by Kali Sandison
Disclaimer: Benton Fraser, Ray Vecchio and the other members of the 27th Precinct are property of Alliance. George Fraley
belongs to NBC. And Dr. Arthur Whitman was created by Dale Barnes. All other characters are mine. Words from
"Honesty" by Billy Joel are used without permission. No infringement of
any copyrights is intended. This story is written for the private enjoyment of Due South fans and not for monetary profit. Permission to use this story for profit is not given.
Author's Notes: A big, Big, BIG Thank You Kindly to my beta, Jean, for reminding me of how comma-deficient I am and for prodding me in ways that made this a *much* better story than what I handed to her originally.
This story is a sequel to: Courage, Innocence or Justice
Honesty is such a lonely word.
Everyone is so untrue.
Honesty is hardly ever heard,
And mostly what I need from you.
Benton Fraser stood at the corner of Erie Street and North Michigan Avenue wondering what he was doing there. Since he'd moved to Chicago two years ago, he'd spent many moments feeling like the proverbial stranger in a strange land. Now that feeling had only strengthened. He looked at his companion and self-appointed tour-guide for the day.
"When I asked if we could spend some time together, this isn't exactly what I had in mind."
Abbey Barnes had spent numerous hours studying the minds of several famous and infamous criminals. She'd even studied with John Douglas, the FBI's first criminal profiler. However, when she'd flown to Chicago to see her friends, she'd been somewhat surprised to find that the Mountie had taken a vacation day from work and asked her to spend it with him. It wasn't originally what she'd planned for her Friday, while Ray was working, but it could still be used to advantage, considering the wording of Fraser's request.
"But Ben, you said you wanted to learn more about Chicago," she began.
"Yes, but I thought you'd be showing me the cultural and historic sights that only a native to the city would know."
"Oh, I'm heartbroken," she said facetiously. "Did I not stand in Lt. Welsh's back yard yesterday and promise to show you some of the best of the Windy City?"
"Yes, but..." he equivocated.
"But nothing. You need to broaden your horizons and this is the place to do it."
"Here?" he asked, puzzled.
"Here," she announced. "Chicago's Gold Coast. The Magnificent Mile. The most concentrated display of conspicuous consumerism this side of Beverley Hills. And my favorite spot in the entire city of Chicago."
"Surely, you jest."
"Oh heck, no. It's fantastic. You've just got to look at it from the right perspective. Come on."
Abbey grabbed his hand and took off along the avenue as rapidly as her legs would carry her. She didn't stop until she reached the Chicago Water Tower.
"So you know what this is?" she asked and then didn't give him a chance to answer. "This is the only structure to survive the Great Chicago fire of 1871. When I was taking courses through the Community College of the Air Force, I wrote a history paper on the socioeconomic and political ramifications of the fire. I've always been intrigued by this place."
She led him to a nearby bench and they sat down.
"Why is that?" he asked, his brow furrowed in puzzlement.
"I don't know how much Ray has told you about my childhood, but I'm sure you can figure out from the neighborhood we grew up in, that my parents weren't what you'd call wealthy. Dad owned a small print shop and mom was a tailor who worked in the alterations department of Marshall Fields. She quit working when I was born and stayed home to raise us kids but she still sewed like a pro. She made a lot of our clothes when we were younger."
She paused for a moment to push her bangs out of her eyes before she continued with her memories. "However, despite our financial situation, every year we came downtown at Christmas to see how all the stores were decorated. The glitz and glitter really caught my eye. Then, when I was old enough to take the El by myself, I used to come down here and window shop. That's when I learned one very important lesson. 'When you can't afford any of it, you can afford to be particular about what you want.' It was then that I decided I prefer Cartier's jewelry to Tiffany's; and Nieman Marcus is a better department store than Saks Fifth Avenue. Though why anyone would spend a hundred bucks on a plastic purse just because it has a Gucci label is still beyond me."
"Well I agree with you about that. But I still have to question why we're here."
"Because this is also a marvelous place to people watch. I used to come down here and watch the crowds. I'd observe the people on the sidewalks and try to figure out what their stories were. Some people, I just had to make up stories about them."
"Sounds like you were into profiling long before you went to the FBI."
"Hmm, I guess I was. Dad always said you could learn a lot about people just by watching them, observing their habits and even mimicking their speech patterns."
They sat for a few moments, and watched the world go by before Abbey called an end to their reverie. "Besides, this will give you a chance to see me in one of my natural habitats, a shopping mall."
"You?" he asked, stunned. She had never seemed like an extravagant person. Ray had even said she was quite frugal.
"Yeah, I became a mall rat in Atlanta; partially because of my early training here in Chicago and partially because it was a good way to blow off steam after a rough day at work. If the weather wasn't conducive to being outdoors, I'd go to a mall and walk a few miles to release some stress."
"Interesting," he commented.
"Okay, why don't we go to Watertower Place? They've got a fantastic bookstore and a former colleague has just released a book that I'd like to read. Then I need to go to Marshall Fields and pick up a gift for a friend and it's not too far from the restaurant where we're meeting Ray."
Several hours later they wandered down State Street and found a small caf with outdoor tables. It reminded Abbey of the caf in Georgetown where she and a certain incredibly charismatic gentleman had met up the day that Ray and Ben had been kidnapped. Her face flushed at the memory. Ben, noticing the blush on her cheeks, quirked an eyebrow at her.
"What's bothering you?" he asked with concern.
Abbey saw no reason to lie to her friend. "Do you remember the day the Bolt brothers abducted you and Ray?" she asked, again not giving him a chance to answer. "Of course you do. Something like that would be hard to forget. Anyway, on that very day I was in a caf like this one near Georgetown University drinking cold spiced cider and eating chocolate chip cake."
"Abbey, what's really bothering you? Several times today you have asked me a question and then provided your own answer. And I fail to see the connection between the Bolt brothers' activities and you having a leisurely respite in a Georgetown caf."
"Oh, I don't know," she replied in frustration. "Maybe it's because I was in DC when I should have been here watching after you two."
He looked at her intently to emphasize his words. "I hardly think that Ray and I need a babysitter. We managed just fine."
"Yeah, you managed. So maybe it's because I wasn't alone that day," she admitted quietly, her head bowed as she stared at the table.
"Do you want to talk about it?" he finally asked.
"Whatever happened that day that seems to be bothering you."
"It's hard to put into words."
She was somewhat surprised that Ben didn't push her to open up. Instead he simply gazed at her with his blue-gray eyes and found that she couldn't resist pouring her heart out to him.
"When I visited the last time, I met a man on the plane. I didn't think much about it but I saw him again at the caf in DC. I'd just had another premonition about you, Ray and the poncho. I called Ray but he was perturbed about something else and I could tell I didn't have his complete attention. I had to go talk with Dr. Whitman, the troll who was training me, after that. All of this left me exasperated and short tempered."
Not sure where to go with the story from there, she stopped for a moment and twisted a napkin while she collected her thoughts.
"I went to the caf to try to lighten up a bit. Lou, the guy from the plane, was passing by and joined me. That night, I went to dinner with him and for a short time I actually forgot about the potential danger you two were facing."
"Ray and I are adults, trained law enforcement officers, just as you are. You don't need to feel responsible for us. When you had the first vision back in May, you told us about it. And when it happened again, you called Ray. What else could you have done?"
"I could have tried to contact you. Just because Ray was being a horse's ass, doesn't mean you wouldn't have listened to me. And if I'd gotten through to just one of you, then this whole mess could have been avoided. Instead, I was out having dinner with a mysterious stranger and you were being held hostage."
"You know, I think you're punishing yourself over nothing here. As Shakespeare said, 'All's well that ends well.' What's really bothering you?"
Abbey blushed deeply and squirmed in her chair. For several long minutes she couldn't meet his gaze. Then regret changed to anger, which flashed through her brown eyes as she raised her head. "Damn it, Ben, it wasn't supposed to happen this way."
"What wasn't supposed to happen?"
"My life. I was very happy the way it was going. I had a career I enjoyed; friends who were better to me than my own family. For the last ten years I've even been making payments on a little cottage on Lake Michigan. I'm buying it on contract from an older couple who are living out their retirement years in it. And I planned on doing the same thing."
"I'm afraid I'm not following you."
"Don't you see? I had it all planned out. Where I was going to work. Where I was going to retire. How I was going to spend the rest of my life."
"What's different now?"
"Lou. God, Fraser, I'm so damn conflicted about him that I can even think in a linear fashion. I've only had one date with him but somehow he affects me like no one else ever has. I find myself doodling his name on a legal pad when I'm supposed to be doing Dr. Whitman's white lab rat exercises. Every time the phone rings, I hope it's going to be him, yet I know it can't be since he doesn't even have my phone number. I feel like a love struck teenager again."
Abbey sighed and stirred her iced tea for a moment before she continued to speak.
"Of course, it goes without saying that I haven't mentioned any of this to Ray. He'd just go off the deep end if he knew I was interested in another man, especially if it was more than just my usual..." she cleared her throat delicately before proceeding, "physical interest."
"Deep end of what?" Fraser asked.
"You said Ray would go off the deep end. So I'm asking what deep end he'd go off of."
She stared at Ben for a few seconds and then laughed uproariously until tears welled up in her eyes and she had to wipe them away with a napkin.
"Thanks, Benny. I needed that laugh."
Fraser was even more confused now. He still didn't have an answer to his question and he had no idea why Abbey was laughing so hysterically. He shook his head and dismissed it.
"You know," she began, "laughter is truly good for the soul."
"I thought that confession was good for the soul and laughter was good medicine."
"Whatever. Anyway, the point I was trying to make was that the night you two were abducted, I was off having a good time with another man; a very inappropriate man who has me twisting in the wind over whether or not fate will ever intervene and throw us together again."
"What makes him so inappropriate?"
"Despite all evidence to the contrary, I'm certain he's mobbed up."
"You think he's affiliated with a crime syndicate?"
"Have you spoke to the FBI about this?" he asked.
"Oh, yes. The day you and Ray were in court with a bomb strapped to your chests, I was at FBI headquarters filling out the official paperwork. Nothing in the Organized Crime Division's database gives any concrete evidence of Lou having any mob connection but I can just feel it in my bones."
Ben, having lived so long among the Inuit, put far more faith in Abbey's feelings than in any computer database.
"And you want to see this man again?" he asked somewhat amazed.
"And again, and again, and again. He's under my skin like a bad rash. I can't get him out of my mind."
"Have you actually had a vision, either of his possible criminal activities or of the two of you together in the future?"
"Not really. Whenever I'm near him, it's like I start to have one but it won't form completely."
"Well, if you do see him again, you will be careful, won't you?"
"I'm not sure that I will. I just know that I want to... more than almost anything else," she sighed wistfully.
A comfortable silence fell over the pair. Abbey continued to drink her tea and think of Lou as Ben wondered what Ray's reaction would be when he found out that Abbey was interested in another man.
A loud beeping noise broke their reverie. Abbey realized it was her cell phone but had no idea who would be calling her. It was too early for Ray to be off work.
"Abbey Barnes," she announced, speaking into the phone.
"Abbey, it's George."
"Hey, George. I didn't expect to hear from you."
"So why'd you email me with your itinerary?"
"Uhh, because even though you're a former co-worker in Atlanta, I consider you to be the closest thing I've got to a blood relative. And I figured somebody should know how to get in touch with me in case of an emergency."
"Good thinking. I tried the Vecchio house but a very angry young woman said you were out. She wouldn't say where you'd gone or when you'd be back so I thought I'd try your cell phone."
'Oh dear,' Abbey thought to herself, 'Francesca's in a snit. I wonder what she considers worse; that I've gone shopping without her or that I'm out with Ben.'
"So George," she said aloud, "what's up?"
"Remember that photo you sent me, asking if I could match it up to something?"
"Yeah, I thought you'd forgotten about it."
"No, it's just that things have been really busy around here and I haven't had much time to do any extra-curricular hacking. But I finally came up with something."
Abbey could feel her heart beat faster with excitement. "Oh my God, George, that's great."
"Don't get too excited. It's not good news."
"How 'not good' is it?" she asked, her spirits sinking.
"Pretty bad. We made a match with a 24 year old in California. He died of an apparent drug overdose."
"Oh, no, it can't be. This guy's alive. I'm sure of it."
"I'm sorry, Abbey, but it's a positive match. I'm afraid your friend's brother is dead. I've emailed all the details to you but I thought you should get the bad news from a friend."
"Thanks, George. I appreciate your concern," she said before she severed the connection.
"Ben watched as Abbey's bright, smiling face crumbled into tears. Not knowing what the conversation was about, he could only sit and watch sympathetically, waiting to hear the bad news. When she finally ended the call, he leaned towards her and gently pulled her to him, letting her purge her sadness on his shoulder. Only when her sobs abated did he ask what was wrong.
She pulled away from him and took a long sip of tea before speaking.
"Has Ray ever talked to you about his brother?"
"He's mentioned him in passing. Why?"
"But he never told you about how Nick ran away from home on the day that we graduated from high school and never returned?"
"No, he never mentioned that."
