Words: ~ 5.150
Rating:  PG
Summary: Fiction – The willing suspension of disbelief

Fraser had no other choice but to let himself be taken to the hospital. Lieutenant Welsh made sure of that.

It was the worst nightmare of Fraser’s life… and he had some experiences to compete with that. It took him almost an hour to convince the staff at the hospital that he wasn’t insane. It was his own fault mainly, but he couldn’t stop asking about Ray and the more people shook their heads and denied any knowledge of a patient by that name, the more distressed Fraser got. He needed to see him, just one final time. Just to… just to make sure.

Fraser’s description of the two nurses who took Ray away didn’t help his case either. The doctor was afraid he was hallucinating due to post-traumatic-stress disorder. He wasn’t. He had suffered a trauma and he was under stress, but he wasn’t hallucinating.

Ray wasn’t in the hospital. And Ray wasn’t in any of the other hospitals in town. Or the morgues. Fraser spent the better part of the night and the next day calling any place in town he could think of, but no one had ever heard of Ray Kowalski.

Something was very wrong. Fraser wanted answers. Welsh looked surprised when Fraser appeared at the 27th the very next day. Well, Fraser supposed his scruffy appearance might have had something to do with it. But he hadn’t slept and his personal attire hadn’t been very high on his list of priorities this morning.

“Constable, what are you doing here? You should be in the hospital – or if they couldn’t keep you, you should at least rest. My station is definitely the wrong place for you.”

Fraser squared his shoulders. “Lieutenant, if I may have a word with you?”

Welsh sighed but waved him into his office anyway.

“I can only hope that this is a question about where to go for a nice little timeout.”

“Sir, an officer has been… wounded,” and Fraser damned himself for not being able to say ‘has died’ but the words wouldn’t come. “His body went missing shortly afterwards without any discernible trace. I can only imagine foul play at this stage.”

“I thought not,” Welsh pinched the bridge of his nose.

“I need your help to find Detective First Grade Ray Kowalski.”

“Fraser, I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Welsh said in oddly comforting tones.

Fraser stared at him. “The officer whom I have accompanied these last few weeks. He’s 5’10-1/2”, blond hair, and—sir, are you telling me that you have no recollection of the man that arrested the murderer of Mr. Tucci or the purse-snatcher from the jewelry theft?”

For the first time, Welsh looked as if he had done this job for too long and had seen too much.

“Sit down, Constable,” Welsh reached in his drawer and got a bottle of Scotch and two glasses out. Fraser frowned but sat down.

“A cop and his partner… that’s a special bond. I know more than one damn fine officer who didn’t cope with losing his. I know that Ray Vecchio’s departure was sudden to say the least and I know that you two have been tight—”

“I fail to see what Ray Vecchio’s assignment has to do with finding Ray Kowalski?”

Welsh looked sympathetic and pushed a glass of Scotch in Fraser’s direction.

“Acceptance is the first step, Fraser. Stress can do weird things—”

Fraser pushed to his feet. “With all due respect, sir. Are you implying that Ray Kowalski is nothing more than a projection of my subconscious—”

“All I’m saying is that a bit of a break would do you good. Get a change of scenery.”

Fraser had a hard time getting the words out.

“Thank you for your time,” Fraser pressed out before closing the door with a little more force than strictly necessary.

He didn’t have time to get his emotions under control because he almost immediately ran into Francesca.

“Ah, Francesca. Do you remember the detective I introduced to you?” Fraser’s mouth felt dry as he waited for her answer.

Francesca’s face looked small and drawn. “Fraser…you—” she bit her lip and averted her eyes for a second. “I don’t mean this in a bad way, this is just part of who you are, but… sometimes you… you talk to thin air—not that there’s anything wrong with that,” she rushed through her sentence. “I thought you were just… that you were… and I didn’t want to make you uncomfortable, so I…” Frannie wrung her hands, looking terribly upset.

“It’s—it’s alright,” Fraser mumbled in a daze.

No one remembered meeting Ray.

For a moment Fraser sank into a chair just trying to get his bearings. Frannie was still fluttering around him, nervously trying to reassure him, but Fraser hadn’t slept for almost two days and too much had happened and he simply didn’t have any resources left to assure her that he was alright.

“Hey Fraser, you okay?”

