This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh...Genesis
Sweeping away the mane of black hair from her cheek, Elaine peered out into the darkness eagerly. He still had not come. Oh, well, she thought, there is still time. It was only eight o' clock. Sometimes he worked late. She could accept that. He was a busy, professional man, she told herself again and again, a catch worth catching. Patience would be integral for this recipe of romance. She lit the red candles on the table she had set for him, readjusted the plates, polished off the wine glasses, checked the simmering casserole in the oven. That being done, Elaine sat down and waited.
And Elaine waited. She was good at waiting. Her patience, it seemed, was limitless. Allan Blatchford was a man worth having. That is at least what Elaine had convinced herself of. He wasn't particularly attractive; rather short and stubby with a cuff of light blond hair on his branchiocephalic head. But he was shrewd, educated in the Classics and had taste that ranged from Rachmaninoff in the evening with a glass of Chablis to Handel's quiet violin concertos with a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice in the morning. He was a man of routine, not to mention extreme wealth and for her, the only man who had shown interest in quite a while. For a single civilian aide with romantic ideals, she could do a lot worse. This kind of man could not let her down. She sat on the dusty rose sectional in his dockside townhouse, leaning her head back daydreaming. It was now eight-thirty.
By five after nine, the dinner she had planned fell to ruin. She ate the casserole and washed it down with water. The exquisite red wine would be for later when, or if, he showed up for dessert. At last, the octave tone of the telephone rang clear like the revielle. Being coy, Elaine would not answer it, adding, she thought, a little element of surprise. He would not expect her to be here this late with dessert and wine. The nanosecond gritting click of the answering machine gave way to his voice. Elaine stood on edge.
"Elaine, Elaine-this is me, Allan, if you're there, I'm sorry. Look- there is something I have been meaning to tell you...This won't work out, you and me. You're just too different and...well, Elaine, I have found someone new. This will work much better.""
She had been let down. Well, that was a shock. The relationship ended with a click, a pindrop sound on an answering machine. Elaine accepted it with a bitten lip, choking back emotion. She would survive. It was providential.
The hell it was.
Elaine pulled the armoir from the wall and thrust it to the floor. Wiping away the hot tears of betrayal, she vowed that she would make him pay. Like the Furies ired, she would cause unto him great pain. Hell hath no fury like Elaine scorned. She would tear his place asunder and get drunk doing it.
She swagged down gulps of red wine as she shredded the ulpholstory on his furniture and left wafts of rough cotton on the floor. Bleach was poured onto his plants and onto his really expensive clothes. All the crockery was smashed, food sprayed onto the walls and the cutlery was bent out of shape. She threw the dining room chairs through the windows. She smashed the monitor of his computer with a kitchen mallet. She Saran-wrapped his toilet and wiped green shaving foam all over the mirrors. Toilet paper and other toiletries were liberally strewn about the place. She scrawled the word JERK on any surface that was not soiled with food or bleach. Had she an axe, things would have been very ugly. Too drunk to even stand, she grabbed her purse and staggered out on the street screaming for a taxi. After one obliged, she went to her parents' house in the quiet suburbs of Chicago.
She banged on the front door. Mary Besbriss opened the door and was overwhelmed by the alcohol fumes that exuded from her daughter.
"Hi, Mom!" she greeted and staggered in only to slump on the couch.
"Elaine!" Mrs. Besbriss exclaimed. "What is the matter with you?"
Elaine shook her head but finally relented when she saw her mother place her hands on her hips, the trademark sign of maternal anger.
"Allan told me he didn't want to see me anymore. Just like that. I tried to do everything someone is supposed to do to make a relationship work and look where it got me!" Elaine lay her head on the couch. "I will never find anyone. That's it. I don't want to be alone but that is how it will be for me."
Mrs. Besbriss frowned. Her daughter was so forlorn. All she could do was sit beside on the couch and comfort her. But Elaine would have no relief.
Eric Besbriss, Elaine's father, came from the den to see what the noise was about. He saw his wife on the couch with his daughter. He had guessed Elaine was upset. She came over only when she was upset. The house she grew up in still was a place of refuge for his little girl when she was overwhelmed by the worries of the world. Pulling his red cardigan around him, he left for the kitchen to make some coffee.
A knock on the door once again disturbed the peace of the house. Mr. Besbriss answered it. A young man, tall, clean-shaven, with downcast blue eyes, stood at the door awaiting entrance. He wore a jacket of beaten leather covering the khaki uniform shirt. He had just come from work.
"Good evening, is this the Besbriss residence?"
"Yes it is," Mr. Besbriss replied, "Who are you?"
"Constable Benton Fraser, Royal Canadian Mounted Police. May I come in?"
Mr. Besbriss shook slightly. A Canadian. All the ghosts and goblins of his childhood could not match the fear he felt now.
"Wait right here."
Mr. Besbriss knelt beside his wife and daughter.
"There is a Canadian at the door!"
Mrs. Besbriss was startled.
"Bring him in," Elaine ordered.
"Bring him in?!" Mrs Besbriss whispered shrilly. "A Canadian? In our home? What kind of people do you mix with?"
Elaine could not believe her ears.
"Canadians are odd people," Mrs. Besbriss continued, "they spread disease, they live constantly in the cold..." Mrs. Besbriss added another point as if to make her initial one more terrifying, " They reproduce asexually."
Elaine was too stunned and annoyed to argue. Reluctantly, Mrs Besbriss allowed Benton in. She eyed him carefully. Elaine's parents retired to the kitchen.
Benton looked appalled at Elaine.
"You are not well. I can leave."
Elaine shook her head and motioned him to her side.
"What do you and Ray need?" she asked.
Benton was perplexed; his face slightly phased into an expression of childlike puzzlement.
"Ray and myself need nothing. I..."
Benton stopped. The feeling of falter came over him. He could utter nothing.
Elaine closed her eyes. The effects of alcohol were winding down.
"I wanted to tell you something," Benton continued, "but I am not sure of how to say it." He edged closer to her ear. "Remember when you came to my apartment that time and said you were fond of me? I thought about that constantly, after the Parava case, when Anna first came to live with me...You've always waited for me, I could sense that sometimes..."
Elaine breathed softly and slowly. She was asleep.
Benton stroked her hair. He could still smell the Chianti on her breath. She lay peacefully on her mother's couch. He never thought twice that she would think over what he had said. He looked at her once more and left the house.
Elaine walked to work today. The autumn air blew at her cheeks and
made the fallen desiccated leaves dance before her. She kept her arms
wrapped around her body as if cold had gotten to her. A rigid scowl was
etched on her face. She climbed the rusted metal stairs to the squad
room of the twenty-seventh precinct, tossed her purse onto her desk and
began the day's work. Jack Hughes (whom everyone called Huey) and Ray
Vecchio observed Elaine and began to make snide remarks.
"I think Little Miss Sunshine is finally in the building!" Ray laughed.
"Yes," Huey concurred, "there does seem to be a definite glow about the place."
"Shut up, you guys and leave me alone!" Elaine snapped as she rubbed her temples.
"Oh, why are you so glum today, Elaine?" Ray queried. "Trouble with your love life?"
Elaine sniffed. Ray immediately could see he had touched a chord and felt bad about his teasing her.
"Allan dumped me for some faceless trollop who probably has a bigger chest than I have." Elaine wiped a tear from her eye. She was indignant now. "There! Are you happy?"
Ray put his hand on her shoulder. Huey put a cup of coffee on her desk.
"I'm sorry, Elaine."
"No you're not!" she shot back.
"No, I am. What he did to you was slimy and if I could find some way to bust him without bringing in Internal Affairs, believe you me, I would do it."
Elaine stared ahead glassy eyed.
"Maybe I just wasn't desirable enough..." she pondered aloud.
Ray shook his head.
Elaine looked at him.
"Well, not to me," Ray continued to avert Elaine's thoughts. "But that's just me. Now Huey here might think you're a fox."
"I'm married," he joined.
"Right, he's married. Now if he were to have an affair, and God forbid that should ever happen because we all know that marriage is holy state..."
"What about your marriage, Ray?" Huey wondered as he wrinkled his brow. He was subsequently silenced with a jab in the ribs.
"Now if he were to have an affair," Ray resumed, "I'm sure he would be swinging with you. Huh? Huh?"
Elaine chuckled. Ray had a way of making people feel better the same way he had the ability to make people want to hit him.
Benton stood in the door with his Stetson in hand meekly. Elaine had just noticed him.. She left her desk and met him.
"Good morning, Elaine."
"Good morning. How is Anna?"
"She's well. I've had to monitor her contact with others carefully. The chicken pox virus is going around, you understand."
"They say that if one gets it early the virus isn't so bad."
Benton nodded. A pause fell between them.
"Did you come to my parents' house last night? I seem to think that you were there."
Benton just looked at her. She did not remember what was said. In a way, he hoped she would.
"Actually, yes. I wanted to tell you something."
Elaine was about to ask what it was when her face turned flaccid and she turned away. Benton pivoted to Elaine's distraction. A short, blond man in an Armani suit approached Ray and Huey.
"I wish to register a complaint," Allan griped to a rather disinterested Ray and Huey.
"Well then," Ray said sarcastically, "we should take note of this."
"I will have my trusted pen and paper handy," Huey returned with equal sarcasm. He picked up a note pad and pen and began to look really interested in what Allan had to say.
"You might find this awfully amusing but that harridan of a civilian aide absolutely destroyed my townhouse last night." Allan crossed his arms. "Everything was destroyed- my computer, my furniture, my plates- even my clothes did not escape her fury. Jack Hansards-ruined! I had to go to my second home and get another suit."
"Get that, Huey," Ray pointed out, "he had to go to his second home."
"You think it is very amusing, do you? Destruction of an extremely expensive townhouse at the hands of a disturbed woman, a police officer, no less, is no laughing matter. I'll have you know I have friends in this department, very important friends, that can have the both of you, including that 'nutcase' woman-friend of yours, looking for work in less-than-desirable places."
"Oh, we are taking you seriously," Ray cooed. "We're just trying to get all the facts."
"Was that before or after you ditched her?" Huey asked.
Benton, who had been observing this scene for some time, stood silently, the unbelievable anger welling up inside of him. Deep in the barrows of his head, a hairy, angry Scotsman screamed for blood. By God, he would have it. Allan Blatchford. So this was the face of the enemy? Benton neared this man.
"Excuse me," Benton tapped on Allan's shoulder.
Allan faced him.
"Yes? Are you a foreign man?"
"I'm from Canada," Benton answered, his mouth barely enunciating the words lest Allan see and feel the rage inside him. "I think you should give Miss Besbriss an apology before she makes any reparation. It is only fair."
"Perhaps, you don't understand, Mr...."
"Constable Fraser, right. Sorry. This woman absolutely ruined my home because she felt that I jilted her. If you ask me, I think she is a little emotionally disturbed."
"I find Miss Besbriss emotionally intact."
Allan bit his lip.
"Look, I know you're a Canadian, but I don't think this is too hard for you to understand. She tore my place apart out of pure malice. M-A-L-I-C-E." He pointed to Ray and Huey. "These cretins over here will not even give me a minute of their professional time."
"Two point three minutes, exactly."
"Whatever. If, I gather from your uniform, you are one of those 'Mounties', then you do something. Don't you always get your man?"
Benton tried to slow down his anger but he was losing the fight. The man initially jilted Elaine and insulted her, he poked fun at his country, he got the official motto wrong. It's "Maintain the right", dammit!
"I don't really feel that this is a police matter, not in the strictest sense, officially," Benton replied. "There is not much to go on, as they say."
"I suppose thinking is not a requirement for the Chicago Police department?" Allan inquired smugly. "It would be a waste of their time and resources, I suppose."
That did it.
"This will be a waste of my time and resources but I will do it anyway," Benton came back.
"And what is that?"
Benton headbutted Allan and caused his nose to bleed. Ray pulled him back. Huey, in an effort to seem concerned, offered Allan a Kleenex.
"He's mad," Allan raved as he walked out. "You all are."
Benton scowled and swore quietly to himself. Ray and Huey still held him back but without the force they had at first. Elaine watched Benton. His actions astonished her.
He defended me.
Benton placed his coat and Stetson on a hook and sat discontentedly
at his desk. He was still angered at what took place earlier this morning.
Allan Blatchford was a scoundrel. No, more than a scoundrel. Benton could
not even think of what Allan was but the way he had treated his friends,
especially Elaine, was more than inexcusable. It was reprehensible and
would be answered with blood. Well-not entirely blood...
Benton's train-of-thought of interrupted by the introduction of a sheet of paper with a list of names on it. He looked up. Inspector Margaret Thatcher gazed at him benevolently.
"What is this?" he asked.
"This is a list of the people who will be present at tomorrow's businessmens' gala," she answered, "it's pretty much final. The last few preparations are being taken care of. All you need to do is provide the security. Make sure the accountants stay in line, that sort of thing. We have to put our country's best foot forward. The last thing we need now is some big corporation's write-off. Our presentation is extremely important."
"I will have to find someone to look after Anna," he said.
Thatcher nodded and returned to her desk.
"You will be there, Constable?" Thatcher asked, an insinuation hidden in her sultry voice.
Benton gave his consent. He did not know what else to do.
