Author: Lea Barrett
Rating: PG (some mild language and violence)
Spoilers: If I tell you, it will give it all away.
Teaser: Ray has a promise to keep.
Disclaimer: If you know who they are, they belong to Alliance and Paul Haggis.
All errors are mine. Comments are welcome. Please send to L8TLEA@aol.com
Ray Vecchio woke with a jolt when his alarm clock sounded. Some people could wake to the sound of a radio but Ray required the loud beeping noise to rouse him. He fumbled on his nightstand, knocking the small ceramic heart on the floor for the hundredth time before finding the snooze button. He depressed it and slowly pushed himself to sitting. He looked towards the floor, gradually focusing on the lopsided, red shape. His niece made that for him in art class. For three years now, he kept it beside his bed. He remembered when she came home from school, excited and giggling. She placed it in the palm of his hand and waited, with her hands behind her back and a big grin, waiting for his praise. He examined the small object for a few moments, pretending to check her workmanship, then he scooped her in his arms. He didn't remember his exact words but she scampered away happily, never understanding how touched he was by her gift.
The alarm resounded. He turned it off this time. Then swung his lean body out of bed. He picked up the heart, laid it beside the lamp and managed three steps towards the shower when the phone rang. A few years ago, he had a second line installed so late night calls from the police station would not wake the family. He picked up the receiver on the second ring.
"Detective Vecchio, this is Simon March. We found the subject."
Ray squeezed the receiver until his fingers turned white. For nearly a year he received this call periodically. Always, the same words, always the same hope and then the subject would disappear. Maybe it was the hazy dawn shining through the window or maybe it was the extra serving of stuffed rigatoni he had for dinner the night before, but this time felt different.
"I'll be there in forty minutes."
Ray hung up. He did not wait to allow himself to consider the possibilities. He called work to say he was sick. Then he called the Canadian Consulate and left word that he was sick and would not be meeting Benny for lunch.
Fraser. Constable Benton Fraser of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. His best friend. His frequent partner. He did not like lying to him, even in a message, but this was something he could not explain. He made a mental note to call again in a few hours. He did not want Benny showing up at the house looking for him.
Ray showered automatically. He dressed in black slacks, a black turtleneck and a bright, green blazer. He used a belt clip to carry his standard issue weapon and an ankle holster for the back up gun. He slipped his cell phone into his pocket, then attached a taser into the clip on the opposite side of his belt. Ray looked in the mirror. His hair was nearly gone now. He kept it slicked back. No combing over the bald spot for him. He may not like losing his hair, but he refused to deny it. He was still lean and tall. His stature often caused people to underestimate his strength but that was their mistake.
He jogged down the steps to the kitchen where his mother lived. While she did not actually live in the kitchen, she spent most of her time there and Ray's clearest memories of growing up always found her there. He kissed her on the cheek, apologized for not staying for breakfast and told her to call him on the cell phone if she needed anything. He would not be at the station all day.
He stepped out to the porch into the chilly, early spring. His green 1971 Buick Riviera sat in the driveway waiting for him as it did every morning. He always felt it was bored and ready for action in the morning. Afterall, it had to sit alone and idle every night beside the house.
Ray slid inside the cold, metal car. Gloves protected his hands from the frozen steering wheel. He took a breath before starting the engine. He was trying not to project into the future. He did not want to be disappointed again.
He drove towards the March Agency, deliberately reviewing other subjects. He had several cases on his desk and could easily work through the evidence and clues in his head. The main case he had at the moment was a serial home invasion team. Three men would come in through a cellar or lower level window, either opening them or cutting through the glass. Once inside, they would wake all members of the family, tie them up in the kitchen and then destroy the house with baseball bats. They would steal electronics and money but no credit cards or jewelry. After leaving the house in shambles with holes in the walls, furniture ripped apart, carpet torn from the floors and whatever other damage they could inflict, they would leave. As of the last invasion, no one had been seriously injured. Some bruises from rough handling but nothing life threatening or even requiring a hospital stay. The victims were threatened constantly and often their captors would bring an item into the kitchen so the family could watch the destruction. They seemed to enjoy terrorizing their captives without physically harming them.
Since the group wore ski masks, black clothing and gloves, no fingerprints had been recovered and descriptions were impossible. Ray was looking for a pattern. He wanted to anticipate their next victim. Fraser had a copy of the file but had not visited any crime scenes yet. Ray wanted to put his friend's observation skills to work. In fact, that was the plan for this afternoon. But, it would have to wait now. This appointment was more important.
Ray parked. He looked at the tall white brick building and shook his head. Nearly a year ago, he made a decision. He walked through the front glass doors of this building to follow through with that choice.