Fraser looked to his left to find Detective Huey looking down at him with a frown.

Of course! Fraser suddenly found new hope. Detectives Huey and Dewey had worked on the Orisini case – they had to know what he was talking about.

“Do you remember Detective Ray Kowalski?”

Huey’s face was blank. “You mean Ray Vecchio, right?”

Fraser’s hope sank. “No, I mean Stanley Raymond Kowalski. You worked with him on the case involving Alderman Frank Orsini,” he elaborated.

Dewey appeared at Huey’s shoulder. “Can’t say I remember him.”

“Of course you can,” Fraser snapped, frustrated. “You helped to protect his ex-wife, Stella Kowalski.”

Dewey snorted. “Look, pal, that was a movie, okay? Marlon Brando isn’t really Stanley Kowalski. I know you don’t get much television up in the frozen North, but—”

“This has nothing to do with a movie—which happens to be an adaption of a play by Tennessee Williams if you have to make a joke out of it. I am talking about two people of flesh and blood,” Fraser exclaimed exasperatedly.

Dewey shook his head sadly. “Listen, a guy named Stanley Kowalski who’s got a wife called Stella? …Fraser, I hate to break it to you, but you gotta stop trusting people like that.”

“He’s not—he goes by Ray…” Fraser trailed off feeling foolish.

Dewey patted him sympathetically on the back.

“I am not joking. You know him!” Fraser tried again, more vehemently.

“Whoa, all right. Keep it cool there. What’s got your knickers in a twist?” Huey asked.

Fraser decided to change tack.

“I am talking about the woman that you helped to protect.”

Huey and Dewey exchanged glances.

“What are you talking about, Fraser? We protected the Alderman. The woman was Officer Sheridon; she only acted as his date to make a believable couple for our ruse.”

“—which didn’t work out if you remember,” Dewey chimed in.

Fraser had the intense urge to throttle him. Whatever he could say would not be nice. So Fraser managed to bite out an ‘Excuse me’ before he stormed out of the bullpen.

Confused didn’t even begin to cover it. His head was reeling and there was no way out. Dief was the only one who mourned as well, the only one who showed recognition at Ray’s name. And it hurt… the pain made it hard to breathe. Fraser lay on his cot, gasping for air, trying to get back a shred of control, but it was useless.

He didn’t know when sleep finally took pity on him, but when it did it was for a restless night, filled with oddly shaped dreams that were bathed in blue. The only thing he remembered when he woke up was Ray’s voice. And the way Ray had said his name.

Fraser looked as tired as he felt. Mechanically, he went through his morning routine to at least keep up appearances that this was just another day.

Lieutenant Welsh must’ve called Inspector Thatcher because she had suspended him for the time being – not unkindly. For her usually carefully professional behavior she was almost gentle when she told Fraser to take a few days off.

Fraser knew that resistance was futile so he made the most of it. He sat down to think this through methodically. He needed a plan. There had to be some nefarious reason why everyone claimed not to remember Ray.

The Orsini case had started him on an idea and Fraser felt sure that he had to be successful at some point. What other choice was there?

Explaining his involvement in the case with the self-made bomb to Orsini’s secretary got Fraser an instant interview with the man himself.

Fraser’s blood was thrumming with excitement. Orsini had called Ray himself. Orsini had shaken hands with him. He had to remember.

Orsini’s blank politeness surprised Fraser as they shook hands over the Alderman’s desk.

Orsini motioned for Fraser to sit down and then followed suit. “So… Constable, was it?”

“Ah, yes. Constable Benton Fraser—” Fraser stopped explaining his business as he noticed that Orsini made a note of his name. It perplexed Fraser that Orsini didn’t remember his name after everything that had happened.

“Right, right. What did you want to talk to me about? You said it was important?”

“Yes, do you remember the evening of the bombing? I wanted to ask you about the investigating officer.”

Orsini smiled congenially. “Of course. Me and a female acquaintance went to an open air theater production in—”

“Classical music,” Fraser corrected automatically.

“Excuse me?”

“It was a classical concert and your acquaintance was an officer of the 27th police precinct.”

Orsini’s smile was frozen for all of a second before he started nodding and laughing apologetically. Almost unobtrusively, Orsini’s eyes flicked over a notepad on his desk.

