We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Little Gidding, T.S. Eliot
The doors of the emergency ward burst open. A gaunt man lay sprawled on the stretcher with his eyes wide open. A gaping hole in his chest poured out blood. The paramedics attached wires to his arms and pressed gauze onto the severe gunshot wound. A tall, black-haired woman ran to the stretcher and tried to touch him. She screamed out his name and let out a sharp cry as a taller man in a foreign uniform pulled her back and let her relax in his open arms. The paramedics pushed the man into the surgery room and vanished in the background as the E.R. team worked to save him.
"Blood pressure 106/74."
"One entrance wound."
"Severe gunshot wound to the upper thorax. Possible compromise of the lungs."
"Do we have an X-ray?"
"The bullet's just missed the lower portion of the left lung but there is severe haemorrhage. The lower ribs are shattered."
"I want a large bore peripheral IV access, like now!"
"Blood type O."
"This fella's going to have a nasogastric tube for some time."
"Damn! he's messed up."
"He's going into shock."
"Prepare the confibulators!"
"We're losing him!"
"Crank it up!"
"No one dies on my watch!"
The voice was soft. The lights less glaring. Ray looked to the side of him.
Carmine Vecchio stood over his son. He locked his eyes with his son's eyes.
"Where am I?"
"In between here and there, and that's as clear as I can make it," Carmine expounded.
It wasn't clear but Ray desired no further explanation. He did not feel his body any more. He did not feel cold or tired or hungry. The hole in his chest did not exist. All Ray could understand was that he was no longer corporeal. The body he had occupied his entire mortal life was separated from where he was now. As Ray rose, he saw the team of doctors trying to save the body he once had. He no longer needed an illustration. His time had come.
Ray gulped back an obstruction. His eyes became glassy.
"Is it really time to go yet?"
Carmine shook his head.
"No. No, you can't go yet. It's not time to leave." Carmine placed his hand on his son's shoulder. "You have to go back."
Ray ignored his father, moved to the operating table and mingled between the frantic arms trying to save the body. Copious amounts of blood covered the chest of the body. Ray looked into his own eyes. He at once felt frightened. He was watching his own death and entrance into the spirit world. Nothing he had ever been told could cushion the shock.
"God, this feels so weird. I'm looking at myself at both ends.
I'm watching myself die and go to Heaven and..."
Carmine tugged on Ray's shoulder and pulled him back.
Green eyes were wide open staring at the ceiling. The arms were burdened with needles and tubes. A web of blue clad arms crossed over the body, interchangedly like a spider weaving a tapestry. Ray moved further back.
"I look really bad," Ray remarked.
Behind the glass, a tall young man waited with a woman. Ray touched the glass. He stared straight into pairs of blue eyes.
"Benny, Bess, it's me," Ray uttered weakly.
When they did not hear him Ray pounded the glass. It did not even shudder.
"They can't hear you or see you," Carmine pulled Ray's shoulder. "To them, you're not even here."
Ray felt weak. His knees buckled yet he did not have a distinct sensation of that.
"I will never see them again."
"You will see them," his father promised. "You have to go back."
"If I have to go back, then why am I here?"
"You're on the verge of death, Raymond," Carmine explained, "it's a mistake to be here now. If you go back, then everything can be set right again. Hurry! There is no time to lose!"
Ray shook his head.
"Bill and Solly were right," Ray nodded his head, "we would never come back."
A long, sharp tone echoed in the ER room. The body had flatlined.
"It is my time to go."
Carmine shook Ray.
"Don't be stupid, Ray! You have to go back! Now!"
The waiting room became quiet. No one moved. Ray was now with Fraser and Bess. He stood at a distance from them. Their faces were etched with a shock Ray had never seen on them before. Bess collapsed into Fraser's arms. Ray wanted to run to her, hold her and tell her everything would be alright.
"I wish I could tell her why," Ray lamented.
"You can't," Carmine said. "You're not even supposed to be here."
Bess doubled over, her face ghastly pale. The chords in her neck stood out. She flung her head back and let out a scream that pierced the silence of the ward. Still, as she thrashed, her brother's strong arms gripped her. He hid his face on her shoulder. Ray ran to them and knelt beside them.
"Please, Bessie, I love you. Please understand."
She made no notice of his proclamation. She wailed for him and beat her fists into her brother's back. Ray moved closer to them, close enough to wipe the tears from their faces. He could see that Fraser's face was wet.
Ray tried to touch him.
"Benny, I have to go. You should understand. Benny?"
Ray felt defeated.
"Why the fuck did you tell me all those Inuit stories if there's no meaning to this?!" he waved his arms around him. "Was it to waste time or did you really mean it, you crazy mother fucker, answer me?!"
Ray felt onto Fraser's shoulder, defeated.
"I would rage against the dying of the light but would it profit me anything?"
"...Santa Maria, madre di Dio, preghia a noi peccatore, adesso e nostre morte. Amen."
The elderly Italian woman kissed the Crucifix on her rosary beads and left the coffin. Ray stood by a row of elderly women silently, as if there were any other way to stand. They prayed for him in one endless mantra. No one could hear or see him. Ray turned from the coffin. He could see his mother and his sister clinging on to one another, utterly bereft. He sat beside them.
"Mama," he whispered, "don't cry, Mama. I'm alright."
Carmine scowled at his son.
"Do you see how you hurt your mother?"
"Like you've never hurt her?" Ray shot back.
Ray took his eyes from his father and watched as Bess strode to the coffin. A black dress swathed her slender body. She kept her head high. Ray sighed. She was always regal. Bess opened the coffin lid. Her fingers hovered over her husband's pale face.
"Why did you leave me?" she whispered to the body.
She touched the waning brow of her dead husband.
Ray moved to Bess and whispered to her even though she could never hear him.
"Bess, I know you can hear me. Know that I love you and that I had to leave."
Bess tilted her head to see her husband in a different light.
"When Ron died, I wasn't even allowed see him. He was so badly burnt." She lifted his hand and pressed to her face. "Why couldn't you come back? Or take me with you?"
"Bess, you can't go. You have to stay. The children need you."
"If you asked, I would have come with you."
"I would never ask this, Bess. Not now."
"Why not now, Ray? I don't want to be a widow."
Ray's hand fell on her jet hair.
"I don't want you to be a widow."
Bess sturdied herself.
"You promised you would never leave me again."
Bess dropped the hand. She tapped the body.
"You lied to me."
She punched the body hard.
"You lied to me! You lied to me!" The tears came now. "Damn you, Ray! You're a bloody liar!"
A scrawny blond man pulled her away. She struggled against him.
"Let go of me!" she screamed.
Ray ran to them though he was unable to stop her thrashing.
"Bessie, stop, for God's sakes!"
"Damn you!" Ray screamed at the blond man. "You don't know how to treat her!"
"Let go of me, damn you!" she screamed.
He let go of her. Bess ran out of the church. Ray followed her. She was pale, weak. She could no longer support her thin frame. She fell face first to the pavement. She lay crumpled on the ground and let the tears run from her eyes. Huey picked her up and carried her in. Another man wiped away a trickle of blood that formed at the corner of her brow.
"Take her to the rectory," the blond man instructed. "She can rest there." He brushed her hair from the bleeding cut. "Bessie, I'll look after you. I promise."
Ray swiveled to the man.
"You want her for yourself, don't you?" He circled the man. "I know you. You're the guy who was supposed to replace me. Have replaced me in every way? Huh?"
The man could not hear him which compounded Ray's anger and frustration. The blond man followed Huey into the rectory and waited for him to leave Bess alone. Bess rested on the sofa. Her eyes fluttered and the cut on her head collected coagulated blood. The man knelt near her and whispered to her.
"Bessie, I'll look after you now. No one will ever hurt you again. I won't leave." His lips touched her neck. "I'll be right near you."
