When my father asked me if I'd take in Holloway Muldoon, I said yes. Yes, of course, Dad. Most certainly. Delighted, in fact. If there was one perpetrator I wanted to see brought to justice, it was Mr. Holloway Muldoon.
Of course, I hadn't the faintest idea of what that would actually entail.
When I'd finally collected myself enough to climb out of the mine shaft, I found myself in charge not only of Holloway Muldoon but of Muldoon's ten men, Cyrus Bolt, Bolt's twenty men, their twenty-one snowmobiles, thirty-seven mounties, one deaf wolf, and Ray, who seemed to find the entire situation hilarious.
And—oh yes. I nearly forgot.
One upper class Russian nuclear submarine, looming against the horizon. The partridge in the proverbial pear tree.
Everyone was looking at me, as if I was supposed to know what to do. I tried to look confident, and strode over to where Ray was sitting, smirking, on top of a snowmobile, holding an AK-47.
"So?" Ray's eyes were crinkled with amusement; he looked like he was on the edge of outright laughter. "You get him?"
I nodded once, briskly. "I got him, yes."
"Knew you would," Ray said softly. "Now what?"
I assumed a commanding position, legs planted firmly on the ground, hands clasped behind my back, surveying the chaos in front of me. "I haven't the faintest idea."
Ray did laugh out loud, then. "Fan-tastic. Just love it. Middle of freakin' nowhere." He raised one hand and called out, "Taxi!"
"That isn't helpful, Ray," I chided. "What am I supposed to do with thirty-two criminals, twenty-one snowmobiles and thirty-seven mounties?"
"Okay, lemme think." Ray scratched his head for a moment, and then ventured: "Make a convoy. Double them up. Two bad guys on each snowmobile—that's sixteen. Four snowmobiles left—two mounties each, one to drive, one to ride shotgun with a shotgun." He hefted his own rifle in demonstration. "Put another twelve armed mounties on the sleds. That leaves...uh..."
He frowned again, but I'd been calculating. "Seventeen mounties."
Ray's face cleared. "Right. So okay—we send back either three sleds or eight snowmobiles. In the meantime, they can stand guard on the sub. I mean, we shouldn't leave a Russian sub out here with the keys in the engine, right?"
"Right. No, wait," I corrected quickly. "Sixteen snowmobiles for criminals, four snowmobiles for the RCMP—you missed one. There's one snowmobile left."
Ray reached down with his hand and patted the snowmobile underneath him. "No there ain't. This puppy's mine. How're we supposed to get back?"
"We could walk," I suggested.
"Up yours," Ray replied.
We organized our evacuation according to Ray's plan. We appointed Buck Frobisher and Inspector Thatcher to lead the sub-guarding contingent, then loaded our charges onto the snowmobiles. We handcuffed the rear riders' arms around the waist of the drivers, and then chained the driver's hands to the snowmobile itself. Ray and I led the convoy we eventually formed—me driving and Ray behind me clutching his AK-47. The prisoners followed, and my armed compatriots brought up the rear.
"Where we going exactly?" Ray yelled in my ear as we sped along; I could barely hear him in the whipping wind.
"Inuvik!" I yelled back.
Ray said nothing for a moment and then yelled, "God Bless You!" and tightened his hold on me. I smiled to myself, and we flew on across the snow.
We delivered our charges—all thirty-two of them—to the central jail in Inuvik. Thirty-two prisoners strained their capacity somewhat, but they managed and were gracious to us. I gave them a preliminary statement, notifying them of the existence of the Russian sub and the need to relieve our fellow officers still in the field, and then I took Ray and Dief with me to the small bed and breakfast I preferred.
I needed food, rest, sleep, and a little time to myself before carrying on, and I imagined that Ray and Dief did, too. And of course, we couldn't move from arrest to arraignment without the testimony of officers still in the field.
McAllister's was small—eight rooms, total—and unlisted, but it was easily the best hotel in town. We climbed the three wooden steps to the porch, and passed through the front door into the lobby. I approached the wooden counter and rang the bell, once.
Ray leaned back against the counter and surveyed the room. It was full of plush old furniture, and a huge fire roared in the grate. "Homey."
"Yes," I agreed. "Very. You'll like it here."
"I suppose it's too much to expect my own bathroom?"
"Yes," I agreed. "Much too much to expect." Ray's face fell a bit. "Still, though, there are several bathrooms and quite a good hot water system, if I remember correctly. And the rooms are quite luxurious."
"Well, that's something," Ray said, just as Nancy McAllister strolled out from the kitchen, drying her hands on her apron.
"Benton!" Nancy smiled warmly and came around the counter to greet me. "Benton Fraser, as I live and breathe!" She offered me her hand, and I took it in both of mine and pressed it.
"Wonderful to see you Nancy. You're looking well." She was nearly as tall as I was, a slim, neat person with well-coiffed gray hair.
Nancy waved the compliment away, and took a step back, looking me up and down. "You're the one who's looking well. Haven't seen you in years, but the years don't seem to have done much to you."
"Very kind of you to say," I said, and then turned to bring Ray into the conversation. "This is—-"
I stopped suddenly. I had been about to say, "This is Ray Vecchio." Except that wasn't quite true anymore, was it?
Beside me, Ray flinched. Nancy was smiling expectantly at Ray, but Ray was staring at me, and it was as if as if he'd retreated somewhere inside himself.
I gripped his arm tightly with my hand and tugged him a step forward, as if by moving his body I could pull him back to front and center. "—Detective Kowalski," I finished finally. "My partner, Nancy. And my very good friend."
"Very pleased to meet you." Nancy wiped her hands quickly on her apron one more time and then extended her hand to Ray, who bent forward and shook it quickly.
"Is eight free?" I asked, and Nancy smiled and nodded.
"Course it is. Everything's free right now. In the middle of March?" she added, laughing as she strode back around the counter. "The place is yours, Benton—take your pick!"
"Eight, then," I said gratefully. "Put Detective Kowalski in eight."
Nancy flipped open her guest register. "Eight it is. Kowalski. And you, Benton?" she asked, looking up.
"Anywhere that's convenient, Nancy."
"Well, I'll put you in seven, then. Right across the hall." Nancy began to write and then looked up again. "Is that all right?"
"That's fine, thank you kindly."
She nodded in approval and murmured as she wrote, "Fraser....Benton." She smiled at me, her eyes twinkling. "And Diefenbaker?"
I smiled and glanced down at Dief, who was sitting up, tail thumping the wooden floor as if in approval of Nancy's implicit suggestion. "Diefenbaker will have to make do with the floor, I'm afraid. But if it isn't any trouble, Nancy, I would like to reserve an additional couple of rooms. My superior officer, Inspector Thatcher, will be arriving shortly..."
"Thatcher," she repeated, writing it in the margin.
"And Constable Turnbull as well."
"Turn...bull," Nancy murmured, scribbling that down too.
"Yes, please," I said.
Nancy finished writing and closed the heavy leather book, which shut with a soft thud. "Well, I've written the names down," she said, reaching underneath the counter for our room keys, "but I don't anticipate it will be a problem." She extended the keys to us across the counter, single large keys on leather tags stamped "7" and "8". "After all," she asked, smiling broadly, "isn't like anyone comes to Inuvik in March, now is it?"
We climbed the two flights of stairs to our rooms, Nancy having graciously offered to put some supper together for us and bring it up. I went to my door, and Ray went to his; I heard him fumble with the lock, and then give a small breathy exhalation of surprise.
"Hey, nice," Ray said. I let Diefenbaker into our room and then turned to watch Ray stroll into Room Eight, which was particularly spacious and well-appointed, and had the hotel's only queen sized bed. Nancy often offered the room to newlyweds, straight from their weddings at Our Lady of Victory.
I stood at his doorway, reluctant to breach the formal boundaries of privacy. Ray was standing at the large windows, now, looking over the darkening town and the glistening, glossy ice.
"Um," I said, finally, and he turned to look at me. "The bathroom is at the end of the hall."
Ray nodded slowly and turned back toward the window. "You go ahead. I'm just gonna eat and hit the sack."
I nodded and pulled Ray's door closed quietly, then crossed the hall. My own room was more modestly furnished, although Nancy had thoughtfully provided a complete toilette kit, including a bathrobe, which was draped over the foot of the single bed. I hung my coat in the closet, folded the bathrobe over my arm, and picked up a stack of towels. Long, hot showers were a rarity in my day to day life—they were either unavailable or inadvisable or simply impractical.
That made them very, very special.
I pulled the door shut behind me and walked down the hallway to the large bathroom which serviced the floor. I locked the door behind me and stripped down, folding my clothes neatly; they were the only ones I had. I reached through the shower curtain to turn the water on and to test the heat and the pressure—both were magnificent. I made the water as hot as I could stand it and turned the pressure up until the loud shush of the water camouflaged all other sounds. I stepped under the spray and drenched myself, and then I braced myself against the tile and let myself cry—I cried for my saintly, lost mother and my flawed, found father. I cried for Ray Vecchio, my friend, lying in hospital with a bullet in his chest; I cried for Ray Kowalski, my partner, swaddled in death on a mountain top, ice glittering on his gray, beard-stubbled cheeks. Mainly I cried for myself, letting myself bathe in the luxury of a truly soundproof room.
When I returned to my bedroom, my hair still wet and plastered against my head, I found that Nancy'd been in and lit the fire. She'd also—most kindly—left a meal of sandwiches and soup for me on a tray at the desk. I set my pile of folded clothes down on the seat of room's sole armchair and sat down at the desk to eat.
A still-folded newspaper was tucked under the corner of the tray—today's Drum. Delighted to see a local paper, I pulled it out and set it next to my plate so I could read while I ate.
Jenny Anderson had donated five thousand dollars to the Inuvik Centennial Library. Chuck Howser, the chief librarian, was suitably ecstatic.
A company called NWTelecom had promised to bring both internet and cellular service to all of Inuvik by the summer of 2001. I felt vaguely irritated by this promise, but supposed I was just being churlish. Progress was progress, after all, and only a fool stood in the way of the inevitable.
An editorial weighed the advantages of different projects to be funded by the projected budget surplus—infrastructure, job creation, education. No mention of wildlife preservation, I noticed with some disappointment, but—wait. There.
"National Recovery Plan For Caribou Still in Development." Still. Years and still. I sighed and pushed the newspaper away. Clearly the solution was to for the caribou to incorporate, I thought bitterly. They'd doubtless manage to find money for caribou.com.
I got up, stretched, and went down the hall to brush my teeth. Ray's door was closed, I noticed, and on the way back I couldn't resist stopping and knocking gently. "Ray?" I whispered. No answer; he was probably long asleep. "Ray, goodnight," I whispered, and then took myself back across the hall and to bed.
My room was flooded with sunlight when I finally woke up. I turned my head to look at the carved wood clock on the bedside table. Nearly eight in the morning—my goodness, I'd slept near to eleven hours.
I got up, went for a wash, and dressed myself quickly. Then I went to go wake Ray.
I crossed the hallway and knocked on the door to number 8. "Ray?" I called. "We'll have to move quickly if we want to get breakfast before—"
The door opened and I boggled. "Ray?" I had to physically stop myself from rubbing my eyes. "Ray Vecchio?"
Ray Vecchio put a finger to his lips, glanced back over his shoulder, and then stepped into the hallway, quietly pulling the door shut behind him. "Hiya, Benny."
Ray looked paler than normal, and deeply tired, but he was alive and well and here.
"Ray, you're here," I said stupidly.
"Yeah." Ray looked—well, rather embarrassed at the fact. His neck reddened, and he glanced back at the closed door. "Not really here, though. I mean, I got my own room downstairs. For propriety. You know."
I frowned and shook my head. I didn't know—I hadn't the faintest, in fact—but he seemed determined to tell me. The red flush of his skin was spreading upwards, and he dropped his voice to a hoarse whisper, looking agonized and confessional.
"Look, you don't have to tell me, okay?" Ray dropped a hand on my shoulder, and I had to force myself not to stare at it. "I can see it in your face. I know it's tacky—I can't help it, I'm tacky. We barely know each other—that's fair, that's true. But listen to me, Benny—there is just something there, okay? Kowalski's like—just everything I ever wanted."
I put a hand out against the wall to steady myself. This—couldn't be happening. This was some sort of bizarre nightmare. I was still asleep in Room Seven and somehow my subconscious had superimposed Ray Vecchio's room at the Hotel California and Ray Kowalski's room at McAllister's and come up with this surrealistic scenario. Except Ray was right here, right in front of me, one hand on my shoulder and staring at me earnestly.
I cleared my throat. "I, um, didn't realize that you were interested in....um."
Ray looked at me expectantly.
"Blonds," I said finally, trying to be tactful.
Ray nodded glumly and then scrubbed at his face. "Yeah, well, me too, Benny. First time for everything, I guess." He ran a hand over his pate. "Worst timing in the world, I know, but when has that not been the case with me? King of Bad Timing. And I guess I'll need to be super nice to Stanley now, under the circumstances—"
The words were out of my mouth before I'd decided to say them. "Yes, you'd better. I—he—he's very vulnerable right now—"
"Yeah, I know, I know," Ray said, wincing. "We talked about that."
"—so it would be very wrong of you to toy with him. Very wrong, Ray. If you're not—serious. In your affections."
Ray looked up at me and his brown eyes were full of warm misery. I don't think I'd ever seen Ray look like that before—dear God, perhaps this was love after all. "I am serious, Benny. I swear on my mother's grave. I think I'm in love, Benny. I think I want to get married—"
"Married?!" I choked.
"I can't lose Stella."
Ray rolled his eyes and sighed. "You gonna repeat everything I say?"
"Am I going to repeat—?" I was rapidly running this whole conversation through my head again, playing it out in my brain, substituting the wife for the husband. It made, I saw, a lot more sense that way. "I—oh dear," I said finally. "This really is terrible timing, Ray."
"Yeah, I know." He seemed frustrated with me. "I said that already. Look, just—" Ray took my arm and pulled me a couple of paces down the hallway. "Don't tell him what I just said. Kowalski. I mean, I think he knows, I think he's got an inkling. He gave us a real strange look when we showed up. And there's gotta be a reason why he made Stella take his room." Ray darted a glance back at Room Eight and then looked pained. "Christ, I really am a scumball. I'm literally crawling between the guy's sheets. But I—I can't help it, Benny."
I doubted that, but said nothing.
Ray looked at me, pleadingly. "And I'm gonna tell him, I swear. When the time is right. Man to man. Give him the chance to knock my block off."
"He will, you know," I advised.
"Well, he deserves to. I would if I were him. Which I guess I am in a way, huh?"
Ray tried on a smile, but that wasn't a question I was inclined to answer, even in fun. "We'd better get down to breakfast," I said instead. Dief bounded down the stairs at the mere word.
The smile vanished. "Yeah, I guess you're right. Everybody's probably waiting—"
"Everybody?" I stopped; in all the confusion, I'd forgotten to ask the most important question. "Ray, what are you doing here?"
Ray laughed, slung an arm around my shoulder and walked me toward the stairwell. "You have no idea what's going on, do you?"
"No," I said honestly. "Not a clue."
"I'm here. Stella's here. Welsh is here. The FBI is here, the ATF is here, the CIA is here. CBS, ABC, NBC, BBC, CBC—hell, the Russians are here, Benny—"
I frowned. "Is this about the sub?"
"Yes, it's about the freakin' sub!" Ray yelled, flinging his arms up in the air. "There's a fucking nuclear submarine not a hundred miles from here, Benny!" He pointed wildly, in the wrong direction as it happened. "There's a lot of interested parties!"