"And he's probably never admitted that Nick was a poster child for juvenile delinquency."
"No, that was never mentioned either."
"Okay, I can see I've got a lot to tell you about. I'll try to make this short. Dominic Michael was the third-born child of the Vecchio family; between Maria and Francesca. I rarely saw him in the six years that Ray and I went to school together. By the time I met Ray, Nick already had quite a rap sheet. It seemed like he spent most of his life from age ten on in some sort of juvenile facility."
Abbey sighed before she went on. "I felt so sorry for Ray's parents. Nick really put them through so much; not that Ray was a saint, mind you. In some ways I think Nick was just trying to be like his big brother but he never seemed content just getting into mischief like Ray. He always had to take everything a step or two higher. And he never learned to cover his tracks the way Ray did."
"Hmm, yes, I know what you mean," Ben replied, thinking of his best friend.
"The day I came into town last May was the anniversary of both our high school graduation and of the last day that the Vecchios ever saw Nick. As you can imagine, Ray was in quite a funk. I still think that most of his bad mood that weekend can be attributed to the feelings of abandonment he was experiencing."
"I believe you may be correct. And it may be why, in some fashion, Ray and I have always felt a kinship that otherwise seems inexplicable."
"My thinking exactly," she agreed. "Anyway, when I got to DC, I sent an old photography to my friend George at the VCTF in Atlanta. I asked him to age it and run it through all the databases he could and let me know if he came up with anything."
"And that's who was on the phone just now?"
"Yes, he got a match. Nick died in California 10 years ago."
"Oh, dear," Fraser said softly, running a thumb across his eyebrow.
"You can say that again. Now I've got to tell the Vecchios that Nick is officially dead."
"I'm sure it will be difficult for you. If you want, I'll do whatever I can to help you."
"Thanks, Ben. I appreciate it."
They proceeded to the restaurant and waited pensively for Ray's arrival. When he finally showed up, Abbey hugged him tightly and didn't seem to want to let go.
"Hey, take it easy on the suit, okay?"
"Sure. Sorry, Ray."
"What's wrong with you two? You look like you've just lost your best friend. Is Dief okay?"
"Yes, he's fine Ray."
"Then why all the long faces?" he asked before Abbey captured his attention by heaving a long sigh.
"What's up short stuff?" he asked with concern. "Bad news from Atlanta?"
"Yes, as a matter of fact."
"One of your friends wasn't injured were they? Like Bailey or George?"
"No, I got a call from George just a little while ago. Everyone at the VCTF is fine. Grace is even pregnant," she assured him, adding the happy news of that she'd learned a week before.
"So what's the news?"
"Remember the photo I sent him in May? He was able to age it and make a positive ID."
"And?" he asked, a sinking feeling developing in the pit of his stomach.
"Nick is dead. He died in California in 1986."
"I'm not sure yet. George just gave me the bare bones on the phone. He's going to email me the whole file and then I'll know more."
"No!" he shouted. "A month and a half ago, you said my brother was alive in Chicago. Now you're saying he's dead in California?"
"I'm sorry, Ray," she said reaching for his hand. "I would have bet my soul he was still alive but George wouldn't have said anything if he hadn't been certain of the match."
Tears rolled down the detective's cheeks. He hadn't seen his brother in nearly twenty years and, even though they hadn't always gotten along, Ray felt as if a piece of his soul had been ripped away from him. Suddenly, eating was the last thing he wanted to do.
Fraser helped get Abbey get their friend to his car. They both knew he was too grief stricken to drive, though he loudly complained that he was fine. The two of them managed to get him into the passenger's seat, then Abbey got behind the wheel. Once he was in his precious Riviera, eh began to express his grief in full force. His howled protests would have gained him much sympathy from Diefenbaker.
Abbey wasn't sure where to go at first. She certainly didn't want to take him home just yet. Then she remembered that Ben had told her Diefenbaker was spending the day at the consulate in the air conditioning and decided that was a good place for them.
The wolf heard them come in the building and knew something was wrong. He ran to the top of the stairs to watch his friends. Ben and Abbey were practically carrying Ray up the steps. About the time that they reached the landing, Inspector Thatcher came out of her office.
"What's going on here?" she demanded. "Is this man drunk?"
Abbey let Ben take Ray to his office while chose to take the Inspector aside.
"May I have a private word with you, Inspector?" she asked deferentially.
"Perhaps. You are...?"
"Dr. Abigail Barnes. I'm a special agent with the FBI and a friend of Ray and Ben."
"Oh yes, you must be the visiting friend Constable Fraser spoke of. All right Dr. Barnes, we can speak in my office."
The two women settled themselves on the leather sofa that graced one corner of the room. Abbey wasn't sure where to begin.
"Inspector, Ray has received some devastating news tonight. He just learned that his younger brother is dead."
"I wasn't aware that the detective had a brother."
"Yes, Nick was rather incorrigible as a teenager and ran away from home in 1979. The family hasn't seen or heard from him since. I asked a friend of mine at the Bureau to see what information he could find and the news we received today wasn't good...not good at all. We just learned that he died in 1986."
"Needless to say, Ray isn't taking the news very well."
"I'd rather he not go home with this news just yet. I'd like their parish priest to be there when I give the news to the rest of the Vecchio family. Would you mind if we stayed in the constable's office for a short time, until I can contact Father Behan?"
Inspector Thatcher sat dumbfounded for a moment. Although she'd frequently expressed her personal disdain for the detective who virtually monopolized her junior officer's time, she could see how this kind of news would be devastating to someone who'd come from such a close knit family. And it was not the kind of shock she would ever wish for him to suffer.
"Of course, stay as long as you need to."
"Thank you, Inspector," Abbey replied sincerely as she extended her right hand.
"Meg," she said, accepting the gesture.
"Thank you, Meg. And please, call me Abbey."
Listening for a moment, they could not discern any sounds outside the room. Abbey had to assume that Ben had gotten his friend safely into his office.
"Meg, would you if I call Father Behan from here?"
"By all means. Just dial '9' to get an outside line."
"Thank you, but I wouldn't want to impose by making a personal call on the consulate phone. I'll just use my cell phone."
Abbey called the church first and then the rectory. She spoke with the housekeeper and found that the priest was having dinner with the head of the diocese but wasn't expected to be out late. She asked the woman to have the priest call her and left the number.
Exhausting a sight, she broke the connection and threw the phone back into her purse.
"Was Detective Vecchio particularly close to his brother?" Meg asked.
"You know, I'm not really sure. I didn't know Nick all that well when we were growing up. But I do know that the family felt that he was alive and just chose to stay away. And given their father's propensity for abusive behavior, I can't say I can blame him."
"Oh, I'm sorry. I never realized..."
"Most people didn't. To this day, I have no concrete proof that he ever beat the kids but I do know that he was a mean drunk. Thanks so much for letting us use the office as a buffer zone." Abbey stood up and headed towards the door.
"Please let me know if there's I can do," Meg requested.
The profiler gave her a tentative smile and a small nod of her head. Abbey walked slowly down the hall to Ben's office and found her friends inside. Ray was still pretty broken up. She took Ben aside to quietly tell him that she'd called St. Michael's and that she was now waiting for the priest to call her back. He nodded in understanding and then went back to comfort his friend.
The profiler followed Ben towards her long-time friend but the look on his face stopped. She'd never seen so much hatred in a single look, and that gaze was directed at her. She understood why Ray would be angry but never would have believe that he could blame her for Nick's death.
"Ray, I'm so very sorry."
"Sorry? You're sorry? You damn well better be sorry. My brother is dead, despite your hunch."
"Just shut up, Abbey. I don't wanna hear it. 'Sorry' ain't gonna cut it this time. You've jerked me around once too often and this time apologizing won't get you off the hook."
Abbey was spared any additional vitriol by the ringing of her cell phone. She pulled out the antennae and pushed the button to answer it.
"Abbey Barnes," she answered.
"This is Father Behan from St. Michael's. I had a message to call you."
"Oh yes, can you hang on for one moment please?"
She excused herself and went back to Inspector Thatcher's office to take the call. In a few minutes she explained the situation to the priest and asked if he could join them at the Vecchio house to tell the rest of the family. He agreed to meet her there in thirty minutes. Sighing deeply, she hung up the phone and stared at the floor.
"Is there anything I can do, Abbey?" Meg asked with concern.
"I'm sure there is, but I couldn't begin to tell you what," she responded, confusion tingeing her voice.
"Would it help if I spoke to the detective?"
"Couldn't hurt," she replied with a shrug of her shoulders.
The Inspector left Abbey in her office and went down the hall to offer her condolences. Once she was out of the room Abbey picked up her phone and called Father O'Reilly. Knowing what was about to happen, she decided that it might be better to spend the night at the Padre's. He agreed to come to the consulate and accompany her to the Vecchios, saying they could see what happened after that.
Meg knocked hesitantly on the door to Constable Fraser's office. Ray was slumped in a chair and Ben stared silently out the window. The detective tried to straighten up and not show his grief. Catching her reflection in the glass, Ben turned his attention to the door for a moment and watched as Meg walked to chair that Ray occupied. She placed a gentle, comforting hand on his shoulder just a moment before she started to speak.
"Detec..." she stopped and then began again. "Ray, I'm so very sorry to hear about your loss. I can only imagine how terrible it must be to lose your brother. If there's anything I can do for you or your family, please don't hesitate to ask."
Though both of them had commented that she seemed to have loosened up a bit after the incidents with the Bolt brothers, neither of them were completely prepared to see this softer side of Meg.
"Thank you, Inspector Thatcher. I can't think of anything but I appreciate it."
She turned to address Fraser. "If you'd like to take a few days bereavement leave to be with the Vecchios, just let me know."
"I don't think that this situation would be covered by bereavement leave, Sir."
"Don't worry about it, Fraser. I'll take care of the paperwork."
"Thank you, Inspector."
"Certainly. I'm going home now. But feel free to stay here as long as you need to."
She squeezed Ray's shoulder in a show of sympathy and support and was surprised that he placed his hand over hers and returned the gesture.
Abbey was in the hallway just outside Fraser's office when Meg came out.
"How is he?" she asked the Inspector.
"Well, he's no longer howling like Diefenbaker," Meg responded after a moment's thought
"I think that's a good sign," Abbey acknowledged.
"What did the priest have to say?"
"He's going to meet us at Ray's house."
"That's probably best."
"Yeah, now I just have to get him to let me take him home," Abbey half sighed.
"That shouldn't be too difficult."
"I don't know. Considering the venom he was spewing in my direction when Father Behan called, this may be a real project. But I called a friend of mine who's also a priest and he's on his way over here. Father O'Reilly is a former FBI agent so I'm hoping he'll be able to help."
"Why is the detective so angry with you? You didn't kill his brother."
"It's a long story. Meg," Abbey replied, shaking her head. "And Ray's not completely rational right now. He needs a scapegoat and he can't very well blame his brother, much as he'd like to. So I get dumped on."
"That's terrible," she insisted.
"Yeah, well, things will eventually get back to normal. They always do."
Abbey and Meg walked down the stairs to the foyer of the consulate. Meg left and Abbey waited for Walt to show up. Picking up an issue of MacLeans, she glanced through it while waiting for the priest. It seemed like an eternity before he arrived, but a quick glance at her watch showed that only a few minutes had passed.
Walking through the door, he saw her waiting and immediately gave her a hug.
"How are you, Abbey?"
"I'm hanging on by my fingernails," she responded, a hint of desperation in her voice.
"I know the feeling. What now?"
"Would you mind taking me over to Ray's house? I'll ask Fraser to drive Ray home."
"Would you like me to talk to Ray for a moment?"
"Sure, go ahead. And see if you can convince him that I didn't kill Nick."
The priest went up the stairs and left Abbey to ruminate. How could she have been so wrong about Nick? Six weeks ago, she would have bet everything she owned on him still being alive. And yet, now she was told that he'd been dead for ten years. Something didn't add up. She knew that George wouldn't have called her if he hadn't been certain of the news himself. She wanted desperately to get to a computer and check her e-mail to see exactly what George had sent her. Her training with Dr. Whitman had not only sharpened her empathic skills, but they'd also given her more faith in her hunches. Now she was left wondering how she could have possibly been wrong.
The sound of footsteps on the staircase broke her reverie. She looked up to see Walt coming down.
"Are you ready to go?" he asked.
"Yes. How's Ray?"
"He's trying to hold it together. He and his friend will be down in a few minutes. I told him that Father Behan was going to meet us at the house."
"He didn't object."
"Hmm, I could have hoped for a better response."
"And you could have gotten a worse one."
When they arrived at the Vecchios' house, Abbey noticed Father Behan's car was parked in front of the home. Just moments later she saw the Riviera pull into the driveway. When Ray, Ben and Dief got out of the Riviera, she glanced at the padre and mumbled what sounded like a prayer for strength. When she made a quick sign of the Cross, Walt knew that's what she'd done and asked for the same thing. As they crossed the street, she saw Father Behan leave his car and walk directly to Ray.