He kissed her neck impulsively.
Bess shivered at the man's attentions but she felt too weak to stop him. Surrender was the only alternative right now.
"You son-of-a-bitch!" Ray rasped.
The desire to kill had grown strong. It was compacted by the fact that Ray was no longer alive. His beautiful Bess was made vulnerable by his death and open to the unwanted attentions of unwanted men.
Ray made his way back into the church. He thought of Bess. He wanted to tell her but couldn't. He wanted to protect her but couldn't. He wasn't there any more. Ray fell into a pew, buried his head between his knees and wept for his wretched state and for his wife whose heart he could faintly feel beating.
Clicking. Tiny shoes tiptoed to his coffin. Cyfrin touched her father's face. It was cold, unresponsive to her touch. Every time she used to touch him, he would return to her kisses and hugs for his favourite child. Now, Cyfrin felt barren. Her purpose to be loved was over. She limply moved as a pair of strong hands moved her aside. Fraser stood over his friend. Ray moved to him.
Fraser didn't hear him. Locked onto his pale face, Fraser never moved his gaze from Ray. His eyes traced every line on Ray's pale face. He stood over the coffin motionless for a long time. At last, a piteous sigh broke his shoulders and they caved in. Fraser's eyes became misty. He reached into his pocket and lay on his friend's chest a cross, one obtained in an act of bravery.
"I won't need it any more, Ray," Fraser said and walked away.
The consulate was quiet. Thatcher had gone home for the evening. All was quiet. The lights had been dimmed. Fraser sat in the darkness for a long time, his face straining against the urge to weep. Fraser leaned in his chair. His hands were laid flat on his desk. At last, he was resigned. Ray could tell. He edged to the desk.
"Benny, what are you thinking?"
Lifting his right hand, Fraser opened the desk drawer and pulled out his revolver. He placed it under his chin and pulled the trigger.
"No!" Ray cried. "This can't happen!"
Carmine nodded at his stubborn son.
"It isn't supposed to. Things end much differently."
"Hold on a minute and I'll show you."
Ray turned around. He was back from where he started. The emergency room still bustled under the pressure to save Ray's body. Bess and Fraser still waited anxiously for him to recover.
"It never happened..." Ray sighed.
"It wasn't supposed to, Ray," Carmine scowled at his wayward son. "You shouldn't have left. Things end much differently for you."
Ray's face became solemn.
Carmine's face became blank.
"If I show you, you won't remember when you go back."
Ray huffed at the futility of it all.
"Then why show me?"
Carmine took his son's arm.
"Because you won't go back unless I do."
Carmine walked toward a light.
"In order to get where we're going, we have to know where we've been."
Ray followed limply like a lost child.
"So where are we going?"
September 12, 1962
The rain poured relentlessly. It streamed off of the lead-paned windows of Fanelli's tavern like little rivers. Carmine came here often to get away from the family, from life, from the workaday world that condemned him to an honest but tedious existence. Here he was free to unwind and indulge in the pleasures that family life frowned on. He threw his head back and swigged down the bourbon. The others laughed at his recklessness. He leant over and pointed his pool stick before the red ball.
"Baby needs a new pair of shoes," he laughed to a drunken flock of men.
The door swung open as Carmine made his shot. A thin, olive-faced boy charged in from the rain and ran to Carmine.
Carmine spun around and raised his hand to strike his eldest son, Carlito. The skinny boy, drenched with the rain, ducked before the potential blow could smite his cheek.
"Mama's in the hospital," the boy panted.
Realizing the urgency of the situation but frustrated that his night on the town was cut short, Carmine grabbed his jacket and headed out in the rain.
Two men peered through the window and watched as Carmine and Carlito made their way to the hospital. Ray crossed his arms. He huffed impatiently.
"You never could hold your booze."
"I may be dead, but I can still kick your ass!" Carmine warned.
Hospitals were always bright. Hallways blinded one as though a great luminescence shone right through them.. Nurses were plain-faced white figures who moved like automaton through the wards. Carmine and Carlito emerged from the rain and plowed their way to the front desk of the maternity ward.
"I'm looking for my, wife," Carmine explained, "Mariana Vecchio."
The beefy-faced nurse grimaced at Carmine and returned to her paperwork.
"The guido? Down the hall, to the left."
Carmine bit his lip and suppressed an urge to slap the insolent nurse. He raced down the hall and turned left. Knocking once, he charged into the room.
Mariana Vecchio sat upright in her bed. No longer swollen with young in her belly, she beamed at her errant husband and kept a finger to her lips.
"Due bambini." She lifted the corner of her blanket to reveal two olive faces pursed shut in slumber. "Raimono e Railena."
Carmine edged up gently to the babies. Twin children were nestled on Mariana's hip. Wisps of brown hair curled their scalps. The only movement Carmine could detect was the light breathing the infants made as their chests heaved lightly.
"God, you kids had Italian lungs," Carmine smiled proudly.
Ray smiled back. He knew what that meant. When Cyfrin was an infant, she wailed for the whole neighbourhood to hear.
"But when I saw you first, I thought you could never make a sound," Carmine admitted, "you were so delicate, like something made out of china."
Ray was solemn. He had never before heard his father speak in such terms. The gruffness was gone. Ray was taken aback. It was a tenderness he had never been accustomed to. He wondered why he had experienced it now and not before. It made him angry for a moment. He turned from his young mother and slapped Carmine on the shoulder.
"Why the hell weren't you there when I was born? Mama needed you."
Carmine spun on his heels.
"Who the hell are you to tell me where I should be and shouldn't be? I'm your father!"
"Does that make you infallible?"
Carmine shook his finger at Ray.
"It makes me what I am!"
"And what is that?"
"The man who's gotta cart your ass to where it should be," Carmine pulled Ray from the hospital room, "'cause I know you won't do it for yourself."
Ray stood in the middle of a park that was quite familiar to him in a life long since past. A ten-year-old boy metres away was pumped full of energy waiting for a ball game to begin.
"Where the hell are we now?"
"That's you when you were ten," Carmine pointed to the boy.
Ray nodded. He remembered now.
Ray now was almost as tall as his father. His hair was in a buzzcut, his body not quite a man's and his face was still baby-soft. He grinned with anticipation.
"Are ya ready, Pop?"
Carmine stood a few metres from his son. The sun tucked itself from the clouds only to reappear every so often. It may very well rain, they thought, but now would be an ideal time to play catch. The park was almost empty. Scant voices were made apparent in the distance. Traces of other lives. Ray plunged the baseball into his mitt and waited for his father. Carmine placed his mitt on his hand and readied himself.
"Are you ready or what, Ray? Throw!"
Ray made the pitch and Carmine caught.
"Great, Ray. How about a little more oomph next time? You throw like your sister!"
The next pitch, Ray whipped it at his father. Carmine laughed as Ray improved.
Ray observed the boy he once was.
"You never yelled at me, Pop. Not when we were playing baseball. Did you know that?"
Carmine smirked at Ray.
"Look, if you're gonna be all soft on me..."
"No, I mean it, Pop."
Carmine read Ray's face. He had ever seen his son so serious.
"What the hell is that supposed to mean?"
Ray's shoulders sunk. He sighed frustratedly.
"What did I do that was so wrong? Everything I've ever done was never good enough for you. You had to whack me or lock me out of the house or humiliate everyday of my life." Ray turned to the boy and the man. "But then- then was a time when you didn't. When I finally did something right for you."
Carmine was speechless. Ray was irrefutably right, at least as far as he could see. For once he saw what his son struggled with- the desire to do something for approval, the only form of love he had any hope of attaining. Carmine kicked the soggy grass with his toe.
"I only wanted you to grow up right, Ray. That was all."
Ray still stared at the boy and his father.
"You were never on the receiving end, Pop."
Ray broke his stare and turned away.
"Let's go, Pop."