Diefenbaker had the day off. He always had the day off when one thought about it. He occasionally tracked down elk or rabbits for his master (if he wasn't saving his ass) but normally he had a happy-go-lucky lifestyle of mooching donuts from other people and wowing the female dogs in his lot. Today, he freely explored Chicago and all its mottled grey skyscrapers...
The Durk Hames building was one such grey mottled building with crystal
windows and spires reaching up to the sky. On the twenty-fourth floor,
one man reclined on a sofa-bed and poured out his troubles to a blonde
John Thorran brushed his hand over the curly stubble on his head. The room was poorly-lit and flanked on the sides by heavily-varnished furniture. Dark turquoise curtains hung from brass rods. The room was dismal. John needed something uplifting to look at. His therapist said that would help him but she hadn't anything that was in anyway cheery. Still, he poured out his troubles to her.
"I think I am being too pressured by the world around me and nobody cares."
His therapist scribbled away happy-faces on a notepad.
"Yes, go on."
"I just want to run away from the world. Assume another form. Be something else. I just want to live. I feel that I am perpetually trapped in a Russian novel."
The therapist looked at her watch.
"Well, Mr. Thorran, time's up. I hope that our session was more enlightening than the last. Just remember to focus. Focus."
John thanked her and left the building. He got into his Mercedes and put his hands on the wheel. He felt depressed. Nothing she said helped. He wanted an escape. In the corner of his eye, a beautiful white-cream creature led a pack of dogs to freedom from their pens. They ran amok into the streets. John fixed himself on them. They were so free, so beautiful, these canines in the mist. Focus, focus, focus....
John was not John any longer. He tore off his tie and his jacket. He howled in benediction to the sky. He was free! He was a dog!
He staggered over to Diefenbaker who led the dog revolt. Diefenbaker acknowledged him and, in a silent manner, accepted John. They travelled together on the streets of Chicago.
Elizabeth MacLeod clung on to her son's hand and muddled her way through
the busy streets of Chicago. It was late in the afternoon and her plane
trip over had been delayed. The September skies were grey hinting at
heavy rain ahead. She walked faster to avoid the heavy droplets that
had started to fall. Her little boy, Rory, lolled his head sickly from
side-to-side. He had complained of a slight headache on the way over
and now showed signs of fever. At last, the grungy brown brick facade
of the District Twenty-Seven, Chicago Police Department building was
before her. She remembered the first time she had been here. Now, everything
She wiped the water nestled in Rory's curly locks and climbed the stairs to the squad room. Bess came up to Ray's desk. Ray shuffled some papers and put them in his desk. He did not notice her until she was right in front of him. His olive complexion lost some of its hue. He rose.
Bess answered slowly and definitely.
"It's good to see you again, Ray."
"It's good to see you, too."
He waved politely at Rory, who hid his head behind his mother's hip. Bess explained that he was not feeling well.
"Is Ben here?"
"No, he's still at the consulate. I was just getting off and going to give him a ride. Would you like to come?"
Ray shrugged his shoulders.
"It's raining. Come on, I'll take you."
Bess agreed and joined Ray. She hopped into his Riviera and put Rory in the backseat. He immediately sprawled himself out. He was quite unwell.
Ray pulled up to the consulate. Bess bounced out and ran in from the rain. She jumped up the stairs and into Benton's office. Benton was just putting on his coat. Grinning profusely, he swung Bess from her feet in a hearty embrace. It was quite some time since he had last spoken to his twin sister.
"Bess, what brings you here?"
She shook her head slightly.
"Never mind that. Just come home. We'll talk then."
Dashing out into the pouring rain and into the Riv, Bess and Fraser talked incessantly on what had transpired since they last spoke.
Bess had prepared a lovely meal. Benton always let her cook whenever
she came by to visit, which was rare. She put Rory to bed. Anna insisted
on reading to her ailing cousin and jumped from story to story. Bess
poured herself and her brother a cup of tea. She sat across from him
and sipped slowly.
"Will you now tell me why you are here?" Benton asked.
Bess seemed caught in a web of guilt. She found it hard to say what needed to be said.
"I guess you could say that Anna brought me here."
"I've spoken to Anna about long-distance telephone calls. Somehow, I do not think that is what you meant."
Bess decided to force herself to say what she meant.
"Ben, I would like for Anna to come and live with me."
Benton at first looked at her. He then burst into unnatural peals of laughter. His face became sullen when he saw Bess' seriousness.
"You are joking?"
Pushing his teacup away, he averted his eyes from Bess, thinking of precisely what to say.
"I know this might sound a bit harsh..."
"Damn right it does," he swore and veered away from the table, "and more than a bit. The whole idea is ludicrous."
"Is it?" Bess stood up. "Ben, listen to me. I've thought this through and this is the best option for Anna..."
"What about me?"Benton shot back.
"Oh, who gives a damn about you!" Bess cried.
Anna and Rory stopped talking and strained their ears to hear the adults talk about their fates.
"Ben, whether you realize or not, Anna needs a mother. She needs someone to take care of her, someone who will be there constantly. You're not there, Ben. And what if something happens to you? Hhmmm? Then what? She needs stability and she deserves stability."
Stunned, Benton faced her.
"I am trying to offer her stability, Bess. The stability we never had. I'm not going to be the way Dad was and see her every spring. I want to be there when she breaks off for school and for holidays and when she needs someone to read to her. I am there. That's it and that's all."
Bess bit her lip. She would not let him get off so easily.
"Why can't Anna live with me?"
Benton, indignant, would not reply. He had let everything that mattered to him slip away. But no more. Grabbing his leather jacket, he quit his apartment for the soothing rain. Bess sat down and rested her head in her hands. Anna and Rory, hearing that the argument was over, remained silent.
Benton walked aimlessly for some time. He had scarcely noticed
that someone was walking beside him. Vapid grey eyes pointed into a direction
that Benton in all his irritation could not provide. He stopped.
"Dad, what are you doing?"
"I'm walking with you, son," he explained, "where are you off to anyway?"
"Anywhere away from Bess," he grumbled.
The older Mountie nodded.
"It's funny," he remarked, "you got along better with your sister than you did with your brother, Nevis, oh boy, he was a right, little bastard that one, handsome boy, though, but when you fought, it was tooth-and-nail."
"What do you want, Dad?"
The older Mountie frowned.
"What will you do with Anna?"
"Not what you did," Benton walked away.
Fraser the Elder shrugged his shoulders.
"Oh, well, I'll be there when you need me," he called out.
It was late. The solitary lamp in the living room emanated the shadow of Bess' form. Both had cooled down now.
"We've had a phone call," she cried out softly. "We'll have a visitor tomorrow."
Early light of day peeked through the windows. Anna staggered around
the living room aimlessly as though her sense of inner balance was defective.
She stumbled and fell on the couch. Benton, hearing her fall, ran to
her, swooped her from the floor and replaced her in bed. He felt her
forehead. It was clammy and hot.
"Anna, you're burning up," he remarked.
Anna struggled to keep her head straight.
"I think I'm gonna barf..."
Once Anna vomited a vile creamy liquid all over her blanket Benton learned that it was a stupid question to ask.
"I think Rory gave Anna the chicken pox," Benton passed on to Bess.
"That very well might be," she acknowledged without looking at him. She was still angry over last night's argument. "Both of them have developed spots."
Benton washed his tea cup in the sink dejectedly, possessed by an unpleasant thought.
"It will be her birthday in three days."
"Hell of a time to get sick," Bess noted. She started to chuckle.
"Dad," she mimicked Anna, "I think I'm going to barf."
Bess laughed uncontrollably. Benton was annoyed by her insensitivity and reminded her how sick Anna was. Bess shook her hand at him.
"No, no. It's not that. Remember on our tenth birthday, Grandma made us invite that awful Robby Georges over because she thought the party would help us smoothen things over with him and Nevis hated him so much that he made himself throw up all over him!"
Benton tried to suppress his laughter no matter how hard it hurt his stomach. He remembered the "Dreadful Happy Barf Day" incident well. He then laughed with gusto.
"He could vomit at will," Benton laughed.
The laughter slowly died down. The siblings did not speak to one another. They simply enjoyed the momentary silence that fell between them.
"I'll ask Ray to look after Helen," Benton said.
Bess nodded and waved good-bye to her brother.
Giles Murphy whistled a happy tune. He adjusted his cap and swung the water-container over his shoulder. He danced and shuffled his way up the stairs to the squad room of the twenty-seventh precinct.
"Five'll get ya ten, old MacHeath's back in town..." he sang.
He yanked the old water-container from its stand and adjusted the new one. Benton walked past him. Murphy's eyes lit up.
"Hey, a Mountie, eh?"
Benton spun around.
Murphy jostled him playfully.
"You know- "Maintain the Right", Spirit of 1873, all that."
Benton seemed touched by Murphy's wealth of knowledge, how ever briefly displayed.
"You are familiar with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, then?"
"Ah, I've been to Canada and I love all three million, five hundred thousand-fifty-eight, and ninety-six square miles of it! Not such a far drive from Connecticut. That's where I'm from, ya know?"
Benton nodded politely and excused himself from Murphy.
The blond woman tapped forcefully on Huey's desk.
"There has to be something you can do," she pleaded, "I've waited nearly twenty-four hours. I've tried to telephone him, his office, his sister's house in Peoria, nothing. There must be something you can do. You're cop. Isn't that your job?"
Huey was exasperated.
"Miss Dunn," she joined, "Grace Dunn of Morton Stocks and Bonds."
"Miss Dunn, I will do my utmost to find your associate," Huey replied, "but I can't promise that I will find him by tonight."
Grace was frustrated.
"Look, John and I have been working at this deal with the Takanomi Corporation since last September. All that work will be for nothing if he is not found before eight tonight."
"Miss Dunn, as I said, we will do what we can to find Mr. Thorran and that's all we can do at this point."
Huey looked at her sternly. Grace returned the look.
"Thank you for your time," she muttered and left his desk.
Grace paused to get a drink from the newly-replaced water-container. Murphy eyed her.
"Excuse me," he said, "I know this is a bit iffy but I overheard you talking to that badge over there. I was just wondering, should I invest in Nigerian coffee or Columbian?"
Grace stared at Murphy. He seemed puzzled by her attention. She shook her head.
Murphy just smiled.
"Hey, I just underestimated my looks, is all. I'm a pretty handsome guy, huh?"
Grace shook her head again.
"Look, what's a deal to you?"
"I'm not sure what you mean."
"I mean, what do you get payed for delivering water?"
"About, seventy-odd dollars a day. Why?"
Grace pulled a one-hundred-dollar note from her purse.
"How does a hundred bucks an hour sound?"
Murphy's eyes popped wide open.
"Like Beethoven's "Ode to Joy". Why?"
"I'll give you a hundred bucks an hour to impress some Japanese businessmen for a few hours. All you have to do is pretend you're my friend, John Thorran, and the cash is yours'. Just tell them a few jokes and I'll do the rest. They have never seen him before so it won't be a big deal. Are we agreed?"
Grace need not have asked twice.
"Oh, yes," Murphy grinned.
"Good," Grace smiled, " eight-o'clock, at the Hilton on Third. Black tie event. Don't be late."
Murphy signalled his triumph.
Benton sat next to Ray at his desk.
"What little kitten is in a tree now?" Ray asked without lifting his head from his work.
"No kitten, Ray," Benton shook his head. "Ray, I must ask you a favour. You see, last evening, we received a telephone call informing us that a cousin- distant cousin- will be arriving in town. In fact, she may even be here now."
"And you want me to show her around, right?"
Benton remarked at Ray's uncanny ability to sense inevitable things.
"Could you, Ray, please? I would myself show her around but my presence is requested at the businessmen's gala this evening and Bess must look after the children. Chicken pox, you understand."
"Aww, Anna doesn't have the throw-ups, does she?"
"She did vomit this morning, yes."
"That's just too bad. Maria's kids are the same way. Sick and lots of spots. Itchy, too. Don't let the kids scratch them."
"I won't," Benton promised. "Will you?"
"Will I what?"
"Look after my cousin?"
"Oh, yeah, sure," Ray nodded. "Now, how distant is she? I mean, distant genetically or geographically or what?"
"Well, the Frasers and the McDonalds have never been the most cordial of relatives," Benton explained, "As you may know, the nasty business with Angus disembowelling his superior officer and then his son, Niall, who ate a trapper to survive and so on and so on. At any rate, the McDonalds cheated my family out of a huge gold stake in the Yukon and became exorbitantly rich. As a result, we haven't been as nice as we should have been."
"So what do I have to do, aside from guard my wallet?"
"Ray, all you need do is stake her a nice meal, a movie, perhaps. I know-the textile museum!"
Ray shook his head.
"I don't think so."
Benton got up to leave.
"Oh and do not get her intoxicated."
Alarm overtook Ray.
"Just a word of caution, Ray. Nothing to be overly concerned with."
"Nothing to be concerned with?!" Ray echoed nervously.
Benton shook his head.
"She's just young, that's all."
Benton glanced at his watch.
"Must go. Thank you kindly, Ray."
Ray did not answer. He, liked a condemned man, wondered what he got himself into.
Murphy laughed with his friend.
"A smooth hundred an hour and chester, I'm on easy street. If you can finish off the rounds tonight, I'll make it totally worth your while."
