Disclaimer: This story is written for the private entertainment of fans. The author makes no claims on the characters or their portrayal by the creation of this story. Fraser, Vecchio, et.al. belong to Alliance; the McKenzies and friends belong to S L Haas and Cat Madden belongs to me. No infringement of any copyrights held by CBS, Alliance, CTV or any other copyright holders of DUE SOUTH is intended. This story is not published for profit, and the author does not give permission for this story to be reproduced for profit.
Lyrics from Glad and Sorry by Ron Wood (The Faces) used without permission.
by Carol Trendall
Thank you kindly for thinking of me
If I'm not smiling, I'm just thinking.
Glad and sorry
Happy or sad
When all is done and spoken
You're up or I'm down
Can you show me a dream?
Can you show me one that's better than life?
Can you stand it in the cold light of day?
Well neither can I.
The earth took billions of years to develop, humans took millions of years to evolve, redwoods took hundreds of years to grow and elephants gestated their young for twenty-four months. All things considered, Ben reasoned, two weeks was not a long time to wait.
The less reasonable part of his mind did not agree. The less reasonable part of his mind started at every footfall in the hall outside his apartment and jumped at every ring of the consular telephone. The less reasonable part of his mind was sure that a fortnight was long enough for Phil to consider his ultimatum.
The reasonable part of his mind told him that she would need more time and he would wait as long as it took. Before the unreasonable part of his mind could take issue with that thought, the intercom on his desk buzzed once, short and sharp, and he leapt in his seat.
A heartbeat later, Constable Turnbull's tremulous voice came through the speaker.
"You have a visitor."
"A visitor?" 'Is it Phil?' he wondered. 'Has she finally come?'
His thoughts came to a crash landing when Ray's frustrated voice came through the tinny speaker.
"It's me, Benny. Ready for lunch?"
It wasn't Phil. Was he glad or sorry? He couldn't say for certain. He let go of the breath he didn't realise he was holding, then pressed the speak button, his voice more cheerful than he felt. "I'll be right out, Ray."
Ray leaned against Turnbull's desk, suppressing a snigger as the younger Mountie pressed himself against the wall in order to get as far away from him as possible. 'If only I had that effect on the perps in this city,' he thought.
Waiting anxiously for Ben, he schooled his features into a neutral expression. Since their return from their Grand Canyon vacation, he had tried not to let his curiosity show. Every time he saw his friend he searched his face for an indication that the other man had heard from Phil, but so far he had seen no sign. 'Is today the day?' he wondered.
Ray was in two minds about it. One part of him would be glad when Phil finally called. He knew then that, regardless of her decision, Fraser would have his answer. But he knew another part of him would be sorry when she called, for that would mean his friend would learn of the child he never knew and that would only mean more pain.
He rose when Fraser came towards him, hoping his warm smile hid the way he scanned his friend's face. 'Is today the day you learned about your daughter, Benny?' he wondered as they exchanged greetings.
To Phil's immense relief the lobby of the Cambodian High Commission was empty of press for the first time in two weeks. Compelled, as she was, to spend her days there she dreaded the morning passage through camera crews and journalists on the lookout for emotional pleas and outbursts. But as much as she disliked their presence, she knew it was necessary. So long as Martin's kidnapping stayed in the news, the American public would continue to pressure the Cambodian government who in turn would pressure the Khmer Rouge into releasing the captives.
The staff of the High Commission had taken good care of her; intervening when the press throng became oppressive and ensuring she had a safe, comfortable place to spend her days. She knew the staff by name, even the High Commissioner himself, who made sure to spend a few minutes with her each day, apprising her of the situation as it stood. His staff would bring her bowls of soup in the morning, curry and rice at lunch and in the afternoon, a small plate of Cambodian sweet treats and a pot of Chinese tea. They would nod and smile and occasionally express their sorrow but, for the most part, they left her alone; her only companions the pigeons on the ledge outside.
Phil had learned a lot about pigeons during her vigil. After two weeks of staring at them out the High Commission ninth floor window she could now recognise individuals and was beginning to be able to pick which male was partnered with which female. She knew the male with one missing toe was paired with the female with the white head and the female with two missing toes was paired with the male with brown speckled feathers. 'Funny,' she thought, 'how the unusual ones end up together.' Then she didn't know why she had thought that.
Her mind had worked that way ever since she learned of Martin's kidnapping. Without any conscious thought on her part she would slip from one disjointed thought to another and before long she would find herself wondering about how M & Ms were made or something equally as irrelevant. But she was well enough acquainted with tragedy to know that this was just the mind's way of coping. And coping was something she did well. Her thoughts slid back to all the things that had tested her strength: Ben's abrupt end to their relationship, the birth of her beautiful daughter and, most of all, Lindy's untimely death. She had lived through all that and she would live through this.
But there was a whole separate issue that Phil had given little thought to. She knew the time would come when she would be forced to deal with it and that gave her mixed emotions. When that time came, Martin would be home and safe and ready to resume their life together and that would mean finally facing Ben and saying goodbye forever. One thing would make her happy and the other sad.
Phil's eyes grew moist as she remembered the promise she had made two weeks earlier. When Martin was released, and she had no doubt he would be, she would accept his proposal of marriage and she would be a good wife. There could be no other way. She would have the memory of the night spent with Ben Fraser, but it would end there and for that she would always be sorry.
A day off midweek was a luxury, a day of joy for Cat Madden. She could do anything she wanted. If she wanted to go canoeing there would be no one on the lake, if she wanted to go shopping there would be no one at the mall, is she wanted to stay home and read she could. But if she wanted company she was out of luck. And company was something she needed.
When she had learned that Phil was leading Ben's Canyon trip she had been excited. Although all her efforts to get the two of them together had failed, fate had stepped in and taken over. She had waited patiently for the two-week vacation to pass, safe in the belief that there would only be good news. When Lloyd had called to tell her Phil was visiting with him and talking of calling off her engagement her heart had soared. Then the bad news had come.
The man Phil McKenzie claimed to be in love with, had been captured by the Khmer Rouge whilst working in Cambodia. Grief stricken, Phil had taken off back to Chicago to maintain a vigil at the Cambodian High Commission in the hope that her presence there could do some good. So far there had been no news. Something dark in Cat's mind told her it was her fault. Her deep desire to see Ben and Phil reunited had somehow made this happen. It was all her fault.
For two weeks now Cat had kept her thoughts to herself but now she had to tell someone. She had to tell someone that although she hoped Martin Stevenson came home safely, some small, dark part of her wouldn't care if he didn't. And she hated herself for it.
With her and Lloyd's schedules being what they were, she didn't expect to see him for at least a week. Sadly, her dark secret couldn't wait that long. She went to the only other person she could trust with this knowledge. She went to Jimmy Sunsinger.
Rebecca Fraser sneaked a glance at the man riding in her passenger seat. Matt Reynolds was, so far, the only reason for feeling glad about accepting the Kitimat posting. After hating the place for the first three months and feeling sorry that she had let Cat and Benny talk her into it, she revelled in the attention the handsome had heaped on her since they met. The fact that he looked a little like TJ McKenzie had nothing to do with it.
Matt smiled at her, his perfect white teeth glowing against the perfect tan on his perfect face. It was his smile that had first caught Becka's attention when they met at a rock-climbing club she had joined. At the time it seemed the best way to meet people. She had nothing in common with most of her colleagues and they seem disinclined to talk to her anyway. The bar and club scene was not for Becka either. She had tried that before and all it got her was a feeling of disappointment. But Matt had smiled at her across a car park and suddenly the idea of joining the rock-climbing club seemed like the best one she'd had in a long time.
So why wasn't she excited about the camping and climbing trip they were embarking upon? The answer was quite simple, but one that Matt probably wouldn't have understood. She was worried about her brother.
After what Cat had told her about Phil McKenzie's fianc, Becka's concern for her brother had soared and her own mood plummeted. After the serendipity of the Canyon trip she was certain that Ben and Phil were close to a reconciliation, but now it seemed it might never happen. So, whilst one part of her was glad to be in the company of such a fine specimen of man hood, she was also sorry to be out of touch. She didn't want to miss anything.
"Are you OK?" Matt asked, reaching across the cabin and gently squeezing her thigh.
"I'm fine." Becka smiled. "Do you mind if I listen to the radio? I'm interested to hear if there is any news about the American doctors in Cambodia."
In the end Ray's curiosity won. He was Italian, after all, and had inherited the genes that meant he just had to know everything.
"So, have you heard from Phil?" he asked casually as he and Ben strolled down the street towards the diner they favoured for lunch.
"No. But it's only been two weeks," Ben quickly justified. "She'll call in good time."
Not convinced by his tone, Ray glanced sideways at his companion and asked, "And you're OK about that?"
When Ben only shrugged, Ray let it go for a minute and then tried another tack. "Have you called Cat?"
"Cat?" He seemed genuinely surprised by the question, jerking his head up to look at Ray. "No. Why?"
It was Ray's turn to shrug. "No reason. Just thought she might be interested to hear about your vacation."
Ben knew Cat would be extremely interested in his vacation, but so far he hadn't had the courage to tell her what had taken place. A thought hit him suddenly. Did she know already? Suspicion narrowed his eyes and his next question went for the kill.
"Have *you* called Cat?"
Caught off guard by the remark, Ray bought himself some time indicating they should cross the street, then guiding Ben off the sidewalk onto the road. When he had successfully negotiated a path between lines of traffic and gotten them both safely to the other side, he hoped the question was forgotten but one look at his friend's face told him an answer was still expected.
He waved a dismissive hand in the air. "I talked to her a week or so ago."
"And what? And nothing. Can't two friends ... catch up?"
"Of course they can, Ray," Ben said matter-of-factly, "but we're talking about you and Cat."
"And what does that mean?"
"Well ... "
"Look, Fraser, Cat and I have more in common than just talking about you."
Ben threw his hands up in surrender. "I'm sorry, Ray. You're right."
"Sheesh, Benny. You're getting paranoid."
Ben flinched. Was there truth in those words? He nodded, pursing his lips slightly. "Enough said."
Phil dragged her eyes away from the pigeons she had watched all morning and turned her attention to the person who had called her name. It was her brother.
TJ moved silently across the lobby of the Cambodian High Commission, looking unusually casual in old worn jeans and a white t-shirt, his shoulder length hair for once hanging loose.
Why was he here in the middle of the day?
"What are you doing here, TJ?" Phil shifted over, making room for him. "Aren't you supposed to be at work?"
TJ McKenzie settled onto the black sofa and raised an accusing eyebrow at his sister. "Aren't you?"
Her eyes slipped away and focussed once again on the birds outside the window. "You know I can't work while Martin is ... out there ... I have to be here ... in case something happens ... I ... I ... "
"You're making yourself sick, Flip, that's what you're doing." Leaning close, he reached for her hand. "When was the last time you ate a decent meal? Have you been home today? Have you talked to Jeff or Mark? And what about Chance?"
Phil sat unmoving under the weight of her brother's questions. Her hand rested limply in his. "I'll sit here until there's some news of Martin. I can't go on leading ... leading a normal life while he's ... "
"You're not the only one this is happening to. Don't be a martyr." TJ lifted one had to Phil's chin and turned her head until she looked him in the eye. "You can't just hope the rest of the world will go away while you wallow in self pity.
"There are people who need you, people who care about you. Everyone's worried. Casey called this morning; I spoke to Lloyd last night, Cat called a few days ago. Even Trevor wants to know what he can do to help. Jeff and Mark are doing OK, but they're still worried and it *is* your business they're looking after. And Rob, well, he could do with the support of someone who knows what he's going through. Or have you forgotten that Martin is his friend?"
Disturbed by the truth of his words, Phil jerked her head away and stared out the window again. "You don't understand, TJ."
His answer was a long time coming and seemingly dragged from the depths of his soul. His voice was harder than Phil could remember hearing.
"Don't I? Have you forgotten that I was on the other side of the world when Noelle was killed? Oh, Phil, I know only too well how it feels not to be able to do anything to help someone you love. I know the guilt you're feeling right now, how it feels to know that you were laughing and having a great time while someone you love was suffering. I know exactly how it feels to know that you can't do a fucking thing about it."
Momentarily silenced by the harshness of her brother's words, Phil's eyes widened and for a moment she contemplated what he told her. She remembered only too well the pain he had suffered when Noelle died. Over the years she saw first hand the damage it did to him, turning a once gregarious, handsome young man into an empty husk, withdrawn from the world. Was the same thing happening to her?
When Lindy died she had withdrawn. Still recovering from the shock of losing Ben, she had chosen the life of a single parent and before she could grow used to it that, too, was taken away. But this was different. This time she was not withdrawing from the world because of low self-esteem or self-pity. This time she was a confident, successful businesswoman. This time she was a woman in love. Phil knew she had been right the first time. TJ did not understand.
Misreading her silence for denial, TJ softened his tone and quickly squeezed her knee. "I'm just worried about you. You've been here every day since you got back from the Canyon ... and you haven't even talked about what went on out there ... "
A knot of panic appeared suddenly in Phil's stomach. Did TJ know? She was afraid to ask. "Wh ... what do you mean ... ?"
"Come on, we all know Ben was on the trip."
Her head snapped up and when she spoke her voice was cold. "This is not the time or place to talk about Ben. Martin is being held captive on the other side of the world and ... and ... I ... and ... he asked me to marry him, TJ. At the airport. Right before he left. When he comes home he'll want my answer."
TJ sat back in shock at that news. Martin wanted to marry Phil. It seemed their relationship was deeper than he realised. "I see," was all he could manage to say.