The receptionist smiled at him. She was a slender, dark haired woman. Her skin was the color of cocoa. She wore her hair in braids, woven tightly in rows across her skull. Her dress was a bright, pink knit with long sleeves and a high neckline. She addressed him by name and asked him to wait while she called Mr. March.
Simon March appeared a few moments later. He was much darker than his receptionist with brown eyes and short, black hair cut close to his head. Ray was struck again by his size. March stood at least three inches taller than Ray which would make him around 6'4. His shoulders were wide and straight and his arms pulled at the fabric of his gray suit. When he shook hands, Ray lost sight of his own in the man's grasp.
"You found her?" Ray asked.
"Let's go upstairs to my office and discuss this, Detective." March had a smooth, deep voice. Even at his lowest volume, he commanded attention.
Ray followed him. The ride in the elevator was filled with small talk. March was trying to put his client at ease, but Ray barely responded to him. He wanted the information that March had. He wanted to end this search.
"Please sit down. Would you like some coffee or tea or a soda?"
The office was about the size of the squadroom Ray shared with the rest of the detectives of the 27th. It was decorated with oak furniture and Monet prints. March's desk was probably six feet long and four feet tall. His bookshelf was filled with true crime stories, legal books and detective fiction from Hammett, Chandler and MacDonald. All hard cover and bound in leather. His guest chairs were light colored leather and separated by an oak coffee table. His own chair was the same style but wider and taller.
"All right, Detective Vecchio, we have found her. She has returned to the states. We tracked her from Arctic Canada through Alaska. She disappeared for a few weeks but then we received word she was back in Canada near the Niagara Falls border. She crossed over, spent about two weeks in Buffalo, New York before moving into a small city called Corning. It's located in upstate New York in the general vicinity of Rochester. We've had her under visual surveillance since yesterday."
"You haven't approached her?"
"No, as you requested, we're keeping her under surveillance but we haven't made any contact."
"Did you notify the local authorities?"
"No, that would be up to you upon arrival. However, this woman is a criminal with warrants. If we know of her location, we are obligated to turn her in."
"You have. I am the police."
"I'm aware of that, Detective, and that is the only reason I haven't called anyone else. But this is a federal matter. The FBI has to be contacted."
"I'll take care of it. I want to see her for myself before I start calling in the feds."
"I'm sure you realize I have an obligation here."
"I know. You've said that before. Don't worry. I'll go there today and meet with your people. Once I know it's her, I'll report it."
"All right. In this file," March said, holding up a narrow manila folder, "is everything you'll need. The names of my people and their location. Her residence and work address, some background on the last few months of our investigation. Some photographs."
Ray took the folder but did not open it. He wondered if March noticed his hands were shaking.
"You said she's living there, has a job."
"Yes. She lives in a small apartment. She works in a small restaurant as a waitress. She hasn't been shopping since we found her but it's only been a day. She hasn't used credit cards under her current alias. She doesn't dress particularly well and she ate at a fast food restaurant last night."
"That doesn't sound like her."
"Perhaps she's fallen on hard times."
"She's probably hiding something. Does she live alone? Boyfriend, anything like that?"
"No, she's not been observed socializing in any way. The lease is in her name and it's a one bedroom apartment." Ray stood up. His mind was less than clear.
"Will you be here if I need to contact you?"
"I'll be here. Typing up your final bill." March smiled at his joke and Ray smiled back. Then the smile faded as he imagined how much that bill would be. He thanked March and shook his hand.
The ride in the elevator was slow and fast at the same time. Ray nodded
at the receptionist as he walked out to the car.
Two hours later, Ray stood in Chicago O'Hare airport using a credit card to pay for his plane ticket. The ticket agent suggested nicely that he book in advance to get a lower rate. He just glared at her as he handed his overnight bag across the counter.
Lieutenant Welsh growled about his sudden vacation time but he agreed. He gave the home invasion case to Detectives Huey and Gardino despite Ray's feeble protest.
Fraser was more polite though the curiosity in his voice nearly made him confess everything. He hated lying to Benny and now he had to pretend he was sick and flying for something work related and get sympathy for it. Benny asked if the trip could wait a day and maybe he could get the time off to go with him. Ray thanked him sincerely but, no the trip couldn't wait. Truthfully, he wished Fraser was with him but that was definitely not possible.