His friend agreed reluctantly. They shut the backdoors of their truck. Murphy felt a tug at his overalls. A strange, slovenly man barked at him.
"Yikes!" Murphy exclaimed. "Oh, crap! He probably smells the fear on me. Arnie! Get a cop, quick! And walk nice."
Arnie ran to the nearest foot patrolman.
"What's the problem?" the patrolman asked.
"This guy is barking mad, that's what!" Murphy cried.
"I think he likes you, Murph!"
When Benton arrived at the consulate, he found two familiar faces
waiting for him.
"Stewart!" he cried.
A short, pudgy man swivelled to see Benton. A glassy-eyed woman stood next to him.
"Benny!" Stewart cried. "How have ya been?"
"Fine," Benton nodded. He turned to the woman and kissed her hand. "It is good to see you as well, Jean."
"Don't worry," Stewart proclaimed, "we've left the kids at home."
"Stewie won't let them miss school," Jean added. "What have you been up to since we last saw you, Ben?"
"Nothing of great consequence."
"Oh, you underreport everything!" Stewart declared. "He's been up to mischief for sure. Little Anna's been quite a handful, I hear."
"I'd like to see her, if we can fit that in," Jean requested.
"I'm afraid she is stricken with chicken pox."
Stewart and Jean immediately became downcast.
"Oh, that is tragic," Jean complained. "Our bairns came down with it at an early age and have been trouble-free illness-wise ever since."
"So, what has brought you here to Chicago?" Benton asked inevitably.
"On a mission of mercy," Stewart explained. "My Jeanie's aunt has come down with something quite dreadful and we're here to see to her."
Benton nodded in comprehension.
"She is quite distant from us, you understand," Jean compounded, "as a result, we rarely get to celebrate the big family events with her." She grasped Stewart's hand. "We're going to re-create our wedding anniversary for her." Jean pursed her lips and as she stared right into Stewart's eyes. "Eleven long and happy years...."
Benton fell into a melancholy. He felt left out, a virgin in the realm of experience which of Stewart and Jean spoke. He wanted to be enmeshed in it, to loll in the great happiness shared by others. He wondered what kept him back.
"Why don't you get yourself a wife?" Stewart cajoled.
Benton smiled politely and took to heart that light-hearted proposition.
Huey fixed all of his disenchanted concentration on the slovenly man
who barked and sniffed people and things. The man was bereft of all human
reason. He was a dog. Diefenbaker occupied a desk laden with donuts and
ate of them out of that box. Huey wondered if he had anything to do with
Ray propped his head over some backlogged files.
"Where's Fraser?" Huey asked. "Can't he deal with something like this? He's a Canadian. Can't he do some..." Huey waved his hands confusedly. "...Eskimo thing and make this guy a real guy?"
Ray shrugged and walked over to his desk.
"I don't know. Maybe."
The man spilled coffee all over his desk. Huey cursed and made a dash for the paper towel rack. Ray turned his head from side-to-side, seeing if anyone was watching him. Gently taking the man by the nape of the neck, he put his nose in the brown java mess.
"Bad dog," he scolded.
He pointed at Diefenbaker.
"Keep an eye on him," Ray ordered and prepared himself to leave.
On his way out, Ray bumped into two men in white coats. The happy Sunnyvale men had arrived.
"We're looking for the crotch-sniffer," the man stated.
"The wolf or the guy?" Ray queried.
"Are you trying to be funny or something?" the man nagged. "The whacko guy."
Ray pointed his thumb at the man.
"He's not a whacko," Ray called after them, "he's a human being who thinks he's a dog, that's all."
Ray laughed for a second. He believed he spent too much time with his compassionate Mountie compadre.
A black limousine parked in front of the Canadian consulate. A tall, stocky man decked out in full Black Watch uniform left the driver's side and opened the passenger door. Three mini-dogs jumped out ahead of their master. A woman, slender and dressed in a red dress suit and wide-brimmed hat that would make Jane Russell proud, stepped out. Her glossy high-heels stepped on the pavement with an aristocratic flair. The young woman peeked behind her sunglasses and then waited for a moment as the studly Mountie who charged down the stairs to greet her.
"Helen," Benton reached out his hand to greet her.
"Benny, acuishla, it's great to see you after so many years!" Helen McDonald cried out. She strode to the consulate. "So this is where you work? How fascinating!"
Benton nodded as she observed the facade of the building.
"That's Roy, my driver," she called out disinterestedly, "fine Scotsman all around."
"Ciamar a tha thu, Roy," Benton greeted him in a monotone voice.
"I'm not Scottish," Roy corrected him, "I'm Ukrainian. My last name is Tarashenko. This job is the misery that is my life."
"I wish you would kill me."
Ray pulled up behind the limousine and stepped out of his car.
"Helen, this is Detective Ray Vecchio of the Chicago Police Department," Benton introduced.
Helen, like a child in a candy store, raced over to Ray and started to touch his clothes, which made him very nervous.
"Ray, this is my cousin, Helen McDonald."
Ray smiled weakly at Helen.
"You are a man of exceptional taste," she remarked, "I can tell. Armani." She winked. "Very nice."
"Ray will escort you this evening," Benton explained.
"Really? Where to?"
"A seafood place by the docks," Ray extrapolated, "you might like it."
Helen nodded compulsively.
"I'm sure I will! I'll try to be ready by seven. Ta-ta-ta!"
Helen and her yappy dogs hopped into the limousine. She kept the door open for Benton. Benton cast a look at Ray just as he was about to leave. It was a look of pity, a look of wishing his friend well against unbeatable odds. Benton got into the limousine and left the consulate.
"When Raymond went to Egypt-land," Ray sang softly to himself, "Let my Raymond go..."
Helen forced herself to enter Benton's apartment.
"Your flat," she lied, "is so...quaint."
She tried not to touch the walls.
Bess threw a nickel on the corner of the bed reserved for Helen. It snapped back, the sheets starched and stiff to perfection. Her attention was caught as the red-clad woman burst through the door.
"Elizabeth!" Helen cried. She raced over to hug her cousin. She inspected the woman. "After so many years of childbearing, you look so gorgeous!"
Bess reserved her "joy" and thanked Helen.
"I'd love to take a look around but I'm nearly sickened by what I see," Helen scoffed as she strode into the childrens' room. Anna and Rory, their hands now bound in boxing gloves, lay peacefully convalescing in their beds.
"Oh, the babies have the pox!" Helen wailed.
She neared the ailing children. A green-eyed imp hugged the bedpost of Rory's bed weeping silently to herself. Helen brushed her hand on the child's head and Bess removed her from the room.
"I know!" Helen's face brightened. "I'll read you a story." She took out a copy of John Grisham's The Client and read to Anna and Rory as they dozed.
Benton slumped down on the couch exhaustedly. Bess glared at him.
"This isn't going to work," she whispered.
"Yes, it is," Benton scolded her. "Helen is a polite young woman and she's only here for a few days." He closed his eyes tightly, possessed by thought and racked with worry.
Bess sipped her tea. It was an evening ritual. After dinner, black, one teaspoon of sugar, sitting by herself with nothing but her thoughts to sober her. She was on edge, as though she should prepare herself for something but what?
Jean and Stewart prepared themselves for the gala. They worked like clockwork, Stewart reminding Jean to give her aunt her medicine and Jean reminding Stewart to wear pants. At last, they wished the aunt good night, promising to be home by nine.
Benton was like a child. Curled up in a fetal ball, he had for an instant felt the peace he had once felt in his mother's womb. But that peace had been long over due, won over from great strife...
The September air had become rather chilly overnight. The Indian summer
was ending and the winter air would be coming down from the north. Benton
looked at his Mountie-issue watch anxiously. She was now three minutes
late. When she came pouncing in dressed in a majesterial black business
suit, Benton swore to himself that it would be now or never.
Thatcher sat across from him. The breeze from the freshwater lake blew her dark-brown hair. She smiled. Thatcher could be nothing more than serious. Benton, on the other hand, was more serious, more grave.
"Inspector Thatcher..." he began uneasily.
"Please, call me Margaret," she put her hand on his.
Margaret...I've been thinking." Things began slowly. "We have worked together for a year now and thus far our relationship has proved...workable...more than workable....You are, now doubt, a fine officer and, indeed, a woman of great..."
Benton struggled for a word.
"Rapport?" she offered.
"Yes, that will do," Benton affirmed.
The table behind them was causing a ruckus. Thatcher found herself losing her patience with them. The rowdiness of that particular table made Benton's mission no easier.
"Fraser, what is the meaning of this anyway?" Thatcher asked, jolted
by the breaking of plates. "I mean- why have you asked me here?"
Benton gulped. The truth would have to come out sooner or later.
"Inspector Thatcher, our relationship, though it may have been, or will continue to be, workable, it is not feasible to continue with any such close liaisons so as to put ourselves at emotional and mental peril."
He let out a sigh. A great weight had been lifted from him. Thatcher had a vague idea of what Benton was saying. With great trepidation, she would dare herself to think the unthinkable. Thatcher let out a gust of air.
"So what are you saying?"
"He's dumping you, take a hint!" cried a voice.
Thatcher's brown eyes became hot pokers burning the innocent Simon Fraser's of Benton's soul. There was a girl in Chicago who loved him, he knew that now. Thatcher was just not that girl.
"Is that true?" Thatcher asked in a trembling and angry voice.
Benton nodded. He could see that she was hurt. A scar, it seemed, was formed and blood welled from it. She got up to leave, her back rigid, her head held high. Benton followed her to the stairs.
Sir, at least allow me to walk you to your car," Benton offered.
Thatcher shook her head. She would not allow him to be a gentleman now.
"You arrogant man!"
With that, Thatcher kneed Benton in the groin and let him tumble down the stairs. She ran down the opposite flight of stairs wiping away a hot tear that escaped from her eye. When Benton appeared bruised at the foot of the stairwell, she ran over, kicked him in the groin again and ran to her car.
Ray let Helen out of the Riv graciously. She had noted how she was
often chauffeured when she travelled with her father on his business
trips. Ray, eager to please the cousin of his best friend, allowed her
this comfort. He decided that the open-air, dockside restaurant, Lady
of the Sea, would be classy enough for her. Helen nodded in moderate
"This will have to do, you sweet, little I-talian, you!" she pinched Ray's cheek playfully.
She sprang up the stairs where a table awaited her.
"Oh, this is so quaint, Raymond," she cooed.
Ray smiled patiently.
He sat next to her. She ruffled her flouncy black Chanel blouse.
Ray cast his glance over to the red-suited man a few tables down from him. Benton waited nervously for someone. But he could not focus on him because his attention was required elsewhere.
A waiter offered Helen some red wine. She took it gladly. Pouring herself a copious glass and Ray a mere swig, she swivelled to him and grinned.
"Ray, my dear, you'll just have to tell me where to shop in this town. I mean-" she gulped back her wine and took another glass, "God bless him, but Ben has no, I mean, no, sense of where to take a girl like me and Bess has to mind those poor children stricken with that oh-so-yucky pox. What to do?"
Ray's skin began to crawl as he watched helplessly as Helen polished off the bottle of wine. A cold breeze blew across the nape of his neck. Thatcher had arrived.
"Tell me about yourself," Helen slurred as she poured from yet another bottle. "A man like you with great fashion sense, you must have an interesting life."
Ray tried to take the bottle from her.
"There's nothing much to say, really," Ray took the bottle from her. "Look, maybe you shouldn't drink so much."
Helen shrugged him off and contented herself with a glass of wine. She stared glassily into space, dangling the wine-laden glass between her amble fingers.
"I have music in my soul," she confessed, "A song in my heart."
She leapt on the table. Ray's intestines nearly lurched. She stomped on the table like a flamenco-dancer.
"Please get off," Ray pleaded trying to lift the hyperactive Canadian from the table.
She stomped more furiously.
"Duende!" she cried swaying her hips to the seething, hypnotic beat of the maracas and guitars in her head.
Ray's stomach hurt. He gripped it as pangs attacked it.
"If I were a bell..." she belted out.
Ray was at his wit's end. But he was being attacked at both ends. Thatcher's sudden gust of air had signalled an epiphany of Benton's refusal of her affections and the transferral of his to someone else's. While Helen sang on, Ray impatiently tilted his head Thatcher's way.
"He's dumping you, take a hint!"
Helen left the table and pounced down the stairs like a panther. Ray gripped his stomach once more. In great pain, he followed Helen's blaring voice down the streets of Chicago. She paraded down the pavement, singing a Broadway tune for every homeless person and night grocer in her path. Ray followed her wretchedly. Benton would have to deal with his own problems.
The happy Sunnyvale men gently placed the confused
dog-man in the paddy wagon. All the papers had been filled out and the
county shrink had been notified of the man's imminent arrival. The man
"Don't fret. You'll be at a place where you can watch Jeopardy three times a day, Rover," the man said, "you'll like that. We'll hide your medication in your chow so you'll eat it better."
The man removed the restraints he was in with great ease. Leaping over the Sunnyvale men, the man howled once and ran, barking-mad down the streets headed for God knows where.
