|Don't Drink, Don't Smoke (What Do You Do)
For reasons that don't need exploring at this juncture, Ray and I were pursuing a criminal across Gloucestershire on our annual leave from the Chicago Police Department and the Canadian Consulate in Chicago, respectively.
We had followed the man from London on two trains and then a trip on the back of a chicken truck, during which Ray complained both volubly and without ending about the smell, the feathers, and the English countryside. Transportation in Chicago, especially during rush hour, is no less fragrant than a chicken truck in England, but Ray was in no mood to not complain. We'd spotted the thief lifting American passports from tourists' purses and pants pockets in the Jazz and Blues section of the Virgin Records megastore at Piccadilly Circus, and though Ray had complained -- "I'm on vacation, Frase, find a cop in one of those silly round hats and tell him to deal with it" -- the Metropolitan London Police Force seemed to have little interest in the phenomenon.
However, Ray's sense of justice is unfailing, and as one of the passports that had been stolen was Ray's, we took the trains and the chicken truck to the outskirts of a small town called Sandford in pursuit of the suspect.
In addition, I had faced a great deal of difficulty in working with both the American and Canadian Embassies; I had not yet told Ray that we had now both been relieved of our passports without our own interference, but my visit to the Canadian High Commission had left me feeling unsettled and unsure of myself. A misunderstanding about my current life status (that is to say, whether I was living or dead) had led to the destruction of my passport, and in the briefest moments of conversation about this misunderstanding, before I rushed off to assist Ray in pursuing the suspect onto the train toward Sandford, I was made to understand that I could change this status by allowing the Canadian government to immediately detain me for transportation back to Ottawa.
I would have preferred to remain amongst the living on the records and in the annals of the Canadian government, but I would rather remain dead than abandon Ray in his time of need. I must admit that I hesitated, faced with this dilemma -- hesitated, and then thought of Ray, who had been sincerely loyal to me for many years. Perhaps this was not the best decision, but I chose to remain with Ray, essentially forfeiting my chance to leave the country without great difficulty.
I did not tell Ray that the American Embassy was disinclined to re-issue a passport to a police detective carrying a concealed weapon in England, nor did I tell him that the Canadian High Commission had, essentially, unmade me. There is no justification for my lie of omission, but I lied nonetheless -- out of concern for Ray's feelings, I told myself, and the fact that he was already furious with the situation. Telling him of the loss of my passport would only have exacerbated the situation, and I felt uncertain and unsure of myself without my Canadian identity.
The only identity I felt secure in was that of Ray's partner -- and should I have told him of the loss of my passport, he would have sent me to deal with it, and I would not have even had my remaining identity. I kept my counsel on the loss of my passport, and remained in England as Ray's partner. It seemed the best thing to do.
It seemed a coincidence that we had seen the purple-haired youth again the day after Ray's passport had been stolen and I had made my trips to the High Commission and the Embassy, but as we had seen him, shopping idly on Oxford Street, and Ray had identified him as the youth who had fled with Ray's passport, it made perfect sense to follow him.
At least, Ray would like me to note, it made perfect sense to myself. Ray, frankly, complained all the while we were chasing the purple-haired youth, but he also gave chase while he was doing so.
The suspect escaped us, however, in a field where a large and rather angry bull forced us to end our pursuit by hiding behind a large hedge.
Behind this hedge, we found two British police officers, also engaged in hiding.
"Who th'hell are you?" the larger of the two asked. He was breathing rather hard, while his companion was scarcely flushed.
"Constable Benton Fraser, Royal Canadian Mounted Police, currently of the Canadian Consulate in Chicago," I said. "My partner, currently removing thorns from his thighs -- "
"From my ass, Frase," Ray said. "I am removing thorns from my ass, because a bull just chased us through a big fucking bush."
"My companion is Detective Ray Kowalski, currently of the Chicago Police Department," I said. "He ran through the hedge as the bull pursued us."
"Captain Nicholas Angel," the thinner man said. "He's Sergeant Danny Butterman."
"Can I assume that you were pursuing the same suspect that Detective Kowalski and myself were pursuing?"
"Were ye runnin' after a swan?" Sergeant Butterman said. "Because we're after the swan again."
"No fucking swan," Ray said. "Wait, what?"
"Lost the swan again," Sergeant Butterman reported. "They should keep it on a leash, I say, but P.I. says that's cruelty to swans."
Ray, still removing thorns from his thighs, muttered something about rotten fucking English countryside. Thankfully, the officers from Sandford did not appear to hear him.
"Perhaps I could aid you in the pursuit of the swan," I suggested. "I have a great deal of experience with wildlife."
"In Chicago?" Inspector Angel said.
"Ah, no," I replied. "Although I am kept by a half-wolf named Diefenbaker, and Ray is in possession of a standard American terrapin. Rather, I have a great deal of wildlife in the wild, primarily the Northwest Territories of Canada."
"Are there ... a great many swans in that area?"
"Not really," I was forced to admit. "But an animal is generally an animal, when it comes to recapture."
Sergeant Butterman muttered, "You never met the bleedin' swan."
Ultimately, dusk was falling and we all retired from our place behind the hedge to, first, the local hotel, where Inspector Angel was very helpful in securing us a double room. (The help at the hotel struck me as rather incompetent, though I am loathe to presume how anyone should do his or her job.) Inspector Angel leaned over toward me, as Ray was stomping about our rented room, displaying his distaste for England via his abuse on the furniture, and informed me that they'd recently had a change of management at the hotel due to "an unfortunate incident".