On hearing her brother's perplexed tone, Phil's defences dropped. "I'm sorry, TJ. I know you want to help."
"Let me take you home, Phil. I took the day off to come down here and get you. Let me help you."
"Maybe it *is* time I went back to work."
"Now that's the sister I know and love."
"I'm think I'm going to have a burger," Ray told his friend as they approached their luncheon destination. "I'm starving."
"I think I'll just have a salad."
"A salad, Benny?" Ray opened the door and held it, not realising what he had done. "We walk all this way for a salad? What about a bowl of chilli? Paully makes great chilli."
"I'm not very hungry, Ray."
Ray rolled his eyes and gestured him into the diner. "Come on, I don't got all day."
Something in the distance caught Ben's eye. He squinted in an attempt to see better. "Ray, I believe that man," he pointed to a lanky blonde man lurking suspiciously by a car about a hundred yards away, "is trying to break into that vehicle."
Ray let the door he was holding swing shut. "Ah, no, Benny, no ... "
Ben took off down the street towards the fair-haired man, leaving Ray spluttering and mumbling about how hungry he was. But his police ethics were too deeply ingrained and it wasn't too much longer before he joined the Mountie in pursuit of the perpetrator.
It took only a second for the man to realise he had been spotted, turning and fleeing at almost the same time as Ben began to run. Only a few yards behind the Mountie ran Ray, one hand working at his belt to unsnap the catch on his holster and pull his gun free. He shouted for the man to freeze but the call went unheeded.
As Ben drew closer to the perpetrator, an immaculately dressed businessman stepped onto the sidewalk directly in his path. Ben shouted for him to move, but instead the businessman hesitated for a second, obviously assessing the scene. When he realised the Mountie was in pursuit of a criminal he, too, set off in pursuit. As luck would have it, his timing was appalling and he ran right into Ben's path, not allowing the other man anytime to manoeuvre around him.
Unable to halt his progress or move in time, Ben and the businessman collided with a bone-shaking thud, their legs tangling and collapsing under them. Almost immediately, the businessman rose and continued his pursuit, leaving Ben collapsed on the sidewalk.
Having witnessed the whole scene, Ray skidded to halt, hurling abuse at the businessman disappearing down the street in pursuit of the blonde thief. Ray dropped to his knees.
"You OK, Benny? Did that asshole hurt you?"
Ben winced in pain as he tried to sit up. "I'm fine, Ray. He was just trying to help."
"Lay down. Are you in pain?"
"My back hurts a little."
"Son of a bitch!" He looked down the street in the direction of the businessman and the now forgotten criminal. "Stay there, Benny, I'll call an ambulance." He rose, pulling his cellphone from his pocket, flashing his badge at the crowd gathering around them.
Ben laid flat on his back. "I'm fine, Ray. I don't need an ambulance." But the pain in his eyes told a different story. "Just give me a minute."
Before Ray could dial a number, the businessman suddenly reappeared, pushing his way through the crowd. He took one look at the Mountie collapsed on the ground and his face fell. "Oh, man, I'm sorry. Are you OK?"
"The thief. Did you catch him?" Ben asked, trying once again to sit up.
"Nah, too quick for me. I didn't think I could catch him"
"Well, asshole, if you knew that why the fuck did you try?" Ray stepped into the man's space and gave him a menacing look.
"Look, I was just trying to ... "
Ray cut him off. "You're a moron, that's what you are! My partner's injured! I ought to ..."
From his position on the ground, Ben tugged at Ray's trouser leg. "Ray ... Ray ... Ray! Please? I'll deal with this." He waited until Ray stepped away, throwing his hands in the air.
Ben turned his attention to the businessman. "Hello, Sir." He smiled and tipped his hat as best he could, given his position. "Constable Benton Fraser, Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Although your intentions were admirable, I was already in pursuit of the perpetrator and had you not intervened I may well have caught him. As you can see ..." he indicated his supine position, "I did not. But all is not lost. You have learned that tasks such as apprehending criminals should only be undertaken by professionals."
The businessman shook his head and looked imploringly at Ray. "Should we, like, get him to a doctor or something? I think he hit his head."
Ray smiled his relief. Ben was fine. "Nah, he's OK. He's always like this." Dismissing the man, he smiled down at his friend. "Come up, I'll help you up."
The pain in his back wasn't too bad, but Ben knew that he was injured worse than he would admit. He only hoped Ray would not notice. But once again, luck was not with him.
As Ray led him away, pushing aside the crowd that had gathered, it took only a few steps for him to notice that Ben was in pain.
"Whoa, Benny. Let me call an ambulance."
"Ray, I'm OK, really."
"Why is your face screwed up like that?"
"Alright, it hurts a little. But I've had worse injuries, you know that."
"And I inflicted at least one of them."
"I didn't mean that."
"You need to see a doctor." As soon as the words were out of Ray's mouth a thought hit him like a thunderbolt. Ben's doctor was Phil's brother! It seemed there was a silver lining to every cloud.
"No, I don't," Ben persisted.
"Yes, you do!" Ray said, full of purpose now. "We're going to the hospital." He turned to face the traffic. "Taxi!"
The midday sun was warm on Phil's back and a part of her was pleased that TJ had come for her. She glanced at her brother walking silently beside her.
"What made you come get me today?"
"I was worried about you. You've been at the High Commission every day. For all I know you're even sleeping there. I just don't want you to get ... I don't want to see you lose control."
"Is this how it was for you when Noelle died?"
"You were there, Phil. You saw how I was. I don't want that to happen to you."
"I can't help but be worried. I'll be fine once Martin comes home."
TJ stopped and gripped Phil's arm, making her look at him. "He might not come home. Have you thought about that?"
Phil's denial was clear on her face. "That's just ... "
"Just what? Not true? Ask the families of other people who were kidnapped by the Khmer Rouge and never seen again. Martin could die, Phil. There's a huge chance these people will shoot him and we might never find out. His body might never be found."
Phil's eyes filled. "Don't, TJ. That's not true. He *will* come home."
"Because you want him to? How many other things that you've wanted have gone wrong?"
TJ's brutal words hit Phil like a sledgehammer. Only someone who knew her as well as her brother could cut to the quick in one short sentence. When she spoke her voice was full of pain.
"TJ ... "
"I don't mean to sound harsh. You know I love you. You just have to face reality."
"Martin will come home - he has to - I promised ... " Silently Phil started to cry.
"Promised what? What are you saying?"
"I have to tell you something. You have to promise not to tell anyone and not to be angry."
TJ saw the distress on his sister's face and ached for her. Draping a protective arm around her slim shoulders he urged her on. "Let's go home."
As TJ steered Phil in the direction of her apartment, a skinny blonde man pushed past them on the sidewalk, almost knocking Phil to the ground. TJ called him a few choice words and then for a reason he could not explain, turned to look behind him. Not far away a crowd had gathered around a man collapsed on the ground. He looked again in the direction the blonde had disappeared, realising the two were somehow connected. For a moment he considered pursuing the man, but thought better of it. His sister needed him now and that was more important than all the crime in the greater Chicago area.
The lumberyard was barely recognisable as Cat pulled into the smart new Customer Parking Area. Stepping out of her vehicle she ran an admiring eye over the improvements that Jimmy had made since buying the business six years earlier. Riverhurst Lumberyard was now a thriving, well-stocked place of business.
It took only a second to find Jimmy. Holding a clipboard in one hand, he was checking off loads of lumber as they came off a large semi-trailer. Cat stopped some distance off, not wanting to disturb him at his work. She smiled as she watched him, his large capable hands reaching out to steady a load that threatened to tip off its pallet. He waved when he saw her, said a few words to one of his employees and then headed in her direction.
Jimmy smiled as he approached her. As he drew close, he held out his arms and Cat walked into his hug.
"Cathy Madden, what brings you out here?"
She grinned as he pressed her to his massive chest. "I've got the day off and I thought I'd catch up and say hi, maybe come out here and check out the yard."
Jimmy looked around the yard and nodded proudly. "It sure has changed since the first time you saw it, huh?"
"Oh yeah," Cat agreed, letting Jimmy lead her back towards the office. "I was just thinking about that time while I was waiting for you."
Jimmy grinned as they reached the office. "You mean the time you turned a young innocent boy's head and changed his life forever."
"Yeah and then you left me for another woman and broke my heart." She grinned in reply. "I haven't been the same since."
Jimmy laughed and turned towards her. "I know you better than that, little one." He touched her cheek briefly and indicated that she should wait.
Cat smiled as she watched Jimmy open the door to the office and speak to his assistant. She admired his easy grace. He was a man happy with his life.
Jimmy smiled as he joined her again. Slipping an arm around her shoulders, he led her away from the office, continuing the conversation as if there had been no interruption. "And besides, little one, as wonderful as you were then, and still are," he added hastily, "as soon as I saw Sara I knew she was the only woman for me."
Cat nodded her agreement. She knew Sara and Jimmy were soul mates. Just like she and Lloyd. And Ben and Phil. Any maybe even Ray and Casey.
"You gonna let me buy you a cup of coffee?" Jimmy asked as he steered Cat out of the lumberyard and towards the diner across the street.
"That's why I'm here."
"Anyway, Cathy, I hear you've got your own Indian now."
Cat laughed as Jimmy opened the door of the diner and followed her inside. "Word travels fast."
"You know us Indians, we love to gossip." Jimmy chuckled at Cat's expression. "And besides, Lloyd and I are cousins."
"Jimmy, everyone is your cousin."
They took a small booth and ordered coffee. When it arrived, Cat stirred a heaped spoon of sugar into her mug and sipped thoughtfully.
"So what's on your mind, Cathy?"
"Is it that obvious?"
Jimmy shrugged. "Maybe. Maybe a lucky guess." He sipped his coffee, watching her over the rim of his mug. "You look about sixteen today. Lost you look lost. What's wrong?"
It was Cat's turn to shrug. "I don't know, maybe nothing." Tilting her head, she stared out the window. "I guess I just needed to see a familiar face."
Jimmy said nothing. He sipped his coffee and waited.
"Jimmy," Cat said eventually, looking at him earnestly, "do you think I'm a bad person?"
He roared with laughter. "What the hell prompted that?"
She sighed and wrapped her hands around her mug. "Something's happened ... I think I did it."
"You did it? What do you mean?"
Keeping her eyes fixed on Jimmy so she wouldn't miss his reaction, she told the story of Phil McKenzie and Martin Stevenson's kidnapping.
"And how do you think you did it?"
"I don't want Phil to marry this guy ... I want her to marry Ben. You know how I have this ... this ... sixth sense ... thing ...it could be what caused it."
"Cathy, I know you're a bit psychic and I know you and Ben have a really strong bond, I've seen it myself, but I hardly think you made a group of guerrillas on the other side of the world kidnap this guy."
"You of all people know what people can do. Your grandfather was a shaman. You saw some of the things he did."
"Yes *he* was a shaman, you're not." Reaching across the table, he squeezed her hand. "If you made bad things happen every time you *really* wanted something the world would be a real mess ..." He chuckled. " ... wait ... I think you're right ..."
Cat laughed with him and then her face turned serious. "It's just that one part of me is really sorry this happened to Martin and to Phil but one part of me is glad because maybe ... maybe Ben and Phil have a chance."
Becka pulled her Land Rover into a shady spot under a tree. She grinned at Matt.
"You unload the climbing gear and I'll go tell Earl we're here."
Matt nodded agreement and smiled his winning smile at Becka. She blew him a quick kiss and went off in search of the Native American man whose mountains they were about to climb. She would not climb without his blessing.
Becka had met Earl Muldon at a market during her first week in Kitimat. A Gitskan hereditary chief and a master silversmith, Earl held a stall at the Kitimat market each month. Becka was a regular visitor to his stall and after her second expensive purchase he had invited her out to his home to see his workshop and the more unusual items he kept there.
Although captivated by the exquisite jewellery he made, Becka had been more interested in the mountains behind his house; the same mountains the elder watched from the window of his studio as he worked each day. It reawakened her interest in climbing and she had been coming once a week to climb a new route and put her skills to the test.
Becka knew where she would find Earl in his studio. He was working on a new range of rings wedding rings. From the first time she saw them, Becka hoped one day she would be asking Earl to make one of his rings for her. She tried to think about Matt slipping one of Earl's rings onto her finger, but each time she thought about it, he looked more and more like TJ McKenzie. So she stopped thinking about it.
She greeted the grey haired man in his own language and when he looked up from his work he flashed a broad smile at her, showing off a row of even white teeth.
"Rebecca! I should have known you'd be out today. The weather is perfect for climbing."
"Yeah it is," she smiled stepping closer to his bench. "I'm coaching Matt today. I hope he can make it further than last time."
The old man chuckled and raised an eyebrow. "You and Matt are spending a lot of time together."
Becka didn't miss the suggestion in Earl's comment. "He's a nice guy," was all she could say. Her words were sincere enough, but her eyes told a different story.
Earl nodded. He understood. He hoped one day she would find the man he knew she longed for.
Embarrassed to have been read so easily, Becka changed the subject by indicating the silver ring Earl had been working on when she came in. "What's that you're making?"
"You'll like this one." He swivelled the jewellers magnifying mirror so Becka could take a look.
Tucking a lock of hair behind her ear, she leaned forward and looked through the glass. She sucked in a breath. The ring was lovely. It was wide and had a design carved into its surface. She recognised it immediately. It was a stylised wolf, carved in traditional Gitskan style. It made her think of Dief and that made her think of her brother and she felt suddenly sad.
