Ray pushed his coffee away with a disgusted sigh. “You’re not even listening to me!”
Fraser was startled out of his thoughts. “I’m… terribly sorry, Ray. I didn’t sleep very well, I’m not exactly myself today.”
Ray smiled slightly.
“It’s okay, this case is driving me insane too.”
The case wasn’t exactly the reason Fraser was so distracted, but he couldn’t very well tell Ray the truth, could he?
Ray studied the map with Mrs. Tucci’s addition in it. “I really don’t get it. Why change the route after years of sticking to it? Doesn’t make any sense… if that’s not his route then whose is it?”
“—Ray! That’s it.”
“Huh?” Ray looked up with a confused look on his face.
“What if the route belonged to someone else? What if he covered for someone?”
“Yeah, okay. That might work. How do we find out for who?”
“Whatever… you’re a freak, you know that?”
Fraser smiled. “Understood. Let’s see who else sells pretzels in the park.”
They were almost at the gate when a newspaper stand caught Ray’s eye. “You got to be kidding me!?” Ray pulled one of the papers from their holder. “How did they get wind of this?” He handed the newspaper to Fraser who skimmed the article on the front page.
Police on the wrong track – In the case of the murder of Mr. Tucci, a pretzel vendor, late Monday evening the police are obviously still in the dark. Mr. Tucci’s route never varied in all of his years, until the fateful night when he was murdered in cold blood. The police are still at a loss to account for this change of routine…
“What kind of tabloid paper is it anyway? I’d really like to know who blabbed his mouth.”
“Mister, are you intending to buy that paper?” The news agent cut in.
“Gee, take it easy,” Ray snapped at him, slamming the paper on a stack of glossy magazines.
Ray’s anger evaporated during their walk through the park. He was always quick to anger, but Fraser had noticed a while ago that Ray was just as ready to forgive. It seemed to be his hot-blooded nature that caused such passionate reactions, so very different from Fraser’s own rather detached responses.
They walked along the route Mr. Tucci had taken on his last evening.
Fraser consulted the map and pointed to another path going off to the left. “This is where he usually would’ve changed direction. Taking this other way enlarged his area by a very generous proportion.”
They passed a corner where an old man was playing chess at one of the stone tables and followed the path in the direction of the pond. There was no street vendor anywhere to be seen.
At the pond, they turned back to re-trace their steps.
“Strange, really strange,” Ray muttered when they had almost reached the intersection again.
“What are you guys looking for?” Came a slightly nasal voice from behind them. They turned around. It was the old man at the chess table.
“Ah, Mr. Hanrahan,” Fraser greeted the man and walked over.
“You know the guy?”
“Certainly. Mr. Hanrahan, I’m wondering whether you might be able to help us. You frequent this area of the park very often, don’t you?”
“As regular as clockwork,” the old man confirmed proudly.
“Could you tell us if there is a street vendor around here usually?”
The eyes of Mr. Hanrahan turned suspicious; with his bushy eyebrows and the beak-like nose his face wasn’t unlike that of a small bird of prey. “You’ve been very well briefed.”
Fraser flicked a thumb over his eyebrow. “Ah, so you can confirm that there used to be a street vendor here?”
Mr. Hanrahan beckoned them closer and lowered his voice to a conspiratorial whisper.
“Haven’t seen the regular one around lately. He stopped making his rounds last Monday. That’s when the other guy took over – got shot for his troubles. But I know what’s really going on.”
Ray raised his eyebrows in surprise. “You do?”
“Yes, it’s an interesting stratagem. Double bluff and hide in plain view. I used that ruse in ’56 to smuggleSantosout ofBudapestbefore the tanks came rolling in. You see, that man wasn’t really a street vendor. He was a secret agent.”
“Uh, sure, great,” Ray answered, rubbing the back of his neck. He looked uncertainly at Fraser.
“Can you tell us the name of the regular street vendor, the one that has been gone for a week?”
“Will the safety of his mission be compromised by it?”
“No, I assure you his mission will not be affected.”
“Alright then. His name is Harold Mitchell.”