The flight from Chicago to Elmira, New York took just over an hour. He sat between two children, both were sniffling and sneezing and the small one wanted to hold his hand. According to the older boy, they were flying to their mother after spending two weeks with their father. The youngest boy looked around five and he clearly was not a happy flyer. Ray held his hand. When the plane touched down, Ray felt a shiver run through his body like a current of electricity. He stood slowly, allowing almost everyone to go ahead of him. The flight attendants took the two boys to find their mother. Ray took the opportunity to slip into the aisle, accidentally separating a married couple. The wife glared at him. Ray glared back.
Once inside the small terminal, Ray found his overnight bag first, then the rental car desk. It was one desk, with one weary looking woman working it. She took Ray's credit card, handed him some forms to sign, then shoved the key and a Xeroxed map at him with a circle drawn around the number "4". He studied the map for a moment, seeing the "x" for "You are here" and then followed directions.
Rain pelted him in mean spurts as he looked for the car. In space "4" was a minivan, a bright yellow minivan with an orange stripe on either side. Ray looked at his key for a description of the vehicle. He was supposed to have a tan Ford Taurus. He glanced around the parking lot searching for his car while rain continued to assault him. He spotted what looked like a Ford Taurus and headed over to it. Two aisles away, he reached it and put the key in the door. The key did not fit in the door. Ray sighed. He was starting to shiver. The blazer was dripping; the turtleneck was soaked along the exposed chest and neckline. His pants were starting to cling. He searched the parking lot again. No other vehicle resembled the description on his key. Cursing to himself, he returned to the airport.
The same woman looked at the dripping Detective, clearly unimpressed, then looked at the key. She smiled slightly, her face turning a pale shade of pink. She reached under the desk and pulled out a different key. This one also described a tan Ford Taurus but it was parked in space "52". Ray already knew where that vehicle was parked so he left the soggy map on her desk.
Once inside the dry car, Ray cranked the heat and shivered hard. Using a map he found Corning easily enough. Then he followed a street map supplied by the March Agency to find his hotel. It was the same hotel housing March's employees.
Ray hated to leave the warmth of the car for another bout with the cold rain but the thought of a hot shower urged him into the hotel lobby. He walked in, gave the desk clerk his name and credit card and she frowned. Ray waited while she punched his information in again. Apparently, the results were the same because she was still frowning.
"What?" Ray asked, annoyed.
"Mr. Vecchio, your room was reserved."
"Did you say 'was'?"
"Yes, sir. Unfortunately, we had a slight plumbing accident that caused some flooding on the third floor. Nothing too bad, thank goodness."
"I'm relieved." Ray said, sarcastically.
"Unfortunately, however, your room was the only casualty."
"So, give me a different room."
"I'd like to but everything is booked up solid until Monday. There's a glass cutters convention in town and being we are the glass mecca in this part of the country, well, everything is booked up."
"What am I suppose to do?" Ray asked, getting angrier.
"Let me call around. I'll see if I can find you a room in another hotel. Just be a moment."
"Do you have a bar?"
"Yes, Sir, it's just through that door." She pointed to a heavy wood door with a brass handle. She was obviously relieved when he walked away saying he would check back with her in twenty minutes.
The bar's door was the largest part of the bar. Inside was a square room with about twenty tables and forty chairs. The bar itself was long and wood with nice brass accents. The bartender was a small, blond woman who looked to be in her mid forties but was more likely in her mid fifties. She greeted him politely and asked what he wanted to drink. Ray ordered coffee to take the chill off. Sometimes he drank alcohol, but not often and never when he was working (unless the job depended on it). This job didn't. This job wasn't even a job. But, he still wasn't drinking.
Occupying the bar was the married couple from the airplane with the glaring wife, a couple of young men who looked like they were college students and a salesman with his briefcase open. The airplane couple drank whiskey from the looks of things. She drank fast and hard while he sipped his drink and stared at the bartender. The college students drank beer and talked about basketball. The salesman had some fancy looking drink that was tinted blue and had an umbrella. Ray counted four umbrellas already discarded.
Ray drank his coffee. He put a five on the bar after twenty minutes passed and returned to the front desk. The young woman smiled brightly at him. She gave him directions to the only hotel nearby with an open room explaining she reserved it with his credit card. After thanking her for her help, he asked for the room number of Thomas Barnum, one of March's employees. She apologized for not being able to give him that information. He asked her to call his room for him. She handed the phone over. Ray left a message on voice mail, explaining what happened and telling him where he could be found.
Back out to the rain for a fresh soaking, this time by a downpour that would have worried Noah. He cranked the heat again and followed directions to the next hotel. This time he checked in quickly.