"Why the frown?" Earl asked as Becka straightened.
"The wolf reminds me of my brother."
"And that makes you sad?"
"I'm worried about him. I was hoping things would start looking up in his life and now I'm not so sure."
"If the wolf reminds you of your brother, then he must have a wolf spirit and that means he is strong and loyal. If he's had a hard time, then there is a reason for it and he will weather it well. Be glad for the good that is to come, even if he has to learn first about things that make him sorry."
Becka stared into the old man's dark eyes and wondered if he had any idea how close he was to the truth.
Cook County General was as busy as ever. Ray waited impatiently, Ben patiently, until Rob McKenzie appeared looking harried and gestured for Ben to come into his office.
"I'll be waiting out here, Benny."
Ben stopped and turned to face his friend. "Thank you, Ray, but that's really not necessary."
"I'll be here."
With a short nod, Fraser accepted and let Rob usher him into his office.
"Take a seat, Ben," the older man said closing the door behind him.
Nervous for reasons other than medical, Ben spoke softly. "Thank you for seeing me at such short notice."
Rob leaned against the edge of his desk and folded his arms across his chest, his face a blank mask. "I've actually stopped seeing patients for a while, but when Detective Vecchio called me, he said it was urgent that you were injured in the line of duty." He gave a tight look. "He is rather persistent."
A little intimidated by Rob's stern tone he tried to smooth things over. "Well, yes, you see, I ..."
Rob stopped him before he could tell him anything further. "He also tells me you've been on vacation lately and that you may have aggravated your injuries during that trip."
For a moment Ben froze. Would Rob mention Phil? Did he know what had happened that last night?
"Yes, we were in the Grand Canyon ... " He scoured Rob's face for a sign. "A rafting trip ..."
If Rob knew, he gave no indication. His mind was obviously elsewhere. With barely controlled irritation, he rose and indicated the examining table. "Let's take a look then."
While Ben settled on the table, Rob turned to his desk searching for the Mountie's file. It wasn't there.
"Damn it! I forgot to pick up your file." He scratched his head and stood wavering in the centre of the room for a second. Waving a hand at Ben he said, "Take off your shirt and I'll go dig it out."
Rob raced suddenly from the room leaving Ben alone and vaguely unsettled.
He removed his shirt and waited patiently for the return of his doctor. It surprised him to see Rob so distracted. During his prolonged stay in hospital after Ray had shot him, Ben had had the opportunity to see Rob in action many times and even at his busiest he was never anything less than the model of efficiency and his bedside manner never wavered. He hoped nothing was wrong. Before he could ponder it any further, Rob returned with his file and x-rays.
"Sorry, Ben," he apologised, sounding calmer this time, "I've got a lot on my mind at the moment."
Ben smiled and told him it was OK, but he couldn't stop a question niggling at the back of his mind.
Has something happened to Phil?
Rob pulled on a pair of latex gloves and moved behind Ben. As soon as he laid his hands on the Mountie's back, the phone rang. In one move he tore the gloves from his hand and snatched up the phone. His bad mood of a few minutes ago was back instantly.
"I'm with a patient," he snarled into the phone, then dropped it back into its cradle, not waiting for a response.
Ben jumped at Rob's tone. Never before had he heard the other man speak like this.
As soon as he saw the startled look on his face, Rob apologised. Ben brushed off his apology, telling him he understood.
"It's a difficult time now. One of my colleagues ... a friend is missing... you may have heard about it ... never mind ... "
Ben eyes widened. A colleague, a friend. It wasn't Phil. He breathed a sigh of relief. "I'm terribly sorry, Dr McKenzie. Perhaps I should make another appointment?"
"No, you're here now. Let's take a look."
As soon as the examination began, the phone rang again. This time Rob looked at Ben before answering. Ben indicated that he should take the call. He tried not to eavesdrop, but one part of the conversation made his ears prick up.
"I told you I'm with a patient. The only thing I want to be disturbed for is to hear that Martin is OK."
Ben's eyebrows shot up. Martin? Rob's friend was called Martin? Phil's fiance was called Martin. Could it be the same man? Was there more to Phil's story than he knew? Could this be the reason for her not contacting him? Short of asking the man in the room with him, the only way he could find out would be to call Cat. It seemed he wouldn't be able to put that call off any longer.
As soon as Phil and TJ were through the door of her apartment, Chance came from nowhere, dashing down the hall and rubbing against Phil's leg.
She laughed and bent to pick him up. He settled contentedly against her purring loudly.
TJ smiled at the scene and ruffled his sister's hair. "Go take a seat, Flip. I'll make you a sandwich. I bought some groceries for you this morning."
Moved by her brother's thoughtfulness, Phil kicked the door shut and followed him into the apartment. She reached up and kissed his cheek. "Thanks, TJ."
It wasn't too long before TJ joined Phil in the living room with a club sandwich for each of them and a jug of lemonade. Phil smiled her thanks and set Chance aside while she ate.
"You were hungry."
"You were right. I haven't been eating properly."
"That's not helping Martin. You need to keep your strength up."
"I told you, TJ, I'm fine. Things are a bit ... confused right now. I have to put all my energy into making sure Martin is OK and then when he comes home we can go back to normal."
"Ah, Flip, don't do this. Don't ignore reality. You and I both know he may not come home."
Phil set her plate down and fixed her brother with a determined stare. "He *will* come home. He *has* to. I *promised*." Her voice grew rough. "I will make this sacrifice to ensure that he does and then I will find a way... " Realising suddenly how much she had unwittingly revealed, Phil stopped.
TJ stared at his sister. He understood her denial. "This isn't a game, Phil. This is for real. I don't know what's going on in your head, but you have to accept that this is *so* out of your control. And what sacrifice? As much as I wish it were different, there is absolutely nothing that you or me or anyone can do that will ensure his safety. Don't you see that?"
Her thoughts suddenly filled with Ben and what she must tell him, her voice was shaky when she answered. "You don't understand."
"I do. Better than you know."
Her emotions finally getting the better of her, Phil began to cry. "No. No, you don't. This isn't what happened with Noelle. This is different."
"Why is it different? Make me understand, Phil. All I see is my sister making herself sick because someone she cares about is in trouble. I want Martin to come home safely as much as anyone, but to he honest, I'm more concerned about you."
Phil stared at her brother during his impassioned plea. She knew he worried for her, but he could not understand the things she felt, she knew that by the things he said.
"I slept with Ben at Flagstaff." The words fell from her lips of their own volition.
Phil shot to her feet and paced away from her brother. "You heard. Me and Ben. We made love. We had sex. We *fucked*, TJ. More than once."
She spun to face him, her face twisted with emotion. "Come on, TJ. Don't tell me you're surprised. Your little sister has a sex life. Isn't that what you wanted?"
TJ rose slowly, not sure how to ask what he knew he must. "Did you ...I hope ..."
"Don't worry. We were safe. Physically, at least."
"What do you mean?"
"There's no prophylactic for emotions, is there? You can't put a condom on your heart."
Moved almost to tears by his sister's uncharacteristic harsh words, TJ reached for her and pulled her against his chest. "What are you saying, Phil?"
Exhausted and overwhelmed, she collapsed against TJ's solid bulk and sobbed out the whole story. She told him about the unexpected meeting, their conversations over the two weeks, Ben's ultimatum and their final night together. She told him about her visit with Lloyd and how he had demanded she put an end to the anguish one way or another and the decision she made on the rock by the swimming hole. As a gnawing fear started in the pit of TJ's stomach she told him about the promise she had made during her flight home.
"Dear God, Phil," TJ ground out. His gentle, troubled sister was prepared to forego her own happiness in the belief that it would bring Martin home. "It doesn't work like that."
"I made a deal with God."
Remembering only too well his pain after Noelle's death, TJ was too skeptical to accept it could be that easy. He prayed that this time God would be more compassionate. He swayed slightly, rocking Phil as she cried. He had held her like this so many times in her life and too many of those times had been related to Benton Fraser. He prayed that it would stop soon.
"I think you need to sleep," TJ told his sister when her sobs slowed. "Let me put you to bed."
Phil did not protest. She let TJ lead her to her bedroom, only vaguely aware of his comment about the state of the room. She knew it was a mess.
"You've got clothes everywhere," TJ told her as he pushed her into a sitting position on the edge of the unmade bed.
"I'm sorry ..." her voice trailed off.
TJ kneeled in front of her to remove her shoes. "Flip, I don't give a damn about the mess. It's you I care about, you're normally a neat freak." He caught sight of the pack she must have taken with her to the Canyon. It lay abandoned at the foot of the bed, still bulging with the accoutrements of her trip. "Jesus, you haven't even unpacked."
"I'll do it later," Phil promised as TJ slid her sandals from her feet and pulled her into a standing position.
"You'll have to sleep in the guest room. These sheets need changing."
Phil didn't protest as TJ pulled her down the hall to her tiny guest room. She was asleep before he even pulled the covers over her.
Her conscience not at all eased by the visit with Jimmy Sunsinger, Cat steered her truck towards the mall in search of some other distraction. Retail therapy was not normally a theory she ascribed to, but today she was bored, restless, and just a little bit sorry not to be working. Anything was worth a try.
Midweek the mall was empty and she parked right by the entrance. Within seconds Cat was in the heart of the mall strolling past shops she normally rushed by. She stopped outside a tiny candy store that sold home made chocolates. This was exactly what she needed. The aroma drew her inside.
A glass cabinet ran the width of the store, with three shelves of handmade delicacies that had her drooling. When the proprietor of the store smiled and offered her a sample, Cat knew she was lost. As the delicious chocolate melted in her mouth she thought instantly of another chocolate fan. Phil. A broad smile lit her face and she began pointing out her selections.
Five minutes later she emerged with two small boxes of chocolates, one each for her and Phil and an idea that would occupy her for the rest of the afternoon.
Two hours later she had collected numerous items ready to be packed and sent off to Chicago. If she couldn't be there with her, then Phil would at least know that she was thought of. Armed only with her knowledge of some of Phil's preferences and her own thoughts about what a woman in distress needed, Cat had selected her items carefully.
Her first choice was something lavender. She had hoped to purchase the lavender shampoo that had excited Phil during her visit to the mall, but the store was out of stock and could not say when they would have some. She opted instead for bath salts, scented with real cold pressed lavender oil and packaged into a handmade papier-mache box, itself a work of art. Next was a pair of soft cotton, sage green summer pyjamas, with boxer style shorts and button through shirt top. Cat knew Phil's favourite colour was green and these pyjamas were feminine without being frilly, just like Phil.
The next item was one Cat was not so sure of, for it was her taste and she could only guess that it would bring Phil pleasure. It was CD of traditional Native American flute music played by a Taos Pueblo man famous for his haunting style. She found it soothing to listen to at night and hoped Phil would too.
Next came something that Cat would not normally buy: a small stuffed animal. It was a polar bear, something close to her heart. Polar bears had been her parents' subject of study for a great many years. She hoped it would remind Phil of Canada.
Cat purchased a small cardboard box to pack it in. It was an impulse purchase because the box was decorated with columbines. She packed the items into the box, along with her original purchase of chocolate and filled any empty spaces with fudge and other sweets and a selection of crystals purchased from an esoteric bookshop. On top she placed a hunter green silk scarf she found just as she was about to leave the mall.
With the box sealed, she set off for the post office where she packaged it into a larger padded one and sent if south to Phil. When she set off for home, her heart was lighter than when the day started. She only hoped Phil liked her gift.
Ray wasn't much good at waiting. Every two minutes he glanced at the door through which Ben and Rob McKenzie had disappeared. What was going on in there? He had two worries. First and foremost he was concerned about Ben's back. He knew the fall had aggravated his back injury and that was not good. In addition, the bullet in Ben's back, from Ray's own gun, was on the move and no one could say what long-term damage it could do.
Then there was Phil. Ray was unsure if he had done the right thing in pushing his friend to resolve things. If his back was seriously injured and needed surgery, he would not have the energy to deal with the news Phil had for him.
Leaning his head back against the pale green wall of the waiting area, Ray closed his eyes briefly and thought about Ben. In the time they had been friends there had been so little joy in the Mountie's life. There had been a brief sign of lightness in his eyes when Victoria had reappeared in his life. Ray almost smiled as he remembered the day he appeared at Ben's door asking him if he had a woman inside. When Ben had replied, there had been a childlike innocence that had touched Ray to the depths of his soul and warmed him in a way he rarely thought about. But that had been snuffed out as quickly as it appeared when Victoria had turned on both of them with a venom Ray had rarely seen in all his years of police work.
He thought he would never see his friend smile. During Cat's visit over the Holidays, Ray saw a far different side of Ben and once Cat told him of the young Benton Fraser that she had fallen in love with, Ray's despair grew deeper, for the other man's loss went far deeper than he could ever imagine. It seemed that in the years since he had met Victoria Ben's life had gone from that of a carefree, ambitious young police officer to a haunted and withdrawn man.
But now Ray knew that it was about more than Victoria. The reason for Ben's sadness was the hole Phil McKenzie had left in his life.
During their Grand Canyon vacation, Ray saw first hand all that Ben had lost. The morning after spending the night with Phil, he had been relaxed and smiling, his body wearing his contentment easily. The possibility of the two of them reconciling made Ray happy, too. He looked forward to getting to know the Ben Fraser that both Phil and Cat had told him so much about.
But there was a bad side to the good. Ray now shared the knowledge that Cat and Phil had both tried to keep from him. Ben had fathered a child. How devastating would that knowledge be?
