A Due South story, rated PG for some language. Standard, all-purpose disclaimer: No copyright infringement intended by my borrowing these characters. I'm poor but honest, so please don't sue. For personal use only .
So, this is my first story and I am slightly nervous about filing it. I started this summer and hope its okay. Some DS facts have been altered (Ray likes hockey!), some added, some not. Comments welcome.
Inspector Thatcher swung around to address her troops, all three of whom stood motionless with one form or another of cleaning detergent in their hands. "I have just been informed that our inspection will take place one day earlier than planned. I don't have to tell you how important this visit is to the Consulate, do I, people."
"No, Ma'am," they replied in unison, not paying the slightest bit of attention to what she was saying. They were more curious about the skilfully camouflaged bruise on the corner of her forehead. 'Who, How, What, Where and Whens' were flopping through their minds.
"We've already got one strike against us with that stupid break-in a few nights ago. Thankfully, nothing of importance was taken or disrupted. We should be able to glide over that little detail and impress whomever they send with our usual spotless performance in our usual spotless Consulate in an otherwise unspotless city. We are the beacons of efficiency and diplomacy here--" She paused to glare at Constable Fraser. "Most of us. And when that Representative from the RCMP walks in here on Wednesday, I want him or her to swoon amidst that efficiency and diplomacy. Am I understood?"
"Yes, Ma'am," replied the chorus.
Thatcher smiled as she observed her office and her people. When she finished, she turned to address the current thorn in her side. "Fraser - My office. Now."
Fraser felt the desperately curious eyes of Turnbull and Ovitz follow him into Thatcher's office. They expected too much of him sometimes, he thought sadly, but he had a responsibility to them.
He stood at attention before her and bravely took the plunge " Excuse me, sir but...."
She waited for the inevitable "Yes, Constable? Is there something you wish to say?"
"No - yes - well, I couldn't help wondering if you were....all right...what I mean is...I can't help noticing you have a --- I was just concerned about...that...bruise on your forehead" Fraser hedged a moment longer, before caving into her viper-like glare. "Nothing, Sir."
"Good! I'd like to think you have more to do than to speculate--" Thatcher was momentarily distracted by Diefenbaker who had followed them into her office. "Does he have to come to work with you?"
"No, Ma'am," Fraser responded. "He just likes it here."
"Oh, that's very nice. I'm glad. Do you like it here, Constable?"
"Yes, Sir. Very much."
"Good. Lovely. " She settled into the lofty chair behind the desk and smiled sweetly at him. "Well, the two of you should like this next assignment very much. Think of it as a little thank you for your hard work on that OK Coral incident last week. I just received the bill."
Fraser cast his eyes down at his boots and sighed. "Oh dear."
"For damages resulting from the 'Bru-Ha' you felt you had to get involved in-"
"Well, as I tried to explain, Ma'am, when the fight broke out, there were no officers in sight except for Detective Vecchio and myself -unless you include that off-duty Sheriff from Pretoria. But he had a little too much to drink and when the Shriners showed up with those exotic dancers -"
"I don't care, Constable. I'm tired of these do-gooder antics of yours. This is the third time since I've been here that I've had to clean up after your capers. I don't want to hear about any more Shriners, I don't want to hear any more about Detective Whatshisname, drunken sheriffs, poor lost nuns or anyone else. You'll have lots of opportunity to think about everybody on the Schoolyard ."
"The Schoolyard, Ma'am?" He knew what was coming.
"Yes, Constable. Fourthgraders, this time. Have fun. By the way, this will be your last chance with me. Screw this up and I will consider it the straw that has breaks your back." She leaned across the desk and tapped a certain pink piece of paper with a sly smile. "My request for your transfer has finally come in. You thought they had forgotten about that, didn't you?"
Fraser, standing at attention, nodded. His mind started to reel with memories of the last time she had threatened him with 'The Transfer'.
"Well, I had almost forgotten, too. And now that they have sent this along, I have a bit more leverage in controlling your behaviour when you are outside this consulate, don't I Constable?"
"I don't think I follow, Sir."
"Oh, I think you do. You see, a few months ago, I would have had this paper signed, expedited and placed in a gold frame. A few weeks ago, I might have only had it signed and sent and turned your office into broom closet. Now, having become just a little more used to you, I think I'll hold off on signing for the time being."
"Thank you sir." Fraser was worried.
"You may think of it as being on permanent probation." She leaned in for the kill. "No more hi-jinxes with your friend Mr. Vecchio, no more daily interference's into Chicago's justice system, no embarrassing incidents involving celery stocks. No more dogs in the office-"
"He's a wolf, Ma'am-"
"I don't care if he is a tsetse fly. No more. Because if there is-- ." She waved the brightly coloured paper triumphantly in the air. "I will sign your transfer request, suggest a nice hot southern consulate and send you packing. Understood?"
"Good. Then understand this---" While she ranted on, Fraser picked up a ticket stub on the desk and absently twisted it in his fingers. He hadn't thought the transfer threat would resurface and this time, she sounded like she meant it.
"That will be all, Constable." She noticed the ticket stub in his hand. "And you may leave that on my desk on your way out, thank you."
Fraser quickly returned the crumpled paper to the desk. "Yes, Sir. Did you go to a hockey game? These are good seats. I went to a game once with Ray and sat in the greys. Not much of a view, I'm afraid. But the golds seemed very close."
"Too close. Are you done, Fraser?"
And with a wave of the hand, Fraser was promptly dismissed.
"It's a mustard stain, not water colours, Lady; it can't be that permanent." Ray stabbed the women's garment on the counter with his index finger. this thing has to be perfect by end of the day or its my butt . "I don't care what it costs,"
The Laundromat attendant looked at Ray like he was the deftest thing she had seen all morning. She cracked a dandy bubble with her gum and informed Ray that he should have thought of that before he smeared mustard all over it.
"I didn't smear anything -"
She took a closer look. "Hey, is that Dijon or regular?
Ray tried to keep his calm and was only marginally successful "I-don't-care! All I know is that this isn't a good enough cleaning job. You can still see where the mustard hit the taco-"
"I'm sorry, Sir, but this is the best we could do."
"Yeah, well, the lady who owns it is not the kind of person you say, 'Sorry' to and expect to live."
"Oh." The bored girl got ready to let fly another bubble. "Bummer."
Inspector Thatcher peered through her reading glasses at the sweater while Ray, settled comfortably across from her, was resisting the urge to lift his size 13's up on the desk. "So, how's the noggin." he casually inquired instead.
"After three bottles of aspirin, its fine, thank you very much."
Ray tilted his head towards the outer office. "Anybody...ask you about it?"
"Anybody as in Fraser or anybody as in anybody."
Ray shrugged. "Fraser."
"Yes. He tried. Its amazing how well he responds to fear."
For no particular reason, she absently removed her reading glasses. "What do you want, Constable?" she asked squinting at the numbers on the receipt next to the sweater.
Ray whirled around. He hadn't seen Fraser standing at the door, hat in hand, funny little look on his face.
Fraser stumbled over his surprise "I- the report on the Schoolyard is - uh - Hello, Ray."
"Hey, Benny", Ray said, keeping one eye on the Inspector.
Thatcher finally looked up. "Good. Leave it with Ovitz."
"Yes, Sir..." If his brow had furrowed any more he might have lost consciousness. "Ray, was I supposed to meet you here?"
"No...I don't think so -" Ray glanced sideways at the Inspector to see if she was going to give him any help on this one. She was too occupied by the figures on the receipt. "I just...the break-in, I mean. I thought I'd just come by and give an update on how things are going-"
"I didn't know you were part of the investigation," Fraser remarked. "That should help in our favour. What have you got."
"Got. What news do you have?"
"Well - none, actually. That was the update."
"Oh. Well. Fine then." His head shifted between Thatcher and Ray and tried to grasp what was going on here.
"Thank you, Fraser," Thatcher dismissed. "That will be all."
Ben caught sight of the sweater on the desk. "This is a very fetching sweater, Inspector." He looked closer at it. "Ray, isn't this like the one Francesca bought the other day?
Thatcher rolled her eyes while Ray hastily grabbed the sweater out of his hands. "No." he answered at the same time that Thatcher said, "Yes." They threw fierce looks at each other and Thatcher settled the issue by taking the sweater back from Ray.
"That will be all, Constable," she repeated. "Dismissed. Again."
"Yes, Ma'am." With one more puzzled gaze, Fraser turned and left.
"I'm sure its fixable," she continued as though they had never been interrupted. Ray looked back at the doorway. Fraser was gone. He turned back around and, as he suspected, Thatcher's glasses were back on her nose. The whole ritual seemed as effortless as breathing.
Thatcher sighed. "This isn't brain surgery here. I'll pay half but not a cent more."
"Oh yeah? I've got to return this one or buy a new one just like it and I'm not forking out all the money by myself. It didn't walk into the arena all by itself. One minute you're complaining about how cold it is, the next thing I know, I look around and you're sitting there with my sister's sweater on. You didn't think to ask what it was doing in my car or if you could borrow it?"
"You didn't think to put the hot-dog down before you missed the easiest catch of the game?"
"I said I was sorry about that. Besides, who was it that got you into that game anyway? You know, it wasn't any picnic having to sit besides the only living Ottawa Senators fan in the continent."
"Listen, Vecchio, I appreciate the game but its fifty-fifty on this sweater or nothing. And since I rarely part with money for other people's clothing, you'd better say yes now..."
Ben was slowly unlocking his office door as their muffled voices carried out into the hall. Diefenbaker stood solemnly by him and when the door finally opened, he stayed where he was.
"Excuse me-" Fraser admonished sarcastically. "We are not eavesdropping, Diefenbaker. It does not become us." Dief whined and followed him into his office.
"Besides, " he continued as he sat down at the desk, "Its none of my concern. Come to think of it, its none of yours either." Dief made a protest in the form of a whine. "I don't care. Whatever Ray is doing here is his business." Fraser began fidgeting with a box of paperclips and ended up creating a yarn of clips that didn't seem to end.
Ray passed a lost courier on his way from Thatcher's office to Fraser's. The courier looked Ray up and down and wanted to know if he was Chief Liaison Officer Inspector Thatcher, M.
"A snowball's chance in hell of that, Pal", Ray chuckled. "You want me to take that in for you?" As well as being a generous offer, it also bought him a few more seconds before paying an obligatory visit to Benny's office.
The courier clutched the letter close to his chest. "Oh, no, sir. This is registered. I have to deliver it directly to the Inspector. It's from Ottawa, you know. Is that him in there?" He pointed to the open office where a frustrated looking Mountie was trying to separate a string of paperclips.
"Uh, no," Ray politely answered. "You don't wanna go in there. Come to think of it, I don't wanna go in there." He pointed to Thatcher's door. "You'd rather go in there. Just be careful, cause I don' t think she's taking any prisoners today."
Ray knocked once and cautiously entered Fraser's office. The Mountie was sitting at his desk, holding the chain of paper clips, now as long as his arm.
"New collar for the wolf?"
"Ray -" Fraser tried to put the chain down gently. When that failed, he swept them into an open drawer with his arm. "No, just trying to - Oh, never mind."
"Careful, now - 95% of office accidents happen with paper fasteners."
"I'll try to keep that in mind."
Ray stood there, feeling like a genuine idiot for having nothing at all to say. "Okay - well, I'm outa here... Just had to drop something off for Meg -..uh, the- Inspector." Twenty-four hours ago, the kindest name Ray would have had for her was "Atilla's Worst Nightmare". Twenty-four hours later, here he was standing in Fraser's office, certain the word 'guilt' was smeared over his face for no credible reason other than --
"Nice sweater -" Fraser nodded cordially at the garment in Ray's hand.
"Oh. Yeah. Right. How did the Schoolyard from Hell-thing go?"
"Actually its Schoolyard of St. Helens" -
"Ah - whatever - same difference -"
"Well, no, not if you're in a playground as opposed to, say, an inferno ."
The conversation was drawing close to embarrassing by now. Even Diefenbaker was aching to leave the room. Ray backed up in the direction of the door. "She stick you with more time there?"
Fraser shook his head. "Actually, no. She took me off that duty this morning - all of the sudden, come to think of it - "
"Ah - you see? Good things still happen to good people -"
Fraser didn't share his optimism. "She put me on probation, Ray." His voice was grave and worried. "I think she means it - this time she has the paper work."
"She does?" A growing trepidation was overtaking Ray's logic. "She's just bluffing."
"I hope so, Ray, I hope so. I don't think Diefenbaker could take a hotter climate."
They were interrupted by a thunderous slam of a door; Inspector Thatcher's door.
"I guess she didn't win the lottery." Ray leaned back for a better look. He saw the frightened courier flee from her office and down the staircase, two steps at a time. "Nope. I'd bet the farm she didn't win the lottery."
Fraser produced a file from his desk and pretended to rifle through it. "Well, Ray, it's always nice when you drop by, but as you can see -" He nodded towards the lone file.
"Oh. Right. Well, back to work. You want me to swing by and give you a lift home later?"
"No thank you. No doubt the Inspector will have me working late again." He didn't mean for that to come out the way it sounded but Fraser kind of liked it and hoped Ray didn't.