Inside the hotel room, he dropped his bag beneath the clothes hangers. The room was typical with two double beds, a mock wood table with two chairs and a small coffeepot. Ray stripped off his wet clothes and climbed into a hot shower. At first, the water was too hot but as his skin warmed, Ray realized the water was starting to scald him. He leaped out, gasping. When he tried to adjust the knobs, he discovered the shower had two temperatures, blistering hot or arctic cold. There was no way to adjust for warm. He wrapped a towel around his waist and called the front desk.
"Yes, Mr. Vecchio, we're aware of the temperature problem in the shower but as we explained to Carol, it was this room or nothing."
"Is Carol the desk clerk from the other place?"
"She didn't mention the shower to me."
"Are you going to get it fixed?"
"Yes, Sir, our maintenance person is sick today but he'll be in tomorrow to fix it."
"Good, I should be checked out by then." Ray responded irritably.
He hung up and called the previous hotel leaving another message for
Ray dressed in dry clothes. He pulled a jacket out of the bag and a knit ski cap for his head. He re-armed himself. Then he took another beating from the rain before reaching his car. He followed the directions to her apartment.
The photos could not be denied. It was her. But, he had to see her. He drove past the apartment twice before he parked a block away. Then he walked up a back alley. If March's men were out there, he did not see them. He didn't expect to. They would be at the restaurant watching her, waiting for her shift to end.
She lived on the ground floor of a three-story building. He found her apartment first. Then he crept along the perimeter to find her bedroom window. It faced the alley. She had no pets, no children, no roommate.
Ray tapped the glass, using his glove to dampen the noise. When the window broke he flinched at the sound but with the rain and his glove, he was the only one to hear it. He reached in, not realizing how badly he was shaking. His sleeve caught on a jagged edge and when he pulled back he sliced a nice narrow line into his palm. He swore as he yanked back his hand. There was no pain yet as he wrapped his glove into his palm to stop the bleeding. More careful now, he reached in with his left hand and unlocked the window. He used both hands to guide the pane up so he could slip inside.
Standing in her bedroom, Ray shivered. She had a mattress and box spring on the floor. An alarm clock sat beside the bed. A walk-in closet stood at the far wall. If she had a lamp, she was hiding it. He walked across the tattered carpet to the closet. Inside he could count the clothes she kept on one hand.
He went through the bedroom to the living room. She decorated with a black beanbag chair and small television sitting on the floor. No pictures hung on the walls. No end tables or coffee tables or lamps in this room either. A permanent light fixture hung over the area to be used as a dining room.
To the left was a makeshift kitchen. No appliances filled the countertops. The sink held a plate, a fork and two plastic cups. He opened some of the cupboards finding a few staples like bread, peanut butter, cereal and crackers. He found a saucepan and a frying pan. He looked in the refrigerator. She maintained milk and butter and a six pack of root beer that had four cans left. Nothing else lived in the refrigerator or freezer.
Ray looked in the hall closet. She had a sweater and a leather jacket hanging inside. An umbrella leaned against one wall. She'll be wet when she comes home, he thought. He shivered again, clasping his arms around his body. Initially, he thought he was chilled from the rain, then he realized the apartment was freezing. He found the thermostat near the bedroom door. It read 52 degrees. He considered turning on the heat but knew she would notice immediately if it were warm inside. He decided to leave his coat on and wait.
According to March's file, she got off work at 4:30pm. She should arrive home by 5:00 even if she stopped for food. The restaurant was a five-minute drive and a fifteen-minute walk. The file said she drove to work yesterday.
Ray had an hour to kill. He decided to search through her apartment again. He returned to the bedroom. Women kept things under mattresses. Sometimes they kept a knife to ward off intruders. Sometimes they kept diaries. Sometimes they kept adult books that they wouldn't want others to see. Ray flipped up the mattress. He almost missed her treasure. All she kept was a photo. He recognized the time and place immediately. It was taken about six or eight months ago. Ray was standing in the background laughing. Fraser was standing in front of the Riv wearing blue jeans and a red Henley. His hands were in his pockets and he looked surprised. Ray remembered how amazed his friend had been when he realized Ray's intentions. The next frame of the photo, had there been another photo, would have shown several of Ray's nieces and nephews running from behind the house with a hose. They soaked Fraser thoroughly before he wrestled the weapon away from them and returned the favor. All of the children ran around the yard, screaming and laughing while he doused them. Ray ran in the house and escaped the onslaught.
The photo had probably been taken from a distance with a telephoto lens but Ray felt the anger surge through him. She had been near his house, watching them.