Abbey watched as Ray and his parish priest embraced and spoke softly for a few minutes. Quietly, she opened the car door and stepped out onto the grass. She continued to watch the scene before her unfold as Father Behan stopped and greeted Ben as well. She'd forgotten that the Mountie had once mentioned his occasional involvement with St. Michael's. It explained the fact that he also embraced Father Behan when Abbey knew that he was usually reticent about physical contact with others.
The sound of the car doors shutting shifted the men's attention across the street. The two priests knew each other well even though their churches were in very different neighborhoods. Walt waited for Abbey to come around the car and meet him before crossing the street. He slipped an arm around her shoulders for comfort and strength. Once they joined up with the others, all six walked quietly into the house.
Mrs. Vecchio was stunned to see her son and his friends come in with two priests.
"Raymondo, what's wrong?" she asked, standing up quickly. "Why do you bring priests with you?"
"It's been a long night, Ma. Where's Maria and Frannie?" he asked wearily.
"Tony and Maria are upstairs putting the children to bed and Francesca just went into the kitchen." She turned and looked at all the people who had just come into her home.
"I'll go get your sister and brother-in-law," Abbey offered, ignoring the glare he sent in her direction.
"Ray," Frannie asked cautiously as she returned to the living room with a cup of hot chocolate, "what's going on here?" Though she was never unhappy to see Fraser, she knew something had to be really wrong since there were two priests standing in the room.
"Take a seat, Frannie," her brother instructed.
"Why?" she asked even as she complied. "Frase? Ma? Would someone please tell me what's happening?" Panic was creeping into her voice.
"We're waiting for Maria and Tony," Fraser advised.
"How come?" she asked again. "Is something wrong with Ray?"
"No, Frannie. I'm fine."
He was spared any further questioning by the arrival of his sister and brother-in-law who came quickly down the stairs. When they were seated, Mrs. Vecchio asked their priest again what was wrong. Her voice just edged on panic and she clutched and released the arms of the rocking chair where she sat.
"I think Ms. Barnes ought to be the one to tell you."
'Thank you very little, Father,' Abbey thought, taking a deep breath.
"When I was here in May, Ray and I were talking about Nick..."
There was a collective gasp from Ray's family. Abbey could feel the detectives eyes boring holes at her but she didn't know if it was because he didn't approve of her being the one to tell the family or if he just didn't like the way she was doing it.
"Ray told me how you folks hadn't heard from him since our graduation day. It was bothering him a lot so I offered to have a friend of mine do a search for him."
"Oh, my God, you found Nick?" Maria burst out.
"In a manner of speaking."
"What do you mean?" Ma demanded.
"Mrs. V, I'm afraid Nick is dead. He died ten years ago in California."
Abbey held her breath waiting for the inevitable weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth. She didn't have to wait long.
"Dead? My little Dominic is dead?"
"I'm afraid so, Ma," Ray responded.
As the Vecchio family dissolved into their grief, Abbey slowly disappeared into the kitchen. The emotional backlash was more than she could bear, even with her advanced training. She leaned up against the cabinets and let the tears flow down her cheeks. The sound of footsteps on the linoleum floor made her look up and wipe her eyes. She expected to see Walt, or even Fraser, but didn't expect to see Ray.
She swallowed nervously, waiting for another outburst. Several long moments of silence passed between them. His eyes were blank and he stared in her direction as if she weren't even there. Not even bothering to acknowledge her presence, he turned and went to the refrigerator and retrieved a carton of orange juice. He silently poured himself a glass and then left the room without saying a word to her.
She could accept his anger. His rage, though hurtful, was something she could deal with but his silent accusation was more than she could bear. His stare had burned holes right through her and it pushed her beyond her breaking point. She sat down on the floor and vented her grief.
It was Mrs. Vecchio who found Abbey in a sobbing heap on the floor. She had come in to make coffee and found the agent.
"Abbey, what's wrong?"
'What's wrong? She's asking me what's wrong?' Abbey thought as she tried to calm down enough to answer.
"Cara, talk to me. What has you so upset?"
"You're kidding, right?" she asked.
"Of course not. Tell me why I find you crying on my kitchen floor."
She knew Mrs. Vecchio wouldn't believe her tears were for Nick. She had barely known him. But she couldn't bring herself to tell the woman what was really bothering her.
"I'm not really sure that I can describe it, Mrs. V. It's like I'm able to feel everyone's pain just as intently as they are. And with so many people in the room in pain, it's multiplied. I thought I was able to control it, but this just hurts too much."
"Oh Abbey, you shouldn't be so sad. I think that on some level we all suspected that Nick might be dead."
'Yeah, everybody but me and Ray,' she thought.
Ray's mother watched as Abbey sat dejectedly on the floor. For many years she'd considered her just another daughter. Though she never told anyone, she suspected that Ray had romantic feelings for his long-time friend and she would not have been displeased if Abbey returned those feelings. However, deep in her heart, she believed that their friendship and their willingness to go all out for each other's best interests, was what would keep them together regardless of whether or not a romance blossomed between them.
She'd heard Ray tell Benton what Abbey had sacrificed so that he and Irene could be together, not just in high school but also just a few months ago. And she knew that was the kind of person Abbey was; a kind and generous friend.
Abbey quickly considered her options. She thought about baring her soul to this woman who had been like a mother to her but just couldn't bring herself to admit that Ray's bad mood was due to anything other than the sudden news of Nick's death. "Mrs. V, I appreciate the hospitality you've shown me. You know that, don't you?"
"Of course, I do."
"Then please don't be upset when I tell you this. I'm going to spend tonight at Father O'Reilly's. You've got a lot to deal with and you don't need me underfoot," she said softly.
"Abbey, you'll do no such thing. You're family."
"Ma, remember all the times when Ray and I were working on some school project and you told me to just stay for supper? And all the times I just showed up on your doorstep because things were getting too intense at home? You were the one who went with me to pick out a dress for the senior prom after Mom and Dad died. The Vecchio family has been there for me more times than I can count. For once, I want to return the favor, to be there for you. But I can't do that in the state I'm in. I had a really rough week before I came out here and, mentally, I'm just exhausted. For my own mental health, if I'm going to be of any use to you and your family tomorrow, I absolutely have to get away tonight."
"Abbey, are you sure about this?"
"I've never been so sure of anything in my life."
"I hate to see you go to the trouble of leaving just for one night."
"I know, Ma. And I've already talked to Father O'Reilly about this. He understands."
"You're sure you'll be back first thing in the morning?"
"I swear on my parents' graves."
"Okay, dear. I'll have Ray get your bag."
"Oh, no need. I can get it. Thanks, Ma," she said as she gave the woman a hug and a quick kiss on the cheek.
She slid surreptitiously through the crowd that had assembled in the living room and climbed the stairs without being noticed. Once she was in Francesca's room, she grabbed her bag and went back down to the kitchen, unnoticed. She stashed the overnight bag under the kitchen table and went to find Father O'Reilly.
The blonde priest was speaking intently with Ben. She caught his eye and he nodded at her. Finishing his conversation with the Mountie, he sought out Mrs. Vecchio and once again offered his condolences, promising he'd be happy to assist the family in any way he could. Then he followed Abbey into the kitchen.
"Are you sure you don't want to say good-bye to anyone?" he asked.
"No, I've already told Ma I was bunking out with you tonight."
"What about Ray?"
"What about him?"
"Abbey," he said, an implicit warning in his voice.
"Look, you know how he feels about me right now. I just think it's better if I let him have tonight to calm down. We can start again tomorrow morning. Besides, by then I'll have checked my e-mail and I'll have more information. Hopefully, I'll be able to make more sense of this than I can now."
"Okay, let's go."
She retrieved her bag from where she had stowed it and the two of them left quietly through the back door. All the way back to the rectory, her mind spun around one thought: How could she have believed that Nick was alive when he'd been dead for so long? What had been happening in Chicago that weekend that tickled her intuition in such a fashion? She wondered if the feeling she'd had in May had been real or just a way to get Ray off the subject. She shook the doubts out of her head. She had honestly believed what she had said. But now she wished she'd kept quiet.
When they arrived at the rectory, Abbey asked to use Walt's computer. He booted up the machine and logged on to his Internet service. Stepping away, he motioned for Abbey to sit at the desk.
"I'm heading up to bed. Don't stay up all night working on this. You need your rest."
"Thanks, Padre. I won't."
Her fingers flew over the keyboard as she opened her e-mail account. She saw that there were several messages in her mailbox but zeroed in on the one from George. Opening it up, she found all the material he had gathered. She looked at the first photograph he had age-processed and used. Then she laughed at his note that it didn't come up with anything. This rendition was almost a cross between Ray and his dad. And her memory of Nick was that he more closely resembled his mother. She checked the second picture and found it to be more believable. She was rather surprised to see that in this one, George had not assumed that Nick would lose his hair like the other men in the family. In fact, not only did the man in this picture have a full head of hair, it was also rather long and shaggy. This was the picture that he'd matched up with the corpse.
Next she checked the photo of the dead Nick. Yes, it was a close match. Tears welled in her eyes as she thought of the life that this man must have led. Though Nick had been mischievous, she'd never sensed in him any desire to do real harm to anyone, especially not himself. Yet the countenance of this man showed years of hard living. His face was weathered in a way that one only gets by spending playing fast and loose with life. He'd probably thought himself immortal. Yet now, he was very dead.
Wiping her eyes, she looked at the death certificate. He'd died of a heroin overdose. The coroner's report didn't mention needle tracks in any of the usual places so she could only assume that he'd probably been doing other drugs and died the first time he used the stuff. 'What a waste,' she thought. But it only reinforced her suspicion that he'd thought he was invincible. The coroner's report also showed liver damage, probably due to years of alcohol abuse. Abbey wasn't surprised.
Though no one had conclusively proved that there was gene for alcoholism, she knew that Mr. Vecchio had been a hard drinker and it wasn't too far of a stretch to believe that his sons could have developed the same predilection. She knew Ray avoided booze virtually all the time because of his memories of his father's drunken behavior.
Glancing one more time at the report before she moved on, something caught her eye, something out of kilter. The name on the report wasn't Dominic Vecchio. She wondered if she had just dropped a bombshell on Ray and his family for no good reason. Lastly she looked at George's report. He'd noticed the discrepancy as well. But he'd run the corpse's fingerprints and come up with a match for Nick's. Something at the back of Abbey's neck prickled violently and there wasn't enough information here to calm her down. Checking her watch, she grabbed her cell phone and risked a late call to George to find out more.
"George Fraley," he answered.
"Hey, it's Abbey."
"Hi, I can't say I'm entirely surprised to hear from you. Have you checked your e-mail yet?"
"Yes, and I see a problem."
"The death certificate says the stiff's name is Nick Michaels. George, are you sure you've got the right guy here?"
"Sure. Didn't you read my note? A friend of his ID'd the body. But the friend didn't know of any family. The county sheriff did a cursory check and found no living relatives."
"And they just left it at that? How come they didn't check the fingerprints like you did?"
"They did, but they only checked California records. Nick Michaels didn't have a rap sheet so they went with what they knew. Now, knowing that your friend grew up in Chicago, I searched nationwide and had to break into the juvenile records as well, in order to find him."
"So I'm still confused. How come you're certain this is Ray's brother?"
"I checked the dental records. One strange thing about this guy is that he had nearly perfect teeth. You don't find that in many junkies or addicts. But when I checked with the dental records at the Illinois Boys School, I found that oral hygiene was one of the few things this guy excelled in."
"So you're sure this is Ray's brother."
"Well, as sure as anyone can be at this point. Abbey, the kid ran away from home when he was 16. Once he got away from his family, he changed his name and went on to build a new life. It's not unheard of, you know."
"Yeah, if you're in the witness protection program. But hell, there had to be records."
"Not when we were growing up. When did you get your social security card?"
"When I was five years old, same as my brothers and sisters. We had to have it in order to open the parentally mandated savings account at the bank."
"Well, I didn't get mine until I was 16 and working my first after school job."
"Hmm, okay I see your point. And Nick probably didn't have his driver's license yet either," she said almost as if she were thinking out loud.
"Trust me Abbey, at that age and considering the time that he disappeared, it wouldn't have been all that difficult. Hey, how do you think parents who kidnap their children do it? There's a network out there and if you can tap into it, you can do amazing things."
"Okay, thanks, George. I feel a little better. So how are things going in Atlanta?" she asked, changing the subject.
"So what's new?" she asked rhetorically. "By the way, I don't think I've thanked you."
"For this? Yeah you did. When I talked to you this afternoon."
"No, I meant for telling John that I like chamomile tea. I wouldn't have made it through that awful day at headquarters if it hadn't been for that cup of tea."
"Glad I could help. You might want to consider a cup tonight."
"I'm not sure that the padre's got any but I'll check into it."
"Well, try to get some rest, Abbey. You need it."
"Oh, from your mouth to God's ear."
She severed the connection and stared once again at the picture. So this was what had happened to Nick. He probably thought he was escaping his father's physical abuse but it appeared that the psychological damage had already been done. And lacking any outside force, he'd begun to abuse himself. Tears trickled down her cheeks and blurred her vision. Shutting down the computer, she grabbed her bag and made her way upstairs to the guest room.