“Thank you very much for your help, Mr. Hanrahan.”
The old man nodded shortly and put a finger to his lips before he tottered off.
Ray looked at Fraser in confusion. “What the hell was that all about?”
“Mr. Hanrahan receives calls from the plate he has in his head.”
“Oh,” Ray seemed to consider that fact. “You know, I don’t find that very reassuring.”
Fraser bit his lip to keep from laughing. “His knowledge of the neighborhood is very reliable, though. I think we should visit Mr. Mitchell.”
Ray made a call and came up with a suitable candidate. There was a slight catch, though.
“Well, I found our man.”
“But?” Fraser felt the need to ask upon seeing Ray’s serious expression.
“Mitchell died during the night.”
Fraser pondered their bad luck during the drive. This case really wasn’t getting any easier. Ray was quiet himself and Fraser studied his friend while the streetlights outside immersed him in a rhythmic pattern of orange and yellow.
His dream from last night… it had been difficult even meeting Ray’s gaze this morning. Why would he dream of Ray having sex with Luanne? What should it matter to him? Surely, he wasn’t envious? No, no he didn’t feel envy. He was… he was disappointed in Ray.
But his friend certainly didn’t deserve his disappointment for doing something that was perfectly natural and also a very private matter.
He should just put it out of his mind.
“You alright?” Ray’s low murmur called Fraser out of his thought. Ray flicked a glance at him as another glow from a streetlight passed over the car. “You’ve been pretty quiet all day, got something on your mind?”
Fraser hesitated before he shook his head with a rueful smile. “I guess I simply think too much sometimes.”
Ray grinned at him. “You don’t say?”
This teasing side was something Fraser hadn’t expected from Ray’s rather sarcastic nature. It was like a warm glow that spread whenever he realized that Ray was just ‘yanking his chain,’ as Ray was so fond of calling it. Lately, Fraser had been more and more the object of Ray’s teasing and it almost felt like a compliment.
When Ray had dropped Fraser off at the consulate, Fraser watched him leave. For a second he was surprised because Ray didn’t drive in the direction of his apartment. Then he remembered that Miss Russell’s apartment was that way. An unpleasant sensation washed over him.
I don’t It is probably unfounded, but something about Miss Russell makes me uneasy. Ray is a grown man; he can take care of himself…but… Fraser smoothed one of the dog-eared pages out with a frown on his face. I don’t want him to come to harm and I think his divorce made him vulnerable. I think—I think it’s very foolish of him to trust someone he hardly knows and he might get hurt for his troubles.
It’s not that there is anything in particular about Luanne Russell that would give me reason to suspect her, but whenever I think of Ray and her together I feel this heavy cloud settle over me. Ray Vecchio would probably say that it’s simply my bad luck with women that makes me so cautious, but I don’t think a bit of foresight would go amiss where love is concerned. It’s not that I dislike Miss Russell – even though I can’t claim a particular fondness for any of her traits that apparently make her so endearing to Ray – I simply don’t believe that she deserves Ray’s kind nature. Fraser sighed and pressed his fingertips to his eyes for a second. I’m blithering. It was a long day and I am perhaps a little uncharitable due to the slow progress we are making on our case. I’m sure Luanne is a wonderful woman and that she’ll make Ray very happy.
The next morning found Ray and Fraser at the house of the late Mr. Mitchell. A woman, heavily sobbing into a handkerchief, opened the door.
“Ah, Ma’am, we’re very sorry for your loss. We’ve come to ask a few questions about Harold Mitchell. My name is Constable Benton Fraser and this,” Fraser motioned to his partner, “is Detective Kowalski from theChicagopolice department.”
The woman nodded shakily and invited them in. A dark-haired man rose from the couch as they entered the living room.
“What’s a Mountie doing here, auntie?” The tone made it clear that they weren’t welcome here.
“Oh, shush. He’s with the police and has a few questions.”
His lips twisted into a snarl, but he kept quiet. Sullenly, he leaned against the glass cabinet that framed the wall behind the couch.