Ray had spent seven years on the police force. Another three years would guarantee him the rank of detective he so desired. Everything he had wanted since childhood was falling into place. As he watched Francesca and Maria place decorations about the house, he swore to himself not to tell his father. He had never approved of Ray's being a police officer. He had never approved of Ray. When he telephoned Angie she seemed happy. He wished he could see the smile on her warm olive face but that would never happen. She had an odd way of avoiding him. She was not at home or had no time to speak to him. She was home last time and had plenty of time to hear what he had to say even if she didn't say anything back. How he loved her.
Carlito ducked into the house and warned everybody.
"Hey, you guys! Pop's coming."
Francesca grinned fervently.
"Oh, this is so exciting!" she beamed as she shut of the lights and hid behind the coat rack in the lobby.
Ray remained still. He would not tell his father. He would not even dream of it. He could just imagine what his father would say. The usual interrogation of why he had to become a police officer in the first place, the rant of how police officers arrest ordinary citizens and not the bad guys. At least Raylene shoots drug-dealers and people like that, he would muse as he pondered his daughter's profession as a member of the elite SWAT team. He would then slap his son on the side of the head and curse him. Not his profession but him. Ray would wander about the house feeling dejected if not stirred into anger.
"I'm not telling him," Ray whispered to himself. "Why should I tell him? He doesn't care what I think or what I want." Ray steeled himself, an exercise in futility. "Nah, I won't tell him."
It was a lie to believe he was strong enough to resist his father's scathing disapproval.
Ray's mother touched his arm gently.
"Ray, hide. Your father is coming."
Ray scarcely noticed his mother's gentle warning. He remained in the corner, quiet and pensive.
The house was dark. Maria uttered that she could see her father move to the door. The door opened. The squeak of brass hinges echoed in the lobby. Shadows jittered and then remained still. Carmine moved to turn the light on.
Carmine's eyes bulged. His children grinned in anticipation. Had the surprise worked? They waited for his approval.
Instead, Carmine stepped back. His hand shot to his chest. He leaned against the wall and then fell face forward.
Carmine's children gaped. Their father didn't breathe or move. Dropping to their knees, they searched for a pulse. Nothing. Tony, Maria's husband, leant over Carmine.
"Oh, God!" Tony gasped. "Maria, I think your father's dead."
She screamed at him to shut up and prayed to her father to rise again.
Instant panic burst through the floodgates of disbelief and fear. Someone telephoned an ambulance. Mariana knelt by her husband and pulled on his arms.
"Carmine! Carmine!" she wailed.
"Daddy, wake up!" Francesca screamed.
Ray moved from the corner. His face was blank. He looked at the dead man on the floor. Grateful, relieved breath escaped his lungs. His eyes gazed up at heaven and a look of surprise was etched on his face.
"Thank God," Ray exhaled.
It was a beautiful sunny day. The Vecchio family sat huddled together in a mass of pulsated weeping. Mariana Vecchio was inconsolable. She wailed for her dead husband. She tried to throw herself over the coffin, an imperishable suti.
Francesca held her back from the coffin as the pallbearers laid it into the earth. Ray sat next to his mother. His brothers and sisters wailed for their father yet he remained calm. He was dead at last. The man who yelled and cursed and hit and punched was now laid in the earth. Ray could hardly believe it.
Picking up a handful of dirt, Ray tossed it carelessly onto the coffin and turned his back on the crowd of mourners. Lieutenant Walsh withdrew slightly from a scattered few grievers.
"Ray, I...uh.. Want to express my condolences."
Ray tried to look serious.
"Yeah, it was terrible, how can you explain these things? It's so sad, really it is, but you must go on, life goes on, we must live on."
Walsh became grave.
"Enough with the bullshit, Vecchio. You didn't really like your father, did you?"
Ray smirked at him.
"Nearly thirty years of smackin' me around and telling me how no good I was. You tell me."
Ray left Walsh with an iron sense of understanding. He felt angry and wanted to spread the feeling now that he could. Ray obscured the sun from his eyes to see a lone woman standing away from the grave site. He recognized her right away.
Angie waited by a knotted oak tree that was entwined with the iron-wrought gate. Ray ran to her. She tried to remain composed as she met her ex-husband.
"Angie!" he held out her hands.
Angie joined his hands. She hadn't touched him since they last spoke three years ago. In fact, they had not seen much of each other at all. Ray let his free hand wander to Angie's soft face. She remained cold to his touch so he removed his hand sadly. She wanted him to touch her still but something wouldn't allow it and she wasn't sure what it was. Whether it was the funeral winding down or the painful, shattering failure of their marriage, Angie could not say.
"Ray, I'm sorry."
Ray laughed. Angie felt hurt and puzzled at his strange reaction.
"Why? I'm not."
Angie looked shocked. She tried to move her mouth to speak, to raise
an objection, to introduce decency and decorum over the death of his
father and her father-in-law. Ray just swung his arms out in relief.
"Angie, the man spent ninety-nine-point-nine percent of his life humiliating me. I thought I was going to hell in a hand basket. Now I'm going to Heaven in a Mercedes. Can you believe it?"
Angie moved away from him. Her face went pale with shock. How could he talk that way about his father? His green eyes were popped open with surprise at his "good" fortune. This worried Angie more than anything about him ever did. She backed away slowly.
"I don't know you," she muttered and ran for her car.
"The only good thing he's ever done for me was to leave me the house!" Ray cried after her.
Carmine bit his lip.
"I died and you rejoiced."
Ray nodded. Now he did not feel proud of the fact.
"Years of weight you pressed down on me were gone, Pop. You don't know what it was like to breathe at last." Ray stared directly into Carmine's eyes. "I swear, if Bess ever gives me a son, when I die he will mourn me." Ray broke his stare. "A son should have to mourn for his father."
"You're damn right!" his father angrily concurred.
Ray shook his head.
"You don't get it, do you?" Ray huffed. "You stifled me for twenty-seven years! Do you know what it's like to breathe?! I've been shot in the chest. I know what it's like not to breathe. But to really breathe!" Ray pulled away from Carmine. "And that's why I want a son of my own. To prove to myself I can do better than you did!"
"I can't believe what I'm hearing. I never led you astray once, Ray. Never!"
"You never led me!" Ray yelled back. "If you weren't drinking and ignoring me, you were slapping me and yelling at me. Your death was the breathing space I needed. I was free, free at last!"
Ray became drunk with laughter. The feeling of emancipation had come
back and he remembered how happy he was when his father died. Carmine
walked up to him and slapped him. Ray shot back by punching the man
in the face.
"You can't do that do me anymore, Pop! I'm not a little kid that you can push around!"
Carmine tugged at Ray's shirt.
"You're still my son!"
Ray pushed him away.
"You were never my father!" Ray veered away from him. "Don't you see? I wanted a father. That's what I found in Carlotta. A mobster, a man who killed for a living looked out for me more than you ever did!" Ray became limp for a second. "Do you know what? I envied Fraser. That's right. I was jealous that he had a dad that taught him stuff and..." Ray lost his thought.
"What?" Carmine asked interestedly.
"I envied Fraser!" Ray screamed. "I was jealous of a guy who irons his undershorts! A fucking bore had me knots, for God's sake!"
Carmine still gaped.
"Oh, you're gone," he swayed his hand at Ray and walked from him.
Ray became slack. He surrendered to what he thought death had liberated from his father- the lack of affection he had so desperately wanted his whole life.
"When you're quite finished complaining how I didn't baby your ass as a kid," Carmine began as he ascended the stairs to the bullpen at the twenty-seventh precinct, "I'll take you to the next stage of your life when..."
Ray stopped when Carmine led him through and smiled.
"Yeah, I know where we are."
The tall young man in the unfamiliar uniform looked in earnest for the stranger in the lethal confines of the cell.