Fraser read the writing upside-down. Orsini had written down the key events of that evening.

“Sir, is it possible that you can’t remember what happened that night?”

Orsini’s smile vanished. He looked tired all of a sudden.

“I’m sorry, Constable. I suffered from blunt head trauma after the explosion. I was very lucky, I have been told. But I did lose about a month of my short term memory. I can’t even begin to tell you what a scandal that would’ve been for my career had it gotten out.”

Fraser had no interest in discussing politics. “So you don’t remember the woman you dated during that time, Miss Stella Kowalski?”

Orsini’s smile was polite but blank. “I’m sorry I can’t be of more assistance.”

Fraser left deflated. At least Orsini’s loss of memory was reasonable. Fraser mentally crossed the first clue off his list. Fraser pondered this strange coincidence on his way back to the Consulate.

No one remembered Ray and there seemed to be no proof for the existence of Stella Kowalski either. The longer he thought about it, the more things came to mind that didn’t add up. What if that was the reason why no one had remembered mixing a drink for Stella? Because there had been no one of that name… No, he couldn’t start thinking that way. He would drive himself insane with that line of thinking.

Dief whined next to him.

“Oh, I’m terribly sorry. Are you hungry?”

Dief whined again, louder this time. Fraser’s own stomach rumbled in accord. When was the last time he had eaten?

“No, no you’re right. We have to take better care of ourselves if we want to find Ray.”

Still, half of the food on his plate stayed untouched. He wasn’t hungry. Because he could only forget for a couple of minutes at a time that even if he found Ray…. Ray would still be… he’d still be gone.

Fraser escaped again in a flurry of motion. He called Francesca to access the file of the Tucci case.

“….yes, here… ” The brightness in Francesca’s voice sounded like plastic. “Wait a second—ah, right: Jurisdiction of the 19th precinct—”

“You mean 17th precinct?” Fraser asked.

There was a moment of silence before Frannie’s voice could be heard again. “Uhm, no. It says 19th. The arresting officer was…oh.” Frannie stopped, surprised. “It was Ray. Ray Vecchio,” she emphasized in a conspiratorial tone.

“…thank you… Francesca…” Fraser choked out and hung up. A tremor was moving through his right hand which was still gripping the telephone. He couldn’t release his grip and he couldn’t stop the shaking. A sob escaped his lips no matter how tightly he pressed them closed.

With a supreme amount of effort, Fraser evened his breathing until he had his sobbing under control. He couldn’t lose his head. There had to be a reason for all of this… this madness.

After he had calmed down, Fraser considered his next move. He didn’t want to call Francesca again, but he thought that he should be able to find a few newspaper clippings about the Tucci case. Maybe he could find out in which prison Steve Hubbell ended up. He might be willing to talk to Fraser. He sat down in front of the computer and fed ‘Steve Hubbell’ into the search engine.

The first hit produced a link to a theater performance of ‘A Streetcar Named Desire.’ Fraser stared at the computer screen. With a sinking feeling in his gut, Fraser tipped ‘Harold Mitchell,’ hoping to maybe find a funeral notice. The first thing he found, though, was a list of actors considered for the role of Harold ‘Mitch’ Mitchell in the movie production of ‘A Streetcar Named Desire.’

Fraser broke into a sweat. This could not be a coincidence… could it? Suddenly he could see Robert Mitchell’s address swim in front of his vision: New Orleans… Elysian Field Avenue… just where… where the play… was set. Fraser had to consciously concentrate not to start shaking.

He pushed away from the computer with enough force that the chair collided with the boxes stored on the shelves behind him.

There had to be something else… there had to be—there was one person he could ask.

“Yes?”

Fraser hadn’t thought that time would find him on Luanne Russell’s doorstep again.

“Ah, I’m sorry to disturb you,” Fraser started haltingly. He could still see Ray kiss her; it was unnerving.

Luanne on the other hand seemed almost pleasantly surprised to find him at her front door.

“What can I do for you?” Fraser remembered what her smoky voice had been able to do to his friend’s composure.

“I wanted to ask you a few questions about Ray Kowalski.”