“You are Mr. Mitchell’s sister then, I presume?” Fraser asked as the woman took a seat on the couch.
“Yes, … it’s just Robert and I now—his mother died young, you see? Oh, it is all so tragic.”
“You are his son?” Fraser looked at the sullen man, recalling the notes Ray had shown him.
Robert nodded, but his aunt turned around and laughed tearfully. “You have to forgive him, Constable. This is very hard on him. Robert and Harold always had a difficult relationship. One day, Robert ran away… I haven’t seen him since he was this small,” she raised her hand to the height of her chest. She smiled sadly. “A little over a week ago, he came back to reconcile with his father, and then—and then he—he—” The woman started sobbing again.
“Here,” Fraser handed her a fresh handkerchief.
“Thanks,” she sniffed.
Ray looked around the apartment while Fraser calmed the elderly woman.
“We looked at the medical report… did you know that your brother was very sick?”
She shook her head as more tears spilled over her eyes. Robert stomped angrily forward to put his arm around her. “Can’t you see that this is upsetting her?”
“Robert, thank you, my dear. I know he’s only trying to help. No, Harold hadn’t said a thing… all these months… and the cancer in his brain…”
Ray and Fraser exchanged a look and Ray nodded subtly.
“Is that the reason he offered Mr. Tucci to cover his route for him last Monday?” Fraser asked. “Because he wasn’t able to do it himself anymore?”
“Mr. Tu—isn’t that the man that was shot? No, I—are you saying Harold was the target?” The aunt asked with wide eyes.
“That is absurd!” The young man broke in, but he looked worried all the same. “Why should anyone want to see my father dead?”
Fraser took pity on the pale face. “We aren’t certain that has been the case, but there is a strong possibility. Neither of you had known then that Mr. Mitchell wasn’t doing his rounds on Monday?”
Both shook their head. “No, we—we went into the city before Harold left… it was only after we came home that we found him in bed. He said… he said it was nothing, just a cold. Poor Robert was so shaken, he never really recovered from it,” she smiled fondly at her nephew.
“I understand. Thank you very much for your time.”
They took their leave and Ray unlocked the car. “So… back to the Tucci’s, I guess, huh?”
“Yes, maybe Mrs. Tucci can provide us with more information.”
The drive wasn’t a long one and Ray seemed to be in a good mood; he was whistling softly to the song on the radio and his thoughts seemed to be focused on a pleasant subject judging from his smile.
Suddenly, Ray broke out of his reverie. “Hey—you don’t think I’m moving too fast, do you?”
Fraser frowned with a look at the street. “Well, it can hardly be said that you are obeying the speed limit, but compared to other—”
Ray looked incredulously at Fraser for a moment before he shook his head with a grin. “Fraser, I don’t know who has less sex, me or you, but at least I still think about women. Is that better or worse?”
“It’s an interesting question, Ray.”
In Fraser’s opinion, he was spending way too much time considering both, women and sex.
“So what?” Fraser asked, bewildered.
“Do you think I’m rushing into this? –cos I know I haven’t been seeing Luanne for such a long time and two times was under the pretence of work, but… well, we had one real date and that worked out fine, so I thought, you know, maybe I should call her again and ask her out tonight?”
Dief yipped from the backseat and it sounded a lot like laughter. Fraser turned around to look sternly at him.
“I think,” Fraser flicked his knuckle over his eyebrow and pulled at his collar.
“Oh—whoa—it’s that bad?” Ray looked at him with big eyes. “Jeez, you really don’t like her, do ya?”
“It’s not that, Ray, I—I just want you to be careful,” Fraser tried to explain as reasonably as he could.
“Yeah… right…” Ray muttered.
Fraser opened his mouth to say something to make Ray understand, even though he himself wasn’t sure if he could explain it better, but they had arrived at their destination and Ray was already halfway out of the car.
The interview with Mrs. Tucci was slightly more successful than the one with Mr. Mitchell’s family. Mrs. Tucci could at least tell them that Harold Mitchell had been a friend of her husband’s and when Mrs. Harker from next door came over to have dinner with Mrs. Tucci, she also remembered a phone conversation that Mr. Tucci was having last Monday.