Ray hesitated and glanced at the Inspector's door again. "You gonna go and see what that was all about?" he inquired.
Fraser merely looked up from his paper work and shrugged. "No. I'm sure she'll tell me in due course." He declined to add that 'due course' also meant when 'hell froze over'.
"See you, Ray." he politely smiled the kind of smile that meant, 'feel free to leave anytime.'
"See you, Benny." He turned and left. As he passed Thatcher's closed door he was tempted to stop and inquire if everything was all right. He could feel Fraser's deep Mountie Eyes follow him through the lobby, however, and decided to keep walking.
Thatcher put the letter down on the desk and went to the window. The courier was getting on his bicycle and riding away. There was nothing unusual about him. He worked for the same company the RCMP used for communications. There was no sound reason to suspect anything more.
Thatcher walked into the consulate that afternoon and was informed by Turnbull that "Someone from Ottawa" was interviewing Constable Fraser, in Constable Fraser's office and was 'not to be disturbed'.
"WHO is interviewing Constable Fraser and is not be disturbed," she barked into his frightened face.
" Uh....I c-c-can't s-s-s-ay -"
He didn't have to. She knew right away from the lingering remains of cigar smoke who was in there with Fraser and why. The door opened slightly and Diefenbaker trotted out followed by wafts of cigar smoke. The door closed behind him.
"How long have they been in there?" she demanded at Turnbull.
"Uh...well, I don't exactly... know exactly...for sure -"
"How long have they been in there, Constable or I'll have you doing Traffic duty on the Autobahn for the rest of your life -"
"12 minutes, ma'am."
The scenario was beginning to make sense to her. There was no 'inspection'. Thatcher looked back at the door, then down at Diefenbaker. He was sitting at the top of the staircase, trying to air out the cigar smoke. Thatcher threw a lethal glare at the dog. "Why the hell can't you talk?!"
"Excuse me, Ma'am?" Turnbull stuttered, misunderstanding the question.
This only enraged Thatcher even more. "Morons," she grumbled to herself and stormed back down the Consulate stairs. Turnbull scurried to the banister. "Did you have a message for Constable Fraser?" he called down.
"Yes," she hollered back up. "Tell Constable Fraser him to go -" She slammed the door on her last word.
This wasn't really happening, she tried to tell herself. Not Murdoch landing on her doorstep. Not the signs. Not again.
At nine o'clock that night Thatcher peered into the hall to see if the light under Fraser's door was still on. When she saw the handle turn, she swiftly ducked out of sight. The tired Constable, flicked the light off and motioned the wolf out of the door. She would have let him make a clean getaway if she hadn't miscalculated the two inches between herself and doorway.
"Inspector?" Fraser peered towards her office. "Is everything all right?"
Thatcher looked around, distracted. "Yes. Of course. Why do you ask? Never mind. Have you finished the Daily schedules yet? I don't want any screwups like last time."
"Yes, Sir - "
"The Disento report completed?"
"In triplicate, Sir."
"Good. Well. Fine. Perhaps I'll walk you to your car then."
"Oh. That would be nice, ma'am, except - I don't own a car."
She grabbed her purse and hurried out of the office. "Fine, we'll take mine -"
Fraser had lost the scent on this trail. Even Diefenbaker was tilting his head. "Take yours where?" he asked, following her crisp descent down the stair case.
Thatcher didn't answer him because she wasn't paying attention to him. She walked at a brisk pace along the sidewalk and barely gave him enough time to catch up.
"Excuse me, ma'am, but isn't that your car back there?" He wanted to know, pointing far over his shoulder as they crossed the street towards the park. "Perhaps we should-" The sentence was never to be completed. She yanked him from the sidewalk and pushed him down onto a park bench. Thatcher sat next to him and looked him directly in the eye, something she hadn't been able to do all week. She read too much in those eyes when she let herself. Now she was desperate to read the truth.
"I need to ask you something but I will understand if you choose not to discuss it even though I would consider it a personal favour, not that you owe me any favours of a personal nature other than that of a professional nature..."
"Murdoch", he guessed.
"What did he say to you?"
Well - he wasn't very clear. But, yes, he did seem adamant that I not speak to you about our conversation."
"Fraser -" Her despondency was barely covered by irritation. "Please don't clam up now."
"He came to me to let me know that you were under some sort of competency investigation and that if things didn't turn out the way they hope, I should be prepared to assume temporary leadership responsibilities at the Consulate."
"Competency, my ass. Anonymous complaints is the correct term for it."
He looked at her, puzzled. "Excuse me?"
"He didn't tell you? According to a little telegram from Ottawa I received this morning, I have been the recipient of anonymous complaints from inside this office. Naturally, I suspected you.
"Ma'am, I would never -"
"I know, I know - honour without anonymity and all that. Then I got to thinking it might be Turnbull -"
"I'm sure it couldn't be Turnbull--"
"Neither do I. I don't think he even knows where Ottawa is. Then I thought, that prick Ovitz. He would sell out his own trust fund executor to get in good with the Boys up North--"
Fraser nodded at this one. "You've got a point there--"
"But now, I'm starting to think its one of the temps from the secretarial pool we use. I knew Ottawa was making a mistake by not keeping on full-time Canadian administrative services. Using Chicago's steno services may be cheaper but it's less integrity-driven. Let's not even get into the cleaning staff. It's probably one of them. They see all the letters and letterhead in the garbage cans, they could do enough snooping to find someone to write to. Just because I had one of them fired -"
"You had one of the cleaning staff fired?"
"Yes. Don't look at me that way, Fraser. You'd do the same thing if you walked into your office late at night and found some cleaner sitting behind your desk, smoking your pack of imported cigarettes and drinking his cheap wine out of your expensive coffee mug."
Fraser's eyes widened ."You smoke cigarettes, Ma'am?"
"No, Fraser, I smoke broomsticks. The point here is that someone has fingered me for investigation and not only do I not know who that some one is but I don't even know what the charges are. And it gets worse. Do you remember the Spankle report I was working on last week? I called the couriers pick it up from Turnbull's desk the day he was off sick -"
"Would that be the bunion sick-day or the dysentery sick-day?"
"Ottawa claims they never received the report The vital report. The courier company claims they never picked up any report. or anything else. Or were even near the consulate that day. And it certainly wasn't on Turnbull's desk."
"Phone records?" Ben asked.
"None. Its as if the entire document, not to mention subject just disappeared. Now, besides having little snitch notes about me in their possession, that Pig Murdoch is snooping around dealing with my personnel without my express permission. Someone in Ottawa has it in their agenda that I am some kind of a security risk to the RCMP."
"But who would go to that kind of trouble? Well, I mean, besides the cleaners, of course."
Thatcher rolled her eyes. "You'd be surprised. Anyway, that's all you need to know. I think I've involved you too much already -"
Fraser cleared his throat and spoke quietly. "Inspector, there was one more thing he asked me not to say anything about. About the transfer request that came through - it seems it could be more in the line of promotion back to Ottawa if my credentials hold up. Or so he said."
"Oh - great - no wonder they were suddenly so helpful. They were playing you against me."
"I suspected something along those lines. If indeed a promotion is in order, I'd rather it be earned, and not because of some petty ploy to get back at you." He waited to see if she was going to offer any reaction. She didn't. "Excuse me, Ma'am, but what else aren't you telling me? I don't intend to stand by while someone tries to sabotage your career." Still no reaction. In the silence that followed, Diefenbaker sat looking back and forth between them. No one moved. No one talked.
"I could ask Ray to help us," Fraser blurted out. "He knows a lot of government bureaucratic...oh, what's the polite word... tricks"
"Not our government's tricks. Please, I'd like to keep Ray out of it if we could."
Fraser found himself doing a doubletake. He didn't think Thatcher knew Ray had a first name, let alone what it was.
She sighed in a way that clearly indicated the end to the conversation. "Enough said about this, Fraser. I'd appreciate you're just keeping an eye on things."
They sat silently on the park bench; neither had a clue about what to say next. Fraser, sounding awkward and entirely mortal, opened his mouth to ask her a question. He tried twice to form it in just the right way and failed both times.
"You're stammering, Constable," Thatcher interrupted impatiently.
"Yes, Ma'am. Sorry, Ma'am. I just wanted to know... why are you telling me this? I thought I was the last person on the continent, well, more like the solar system, actually you would take into your confidence."
Thatcher shrugged hopelessly. "I'm not sure. I just have this inexplicable feeling that you're the only one I can trust with this. And, no, I do not know why." The true blue qualities that made him a pain in the ass were now the same qualities that led her to trust him. It didn't seem fair, not when she had put so much effort into hating him.
She rose from the bench. Fraser followed her lead and, wordlessly they walked back to the sidewalk. "I don't suppose you'd let me see you home just to put my mind at ease." Fraser asked as they neared her car.
"It's not out of my way."
"Yes it is."
"I wouldn't be put out-"
This protective gesture was Fraser being Fraser and she wanted to thank him, insist he needn't worry. But only a curt, "I will be fine," materialised.
Fraser opened her car door. "I'll see you tomorrow, then." He stepped back from the curb and watched as she sped away, composed and as if the previous conversation had never taken place.
Diefenbaker was snoring peacefully on his corner of the rug. In his dream, he was chasing big, blue Easter bunnies. He was grabbing for them two, three at a time. All four paws were grasping away but the bunnies were too quick -
"Dief," someone called from far away.
Twelve more bunnies were hopping up and down just outside of his reach. And they were smiling because they wanted to play --
"Diefenbaker" Ben raised his voice just enough. He was sitting on the end of his bed, polishing both sets of Mountie boots. "Wake up, Dief, "he called softly.
Diefenbaker slowed the pace of the Bunny Chase. Some of the bunnies were settling into their grassy nests for naps. Diefenbaker thought he might join them. It was such a pleasant nap that he did not hear someone knock once and enter the apartment.
Ray gingerly stepped over the sleeping wolf. "Hey, Benny."
"Ray, what brings you here at this hour?" Ben tried to look at his watch, but he was arm deep in one of his boots. He motioned to one of the chairs with his free hand. "I thought you had the late shift tonight."
Ray winced. "I cut out early. Nuthin' much going on. Listen, I need to talk to you about something -- "
Ben's nose had picked up a vaguely familiar scent. "Is that Canadian beer I smell?"
Ray looked down at his clothes. How in the hell did he do it? Ray shrugged. "I don't know. What's Canadian beer supposed to smell like?"
Fraser sniffed the air again. "Like...you."
Ray attempted a typical Benton-Fraser-Deflection move. "How would you know? I thought you never went near the stuff."
"Barley. From Manitoba, I think." Ben continued. "And for your information, I have had the occasional beer." Ben was carefully polishing the heal of the boot. He held it up against the light. "Hmm...that's unusual --"
"Benny, I have to talk to you about something." Fraser was preoccupied by the thickness of the polish between his fingers and Ray tried again. "Uh, do you think you could tear yourself away from whatever the hell it is you happen to be doing with that polish- Benny, no, don't taste that "
"I wonder if I bought the wrong kind --"
"Geeze, Benny, will you give it a rest!" Ray jumped out of his seat and yanked the boot off Fraser's arm. "We have to talk, okay?"
"You took my boot," Fraser exclaimed, staring at his naked arm.
"Yes, Benny, I took your boot. Now, shut up if you want it back."
"I went out with Thatcher."
The bunnies suddenly stopped napping.
Diefenbaker woke up with a start.
The boot polish popped out of Ben's hand, hit the floor and rolled past Dief's nose, down the slanted floorboards.
Fraser stared blankly. "Oh," was all he said after the silence from hell. "That's... nice."
"That's nice," Ray repeated?
"Well...isn't it?" Fraser was trying. " I mean ...well...I'm not sure exactly what it is I mean. But I'm sure it's probably....nice." He looked down at his feet. "Did you see where my polish went ?"
"I don't care. Talk to me, will ya? You're pissed off, aren't you? I mean, I completely understand if you are - I think I'd be pissed off -" Ray was back on his feet again and pacing past Ben at a disturbing rate. "Me going out with her and not telling you. That's the worst part, Benny, not telling you - I mean, it's bad enough without the woman in question happening to be your boss, who didn't tell you either cause we weren't sure if we were supposed to or not. And its not like we went out a lot. Just to a hockey game. And a beer. Tonight."
"Canadian Beer, Ray?"
"Canadian beer." Ray bowed his head sheepishly and sat down again. "I mean, none of this is a big deal. A few days ago, I got a hold of free tickets to the Hawks-Senators hockey game and came by the Consulate to see if you wanted to go but she had banished you to Siberia or someplace and she was in the worst mood I've seen since...I donno - Godzilla - and one thing led to another and I guess I must have felt sorry for her cause I ended up asking her to the game. And - well - it was actually fun. She knew just the right things to say about the Hawks to irritate every Chicagoite within 12 rows. You know, she knows a hell of a lot about hockey, even if she did go cheering for that Ottawa group you call a team."
"She is Canadian, Ray," Fraser understated in his overstated way.