Throwing off her clothes, she pulled on a nightshirt and fell into bed. She continued to weep although she wasn't entirely sure why. She knew her tears couldn't be for Nick, since she really hadn't known him that well. And the truth was that the rest of the Vecchio family seemed to be taking the news rather well once the initial shock had abated. Only Ray knew of her belief that Nick had still been alive and it was Ray who hated her for it. Though she had told Inspector Thatcher that everything would eventually return to normal for them, she really didn't believe it. She knew what was waiting for her when she returned to DC and she knew it would not mend the rift between the two of them. She cried well into the night, for the intimate past that they had shared and for the future that never could be.
Although she'd never considered herself a morning person, Abbey rarely ever slept through the summons of an alarm clock. But today, she it took every ounce of effort she could muster to drag her body from the bed and stumble downstairs for breakfast. Even the smell of waffles that emanated from the kitchen, couldn't break through her haze.
"Hey sleepy-head, how late did you stay up last night?" Walt asked.
"I was on the computer for about an hour before I went to bed."
"So did you learn anything?"
She sighed and propped her left elbow on the table so she could cradle her chin in her hand. "Not much. Near as I can tell, Nick left here to start a new life. Unfortunately, he was still carrying some emotional baggage with him and he lived fast and hard. Cause of death was a heroin overdose. From all appearances, it was probably the first time he'd done smack. Probably moved up from cocaine."
The priest winced. In both his current and his previous job he had seen the pattern all too frequently. "So what are you going to tell the Vecchios?"
"No more than I absolutely have to. I'll say that he had a seizure, fell and hit his head, which are the bare bones medical facts. I'm not going to mention the drugs and booze unless someone pins me to the wall and asks me directly. I mean it's no secret that their dad drank heavily so it wouldn't be much of a stretch to figure that Nick picked up that addiction as well. I guess I'm just being a coward."
She looked Walt straight in the eye hoping he wouldn't press the issue or delve into the reason for her cowardice. She didn't want to admit that there were other issues at play in her life.
"Are you anticipating that someone will pin you to the wall?"
"I don't know. I'm sure Ray will realize that I'm not telling the whole truth but I don't think he'll push the issue. Hell, I'm not sure he'll even be speaking to me today."
On their way to the rectory the previous night, Abbey had told the priest of the rift that developed between the two of them. The story hadn't surprised him since this wasn't his first experience with the volatile detective. He remembered the past two times that they'd met.
"Hard to say. I don't know him well, but I do remember what he was like after Detective Gardino was killed. He's got the tenacity of a Pit Bull."
"And the bite," she agreed.
Though she had no real appetite, she ate two waffles and drank a glass of orange juice. She took her dishes into the kitchen and saw Lea-Ann, the housekeeper. Abbey stopped to thank her for the breakfast but explained that she just didn't feel like eating.
"I understand, Abbey," she said. "Father O'Reilly told me that you'd lost someone close to you. I'm sorry to hear it and I'll keep you in my prayers."
"Hey, Abbey, you'd better get moving," Walt prompted, taking his dishes to the sink. "I promised Mrs. Vecchio that I'd have you back over there first thing this morning."
'What I wouldn't give to have you break that promise,' she thought as she walked back upstairs.
As she had feared, Ray still wasn't speaking to her. She tried to ignore the gulf that kept them apart by making sure that she was always talking with someone else in the family. Maria's children had been told of the news, but since they'd never known their Uncle Nick, they weren't quite as affected. They seemed more interested in the pictures Abbey had brought that showed how George had found their missing relative than in hearing the family talk about him. Tony Jr. was especially interested in the computer programs George had used and she wished she could have taken him to the bureau's Chicago office and given him a tour. Granted, it wasn't as high tech as the environment that she had once occupied in Atlanta, but it would have been more than impressive for someone of his age.
Shortly before noon, the unexpected ring of the doorbell had everyone looking toward the porch. Abbey and Ben both went to open it and were surprised to see who was standing there.
Their exclamations were nearly simultaneous.
The Inspector, holding a large rectangular casserole dish, stepped in as soon as the door was opened.
"I hope I'm not intruding or stepping on any toes," she said. "I'm not sure what's customary in Chicago but when I was growing up in Toronto, friends and neighbors always brought food to the family in situations like these."
"Oh my, Meg, that looks wonderful. I'm practically drooling just from looking at it."
"I have more out in my car if someone will help me carry it in."
Abbey took the dish from Meg and handed it to Ben. "Here, why don't you take this in to the kitchen and I'll help your boss with the rest of it."
It was only a few steps from the porch to the street where Meg's car was parked. Inside the spacious trunk there was enough food, in Abbey's opinion, to feed a small army.
"Oh my word!" Abbey exclaimed.
"Oh, dear. Is something wrong?"
"No, Meg. This is unbelievable. You must have been very busy last night or this morning to get all this together. I'm sure Ma will be very grateful."
"Well, I realize that the detective and I aren't exactly what you'd call 'close friends' and I really don't know the rest of the family but Constable Fraser speaks very highly of them and since they seem to have made his life in Chicago more bearable, I felt like it was the least I could do."
"Well, this is just incredible. And don't worry about stepping on any toes. When my parents were killed, we ate for a week on all the food that was brought in."
The two women carried bags and boxes to the porch where Ben had recruited Tony to help shuttle things to the kitchen. When everything was finally in, Mrs. Vecchio was completely overwhelmed.
"This is so very nice of you, Inspector. I can't thank you enough for thinking of us."
"It's my pleasure, Mrs. Vecchio."
"You will stay and eat with us, won't you?" Mrs. Vecchio insisted.
"Oh, no, I really don't wish to intrude."
Meg's eyes grew large and she felt trapped. In the nine months since she'd come to Chicago, she hadn't made a lot of friends. She knew that some people considered her to be reserved when actually she was just shy. She'd learned to maintain professional relationships, however, she wasn't very good when it came to personal ones.
Abbey turned pleading eyes on Meg. She desperately felt the need for an ally. "Please, Meg. You went to all this trouble. You should at least share a few bites. And it is customary," she added with a wink.
"Well, all right. I suppose I can stay for a little while."
Abbey squeezed Meg's hand in a silent gesture of thanks. The Inspector was momentarily startled, as she wasn't used to such familiarity from someone she'd only just met.
Everyone began moving at once to help get things ready for lunch. Francesca added a leaf to the dining room table to make room for the extra people who would be sharing a meal with them. Maria had her hands busy getting her children ready to eat. Tony and Ben set up the food and Ma tried to supervise everyone. It appeared to be something just short of organized chaos in Meg's eyes.
Soon they were seated and eating. The RCMP Inspector was amazed at the multiple conversations that flowed around the table and how people jumped from one conversation into another. It was all so different from the home she grew up on. She knew that part of it stemmed from her being an only child. But she'd had friends with siblings and couldn't remember anything like this ever going on at their dinner tables. The decibel level alone made her thankful for the first time in her life that she'd been an only child.
Abbey had taken the precaution of excusing herself for a few minutes before they ate to prepare herself for the emotional onslaught that she knew she'd be subjected to. She was able to flawlessly recall the exercise Dr. Whitman had developed where she relaxed and visualized a rheostat attached to her emotional responses. Once that image was firmly planted in her brain, she began to consciously turn it down until she felt she could face any highly charged emotional situation and not be overwhelmed by it. So now she sat at the table and made small talk, mostly with Meg, and felt serene and calm throughout the meal. The only thing that bothered her was Ray.
He seemed to be doing okay when conversing with anyone else. But his anger towards Abbey was not hidden. He refused to speak to her and wouldn't even acknowledge her simple request to pass the salt. His rudeness was apparent to everyone but only his mother took him to task for his bad manners. She gave him a look that would have frozen water and quelled rudeness even in virtual strangers.
When the meal was finally over, Abbey and Meg offered to do dish detail but Ma wouldn't hear of it. "Guests," she said, "don't do housework."
"Since when am I a 'guest'?" Abbey protested. "Besides, I've done dishes here before."
"Yeah, and Ma threw a fit that night too, if you'll remember," Francesca added.
The daughters washed the dishes but drafted Maria's children into helping them clear the table. Tony, Ben and Ray went into the front room and turned on the TV. The Cubs were playing and the guys were soon engrossed in the game. Abbey looked at Meg and nodded in the direction of the back yard.
"How do you feel about coffee?" Abbey asked once they'd gotten outside.
Meg was startled. "I drink coffee," she admitted.
"Well, there's a place a few blocks over that serves a killer latte. Wanna join me?"
Cathy's Cup was a new business that had filled a spot vacated by a porn shop. The owner had also grown up in the neighborhood. She was petite and outgoing, calling of her regular customers by their first name and the occasional drop-ins by some sort of endearment. Abbey had discovered the bakery and coffee shop on her last visit to Chicago.
"Nora," Abbey called out as they walked in the door, "You home? I've brought you a potential convert."
"Abbey!" the shop owner cried, racing out of the kitchen to greet them. "How are ya? I didn't know you were back in town. Who's your friend?" Her questions were nearly lost as she took Abbey by the hand and pulled her into an enormous hug.
"This is Meg Thatcher. Meg, this is Nora Spitznogle. We went to grade school together. She also knows the Vecchios."
"Nice to meet you Meg," Nora greeted. "What can I get you girls?"
The pair placed their order and took a seat at a small glass topped table. This Saturday afternoon found the establishment empty of customers except for the two of them. Nora arrived at the table a few moments later bearing their iced coffees and plates of a yellow confection.
"What's this?" Meg asked. "I don't remember ordering dessert."
"You didn't," Nora responded. "It's a new recipe I'm developing. I was hoping you'd try it out and let me know what you think. You know, be my focus group?"
Abbey took a bite of the cake and rolled her eyes. "It's heavenly. I love poppy seed cake."
Meg took a small taste and also moaned her appreciation.
"You really like it?"
"It's wonderful. But I don't dare eat any more of this. It will go straight to my hips," Meg claimed.
"Ah, then you might be interested to know that it's non-fat and virtually no sugar."
"No. I'm trying to come up with healthier recipes for my customers."
"Nora," Abbey proclaimed, "I think you've got a winner here."
"I agree," Meg added.
"Good. Well, I'll check back on you two later. But if you need anything, just give a shout."
The two women sat in silence for a moment eating and drinking and relaxing. Abbey began to let some of the stress of the trip wash itself away. She hadn't realized until that moment just how tense she had become sitting in the Vecchio house. She rubbed her temples and the back of her neck.
"Bad day?" Meg asked.
"In some ways, not as bad as I had expected. In some ways, worse."
"Ray seems to be taking the news quite hard," Meg observed.
"You can say that again," Abbey responded rolling her eyes in sarcasm.
"I don't mean to pry but what's his problem? Everyone else seems to have taken the news in stride but even I could see the animosity he's directed at you."
"I think it's just a case of 'kill the messenger'."
"You think so? This seems far more intense."
"When I told him that I'd have George try to find his brother, I believe I gave him false hope that there would be a positive outcome," Abbey explained. "And now we find out that not only is Nick dead, but he's been that way for quite some time."
"That's terrible. He can't blame you for his brother's death."
"I think he is."
"Well, that's ludicrous. Is there someone who can talk to him and perhaps intervene on your behalf?"
"I agree that it's ludicrous but I'm not holding my breath waiting for him to come to his senses. In fact, I was thinking of going back home tonight instead of tomorrow night if I can get a flight out."
"Why? Don't you think that it's better if you stay here?"
For a brief moment Abbey considered confiding in Meg and telling her the whole story. She desperately wanted someone to talk to and this seemed like the perfect opportunity. She even began to open her mouth but then censored herself. She shook her head in answer to the question and ate a bite of cake to keep her mouth occupied.
Meg silently sipped her drink and watched Abbey over the rim of her glass. She could tell that the woman was conflicted about something but didn't know enough about the situation to even begin to guess what was causing the distress. She sensed that Abbey had started to answer her question and then stopped herself for some unknown reason. She considered pushing the subject but wasn't sure how to do it without sounding rude. Her contemplations were broken by Nora's appearance.
"Can I get you guys anything else?"
Abbey was ready to leave and looked at Meg questioningly. The Inspector shook her head and Abbey declined any further service from Nora.
"Okay, then. Have a good afternoon. And tell the Vecchios not to be a stranger. Fran's been in once since you were here in May but I haven't seen hide nor hair of the rest of the family."
Abbey thought for a moment before she answered. "Well, they just got some bad new so I'm not sure how social they're gonna feel for a while."
"They just found out that Nick died."
"Nick? Oh, yeah, the younger brother. He's dead? What happened?"
"We don't have all the details just yet."
"Oh, sweet Mary, Mother of Jesus. Hang on. Don't move a step," Nora commanded as she ran to the back of the shop.
"Here," she said, returning a few moments later with a large bag. "I packed up some stuff to snack on for them. You know how Frannie gets when she's upset. Tell Mrs. V that I'll be over tomorrow after mass."