"Excuse me, I am looking for- Detective Armani."
Ray let out a nervous laugh and then called for the guard to free him.
"He could have had you killed."
Ray laughed wistfully.
"Yeah, that would have put ya off!" Ray laughed again when he thought of the rocky road toward friendship. The Inuit tales, the insane leaps from incredible heights, the reasons why the muskox should never under any circumstances be tormented, the tasting of things man was never meant to place in his mouth, the bond forged by forces neither of them could comprehend.
"This is Bess- Elizabeth- my fraternal twin sister."
Fraser introduced the sister who had been distant for so many years. Ray circled everyone there- Fraser, Bess, Elaine, his smitten self. The beautiful dream had come back.
Ray could hear the angels singing even now. The sweet, tender, stirring notes of Mio Babbino Caro filled his ears. He imagined he could smell her scent, a mixture of starched red tunic and wild cherry soap. Her face softened to a smile, a polite gesture on her part, to her twin brother's friend. She removed her Stetson. A braid of raven silken hair collapsed to her shoulder. Her eyes were the brightest blue. Ray scrutinized her form. Why the stuffy uniform? He thought over and over again how he would like to undress her. And later on that year, he had his chance.
Ray questioned over and over again why he had decided to join Fraser on the mission to seek the murderer of his lover. He tried to convince himself that it was to find the would-be murderer of Terri Tugiak but Ray knew otherwise. He had a suspicion and could obtain an extradition warrant whenever it suited him. No, it was something else that made him choose frozen. Yes. Frozen. Why? First, Ray had no desire ever to visit Canada. Not that he bore an animosity to the country but that the thought had never really entered his head. Secondly, he still could not believe that Fraser indeed had a lover and begot a child, the shy, innocent Anna who drifted into the squad room mysteriously from the streets. Now he was sitting outside the hangar of the Inuvik airfield in a Ford Jimmy freezing his ass off.
"I knew whoever it was on the phone was a fucking liar, Benny," Ray asserted. "I can piece things like that together."
Fraser paid him little heed. He kept his sights on the shadows that moved within the hangar.
Ray nodded back.
"I mean- I guess you could say that this type of thing is my element, picking out sleazeballs who lie like you pick out, uh...moose or something."
Ray did not like the waiting and loathed the inattentiveness of Fraser even more.
"Benny, do you mind if I put my tongue in your ear?"
Fraser muttered something and then became pale.
"I had to get you attention somehow, Benny."
Fraser looked perturbed.
"This isn't a laughing matter, Ray," Fraser softly scolded him.
Ray hung his head.
"How did you meet this Lisa woman? I mean-"
Ray stopped. It seemed that every woman who emerged from Fraser's past caused him pain. He thought of Victoria. He wished that he had shot her. If she ever returned, he promised he would.
"I don't really want to talk about Lisa. It was a long time ago."
Ray understood. He would never discuss Angie with him, why would he talk about Lisa, even if she did give him a daughter?
Waiting. It was tedious and nerve-wracking. Ray fiddled with anything- the car keys, the rearview mirror, the radio dials. The stations were set to AM. Quite boring but when FM was inaccessible and boredom gnawed at one's temples, AM seemed pretty exciting. Ray tapped his fingers on the dashboard to the blended trumpet and piano tones.
"I got a song, it ain't got no melody," Ray sang, "and I'm gonna sing it to my friends."
Fraser seemed untouched by the rhythm.
"I said I got a song, it ain't got no melody and I'm gonna sing to my friends," Ray repeated.
Fraser's concentration seemed breached. His glance was diverted from the hangar.
"Gonna go 'round in circles," Ray sang, "gonna fly high like a bird up in the sky."
"Gonna go 'round in circles," Fraser joined in with an extraordinary amount of soul in his voice, "gonna fly high like a bird up in the sky!"
The two men belted out the tune wildly, possessed by its ability to infect others with its swinging beat. Fraser stopped and tapped Ray's arm. The song was over.
"There, Ray," Fraser pointed. "Those are the men sent to ambush us."
Ray nodded once.
"Want us off the case, huh?" Ray opened the car door. "Let's get into character."
Ray had never seen Fraser like that before. The tall, clean-shaven man was scarcely recognizable. The year lost in the Arctic had made a savage out of him. His dark hair had grown shoulder length and he had a beard. Frostbite faintly appeared on his cheeks. But Fraser had come back just as Anna said he would. Ray now abandoned all custom. His friend had risen from the dead and returned to him. Ray ran past the handful of mourners gathered at the service and embraced him.
"I missed you," he whispered softly in his ear.
The sentiment soon departed as Ray realized an awfully pungent reality of the frozen North.
"You really stink!" he proclaimed.
"That's not important now, Ray," Fraser shoved the point-of-interest aside.
Elaine came behind him with a baby strapped to her back. Ray peered at the child. His skin was the colour of creamed tea and his eyes were blue like his father's. He reinforced Ray's sense of life. If this child could survive, then Elaine and Fraser could survive as well. Ray touched the baby's cheek. When it came time for the child to be baptized proper a week later, Ray stepped forward and embraced Daniel Robert Raymond Fraser into his family.
The night stung Bess' skin but she didn't care. She could feel what she had longed to feel for the longest time. Ray held her tight and never once gave hint that he may let her go. For all his begging, cajoling and waiting, he would soon marry Bess. He tilted his head back.
"When will we get married Ray?"
"Soon," he promised stroking her hair.
Ray could only see now what was concealed in Bess' hand before the wedding. It was a small plaid fabric, the tartan sash her deceased husband gave her after they were married. She did not want to let it go. Hearing the organ, she stuffed it in her bodice and made her way to the altar.
Bess looked ingenuously to the priest.
"I do," she answered meekly.
"You bet I do, Padre!" Ray declared.
The priest gave the word and Ray instantaneously kissed Bess. Her face was forcibly held in his strong hands. She submitted. She learned to do that long time ago. Ray was the greatest force known to man, she thought, and nothing could get in his way. He had loved her and won her over after a great struggle. She was glad to have given in.
Cyfrin broke from Fraser's gentle grip of her hand, ran to her parents and embraced them. Nothing would tear them asunder.
Angie had waited anonymously in the corner. She could see the alternate of her life. She had married Ray once and had a daughter by him. But when the breath had left their daughter, so had the breath of their marriage. The life having gone, Ray and Angie parted company. He still loved her and thought of her. Angie still wore her wedding ring about her neck. When she left the reception, she did not feel bitter or alone. She knew that Ray loved her and nothing could change it. Not even another woman.
Bess' slender form became swollen in matter of a few months. Twins the doctors had said. Ray regarded her in the moonlight. He did not wish to move her but when Special Agent Harrison was killed in a car bomb, he did not want to take any chances. He uprooted his family and moved them to the quaint cabin in hidden in the vast, lush forests of eastern Quebec. The cabin overlooked a restless lake encroached by ample-branched pine trees. It was quiet, beautiful and most of all, secluded. Ray had grown fond of the province and was resigned to see the twins born there.
Bess' hair was matted with sweat. She did not scream or utter a sound. A mere whimper or two marked the signal of the birth of her children.
The whole house was dark with the exception of the lamp left on in Bess' room. Ray waited in the corridor for the doctor to exit the room. He did not mind the darkness. It blanketed him in comfort. He leaned back in the chair he hoisted outside and shut his eyes. When the door opened, he rose.
"You may see her now," the doctor smiled.
Ray slipped in. Bess sat upright with two babies in each arm. Ray sat next to her. Her lifted the slip of blanket that covered the dark head of the baby in Bess' right arm.
"That's Tatiana," she whispered. She lifted the other child. "This is Anastasia."
Ray's fingers traced the child's face. She opened her blue eyes.
"She has your nose, I think," Bess mused.
