"Oh, no, Benny, don't put that in your *mouth*." Ray was starting to wonder if he should just put that sentence on tape and set it to Continuous-Play. Bad enough that his partner persisted in sticking vile objects of every description on his tongue, even after the blacking-out fiasco. But now it looked like the tendency was contagious.
Benny set the offensive item back the desk, but took advantage of Ray's momentary distraction to reach out and tap a key, changing the screen on Ray's monitor to display data that had nothing whatsoever to do with the current case.
"Hold it, hold it--we're not doing this your way. Not this time. This is *my* case and what I say goes, understand?" He sighed, knowing full well that Benny wouldn't listen to him, and that he'd eventually allow himself to be led merrily along on whatever tangent Benny chose to pursue that morning. To be honest, he really didn't mind all that much--it was bound to be entertaining, and this case wasn't noticeably moving along anyway.
Benny progressed rapidly through several pages' worth of information, humming tunelessly as screens flashed past too rapidly for Ray to read the text. Finally, the screen stopped on a mug shot and Benny scrutinized the picture for a long minute...and then, as if something in that photo had sent an inaudible command, seized a paper clip that Ray had somehow missed seeing.
"No, no, no..." Ray was too late to stop the paper clip from disappearing. "Fraser!" he bellowed, and his friend finally materialized in the doorway, looking apologetic.
"Sorry, Ray," he said ruefully. "The vending machines are still empty. Hugo won't be here for another hour."
"Never mind, just help me out here." Ray had a sudden burst of genius. He tugged the top left hand drawer of his desk open, fished around under the jumble of ink-less pens and scribbled-on scraps of paper, and wrapped his fingers around the KitKat bar he kept for emergencies. He noticed as he drew it out of the drawer that he had Benny's full attention for the first time in over an hour.
"Okay, let's have it." He put a hand under Benny's mouth but the tiny black-haired girl only clamped her lips together more firmly.
"What does she have in there?" Fraser's expression hovered between amusement and concern.
"Paper clip. At least this means she hasn't swallowed it." Ray tried coaxing the little rosebud mouth open, without success. In only thirteen months, Francesca Benedicta Vecchio had acquired more stubbornness than the rest of the Vecchio clan put together. "Okay, no more Mr. Nice Guy." Ray unwrapped the candy bar and broke off a piece. Benny's eyes widened, and he held it out of her reach. "You want this, you give Daddy the paper clip."
"That's bribery, Ray," Fraser pointed out.
"Exactly. You got any better ideas?" Ray caught the wet paper clip before it hit the floor and handed over the candy. The two men shared a brief moment of respite as Benny worked on the chocolate. "So did you find Dief?"
"He's hiding," Fraser admitted. "He really does like her, you know--it's just that she's developed quite a grip."
"Yeah, we're working on that." Ray couldn't help grinning proudly at his daughter, who was squirming to get down off his knee. She never sat still for long--and now that Fraser was back, she had a fresh target for her attentions. Fraser scooped her up easily and let her occupy herself with the buttons on his tunic while Ray attempted to relocate his case file.
"Detective..." Ray froze, casting a glance at Fraser. Lieutenant Welsh strolled in from his office, reading the report he carried. Then he looked up, and took in the trio at Ray's desk. "Well, I see my two favorite people are visiting today."
"I can explain, sir," Ray hurried to say. "My wife's at the doctor's this morning and everyone's got the flu at the house--"
"Relax, Vecchio." Welsh handed him the report. "These two are the only ones I know who can make you clean off your desk." He tapped a finger on the top of the report. "File that so you can find it again." Without a word Ray passed the file over to Fraser, who accepted it with one hand while struggling to keep Benny tucked under his other arm. She was wiggling again.
"Did I hear something about the vending machines being empty?" Welsh was apparently in no hurry to leave.
"Only the sandwich machines, Leftenant." Fraser spoke calmly as always, in spite of the fact that he was now holding Benny upside-down, as the child continued to squirm. "We were hoping to find something suitable for Francesca's lunch, in the hope that it would keep her occupied until her mother returned."
"Lunch?" Welsh bent down to make eye contact with Benny's upside-down face. "Aren't they feeding you, sweetie?" Benny giggled and flirted as Fraser and Ray exchanged disbelieving looks. Welsh took her out of Fraser's hands and turned her right-side up. "What a beautiful red dress." Benny gave him her best smile. Vecchio women knew how to respond to male attention.
"Yes, sir, it's her favorite color," Ray put in. Something else that apparently came with the name. "Uh, sir...I can keep her busy if she's bothering--"
"Excuse me, Detective, but the lady and I are having lunch. Aren't we?" Welsh started for his office, Benny in tow. "So, you like cold cuts?" they heard as his door closed.
Ray looked at Fraser, shrugged and went back to the computer file. Fraser started poking through the box that contained the pitiful collection of what passed for evidence on this case. He held up a piece of what once might have been a leather purse and sniffed it, his eyes going opaque as something ticked away in that brain of his. "Hmm..."
"Oh, no, Benny, *don't*--"