Out of spite, he started to tear the photo up, then winced when he remembered his injured hand. He dropped the picture, tinged with blood now, and took the glove away. A fairly deep cut ran the course of his lifeline. He went to the bathroom and found a stash of washcloths. He folded a white one into the cut, then searched the medicine cabinet for adhesive tape. There was none. He went back to the kitchen to ransack her drawers and found a roll of scotch tape sitting beside two screwdrivers and a box of nails. He wrapped the tape around his hand awkwardly until the washcloth was firmly in place. His hand had thawed and was throbbing.
Ray checked the time. Another half-hour to wait, maybe less. He returned to searching her room but found nothing of interest. He searched through the kitchen just to stay occupied. Finally, he leaned against the doorway of her bedroom. He took his gun from his belt and held it loosely at his side. He wished he could stop shaking.
He played the next scene in his head repeatedly. The outcome was always the same but getting there changed with each play through.
A key scraped in the lock. He straightened up and aimed the weapon.
The door opened slowly. She backed in, carrying a small lamp, a paper
bag smelling of hamburger and onion rings and a large black satchel.
She dropped the purse and quickly turned the deadbolt before turning
around. When she saw Ray, she froze.
Her dark hair was shorter than the last time he saw her. Her dark eyes were the same. He saw her calculating her chances. He watched her try to figure out how to manipulate this situation.
"Hello, Victoria." Ray said, evenly.
"Detective Vecchio." She replied, still holding her dinner and the lamp. She walked forward to the kitchen without looking at him and set things down. Ray just watched her, surprised by her audacity.
"Not curious about why I'm here?" He asked.
"You're here to arrest me. I don't suppose you have any jurisdiction in New York, though, do you?"
"I'm not here to arrest you."
"Oh." She said, leaning against the kitchen doorjamb with her hands crossed over her chest. "Well, what then? To kill me?" Ray wanted to answer but his voice had other ideas. He couldn't speak at the moment. Her eyes narrowed.
"That's it, isn't it? Oh, please- kill me for loving him, or kill me for hurting him, which is it?"
"I made a promise." Ray said in a stronger voice than he expected.
"To you." He corrected.
"I don't know..." Her expression changed as she remembered, "Oh that's right. You said you'd kill me if I hurt him, didn't you?" Her tone was mocking and Ray tightened his grip on the gun. "Well, I'm not armed. There's no weapon here at all and I would imagine you broke in, so I hope you're planning on spending the rest of your life in prison." The smile crossing her face was so real and beautiful, Ray almost gasped. He suddenly understood Benny's attraction to her. When that smile combined with the vulnerability in her eyes, she was breath taking.
"Go ahead." She said, confidently. "I couldn't have planned this any better."
"Shoot, fire, lay down some lead. Whatever. Kill me right now."
"You want me to kill you?"
"Oh, yes. Look around you, Detective, do I seem to be doing well? I'm tired of running, I'm tired of hiding. I don't want to be a waitress or a file clerk or a prostitute. I don't want to be, period. So, go ahead and pull the trigger and with my last dying thought, I'll know that I didn't have to destroy him. You'll have done it for me."
"I destroyed him?"
"Of course. I'll be dead. You'll be in prison. He'll know it was all for him. What do you think that'll do to someone like him?"
"Who says I'm going to prison? Who says I didn't come here to arrest you and you didn't put up a fight? Who says I didn't bring a gun just to lay in your dead hand?"
He saw the change again. Worry crept into her eyes. In a blink, she turned cold.
"Fine, then do it. I'm not kidding about being tired. At the moment I'm hungry too. So, either kill me or arrest me or get out."
"Ya know, you had everything with him. He would've given up his life for you."
"He owed me his life." She said, flatly.
"Why? Because he sent you to prison? You committed a crime, that's what cops do to criminals."
"After what we had, knowing that I was..."
"What? Young? Innocent? Sorry? So what. Prisons are full of sorry people who made stupid choices."
"Knowing that I was in love with him. I would've gone straight. I would've stayed with him forever and he turned me in." She almost spat the last few words.
Ray smiled briefly. He liked seeing her so angry. It made this easier when he could see her true, demented self. He brought the gun up slowly. She put her hands up, defensively and stepped backward into the kitchen.
He advanced a step to take better aim but his hands betrayed him. The gun jerked around with his shaking and he couldn't steady himself. He cursed his weakness and took another step forward. Tears glistened in her eyes as she looked around for help. He gained control of the gun. He tried to squeeze the trigger. But, nothing happened. Insanely, he thought he left the safety on, but in the next instant he knew that was not the case. He took another step and another until he filled her kitchen doorway. She was backed to the wall silently but her eyes were begging him. Ray tried again to make his fingers obey. Nothing happened. He cursed as he took his hand off the trigger, dropping the gun to his side. He walked away from her, shaking his head and swearing.