"And trust me," he said, rather conspiratorially, when I apologized for Ray's destruction. To be honest, I wasn't even certain why we were still standing in the room, aside from Ray's ill-mannered tirade, because we had no luggage to unpack, having departed London with nothing more than our billfolds and the clothes on our back and in Ray's case, a Cubs cap. "Trust me," Angel said, and winked. "This hotel's seen a great deal worse lately."
After the room was secured and Ray had showered and put his thorn-torn pants back on, we all adjourned to the police station, a sparkling new building twice the size of what I expected to see. "What a lovely facility," I said.
"You're just saying that 'cause the 2-7 is a dump, Frase," Ray offered.
"The 27th precinct is a perfectly suitable workspace, Ray," I replied.
"Suitable if you like working in a crypt," Ray muttered. Sergeant Butterman shuddered at the word crypt, and Inspector Angel's face went oddly blank. Sandford, aside from fostering a potential ring of passport thieves, was a town that perhaps had more to it than met the eye.
"Please, sit," Inspector Angel said. "Coffee? Tea?"
"Coffee," Ray said.
"Tea, if it wouldn't be a problem," I said.
"No problem," Sergeant Butterman said. "Oi, Doris, make these blokes a cup of tea?"
"Make it yourself," a female voice shouted back. "Wait, what blokes?"
"The blokes from the States," Butterman shouted.
Before I could correct him, a uniformed police officer emerged from a doorway, wiping her hands on a tea towel. She eyed both Ray and myself with a rather predatory gaze -- an expression that Ray has often pointed out to be that many women give me, and now I am particularly conscious of not being impolite in the face of desire; Ray, however, has no such qualms and has been known to be quite rude to women who appear to be interested in me, a reaction I have never fully understood -- and offered her hand. "PC Doris Thatcher," she said. "And you are?"
"Constable Benton Fraser, Royal Canadian Mounted Police."
"Danny, you dolt," she said, swatting him across the back of the head. "He's not from the States, he's from Canada."
"The other one's from the States," Butterman said, cheerfully. "Wait, Mounted Police? Like horses?"
"I am not currently part of a mounted unit in Chicago," I said. "But some units in Canada are mounted, it's true."
"Nick had a horse once," Butterman said. "Was a good look for him, but it's much easier to get 'round Sandford on foot. Can't take the horse to the store for a Cornetto, can you?"
"Danny," Inspector Angel said. It was a tone I recognized; the sort that I use when Ray requires reining in, solemnity mixed with affection for one's partner. I smiled at Inspector Angel, who returned the expression with a knowing look. Despite the loss of Ray's passport, I was finding the diversion to Sandford pleasant; I had never before met an officer of the law whose partner and whose outlook on law enforcement seemed to so match my own.
"Sorry, Nick," Butterman said, sounding vaguely ashamed -- a quality of which Ray has, excepting the instance with Beth Botrelle, never particularly been possessed.
"Doris, coffee for Detective Kowalski, please, and tea for Constable Fraser," Angel continued.
"Sure thing, Chief," she said, turning to me. "One sugar or two, love?"
"None, thank you," I replied. "Ray?"
"Coffee," he said. "Black."
"Get the swan, Chief?" she asked, paused in the doorway.
"No luck today, Doris," Angel replied. "Lost him behind Leslie's old greenhouses, and then we ran into these officers in the field behind the spot where Peter used to have his barn and Old Ben keeps his bull, so we called it a day."
"Good day's work," she called from the kitchen.
"Tea, Doris," Angel said. "Now that we're finally settled, let me just get the whole story from you, Constable Fraser. I'm still unsure how a chicken truck plays into this."
I laid it out simply for the Inspector and his partner: pocket picked, pursued suspect, pursued suspect onto train without thought for hotel room currently reserved in London under our names and holding all our belongings. I neglected to inform the Inspector of Ray's tirade on the train once we had lost the suspect among the compartments, a tirade which had included the words leap without looking and supposed to be a vacation and didn't want the damn passport anyway, Frase; it seemed irrelevant, though I can admit, at that moment, riding the train to Sandford, Gloucestershire in pursuit of a passport thief did not seem, perhaps, to be the correct course of action. "We simply followed the passport thief's tracks," I concluded, feeling slightly awkward, "though he didn't ride a chicken truck from the station in Buford Abbey to Sandford. A young gentleman with rather shocking blue hair picked him up at the station."
"Pokey," Angel and Butterman said simultaneously, glancing at each other.
"Poke what?" Ray said. He'd been unusually silent since we arrived in Sandford and departed from the chicken truck; I hoped that he would represent his country in an appropriate fashion in this situation.
"Pokey is a local teenager," Angel said. "He belongs to a normally harmless crowd easily identifiable by their oddly colored hair, whom Sandford residents refer to, colloquially, as the Hoodies. Did your assailant in London have an odd color of hair?"
"Was he wearing a hoodie?" Sergeant Butterman said.
"Purple with red leopard spots," Ray said. "And grey." Doris set a cup of coffee in front of him, and he nearly inhaled half of it in one go, which seemed to relax him, just a bit. "It was good hair. I'd have liked hair like that when I was that little punk's age."
"Ay, that's Terrence, then" Butterman said. "Not the first time he's lifted a tourist's passport, no sir. Think he's usin' them for fake identifications, to use down at the pub."
"What was he doing in London, though," Inspector Angel said. "That's out of his normal range."
"And his normal range is ...?" I asked. I've tried hard not to meddle in others' investigations, but despite the three pints of lager Ray applied himself to at the pub the previous evening, he was still stalking about the station house in a rather foul mood -- although perhaps that could have been directly related to the ride in the chicken truck.