I took the steps down to the second floor landing and went to the window. I wasn't sure what I was expecting to see—but yes, there did appear to be an unusual number of people in the streets, which were lined with rented vehicles of all shapes and sizes—cars, jeeps, vans, trucks.
"The whole freakin' world is here! You shoulda seen the airport last night: it was like Grand Central Station—!"
"Let's get breakfast," I interrupted, and turned for the stairs.
I paused in the doorway to McAllister's dining room, taking it all in. Around the large rectangular table sat Inspector Thatcher, Lieutenant Welsh, Buck Frobisher, Constable Turnbull, and a man I didn't know. Ray Kowalski was there too, near the corner, staring moodily down into a cup of coffee. Dief trotted around the table toward him, and disappeared from my view.
"Good morning," I said, and they looked up.
Ray Vecchio breezed past me, headed for the long sideboard against one wall. There were hot serving dishes of eggs (scrambled, fried and poached), bacon, ham, fried potatoes, toast, and a large carafe of coffee. "Morning, guys. Man, but does this look good."
Inspector Thatcher rose to her feet; her face was glowing with excitement. "Constable Fraser. Glad you could finally join us. I'd like you to meet David Hofstram—he's with the Canadian Intelligence Division."
Hofstram wiped his mouth with his napkin, got to his feet, and extended his hand. I shook it. "So you're the point man," he said, looking me up and down assessingly. "That's good, that's very good."
"Constable Fraser will certainly give you his entire cooperation," Inspector Thatcher said, and then she shot me a look. "Won't you, Constable?"
I wasn't precisely sure what to say, other than that I rather disliked being called a "point man", whatever that meant. Thankfully, I was saved from having to say anything by Lieutenant Welsh, who groaned wearily and shifted in his chair. "I don't want to argue this early in the morning, but I'd like to remind you that Constable Fraser began this case as a liaison with the Chicago Police Department—"
"Constable Fraser is a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and that is his first and primary duty."
"—trying to solve two homicides and one attempt which were perpetrated in the jurisdiction of Chicago," Welsh continued doggedly. "Callow, Cartwright, and Vecchio. Not to mention that asshole Muldoon shooting up my town with a grenade launcher."
"Forget the grenade launcher, he's got gas!" Buck objected.
"Forget the gas, Frobisher!" Inspector Thatcher insisted. "There's a nuclear submarine out there!"
"Precisely," Hofstram said, smiling warmly at her. "Clearly the submarine has to be the highest priority. Don't you agree, Constable?"
Everyone looked at me. Hofstram was smiling genially, but his eyes were cold. Inspector Thatcher's eyes were blazing, trying to beam the correct response into my brain. Lieutenant Welsh looked like he was preparing himself for disappointment. Buck looked curious, Ray Vecchio looked worried, Turnbull was looking at each of us in turn, apparently trying to figure out exactly what was going on. At the end of the table, Ray Kowalski briefly lifted his head—I got a glimpse of his face, but found his expression entirely unreadable.
"Well," I said briskly, "this is going to be a very interesting day. I can see that already. Ray, are there any eggs left?" I took the few steps to the sideboard, eager to avoid the daggers that Inspector Thatcher was hurling with her eyes.
"Oh, yeah," Ray Vecchio said quickly, handing me a thick, white plate. "There's a ton. They got poached, they got fried—"
"How I do enjoy a poached egg," I said. Our eyes met, and we both smiled.
"Oh, I know you do, pal." Ray sounded relieved. "Nothing like a couple of poached eggs to prepare a guy for a day in hell."
"Where's Kowalski?" I heard Welsh ask, and I turned instinctively at the question. Lieutenant Welsh blinked and then looked quickly at Ray Kowalski, who apparently hadn't even raised his head at the question, though he did so now. "Sorry, Kowalski. I meant—ADA Kowalski."
Ray waved the apology away and took another sip of his coffee.
"Anyone seen her?" Welsh asked, loud in his defensiveness.
Nobody answered. On my left, however, Ray Vecchio was spooning sugar into his coffee. Seven spoonfuls. Eight. Nine. Ten.
"Well, will somebody go up and get her?" Welsh asked, exasperated. "Tell her her little catnap is over and we need her down here and ready to file some goddamned motions."
I glanced at Ray Kowalski—everyone was surreptitiously glancing at Ray Kowalski—but Ray just sat there, hunched in his chair, sipping his coffee. Beside me, Ray Vecchio was up to fifteen spoonfuls of sugar.
Inspector Thatcher sat back in her chair, projecting with her body language that she had no intention of helping Lieutenant Welsh file any extradition motions on behalf of the City of Chicago. Turnbull did a little forward hop in his chair, but was instantly stilled by a flash of Inspector Thatcher's dark eyes.
Welsh nodded slowly, grimly, and shot one last look at Ray Kowalski. Ray didn't even meet his eyes. "Fine. Fine, then. Vecchio—go get her."
The spoon clattered to the sideboard, and Ray spun around. "What—me?"
"Yeah, you," Welsh retorted. "If you still work for me, that is."
"I—yeah," Ray said nervously. "Okay, sure." He brushed past me toward the door, then stopped, turned around. "Uh. What room is she in?"
"Ask at the desk," Welsh growled, and Ray nodded quickly and disappeared.
I finished heaping my plate and took an empty seat across the table from Ray Kowalski. "You ought to eat something, you know," I told him. "I know you live on coffee and cigarettes at home, but you won't survive here on that sort of diet."
"I know," Ray said, and his voice was scratchy. "Jus'—I can't break twenty years of habit on a dime, okay?"
I nodded and tucked into my own breakfast, which was delicious. Across from me, Ray felt in his pockets and pulled out a pack of cigarettes and a lighter. I noticed the tax stamp and the box design—they were local, he'd probably been out early this morning.
"And speaking of which—" Ray said, and pushed back his chair.
"Smoking constricts the circulation," I pointed out. "A particularly bad thing in this sort of climate, Ray."
"Yeah. I know." Ray grabbed his jacket off the back of his chair. He came around the table and I reached out for his arm as he passed me.
"Where are you now?" I asked in a low voice.
Ray barked out a laugh and then bent over to murmur his answer. "If I knew that, I'd know everything, Frase." And then he straightened up and walked out the door.
Five minutes later, Ray Vecchio arrived with Stella Kowalski in tow, and Lieutenant Welsh stood up. "All right. Let's go, people."
Inspector Thatcher rose to her feet, too, which brought Turnbull and me to our feet as well. "I just want to say—I hope we can be professional about this, Lieutenant. I think your extradition plans are ill-justified, and I believe they will fail, but I hope this doesn't affect our friendship. Let the best man win."
"Hear, hear!" Turnbull cried and raised his glass..
We filed, all eight of us, out of the dining room and through the lobby. Nancy was behind the front desk, instructing three younger women in quiet tones. She gave me a pleading look as we passed, and I detached myself from the pack and approached the counter.
"I've had to get in extra help from town," she whispered. "It's mad, Benton. The town's gone mad."
I sighed. "Yes, it certainly does seem that way."
"There's not a spare room to be had. Americans. Russians. Officials from Ottawa and Yellowknife. Dan Rather," she added, in a tone of hushed reverence.
"Well, then. I'm delighted I had the sense to book early."
Nancy smiled at me, and I had just turned to rejoin my friends when a thought struck me and I turned back. "Nancy, what room is my partner staying in?"
"Detective Kowalski?" She frowned and flipped open her book. "Let me see. He's in Room Two, now," she said, after a moment. "On the ground floor, in the back."
"Thank you kindly." I turned away and then turned back once again. "Oh—and Nancy. Would you—I mean could you possibly— if you wouldn't mind—?"
I gestured toward the dining room exasperatedly. "Dief."
She smiled warmly. "That's fine, Benton. He can have the leftovers and keep me company."
I thanked her again and went to join the others. Lieutenant Welsh, Ray Vecchio, and Stella Kowalski were already far down the street; behind them, Buck Frobisher, Constable Turnbull, Mr. Hofstram, and Inspector Thatcher were bringing up the rear. Inspector Thatcher, I noticed, was looking back over her shoulder every few paces, presumably searching for me.
Amazing how neatly they'd divided themselves: Canadians and Americans.
Ray Kowalski was sitting on the top step of the porch, placidly smoking a cigarette. I sat down beside him. Ray took a drag, pulled the cigarette from his mouth, and looked at me. He seemed a different person—guarded and still, not at all like his usual self.
"Are you defecting?" I asked innocently, and the question made his lips twitch.
He turned his head and blew out a cloud that was part smoke, part breath. "I dunno. Are you?"
"Unlikely," I replied.
"Ditto," Ray said, and took another deep drag.
"Are you all right?" I asked him.
Ray seemed to have to think about this. "I dunno yet. You?"
"I'll know better tonight," I said in all honestly, and he nodded and flicked the cigarette out into the street.
"Yeah, I get that. C'mon. We'd better go."
I nodded and we got up, and followed our compatriots down the street toward the Inuvik Central Courthouse.
It was a mob scene. The courthouse entrance was flanked by pressing crowds, reporters talking to television cameras, flash photographers jockeying for better angles. I stopped dead in my tracks, and simply stared. I'd never seen—could never have imagined—that this could happen in Inuvik.
"Hey," Ray said, sounding surprised. "Isn't that Dan Rather?"
"Who cares who it is?" I muttered. Ray shot me a startled look, and I bit my lip. "I'm sorry, Ray."
"Don't be sorry," Ray said instantly.
I scrambled to justify myself. "It's just that—"
"Don't be sorry, Fraser. Okay?"
"Okay," I repeated, and turned my eyes back to the crowd. I was stunned at their numbers, but moreover, I was stunned by my own lack of emotional generosity towards them. I wanted them out of Inuvik, out of the Territories, out of Canada.
"C'mon," Ray took my arm and pulled me a step forward, toward the throng of people. I could feel my own resistance; I'd learned to handle crowds in Chicago, but this was Inuvik, and that made a difference, at least to me. "We'd better get in there."
"I—yes. Yes." I steeled myself.
"After all, you're the point man," Ray drawled. "So point yourself that way," and he tugged me forward, through the crowd.
The scene in McAllister's dining room that morning had provided only the barest hint of the discord that was brewing in Inuvik Central Courthouse. Ray Vecchio had been right—the entire world had come to Inuvik. The town's sole courtroom was packed with interested parties.
Lieutenant Welsh and ADA Kowalski were there representing the interests of the Chicago Police Department. They wanted Muldoon to be tried for homicide.
The ATF had flown up, too: they were interested in the grenade launchers and the nerve gas, both of which had been brought on to American soil. Lieutenant Welsh and the ATF, normally at odds, had banded together on two points: they both wanted Muldoon extradited to Chicago, and they both claimed Ray Vecchio as "their man."
The FBI was interested in Cyrus Bolt and the Fathers of Confederation. They'd been trying to build an arms trafficking and terrorism case against the organization for years.
The CIA had flown up as well; they were interested in the sub, of course. So was the Canadian Intelligence Division. So were the Russians.
The battle seemed to be over where to have the trial. Stella Kowalski argued for Chicago; a series of different barristers advocated Inuvik, Yellowknife, and Ottawa. I listened intently as a strong motion was made in favor of Anchorage, Alaska—American soil, but still within the Arctic Circle, the argument went. Another faction was arguing for Washington D.C.
My countrymen opposed this vigorously—the sub was in Canada, the crime was against Canada, the trial should take place in Canada, the justice should be Canadian. The Americans seemed to scoff at the very idea of anyone committing a crime against Canada—clearly, the United States was the injured party. Hadn't the buyers been the Fathers of Confederation?
I sat at a scratched wooden table with the other important witnesses: Ray Kowalski, Ray Vecchio, Buck Frobisher. Inspector Thatcher began the day sitting with us, but eventually migrated across the room to sit with David Hofstram and the other representatives of the CID. We'd come in to give detailed statements—the four of us having the greatest first-hand knowledge of the crime—but the wheels of justice seemed to be stuck in one place. They couldn't even decide whether or not to take our depositions.
I tried to follow the arguments that were being made before Inuvik's sole justice, The Right Honorable James S. Ketchum. Beside me, Ray Vecchio and Ray Kowalski played endless games of tic-tac-toe and hangman on a legal pad.
Late in the afternoon, Justice Ketchum announced that he was dismissing us. He would take the motions home and consider them. Each party would have the chance to supplement their briefs with oral argument before the court in the upcoming days. Meanwhile, he added, turning to look at our table, all witnesses would please report back to court tomorrow first thing in the morning. In the interests of fresh recollection, it behooved the court to take statements, and they would import court reporters from neighboring towns to complete the task.
"Scissors cuts paper," Ray Vecchio murmured.
"Fist punches face," Ray Kowalski hissed back.
Justice Ketchum banged his gavel, and court was officially dismissed for the day.
There was a throng of reporters—Canadians, Americans, and the international press—in the courthouse antechamber. A flashbulb went off in my face, blinding me momentarily, and I winced and raised my hand to protect my eyes.
I felt a hand grip my arm. "C'mon," Ray Kowalski said. "This way." He pulled me after him, through the crowd, past the reporters summarizing the day's events.
"Today, in Inuvik, a battle raged to decide—"
"—the venue for the trial of Holloway Muldoon, who—"
"What about the others?" I asked Ray.
"—stole an upper class nuclear submarine, which is currently under armed guard in—"
Ray twisted his head back to look at me. "Fuck the others."
"—Franklin Bay. The buyers, the notorious terrorist group The Fathers of Confederation, are led by Caleb Bolt, also currently under indictment for—"
And then we were in the open air, and Ray kept pulling me until we were through the crowd of spectators and well away down the street.
Finally, around the corner, Ray stopped and turned to look at me. "I'm hungry. You know somewhere good to eat?"
"I—yes. But..." I waved my gloved hand back in the direction of the crowd "I'd imagine that Inuvik's few public eateries are going to be well patronized tonight."
Ray frowned. "Yeah."
"I'm sure that Nancy will provide us with a meal," I began, but Ray seemed to stiffen at the suggestion, though he said nothing. "Then again," I said quickly, and Ray suddenly looked hopeful. "Then again," I repeated, and suddenly I had an idea.
I smiled. "Come, Ray," I said, and began to tromp down the street.
"Okay, sure," Ray said, following after me. "Where?"
"To market. We're going to cheat a bit, Ray, but desperate times call for desperate measures."
Twenty minutes later we were standing in the back yard of what was now the Inuvik Fire Department. Ray was carrying a large paper bag containing our purchases. I crossed to the woodshed, then glanced back at him. "Can you carry any more?"
His forehead crinkled, but he didn't complain. Instead, he shifted the bag of groceries into his left arm and extended the right one out to me. "Good," I said, and went about loading the crook of his arm with firewood.
"Fraser," Ray said, grunting as he tried to keep everything balanced. "Are you stealing?"
I turned to him and put a finger to my lips. "Shh."
I picked up some kindling and then made my way to the back door, gesturing for Ray to follow. He watched with some amusement as I flicked out my knife and used it to slide the lock open. "Hey, cool, we're breaking into the fire department..."
I pulled the door open and then again turned to Ray with my finger pressed to my lips. He nodded, and I relieved him of the firewood and stepped quietly through the door. Ray followed me inside and let the door snick quietly shut behind us.