"Thank you, Fraser, I think I figured that out. Anyway, that's all it was. If she just hadn't borrowed that damned sweater Franny left behind in my car - that's how it got messed up, you know. There I was, primed to catch that puck and wouldn't you know it, the knucklehead in the row behind elbows me and the puck flips off my hand and lands on her noggin. Meanwhile, I lose my balance and knock my taco supreme into her hot sausage, which by the way, that woman slapped every possible condiment on . And she put away two of those things- "
"You knocked a fully loaded hot sausage into the Inspector?" Fraser repeated.
"And then you allowed a 100% flying rubber disk - going at speeds I don't even want to know about - to fly into her head?"
"Yeah," Ray answered before he caught himself. "What - you're her father now? It wasn't my fault. I tried to catch the damn thing. And if she hadn't been polishing off that hoagie, she wouldn't have ruined the only sweater my sister ever paid over sixty bucks for."
"Uh-huh," Fraser replied noncommittally.
Ray's words drifted as he stared blankly at the polish container under the far end of the bed. "She's not so bad once you get past that frosty, dictator-like exterior. She was actually kind of nice." His voice trailed off, disappointment lingering behind. "That damn sweater. Franny nearly tossed me through the window when she saw it. Anyway, that's why I was at the consulate the other day."
"We were wondering about that," mumbled Ben, nodding towards Diefenbaker. "Just didn't think it was any of our business.."
"Well, it wasn't. Really. I mean who I go to a game with is my business. And if you'd been around I would've gone with you. But you weren't and she was and.... it was actually kind of a good time. Until the puck thing happened. She took that pretty well, though. Told me to go to hell and everything. She's got a worse mouth than me at a hockey game. She met me after work tonight to cough up her half of the sweater money." He paused and sighed. "Anyway..."
Fraser was waiting for the conclusion of this sentence. It wasn't coming nearly fast enough. "Anyway-" he gestured innocently.
"We sorta figured it wouldn't work out."
"Too little in common?" Fraser asked, checking a worn patch of leather on one of the boots and doing his best not to sound interested.
"Maybe, maybe not. She's a good looking woman, that's a fact. But when we were out tonight, I was thinking that arguing with her is just like arguing with my sister. No great prize at stake, like 'is she going to tell me to go to hell and mean it?'. You go ten rounds with Franny and she tells you to go to hell, you know she doesn't hate you. Kinda like with Thatcher. So she could tell me to go to hell and it wouldn't be a life or death thing. But if a woman you really like tells you to go to hell and you might just get there wondering what you did wrong. Besides, I just assumed some of it has to do with you."
"Come on, don't deny it. I've seen the way you look at her."
"Yes, Ray, its called 'eye contact'. It makes for comfortable communication between people."
"I'm not talking simple eyeball to eyeball, here Fraser, I'm talking you looking at her like her next word out of her mouth is going to be the one what will change the course the world forever. If Inspector Thatcher told you to go to hell, you'd roll over and die--"
"I would not," Fraser protested mightily.
"You would too."
"I most certainly would not."
"Oh yes you would. I know you better than you think I know you, Fraser. Now, if Franny told you to go to hell, it wouldn't zing you a bit -" Ray looked at the wounded looking Mountie sitting across from him and shook his head. "What am I saying - if a woodchuck told you to go to hell you'd strap yourself down to the nearest train tracks."
"And has Francesca ever had occasion to tell me to...go there?"
"No she hasn't. And she never would because deep, deep down she still holds out hope that she can be the first Mrs. Benton Fraser. Besides, she takes her frustrations over you out on me and tells me to go to hell. And why do I not let it bother me? Because I know that deep down, she knows I know she doesn't really hate me. She just also doesn't happen to want to marry me."
"Ray, I think this conversation is getting a little ...inappropriate. As for you going to a game or anywhere with Inspector Thatcher, I really don't have either the interest or the disappointment you seem to think I do," Fraser paused before cleverly adding, "Besides, aren't you and States Attorney Louise St. Laurent still an item?"
"She stopped talking to me last month and don't change the subject."
"I'm hardly changing the subject. I was, however unaware that she had silenced you again. Can't say as I'm really surprised-"
Ray looked down at Dief, "Are you listening to this? Are you listening to him?" To Fraser he demanded, "Do you ever listen to yourself?"
"Of course, Ray - given the proximity of my ears to my mouth, its not difficult."
Ray gave up and dropped down into the nearest chair. He sensed the curious gazes of Fraser and Diefenbaker following him. He wasn't beaten yet. "Okay, " he leaned forward in the chair. "I just confessed something big here, Benny. You think you could meet me half way without changing the subject thirty times?"
"Well, to be perfectly honest, Ray, I don't recall asking you to confess anything."
"Oh yes you did. I couldn't take it anymore. Lying to you, meeting her on the sly. You starting to act funny. She's acting funny. I'm acting funny watching you two acting funny - "
"It's like this grisly cycle of the elephant in the room that no one is talking about and instead, they all do this song 'n dance about how no one's acting funny -"
"So I confess. It's me, Benny. I'm the reason we're all acting so damn funny-"
"Ray ," Fraser finally interrupted. He looked his friend directly in the eye and calmly said, "You're not the reason."
"I'm not ?" Ray repeated.
"No. You're not." Fraser resumed his polishing.
"I'm not the reason," Ray paused. "Are you the reason?"
"No, Ray, "Fraser assured him deadpan, "I'm not the reason either."
"Okay. So then what is the reason."
"I can't tell you that."
"You can't tell me? I come over here, fess up to everything and you can't tell me?"
Fraser looked up again. "Uh-huh."
Then a more disturbing thought occurred to Ray. "I came over here, confessed to everything and I didn't have to?"
"I hate my life." Ray got up and wandered to the window. "You know something funny? When you told me how she was threatening to transfer you out of here, this moment of insanity came over me and I thought maybe she was getting rid of you because she had a better time out with me then I thought and she wanted you out of the way. I know, its crazy. I mean if she wanted to start anything with me, she wouldn't need to ship you out of the city. We'd do the honourable thing. We'd sneak around." Ray waited for the reaction to the tension breaker. It wasn't coming. "That's a joke Benny. You can laugh anytime now."
Ben smiled politely and continued with his polishing.
Ray ran his finger along the brown stained sill, and watched a badly parked Volvo three stories below. He deliberated a few moments before asking the next question. "Is the Inspector in some kind of trouble?"
"No," he heard Ben say in a clear voice from behind. "Why do you ask?"
(Cause she gave me that impression tonight while we were out drinking lots of Canadian Beer in the Canadian Bar while we weren't talking about you.) Ray shrugged. "No reason."
"Well, did she insinuate that there was some difficulty?" Ben replied plainly, without adding, aloud: (It is good to have non-work-related friends to discuss personal work-related subjects with. It was good that you are interested enough to ask after her welfare after all the unpleasantness that had gone on between you in the past) "I think she'd prefer it if I didn't discuss it."
"Ah, then there is something wrong." Ray confirmed, looking at the odd assortment of litter scattered outside of the parked Volvo. Someone was sitting motionless in the driver's seat. (And the reason she decided that she didn't see fit to go out anymore was because of work related problems, not some yutz in a red suit at the Consulate for whom she was secretly pining away). "I can't say, Ray" (Not unless you tell me what she told you.)
"Okay then." (Guess she didn't feel like talking shop while she was out with me drinking your national beer in your national bar ).
Ray was about to give up the ghost on this futile discussion when something about the Volvo caught his attention.
"Benny, that street light out there, by the cleaners - that always been out?"
Ben looked up. "No, its always on. Provides light for some of the homeless dwellers."
"Uh-huh. If you saw a crappy little 2-door parked under a dead light with lots of crumpled food and trash outside the driver's door, what would you figure?"
Ben shrugged. "Stakeout, I suppose. Why? Is this one of your trick questions to change the subject? Really, Ray, that's not like you."
"No, its like you. Come here, and turn off the light." Ben did as he was told and peered over Rays' shoulder at the street. "Any of your neighbours carrying on with the Milkman outside of delivery times?" Ray asked.
"I don't think so." There was nothing specific about the car to send a knot into Ben's stomach the way it did except the fact that it was a rental car with badly disguised Consulate Stickers. "It's probably some unlucky driver who got caught with a poor rental. Or a badly trained private detective with poor recycling habits. He's not bothering anyone."
Ray was heading towards the door. "Come on, lets check this out."
"Ray, I shouldn't think there is any need to bother the poor man," Fraser reasoned, "We'll only embarrass him."
"Excuse me? Mr. Community Watch-Dog doesn't want to check out a suspicious character? What if he's casing the building for break-ins? If he's on the level, I'll let it go."
Ray left the apartment and sped down the 3 stories to the ground. Reluctantly, and without any shoes on, Fraser followed as fast as was possible. When they got to the street, the Volvo had vanished. Only the discarded wrappers and smashed pop bottles remained. But it was the torn newspaper near the garbage that disturbed Ben the most.
Ray pointed to the debris. "Well?"
"Well what, Ray?" Ben asked, catching up to him.
"Aren't you going to go and sniff and scratch or whatever it is you do with other people's refuse."
"No. I might throw it out, though." Hoping to put an end to the concern before Ray's intuition took over, Ben stepped past Ray and gingerly tiptoed towards the garbage.
"Jeeze, Benny, you don't have any shoes on." Ray called after him. "I don't even wanna think about the cooties on this street."
"Ray, I'm perfectly capable of walking on bare feet." Ben kept an eye on the newspaper left where the car had been. "I happened to spend my childhood summers on some of the roughest terrain with no shoes on and I can tell you there is nothing on these streets that isn't in the Tundra of - Ouch!" He hopped on one foot. "How did that get there!"
"Benny, could you just not be an idiot please? I'll throw this stuff out and be a good citizen on your behalf." Ray began picking up some of the debris.
He heard Fraser say, "I'll just make sure there isn't anything else left. Why don't you go home, Ray. It was enlightening visit--" The next word turned into a yell of pain and when Ray flew around, he saw Ben drop to the street in pain, cradling his foot.
"Goddamnit, Benny!" Ray snapped, as he crouched down next to Fraser. "This isn't the tundra, this is a filthy Chicago street, okay?" He noticed the blood spilling from Fraser's foot onto his hands. "Oh, Jeeze - what the hell did you do--"
"I fell." Ben said quietly. He hadn't felt such concentrated pain in ages. "It's fine."
"No, you moron, its not fine. You ever heard of used, infected needles left around for kids and Idiot Mounties to stab themselves with? Move your hand, lemme have a look -" He took a closer inspection at Ben's foot and sat back. "Its some kind of glass- Come on, my car's over there-"
"No," Ben said evenly. "I don't need a doctor. Just help me upstairs-"
Ray did as he was told and helped him back to his apartment. "Where's your first aid kit?" he asked, setting Ben down on the bed.
"Kitchen-" The throbbing was becoming almost unbearable. He dropped back on the bed and felt Diefenbaker's cold nose on his toe. He absently wondered how much blood he had tracked in. He heard Ray return, sat up and snatched the Mountie issued first aid kit it out of Rays hands.
"Come on, Benny, let me try to get this out-"
"No!" Ben told him, calm desperation in his voice. "I'll do it. Just go, please Ray. I'll be fine. I can do this - just not with you here -"
"You're gonna take that out by yourself? Here, I'll do it--"
Ben immediately pulled his foot away from him. He had a strong need for privacy at certain times and now, for whatever reasons, was one of those instances.
"Okay," Ray quietly gave in. "Fine - you want to be alone - I'll go. Just make sure you get someone to have a look at it. That looks deep."
Fraser nodded and waited for Ray to leave. When the door was closed, he braced himself and pulled the foreign object from his bloodied foot with every ounce of concentration he could summon. Dief sat next to him, watching silently.
Ben wiped the glass clean and looked closely at it. He had seen the other pieces of the bottle on the street but not quickly enough to step back in time. He had been too anxious to reach the discarded newspaper before Ray did. He showed it to Diefenbaker. "It was them, Dief."
Diefenbaker tilted his head with a perplexed whine.
"No, I don't like this either. But I don't want to involve Ray unless I have to." Dief gently nudged the cut foot with his muzzle. Ben took the hint and cleaned, then bandaged the wound.
He lay back down on the bed and covered his eyes with his arm. Covering his tracks and not letting Ray follow his instincts was what got him into this accident. He should have told Ray the Inspector's situation and not brushed it off. He should have told him about the car. Then he wouldn't have tried to get to the garbage before Ray. He should have shown Ray the day's copy of The Ottawa Citizen and said, 'This tells me who was there. Help me find out why.'
Murdoch arrived at the Consulate early for his meeting with Thatcher. She was in the middle of discussing a matter with Fraser when he appeared at the door. She glanced carefully at Fraser, but didn't tell him to leave.
Instead, Murdoch did. "This doesn't have anything to do with you, Constable. Dismissed and please close the door behind you.".
Fraser remained in the doorway. "With all due respect, Sir, perhaps I should stay."
"That won't be necessary, Constable."
Thatcher interrupted. "He can stay. Whatever you have to say to me, I think he should be privy to as well-"
Murdoch stared back and forth between them, anger building up. He didn't have the time to argue or cause an unnecessary scene. "Fine, inside!"
The three of them disappeared behind closed doors. Only Murdoch sat down. Fraser stood quietly by the door as Murdoch pulled a file from his briefcase.
"We have some matters to discuss and I suppose we should start with the issues closest to home - say, these internal complaints we have been getting."