"Well, Sandford, mostly," Inspector Angel said thoughtfully. "Sandford entirely ... until now."
Sergeant Butterman, Inspector Angel and myself all looked out the window of the station house onto the bucolic scene of village life before us. Ray kicked a desk rather hard, and then hopped about on one foot, somewhat destroying the picture. He was not fond of England, really, and I remain uncertain as to why he suggested it for our vacation location, though he has become fond of the Guinness.
"In fact," Inspector Angel said, "I'm not sure that Terrence even knows how to take the train to London."
"Well, what'd we do?" Ray said.
"Well," Angel said. "We could go by his mum's place."
Terrence's mum, a friendly woman named Betty, shook her head sadly when Sergeant Butterman inquired if Terrence was home. "No, Danny, I haven't seen hide nor hair of him in several days. He's a handful, my Terrence is, and since he's left school and not asked me what I thought of it, I've stopped trying to have a say in what he does."
"Thank you, ma'am," Angel said. "If you see Terrence, if he happens to stop home to visit, please give us a call at the station. He's not in trouble, we'd just like to recover some property that he's ended up with, that's not his."
"That's my Terrence," she said fondly. "Would you like to come in for tea, boys?"
"No, thanks, ma'am," Angel said. "We'll have to take a rain check."
"Any day, boys," Terrence's mum said. "You know you're always welcome."
"Thanks, Betty," Butterman said. "We'll be in touch."
I understood the mechanics of the problems faced by the Sandford constabulary; in a town the size of Sandford, as with many of my postings in the isolated northern areas of Canada, everyone knows everyone else, and matters of criminal action must be treated with the most delicate discretion. Alarm one resident and you have likely alarmed them all; show kindness to a resident with a thorny legal or criminal problem, and the remainder will happily respect you and your work.
Inspector Angel and Sergeant Butterman were excellent at maintaining that balance, and as Inspector Angel's accent suggested that he was not originally from Sandford or its surrounding environs, his mastery of the social skills necessary in a small village were commendable.
"Anywhere else we can go?" Ray said, standing beside me on the front stoop of Terrence's mother's house.
Angel and Butterman exchanged glances. "Pub?" Butterman said.
"Pub," Angel said. "Please join us -- Danny and I will just pop by the station house and get cleaned up, and then we'll all have some fish and chips."
"And a beer," Ray said.
"They have an excellent local lager on the menu," Angel said. "The pub has ... changed hands, recently, and the new owners are making some fantastic changes for the better."
Ray has nearly broken me of the habit of investigating no matter where I am; I find it hard to disengage my investigative brain, but Ray said that it was better for his mental health to not worry that I would find criminals around every corner.
I cannot ignore the signals of odd behavior in Sandford, however, and I was confident that the story would come out eventually.
"Shall we meet you there?" I inquired. I am more comfortable in establishments like pubs now than I was, previously, predominantly thanks to Ray, who insists he is improving my life as he orders drinks for me. One drink isn't going to kill you, Frase, he often tells me, and so far he is correct.
"Sounds good," Butterman said. "We'll just drop you there, then, and you can find a table. Pub's the only place to go at night, here. Gets crowded."
The pub was crowded with adults, who peered at Ray and myself curiously, and with youngsters, who did not look quite old enough to be patronizing such a place, even in Britain with its drinking age of 18. I inquired of Inspector Angel on this subject when he and Sergeant Butterman arrived.
"I tried to stop it, when I first arrived in Sandford," he said genially, waving to a teenager carrying three pints away from the bar. "Letter of the law, not the spirit, and so on, but in Sandford, honestly, it's easier to just let things go if they're small, and focus on the big stuff."
"Wouldn't it promote a great deal of underage alcoholism?" I asked. Ray and Sergeant Butterman were elbow-to-elbow at the bar, deep in conversation about something as they waited for fresh drinks; they were each on their third drink of the evening, while Inspector Angel nursed a glass of cranberry juice and I joined him with my own glass of water.
"I thought," he said. "But it seems to mostly keep them off the streets and out of trouble instead, and in a town like this, you can't appreciate that enough."
"Ah," I said.
"I recognize that look," Angel said, laughing. "Hasn't Chicago been quite a shock for you?"
"Yes," I said. "Though I've been there for years by now."
"It was the same for me," Angel said. "Only in reverse -- knowing who to bring in and who to leave taking a piss on public property took months, and that was even after half the town tried to kill me."
I raised an eyebrow.
"Nefarious scheme to keep Sandford the perfect village," he said casually, as though murder attempts on an officer's life were run-of-the-mill in a small village in England. "Danny and I put a stop to it, though his father turned out to be the mastermind."
"Ah," I said.
"Tough for the whole village," he said. "But we've bucked up admirably, and I can't imagine going back to London."
Ray and Butterman returned, bearing pints and another glass of cranberry juice for Inspector Angel. They were arguing about action movies, having discovered over excellent fish and chips that they were both fans. Ray sounded, to my ears, cheerfully tipsy, and he confirmed this by reaching out and squeezing my shoulder, leaning against my back before sinking down into his chair. "You doin' okay, Frase?" he said.
"I remain concerned for your passport," I said, "but I am otherwise excellent. Inspector Angel was just giving me a brief history of the village and his work here."
"Va-ca-tion, Frase," Ray said, and clinked his glass against Sergeant Butterman's when it was raised in salute, to vacation, I presumed. "We are on vacation, missing passport or not. I'll get it back or I'll get a new one down in London. You know how those embassies and crap work, you can get it for me in record time."