"Damn you, Vecchio." She called out weakly. He could hear her slide to the floor. "At least I didn't shoot him just to make him stay with me!"
Fury shot through him again. He stormed into the kitchen, gun ready, eyes blazing. She covered her head, pulling her knees to her chest and screaming.
Ray stood in front of her. He put the gun back in its holster. Using both hands he pulled her to her feet and turned her around. He reached for his handcuffs. She jerked backward, knocking him off balance. She jammed into him again. He stumbled into the stove, catching the handle against his hip. She hit him again, full body contact, and he stumbled, lost his balance and fell.
Victoria ran. She went through the bedroom and out the open window.
Ray followed almost immediately. His feet hit the muddy ground and he
slipped, slamming backward into the glass. It cracked with the impact.
Regaining his footing, he followed her footprints in the mud until she
reached pavement. He ran after her until the mud disappeared, until he
couldn't guess at a direction, until his breath was gone. Standing in
the middle of a cracked and broken alley, he searched all directions,
screaming for her, but she was gone. He bent over, holding his side,
cursing and crying at his complete failure.
The endless rain continued drenching him as he walked slowly back to his car. He was angry but composed as he slid into the driver's side. Looking at the clock on the dash, Ray was surprised to see it was nearly nine. He must have searched for hours. A useless, pointless exercise in futility as he wandered the small neighborhood, looking for Victoria Metcalf.
Putting both hands on the steering wheel, he winced and pulled his injured hand away. The washcloth was wet and pink and the tape was peeling off. He cradled the hand in his lap and looked for a drug store. He found one near his hotel. Shivering with cold and dripping from rain, he found gauze, tape and antiseptic. He placed the items on the counter. The clerk eyed him suspiciously as he rung up the sale. Ray handed him his credit card.
"Sorry, our phone lines are down because of the flooding. I can't take a credit card."
"It's all I have." Ray said, helplessly.
"I'm sorry." The boy shrugged.
"I'll take care of it." A man said. Ray looked up and a stranger smiled at him. "I'm Thomas Barnum." The man said. Ray sighed.
The boy gave Barnum his change and bagged Ray's supplies. Thomas took the bag and walked Ray out to his car.
"I'll follow you." He said. Ray watched him return to his own vehicle where another man was waiting.
They followed him to his hotel and introductions were made in the parking lot. Barnum was in his thirties with thick brown hair and calm gray eyes. The second man was Paul Hernandez. He had an olive complexion, black hair and dark eyes. He was younger. Both men wore jeans and sweaters. Barnum covered his beige sweater with a brown blazer. Hernandez wore a waist length leather jacket. He also worked for Simon March. The three men went to Ray's room. Barnum opened up the medical supplies and wrapped Ray's hand.
"You're freezing." He said, frowning.
"I've been wet for about twelve hours." Ray replied.
"Why don't you grab a shower and change. We'll wait for you."
"Can't use the shower, it's broken. But I will change into something dry. There's coffee over there if you want it." Ray indicated the coffee maker.
Ray pulled a pair of jeans and a sweater out of his bag and went to the bathroom to change. Might as well wear the official investigator's uniform, he thought wryly. When he emerged, the two men were sipping coffee and talking softly to each other. Thomas handed him a cup.
Ray sat on the bed. The two investigators sat at the table. Thomas asked if he was feeling warmer and Ray said he was, although that was a lie.
"We saw you chase her." Thomas began, "We followed discreetly because we didn't want her to see us and you indicated you wanted surveillance only."
"That's right." Ray agreed.
"Unfortunately, we lost her because we were mainly following you."
"So, she's disappeared again?"
"That's likely. We'll go back to her apartment and watch through the night, but I don't think she'll go back there."
"No, she won't." Ray agreed.
"Did you contact the FBI or the local authorities?"
"No, I wanted to see her first."
"That's unfortunate, Detective Vecchio. It would have been nice to have their backup." Ray nodded. Barnum was right. "Is there anything we can do for you now?"
"No, thank you for letting me know you were there."
"Mr. March will be in touch."
The two men left and Ray realized Hernandez had not spoken. The man was probably thinking their client was an imbecile. He also realized he had not eaten anything that day except for a bag of peanuts on the plane. He considered ordering something from room service but the kitchen closed at nine. He considered going out but could not face another dousing by the rain. He stripped off his clothes instead and climbed into bed. He turned the television on using the remote but fell asleep before he found something to watch.
Several hours later, Ray woke shivering. He rolled up into the blankets, trying to get warm. He pulled the covers closer around him and slipped back to sleep.