Ray smiled. Anastasia definitely had Bess' features. Tatiana had his. Green piercing eyes, a burr of brown hair, olive skin that reddened when she howled. Did she howl!
Ray locked his lips with Bess'.
"God, you're beautiful," he whispered in her ear.
Ray did not want to leave the room where his twin daughters were born but when he saw his father pass through, he ran after him.
"Where are we going? We're pretty much up-to-date."
"You won't go back unless I show you the reasons why," Carmine explained.
Ray was confused.
"But you already did."
"Not enough," Carmine shook his head.
"Oh, there's more!" Ray reacted in mock surprise.
"Hey! Don't be a wise ass!" his father warned. He turned his head to the distance. "You wait a long time for a son. In the meantime, you've got a lot of girls running around the house. Your sister, Raylene, leaves you Vanessa, her daughter. Rachel comes next. It is Vincenzio that you've been waiting for." Carmine huffed. "But that damn puttana calls him Vincent!"
"Don't you call Bess a whore!" Ray scolded. He looked patiently into the future. "She can call my son anything she wants."
Ray decided he hated St. John's and resolved to get out of the city as soon as possible and never come back. He looked at his watch impatiently.
"Damn red tape!" he complained.
Bess remained still. The man would come back into the office soon.
"You think they might have done something before hand," Ray muttered, "then we wouldn't be in this mess."
Bess looked at him but said nothing.
"I mean- they knew Alex and Raylene would be whacked. Why didn't they do anything?"
Ray rubbed his temples. A creak at the door signaled the end to his wait. The man held onto a child's tiny hand. Ray's features softened. This was the next-of-kin the St. John's police brusquely referred to. Vanessa O'Donnell looked Italian, much like Raylene. Her soft brown hair was fluffy and crudely tied back. Her eyes were a pale green and looked about nervously. She eyed Ray and then trembled.
Ray reached his hand out to her.
"Hey." When she did not answer, Ray tried another approach that stemmed from his own bicultural environment. "Tuo madre insegna tu italiano?"
The girl did not respond.
"Did your mom teach you Italian?"
Vanessa shook her head. Ray smiled.
"Well, I'll teach you then."
Vanessa did not quite trust him still. Ray knew he would have to remedy that before she left Newfoundland forever to live with him.
The man pulled up to the desk and shuffled a few papers.
"Vanessa Julia O'Donnell, age two, born June 19, 1997," he rattled off a few vital statistics.
"I knew her father well," Bess broke in.
She remained calm and collected when she thought of the late Constable Alexander O'Donnell, Vanessa's father. He was a brash and rough man but bent on justice, making the ends justify the means wherever he could. It ultimately left he and his wife dead.
"The child's mother named you as guardians," the man explained.
"It shouldn't be that way," Ray said. "You could say that a child deserves her real family."
The man did not say anything but handed Bess some papers. She and Ray left the office quietly when nothing more could be said.
Vanessa was strapped safely in the backseat. Bess adjusted the rearview mirror and glanced at the child.
"You'll like it in Chicago, Vanessa," she promised, "there are two little girls there just your age. You'll get along with them famously."
Ray reached for Vanessa's hand.
"We're family now, Vanessa. We'll take care of you."
Ray would not let go of Fraser's offered hand. He looked at it forlornly, never wanting to give it up for anything.
"Ray, I'll miss my plane."
Ray knew that. He glanced up once to see Elaine waiting for her husband. She cradled the new baby. Anna and Danny looked at Ray one more time waving frantically hoping to be seen and heard. Ray looked at Fraser now. The Mountie's face still appeared to be as innocent as the day Ray first met him.
"You're gonna come back right?"
Fraser smiled softly.
"Ray, if you truly believe it, we are never apart." Fraser embraced Ray as a lost son, an action foreign to him. "We never have been nor will we ever."
Fraser turned from Ray to the waiting plane.
"Christmas, Benny," Ray advised him hearkening to the future.
Ray collapsed in the armchair at home. Fraser was gone at last. Contact had not been broken off entirely but could a telephone call replace what Ray had enjoyed for the past five years? No. His face was etched with sadness. Bess knelt at Ray's feet and clasped his hands.
"Ray, he's not entirely gone from our lives."
Ray applied his hand to her smooth cheek.
"Easy for you. You can live apart from everything and it would not hurt you. I need to have my family with me always. I'll die if I don't."
Bess placed her head on his lap.
"You have me."
Ray tried to find consolation in that.
"Ray?" Bess broke the silence.
"I think I'm pregnant."
Rory had grown to be a sturdy boy becoming increasingly restless as the years droned on. He tried to adapt to Ray being his father which he found difficult but livable. Now in the last moments of dying anticipation, he reminded himself how he hated having no one else but five sisters to hang around with.
The doctor calmly walked from the delivery room. Ray rose from the chair.
"A healthy boy," the doctor smiled.
Ray and Rory raised their arms in victory and high-fived one another.
"The Italian Stallion has finally come in!" Ray laughed alluding to his capacity to father a son at last.
Saturday morning dawned once more. Ray always had Saturday off. He sat at the kitchen table trying to wrestle a four-year-old into a warm jacket.
"I don't want to go!" the child wailed.
Ray rolled his eyes.
"Look, we always go, Vanessa," he pressed into the errant child. "We always do things as a family. You know that."
"But I want to go back to Nanna and Uncle Simon," she uttered plaintively.
Ray brushed the brown hair from her olive face.
"They're not your family anymore, baby," he apologized.
Vanessa became slack. Ray slipped her arms into the jacket. Bess charged into the kitchen with a pair of children under each arm.
"Let's go! The weather is great!"
One slipped from Bess' arm. She pulled Ray's hand.
"Daddy, come on! Let's go!"
Ray agreed and rose from the table. He had Vanessa put on her shoes. As he knelt to tie her shoelaces, he whispered to her.
"We can go see Uncle Simon and Nanna in the summer. I promise."
Vanessa's olive face brightened to a smile and she raced out the door. Tatiana and Anastasia followed suit. They had grown tall and beautiful. Manes of dark hair flowed from their heads. Cyfrin chased after them. She had grown silent since Rory had left to see his grandmother in Quebec. She was as conjunctive to his soul as he was to her's. Bess pushed the baby carriage out still gripping the hand of the youngest. Ray leant over.
"Vincenzio," he beamed.
The five-month-old child squirmed at the stimulus and surrendered to his father's massive hands raising him high in the air. Ray kissed the child's cheek and replaced him the warm comfort of the carriage.
Ray and Bess moved as one down the block. The sun shone warm on the crisp autumn day. The four girls jaunted ahead of them. Only the second youngest child, Rachel, gripped Ray's hand. She tugged on his pants leg and grinned at him.
"When I grow up, I want to catch the bad guy, like you," she professed.
Ray smiled at her and rested his hand at the base of her head.
"I'm sure you will, Rachel."
Detective Rachel Vecchio was adept at, as her fellow officers once noted, kicking serious ass. Honed by the deft martial arts and tracking skills of her mother, a member of the legendary Mounted Police, and the no-nonsense spunk of her father, one of Chicago P.D.'s finest, Rachel made herself become a lean, mean, crime-busting machine. That was what her brother, Detective Vincent Vecchio, ceaselessly purported anyway. It was an ongoing joke that made their relationship work.
They were not the only police officers in the family. Kilometres away, in the cold north, cousins etched their names in stone.
The man was flung into the snow. Blood poured from his mouth. Waving his hands, he pleaded with his attacker to have mercy. None would be shown.
The black-haired man charged after him. His sleeves were rolled up so as not to have blood spilled on them. He hit the man again, popping the jaw. The man screamed in pain. He had reached the zenith of his agony. A flash of muscle strode through the snow with an inhuman speed. His gigantic hand gripped the younger man's arm and held it fast.
Constable James Colin Fraser shot an angry glance at his older brother, Daniel.