At Mrs. Harker’s mention of the phone call, Mrs. Tucci’s face lit up and she nodded. Yes, her husband had answered the phone and agreed to do something for someone, but she hadn’t asked and Mr. Tucci hadn’t liked to talk about work, so she hadn’t given it further notice.
They checked the list of phone calls and, sure enough, one call had been made from the Mitchell house to Mr. Tucci.
On the way back, Ray called Luanne Russell with a pointed look in Fraser’s direction.
Once he had finished, Fraser tried to open the topic again.
“Ray, I really didn’t mean to imply—”
“No, of course she has to be a bad fish. After all, I like her. How could she be a decent woman?”
“That’s not at all what I meant. I was only trying—”
“Fraser, save it. I don’t wanna hear it. I’ll drop you off and then I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“As you wish,” Fraser replied stiffly.
I don’t know what is wrong with me, Fraser confessed to his journal a short while later. I didn’t mean to anger him. I just have a bad feeling about this… which is probably the reason I’m making such a fool of myself. There is no rational reason to object to Miss Russell and I shouldn’t let my emotions run my head. I can’t even explain why I don’t like the thought of Ray pursuing her. If I can’t explain it and there’s no logical reason why he shouldn’t, maybe I should keep my advice to myself. Dief remarked, this afternoon in the car, that I have ‘territorial claims’— what utter nonsense! Ray is my friend and I wasn’t trying to monopolize his time. I want Ray to find a new love, I just, Fraser’s hand hovered uselessly over the page. He just what? He scratched the I just out. I will try and get some sleep and tomorrow this madness will come to a stop.
The next morning, they went on a search for the last piece of information: why had the killer wanted Mr. Mitchell dead?
The answer was found fairly quickly when Ray got a hold of Mr. Mitchell’s will. Ray whistled, impressed. “Phew… 1.7 million… how does a street vendor get almost two million bucks?”
“Well, he worked twelve hours a day for fifty years. That might account for it.”
“Right,” Ray looked lost in thought and Fraser couldn’t help but wonder if his friend was considering that he had chosen the wrong profession. Ray shook himself. “So, okay, the guy’s worth 1.7 million dollars and leaves everything to a guy nobody’s seen for twenty years? Doesn’t make any sense.”
“He was Mr. Mitchell’s only son.”
“Yeah, it’s also rather fitting that his son should choose the very moment to return home to inherit loads of cash. Especially since a pretzel vendor doing the very same route his father should have taken gets killed by someone just a few days after he arrived. Strange coincidence? I don’t think so.”
Fraser had to admit that it all sounded a little too neat.
Dief whined and looked longingly at a street vendor who was busy grilling sausages.
“No, Dief, you can’t have another—” The sight of a man who was sitting on a bench only a few feet away from the street vendor and holding a newspaper distracted Fraser for a second.
“Excuse me,” Fraser approached the man. “Could I borrow your newspaper for a second?”
The man, apparently confused by Fraser’s uniform, handed him the paper with a startled nod.
“Ray, you should take a look at this.”
Ray came up and looked over his shoulder. “… the intended murder victim appears to be another street vendor by the name of Harold Mitchell. Did Mr. Mitchell know about the attempt on his life and sent Mr. Tucci knowingly to his death? The investigation is still ongoing—” Ray murmured, getting louder the further he read. “What the—how—who—!” Ray took the paper from Fraser’s hands and skimmed the rest of the article.
“Ray, can you think of anyone with whom you talked who might have used the information?” Fraser phrased it as carefully as possible.
“What? –Yeah, I mean, Mrs. Tucci – obviously, but she wouldn’t go to the police, same goes for Mitchell’s family, and… no… she wouldn’t—” Ray stared at Fraser with a look as if he had just swallowed something bitter. So Ray had come to the same conclusion Fraser had.
“Ray, it doesn’t necessarily mean it was her.”