"From whom did they come?" Thatcher wanted to know.
"I can't say. That information was given to us confidentially--"
"Ovitz? Turnbull? Fraser? The Tooth Fairy? Who? I'd like to know, I really would." She watched him glance at Fraser as if to share a man-to-man snicker between them. Fraser would have none of it and stared straight ahead. "Are you implying that it was Constable Fraser?" Thatcher inquired in a cleverly disguised voice of reason before the storm.
Murdoch ignored the question as he pulled another file from his briefcase. "Lets move on, shall we? I hate to be the one to bring this to your attention but it has to be done." He handed the file to Thatcher. "The police found this among the debris from that break-in the other night and thought we might be interested. Can you explain what the Tupper file was doing in your storage safe? It is supposed to be in Ottawa."
Thatcher looked at the label and felt her stomach churn. She hadn't seen this document in three years and she knew exactly what it meant. Without opening it, she passed it back to Murdoch. She felt his eyes pouring into her. Only Fraser standing in the corner reminded her that she was innocent until proven guilty.
"Well?" Murdoch wanted to know. "Why was this file in your office? In this consulate?"
"I don't know, Sir. I have no idea how --"
"You know the importance of this file. There's no reason for it to be in your possession. "
"Of course not -"
"Then how did it?"
"I don't know." Thatcher's anger was growing to a dangerous level. "And I resent your insinuation that I'm responsible -"
"Aren't you?" he quizzed back viciously.
"No, I-am-not. How dare you-"
Fraser quietly stepped behind Thatcher and gently put a hand on her arm. "Inspector, I'm sure it's just some kind of mistake -"
Her eyes tore into Murdoch as she broke away from Fraser's grip. "I don't know what you are working at here, Sergeant but it isn't going to work - not again --"
Murdoch stuffed the file back into his briefcase and stood up. "Lets just say you will have some explaining to do at a review in Ottawa in a few weeks. Constable Fraser, you will be officially notified by paper but you can expect to be summoned to testify at those hearings in regards to the internal complaints. Please make yourself available for further questions from Ottawa."
Thatcher marched past Murdoch and thrust the door open. "Good day, Sir!"
Murdoch looked at Ben. "Don't get involved in this, Son. You still have a career ahead of you." To Thatcher he coolly warned, "This doesn't look good for you, Inspector."
Thatcher slammed the door behind him and began pacing back and forth in front of Fraser. "I can't believe this. This isn't happening. That file did not find its way in here by my hands -"
"Inspector, there has to be something we can do--"
Thatcher couldn't even hear him. She was back behind her desk, her head buried in her hands. Now it was no longer a question of why this was happening but what she was going to do about it. She could hear Fraser asking her something from the other side of the room.
"That will be all, Constable, " she ordered without looking up. "I don't want to be bothered for the rest of the afternoon by anyone. Have you finished the duty-schedules for next week yet?"
"No, Ma'am, I --"
She looked up at him with a hatred that went far beyond Fraser and duty rosters. "Then I suggest you get out there and finish it!"
Fraser waited, then nodded. "Yes, Ma'am." He opened the door and quietly left the office.
Ray looked up from the file on his desk and saw Fraser standing in front of him, looking like he had survived the night before. Ray closed the file and motioned to the empty chair across from the desk. "Afternoon, Benny." he said cordially.
"Good afternoon, Ray," Ben sat down.
"How's the foot?" He might as well have been asking about the weather.
"Oh, very well, thank you."
"Fine. You go and let a doctor see it?"
"Good." Ray's tone returned to its normal hostility. "Then you want to tell me what the hell that was about."
Fraser quietly filled Ray in on the week's events and Thatcher's dilemma. He concluded by showing Ray the newspaper he had retrieved from the road. Ray looked at it as Fraser explained, "That's sold in Ontario, Canada. Not Chicago."
"So either we have some Internationally minded Chicagoites or some Canadians brought it by." Ray put the paper aside. "How'd the Inspector take that Murdoch guy this morning?"
Fraser shook his head. "Not very well, I'm afraid."
Ray's eyes widened. "Tears?"
"Oh, no, of course not."
Fraser wasn't sure. "More like ...panic."
"The Inspector panicked?"
Fraser nodded solemnly. "Before basically kicking me out of her office."
Neither men noticed the formidable sight of States Attorney Louise Saint Laurent step up to the desk. "Keeping America clean, Constable?" she snipped sarcastically. To Ray, she snapped, "You'll need all the help you can get," and strolled away.
Ben waited until she was well out of earshot and then leaned across the desk. "I thought she wasn't talking to you." he whispered.
"That wasn't talking, Benny, that was insulting. There's a difference."
"May I ask why she isn't talking to you?"
Ray shook his head. "Could we please get back to the matter at hand, here. Why the hell didn't you tell me any of this before you went and impaled yourself last night? If it's because of what I told you last night then I'm never going to tell you anything ever again."
"It wasn't that," Ben tried to explain. "I told her I wouldn't say anything to anyone."
"Fine. Next time you don't want tell me something, at least don't do it in front of me, okay?"
"Understood." Ben looked up. "Sorry, Ray."
"Forget it. What are you going to do about the Ottawa problem?"
"Go straight to the Ottawa problem."
"Is that such a smart idea? Aren't you still on their Top Ten-We-Hate-You List for turning in Whatshisname?"
"Not according to Murdoch."
"And you believe him?"
"Really, Ray, give me a little credit." He had an idea. "Why don't you come too?"
Ray laughed. "A 2 hour plane ride to a place that could easily be nominated most boring city on the Continent? I think not, Benny. Anyway, how much is the Inspector going to like you snooping around back at home base?"
Fraser's brow furrowed. "I don't think I'm going to tell her."
Ray gasped as he clutched his heart. "It can't be. No. Benton Fraser would never call in sick!"
"I know, Ray, you don't have to rub it in." He reached into his pocket and pulled out a neatly folded piece of paper. "I don't suppose you have any reasonable excuses you occasionally use. I tried to come up with a few ideas of my own but I don't think they are really all that...credible."
"Here, let's have a look," Ray grabbed the paper out of Fraser's hand and gave it a quick scan. His smile turned into puzzlement. "What the hell is 'Apnoea?"
"It's sleep apnoea, actually. A condition that disturbs the --"
But Ray was moving down the list. "'The Cable Man is coming by to hook up my VCR'? Everyone knows you don't even know what a VCR does. Oh, here's a good one: Dief's dog walker has a cold." Ray crumpled the paper up and tossed it into the garbage. "Forget it, Benny, these'll get you off work - for life. Tell you what, I'll call the Consulate tomorrow morning, say I swung by your place to pick you up, found you face down in the bathtub-"
"I don't have a bathtub."
"You don't have a bathtub? How the hell do you keep clean? Everyone has a bathtub."
"I don't. I use the communal shower on my floor. And given its small parameters, I think its unlikely you could find me face down--"
"Yeah, yeah. You got any unusual diseases or anything like that?"
"None that I know of."
An idea formed and the smile returned to Ray's face. "You do now."
Fraser didn't want to ask and told Ray to co-ordinate the details without telling him about it. "I suppose it would be a good idea for one of us to stay in town just in case the Inspector needs any help." Fraser continued, without thinking. He stopped cold. The uncomfortable ramifications of this particular suggestion drew a heavy, awkward silence between the two men.
"Okay," Ray quickly decided. "I'll come too."
Ray adjusted his seat belt and demanded to know why he couldn't bring his gun along.
"I couldn't bring my wolf," Ben reminded him.
"Yeah but my gun doesn't steal food or whine or hog two seats to sleep."
"And my wolf isn't considered a lethal weapon."
"You checked out his breath lately?"
Bored, Ray flipped through the complementary Ottawa newspaper and conveniently landed on the sports page. He saw the headline and made sure Fraser was still safely tucked away in one of his paperbacks. Ray read the article under the headline, 'Senators Meet Black Hawks for Rematch Tonight.' The words, "Oh Dear" came to mind. Neither he nor Ben had made any mention of Ray's outing with the Inspector a few nights ago and Ray sure as hell didn't want to start now. Nevertheless, his fear turned to pride when he looked closer at a fuzzy photo of the crowd from Monday's game. It was Franny's sweater that gave it away; Ray, yelling at the ref and Thatcher stuffing a hot-dog into her face. Yes, it was unflattering, but it was them. He gingerly folded the sports page and slipped it into his coat pocket. No sense in upsetting Big Red when he didn't have to.
Ben and Ray stood outside the RCMP Headquarters. "Hasn't changed much" was the only thing Ben said. He didn't make a move for the front doors; he just stared at the building, as if he were waiting for a signal that it was safe to enter.
"Big place," Ray interrupted the uncomfortable silence.
Ben only nodded, still staring ahead at too many bad memories.
"Been a while since you been here, huh?"
He nodded and said quietly, "My father's murder investigation. Trial. All of that."
Ray let a few moments more of silence passed before he nudged Fraser in the arm. "Benny, we have go in there sooner or later."
"I know." He popped out of his distraction and tried to come to life. "I know."
Nothing had changed on the inside. He received the same chilly reception today as he did then for turning in one of his own. As he passed two Constables, he heard one whisper to the other, "That's the guy from the North who turned in Gerard." Ray had watched the expression on Ben's face - he didn't flinch. Fraser walked through the halls staring straight through everybody and their verdicts. They hadn't forgotten, nor forgiven; watching, judging eyes confirmed that much .
"Everything is water under the bridge, Son," Murdoch assured him from across the desk. "Not a single hard feeling for you in the place." He tapped a pine box on his desk. "Cigar?"
Ben shook his head. "No, thank you Sir." Murdoch helped himself to a stogie and lit up. The smell was as vile as it had been two days earlier in Fraser's office. He sat back in his throne. "So what can I do for you? Is this about our chat the other day?"
"Yes, Sir," Fraser pretended earnestly. "Specifically, about what you said about not letting my career fall into jeopardy."
This was the bait Murdoch waited for. He leaned across the desk and spoke in an overly paternal voice. "Son, I'm afraid that in cases like Inspector Thatcher's, promising careers like yours can often be caught in the tidal wave of justice."
"Well, that's what I'm still not certain about. In what way is Inspector Thatcher's behaviour threatening my career? Or the conduct of the RCMP?"
"Too many things that have been building up over the years. We've let them slide but, well, circumstances have come up that force us to look carefully at her loyalty and ability to lead. Can't have any liabilities on the Force." He reached over to a thick file on the desk and began with a lengthy sigh. "I don't know where to even start. I already told you about the competency concern. Reports not arriving. A vital report which should have reached my office five days ago. Do you know, she had the audacity to blame it on the courier company?"
"Well, Fraser, began carefully. "Maybe it really was the couriers. They aren't the most reliable people we've dealt with."
"They're reliable enough," Murdoch assured him. "And what about the break-in at the Consulate last week. What in the hell kind of security does she run if the intruder didn't even have to break glass to get in?"
Fraser registered convincing puzzlement and told his first lie in years. "But she wasn't even on duty that day."
"Doesn't matter. Security still remains her responsibility. Shouldn't have put a nincompoop like that Turnbull on the late shift.""
"Turnbull didn't close up, sir," Fraser interrupted, doing his best to look confused while he delivered lie number two: "I did."
Murdoch actually paused midway through a hearty puff of his cigar. "I thought it was that goof-ball. He's on duty Wednesdays, isn't he?"
"Not that Wednesday. He has this problem Something to do with heat rash."
"Doesn't matter," Murdoch interrupted, regaining his composure. "Turnbull, Ovitz, hell, it could have been you that screwed up - point is, she is responsible for not having a security system that works." Murdoch looked Fraser squarely in the eye. "I don't have to remind you that the intruder inadvertently helped us uncover a confidential file on the premises. Then he helped himself to several thousands of dollars worth of government equipment. Truth be told, I'm half wondering if Thatcher may have had something to do with the break-in ." He leaned over the desk again. "We had a check done on her car and found several items of office supplies used for certain machines only. I know it is only circumstantial but it only paints a clearer picture of what we have suspected for some time now." Murdoch looked carefully at Fraser." You haven't known her for very long, have you, Son?"
"Just a little under a year, sir"
Murdoch looked around the office, just for effect, and whispered, "I can trust you, can't I, Constable?" He waited for an earnest nod from Fraser, then returned to his favourite conspiratorial voice. "Do you know whose file the Chicago police pulled out of her office?"
For the first time during the visit, Fraser replied in genuine earnest, "No, Sir."
"Jackson Tupper. He used to be a lawyer for the Government," Murdoch explained, "Unfortunately, that was only a cover to make a nice little living for himself selling Canadian Government Secrets to various other governments. Until we found out about him, that is."
"I don't understand, Sir, how does the Inspector--?"
"She was dating him at the time and had been for quite a while. Your Inspector Thatcher put her private life before the force and ended compromising the integrity of the Force. We never got any concrete proof but we have always suspected she may have known about his identity and espionage. And we have growing reason to believe she may be involved with him again. You'd do well to keep an eye on her, let us know if there is any unusual behaviour going on. Wouldn't hurt your career any, especially if things go down the crapper for her the way I think they will." He carefully scrutinised the doubt on Fraser's face. "Something's bothering you about this."