In the morning he woke, still freezing with a pounding headache. His body ached with tremors. He squeezed his eyes shut and cursed the flu. Slowly, he reached for the telephone and made a return flight reservation. Sick or not, he wanted to go home.
He wanted to cancel March's service. He wanted to put Victoria into the past where she belonged. If Benny could do it, so could he. The confrontation yesterday proved he could not kill her. He wished he had arrested her, but there was nothing to be done about that. He felt like a miserable failure but at least he could let it go now.
He rolled over painfully to stare at the ceiling before forcing himself out of bed. He barely made it to the shower. Then he barely made it back out when the scalding water reminded him of the shower's impairment.
He failed to bring any medicine with him for this overnight so he had nothing to take for his throbbing hand or his aching head, not to mention the vicious body aches racking through every muscle. He looked in the mirror and knew he couldn't drive. He called Thomas Barnum.
Thomas sounded tired and less polite than the night before. But, he agreed to drive the rental and Ray back to the airport. Ray thought he sounded relieved that he was leaving. No doubt, the man was cursing him for messing up months of work in about half an hour.
Thomas brought him ibuprofen and orange juice. He looked Ray over and suggested the detective reconsider his plans.
"Rest for the day. You don't want to fly like that and they probably won't let you on the plane anyway."
"I really want to get out of here."
"Give it a day, Vecchio."
Ray had to admit that Barnum made sense. He could barely keep his head up and his body ached miserably. Thomas left the pain medicine and told him he'd check in later.
Ray did not have anything warm to put on so he dragged the blankets off the second bed. He stripped and crawled under the covers, keeping the ibuprofen and a glass of water beside him.
For a long time, he couldn't sleep. He drifted sometimes but the headache and throbbing in his limbs kept him from resting. He listened to the rain outside and wished he were home with his mother to look after him. There's nothing like being sick to bring out the little boy, he thought.
Sometime during the day a repairman knocked on his door. He dragged himself up, keeping a blanket wrapped tightly around him. Then listened for two hours as the man clanked and sang in the bathroom as he repaired the shower. When he left, he said the temperature problem was repaired and launched into a lengthy explanation of how he accomplished the goal. Ray could barely follow his words and had no interest in the particulars. His mind and body rejoiced when the man left.
The television provided lonely company after that. He continued sipping
orange juice while his body fought the virus. As dusk settled over the
city, Ray slipped into a light sleep. He woke when his stomach started
aching. A few minutes later, Ray became close friends with the commode.
In fact, they became friends several times over the next few hours.
Ray finally went back to sleep, exhausted and miserable. The next time he woke, someone was in the room with him. His first thought was she came to kill him. The second thought was 'that's not a woman'. He sat up slowly; his heart beating too hard but too sick to react much.
"Ray, it's all right. It's Fraser."
"Oh, God." Ray slumped back, tapping his head on the headboard and cursing about it.
"How are you feeling?"
"With my hands." He answered, irritably.
"Pardon?" Fraser flipped the light on above his head. Ray squinted, putting his hand over his brow to block the glare and moaning from the burst of pain through his skull.
"Never mind, Benny. What're you doing here?"
"I followed you."
"When I realized you lied to me, I thought you might use my help. Would you like the light off?"
"No, I just need to get used to it." And get used to you being here, he thought. Fraser waited.
As Ray adjusted to the light and allowed his churning stomach to settle, he noticed Benny was dressed in jeans and an ivory sweater. Someone must have told him about the official investigator's uniform, Ray thought, and almost laughed.
"You shouldn't have come." He said finally.
"Perhaps not." Ben answered thoughtfully.
"How did you find me?"
"Your credit card trail."
"Wait, start from the beginning. My head is pounding. I can't keep up with you."
"This can wait until morning, Ray. You should rest."
"No, it's all right, Benny, I really wanna hear this."
"Well, first, your mother is fine." Ray jerked up, his heart shifting uncomfortably into his throat.
"What's wrong with Ma?"
"As I said, she's fine. She slipped on the walk in front of the house and twisted her ankle. Maria took her to the hospital and it is a very minor sprain."
"She's all right?"
"Yes. But, when Maria attempted to reach you through Leftenant Welsh, she was told you had a taken some vacation time. She wasn't aware of your plans so she phoned me at the Consulate, hoping to find you there."
"But, I wasn't with you. You thought I left town on business."
"Yes. So, of course, we both became concerned. I phoned Leftenant Welsh and he indicated you were acting strangely but since he had seen you and we had both spoken with you, he was not inclined to issue an APB."
"I would hope not."