“But she works for the papers… and you think Luanne might’ve used this—used me—to get the story she has been looking for…”
“As I said, it ‘might’ have been her. We could be wrong, though.”
“You thought so all along, didn’t you? That’s why you didn’t want me to go out with her?”
“I have to admit that nothing as definite had formed in my mind, but I—”
“Yeah, but you think it’s her… who else could it be?”
“We don’t know that yet,” but Fraser’s heart wasn’t in it and he feared that his feelings might be clouding his judgement somewhat… but it would explain his uneasiness…
Ray tried to shake it off and turned his mind back to their investigation, but now and then a dark look would flit over his face and Fraser guessed that his friend’s mind was still occupied with the newspaper article.
They had agreed that it would be best to check the information on Robert Mitchell next. The search wasn’t exactly difficult. A boy by the same name had run away fromChicagoand turned up in a couple of different cities over the past years; last known address:New Orleans,LA,Elysian Fields Avenue.
They found his place of work, a big computer company, and Ray called only to be informed that Robert Mitchell had quit his work to return home about two weeks ago. As far as the boss knew, he got a letter from his father, saying that he was dying of cancer and wanted his son to come back home, something about inheriting his place.
“Huh… well, that fits the story so far…” Ray looked at Fraser for inspiration and noticed that Fraser’s face was riveted on the computer screen.
“What? What is it?”
“I think…” Fraser bit his lip and zoomed in on the picture of a newspaper article from two years ago. “Ray, who is that man in the picture?”
Ray took a closer look. “Uh, it’s Robert Mitchell, it says so right underneath the picture: Robert Mitchell at the annual gathering of the— I can’t make the rest out, a company something. Why?”
Fraser looked thoughtful.
“Is that the same man you have met in Mr. Mitchell’s living room?”
“…sure,” Ray said after a moment’s hesitation. “I mean, picture’s black and white and it’s two years old, but I’d say it’s the same man.”
“I don’t think so, Ray,” Fraser studied the picture again. “This man is at least shorter than the one we’ve met – look at Robert Mitchell’s shoes in comparison to the men next to him. They are all larger than his. The man we’ve met easily reached my own height. And it seems… that Robert Mitchell is left-handed, since he is holding his glass in his left hand.”
Ray stared at him in confusion. “So? The guy at Mitchell’s house didn’t write anything down, how would you know that he isn’t left-handed?”
“Remember when he leaned back against the glass cabinet? He fiddled with a loose thread on his shirt and he used his right hand for it. He might be fooling everyone by using his right hand when he is conscious of it, but this was a nervous gesture, an unconscious one.”
“Uh, okay—wait! The aunt said that none of them knew he had cancer, right?”
“Correct,” Fraser smiled as Ray caught up with him.
“And the boss said that Robert left to be with his dying dad— that means that Mitchell told his son… which means the guy we met must be some kind of fake! I mean, why should he have lied?” Ray did a little victory drum-roll on the edge of the desk with his fingers. “Fraser, I could kiss you,” Ray grinned at him.
For a second Fraser was speechless. Feeling suddenly warm, he pulled at his collar. “Ah,” Fraser didn’t no how to respond to that.
Ray laughed and clapped him on the back before getting up. “No, I mean, symbolically or something.”
They arrested the man known as Robert Mitchell on charges of impersonation and the murder of Mr. Tucci. His fingerprints revealed him to be Steve Hubbell – an acquaintance, if one could call him that, of Robert Mitchell. They had been together on the same bowling team inNew Orleans.
Ray glared at the man. “So how come you died over a week ago?”
“Maybe you are confusing me with someone else?” The former Robert Mitchell spat.
“Yeah? Think your fingerprints are lying, too? Because they say you’re Steve Hubbell, deceased. According to your fingers, you broke your neck on your way home about—hey Fraser, how far fromChicagotoNew Orleans?”
“Thanks. So you died almost a thousand miles away from here, neat. Know what else? There’s a gun registered under that name, a gun that just so happens to match the exact type that killed Mr. Tucci. Wanna know what I think? I think you better cough up the truth or the charges are gonna pile up so high you can thank your lucky stars if there’s no death sentence waiting for you at the end.”