The banquet room in the Hilton had a glow about it. People walked
in and out, holding half-full glasses of champagne, laughing at witticisms
that were exchanged as freely as the red wine was poured. Half-eaten
hors d'ouvres rested comfortably in the guests' hands. Everyone seemed
preoccupied with the climate of nothing.
Murphy dangled a glass of champagne in his hand.
"So I said, 'I'll simply have to get out of these wet clothes and into a dry martini.'"
Raucous laughter followed his ridiculous anecdote. The Japanese men he was entertaining were enthralled. Grace smiled benignly. So far, her plan was working.
Jean and Stewart spoke quietly with a couple from England.
"Nova Scotia is God's own playground," Stewart remarked.
"Funny," the English woman chuckled, "I always thought Dover was."
The couples laughed innocently.
Elaine slipped in through the fire exit quietly and neared one of the guards.
"How are things going?"
"They're not," he said plainly, "these people are so dull. If I hear another martini joke, I'll puke."
She rested her hand on his shoulder.
"It's just one evening, Morgan, then a week-end off."
Morgan smiled at Elaine's well-intentioned estimation. She edged over to an hors d'ouvres table for an illicit smoked salmon bite and a glass of red wine. She bit into the salmon but let the pink flesh glide out of her mouth when she encountered two people she extremely detested.
Allan gripped the arm of the tall, buxom blonde he came with. She seemed airily elated.
"Oh, Allan," she breathed, "it's so nice of you to bring me here."
"Anything for you, my pet," he nuzzled her ear.
They walked arm-in-arm, the blond leading the blank. Allan smiled at the fellow guests, subconsciously displaying his arm candy and her bountiful chest to anyone with eyesight. Elaine indeed had eyesight and now she felt sorry for it. Gripping her red wine, she gulped it back and consumed another glass. Morgan, in a state of near-panic, went to her and touched her shoulder.
"Elaine, you're not supposed to be drinking. You're on duty."
She glared at the man.
"Shut up! I glower better when I drink!"
She gulped back yet another glass and sauntered to the jilting man and his new paramour. Allan, catching sight of her, tried to shield his date from her.
"Well, well, well," Elaine juggled her glass, "what have we here? People from Chicago, and people from Canada, from England, Japan," her hand pointed subtly at the other woman's chest, "Silicon Valley."
"Elaine you are drunk!" Allan comforted his distraught consort. "There, there, Tonya, don't mind her."
"Oh, yes," Elaine rasped, "don't mind the drunk girl. Just ignore her. When he gets bored with you, deary, he'll find someone with an even more inflated chest to rest his equally inflated ego on!"
Allan groaned. He and Tonya fled from Elaine's drunken ravings to the other side of the room.
Thatcher stormed into the banquet room, threw a handful of ice in
a tumbler and poured rye whiskey into it. She muttered and swore to herself.
Snapping open a bottle of aspirin, she swallowed a few back and washed
it down with the whiskey. Morgan, already gripped with the fear of what
Walsh could do to him if he saw Elaine drinking under his watch, quickly
made his way to the upset Canadian.
"Madame, don't you think you should watch yourself?"
Thatcher glared at him.
"Why don't you shut up?!" She put the tumbler to her lips. "A love affair I had going just ended and I'm extremely bitter about it."
Morgan mellowed back to his post, praying to God that he could keep his head when the other heads started rolling.
Benton staggered in desperately trying to retain his composure. After breaking off an affair, being kneed in the groin, tumbling down a flight of chairs, being kicked with a pair of stiletto-edged high-heels (again in the groin!) and trying to reclaim the precious, pacific moments in the quiet of his mother's womb, he felt that he was now man enough to perform his duty as an R.C.M.P. officer. Naturally, he would have to avoid Thatcher this evening.
He walked into the crowd of people, his back ramrod straight, his blue eyes observing the people within. His eyes locked onto the odious Allan. He could think of nothing else. When he saw him he was reminded of how he treated Elaine. Spurned like a common strumpet. And the official R.C.M.P. motto...
Benton found himself walking toward the man. He still wanted blood. Everything in him wanted blood but the years of discipline proved a strong voice. He had to be civil to the man despite the fact that he was a swine. He could taste the bile in his mouth. In his mind's eye, he could see the ancestral Scotsman in all his savage tartan finery. His long black hair waving in the wind, his eyes staring proudly into the distant future, the Fraser kilt billowing around his waist and in his strong hand, a spike with Allan Blatchford's bloody head on it.
Benton was now face-to-face with Allan. Allan averted his head from
a fellow conversant to Benton.
"Fancy seeing you here, Constable Fraser," Allan backed away a few steps, "I do hope you are not planning to strike me. My attorney said I could get a perfect case against you."
"I assure you, Mr. Blatchford," Benton said, "no harm, physically, will come to you."
"I certainly hope not," Allan exhaled, "and all over that silly Besbriss woman, too. Her type is so emotional, so...ethnic."
Allan and Tonya laughed. Benton tried to remain calm. He smiled slightly.
"Funny. Not only are you a bigot, but you're an asshole, too."
Allan and Tonya were scandalized. Benton had kept his promise. No harm physically came to Allan. Satisfied in some way of emotionally maiming that scoundrel, Benton surged through the crowd trying to forget Allan Blatchford for good.
The Hilton seemed like a beacon for everything that could go wrong
in Ray's life. Helen, charged by the fates and fuelled by the alcohol,
burst into the hallowed doors and ran up the stairs to the bustling banquet
"I hear music!" she cried. "Music is in my soul!"
Ray was nearly on his knees with pain. He had doubled over.
"Wait!" Ray raised his arm as if to reach out and grab Helen. "Don't go."
Ray did not yet realize that everything he did was for naught every step of the way. He collapsed on the staircase. A Hilton employee tried to resuscitate him. Her efforts were in vain and had to be abandoned when a scruffy, smelly man charged after Helen to the party upstairs.
Thatcher could never have enough whiskey. She had decided that a short
while ago. She could not stop swallowing the juice of the rye. She swigged
down a few more sips and tottered into the crowd. A lithe young woman
swallowed back a glass of red wine, presumably not her first. Thatcher
had not been possessed by such a rage as she had never felt before. She
pushed the guests out of her way, grimaced and swore to herself. At last,
she confronted the legendary Elaine.
"You bitch," Thatcher muttered.
Elaine looked at Thatcher.
"I called you a bitch," Thatcher repeated, "a scrawny, drooling, Yankee bitch."
Elaine threw her glass down. A few guests began to be disconcerted but no one really noticed the tension that quietly mounted up.
"I'm not sure what you mean, but if it is what I think it is, I have this to say: he loves me. This I know." Elaine prodded her finger against Thatcher's shoulder. "I won fair and square."
Thatcher let out an infamous, incredulous gust of air.
"Well, I never expected to be sold out to a skinny brown heifer!" Thatcher rasped spewing the rye whiskey to all who could smell.
Outraged beyond anything, all the anger, the torture, the rage, the passion, had been built up to this. This muskox had been tormented long enough. Elaine pulled her head back and headbutted Thatcher. Thatcher flew into a table taking Elaine by the sleeves of her shirt. Gasps and yelps echoed throughout the room.
Benton's attention had been attracted to the duelling women. He dropped his punch glass.
"Shit!" he muttered and ran over to Thatcher and Elaine before they killed one another.
The crowd wildly dispersed from the scuffle. A scruffy man jumped into the crowd, barking and howling, elated in a canine way. He sniffed his way through the crowd. Reaching Grace, who confusedly hid from the kerfuffle, he bit on the hem of her skirt and growled. She screamed and jumped on the table continuing to shriek at the top of her voice. Murphy tried to shoo him away but to no avail.
The crowd now had been inundated by two internal strifes. One with two drunken and furious women, the other with a frightened woman being barked at by an unkempt man who thought he was a dog. The night was not yet over.
"I'm here!" Helen cried.
Helen slid in like a twisted, inebriated Julie Andrews. Benton, who tried to get a hold of either Elaine or Thatcher, shot up and gaped at Helen.
"Oh God," he gasped, "Ray let her drink."
Ray followed Helen in, grabbing his pain-filled stomach.
"Helen!" Ray's arm reached toward her. "Wait!"
Helen ran into the middle of the room, mumbling something about a party not beginning until she arrived and swayed a glass of wine in her hand. Thatcher had pulled herself up from the floor and backed into Helen causing the wine to spill all over her Chanel blouse. Helen was nothing short of incensed.
"Why, I ought to kick your ass!" she declared.
Morgan had finally edged through the crowd and pulled Helen away before she could strike Thatcher. Thatcher and Elaine were still at it, pulling each other's hair and punching each other in the stomach.
"I'm the only one fit to carry his seed!" Elaine proclaimed as she throttled Thatcher.
Benton pulled on Elaine and Ray painfully pulled on Thatcher. Fistfuls of hair fell limply to the floor.
The man still barked at Grace. She stopped screaming only to look down on him.
"John!" she cried.
The Japanese business man she was with stared at her confusedly.
"I thought he was John," he pointed at Murphy.
"Yes, I am John," Murphy lied, "but that John is her poor, demented brother, John." Murphy bit his lip and tried to hide his grievous emotions. "Mental illness," he ranted, "it's so sad."
Benton pinned Elaine down on a chair. The crowd was scattering and police officers trickled in to keep the calm. Benton glared at Ray who doubled over after putting Thatcher in a chair either side of Elaine.
"I thought you were going to take care of Helen."
"Don't look at me like that," he snapped, "she's not a woman, she's the Terminator. She mamboed all down Crescent Way. There are hobos who have made folk songs about her."
Murphy handed Ray a roll of Tums and a glass of champagne. Helen, tipsy beyond belief, plunked down into a chair.
"Do you mind if I have a glass of champagne?"
"I don't give a rat's ass," he mumbled and swallowed back the Tums.
Jean sided up the John and took him by the arm.
"You poor, demented squid," she sighed, "I shall make you into a whole man again."
John barked. He liked that idea. Jean stood in front of him in a serious demeanor.
"Now, John, you are not a dog but a man. Do you understand?"
John sniffed her blouse. Jean tried another strategy.
"Stewart, I'll need you for this."
Stewart replaced his brownie on a napkin and joined Jean at her side.
"Is that a brownie I see before me? Save me one, too," she requested.
"Anything for you, my pet," Stewart nodded, filling his pocket with a brownie.
Jean took John by the shoulder.
"Now, John, you're not a dog. Take it away, Stewie."
"For God's sake, John, listen to the woman."
Stewart composed himself in serious concentration.
"You are a man," Jean returned, "A little dog is lost inside of you but you must unleash him and set him free."
"For love of the holiest things, John," Stewart entreated, "listen to the woman. You're a man, not a dog."
John still seemed lost. He whimpered slightly and began to sniff out the brownies in Stewart's pockets. Benton rose from his chair, grabbed John by the collar and shook him.
"You're a man, for crying out loud, not a dog."
John sat up.
"You're right," he said with perfect clarity, "I am a man."
Jean and Stewart were exhilarated.
"Ben, you're a miracle-worker!" Jean cried.
Stewart was ready to embrace him.
"Praise the Lord Jesus, Ben, you've done good!"
Benton could not rejoice.
"Don't thank me," Benton said.
Grace, calmed down after her ordeal, sat next to John.
"Where were you? Are you alright?"
"I'm fine, Gracie," John patted her on the shoulder.
"You can have the day off tomorrow," Grace offered, "or the rest of the week off. How ever long it takes for you to recover. We'll begin again anew."
John shook his head.
"I don't think so, Grace."
"But why?" her face etched with bewilderment.
"I can never go into stocks and bonds again," he explained.
Grace put her hand on his shoulder. She understood at last. Jean handed John her card.
"It would be good if you checked into here for a while, my hospital in Dartmouth."
John read the card.
DR. JEAN MUIR/WILLOWING PINES RESTING HOME/ DARTMOUTH, NOVA SCOTIA/ COME FOR THE THERAPY, STAY FOR THE FOOD
Allan tried to comfort the bewildered Tonya. He let her sip champagne.
"There, there, my dearest. Don't you fret. It was a good thing that I let Elaine off when I did. You saw how unstable she is."
Murphy huffed as he poured himself a glass of Chardonnay. Allan swivelled his head to Murphy.
"I'm sorry, but I don't think I was speaking to you."
"Yeah, I know ya weren't," Murphy concurred. "Your trouble is, mister, you'll follow anything with a boofy hairdo, big bust and a neuron without a dance partner."
"I beg your pardon?"
Murphy scoffed. Elaine, now capable of standing erect, agreed whole-heartedly.
"That is so true."
Allan shook his head.
"That is an outright lie," he denied, "Miss Besbriss is an emotionally-unstable woman."
Murphy rolled his eyes and ignored Allan.
"Sounds to me like you just don't like dark meat."
Allan gaped at the insolent man.
"How dare you!"
"Stick it, cream puff!" Murphy exclaimed.
Benton handed Thatcher some coffee. She snatched it from him and swigged
it down. Benton didn't know what to say. He thought he had said it all
in the restaurant. She glared at him.
"How dare you?" She rose. "How dare you!"
Benton could not justify his reasons any longer. His stony countenance refused for him. Thatcher stood.
"I'll talk to you in my office at eight."
