(a crossover with Due South)
Sally Cooper took the long way home every time she had the chance, so she could stop and gaze at the Mountie. She could have cut a dozen blocks off the walk or taken the el instead but once sheíd passed the Canadian Consulate and seen the uniformed RCMP officer standing guard in front of the building, she started taking the long way home. He was always at attention and not even the idiocies of tourists posing for pictures beside him or small boys teasing him could distract him from his duty. Sometimes a white wolf sat at attention at his side. She always enjoyed the view. Sometimes he wasnít there, but today as she turned the corner and approached the Consulate, her heart gave a bound as she saw him in his usual place.
That was when she spotted the second Mountie, an older man, standing to one side and slightly behind the hunk. This one wasnít on duty; he was talking earnestly in the younger oneís ear, and the younger one was listening, although he wasnít speaking in return or moving or in any way allowing it to show on his face. Sally knew though. It was one of the feelings she had. Sheíd been psychic since she was a teenager and sheíd learned to pick up on certain things, though she didnít often have full-fledged visions. Right now she felt just enough of an edge to realize her own Mountie was frustrated at his inability to respond.
Abruptly Sallyís mental alarm went off. There was something really strange about the older Mountie. He didnít feel right at all. That was when the unexpected happened. A little girl and poodle suddenly raced down the sidewalk directly toward the two Mounties without paying attention to where she was going. Sally opened her mouth to yell a warning only to feel her jaw rebounding off the sidewalk as the child and poodle passed right through the older Mountie. He noticed the child and looked after her in irritation. The younger Mountieís jaw tightened as if he were struggling not to smile. The wolf stared up at the invisible Mountie, clearly able to see him as well.
If he hadnít been aware, she would still have wondered if it had simply been another vision. But he had reacted, and that meant one thing. The second Mountie was a ghost. Eyes wide with shock, the young psychic could only stare in utter disbelief, scarcely able to believe her eyes. As she gaped at the two Mounties ó one human, one ectoplasmic ó in stunned surprise, the ghost turned and looked right at her. As their eyes met, she turned and fled down the street without daring to look back.
"She can see me, son," Robert Fraser complained, pointing after the disappearing woman.
Fraser could not comment; he was still on duty and must remain at attention. But he had been aware of the womanís reaction. He had trained himself to see as wide a field of vision as was possible with eyes forward (there were certain exercises that could vastly extend a personís visual range) and he had noticed the young woman, remembering her from previous passes down the street and from the way that she would stop and stare at him from a slight angle as if believing it had granted her invisibility. She was not the only woman to stare, but her staring was, he had believed, harmless, for she wore a wedding ring. Today, though, his father had arrived shortly after he had taken his position, rambling on to his son about the good old days in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and his adventures in the Yukon. Perhaps the dead found the afterlife lonely and needed someone to listen, especially spirits like his father, who could not be seen by most others, certainly not by random strangers, at least not until now.
"I didnít let her see me, the way I did Buck Frobisher," Fraser senior persisted. "But she did anyway. This is very bad, son."
Fraser managed to project a question without moving or speaking, and his father persisted, worried, "I believe she has a power most humans donít possess. One time, when I was pursuing Black Jerry Kidmont, north of Yellowknife, I encountered a Scotsman who had a similar gift. It was said he could predict the future, and he was right. He predicted the avalanche that caught me when I went further north, the one that nearly cost me three toes from frostbite. Beware of that young woman, Son. She could well be dangerous."
Diefenbaker whined as if in agreement. Perhaps a deaf wolf didnít need ears to hear a ghost. He turned his head, staring after the woman, then he settled himself at Fraserís feet and rested his chin on his paws.
"Mark my words," Robert Fraser insisted before he popped out of sight, "this means trouble."
"Oh, now, really, this is too much," wailed Jonathan MacKensie in outrage, pushing aside a stack of tests to look up at the new arrival in his office at the Georgetown Institute of Science. "You canít expect me to go chasing off to ó Where did you say it was?"
"Chicago," Edgar Benedek reminded him. The journalist grinned, buffing his fingernails on his garish jacket. In spite of the writerís vow to clean up his act to match the parapsychology degree he was industriously working on between stories for his scandal sheet, the National Register, Benny had chosen not to Ďclean upí his wardrobe. The shirt was vivid in brilliant greens and blues in a geometric pattern that hurt the eyes, and with it he wore a string tie that held glowing green bulbs in its tips, flashing off and on, off and on with maddening precision. After all the years Jonathan had known Benedek, the anthropology professor had believed himself hardened to his friendís sartorial Ďgloryí, but this was almost too much.
"Chicago," Jonathan echoed, shaking his head sententiously. While Benedek had helped Jonathan resign himself to his new career as the head of Georgetown Instituteís Unexplained Phenomena department, heíd never quite helped Jonathan entirely lose his stiffer personality. When Benedek could hang back and party with the best of them, Jonathan might trail along, confused but faintly pursuing. Benedek never lost his party-down attitude, even now as he prepared his thesis for his Ph.D. Strangers might have thought them ill-matched, but Jonathan had long since accepted that he needed someone like Benny, and that his friend had come to be such an important part of his life that he would sorely miss him if ever Benedek decided to vanish back into the world of tabloid journalism.
"So whatís wrong with the Windy City, Jack?" Benedek asked, propping his hip on Jonathanís cluttered desk after shoving away a stack of exams that were waiting to be graded. "ĎHog butcher to the worldí," he quoted unexpectedly, adding, "Thatís a poem, buds."
"Part of a poem," Jonathan corrected. "And not the kind youíd generally read."
"Oh yeah?" Benedek drew himself up as if in offended dignity. "And what kind do you think I read, Professor, sir?"
"The thought of dirty limericks springs to mind."
Benedekís eyes twinkled. Not one whit offended, he said, "Dirty limericks are an art form. Great men have written dirty limericks. Look at Isaac Asimov. And Big Chuck Heston used to recite them as if he was reciting the ten commandments on the Tonight Show back when I was a kid. I remember my favorite." He jumped up and struck a pose, declaiming dramatically:
"ĎThere was a young lady from Thrace
Whose corsets no longer would lace.
Her mother said, "Nelly,
Thereís more in your belly
Than ever went in through your face.í"
He took a bow and sat down again, grinning a mile wide, all the more so because Jonathan had been unable to hold back an involuntary smile of his own. It was time to change the subject.
But when he pointed to the waiting tests, Benedek snatched them up and carried them across the room to set them atop the bookshelf, out of reach. "No tests today, J.J. Get your student assistant to grade them. Learn to delegate. This is important. We have to go to Chicago right away."
"To see a haunted Mountie?" Jonathan wailed in utter disbelief. "Somehow I donít think this would be right up there on the top of Dr. Moorhouseís list of paranormal cases waiting to be investigated. And whatís a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police doing in Chicago, of all places? Shouldnít he be in Canada, or is that too reasonable for you?"
"Too reasonable for moi?" Benny asked, grinning. "This from the guy who aced his last final? Iím such a brilliant parapsychologist these days even the Ghostbusters hire me as a consultant. I can give you reasonable, Jon-boy. I didnít arrange for the Mountie to be in Chicago. His own government did. Heís stationed at the Consulate there. See. Perfectly sensible, even for an old prof like you."
"Not so much of the word Ďoldí, Benedek," Jonathan chided.
"Hey, if the shoe fits. I saw you sneaking off to pluck out the odd gray hair or two when we were chasing down that mermaid at Marina Del Rey last month." He sketched her shape with great enthusiasm between his two hands.
"That was no mermaid, that was a Hollywood publicity stunt for an upcoming film," Jonathan reminded him in tones of great disgust.
"Yeah, and if so, who was the merman who chased our little actress in a fishtail skirt? The studio claims they didnít hire a man to trade his legs for flippers, and that guy had moves the Man from Atlantis never could have copied, even before he turned into Bobby Ewing."
"What are you talking about, Benedek?" Jonathan loosened his tie, then ran impatient fingers through his hair.
"Just saying it wasnít all Tinseltown Hype. Thereís always something you canít explain away with science and reason. Just like this new case. ĎThe Haunted Mountieí. Itís gonna make a great story."
"I can just imagine." Jonathan heaved a resigned sigh, trying to hide the fact that he couldnít help feeling a little bit curious in spite of himself. His last classes for the semester were over and most of the studentsí grades registered. He had only one last set of tests to finish and with luck he could get them done before he had to catch a flight to the Windy City. "All right, if you feel you absolutely must, tell me about it."
"I thought youíd never ask." Benedekís smile wasnít quite too triumphant. "Okay, remember Sally McKay."
"No," said Jonathan, leaping to his feet and taking an involuntary step backward. "I thought she moved away!" His memory of the young psychic who had developed an unexpectedly passionate crush on him was all too vivid in his memory. True, she was an attractive woman, but she was also strange, and while he could tolerate Ďstrangeí quite well in Benedek and usually enjoyed the experience, the last thing in the world heíd wanted was to be chased by a lovesick woman who possessed ESP. The one time heíd actually taken her out on a date, sheíd gone into a trance over their entree in the restaurant and started to describe in enough detail to make Jonathanís face flame just how compatible they would be sexually. She had seen it in a dream, sheíd explained, and proceeded to regale Jonathan with far more particulars than he was prepared to handle in public. Especially when the dean was dining with his wife at the next table and listening avidly to every word. To cap a truly miserable experience she had jumped up at the start of their dessert course, grabbed a pitcher of water and flung it on a waiter just about to alight the Baked Alaska, dousing him and the flame, proclaiming it would have stared a major fire that would have burned the place to the ground if she hadnít acted.
Mortified, Jonathan had taken her home and left her at the door, and it had been months before heíd been able to face the dean with any degree of equanimity.
"If sheís in on this, I want no part of it," he insisted hotly.
"Relaxovision, buds. Sheís married. Her nameís Cooper now. She gave up on you and married a stockbroker ó true love all the way. She only does readings now on the side. But she still has visions, and she had one about this Nelson Eddy character in red when she saw him on guard duty outside the Consulate. They stand guard like those British Beefeater types, never move a muscle not even if people talk to them or dogs pee on them. Sally was walking down the street and saw him there in his uniform and she saw another Mountie standing beside him, talking his ear off."
"Maybe it was his superior officer. I donít see any reason to rush off with my tests ungraded and endure Sally McKay, er, Cooper just because she saw two Mounties in Chicago."