Fraser could watch the young man’s resolve crumble under Ray’s aggressiveness.
“DID YOU KILL ROBERT MITCHELL?”
“NO—Oh, God, you have to believe me. It—it was an accident. We were out drinking and Robert was completely smashed. He told me about his inheritance, almost 2 million dollars he said—he didn’t say that his dad was going to die… God…he hardly spoke about his dad. All he could talk about was money. I don’t think there was much love lost between father and son,” Steve sobbed into his hands. “All he said was that his dad wasn’t going to live long… I thought he just meant he was old…”
“But that doesn’t explain why Robert ended up a corpse at the end of the night.”
“We were drunk… we were staggering home… after a while it was just Robert and me…” Steve took a shaking breath before he continued. “Robert climbed up this wall, he was doing this movie impression, hell, I don’t know. It was fun at that time. He was balancing on it, it wasn’t that high, maybe 10 feet… and then he over-balanced and fell… I can still hear the crunch as he hit the ground. At first I thought he was just trying to scare me. But then he didn’t move…”
“And then you swapped ID’s, exchanged clothes, and then you left. And when the police came they thought he was you,” Fraser finished the narration for Steve. The man nodded.
“We looked so much alike, we could’ve been brothers. We used to joke about it. I thought I could go and inherit the fortune. Robert said his father hadn’t seen him for over twenty years, I knew it could work. I stayed inNew Orleansuntil I heard that someone from our team had identified Robert… as me, I mean… I guess he recognized the clothes.”
“And it worked just fine. So why shoot Mr. Tucci then?” Ray asked.
“I knew it wouldn’t work forever. The old man was dragging up all those old stories I didn’t know about— I didn’t know he had cancer, God… I spent a few days watching the route he was taking with his stupid pretzels and his sister confirmed that it’s always the same, so I…” The man broke into renewed sobs.
“So you shot him.”
“I couldn’t risk that he found me out. I—I have debts… I owe some very dangerous people. People who had followed me toChicago—I don’t know how, but they knew that it wasn’t me that had died—I needed the money…”
A little while later, Ray and Fraser were outside of the interrogation room. “That’s that then. So Mr. Tucci only died because he took the offered chance of doing a bigger route. How could that guy shoot when he wasn’t even sure that it was the right victim?”
“Well, he was certain that it was Mr. Mitchell. In the dark the difference was almost impossible to tell.”
“I’m not looking forward to the paperwork on this one,” Ray muttered.
Fraser’s cheek dimpled slightly with the effort not to smile at his friend.
“Should I drop you off at the consulate?”
“No, thank you kindly. I’ll have a short talk with Lieutenant Welsh before I go. I’ll see you tomorrow?”
“Yeah, see you.”
Ray left and Fraser made his way along the familiar corridors of the 27th to Welsh’s office. He knocked on the door.
“Come in,” was the gruff reply from inside.
“Thank you again for letting me access your interrogation room. I know that it would’ve been the responsibility of the 17th since the case belonged to their district, but the 27th was on our way and Steve Hubbell behaved violently enough that I feared he would resort to desperate measures at any moment. Your cooperation was most welcome.”
Welsh looked long and hard at Fraser.
“Listen, I only did this because I know you’re a good officer and I know that we have a lot to thank you for, but we can’t let you run around investigating without an official approval behind your back.”
“No, I fully understand, sir. I know that this partnership is not official and that the proper authorities are, as far as I understood, not even aware that it exists, but Ray will take care of the paperwork. I can assure you that the 27th will not be held responsible.”
Welsh sighed in resignation. “Constable… I know from experience that arguing with you is—
frankly, it’s a waste of breath. I know that these last few weeks have been very hard on you and if I could help with the matter I would. As long as we see this through, Ray Vecchio will be safe and I hope that this is enough of an incentive.”
Fraser frowned, slightly puzzled. “I am aware of that and I can assure you that I would never do anything that would compromise his safety.”
Welsh pinched the bridge of his nose.