We were in the back stairwell, and we could hear the crackle of the IFD's monitoring radio, and the sound of two male voices in quiet conversation. I jerked my head and began to creep up the stairs quietly. Ray was stealthy behind me; I could barely hear the shuffle of his boots on the steps. We climbed the staircase until it ended, on the fourth floor, and then I stepped back and jerked my head at the door, gesturing for Ray to go first.
He stared at me for a moment, and then shifted the groceries again and reached for the knob. "Hey..." Ray said softly, and stepped out onto the concrete floor of the cupola.
The cupola was large, about ten feet by ten feet, and covered by an arched gothic canopy. The walls on each side rose perhaps five feet off the ground on each side of the square, providing views of the town on all sides. Ray set the bags of groceries down on the floor and then wandered the perimeter of the cupola, looking out over Inuvik.
"Careful," I warned him, quietly shutting the door behind us. "Don't let anyone see you."
Ray obediently shrank back from the edge. "We're not supposed to be here, huh?"
"Well." I set the firewood down in the center of the cupola and considered this. "I don't really know. Nobody's explicitly told us not to be here, have they?"
Ray grinned at me. "Fraser. There was a locked door between us and here."
I brushed my hair out of my eyes. "Oh, was it locked?"
Ray laughed and let his legs collapse under him so that he was sitting on the floor. "Remind me never to cross you."
"Never cross me, Ray," I said and smiled. I sat down next to him and considered our supplies. "So. The beauty of being here is that the architecture will trap the heat of the fire, and yet the smoke will have a way of egress." I licked my finger and held it up, assessing the direction of the wind.
Ray raised his eyebrows. "So you're saying that we're gonna build a fire on the roof of the fire department."
"Apt location, it seems to me." I started assembling logs in the northwest corner, and after a moment, Ray crept forward and started to help. "Get those bricks, will you?" I asked him. Ray looked, saw the small pile of bricks against the opposite wall, and fetched them.
"I take it you've done this before," Ray said, ringing the wood with the bricks.
"Yes," I confessed. "Many times, when I was younger." I slid back, evaluated our handiwork, and decided it would suffice. "This building," I told Ray, "used to be the Inuvik Library. That was before the Centennial Library, which is now in a different building. When the library moved out, the Fire Department moved here. Very occasionally they've found this area useful—for fire-spotting and such."
"Uh-huh," Ray said.
I pulled out a box of matches and began to set the kindling ablaze. "Still, though, I think it's an underutilized space. Most people don't know it exists." I threw the match stick into the fire and then turned to Ray, rubbing my hands. "I used to come up here quite a lot. To read. Think. Bit of privacy. Come here, I'll show you something."
I crawled to the next corner and scanned the old, red bricks, looking for the ancient scratches. "There," I said finally, pointing.
Ray fumbled for his glasses, braced his hands on his thighs and bent forward to look. After a moment he started laughing. "B.F.—Benton Fraser. You graffitied!"
"Well, yes," I admitted. "In a small way. It's—hardly noticeable."
"Still!" Ray said gravely, but his eyes were merry. "It's the principle of the thing!"
I smiled at that. "I suppose you're right. The need to claim something that isn't really yours. To leave something after you're gone."
"Did you bring these bricks up?" Ray pressed.
"Yes. Must be thirty years ago, now." I thought back to the time. "Now that I think about it, I stole those too. From the construction site of the Mackensie school."
"This story gets more and more shocking, Fraser. You got yourself a little Canadian rap sheet going there."
"Yes, well, the foolishness of youth, I suppose." I turned my attention to the brown paper bag we'd brought and began unpacking our groceries: bread, cheese, meat, fruit, water, beer for Ray.
"Nah, I like it," Ray said decisively. "I think it's great. I always wondered what you were like as a kid."
"Much the same as I am now, I suppose—rather frighteningly so, actually," I mused. "Sometimes I think I have what they now call a 'developmental disorder.' Sausage?"
"Yeah," Ray said softly; he was slumped back against one of the cupola walls, staring at me. "Love one."
I brought out my knife and began to whittle some of the smaller sticks into skewers. We grilled sausages, and ate them, hot and dripping, with french bread, Ray washing his down with the beer we'd brought. And then we settled back against the wall in the darkness, watching the fire blaze and the smoke rise and sail off into the night sky.
We'd loosened our coats when the air had warmed. Now Ray smoked a cigarette while I carved fruit and cheese and passed him slices. I was thinking about the past, and the present, and the stomping march of future time; beside me, Ray was quiet, lost in his own thoughts, I assumed.
"I kissed my first girl here," I said finally, not sure why I felt compelled to share such personal information, but feeling compelled nonetheless. "Two years ago."
Beside me, Ray barked out a laugh, and I let myself smile.
"All right, perhaps it was more like twenty-five," I admitted.
"Yeah, perhaps." Ray stretched out his legs and crossed them at the ankles. "What was her name?"
"Pretty name," Ray observed.
"She was a pretty girl."
"So?" I glanced at him; he was looking at me expectantly. "Go on."
"We became very good friends—oh, I must have been about twelve or so. We spent a lot of time together that summer—just, well, you know. Wandering about. Exploring. Hunting. Cataloging plant species."
"Oh, yeah—that's just what I did when I was twelve," Ray deadpanned. "You shoulda seen the plants I catalogued."
I smiled. "By the end of the summer, though, I felt—well, like I wanted to get closer to her. Like we weren't quite close enough."
"Puberty hitting," Ray muttered. "Wham bam."
"Perhaps," I allowed. "So finally I decided to bring her up here, show her this place. That was quite a big decision for me. I didn't—I don't—own this space, and it was pretty much the only place in town where I could be alone, and there was always the chance that I'd be ousted from it by bigger, older, kids if they found out about it. So it was quite a leap of faith on my part."
"But you made it," Ray pointed out. "You leapt."
"You brought her up here and you kissed her."
I blinked. "And nothing. I was twelve, Ray. Still, though, it was...very sweet. And now it's a sweet memory, a wonderful memory."
"What happened to her?" Ray asked.
"We moved again the next year. She went to McGill, I think—married someone she met there. They sent me a wedding invitation. I didn't go."
Ray nodded slowly, staring into the fire. I looked down and cut him another slice of apple, and I was just about to hand it to him when he said, "I think Vecchio's having an affair with my wife."
I went utterly still. I had no idea what to say. Ray Vecchio had told me not to discuss the matter with Ray. But Ray seemed to want to discuss the matter with me.
"Today," Ray said quietly. "In court. Did you see? Did you see how she looked at him?"
I had seen. Stella Kowalski's eyes had returned again and again to the witness table. And she hadn't been looking at me. Or my partner.
I took a deep breath and decided to tell the truth. "Yes. Yes, I saw, Ray."
I felt movement, heard Ray groan, and quickly looked over. Ray was draped forward over his bent knees, his expression one of the purest—relief. "I'm not crazy. I'm not paranoid. I'm not losing it."
"No." Unable to stop myself, I dropped a hand on the base of his neck and cupped it, then let my hand drift down the curve of his back. "You're not paranoid or crazy or losing it."
Ray closed his eyes, hands working into his hair. He'd gone pretty near to fetal. "Thank god...thank god..."
I rubbed his back reassuringly for a while, feeling that there was little more to be said. After a while Ray muttered, "Fraser. You're the best friend I got."
"Was that hard to say?" I asked after a moment.
"No. Not even a little bit."
Later that night we put the fire out and walked back through the snowy streets toward McAllister's. The lights were on in the lobby; Ray Vecchio was sitting near the fire, Dief at his feet, reading today's Inuvik Drum. "Hey," he said, looking up. "Where'd you guys get to?"
Ray Kowalski fidgeted beside me, then shrugged. It was amazing to watch, but it was as if Ray faded whenever Ray Vecchio was around. Separately, the two men each had their own, rather striking personalities, but in the same room, they were like matter and anti-matter. Ray Vecchio's normally expansive personality expanded further still, taking up all the oxygen; Ray Kowalski seemed to empty out, to go pale and ghostly.
"Here and there," I hedged. "Out and about."
"I'm gonna go to bed," Ray mumbled, jamming his hands into the pockets of his parka. "Night—and thanks for dinner." I nodded. "Night, Vecchio," he said, and then he disappeared down the hallway toward the back of the house.
Ray Vecchio groaned, sprawled out in the armchair, and covered his face with the newspaper. His feet hit Dief, who leapt up, growled, and went to sit on the other side of the fireplace. "Fuuuuuuuck," Ray moaned from behind the newspaper. "Fuck fuck fuck. He knows, doesn't he?"
"He knows, yes," I said, perching on the arm of the sofa.
"Fuck," Ray said again, and ripped the newspaper from his face. "How's he taking it?"
"Surprisingly well, it seems. He hasn't laid a hand on you, after all, has he?"
Ray's glance darted nervously down the hallway toward Ray Kowalski's room. "Maybe he's planning to ambush me. Maybe he's just waiting till you're not around to stop him. Maybe he's gonna come to my room in the middle of the night and strangle me with piano wire."
"McAllister's has many amenities, but not a piano," I pointed out.
"He's got his gun, though, right?" Ray asked, bolting upright in his chair.
"Yes," I said patiently. "He has a gun. He is, after all, a police officer."
"Hey, police officers are just people. Well, except for you," Ray said and cracked a smile. I smiled back. "Rough day today, huh?" he added.
"Yes. More so for you, I'd imagine. You shouldn't be traveling. I can't believe the hospital released you."
"I released myself. You can't keep a good man down, Benny. And I had to be here—I'm in the middle of this damn thing..."
I nodded. "Yes, I noticed that."
"I'm in it up to my freakin' neck," Ray griped. "Ray Vecchio works for the Chicago P.D. Armando Languistini was working for the FBI and the ATF. So I'm testifying for both—I think I'm having an identity crisis, Benny."
"That particular illness seems to be going around," I said with a sigh.
"Yeah. Plus there's the whole weirdness of the Kowalski thing. You just gotta love staying in the same hotel with your new girlfriend and her ex-husband. Believe me, Benny—I had no idea who she was when I met her. None." Ray stared down at his fingernails, which were neatly manicured and buffed to a high shine.
"I believe you, Ray. Honestly, I do."
"Afterwards I put two and two together. Kowalski—Kowalski!" Ray raised his well-manicured hand and smacked his forehead. "Right! But by then, it was too late." Again there was that desperate, unfamiliar look on his face. "I'm in deep, here, Benny. I never was so deep so fast. And part of me is completely and totally freaked about this, let me tell you. But the other part of me?" Ray stopped, swallowed hard. "I need something to hold onto, here, man."
"Yes," I said softly. "Yes, I know, Ray."
"Just—I'm not as young as I used to be. And I'm tired of floating. I wanna settle down: I wanna live like a normal person."
"So do I," I confessed. "By my own rather abnormal standards, of course."
Ray stared at me for a moment and then said, "You're not coming back, are you?"
I stared down at the carpet for a moment, and then raised my head again. "No. I don't think so."
Ray nodded slowly. "You—you like this?" he asked, raising his hand and waving it.
I put on my blankest look. "The hotel?"
Ray rolled his eyes at me, and so I answered the question.
"Yes, I like it. It's my home. When it's not full of Americans, Russians, and the international news media, that is."
Ray cracked another grin. "And here I was, thinking the place had just become livable."
"You call this living?" I deadpanned.
"Heh. You made a funny one." Ray stretched and then got up out of the chair. "Well, this was pretty pointless. I sat out here for hours, hoping to run into Stanley. Thought maybe we could talk. Guy plays a mean game of hangman—I think I like him."
"They are divorced, Ray," I said quietly. "Stella's life is her own business. If you love her and she loves you—well. I think you ought to go for it, as they say."
Ray brightened. "You really think so?"
"I do, yes. You're a good man, Ray. You deserve to be happy."
"Hey," Ray said hoarsely. "Hey! Benny!" he said and threw his arms around me.
The next morning I woke at a more reasonable hour. I washed and dressed, and then went downstairs to the dining room. Two women were setting out the breakfast trays, but the room was otherwise empty. I went down the hall to Ray Kowalski's room and knocked. "Ray? Are you awake?" There was no answer, so I knocked harder. Still no answer.
I wandered into the lobby. Dief was still stretched out in front of the fire, though he raised his head and thumped his tail against the floor at my approach. "No," I told him. "Not yet. They're just setting up now—it'll be a few minutes." He whined but relented, resting his head on top of his paws.
A shadow flickered across the frosted glass front window and suddenly I knew—it was Ray already up and out for his morning cigarette. I approached the window and then heard a woman's voice. Nancy, I realized after a moment.
"Lanie's is probably your best bet," she was saying, and without thinking I moved closer to the bay window, wanting to hear more clearly. "They have very fine things, and their prices are quite reasonable, considering the quality."
"Can I get everything there?" Ray asked. "I mean, I pretty much need new stuff tip to toe."
"Yes, I think so."
"Yes," Nancy answered. "Anything you can't find there you can probably buy at the General Store. If you want personal items. Shaving cream, for instance."
"Okay, okay, that's good."
"You know, I didn't realize, when you and Benton first arrived, that you'd crossed the border by hanging onto the tail of a plane."
"Yeah, well, it happened kind of fast."
"I would imagine."
"And now here I am, in a place I don't know where to shop, and I haven't even got a change of underwear. Sorry, Nancy—too much information."
I heard Nancy laugh. "No, really. It's all right. I have three sons, you know."
"Two of them went to school with Benton. The third is quite a bit younger. So you needn't be embarrassed, Ray, really. Believe me, I know boys. "
There was silence for a moment, and I was about to head for the lobby door when I heard Ray say, "Hey, can I ask you a stupid question? Like, since I'm discussing my underwear needs with you?"
I heard Nancy laugh. "Certainly, Ray. Go ahead."
"This one's sort of philosophical, okay? Just—you ever feel like you don't know who you are? Like if you weren't around somebody...like if you lost somebody...you wouldn't be you anymore?"
I stood still, and realized my heart was thumping loudly in my chest. How could I have ever thought that Ray would get over it? It was too much for any man to take—losing your identity, losing your job, and losing your love, all in the space of a single week.
There was silence outside, too, and I held my breath, waiting for what Nancy would say.
"Yes," she said finally. "I believe I know exactly what you're talking about. I felt just like that when my husband died."
"Oh, geez, Nance." Ray's voice was agonized. "I'm so sorry—I didn't mean—"
"No, it's all right. It was some time ago. But I felt—just the way that you said. Rather lost. Unsure of who I was. And maybe I'm not the same person I was back then, but I've come to like who I am now. Things change, Ray. That's just part of life."
"Yeah." Ray's voice was barely audible. "I get that."
"My boys—that I was just telling you about? They've all moved on." Nancy's voice was brightly cheerful. "Carl is in Toronto. Jack and Phillip are in Ottawa. They've gone where the jobs are, you see. Nothing's permanent, Ray. Not marriage, and not children either."
I shuddered and leaned back against the wall to steady myself. I heard my father's voice, my father's voice, and closed my eyes.
"Not anything, really. The essence of life is change. Things around us change, and we change with them or we die."
Nothing's permanent, son. Nothing. I took a deep breath and pushed my father's voice out of my head, then strode toward the door, making as much noise as humanly possible. Dief cooperated by howling loudly just as I pushed through.
"Good morning, Ray. Good morning, Nancy." They were sitting together, I saw, on the swing in front of the windows.
"Mornin', Fraser." "Good morning, Benton."
"Hey, Nancy's jus' told me where I can get some new clothes." Ray squinted up at me in the bright morning sunlight, then shaded his eyes with his hand. "I'm outta clothes, myself. Wearin' the same thing for days. You need stuff?"