"Nothing specific. I had the impression there was some bad history between you both"
The suspicion card was dealt and, subtly, the rules began to change. Murdoch looked him in the eye; the patronising voice was gone. "Don't underestimate your own rule in all of this. Play your part right, at the hearings and back in Chicago and you could find yourself heading up that Consulate in Chicago. But don't and it could be that one mistake that turns your future into less than promising. Am I making myself clear?"
"Crystal," he understated.
"And you should know that if there is evidence of her involvement, the entire Consulate will be re-evaluated and your own personnel files will be under scrutinization. Your involvement with that jewel thief last year almost cost your career and also put the force in a very precarious position."
"I don't see what that has to do with the Inspector."
"No? Well, look closer. Too many negative things are popping up. Too many sloppy oversights. If we look into Thatcher and clean house, and that's what my reports are suggesting, we have to clean house with everybody. And that means you. And whether there were extenuating circumstances or not, you were still the catalyst in what was a very critical case. You let a known felon and murderer, Victoria Metcalfe, get away. We did our investigation and let it go out of...shall we say, 'loyalty' to your father and the belief that mistakes can happen. Once. You made yours a year ago. Inspector Thatcher made hers three years ago. But they won't stay buried forever."
Fraser's heart had leapt beats ahead of itself and he had to work to cover his anxiety. "I have nothing to hide. That was done with. I've put that behind me--"
"Have you?" Murdoch looked him straight in the eye. "You can live with yourself?"
"No. Not always." Fraser didn't flinch. "But my history shouldn't be in question, here."
"That might not make any difference. I won't pretend that your testimony at the hearings won't play an important role in what happens." He looked at Fraser carefully. "You do intend to show up, don't you, Constable?" Fraser opened his mouth to reply. "Of course you do," Murdoch confidently answered for him.
"And if I don't?"
"You will be in contempt. Your duty is to the Force and I think you know that."
"Could I at least look at the complaints against the Inspector?"
"No. This has nothing to do with you. The only reason I am even talking to you about this is because you're Bob Fraser's son and I respected your father a hell of a lot. I only hope you won't disgrace him and his memory by doing the stupid thing in the name of loyalty for a superior officer. I doubt she'd do the same thing for you."
In the taxi back to the airport, Fraser filled Ray in on the details of the man called Tupper, his sell-outs and the risk Thatcher supposedly posed. He happened to omit the part about Victoria Metcalfe. Ray surprised him by producing a hastily made photocopy of the report on Thatcher.
"How did you get that?" Fraser asked, shocked.
Ray looked at him deadpan. "You really want to know?"
"No," Fraser took his gift horse and flipped through its contents. "Nothing about this is right. I don't know what's going on but these charges aren't by the book."
"And which book might that be?" Ray asked sarcastically. "This thing is chalk full of charges for every occasion. With his vast creative writing skills, that man could find a lucrative career in the greeting card business."
Ray grabbed the copy back and rhymed off more mythical accusations, but Ben wasn't listening anymore. His head was against the window, his thoughts miles away.
Fraser sat hunched forward, his elbows resting on his knees and his eyes lost in the endless stream of linoleum ahead of him. The photocopied report was rolled up in his fist. He barely noticed Ray return from the tourist-ridden section of the shops. "Let's move it, Benny, I don't want to miss our flight."
"I'm not the one who spent 10 minutes in a souvenir shop. What'd you buy?"
"Then what's that in the bag?"
Ray braced himself and admitted. "Just picked up something for the Inspector."
Fraser's hand took control of his mind and slammed the report against his knee. "You're buying her presents now?" he blurted out, much to his surprise.
"No," Ray said defensively. He opened the small paper bag. Inside was a hockey card. "Damien Rhodes Junior Card. Do you mind?"
"No. I don't care." he said, suddenly very irritated. "Why would you get her that?"
"She happens to be a Rhodes fan. You know - it's an interest. A hobby? The kind of thing people sometimes know about other people?" Ray shook his head, dejected. "Look, its just a card, okay? That's all!"
The silence that followed was a weighty one. Ben tiredly rubbed his eye and tried to think of something apologetic to say but nothing appropriate was even close in appearing.
"Listen, Benny, what the hell did they say to you in there?"
"Right - Nothing. You sit in the cab like a zombie the whole way back, you don't point out one damn parliament building and you want me to believe he said nothing to you."
Ben looked at him. "Yes."
"Then this great mood of yours is just about..."
"Fine. Nothing. So I don't need your permission to buy something for the Inspector."
Ben was staring down at his boot, thinking absently about the fading polish on the toe. "I'm sorry...I shouldn't have overreacted."
"No, you shouldn't have but since you did, would you like to get this out into the open once and for all cause I don't think I can take this for much longer -"
"Get what over with?"
"A little matter of the Inspector."
"Ray, I'm very tired and I don't know what you're talking about. Could we do this some other time--"
"Fine." Ray responded blankly and walked away.
Ben watched him for a moment sat back and slid down in the chair. He had had enough for one day and pulled his Stetson over his eyes.
In a few moments, he heard Ray land in the seat beside him and say quietly, "This isn't my idea of a good time, Benny. Calling in sick to go to Ottawa to look for information we don't even know is even going to help." Ray was getting impatient. "You listening to any of this?
He wasn't. "Why wouldn't she tell me about Tupper?"
"Why would she? I'm your best friend and I'm sorry as hell I told you anything." This didn't elicit any reaction from behind him and Ray tried again. "Look, sometimes people aren't what you thought they were. Or wanted them to be. Truth hurts. I thought you knew that by now." Ben just shook his head and said nothing. Ray tried again. "I don't stick my nose into your personal life as much as I'd like to and God knows I should, but don't get more involved in this than you have to."
"A friend is in trouble, Ray. I am not about to let her down.'
"A friend? Come on, get real. A Power-Protecting Superior Officer who treats you like dirt, is more like it. Come on, Benny, we tried. We went to the Big House, we checked out Murdoch's story. The rest of this is out of our hands. Let them handle the case. You don't even know there isn't some truth to any of this and if there is, you're a lot better off staying out of it."
"That's not true, Ray. She needs my help."
"I've heard that before. Victoria needed your help too, remember? Look where that got you. She left you so messed up you still can't deal with it."
The look that passed over Ben's face told Ray that the remark had stung deeply; he just didn't know how deeply and for once he didn't care. "You're being stupid, Benny. Just let this go before you get hurt. I don't think you could go though that again and I'm damn sure I can't."
Fraser's elephant, the one he never afforded a passing glance to, was circling dangerously close. What happened with Victoria and what it had almost cost him was a closed subject.
"Listen, Benny, if you want to live by this 'we don't talk about her' hallowed code of conduct, that's fine. I'm not crazy about that subject either but I damn sure know well enough to open my mouth if I see you going down that road again. And Benny, you're heading that way."
Fraser quietly said, "I don't care if what Murdoch said about the Inspector is true or not....I just wish she had been more up front. With me."
"People have their limits to how up-front they want to be. Guess she hit hers. Maybe everything is true. Maybe not. Maybe she was worried about what you'd think. "
"Thank you, Ray, I'd forgotten your discerning insight into the Inspector's personality," Ben snapped before he could stop himself.
"Oh, now we're getting sarcastic? Listen, you can be pissed off at what you heard today all you want, but don't take the other stuff out on me. I'm not your problem, here - you are."
"Benny, you say one more word and I'm through talking to you."
"Ray--" he heard Ben begin apologetically.
"That's the word!"
They boarded the plane, not talking. They endured the long flight, not talking. They would probably go their separate ways at the airport still not talking. Fraser knew when to cross Ray's boundary of silence and when to leave it alone. He sat gazing out the window trying to piece together everything he did and didn't find out that day; why every charge that spewed out of Murdoch's mouth about the Inspector seemed more contrived than the last; why he couldn't stop being so irritated at Ray's social involvement with the Inspector; why Inspector Thatcher didn't tell him about Tupper and if any of it was true; and why he couldn't stand the thought of another inquiry into a mistake that was made, lived through and buried long ago.
It would take just one piece of evidence to diffuse the professional misconduct charges against Inspector Thatcher. But as for the details of her past, there weren't facts enough in the universe to prove anything true or false. Only her confirmation or denial would settle that for Fraser - and neither would be simple to obtain. That would have to involve a conversation of a 'Personal Nature'; the kind friends share back and forth. The only thing he and Thatcher shared back and forth were commands and reprimands - all of them hers.
He had once asked her if she had had a pleasant weekend and did she do anything special. Ben remembered her fumbling with her answer, caught off guard by his informality, his interest.
"Can I get you gentlemen a drink," a Stewardess asked, smiling brightly.
"Bourbon, no rocks," Ray grumbled from behind the newspaper where he lingered deliberately over the hockey page. He knew from the skip in her voice that the question was directed at and only for Fraser.
She continued to smile at the Mountie by the window. "And you, Sir?"
Ben remembered Ray's angry words at the airport: 'Would you like to get this out into the open once and for all cause I don't think I can take this for much longer-' Whatever Ray wanted out in the open, it was probably best left unsaid. Ben could almost hear Ray say, 'Fine, be pissed off, feel any damn way you want but just admit don't play these stupid Mountie games of "You Can't See Me" with your hands over your eyes. I can see you, Benny, and so can a lot of people. Maybe even she does.' 'See what?' Ben would ask, blinded and frustrated by what was right in front of his eyes but too close to comprehend.
"Sir? Excuse me, would you care for a beverage?"
Ray had to hand it to the eager stewardess - she was hanging in there.
Ray Vecchio could be one of the most patient men he had known, yet when certain things got under his skin, they festered there for life and Fraser knew this could become one of these things. He couldn't stand silence when he knew he was the cause of it and not knowing how to explain himself only made it worse. Ray had called Thatcher a Power-Protecting Superior Officer and he wasn't completely inaccurate in his description. Ben was wondering if it was more than just Ray going out with Thatcher. It was whatever gave Ray the freedom to go out with someone, just like that; to know what it was like to share a hot-dog and a beer with her; to know who her favorite hockey player was. Ray had the confidence to go after what he wanted while Fraser had never known that kind of freedom. His brow furrowed as the word jealously came to mind; he thought you had to be *allowed* to have something before you could be jealous of it. She was never an option or a possibility to himself - but that didn't apply to Ray.
Only when Ray's elbow poked his ribcage sharply did Fraser realize he was being spoken to. It wasn't by Ray, but it at least it was conversation. The Stewardess was trying again. "Can I get you something to drink, sir?" This time the smile had evolved into a wink.
"Uh - yes.." He glanced quickly at Ray "Gingerale, please."
He heard Ray gripe, "Figures," under his breath as the Stewardess left.
Fraser leaned over. "Ray? You wouldn't by chance still be not talking to me, would you?"
"Yes," he heard Ray snap from behind the sports page.
"Yes you are talking to me or yes, you're still not talking to me?"
"Shut up, Fraser."
No, not understood. None of it.
Ben opened his door to the apartment, hoping Diefenbaker would have been walked, watered and fed by Turnbull. He was too tired to listen to the wolf whine about being left behind while Fraser got to return to the Promised Land. Fraser didn't have to worry about Diefenbaker's complaints.
Inspector Thatcher did the talking instead.
"Hello, Fraser..." she said timidly from the shadows of the kitchen table.
"Inspector--" Fraser closed the door behind him and looked around. Diefenbaker was sitting alert in the corner, watching Thatcher with keen interest. He spared only the briefest of glances for his owner.
"I got the key from Turnbull after he walked the dog - wolf - whatever -" she explained. "I hope you don't mind...."
"Uh - no. Of course not." He dropped his knapsack on the floor and continued looking back and forth between Deifenbaker and Thatcher.
"Ottawa..went well?" the Inspector asked bluntly; there wasn't the time or patience to wait it out. "I figured that was where you were today," she explained at Fraser's puzzled look. She eased the look of concern on his face with a slight smile. "You might want to tell Vecchio that Poutine poisoning and Ptomaine poisoning aren't the same thing."
Embarrassed, Fraser pulled up a chair and sat across from her. "I'm sorry for the cover, but I was able to speak to a few people -- RCMP, External Affairs -- I didn't find out too much -"
"You met with Murdoch." She shook her head, disappointed. "I can take a wild guess at what you talked about...."
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to drag out any skeletons."
"Had to happen sooner or later. I was hoping my personal life could have been kept out of things, but since that didn't transpire years ago, I don't see why it should be any different now." Thatcher noticed the dark rings under Fraser's eyes and wondered why she was sitting there, keeping him awake, involving him in all of this. "It's not all true what he said."
"Inspector, I don't need to know--"
"There was a man and he did turn out to be....untrustworthy...but that was the extent of my involvement. Sheer stupidity and weakness of character on my part. No excuses."
Now something Ben had felt so desperate to know about suddenly seemed so off limits. He watched her eyes drift down to the floor, filled with shame. He felt guilty for knowing her past when he was so mindful of his own.
She sailed away for a moment, then returned to their world. "I suppose he also showed you the novel-like book of administrative misdemeanours he is going to throw at me."
Ben nodded. "He seems to have had a lot of time on his hands. I don't understand is why is he going to so much trouble to take away your career."