Abbey took the bag from the baker and gave her a hug. "Thanks, Nora. I'm sure she'll appreciate it."
"Good to meet you Meg," Nora said. "Come back and visit anytime."
"I will," Meg replied with a conviction that surprised her. While she was impressed with the quality of the food and coffee, Nora's open and accepting manner impressed her even more. The shop proprietor treated everyone who came in like a friend. Meg had seen this kind of behavior before but in Nora it seemed natural and genuine, so much difference than the forced obsequious service she'd received at her usual coffee shop.
Back at the house, things hadn't changed. The Vecchio family remained in a state somewhere between grief and numbness. Despite Nick's history as a juvenile delinquent, everyone was able to tell happy stories about him and some of the more innocuous pranks that he'd pulled in his lifetime. Meg sat with Fraser and listened to Maria tell about Nick teaching Frannie to ride a two-wheeler.
Abbey discretely slipped out into the back yard and call the airlines regarding her flight. She found that she could get a flight back home later that night and for a moment considered the possibilities. Though the rest of the Vecchio family seemed fine around her, Ray was still in a snit. She'd tried earlier in the morning to talk to him but he had refused to speak to her. Heaving a sigh, Abbey told the reservation agent to make the change.
She slipped quietly back into the house and found little Tony sitting in the kitchen drinking a glass of milk and eating one of Nora's cookies.
"Hey, Tony," she said in greeting.
"Hey, short stuff." It was Ray's name for her that Tony used but she didn't mind.
"So what have I missed?"
"I dunno," he replied glumly.
"What's the matter?"
"I guess I just don't understand. I mean, Uncle Nick's been gone a long time. And from what Mom says, he wasn't a very nice person when he was around. So why is everybody so sad now just because he's dead?"
Abbey thought for a moment. "That's a good question and a hard one to answer. I didn't know your uncle all that well. But I'd be hard pressed to say he wasn't a nice person. What I remember of him is that he was very charming. He just hung out with the wrong people and made a lot of bad choices. It caused him some problems later on. Do you understand the difference?"
"Yeah. I guess it's like the time that Uncle Ray was tryin' to help Fraser but he wouldn't follow the rules so he got suspended."
"That's right. He broke the rules, which is a bad thing. But he was being a friend which is what a good person does."
"Abbey, how come Uncle Ray's so mad at you?"
"What do you mean?"
"Well, I heard him arguing with Fraser last night. I couldn't exactly hear them but I thought I heard him say something about you lying to him. And today, he won't talk to you and he's grumpy whenever anybody says your name."
"Oh Tony, it's a long story. But when I was here in May, while you were on your field trip, your uncle misunderstood something I said about Nick. And now that we know Nick's dead... well, Ray's not taking it very well."
"Yeah, but I've never seen him this angry with you. Not even when you didn't come up for Christmas last year."
"Oh don't worry. Ray and I have been friends an awfully long time. Sooner or later, he'll understand and things will be back to normal."
"You're welcome. Hey, I've got a favor to ask. May I use your computer for a little while?"
"Sure. You know where it is."
"Thanks, Tony. I won't take long."
Abbey walked up the stairs unnoticed by anyone but Diefenbaker. Fraser's furry companion had noticed the extreme tension between her and the Donut Cop. Looking around to see if anyone was paying attention to him, he followed her to Tony's room and whined softly at the door.
She had just turned on the computer when she heard Dief's voice.
"Hey, fella, come on in."
While waiting for the word processing program to pop up she scratched the wolf behind his ears.
"Okay, I'll get back to you in a couple of minutes," she told him when the computer showed a blank page on the monitor.
Composing the note took far longer than she had originally anticipated. She would type several lines and then delete them, knowing that she had either said too much or just hadn't expressed herself well. She had been dreading this moment for a few weeks. Finally she had the right words ready to commit to paper and pressed the print button. When the letter emerged from the printer, she deleted the file, shut everything down and sat on the floor with her back against the bed.
Diefenbaker gladly welcomed her presence on the floor. He knew that most humans preferred furniture but the Mountie had instructed him that he must remain on the floor unless they were at home. Humans on the floor, however, meant that they were willing to bring themselves to his level. This always made him feel superior.
"Gee, Dief, we haven't had much time together this trip, have we? And unfortunately we aren't going to have much more. This is it for me. I'm leaving tonight."
"Yeah, I know I wasn't supposed to go back home until tomorrow but I've changed my plans. Ray's in a snit and I just can't take his hostility anymore. Besides, I've got other things on my mind that I'm not supposed to talk about."
"Well, I suppose it wouldn't hurt to tell you. But you've got to promise not to tell Ben. I mean it. Swear on a stack of jelly filled bismarks."
The wolf raised his right front paw and barked at her.
"Okay, here's the deal. This is gonna be my last visit to Chicago for a long time. When I get back home, I'm going to go undercover with an organized crime family. But nobody can know. I realize that's strange because I'm sure my friends would never rat me out. After all, they're cops too so they know how important it is. But those are the rules."
"Yes, I agree that the rules suck. But I knew that when I took the job."
"I'm not exactly sure where I'll be living just yet. I haven't gotten all the details. I only know that the people I'm going to work with have to believe that I hate all cops and prefer to work as a vigilante."
Dief licked her face in loving support of the decision that she had made. The enormity of her decision to go back to active police work in an undercover capacity suddenly overwhelmed her. Silent tears fell from her eyes to wet the wolf's fur as she buried her face into his neck. She knew that this was the worst possible time to have to leave Ray and yet, it seemed that fate had worked in her favor. She recalled the conversation she'd had with Edward Hoover.
She'd gone to the Bureau's DC office for her interview after having dinner with Lou Scagnetti. She hadn't expected to meet with the assistant director of the Organized Crime Division, but there she was. The official interview was rather perfunctory and merely repeated some of the facts she'd written on the official report. It was the news that came afterwards that startled her.
"So, I suppose you're wondering why I'm conducting your interview," he'd said.
"It had crossed my mind."
"I wanted to be the one to give you the news."
"News?" she asked cautiously.
"Yes, and it's good news at that. You're not going to have to endure Dr. Whitman's presence much longer." He brandished a file folder and explained. "This is the paperwork that gets you back here right after the holiday."
"I'm actually going to be doing real law enforcement work again?"
"Effective July 7th, you'll be reporting to me. We have an assignment we want you to work on."
"I'd have liked to have had you here when you first came back. But I was told it was imperative that you be evaluated by OSIR first."
"What's the assignment?"
"Several years ago, a drug cartel known as the Iguana family moved in to Florida from Columbia to further their drug trade business. However, once they got here, a few of the members of the family found that gambling interests were, well, interesting. They've managed to infiltrate various aspects of the gaming industry across the country. Casinos in Atlantic City and Las Vegas, Off-Track-Betting in Florida, Kentucky and Illinois, and they've got bookies in just about every state of the union."
"And this affects me how?" Abbey was completely at a loss now.
"The head of the family's east coast operations is a guy named Tom Morales. He's worked his way up through the ranks rather quickly, all things considered. And we understand that with him now in charge, the family has expanded their interests to arms smuggling as well."
"Well, it certainly helps any business to be diversified," she added wryly. "But what can I do to help?"
"They've expanded not only quickly but also broadly. We have been trying to get someone inside the family for a long time but, until now, haven't been able to find a good cover. The plan is to put you in there."
"Why me?" she asked, having no idea what special qualifications she had. "Why not a more experienced agent?"
Edward examined the agent in front of him for a moment. She was certainly living up to her reputation as someone who shot straight from the hip. "Because you've got..." he paused for a moment, "extraordinary mental powers according to the OSIR."
Abbey eyed him skeptically. "And this makes me the best person for the job?"
"That and your attitude. Tom's a different kind of guy."
"How is he different?"
"For one thing, he's a raving feminist. You don't find too many of them in organized crime circles. And he respects people with backbone, the kind that don't let themselves be bullied. Everything in your file says you're not only a stand-up kind of guy, so to speak, but that you're also perceptive enough to be able to read him like a book. We think you can get us the information that we want."
Abbey wasn't at all sure of this but she had already cast her lot when she agreed to return to the FBI. "When do I start?"
"As I said, you'll report here on July 7th. I'll send you some material on the Iguana family in general and on Morales in specific tomorrow. I expect you to be up to speed on it the next time I see you. I'm not sure exactly when we'll be able to get you inside and I want you to be ready to go at a moment's notice."
"Okay, I'll be here on the seventh."
She rose to leave the office.
"Oh, Abbey, I'm sure you already realize this but I'll feel better if I tell you. No one can know what you're about to do. You're going to have to cut yourself off from all your law enforcement contacts. And you'll have to ditch the boyfriend."
"Boyfriend? I had one dinner with Lou. I hardly think that qualifies him for 'boyfriend' status."
"I'm not talking about him. I was referring to Detective Vecchio."
Abbey head swam in confusion. They'd been friends for years. How does one break up with a friend? "Uh, sir, I'm not sure that's going to be possible. I mean, Ray isn't the type to just let me disappear."
"Find a way, Agent Barnes. The Iguana family certainly won't warm up to you if you've got cops for friends. And they will check."
Dief's cold, wet nose on her cheek brought her back to the here and now. It seemed that fate had presented her with an opportunity that she had to take advantage of. She wondered if the Bureau had discovered her quest to find Nick and had made the information available in order to start the rift between her and Ray. She instantly dismissed the notion. George was an excellent covert hacker. That's what had brought him to the VCTF originally. It was doubtful anyone would know about his extra curricular activities. And who would have known that the news of Nick's death wouldn't bring her and Ray closer?
Abbey put the note she had composed on Ray's pillow and trudged down the stairs. Ma was in the kitchen preparing supper.
"Bad news, Ma," Abbey proclaimed. "I got a call from the Bureau and I'm needed in DC right away. I'm going to have to cut my trip short and head back tonight."
"Oh, darling, are you sure you can't stay?"
"I'm afraid not. Duty calls."
"Oh, dear, and I was hoping you and Ray would have worked things out before you had to go home."
"I know, Ma. But I've done all I can and he's not responding. He just needs some time."
"All right dear, but how will you get to the airport?"
"I'll take her," Meg offered.
Both women turned, stunned to find that someone else had joined them in the kitchen.
"Oh, Meg, thanks, but that's not necessary. I can call a cab."
"No, really, I'd like to. And I need to be going anyway. I've stayed far longer than I had really planned."
Mrs. Vecchio was distraught that she was losing two guests at the same time but finally took it in stride. Abbey ran upstairs and grabbed her overnight bag and brought it back down. She hugged Mrs. V and then walked to the living room. She cleared her throat nervously at the lie she was about to tell and then announced that she was going to be going home. Maria and Frannie both smothered her in hugs and well wishes, as did all of Maria's children. Ben gave her a somewhat restrained hug but wished her a safe trip. Finally, she found herself facing Ray. She fought hard against the anxiety that coursed through her and fidgeted with the strap on her bag.
"Headin' out, short stuff?" he asked casually. He'd gotten a look of rebuke from his mother for his earlier display of bad manners. He knew that if he were rude again, she'd verbally take him to task.
"Well, have a safe trip," he responded though his heart wasn't into it.
It was the first time in over a year that she had left Ray's presence without any kind of contact between them. They didn't hug. They didn't kiss. They didn't even shake hands. Abbey wanted to tell him about the note she'd left but couldn't do it. She just left and figured that he'd find it sooner or later.
Meg drove Abbey to the airport for her return flight. They were mostly quiet; Abbey was considering what she was about to jump in to and Meg was wondering how the agent's abrupt departure would affect Detective Vecchio and Constable Fraser.
"Meg, have you ever worked undercover?" Abbey asked abruptly.
"Me? Good heavens, no. I always wanted to but there aren't many opportunities for such work for women in the RCMP. Why?"
"Oh, just curious. I haven't either. I just wondered what it was like."
"I suspect it's lonely. You'd be living a lie and have no one to confide in. I'm sure that the paranoia factor would be pretty intense as well."
"Yeah, I suppose so."
"Is the FBI sending you undercover?" she asked perceptively.
"I have no idea what they have in store for me," she lied. "I suppose it's possible since I've been assigned to the Organized Crime Division. But I can't imagine that they'd need someone with my skills as an undercover agent."
"Well, if their upper level management is anything like the RCMP's..." her voice trailed off. "I mean, who knows what those people think?"
"Ah, yes, isn't it nice to know that no matter where you go, the bureaucracy is all the same?"
Both women chuckled knowingly. Abbey would have liked to spend more time with Meg but the drive to the airport was a short one and she knew that the woman had other things to do.
"Meg, I really want to thank you for all that you've done for me and the Vecchios this weekend. You've been wonderful. I really appreciate it."
The Inspector was unused to such compliments and tried to brush it off.
"No, really, I mean it."
"Thank you, Abbey."
Both women got out of the car when they arrived at the departure area. Meg surprised Abbey by ignoring her extended right hand and gave her a warm hug.
"Take care of yourself. And have a safe trip."
"I will," she said as she grabbed her bag.