"Yes," I said.
"Wanna go at lunch?"
"Yes, " I said. "Want to get breakfast?"
Ray grinned at me, reached down beside his seat, and pulled up a half-finished bottle of Coca-Cola. He tilted it, sloshing the liquid.
I crossed my arms and shook my head. "No. Get up. Get in there. Real food, Ray."
Ray shot a pleading look at Nancy, who shook her head at him. "I think you'd better listen, Ray."
Ray shot her a warm smile, got up, and followed me back into McAllister's for breakfast.
"Peter Paul and Mary."
"Stone Temple Pilots."
"All right. S. Sex Pistols. You take an S now."
"No problem. Sam Cooke."
"O. O. Jesus."
I sighed and turned to glare at them. "Could you please keep it down? I'm trying to pay attention."
"Yeah, sorry, Benny. You wanna play something else, Stanley?"
"Yeah. After you give me a fucking O."
"All right, all right. Oasis, you asshole. The OJs. Oingo Fucking Boingo. Happy now?
"Pleeeeese," I begged, bracing my head on my hands and closing my eyes. "Please. Stop." Even with my eyes closed, I could hear the faint slap as one of them whacked the other—probably Ray hitting Ray, if I knew my Rays, which I did. In a moment, I decided, I would break both their heads.
"Constable Fraser?" I lifted my head quickly, and saw that Judge Ketchum was looking at me.
I got to my feet. "Yes, sir. Yes, Your Honor."
"Would you please follow this gentleman?" Judge Ketchum gestured to one of the court officers. "We have a court reporter ready to take your statement."
"Finally," I heard Ray Vecchio mutter. "Maybe we'll be home by Christmas."
"Yes, sir. Certainly, sir." I came around the table and crossed before the bench just as the judge said, "Detective Raymond Vecchio!"
I heard the scrape of the chair. "Yeah, me, Your Honor."
"You will please go with this woman."
I followed the man the judge indicated out the side door of the courtroom and down the corridor. He led me to a small interview room where two men were waiting—a fellow officer and a court reporter. There was also a small portable tape recorder on the table. We introduced ourselves—they were Sergeant Halloran and Mr. Christian Percy—and then they invited me to take a seat. I did, and then I cleared my throat and began to tell my story.
"Even then, Holloway Muldoon tried to evade capture," I said, nearing the conclusion to my tale. "He commandeered a snowmobile and fled from the scene. I followed him on horseback and eventually used a rope to yank him off the machine. I then pursued him on foot. Muldoon stopped and pulled a gun on me, but I was saved when we both fell, quite accidentally, I assure you, through the top of an abandoned mine. We, um...confronted one another at the bottom of the shaft, and by the end of the confrontation Muldoon had been rendered unconscious."
That was strictly accurate as far as it went. It didn't, however, go very far.
"I see," Sergeant Halloran said. "And then you escorted Muldoon and his accomplices to Inuvik."
"Yes, sir. By snowmobile. We formed a convoy. It was," I added, "entirely Detective Kowalski's idea."
"I see. Well, that's all very clear. You may, of course, be called back to elaborate on your testimony."
"Certainly, sir. I understand, sir."
Sergeant Halloran nodded briskly and then added, formally: "Before we bring this deposition to a close, is there anything in particular you wish to add to the record?"
Sergeant Halloran looked surprised. "I see. Please go ahead, Constable."
I nodded, and opened my mouth to speak, but found that my throat had closed up. My first word came out strangled, and I coughed into my fist to clear my voice. "Only that—Holloway Muldoon murdered my mother, sir. Caroline Pinsent Fraser. Wife of Sergeant Robert Fraser of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. My mother. I—I would like to reiterate that for the record, please, sir. Holloway Muldoon's first homicide was the murder of my mother. February 16th, 1967."
I sat back in my chair and closed my mouth with a snap. I noticed, to my dismay, that Sergeant Halloran's expression had softened. I quickly got to my feet and saluted, keeping my eyes respectfully on the opposite wall. "Will that be all, sir?"
"Yes, Constable. That will be all for now." Sergeant Halloran stood and returned my salute. "Go and get yourself a late lunch."
"Yes, sir," I said, and passed through the door.
Ray Kowalski was outside, leaning insouciantly against the wall. "Geez," he said in greeting, "that took a year. Vecchio got out an hour ago."
"Well, it's a fairly long story, Ray.
"Yeah. Definitely a two-parter," Ray agreed. "They didn't even get to me. They dismissed me, told me to come back tomorrow."
I nodded sympathetically. "I'm sorry, Ray."
Ray pushed himself off the wall. "Look, I don't know about you, but I gotta get some underwear. New pants. Clean shirt. I'm dyin' here."
I nodded and looked down at myself. "I do, as well. And I'm badly in need of a new uniform."
"Right, so let's go shopping. Maybe we can stop somewhere after, pick up a sandwich. You got something like a deli around here? I'll take anything—caribou sandwich, raccoon sandwich, anything."
"If you'd eat a heartier breakfast," I pointed out, "you wouldn't be so hungry."
"Can't eat early in the morning," Ray grumbled. "My bowels don't work."
"They'd work better if you'd quit smoking and eat more fiber," I said, and we set off, still arguing, down the hall.
I made my own purchases with relative speed, and then watched in stunned amazement as Ray bought four flannel shirts, two pairs of jeans, seven t-shirts, new boots, a wool sweater, a windbreaker, a scarf, a pair of gloves, a large bag of tube socks and fourteen pairs of jockey shorts.
"Hey," Ray said defensively, as he passed his credit card over the counter to a delighted Lanie, "we don't know how long this thing is gonna last, right?"
"No," I agreed. "We haven't a clue."
Ray ended up with four very large carrier bags, which he managed by holding two in each hand. I took him to Masie's Luncheonette, and we had to get a booth just to contain the overflow of his purchases. I ordered a large bowl of stew and a glass of milk, and Ray, after having a deep and meaningful flirtation with the idea of a cheeseburger, eventually just sighed and ordered the same.
"Excellent choice, Ray," I said, trying this time for positive reinforcement rather than chastisement. "Protein. Vegetables. Fat. Calcium."
Ray looked skeptical. "I'm comin' on forty, Fraser. I think I already missed the boat on the calcium thing."
"I am also rapidly approaching the age of forty, Ray, and I don't see why I should do so with brittle bones and teeth."
"Way to give a guy an appetite," Ray muttered, but he did in fact eat all his stew and drink all his milk, which pleased me to no end.
"All right," Ray said, finally, grabbing the bill from under my hands. "Let's pay this and get outta here. I'm gonna get clean, and I'm gonna put on my new fucking clothes."
I extended my hand for the bill. "Let me have it."
"You got dinner last night," Ray protested. "I got this."
"You don't have any Canadian dollars," I explained.
Ray's face fell. "Oh. What. They don't take plastic?"
"Not here, no."
"Oh." Still, Ray seemed reluctant to give up the bill. "And they won't take American money?"
"No. This would be Canada, Ray. Strangely, they prefer Canadian money here."
"Oh. All right." I tugged on the bill, and this time he let it slip from his fingers. I stood, took the bill over to the counter, and paid for our lunch.
When I turned around, Ray was behind me, laden with his packages. "Would you do me a favor, Ray?"
"Yeah, sure. Anything."
I raised my own carrier bag. "Take this back to McAllister's for me?"
Ray's eyebrows drew together. "What, you're not coming back?"
"Not immediately. I want to stop back at the courthouse. It's not yet five—perhaps there's been some ruling on the venue issue."
"Oh. Okay." Ray shifted his packages and hooked my bag onto his long fingers. "Whattya think about all that, anyway? You got any strong feelings about how that goes?"
I made a noncommittal gesture and looked away. "I find it all...most confusing. One of the reasons I'm determined to pay attention to the case as it unfolds." I bit my lip, and then admitted quietly: "However, I do fear that, with international attention focused so entirely on the submarine, the homicide charges will become secondary, or be lost entirely."
Ray let out a long, slow whistle. "Wow. So you're secretly rooting for Chicago."
"I—no. Not exactly." I shoved my hands into the pockets of my parka, felt my room key brush my knuckles, and drew it out. "Here. Perhaps you might be so kind as to put my purchases into my room."
"Sure," Ray said, "except I haven't got a free hand at the minute." He thrust his right hip forward. "Stick it in my pocket, willya?"
I thrust the key deep into the pocket of his coat, and then we walked out of the luncheonette together before heading in opposite directions on the street.
I reached the courthouse just a few minutes before five, in just enough time to learn that, yet again, nothing had been decided. I stood in the back of the crowded courtroom and surveyed the scene. Stella Kowalski was sitting at the barristers' table, looking deeply exhausted; Ray Vecchio and Lieutenant Welsh were sitting behind her, in the first row of the gallery. Inspector Thatcher was deep in conversation with an angry looking David Hofstram—she looked happy, at least. Happier than I'd ever seen her in fact.
A sudden argument broke out among the group of attorneys—voices were raised, index fingers were pointing, names were called. Three mounties descended upon the table to prevent a fist-fight, and suddenly I had to get out of there, out of the courtroom, out of the building, out of town.
I turned on my heel and started walking, and I kept walking until I was on the street, at the end of the street, and into the surrounding territory. I walked until I couldn't see Inuvik anymore, I walked until there was nothing but snow around me and the stars overhead.
I returned, late that night, through quiet, dark streets. Mostly everyone had turned their lights off by that time and gone to bed, but as I approached McAllister's I could see that the porch light was still burning, casting a circle of warm yellow light onto the snow. As I drew closer, I could see that someone was sitting out on the porch swing—Ray Kowalski.
I stopped in front of the house and looked up from the darkness of the sidewalk to the lit porch. "Ray?"
Ray didn't answer; he seemed to be staring at nothing, lost in thought. A cigarette dangled from his left hand, a long column of ash at the tip.
Perhaps it was the lighting, perhaps it was the thick wooden boards of the porch beneath him, but I thought Ray looked rather like an actor in a stage play, focused inward in deep concentration before the curtain went up.
I climbed the three steps to the porch landing. "Ray?"
His stillness was eerie. He'd retreated deeply this time; he didn't even seem to realize I was there.
"Ray," I whispered, not wanting to jar him. My voice was clearly audible in the still night air, yet he didn't turn his head. "Stanley," I whispered, wondering if perhaps this would reach him. It didn't seem to, and I stepped closer.
The smell of alcohol hit me only a second or two before I registered the long, slow blink of his eyes. The combination made me wince—of course, the way things were now, the bars and liquor stores would take plastic, wouldn't they?
That explained everything. Ray hadn't gone this deep under his own steam—this shutdown had been fueled by drink.
"Ray," I sighed, and sat down next to him on the swing. Now he turned his head slowly to look at me, and his eyes widened in surprise, as if I'd just appeared out of nowhere. Which from his perspective, perhaps I had.
He did another of those long, slow blinks and then showed me a brilliant smile. "Fraser. Hey! How're you doing?"
"What are you doing here, Ray?" I asked wearily.
Ray appeared to ponder the question. "I don't know," he said finally. "No, wait," he said, and slowly lifted his left hand. The column of dark ash broke off and fell onto the deep blue denim of his new jeans. I intercepted the cigarette halfway to his mouth, pulled it from his fingers, and tossed it out into the snow.
Interestingly, Ray didn't seem to notice. And aside from the unbearable slowness of his reactions, and the slight thickening of his voice, he seemed all right. "Where you been?" he asked me.
"I went for a walk," I said, brushing the ash off his leg.
"Was it nice?"
I smiled faintly. "Yes, it was. Are you about ready for bed?"
"Yeah, I think so." He clutched the arm of the swing to steady himself. "Just about ready."
"Do you need help?"
Ray looked at me for a moment and then showed me another slow, brilliant smile. I found myself smiling helplessly back at him. And then we were laughing together in the cold night air.
"All right, all right," I granted, taking his arm in mine. "Stupid question."
"Very stupid, yeah," Ray agreed. I tugged him upward and he tried to brace himself on the back of the swing, which of course swung wildly. "Whoa! Ho! Hey! Earthquake!"
"It's just the swing, Ray," I said patiently.
"I knew that. Just yankin' your chain. I'm not that drunk, fer Christ's sake." To prove his point he stood up, perfectly straight and steady, and grinned at me. Aside from the odd, slow blinking, he did in fact appear to be perfectly sober. "See? I could do a little dance, if you want."
"I'd rather you didn't."
Ray pouted at this. "I'm a very good dancer."
"I know. But it's late. The time for dancing has passed, I'm afraid." I reached out for his arm but he shrugged me off.
"I'm okay," Ray insisted doggedly. "Really. Just maybe walk with me in case I fall and crack my stupid head open."
"All right," I agreed, and we crossed the porch toward the door, which I held open for him. Ray loped steadily through the lobby and down the back hallway to his door. He fumbled in his pocket for his key, and then tried to put it into the lock.
"Do you need help?"
Ray laughed and straightened up. "Sure, all the time. I should just put out a sign. Help wanted."
He dropped the key into my hand and I was just about to try inserting it into the lock when I noticed the number stamped into it. Seven. "Ray, this is my key."
"Oh. Well, that explains it then." He fished into his pocket again and came out with a second key. "Here we go," he said, bending over again, and this time the door opened for him easily.
"You're sure you're all right?" I felt oddly hesitant to leave him.
"Yeah. M'all right. Gonna sleep it off. Be better in the morning," he said, and closed the door behind him.
This turned out not to be true. The next morning, I woke promptly and dressed and went to fetch him. But a knock on the door to Room Two produced only a muffled groan.
"Ray?" I felt for the knob, but the door was locked.
"Go away, Fraser."
"Have you got a hangover?"
Silence for a moment. "Yeah. And you guys have got snow on the ground."
"Oh, dear," I sighed. "Ray? Ray—just hang on, all right?"
"Guuuuggh," Ray said and I shook my head and went to go look for Nancy.
Five minutes later I was back at Ray's door with supplies. I knocked again, quietly.
"Ray," I said quietly, "I have Nancy's spare key. Can I come in?"
Another groan, and then, "Yeahhhh....okay."
I inserted the key into the lock and opened the door. The light from the hallway arced across the bed. Ray shuddered, yelped, and rolled away, wrapping his arms up around his head. "Shut the door, shut the door, shut the goddamned door!"
I quickly pushed the door shut behind me and stood there, blinking, trying to force my eyes to adjust to the dark.
"Jesus! Jesus!" Ray hissed. "You trying to kill me?"
"No." I blinked a few times and peered through the darkness. Ray's bedclothes were in disarray, Ray himself was a crumpled heap of skin and underclothes. "I just—I brought you some water," I said quietly. "Some dry toast. And, um—-a bucket. Just in case."
Ray sighed softly and rolled onto his back, letting himself sprawl out on the twin sized bed. He stared up at the ceiling. "Oh. Thanks."
I took a couple of tentative steps forward, and then, when Ray didn't protest, I set the bucket on the floor near the head of the bed and put the pitcher of water and the plate of toast on the night stand. "You need to be drinking water," I murmured. "Most of a hangover is dehydration. And you're probably already dehydrated already—you drink mainly caffinated beverages and alcohol—"
"I'm sorry," I said and shut up.
Ray tried to push himself up on his elbows, groaned, and abandoned the attempt. "Fraser, I..."
"Yes. It's all right. I'll simply tell them that you're ill today, and that you'll come to court tomorrow. Is that all right?"