"Well, that's just it, Fraser," she corrected. "He's not taking it away. Just severely disabling it. He could take it away if he wanted, but that would bring too much attention upon himself."
"Oh," Ben said tiredly. He looked around the room, then at Thatcher remembering she was a guest in his home. "I'm sorry - Would you like something to drink?" Suddenly, the fatigue from the day and the flights were catching up to him. Caffeine would keep him awake. "I think I have some tea - or some - wait, no I finished that yesterday -"
"I was officially put on suspension today." She delivered the news quietly, like a swift grenade.
It took him a minute to register what she said before it hit. "I'm sorry-"
"Can't say as if I'm too surprised."
"When did they tell you?"
Meg shrugged. "Noon time. Why?"
"No reason." He remembered specifically having to wait in Murdoch's outer office at noon, while the Minister was "finishing up a phone call to one of the Consulates."
"Thank you for your help today. Please thank Ray for me. I assume he went with you."
"Sure," Ben yawned. Then he remembered the end to their long trip. "Well, I'll have to wait until he's talking to me again." Ben's mind was sliding back to the long list of nasty things he heard himself spout to Ray.
Thatcher cleared her throat nervously. "And thank you for your...discretion."(Don't you want to know what the truth is? I want you to know the truth because it's important to me.)
Ben said, "I don't need to know." (Is it true? Did you do what he said you did?)
Thatcher hesitated. "That woman -Victoria - They threatened to drag that incident into this, didn't they?" The look on his face was all the answer she needed. "That's why I didn't want you involved, Fraser. I know how dirty Murdoch can play. I'm very sorry."
Fraser only shrugged. There was nothing he could do about it and it weighed him down like an anchor.
Thatcher watched him slip away into his thoughts. For the first time since meeting the Constable, she found herself wondering about his relationship with the woman who had nearly ruined his life. Meg hadn't given a damn about the personal aspect of the case when she first arrived in Chicago. She had only wanted this irresponsible man out of her command and out of her life. He was a pain in her ass and he would be nothing but trouble if he stayed with the Consulate in Chicago.
"You look sad," she told him now.
"So do you," he told her.
They sat together in the quiet comfort of the other's presence until Thatcher realized any more attempts at conversation tonight would be useless. She picked up her purse and stood up. Her business voice interrupted his thoughts and their silence: "Fraser, go to bed."
Unfortunately, Fraser's fuzzy brain misinterpreted this and he looked up at her oddly. "Excuse me, Sir?"
She pulled him out of the chair. "Go to bed, Constable. Get some sleep. I appreciate your efforts on my behalf today." Thatcher paused and added, characteristically, "Just don't do it again."
"Understood." Ben groggily followed her to the door. "Uh-I'll walk you home. Dief, let's go"
"I've got my car, I'll be fine."
"Oh. All right. Shall I drive?"
"I don't think so -" Meg gave him a gentle push in the direction of his bed. "Goodnight, Const- Fras - Bent - what do people call you?"
"Oh, whatever they like," he yawned, sitting down on the side of the bed. Something of a pressing issue was forcing it's way from the back of his unspoken mind to the front of his lips. "So you two went out, then." He was looking up at her through tired, watery eyes.
It took Thatcher a moment before realizing what he was referring to. Her voice took on a note of controlled indifference. "Yes. A few times. Saw an Ottawa Senators game. Nothing more." She waited a moment. "Did Ray tell you?"
"The other night," he yawned.
"Ah. Well. That's that, then. We're just friends. Anyway, my private life is academic now that my career seems to be floating down the toilette."
"Why?" He looked up at her through tired, heavy eyes.
"Why is my career floating down the toilette?" How tired was he, she wondered glancing downwards. The trail of dried blood on the floorboards caught her attention. "Fraser, is that blood?" she demanded in her familiar tone of authority.
"I had an accident. Why just friends? Is there someone else?" He found himself hoping against hope there was a "Yes." coming to his question. That there was someone else, 'but I can't pursue that right now because he's someone I work with and its all too complicated.'
"How did you have an accident? Never mind, I don't want to hear. And ,no," she responded to his other question. "There's no one else."
Diefenbaker sank to the floor with a whine. He took Fraser's heart with him.
"You deserve better, Sir," Fraser lay down on the bed and in a matter of seconds, he was asleep. Thatcher stood over him, listening to him mumble in all his Fraser-like complexity. She watched his animated face and wished she could have woken him up, ordered him to shift over and curled up beside him; his arm would drape protectively over her and make such a insulated shell that nothing could hurt either of them again.
"Goodnight, Constable." She pulled a blanket over his shoulder and left.
"Hey, Vecchio, you got a visitor," someone called under the stall door.
Ray flushed. "Who?" he yelled back, unconcerned.
"I donno," the voice said behind another stall. "That guy with the funny hat."
Ray rolled his eyes and grumbled, "Jeeze," to himself. Coming into work on a Saturday to make up for a lost Friday was one thing. Seeing the cause of that Lost Friday was another.
"What do you want" he asked, dropping into his chair.
Fraser stopped doodling on the desk. "Ray. Good morning. Um, is it too early to apologize?"
"Yes, but why don't you give it a shot anyway."
"I'm sorry for everything mean and annoying thing I said to you yesterday. And the day before." He nodded and decided to add, "And anything remotely hurtful I might say in the future."
"That's an apology?"
"Its the best I can do, Ray. I'm a little rusty. I don't usually do this."
"You? Saint Benton?"
"I'd also like to thank you for accompanying me yesterday. I realize you were doing it on..." He lowered his voice. "On sick time, if you know what I mean."
"Yeah, I know, all right. It kind of explains what I'm doing here on a Saturday."
"Inspector Thatcher also sends her gratitude."
"You Canadians are so darned ....polite."
Fraser fidgeted with the stapler on the desk. "There was something else about yesterday-" he began, absently fitting his thumb under the opening. "Something I didn't tell you."
Ray was more interested his stapler which Fraser was now carelessly pressing with his right hand. "Benny, watch that thing, it's loaded. What didn't you tell me?"
"One of the things they said might happen if Inspector Thatcher is removed from her duties..." He was pressing dangerously hard on the stapler without paying much attention.
Ray reached over and snatched the stapler from Ben's hold. "Will you stop that? God, you're such an accident waiting to happen these days. What did they tell you that you didn't tell me that you don't want to tell me now."
"If she is found guilty, they will be cleaning house, in terms of my past as well. Victoria, the shooting, my participation. Everything." It suddenly dawned on Ben that it wasn't the repercussions that shook him, it was the panic of having to face those feelings again. Ray had been right; he still had some thinking to do.
Ray sat back in his chair. "Whoa. That's a biggie. Guess I kinda pushed a few wrong buttons yesterday, huh?"
"No" Ben shook his head. "I just didn't want to talk about it. I still don't. I'm hoping that was just a bluff - that they'll decide otherwise-"
"You okay with it if it doesn't?"
Ben just shrugged. Until yesterday, he would have thought so. "It's just a ploy. I don't think they'd go to that trouble."
"Did they threaten you about this? Cause, legally, that matter was open and shut -"
"Only on this side of the border, Ray. On their side, they were very generous in their efforts to offer leniency in the face of carelessness and put the matter out of sight. And now I know why."
Ray nodded to himself. "So that's why they ignored the Victoria situation until now. And ignored all those complaints she made against you. Leniency hell, they wanted something to keep you in line with. Man, they are good." Ray opened the top drawer of the desk. "We'd better clear this up, then cause like I said yesterday, I don't think I can go through that again. Here -" He tossed a notebook across the desk. "I was going to drop this at the door of the consulate and run away but since you're here so bright eyed and apologetic -"
"Ray -" Ben's chin dropped as he flipped through the book. "Where did you get this?"
"Last night, they brought in the guys who busted in to the Consulate. One of the idiots had this on him. A buddy of mine kindly snuck it out of Evidence and left it for me. "
Ben's eyes poured through the contents of the tattered book; the password for the Inspector's computer, the code for the office safe that had been housing the stolen file, the list of things to leave behind. And the phone number for Arthur Murdoch. The evidence he needed to prove the charges against her were dummied up was all here.
And there was more. "I don't understand - why is Tupper going to sue the RCMP for false dismissal. They caught him selling Canadian information red handed."
"That part I can't figure out. The career-assassination on Thatcher I do understand. Check who the main witness for his prosecution is. Your dear Inspector."
"So this is why Murdoch is going to such trouble to ruin her career"
"Trying his damnedest to discredit her. Nice and neat way to keep any interesting testimony from hurting the Force."
"Has anyone else seen it?"
"No, so you have to keep this out of sight." Ray reached across the desk and closed the book. "I mean it, Benny, don't be waving this thing in here."
"Where are the men? I'd like to ask them a few questions-"
Ray shook his head. "No can do. Someone posted their bail at three this morning."
Ray tapped the book. "His business card is in there. Has Murdoch's cell phone number scribbled on the back of it. Getting a connection here?"
"This is the law firm Murdoch uses. This could start to make a bit more sense. Can I borrow this for a while?" Ray opened his mouth to make another heart felt plea for safety but Fraser beat him to it. "Yes, Ray, I won't let anything happen to it." He gathered his hat and sped out of the precinct. On a hunch, Fraser went to the consulate and tentatively poked his head into Meg Thatcher's office. She was sitting behind her desk furiously rifling through one file after another. A cigarette was burning in an ashtray by her elbow.
"What do you want, Constable?" she snapped, without looking up. She knew better than to let anything in her voice imply that their visit the night before had taken place.
Ben gently stepped into the office as if it were a land mine. "Excuse me ma'am, but I wanted to bring something to your attention-" His hand was on the notebook but his attention was on the files. "What are you doing?"
"What does it look like." She reached for the cigarette and a long piece of ash fell to the carpet. Meg didn't seem to notice or care. Ben looked at her and tried to get any kind of a reading. Did the book matter? Yesterday, everything seemed to matter. Today, it was gone.
"Well, to be honest, it looks you could be packing up."
Thatcher finally peered up from the paper work and looked Fraser in the shoulder. "I'm not packing up, I am going through some files I might need at the hearings and I would be much better off doing this without being watched."
"I thank you for your interest and help but I don't want you involved in this any more."
"I don't think I understand. I said I didn't intend to stand by while someone tries to ruin your career and I meant it."
"Even if not backing down means insubordination? I thought you true-blue types drew the line at that." She took another drag from the cigarette. "That's what they are depending on, Fraser; doing what you've been asked, no questions back. They're counting on you."
He was slowly drowning in her logic. "You are counting on me," he corrected, puzzled.
"No, Fraser, I'm not counting on anybody. I made that mistake a long time ago and I'm damn sure not going to make it again. I am going to these hearings, I will defend myself the best I can. After, I will be tendering my resignation." She didn't expect such an expression of disbelief to wash over his face. Thatcher lowered her eyes and returned to the mass of files in front of her. "I know when I'm beat and as far as that man is concerned, I will never be rid of Tupper and what I got myself into. They will see to it that it is not forgotten."
"I thought you worked too hard to let them do that to you."
"Buy a clue, Fraser, they've already done it." Thatcher stood up and walked to the window. After an endless moment of feeling his questioning eyes on her back, she quietly announced, "You are officially uninvolved in the matter."
"Excuse me?" She turned around to face him. "No one under my command deliberately disobeys a direct order."
"And if I go ahead anyway?"
"I'll put you on suspension."
"If you don't mind my saying so, aren't you already on suspension, Sir?"
His stubbornness was forcing more truth than she wanted. "Why are you doing this, Constable?" Why do you think, he wanted to say, watching her with a confused, aching look that she didn't want to face right now.
She cleared the emotion from her throat. "You know what your responsibilities here are. I expect you to see that things run as smoothly as possible."
"I'm sorry, Sir, I can't do that"
She walked past him and sat down at the desk, without ambition to argue, file or anything else. "Fine. Do what you want, Fraser. I'm done with this. They want me, they've got me."
"But Inspector, if you'd just--"
"Dismissed. I mean it, Fraser. I want to be alone. Go."
And Fraser left without telling her that there was a hope in hell of getting out of this mess. She had almost convinced him that there wasn't.
Fraser made sure he was not heard going into his office. He closed the door with nymph-like precision and almost tiptoed to his desk. Carefully, he opened Ray's book and smoothed open the page with the phone number he needed.
"Justice Department: Internal Affairs" a crisp voice answered on the other end.
Fraser cleared his throat and identified himself as a reporter from "The Times," out to check some facts before filing a story on the legal doings of one Jackson Tupper.
Ben asked his questions, and was getting nowhere until the voice on the other end of the line seemed to accidentally refer to Tupper as working for the Belgians. Ben corrected them. "Don't you mean Canada? He was acquiring information for Canada."
"No. No, he was working for Belgium." the clerk corrected helpfully. "It says so right here."
An innocent slip and it all fell together.
He thanked the man and hung up and quietly slipped out of the Consulate without disturbing the Inspector.
Ray flew to his car the minute Elaine dropped the latest report from the consulate break-in on his desk. He would have used the phone, but...well, that would have defeated the purpose. He found the Consulate empty except for the Inspector in the reception area, cleaning a framed painting of some dead Prime Minister.
"Heavy work load?" Ray asked from the door. He didn't mean to startle her but the bottle of Windex flew into the air all the same.