She frowned. “Excuse me, who? I’m not sure—”

“Ray, Ray the man who asked you out on a date, my colleague who was here with me for the interview about Mr. Tucci, the pretzel vendor, he—he gave you his phone number on a slip of paper!” Fraser rambled through all the facts he could think of. At the mention of the phone number her face brightened.

She smiled knowingly at him. “Ah, that friend, you mean,” and she left the door open before she vanished into the hallway for a moment.

Fraser was left staring rather unintelligently at the open doorway. That friend? What was that supposed to mean?

She came back flicking a piece of paper at him. “Do you mean this number?” She smiled again, looking almost too long at Fraser for him to be comfortable.

Confused, he took the parchment from her fingers and looked at the phone number. Shocked, his head flew up to stare at her.

“…pity your friend never called,” Luanne said in a low voice before she stepped back to close the door in Fraser’s face.

Fraser was left staring at the piece of paper. With his name on it. And the number of the Canadian Consulate underneath.

He had never written this note. Fraser turned around and around again, staring bewildered at his surroundings. But the house was there and she really lived there and… it was as if Ray had never existed.

— but that 6-year-old girl at the graveyard, with the dream catcher, she had talked to Ray, Fraser was sure of it. She had seen him as well. Suddenly, Fraser wasn’t so sure anymore, though. Hadn’t he himself doubted Ray’s presence those first times when he had thought he had seen him at those crime scenes when he had investigated the fires?

Dief and he had turned the corner and Ray had been gone.

Stumbling, Fraser reached the park around the corner from Luanne’s apartment. Without consciously thinking about it, he collapsed on one of the benches. What about the way Ray had vanished after the knife incident? …maybe he hadn’t gone home… maybe he had simply evaporated… he was already gone by the time Huey and Dewey arrived on the scene…

Fraser put his head in his hands. –the second knife! He jerked upright again and pulled the notebook out of his pocket. He hadn’t been able to let it out of his sight since… since… he winced. The gash was still clearly visible on the leather cover, just slightly below the spot where the bullet had penetrated it.  What if there hadn’t been a second knife…? He knew he hadn’t seen one. …the knife incident had been the only time, except for this last fatal encounter, where he even had the notebook on his person….

Fraser tried to get his thoughts in order. Okay, but what about Greta Garbo then? Ray had protected him then, too. He had been wearing a vest… hadn’t he? All Fraser had was Ray’s word for it. Ray hadn’t shown him. Fraser stared at the notebook. What if only the notebook could get hurt?

Fraser frowned. That thought didn’t sit well with him at all. That was insane—ludicrous even! The thoughts of a mad man— and not the Hamlet version of mad. This was straightjacket material… well, he did have experience with that.

Fraser rubbed a hand over his face. Yes, he did have a history of mental instability – at least if you asked other people.

What if this was all in his head? Oh God. What if it really was just a reaction to Ray Vecchio’s abrupt departure? –a projection called into existence by his inability to cope with the loss of the only real friend he had.

Fraser’s head flew up as his eyes widened in panic. When was the last time he had seen his father? Fraser stared unseeing over the green lawn of the park. Months, it had been months. He hadn’t seen his father since Ray Vecchio had vanished… sometime during his holiday possibly. For all the times Fraser had wished his father would disappear to –wherever he had been before he had started haunting him—Fraser would’ve liked to rely on the normalcy of his visits.

Normalcy, Fraser wanted to laugh. Or cry. He had no resources left. And there was no one left to tell him what he should do now.

Was that it?

Had Ray simply been another form of his fragmented psyche? Wouldn’t that explain everything?

If anyone had asked him what he had done with his days, Fraser couldn’t have told them. Time just passed. In one way or another. Just to torment himself, Fraser went to Ray’s apartment… or the place Fraser’s head had created for Ray to live in. The spot next to the doorbell where the name tag was supposed to go was empty.

Fraser rang the bell of the landlady and she was kind enough to tell him that the apartment had been empty for months.

Months… too long to be possible… but he had already known that.

By now Fraser knew every word in his notebook by heart. It was the only proof that Ray had existed anywhere. Even if it was just in his own head… and what other possible explanation was there?

After a week, Fraser had exhausted all leads, had checked up on everything he thought promising… only to come back with more zero.