“Good, good. It’s good to see you again, Constable.”
Fraser left with the vague feeling that he had missed something.
“Come on, Dief, let’s go home.”
Back at the consulate, Fraser tried to get his thoughts sorted without much effect.
“…kiss me…” Fraser murmured to himself, barely above a whisper, once he had made himself comfortable in his office. He felt his cheeks flush and bit his lip. Whatever had possessed Ray to joke about something like that?
Fraser changed into his long johns a little while later without having found an answer to that question. He could still see the way Ray’s lips had spread into a grin as he said it. The mischievous smile as he had watched Fraser flounder for an appropriate answer.
Fraser tried to let it rest, but Ray’s voice came back to haunt him again and again whenever he let his mind wander. Really, it was ridiculous that he should give it that much thought. It had merely been a joke. Clearly another bout of Ray’s teasing.
Suddenly, Dief’s tail was thumping against the floor and his gaze was fixed on the door. Confused, Fraser turned around to watch the entry as well. A noise like—someone had just entered the hallway. Fraser reached out to open the door only to have Ray half-falling into his office.
Fraser’s eyebrows rose in surprise.
“Ah, hello Ray.”
“Uh, hey Fraser… do you—do you wanna go out and grab something to eat with me?”
Perplexed, Fraser looked at his watch.
“Ray, it’s almost ten.”
“Oh.” Ray seemed to really look at him then. “Oh shit. Were you already on your way to bed or something?” Ray asked with a startled look at Fraser’s long johns.
Fraser noticed the tightness around Ray’s eyes and the lines of worry etched onto his forehead.
“Is everything alright? Has something happened?”
Ray sighed and seemed to deflate a little. “Don’t worry, I should—perhaps I should go, let you get some sleep.” Ray turned around to leave and Fraser grabbed his arm before he managed to move out of the doorway.
“Don’t be silly. Come in, please, take a seat.”
It spoke volumes that Ray let himself be pulled into the room without another word. He collapsed into Fraser’s office chair with a small sigh.
“What happened, Ray?”
Fraser could think of at least 3 things to which this statement could refer.
“Me and Luanne…” Ray shrugged uncomfortably. “It’s my fault… I was a total idiot.”
“Don’t try to make me feel better, okay? I went over to her house and we had a glass of wine… we just sat together on the couch and we talked and…” Ray’s cheeks took on a bit of color. “Anyway, after a while she started talking about the case and I thought of that newspaper article and I got suspicious. She was real curious, too. We ended arguing about it… Fraser,” Ray raised tormented eyes up to him. “She does the culture part for the papers, about gallery openings and classical concerts and stuff…”
“I’m sorry, Ray,” Fraser said sincerely.
“Not your fault… the whole thing turned into a discussion about trust and what kind of person I thought she was and one thing led to another and at some point I was on the other side of the door,” Ray ruffled his hair and sighed. “I did some research; do you know who wrote those articles? It was the neighbor… Mrs. Tucci’s neighbor, Mrs. Harker. Seems it wasn’t just sympathy that made her come over all the time.”
“Ray, I—” What could he say to make it better? Wasn’t it at least partly his fault for instilling his own suspicions into Ray’s head? Suspicions that had been completely unfounded as it turned out. Why then had he had such a bad feeling about her?
“It’s me, Fraser… I just…” Ray gestured helplessly around for a moment. “I always have to break everything good that happens to me.”
Fraser looked long and carefully at Ray. There was nothing he could say that would make it alright. And at the moment nothing he said would convince Ray of the opposite.
“Ray… would you care for a game of cards?”
Ray looked up, surprised, and for a second he didn’t say anything and then his lips twitched with the hint of a smile. “Yeah… I’d like that”
When Ray left an hour later in slightly better spirits than how he had arrived, Fraser could still see that half-smile in front of his eyes. He felt hurt on his friend’s behalf and an ocean of sympathy as he watched Ray walk to his car with slightly hunched shoulders. There was also a hint of guilt nagging at him, but it was useless to deny the most prominent emotion of them all.
He was relieved.