A shiver ran through Ray and he sat upright, blinking to clear his thoughts. Leaning forward he clasped his hands together and rested his elbows on his knees. He glanced briefly at the door to Rob McKenzie's office. 'What's going on in there?' he wondered. 'Will Benny need surgery?' Before long, his mind was full of all the things he had learned about the bullet in Ben's back. He knew the risks. And it terrified him. Was this the right time to be pushing Ben and Phil together?
It didn't take TJ long to get Phil's bedroom tidied up. He remade the bed with her favourite sheets; pale lavender linen. He collected the dirty clothing strewn around the room, shaking his head and frowning at his sister's state of distress. Never before had he seen her live like this. Even during the worst of her despair after her break up with Ben she had never left her belongings like this.
Between the sheets and clothing, he had almost enough for a load of laundry. The clothes in Phil's pack would surely complete it. He reached for the pack and began emptying the contents onto the bedroom floor. After removing the clothes and taking them to the laundry room, TJ returned and began to sort the rest of the equipment.
Harnesses, ropes and the like went into a plastic tub to be cleaned and repaired when Phil was in a better state. Her notes and files went into her office for filing. Finally the only item remaining was a large bag of 35mm film canisters. TJ knew his sister loved to take photos on her trips and one of the delights for the team members was receiving a trip album personalised by Phil. She never told her group they would receive it. She would send it to them a few weeks after the trip. TJ knew she had received many letters and calls of praise for her albums personalised to each member. Maybe this was something she should be doing now to keep her occupied. He would take the rolls of film to Jeff for processing.
After leaving the hospital, Ray drove Ben to the Consulate. He accompanied his friend to Inspector Thatcher's office to explain his prolonged absence. All set to chew them both out, she was silenced when Ray produced a short letter written by Rob McKenzie. Meg Thatcher pursed her lips when she read it. Her previous experience with Dr McKenzie had left a sour taste and she did not like this reminder of her insensitivity. Finally, she sent Ben home for the remainder of the day.
The late afternoon sun cast long shadows as Ray left Ben's apartment building. He hesitated for a moment on the sidewalk, wondering if he should go back upstairs and demand his friend come to his house for dinner. He didn't like the thought of him being alone at this time. The thought passed as quickly as it had arrived; Ben was in no state to deal with the ferocious attention of his sister. Best to leave him rest.
Ray shrugged and set off towards the Riv. He was too restless and worried to go back to work. Unlocking the door, he slid into the driver's seat and dropped his head back onto the headrest. Why did this have to be so complicated? Why couldn't Phil just give him her answer and let Ben get on with his life? What was taking so long?
With a resigned sigh, he started the engine and steered the car into the traffic with no real destination in mind.
Diefenbaker's nails clipped on the hardwood floor of apartment 3J. Ben listened to his approach and dropped his hand to meet the animal he knew would find there. He ruffled Dief's fur and let his hand hang when the wolf, satisfied with the greeting, wandered away.
A shiver ran through him and he was suddenly more weary than he could ever remember being. Moving as if on automatic pilot, Ben lowered himself to his narrow cot and took off his boots. Then, in an uncharacteristic move that told of his tiredness, he lay down, still fully clothed, and pulled a thin blanket over his weary body.
It seemed that sleep, like every other thing he wanted, was to elude him. Although his body ached and his limbs lay heavy on the thin mattress, his mind thrummed with energy and that energy had only one source: Phil McKenzie.
What was he to do? He thought about what he had learned from Rob McKenzie and wondered if there was a connection. Was Phil's fianc the man that Rob spoke of? Was this the reason for her silence?
Or was there more to it than that? In the cold light of day had she simply decided that contemplating a relationship with him was too risky?
A thought hit him and his heart suddenly pounded. Pressuring Phil to give him an answer was the wrong way to handle her. She was a willful woman and did not take kindly to being told what to do. Plus, if her fianc were the man Rob spoke of she would surely be in no state of mind to consider his ultimatum.
Ben slapped a hand to his forehead. How could he be so stupid? In the way he was beginning to recognise as the selfishness Cat had claimed it to be, he had made the demand, thinking only to end his own pain. He had given no thought to Phil. He had made a mistake and he was suddenly, painfully sorry.
He rolled onto his side and stared at Dief asleep on the floor, not for the first time envying the wolf's simple life and easy slumber. Maybe he would take the pain medication Rob had pressed on him at the hospital.
It was the early hours of the next morning before Phil awakened. The light spilling from around the blind illuminated the room enough to show her she had slept in her spare room. It took a moment for her to recall how she came to be there.
She smiled when she remembered how TJ had taken care of her the day before. She knew she was lucky to have brothers like that. Then her thoughts drifted naturally to Rob. TJ was right: Martin was his friend and he was suffering too. It was time she shook off her despair and rejoined the world. She couldn't help Martin any other way.
It was time to face the demons she had avoided.
First on that list of demons was Benton Fraser. Phil knew he awaited her answer. She also knew that the reason she had not given it to him was because the answer she knew she must give was not the answer she wanted to give.
Flinging the sheet away, Phil swung her feet over the edge of the bed and headed for the bathroom. There were other, more pressing, tasks awaiting her and she suddenly needed to get to her office.
Ray was never a morning person at the best of times, but today he was worse than normal. He shoved the door of Chicago's 27th precinct so hard that it slammed against the wall, causing the desk sergeant to snarl in his direction. Ray ignored him and stomped up the stairs, irritated by his lack of sleep and his concern for things that he wished he didn't have to think about at all.
Elaine beckoning to him as he charged his way through the bullpen's swinging doors made things immediately worse.
"You're late, Ray," she told him, fending off his anger with expertise. "Welsh has been bellowing for you for the last twenty minutes."
"Jeeee sus!" Ray intoned. "Can't a guy get a cup of coffee before the world starts hassling him?"
The Civilian Aide opened her mouth to reply, but Welsh beat her to the punch, leaning out the door of his office. "Vecchio! In here! Now!"
There was no ignoring the summons. Ray looked imploringly at Elaine who just shrugged and returned to her work. He straightened his tie and headed towards Welsh's office.
"You wanted to see me?" he asked innocently, hovering in the doorway, one hand on the doorknob.
"I wanted to see you half an hour ago," Welsh snarled at the Detective, "at your appointed start time." Holding up his hand to forestall anything Ray would have said, he waved him into the room. "Spare me, Vecchio. Just shut the goddamn door and sit down."
Ray stepped fully into the room and shut the door behind him. Only then did he realise that there was someone else in the room. Lounging on the small sofa, at an angle that had kept him hidden from the other side of the half glass wall, was a thin, angular, blonde man.
"Hey," Ray said in grudging acknowledgement of the other man's presence. Something about this situation was starting to make him uncomfortable.
"Thanks for gracing us with your presence, Detective Vecchio," Welsh said as Ray settled onto a chair. "I'd like you to meet Detective Kowalski."
The blonde flowed from the sofa with a grace that Ray had to admire. He held out his hand.
Ray looked him up and down, taking in the shapeless jeans sitting low on his hips, the dull, wrinkled grey cotton shirt that looked like something from a thrift shop and the aviator sunglasses tucked into the neckline, all set off by the ragged blonde hair that looked like it had never seen a comb. He grimaced. This guy was no detective. Grudgingly, Ray shook the proffered hand.
"Yeah?" Welsh challenged, "Deal with it, Detective. You two are working together on this car theft thing."
"Car theft? What car theft thing?"
Welsh fixed him with a strong gaze and asked in a voice dripping with sarcasm, "Tell me, Vecchio, do you ever read the bulletins that go around?"
Ray gave a look that spoke eloquently of his thoughts. Detective Kowalski melted back onto the sofa and watched the banter between the two men with a hint of amusement showing in his eyes.
"As much as it pains me to tell you this, your arrest rate this year has made the 27th look good enough for someone up town to finally approve my request for another detective." He indicated Kowalski on the sofa. "Hence Detective Kowalski's presence."
Ray's mouth hung open and he turned to stare at the blonde detective with renewed displeasure. "So you mean him and me .... " his voice trailed off.
"That's exactly what I mean. Now, Detective Kowalski has been working on cracking a car theft ring and if you two can work it together it will mean that we benefit from his work of the past year."
"Can it, Vecchio. It's happening. It's time you had a partner."
"I got Fraser."
Welsh rolled his eyes. "Look, Vecchio, Fraser isn't on staff and he's not working here officially. We never know when the Dragon Lady is going put him on sentry duty. As much as I like claiming credit for the work you two do together, the reality is it ain't going to last forever. Now I suggest you and Detective Kowalski go somewhere and get to know each other. Building Services is bringing up another desk and the phone line and computer will be working in a couple of hours."
Detective Kowalski rose and waited for Ray to do the same. Instead he sat gaping at Welsh.
"What are you waiting for, Vecchio? Go. You've got a lot of catching up to do on this case."
Lurching out of his chair, Ray indicated the blonde man should follow him.
"C'mon. I don't got all day."
Kowalski looked at Welsh, who just shrugged his shoulders. Eventually he followed Ray into the bullpen.
Ben arrived at work early. After his restless night and the mild twinge in his back, he was keen to be occupied. Plus, he needed to make a telephone call. He wasn't sure what he hoped to learn or even how he would go about asking and he was not even sure Cat would tell him anyway. He dialled the string of numbers he knew by heart, not surprised when it answered after the first ring.
Several hundred miles to the north, Cat smiled at the voice she would know anywhere. "I was wondering when I'd hear from you."
"Didn't you get my letters?" Ben aimed for innocence but didn't quite make it.
"Yeah, I got your letters," Cat answered, not bothering to mask her knowing tone, "but I was sure you'd call."
Ben knew his feigned innocence did not fool Cat, but he continued anyway. "You know I don't have a phone and I really don't like using the Consulate phone."
"So why are you calling now?" Her voice dripped with smugness.
"Well, I ... "
"Ben, I know Phil led your Canyon trip."
'That's it, Cat. I can always rely on you to cut to the chase', Ben thought as he struggled for an answer.
"Ah ... yes ... of course you do." He took a breath before asking his next question. "You've spoken to her then?" Had Phil shared her thoughts with Cat? Would she give him good news?
"Not for about two months," Cat said quickly, dispelling any hope that Ben had of getting answers, "but she did send me a card."
"Oh ...well ..."
Ben's voice trailed off. He didn't know what to say next, but he need not have worried for Cat jumped in and addressed the very point that had plagued him for two weeks.
"Look, I have no idea what went on down there, but I know you must be pretty confused right now. You just need to give Phil some time."
"What if I can't wait?" he asked, a note of petulance creeping into his voice in a way that he only let happen with Cat.
Cat heard his tone and ignored it as she always did. She wondered if anyone Ray ever saw this side of his friend.
"You have to. Phil has things going on in her life ... she will call you, Ben."
"Things? What things? I don't understand, Cat. What is it you're not telling me?"
Cat sighed. This was territory they had covered before and she did not want to visit again. "I can't tell you any more. We've had this discussion before. When Phil's ready to tell you, she will."
When Ben finally ended the conversation with Cat he was more confused and distressed than he had been before. What was it that Cat would not tell him? Was Phil in some sort of trouble? What could be more important than the ultimatum he had given her?
"Phil! I wasn't expecting you." Mark set down his first coffee of the day and rounded his desk to greet his employer. "Did the High Commission throw you out?"
Since her return from the Grand Canyon two weeks earlier, the BakTrak employees had grown used to Phil leaving for the Cambodian High Commission early in the morning and not returning until the end of the day. They saw her only if they chanced upon her in the elevator.
"No, Mark," Phil replied a little shyly. "TJ convinced me there really is no point me sitting in the foyer of the Cambodian High Commission all day. I mean, that's not going to get Martin released any faster and I'm neglecting my business and ... and ... you and Jeff have been so great ... "
"This isn't just a job, Phil ... "
Phil's eyes misted over. Since her return and seeming abandonment of her company, Mark and Jeff had been supportive and patient with her, working long hours to keep on top of everything.
Phil couldn't answer. Instead, she reached for her colleague and pulled him into a brief hug.
"So where's Jeff?" she asked as Mark released her.
"He's at another meeting with Whitneys Stockbrokers." Mark settled onto the edge of his desk as Phil settled into a chair. "They want to add a climbing and rappelling leg to their Team Building Package. Jeff's trying to sound out how serious they are."
Phil frowned. "That means we'll have to employ a climb leader and we really shouldn't do that until we know for sure that's what Whitneys want." She enjoyed the opportunity to slip into her business persona again and leave behind her worries, if only for a moment.
"Do you want me to start looking for someone?"
Did she want that? Was BakTrak ready for another employee? Could she afford it? She hadn't even thought to check BakTrak's finances lately and she hadn't spoken to her accountant for two months. How did this happen? How did she get to the point where she had no idea what her own company was doing?
Mark saw her distress. "I'm sorry, Phil. Now isn't the time to talk about it. You've got too many things on your mind."
She shook off the growing panic and sat upright, her face giving nothing away. "No, Mark, I have to keep on top of things."
"There's a pile of things on your desk I really need you to look at," Mark said, relieved that Phil was ready to take an interest again.
"Good," Phil rose, a blank mask snapping into place. She pointed in the direction of her office. "That's where I'll be if you need me."
"So, Kowalski, don't think you're going muscle in on my cases and take the credit."
"I was going to say the same thing to you, Vecchio. I'm the one who brought this stolen car ring to light and I've got a year's worth of case notes to prove it. Don't *you* go thinking you're going to take the credit for it."