Ray didn't answer for a moment. I stepped closer and saw that he'd screwed his eyes shut tightly, and he was breathing raggedly, the white cotton of his t-shirt rising and falling as he struggled for breath. "Yes," he managed finally. "Please."
"Very well," I said.
"Fraser—I'm sorry. I'm so, so sorry..."
"It's all right."
"I'm a colossal fuck-up." The white t-shirt rose and fell, rose and fell. "I. I'm just a colossal fuck-up."
"It's all right," I repeated. "Really. Just promise me something."
Ray opened his eyes then; they were, I saw even in the dim light, glistening and bloodshot. "Anything."
"No drinking today. No hair of the dog. Just water, lots of water. All right?"
Ray smiled weakly. "All right."
I went into the dining room for breakfast and found Ray Vecchio there, slumped over a cup of coffee. He lifted his head and I saw that he had dark bags under his eyes. "Ray," I began, but he cut me off.
"Don't gimme any grief, today, Benny, okay? No little lectures on propriety or common sense. I didn't make this situation, okay? I'm doin' my best over here, so just cut me some freakin' slack!"
He looked both angry and utterly exhausted. "Ray, you look terrible."
"Yeah, well, I didn't get much sleep last night, what with everything."
I frowned at this. "Everything? What everything?"
"Kowalski didn't tell you?" Ray asked with a frown.
"He doesn't seem to be feeling very well."
Ray laughed hollowly. "Yeah, well, I bet. Considering that he spent most of yesterday soaking." He groaned and put his head in his hands. "God, what a nightmare..."
I sat down slowly. "What happened?"
"Oh, it was my fucking fault," Ray said miserably. "Everything's my fucking fault, isn't it?"
"Sure it is. Where he's concerned it sure is. I took his life from him, I took his wife from him—"
"Ray, you were doing your job. He was doing his job. And she isn't his wife. Not anymore."
Ray looked unconvinced. "Yeah, but—"
"Ray. Just tell me what happened," I pressed.
He let out a long sigh and sat back in his chair. "I heard your door open. I mean, I figured it was you—"
"Oh, dear," I said, getting the picture instantly.
"Yeah, you got it," Ray said miserably. "I open the door and I look across the hall—and there's Kowalski. And me, red-handed, in his wife's room."
"Ex-wife," I corrected quietly.
"I mean, nothing much to say, now, is there? 'Stanley, hey, how's it hanging?' I step out of the room and pull the door shut behind me, cause I figure, okay, now he's really gonna hit me, and I don't want Stella to see me cry. But he doesn't."
I felt my eyebrows fly up. "He doesn't?"
"No. I wish he had hit me. Woulda cleared the air. Instead he just raises his hands, like I'm this big threatening goombah, and backs up down the hall. Meanwhile, Stella's in the room, and she's got no idea what's going on, and so she starts up calling for me. 'Ray?' 'Ray?' 'Ray, where are you?' And I can hear her, clearly, through the wall, but so can he hear her, I can see that he's hearing her, and he's staring at me and Stella's going, 'Ray. Ray. Ray. Ray,' like a fucking car alarm."
"And he just takes off. And that leaves me with Stella, and I've got to tell her what happened, and now she's all upset, cause she loves him even if she don't love him, right?"
"So now it's this whole big thing, this whole big scene—'Why'd you have to open the door?' and 'How was I supposed to know?' and 'What are we gonna do?' and 'It's not my fucking fault,' and 'Can't we find another hotel?' and 'Maybe this isn't such a good idea.' And she's guilty and I'm guilty and she's crying and I'm crying and nobody even hit me yet. And then finally I'm like, 'Shuddup, shuddup, shuddup—I wanna marry you!' and that shuts her up real quick."
I stared at him—his neck, I noticed, was flushing again. And this time the flush went all the way up to his scalp. "You said what?"
"I asked her to marry me," Ray confessed, flush deepening.
"And she said okay. I know, I know," Ray said, nodding, "normally that would be the point of the story. But this time it ain't—things being the way they are. Damn complicated."
"Ray. I. Congratulations," I managed.
"Yeah, thanks. So she says yes and then we make up. Which is always the best part of the fight. But then after a while—later—I can see that Stanley's still gnawing at her. So I say to her, 'You want me to go check up on him?' and she says, 'No, I think I'd better,' and so she does. But she's not gone long."
I frowned. "Oh?"
"Yeah. She's back in five seconds and she's crying again and she says, 'He's drunk. He's drunk. He's drinking again,' and then up it starts again. 'It's my fault,' 'It's not your fault,' blah-blah, blah-blah, until finally it's 'I love you,' 'I love you, too.' Which is where it ends for me, Benny, and the part I can't change."
"I understand, Ray."
"Look," Ray said, and leaned forward to me across the table. "Word on the street is we're gonna lose today."
"What?" I asked, startled.
"We—Chicago. They're sayin' now that they're gonna do this by process of elimination, and apparently Chicago's first off the damn list. And if this ends today, if Stella's comes free—we're out of here, Benny. I'm gonna get her the fuck out of here, away from all this. They want me back for clarification, they can send me a subpoena. I gave my deposition, and I'm getting out of here the minute they let Stella go."
I nodded slowly. "I—yes. I understand that."
"I just want you to know. Just in case we're suddenly gone or something." Ray chewed his lip for a second, and then he grabbed my hand and squeezed it tightly. I squeezed back. "Just—you been a great friend to me, Benny. And I love you to bits. I don't wanna leave without saying that. I'm gonna miss you like hell, and you'd better come visit me."
"I'll visit," I said hoarsely.
"And I'll come back. Visit you up here. And you'll write to me. And you'll get a fucking phone."
"I'll get a fucking phone, yes." Ray was going blurry, now, and I blinked quickly to clear my vision. "There's a new service," I blurted. "NWTelecom. They promise full cellular service to the Territories by the summer of 2001."
"And I'll miss you, too. I think I miss you already." I brought my other hand up onto the table, and clutched his hand in both of mine.
Ray's prediction turned out to be correct—in court that day, Judge Ketchum announced that he was going to deal with the complexities of the venue issue by dealing with each of the motions in turn. He followed that up by denying the motion made by the City of Chicago, on the grounds that the case against Muldoon was broader than the homicides and assaults he'd committed within that jurisdiction. Additionally, both murdered men were in fact agents of the ATF, and were therefore included in the ATF's filing. This, he felt, rendered the Chicago motion redundant. Motion denied. Court dismissed for the day.
I saw Stella Kowalski's blond head bow with disappointment, her entire posture projecting exhaustion and defeat. Ray Vecchio appeared at her side, and suddenly she turned and put her arms around him, and he was whispering into her ear, rocking her slowly and holding her close.
I found myself smiling, despite my own disappointment in the judge's ruling. They were evidently very much in love, Ray Vecchio and Stella Kowalski. And they looked wonderful together—her powder-blue Tahari suit pressed up tight against his Armani. They looked—literally—well-suited, and I was happy for them both.
I felt a hand on my shoulder and turned; Lieutenant Welsh was standing there, behind me. I stood quickly, and he gave me a weary smile. "Well, we tried, Constable. That's all we can do, right?"
"I suppose we'll be heading back now. Doesn't seem much point in staying—and god only knows what my desk looks like."
"Go back to your desk, sir. You belong behind your desk."
"Yeah," Welsh said with a sigh. "I think I do." He extended his hand to me and I shook it. "I've enjoyed working with you, Constable. Don't be a stranger, okay?"
"So have I, sir. And I won't, sir." Behind him, I could see Inspector Thatcher waving me over. "Pardon me, sir—I have to go now."
"Yeah, go ahead. But stay in touch."
"I will," I promised. I patted his shoulder and then crossed the courtroom toward where Inspector Thatcher was standing, amidst the CID agents.
"Well, one down, seven to go," she said briskly. "And now that Chicago has been eliminated from the list of potential venues I hope that you will feel no further divisions of loyalty, Constable."
I felt stung at this, but tried to control myself. "Pardon me, Inspector, but I have felt no such division. My loyalties have always been perfectly clear."
She smiled reflexively. "Glad to hear it. Because we need you now, Constable."
"I have been in court every day," I protested.
"Not here." She barked out a laugh. "Nothing's happening here. This," she waved her hand at the courtroom, "is all window dressing. The real battle is happening behind the scenes. And it is, as I'm sure you realize, an armwrestle between the CID and the CIA."
I felt the blood drain from my face. "But this is a court of law..."
Inspector Thatcher snorted. "Judge Ketchum will do what we tell him to do. He's not deciding anything. The only question here is whether or not this case will be heard in Canada or the United States. And we may very well let it go to the United States," she added, dropping her voice to a conspiratorial whisper, "but not for nothing. There are wheels within wheels, Constable." She tapped the side of her nose with a well-manicured finger. "I must say, I find the whole thing quite exciting."
I felt suddenly sick; I stared at her, unable to believe what she was saying. And then I turned my head to look at the bench, at the Canadian flag, at the mounties standing guard over the milling crowd.
"I suppose," I managed finally, "we'll just have to wait and see, won't we?"
"We'll know before Ketchum does," Inspector Thatcher said breezily. "Or I will, anyway. This is a great opportunity you're missing, Fraser. Everything's up in the air; everyone's negotiating for something. If you don't get in the game, you won't get your piece."
"I don't want a piece," I protested. "I want—"
"Well, you deserve one. This is your case, your collar." She touched my arm and leaned forward, and I had to stop myself from pulling away from her touch. "I'll do what I can to look out for you. Your interests. I take care of my people," she said, and smiled at me.
This time when I returned to McAllister's I found Ray Vecchio sitting on the porch swing in his long, black cashmere coat. Next to him was a substantial pile of luggage. He smiled as he saw me approach, and stood up. "Hey, I'm glad you came back in time. I was afraid we'd miss you completely."
"I'm glad you didn't." We hugged tightly for a moment, and then I pulled back and asked, "Where's ADA Kowalski?"
Ray jerked his head toward the lobby. "She's saying goodbye to Stanley. I think—I think it's gonna be okay."
"Good," I said, and meant it.
"Why don't you, um, go see where she's got to?"
"All right," I said, and then hugged him one last time. "All right."
"And get yourself a fucking cellphone, baby." Ray grinned widely and reached up to pat my cheeks with both his hands.
I went into the lobby, which was empty, and then walked down the hallway to the dining room. I stopped short at the open door, feeling shocked and embarrassed.
Ray Kowalski was kissing Stella. Was really, really kissing Stella. And she seemed to be kissing him back—her arms were draped around his neck, and his hands were cupping her face.
I froze and held my breath, then took a careful step backward. And then, like a statue coming to life, they broke apart, and stared at each other. Her face, I saw, was glistening with tears.
"I love you," Ray whispered. "I love you and I love you and I want you to be happy."
"Ray..." Stella's face was crumpling.
"I mean it," he insisted. "It's all I want now. You tell him—you tell him—he doesn't treat you like gold, I'm gonna come down there and break every bone in his body."
I took another quiet step backwards, and then another and another until I had retreated back down the hallway. And then I turned for the stairs, and climbed them, two at a time, until I was back behind my own door, locked in and safe.
The next morning I got up extra early, washed and dressed, and decided to take Diefenbaker for a long walk in the countryside. He seemed pleased with that decision, and I realized that I'd been rather unfair to him lately. I'd finally brought him home and then I'd kept him cooped up in McAllister's for days on end.
Frankly, I was starting to feel a little cooped up myself.
I waved Dief over and knelt down beside him to give him a bit of affection. He lapped it up, literally and figuratively, panting hot wolf breath into my face.
"I'm sorry, Dief," I murmured, and he whimpered and licked my nose. "But I have to see this through. And then we'll go home, all right?"
Dief looked at me skeptically.
"No, really," I insisted. "I promise. We don't belong here—we'll go back where we belong. Just be patient with me for a little while longer, please."
Dief seemed strangely noncommittal, and I frowned.
"Is that all right? I mean, don't you want that?"
Dief thought about it for a moment and then indicated that while, yes, he'd be pleased to go home soon, he'd been quite enjoying his stay in town, was pleased that he'd had the chance to have a good long visit with the two Rays, and was relishing Nancy's cooking—which, he added, was a great deal better than mine.
"Well!" I said, feeling unaccountably betrayed. "Perhaps she'll adopt you. Perhaps you have a second career ahead of you as a hotel guard dog."
Diefenbaker rolled his eyes at me.
"I mean, don't do me any favors," I said meanly, and shifted my weight to get up, but Diefenbaker, who was a better man than I was, really, went up on his hind legs and pawed my chest and licked my face until I felt compelled to apologize.
I dropped Dief back at McAllister's and arrived at the Inuvik Central Courthouse shortly before nine. Inspector Thatcher waved at me as I came in, and I waved back, but made my way to my regular place at the witness table, where Ray Kowalski was already sitting.
He looked different, I thought. Somehow younger. Cleaner. I decided it was at least partly the effect of the new clothes—the yellow flannel shirt, the new dark blue jeans. He was also wearing his glasses, and without Ray Vecchio there to egg him on to games and distractions he seemed somehow more studious. More serious. Present and determined to pay attention.
"Mornin'," he whispered as I sat down in the chair beside him. "How're you doin'?"
"I'm fine. Yourself?"
"Fine." Ray stared down at the legal pad in front of him for a moment, and then lifted his head again. "Missed you at breakfast this morning."
"I took Diefenbaker out for a walk."
"Oh." He folded his long, graceful hands together on the desk in front of him, and stared out toward the bench. I did the same, twiddling my thumbs, nervously anticipating the appearance of Judge Ketchum and whatever rulings he might make today.
"Fraser?" I turned to look at Ray, but Ray wasn't looking at me; he was sitting ramrod straight, his eyes still firmly fixed on the bench. "I just want you to know. I did what you said yesterday."
I frowned, trying to remember what exactly I had said, trying to think of what exactly he could mean. Ray continued to stare straight ahead, chewing nervously at his lower lip. Finally he murmured, "I didn't drink nothing. Just the water, like you said. I'm not drinkin' no more."
"Oh." I'd forgotten that entirely. "That."
"Jus'—I blew it, I know I blew it, but I won't blow it again, okay? I swear."
"It was like—whattyacallit. An aberration. I'm not like that anymore, I don't do that. Just—it was a really rough day, and—"
"—I did something stupid which I won't never do again."
"Ray, it's all right."
"It's not all right, Fraser, it was stupid and unprofessional. I'm up here for a reason, I got a role here and I blew it."
"Ray, it's all right."
"You got every reason to be mad at me. I'm not saying you shouldn't be mad—you got every right to be mad, embrace your madness. I'm just telling you that it won't happen again."
"I'm not mad," I told him.
That made his head turn. "You're not?"
Ray looked dubious. "You sure?"
"Positive," I said, just as Judge Ketchum walked into the courtroom. The entire courtroom scrambled to its collective feet, and then we sat down again as directed by the court officers.
"I believe we have more depositions to do today," Judge Ketchum said, flipping on his bifocals and staring at the sheaves of paper in front of him. "Is Detective Stanley Raymond Kowalski present in the courtroom?"
Beside me, Ray scrambled to his feet. "Yes, Your Honor, that's me. I'm sorry, but I was kinda sick yesterday and—"
"Would you kindly follow that gentleman?" Judge Ketchum directed, pointing at a man standing near the side door. "He'll take your statement."
"Yes, sir, Your Honor, sir." Ray came around the table and crossed the courtroom toward the side door. There he hesitated and looked back across the room at me.
"Detective Kowalski?" the man said patiently, holding the side door open. "If you'd come this way, sir?"