Benton watched her leave. When she was gone, he sat down. Everything had fallen to pieces before him. Things did fall into place, the way a grand piano drops from a twenty-storey building. His boot hit something. Ray was on the floor grabbing onto his ulcer-afflicted stomach and whimpering like a sick child.
"Shoot me..." he pleaded weakly, "please shoot me..."
Another blow this evening. It would be the last. Benton got up and tried to rustle up some transportation for the ailing and the drunk. He got them this way, he thought, it was the very least he could do.
The sun bounced off the blue sky. Clouds were voluptuously shaped,
like mounds of mashed potatoes cradled in the overhanging firmament.
Ray pounced into the squad room of the twenty-seventh precinct as happy as a schoolboy.
"I'm free!" he proclaimed loudly, his arms outstretched in victory.
He somersaulted to his desk. Huey had never seen him so happy.
"Why so happy, Vecchio?"
Ray smiled like a doe in a Disney film.
"I have been freed from the scourge that is Helen McDonald."
"I'll get some coffee," he breathed dreamily.
Huey had never seen Ray so rife with cheer. It was as though the fairies had sprinkled pixie dust on him. Indeed, it must have happened because he skipped to the coffee machine humming a strange tune in his head...don't the daffodils look lovely today? Ray spun around, a spring in his step, and saw why everyone had stared at him just now.
"My shorts were bunging up," he explained softly.
Everyone nodded in delayed comprehension. Ray sat down and tried to forget his odd behaviour.
Elaine's back was straight, her gaze fixed on the plaque behind Walsh's
desk. Walsh himself tried to retain his patient composure but found it
hard. This was the first time Elaine had done something extraordinarily
stupid and he found it unforgivable. It just wasn't like her to drink
and instigate a fight, especially over the Mountie.
"Consider yourself dismissed, Besbriss," he said.
Elaine walked out of Walsh's office, her face failing to keep its rigid composure. Ray looked up from his work and got up to her.
"Suspended," she answered weakly, "three days, without pay."
Ray frowned sympathetically. He placed his hand on her shoulder but she shrugged it off. She ran from the squad room vainly trying to hide her tears of shame from her colleagues.
Benton's back was ramrod straight, the action of standing at attention
imprinted in his mind long ago. Thatcher had just sat down, the look
of delicious retribution on her face. She opened a manila file at a page
and crossed her hands on the hard oak desk.
"As of seven PM this evening, Constable Fraser, you will be on a plane to the post in Alert. There you will report to Sergeant Wallins and replace Constable Brahms. Dismissed."
Benton's face went flaccid. A condemned man facing an icy prison.
Benton wasn't at the consulate when Ray arrived at noon. Turnbull
told him that he went home to pack. Ray gripped the wheel of his Riv
and cruised the streets of Chicago. He pulled up in front of the grungy
apartment complex where his friend lived and ran upstairs to his apartment.
Helen answered the door. Ray backed away and held up his arms defensively.
"Please don't hurt me," he begged.
Helen shook her head.
"Ray," she began, "I'd like to apologize for last night."
Ray seemed stunned. He put his arms down.
"I don't remember exactly what happened last night but apparently I got a wee bit tipsy and caused a bit of a ruckus somewhere." She clasped his hands. "Anyway, I'd like to apologize for the grief, my trout."
Ray nodded nervously.
"Sure, yeah, it's cool. I'm fine. I'm in my happy place."
Helen invited him in. Benton swung his pack onto his bed and threw his clothes onto it.
"Where the hell are you going?" Ray shoved his friend.
"Thatcher transferred me to the post in Alert," Benton answered, "I leave this evening."
Ray was aghast.
"I don't believe you're giving in like that."
"I don't have a choice, Ray. I can go or be fired."
Ray slumped down on a chair.
"You ditch your boss and you pay the price. Can't you sue her for sexual harassment?"
Benton cast a look at Ray.
"Not in my country, Ray."
"Just pack your overnight bag, Benny. You're not staying long."
Benton seemed puzzled.
"If I have to tear a hole somewhere, Benny, you are going to have your old job back."
"How are you going to do that?"
"I have my ways."
Benton was shocked.
"Oh God! You're going to kill Thatcher, aren't you?"
Ray's face went awash with discovery.
"Uh, no," he lied and crossed that thought out of his head, "I'll appeal to someone. That's it. I'll appeal to somebody..."
Ray backed out.
"You go tonight as planned, Benny. You'll be back in a few days. Just hang in there."
Ray left the apartment. He threw his head back.
"Oh God! What do I get myself into?"
He drove aimlessly from the apartment building. Benton watched him from the window. He walked slowly into Anna's room. Rory lay sleeping in the cot next to her. He sat at the edge of her bed. Anna opened her eyes weakly.
Benton smiled at her.
"Are we feeling better?"
"Oh, yeah," she affirmed, "I no longer want to throw up."
"That's a good sign."
"Anna, I have to go away for a few days," Benton said suddenly.
Anna's face turned pale.
"I've been sent to the post in Alert. I don't want to go but I have to." Benton watched her face droop. "It will only be a few days," he reassured her.
Benton neared her.
"I will come back," he promised.
"I believe you," she said and hugged him.
He brushed the errant locks of black hair from her forehead.
"Get some rest, Anna."
She fell back to the pillow and closed her eyes.
Benton continued to pack.
"What's eating at you, my son?"
Fraser the Elder looked at him wistfully.
"Nothing," he answered.
"Well, that's a lie and a half."
Benton finally relented.
"Everything is falling apart," he replied, "Bess hates me because I won't leave Anna with her, Elaine became extremely drunk, nearly killing my superior officer, who now has posted me up north and I will miss my little girl's birthday."
"Tell me something I don't know," the man cried.
Benton hesitated for a minute.
"What is with you? Are you ill?"
"I'm not the one attacked with worry, Benton," Fraser the Elder pointed out, "you are."
His father shook his head.
"Bring your kilt, son. The last time I saw you use it was when Bess got married."
Benton brushed his dark hair back.
"Oh, yes," the man smiled.
Benton huffed. When he turned around again, his father was gone. Bess came to him, her arms crossed.
"I will be back," he promised her.
"You will be," Bess replied.
Diefenbaker jumped onto his bed.
"You," Benton ordered, "stay here."
Diefenbaker yelped lowly and rested his lupine head on his paws.
Elaine woke up. The digital clock on the microwave blared out the
time in neon green. Five-thirty. She rubbed her eyes and reached for
"I would like to speak to Benton Fraser, please."
Helen rested the receiver on her ear.
"I'm so sorry. He'll be away for a few days. May I ask who's calling?"
Elaine went pale.
"He's going away? Where?"
"Out of the country. Who is this?"
Elaine rubbed the stress from her forehead.
"Look, I need to know where. It's urgent that I speak to him. Please."
Helen became serious.
"Alright, he went to Chicago Regional Airport. There's a flight leaving at seven. He'll only be gone for a few days. Are you sure this can't wait?"
"No," Elaine answered back, "thanks."
She hung up and grabbed her backpack from the closet in her room. She threw in a few sweaters, toiletries, her passport, everything she would need for a few day's journey. Snatching her car keys up from the armoir, she quit her apartment to chase the man she loved.
Benton handed his pack to the sandy-haired pilot. He laughed.
"Packing light, aren't we, Ben?"
Benton smiled back at him. He did not want to divulge Ray's machinations just yet.
Benton swivelled around. A lithe young woman ran breathlessly to him. It was Elaine. She dropped her bag, embraced and kissed him.
"Don't go, please."
He touched her face tenderly.
"Well, let me go with you."
Benton shook his head.
"Where I go, you must not follow." He rested his hand on her brown cheek. "Wait for me."
He did not mean it. Elaine felt that. He wanted her with him.
"I have been waiting for you the moment I met you, Benton. I won't wait anymore."
She kissed him. He gently pushed her away. The propellers of the plane fluttered and spun. The gusts of air blew into the lovers' hair. Benton walked from the tearful Elaine. He stopped. Turning from the waiting plane, Benton looked at Elaine.
"Elaine, there are two kinds of people in this world- those who like Gordon Lightfoot and those who don't."
With a perfect clarity, Elaine could understand him. She, too, had been banished. Now, she had nothing to lose. Clasping his arm, she would join him in his exile.
Elaine and Benton sat in the plane wrapped in a warm embrace. The pilot turned his head slightly to see them. He smiled warmly. In the corner of his eye, the Polaroid of his wife and two children stuck to the dashboard.
"You two cozy in there?"
"Just fly the plane, Jim," Benton insisted.
Jim pulled the handles and the plane flew into the cloudy night sky.
Repulse Bay had been barraged with buckets of snow. Jim pulled down
onto the airfield and glided his plane into the hangar. Benton nudged
Elaine awake. He covered her head with an old sweater and they moved
into the post. A middle-aged man sat behind the front desk in an old,
ratty orange armchair torn at the arms, splotched with coffee rings and
cigarette ashes. It was an ungodly thing but he loved it. He smiled benignly
on the trio of travellers.
"What can I do ya for?"
Jim swept the snow from his clothes.
"How are ya, Mackie? I was flying these two to the post in Alert," Jim explained, "the snowfall is too great. I'm going to have to crash here for the night."
An elderly woman wrapped in a gnarled scarlet cardigan plugged her ears when she heard Jim's request.
"Oh, don't say 'crash', Jim," she said, "it's bad luck."
"Anything you say, Lynn," Jim smiled.
Lynn rattled a few keys off the tiny hooks behind Mackie and handed them to Jim, Benton and Elaine.
Benton and Elaine walked down the hall arm-in-arm. Jim pulled away into his quarters.
"I'm packing it in," he smiled and saluted them.
Elaine and Benton smiled back. They walked into Benton's quarters. Benton peeked outside the window. The corners were laden with frost. A thin figure in a black cossack eked out of the tiny chapel across Benton's quarters. This gaunt serious figure made him smile.
"I'll be right back," Benton told Elaine and made his way out to the chapel.
"Excuse me," Benton called out.
The thin man turned to face him. His creased face bore a benevolent smile.
"Yes, my son."
Benton looked at him with a nervous sense of meaning.
"I would like you to marry us..." Benton waved his hand where Elaine should have been, "that is to say, there is a woman inside....um, would you please, Father?"
The priest shrugged his shoulders.
"This is rather sudden."
"I know that, Father."
The priest nodded.
"All right then," he nodded his grey head. "In my chapel in twenty minutes. You have witnesses, yes?"
Benton grinned broadly.
"Yes," he nodded compulsively, "in twenty minutes."
Benton charged inside his quarters. His upper lip sweat profusely. He wiped it away and tried to control his breathing. Elaine stared at him.
"Are you alright?"
Benton shot his eyes over to her.
"Elaine, we're getting married."
She was in shock. It looked like she would protest. Benton put his finger to her lips.
"Elaine, I told you that are two kinds of people in this world- those who like Gordon Lightfoot and those who don't." He rested his hand on her face. "I sense that you like him."
Now Elaine had been so sure of this as she never had been of anything in all her life.
"That, Benton, is the sweetest thing I've heard in my life." She kissed him passionately. "I will!"
Benton and Elaine ran to the front desk. Lynn and Mackie were still up.
"I'm getting married," Elaine proclaimed, her voice nearly breaking with emotion.
Lynn cried out in joy.
"Oh, my dear, I'm so happy for you! When?"
Benton looked at his watch.
"Eighteen minutes from now."
Mackie and Lynn were aghast.
"Any particular reason why?" Mackie asked.
"We are commanded by the Lord to marry," Benton said meaningfully.
"He loves me," Elaine added and hugged him.
Lynn and Mackie were stricken with emotion.
"I have some Molson brews, Laura Secords and a McCain's banana cake out back," Mackie offered.
"That will do nicely," Elaine thanked him.
Lynn hugged Elaine.
"You get yourself ready, Constable," she advised. She turned to Elaine. "Come with me, dear."
Lynn led Elaine to the back room. Lynn lifted a brown paper package from a shelf. She blew the dust from it and plucked the string that bound it. She unfolded a musty white cotton dress, long, relatively plain except for the lace bodice. A veil of stiff cloth accompanied it. Elaine gasped.
"Lynn, that's beautiful."
Lynn smiled ruefully.
"Here," she presented the dress, "I want you to have it."
Elaine was taken aback. She shook her head.
"Lynn, I can't take it," Elaine refused.
Lynn thrust the gift into her hands.
"You take it. You need it more than I do. It served me for a husband and...Well- I've had my life. A husband, four healthy boys, six grandchildren. It's your turn to have a life now."
Elaine pulled the package to her body.
"Thank you," she whispered.
Benton splashed cold water on his face. He cast a glance on the proud
Fraser kilt splayed out neatly on his bed. His father said he would need
it and Benton, for some inexplicable reason of fancy, brought it with
him. He stood straight. He donned the kilt around his naked waist, buttoned
his shirt, tied his boot laces up and folded a tartan sash neatly. He
stepped out into the snow and into the chapel. Father Barbeau, Mackie,
Lynn and Jim waited in the front pews. He stood at the altar. The chapel
door creaked open. Elaine walked in. The dress Lynn had given her looked
beautiful. She strode down the aisle slowly clutching a bunch of lilies
Lynn gave her. She joined Benton's side. He brushed his hand against
her face. Father Barbeau smiled on them.