"I'll do my best, Ray," I said, an odd feeling in the pit of my stomach.
"Anyways, least you can go home," Ray said cheerfully. "I might be stuck here forever and ever."
"You never know, Ray," I said, meaning, perhaps I too will remain here, but Ray didn't take it that way.
"I got faith in you, Frase, I know you know you can get me out of this," Ray said. His faith in me was warming, but it felt strange against my skin, knowing that I hadn't told him the full story of our situation. I nearly confessed all right then, sitting in the pub in Sandford, Gloucestershire.
I did not. Ray grinned at me and tipped his glass. I could not decide which felt worse: deceiving Ray in the matter of my passport, or losing that which made me my very self. My head said my passport and my identity; my heart reminded me that my identity was so linked to Ray that I had not lost anything.
I have long learned that following your head instead of your heart often leads you to an unfortunately lonely life.
"We'll continue pursuing Terrence tomorrow," Inspector Angel said. "He's not a difficult boy to find, and I'm sure he'll be very contrite when he finds out that he's lifted a passport from an officer of the law."
"Or we'll make him contrite," Butterman said, and he and Ray laughed heartily at that.
Several hours (and several pints, for Ray and Sergeant Butterman) later, having been introduced to most of the village as they came by the table to investigate our presence in the village, Ray stumbled and I strolled back to the hotel. Inspector Angel and Sergeant Butterman had ambled the other way, after issuing hearty good nights and invitations to the station house in the morning.
"Nice place," Ray said, leaning against me as I fumbled with the room key. "Nice guys. Shoulda come here to b'gin with, Frase, it's better than London."
"Next vacation, Ray," I replied, propelling him into the hotel room in front of me. He collapsed face first on the bed without removing his boots and began snoring immediately. I removed his boots and his jeans and covered him with the comforter before performing my evening ablutions and retiring to the other twin bed myself.
I fell asleep thinking that Sandford's tranquil, languid pace of life was quite up my alley, and agreeing with Ray's assertion that we should have begun here.
In the morning, Ray was still snoring soundly when I awoke, and so I simply left him a note and procured a cup of tea and a hot breakfast in the hotel dining room before making my way to the station house. It was nearly empty at this hour of the morning, save the night desk manager reading a paperback novel, and Inspector Angel at his desk, reading a file and rolling his neck leisurely. I could hear it cracking from the doorway, and I cleared my throat to alert him to my presence.
"Constable Fraser, good morning," he said. "And Detective Kowalski is ...?"
"Still sleeping," I replied.
"As is Danny, I'm sure. Cup of tea?"
"Please," I said.
"I must admit," Inspector Angel said to me, as we sat drinking our tea, "I ran both your name and your partner's name through our databases this morning, in curiosity. I had no idea that you were the Benton Fraser involved with the Muldoon capture; your work is legendary amongst the officers at the Metropolitan Headquarters in London. We all followed that case avidly as the capture occurred and the trial progressed."
"Ah, thank you," I said. I am unused to praise from fellow officers; many of my coworkers while I remained in Canada were unsettled by my career success, which was not the least reason why I was instructed to remain in Chicago after pursuing my father's killers.
"Your record is certainly ... unusual," Inspector Angel said.
"Ray is rather virulently anti-paperwork," I said. "We have solved more routine cases."
"You've been together a long time?" Angel said.
"Years," I said. "Some time in Chicago, some time in the Northwest Territories following the Muldoon incident."
"I wouldn't call it an incident! A masterpiece, perhaps, but not a simple incident."
"Ah, well," I replied.
"Is it true that you and Detective Kowalski entered Canada on the wings of a plane before leaping from the plane into unpopulated snow fields?"
"Yes," I said. "I wrote the reports on Muldoon's capture, so the facts are entirely accurate. Canadian paperwork is never something for which Ray managed to acquire a knack. Though he doesn't have a knack for American paperwork it seems, either -- the longer he serves on the force, the more recalcitrant he is over paperwork. And the more his paperwork becomes more of an abstract work of art unrelated to the case."
"I've lost the hand for it myself," Angel said. "I tried to do all the paperwork for the cases we brought in to the station here, and after six months, it appeared that simply tucking a note into a file was more appropriate to the situation than the complete paperwork."
"Changing your outlook on police work is difficult to do," I said.
Angel laughed. "You're telling me. Chicago, I still believe, must be an absolute shock."
"I've learned to adjust," I said. I have. Ray and Ray have both helped. And I find Chicago charming in its own ways, now that I know where to look for the things that I want out of life, like open spaces and excellent Chinese food.
"I miss the paperwork sometimes," he said, leaning confidentially across his desk. "It's easier on the day-to-day routine, but there's something about filling out forms in triplicate with a ballpoint pen that's comforting."
"I know exactly what you mean," I said, and when Inspector Angel smiled broadly at me, I understood, absolutely, that I had found a kindred soul. "Even the switch from the paperwork of the Canadian service to the American service was a shock to my system; more so than the culture in Chicago."
Angel smiled again, the corners of his eyes crinkling with pleasure, and stuck his hand out to shake mine. "Brother," he said.
"Indeed," I said, shaking his hand.
He finished his tea in a single gulp and said, "I've found several leads we can check out. If you'd like to join me. I suspect we won't see Danny until the latter half of the morning, if then."
"I suspect Ray is in similar shape," I said.