Ray muttered something under his breath in Italian and Kowalski dutifully ignored it.
"I know you and the Mountie got some sort of crack team thing going on. Every cop in Chicago is talking about it. I didn't take this transfer to get a piece of your action. I took it cause the 27th has got the best arrest rate in Chicago and it's good for my career to work here."
"And why do we got the best arrest rate? Cause of me. And I ain't going to let you just waltz in here and mooch off of me."
"From what I hear, your record was pretty much like shit before the Mountie came along."
Ray cursed long and hard in Italian, then in English.
"For chrissakes, Vecchio. I didn't take this transfer to personally piss you off. Why don't you just lose the fucking attitude and let's do some real cop work."
"Fuck you, Kowalski."
"Nah. You're not my type. Got a sister?"
Ray gave him a look that could cut glass, then strode off to the coffee room. Kowalski watched the Italian lope away from him, shook his head, and wondered why he had taken this transfer. After a moment he followed.
"Good morning, Elaine," Ben greeted the Civilian Aide as he came into the bullpen. Feeling restless after his call with Cat, he had chosen to come and make his statement about the chase the day before, rather than leave it to after work as he had originally planned.
"Hi, Fraser," she smiled in return. "Are you OK after yesterday's injury?"
"Yes, thank you kindly. I took some pain medication yesterday and I've had a deep sleep. Today I feel quite refreshed."
"I'm glad. If you're looking for Ray, he's in the coffee room."
He tipped his hat. "Thank you kindly, Elaine."
With that he headed in the direction of the coffee room, Diefenbaker on his heels. Ben heard Ray's voice ranting at someone as he rounded the corner.
"How can I run this if I don't see your notes?"
Then came a voice that Ben did not recognise. "You're *not* seeing the notes and you're *not* running this, Vecchio. I am."
"Fuck you, Kowalski."
"You already said that. You got to get some new lines."
Ben appeared in the doorway before Ray could let fly with a response.
"Good morning, Ray."
"Benny. Thank god you're here." He flew from his seat, blocking the entrance to the room. "You're not going to believe what's happened."
Ben looked around Ray, trying to see whom he had argued with. "Is something wrong?"
"You betcha something's wrong."
Before Ray could tell Ben the story, the Mountie caught sight of the fair-haired man at the table. His eyes widened and his normal cool composure was instantly gone.
He grabbed Ray's arm and dragged him into the corridor. "Ray, I really must speak to you."
"What is it, Benny? What's got you agitated?"
"That man in the coffee room. He's the one I saw breaking into the car yesterday."
"What?" Ray screwed up his face and ran a hand across the top of his head. "He's a cop, Fraser."
"I'm telling you, Ray. He's the man I chased yesterday." He leaned closer and spoke conspiratorially. "I never forget a face."
Ray studied his companion for a moment. What he said was true. He was rarely wrong. Did that mean Kowalski was working a case that had seen Ben injured? His list of reasons for despising the blonde detective had just grown. His eyes took on a feral gleam and he turned back to the coffee room where the other man awaited him.
"Kowalski, you asshole, you got some explaining to do."
"The trip photos are ready, Phil. Do you want me to pick them up?"
Phil's head jerked up when she heard the voice of her friend and colleague, Jeff Bowers. She had been so caught up in trawling through the piles of notes, files and correspondence that had accumulated on her desk that she hadn't even heard his return to the BakTrak office.
"Oh, the photos ... " her voice trailed off.
With all that had ensued since her hasty return to Chicago, the photos from the Canyon trip were long forgotten. TJ told her he had given them to Jeff. Ever efficient and vigilant, Jeff had taken all her trip files and seen to all the things she had no mind for, photo processing included. After two weeks of spending most of her days sitting in the lobby of the Cambodian High Commission and learning more about that country's politics than she cared to know, Phil was ready for a distraction.
"I'll go," Phil answered hastily, "a walk would do me good."
"I can go," Jeff answered, slightly troubled by the faraway look in her eyes.
"No, no, I want to go."
Phil stepped out from behind her desk gathering up her purse and new cellphone as she did. She had heeded Rob's advice and purchased the phone as soon as she had landed in Chicago. Now she carried it everywhere, ever hopeful of some good news of Martin.
"I have my cellphone," Phil said, walking into the main reception area of BakTrak and stopping by Jeff's desk. "If William Stevenson calls, give him the number ... and if ... "
"I know, Phil," Jeff said as he followed her, "anyone from the High Commission or from Boston."
She smiled sadly, glancing from Jeff to Mark, who lounged in the doorway of his office. "Thanks guys." Clipping her phone onto her belt, she left the office.
On the street Phil enjoyed the guilty pleasure of walking in the midday sun. For the briefest moment she allowed herself to forget her troubles. For the five minutes it would take to walk to the photographic shop there would be no Ben, no Martin, no BakTrak. For that moment she was free.
She never saw the car that hit her.
"You were *undercover*?" Ray's voice rose to a shrill register. "A fact you neglected to mention? What the fuck is your problem, Kowalski?"
Ray Kowalski leaned back in his chair and look nonchalant. "I ain't *got* no problem, Vecchio. I was working my case the way I saw fit. I was wearing the colours. Didn't you see me?"
Ray swallowed. All plain-clothes cops wore a coloured bandanna to identify themselves to other cops when they were on the street. Each day the chosen colour was written in large blue letters on top of the case board in the bullpen. Had he stopped to check the board yesterday? Had he looked for the colour before he unclipped his gun as he chased Ben and Kowalski down the street? Placing his hands flat on the table he leaned over the other detective and tried to look menacing.
"Hey, asshole," he said, less confidently than before, "every lowlife scum in Chicago wears colours. Why should I think you're a cop?"
Kowalski looked up at him through lowered lashes wearing an expression that made Ray want to slap him.
"Did you know what the colours were yesterday?"
Ray pushed away from the desk. "Fuck you, Kowalski."
Kowalski shook his head. "Man, that's getting old. You need a scriptwriter."
"F ... bite me." Ray made a gesture with one hand. "The fact is, Fraser got hurt cause of you."
Kowalski was about to give a reply that was obviously colourful. Ben stepped between the men and held up his hands.
"Gentlemen, please. Yes, I was injured, but not seriously. Besides, I am at fault here. I was the one who saw Detective Kowalski and presumed him to be a criminal. I did not check the colours for the day, nor did I check to see if the man I was chasing was wearing them." He turned to the blonde. "Detective Kowalski, I am terribly sorry to have caused this trouble."
Ray surged between them. "You're *apologising*? Benny, are you nuts?"
Before anyone could say anything further, Detective Huey appeared in the coffee room doorway.
"Kowalski, Uniform is just bringing in a guy that matches the description of your car thief. Your surveillance team spooked him and he took off in a stolen car. Ploughed through an intersection and took out six people. They've all been taken to Cook County."
Kowalski flowed from his seat and slapped Ray on the shoulder as he headed to the door.
"C'mon, Vecchio, we got witnesses to interview." He brushed past Ben as he headed out the door. "Nice meeting you, Fraser. See you round."
Ray snarled and started to speak, but the look on Ben's face stopped him. "I'll drop you off at the Consulate, Benny."
At Cook County it took only a few minutes to locate someone to direct the detectives to the victims. After a hasty discussion about questions, they separated and set about the task of interviewing three witnesses each. The both concurred it would be easier to split the load and work separately.
Ray's first two interviews were over in minutes. Neither man had seen the car that hit them and could tell Ray nothing that would help further Kowalski's case. He stopped in the corridor for a moment to gather his thoughts after the events of the morning. With his concern for Ben and the sudden assignment of a new partner, today was not turning out to be one of his better days. He wished he were anywhere but where he was. The interviews were a waste of time. As soon as he had his third, he would find Kowalski and high tail it back to the House. If they were going to be stuck together, there were a few things he wanted to get straight with the other detective first.
He pushed away from the wall, straightened his tie and demanded a nurse direct him to the third victim. She pointed to a small glass walled cubicle and when Ray turned away she did something else with another finger that he didn't see.
Already anticipating the results of the interview, he was talking and flashing his badge as he opened the door.
"Detective Vecchio, Chicago PD." Without looking up he whipped out his notepad. "I know you didn't see anything, so let's start with your name."
"Ray?" said a feminine voice.
At the sound of his name, Ray's head snapped up, his eyes widening at the sight of the familiar dark haired woman in the bed.
"Phil? What the hell are you doing here?" The last time he had seen her was in the Vishnu Room when he had given her the keys to the room he shared with Ben.
She rolled her eyes and indicated her bandaged arm and shoulder. "I was wondering that myself. Now I've ended up with a dislocated shoulder. What I want to know is why this always happens to me."
Dragging a chair close to the bed, Ray sat down and stared at the dark-haired beauty on the bed. "I can't believe it."
"That's what I thought when that wretched car threw me into a trash can."
"But how ... why ... ?"
"Ray, you're the cop. I think you're supposed to tell me." She covered her face with her hand and burst into tears. "Why is this happening to me?"
Phil's sudden mood change had Ray out of his chair and onto the bed in a heartbeat. He gathered her into a hug and stroked her hair. "Phil. You're OK. We'll get this guy, don't worry."
She pushed away and stared up at him. "You're just like all the others, Ray. You don't understand." She indicated her shoulder again. "This is nothing. You have no idea what I'm going through."
Completely bewildered and a little frightened by the look in Phil's eyes, Ray slid back to his chair.
"Tell me about it. Tell me what happened."
She fixed him with a stony glare and told him what had taken place since the last time they had seen each other. Ray leaned forward and took her free hand, his eyes widening with each new thing she told him. As she neared the end of her story the door opened and Ray Kowalski appeared in the doorway.
"Hey, Vecchio. I'm done."
Ray didn't take his eyes off Phil. "Get out of here, Kowalski."
"I just want to know how much longer you're going to be."
Ray turned his head slightly so that he could see Kowalski out of the corner of his eye. "Fuck *off*, Kowalski."
The blonde held his hands up and withdrew into the corridor.
Ray returned his attention to Phil. "I don't know what to say, Phil."
She shrugged and a coldness filled her eyes. "Nothing to say, Ray. This is my life. Nothing ever goes right for me. Tell Ben he's better off without me, anyway."
"I will not. Anything you want to say to Benny you're going to have to say yourself."
Phil said nothing. She just gave a determined stare that Ray recognised as unmovable.
Rob McKenzie took the stairs three at a time, thankful that he had maintained his running regime. His sister was downstairs in Emergency and there was no time to waste. He located Mark Greene who pointed him to the room where Phil waited. Skulking in the corridor outside was a tall, scruffy blonde man. Rob flew at him.
"What are you doing hanging around here? Get back the Waiting area."
Detective Kowalski said nothing. He stared at the man before him and fumbled with his badge. Holding in front of the other man's face he said,
"Detective Kowalski, Chicago PD. I'm waiting for my ..." he hesitated to say the word that described the man in the room behind him, " ... partner."
Rob tried to see into the room. "There's a detective in there?"
Kowalski nodded. Rob pushed past him and shoved the door open. He was angry and worried and had a lot to say to the police about the state of crime in the city. His head was so full of thoughts that he was speaking even before he fully entered the room.
"I'm Dr McKenzie. This is my sister. What are you doing about catching the man who did this?" He came to a complete stop beside the bed; his mouth hanging open when he realised just who sat on the other side.
"What the hell are you doing here, Detective Vecchio?"
Ray saw the other man's stern look and knew its source. He and Rob McKenzie had never really seen eye-to-eye, right from their first meeting, although back then he hadn't known it was because of Ben. And now he had to deal with him twice in as many days.
His lip curled and he bit back on things he really wanted to say. "My job," he snarled, barely controlling himself.
Ray rose to his feet and tucked his notebook into his pocket. He held Rob's eyes for a moment and then turned his attention to the woman on the bed, flashing her a warm smile.
"I'll be in touch, Phil."
He looked over at Rob again and then, because it would annoy him and because he wanted to, Ray leaned down and kissed her on the forehead.
He left the room and joined his new partner in the corridor. Out of the frying pan into the fire, he thought to himself as the blonde pushed away from the cart he leaned on and sauntered over to meet him. Why is this my life? Ray wondered as they left the hospital.
"That was completely uncalled for, Rob," Phil snapped at her brother. "Ray was just doing his job."
Ray? Rob reached for the chart hanging at the foot of the bed, flipping the pages angrily. It seemed that Ray Vecchio and hence Benton Fraser were destined to remain a part of his life and that was something he could not deal with at this time.
"You seem to be well acquainted with Detective Vecchio," Rob said making it sound almost like an accusation.
"Yes, I am." She crossed her arms and glared at her brother at the foot of the bed. "Ray was on my rafting trip."
Suddenly, something Benton Fraser had said the day before sense. He had said that he and Ray were on vacation in the Grand Canyon and Phil just told him that Ray was on her trip. That meant that Ben was on her trip, too. What was going on? He asked his sister.
"What do you mean?" Phil's bewilderment with her brother's odd behaviour was clear. Why was he acting like this?
Rob let out a long breath and returned Phil's chart to its hanger. Gripping the rail of the bed with both hands, he leaned forward and stared at her with eyes Phil had never seen before.
"I mean, you're seeing Ben while Martin's life is in danger."
Shocked, she sat silent, watching as the man in her brother's clothes stared at her.
"What are you accusing me of?" How had he jumped to this conclusion? Did TJ tell him about Flagstaff? Did he think she was still seeing Ben while Martin was being held captive?
"Why, what have you *done*?"
Rob's implication made her gasp. How could he suggest that? She struggled to find words to say what she wanted. Instead, only tears came.