The Frenchman recited the vows of marriage upon them and granted them before the sight of God and man to be married.
"Dhuitsa, gus an dean Dia leis a' bhas ar dealachadh," Benton added as he wrapped the Fraser tartan sash across Elaine's bodice, "to you, until God shall separate us by death."
They fell into a kiss, long and passionate. Man and wife.
It was late. The wedding guests had polished off the Molson beer, emptied the Laura Secord box and licked the plate the cake was on clean. It was time for the Frasers to be alone. Jim at last retired to bed, Lynn turned on the outside lights and Father Barbeau fled to the warmth of his tiny rectory. Elaine locked the door to their quarters. She pushed Benton onto the bed.
"It's time for bed, Mrs. Fraser," Benton smiled.
Elaine nodded happily.
"I know that, Mr. Fraser."
Her hands slid up his muscular thighs, hiking the kilt up scandalously high
"Tell me," she smiled deliciously, "is it true that nothing is worn under the kilt?"
Caught on the threshold of ecstasy, Benton could not answer.
Lynn, locking up for the night, attached a DO NOT DISTURB sign on the door smiling.
The snow scurried over the post like millions of white mice rushing through fields of dark wheat. Quiet had pervaded the lonely post. Everyone had retired for bed. Even Mackie signed out, dozing peacefully on the tacky orange armchair. Father Barbeau had finished his evening office hours ago and slept soundly as did the couple he had married that evening. They slept entwined with each other, protected against the dark and the cold. Everything was at peace. Only white foxes disturbed the plains of snow and shadows stirred around Jim's plane.
Benton pulled his thermal socks up to his calves. His wife still slept
soundly. He nudged her gently. She opened her eyes slowly.
"What time is it?"
"Seven in the morning. We leave in an hour."
He lay down next to her.
"Elaine, I would like it if you stayed here. I don't intend on being in Alert for long. Our girl turns five tomorrow and I at least would like to be on my way home- in Chicago. I'm sure Lynn wouldn't mind putting you up for time."
She patted him on the face.
"I'm going with you, Mountie. Wild horses couldn't drag me from you."
She pulled his head to her's and kissed him.
"Get ready then," he instructed, "I'll see what Lynn has in the way of warm clothing. You will need it in Alert."
Elaine and Benton waved to Lynn and Mackie and boarded the plane.
They strapped themselves in and waited for the happy whirring of the
propellers. Jim obliged them and the plane left the airfield for Alert.
They had been flying for an hour now. Benton's brow furrowed as he looked outside.
"Elaine, does anything seem odd to you?"
Elaine did not know how to answer that sudden question.
"In what way?"
"Well, Alert lies eighty-two'thirty degrees north, sixty-two'twenty-two degrees west. We seem to be veering from that."
"I think it's just air compression, Ben."
"No, really, Elaine."
She put her gloves fingers to his lips.
"Sleep for the rest of the journey."
Benton seemed hurt she would not take his suspicion under advisement. He put his head back and pouted.
Sleep briefly visited Benton. A click, faint but distinct, caught his alert ear.
"Elaine!" he called out.
The engine sputtered and quit. The plane jerked awkwardly like a bird with a broken wing. Elaine jolted forward. She heard Jim curse and swear at the engine in a vain effort to make it come back to life. The plane fell sharply toward the white earth. It skipped off the hard snow and rolled to its side, shearing off the wing. The cargo, now free from restraints, belted around the fuselage. The bolts on the seats snapped free and the two were shaken about violently. The plane hurtled uncontrollably on its side. It careered through the thin layer of snow and then immediately stopped. Benton was still strapped in his seat. Bruises covered his body but he was relatively unhurt. He unbuckled himself and tried to stand in the lopsided and battered fuselage. Chunks of the side had been torn out. As he stood, he felt a buoyancy. The plane, he suspected, had crashed into the ice. There then was no time to waste.
He lifted loose packs from the opposite side of the fuselage to look for Elaine. He came across her body. She was still strapped to her seat, at peace, as though she were asleep.
"Oh God," he breathed.
He unstrapped her. He could see that her head was cut. Blood smeared the left side of her face.
"Oh Dear Jesus, please don't let anything happen to my lovely Elaine. Please."
He lifted her out of her seat gently. The plane bounced slightly and gurgled into the frigid water. The plane was sinking; Benton knew that. He pulled Elaine to him. The gash on her head poured out blood onto his weeping cheeks. He would not leave her behind, on the plane or in death.
Thatcher sipped her coffee. She applied her pen to paper
routinely but then dropped it as the telephone rang.
"Good afternoon, Canadian Consulate, Inspector Margaret Thatcher speaking."
"Hello, Inspector, Sergeant Wallins here. Um, you did send Constable Fraser down, did you not?"
Thatcher's brow furrowed slightly.
Wallins cleared his throat.
"I wouldn't like to sound the alarm or anything but his plane hasn't arrived yet. We haven't even received radio contact."
Thatcher's brow raised.
"That is odd, Sergeant."
"I know that much," he added, "I've ordered a search plane out for them. As you can guess, this is the last place to be lost."
"Indeed. The plane is probably kept behind because of a snow storm."
"I hope so. I'll get back to you when I come across anything. Thank
Thatcher put the receiver down. Her hands trembled.
"A storm, indeed," she said quietly to herself.
Thatcher paced her office. Turnbull poked his head in.
"Sir, it is eight in the evening. Perhaps you should go home. I will wait here and contact you if there is any news."
Thatcher shook her head in refusal.
"No thank you, Constable. I'll wait here. You go home."
Turnbull looked like he would defy that order but bowed his head and left the consulate. Thatcher sat down behind her desk and dialled an unfamiliar number on the telephone.
"I would like to speak to Detective Ray Vecchio, please."
Ray stepped into Thatcher's office. Her fair skin was pale. She trembled
but made the effort to stand.
"Detective, please sit down."
Ray slumped down on a chair far across from her.
"You wanted to see me?"
She nodded slightly.
"As of three-thirty this afternoon, the airplane bearing Constable Fraser went missing."
Ray sat up and stiffened his upper lip.
"It has been suggested that because of the recent snow storms, it took shelter in an obscure post and the pilot failed to make radio contact. But that possibility is becoming less and less likely." Thatcher swallowed an obstruction. "I thought I should tell you. It may very well be that Constable Fraser is alive and well and simply biding his time until the weather clears..."
"But that might not be the case," Ray interjected.
"What's the worst case scenario?"
Thatcher fixed her brown eyes on the man. She solidly prepared herself for the painful truth.
"The plane crashed in the Arctic. No survivors. Even if someone survived the initial crash, without proper survival equipment, they would be dead in a matter of days."
Thatcher stared right at him.
"I don't think you understand, Detective. The plane would have crashed above the Arctic Circle. The temperature drops to seventy degrees below zero. Half of the mass is comprised of shifting ice. And what he if he were injured? He wouldn't stand a chance."
Ray stirred in his seat.
"They wouldn't stand a chance," Ray corrected Thatcher.
She was puzzled.
"I think Officer Besbriss may have gone with him," he explained.
Thatcher tried to steel herself. The woman she had hated fell to Benton's fate. She had not wanted this to happen no matter what her feelings toward her were.
"Then I should contact Sergeant Wallins and tell him to expand the search for three people."
Ray stood up.
"I'll tell Bess."
Thatcher nodded. She bade the American good-bye and dialled Wallins' number.
Bess opened the door. She smiled faintly and warmly on Ray's stern
"Come in," she said and let him sit down at the kitchen table.
Bess could tell on Ray's face the burden of a painful truth.
"What is it, Ray?" Bess sat across from him.
"Benny's plane didn't come in," he related, "they think it might have gone down."
Bess let out a sharp breath.
"Have they found it? The plane? Maybe the pilot just didn't radio in..."
Ray placed his hand on her shoulder.
She withdrew from the table.
"I don't believe it. Benton is fine. He'll come back in a few days." She waved her arm to Anna's room. "She'll turn five tomorrow. He's probably on his way here now."
"I hope you're right, Bess."
Bess sat down again. Ray brushed the stray lock of black hair from her brow. He turned to leave. Anna peeked behind her dresser. Ray walked into her room and crouched near her.
"Do you know about your dad, honey?"
Anna stood proudly.
"He's coming home," she said.
Ray pat her face once and left the apartment.
A week ended as it began. Ray idly picked at his work. Disinterested
and racked with worry, he had lost the energy to do anything. The missing
plane was now the crashed plane though no one had actually seen it. No
one spoke of Benton and now the missing Elaine as though they were still
alive. The search for the bodies, they said, was futile. Everything was
now still with anticipation of the worst like the insect suspended in
liquid amber. Mrs. Besbriss came by frequently to see if any news arrived
about her baby. She went home empty-handed. Helen had left Chicago in
a state of grief. She felt she had contributed to at least Elaine's downfall.
If only she hadn't told Elaine to meet Benton, she cried. Bess stayed
behind in Chicago to look after the children. She held a stiff upper
lip but Ray could see the unspeakable eat at her everyday. Benton may
very well be dead, she once wept, and she would be Anna's mother. Only
Anna refused to weep. Her insistence of her father's return was a mark
in resilience that astounded Ray. Resilience or futility. Ray rested
his head in his hands. His telephone rang and for once in the short week,
Ray felt a pang of hope.
"Hello, Detective Vecchio," the voice on the other end said, "I'm Lieutenant Martin, search-and-rescue detachment of the Canadian Armed Forces." The man's breath was heavy. "We've found something, two hours northwest of Raanes Pen."
"Where the hell is that?"
"What did you find?"
The breath became heavier.
"We found sections of a right wing and fractional pieces of metal belonging to a plane."
Ray paused for a minute.
"Where's the rest of the plane? Are there any bodies?"
The man shook his head.
"What I am trying to convey to you, Detective Vecchio, is that the plane crashed here and sunk into the ice. Anyone in that plane is long since dead."
Ray swallowed hard.
"I don't believe that. I'm not going to believe anyone's dead until I see bodies, dead and stiff." He ran his hand over his head. "I'm coming up there."
"Sir, I don't think that would be a good idea..."
"I don't give a damn what you think," Ray snapped, "I'm coming up."
He slammed the receiver down. Huey came up to the distraught man's desk.
"Canada-bound?" he asked.
Mokka Fjord. Ray had never heard of it but now he was there. It was
damned cold. The search party had been reduced to a scant few, mostly
to clean up after the initial major effort, partly because of Ray. Ray
tucked his hands under his armpits and kicked his feet. One of the team
smiled at him.
"Basically," he mused, "there are two kinds of cold- cold and fucking cold."
"And this would be?"
"The other one."
Ray could not laugh even if he wanted to. His face was frozen. The rescue member held up one of the pieces found. A solitary flurry blustered on to it.
"What was the disposition of the crash, ya think?"
The man backed up quite a few metres. Ray observed his movements.
"I would say," the man illustrated, "the plane went bolting down at, oh, about two hundred kilometres an hour, bounced once on the nose and careened on the right side taking off the wing. It then skidded for a while, decelerating but still a nasty piece of work. It hit something solid and stopped. The ice beneath it collapsed and the plane sunk in about half-an-hour."
"So where is the plane?"
"We're not sure exactly."
Ray huffed. He walked to the man's direction taking up a harpoon used to test the ice's depth. He scratched the surface of the ice.
"I don't think you'll find anything."
Ray ignored him. He walked further and jabbed the ice. A thin trickle of water bubbled to the top. Ray stepped back and circled the damage. He dropped to his knees and squinted at a clear opening. He stood up and marked a place with his heel.
"I found your plane," he smiled triumphantly.
The man ran to Ray's position and looked at what lay beneath the surface. A tail jutted up from blocks of bluish ice. Further below, Jim's prized plane kept aloft in the frigid waters. The man shot up.
"Do you know what it's gonna cost to dive in?"
"Bill me," Ray replied tartly, "when I see three dead bodies you'll never see me again."
The day was calm and cloudless in Inuvik. The R.C.M.P. post had never
been quieter. The weather station in Aklavik reported that storms would
lash the area in plentiful bouts. That did not worry the settlers of
Inuvik. It was a price paid for living in its forbidding hinterland.
Within the post itself, Constable Anijuk picked up the day's edition
of the Globe and Mail and carried it to the office at the port side.
He knocked discreetly and entered.
"Your paper, Inspector Forbes."
"Thank you, Constable. Leave it on the corner of my desk."
Constable Anijuk left the newspaper at the edge of his desk. Chief Inspector Alexander J. Forbes had his back to the young constable. He looked at the developing storm as it unleashed snowy blankets over the land. He sipped tea and replaced the steaming cup on a wooden coaster. Anijuk read the headline of the paper- PLANE IN ARCTIC FOUND. He cleared his throat.
"Sir, did you know this Constable Fraser, in the crashed plane, I mean?"
Forbes turned to face him. His look was not severe as it normally was. His face bore the look of benevolent patience.
"Yes, I suppose you could say I did."
"You are dismissed, Constable."
Anijuk bowed his head slightly and left the office. Forbes picked up the newspaper. His dark brow creased in concern and interest.
"Hmmm," he intoned, "pilot confirmed dead. Two other passengers not found in the craft but are presumed dead. Where are you, little brother?"