"Not even when she could see right through the second one and no one else noticed him?"
"Oh, god, she could see through him?" Jonathan echoed. "Are you sure she hadnít been tippling?"
"She never touches a drop. Says it interferes with the clarity of her vision. Word of honor, Jack, the second Mountie was a ghost. And whatís more she could sense from the first one that he knew the other one was there, even if he was on duty and couldnít chase him away. And the wolf knew he was there, too."
"The wolf?" Jonathan burst out, now completely befuddled. "What wolf?"
"The wolf that was on guard duty beside him, of course," Benedek replied reasonably.
"Oh, come on, Benedek. I know Canada is considered the ĎGreat White Northí by Americans, but I hardly think they use wolves as guard dogs. It was probably a Malamute or Husky or something, if it wasnít a ghost, too."
"A wolf," Benedek said. "Or at least part wolf. Sally says itís the Mountieís pet. Besides, I can commune with wolves, remember our case with the girl whoíd been raised by wolves? I had a telepathic Lobo Line. I bet I can get a scoop from this wolf without even trying. Sally asked him about the ghost, too, the next day, but he pretended he didnít know what she was talking about."
"Maybe he didnít. Maybe he canít see the ghost, if no one else could."
"He knew. Sallyís too good at what she does. You can bet your boots on this one."
"Iím not going. It was bad enough the last time I saw Sally. I wonít see her again."
"Okay, okay, you donít have to see her. Word of honor, Jack. She already told me all about it anyway, though if she was there she could tell us when the ghost showed up."
"No. If I have to meet her, Iím not going, and thatís final."
"Your loss, buds. Finish up your paperwork. Iím going to go and wheedle the price of the tickets out of Dr. Moorhouse." Squaring his shoulders for his encounter with Ďthe dragon ladyí, he grinned and headed out the door.
"Thereís that woman again, Benny," Detective Ray Vecchio said, pointing down the street as Fraser climbed into the Chicago policemanís 1971 Buick Riviera. "You know, the one that walks past every day about this time so she can indulge in a little healthy lust."
"I doubt itís lust, Ray," Fraser said quickly. "Iíve noticed the uniform has a certain appeal to members of the female sex. I suspect itís simply that."
"Come on, Benny, not even you are that modest. She wants you."
"Sheís married, Ray."
"And just how do you know that? Did you talk to her? Take her out for coffee?"
"She approached me," Fraser began, then caught himself. "She wears a wedding ring," he added. "I couldnít help noticing it."
"Aha! You were looking!"
"Not in the way you mean," Fraser insisted. "Iíve trained myself to notice details. Besides, her behavior was strange. I believe she has psychic powers."
"Oh yeah?" Ray glanced over his shoulder at the young woman who stood staring after them. "And what led you to that brilliant conclusion, Sherlock?"
Fraser looked as if he wished he hadnít brought up the matter. "She talked to me, Ray," he admitted. "Yesterday. She informed me she could...see ghosts."
"Hmm. And what else can she see? Pink elephants strolling down Michigan Avenue? Come on, Benny, she was probably drunk." On the other hand, it might be better not to spend any time around that woman, even if she was easy on the eye. Ray never knew when he might be visited by an unwelcome spirit himself and he didnít want the woman to see his dad. That made him wonder. There had been a time or two when Fraser had acted, well, weird, as if he were talking to someone who wasnít there. Maybe he had his own personal ghost, too. For all Ray knew, everybody did, and it was just something nobody talked about. Otherwise, the Ghostbusters would have to open franchises all over the country and do something about it.
"Actually she was quite sober. I suspect she may well have visions, Ray. When I lived with my grandparents, there was an old Inuit who lived nearby. He had visions. Everybody in Inuvik knew when he had a vision it would come true. He knew when it would snow and when a storm would come, and when he spoke, everyone listened. He was a very wise man."
"And did this great guru of the North see ghosts, Fraser?"
"Well, now that you mention it, he never did. At least he never admitted it."
"He did, however, find David Sovalik when he was lost on the ice. He led us right to him. Davidís mother, Emmy, insisted he was a saint and a genius. My grandmother said he was a visionary and she took his advice in many things. It made my grandfather somewhat...irritated."
"I can imagine." Ray tried to envision his fatherís reaction if his mother had taken advice from an astrologer or some other fruitcake. Not a happy thought.
As if he felt the subject exhausted, Fraser asked, "Where are we going, Ray?"
"I want to talk to a witness. Heís been trying to back out now that the trialís coming on, and I think someoneís getting at him. Surveillance chased somebody off last night and now the witness is making noises like maybe he didnít see what he said he saw. I want to make sure heíll testify and not back down on the witness stand. I thought maybe having youó and Diefó with me, just might make a difference."
"In other words, you want to frighten him with a wolf. Is that proper procedure, Ray?"
"Who said anything about proper procedure. I just want you and Dief there in the background when I talk to him. Iím not gonna threaten the guy."
"Not in so many words, no."
"Come on, Benny, the suspect, character named Tommy Weston, bombed an office building and killed six people, one of them a little girl on the way to her doctorís office with her mother. Our witness saw him running from the scene; heís the only one who can place him at the site at the right time. I want him to go down. The witness is starting to panic, even with the protection weíve got on him. If it helps to have you and Dief lurking in the background, fine. Iím gonna have you lurk."
"Ah. Well, perhaps in that case, it might be worthwhile, especially since his testimony might serve to keep such a criminal off the streets. But Iím not sure it would be appropriate for me to, er, lurk in uniform. Perhaps we could stop at my apartment so I could change into civilian attire, first."
"You got it," Ray said with a grin. Heíd known he could count on Benny when the chips were down. He always could.
"Iím sorry, did you say The National Register?" Inspector Meg Thatcher stared at the two men on the other side of her desk and cursed inwardly. And the day was starting out so well. Fraser had caused no problems before going off shift and Turnbull had obeyed her every instruction to the letter. It was the kind of day that had seemed perfect ó until now. She eyed the two men facing her and frowned. Journalists. She had never liked them, didnít like the element of publicity that sometimes accompanied her job and would have preferred to let a media intermediary stand in for her. While the RCMP was as conscious of the importance of publicity as anyone else, special attention was only given in a crisis situation. Routine, daily press incursions were Thatcherís responsibility. But the National Register! She couldnít imagine what they wanted here in Chicago.
There were two of them, one actually very presentable, though his hair was slightly too long for her personal taste; however, his suit was impeccably cut, and he was extremely attractive. What was more, he had the kind of mid-Atlantic accent she found appealing, and wonderful manners. Had he been here alone, she would probably have granted an interview without a secondís hesitation.
It was the other man who irked her.
He hadnít bothered to dress up for the interview, at least not in a way she would consider dressing up. His jacket was striped with black and white zigzags, and the shirt beneath it was a brilliant blue on one side and a vivid green on the other. The buttons were silver. He was shorter than the other man and possessed of abundant energy and a patter that drove her to distraction. To make it worse, there was something indefinable about him that reminded her of Ray Vecchio. Maybe it was the thinning hair, the irreverent manner...
"I canít imagine what interest the Consulate would hold for the National Register, Mr. Benedek," she told him hastily.
"Actually thatís only one of my gigs," Benedek responded with a grin. "Iím affiliated with the Georgetown Institute of Science. Iím working on a higher degree there. This is Dr. Jonathan MacKensie, professor of Anthropology and head of the Unexplained Phenomena Department."
Unexplained Phenomena? Oh dear. "I fail to see what that would have to do with the consulate," she said stiffly.
"Actually, nothing," MacKensie cut in smoothly, giving the reporter a surreptitious elbow in the side. The smile he bestowed upon Meg was gracious in the extreme. She felt herself melting under it and willed iron into her spine. "Anthropology deals with many subjects, Inspector. We heard about your Constable Fraser and Benedek thought it might be intriguing to explore the life of someone who might clearly be, er, a fish out of water. He did some research on the Constable and learned much of his life was spent in the remote Northwest Territories. Surely the culture shock of coming to a major metropolitan center would merit a story."
"It might well merit a paper for an anthropology class," Thatcher temporized, shifting several pens about on her desk and trying not to stare too much at MacKensie. "I donít, however, understand how that could interest the National Register. I have seen that particular tabloid. Iím not entirely certain publicity there would represent the Consulateís best interests, or the RCMPís, or even Canadaís."
"Hey, lady, in this country we have a little thing called freedom of the press," Benedek told her, rising to the occasion. "Youíll make me start wondering if thereís something to hide here."
"Now, Benedek," MacKensie chided him. "We donít want to antagonize Inspector Thatcher. Iím sure such a busy and charming woman has little time for dealing with the press. We can speak to the Constable when heís off duty." He favored Meg with a smile that made her feel warm inside. "We have no interest in making the Consulate, or the RCMP, or Canada look bad, Inspector. Itís simply possible that Constable Fraserís life might be of interest. Favorable publicity is surely welcome, no matter the source."
"Of course. Iíd prefer to have approval of the subject matter, however."
Benedek opened his mouth to protest, but MacKensie said smoothly, "Naturally." He managed to convey the suggestion it would give him another chance to meet Meg and that he would look forward to it. She willed more iron into her spine. She was a mature woman in a position of authority, not a lovesick teenager. It took more than a man with an intriguing accent and a charming smile to break down her barriers. Fortunately for her libido, Benedek managed to irritate her as he rose and clapped his buddy on the back.
"Come on, Don Juan. Iíll leave the romancing to you. Iíve got a story to write." He charged energetically for the door.
MacKensie hung back long enough to apologize. "Benedek is...well, heís just Benedek. He might be irritating enough to drive a saint to distraction, but when the chips are down, Iíd trust him with my life. Ignore nine-tenths of what he says. Iíve read up on your Constable Fraser and I canít imagine Benedek could find anything disparaging to say about him." He looked acutely embarrassed at the suggestion he might have been brought along to wear down her resistance.
"I still want to see the article before I approve it, Dr. MacKensie."
"Very well. Iíll make sure you do."
"Come on, buds," Benedek urged, bounding into the room again and grabbing MacKensie by the arm, tugging him away. Meg had a quick glimpse of a stunned Constable Turnbull watching them go past, his eyes on Benedekís wardrobe reflecting blank surprise.
"And it was starting out to be such a good day," she told herself in frustration.