"Give me another minute. I can get him to talk."
Daniel shook his head.
"Not like this."
Jamie thrust the man into the snow, waved back lanky bangs of black hair and trudged inside the post. Inside, he threw a desk to the floor. Daniel came back in with the injured suspect under his arm. He placed the wounded man on a cot in the infirmary and returned to Jamie.
"What the hell is wrong with you?"
Jamie was unapologetic of his actions. More than mercurial, Jamie had the reputation of being rough. Compounded by a strange inability to communicate with others as a child, Jamie reacted to the world differently. If it could be thrown then throw it and if it could bleed then hit it. Daniel found it hard to restrain him. His patience was wearing thin with the angry young man. The only one whose patience was infinite was the chief inspector of the post. And their father wouldn't arrive until tomorrow.
Ray laughed to himself as he observed the tall man enter the post. He could not believe the future his father was showing him. The man brushed the snow from his shoulders unbowed from age, still strong and broad as in the time when he fought crime in the mean streets of Chicago. Chief Inspector Benton Fraser cast a glance from side-to-side. Thirty years in the force had not changed him much. Still believing the force was tried-and-true even after the great scandals and the measures to purge it from corruption, Fraser remained there seemingly forever. His sons entered a force as pure and as blameless as a newborn child.
Fraser's face had slightly cragged but still was as beautiful as Adonis. Streaks of white blanched dark tresses. He faced Jamie. The young man remained still as he was being scrutinized. Fraser straightened his son's collar. He then clasped the man's face.
"When did you see Mary-Margaret last?"
Jamie cast his blue eyes down.
"A long time ago," he admitted.
"I want you to see her," he advised, his voice hinting paternal experience. "Every daughter should have her father near."
"If April will let me..." Jamie started and then stopped. He sunk his head again.
Fraser nodded. He understood Jamie's efforts to be gentle with estranged wife had failed. Jamie was not willfully cruel, Fraser knew. As a child he had brought home a series of small animals he had accidentally killed in an effort to entrap and domesticate them. He was wild and untamable like the savage Scot ancestors before him. April was simply frightened of him. She absconded with their only daughter. Jamie adored the girl, a shy and silent child. She reminded Fraser of Cyfrin when she was small. Jamie would gladly give up everything to get a glimpse of her.
Fraser turned to Daniel. He looked up to his son. At six-foot-nine, it was hard for Fraser to believe this was once the mewling infant that curled to Elaine's breast for survival years ago on the tundra.
"You, young man," Fraser ordered, "will go see your mother."
"It's good to see you again, Dad."
"I want to see my children now," Ray asked his father. "All of them."
"You'll be proud of them," Carmine promised.
Bess rested the current edition of National Geographic magazine on the edge of the coffee table. Her face slowly lost the smoothness she had in her youth but for a woman in her late sixties she was still damn good-looking! Slender as always with gleaming blue eyes and graying dark hair to her credit. She stood up straight and answered the door as the doorbell rang.
Bess was pleasantly surprised to see Tatiana.
Ray smiled. He knew Tatiana as an infant. Now she was tall and her dark brown hair was free. She gripped onto two small children.
"She married early," Carmine nodded, "just so you know."
Ray ignored the rebuke in his father's voice.
"Shut up, Pop."
"It's probably a good thing because otherwise the kids would have been..."
Ray swiveled to him.
"Shut it, Pop!"
Tatiana stepped forward.
"Mum, am I late?"
Bess hugged Tatiana.
"No. Rory is not here. Everyone else is. Come in."
Ray's brow furrowed.
"What's the deal with Rory?"
Carmine led Ray to the coffee table. The magazine bore Ron's likeness. Ray gawked at it.
Carmine shook his head.
"No. That's Rory. He's quite a guy."
Ray was taken aback.
"What did he do that's so great?"
"Oh, walked through the jungles, took a few pictures, came back alive, that kind of thing."
"He's not such a melon head after all."
Carmine scowled at Ray.
"That kid is smarter than what you give him credit for."
Ray shrugged his shoulders.
"Come on," Carmine urged, "there's more for you to see."
The hallways were cluttered with people, all family. A tiny, sharp-tongued woman with stripes of white hair edged through the crowd with a trolley of hors d'oeuvres.
"Excuse me, coming through."
Ray's brow raised.
"That's Francesca," Carmine explained, "She married again, this time a butcher."
Carmine pointed to another young woman. Ray leaned back. She had Raylene's face, long, olive-complexioned, freckled with piercing green eyes.
"That's Vanessa, Raylene's daughter. She moves back to Canada eventually."
A slender dark woman wearing a colourful sarong smiled and laughed with a tall, gaunt man.
"That's Sheila," Carmine pointed.
"If you shut up a minute, I'll tell ya! Sheila is that Canadian's daughter. She wins like a Pulitzer Prize or something. She's the only one from that fruitcake family to live here in Chicago."
Ray frowned on his father.
"Benny's not a fruitcake. And so what if his family lives here or in the North. It doesn't matter." Ray observed her. "She looks a lot like Elaine. It's uncanny." He tilted his head somewhat. "Who's he?"
Ray grinned proudly.
"He's a fine boy," Carmine remarked, "even if he is a cop."
Ray scowled at him.
"Does he get married? Does he have a family of his own?"
Carmine shook his head.
"Not yet. He does marry an Italian girl, which is what you should have done."
Ray became impatient.
"If I married someone else then I wouldn't have such beautiful kids, now would I?"
"But they're not Italian, Ray!" Carmine scolded.
He was impossible.
"I married an Italian girl," his father continued, "I was never happier."
"But she might have been," Ray shot back.
A tiny woman with curls about her head stepped through the crowd. She tripped over a foot and flew into an outstretched tray of canapes.
"I'm sorry," the young woman offered meekly as she tried to pick up the mess.
Francesca threw up her hands and knelt over to help.
"If you took those debutante classes you wouldn't be tripping over everything!" she scolded.
"Sorry, Aunt Frannie," the girl apologized and cleared away the crushed canapes.
Ray was struck.
"Is that my Cyfrina?"
Carmine smiled proudly.
"She's done well herself. She's an accountant. A real somebody."
"Of course she is."
Ray followed her through the kitchen.
"Pop, what happens to her. I mean- is she happy? Really happy?"
Carmine became solemn.
"You'll come to know, Raymond."
Ray became pale. He gripped his father's shoulder.
"What happens, Pop? I've gotta know."
Carmine shook his head.
"Not now, Ray."
Ray's breathing became laboured. He looked on the slim girl. The child who finally bound he and Bess together had an uncertain future. Everything his father had shown him up until now had been clear but why not Cyfrin's fate? Ray reached out to touch her. He could not actually lay his hand on her, to offer a consoling touch, but he wanted to.
"Ray, don't torture yourself," his father advised. "Something's are like this."
"Why? Why Cyfrin?" Ray edged nearer to her. She remained oblivious to his presence. "Why can't things go in a straight line, Pop? At least for her. Doesn't she deserve it?"
Carmine took Ray's arm gently. He led him from Cyfrin to where the rest of the family congregated. Carmine showed him some more familiar faces.
A young woman with bright blue eyes edged her way through the crowd. She was solemn, almost expressionless. She wore a nun's habit.
Ray's eyes popped open.
"She's a nun! Why? She's so pretty!"
Carmine shook his finger at Ray.
"Hey! Don't you ever question the Church!"
Ray tried to adapt to the abrupt choice in his daughter's life. Maybe it was for the best.
"Any other surprises?!"
"Are there ever!" Carmine rolled his eyes.
"You know Rachel, she has a little girl somewhere- oh, there she is! The kid with pigtails. Bess has her." Carmine nodded his head to a young couple in the corner laughing politely but not really saying anything. "Those spaceheads over there belong to that Mountie friend of yours. They're weird. They finish each other's sentences and everything."