I nodded slowly at Ray and then mouthed, "Positive."
Ray flashed me a fragile smile and then turned and disappeared out the side door, which closed softly behind him.
That left only Buck Frobisher and me at the witness table. Buck slid over into the chair that Ray had vacated and said, out of the side of his mouth, "You know, son, I've watched ice melt and been more entertained."
"The next order of business," Judge Ketchum continued, "is to consider the motion presented to the court by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms..." The ATF's lawyers stepped forward and elaborated the merits of their case for the rest of the morning, citing the two dead agents, Callow and Cartwright, the grenade launchers, the nerve gas, and numerous other instances of arms trafficking.
But, to my dismay, I noticed that Judge Ketchum's eyes were glazing over. He didn't look to me like a man who was actively listening.
He looked like a man who had already made up his mind.
I shot a glance in the direction of the CID contingent. David Hofstram was sitting back in his chair with a smug look on his face. Inspector Thatcher was smiling behind her hand.
I felt my own hands clench into fists and consciously tried to relax them. I didn't particular want the ATF's motion to be granted, but this felt wrong.
At half-past eleven, Judge Ketchum glanced at his watch and called a recess so that he could consider the matter. To my surprise, he told us that he would provide us with a decision at a quarter to twelve.
Fifteen minutes. Two and a half hours of argument and he would decide in fifteen minutes? Everyone stayed in their seats, except the television journalists, who wanted to set up their cameras and get the right angles so that they could broadcast the breaking developments live.
It was ten minutes to twelve when Judge Ketchum returned from chambers and announced that the ATF's motion had been denied. Court was adjourned for lunch, proceedings to resume at half past one.
The courtroom became chaotic—now the print journalists were on their feet and rushing for the door, and the ATF lawyers cursed and groaned and slapped each other's backs, comfortingly. I remained in my seat, feeling conflicted and confused, as the courtroom swirled around me.
I debated getting up and running for it as I saw Inspector Thatcher cross the room toward me. But I was trapped, so I got to my feet and tried to muster a look of polite interest. "Two down," she said, smiling. "Two down, and the big showdown still to come."
"Showdown, sir?" I asked, feigning blankness.
"You betcha. Right now, phone lines are burning up all around the world. Meetings are being held in back rooms." She shivered, as if in the grip of some unbearable ecstasy. "Now that the ATF is out of it—the pressure's on the Americans. And they hate pressure. Myself, I'm betting a decision will come down this very afternoon."
"Oh?" I inquired mildly.
She shook her head, apparently frustrated with me. "You still don't get it, do you? This is a win-win for us—we win either way, any way it goes. We've got a nuclear submarine! It's four aces, it's like winning the lottery, it's our golden ticket—cash it in for anything you want! For god's sake, Fraser—Holloway Muldoon is the best thing to happen to Canada in fifty years!"
It was sharp and unexpected, like a blow to the solar plexus, and it took everything I had to just stand there calmly and not strike back. "That's...a point of view," I managed. "Pardon me, but I need to go now."
She grabbed my arm and dug her nails in. "For god's sake, Fraser, we're running out of time! Tell me what you want! I'll try to get you what you want—before our window of opportunity closes!"
"All I want, sir," I said, pulling away sharply, "is justice."
I searched the corridors for Ray, and then inquired after him, and found that he was still giving his deposition, would I care to wait? I wanted to wait, but I couldn't keep still. My mind was racing; I felt restless and distracted and ill at ease. I needed to walk.
I was halfway there before I consciously realized where I was going: The Church of the Ascension. I had worshipped there as a child, with my grandparents, and I felt a sensation nearly akin to time travel when I pulled the ornate brass door open and stepped in to the dim, dusky light of the chapel.
There was a noon service in progress, but it was sparsely attended. Seven or eight worshippers were scattered around the church, though clustered mainly at the front, near the vicar. I slipped quietly into the last pew, sat down, and closed my eyes, trying to feel the stillness of the air around me, trying to listen to the soft, rhythmic murmur of voices at worship.
And still my own thoughts spun and whirled, and so finally I slipped to my knees and began to pray feverishly. Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth—
Thy will, I reminded myself. Thy will, not my will. If this be thy will, then I —
Then I accept—
I don't. I can't. I—
Oh, my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended thee. And I detest all my sins because of thy just punishments. But most of all, because they offend thee, my God, who art all good and deserving of all my love. I fully resolve, with the help of thy Grace, to sin no more and to avoid the near occasions of sin. A-men.
I took a deep breath and tried again. "Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us—"
Dear God, cleanse my mind of these thoughts. Dear God, cleanse my heart of this rage.
Dear God, please, let there be justice.
I returned to the courthouse deliberately late. I wanted everyone to be in their places. I wanted attention to be focused on the judge. I didn't think I could manage to project even the veneer of civility at the moment. I wanted to minimize any chances of conversation, or small talk. Impossible right now. Intolerable right now.
I slid into the packed courtroom and made my way back to my seat as unobtrusively as possible. Ray was, I saw, back in his place at the witness table. He watched me come in, and looked at me curiously, but said nothing.
I sat down and tried to focus on what the attorneys were saying. A man in a dark blue suit appeared to be making the case for Yellowknife as a venue, summarizing its history as the seat of government of the Northwest Territories and its structure as a consensus government lacking the infighting and coercion of political parties. It was noted, rather wryly, that Yellowknife possessed resources that were obviously lacking in Inuvik—the spacious Legislative Building, ample accommodations, better communications, etc., as well as a greater array of tourist and cultural attractions.
This, of course, left the advocates of Ottawa with a simple argument: whatever Yellowknife had, Ottawa had more of it. Inuvik had a population of 3,400, Yellowknife was a city of 20,000—but Ottawa was the Canadian capital, boasting 350,000 people and a wide range of hotels, museums, shopping, restaurants, bars, nightlife, and concerts. Yellowknife, Ottawa's attorney said with a sweet smile and a toss of her well-coiffed head, was frankly outclassed.
I heard a murmur of approval run through the courtroom, and turned my head to look. I saw American, Canadian, and Russian heads nodding. I saw international journalists looking wistful at the idea of high-tailing it out of Inuvik.
I heard the scratch of paper sliding and looked down. Ray had pushed his legal pad in front of me, and I saw that he'd scrawled: "R. U. OK?"
I looked at him and nodded. He stared at me searchingly, then reached out and wrote: "U SURE?" I nodded again and looked away.
At half-past four, Judge Ketchum announced that he was calling another recess, and that he'd return shortly with a decision on the Yellowknife and Ottawa motions. The moment he disappeared through the chamber doors, the courtroom began to shuffle and reform itself—people stood, stretched their legs, went to find drinks and get coffee and use the restroom.
I sat there and stared down at the legal pad. R. U. OK?
"So are you?" I heard Ray murmur beside me. "Cause, Frase—you don't look so good."
I couldn't meet his eyes. "I'm fine." I took a deep breath. "And I don't feel much like talking right now."
"But you're not mad."
"I'm not mad, no."
"Okay, then," Ray said. "Okay." He stood up and came around the table, then perched on the edge in front of me, showing me his yellow-clad back and the seat of his pants. It took me a few minutes to realize what he had done—he'd set himself up as a wall between me and the courtroom, blocking me from its view, giving me a bit of desperately needed space. I felt a wave of gratitude wash over me, put my elbows onto the table, and rubbed at my aching temples.
Five minutes became ten. Ten became twenty. And then it was five o'clock, and still Judge Ketchum had not returned. Right now, phone lines are burning up all around the world. Meetings are being held in back rooms. People moved back to their seats, and the courtroom grew quiet. Ten past five. Quarter past five. The hum of conversation subsided to hushed whispers.
Ray came back to his own seat and murmured to me, "What's he doing back there?"
"I don't know."
Ray sighed and then put his head down on the table atop his folded arms. We waited, the courtroom going still. Half-past five.
At twenty to six, the judge's chamber door finally creaked open. Beside me, Ray bolted upright; around me, I could hear the quiet shuffles of feet and shifting bodies as everyone quickly came to attention.
"I'm sorry to keep you waiting," Judge Ketchum said finally, once he was reinstated in his seat. "I also apologize for keeping you past normal court hours." He shuffled through his papers, and then raised his head and addressed the assembled company. "This is a very complicated situation, as I know you realize. I have just been reviewing the copious paperwork that this trial has generated in just these very few days. I have also been honored to discuss the matter with Prime Minister Jean Chretien and President William Jefferson Clinton of the United States, as well as key leadership in the Parliament, the American Congress, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff."
Judge Ketchum paused, presumably to impress upon us the importance of his position, and then continued with his statement.
"As a result of my conversations with these eminent gentlemen, and upon my own considered reflections, I have decided that a judgment must be made sooner rather than later on the issue of venue. The Town of Inuvik simply does not have the means to support a trial of this magnitude, and we must be sure—we must be very sure—that this case is conducted fairly, with all the resources that a modern judicial system can provide."
I felt myself tensing, felt Ray's hand grip my forearm tightly.
"Holloway Muldoon," Judge Ketchum said sternly, "has committed a breach of faith that has not affected only individuals, nor only Canadians, but the entire, civilized world. He has acted without regard for local, national and international law, and now the business of bringing him to justice is the business of the entire world."
"THEREFORE, it is my decree, as of today, the Fifteenth of March in the Year 1999, that the trial of Mr. Holloway Muldoon be remanded to Federal Court, in the District of Columbia—"
Gasps in the courtroom, the scraping of chairs, the pounding of feet as reporters ran for the door—
"—otherwise known as Washington D.C., in the sovereign nation of the United States of America. The prisoner to be transported—"
"No," I said softly.
"—to said location by a coalition of armed guards, both Canadian and American—"
Beware the Ides of March. Beware the Ides of March. "No," I said, raising my voice.
"—to an appropriate Federal Prison where he will remain for the duration of his trial."
"He killed my mother. He killed my mother. He shot my mother!"
Once spoken, finally spoken, the words seemed to have power, like a spell or an incantation. Like a magnetic force, they swirled around me, beneath me, lifting me out of my chair. I rose, floating in the air like an apparition, propelled up and up by their compelling power and my own urge to testify.
"He killed my mother," I called out. "Your Honor. Your Honor! He—"
Ray caught me on the upswing, seizing my arm, trying to tether me down. "Fraser—"
"Let me go!" I struggled with him, tried to push him away. I struggled to see over the heads of people who were already crowding before the bench. I could float high, up above them, if he'd only stop holding me down. "He shot my mother, sir, he— You can't do this. You can't—"
A arm tight round my chest, constricting my breath, forcing the air out of my lungs with a whoosh. "C'mon." A tight voice in my ear. "Let's get outta here. Let's get the fuck outta here." My boots skidding on the floor, the world tilting dangerously and then righting itself, Thatcher's pale, stunned face looming and disappearing, the huge wood door.
Falling through, using the momentum of the fall to break away, fly forward, crash into the cold marble wall of the hallway. Keeping my balance, rolling and whirling and turning and coming back at Ray with my arm drawn back and my hand clenched tight.
The punch hit him squarely, landing with a soft, wet thwack. His glasses went flying and clattered to the floor; his knees buckled, trembled, then gave way. He sank down to the floor almost in slow motion. The heavy wooden door, the courtroom beyond. Ray on the floor, wincing and probing his face, bright red blood staining his fingers and—
"Oh my God." Inspector Thatcher, standing in the doorway, staring first at Ray and then at me.
Ray's voice, thick and wet-sounding: "....can you shut that fuckin' door, please?..."
"I—yes," Inspector Thatcher said, and disappeared. The door shut with a thump.
I stared at the closed door, and then back at Ray, who was slumped against the wall with his head back, pinching his nose as blood dripped down onto his yellow shirt. Instantly I was crouched on the floor beside him, holding his head carefully and trying to staunch the bleeding with my handkerchief. Ray managed to get a hold of it and pressed the wad of it hard against his upturned face.
"Ray. Ray, I don't know what to say...."
"Don't say nothin'." He turned his head to squint at me, and through the cloud of handkerchief I could see one blue eye. "They screwed you. I get that."
"I ain't the one who's hurt," he murmured, and to my surprise he reached out for me with his free hand and pulled me to him. I let myself go where he would take me, let him pull my head into his lap. He threaded his hand into my hair and held me still, and for a moment I could only lay there, stunned. And then suddenly I was sobbing hard against his belly, shocked and repelled by the sound of my own hoarse, animal-like cries.
After a while I heard the door creak open again, heard the scuffle of feet in the hallway. I tried to pull myself together and found I couldn't, though thankfully I had the protection of Ray's body above me and a warm, soft place to bury my face.
"Are you all right?" Inspector Thatcher. I winced. "Is he all right?"
"Oh yeah," Ray said, and I couldn't believe how normal he sounded, like he always sat on the floor with a broken nose and a mountie in his lap. "We're okay. You got a hankie by any chance?"
"Uh...sure." The click of her heels on the marble floor, and then I felt Ray shift above me. His left hand remained buried in my hair, so I presume he was reaching out for Thatcher's handkerchief with his right. "Thanks."
"Oh, my. Kowalski..."
"S'not as bad as it looks. Jus' a bloody nose. Ain't my first and won't be my last."
"Do you need a doctor?" Thatcher asked worriedly.
'Does he...is he going to be all right, do you think?"
"Oh, yeah, he'll be fine," Ray snuffled, and his hand moved, ruffling my hair gently. "Jus' leave him alone. He's beat. Rough couple of days."
"I—yes. All right. Will you tell him—when he wakes?—that..."
"You're sorry. Yeah."
"I didn't—I wasn't thinking."
"Don't think none of us were thinking," Ray said simply. "Not about him, anyway."
"No, I suppose not," Thatcher said with a sigh. "I'm...going back to the hotel. Everyone's left, now. The only way out is through the door on the other side, behind the judge's chambers."
"Okay," Ray said placidly, sounding like he had all time in the world. "Thanks for the tip."
I heard the heavy door open and shut again, and shifted in his lap, rolling onto my back so I could stare up at him. He looked down at me, and he looked terrible—the flow of blood was now a mere trickle, but his nose was swollen and blood-encrusted.
He surprised me by laughing. "Guess I don't look real pretty, huh?"
"No," I replied. "You look...hurt."
"Yeah, well, you look pretty terrible yourself." His hand slid around my head until it was cupping my cheek, strong thumb stroking against the skin of my jaw. "Eyes all bloodshot and your face is blotchy. Crying don't suit you."
"No," I agreed, and closed my eyes against the sight of him, wanting to focus on the feeling of his hot hand pressed against my face. "Are you about ready to go?"
"Hm?" Ray's thumb stroked back and forth, back and forth. The sensation was hypnotizing. "Whenever. Up to you, no rush."
That put the ball soundly in my court, and if I were a better man I'd have gotten up instantly. But if there was anything I had learned today, it was that I wasn't a very good man at all, and so I lay there, soaking in the warmth of Ray's body and hands, for another five minutes before suggesting we move.
"Oh, dear God," Nancy said, as Ray and I limped our way into the lobby of McAllister's. "It's the walking wounded." She rushed around the counter and approached Ray before shrinking back. "Ray Kowalski, what on earth have you done to yourself?"
I flinched, and felt Ray's hand tighten around my waist. "Eh, you know me, I'm a troublemaker, born and bred. You wouldn't have—like—some medical stuff around here somewhere, would you? You know—bandages, antiseptic?"
"And an ice pack," I added.
"I'll fetch it for you right away," Nancy said and rushed off.
