted her to ease his discomfort.
He sat mostly silent for the next fifteen minutes, occasionally murmuring an `oh really' or an `indeed' to the driver's comments.
His phone abruptly rang. He was happy for the interruption. Ben shifted himself and Carie again to grab the phone from his belt. Ray? He checked the number. Stanley. Ben was instantly disappointed.
"Hello?" he said.
"I'm on my way home from the airport."
"Oh. Well sorry to not even give you a minute, but I thought you'd want to know."
"What is it?" Ben said, immediately going into cop mode.
"The Domenico kids?"
"You're never going to believe this little co-inky-dink. I mean, what would be the odds of this? And it's kind of uh, what do they call it? Ironical? This whole thing."
Ben sighed. Stan Kowalski could beat around the bush like nobody's business. "What, Stanley?"
"Seems they were the unfortunate victims of a home invasion last night."
"Thieves took their watches, a little cash, the Xbox. Beat the bloody crap out of them, too."
Ben paused, digesting it all. His mind drew him to a natural conclusion, but he remained silent, not wanting to presume before he had all the facts. "Who has the case?"
"Elaine and the Mickster."
"Good. They'll get to the bottom of the matter, I'm sure. Perhaps I should come in tomorrow morning and lend them a hand."
"You're still officially on vacation until Monday morning, 8 a.m."
"Yes, but still."
"Don't worry about it, buddy. Don't get yourself all riled up. I just wanted you to know. I think it's kind of funny, actually."
"Stanley! You should not take pleasure in other people's suffering."
"Okay, whatever, Fraser. See you Monday mornin'. And don't show up here this weekend, else I gotta kick ya in the head. See ya." Stan disconnected the line.
"Papa?" Carie asked with unmistakable hope.
"No, that wasn't Papa; that was Stanley. Do you want to talk to Papa?" he asked. They were still quite a ways from home, still on the 90.
"Yep," Carie proclaimed.
Ben hit the speed dial, attempting to reach Ray once more. The connection was made, and the phone rang. Ben waited, butterflies in his stomach. Short pause as the phone rang a second time. Ben closed his eyes. The phone rang for the third time, and Ben knew that the machine would pick up yet again. Ray always got the phone on the second ring.
He hung up after listening to the sound of Ray's voice announcing to the caller that they'd reached the home of Ray, Carie, and Benny Vecchio. The message always made Ben smile a little. It was a Freudian slip on Ray's part, including him as a Vecchio, but Ben had asked him not to re-record the message.
He called Ray's cell phone. Again, three rings and voice mail.
"No Papa?" Carie asked.
"No Papa," Ben replied.
"So what are you, like her uncle or something?" the inquisitive cabbie asked, now that he had finished his diatribe on the virtues of all things Greek, from the architecture and literature to early advancement in math and science. He glanced back at him in the rearview mirror.
"No, I'm her father, too."
"Two fathers? Oh?" The cabbie merged to the 290. "Oh!" he said. This information quieted him for a while. "Oh, well," he said. "The ancient Greeks were not afraid of a little man-to-man love. It was held in high regard, actually, and said to be more superior to a love for a woman." The highway turned into West Congress. "So," the cabbie said, "Kudos to you!"
"Thanks," Ben said wanly.
He dropped them off at home a few minutes later, helping him carry his luggage through the front door. Ben made sure he included a generous tip in his fare.
The apartment was vacant when Ben keyed it open, to no surprise. Ray was not in, and Pearson was still at the house being cared for by Rosanna. Even though Ray had stayed home, he had opted to let Rosanna still keep Pearson; she loved the little Husky.
Ben shut the door behind him with a sigh of relief. It felt so good to be back here. It felt so good that he thought he'd never leave again. Ben had allowed Carie to run down the hallway of the apartment. Full of energy, she now sprinted around the apartment. "Pa-pa-pa!" she yelled. Her beloved Pooh had been dumped at the front door in favor of a reunion with Papa.
He took Carie's things to her room and dropped them in an untidy heap on the floor. He could hear the little girl running full speed, gleefully giggling. He took his bags to his and Ray's room. He dropped his things in front of his dresser, and crossed over to the bed. He plopped down with a loud groan of relief.
"Papa! Papa! Papa!" Carie yelled from afar.
Ben turned his head to the left. What he saw next caused him to sit up so quickly he hurt his neck.
Ray's gold ring lay on his nightstand. Underneath it was a small slip of paper, folded in half.
Ben scrabbled for it, fumbling the ring. It landed in the carpet with a thud. He clumsily picked it up, and clutched it in his palm.
With trepidation, he unfolded the note, andread it. Ben gasped, his eyes instantly tearing up.
His chest tightened and he suddenly felt that he couldn't breathe properly. He began to pant, sliding down to the floor. He tried to catch his breath.
Not believing Ray's scrawled words, he half-crawled, half stumbled to the closet and flung it open.
Ray's things were gone. Ben dropped to his ass, flat on the floor.
He couldn't breathe. He was choking. He couldn't get enough air.
Benton Fraser felt a hand on his shoulder. Startled, he whirled around. He stared up into the concerned eyes of his father.
Ben tried to speak, but he couldn't. He couldn't get past the lump in his throat. Ben took a deep breath. His father held up a hand, to quell his silent scream.
End B&R109: Dear Ben by Dee Gilles
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