Ray regarded them. The young man was pale with cloudy blue eyes. The woman was dark with warm chocolate eyes that sparkled indifferently. Benjamin and Elenore Fraser were youthful versions of their parents. The set of twins were the youngest in the family and did not leave each other's side for anything. If Benjamin went to Paris, so did Elenore.
Ray cast his eyes to the left. He strained his eyes to recognize the woman who spoke to Rachel. She was beautiful not like Bess but like a woman from Fraser's past. Ray had seen a photograph of her once. She was slender with long black hair and an oval face. This woman had blue eyes like her father. Ray could not believe that this was once the girl who looked forward to piggyback rides and boxing matches.
Anna turned her head. It was a portent moment. Nothing had told her what had drifted in from the past but she knew as though an instinct warned her.
Ray held his breath. How could Anna see him? She walked over to him slowly.
"Uncle Ray?" she tired to touch him but couldn't. "Is that really you? How?"
Ray remembered just then. This was Anna who talked to angels and saw ghosts.
"Anna, I can't explain to you why I'm here or how you can see me," Ray said.
Anna remained silent but nodded.
"You're so beautiful, Anna," Ray breathed.
Anna smiled back.
Ray touched her face.
"I want to thank you Anna."
She seemed confused.
Ray smiled wistfully.
"For everything. For seeing and believing." Ray backed away from her. "You always have."
The doorbell rang. Bess quit her grandchildren and ran to the door. She pulled it open and leapt upon the young man who returned her hearty embrace.
"Rory, we've waited for you!" she admitted and led him through adulating relatives.
Ray held his breath. Rory took on the appearance of his father. He was not the shy mischievous boy he had known once but an adventurous young man who had broadened his horizons.
Rory broke from his mother's embrace. He introduced her to a young redhead.
"Mum, this is Daisy. I met her on a hike in New Guinea." Rory smiled on her. "We're getting married."
Bess' eyes gleamed. She may very well cry she was so happy.
"It's good to finally meet you, Mrs. Vecchio," Daisy offered her hand.
The crowd became caught in a lull. People moved to accommodate a gaunt man in a knotted old burgundy sweater. His shoulders were bowed but he still held his head straight. He moved to Rory.
Ray was surprised. He didn't think he would age so.
The older Ray placed his hands on Rory's shoulders.
"My throat hurts, so I will be brief," the older Ray said, "you are not Italian and you never will be!"
Rory looked hurt. The crowd became downcast. Ray laughed and then embraced his son.
"It's good to have you home again."
"Where are we now?"
The halls of the cabin where empty. A few solitary pictures hung in frames. Daniel the swarthy gargantuan son of Fraser and Elaine hulked over his only daughter, Josephine. Anna and her husband, Max, embraced their daughter and sons. The last two children, Benjamin and Elenore, stood side-by-side near an airplane that marked their profession. Twenty-five rescues to their credit so far. The two were inseparable, living next to one another, working side-by-side, even finishing each other's sentences.
Carmine led Ray through the hallway.
"Not everything ends with wine and roses, Raymond."
Ray edged near the room to the left. Elaine, her black hair long since grayed, spoon-fed a young man who sat up limply in bed as though he were a rag doll.
"Open wide," Elaine cooed.
The young man did not moved. His blank eyes simply stared at her. Jamie had been like that since the bullet pierced his skull and went through the hind part of his brain. Ray let out heavy breath.
"Damn! He's so young!"
"That could have happened to you," Carmine worried.
"It did, Pop! That's why I'm here!"
"Yeah but you'll pull out of it. His life is wasted away."
Ray's head flopped. Jamie was so young and a father of an adorable little girl. He would see her again, long after her childhood had ended and she had a life of her own.
Ray slumped down.
"Why couldn't that have happened to a nicer bastard that like that jerk who replaced me!"
"Why do you wish bad things happen to people, Ray," Carmine rebuked him, "pain's a bad thing to happen to anyone!"
"It's a part of life, too," Ray tiredly resigned. "But boy will I be pissed if he becomes like a millionaire or something."
"Not entirely," Carmine said and guided Ray to the next prospect.
A nurse made her rounds through the expansive gardens of the Cook County senior citizens' home. A man in a wheelchair veered up to her and skidded so that he could pinch her bottom.
The elderly man giggled insanely and tried to pinch her again.
The lithe blond girl scolded the giggling old man in the wheelchair. She apologized to the nurse who left immediately to complete her rounds. The girl replaced the brake on his wheelchair and sighed exhaustedly.
"Why do you do that, Granddad? Huh?"
The man was sullen. His form of afternoon entertainment was now over and nothing else lay ahead of him.
"I know Granddad," the girl chirped as she sat near him on a bench, "why don't you tell me about Nanna?"
"No," the man snapped.
Stanley Kowalski was not really crotchety at all. He was one of the nicer residents at the senior citizens' home. He gave candy to the children who visited their grandparents once a year and cherished the regular visits by his own grandchildren. Family was important to him. It was a rarity he had been blessed with.
"Where's Sarah?" he growled.
"Mum's writing another book, Granddad," the girl apologized, "she'll come by this Friday."
"Good," Stan nodded.
The girl wrapped a blanket around his legs to ward off the early spring draft.
The girl became wistful.
"What was Nanna like? Mum talks about her all the time and she barely knew her."
Stan became distant. He was reluctant to answer any of his granddaughter's questions. Stan scratched his head. He learned how to use his senility as a mask for a great deal of pain.
"I don't know any Nanna," he lied and turned his back on the girl.
Stan crossed his hands and thought of the candles on the window ledge of his room he lit every evening for Leah and Ceila.
"We're coming to the end," Carmine told Ray.
Ray was dismayed.
"Nothing lasts forever, not even your Mountie-friend."
Ray spun his head to his father. His held his hand over his heart.
"Not Benny," he whispered.
It took some time but Fraser finally retired. It was not the end of the world as he perceived it may be. Elaine looked forward to it. They could spend more time together and they did. Long walks in the spring, spending time with the grandchildren in the summer and pent up with shelves of books during the fall and winter. Diefenbaker's descendants kept them company during these quiet times. There would be other times to hunt and frolic.
Elaine giggled like a schoolgirl. She lay the Yellowknife Gazette
on the table and searched for her lucky pen.
"I've looked over the crossword and I think I have an advantage over you this time!" she warned.
They always did the crossword together. It became a contest often times, a bloodless but extremely competitive one.
Fraser smiled but doubted her. He coughed once.
"I hardly think so," he said as he read over the front page of the paper in the comfort of his armchair. He coughed again, more gruffly.
Elaine stopped her scurrying and placed her hands on her hips.
"I do wish you would do something about that cough. It will only get worse."
Fraser ignored her.
"Fresh air is what I need," he countered and coughed again.
Elaine rolled her eyes and prepared for the crossword.
"I wish you wouldn't be so stubborn."
Fraser buried his head in the newspaper. He coughed again, spraying blood over the fine print.
Fraser became weak overnight. The strength left his arms so he couldn't hold his wife of thirty-five years. His eyesight, once keen, saw the blurred images of his children as they knelt by him. His breathing was laboured and every so often blood trickled from the corner of his mouth but Elaine wiped it away so the grandchildren would not see it. He kept his hearing as acute as it ever was. He could hear Alexander, his emotionally stringent half-brother, comfort Anna in a starched and stiff way, like the uniform they once wore.
Fraser shifted in his bed restlessly like a blind kitten.
"Ray, is that you?"
A wizened old man crept behind the sullen Bess and Elaine and sat near Fraser.
"Hey, Benny. How are you?"
Ray's voice had grown gruffly soft over the years. His voice rarely rose over a whisper.
"I have felt better," Fraser confessed.
Fraser's hand fell over the offered hand of Ray.