"Martin loves you. I've known him a long, long time and I've never seen him react to a woman the way he reacted to you. What has Ben ever done for you? Got you pregnant and then dumped you! Didn't even care enough to read your letters. Martin is my *friend*!"
Phil stared at her brother, crying silently, absorbing Rob's onslaught. Why was he doing this? For the first terrifying time in her life all she wanted was to get away from him.
"Martin asked me to marry him before he left," Phil said softly, but firmly. "When he comes home I will tell him yes. I haven't seen Ben since the Canyon and I doubt that I will again." Wiping her eyes with the back of her hand, she met her brother's harsh stare and equalled it. "Now get out of here and don't speak to me unless it's to apologise.
After Rob left the room, Phil took three deep, calming breaths before ringing for a nurse and demanding to check out.
It was a quiet afternoon in the Consulate. Constable Turnbull's shift was finished and Inspector Thatcher had left, saying she was to attend a meeting, although Ben had overheard her make a beauty appointment earlier in the day. It didn't matter either way to him. He enjoyed the rare silence in the big, old building.
With uncharacteristic abandon he pushed his chair back and swung his feet onto his desk, folding his hands into his lap. It was a welcome relief to have no pressing work to attend to. It gave him time to think about things. Of course, it only took a minute for his thoughts to drift to his visit to the 27th precinct earlier that day. It seemed Ray had a new partner, a man who was also named Ray. He frowned. This business of two Rays was definitely set to become confusing. He would just have to address him as Detective Kowalski. But then again, maybe he would not be spending any time together with the two detectives, so the point was moot. Why worry about a situation that may never arise?
Then a thought struck him. If Ray had an official partner there would be less opportunity for him to accompany his friend on cases. Maybe the new Ray would resent his presence, as the old Ray initially had. But then, maybe the new Ray would grow to appreciate his input, just as the old Ray had. But did it mean that Ray would have less time for him in his life? That made Ben sad.
With Becka working in Kitimat and Cat in Moose Jaw, he had come to value the part Ray played in his day-to-day life. He knew he and Ray had always been close, but after sharing the Canyon vacation they had grown closer, more so when Ray learned the extent of his relationship with Phil. That wouldn't change, would it?
Not so relaxed any more, Ben dropped his feet to the carpet and sat upright in his wooden chair. It was important that he address the situation immediately, before the two Rays squeezed him out. He would go to the precinct and talk to Ray about it.
An hour of shoving the less than co-operative stolen car driver around the interview room showed the two Detectives they would get no information out of him for the time being. After a brief argument in the hall outside the interview rooms, the two men finally agreed that some time cooling his heels in the lock up might make the driver more willing to talk. In silence, they returned to their desks to finish the paperwork from their interviews at the hospital.
"How do you want the witness statements filed, Vecchio?" Kowalski asked sometime later, waving the freshly typed statements in the air.
Still smarting from their argument in the hall, Ray tilted his chin petulantly. "*Now* you're asking me what I want?"
Kowalski rolled his eyes. "For crying out loud, just tell me how you file them!"
"Alphabetic order under the case number, if that's OK with you."
Kowalski shrugged and set about his task.
Ray turned back to his computer and continued typing. After a few minutes he spoke without looking up. "And don't ever walk in on my interview again, Kowalski."
Although several hours and another interview had passed, Kowalski knew instantly what the other man referred to. The way Ray had ordered him out of the hospital room had raised his shackles and made him wonder what was really going on.
"Interview?" he scoffed. "Looked to me like you were delivering some pretty heavy lines."
Ray stared at his new partner. Should he tell Kowalski how he knew Phil McKenzie? Did he need to know who she was? That raised another, more important question. Should he tell Ben what he learned today? Should he tell him about Phil's fianc or about her injuries? His eyes strayed from the face of the man opposite him and settled on the other side of the room, looking at, but not seeing, the other detectives at work.
"Yo, Vecchio. You still in there?"
The smart assed tone brought Ray's attention back and he muttered a curse in Italian before returning to his work, leaving his partner to the filing. But he was unable to concentrate. Thoughts of Ben and Phil and their collected tragedies imposed themselves on everything he did.
A little while later Detective Kowalski returned to his chair.
"Filing's done, Vecchio.
Ray lifted his head, his eyes falling instantly on a pile of photographs sitting neatly on the corner of his partner's desk. "What about the polaroids, Kowalski?"
"You didn't tell me you wanted them in there." Kowalski grinned cheekily, seeming to enjoy pissing his new partner off. "You just told me to file the witness statements in alphabetic order under the case number."
Lip already curling in a snarl, he lurched out of his chair and yanked the filing cabinet open. "Not without the goddamn pictures, you moron." Reaching for the stack of pictures they had taken at the hospital, he sat down again and began the task of matching photograph to statement. He stopped when he got to the one of Phil.
"Something between you and her?" Kowalski asked casually, his keen eyes missing nothing.
Ray didn't look up. His thoughts drifted again. "What?"
"You were holding her hand when I came in the room. Thought maybe she was a girlfriend or something."
"Or something not that it's any business of yours Kowalski. She's a ... friend ... of a friend ... " his voice softened and the words dried up. What words could he use to describe Phil?
The fair-haired detective shrugged. "Whatever. Just trying to take an interest. After all, we're going to be spending a lot of time together."
His cocky persona back in place, Ray jerked his head up and stared at his partner. "Don't remind me."
Kowalski clapped one hand over his heart and tipped his head back over dramatically. "I'm hurt."
"Get over it."
The intercom on Ray's desk buzzed before Kowalski could get a witty retort out. It was the desk sergeant downstairs.
"Vecchio, I got a Dr McKenzie here to sign a witness statement."
Phil? Already? Why was she out of hospital so soon? "OK, send her up," he told the desk sergeant, then addressed his partner. "Phil McKenzie's here to sign her statement."
A smug grin crossed Kowalski's face then was gone. "You want to take care of it?" he asked, not even trying to veil the note of sarcasm in his voice.
"Yeah," Ray said, pointedly, snatching up Phil's file as the ping of the elevator sounded. "I'll be in Interview One if you're looking for me."
"Whatever," he tossed at Ray's departing back.
Kowalski peered out into the hall, watching as Ray greeted the woman getting out of the elevator. There was a story there somewhere, but it looked like he wasn't about to find out anytime soon. So what if his partner had a thing for one of the victims? He shrugged and returned to his work.
Ray reached to help Phil as she left the elevator, but she batted his hands away.
"It's just a dislocated shoulder, Ray."
He remembered how stubborn she could be. Pointing the way with the file in his hand, he directed her to the interview room.
"I thought they'd keep you in for observation tonight."
Phil didn't speak until she was seated in the hard wooden chair that had last held the man responsible for her injury.
"I checked out."
"Your brother let you out?" Ray settled on the chair opposite her, not at all surprised by the strained look in her eyes.
Phil fixed him with the determined stare he had come to expect from her. "*I* let myself out. It's just a dislocated shoulder. I've had worse. Rob can be a little overprotective sometimes."
Smiling a little as he thought of his own brotherly behaviour, he threw her a tender look. "Yeah, well brothers are like that."
Phil's face softened and her voice lowered. "I should apologise for his behaviour, Ray."
He shrugged. Rob McKenzie didn't threaten him. "Don't sweat it, Phil. Your brother and I have learned to deal with each other over the past couple of years with Benny's ... well ... " He stopped suddenly, annoyed by his thoughtlessness.
If it upset Phil, she didn't show it. When she spoke her voice was cool and even. "You don't have to be afraid to say his name."
"Ah, Phil, with everything else you got going on you don't need me to add to it."
"Since I met Cat I've had to learn to deal with hearing Ben's name." She knew that there was more to Ray's comment, though. She knew that he, like Ben, was waiting for her to make her decision, but she also knew it was too soon to deal with it. "I *will* deal with the future, but not today, OK?"
Ray smiled and squeezed her hand. "Yeah, I know. I don't mean to pressure you." He pulled back and opened the file he had abandoned on the table. "You came to sign your witness statement."
He slipped a hand inside his coat, reaching for the Waterman pen he kept there. The pocket was empty.
"Wait here while I go get you a pen."
Ray rose and stepped into the corridor, closing the door on Phil in the interview room. He heard the elevator ping and turned his head instinctively towards it in time to see a white furry blur fly into the corridor and come to rest in front of a uniformed police officer who carried a large donut in her hand. Benton Fraser followed, obviously apologising to the woman for Dief's behaviour.
"Oh shit!" the words spurred Ray into action.
He had to stop Ben from seeing Phil. He cursed again, this time under his breath and then dashed down the corridor towards his desk. Skidding to a halt, he grabbed at Detective Kowalski's desk.
"Kowalski, you got to help me. Fraser's coming down the hall. Tell him I'm not here."
"What?" Kowalski looked up from his work, staring disdainfully at his partner. "Why? I'm not going to lie for you, Vecchio."
Ray reached over and grabbed a handful of Kowalski's t-shirt. "We're supposed to be partners right?" he growled. "Well, partners trust each other. Trust *me*."
The sounds of Ben's voice greeting other police officers drifted to them. Kowalski weighed his options. He knew Vecchio's reputation was clean and his arrest record was good. He had no reason not to trust him.
"OK, Vecchio. But you owe me."
Ray patted Kowalski's shirt back in place and, without thanking him, raced away using the back hallway to the interview rooms. The door was still swinging behind him as Ben stepped into the room.
"Good afternoon, Detective Kowalski," Ben greeted the 27th's new addition as he approached his desk.
"Hi, Fraser. Vecchio's not here." He caught sight of the wolf following faithfully behind Ben and rolled his chair as far away as he could get. "Holy shit! Is that a wolf?"
"Oh, yes. How rude of me." He waited until Dief was seated calmly at his side. "Detective Kowalski, allow me to present my companion, Diefenbaker."
"D ... Diefenbaker?"
"Yes. He chose the name himself."
"The wolf chose his own name?"
"Well he *is* rather wilful, but he *has* been a faithful companion." Ben frowned down at Dief. "Except for that one occasion ... but you won't do that again, will you?"
Kowalski shook his head. The Mountie was weirder than any of the stories he had heard had led him to believe. Not for the first time, he wondered why he had taken this transfer. A wolf that chose his own name? A man talking to a wolf like he could understand? Not to mention a partner who dressed like a pimp and had the vocabulary of a sailor. It was too much. How would he ever survive this job? And why was the Mountie still here?
"Look, I told you already, Vecchio's not here."
Clutching his stetson in front of him, Ben shuffled nervously from foot to foot. "Oh, ah, well ... I don't suppose you know when he will return."
"No. Didn't say." Looking back at his computer, he hoped his curtness would make the man leave. But it was not to be. He cocked his head slightly. "Look, is it something I can help you with?"
Ben had a faraway look in his eyes. "No. No. I really needed to speak to Ray."
Kowalski leaned back and assessed the man in front of him. He wondered briefly if the Mountie had a thing for his Italian partner. He shuddered. That would be *really* weird. "Well, maybe he can call you or something?"
"Why, yes, Detective Kowalski." Ben smiled and straightened slightly. "I would appreciate if you could ask him to call me."
"You can call me Ray, you know."
"Ray?" Ben's voice had a nervous edge to it.
"Yeah. It *is* my name."
"Yes. Yes, of course. It's just that ... well ... it could get confusing."
Kowalski shrugged. He had no answer to that.
The two men stared at each other for a moment and then Ben replaced the stetson on his head, nodded once to the new detective and turned to leave. He assumed that Diefenbaker would follow. The wolf had other ideas.
Dief trotted to the door through which Ray had disappeared earlier. Nudging the swinging door open, he headed down the hall past the interview rooms.
"Diefenbaker!" Ben called after him, but of course, the wolf did not hear. "Pay and pay and pay," he muttered softly, following the errant wolf through the doors, expecting to find him on the trail of someone with pastry. He wasn't.
Ben found Diefenbaker sniffing at the entrance to one of the interview rooms. Aware that the wolf would not react to a vocal command, he reached forward and grabbed his collar, tugging him away. Then he heard something that made him recoil. He couldn't be sure, of course, but he was certain that behind the door of interview room two he could hear Ray Vecchio's voice. The implication of that was too much to bear. He fled the precinct without waiting to see if Diefenbaker followed.
"Thanks for coming in to sign your statement, Phil. I wasn't expecting to see you so soon." Ray helped Phil to her feet and opened the door to the interview room. "I thought that brother of yours would keep you in the hospital a bit longer."
Phil swung her bag onto her shoulder and joined Ray at the door. "Rob and I had a slight ... disagreement ... about what is best for me."
Ray couldn't be sure, but he thought he saw a flash of hurt in Phil eyes. Given all she had been through lately he wasn't surprised. Did this mean things were not going well in Cambodia?
"Is there any news?" he asked, unsure about the ethics of asking about the man who might take his best friend's place in her life.
She looked down, avoiding his eyes. "No news."
"I can't tell you how sorry I am."
When she looked up there were tears in her eyes. "Not half as sorry as I am, Ray."
Was there a hidden message in that statement? "If there's anything I can do." He touched her cheek with his fingertips.
"I might just hold you to that." She smiled sadly and shuffled out into the corridor.
Ray followed her to the elevator, waiting until the ping that indicated its arrival on the floor. The silence between them was weighted with an unspoken question.
"I will call him, Ray," Phil said sadly, staring at the floor, avoiding his eyes. "I want to ... "
"I know." Ray wrapped one arm around her and kissed her gently on the top of her head. "I can't even begin to understand what you're going through, Phil. You're one of the most amazing women I've ever met."