Abbey went to the ticket counter to see what arrangements had to be made since she was leaving town a day early. The ticket agent had the changes made swiftly and soon she was sitting in the jet that would take her home.
That night as Ben unfurled his bedroll on the floor of Ray's room, he still pondered what was actually going on with Abbey and his best friend. He knew that there was more to Ray's anger than just the disappointment of finding out that his brother was dead. He, too, had noticed that Abbey had avoided Ray and that she seemed nervous in his presence. He had initially chalked it up to her heightened empathic awareness but now wasn't so sure. He wondered if she would share the source of her agitation with him but every time he sought her out for a private conversation, she was busy talking to someone else and avoided his gaze as well. He couldn't fathom that there was anything so wrong that she felt she had to keep it from both of them. Perhaps she was just afraid that if she confided in him, he would carry the tale back to Ray. He hoped she didn't think he was that duplicitous but he couldn't come up with any other answer.
When Ray entered the room, the first thing he saw was Diefenbaker. The wolf was sitting on the far side of the bed, his chin resting on the mattress. His brown lupine eyes gazed longingly at Ray in a silent request to be allowed on the bed. Next Ray took in the sight of his best friend stretched out on the floor. Ben was on his left side, his head propped up on his hand. Finally, he took note of the folded piece of paper with his name scrawled on it that rested on the pillow. He picked it up and read it, aware that two sets of eyes watched him.
I hardly know where to begin. When God brought you back into my life last year, I felt greatly blessed. Though I've managed to make friends wherever I've gone, you've known me longer than anyone else. You and your family were an important part of my life in Chicago. Every time I was back in the Windy City while working for the FBI, I thought about coming to look for you. But I could never bring myself to do it. I was very conscious of my hasty departure in 1979. After walking out on everyone I'd ever known here, I wasn't sure I'd be welcomed back.
And now, seventeen years later, I find myself once again beating a hasty retreat. I wish I could tell you when I'll return to Chicago but I can't. I have no clue what the FBI has in store for me when I get back. I've only met with my new boss once but this summons to return to DC doesn't bode well.
This time, however, I refuse to leave without saying good-bye to you properly. I know I can't do it verbally because you've made it crystal clear that you don't want to talk to me. I wish I could convince you of how certain I was that Nick was alive when I was here in May. If I hadn't been sure, I never would have said anything to you. I certainly didn't tell you just to give you false hope and I hope you know me better than that.
I love you, Ray. You're truly my oldest and dearest friend. You saved my life and for that I will always be grateful. I've said before that it's a debt I can never repay. I hope that one day soon, you'll realize just how much you mean to me and how much I value our friendship. I leave you with this adaptation of a poem that I learned many years ago, not long before we met.
I love you my friend,
You're quite dear to me.
A true friend you are
And always will be.
But I'm leaving you now
And going my own way.
I hope that we'll meet
In the future some day.
I leave you with memories
Of good times we've had,
To treasure forever
And make you feel glad.
I wish you good luck
In all that you do.
May all of life's pleasures
Come your way to.
Good-bye now my friend
And please may you find,
Some kind thought of me
Always in your mind.
P.S. George will be contacting you Monday with the location of Nick's grave and other pertinent information.
The detective folded the piece of paper again and stood silently.
Ben watched Ray's face while he read the letter. He was certain from the way the detective had reacted that he knew who had written it but asked anyway hoping it would get his friend to open up. "Abbey?" he asked.
"Yeah," he sighed in response, handing the note to his friend.
The Mountie scanned it quickly and then read it again, trying to determine what she hadn't said. To him, it appeared to be a final farewell, one that would be shared if you thought you'd never return. But he couldn't believe that Abbey would be so fatalistic. He'd always found her to be up beat, optimistic and possessing a never-say-die attitude. Yet, here she seemed resigned to the fact that Ray would never again be a part of her life. He knew that she claimed not to be Ray's 'forever' girl, but she had never even hinted that she would give up their friendship. He looked at his friend and saw exhaustion and sorrow etched in the man's face.
Ray blinked several times, trying to keep the tears at bay. He even squeezed his eyes shut tightly for several minutes in a vain attempt to hide the overwhelming sadness that he felt. Finally, he sat down on the edge of the bed and gave vent to his sorrow.
Ben sat beside him, unsure of what to do. The last time he'd seen Ray so distraught was when Irene Zuko had been killed. At least then, however, he seemed willing to talk. Now his friend simply sat and let the tears try to silently wash away his pain.
"Ray?" he asked quietly.
"Do you want to talk?"
"About anything. Nick, Abbey, your childhood."
"There's nothin' to tell that you haven't already seen or heard."
"You're afraid she's not coming back, aren't you?"
"Why? Aren't you?"
"I think that from what she said in her note, it's a possibility."
"You're probably right."
"And you're willing to accept that?" Fraser asked amazed.
Ray sat and silently thought about that for a moment. He considered lying but knew that Ben would see right through any fabrication. He was almost as good as Abbey when it came to that. The only difference was that he was not as confrontational as she was.
"I don't know. I mean, why shouldn't I be? I got along great for 16 years while she was gone. Why should it be any different now?"
Ben knew that not all of those 16 years had been sunshine and roses for his friend. Ray had seen a great deal of personal and professional heartache. His marriage to Angie had failed. His career had stalled on more than one occasion. His social life since his divorce had not been what most would deem active. From what Fraser had heard from Ray's family and fellow police officers, things only started looking up after the Mountie arrived in town.
"But she's your friend."
Ray responded with a blank look. He knew he couldn't explain it to Ben. The truth was that it didn't even make sense to him right now. All he had to go on was his gut and it was telling him that Abbey had fled in fear. Since she was obviously in no mortal danger, he could only guess that she was afraid of some piece of knowledge that she had and didn't want to share with him. He looked at Fraser and wondered if the two of them had actually gone shopping on Friday. He knew that they were attracted to each other. Perhaps this could be the problem; that they'd spent the day in bed instead of in Marshall Fields. She also seemed to be avoiding Fraser as well. Maybe they'd done it and then she'd had second thoughts. But whatever it was, he knew she was keeping something from him. And knowing her as well as he did, he could only surmise that it was something she had deemed to be completely devastating. Anything less would not have made her avoid him.
"Well, I thought she was. Now, I'm not so sure. But she's up to something. That's the one thing I am sure of."
"Where do you get that idea?"
"Did you see how she acted today? She avoided me like the plague and she was nervous as a cat. There's something else going on that she's not talkin' about."
"Did you try asking her?"
"And have her jerk me around some more? Are you nuts? I don't need that kind of frustration."
"But Ray, it would seem to me that if the two of you would just sit down and talk this out..."
"Look Benny," he said, "you don't know her like I do. When she doesn't want you to know something, she just clams up. And if you try to get the truth out of her, she'll lie like a rug. I saw her do it all through high school, especially after her parents were murdered."
"But this is different. I'm sure that in this case, she'd be nothing short of honest with you."
"Fraser, you may think you know Abbey. You may think that your Mountie training and years among the Inuit give you some special insight. But they don't."
"Perhaps she was just avoiding you because of the way you yelled at her last night."
"I didn't yell," he protested loudly.
"You most certainly did. And now you're yelling at me," Ben responded in exasperation.
"Okay then, if she's upset because I yelled at her, why was she also avoiding you?"
"What do you mean, Ray?"
"You know damn good and well what I mean. I saw you try to talk to her three different times today and she avoided you, too. Twice she was busy with Inspector Thatcher and once she was talking to Tony. Why won't she talk to you, Benny?"
"Well, I don't know."
"Something happen between you two yesterday that she doesn't want me to find out about?" he speculated.
"Now that's just silly, Ray."
"Is it? I know how you feel about each other."
"Ray, nothing happened."
"Like nothing happened with you and Frannie?"
"Abbey and I didn't do anything that I wouldn't feel comfortable telling your mother about. We went shopping. That's all. And frankly, I'm hurt that you would believe differently."
"Well, it's the only reason I could think of that would have her dodging both of us."
"I'm sure she's just reacting to all the sadness and hostility that she feels. If I were in her shoes, I'd want to remain detached as well."
Ray chose not to comment on his friend's speculation. In fact, he really didn't want to continue the conversation at all.
"Forget about it, Fraser. There's no use cryin' over spilled milk."
"Are you sure?"
"Yeah. Just go to bed, okay?"
"As you wish, Ray."
The Italian detective didn't sleep well that night and it was apparent to anyone who saw the dark circles under his eyes the next morning. Friday night he'd lain awake in grief over the death of his brother. But Saturday night brought thoughts of a friend whom he loved as much as a sibling and now was probably gone for good as well. He considered phoning Abbey on Sunday and trying to see what was really going on with her. He hoped that over the last year they'd become close enough that he could persuade her to open up to him and tell him the truth. He was not even afraid to use extortion to get her to talk to him. She was the one that frequently mentioned she owed her life to him. This was the way that he'd ask her to repay the debt, by being honest with him.
Though he was physically exhausted, his spirit felt better. He ate breakfast with the rest of the family but chose not to go to early Mass with them. Instead, he took Benny home. The Mountie had expressed an interest in attending the service but didn't want to go while wearing his unwashed jeans. While Fraser was changing clothes, Ray wandered aimlessly around the apartment. On the kitchen table he saw a photograph. This didn't surprise him because Fraser kept family photos all over his apartment. He looked closely when he realized that it was a new print. It had been taken at Lt. Welsh's picnic and showed Abbey sitting on Fraser's shoulders. He knew she'd brought her camera to the picnic so she must have had the pictures developed during their shopping trip on Friday. He recalled that Elaine had taken a picture of Abbey with him and Fraser and wondered why she hadn't shared it with him. It was just one more thing to talk to her about when he called her later.
Fraser's entrance to the room cut short any more speculation on that subject. The two men returned to Ray's car and drove to St. Michael's. Ray found more comfort in the familiar routine of the Mass. The homily was on the cycles of life and Ray tried to find ways to apply them to his life and to Nick's. After the service Ben and Ray walked of out St. Michael's and into the hot humid Chicago weather. The Windy City was living up to its name and dark clouds on the horizon signaled the possibility of an afternoon thunderstorm. The men turned to walk towards Ray's car when a voice called to them.
They turned to see the smiling face of Frank Zuko. The man who had caused both of them so much grief quickly closed the distance between them.
"I thought I noticed you two when I went forward for Communion. It's been a long time since I've seen either of you here. But then again, I usually attend the Saturday services."
"That would be a rational explanation," Fraser agreed.
"So, how have you guys been? Everything goin' well?"
"What's it to you, Frankie?" Ray asked belligerently.
"Hey, cool down, Ray. I'm just tryin' to make conversation here."
"Yeah? Well, go make conversation with someone who gives a damn."
"Gee, I thought we were gonna bury the hatchet. Isn't that what you promised Irene?"
Ray was shocked at the words that came from Zuko. "What do you know about it?" he asked in a voice that didn't bode well.
"Abbey told me about it when she was here over Memorial Day. By the way, how is Abbey? Does she still like her car?" he asked with great sincerity.
Ray's mind was spinning in confusion. He'd completely forgotten that she'd mentioned seeing Frank on her previous trip and he didn't understand the reference about her car.
"Car?" he asked.
"Yeah, the red convertible I gave her. A Volkswagen, if I remember correctly. I had Charlie pick it out so I don't really recall all the details."
Now both officers were stunned motionless. They knew that her acceptance of such a gift was tantamount to taking a bribe. And neither of them could believe that she would do such a thing. She'd returned to the FBI because of her strong beliefs in right and wrong. She had told them that she needed to be 'putting the bad guys away' and when it came to bad, Frank Zuko could be used as a synonym. But Ray knew how much his nemesis liked to push his buttons and decided to call the man's bluff.
"Yeah, right. Nice joke, Frankie."
"Mr. Zuko," Fraser began, "I find it hard to believe that Dr. Barnes would accept such a gift, especially from someone whom she holds in such low esteem."
"Low esteem?" Zuko chuckled. "Gee, I guess she didn't tell you that she's working for me now."
He could see the disbelief in their eyes and then continued.
"I suppose that it would be more accurate to say that I contracted for her professional services."
"And you paid her with a car?" Ray asked, incredulous.
"Oh no, I paid her in cash. The car was a gift. You know, I'm surprised she didn't tell you about how I had her picked up at the airport and brought to the house so we could meet privately."
Anger and betrayal showed plainly on Ray's face and Frank could see it.
"Or has she quit speaking to you since you dumped her for Irene?" he asked, getting in a dig where he could.
That was Ray's breaking point. His fist flew at Zuko's smarmy face and likely would have connected if it hadn't been for Ben's quick reflexes. The Mountie's hand effectively blocked the punch and then he restrained his friend from doing any further damage. Hatred and disgust showed plainly on his face as he spoke to the mob boss.
"This is the second time I've defended you, Mr. Zuko, but I can't promise you that I'll ever do it again. I suggest you leave."
While Frank wasn't the sharpest tool in the shed, he was smart enough to see what was about to go down if he stayed any longer. "By the way," he said to Ray as he turned to leave, "I'm sorry to hear about your little brother. He was a good kid."