"What the hell are you doing!" she yelled, bracing herself against a chair.
"Nothing'. I'm sorry. Really." He tried to keep the smirk to a minimum, for his own benefit, if not hers. "I honestly didn't mean to startle you." He picked up the bottle of spray and placed it carefully back on the desk. "Do you always go around cleaning picture frames, Inspector? I know you Canadians are really neat freaks and all, but you must have people to do this kind of menial yet hygienic work for you--"
"What do you want, Vecchio," she barked in his face. "I am not in a mood to be chuckled at. If you want to chuckle at someone, go find your friend. Just don't do it here."
"You're right. Lets go for a walk - I'm less annoying outside." He grabbed her hand and pulled her towards the door.
"You look like you could use some fresh air, Inspector--"
"I do not. And let go of my hand. What if someone sees us. I'm the only one here. I just can't...leave."
"Yes you can. You walk down the stair, one step at a time, and presto - you've left!"
"That's not how the Consulate works, Vecchio."
"Sure it is. Benny does it all the time."
Ray gently shoved her out the door and slammed it shut behind him. "And if a situation arises that requires immediate attention, Benny has that all figured out, too. Did you know he once told me that trouble never comes to the Inuit who doesn't answer the phone after five p.m.?"
"Do you mind telling me just what the hell you're doing," Meg snapped as she tried to keep up with his fast pace. But Ray held on until they were safely away the consulate and in the open privacy of the rest of the world
"Your phone lines in the Consulate have been bugged. Chances are very good a couple of little ears are also in a lamp or two."
This stopped her in her tracks. "What? How do you know that? Who would--"
"The burglars. Cops found some wires on them. I just got the report on my desk."
"What burglars?" A complete lack of comprehension covered Meg Thatcher's face.
"He didn't tell you?"
" 'He' who?"
"Benny. He said he was coming over here to give you an update on the two clowns."
"Well, he came by, but---" The visit played back in her mind like a bad mistake. "I think I might have told him to go away before he had a chance to tell me anything."
"Figures." Ray smirked. He nodded towards the park and they walked over. "The cops brought in the guys who broke into the Consulate."
"I didn't hear about that."
She and Ray dropped down onto a bench. "Yeah. They think one of the punks was the guy staking out Benny's place a few nights ago."
"Pardon me?" Another blank look was sweeping across her face.
Ray's eyebrow rose. "His place was being staked out a couple of nights ago by your countrymen. He didn't tell you about that?"
"No - well - not in so many - I mean, I don't think he did--" She gave up trying. "Alright, no."
Ray shook his head, irritated. "You haven't noticed he's been limping the past couple'a days?"
Thatcher gave this some thought and vaguely remembered noticing a change in Fraser's gait. She had assumed he was breaking in a new pair of boots and meant to tell him to stop debuting new footwear on the Company's time if he was going to walk so oddly.
"Well -- no. Why? What does that have to do with his apartment being staked out."
"He got a piece of glass jammed in his foot when we went down to check it out. Glass from a Canadian car. Don't you two ever talk to each other?"
"Of course. Sometimes. Usually." She returned to the issue at hand. "I wonder why he didn't say anything."
"Fraser? I don't know if you've notice, Inspector, but he says a lot about a lot of things, very little of which happen to be important. He just happens to be very selective." It probably wasn't the best time to vent his latent anger but Ray ploughed ahead anyway. "He's too busy going on and on and on about everything else under the sun except for himself - hurting because he stepped on glass trying to help you or being really pissed off at me for telling him that you and I went out a couple'a times - which, by the way, I'm over, and yes, you were right - we're better off acquaintances or close enemies, you choose. I mean, what the hell, next time I get free tickets to a game I'd probably take you instead of him anyway, because you're more fun to go a game with and you know better swear words than he does but -"
"You told him we went out?"
"Yeah. So? You have a problem with that?"
"I just don't happen to think that was any of his or anyone's concern."
"Well, I did. He's my friend and I was feeling guilty."
"Well, he's my employee and I wasn't feeling guilty."
"Oh, that's all he is? He's out there busting a gut for you. You think some regular employee would do that much? I've seen him almost ruin his career, not to mention his life trying to help a friend, or his warped version of a friend. You may not be Victoria, but he'll go over the edge for you if it comes to that and if he does, you had better be worth it -"
"You're comparing me to that...that...witch?"
"No," Ray explained tightly, before he was going to lose his cool. "Just the situation. Take a look at him, lady. Figure out why he's helping you."
"I have no idea. He's just that kind of a person. He helps people. Some people collect stamps, he collects... people to help."
Ray gave up trying to make his point. She was doing too good a job of running circles to avoid it. He sighed abruptly. "I have never met two more tightly wrapped people than you guys."
"And what's that supposed to mean?"
Ray sighed and stood up. "Just have Benny give me a call when he gets back. And not from one of the phones in there."
Thatcher went back to the Consulate to retrieve her coat and purse. Ray's visit left her anxious and this was the last place she wanted to be. She crossed the street and wandered through the park, where people with no place to go went to be alone. Homeless men and women sat here and there around the park. Thatcher's car was parked just beyond them, by the Church. Sometimes she wondered what it would be like to sit among these people; to leave her office, walk through the well kept flowerbeds and sit next to an angry man who looked and smelled as though he hadn't eaten in weeks. She would just smile and generously turn her head away. There would be no empty greetings, no condescending looks; no threats that she might be one of those people who dove into self-involved conversations through carefully positioned opening questions. ('Are you as tired as I am?' - A dead give away; only the foolish nodded and said, 'Yes'). Out here, no one played by well manicured scripts. There was an illusion of equality out here that made her own world seem criminal. You didn't have to pretend to care. You didn't have to pretend not to care. You just had to pretend you were someone else.
She noticed something unusual about her car even before she reached the far end of the lot. There was a slant to the vehicle. A tire had sunk to the ground.
"What the hell -" All four tires were slashed. She circled the car in disbelief until a familiar voice spoke from behind a garbage dumpster. She whirled around. "Fraser, what in God's name--" He was lying on his side, beaten and bruised. It was only the sharp, Bismarck-like click of her heals that told him Thatcher was near. It was the first sound he recognized since hearing the hard thud of a fist hit his skull.
Thatcher helped him into the consulate, and her office. She was supporting most of his weight and dizziness and counting the seconds until she dropped him flat. Meg brushed the pile of papers on the couch to the floor and gently helped Fraser lie down. "God, you're heavy!" she gasped.
"I'm sorry-" he weakly.
"You're apologising for your weight, Fraser," Meg pointed out, irritated. She reached for her coat and rolled it into a makeshift pillow. "What's Vecchio's number?" she asked, putting it under his head.
"I don't think you should call him today, he's very busy."
"The number, please, Constable." She stood there, her foot tapping impatiently until Fraser coughed up the eight digits.
Thatcher went over to the phone and dialled. "Vecchio, its me - No, I am not calling to apologize....You should be the one apologising - Oh, never mind - could you swing back here. Constable Fraser has returned and he would like a ride home - Did I say you were a chauffeur service? You're pushing my patience, Detective -" Thatcher rolled her eyes in frustration and added, "Please get over here now. I have the rest of the money for your sister's sweater. Take it now or never." She slammed the receiver down. "Does he not know how to take a hint?"
"I don't think so," Fraser replied from the couch before adding, "Oh, dear."
"Now what?" She turned around. His nose was bleeding again. "Oh, dear. Hold on." She flew out of the office and returned a moment later with an arm full of ice wrapped in paper towels.
"Fraser, try not to bleed on my carpet, please." Thatcher knelt down and gently pressed the icepack to the bridge of his nose. "Now, would you please tell me what happened?"
"I'd rather not, Ma'am."
"Consider it an order and hold still a minute--" She tried to clean up a cut over his eye.
Fraser winced at the sharpness. "Oww--"
"Sorry, sorry. Who did this?" she repeated.
"I'm not sure." he lied.
"Yes, you are. Ray told me about the break in and the Canadian trail back to Murdoch. They had the phones in here bugged--"
"That's how they knew," he moaned to himself. "I called Ottawa before I went out. Asked a few questions--"
"This has gone too far," she worried aloud, as she kept her hand on the ice pack. Fraser lay taut; his eyes were fixed on the ceiling trying to concentrate on anything but moving. None of this was supposed to go this far.
"Fraser -" She spoke his name with quiet guilt.
"Sir," he answered, fighting the urge to turn his head. Or sit up. Or not throw up.
"This is crazy, " she continued.
"When Ray gets here, we'll take you to the hospital."
She didn't bother arguing with him. It wouldn't have done any good - she was too tired and he was too heavy; that warped logic aside, she didn't want to rock anymore boats. Let Ray deal with him when he arrived.
"They're from the firm that Murdoch has been dealing with privately since they were dismissed from handling RCMP cases." Fraser said quietly. "Your old friend Tupper has resurfaced and they're running scared. He's threatening to drag them through the courts for something."
Thatcher took her hand from the ice pack and put his own over it. "Keep the pressure on." She sat down on the carpet and leaned against the side of the couch. "You don't know what's behind the suit, do you? Because I think I probably do."
"Excuse me, Sir?"
He heard her voice disappear in remorse. When he was slow in answering, she took a deep breath. "There's more to it, Fraser. That night - when you came back from Ottawa - I knew you had heard about me and Tupper, some of it true, some of it lies, most of it exaggeration. I should have told you everything. Maybe some of this could have been avoided."
"That's all right. I understand. I mean, I suppose I wished you might have been more open about everything, but if you didn't think I would, well, I understand if you didn't wish to discuss it."
"No you don't. Stop pretending to be so damn understanding!" She caught hold of her growing temper as she remembered she was yelling at a man who had just got himself beaten up on her behalf. She owed him at least the courtesy of a quiet explanation. "Years ago, I turned Murdoch down for chance at 'promotion'; One of those promotions and I threatened to report him. His people snooped around, and found out things about my personal life, including the man I was involved with at the time-Jake Tupper. He was working as an lawyer for the RCMP; that's what I and everyone else thought. Nobody knew he was hired as an intelligence gather- spy. It was very hush-hush; nobody in the force was authorized to hire on a surveillance basis. Anyway, we went out - just to make this sound even worse, he was also married at the time. Like that wasn't enough. Then, he started working for the Belgians, selling them our documents. Murdoch found out about it and he had to get him out of the country. Quietly. Any noise would draw attention to the fact that they were the ones who had hired him as a spy first. I didn't know this then. When Murdoch told me he had sold out, I thought it was just accusations from an angry supervisor. I didn't want to admit that Tupper was who they said he was - not until it was too late.
"I'm sorry," Ben said in a quiet voice.
"It doesn't matter. It was a lifetime ago. I don't even know what happened to him."
"I'm afraid I do," Fraser said. "He's suing our government and threatening to go public. If the RCMP calls his bluff, Tupper's lawyers will name you as a chief witness and expose the office and everyone involved." He could hear her breathing stop as the news sunk in. "The RCMP, on the other hand, needs you discredited so you can't do them any harm. That's why the subtle action. Nothing showy. Just thorough. They know you would never lie on the stand for them. That book would most likely have forced everything into the open."
Thatcher had given up listening. She sighed loud and long. "This isn't suppose to be working out this way, Fraser. Everything was supposed to be left alone and forgotten about."
"I think that's easier said than done, Ma'am."
"Well, it should have been done." she snapped. "This can't go any farther"
"I'll tell Ray not to let it - that it's a Canadian matter. It doesn't have to go public."
"But it will." She dropped her head into her hands. "It never goes away. You think it does and it doesn't--"
Ben wanted to say something that would make sense of all of this; something that would erase her anxiety and replace it with optimism. That wasn't going to happen. Nothing he could do was fixable, just concealable.
Ray wandered into the consulate and peered into the Inspector's office expecting to do battle over her inane phone call. Instead he saw Thatcher sitting on the floor, leaning back against the couch, defeated. Above and behind her lay Fraser, his head tilted upward; The bleeding had stopped. Nobody spoke. They were just waiting for something; it took Ray a minute to realize that it was for him.
"Hi, Ray," Ben spoke from across the room; his eyes remained shut.
Ray carefully stepped into the office. "Benny, Inspector - what the hell happened here?"
"Fraser was beat up by Murdoch's connections." Thatcher slowly stood up. "Can you drive him to the hospital - my car's out of commission - slashed tires."
"Yeah sure - you're okay, though, Inspector?" Ray asked her.
"Fine." She brushed off the genuine concern and turned her attentions towards Fraser. "I think he's probably alright. Doesn't seem to have anything broken but someone should have a look, just to be sure."
"No," Ben protested as he carefully pushed himself up to a sitting position. "I'm fine. Just a little sore. If you could just drive the Inspector home, and me home."
"You gonna tell me what happened?"
"Later." Fraser dropped the icepack and managed to get to his feet. "Please, Ray. Let's go." He smiled, though a bruised jaw, at the Inspector. "We'll drive you home, Ma'am. Thanks for taking care of me."
She acknowledged the sentiment with a nod and picked up her coat.
Ray didn't understand what the unspoken tension was about but he was willing to see Thatcher to her door before starting in on Ben.