She glanced up at him through lowered lashes, a small smile tugging at her lips. "And would one of the others on that list be called Casey?" Phil's words were weighted with a message that he could not deny.
A cloud crossed Ray's face and he pulled away from her. "Don't do this to me."
She stepped into the waiting lift. "Bye, Ray," she said, signalling an end to the discussion.
Ray watched helplessly as the doors closed and whisked her away. When he turned to walk back to his desk he saw Detective Kowalski staring at him, the curiosity evident on his face.
Ray scowled and loped back to his desk.
"So, Vecchio, what *was* it you said to me about partners earlier?"
"What?" Ray dropped into his chair and pulled a file from a stack on the corner.
"You said partners *trust* each other," Kowalski drawled, dragging his chair over and propping his feet on Ray's desk. "That woman is a material witness in *my* case and *you've* got something going on with her that I think I should know about."
"I don't got nothing going on with Phil."
"Phil? First name basis? You got something going on for sure."
Pursing his lips, Ray stared at the wall for a moment, wondering how he should answer his partner. What Kowalski said was right and he knew it must look like he had something going on with Phil. He did owe him some answers.
"OK, Kowalski, I'll tell you." Ray turned until he faced his new partner directly. He leaned forward and spoke as if delivering facts to a fellow investigator, which, in some ways, he was.
"Phil McKenzie and Fraser have got some history."
Kowalski made a 'so what' motion with one hand. "Everyone got history."
He thought about all he knew about Phil and Lindy and rephrased his statement slightly. "*Big* history. And Fraser doesn't know she's in Chicago."
Detective Kowalski was not impressed. "And you're telling me this because ... ?"
"Kowalski, you got to trust me on this. Fraser's had a really tough time the past few years. His father was murdered." Ray almost smiled. "That's how we met actually. He came here on the trail of his father's killers and he just stayed."
Kowalski rolled his eyes and looked bored.
"Anyway, just when Benny's getting used to being here instead of some hick town in the frozen north an old girlfriend shows up. It turns out she's a murderer. She's still ... "
Kowalski's eyes widened. "Wait! You're telling me the Mountie was doing a perp?"
"Fuck, Kowalski, you sure got a way with words." He rubbed a frustrated hand over his scalp. "He didn't know she was a murderer, they met a long time ago ... it's a long story."
"So where does Dr McKenzie fit into this?"
"It turns out she's the love of his live and he never got over her."
"So she dumped him ... how come he doesn't know she's in Chicago?"
"Well until a few weeks ago they hadn't seen each other for more than ten years."
"So if Fraser only met you a couple years ago, how come you know all this?"
"Well Cat told me all about it when ..."
Kowalski interjected. "Cat?"
"Yeah, Sergeant Cathy Madden. She's Benny's old girlfriend. She came for ... "
"Hold it, Vecchio ... you just mentioned three old girlfriends of Fraser's. Is this the same Fraser who told me not ten minutes ago that he couldn't call me Ray? What the fuck is going on?"
Ray laughed. "I know it doesn't make sense. Nothing with Benny ever does. He's a good friend, a great cop and he's had some really bad things happen to him. I'm just trying to stop him from getting hurt any more. His back injury is acting up and he might need surgery."
"He got shot. The bullet's still in there."
Kowalski went silent. A shooting injury was something all cops feared. He would ask no more.
"OK. Vecchio, I get the picture. There's stuff going on and you're looking out for a friend. I can deal with that."
Ray held his partner's gaze. It seemed they had reached an understanding. After a moment they each returned to their work, but neither was really into it.
Detective Kowalski, for once, could not concentrate on his case. The things Vecchio had told him made him very curious. When it became too much he waited until Ray's attention was elsewhere and then asked Elaine to show him to the records room.
It took less than ten minutes to locate the files he sought. What he found in them made very interesting reading. By the time the files were returned to their cabinet and Kowalski was back at his desk, he had a whole new respect for his partner and his strange Canadian friend.
Phil frowned at the sheer number of packets of photos sitting on her desk. It seemed she had taken almost twice her usual amount. She remembered running out of film near the end of week one and scrounging rolls from Carol and the Hunter brothers. She knew the reason why Ben. A quick scan of the photos would confirm what she already knew he featured in more than his share of pictures. It suddenly occurred to her that maybe she should not go through them in her office. She would go straight to her apartment. She told Jeff and Mark where she would be and then headed upstairs.
Phil's large oak dining table was the perfect place to sort the photographs. She started by placing sheets of paper in a line, each with the name of a team member written in large black letters. Onto each sheet she placed a copy of the group photographs taken either end of the trip. Next came the picture of the group leaders and standing before their respective boats.
From there it was a simple task to sift through the piles of pictures and select ones that would mean something to each of the team members. After half an hour, Phil stepped back and surveyed her handiwork. Each sheet now held a generous pile of photographs, the largest, of course, being on the sheets that bore Ben and Ray's names.
Frowning, she rested her hands on her hips and stared at the piles of photographs. Ben's image haunted her, as it had haunted her for more than ten years. How long could she deny the connection? She resisted the urge to look at the photograph of Lindy on the wall by the table.
Instead, Phil forced herself to think of Martin and all he had come to mean to her. She stepped determinedly away from the table, seeking his photograph on the dining room wall. She could not back away from the promise she had made. She could not be sorry.
"Oh, Martin," she whispered, reaching out to wipe a layer of dust from the top of the picture frame. "I'll do anything to make sure you come home safely."
Even if it means sacrificing my own happiness.
Tears filled her eyes and ran down her cheeks. How did this happen? Why was this her life? She turned away from Martin's handsome likeness as if she didn't want him to see her pain. Her eyes fell, instead, on the photographs on her table. A tanned and smiling Ben Fraser looked up at her from the topmost picture. It was too much.
She ran from the room and threw herself across her bed, startling the sleeping Chance curled up in the centre. Her shoulder voiced its complaint at the manoeuvre and began aching in earnest.
"Damn!" she cursed, uncharacteristically and began to cry again.
When would this end, she wondered, but the ring of her doorbell stopped her thoughts.
She dabbed at her eyes with a silk handkerchief Ray had loaned her and she had never returned. Rising from the bed, she straightened her clothes and went to answer the door.
Giving a final touch to her eyes, Phil opened the door, expecting to see Mark or Jeff with something that needed her urgent attention. The wisecrack she had planned died on her lips when she saw who stood there.
"Hello, Phil," said the tall, dark and handsome man she knew so well.
She sucked in a breath, a myriad of responses whirling in her mind, none of which she knew would ever give voice to.
"Hello, Rob," she said eventually, trying hard to ignore that the last words she had spoken to her brother had been in anger.
"Can I come in?" he asked weakly.
"Of course." She stepped aside, using the time it took to close the door to try and order her thoughts.
"Can I get you some coffee?" she asked, following her brother down the hall to the living room.
Rob nodded wordlessly, his lips pressed together tightly. He said nothing until Phil returned from the kitchen with their coffee.
"I've come to apologise, Phil," he said as they settled at opposite ends of the plush sofa.
She stared into the depths of her coffee. "I haven't seen Ben since the Canyon, Rob." Lifting her gaze she met her brother's eyes. "I haven't even spoken to him."
Under Phil's steady eyes, Rob lowered his head and spoke softly. "It's just that I've been under so much pressure since ... since Martin ... and when I saw Ray Vecchio in your room ... you know what I thought."
"Well, you can rest assured that I'd do nothing to hurt Martin."
"He cares for you."
"As I care for him."
"And Ben?" Rob asked, risking a direct look at Phil.
"You have no right to ask that."
"But I'm asking anyway."
"He has a right to know about his daughter I owe him that, at least."
"You owe him nothing."
"Rob, you're my brother and I love you, but I disagree with you and I am not going to fight about it."
"I know it's no excuse, but I am just so very worried about Martin and I can't think straight anymore." He pressed the heels of his hands to his eyes and his voice grew weary. "I don't want you making a mistake."
"You've known me all my life, Rob. Give me some credit. I don't sleep around, I don't even fool around, I don't cheat and I'm certainly not going to start now, while Martin is in mortal danger."
Rob rubbed a hand over his face. "I know, Flip. That's why I'm here. I know I acted like a jerk at the hospital, you don't deserve that. I'm sorry. I know you're worried too."
Phil set her untouched coffee down on the table. "I wasn't sure I would ever forgive you for what you said at the hospital."
"I don't blame you, I really don't."
"But then I got to thinking about how much I'd miss you."
Rob reached out and embraced Phil. This was no time for brother and sister to be fighting. They needed each other.
"Kowalski said you were looking for me earlier," Ray said casually as he drove Ben towards his apartment. "Anything wrong?"
The Mountie stared straight ahead, pouting slightly. "Nothing in particular, Ray. Nothing to bother about."
Ray made a left before speaking again. "You came all the way down to the station house in the middle of the day, Benny. Something must be up."
At his friend's quiet insistence, Ben perked up. "Well, actually, I did want to speak to you about something ..."
"But you don't seem to have time, now that you have a new partner and all."
Ray realised suddenly where the conversation was heading. "Of course I got time, nothing's changed just cause of Kowalski." He remembered how Cat had said that Ben thought she wouldn't have time for him once Lloyd came into her life. He would just have to make sure he was included. No way would he let Kowalski ruin the best friendship he had ever had. He pulled the Riv into the first parking space he saw, cut the engine, then turned to face his friend.
"Tell me what you wanted to talk to me about, Benny."
Under Ray's unwavering gaze and obvious concern, Ben's paranoia disappeared. Nothing had changed. Ray was still his friend. He remembered Cat saying something similar. Faced with Ray's earnest look he couldn't tell him that it no longer mattered. Instead, when he spoke, words he hadn't really thought about fell from his lips.
"I'm sorry that I pushed Phil to give me an answer."
Ray's eyes widened and he scrubbed a hand over his face to hide his surprise. He thought of his conversation with Phil earlier that day and could only agree. "Sorry? Why?"
"Phil can be contrary, I don't know if you know that. I just might have pushed her away."
Ray thought of all he knew about Phil's life at the moment. How could he tell his friend to wait a little longer without telling him what he knew?
"Benny, you know that Phil's a busy woman and she can't just make a decision about the rest of her life like that." He clicked his fingers. "I mean it's been more than ten years and you've both changed and ... hell ... you know what I mean."
"You think she needs time?"
"Time?" Ray's voice trailed away. It would take more than time to fix the things that were going on in Phil's life. "Time ... and prayers ..."
"Prayers, Ray?" Ben looked confused. "I didn't think you were a practising Catholic."
"I'm not," Ray said softly, desperately wanting to add that when a man's life was at risk sometimes that was all you could do. "But it can't hurt, huh?" He added a jovial note to his voice and tried not to think too hard about the things he dreaded Ben learning about.
"I can pray," Ben said firmly, "and I can wait."
"Good one, Benny boy." Ray reached across and squeezed his friend's arm. "Now let's get you home and changed. Ma's made gnocchi because you're coming and I can't wait."
Phil couldn't bring herself to work any further on the Canyon photo albums. The piles of photographs sat untouched for almost a week on her table, taunting her every time she looked. So she stopped looking.
She steadfastly refused to look as she gathered up the files she left on her coffee table the night before in preparation for a meeting downstairs in her office in ten minutes.
Twelve minutes later she was in her office with Mark and Jeff and the photos were forgotten for the moment. She scanned a list of discussion topics and sipped at the coffee Mark made her.
"So Whitney's Stockbrokers definitely want to add the climbing and rappelling leg?"
Jeff nodded. "How do you feel about that?"
Phil considered it for a moment. "I think it's great. With a climb leader we can expand our repertoire a little. Plus, if we utilise Mark's diving skills we may even be able to get an underwater leg to these team building packages. We'll be able to offer a great all round experience for every sort of organisation. We can even do one-day trips.
"We're going to need more staff, Phil," Mark warned, thinking of how his workload would need to be distributed if he spent more time in the field.
"I've been thinking about that," Phil putting her coffee down and leaning forward. "As well as looking for a climb leader, I thought we should consider employing someone who can help me with the administration load as well as training up to do field work."
Jeff leaned forward, seemingly excited by the idea. "A younger person? A graduate?"
"That's right! I was thinking we should hire Trevor as soon as he graduates." For the first time since learning of Martin's kidnapping, Phil was excited. It seemed that once again her work would be the thing to sustain her.
The three colleagues chatted for a while about various items of business. A few decisions were made, a few were put off and a few were completely discarded. By the end of the meeting Phil felt happier than she had in weeks.
"So, is there anything else?" she asked her employees.
Jeff leaned cocked his head towards Phil's desk. "I want to know what's in that package."
"What package?" Phil and Mark cried in unison.
A cheeky smile crossed Jeff's face. "The one on your desk. The one you didn't see because you were running so *late* for our meeting. The one covered in Canadian stamps."
Phil was out of her chair in a second, with Mark following close behind.
"You'll need help opening that, Phil, with your shoulder still strapped up like that," Mark told her, reaching the desk before she did.
Laughing, she slapped his hands away. "This is *my* package and ... " she pulled it towards her, "it's from Cat ... " Her voice trailed away. Would the parcel contain reminders of Ben? Did she want to open it?
As if sensing her sudden change in mood, the two men made excuses about having things to do and left Phil alone with her package.