Forbes was never in the habit of talking to himself. A clear and precise man, he trained his mind to be as sharp as the blades he used in the forensics lab. He was a hard man but recently softened by the revelation of his blood ties to Benton Fraser. The half-brother he never knew he had struck a chord in him. For once, Forbes saw beyond himself. He allowed himself to be swayed by human feeling. He wanted Benton to be found alive but the possibility of that became less and less likely. His thoughts turned to Anna, the precocious five-year-old. He felt it was his duty to be in her life, now more than ever. If worst came to worst, Forbes would take the child from her Chicago home and have her live with him. He read further.
"How inadequate," he grumbled, "the plane's navigational systems were
off line. I wonder what else the flight data recorder revealed."
Forbes sipped his tea and gazed out to the vast whiteness that was Inuvik.
"You will come home again, Benton."
Thatcher ran her hand through her dark hair. She switched off the
CBC news and lulled in the disturbing quiet that pervaded the consulate.
Turnbull showed Ray in. Thatcher's eyes fell on him.
"The search has been called off," she uttered, "one month to the day the plane crashed and the search has been called off due to extreme weather conditions and limited expectations of survival of the two victims. As of now, Constable Benton Fraser and Officer Elaine Besbriss are deceased."
Ray bowed his head. What if the search team was right? Benton and Elaine were dead? He still could not accept it. When he lifted his head again, Thatcher's back was to him. Her breathing had become laboured.
"It's my fault," she said choking back emotion. "I killed them. I sent him to his death....I..."
Ray put his hand on her shoulder and turned her around. She would not lift her head to face him.
"It's not your fault," Ray consoled her, "you didn't know what would happen. You can't blame yourself for what happened. Do you hear me?"
She nodded slightly.
"I would like to be alone now," she requested.
Ray exited her office. Thatcher wiped a way a hot tear and sat at her desk biting her lip.
Ray waited in La Mare d'Amore, the classiest Italian restaurant in
Chicago. He sipped the red wine often. He was anxious. Ray just was a
dash of grey Armani in the red backdrop splashed with lush green ferns.
And he was the only one alone. The headwaiter looked at him with pity.
"It's a woman," he remarked to his underlings.
Bess walked in from the cold night. Her long raven locks were piled on her head neatly. She wore a sea-green minidress. Ray stood as she approached him. He could not tear away from the Caledonian goddess. She sat across from Ray.
"You look beautiful."
She smiled. She had been given a reason to smile for so long she had been deprived of that simple delight.
"It's nice of you to invite me here." She looked into Ray's green eyes. "But why?"
Ray chuckled a little.
Bess laughed a little. She looked around.
"The last time we were at a restaurant together...it ended badly...Do you remember?"
"How can I forget?"
Ray touched her cheek. Bess grew cold and unwelcoming. He withdrew his touch.
"I have to ask you something, Bess."
She waited patiently for his words. He looked at her intensely.
"I love you. Do you know that?"
She drew in breath.
"I've always felt it," she answered slowly. "What is this about?"
Ray gripped her hands tightly.
"I want to marry you, Bess."
The roses in her cheeks had bloomed now. In seconds, though, they withered and died.
Ray's heart had been torn in half.
"I can't explain why."
Ray huffed and threw his head back.
"You never could. Why are you afraid? Tell me."
Bess remained silent. Ray pulled on her hands.
"Is it Ron? Is it guilt?"
She closed her eyes.
"It is, isn't it?" Ray leaned back. "I can't believe you're still obsessing."
She glared at him now.
"How dare you?! I loved Ron..."
"You didn't kill him, Bess," Ray added. "You loved him, I know. I don't blame you for it. But he's dead." Ray leaned over to her. "I've loved you and I always will."
She did not look at him. Ray lost his impatience.
"If you won't marry me for me, marry me for the kids. Let me look after Anna, too. I love that kid. She's like my own...."
Bess withdrew as though she found the entreaty ridiculous.
"We both know that one little girl could use a father."
Bess cast a glare on him.
"Don't you dare bring her into this. I can't believe you'd use a little girl that way."
"I can't believe you'd deprive a girl of what she deserves," Ray shot back.
Bess got up from the table. She did not give Ray any answer. Nothing had changed. He sat back in his chair. Bess left him in the cold again.
"Shit!" he muttered as he threw down his napkin.
Detective Lenny Tavish hated his assignment. The Italian he had to
work with was inordinately obsessed with Canada, or a Canadian in particular.
He had a huge map of Canada hanging over his desk. Coloured thumb tacks
marked various places up north. A child's drawing of what appeared to
be a Mountie was stuck neatly in the corner. Drawn by the hand of Anna.
Notes scribbled indecipherably were held together by paper clips, and
there were a lot of paper clips. Lenny looked at the mess again, rubbed
his hand through his luxuriant blond hair and went to Walsh's office.
"I can't take it anymore, sir," he complained, "he's obsessed. It's 'Canada this' and 'Canada that' and 'Fraser will be back soon'. I can't take it any more."
Huey burst into Walsh's office.
"Sir, Vecchio has some Eskimo guy in for a seance."
"Bring him in here," he ordered.
Ray came into the office clutching a video tape in his hand.
"You wanted to see me, sir?"
Walsh crossed his hands calmly.
"Detective, it has been brought to my attention that you have been, oh- how should I put it?- preoccupied with a certain Mountie rather than your work."
Ray looked appalled.
"Sir, I am not. I am simply trying to relocate two very fine officers."
"You're obsessed," Huey shot back. "You've even rented Alive."
Ray hid the video tape from view.
"You are obsessed with two very dead officers, Vecchio," Walsh said finally, "It is sad that Fraser and Besbriss met the end that they did but life goes on."
Ray would not accept that. His upper lip quivered.
"How can I go on when they are languishing in the cold? I owe Constable Fraser my life." Emotion got the better of Ray. "I loved him so much." Ray fell weeping onto Huey's shoulder.
Walsh motioned Huey to take him out of his office.
"Did I say that out loud?" he asked.
"Oh, yes, Ray," Huey answered. He patted Ray on the shoulder. "Let's try to maintain some dignity."
"I didn't say anything about the time I made out with Elaine at the New Year's party in '89, did I?" Ray sobbed. "We were so drunk. She wasn't even conscious."
"That's a little more information than what I need," Huey said and left the bereaved Ray at his desk.
When Lenny tried to talk sense into him, Ray transferred his sorrows to him. Walsh calmly left his office holding an empty whiskey bottle in his hammy hand. Lenny took it and held it over Ray's head.
"Say good night, Gracie!"
The new year held nothing of any real consequence for Anna. The first day of the year had come and gone. She marked the day when she first came to live with her father, that cold, mysterious February day. Now, she lay in bed ignoring the Ides of March. Night was a time when dreams came. She became truly alive then. She would see her father, lean, worn, lost. The certainty gone from his face. She mouthed what close meant but he didn't understand. At last the violation of sunbreak drew her from those precious moments. She began the day anew patiently waiting for her dreams to reoccur or her father to return.
September twenty-fifth. A year to the day. Ray's face became more
solemn by now. He made himself as ice to preserve the losses. But that
ice melted. He tried to become indifferent but it did not last long.
The pandemonium of the twenty-seventh precinct awoke his sensibilities
and he rose from his desk. He made his way to the bullpen and stared
at the slick Italian at the corner with his equally slippery lawyer.
Randolfo Barradacco was a small mob boss but a mob boss nonetheless.
Ray loathed him. He pushed his way past hookers, vagrants and other troublemakers
and gave the mob man the dirtiest look he was capable of.
"You are so slimy, Randolfo," Ray sneered. "It's just a matter of time before we lock your ass up for good."
"I'm scared that actually might happen, Vecchio!" the man laughed. He measured an imaginary distance between his hands. "You came this close!"
Ray pushed him but Huey fell between them and broke up the scuffle. Randolfo walked out of the bullpen bitter but glad he was away from Ray. Once Randolfo had turned the corner, Ray lifted a shiny plastic card from the folds of his grey Armani suit.
"In Chicago, you can take a walk, but you can't take American Express."
Huey gazed incredulously on the stolen Visa card.
"Ray, give that back."
"I didn't steal it, Huey, I simply...strategically liberated it."
They smiled devilishly.
"Let's go," Huey put his hand on Ray's shoulder and led him from the bullpen.
Ray knocked on the door. Rory answered it. He had sprouted since last
he saw him. The boy was just above his waist.
"Hi, Rory. Is your mom ready?"
"She's talking to a man," he answered.
When Ray walked further in, he held his breath. A familiar giant cast his icy glance at him.
"Hello, Detective Vecchio," Forbes greeted him coldly.
"Hi," Ray greeted him back coldly.
Anna clung onto the giant's hand.
"Uncle Alex is coming with us."
It was a strange sight to see Forbes, Uncle Alex, grip onto Anna's hand like that.
"We don't want to be late," Ray said.
Bess grabbed the children's hands. She smiled weakly at Ray.
"We should get going," she suggested and the party left the apartment.
Ray sat in the front at the funeral home. A wreath of oak leaves and heather adorned with a solitary scarlet bow stood in front, a modest tribute to Constable Benton Fraser and Officer Elaine Besbriss, two of the finest people Ray was privileged, nay, blessed to know and have in his life. Bess came in and sat next to him, a string of children gripping her hands. Francesca had one such child with her. She dabbed the tears from her eyes and sat with Ray. Forbes sat on the opposite side across from Anna. A young man at the refreshment table nibbled on a smoked-salmon laden cracker and made his way to the pulpit.. Ray's eyes popped wide open.
Giles Murphy brightened to see him.
Murphy shook hands heartily with the nonplussed Ray.
"I'm the funeral director here. Isn't that great?!"
Ray couldn't smile.
"I'm on my way up!" Murphy laughed. "Don't worry," he reassured Ray, "I've taken sensitivity training for this sort of thing. Failed those classes twice but third time's a charm. This service will be conducted in the most decent and sensitive manner possible."
Ray frowned on him.
"If it's not, I'll break your thumbs."
Murphy grimaced over that prospect and gathered his notes on the pulpit. People gathered in. Ray recognized them all and noted them in his mind. Thatcher and Turnbull, Huey and Lenny. Walsh kept his grim composure. John Thorran and Grace trickled in, sitting at the back. Stewart and Jean had made it down from Nova Scotia. The Besbriss Family struggled to come to grips with the crippling reality of their daughter's demise. They clasped the arms of the young man between them, Robin, the last child. Mr. Mustafi had bothered to show. He always said that Benton was a good tenant. Nameless others had crept in taking their places silently among the grieving friends. When Murphy saw that no more came in, he cleared his throat.
"Let's get this show on the road," he clapped his hands.
Ray did not like the sound of that.
"I ask that we bow our heads for a moment of silent prayer," Murphy requested.
The congregation bowed their heads. Ray made the Sign of the Cross and bowed his head. The room was silent. Murphy furtively made his way to the refreshment table and swallowed a grape. He went back to the pulpit.
"Let us pray," Murphy intoned solemnly. "Oh Gracious, Divine, Mystic, Wonderful and Fantastic Lord, who art in the heavens above us mere mortals. How great Thou certainly art. For You Who did make the birds of the trees and the dogs and the wolves..."
Diefenbaker yelped in concurrence.
"You Who did create the sun which grows things," Murphy continued, "You Who did save the Hebrews from their bondage in the land of Egypt and allowed Charlton Heston to lead them forth in the burning hot wilderness for forty-odd years, not before letting the evil Yul Brynner watch his forces of evil being swallowed up in the Sea of Red..."
Walsh began to wonder where this prayer was headed.
"You, Oh Mighty and Forgiving God, who did quell the righteous thirst of Saint Monica as she prayed for her son, the one and only Saint Augustine, and You Who did allow him to get drunk one more time. We, your humble servants, ask of Thee, Oh Great One, to grant a well-deserved rest for Thy equally humble servants, Constable Benton Fraser and Officer Irene Besbriss..."
"Elaine," Mrs Besbriss tearfully called out.
"Elaine," Murphy corrected himself, "(sorry) and grant that flights of angels may massage their weary feet and feed unto them strawberries in chocolate-marshmallow fondue, that their heavenly smocks may fit them just so and that they may be at peace forever more."
Rory had his eyes closed. He envisioned his uncle and Elaine soaring among the clouds in their beautiful white angel smocks. He sobbed a little but was comforted by the gentle touch of his mother.
"We ask this, Oh Wonderfully Divine Lord, in Thy most Holy, Perfect and Groovy Name that rings throughout the ages..."
"AMEN!" Thatcher impatiently preceded him.
The rest of the congregation answered. Murphy cleared his throat.
"I ask now, that Helen McDonald come forth and say a few words on behalf of her dearly departed cousin."
Tightness gripped Ray's chest. He found a brown paper bag and started to hyperventilate into it.
"Ray, are you alright?" Bess asked.
Ray nodded shakily to her and Helen was free to begin her speech.
"I've rarely seen my dear cousin," she said sadly, "but my very few moments I've spent with him I remember vividly. Like on his tenth birthday, I drank way too much Seven-Up and when I saw cousin Nevis throw up all over Robby Georges, I was just ralphing my cookies big-time..."
Murphy cut her story short.
"That was a lovely story. Now, I would now like to call Robin Besbriss to speak on behalf of his beloved sister, Eloise."