"Iíve gotta call Sally," Benedek said as soon as they returned to their rental car. He pulled a cell phone from the inside pocket of his jacket.
MacKensie froze. "I wonít meet with her, Benedek."
"You donít have to. Tell you what. Iíll get together with Sally, you go back in and invite the lady inspector out to dinner. Sheíd be putty in your hands, Smiling Jack. Melted every time you gave her the eye."
"I certainly did not, er, give her the eye, Benedek." He hesitated. Would she have construed it that way? Heíd simply wanted to smooth the waters because this was one lady the Benedek style couldnít work on. Though Benny had his own female devotees, Margaret Thatcher was not the type to fall for him any more than her namesake, the former British Prime Minister, would have been. The responsibility had fallen on Jonathan to keep the peace. Apparently heíd kept it too well. On the other hand, dinner with Meg Thatcher certainly had a far greater appeal than an encounter with Sally McKay Cooper did. Of course going down on the Titanic had somewhat more appeal than an encounter with Sally McKay Cooper did, presuming, of course, that he wound up on one of the lifeboats.
"Relaxovision, buds. Iím only going to talk to her on the phone. I didnít even tell her you were coming. Word of honor, Jack." He punched in the numbers, waited. "Sally? Benny here. Yep, Iím in Chicago. Just went by the Consulate, but he wasnít there. Off duty until tomorrow. You do?... Great. Give it to me." Cradling the phone between ear and shoulder, he whipped out his notebook and scribbled down an address. "Okay, I got it, 221 West Racine. Howíd you manage that, Sally? I checked the phone book as soon as I came to town, and he wasnít listed.... oh, he doesnít have a phone? How can he survive without a phone?"
Jonathan grinned. There were times when he would happily have unplugged his phone and thrown it out with the trash. He found himself starting to sympathize with the haunted Mountie, in spite of the ghost.
"Jack? Heís right here," Benny said, grinning widely and ducking automatically the swat Jonathan aimed at his arm. "Scared to death of you, I give you my word.... No, heís not up to that. Still remembers the Baked Alaska."
"Benedek, I told you not to tell her," Jonathan wailed.
"Okay, Sally, thanks. Weíll head over to the Mountieís place. Catch you later. Weíll do Chinese. You can tell me what all the fortune cookies say before we open them." He hung up and grinned appeasingly at Jonathan. "Okay, buds, pax. I had to tell her you were here, but sheís not gonna come around. Her in-laws are in town and sheís tied up. She gave me Fraserís home address. Weíre gonna head over there and stake the place out, see if we can spot the ghost." He dug in his pocket and produced a red rock. "See, Iím ready. I brought along an ectometer stone."
"Those things are garbage, Benedek. Iím surprised you didnít bring along Ghostbusters equipment, if youíre consulting for them these days."
"Heck no. After I trashed their P.K.E. meter last time? They wouldnít let me near the stuff with a ten foot pole. Donít worry, though, Jon-boy. I was using ectometer stones to track down ghosts when the Ghostbusters were still profs at Columbia and didnít have any more ideas how to catch ghosts than you do." He started the car. "Okay, hereís the address. You find it on the map."
Jonathan opened the Chicago street map and puzzled out the location of Constable Benton Fraserís apartment.
"I told you it would work, Benny," Ray Vecchio exulted as they left the witnessís apartment. "One look at Dief here and he was putty in my hands."
"I wouldnít exactly call it putty, Ray," Fraser disagreed.
"Whatever. At least he isnít backing out, and weíve got surveillance on him in case the perp sends somebody to silence him before the trial. Weíll just have to drop in again in a few days to make certain he doesnít back down." He grinned. "Your lecture about doing oneís duty went over better than I thought. What is it about you, Fraser? You have hypnotic powers over people or what?"
"Of course not, Ray. Sometimes merely reminding people of what is right is sufficient."
"Doesnít work when I do it," Ray replied. "You want to grab lunch?"
"Yes, but Iíd prefer to stop by my apartment first and give Dief his meal. Heís on a strict diet, and if I donít, heíll expect to be fed from our table scraps. If Iím not firm with him, he takes advantage of people quite shamelessly."
In the back seat, Dief whined, offended.
"Yeah, I can tell. He had Elaine giving him cookies yesterday. She said he acted like you hadnít fed him in a week. She was starting to wonder about you."
"Diefenbaker!" Fraser chided, turning to give the wolf the full benefit of his glare. "Your behavior is becoming devious. I believe I shall leave you in the apartment. You can reflect upon the sin of gluttony there."
"You really believe heís gonna do anything but sulk?" asked Ray. He remembered the days when he used to have normal conversations. Since he met Fraser, that had changed. If it wasnít some weird Inuit tale, it was something even more bizarre. Wolves who went off their diets were unusual to say the least. Sometimes Ray found himself wondering if Dief were really a changeling, human part of the time, wolf the rest, a different kind of werewolf. Nah, Fraser was just getting to him, that was all.
They pulled up in front of Fraserís run-down apartment building and got out of the car, and as they did, two men climbed from another car and came to meet them, the shorter of the two clad in a garish outfit that made Ray wince. The taller man hung back but the shorter one bounced up enthusiastically and stuck his hand out to Benny.
"Constable Fraser? Iím Edgar Benedek of the National Register. Call me Benny, Edgarís just for the press."
Fraser couldnít have looked more astonished if a space alien had landed his spacecraft right in front of him. "The National Register?" he echoed, shaking hands automatically with the tabloid reporter. "I canít imagine why the National Register would have any interest in me."
Edgar (call me Benny) Benedek grinned with a hint of deviousness in his expression. "Come on, Constable. Mounties in Chicago? You better believe thereís a story there. Americans just eat up anything about the RCMP. ĎWe always get our man.í Great motto. The readers love it."
"Actually thatís not the Mountiesí motto, Benedek," the second man spoke up; he sounded vaguely British, as if heíd lived in this country a long time but never quite lost the original accent.
"Not their motto, Jack? Come on, Iíve seen all those movies. Grew up on Sergeant Preston of the Yukon. Of course itís their motto. What else would it be?"
"Itís ĎMaintain the Rightí." He turned to Fraser. "Youíll have to excuse my friend, Constable. When he gets the slightest scent of a story, you canít really stop him. Believe me, Iíve tried. Iím Dr. Jonathan MacKensie of the Georgetown Institute of Science."
Fraser stared at him in dawning delight. "The anthropologist? Iíve read several of your papers on Australopithecus, Dr. MacKensie. And, of course, Iím familiar with your fatherís work." He offered his hand to MacKensie, who shook it, eyeing Fraser in considerable astonishment.
"Youíve heard of me?"
"He knows everything about everything," Ray joined in the conversation. "Iím Ray Vecchio, CPD. Come on, guys, I canít imagine what the National Register would want to write about Benny here."
Diefenbaker approached the two men and sniffed at them. Dr. MacKensie at once began to sneeze explosively. He looked down at Dief in dismay and muttered something about allergies. "It really is a wolf," he remarked accusingly to Benedek.
"Would I lie? After all, Iím, a wolf expert." The reporter pretended affront, then turned back to Fraser. "Come on, Constable, whatís the harm in talking to me? I already cleared it with your boss lady."
"Youíve spoken with Inspector Thatcher?" Fraser asked in astonishment.
"Had her eating right out of our hands, right, Dr. Jack?" Benedek asked his crony.
"If you say so," MacKensie concurred doubtfully.
Fraser simply murmured, "Oh dear."
Ray was the only one who really noticed the sudden squeal of tires; in a city like Chicago, it was a normal sound, but as a cop, heíd learned to be wary. As the van slid to the curb beside them, his hand was already reaching into his jacket for his gun.
The two men in ski masks who piled out with automatic weapons pointed at him stopped his abortive motion. "Donít try it," one of the men snarled. "Play along and nobody gets hurt." He looked them over, then pointed at Fraser and Benedek. "You. And you. Into the van right now."
"Just a minute," Ray began hotly.
"You want your pals to die? Then shut up. You two. Into the van." He gestured them in with his gun while the other leveled his weapon at Dr. MacKensieís head. Noticing that fact, Benedek complied quickly, giving his partner a hasty thumbsí up sign.
"Easy, Jon boy. Iíll be back before you know it, and Iíll have an even better story than before."
"Shaddup," snarled the man who had done all the talking. "Get in there."
The two hostages settled, the silent man slammed the doors shut on them and the van took off at great speed. Ray gaped blankly for half a second, then he was running for the Riv, conscious of Diefenbaker racing madly after the disappearing van, and of Jonathan MacKensie jumping into the Riv beside him.
"Police business, Doc," he said. "Iím on my own with this."
"Theyíve got Benedek. Iím going with you." He fastened his seat belt, clearly prepared to stay unless evicted manually, and he was a slightly bigger man than Ray was. The cop didnít have time to argue. He put the car in gear and squealed his own tires in pursuit, reaching for his radio to call in the crisis.
"Why have you abducted us?" Fraser asked as they rounded the first corner, flinging him and Benedek about in the back of the van. The vehicle held narrow metal benches running the length of the van on each side, and the back was divided from the passenger cab by a metal wall with one small window in the middle. The two kidnappers sat opposite, weapons leveled at them.
"We have our reasons," the talkative one replied. "It isnít your business. If everything goes well, youíll be freed in a couple of days."
Fraser doubted that. Even though both men wore masks he and Benedek could still identify them, by their voices, by the ring one of them wore, the scar on the back of the other manís hand. They might be held alive for a couple of days but they would be quietly killed when their abductors had achieved their purpose. Fraser had to assume it involved him and that Benedek had been caught up in it accidentally. The two men had obviously known Ray was armed; they must have known he was a police officer and they had chosen not to take him. Maybe they meant to make demands, or maybe they meant to do something illegal and would use him as a shield to prevent his friend from firing. Fraser didnít yet know enough to speculate with any degree of accuracy.
"Youíre interfering with freedom of the press," Benedek said hotly. "Come on, tell me what your story is. Iíll see you make the front page of the National Register. Society against you? You want to make a political statement? Iím your guy. Edgar Benedek at your service."
"Heís a reporter?" groaned the previously silent man. "You can sure pick Ďem, Stan."
"Shaddup. No names, you jerk."
"Itís not like youíre the only Stan in Chicago," muttered his cohort. "We agreed on the Mountie, to keep Vecchio in line. Whyíd we have to bring this fashion disaster along?"