We made our way to the ground floor bathroom that serviced Ray's room. We shed our coats, and then I fished a washcloth out of the cupboard and soaked it with warm water. Ray sat down on the closed toilet seat in his bloodstained shirt, and I began to carefully clean his battered, bloody face.
"Ray, your shirt," I said inanely; what I wanted to say was, Your face. Your beautiful face.
"S'why I don't wear yellow."
"I'll buy you a new one."
"Don't be stupid."
There was a knock on the door and I answered it; it was Nancy, bringing ice and medical supplies. "Everyone's leaving," she confided; she was leaning against the door frame, watching as I carefully bandaged Ray's nose. "Not just here—all over town. Mass exodus. Going south to Washington, I take it."
"I suppose so," I muttered, wincing as Ray winced from a sudden jolt of pain.
"Good riddance, I say," and then she frowned. "Will you go?"
"Yes," I replied. "But not to Washington."
"Oh." She was still for a moment. "Home, you mean. Into the countryside."
I nodded. "Yes."
"What about you, Ray?" Nancy asked.
"Me? Nah. Don't like Washington much." He wrinkled his nose, which was now braced with a stiff, white bandage.
"I knew I liked you," Nancy said, and they exchanged wry smiles.
"Here," I said to Ray, handing him a small towel full of ice. "Press this to your face."
"Will you boys be eating in, tonight?" Nancy asked. "I could make you something special. It's just the two of you."
"Oh yeah?" Ray asked.
"Well, the Americans are all gone—" Nancy bit the words off, flushed, and then added quickly: "Well, except you, Ray. I didn't mean to—"
"I got it, I got it," Ray said with a smile.
Nancy looked flustered. "Just, you don't seem very American to me, somehow—"
"Digging yourself in deeper, Nancy," I murmured, amused.
"S'ok. Right now that feels like a compliment," Ray said graciously.
"Well, as I say, the other Americans have gone, and Sergeant Frobisher left earlier today, with Constable Turnbull. He left you a note, Benton," she added. "Sergeant Frobisher, I mean."
"I'll get it later, thank you."
"That leaves Inspector Thatcher, but she always dines out. So it's just you two. What can I make you?"
"Thing is, I—" Ray began, and then he stopped and shot a nervous glance at me. I nodded encouragingly and he continued. "Just, I'm pretty tired," he confessed. "What I really want is to lie down. Watch some television. Be a bum." He looked at Nancy pleadingly. "I'm sorry, just—"
"Of course you do," Nancy said warmly. "After the day you've had—I should have thought of it myself. Tell you what: I'll send trays to your rooms, you can eat in bed. Would that be all right?"
"Nancy," Ray said sincerely, "that would be great. That would be the best thing ever and then some."
"Just you wait," she said with a smile, and pulled away from the door. "Supper coming right up."
"Fraser," Ray said. "I think I'm in love."
We straightened out the bathroom and then crossed the hallway to Ray's room. He unlocked the door and stepped in, but turned back when I hesitated in the doorway.
"I suppose I should..." I pointed vaguely upstairs.
"Don't be stupid," Ray said. "This room's got a TV."
"You need rest," I objected.
"Yeah, I do, so no laps around the bed, no push-ups, no wrestling, and I'm not wallpapering this place until tomorrow." Ray took off his coat and hung it up in the closet, then extended his hand for mine.
I stepped in and handed it to him, then turned and shut the room door behind me.
"Good man." Ray unbuttoned his stained flannel shirt, shrugged it off his shoulders, and dropped it into the wastepaper basket. Then he looked down at his t-shirt, which was also stained, and sighed. "Waste of good money," he grumbled, and then he reached down, gripped the hem, and tugged it up over his head.
I took a skittish step backwards. "I'll replace them. Tomorrow."
Ray tossed the t-shirt into the trash and rummaged in one of the carrier bags for a clean one. "Forget it." He looked up at me and waved his hand. "Take your jacket off, take your shoes off, make yourself comfortable."
I followed his directions, unbuttoning my red uniform jacket and hanging it up, then sitting down in the armchair to remove my boots. Ray had already toed off his own shoes and now he was crouched, in his white tube socks, in front of the television. I carefully tucked my boots beneath the seat of the chair and sat there, waiting, my hands on my knees.
The set roared into life, and Ray hastily turned the volume down and then twisted the dial until he found something he liked—a hockey game, as it turned out. He straightened up and turned to look at me. "Oh geez," he said, with a shake of his head, and then he crossed his arms and stared moodily at the room for a moment. "Okay. I got it. Gimme a hand, here...."
Ray shoved the night stand into the corner and began to tug on the foot of the bed. Instantly, I was on my feet. "Ray, wait—what're you—"
"Hey, I said I wasn't gonna wallpaper. I didn't say I wasn't gonna redecorate."
Now I saw what he was doing and moved to help him; together, we turned the twin sized bed so that the long side, and not the short, was flush with the wall.
"There we go!" Ray said triumphantly, and hopped atop it, turning so that he was leaning against the wall. He snagged a pillow from the head of the bed and propped it behind his back, then laid a second one against the wall next to him for me. "Instant sofa."
"Clever," I admitted.
"Ain't I just?"
I sat down on the bed beside him, crossing my legs neatly. Beside me, Ray sprawled and bent his legs so that his knees were up around his ears. Almost imperceptibly, and as one, we relaxed backwards against our respective pillows.
Nancy brought food, and we set the tray between us and ate while we watched the game. And then later, full and groggy, we set the empty tray onto the floor and stretched out—Ray lying left to right, me lying right to left behind him. I draped my arm around his legs and closed my eyes, listening to the rhythmic, whizzing sound of skates on ice.
I woke up warm and curled tight around Ray's legs. Ray was still sound asleep, and so I disentangled myself from him gently. He moaned a little, and rolled over into the space where I had been lying, but he didn't wake up, and so I swiped my boots off the floor and crept out quietly, pulling the door softly shut behind me.
I tiptoed through the hallway toward the lobby and then stopped short.
Inspector Thatcher was standing there, in full uniform, wearing her coat. I was debating beating a hasty retreat back up the hallway when she looked up and saw me, half undressed and still clutching my boots in one hand.
"Constable Fraser," she said, sounding surprised, and then suddenly she blinked and looked past me down the hallway. I felt my cheeks burn with hot embarrassment, and watched as she turned pink, as if in sympathy. "I—I went to your room, I wanted to say goodbye, but—"
I cleared my throat. "Sir, it's not what it looks—"
Before I could move she was upon me, gripping my arms tightly and staring impassionately up into my face. "I just wanted to say I'm sorry. I am so, so sorry, Fraser. I lost my head. I lost sight of your feelings. I—I want to ask you to forgive me."
"I forgive you, sir," I said.
She showed me a tentative smile. "I'm leaving now. Taking the first flight out. First to Chicago, and thereafter to Washington. They've offered me a job—the CID. I'm going to take it."
"If there's ever anything I can do for you...if there's ever anything you need from me...you'll call me, won't you? I would be—honored—if you would call upon me."
"I—thank you. I will, I certainly will," and then her hands were cool upon my neck and she was pulling my head down and kissing me. Her lips were soft upon mine, and I let my hands briefly caress her hair before lifting my head and stepping back.
She looked about as emotional as I'd ever seen her. "I'll miss you," she whispered. "You're... a good man."
"I'll miss you, too, sir. And you're...a very special woman."
She swallowed hard at this, and then took a deep, shuddering breath and stepped back, snapping back into herself. "Right! I'm off! Best of luck to you, Constable."
"Best of luck to you, sir!" I took a step back myself, and saluted. I thought she was going to cry at this, but she just turned and strode out the lobby door, which banged shut behind her. I fled upstairs, where I washed and shaved and dressed myself in jeans and one of my own new shirts. And then I made a shopping list, jotting down things I would need—I planned to be out in the Territories for a while, and I had practically nothing with me, no real supplies at all.
When I stepped out of my room for breakfast I became conscious of the quiet. The hotel was near-empty again, as was Inuvik itself. A familiar calm suffused the air, the thick silence that appears after the cessation of noise. I hoped things were returning to normal—and wondered if that was too much to hope for.
Still, though, I was eager to leave Inuvik behind me. The town—once I had loved the town—but now it seemed like a prison. I had tried to do my best by my mother, and by my father, but now I had come to the end of my resources.
I had to put this behind me, and move on.
Ray Kowalski was alone in the dining room, nursing a cup of coffee. His nose seemed worse today, swollen like a boxer's, and the injury made him seem unusually frail. "Mornin'," he said to me.
"Good morning," I said. I glanced over at the sideboard, which was bare.
"Nancy's making us our own plates," Ray explained. "Not worth it to make a whole spread anymore, when it's just us."
"I see," I said, and sat down across from him. "I'm going into town—do you want to come with me?"
"Sure. Where to?"
"A number of places. I need supplies. Gear."
"For the Territories?" I nodded. "Okay, sure," he said and took a sip of his coffee. "Tour of town."
Nancy brought out two plates heaped with eggs and bacon and ham and toast, and a mug of hot tea for me. I dug in eagerly, but Ray just toyed with his for a bit, and then put down his fork.
"I guess I ought to be moving on, too," he said, picking up the plate and putting it on the floor for a grateful Diefenbaker. "Thing is," he added, reaching across for his coffee, "I don't really know where to go."
I raised my head at this, staring at him across the table. "What do you mean, you don't know where to go?"
"I mean, I don't know where to go. I don't know where to buy my fuckin' ticket for."
"Chicago," I said, thinking this was obvious.
But Ray just shook his head. "I think I'm through with Chicago. Too many memories there, you know?"
Tahari and Armani, I thought, wincing. The marriage made in heaven. "I understand, Ray."
"So I'm thinking about Arizona. Where my folks are. They ain't so young no more, and the desert's sorta pretty."
"I've heard it's very nice," I hedged.
"Yeah. Still it's hot, and there's no water. I mean, I'm still young right? I could go to Mexico. Lotta water in Mexico. You think I'm too old to be a beach bum?"
I smiled at this; I could see Ray tanned dark, his blond hair bleached white by the sun. "No," I replied honestly. "Not too old at all."
"It's not a bad second career, right? Then again, they speak Spanish down there, and I flunked Spanish. Which makes me nervous." He scratched his head. "So then there's a compromise place like L.A. Sun, water, and yeah they speak Spanish but not just Spanish. Plus it's a city, and I could keep my car."
"It's a beautiful car," I granted.
"So?" I blinked; Ray was leaning forward across the table, staring at me. "Whattya think? Which one?"
"Which one?" I asked, surprised. "You're asking me to decide?"
"Yeah. You're the best friend I got, Fraser, and you've got more common sense than I do—where the hell should I go?"
"I—don't know. I mean, where do you want to go?"
"I don't know! If I knew that, I'd go, right? Put it another way—where do you want to come visit me?" I burst out laughing, and shook my head, but Ray just grinned at me. "C'mon, I'm serious. What's your idea of a good vacation? Desert? Mexico? L.A.?"
"Ray, that's a ridiculous question."
"Seems as good a way as any. C'mon, which?"
"They all sound very nice. And considering I've never been to any of these places, it would be foolish of me to express a preference."
"Fat help you are," Ray said, rolling his eyes.
"I'm sorry," I said, and meant it.
"Well," Ray sighed, fumbling in his shirt pocket for his cigarettes, "maybe I'll just see what's cheapest. Cheapest ticket out. That'll decide me."
"I think you ought to give the matter a little more thought."
"Yeah, probably. I'm not too good at thinking, though." He stood up, grabbed his parka off his chair, and headed for the door. "I'll be outside giving myself cancer. Come get me when you're ready."
We spent the day wandering around Inuvik together while I priced the many things on my list—bedroll, tent, cooking gear, weaponry, snowshoes, sled, harnesses, dogs.
"Dog shopping?" Ray asked, with a bemused grin. "We're going dog shopping?" But he seemed to enjoy the experience, though he kept picking out the cute ones and not the fit ones.
"I've got Diefenbaker for cute," I said wryly, though Diefenbaker howled with outrage at the idea.
We stopped for lunch at Masie's Luncheonette, and had hot roast beef sandwiches with mashed potatoes and gravy. Near the end of the meal, Ray asked me to direct him to the travel agency. I took a deep breath, pulled a paper napkin out of the holder, and began to sketch him a map.
When we were ready to leave, Ray surprised me by grabbing the check again. He grinned at me, waggled his eyebrows, and pulled a wad of Canadian dollars out of his jacket pocket. "Heh. See? The boy is teachable! Fucking miracle!" He wriggled out of the booth, and paid for our lunches at the counter.
Then we walked out of the luncheonette and paused for a moment on the sidewalk outside.
"Meet you back at McAllister's?" Ray asked, looking away.
"Yes, " I managed, and then we hugged briefly, inexplicably, before heading in opposite directions down the street.
I was late coming back to McAllister's and expected Ray to be there already. He wasn't, though—I checked the dining room and his room and the bathroom and even my room. I found Nancy, but she hadn't seen him either.
Nancy patted my arm and sent me upstairs with a copy of today's paper. I read it, cover to cover, and still Ray had not returned.
Now I was worried.
Nancy tried to console me, but when it started to grow dark, I grabbed my jacket and decided to go out looking for him. Perhaps my map hadn't been good. Perhaps he'd gotten lost. Perhaps something had happened to him—slipped on the ice, wandered out of town, got eaten by a bear, something horrible. Though, of course, the bear population had been reduced significantly in recent years...
I wandered the main streets for a while, Dief running along at my side. The shops had closed, the rental cars were gone, the streets were quiet—where could he be? "Dief," I said finally, turning to kneel beside the only friend I had left. "Where's Ray? Can you find Ray?"
Dief blinked at me for a moment and then took off down the street. I groaned aloud, feeling stupid, when I saw where he was heading—the back door of the fire department. Of course. Of course. Where else did he know to go?
I told Dief to wait outside, then picked the lock and bolted up the four flights of stairs to the cupola. "Ray," I called, bursting in through the door.
But Ray wasn't there. I blinked rapidly, as if he might suddenly materialize if I looked hard enough. But he stubbornly refused to be there.
I frowned and saw a little pile of cigarette butts in one corner—clearly Ray had been here, and unless he'd been chain-smoking, he'd been here for some time. I squatted down next to the pile of ash and picked one burnt cigarette end out with my fingers, examined it. And then I looked at the wall and suddenly my eyes blurred with tears.
Dief looked puzzled when I emerged from the fire department without Ray. I knelt down beside him and whispered, "It's all right. He's all right. But he's leaving us—he's leaving and that's going to be hard."
Dief whimpered a little and I rubbed the fur of his head with my gloved hands.
"We'll be all right," I assured him. "It'll be hard at first, but we'll be all right."
Dief looked skeptical.
"Nothing's permanent, Dief. Things change, and we change with them. Or we die. Right?"
Dief scratched himself and then bounded across the snow back toward McAllister's.
"You know," I hissed after him, "I could use just a little moral support every now and again. If it's not too damned much to ask."
Nancy was behind the desk when I finally re-entered the lobby. I could see from her face that Ray hadn't returned.
"I don't know where he is," I told her. "I think...maybe he went for a walk."
"Well, walks are important," and I could hear the reassurance in her voice. "Can I get you something? Supper?"
"I'm not very hungry, I'm afraid."
I slumped against the desk and groaned, and she reached across and patted my hand. "Why don't you go upstairs? Try to rest. No point worrying yourself. He'll be back when he's back."