"Benny, I won't lie to you. You may never rise again. But if you don't rise again, go to the great white light. Trust me. It's not a bad place. I've seen it before. And when you get there, put in a good word for me."
Fraser nodded weakly.
"I will, Ray. You can count on it."
"If you don't, I'll find you wherever you are and give you a good kick in the ass!"
Fraser laughed with clarity he hadn't had for months and then hacked wretchedly.
Ray tapped his hand and rose from the bed.
"I won't forget about you, Ray," Fraser promised.
The rain became heavier and heavier. Within the Fraser cabin, no weeping broke the silence. A quiet more deafening than any wailing pierced through every pore and crack. Benton Fraser was dead. He was a man, take him for all and all, none shall see his like again.
Elaine was eighty now. She hadn't moved from the cabin because she believed her husband waited for her by the cliff side a few kilometres from the cabin. In fact, it was hard to convince her that Fraser was no longer. She did not deny that he was dead but she believed with every ounce of her body that he still remained within the confines of the cabin. She set a place for him at meals, turned the covers at bedtime, helped finish crossword puzzles in script that was not her's. She was at home wherever he was and would not leave for anything. Her third daughter, Sheila, coaxed her from the North back to Chicago where she was born, played hopscotch as a girl, went to school and fell in love with the man who would forever change her life.
Sheila joined her mother arm-in-arm. Elaine smiled at every sight. It had been a long since she had seen the old place.
"I went to grade school over there," Elaine pointed to a building that was being torn down.
"I think you told the kids that the last time you were here, Mum," Sheila pointed out.
Elaine nodded. Perhaps her daughter was right. She did not remember.
"Where did you meet Dad?"
"Area Seven, Twenty-Seventh precinct," Elaine sighed. "He was so handsome, so naive then." Elaine became still. "I don't think he ever lost that."
Sheila leaned her head against her mother's shoulder.
"I miss him, too, Mum."
Sheila gripped her mother's arm. She pointed to one dilapidated building.
Elaine strained her eyes to see.
"I used to live there," Elaine said. "You were born in the hospital not far away."
Sheila smiled at the nostalgic moment.
"Why did you leave, Mum? I mean- this was your home."
Elaine looked at Sheila as though the question were dully stupid.
"Because my home was with your father. Wherever your father was, there was my home."
They walked on amid the decrepit shells and pavement that was once home.
Elaine never lived to see Chicago again. Three months after Sheila had her walk the familiar pavement, Elaine died quietly in her sleep. It is said her soul walks to the cliff where she would meet her husband.
It had been years since Elaine passed on. Ray struggled to live without Fraser and Elaine's death seemed an encroachment of the death of time. Ray was obsessed with these thoughts. They haunted him when he rose and when he lay his head down every night.
Ray sat still in his bed for a moment possessed by the thoughts of mortality. The stirring next to him jarred him into the present.
Bess no longer had any black hair left. It was all gray. She kept it in a braid. Her face lost its smoothness but her eyes retained the baby-blue gleam Ray loved so. Bess slipped her socks off and crept into bed next to her husband. She smiled at him once and fell asleep.
"Good night, Bess," Ray said.
He wrapped his arm around her and fell asleep.
The forgotten sun made the sky look gray. It woke Ray up, as it always did. He felt refreshed after the sleep and hoped to walk around today. He reached for Bess and shook her.
"Bess, wake up. It's morning."
Bess did not move. She remained asleep, peaceful and beautiful. Ray shook her again.
"Bess? Bessie? Elizabeth?"
Bess was asleep like this once, serene, innocent and bound to rise again to new life. Now, sleep kept her still without the promise of awakening.
Elizabeth MacLeod Vecchio died in her sleep at age ninety-two. The only daughter of Sergeant Robert Fraser and sister to Benton and Nevis Fraser lay in a land far from her native home, wrapped in a shroud of a foreign people. Her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren flanked her grave dropping flowers at the base of the tombstone wordlessly and in a sense of duty not affected so much by love as by routine. When they left, only Ray remained standing at the resting place of his wife.
Vincent had inherited the house even though Ray had not yet died. He had his family here and would not leave his father for anything. He loved the man more than life itself. Now that his mother had died and the other children having fled for warmer climes, Vincent remained with his father to comfort him. Ray had taught him that even the seasoned cop had a heart. Morning had again broken. It was the first morning without Bess really being there. Ray would not eat. He sat in the kitchen and pushed his coffee away.
"I don't want to eat," he said definitely.
Vincent frowned on the stubborn man.
"Don't be ridiculous, Pop, you've got to eat."
Ray quivered. His face etched itself in a sorrow.
"Why am I alive?"
Vincent looked up.
'What was that, Pop?"
"Why do I live and not Bess?" Ray extrapolated. "I was always ready to go first." Ray swallowed a lump in his throat. "When Angie died, I said that's it. I'll be next. But no- it was Bess."
Ray hung his head and withdrew from his son.
"Sometimes, I wish I would never wake up in the morning."
Vincent lay his hand on his father's shoulder.
"Don't ever say that, Pop. You're here for a reason. Ma always said that and Ma was never ever wrong."
Ray turned to his son. He chuckled forlornly at the spent wisdom.
"You remind me more of your mother than any of the other kids do, ya know that?"
"I wouldn't have guessed it, Pop. I was always thought I took after you."
"Ya do. A bit."
Vincent smiled a little.
"I don't look like her, do I?"
Ray burst into laughter.
"I should hope not! You'd be the damn funniest-lookin' guy on the force!" Ray's laughter died a little. "She was beautiful."
"She was a great woman to marry." Vincent leaned back. "How did you meet her, Pop?"
"Didn't I tell you?"
Vincent shook his head.
"Well, I can't tell you without telling you first how I met your Uncle Benny." Ray braced himself for the story of a lifetime. "It was long ago but I can never forget it. You can't forget something like this. When a Mountie stumbles into town and asks for a Detective Armani, it's something that stays with you for the rest of the time you're alive."
Ray and Carmine walked through familiar halls. They peered into the
darkened master bedroom. The wizened old man who became Ray wrote steadily
in his red journal.
"It is time. I will go to sleep soon like my friends and loved ones have done before me. For once it does not scare me or give me cause for regret. I don't have to ask why because the answers are always before me. Fraser became human, Bess became my wife, Angie became a woman again and from them my purpose in life was defined.
I've had my moments, many of them, and people either loved me or hated me for them. But few actually stood by me through everything. Those few were the reasons why I have lived for so long. They loved me for everything, something I will never be able to give all my gratitude to. But now they have fled from me, not because they wanted to but because they were called by name. Now my name has been called.
I will not be sad about it. There is no need for it. Those I've cared about became more than what they were meant to. Fraser was once the removed man in uniform and became the father of men. Bess once grieved for her husband but then left the mourning behind to become my wife. I loved her dearly. Angie's life started again. She married a man who did not love her quite like I did but still- he gave another daughter and she was happy. Everyone was repaid what they paid into life. I have seen it with my own eyes. Now that all is settled, I can go without worry or regret. My son will carry on the family without me. Even Anna is a grandmother now."
The old Ray laughed.
"I remember what a wise man once told me. When you are old and gray. and full of sleep, and nodding by the fire, take down this book, and slowly read, and dream of the soft look your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep. I am doing that now, dreaming of the life I had as it is all written here, as I can remember it."
Ray looked from the book. He looked before him with a feeling of incredulity. The younger self he once was stood before him.
"Did you bring me my sausage?"
Ray rolled his eyes. The future had met the past.
"I'm outta here."
No more visions, no more children, spouses or friends. Only a blinding light that called Ray to it. Ray would follow it. He could not feel anything now. He could not even see himself or his guide.
"Now you must go back...."
Ray understood his father. He looked ahead. He could see that the light was only the light from the emergency room that hung over his head. The brink was becoming more distant as life beaconed. It was time.