"Okay, Benny, she's out of here. Now will you please tell me what this cloak and dagger staring contest between you two is about?"
"Please, Ray, I'd just like to go home."
"Yeah, yeah, you'll get home. After we go see a doctor, return the book, fill out a report, find those clowns that jumped you, let your side of the border know what's going on with their finest. Then, I'll take you home."
"We can't do that."
"Which 'that' is that?"
"All of the 'that's'."
Ray did a wicked turn on a slow street. "Excuse me?"
"No book, no downtown, no doctor."
"What the hell are you talking about, Benny. We are going to the authorities, Chicago, then Canadian and we are turning in the little jerk. Understand? Of course you do. End of story."
"Ray, please --" Ben began patiently.
"What's going on here, Fraser?" Ray demanded. "Why are you sounding this way?"
"I'm sorry. But we have to forget everything we've found out about Murdoch. I made a promise to the Inspector."
Ray lost what was left of his patience and slammed on the breaks. The impact sent him and Fraser lurching forward with a jolt. Ray took a deep breath and tried to speak calmly. "What did you promise the Inspector?"
"That we'd let this drop; that it never happened." Ben watched Ray's blood pressure rise by the second. "I know it doesn't make sense. But if we let any of this get to the authorities - yours or mine - she'll have to be involved and that's just not an option right now-"
"To whom? You? Her?" Ray was shaking his head; he couldn't tell who was going crazier. "Because she doesn't want to face a few skeletons, all of this is for nothing. Going to Ottawa, going out on a limb for her, having a couple of morons beat the crap out of you - that's all for nothing?"
"No - yes. I don't know. I just know that I can't drag her into it anymore." Fraser could feel the conviction in his own words slipping away. Ray knew it and he knew it. "She can't do it, Ray. Not now. And I can't make her. Took much is at stake."
Ray spoke quietly, almost hypnotically. "We've got a good hook on this and a string of other small, but important fish. You want to let them go?"
"Yes. I have no choice -" He knew he was lying. He had a choice, plenty of them and he strongly suspected he was making the wrong one now.
Ray's anger was breaking back into his thoughts. "The guy beat you up, Fraser. He snuck into your place of business, wiretapped your phones, and set up enough traps to have your supervisor fired." He waited for Fraser to say something; anything. There was nothing.
Instead, Fraser dug into his back pocket and pulled out the notebook. "Take this back to the precinct. Perhaps it could become misplaced. We can't use it." Ben placed it on the dashboard. If body-language was spoken here, he would have been a run-on sentence.
Ray just sat, his knuckles turning white on the steering wheel. Fraser hadn't seen him this angry or silent before. Without a word or a look, Ray started up the car and sped through the streets as if the other cars were disposable icons in a video game.
Ray stopped in front of Fraser's building and, wordlessly, accompanied him up to his apartment. "You gonna be okay?" he asked without looking at him.
"Yes. Thanks -- Ray, you just have to understand---"
Ray shook his head angry. He couldn't understand any more.
"You're forgetting I've been there once with you already. You almost screwed up both our lives before because of really crappy judgement and letting your obsessive need to protect the rest of the world take over your sense to protect yourself. I know we're talking about two different people and situations here but it's Victoria all over again. You covering for Thatcher; sooner or later this will catch up to you and you're going to end up screwed."
"It's going to work out. I know what I'm doing."
This time Ray looked at him; dead in the eye. "No. You don't, Benny," he told him sadly. "You're just pretending you do. That's what scares the hell out of me." He turned and left the apartment.
At six-thirty Monday evening, Fraser closed his office and prepared to go home. Thatcher cornered him before he could reach the staircase. She hadn't spoken to him all day; he wondered if she was going to drag him unsuspectingly to the park again, push him onto a bench and tell him what was wrong. He would have given anything if she had. One week ago she had trusted him enough to ask for help when that was hard enough. Now, she had barely been able to speak to him.
She was still looking him in the nose when she said - and not without remorse. "Why are you doing this? This can't be that important to you."
"Excuse me, Ma'am?" He didn't understand.
"This charades; ignoring everything - Pretending nothing happened. It isn't worth it."
"I think it is."
"Have you spoken to Vecchio today?"
"Do you expect to be speaking to him in the near future or is he still so angry with you, with me, that he can't look you in the eye. Is that important to you?"
"Yes, of course but - "
"Ray is an honest cop. But he's not going to say anything because you're his friend and as angry at you as is, he'll protect you. And you're my subordinate officer and you are protecting me and I'm the Chief officer who is protecting myself. Something isn't right in all of this, Fraser. All of this protecting is turning us into miserable people and I don't know what to do about it -"
"Ma'am," Fraser tried to put his hand on her arm but she backed away with a jump.
"I can't do this. I can't." He looked as if he was trying to find something kind to say and Meg lost her cool. "Please don't tell me you understand. If I were you I wouldn't understand, I wouldn't want to be nice about it. I'd be mad as hell. Are you the least bit annoyed at having been put through all of this? You know, Ray compared me to Victoria. I wanted to slug him. Not because he was comparing me to her but because I was comparing me to you. I got involved with the wrong person once and that was weak. I fell as hard as you did about someone I shouldn't have and everytime I look at you, that's all I see!"
Before he could answer to this or anything else, Thatcher grabbed her coat and left the consulate. She didn't look back, she didn't wait for him to follow. She knew he wouldn't.
Margaret Thatcher marched along the street, through the park and didn't have any idea of where she expected to end up. She would have walked all the way to Vancouver if she thought her shoes would hold up. It was a crappy thing she had said to Fraser; very crappy and very true. And she said it to the only Boy-Scout left in a world which was too messed up to be saved. He didn't see what she did; that you left well enough alone when you could and you avoided the traps when you couldn't. In Fraser's world, everything was black and white, right and wrong, good and bad and he was blessed just enough deftness to convince himself of this. Thatcher never knew if his guile was a result of genuine Canadian Values or a protective, well preserved blanket, woven through the years of grim reality. Or both He got away with believing in a predisposed decency of the world and she couldn't. Simply put, he was everything she despised in herself. for being what she was and for being what she wasn't.
And, he was the only one who could know exactly what she felt.
The growing light from the opening door didn't wake him. The footsteps into the apartment didn't wake him. The sound of Diefenbaker sleepily accepting a bribe in the form of a Boston Cream Puff didn't wake him.
The sense of being watched closely by another person did.
Ben rubbed his eyes and tried to focus in the dark. "Inspector?" he asked groggily,
"What are you doing here."
"I'm not really sure."
"Actually, I am sure."
She was sitting on a chair, her purse tucked neatly on her lap. She was still wearing her coat. "Vecchio stopped by my house this evening."
Fraser's voice went up a notch. "Oh?"
She held up a familiar looking card. "He gave me this. From his - your - trip to Ottawa. Said that he didn't like what was going on with Murdoch and us but that it was probably some warped Canadian code of conduct. He'd forgotten about buying the card and wanted to give it to me before it got lost."
"Oh." Fraser was now sitting up in bed, listening very carefully. For the first time, the pang of jealously he felt when she or Ray mentioned the other's name had changed. It was still there; it just didn't sting as much.
She smiled at the card. "Damien Rhodes, junior card. Very hard to come by." She carefully put the card back in her purse and turned back to Fraser. "So, you both have given up your time in the last week, Ray has given me this card I like very much. And now, thanks to everything that has transpired, I will probably end up keeping you at arm's length forever. And a career I worked damn hard for. And everything else that was important."
Fraser didn't know what to say, partly because of the unexpected visit and mostly because it was midnight, the prime of his sleeping time. He had enough sense to realise he wasn't going to do much concentrating sitting where he was.
"Tea, Ma'am?" he asked, politely spoiling the awkwardness of the silence.
They sat at the kitchen table. Diefenbaker lay half asleep, with his chin on Fraser's foot. The only light in the room came from a tired, yellow bulb in the corner. Thatcher leaned forward on her elbows, absently stirring her mug of tea. Fraser watched and waited; she would talk when she was ready.
"There's a reason why I disliked you so much when I first got here," she began at last. "I mean, besides the fact that you were one of the most annoying people I had ever met. I had heard about you and this woman; what she had done to you and your career, your future. And I wanted you out because you were too much of a reminder of what making one mistake can do."
She tried to sound tough, Inspector-like. Instead, her voice lost its edge. "I don't disrespect you, Fraser. To be honest, I wish I could be more like you in some ways. Perhaps more back then than now. I gave up friends who didn't understand why I dropped them cold because of this man. I had to lie to them, my co-workers, my family. And this was when the worst thing about Tupper was that he was only *married*. Any kind of a support system I might have had faded when I became involved with him and it completely disappeared when the accusations hit the fan.... And then he disappeared as well- I didn't think it could get any worse-"
She wouldn't fix her eyes on him long enough for him to confirm it but Ben swore they were filling up. Some thing's would never stop hurting, he had to remind himself. And some people, like Meg Thatcher, would never, ever let it show unless the cracks in their voice or the grief in their eyes gave it away for them.
"That was the worst time in my life, Fraser, and I never told anyone about it. Not one person."
He wanted to reach out and help; to pass her a Kleenex, a chicklet, anything. That would have embarrassed her too much so he sat with her and said nothing.
She shook her head. "I don't know how to do this. I'm so terrified of going through any of this again. It was too hard then and its too hard now. Going public with Murdoch and Tupper and spies is one thing - having to see my life again, to have to answer for it - I can't. And meanwhile, I think about what I'm doing to people now; making enemies out of friends, asking for people's help then throwing it back in their faces because I don't think I'm up to facing the consequences. It's as though which ever way I turn, this is never going to be over."
"It doesn't have to be that way, though. Things have changed. You've changed."
"Not that much. Not nearly enough." Thatcher leaned down and scratched the top of Diefenbaker's head in her attempt to draw attention away from herself. He slept through her gesture.
"Maybe you should open up to people a bit more," Ben suggested, rather tentatively. "Well - I mean, besides sharing orders, duty rosters; that sort of thing."
"Ray suggests that you could stand to do the same."
"You've discussed this?" he asked, very puzzled.
"Briefly. Let's just say you have this gift for deflection when anything of a personal nature creeps up; veering off into annoying Inuit references; answering questions with questions. That sort of thing."
"Oh." He looked surprised. "I do?"
"You do. You have its like you have a 'Perfect Fraser' you keep for everyone you meet and hide the 'Ben Fraser' so deeply that even you can't see him anymore. She saw him."
Ben's eyes met Thatcher's; Meg saw him, too.
"Anyway - I just took a lot longer to clue in to Tupper, than you did with Victoria. If we pursue Murdoch, you'll have to go through that again; And all of those goddamned reports I sent in about you--I'd be the nail in the coffin that I built for you because I didn't like being reminded of my past by your mistakes. At least you tried to do something, even at the last minute. But not even you could have stopped a moving train, let alone someone aboard on it--"
"I wasn't trying to stop her..." Ben interrupted quietly and cleared his throat nervously. "I was going with her."
He had never admitted that to anyone but Ray. It was information that could have got him fired on the spot but for some unknown reason, he continued. "I almost died, I almost cost Ray his career, his house - I know what he went through after the accident. Everything almost went up in smoke because of one stupid choice I made. And the choice not to believe the truth when more evidence kept showing up right in front of my nose."
"With all those people you almost hurt...how do you get past that?"
Ben looked down, wondering the same thing. "I don't know... sometimes you don't. Sometimes you do. Most times you just get on with it."
She found herself asking the one nagging question she couldn't answer. "And what about what you almost did to yourself...do you ever get past that?"
He looked up at her, sadly, wishing he could have given any other answer:
"I don't know."
The hearings took all morning. Depositions were taken; reports made; interviews held. They said there would be no further repercussions. Inspector Thatcher was thanked and dismissed, free to return to Chicago. It was over. Just like that.
It would have felt great if it hadn't felt so crappy.
Thatcher left the Meighan Building by the front steps. The sharp Ottawa wind had picked up since this morning and brought with it a damp chill.
It was lonely and she was empty.
She pulled her collar up to her ears and walked through the parking lot. At the other end of the lot was a lone Mountie, standing straight. As she got closer, she could see fading bruises on his forehead and jaw, and forgot for a moment that she was mostly to blame for them.
The Mountie made no move to walk towards her; he would wait.
"Fraser." She said his name quietly.
He stood where he was and nodded. "Ma'am"
"What are you doing here? I thought I left you in charge of things in Chicago."
"You did." He broke from his stance, not once second guessing his decision to be where he was. "Everything is under control at the Consulate."
"Then why are you here?"
Ben tilted his head a little. "Well, it's a long way to the airport from Headquarters."
"You came to Ottawa to see me to the airport?" She wasn't helping much.
"Yes, well, I wondered if you wanted company back to Chicago - there's that long stopover in Dayton."
"Dayton?" she repeated dumbly.
"I mean, if you don't have a good book to read, well, the wait can get rather ..."
"Tedious?" she suggested kindly.
"Tedious. Yes. Very." He shook his head. "But that's not why I - I wanted to know how things went in there; that you were alright. In case you weren't --"
He paused for a moment: the single moment it took to find the precise words he was looking for; words which he doubted anyone had said to her in a long time.
"I just thought you might like someone to talk to."