"Partners," Inspector Angel said, in a way that suggested he meant more than he was saying. I understood that relationship, as well. A partner you can trust beyond simply watching your back -- a luxury not often found in the law enforcement arena, and I was lucky enough to have had two, even if one was currently hungover and not of any use to the investigation of the theft of his own passport.
I simply finished my tea, stood and donned my hat, and waited for Inspector Angel to secure his own hat before departing. "Would you like a vest?" he asked me.
"Is Sandford that dangerous?"
"Well, not really," he said. "But it's been said that everyone is packing, including farmers and their mums. In case." He paused. "It's also helpful if the swan tries to bite you."
Inspector Angel's leads chased up nothing; not a single head of brightly colored unnatural hair was to be found in the village of Sandford and its environs. We spent half an hour recording traffic speeds on the road out of town, and aside from the chicken truck passing us by, not a single vehicle passed, either.
Sandford was a lovely vacation. We even got in a bit of a run, after spying the swan munching contentedly on what Inspector Angel reported to be Danny's cousin's ex-wife's new husband's garden, though we lost the swan in a pit of mud and unfortunately trampled many of Danny's cousin's ex-wife's new husband's marigolds.
Danny's cousin lived across the street, and gave Inspector Angel a friendly wave as we extracted ourselves from the marigolds. Danny's cousin's ex-wife glowered at us from the window, until Inspector Angel sketched off a jaunty salute and mimed a swan's wings, and then she smiled at us as well.
"The swan's the biggest problem we have," he said, brushing dirt from his knees. "Gets out twice a month, runs faster than everyone at the station house. Plus, it swims, and no one besides myself and Detective Wainwright enjoys wading into the ponds round here without proper swimming trunks."
"At least you don't need to read the swan its rights," I offered.
Angel laughed. "Back to the station with us, I suppose. The rest should be in by now, and perhaps someone saw one of the gang on their way in."
Upon return to the station, I found Ray sitting at Sergeant Butterman's desk, feet propped up, cigarette in his mouth, cards in hand. He was surrounded by bags from a local shop, by Sergeant Butterman, and by two mustached men in street clothes, also holding cigarettes and cards. "Frase!" Ray said. "Come meet the Andys."
"The Andes?" I said.
"DS Andy Wainwright," Inspector Angel said. "DC Andy Cartwright."
"Ah, Andys," I said. "Shopping, Ray?"
"I got to have clean boxers, Frase," he said. "Also, cigarettes here, big letters telling you not to smoke. Kind of just makes me want to smoke more."
DS Wainwright said, "That's what me'n'Andy always say. Don't tell us to do something, tell us not to do something. Call. Full house."
"Goddamn," Ray said, tossing down his cards and crushing out his cigarette. For all that Ray is finding that as he grows older, the depressing, relentless parts of police work are far less satisfying, he is never less than at home in police stations. I hadn't considered making a tour of England's station houses as a vacation subject, but perhaps we should have -- I am always interested in new techniques and the working methods of other officers, and Ray enjoys playing cards, smoking cigarettes, and making terrible jokes.
"Find the swan?" Sergeant Butterman asked.
"Yes," Inspector Angel said, perching on a desk and looking down at the round DC Cartwright had just dealt to Butterman. "But it destroyed Gerald's ex-wife's husband's garden, and Constable Fraser and I got considerably muddy."
"Find Terrence?" Butterman asked.
"No," Angel said. "Danny, you know Andy and Andy are just going to take your money."
"I'm getting better, I swear it," Butterman said. "Can't learn if I don't play."
"There's regulations about gambling in the station house," Angel said, but his voice was fond, and when the Andys smirked at him, he simply smirked back. He then said, "Everybody up. Out on the streets, looking for any of the kids wearing funny colored hair. Terrence Garson is stealing passports, and I'm done putting up with it."
"Wondered why we'd gotten a Yank in the station house," DS Wainwright said.
"Thought it was some kind of exchange program," DC Cartwright said.
"Wondered why you didn't ship Danny off, though," DS Wainwright said, dropping his chair to the ground with a thump and picking up a packet of cigarettes from a nearby desk.
"Oi," Sergeant Butterman said, chucking a handful of cards toward DS Wainwright.
"Constable Fraser, if you'd accompany Sergeant Butterman down to the pub," Inspector Angel said. "Detective Kowalski can join me in visiting shop owners, and Detectives, if you'd canvas the local woodpiles, garden sheds and back alleys, I would appreciate it immensely."
"Appreciate it as in give us raises?" DC Cartwright said.
"Appreciate it as in not write up paperwork for your ongoing poker game," Inspector Angel said. He winked, not at all surreptitiously, in my direction. "Paperwork's good for some things in Sandford," he said. "Just not the usual things."
"Sopping up tea spills," DC Cartwright offered.
"Keeping score in games of gin," PC Thatcher called from the kitchen.
"Drawing cartoons," Sergeant Butterman said.
Ray was smiling broadly, glad to meet his own kindred souls, officers who shared his distaste for paperwork even across the Atlantic Ocean. I felt even more connection with Inspector Angel at that moment, for all he was smiling fondly at his officers; no man with a desk as neat as his station house desk was is pleased to give up paperwork. But I also sensed that it was a long-running joke in this village, and I could appreciate that even more than I appreciated a well-done, thorough stack of paperwork.
"You've all well demonstrated that you can do great things with your paperwork," Inspector Angel said.
"Paper airplanes," Sergeant Butterman said.
"Point taken," Inspector Angel said. "Is everyone clear on where they should be this afternoon?"