"But, Maria and I were still quite worried and then Francesca arrived at the hospital and she was quite worried and then she told your mother and well, your family was swept up in several conspiracy theories most often ending in your appearance in Lake Michigan."
"So you had to find me."
"To alleviate their concerns."
"So you traced my credit card."
"It seemed most expedient."
"Then you flew here?"
"I considered calling you but given your lies which is most unusual for you, I thought perhaps you were in some sort of trouble."
"Could you stop putting it like that?"
"Like what, Ray?"
"The lying. You keep mentioning it."
"It's the truth." Ray sighed. His head was nearly ready to split. He reached for the ibuprofen and popped four into his mouth. The pills hit his stomach and lasted about four seconds before he was racing naked across the room and into the bathroom.
Fraser stood politely staring out the window when Ray returned to the bed. He lied back against the pillows and closed his eyes. Unable to face telling the truth and too sick to care about Benny's opinion, he allowed himself to go back to sleep.
A few hours later when Ray opened his eyes, Fraser was lying on the opposite bed staring at the ceiling. His hands were folded across his chest. Ray wrapped a blanket around himself and headed for the bathroom. He returned to find Benny sitting on the edge of the bed, staring at the floor.
"You look terrible, Ray. Feeling any better?," Benny asked, concern flashing in his blue eyes.
"No. Yes, my head doesn't hurt as much. I'm ready to go home."
"Tomorrow might be better, Ray. Your stomach would probably prefer it."
"Yea, maybe." He crawled back under the covers.
"Would you like anything? Tea or soda or crackers?"
"No, not yet. Thanks anyway."
The uncomfortable silence that followed left both men staring out the hotel room window. Or at least trying to stare outside between the narrow opening at the curtain. Ray cursed himself, knowing he would have to start this conversation and not knowing how it would end. He knew this could signal the end of their friendship.
"You know we have to talk about this trip." Ray said, suddenly. Benny nodded seriously.
"Do you know why I'm here?"
"No, Ray, I don't."
Ray took a breath before continuing. He finally let his mind go blank and he blurted out the story. He explained when and why he hired the March Agency. He explained the close calls and the disappointments. He explained his rush to New York and described his meeting with Victoria. The words rushed out of him like a confession and when he was done, he was afraid to look at his friend. When he did look, Benny was not sitting on the bed and Ray thought for a moment that he had left, disgusted and furious. Instead, he found him standing by the window staring outside with one hand pulling the curtains slightly open.
The silence that followed was like hanging over a precipice waiting for your other hand to slip. Ray held his breath until his head hurt.
"You gonna talk to me or not?" He finally said, unable to wait any longer.
"I'm glad you told me, Ray." Benny said, quietly.
"And?" Ray pressed.
Fraser turned around. His eyes were cloudy; his mouth was set in a harsh, thin line. He studied his friend for awhile before he spoke.
"You said you did this for me." He said carrying too much anger not to be yelling. And yet his voice was soft and even. "That is not true. You know I wouldn't want you to kill her. I wouldn't want you to spend your money or time trying to find her. You know that."
"She should pay for what she did to you."
"What she did to us, Ray. She nearly cost you your career, almost sent you to prison."
"Fine, what she did to us, but it was about you."
"No, this vendetta was your own. I can accept that you wanted to punish her for her actions. And I know that you wouldn't have killed her even though you didn't know it. I can forgive that you lied to me when you left town and have been lying by omission for a long time. But, I won't take responsibility for any of it."
"Benny." Ray started, his voice almost pleading. Fraser interrupted.
"No, please think about it, Ray. At what point, did you think I would be happy about your actions? Did you imagine that I'd be happy to discover she was dead? Or that you killed her? What did either of those things have to do with anything I wanted?"
Ray had no answer. In truth, he never considered having this conversation. He thought he would kill her, make it look like self-defense and come home. He never actually imagined telling Fraser. In retrospect, he figured his mind was protecting him from this part. He played with the bandage around his hand for a few moments.
"I don't know what to say." He finally answered.
"Fine, but I would like you to admit the truth to yourself. I don't want to work with you, call you my friend and have you always believing you did something for me that could have cost you everything. You have done many things for me. Stood by me through that mess with her and a thousand other things that I'll always be grateful for. But, this, Ray, was for yourself."
Benny left the hotel room. He knew the Mountie would return. His sense
of obligation to his sick partner would bring him back. But, Ray knew
he had some serious amends to make. He snuggled back down into the covers.
His head throbbing dully for a long time before his illness forced him
back to sleep. He dreamed about white wolves and dark eyes. He dreamed
about train whistles and gunshots and overwhelming guilt. And he dreamed
about being alone.