Fraser took up his duty at the Consulate again. Just to stay occupied for at least a few hours every day. Inspector Thatcher was always talking in soft tones to him nowadays. Had Fraser considered it worth the effort, he would have felt insulted. As it was, it was all he could do to just get through his day.

Turnbull was remarkably easy to get along with these days and Fraser thought with a slightly hysterical laugh if that wasn’t the best proof of his crumbling mind yet.

Francesca kept on inviting him over to the Vecchios for lunch, dinner, sport occasions, anything at all that might attract Fraser’s attention, but he couldn’t face the loud, boisterous and loving Vecchio household.

Missing his old friend was bad enough without having his family pretend that Fraser didn’t lose his mind over it.

Fraser still spent enough time at the 27th. He didn’t even know why exactly. In a way he still hoped to hear from Ray Vecchio at some point… and in a way he felt as if this was where his connection with Ray had ended. So many things Fraser had never questioned, but that know left him wondering how he never thought them odd. Fraser had never been to the 17th police precinct. Ray had never mentioned any names of colleagues or previous partners—of course not— if it had all been inside of Fraser’s head he couldn’t have known anyone from that precinct.

Huey and Dewey were sympathetic in their own way. Just recently they had started coming up with one-liners about zombies – which Fraser was given to understand was an analogy to his own state of being. He supposed it was their attempt to cheer him up and he really appreciated their efforts. If not their tact.

He was about to knock on Lieutenant Welsh’s door, just to hear again that there was no news, when Fraser heard Welsh talking to someone, apparently on the phone because Fraser couldn’t hear the other side.

“Thanks for letting me know, Inspector Thatcher,” Fraser distinctly heard Welsh’s gruff voice. “Yes, I was afraid this was coming,” Welsh sighed. “He hasn’t been the same since Vecchio left. This thing with the murderer of his mother… would’ve been a shock to anyone,” Welsh was quiet, apparently listening to the other side of the conversation.

“Yeah, I had the same idea. I’ll see what I can do, might take a while. There’s a lot of paperwork involved…”

Fraser let his hand drop down again. He turned around on his heel and strode out of the bullpen again. He had forgotten what he wanted to ask.

That night, Fraser settled down on his cot with the notebook again open in his lap. His fingers smoothed over the page… I miss you, Fraser thought bitterly.

He flicked through the pages and winced when he cut his finger. Stupefied, Fraser watched the paper cut on his index finger. The paper cuts. They had been real. And he didn’t have a single recollection of acquiring any of them. But he remembered touching Ray. Over and over. In countless scenarios.

His heart beat faster all of a sudden. He couldn’t have imagined all of this. He didn’t need the pages to conjure Ray before him; he could still see him so clearly in front of him. The passion… the way his cheek had smarted when Ray had hit him… all of his heartache… no, he hadn’t thought that up.

Of course it had eased his loneliness—and of course it had made Ray Vecchio’s absence easier. But his mind had not been trying to substitute Ray Vecchio—and had it wanted to, wouldn’t it have made more sense to conjure up the man himself?

No. Fraser wouldn’t accept it.

He had spent over a week trying to tell himself that he was insane, maybe he should just accept it. Something strange had happened, of that Fraser had no doubt. But there couldn’t be a world in which Ray Kowalski had never existed. If he stopped looking for a reasonable explanation… Ray was real. He had to be. And Fraser would gladly live with insanity if that meant he could spend it with Ray.

“It’s a funny one,” Fraser intoned in a whisper. Those had been the words of the shop-keeper as he had bought the notebook. Yes, people hadn’t liked it much, he had said.

The idea alone was preposterous. Was he really considering that something about the notebook had filled Ray with life? Fraser frowned again.

He had already hit rock bottom. What was there to lose?

And it fit… didn’t it? The way Ray had always smelled of printing ink and had droplets of ink clinging to his fingers… and his strong aversion to water—and how the notebook had been drenched in the course of a curious incident right after Ray and he had to jump into the lake. That couldn’t all be unrelated. And Ray wouldn’t go into a burning building even though he had proven time and again that he was no coward and would follow Fraser into the most dangerous situations…

And of course, the strongest suggestion of all. Fraser’s fingers stroked gently over the bullet imbedded in the notebook. A bullet that hadn’t hit him.