"Yes, Chief," Butterman, Cartwright and Wainwright chorused. Ray flipped his sunglasses down over his glasses, his universal signal for, as he said, "Let's roll." I put my hat on.
Sergeant Butterman chattered animatedly as we walked the half-mile from the station house to the pub. He expressed admirable curiosity and a quick mind, though he also seemed to have gathered most of his data on law enforcement in Canada from a film about Dudley Do-Right. I made a mental note to pass on several informational pamphlets to Inspector Angel, were Ray and I ever to get back to London and our luggage.
The pub was empty, save an older officer with a K-9 companion. "PC Bob Walker," Sergeant Butterman said. "And Saxon."
"Nice to meet you," I said, tipping my hat.
PC Walker mumbled and squinted, and Sergeant Butterman assured me he was being friendly. "Said lovely to meet you, too," Sergeant Butterman translated. "Also likes your hat."
"Thank you, sir," I said to PC Walker, who mumbled another sentence and flapped a hand at us.
"Coming to work today, Bob?" Sergeant Butterman said, and got an apparently assenting mumble in return.
When questioned, the young man, Steven, behind the bar at the pub said he hadn't seen a single young man with odd colored hair in several weeks, which was odd, "because didn't Little Jim have his 20th birthday this week, Danny?"
"Aye, he did," Sergeant Butterman said, scratching his head. "They weren't in at all?"
"Seen neither hide nor hair of any of the Hoodies this week," Steven said. "Thought it had been quiet. Thought the floor'd been less sticky."
"No spilt pints will do that for you," Sergeant Butterman agreed. He frowned and tilted his head in my direction. "The Hoodies are in here every night," he said. "Or, they were. Something's going on."
"I would suspect so," I replied. "Why are they called the Hoodies?"
"They all wear jumpers with, y'know, hoods," Sergeant Butterman said, gesturing above his head with his hands. "So y'can't see who they are, 'cept they helped Nick out when the Neighborhood Watch went all crazy. After that, that's when they all dyed their hair."
I tried to make sense of multi-colored, passport-stealing teenage hooligans who had assisted an officer of the law and failed. "They're delinquents with hearts of gold?"
"Something like," Sergeant Butterman said. "And if they haven't been here, they're hidin' out."
"We should report this to Inspector Angel," I said.
"Good idea," Sergeant Butterman agreed. "You're like Nick, always thinking ahead to the next step. Bet your partner's a lucky guy."
"Ray and I have had a profitable partnership," I said.
"Yeah, he was telling me 'bout some of the things you guys have done," Butterman said. "Neat stuff, with the trip on the sled with the dogs and all."
"Everyone should have at least one great adventure," I said, and I truly believe that.
"Did you find the hand?"
"Franklin's hand? No, but sometimes the journey is worth more than the end point," I said.
"You're just like Nick," Sergeant Butterman said, and it was certainly a compliment in his voice, which pleased me.
We took a roundabout route back to the station house, stopping for a cup of tea at a tiny shop and ice cream at another, and when we finally returned to the squad room, we found ... well, utter chaos. The Detectives Andy were damp from the waist down and covered in something that appeared to be a variant of duckweed, and Inspector Angel was wrestling a young man whose head was two different shades of green into a chair. Ray's back was to me and was streaked blue from his hips to his hair. When I cleared my throat, he turned and grinned. "I swear, this stuff only happens when you're around, Frase. You are a walking magnet for shit that should not actually happen happening."
"Was this ... all the work of this young man?"
DC Cartwright, dripping small muddy puddles onto the floor of the station house, said, "Nah, me and Andy, that was the swan. It was hiding behind Old Man Weatherford's wood pile and then it chased us into his duck pond, chased the ducks into the bull's field, and disappeared again."
"Just because," Inspector Angel was hissing, holding the green-haired boy by his collar, "just because I once let you loose with a can of paint doesn't mean that you have full right to spray whatever you'd like whenever you'd like, and that means people, Jason."
"Hey, it's cool," Ray said. "Haven't had blue hair since I was about this guy's age. What do you think, Frase, looks good?" "It --" I said. "Ah, Ray, it looks sort of appalling, to be perfectly frank."
Ray ran his fingers through the back of his hair, dragging them stiffly where his hair had gotten sticky and clumped, and looked at the paint and bits of hair clinging to his fingers. "Guess you're right. Pretty exciting, though. Least nobody shot at me, nice change from the 2-7."
"Sit down, Jason," Inspector Angel said through gritted teeth, and suddenly the struggling boy went limp, straight down into the chair, and Inspector Angel overbalanced and tumbled to a sprawl on the floor.
The Andys snickered. The corner of Ray's mouth twitched as though he wanted to smile. Sergeant Butterman said, "Nick, nobody was down to the pub. Nobody's been down to the pub in days, says Steven."
Inspector Angel, climbing to his feet and brushing off his pants, said, to the room at large but with an excellently pointed glance at Jason, our green haired guest, "What would a group of shiftless teenagers want with a handful of American passports when they're being served in the pub despite the youth of some of their members?"
"I aren't shiftless," Jason said, twitching rapidly. I saw then that he'd been handcuffed to the chair, making Inspector Angel's struggle far more logical than it had been previously. I saw Ray's hand in that arrangement; Ray doesn't like it when the criminal perpetrators can leap across the table at him, and given the experience with his ear, I cannot say that I blame him. "I've got a job, Inspector Angel, I swear it. They needed a new stock boy at Cousin Sissy's old store, can't keep any of them 'cause Lurch -- "
"We refer to even those unfortunate enough to be incarcerated by their Christian names, Jason," Inspector Angel said. He was inspecting the bottom of a coffee mug at the moment, swirling its contents idly, rather than watching Jason. His demeanor suggested idle indifference to the situation, and I admired his ability to divorce his body from his mind in these investigations. Were we re-acquire Ray's passport with time to spare before our flight home to the States, I would enjoy trading not simply facts and figures of our careers with Inspector Angel, but also the intangibles and secrets that we've learned.