"Fashion disaster?" Benedek drew himself up haughtily. "Iíll forgive your ignorance this once, but only if you give me a great story. My readersíll eat it up. A hostage story, written by the hostage. Iíll be as famous as Terry Anderson."
"Whoís that?" Stanís crony asked Stan.
"Actually, Mr. Anderson was held hostage in Iran foró" Fraser began helpfully.
"You shaddup," growled Stan. "Everybody be quiet. I donít want to hear any talking at all. All I want is the Mountie, but youíre stuck here, Mr. Smartass Reporter, and if youíre as smart as you think you are, youíll keep your fat mouth shut."
"What do you want of us?" Fraser asked. "You canít use me against Ray. As a police officer, he cannot give in to terrorists."
"Terrorists?" echoed Stanís friend in alarm.
"Okay, you nailed us. Weíre terrorists," Stan said. It sounded as if he were improvising freely. "We want to, uh, free our oppressed, uh, brothers, wherever they are, uh, enslaved by tyranny." His friend stared at him blankly, mouth ajar.
Their responses gave them away. They were no more terrorists than Diefenbaker. He realized he and Ray might have been seen earlier while visiting the witness to the bombing of the building. Casting his mind back to the actual incident Fraser went through the list of shops and offices near the bomb blast. The nearest shop was a jewelry store. Perhaps, instead of terrorism, the crime in question had been no more than a botched jewel heist. These men might well have assisted the man in custody, Weston. Someone had tried to get to the witness last night and failed. It made as much sense as anything that the kidnapping involved that particular incident, especially since there were pieces of what might be bomb wiring on the floor of the van.
He also suspected the second man was perhaps not particularly brilliant, and that Stanís temper and ego might be used against him if handled properly. If it had been Ray beside him, Fraser would have known how to act; he was used to his friend and knew his style. Edgar Benedek was an unknown quantity. He seemed flippant and irreverent, but those were qualities guaranteed to annoy rather than pacify Stan. Fraser had no way of knowing whether or not he was quick on his feet and resourceful, though an agile tongue might be helpful. Reporters often went into dangerous situations, and Benedek looked excited at the idea of a story rather than frightened, but then that might not prove him brave, only an idiot. Until he was forced to count on Benedek, he had no means of knowing what the reporter was capable of. Until then, Fraser would have to rely on his own wits, a situation that didnít daunt him, and the knowledge that Diefenbaker and Ray were both following in their own ways, and that even if Ray didnít take the time to notify the consulate, Dr. MacKensie might.
"Come on, loosen up a little," Benedek said. "Weíre not gonna jump you; youíre armed, weíre not. Just tell us what you want us for. Weíre entitled to that."
"We want you toó"
"No," Stan burst out. "Listen to me, Joe, you give away anything else and youíre expendable." He groaned. "Assuming you know what Ďexpendableí means."
"Iím not stupid. I know. Think you can handle two of Ďem on your own?"
"Iím not alone," Stan replied with a gesture at the front of the van which obviously contained a third Ďterroristí.
"Heís busy," Joe muttered. "And if youíre so damn smart, whyíd you tell Ďem my name?"
Benedek nudged Fraser with his elbow, the gesture slight enough the two rather inept crooks might not notice it. "Give Ďem time," he mouthed. "Theyíll trip over their own feet or something."
"Quiet!" Stan shouted and waved his Uzi at them.
On his own, Fraser might have tried to overpower them, but he could not endanger an unarmed civilian. He considered it and then tried a trick heíd taught himself as a child and had kept up ever since. *Wait,* he signaled quickly, using sign language.
Benedek stiffened beside him like a gun dog sighting prey. He made a hasty, affirmative gesture. Neither Stan nor Joe noticed. Realizing a sudden spate of signing would give them away, Fraser braced himself more comfortably on the bouncing, metal seat and bided his time.
The van had disappeared by the time they turned the first corner. Jonathan and Ray passed the racing wolf and skidded to a stop, Ray flinging open the door to admit him. Diefenbaker ignored the two of them and kept on going, sniffing out the trail of the long-vanished van.
"Surely he canít track one vehicle in a city like this?" Jonathan demanded, stunned that Ray would even consider such a possibility. "We have to find them. Benedek might be inventive but heís not armed, and I didnít think Constable Fraser was either."
"No, he canít wear a loaded weapon in the States," Ray replied. "He wears an empty holster when heís on duty or carries an unloaded gun, but not when heís in his civvies. He might have a pocket knife, but thatíd be it."
"Benedek probably has his Swiss army knife," Jonathan replied. "He went through a MacGyver phase a few years ago, and heís always bragging about what he can do with that stupid knife. Iíd hate to see him attempt to use it up against armed men."
"Fraser will play it cool," Ray replied, sounding doubtful. He throttled back the Buick Riviera as if content to trail the racing wolf. "He can handle himself if anybody can."
Jonathan heard the note of worry that ran under the police officerís attempt at reassurance. The two oddly matched men were friends; that much was evident, possibly more evident to Jonathan than it would have been to another stranger, because he had an oddly matched friend himself. Benedek had a knack for being very irritating. If he could drive his best friend nuts in ten minutes, what might he do to a pair of hot-tempered gunmen?
"I donít think Benedek knows how to play it cool," he replied. "Heíll be in there pitching, trying to interview them, hoping to get a great story out of it. Canít we go faster?"
"Which way, Mac?" Ray asked him. "I donít know where they were heading. I donít even know who they were or why they grabbed him. They knew I was a cop, though. It wasnít a random thing."
"Might it involve one of your current cases?" Jonathan asked. Benedek always landed on his feet, but this time was different. Jonathan was very worried about his friend. Answers might make him feel better, but on the other hand, they might make the situation worse. This was Chicago, after all. With visions of Al Capone and gangsters running through his head, Jonathan dreaded the answer.
"It could, but I donít know which one. I couldnít recognize them with the ski masks on. Theyíre checking it out back at the precinct, and the wordís gone out on the van. Theyíll identify the license plate any minute now."
Jonathan had been so shocked at the sudden kidnapping it hadnít even occurred to him to look at the license. Fortunately, Rayís police training had stood him in good stead. But would criminals use their own car? Maybe theyíd stolen the van or switched a plate. He said so.
"Yeah, I know. I think itís stolen, myself. Maybe they have an in with a chop shop."
"Stripping down stolen cars," Ray explained. "We have to leave it to Dief until we get the word back, but at least every cop in the cityís looking for that van." He looked at the racing wolf. "Go, Diefenbaker," he muttered under his breath.
"Could it be something about the Mountie?" Jonathan persisted, ignoring for a moment the unlikelihood of the wolf leading them to their missing friends through the streets of the city. "Benedek and I just arrived in town. I donít think anybody knows weíre here except for a young psychic and she would hardly send armed thugs after Benedek."
"Young psychic woman?" Ray blurted out in astonishment. "Fraser saw a psychic woman yesterday day. She told him she could see ghosts. Come on, Mac, thatís too much of a coincidence. Are you sure sheís really a psychic and not a con artist? What are you two really doing here?"
Jonathan heaved a sigh. "I donít think sheís a crook, but sheís truly annoying. She once embarrassed me in front of the dean, and made a dead set for me. Apparently she walks past the Canadian Consulate every day to ogle Constable Fraser, even if she is married."
"Sheís the one who told you about Benny?" Ray asked.
"Told me about Benny?" Jonathan echoed blankly. "No, Benny told me about her."
"Benton Fraser," Ray said quickly. "I call him Benny."
"Everyone calls Benedek Benny, except for me," Jonathan replied. "I mostly call him Benedek. She told Benedek about Fraser, said she saw a ghost Mountie standing watch with him."
"Youíre kidding, right?" Ray asked blankly. "A ghost Mountie? Still trying to get his man from beyond the grave?"
"I admit it sounds quite unlikely to me, too, Detective. But Benedek is a believer in the occult and paranormal. Actually the two of us have worked together for ten years investigating paranormal phenomena for the Instituteís Unexplained Phenomena department. Heís the believer, Iím the skeptic, and itís made us into an excellent team. I felt he was pushing it this time, but my boss, Dr. Moorhouse, was thrilled at the idea of a haunted Mountie. Sheís a believer, too. Now you and I both know the odds of such a thing being true are astronomical, but thatís the real reason weíre here. Itís probably one of Benedekís lamer cases."
"Right," Ray said, as if with vague doubts. "I donít know. Mounties are pretty dedicated. I wouldnít be surprised if Fraser didnít come back himself as a ghost and go on getting his man from beyond the grave."
"It wouldnít surprise me if Benedek did the same with his stories," Jonathan replied. "Although Iíd as soon not find out. Canít you think of anyone who might have done this? What kind of cases have you been investigating?"
"Well, Iíve been working on a case thatís coming to trial soon," Ray replied reluctantly as if he didnít want to discuss police business with an outsider. "It involved a bomb placed in the lobby of a high rise office building. It went off, killing a number of people. Itís been all over the news, even the national news," he added as if that justified his explanation. "The key witness has been stalling, but we saw him this morning and heís a little more gung ho. We even upped his surveillance after a near miss last night." He frowned, running a hand through his thinning hair. "I always thought the bomber wasnít in it alone, but we could never prove it."
"Maybe if the witness now has police protection, kidnapping someone else was intended as a threat," Jonathan muttered. "Youíve got one person for the bombing? Perhaps he was part of a team. Was he a terrorist? Did he claim he was making a political statement?"
"He hasnít admitted a thing," Ray replied. "Usually terrorists want everybody to know why theyíre doing what they do, a blow for the oppressed minorities, even if the minority is just the bomber and his buddies. But this time, nothing."
"Maybe it was personal," Jonathan suggested. "The bomber had it in for somebody in the building."
"Then he didnít care who died in his revenge," Ray said. "One of the victims was a kid, a little girl. I hate that."
"Do you know anything about the bomberís cronies?"
"Been through it forward and backward. If anybody he hung with was involved, theyíve got the best alibis known to man."
Jonathan frowned. "Isnít that rather unlikely? As if they arranged it ahead of time. If someone came and asked me what Iíd been doing a week ago last Thursday, for instance, I could account for my work time but Iíd be hard pressed to have an alibi for the evening."