Ray made another lunge for Frank but was still being held back by Fraser. He twisted and squirmed in Ben's grasp, knowing that he probably wouldn't be able to get away. Still, he wanted to let Zuko know he was angry.
When Frank was safely around the corner and Fraser felt Ray's temper decrease to a low simmer, he released his friend's arms and then stood prepared for the dressing down he was expecting. Ray surprised him by simply settling his suit coat back on his shoulders and brushing off the wrinkles with his hands.
"Do you believe the nerve of that guy? Comes here yankin' my chain about Abbey and then has the guts to say he's sorry about Nick. He's got some set of balls."
Ben was incredulous but chose not to push it. Although Ray appeared to accept it as Zuko lying just to antagonize the cop, he wondered if there was more truth than fiction to Frank's story. Instead, he quietly walked to Ray's car and kept his friend company for the ride to his apartment. Once he was home, he quickly changed clothes and ran back down to the car.
When they arrived at the house, Ray noticed that his Uncle Angelo's van was parked in front. That meant the relatives from Gary, IN were there. He smiled ruefully to himself. Nick had always loved their trips to visit Angelo and the cousins. How sad that they were now in Chicago because of Nick's death.
True to her word, Nora arrived at the Vecchio home just before noon. She brought with her a large quantity of breads, cakes, cookies and even her famous quiche. Mrs. Vecchio was overwhelmed by the generosity.
"Oh Nora, this is much too kind. I can't accept all this."
"Sure you can. Everything except the quiche will freeze. If you don't want it now, save it for a day when you feel like you need a treat."
Ray entered the room. Having been upstairs when Nora arrived, he was completely stunned by her presence. Like Abbey, Nora had left Chicago directly after graduation. Only she had gone to study culinary arts in New York. Frannie had mentioned the shop but Ray had never made the connection. Now, as he stood in a kitchen overwhelmed by baked goods in packages carrying the Cathy's Cup logo, he put two and two together.
"You named the coffee shop after your mom!" he exclaimed, smacking himself on the forehead.
"Well, hello to you too, stranger."
"Hey Nora, it's good to see you."
"Thanks. If you'd just take the time to walk a couple of blocks, you could see me more often," she responded in a mild rebuke.
"Yeah, I'm sorry. Frannie told me about the place but she never mentioned your name. She just said it was one of my old friends and I couldn't think of anybody named Cathy who would run a bakery and coffee shop."
"So where's Abbey?" Nora asked casually.
There was an awkward silence before Ray answered. "She went back to DC last night."
Nora did not pick up on the nonverbal clues Ray was giving and proceeded with the line of questioning. "What do you mean she left last night?" she asked indignantly. "I just talked to her less than twenty-four hours ago and she didn't mention leaving."
Ray could tell that his mother was hovering and put his arm around Nora's shoulders in mock companionship. "Let's get outta Ma's way," he said as he led her out the back door.
Once in the back yard she practically pounced on him. "All right, Ray, what's up? I thought you and Abbey were an item again. How could she just leave you in the middle of a family crisis? That's not like her at all."
"Look," he said quietly, "in the first place, Abbey and I are not an item. We never have been and according to her we never will be. We're just good friends. Second, she got called back to DC for work; something happening there that needed her expertise. Third, she really didn't know Nick all that well so there was no reason for her to stick around anyway."
"Oh, sorry. I assumed..."
"Well, you assumed wrong."
"Okay, I just thought that since she flew out here to be with you at this time, there was something more going on."
"She flew out to spend the holiday weekend with the family. She just happened to..." Ray stopped abruptly to censor himself, "to be here when we got the news about Nick."
"Oh, so are you guys going to have some sort of a service for Nick?"
"We're talking to Father Behan about it. We just want to wait to get the full report on where he's buried and we won't have it until tomorrow.
"Well, if it helps, I know what you're going through. I mean, I remember when Dad was listed as a POW in 1970. At first we hoped he'd come home, but as the years wore on, we just knew that he was dead. Still, the reality that smacks you in the face when it's officially confirmed is overwhelming. If you need to talk, I live upstairs above the shop. Just come and find me."
Ray hugged Nora and had a tear in his eyes. "Thanks, Nora. And thanks for bringing over all the food. I don't know how many more relatives are going to be coming through so I'm sure it will come in handy, even if Ma protests."
"Oh let her protest. You should have seen the stuff she brought over when we got word about Dad. We could have fed the entire neighborhood with that stuff. I just believe that what comes around goes around."
Nora made a quick trip through the house, pausing briefly to speak to the family members that she knew and offer her condolences. She eyed Fraser with interest, wondering who he was. It was obvious that he wasn't a Vecchio. And while he seemed mostly at ease with the family, he didn't seem to be officially attached to it in any way. She decided to stop and introduce herself.
"Hi, I don't think we've met. I'm Nora Spitznogle. I went to grade school with Ray and Abbey."
"I'm Constable Benton Fraser, Royal Canadian Mounted Police."
"Ahh, so that's how you fit in."
"You're a cop. You must be a friend of Ray's."
"Yes, I first came to Chicago on the trail of my father's killer and, for reasons that don't need explored at this juncture, have remained, as a liaison officer with the Canadian Consulate."
"Your father's killer." she repeated. "Was your dad an American?"
"No he was also an RCMP officer."
"So how does Ray fit into this?" she asked incredulously.
"The killer was from Chicago. Ray was assigned the case and helped bring the man who hired the killer to justice."
"And the two of you have been friends every since..."
"That's great. He needs all the friends he can get, especially at a time like this."
"Well, the Vecchios have treated me like family from the beginning. I appreciate that since I no longer have any family of my own."
"Well, it was nice to meet you, Constable. I own Cathy's Cup over on Wilson Street a couple of blocks from here. If you're in the neighborhood and need a good cup of coffee or a Nanaimo bar, come see me."
"Thank you. I'll remember that."
Nora took her leave of the house hurried back to her store.
While the weather in Chicago was stormy, Gaithersburg, Maryland was enjoying unseasonably mild weather so Abbey spent most of Sunday sitting outside in her patio chair re-reading the files on Tom Morales and the Iguana family. She knew Edward would probably begin quizzing her as soon as she arrived at the office in the morning and wanted to be prepared, but it was hard for her to concentrate on the information in the folder. Her mind kept traveling back six hundred miles to her friends in Chicago.
She wondered what was happening at the Vecchio house. Had they all gone to Mass together? Had any family members from out of town come in? Had Nora really gone to visit them? And there was one question that still lay deeply on her heart. What was she to do about Ray? She hoped he would accept her good-bye and just let her go. She wanted so desperately to talk to someone but didn't know where to turn at this moment. Her options were so limited since virtually all of her friends were involved in law enforcement in some way or another.
This experience had been so devastating that she wondered now how she was going to handle leaving her friends in Atlanta. She considered simply fading away but knew that George would likely be able to track her even if she went to Antarctica. She might need the intervention of the Bureau to keep that from happening. She made a mental note to talk to Edward about it on Monday.
After several hours of study she felt like she could probably pick Tom Morales out of a line-up even though the picture she had of him was not very recent. He was a man who didn't go out in public much and the FBI hadn't been able to get anything better. His wife, Elizabeth, was very beautiful. And their daughters, Angela, Maria and Lucy shared their mother's looks. She wondered just how much interaction she would actually have with the family. Did they even know what their father did for a living?
She thought of the Zukos. Even back when they were in school she knew that Frank and Irene were well aware of what kind of man their father was. Irene tried to ignore it but Frank took advantage of his old man's position. How could you raise kids to be productive citizens in this day and age without some kind of respect for the law of the land? She shook her head in disgust and despair, wondering again what she had gotten herself into. Feeling that she could do no more for the day, she took her things and went inside. As she opened the back door, she heard her answering machine click to life.
'Hi, this is Abbey,' the message began cheerfully. 'Leave a message at the tone and I'll get back to you.'
"Abbey, it's Ray. If you're there, will you please pick up?"
She almost made a flying dive for the phone and then stopped herself. Under no circumstances could she allow herself to continue their relationship.
"Okay, I guess you're not there," Ray continued, sounding dejected. "Look, something happened this morning that I really want to talk to you about. When you get in, would you please call me back?"
Abbey couldn't imagine what could have happened in the last 24 hours to make Ray sound so different. Had he finally come to his senses and realized that she was not responsible for Nick's death? Or had something else happened. She wanted desperately to call him and find out what was up but knew she'd already made her break and now it had to be permanent.
Going to her refrigerator, she poured a glass of juice and drank it slowly while pondering what to have for dinner. Though she really wasn't hungry, she knew that she hadn't eaten much all day and needed to eat something just to keep her strength up. Finally she decided that her heart just wasn't into cooking and grabbed her purse before going to a nearby pub for a sandwich and a drink.
She hadn't been in the area long enough to have picked out a favorite spot yet so she went to one that she'd seen on her way to and from work. It didn't look like too much of a dive, though that wouldn't necessarily put her off. She'd spent a fair share of her time in dives when she'd been in the Air Force and found that some of them had become her favorite hangouts.
She went in the building and found a not too well lit dining area that was in view of the bar. The bartender waved at her and told her to have a seat anywhere. Surprisingly enough, they didn't seem very busy for a holiday weekend with only a few tables occupied.
"What'll ya have?" the barman asked walking to her table.
"Diet beer," she answered.
"Diet beer? That's a new one."
"Yeah, well I'm not picky. Whatever's convenient for you."
"Okay. Were you wanting to eat tonight too?"
"Yeah. What do you recommend?
He looked at her closely, taking in her curvy form and assessed what he thought she'd like. "Breaded tenderloin."
"Mmm, sounds great."
"Okay, comes with your choice of 2 sides."
Abbey glanced at the menu board on the wall and picked quickly. "Applesauce and vegetable soup."
"I'll put your order in and have your beer in a second."
She absently watched the baseball game that was showing on one of the televisions above the bar. The Cubs were leading the Braves by 2 runs in the 7th inning. She sighed as she thought of the life she was leaving.
"A diet beer and vegetable soup," the barman announced as he plunked the bottle and the bowl down before her.
"You looked a little distracted. You need to talk?"
"Thanks, but I'm not sure it's something I can talk about."
"Suit yourself. I figure being a bartender is like being a psychiatrist. Only instead of listening to people's problems and dispensing Prozac, I listen to people's problems and dispense booze."
"You've got a good point. I appreciate the offer but things are so confused at this point that I wouldn't know where to begin."
"Well, if you need to bend my ear, you know where I am. By the way, my name's John but everybody calls me John."
It took Abbey a moment to catch his joke. And then the absurdity of it struck her and she burst out laughing until she had tears streaming down her face. She extended her hand in a greeting.
"Hi John, I'm Abbey. And thanks for the laugh. I needed it."
He shook her hand and wandered back to the bar. She watched him and had a familiar feeling in her groin. She tried to quell it but couldn't. Three days at the Vecchio house, most of them spent in Ray's presence, had made her ache for a friendly touch. She wanted to feel someone caress her and love her in ways that she'd not been exposed to since she'd come to Maryland.
She thought briefly of Lou and wondered if he were still in DC or if he'd gone back to Las Vegas. She wondered what he'd be like as a lover. From all outward appearances, he was kind and thoughtful. The memory of their goodnight kiss still lingered in her mind. Though his lips had been soft and questing, something about him seemed far more powerful and immediate.
Her reverie was interrupted by the arrival of her dinner.
"Good God!" she exclaimed. "You said this was a breaded tenderloin, not half a hog on a bun."
"I'll bring you a carry-out box if you can't finish all of it."
"I'd appreciate it."
She assembled her sandwich and tackled it as best she could. The meat overhung the bun by at least an inch all around. She nibbled on the deep-fried pork, getting down to the same size as the bun and then took a large bite. 'John, I owe you one,' she thought. 'This is just what I needed.'
She glanced up at the television and noticed that the Cubs had increased their lead by three runs and lifted her beer in a toast. Feeling better to know that at least something was going well in the Windy City, she smiled and continued to attack her sandwich. She tried a mouthful of the applesauce and realized that they had put cinnamon in it. Closing her eyes, she thought of her parents. They'd had an apple tree in their backyard and her mother carefully tended it so that they would have good apples to eat. Every fall her mother canned several jars of applesauce that were spiced with cinnamon. This was like a taste of home from very far away.
Memories of her childhood occupied her brain as she drove home. She recalled actually meeting Ray in 7th Grade Science class. They had been put together as lab partners. She had gained his undying respect when, without any fuss, she picked up a scalpel and began to dissect a frog. Virtually every other girl in the class had been squealing and one even passed out. But Abbey had simply made the 'I' shaped incision and then pushed the tray over towards him to begin identification of the internal organs. Since this was the first year that both of them had attended public school, they bonded together over shared memories of nuns who were half teacher and half drill sergeant, and school uniforms that had made them feel so awkward.
She wasn't sure just how she'd gotten home and knew it wasn't the beer that dulled her senses. Tears dribbled down her cheeks as she parked her car in front of her apartment building. It was difficult to push away all the memories of the time that they'd spent together as both friends and lovers. She rued the bargain she'd made as a vain attempt to save Irene's life. And even though she knew, deep inside, that this was what she was meant to be doing, she couldn't escape the grief that her choice was causing her.