Certainly, as Ray would say, albeit with slightly coarser language, I have yet to see anyone in the Sandford Police Service lick anything.
" -- Michael was such a brute that he could do the work of six people and now they won't hire six people, just one, since Michael could do it," Jason finished in a rush.
Inspector Angel looked up from his mug of tea and over toward Jason with an assessing expression on his face, before turning back to his mug. The Andys perched, seated, on the edge of a desk next to each other, watching with matching amused smirks on their faces. Ray retreated to a doorframe in which he could lean. Sergeant Butterman sank into a desk chair near my hip, propping his feet onto a stack of half-completed paperwork.
I remained standing, and Inspector Angel glanced in my direction before he said anything. I was unsure if he was telegraphing a message or a request to me, or to his own partner, seated so close to me -- but Inspector Angel was not Ray, and we did not share that particularly special connection that I share with Ray, and Inspector Angel, presumably, shared with Sergeant Butterman.
Sergeant Butterman, however, at the expression, leapt to his feet and said, "More tea, Nick?"
"Please," Inspector Angel said, and handed the mug over. He turned, facing Jason, leaning against the desk with his hands behind him. "I'm glad to know you've got a job, Jason. How do they feel about your green hair?"
"Nobody'll be the stock boy," Jason said, a sneer twisting his face. "I could be a tight ass like you and they'd still keep me. Hair's nothing."
"Right," Inspector Angel said, as Sergeant Butterman returned with a steaming mug. "Ta, Danny. Where's Terrence, Jason?"
"Dunno," Jason said sullenly. "Can I have a --"
"No," Inspector Angel said calmly. "Where's Terrence?"
"Go to Hell," Jason said, and spat on the floor.
Ray was tensing in the doorframe across the room, ready to leap at the scared, sullen child handcuffed to the chair.
"The new cells are lovely, Jason," Inspector Angel said. "Housekeeping's done wonders with them. Nothing like the one where you sat with a traffic cone on your head all those years ago."
"I don't know what he wants with the passports," Jason said sullenly. "But he's hiding out at Old Man Fenster's farm, the one that nobody'll buy because it smells worse than cows."
"Unfortunate perpetual sewer leak," Inspector Angel said, sounding sage and nodding in my direction.
"Smells like a rotting cunt," DC Cartwright said.
"Andy, please," Inspector Angel said.
"Can I have a cup of tea now?" Jason said.
"Right, that's it, I'm going to the pub," Ray said, pushing himself away from the doorframe and swiping ineffectually at the blue paint still in his hair. "Back to the hotel to take a shower and then to the pub," he revised.
"Ray," I said.
"Frase, am I doing any good here?"
"Ah," I said. I suspected that Ray would like to beat his passport out of Jason, and while that method of interrogation proved to be trouble in the States, I also suspected that it would be received even more poorly in the village of Sandford.
"I'll go," Sergeant Butterman said.
"Not to the shower with me, you won't," Ray said.
"To the pub," Sergeant Butterman said. "Nick, it's almost midday anyway, and I'm hungry. I'm not much help askin' questions anyway, you know that. Always ask the wrong ones."
"If you see any of the others --" Inspector Angel said.
"We'll go, too," DS Wainwright said, leaping lightly to the floor from his perch on the desk.
"Well, why don't we all go, then?" Inspector Angel said. "Doris?"
"Sure," PC Thatcher said. She jerked a thumb behind her at an inaudible mumble. "'E wants us to bring him some fish and chips."
"Sure thing," Inspector Angel called through the doorway, earning himself another incomprehensible but pleased sounding mumble.
"What about him?" I asked. Jason was still sitting sullenly, handcuffed to the chair, and when I spoke, he brightened considerably.
"Ah, thank you, Constable Fraser," Inspector Angel said. The detective, Sergeant Butterman, PC Thatcher and Ray were all congregating at near the door, chuckling quietly to themselves and elbowing one another. At least Ray hadn't punched anyone during our trip -- yet. "Jason, would you like fish and chips, burger and chips, or just chips?"
"Burger and chips," Jason said, sliding down as far in the chair as the handcuffs would allow him.
"Salt and vinegar?"
"Yes," Jason muttered.
"Yes, what?" Inspector Angel said, nudging Jason's ankle with one foot.
Jason mumbled, "Yes, sir, Inspector Angel."
Ray's passport remained missing, and frankly, I had not intended for Inspector Angel to offer Jason lunch, but rather to release him from the chair as we all departed the station house for the pub.
"Inspector Angel, I didn't intend -- " I started, but he interrupted me.
"Jason can think about what he's done to his hair while he's waiting for his lunch," Inspector Angel said. "My God, Jason, it's worse than when it was that horrific shade of orange that glowed in the dark."
"Y'think?" Jason said, cheerfully. He was a particularly moody teenager, I noted, and I wondered if the rest of the "Hoodies" were as prone to mood swings tempered by unhelpfulness in investigations of the law. I suspected they were. "I kind of like it. Little Ricky did a nice job, didn't'e?"
"He should make it a career," Inspector Angel agreed. "Constable Fraser? I think we've been abandoned by the rest of our party."