Robin scowled at him.
"It's Elaine." Robin cleared his throat. "Elaine was a good, sweet, kind woman." His voice broke with emotion and he tried to hold back tears. "Elaine, wherever you are, no matter what happens, you're my sister and...and...and I love you, man!"
Lenny peered at Robin.
"You're not getting beer for this, are you, Robin?" he whispered.
"No," he denied and left the room, much to the befuddlement of the rest of the congregation.
"He's upset because his sister was in the clutches of an evil Canadian!" Mrs. Besbriss tearfully called out. "Canadians are evil! EVIL!"
Turnbull, ired at her insinuations yet moved by the loss of her daughter, tried to console her.
"Madame, nothing could be further from the truth. Oh, sure, we may be a hotbed of extraterrestrial intrusion, survive extremely cold temperatures, yes, and even deal with exceedingly high taxes but we are not the evil, asexual Communists people purport us to be."
Mrs. Besbriss refused to be comforted. She wept silently.
Huey rose from his seat.
"I'm not very good at this sort of thing," he confessed, "I don't have any amusing childhood stories or any interesting New Year's party escapades..."
He cast a suspicious glance at Ray who avoided his glare.
"I do remember this about her. I first worked with her in 1989. We were called in to the Eastside, some girl with a gun caged herself in her apartment and we had to diffuse the situation. Elaine just joined on so when she came with us we didn't think she'd measure up, a rookie and everything. We tried everything we could think of to get the girl out but nothing worked. Elaine wanted to go in. It was the craziest thing. We had to put a bulletproof vest on her as she marched into the apartment. She managed to get the girl's trust and finally take the girl out safely, nobody killed, nothing. Just an ounce of understanding." Huey paused. "I think that was lost..."
He sat down. Walsh patted him on the shoulder. Ray could hear Mrs. Besbriss' muffled cries.
"That sucked!" Murphy proclaimed. "Give us something we can chew on."
John stood up from the back.
"If it weren't for Benton Fraser, I'd still be a dog today." He noticed Diefenbaker sitting in the front. "Hey! I remember you."
"That's for sure," Murphy concurred.
Stewart stood up.
"Benton Fraser was the finest officer to wear the Mountie uniform. He knew the law inside and out. He could track a criminal for miles, execute justice with one flick of his wrist, save a multitude of orphans from a burning building and yes, he made an exquisite tuna casserole accompanied with lemon meringue pie."
Lenny was moved by Stewart's simple narration.
Ray bit his lip. The nail was there but no one hit it on the head. He rose from his seat.
"What is this? We can't talk about pies and beer and barf stories...." Ray was lost. What to say about a man who changed his life forever? He swallowed. "Benny was a man, take him for all in all, we shall not look upon his like again." His knees failed him and he sat back down. As though a pole had struck him, he had come to the realization of the massive loss. He exhaled as the weight lifted from his chest. So much could be said but what he had uttered satisfied the need.
"Nothing more need be said," Bess added quietly and rested her hand on Ray's face. Ray welcomed her touch.
Silence filled the room. Ray never prided himself in being an eloquent man but they all knew he was right. They would not look upon the like of Benton or Elaine again. Thatcher stood at the pulpit. She cleared her throat.
"As Constable Benton Fraser's superior officer, I feel it is necessary to say a few words about him. Not only for him, but for Officer Besbriss, as well." She cleared her throat once more. "We've come here to remember," Thatcher said profoundly. "We must come to grips with reality. Constable Fraser and Elaine Besbriss are dead."
"That's where you're wrong."
Confused gasps escaped the congregation. A tall man, lean, weather-beaten and filthy, stood at the entrance of the room. His dark hair fell to his shoulders. A beard covered his face and his blue eyes gleamed proudly. Everyone stood transfixed by this man in a black parka who interrupted the memorial service.
Anna gaped at the man. She ran to him with her arms outstretched.
The man picked her up and swung her off her feet. She recoiled her head.
"You stink!" she declared.
"Sorry, Anna, I haven't been able to take a bath in a year."
Ray gaped at the mystery man. No one could believe it.
"That's right, Ray," he affirmed, "I'm back."
Ray lost his senses. He ran up to Ben and embraced him heartily.
"You really stink!" he cried.
"That's not important now, Ray."
A woman sided up to Benton. Her white parka mottled grey, a hunting rifle hiked over her shoulder and her back bulging. She brushed away the sweeping black tousles from her face ringed with faint circles of frostbite. A tiny scar appeared from out of her thick locks. Mr. and Mrs. Besbriss gasped.
"Benny's a Sasquatch and Elaine's a hunchback," Ray remarked.
"That's where you're wrong." Elaine lifted the hood of her parka back to reveal a set of tiny blue eyes peeking meekly at the confused congregation. He wrapped his little hand around Elaine's depressed curls and cooed as Ray took a closer look at him.
Francesca wept bitterly and complained that she would never get married.
"Ben," Bess exhaled and ran to her smelly brother. "You're alive. How?"
Benton made his way to the centre of the room amid the incredulous onlookers.
"I'm alive, yes. Miraculous, perhaps. When faced with unbeatable odds, a man must keep in mind three things. No matter how grave and desperate things may seem, the human will is not to be conquered. Two, the love of a good woman will sustain him better than any portion of seal flesh." He clasped Elaine's hands. "And three," he continued, "you know more Danish than you think you do, but that is a different matter entirely."
A constable pushed his way into the room. Thatcher approached him.
"Reynolds," she said.
Constable Alexander Mackenzie Reynolds tipped his Stetson to her.
"Thatcher." He looked around the room. "I found these two on the outskirts of Grise Fjord, mad, raving, just happy to be alive. They ate all my donuts," he said with dramatic finality. "But before they ate my donuts, they revealed to me the startling reason why they had come to be stranded in the Arctic in the first place. Someone had tried to kill them."
Gasps escaped the group again. Ray clenched his teeth.
"Who?" Forbes asked darkly.
Benton strode over to a dark veiled woman and tore the veil from her.
Her face was etched in rage, this woman from so long ago.
Ray scowled at her.
"I should have known. But why? Why?"
Benton looked at Ray.
"She's a bitch, Ray."
Alexander seized her arm and led her out of the room.
"Hey!" Murphy cried. "I do hope I'm getting paid for this!"
"This isn't over, Ben," Victoria rasped. She snarled at Elaine. "He's all your's."
Alexander moved her out. Murphy pulled her pocket book from her purse and helped himself to the cash.
"I should hope so," Elaine added to herself.
Mr. and Mrs. Besbriss ran to their long lost daughter and embraced her. Mrs. Besbriss lifted her grandchild from Elaine's back.
"Canadians don't reproduce asexually," Mr. Besbriss said and esteemed the infant.
"What is his name?" Mrs. Besbriss asked.
"Danny," Benton supplied.
"Danny?!" Ray scoffed. "Why Danny? Every Saint Patrick's Day, they'll sing "Danny-boy". It'll suck."
"It's a fine name, Ray," Benton shot back.
Forbes stood away from the crowd. Benton approached him.
"It is your funeral, Benton. I wouldn't miss it for the world."
Benton laughed. He felt a tug on his parka. Anna looked up at him.
"I knew you'd come home," she whispered.
He crouched down to her and rested his hand on her face.
"I knew you waited for me."
He pulled the little girl to her and hugged her.
"This calls for a celebration!" Ray declared.
"No, Ray," Benton refused, "the celebration is life. We are just happy to be alive."
Ray shrugged his shoulders.
"I'll buy ya food."
"Oh, alright, then," Benton nodded and they piled into Ray's car.
Thatcher leaned against the brick face of the funeral home puffing
an illicit and rare cigarette. Elaine exited the building cradling the
baby. Thatcher stopped her. She hesitated.
"What's the baby's name?"
Elaine looked on Thatcher civilly.
"He's a handsome boy. You should feel lucky."
Elaine caught what Thatcher had meant to say. She smiled back at her and left with Benton.
Benton, Elaine and the baby were reluctant to enter Francesco's. They
were filthy, frostbitten and feared they may gorge themselves stupid.
Ray pushed them in and offered a gratuity to the maitre d' to allow them
in. Randolfo ate at the back table with a skinny blond model. He stared
at the strange people entering the restaurant.
"Order whatever you want," Ray insisted. "I'll be right back."
"Where are you going?" Benton asked.
"Somebody owes me a favour!" Ray called as he left the restaurant.
Murphy and Francesca came in and plunked down at the table with them.
"You buyin', fella?"
Benton shook his head.
"I think Ray is," he answered.
"As long as I don't have to," Murphy added and broke open a bread roll.
When Ray came back, the entire congregation was there. Benton
and Elaine had already polished off plates of pasta, soup, bread rolls
and they were now working on their main courses. A pudgy man with dark
curly hair, stubble-faced and hungover, plunked down into a chair across
"This is Marnie Arnolds," Ray introduced. "He's going to make a movie about you."
Benton spat out his mango juice.
"Ray, I don't know if I want to make a movie about our ordeal."
Ray shrugged his shoulders.
"Then, I'll make a movie about your ordeal." He sat down and ensured that Marnie had a pen and paper. "Now Benny's role can be filled in by...oh, who's that guy in Schindler's List?"
"Ralph Fiennes," Francesca supplied.
Marnie wrote down Ralph Fiennes.
"Ray remembers him from The English Patient," Francesca smiled. "He cried at the end when Katherine died."
Ray tried to reclaim his machismo.
"I did not." He grinned at Marnie. "My role can be played by Quentin Tarantino."
"Can Jada Pinkett play my role?" Elaine asked.
"She sure can," Marnie nodded. He looked intensely at Forbes. "Harrison Ford."
"I entirely concur with your decision," Forbes agreed and offered Anna some cheese and crackers.
Ray looked at Bess.
"What about you?"
"I would have to say Linda Hamilton," she mused.
"Can Robert DeNiro be me?" Walsh asked as he stuffed his mouth with cold cuts.
Marnie wrote the names down.
"Sigourney Weaver as Thatcher, right? Maureen Stapleton as Jean. Do I have that right?"
"Put Charlton Heston in somewhere," Ray suggested as he stuffed food
into his mouth.
"Ray, I'm worried about the Canadian content of the film," Benton admitted.
"Oh, now someone cares about the movie!"
Benton was taken aback but he would have to make sure Ray did not get carried away with his life story. Elaine leaned next to him and told him not to worry.
Noon. Ray had ordered a birthday cake for Anna. The big six. Benton was here for this one, he thought. A day early to boot. The National Geographic Society had come and gone. A movie deal, an article. The supply and demand for them, Elaine began to wonder, would never cease. Those who haunted Francesco's for lunch joined them at a big table melded together awkwardly with other tables. Benton led them in song. One by one, they became hooked. Randolfo became hooked a long time ago.
Two-thirty. Francesco's was bare with the exception of the congregation,
Randolfo and the skinny model. They sang songs endlessly and became drunk
twice as fast. Ray and Randolfo laughed. The mobster swallowed back a
glass of Chianti.
"You know Randolfo?" Ray mused. "You're paying for all this."
"Seriously," Ray laughed. "I swiped your credit card from you in the bullpen."
The mobster was insensible to him. He laughed and laughed.
Evening. Ray leaned his head on the living room window of his house.
Everything now had fallen into place. Benton and Elaine were now man
and wife, parents of two beautiful children. Ray never thought he would
live to see the day when it would happen but it did. He did not notice
the changes Benton had undergone. City life? No. The final phase of becoming
human. Ray lifted his head.
"Bess," he whispered, "you is my woman."
He jumped into his car and raced down the streets. He pulled up to the grungy building where Bess had stayed. He screamed out for her.
An angry tenant screamed at him to shut up.
"You shut the fuck up!" Ray screamed back. "I want Bess! Bess!"
Bess poked her head out the window.
"Oh God!" she muttered.
"Get down here now, Bess!" he ordered brusquely.
Bess came out in her nightgown.
"For God's sake, Ray, control yourself."
Ray shook his head.
"No! You're going to marry me, Bess. You're going to be Mrs. Vecchio. That's it, that's all. I don't want to hear any more."
Bess gaped at him. Ray pulled her to his body.
"I've tried to do this the nice way. I've begged, I've pleaded, I've threatened, I've waited. So help me God, I've waited. Now, tell me you love me. Tell me I'm the only one to make you alive. Tell me yes."
She stepped back. He heart surged.
"Yes. Yes. Yes."
He swung her off her feet and kissed her. She laughed. She had never felt more alive.
"When will we get married?"
"Soon," Ray promised.
On the upper floor of the Besbriss home, little Daniel Fraser slept
for the first time in a crib, away from the heartbeat of his mother,
with Mountie bear tucked under his arm. Anna lay still in the room next
door. She could sleep at last, no longer haunted by vague dreams. It
was in the basement, on the Serta bed, that Elaine and Benton lay wrapped
"I think my parents like you," she mused.
"Then why are we in the basement?" Benton asked.
"Oh, shush," she whispered, "be grateful that we're here alive on a Serta bed."
"It is comfortable," he said.
"And warm," she offered.
They breathed as one.
"Good night, Mr. Fraser."
"Good night, Mrs. Fraser."
"Did I leave the iron on?"
"Go to sleep, Elaine."