Finally she wiped her eyes and pulled herself together long enough to go inside. The red light blinked on her answering machine, signaling that she had a message. She hit the 'play' button as she walked passed it to put her purse away.
"Abbey, this is Ben. I'd like to talk to you about a matter concerning Ray. I'll be at the Vecchios tonight and tomorrow. I look forward to your call."
"I'm sure you will, Ben. Too bad you're going to be disappointed."
The next several days were nothing but a blur for Abbey. Each morning she would rise early in a vain attempt to beat the rush hour traffic into the nation's capital and then spend hours at her desk learning every possible nuance of the Morales' and of the Iguana families. At the same time she was settling into a new home-away-from-home with the FBI's Organized Crime Division. She rarely left the office until well after dinnertime, and usually stopped at John's bar for a beer or two on the way home.
And every night when she arrived home there was a message from Ray, imploring her to call him. Occasionally there would also be one from Ben, less emotionally phrased but still conveying its urgency. Why couldn't these two leave her alone? Any normal person would have gotten the idea by now that she didn't want to talk to them. Yet these two held on with the tenacity of a pit bull.
She considered calling Ray and telling him to give it up but she was certain it would lead to questions that she didn't want to answer. Under other circumstances, she might have asked Ben to intervene but it was clear that he was as nearly as obsessed by her silence as his friend was. Many times she'd been on the verge of asking her boss for his advice but then bit her tongue. She didn't want it to appear as though she couldn't handle the situation.
On Friday Abbey was scheduled to meet with an agent who had spent several months undercover with someone who had helped the Iguanas by stealing weapons from the U.S. Army. She hoped to learn that life undercover wasn't as bad as she was expecting. By all accounts, the Iguanas weren't as bloodthirsty as one might expect. Tom Morales kept a tight rein on his soldiers and on his business. As long as everything went according to plan, no one got hurt. Abbey, however, didn't want to think about what happened when plans went awry.
At 9:30 Edward escorted her to a conference room where she saw a woman waiting for her. She appeared to be in her early 30's and had short curly dark blonde hair. The woman looked cool as a cucumber and just the type of person Abbey would select for undercover work.
"Abbey, this is Special Agent Suzanne Chapin. She recently transferred to us from the ATF," Edward announced. "Suzanne, this is Dr. Abigail Barnes. She used to be with the VCTF in Atlanta."
The women shook hands and Edward left the room, closing the door behind him. For the next three hours, Suzanne told Abbey about the 10 months she had spent with Frank Bodine, and the one delivery they had made for the Iguana family. Abbey was thankful to hear that virtually all of the arms deals were being handled by the family's southwest branch, based out of Nevada.
They broke for lunch and Abbey suggested a trip to the Caf Espresso. Lounging at a sidewalk table, waiting for their meals to arrive, they began to engage in girl talk.
"So are you from Atlanta originally? Or did the Bureau move you there?" Suzanne asked.
"Oh, you mean they didn't give you a complete history of my sordid past?"
"Oh, well, I was born and raised in Chicago. Spent 12 years in the Air Force before coming to the FBI. I quit a little over a year ago but came back. And now here I am."
"Chicago, huh?" Suzanne asked, recalling the time she'd spent there while with Bodine.
"My kind of town," Abbey said with a smile. "You know, I think the thing that bugs me most about taking this assignment is leaving my friends back there."
"You still keep in touch with people you knew there?"
"Yeah, one of my oldest friends is a cop there, and he's introduced me to one of his friends who's a Canadian Mountie."
Agent Chapin's eyes grew wide with recognition of Abbey's description of her friends and the profiler realized instantly that something was up.
"What?" she asked.
"Nothing," Suzanne tried to cover.
"Not nothing. You know the guys I'm talking about. It's written all over your face. Now what's the story?"
"Your friend, Detective Vecchio?"
"I hit him with my car."
Abbey couldn't help but burst out laughing. "You hit him? That's too funny. What happened?"
Suzanne sank into a far away gaze as she told the story of how she had 'run into' Ray the first time when she'd been working with Bodine. She didn't mention the kiss at the farmhouse but simply said that she'd cold cocked him with her pistol. She also discretely failed to mention that Ray had offered to let her off the hook and escape before she revealed whom she was really working for.
"That's it?" Abbey asked.
"Suzanne, please don't take this the wrong way. But you lie like a rug. Something else happened. I can tell."
"No really, that's all."
"You had feelings for him. You didn't miss shooting him cuz he's a cop. You missed because you didn't want to injure him."
"Well, of course, I didn't want to injure him. As far as I was concerned, he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time."
"Whatever you say." Abbey could tell that there was more to the story than the agent was willing to admit but she wasn't going to run her though the wringer just to get information that she could easily extract from a few government files.
When their lunch was finished the two women returned to FBI headquarters. Suzanne spent the afternoon preparing Abbey for the rigors of life undercover. It was a difficult task. Whereas she spent her time just with Frank Bodine, Abbey would be associating with a major player in a large crime syndicate. The isolation that she'd felt could be even worse in such a situation.
"Okay. Anything else?" Abbey asked when it appeared they were nearly done.
"One of the hardest parts of assuming another role is the possibility of getting lost in it. Try to take along something that reminds you of who you are. It can be something as simple as a piece of jewelry or a favorite T-shirt. But it should be something innocuous that doesn't have any apparent ties to anyone else, like a photograph."
"I suppose my FBI T-shirt wouldn't be a good idea," she said with an impish smile.
"No, and I wouldn't advise anything related to Chicago either. Too easy for someone to find out the truth about you."
Abbey considered her choices but couldn't come up with anything at the moment. "Okay, I'll think about it," she agreed.
"Have they told you yet when you're going to be shipped out?"
"No, and I don't think they know, either. They seem to be waiting for the 'right time'; whatever that means."
That night she floated from room to room, taking stock of her meager possessions. Most of her things were still in Atlanta in storage. In an unconscious gesture, she put her hand to her throat where Ray's crucifix had once hung. Now there was only bare skin. She'd never been one to wear much jewelry and the thought of changing her habits now seemed odd.
The ringing of the phone interrupted her musings. Without thinking she picked up the receiver and answered.
"Hello?" she said absently still thinking about what to take with her.
"Abbey?" the voice asked.
She knew instantly who it was and silently cursed herself for not being more careful.
"Yes, Ray, it's me."
"What the hell's wrong with you?" he asked more in concern than in anger.
"Excuse me, but I don't believe I heard you correctly. Did you just ask what the hell is wrong with me?"
"You heard me. What's going on?"
"I don't know what you're talking about, Ray," she replied formally.
"Don't give me that crap, Abbey. You've been dodging me all week."
"I most certainly have not," she replied, knowing it was a bald faced lie.
"Oh, no? Then why haven't you returned any of my calls? I've left at least one message a day for you since Sunday."
"I've been busy, Ray."
"So busy that you can't pick up a phone and say, 'I'm okay. I'll catch up with you later.'?"
"Yes, that busy," she replied with some heat. "I get up in the morning, drive through rush hour traffic that makes the Dan Ryan Expressway seem like a walk in the park, work until 9:00 or 10:00 at night, come home and fall into bed, exhausted. And then I get up the next day and do it all over again."
"Ah, come on. It can't be that bad," he cajoled.
"Yes, it is. This isn't the VCTF. I'm the new kid on the block and I've got a lot to catch up on."
"Look, Abbey, I may not have your unfailing bullshit detector, but I've been a cop long enough to know a rat when I smell one. You're dodging me and I know it. Come on, you owe me the truth."
"I owe you?" she asked.
"Yeah, remember that debt that you say can never be repaid. Well, here's your chance. Talk to me. Tell me what the hell is going on."
"Ray, what possible reason would I have for dodging you?"
"Oh, maybe you're still upset about what happened over the weekend."
"Ray, you'd suffered a terrible loss; one made even worse by the fact that I'd given you false hope. I don't hold that against you. Yes, it was difficult for me to endure your petulance but the nice thing about empathy is that it allows me to look past the emotion to the source."
"Oh, how pious of you," he responded sarcastically.
Abbey could tell that there was something he was holding back on as well but couldn't fathom what it might be.
"Pious? That stinks and you know it. Now what's really bothering you, Ray?"
There was a silence while Ray mustered the courage to face what he'd been ignoring for five days.
"I saw Frank Zuko at Mass on Sunday. He told me about you, Abbey."
Her heart pounded in her chest and her mind began racing at a mile a minute.
"Oh? And what did he tell you?" She tried to sound casual but wasn't sure she could pull it off.
"Everything, Abbey. He told me about how you were working for him. And he told me that he gave you the car."
"And you believed him?" she asked, incredulous.
"I didn't at first but then after the way you acted this weekend and when you wouldn't return my calls, I thought there might be some truth to the story."
"Ray, I don't work for him and I never did. He told me he wanted to get out of the family business. Irene's death had hit him pretty hard. All I did was pass the information along to some people in DC."
"And what about the car?"
"The car?" she repeated.
"Don't start actin' dumb on me, Abbey. The car. The red convertible that you lead me to believe was a rental."
"I did no such thing."
"You didn't tell me where it came from," he accused.
"You're right. I didn't. I knew that you wouldn't understand so I decided to keep quiet about it."
"And did you think I wouldn't find out the truth?"
"Quite frankly, I didn't. Irene's dead. Frank's getting out of the business. Why would you have any reason to find out that he used part of her insurance proceeds to buy me the kind of car that his sister and I used to dream of owning?"
"Her insurance proceeds, Ray. She had a life insurance policy. And Frank, as executor of her estate, used some of the money to buy the car. It was a way of thanking me for trying to look out for her."
"You really believe that?"
"Of course I do. Why shouldn't I?"
"Cuz you know Frank Zuko as well as I do and you know he'd never do anything that clean or that nice."
"Ray, what are you accusing me of?" she asked angrily.
"I think Zuko's right. I think you really are workin' for him. Or you were at one time and this is his way of keeping you quiet about it."
"Is that what you think?" she asked, trying unsuccessfully to keep a belligerent tone out of her voice.
"That's what I think," he replied smugly.
Tears of anger and sadness welled in her eyes. "Well, if that's what you believe, then I guess we're not as close as I thought we were. I won't bother you anymore, Ray. But please say good-bye to Ben and Dief for me."
She heard his voice calling her name as she severed the connection but ignored his pleas for her to talk to him.
It took a few minutes for Ray to realize just what had happened. He looked at Ben, astonished.
"She hung up on me," he stated.
"Can you believe that?" he asked and then didn't bother to wait for an answer before he dialed her number again.
Abbey heard the phone ring but couldn't bring herself to answer it. She knew it would be Ray and at that moment had no intentions of ever talking to him again. She couldn't believe that he'd take Frank Zuko's word over hers. They both knew that he was a lying weasel and had been all his life.
"Abbey, it's Ray," the voice said through the speaker on the machine.
"I know you're there. Pick up the phone," he demanded.
She replied by sticking her tongue between her teeth and blowing him a raspberry.
"Come on, Abbey. Stop acting like a three year old and talk to me."
At that moment anger overtook sadness and she indulged in an admittedly immature temper tantrum, ignoring anything else that he might say to her. She stopped when she heard a different voice.
"Abbey, this is Ben," he said formally. "I understand that you're probably upset by your earlier conversation with Ray but I was hoping that you'd be willing to converse with me."
'Sorry Ben,' she thought. 'This is a package deal. I can't talk to either of you any more.'
"Abbey, please," he implored. "You helped me once when I felt like Ray had turned against me."
She heard Ray in the background and had to smile at his outburst. "I never turned against you? What are you talking about?"
"Ray, I'm trying to get Abbey to answer," the Mountie responded before turning his attention back to the phone. "I understand what you're going through, Abbey. Please, let me help you. I won't make you talk to Ray."
She had to clutch a pillow tightly to keep from grabbing the phone and talking to the reasonable voice on the other end. She knew she couldn't allow herself the luxury of even thinking about her life in Chicago ever again. If she were to operate successfully undercover, she had to adopt a new persona and she had to start now.
She put down the pillow and took a deep breath. Methodically, she picked up the receiver and silently severed the connection. Counting to 100, she tentatively reconnected and got a dial tone. Breathing a sigh of relief, she decided to exercise an option that had been suggested to her when she'd first returned to DC. She called the phone company, identified herself as an FBI agent, gave them the official information that they needed and asked to be switched to an unlisted number. The representative made the necessary arrangements and promised to have the change made by Monday morning.
Almost numb, she knew she couldn't stay in the apartment over the weekend. She called to ask if a nearby hotel advertising many personal amenities had a room available and then made reservations. After packing a suitcase, she shut off the answering machine, grabbed her purse and left. Perhaps one day she would be able to think rationally about what she had done and what she was about to do. But that day wasn't today. Today, she needed to escape and think about nothing at all.
End Mostly What I Need From You by Kali Sandison: Kalerian@yahoo.com
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