Ray nodded. "Youíre right. I always thought the alibis were too convenient myself, but we couldnít shake Ďem. If Dief canít pull this one off, thatís who Iím gonna head for first, a clown named Stan Weston. Heís a cousin of the man we have in custody. I know he was involved but I couldnít prove it."
The dispatcher called back then to report the van in question had been reported stolen two days earlier. Ray suggested somebody check out Stan Weston before he ended the conversation, then he heaved a frustrated sigh. "I knew it," he said to Jonathan. "Now weíll have to hope Dief can track them down."
That hope died a sudden death around the very next corner. The wolf led them into a narrow alley then stopped, circling around, sniffing the ground. No van stood here abandoned, which is what Jonathan had feared; that they would abandon one vehicle and switch to another. Instead the two men found themselves in an alley deserted except for trash cans and a few abandoned and empty crates.
Gun in hand, Ray got out of the car and looked around suspiciously, checking for doors that could have opened to admit the vehicle, but there were no garages in the alley, only a few back doors to the various buildings, most of them reinforced metal, none wide enough to admit a panel truck.
"Benny would be out there checking for clues," Ray said. "He could taste some disgusting thing he found on the ground and solve a case. It always grossed me out when he did that, but I kind of wish I could do it now, if it would help us figure out where he is."
Jonathan got out too and looked around. He was an anthropologist rather than a detective, but he was a physical anthropologist and his work on digs often involved finding answers from the slimmest of leads. Now he walked a little way down the alley. "Look at this, Ray." It was a pool of oil. "Itís fresh," he said. "Somebody parked here for awhile."
"If it was the van, they must have been teleported up to the Enterprise or something." He grimaced. "Fraser could probably taste it and tell what weight it was and be able to tell from that what kind of car parked here."
Diefenbaker sniffed at the oil and whined. "Come on, Dief," urged Ray. "Find Fraser." Then he snapped his fingers. "Hey, Iíve got it. Itís been done before. They drove the van into a bigger truck and took off in it. That way nobody knows what to look for."
"But then how can we find them?" Jonathan asked in alarm, realizing the clues they had, few as they might be, could very well indicate that. "We donít know what to look for."
"So we check for witnesses," Ray said, glancing up at the buildings that surrounded them. He didnít look very enthusiastic about that particular task.
"Canít Diefenbaker track the other truck?"
"Letís see. Yo, Dief." He went down on one knee beside the wolf and turned its head so they were eye to eye. "Listen up, Dief. There was a truck parked here. Can you track it?" He pointed at the spilled oil.
Jonathan couldnít believe it. The last thing heíd expected was for Vecchio to reason with the animal. On the other hand he and Benedek had once had an encounter with wolves. Benedek had insisted the main wolf had possessed telepathy. Jonathan wasnít sure what he thought of that, but something about the eye contact between detective and animal reminded him of Benedekís insistence that wolves could send thought messages to people. Maybe this one could, too. He certainly gave evidence of being a world-class tracker.
Dief sniffed the ground, edged up to the oil stain and sniffed that, too. Then he tensed and growled, and started off down the alley.
"Bingo," cried Ray in triumph. "Come on, Prof, weíve got a truck to chase."
Fraser and Benedek had exchanged alarmed looks when they realized their van was being driven up a ramp, and when their journey resumed, both men understood immediately what had happened. "So they wonít know what to look for," Benedek whispered.
"Quiet!" said Stan automatically. He opened the back of their van, revealing the closed double doors of a larger vehicle and jumped out of the panel truck. "Come on, Joey, out of there. Weíre gonna let them meditate on their short, unhappy future. Theyíre not going anywhere."
When the door slammed behind them, Benedek bounded up, grinning. "Talk about your major team of stupids," he said.
"That may be, Mr. Benedek, but they have managed to abduct us, which says they possess some abilities. However, there are indications that they know something about the making of bombs."
"Bombs? Where do you get thó" Benedek started, then he glanced around at the floor of the truck, where scattered bits of wiring lay strewn. "Detonators?" he hazarded.
"Itís possible." He knelt to examine some of the pieces. "Ray has been working on a bombing case," he said. "And while there is no concrete evidence to indicate the man in custody had allies, Ray suspects a man named Stan Weston of working with him."
"Our buddy out there?" Benedek asked. "So Iíd guess they snatched you to use against Vecchio when the case comes to trial? How soon?"
"Next week. But naturally Ray will have to testify to what he knows, despite the risk to me."
"Look, can the noble self-sacrifice. We wonít need it. Between the two of us we can figure out a way out of here." He got down on his knees to look under the metal benches. "If our Stanley Stupid is the one Vecchio thinks is involved, and we found bomb wiring, then I think weíre on the money with this. Any other witnesses?"
"One, but heís showing a reluctance to testify. We visited him this morning. Heís under police surveillance and they prevented an attempt on his life last night."
"So heís sewed up tight and that leaves your buddy Vecchio ó and they decided to get to him. He got any family they might snatch?"
Fraser looked alarmed. "His mother and two sisters, three nephews..."
"Then weíve gotta hope he figures out whatís going down or theyíre gonna be in trouble, too."
"Perhaps the criminals were watching the witness and saw Ray and me visit him this morning," Fraser replied. They might have assumed I was another Chicago police officer, Rayís partner. I am, of course, but unofficially. I would expect Ray would do the right thing in spite of the danger to me."
"Thatís all just peachy, but that doesnít mean he isnít gonna tear the place apart looking for you."
"He wonít know of the other truck. But perhaps Dief will be able to understand and follow."
"He plays Lassie in his spare time, right? Dief, the Wonder Dog, ah, Wolf."
"Diefenbaker is very intelligent," Fraser replied, feeling the underside of the bench in a search for tools that might help them. "He may well reason it out."
"Reason it out? Heís a wild animal!" Benedek shook his head in disbelief, then let it go, remembering his own experience with wolves. Maybe Fraser did have a link with his pet, but the speed the van was making it wouldnít help. "You armed?"
"Iím not allowed to carry a loaded weapon in this country, but I do have a small pocket knife. It seems ineffectual against thugs armed with Uzis."
"Iíve got a Swiss army knife." Benedek produced it and whipped out the biggest blade. The idea of using it against semi-automatic weapons didnít rank right up there in his list of smart things to do. He closed the blade and returned it to his pocket. "We might need them later."
"There may well be opportunities," Fraser said. "Weíll need to be alert to them. Since you are not a law enforcement officer, I suggest you follow my lead."
"Come on, Fraser, these comic opera thugs arenít smart enough to get through this without shooting off their own toes. Canít you find something in here we can play MacGyver with to go along with my knife, and pop out."
"What cave have you been living in? MacGyver. Guy who blows things up with candy bars and duct tape."
"Oh, well, I do have a small roll of duct tape in my pocket. I must say I never considered using it for explosives before."
Benedek threw up his hands in exasperation.
Fraser looked at the scattered wiring in the truck. "Perhaps there is an answer here after all."
"Thatís right, you go for it, son."
The new voice startled Benedek considerably, especially when Fraser tensed but didnít look around to see who had spoken. It was Benny who looked around, very cautiously, only to discover he couldnít see anyone who might have spoken. Or was that a faint glow of red over there? Narrowing his eyes, he squinted in that direction. Heíd seen enough crazy things in his life that he didnít discount them just because they were improbable. Jonathan claimed he welcomed them because they were improbable.
"Whoís this clown?" the voice continued. "Heís not your usual sidekick?"
"Since we are locked up in this truck..." Fraser began as if choosing his words carefully. Benedek realized abruptly that his quest for the Mountie-haunting ghost had suddenly struck pay dirt. Unable to respond directly, his own Mountie was trying to give the other one a clue to the situation.
Turning in the direction of the vague Ďsomethingí, Benedek stuck out his hand in greeting. "Hi, Edgar Benedek, National Register. Pleased to meet you. Whatís the chance of an interview?"
Fraserís mouth fell open in astonishment. "You can see him?" he blurted involuntarily.
"Well, not so much see as hear. He called you Ďsoní. That mean youíre having ghostly visitations from your pop?"
"As long as he knows Iím here," the ghost said and suddenly appeared more clearly to Benedek. He was a Mountie, too, just as Sally Cooper had insisted, an older man wearing the familiar red serge uniform.
"You shouldnít do this, Dad," Fraser said in resignation. "Heís a reporter."
"I know heís a reporter, son. Iíve handled tougher reporters than this one in my spare time. When I brought Dangerous Dan McDonald back from Yellowknife every reporter worth his salt from Vancouver to the Maritime Provinces was on hand to hear my story." He smiled, rocking on his ghostly toes, basking in the memory. "We donít do our jobs for glory, son, rather for the satisfaction of knowing we have done what was right, but when the glory comes, there is no need to shun it. Do you think I canít handle one reporter? There were forty-seven of them at that press conference. I had them right in the palm of my hand. I trailed Dan McDonald for seventeen days across the Territories, armed with only a knife and a tree branch as thick as my wrist. I had no tent, no shelter, but I knew the Inuit way of making fire, and I was better prepared than McDonald to survive in the wild."
"And you killed yourself a bíar when you were only three, right?" Benedek asked. This was better than heíd hoped, not only a ghost but a wildly eccentric ghost. The story was going to be great.
"Dad, please," groaned Fraser. "You canít do this. Heís going to write about you in the National Register."
"National Register? I donít remember that paper."
"Iíd be astonished if you did. Itís a tabloid. Do you want your adventures to appear in such a paper? Do you want to lure the curious to Chicago? They wonít leave it alone, you know. False psychics will come to see me as I stand on duty. I already have to endure that woman who saw you the other day."
"Ignore them, son. Distractions are beyond men of character."
"Yo, time out," Benedek cut in. "Letís get our priorities straight here. Sure I want a good story, but even more I donít want to get blown away by Dumb and Dumber out there. Couldnít you pop out and haunt them or something and give us a chance to get away."
"That is a good suggestion, Dad," Fraser told the ghost.
"You want me to demean myself in front of petty criminals? You are a Mountie, son. If you are to succeed in your chosen career, you canít expect me to do your work for you."
"Typical," muttered Ray. "Never can count on your dad when the chips are down."
"You, too?" Fraser said involuntarily, winning a highly indignant look from the specter. "I meanó" the Mountie began.
"Never mind," Benedek said quickly as if he were sorry heíd said what he had. "Ignore Casper here. Weíve got work to do. Guess you donít have to Ďmaintain the rightí after youíre dead. Just think, Fraser, when you go to the great roundup in the sky, you wonít have to worry about the bad guys any more."