"You don't think he'd just leave, do you?" It was hard to say, but I had to say it; the fear had been eating me up inside. "Without saying goodbye? He did...he did book his flight today."
Nancy frowned at that intelligence, and considered the matter. "Well. I don't know. It is possible, I suppose. He's the last one to go. And so, I suppose, it will be the hardest goodbye. So he might have decided that it was easier to leave without saying goodbye. But," she added with a frown, "it doesn't seem like him, does it?"
"No. No, it doesn't," I said, and trudged my way up the stairs.
When Ray came, he came with no fuss at all—just knocked on the door and came into my dimly lit room. His cheeks, though, were red with the cold. I stood up and stared at him, not knowing what to say.
He, however, seemed to have no such problem. "So hey," he said, letting the door shut behind him, "I finally got a ticket." He dug into his parka pocket and produced a crumpled white envelope. "$265 to Phoenix. Which I thought was pretty okay."
"Arizona, then," I managed. "You made a decision."
Ray pulled off his parka and hung it up in my closet. "Yeah, well, I figured it was my best bet for a start. From there I can drive to L.A. and Mexico. Check the scene out, figure out what I like. Live rent-free in my parents' RV." He shivered a bit, and hugged himself, rubbing his arms. "Shit, but it's cold out there. Yeah, I'm setting myself up to be a world class loser, but hey, not like it's that much of a change, right?"
"At least it will be warm."
"Yeah." Ray didn't look like he heard me; he looked flighty and distracted. "Warm. So listen: this is it. I'm leaving tomorrow."
I felt like I couldn't breathe, but I managed a terse nod.
"My feeling? I'm figuring this is pretty much the end of what we have here."
That hurt; that seemed wrong, and unfair, and unnecessarily cruel of him to say.
"That's not true," I said quietly. "I told you about my father and Buck Frobisher. Friendship isn't friendship if it can't endure distance."
"Yeah. Right. I'll send you a Christmas card." Ray was drawing closer now, his face taut with tension, his body jittering like a live wire. "Now let me tell you the way I see it, okay?"
No, I thought desperately. Please. He's going to ruin it. He wants to ruin it.
He was close now, very close, and for a moment I was sure he was going to hit me. "The way I see it? This thing is over. So there's, like, nothing to fuck up anymore. It's over, it's dying, so we oughta—just kill it, smash it—"
"No," I whispered.
"—put it to bed, once and for all."
I understood what he really intended to do, for us to do, just a second before he did it, just a moment before he shoved me back against the desk and slammed his mouth against mine. The edge of the desk cut hard into my thighs, and Ray's lips were hard, punishing and brutal, as if this were something he had to do, something he had to prove.
One hand was clenching the waistband of my jeans, the other was deep in my hair. He pulled, he pulled hard, tugging my head back and forcing me down. My eyes pricked with tears and I heard the crash as we knocked the lamp off the desk and it shattered to pieces against the floor.
And then Ray was shoving his shirt up and shoving his pants down and shoving my pants down—and then he closed his hand around me. I gasped, and clutched at his shoulders, trying to push him back, push him away. But he was almost straddling me; he'd got me off balance and pinned against the desk with his weight. I felt his tongue slide into my mouth—
—and some part of my brain snapped. Is this what he wants? Does he want it like this? I can do it like this, and instead of pushing I pulled, yanking him against me, until I felt him hard and needy against my bare hip. He moaned into my mouth and tightened his hand on my erection, and then we were moving, and he was jerking me roughly, his own hips pumping frantically, driving and bumping against my leg.
I worked my hand up his shirt, groping the whip-thinness of him, feeling each indention of rib in his rib cage. He turned his head and slid his mouth across my face, biting my cheek, sucking hard at my skin.
The friction of his hand on my erection, of his erection on my hip, was painful and wonderful. The hard edge of the table, the awkward, bent-back angle, the way his weight was straining my muscles, the way he was pulling my hair—it all hurt. And yet I experienced it as pleasure—as the deepest, most profound pleasure of my entire life.
He jerked against me and ejaculated against my hip, splattering me with wetness. I shuddered at the thick, strong scent of him, growing dizzy and vague. The hand in my hair tightened and my eyes jerked open just as he whispered angrily in my ear: "Come on—come on, you bastard. Be here with me, come for me—"
I came for him, spilling my seed into his hand with a gasp. And then I was sagging backwards, and his arms came around me and caught me, pulled me forward into his arms. He held me close and murmured in my ear, almost crooning, "There. That finishes it. That ends it right."
I wrapped my arms around him and clutched until I could hear his rib cage creak. "No, Ray. Please..."
"I had to do it," Ray whispered, hugging me hard in return. "I had to end it. Now we ain't got a friendship. Now we got something else."
"Stay. Stay, stay, stay..."
He laughed, and buried his face in my hair. "Took you long enough to ask."
"I—didn't think I could ask."
Ray pulled back and looked at me. "What do I got to go back for, huh? Nothing. I got nothing back there." He stopped, and then he touched my cheek with near-unbearable tenderness. "Let Vecchio pretend to be me for a while. The little prick owes me."
I caressed the soft blond spikes of his hair, then tugged his head forward against mine. "Stay with me. Sleep with me."
"I will. Cause I got to. That's the point, Fraser—that's just it." Ray licked a wet circle around my ear and I shuddered. "I'm not a friend. I ain't your friend. Cause I can't endure the fucking distance."
We held each other tightly, rocking slowly. There seemed nothing else to say. I let my hands drift over the exposed parts of him, the ones I could reach—the strip of bare flesh at the small of his back, the deep V of his jeans where he'd pushed them down.
It wasn't enough—my hands wanted more of him, all of him. "Take your clothes off," I whispered finally. "Please—I want to see you."
I felt a shudder ripple through his muscular frame, felt his hands knot in the back of my shirt. "Yeah. Sure. I wanna see you, too."
He squeezed me tight one more time and then stepped back, hands going to the buttons of his shirt. And then suddenly he was moving forward, hands pushing me, trying to move me to sit on the desk. "Oh, fuck—hey, watch out for all that broken glass."
We crouched together on the floor and tried to gather all the broken pieces of the lamp, sweeping the shards up and wrapping them in my discarded copy of the Inuvik drum. Ray held up the largest unbroken piece of the lamp, which was now just a twisted mass of wiring and metal and broken glass.
"It died so we might live," Ray intoned. "It's the sacrificial lamp of our friendship."
I peered at it closely. "It's also an antique, I think."
"Ah, shit...." Ray shook his head and dropped it into the waste basket. "Oh, well, so we're antiques, too, let's face it. Bad for the wallet, good for the symbolism."
"I'm sure we'll find something to replace it with. Or some other way to make it up to her."
Ray nodded, and nimbly folded the rest of the glass into the newspaper before dropping that into the trash as well. "You see anything else?" he added, flipping his glasses onto his face and peering at the floor. "You're the one with the eagle eyes."
I looked again, looked harder. "No, I think we managed it."
"Better be sure," Ray cautioned.
I looked again, skimming my fingertips over the wood, before concluding, "I'm sure."
"Okay, then," Ray said, straightening up. "Okay." His fingers returned to the buttons of his shirt, and this time they unworked all the buttons. I stayed crouched on the floor, just watching him, feeling my body start to thrum with excitement. He threw the overshirt onto a chair, and then skimmed off his t-shirt and shoved his jeans and underwear down his legs.
Naked now, he sat down on my bed, bracing himself back on his arms. "Hey, come on. You, too. This ain't a show or nothing."
I smiled and stood up, then began to strip out of my own clothing. I saw his eyes widen in the dim light, heard his breath catch.
"All right, I take it back. You're a show. You're a really, really good show, Fraser."
"So are you," I said honestly.
I came closer to the small bed and he scooted back to make room for me. As I crawled up toward him I could hear that he was breathing raggedly, could see that his cock was filling, growing erect. My own body was now trembling with excitement. My blood felt like liquid fire in my veins.
"Ray," I breathed. "I'm..."
"Horny?" he asked, flashing a smile.
"...aroused, yes. Excited."
The smile faded, and he lifted his chin. There was a glint of challenge in his eyes.
"So do me, then. Come and get it."
I went and got it. And then he got it. And then he got it again. And then he was babbling and incoherent and so we slept for a while, arms and legs tangled together under the blankets, pressed tightly together in my small bed. And when I woke up, his body was so warm, and there was so much bare skin to kiss and flesh to touch, and so I had to wake him up and get it again. And when I lifted my head to look at him, there was no challenge left in his eyes. Just a contented dreaminess. And maybe a bit of something else.
I'm not sure how I'll ever work again now that I've had his mouth on me. I'm not sure how I'll ever concentrate now that I've been inside of him. The stillness inside my head seems to have been permanently disrupted, the film of my memory spliced with jolting images—his wiry body looming over me in the darkness, clutching his blond head against my hip, holding him in my arms while he shudders and shakes and ejaculates.
This isn't, I should say, an entirely bad thing.
I was awakened by a soft knocking at the door. I instinctively jerked upwards, but I was clutching Ray and we were entirely entangled, and so I only lurched up an inch or two before crashing down to the bed again.
I turned my head and saw that Ray was awake, too, and staring at me with alert eyes.
The soft knocking continued and then I heard Nancy's voice: "Benton?"
"I—yes!" I called. Ray was holding his breath. "I'm sorry, Nancy, I slept late!"
"No, I'm sorry," she called back through the door. "I don't mean to bother you. Only Detective Kowalski's gotten a phone call, you see, and he's not in his room. Is he gone? Do you know if he's left yet?"
I looked at Ray for instruction, but he just smiled and shrugged.
"No," I called back. "No, I believe he's still here."
"Well, tell him the airport called. He's missed his flight."
Ray's smile widened, and I smiled helplessly back at him.
"They say it's all right if he takes a later one," Nancy added. "As long as he rings up to book it."
"Oh. Oh, I see. Well. I'll be sure to tell him."
"And I'm happy to make you breakfast if you still want it, Benton. Though it's more like lunch time, now."
"I—yes, please, Nancy! Thank you! I'll be right down!"
We held our breath and listened to her steps grow softer as she walked down the hallway. Then we exhaled together and grinned. I leaned forward and kissed his cheek impulsively, and his face flushed with pleasure to the roots of his blond hair.
"C'mon," Ray said suddenly, pushing the covers aside and bounding out of bed. "We got things to do, people to see, places to go, and we've lost half the day already."
I shivered and grabbed for the blankets, feeling the cold air of the room and already missing his heat beside me. "What things? What people? What places?"
Ray clapped his hands sharply. "Things. People. Places. A) We need to get breakfast. B) I need a phone."
"Nancy has a phone downstairs in her office," I said.
Ray shook his head and searched on the floor for his jeans. "Not that phone. Another phone. A public, more private phone. C) We need to go back around to everybody and double everything."
I frowned. "Go back around to who and double what?"
"The stores." Ray rolled his eyes. "The order. If I'm gonna go with you, I'm gonna need to get what you got, right?"
"Go with me?" I sat up in bed. "But I thought—I mean I assumed—that you wanted to stay in Inuvik."
Ray was shimmying into his jeans, and I couldn't keep my eyes off him: it was striptease in reverse. "Don't matter much to me one way or the other. But it matters to you. You don't want to stay here, and I know that." He hopped a little and then zipped his fly up.
"That's not...necessarily true," I protested.
"That's bullshit," Ray said, picking his t-shirt up off the floor and slipping it on. "I know you. This town's screwed you and you want to get out of here. Which I get. So let's go get the stuff already." He stopped, looked at me, and quirked a grin. "I never thought I'd be saying this—but would you please put your clothes on?"
I got out of bed. "Ray, you don't have to do this. The countryside—it's not for everyone, and—"
"Look," Ray interrupted, "don't make this complicated when it's simple. Even I can figure this. You gotta be where you gotta be. And I gotta be where you are."
I stared at him as he found his wristwatch, flicked it onto his wrist, and fastened it.
Ray looked up at me and then his face and voice softened. "Hey. Just think of it like—it's my quest. You're gonna give me my adventure that I always wanted. I'm gonna be a ski bum without the skiing and the liberals and the film festival." He swiped his flannel overshirt off the chair and tossed it over his shoulder, then extended me his hand. "Hand of Franklin, Fraser. Reaching out."
"Hand of Franklin, Ray," I repeated numbly, and clasped it.
We stared at each other across the small room.
"Going down, gonna talk to Nancy," Ray said finally, giving my hand a final squeeze. "Meet me down there when you're ready."
"Stella! It's Ray! No, the other one!" Ray looked at me through the open door of the call box and rolled his eyes. "Your ex-husband! Yeah! Listen, I need your help. No, no—nothin' like that. Listen, Stella—I'm gonna stay here. In Canada. With Fraser. No, I'm not—Jesus Christ, I do it one time and—"
Ray tucked the phone underneath his chin and whispered, "She thinks I'm drunk." He pulled the phone back to his mouth and said, "I'm stone cold sober, Stella. I'm—wait—talk to Fraser. Tell her, Fraser."
He held the receiver out in the air toward me as far as its metal cord would extend. I leaned forward and called, "Good afternoon, Stella. Ray is fine, he—"
Ray jerked the phone back. "See, I told you. Look, I'm not calling for personal, I'm calling for business. I need a lawyer. I wanna, like, wrap up my affairs in Chicago. Could you write some letters for me, maybe ship me some stuff up here?"
I leaned against the wall and listened as my partner planned the entire dissolution of his life in Chicago. "No, no," he was saying, "just the personal stuff. Birth certificate, passport—you know, the stuff in the bottom drawer on the right. Just dump that whole drawer into a box and write my name on it. Hey, I don't care—do whatever you want. Most of it came from your mother, anyway. Wait—say that again? I didn't get that."
I turned to look at him and saw that he was frowning. "Uh-huh. Uh-huh. Uh-huh! Sounds like you've been drinking, sweetie," Ray said finally, shaking his head and grinning. "Or he has. One of you ain't quite there, if you ask me." He listened again and his eyes caught mine—he raised his hand and twirled it in the air. "Well, if that's what you want, then okay. I mean, knock yourself out. I'd hang myself, but...yeah, probably," he said and laughed. "All's well that ends well. Myself, I got this thing about wearing other people's shoes. It creeps me out."
I stared at him, utterly unable to put together the pieces of this surreal conversation. Ray grinned at me and mouthed, "Tell you later," and I nodded.
"No, I'm gonna be out of touch for a while. I'm going on a quest. Quest! No, Q-U-E-S—yeah! It's kind of a long story. No, to Buck Frobisher. Yeah, he'll take messages and packages. Yeah, exactly. Hey, I love you, sweetie. And thank you for this. I'd tell you to give my best to Vecchio, except I think I already did." He smiled into the phone. "Tell him I said to get his mind out of the gutter," Ray added, and then hooted with laughter. "Right, okay! You better! Big kisses!" he called, and racked the phone back into the cradle.
"One of them," Ray said, grinning at me, "is on crack."
"For just one time, I would take the North West passage, To find the hand of Franklin reaching for the Beaufort Sea. Tracing one more line thru' a land so wide and savage, And make a North West Passage to the Sea...."
"You gonna sing the whole trip?" Ray asked, squinting up at me.
"I might, yes," I confessed.
He stared at me for a second and then he smiled. "Well, okay. Whatever makes you happy."
I smiled back at him, and we flew on across the snow.
And so off we went to find the hand of Franklin. Reaching out for the Beaufort Sea. And if we do find his hand... the reaching out one...
We'll let you know.