He could still see his hands bathed in Ray’s blood; blood the color of royal blue ink. A pen, Ray had said that first time when he was wounded by the knife. Maybe he had told the truth. The pen had been Fraser’s.

It couldn’t be worse than what he had tried so far, Fraser concluded. But then again, hopelessness might be preferable. It was easier to survive. And people had thought him insane before. Fraser chuckled. It wasn’t a very relieved sound—but gallows humor couldn’t be choosy. “Dief, come on. Let’s find Ray.”

Together they tried to find the shop again. Maybe he could find another one of these notebooks. Or the shop-keeper might know where to find another one; maybe Fraser could mail order one from the manufacturer. Just because it was the last of its line didn’t mean there wasn’t another one out there somewhere.

Fraser retraced his steps from that one afternoon walk so very long ago. A life ago, Fraser thought. He was sure that he was on the correct street, but… bewildered, Fraser looked the street up and down. There had to be a sign somewhere… but there wasn’t one.

Tennessee W. – Fraser suddenly remembered. That had been the name of the shop. His heart sank. This did not bode well.

He was almost certain that the shop had been next to a boarded-up apartment complex and an old secondhand record store. There was an office space between those two buildings. But it looked long forgotten. The windows were dusty and the interior of the whole building could be described as ‘grimy’ at best.

Fraser peered through the dirty glass. The shop seemed to have been abandoned years ago – not a few months – if the amount of dust and debris was anything to go by.

This – whatever it was – had nothing to do with logic.

What else could he do?

Over the next few days, Fraser went through his entries again in an ever more desperate attempt to find some clue, any clue whatsoever. There had to be a solution.

Fraser noticed a pattern. At first he wasn’t sure, but when he went over his entries yet again there was really no mistaking this. Whenever he had complained about not seeing Ray for quite some time he hadn’t written anything in his notebook for a period of a few days. And the more he had written, the more frequent his encounters had been. Until he had seen Ray every day.

Maybe it was about the writing. If he couldn’t buy the same notebook, maybe another one would do the trick as well. Fraser went into the largest shop he could find to look for a suitable replacement. He handled countless different notebooks, always expecting to feel something when he got the right one.

He didn’t feel any different though. After a while he just felt foolish. It wasn’t as if the black notebook had felt peculiar or anything – he had simply taken a fancy to it. So he cast his glance about for any journal that caught his eye.

Okay, so maybe he went for similarities, but he really had no idea how this was supposed to work. The new one was again a small black leather book, but it didn’t look half as battered as his old one. The missing bullet hole notwithstanding.

Back at the Consulate, Fraser could feel his heart beating in his throat. So this was it, he mused as he opened it and poised his pen.

It wasn’t as if he didn’t have enough to write about. Weeks of torment and heartache and loss just spilled onto the page, leaving fat, ugly blotches on the paper now and again. He described Ray as minutely as he could, trying to capture his personality as well as words were able to. For the first time in a long while, Fraser realized that words didn’t necessarily help to express something. It seemed that the more he tried to describe Ray the further away he got from the original.

How was it even possible to portray all the varying sides of a person without misleading the reader? But he couldn’t stop. It had worked once… if he set his disbelief and his mental health aside for a moment.

For three days, Fraser did little else but write feverishly. In a way he feared that writing too little might botch the whole experiment. In breathless anticipation, Fraser was an even keener observer than usual. If Ray decided to show up, even for nothing more than a glimpse, Fraser would be ready.

But Ray didn’t show.

Frustrated, Fraser sat at his desk with his head in his hands. He had tried and failed.

Dief whined softly beside him. Fraser looked up and smiled.

“I appreciate it. I know that you grieve for him as well.”

Dief wagged his tail and yipped excitedly.

“No, I assure you I know that you understand. It has been clear to me from the beginning that you never doubted Ray’s existence.”

But this time Dief’s opinion might just be the proof that Fraser did belong in a mental institution after all. Maybe he had been crazy all along. What could he say in his defense? I’m sorry, but my deaf half-wolf can support my claim?

Dief grumbled.

“I’m sure it has nothing to do with the trustworthiness of wolves in general,” Fraser pacified his lupine friend.

And now? Fraser took Ray’s notebook into his hands again. “Tell me, what am I supposed to do now, Ray?”

Final Chapter can be found here

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