"Are you accusing me of shirking my duty?" Fraser Senior accused Benedek haughtily.
"If the shoe fits, Pops, if the shoe fits."
"Never trust journalists, son," the ghost remarked, turning his back on Benedek. "I never met one I could rely upon when the chips were down and I never will."
"Not now, when they canít even see you," Fraser pointed out. "Youíre dead, Dad. Do you expect people to respect you in that state?"
"Heís right," Benedek replied. "The minute somebody kicks off they turn into a target. They could have been Saint Francis of Assisi before they bit the big one; afterwards forty-seven scandals show up in the tabloids. I bet if I thought really hard..."
"Benedek, please. If you threaten him, he wonít help us."
"I thought he already said he wouldnít," Benedek pointed out.
"I simply wonít ask him to demean himself in front of petty criminals." He turned to the ghost. "Dad. They wonít have to see you. No one can see you unless you permit it."
"Apparently untrue," the ghost replied in high dudgeon. "That woman did, and now this hack."
"Hack!" yelled Benedek. "Iíll show you hack, you spook."
"Please. Weíre all on the same side," intervened Fraser in reasonable tones. "Under normal circumstances, you allow only a select few to see you. Evidently those with psychic powers can do so at will. Do you possess psychic powers, Mr. Benedek?"
"Well, no, at least apart from the odd premonition..."
"Well, there you are," Fraser said as if it proved his point. "Animals can see you, too. Dief always does. But these petty thugs wonít see you unless you choose. You can pass among them soundlessly and frighten them, confusing them thoroughly."
"Yeah. Their IQís match the temperature on a warm day," Benedek added. "Youíll have it over Ďem, even without a solid body. Besides, youíve gotta go out there and help get your man. Jonathan says thatís not the Mountiesí motto, but who cares. Go get Ďem, Pops."
"I say itís the motto," Robert Fraser replied. "My son tells me they changed it. I liked the old one better."
"It was never the motto, Dad, I told you that," Fraser replied.
"Whoa! Time out." Benedek raised his hands in the classic gesture. "Who cares. Thereís a couple of crooks out there and they havenít snatched us to share their loot. Theyíve got automatic weapons. Come on, Daddy Mountie, bulletsíll go right through you. Get out there and bring Ďem down. You can do it."
The pep talk invigorated the spirit. "Heís right, son. I am still a Mountie, even this side of the grave. Iíll go investigate our surroundings."
"Wait," Fraser said, holding up his hand. "Weíve stopped."
Benedek strained his ears. This wasnít just a pause at a traffic light because the engine had stopped running. He could tell theyíd reached their destination, which he hoped wasnít a remote location where the two thugs could dig a couple of shallow graves. Theyíd evidently been driving on a highway for some time, because there had been no stops at traffic lights for some time.
"We have to stall," Fraser decided. "Diefenbaker will lead Ray here eventually, but a wolf canít match the speed of a motor vehicle."
"I love it," Benedek said. "Here we are, captured by a couple of brain-dead jewel thieves who want to murder us and weíre dependent upon a wolf and a ghost for rescue. Iíve gotta get out of this in one piece. This is gonna be such a great story!"
They could hear the muffled sounds of the vehicleís outer doors opening, then footsteps. The doors of the panel truck were flung back and Stan and Joey stood there, accompanied by a third man in a ski mask, evidently the driver. Benedekís heart sank because this one looked like he might have an IQ that would qualify as normal. He, too, was armed. And beyond him was what looked like a farmyard, deserted except for a few chickens. No cover, Benny realized, conscious of Fraser behind him reaching the same conclusion. On the other hand, the Mountie might do better in a rural setting. Heíd looked out of place in the city.
"End of the line, gentlemen," the driver said with a big, false grin. "You just ran out of time. These two clowns told you their names."
"Just their first names," Benedek said quickly.
Fraser eyed them measuringly. He wasnít going to try to jump them, was he?
"Out of there. Over here." He gestured toward the barn, a huge, red affair with doors open wide. The whole place smelled. Benedek was a city boy from the word go; nature in its abundant Ďfreshnessí had no appeal. The old barn looked like it had a dirt floor. These characters would probably have them dig their own graves in there.
"You didnít bring us here just to kill us," Fraser observed. "Thereís no logic in that. We did not know who you were. We still could not identify you in a line-up." His eyes slid sideways as he leaped easily from the panel truck, checking its license plate, Benedek realized.
So did the groupís one smart member. "I wouldnít count on that, Dudley Do-right" he said. "Itís stolen."
"Come on," Benny tried, casting a look at the silent ghost who watched the scene with great interest. "Donít you guys want to sell your story? The Register can pay if we have to. You give me a good enough story and I can make you rich."
"Yeah, and weíd have to enjoy it behind bars," Stan muttered. "Donít listen to him, Mó"
The smart oneís boot made violent contact with Stanís shin. Stan shut up.
"They donít have to know youíre dead until itís over," the leader said. "All they need to know is that they have to do what we want until the trialís over."
"So this is about the trial," Fraser observed. "The witness plans to testify. Capturing us will make no difference."
"Then youíre wasting my time and might as well be underground. You canít cause me any trouble six feet under."
"I wouldnít be too sure of that," Fraser Senior snorted. A moment later the truckís double doors swung toward the thief, who yelled and ducked, losing his hold on his weapon when the door hit him. He dived for it, Stan and Joey yelling and jumping out of the way as the doors clashed shut.
"Now what?" Benedek demanded.
"Bullets will pass through those doors easily," Fraser observed. "Weíll have to surprise them. On the count of three!" He pressed his palms against the door on his side, and Benedek, understanding, did the same with his own.
"One. Two. Three."
The doors swung open violently, with a solid thud as they knocked Stan and Joey to the ground as they hurried to pull them open. Joey stayed down, out for the count, but Stan staggered and reeled, dropping his gun, dizzy but conscious. The mastermind jumped clear, but lost his footing in the process.
"Now!" Fraser cried, and he and Benedek leaped from the truck and set off at a dead run for the shelter of the barn.
Bullets traced paths in the dirt at their feet, forcing them to duck and weave. Side by side, they pelted into the shadows of the great barn, and paused out of sight, looking for cover.
What little there was proved very scanty.
"Now what?" Benedek demanded. "At least the truck was metal. Bulletsíll go through this old wood like butter."
"Weíll check the back," Fraser decided. "If we can get a head start, we can lose them in the open country. Iím willing to bet they canít track us."
"A good plan, Son." The ghost materialized at their side. "How did you like my distraction. I was rather pleased with myself."
"Fine, Dad," Fraser said. "You couldnít see your way clear to come up with another?"
"Well, Iíll consider it," the ghostly Mountie said.
"Fine," yelled Benedek. "But consider it quick. Theyíre coming."
Outside, Stan hauled Joey to his feet and stuck his Uzi into his hands. The mastermind scooped up his weapon, surveyed his team, then turned to look at the barn. "Get them," he said and raised his weapon. A hail of bullets struck the ancient barn.
"Oh dear," said Fraser and flung himself flat on the sloping dirt floor, scrambling sideways.
"Wonderful," groaned Benedek as he followed. "I always loved the movie Witness, but I never wanted to act it out."
"Weíre heading into the suburbs," Vecchio remarked. "This is crazy. Trusting a wolf. Iíve gotta be out of my mind."
"Is there any way to pin down a destination, given our general direction?" MacKensie asked him.
"I checked out that Weston clown. He has a place on the South Side, but thatís not where Diefís heading. Hope he pegged the right truck."
"You genuinely believe a wolf can trail a vehicle in a city the size of Chicago? Benedekís life is riding on this and youíre following a wolf!?"
"Okay, okay, Iíve got another lead. That Stan Weston, heís Tommy Westonís cousin. Tommyís the one weíve got in custody. Theyíve always been shady. I halfway think they were trying to pull a heist, but something went wrong. Problem is, the explosion killed a few people. So theyíll go down for Murder One if we catch Ďem. I donít think Tommyís gonna take the rap on his own, but if his cousinís his partner he might. So I checked out the family connection. Stan and Tommyís grandfather had a farm out toward Joliet. Not that far out, but enough that itíd be safer than Stanís place in town. Thatís the direction weíre heading now. Itís somewhere off I-55."
"If thatís where theyíve taken Benedek, we should go there."
"Thing is, I donít know itís where theyíd go. Itís out of my jurisdiction. Iíve got stakeouts on all their known hangouts in Chicago and Iím not hearing anything. We could pick up Dief and head out there now." He shrugged. "Look, Fraserís my buddy, just like Benedek is yours. I want to find them, too. Iíll call it in. Iím not gonna deny Fraser any chance. Iíll call the state troopers, too. But I canít prove it, you know? Itís just a gut feeling Iíve got."
MacKensie hesitated, then he nodded. "I donít see what else we can do. If we wait for the wolf to lead the way we may arrive too late."
Ray shot him a look. That wasnít fair of MacKensie. Heíd wanted to go on pretending Fraser was simply a hostage, waiting to be rescued, maybe even rescuing himself. But Weston had killed six people. If the others were in on it, they were desperate. Until now petty criminals, theyíd crossed a line. Murder was different. If they couldnít get to the witness, maybe theyíd panic him to keep him from testifying. All they had to do was kill a couple more people to get their way. There might be enough evidence to convict without the witness, but Ray wasnít sure how solid the case would be without him. The only thing that reassured him was the fact that the men who snatched Benny and the reporter had worn masks. It meant they didnít want to be identified. They might free the hostages later, but not if the trial went against Weston. Assuming this whole thing had anything to do with the Weston trial in the first place.
"Letís do it," he said. Pulling the car alongside the wolf, he gestured for MacKensie to open the door. Diefenbaker ignored it.
"He knows where heís going," the professor said. "Wolves are actually quite intelligent."
"Yeah, well, we know where weíre going too." Benedek pulled ahead of the wolf and jumped out of the car, stopping directly in Diefís path. Diefenbaker looked up at him and whined impatiently.