Once the door had closed behind them, Phil drew a letter opener from her top drawer and slit the tape of the box. She replaced the letter opener and took a deep breath, flinging the top of the box open with a gaiety she didn't feel. She almost laughed with sheer relief when she saw the columbine decorated box nestled into the larger one.
There was a card sitting on top and she drew it out, fumbling to open the envelope with one hand. Tears filled her eyes when she read the simple message penned in Cat's untidy, spidery handwriting,
I am truly sorry to learn about Martin. Whilst I know nothing I can say will make it easier, I hope the things in this box might bring you a little joy. Call me if you need anything at all,
Suddenly sorry that she had thought the worst, Phil pulled out the columbine box and pulled off the lid to inspect the contents. Her cries of delight could be heard in the outer office. Once they knew she was OK, Mark and Jeff settled into the days work with smiles on their faces.
Things settled into a routine for Ray and his new partner. They griped at each, called each other names and both threatened to quit several times at least. Then one night Kowalski invited Ray to join him for a beer after work.
They got drunk. Mind numbingly drunk. They told their stories to each other and discovered that they actually had things in common; ex wives and a passion for classic cars, although Ray would not concede that Kowalski's ancient GTO was anywhere near the classic car his Buick Riviera was.
They found a comfortable level to communicate on and although they would never really understand each other, it worked for both of them. They even made headway on a few of Ray's old cases. After the end of a long, tough week together, Ray grudgingly admitted that he was glad he had a new partner.
During the week that Detectives Vecchio and Kowalski began to bond, Ben did not fare so well. Each day seemed to be a rollercoaster ride of emotions; one day he felt that pushing Phil to answer his ultimatum was the only way to handle her, the next he was so full of remorse that rising from his bed was an effort he could hardly bear.
He fared better, though, in his relationship with the 27th precinct's newest detective. Although to set to be jealous at first, Ben found Detective Kowalski to be an incisive investigator with a quick mind and a wit to match. He liked the way the other man brought out Ray's competitive streak and was pleased to find his comments on their cases to be welcomed by Detective Kowalski. The opportunity to participate in even more cases than before meant that when Ben was alone he had something else to think about other than what was happening with Phil.
Meanwhile, in Canada the two other women in Ben's life were going crazy for not knowing what has happening with Ben and Phil.
Cat arrived home from a long day, weary from pulling a double shift and slightly peeved that there was still no letter from Ben or Phil. Phil had sent her a thank you note for her care package, but the few short lines she had written told Cat nothing. After Ben's phone call more than a week ago now, she had heard nothing either. Her only hope was that there would be news of the hostages in Cambodia. At least then she would have an excuse to call Phil. With a glass of homemade lemonade in hand she headed for the TV room, in case there was any news.
Cat perched on the arm of the old leather chesterfield in what had once been her father's office. She rarely used the television, but since Martin's kidnapping she had kept it tuned to CNN. She flipped through the channels looking for one that might have up to date information. When the phone rang she snatched it up before the second ring. It was Lloyd.
"I'm really glad to hear from you," she told him, "But I was hoping it would be Phil."
"From what TJ tells me, Phil has stopped camping out at the Cambodian High Commission. She's gone back to work now."
"Does she have any news? When did you last speak to her?"
"Five days ago and there was no news then. We would have heard if Martin was released."
Cat made a sympathetic sound. "I wish I could do something. There's no point me going down there, she's got plenty of family and friends around her and I haven't called because anything I say would be so ... inadequate."
"I know," he agreed. "I thought of going to Chicago, too, but I'd probably just be in the way." Lloyd sighed into the phone. "And anyway, Phil's tougher than she looks. She'll get through this, no matter what happens."
"I just feel so bad for her. She's had such shitty luck with men."
There was a moment of silence before Lloyd replied. "Well, thank you very much."
Cat laughed softly. "You know what I mean. First Ben and all that stuff ... and now Martin ... "
"Hey, Cathy, don't go pitying Phil. She's had a good life in between those two. She hasn't sat at home like a wall flower."
"But, this ... this is *major*. The Khmer Rouge? Fuck, Lloyd, this guy may not get out alive and even if he does, who knows what sort of shit's happening to him. It could be really rough for him and Phil."
"Like I say, Phil's tougher than you think."
"I can't help but think that maybe ... you know ... maybe this is meant to be. I mean, I feel really bad for Martin. I've never met the guy and I want him to be OK." She hesitated a moment, unsure whether to say what was really on her mind. "I mean, I'm sorry this has happened, but some part of me is hoping ... well, you know what I'm hoping."
"Cathy, it's OK. There isn't one of us who cares about Phil who hasn't thought about it."
Becka flipped through the channels of her small television. It seemed there was no news of the hostages in Cambodia. Had the press lost interest? Why didn't someone tell her something? She had spoken to Cat earlier in the day, but she knew nothing. She called the Consulate to speak to Ben but Turnbull told her he had left early and was with Ray Vecchio. The she tried Ray's cellphone but it was switched off.
"You watching CNN again?" Matt's velvet voice asked from the kitchen, where he had gone to make coffee a few minutes earlier.
Becka frowned, slightly irritated. "I'm looking for some news about the hostages in Cambodia," she called back, peeved that she should have to explain herself.
He emerged a moment later carrying two cups of coffee. Handing one to Becka he settled down onto the sofa beside her. "What's this obsession with these guys? You know one of them?"
Becka sipped at her coffee before answering. "No ... I'm just concerned, is all." She sipped her coffee again. There was no use explaining how she came to be so interested.
Matt sat forward and put his cup down on the coffee table. He took Becka's cup and set it down beside his.
"I was drinking that," she said, a little more angrily than she had meant to.
Matt pulled her toward him and nuzzled at her neck in a way that only a few days earlier would have had her babbling like a fool. Tonight it just annoyed her.
"Matt ... " She pushed at his chest.
"Hey, Beck, why don't we just turn off the television and have an early night?" Matt tightened his grip on her and began nibbling at her ear.
For a moment she almost gave in. The television flickered away and in her peripheral vision she saw a map of Cambodia flash onto the screen.
"Hey ... stop ... "
She shoved a confused Matt aside and reached for the remote control, hitting the button to bring the sound up. By the time the sound was at a level she could hear, the story was over. As Matt muttered something beside her she realised that something else was over, too.
Less than fifteen minutes later, Matt was on the street and Becka was locking her door behind him. Her brief fling with the handsome climber had given her a few moments of physical pleasure, but she had the feeling that somehow it was time to move on to something else and she was beginning to suspect that whatever that something else was it would not involve the RCMP. Somehow that made her feel more glad than sorry.
He would not normally interrupt a business call, but Jeff knew how important the call he had on the line was to his employer. He asked his caller to hold, pressed a button and shot from his desk, bursting into Phil's office without even knocking.
"Phil, get off the phone the Cambodian High Commissioner is on the line."
Phil stared at the man in front of her desk. After a few seconds she finally registered why he was trying to tell her.
"Mr Whitney, you'll have to excuse me. Something urgent has come up." Without waiting for his reply she dropped the phone onto her desk and disconnected the call. "Is it Dr Laki?"
At Jeff's sharp nod she snatched up the phone. The Cambodian High Commissioner would only call himself if there was news. "Which line?"
With trembling fingers, Phil pressed the glowing button on her phone, knowing that what she was about to learn would change her life forever, one way or another.
"Good morning, Dr Laki," Phil said, surprised at how level her voice seemed.
"Good morning, Dr McKenzie. I have good news for you."
"Is Martin OK?"
"Yes. Dr Stephenson and Dr Walker were released to Care representatives today. They are both weary and hungry, but otherwise unharmed."
"Can I talk to him?"
"They are currently being examined by doctors. Someone from your Government will advise you when you can speak to your fiancee. Once again I would like to express my deepest regret for your suffering and ...."
Phil's mind drifted off, only half listening to Dr Laki's platitudes. Martin was safe. Martin was coming home and for that she was glad. But now she had to tell Ben that there could be nothing between them and for that she was sorry.
It was 3:12am when the call finally came. Phil knew because she had placed her clock so that she could see it from where she lay. She snatched the phone up before it had finished its first ring.
"Phil?" Martin's familiar voice came down the line.
"Oh, Martin, it's so good to hear your voice."
"And yours, Phil."
"So where are you? When will they bring you home?"
"We're at the US Air Force Base. An Air Force plane is on its way to take us home."
Us? Phil frowned. In her worry she had completely forgotten that one of Martin's colleagues had also been kidnapped. "When do you arrive? I'll be there to meet you."
"Well, you see, Phil. As Anna's family is in Boston, too, we'll be flying straight there. We both thought we needed to spend time with our families."
"Of course. I'll book a flight and come over to meet you."
There was a slight hesitation before Martin answered. "Phil ... some men from the military, the government, I'm not sure which ... they want to talk to us first." He hesitated for a moment. "And there will be so many film crews and photographers there. We won't have time to talk ... you'll hate it ... and my father can be difficult ..."
Phil was touched. Even after his ordeal he thought only of her well being. "I've missed you so much and I was so worried."
"I know. I'm sorry, Phil. This must have been hard on you. I ... " he stopped speaking and took several breaths that made Phil worry for his health. "I'll come back to Chicago in a few days and we can talk then."
Phil knew Martin was right. What they had to talk about could wait. "I can't wait to see you." She hesitated, wondering if she should say something. "About what you asked me at the airport ... "
Martin cut her off. "Phil, we need to talk about that."
"Yes." It came out a little breathlessly.
"Things happened, Phil. Things you can't imagine."
"I know, Martin. I can't begin to comprehend what you've experienced. But I'll try my best to understand."
"I have to tell you some things and you won't want to hear them."
"Try me. I'm stronger than you think."
"Phil, some things I'm really sorry about, but I have to tell you that some of them I can't help but be glad about."
That confused Phil slightly, but it was late, she was tired and she had no doubt that Martin's mind was not working as clearly as it normally would. He probably meant something entirely different. But what did it matter, anyway? Martin was safe and he would be home soon and she could not be happier. It wasn't until she had hung up that she realised that Martin's return also meant she had to deal with something that would make her sad.
Ray learned about Martin's release as he was having his breakfast. The tiny television his mother kept in the kitchen was playing Good Morning America with no sound. When he realised what the over made up and overly jovial presenters were talking about, he nudged Frannie out of the way and turned the sound up as loud as it would go. He only caught the last few sentences, but it was enough to tell him what he wanted to know. The hostages were on their way home.
Lloyd phoned Cat with the news. She heard herself say how pleased she was for Phil, but she wondered if she really meant it. After she got off the phone she went and stared at the photographs on her wall for a long time and tried to ignore the feeling that the sky was falling.
Becka watched CNN in bed. After she threw Matt out the night before she had wheeled her television into her bedroom and watched it until she fell asleep. She switched it on as soon as she awoke and saw the story about the release of the Khmer hostages only a few minutes later. Like Cat, she felt that Martin's release signalled the beginning of something, but could not think for the life of her what that could be.
TJ liked to eat his muesli watching CNN each morning. He said that getting angry aided his digestion. But when he saw the story about the release of Martin Stevenson and his colleague it had the exact opposite affect. In fact, he nearly spat his breakfast all over the TV screen in his excitement. Now both his brother and sister would be able to get back to normal.
Rob was working the midnight to dawn shift when the Hospital Director called him. He wasn't sleeping anyway, so why not stay at work? It took a few seconds longer than normal for the information to make it through the fuzz of his exhausted mind, but when he finally realised that Martin was safe and on his way home, Rob calmly thanked the Director, put the phone down, laid his head on the desk and burst into heart wrenching tears.
Ben liked to read the newspaper to Diefenbaker. He believed it was important for the wolf to be well versed in world politics.
"Fuel prices are on the rise," he told his lupine companion, "the Olympic games will be held in Sydney, Australia in the year 2000 ... oh look, this is good news ... the Khmer Rouge has released the two American doctors ... I'm pleased to hear that, aren't you?"
He looked over the top of the paper at Dief, not at all surprised to find the wolf asleep. He shrugged and folded the newspaper onto the table. Invigorated by something he could not name, Ben rose and headed readied himself for work. For some strange reason he felt inexplicably glad to be alive.
Phil barely slept. She dozed a few minutes here and there, but basically she had spent most of the night on the sofa, staring at CNN and waiting for a story about Martin's return home. It was 7.00 AM before news footage of the hostages leaving Cambodia finally hit the air.
Somehow Chance knew that Phil needed him. He spent most of the night on her lap, purring loudly.
When Martin finally appeared on the screen, Phil sat forward, leaning as close as she could. She didn't listen to the voice of the reporter. All she wanted was to see Martin. The first image was of he and his colleague, Dr Anna Walker, as they arrived at the US Air Force Base in a Hummer.
Phil let out a startled cry when Martin climbed down from the vehicle. He had lost weight and grown a beard. He smiled at one of the American soldiers and shook hands with the Care agents who had helped secure his release. Beside him Anna Walker was calm and silent. Despite their ordeal, they both seemed in good health.
Phil hoped to hear his voice, but it was not to be. The next shot was of Care officials leading Martin and Anna across the tarmac towards the waiting Air Force plane that would take them home.
For a brief, selfish moment she wished Martin was flying straight to Chicago, not Boston. He had told her that Anna's parents were in Boston, too and she, more than anyone, understood the need to be with family. Tears came to her eyes and she cried with sheer relief. Martin was safe and he was on his way home.
And if he held his arm a little too tightly around Anna's waist? A little too protectively? That was to be expected after the ordeal they had been through? After the hell they had seen together? That was to be expected, wasn't it?
To be continued ....
Copyright October 2000
Comments welcome at email@example.com
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