"Okay, look, Dief, hereís the deal," Ray said hastily, exaggerating his words to allow for the animalís deafness. Sometimes he suspected Dief remained deaf by choice, hearing what he wanted to hear and disregarding the rest, but if he couldnít hear, at least he could read Rayís lips. Ah, who am I kidding? Iíll take any chance I can to rescue Fraser even if it means pleading with a wolf. "I think I know where youíre going. You go with us, we get there faster. Fraser might need you right now. So either we go on without you or you get in. Which is it to be?"
Dief cocked his head, then he turned and jumped into the car, positioning himself in the middle of the back seat. He growled as if to indicate that Ray should go ahead.
"He actually understood you? MacKensie demanded as Ray squealed the tires as he cut across two lanes of traffic and headed for the interstate.
"Whoís to say? If he can, weíre one up, and if he canít, what have we lost?"
MacKensie opened his mouth as if to say, ĎProbably the trail,í then he collapsed in a fit of sneezing. "Sorry," he said between bouts. "Iím allergic to animals."
"Wolves, apparently, at least in enclosed vehicles."
"Wonderful. This is gonna be a great trip."
They ran into the State Troopers at the foot of a long driveway that sloped away through fields of corn and soybeans. In the distance, the roof of an old, red barn rose above the tops of the nearer trees.
"Thereís somebody up there," one of the troopers said to Ray when he offered his badge. "We can tell itís a U-Haul truck, a good-sized one. We donít know when it arrived, and weíve been waiting to see if anything went down, anyone tried to leave."
"Who owns the place?" Benedek asked.
"Jointly owned, by a couple of Chicago men who donít live here," one of the men said. "A cousin of theirs, a Michael Weston, lives here part of the time, hires men to farm the place. Good, rich land."
"So is he or any of the hired men up there?" Vecchio asked. Farms werenít his favorite places. He always managed to step in something that messed up his shoes. Once Fraser had dragged him to a farm and heíd wrecked a pair of Guccis in a cowpat, not to mention messing up his Armani jacket on a rusty nail, as well as slicing his arm open. Heíd had to have a tetanus shot. Since then heíd looked on farms with the enthusiasm most people reserve for medieval torture.
"We donít know whoís up there," one of the troopers said. "We phoned, but no one answered."
"Iím going in there," Ray said. "At least Iím not in a patrol car."
"They might know your car," MacKensie pointed out warily.
"Youíre not coming," Ray told him. "Iím not taking a civilian in."
"Youíre taking a wolf. Look, I donít want to play hero. I donít have a gun and I probably couldnít shoot one if I did. Iíll stay in the car. I wonít get in your way. But Benedekís up there and he needs help." He stifled yet another sneeze. "Iím coming with you."
Before Ray could answer, gunshots sounded.
"Automatic weapons," one of the troopers observed. "Somebodyís up there, and I donít think theyíre just doing a little hunting out of season."
Ray didnít wait for him to finish. He flung himself into the Riv and burned rubber turning onto the long, curving driveway. There wasnít time to eject MacKensie from the car. "You listen and listen good," he insisted. "Youíre no cop, this isnít your thing. Iím going in against at least three men armed with Uziís. I want you to get down on the floor and stay there until I say itís safe to come out. You got that? Otherwise, Iíll open the door and push you out right here."
"Yes, I agree. Donít stop for me. Just get to them as fast as you can."
The troopers were right behind Ray; three different patrol cars. He wouldnít be facing the enemy on his own. But Fraser was alone up there, under fire, with only an untried reporter at his side, someone he would feel obligated to protect no matter how annoying he might be. Knowing Fraser, heíd risk his life for a stranger without hesitation, and from the little heíd seen of Benedek, Ray was sure heíd insist on being in the thick of things. Amateurs! That was all Ray needed.
As he crested a hill he saw three men firing at the barn, literally saturating it with bullets, one of them pausing to switch the clip in his gun then firing again, both high and low as if they suspected Fraser might be in the loft. That old structure wouldnít come close to stopping a bullet. Fraser might already be dead.
Ray slammed his fist on the horn and skidded to a stop in the middle of the farmyard, skewing the car around at an angle, pulling his gun. At the sound of the horn and his arrival, the three men jumped for cover, one vanishing into the back of the U-Haul, where the panel truck that had taken Fraser was parked. Another dived under the U-Haul, while the third slid around the trunk of a spreading oak tree. He sent a spray of fire in Rayís direction. The troopers pulled up beside the Riv, and men piled out, ducking into shelter and returning fire. One of the troopers went down right away, a bullet through his arm. Ray could hear another of them calling for backup.
"Get down!" Vecchio yelled at MacKensie. Opening the door of the Riv, he slid out behind it, crouching in its shelter, checking out his targets. MacKensie slid down below the level of the windows, and Diefenbaker edged past Ray and circled around behind the car. Two of the troopers started after him.
"Fraser!" Ray bellowed at the top of his lungs. "Yo, Benny, you okay?"
No response. The copís stomach went hard and tight. "Fraser!" he shouted again.
"Too late, pig," yelled the man behind the tree. "Heís in there with about a hundred rounds in him right now."
"He canít be," Ray said under his breath. Heíd always believed Fraser was immortal, at least until Fraser slid to the ground in the train station with Rayís bullet in him. Lately heíd relaxed and started to believe it again, because Fraser hadnít died. He couldnít be dead now, not because of some two-bit hoods whoíd tried to blast their way into a jewelry store.
"Give it up," one of the troopers bellowed through a bullhorn. "We have you surrounded. You canít get away. Donít make it any harder on yourself than itó" A line of bullets made him fling himself flat, the rest of his orders lost as he rolled away out of the line of fire.
"Benedek!" screamed Jonathan. "Benedek, where are you?"
Again no response. Jonathan gazed at Ray in shock, the same question in his eyes Ray knew was in his own. Were they too late?
Ray jerked up his gun and fired at the man in the back of the truck. He ducked back, sent a rush of bullets at Ray, who ducked lower, then popped up to fire again, just as one of the troopers took aim. The man in the truck jerked twice in immediate succession, tumbled out and lay still.
"They got Joey!" the man under the truck screeched. "Did you see that? They got Joey."
"Stay down," called his henchman, the one behind the tree. But his voice came from further away now, and Ray realized while heíd ducked Joeyís bullets, the other man had run for the barn. He vanished inside before Ray could get off a shot, shielded from the troopers by the van until the last second. "Keep Ďem pinned, Stan," he called. "Iím gonna make sure we finished our job."
"Heís going after them," cried Jonathan, tearing at the door handle in his urgent need to go after him. He spilled out of the car onto the ground, then started crawling away, using the car to shield him from the man under the truck." Pinned behind the door by Stan Westonís fire, Ray could only watch him go. One of the troopers scuttled after him, but Stan spotted them and fired. Jonathan went flat and the trooper pulled back into the shelter of the Riv. Ray and the other troopers instantly laid down covering fire. Taking advantage of it, Jonathan circled determinedly in the direction of the barn.
"Get back here," Ray shouted at the professor. "Youíre crazy, you know that?"
"Iíve got to get to Benedek," MacKensie shouted in return.
A white streak of fur headed for Stan then, circling around behind the truck, and Ray fired a couple of times in front of Weston, hoping to distract him. Weston fired back. Heíd put aside his Uzi and this time the blast sounded like a .45. The bullet went right through the car door just above Rayís head. He actually felt the wind of its passage against his scalp.
Then Dief leaped on the man with a savage growl, and Stan let out a superstitious bellow and dropped his gun. At that Ray was up and running, while the wolf pinned the gunman, rolling him out from under the truck then straddling him, his teeth at the manís throat. He didnít rip it out, but Stan must have believed he would because he froze, eyes so wide in the holes of the ski mask they looked in danger of popping out.
Two of the troopers cuffed Weston, peeled off the mask which confirmed his identity, and hauled him back to their vehicle, while the one with the injured arm covered them. Heíd put a hasty bandage around it. Even if he wasnít steady on his feet, he could still hold the weapon in his good hand. The man who had disappeared into the barn didnít reappear and he didnít take any potshots the whole time the troopers worked.
Jonathan reached the dark doorway then, hesitated, then ducked inside.
As the bullets peppered the ancient building and chips of wood, nearly as lethal as the bullets, exploded in all directions, Fraser Senior walked through the gunfire like a man taking a Sunday stroll. He whistled as he walked, and Benedek marveled because he could actually see the bullets passing through the near-transparent body. The older man might look solid to his son, but to Benedek, he was clearly a ghost. This would be a great story, if he didnít turn into a human pincushion before he could write it.
"Over here, son, hereís shelter," the ghost called, gesturing toward the ground at his feet.
Fraser turned his head. "Where?"
The two living men scuttled over and Fraser pried it open. Below them a flight of stairs vanished into what might once have been a cold-storage room. Shelves lined the walls, and a few cobwebby, old jars stood along one side, still holding canned tomatoes, and other mysterious foods of the past.
"Quickly, Benedek," Fraser urged, gesturing him toward the ladder.
"Weíre gonna be rats in a trap if we go down there," the journalist objected, eyeing the dark cellar with disfavor. A bullet whizzed past just over his head, and he reconsidered, all but falling down the stairs into the dark little room.
"We can seal ourselves in," Fraser observed, pulling the trapdoor closed behind them and trapping them in stygian blackness.
"Sure, because stored food needs to defend itself," muttered Benedek skeptically.
"Perhaps the men out there planned it as a hideout," Fraser theorized. He moved a bit on the ladder, then dim and flickering light sprang into being from a match the Mountie held aloft. "This bolt is new. As you can see, there is no rust on it." He shook the match out and lit another. "Do you see any form of lighting down there?"
Benedek looked around, then he noticed the obvious: an actual light switch. He turned it on and light blazed up around them, revealing Fraser halfway down the ladder, the elder Mountie drifting to the ground as if he could float, and a dark passageway off to the left that just might be a way out.
"There," Fraser cried, pointing.
"ĎThereí doesnít look very nice," Benedek observed, but he plunged forward all the same. "I have to say, a Mountieís life is never dull."
"Of course not, Mr. Benedek," Fraser replied. "Boredom is simply the result of an inactive mind. One can avoid boredom in the middle of the most mundane paperwork, as long as one can think."
"Iíll jot that down in my little book of lifeís nonsense lessons," Benedek replied, coming to a halt as he found himself facing a doorway. "Hey, maybe this is the way out."
"Is it locked?"
"From this side." The journalist slid the bolt, then tugged, and the door opened inward on oiled hinges. Beyond them a flight of stairs led upward to storm doors that lay at an angle over the staircase. It, too, was barred from within.
"Maybe they were gonna hide the loot in here," Benedek exulted. "You know, stick it in some of those canning jars. Nobody would think to look there."
Fraser cocked his head, frowning. "Do you hear someone shouting, Mr. Benedek?"
"Rescue has arrived," the ghost remarked. He shook his head. "I suspect a gun battle in the farmyard. Go get Ďem, Son. Do your duty."
"He hasnít got a gun," Benedek objected.
"That doesnít matter. A Mountie doesnít need a gun to subdue his man. He simply needs cunning and the ability to use the world around him."
Benedek flung open the doorways, and popped his head out. They were on the back of the barn. Sporadic gunfire came from the other side of the barn, and distant shouting. Prominent among the yells were Ray Vecchioís voice, bellowing, "Fraser!" and, nearer at hand, an urgent, "Benedek, I could murder you. Where are you?"
"Yo, Jonny, here I am," Benedek caroled.
With an exultant shout in reply MacKensie barreled out of the barn at a dead run, skidded to a stop, the skid enhanced dramatically by something dark and gooey Jonathan had stepped in when he tried to stop. Arms waving wildly, he slid a few feet, yelling in alarm.
Behind him in the shadowy entrance of the barn a dark figure appeared, a figure with an Uzi, taking aim at the hapless professorís unprotected back.
"Look out, Jonathan!" Benny bellowed, scrambling frantically to climb the rest of the way and tackle his buddy. He knew he wouldnít make it, knew Jonathan had no shelter, knew he couldnít avoid the bullets no matter which way he tried to run.
The gunman smiled. It was the driver, the mastermind, the one who wasnít stupid. Fraser pushed himself up beside Benedek at a run, grabbing up a block of wood to fling at the gunman. There wasnít enough space in the stairwell for him to get a good aim, and the wood hit the side of the barn beside the gunman, off target by about six inches. The mastermind didnít even flinch.
"I wouldnít do that if I were you."
Abruptly Robert Fraser, former Mountie and current ghost, appeared directly in the mastermindís line of vision, no more than six inches from his face. One moment he was not there, then next he was, distinctly transparent, clearly a spirit. The mastermind might have been cleverer than his two accomplices, but not even he could face up to ghostly materialization right in the middle of his face. With a wild cry, he jumped backwards, the gun falling away, both hands raised to fend off the specter.
"Get away from me," he screamed, his voice shooting up toward the soprano range in his utter terror. "Get away from me!"
"I wouldnít count on it?" said Ray Vecchio, grabbing him from behind and cuffing him expertly. He didnít seem to see the ghost; his eyes were puzzled for a second at the mastermindís unlikely reaction. Then he thrust the man into the arms of a uniformed trooper and whirled at Fraser to demand urgently, "Benny? You okay?"
"Yes, Ray, Iím fine," Fraser said, allowing the police officer to give him a hand out of the cellar.
"Do you know what you put me through?" Vecchio complained. "Dief couldnít find you; we had to try to track down an invisible truck. And here you are playing hide and seek on a farm. I hate farms, Fraser."
"I know that, Ray. I assure you I didnít come here voluntarily."
"Benedek?" MacKensie lunged at him, grabbed him by the shoulders and would have hugged him if the reporter hadnít eeled out of the grip. He settled for grasping the reporter by the arm and smiling broadly.
"Relaxovision, Jon-boy, I was fine. I always wanted to play Sergeant Preston. I think Iíd look great in a red uniform."
"I think youíd look like a clown," MacKensie said in disgust that didnít begin to disguise his relief to find his friend intact.
"I think you nearly looked like a corpse. What were you thinking?" Benedek demanded hotly. "Running around out here when there are criminals with guns? Whereís your brain?! You scared me out of ten yearsí growth." He patted his thinning pate. "My hair canít take it."
"I didnít think I could get here in time," Vecchio said. "I saw him; he had the drop on Jonathan, then he went crazy. What made him do that? It wasnít Dief. Heís still back there trying to cadge some doughnuts out of those state troopers. One of Ďem probably has a whole box of Ďem in the back seat of his car."
"He just went crazy," Jonathan replied. "I realized I had made a mistake when I heard him, but I didnít have any shelter. I knew he was going to shoot me, then he threw away his gun and started screaming. I donít know what caused it."
"Probably terminal brain damage," Benedek replied hastily. "If heís any kin to the other two, they got born with one brain between the lot of Ďem. He probably finally cracked under the strain."
Jonathan looked at him suspiciously as if he could tell Benedek was hiding something, but he chose not to say so. Instead he looked around. "This has not been a good day. Iím never coming to Chicago with you again."
"Come on, Jon-boy, it hasnít been a dead loss. You got to meet the beautiful Inspector Thatcher, didnít you? A bit of charm and luck, and sheís yours for the evening."
That made Fraser turn and study Jonathan through narrowed eyes. He opened his mouth to speak, perhaps to protest, but in the end he said nothing. Benedek looked around but the ghost of Robert Fraser had vanished completely. It simply wasnít here any more.
"I think heís got you, Fraser," Vecchio said. "You let him go out with the Dragon Lady and youíll live to regret it."
"Dragon Lady?" Jonathan mouthed to Benedek in surprise.
"Whoa. And here I thought Dr. Moorhouse was the only one around," Benedek replied. "Maybe you better cut your losses, Don Juan, and look for true love closer to home."
"Iíve got my story," Benedek said a couple of hours later as they waited for the plane that would take them home. The other two, Mountie and cop, had come to OíHare to see them off, but they had paused when Diefenbaker had stopped pleadingly in front of a junk food shop, and could be seen arguing with the wolf; at least Fraser was arguing. Ray was standing at his side, grinning, looking as if the things that usually annoyed him probably wouldnít any more, at least for a few days. Jonathan knew how much heíd worried about the Mountie. It was strange, but he understood unlikely friendships better than most men did.
"The ghost?" MacKensie asked. "Did you see it? Did Fraser tell you about it while you were hostages together?"
"Ghost, what ghost? I didnít see any ghost," Benedek replied smoothly. "You know what Sally Cooper is like. She probably imagined the whole thing. Besides, how often do I get to be on hand when a whole gang of jewel thieves is busted? I can do this one from the inside. A day in the life of a hostage, that kind of thing. Itís gonna be great."
Jonathan eyed him narrowly. "Why donít I believe a word of that, Benedek? You wouldnít give up the ghost story just because you had another story. Besides, I canít believe youíd pass up a chance to claim the ghost helped you, saved all our lives or something."
"No, just yours, Jonny," Benny said so softly Jonathan wasnít sure heíd heard it. Before he could ask his friend to repeat himself, Vecchio and Fraser arrived, trailed by an unhappy ó and snackless ó wolf. Fraser held out a book to Jonathan. It was a comprehensive study of the Inuit beginning with the Pre-Dorset peoples, and Jonathan looked at it in delight.
"For reading on the plane," Fraser said.
"Thank you. Iíve wanted to read this for some time now." They shook hands.
"Trust him to give you a musty book," Ray said. He offered his hand too. "You arenít that great at obeying orders, Jonathan, but I can live with that. Next time weíre on police business, though, youíre gonna do what I say or youíll be the one in handcuffs."
"And I second that, Jack," Benedek chimed in.
"Mr. Benedek, may I speak to you alone a moment," Fraser said to the reporter. Jonathan and Vecchio watched them as they moved a little distance away, the wolf at Fraserís side.
"I wonder what thatís all about?" the anthro prof asked.
"With Fraser, who can tell?" said Ray. "Probably some weird, Mountie blood pact they formed while they were hostages."
"Or maybe Constable Fraser simply doesnít want to appear in the story," Jonathan agreed. "Knowing Benedekís style of journalism, I canít say Iím surprised at that. He does have a tendency to..."
"Making it up from scratch?" hazarded Ray.
"Well, exaggerating, anyway. If you knew what I went through to keep him from saying anything about the Institute that would lead Dr. Moorhouse to sue..."
"About my father," Fraser said as they stood to one side of the busy concourse, people passing by on both sides of them without even noticing the red serge uniform. He stared at Benedek in considerable alarm. He didnít know what the journalist intended.
"What about the old guy?" Benedek asked.
"You didnít mention him. I understood you had come to write a paranormal exposť about a Ďhaunted Mountieí."
"That was before he saved Jonnyís life," Benedek said as if that was the last word on the subject. "Look, I donít usually write off such a great story, but I owe him one. Last thing I need to do for him is set him up for spook chasers all over the world. I donít think heíd want to spend the afterlife in the Ghostbustersí Containment Unit, or running from exorcists." He shifted, embarrassed. "Look, I donít get the chance to do many good deeds. Just take it and forget it, okay?"
"Very well, Benny. But wonít you get in trouble with your paper?" asked Fraser.
"Not a chance, Benny. Iím their star reporter, after all. Even if I leave out your pop, I still have a great story going for me. Donít sweat it. Just tell him not to appear to me next time Iím in the Windy City, and weíre quits."
Fraser shook his hand and the two men returned to their friends looking well pleased with each other.
"So, what was that all about?" Ray asked as the two out-of-towners boarded their plane.
"What was what about, Ray?"
"You know. Mysterious signals, secret handshakes, all the big mystery."
"Oh. That." Fraser looked uncomfortable.
"Yes. That." He grinned. "Come on, Fraser. You donít know how to lie. You canít hold out on me."
"Oh well, I admit to a concern about Inspector Thatcher," Fraser said. It was true. If he watched his words most carefully, he just might get out of this without further trouble. "When she heard what had happened, she was...most insistent that the Consulate, the RCMP, and Canada did not figure unfavorably in a story."
"So you wanted to make sure Mr. Tabloid didnít cast you in a bad light? This is a new side of you, Benny. Publicity gets to you, does it? I remember the way the reporters hung around you after the train. Thatís what happens when you come to the big city. Spoiled by success." He shook his head in mock dismay. "And I remember when he was just a poor innocent kid from Runamuckluck, naive as hell."
"Thatís Tuktoyaktuk, Ray," Fraser said as they started back toward the Riv.
"Better make sure Benedek spells it right," said Ray and fell into step with him.
Behind them, Robert Fraser adjusted his pace and marched behind them invisible, all the way to the car.
© Sheila Paulson. The contents of this page may not be copied or reproduced without the author's express written permission.
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