I turned, and the door to the station house was indeed slamming shut, all five officers gone. "Well," I said. "Perhaps we could leave Jason here to think on Terrence's scheme regarding the passport, and depart ourselves?"
"AND A PINT," Jason called from the squad room as Inspector Angel held the door for me.
"NOT ON YOUR LIFE," Inspector Angel called back. "There. He'll be fine. Give him some time to think about what he's done."
"Has he done anything?" I asked.
"I'm sure Jason's done something," Inspector Angel said. "He always has. The Hoodies always have. Nice boys, good families, but a nose for trouble, they've got." He whistled brightly, briefly, and then said, "Is there a reason that you didn't contact the Canadian -- or the American -- embassies in London before tracking Terrence to Sandford?"
"We did," I said. While Ray had followed Terrence about London, never so close he could halt his progress but always close enough to keep a safe eye on his brightly colored hair, I had visited both embassies, and exacerbated the situation greatly. (It only strengthened my resolve to serve both Canada and the City of Chicago to the fullest extent of my abilities when we finally were allowed to return to the United States.) "They were singularly unhelpful, and so we felt that the best course of action, when Terrence passed close to the Canadian High Commission, for me to rejoin Ray and simply pursue Terrence ourselves."
"I've always found, while I was in London, that the staff at the Canadian High Commission were without compare," Inspector Angel said, sounding curious.
"I hope that they are, in other circumstances," I said. "But the American Embassy is not keen about a Canadian citizen inquiring about passports for American citizens who are carrying concealed weapons, regardless of the possession of a permit for said concealed weapon or not."
"Detective Kowalski is in possession of a concealed weapon?" Inspector Angel said.
I replied, as firmly as possible, "Inside his passport is all the proper documentation. He insists on traveling with a sidearm because he says that 'weird shit happens when we are together, Frase, and I do not want to get my ass shot in England.' It took several weeks to acquire the proper authorization, but he has it."
Inspector Angel shook his head. "That poor man. Duplicating that paperwork will take weeks if we're unable to recover his passport."
"The Canadian High Commission seemed more receptive, as they recognized Ray's name from the Muldoon case," I said. "He was, when he contacted me on his cellular phone, less than pleased to discover our notoriety."
Inspector Angel nodded, and I continued. "Until, of course, I asked about their help in securing a concealed weapons permit, at which juncture they became cool and distant. It seemed that the representative with whom I was working was less than pleased by Americans who 'felt the need to violate other countries' policies because of their own machismo,' and the situation was exacerbated when it was discovered that, according to the Canadian High Commission in London, I am a deceased person, and should not be allowed to hold my own passport."
Inspector Angel stopped on the sidewalk and stared at me crookedly before speaking. "You are ... deceased?"
"While Ray and I were traveling in the Northwest Territories, searching for the Hand of Franklin, we extended our trip for nearly three months without the opportunity to notify any authorities of our change in plans," I said. "By the time we returned, Ray had been declared a missing person by the state of Illinois, and I had been declared legally dead by my next of kin, Sergeant Buck Frobisher."
"You aren't dead," Inspector Angel said.
"While an affinity for the afterlife, and a tendency toward haunting, does run in my family, I am most assuredly not dead," I said.
"But the Canadian High Commission ... " Inspector Angel said.
"Thinks so," I said. "Unfortunately, my passport was immediately destroyed by the representative with whom I was working. He refused to see reason, preferring to rely on the records in his computer."
"So I take it that you and Detective Kowalski are both currently lacking passports?" Inspector Angel said.
"Unfortunately, yes," I said.
"Why did you not remain in London to try and reacquire yours?"
"They wished to immediately return me to Ottawa, under martial escort," I said. "I would lose weeks if not months in Ontario attempting to rectify the situation, which would not have been exacerbated if Ray had retained his passport."
Inspector Angel frowned. "The situation will still -- "
"Ray and I are partners, Inspector," I said. "The return of his passport, and his concealed weapons permit, will allow him to begin the process to reissue my passport while remaining in London. I could not leave him to handle this on his own. We are partners, and our loyalty is first and foremost to each other."
Inspector Angel nodded. "I understand completely."
"Not to mention that it was a paperwork error that has allowed for my life to be so needlessly terminated by the Canadian government," I said. "I cannot allow an error in clerical work to disrupt my vacation until it has satisfactorily ended."
"And you and Detective Kowalski are partners," Inspector Angel said. "I understand. I myself have been in the situation where staying in an unusual place was preferred to leaving a partner."
I raised an eyebrow.
"After the situation in Sandford, I had the opportunity to return to London," Inspector Angel said. "To a promotion, and a precinct command of my own. I decided to stay in Sandford. After everything that Danny and I had survived together, our partnership was far more important than the advancement of my own career."
"If I may be so presumptuous," I said, "what is it that you survived?"
Sadly, I did not receive an answer at that moment, because we arrived at the pub, and the door to the pub exploded outward, nearly connecting with Inspector Angel's face. Two teenagers, both with spectacular hair, flew down the street, followed immediately by Ray and Sergeant Butterman, and then immediately again by two half-full pint glasses and a plate of fish and chips, and then immediately again by the detectives.
DC Cartwright, already in full stride, shouted, "Come on, you big girls, Terrence has done his hair a new color."
DS Wainwright, who was being quickly outstripped by Ray, Sergeant Butterman, and Wainwright's own partner, said, "Doris is getting lunch takeaway, she'll meet us at the station," and then he sped up, pursuing the teenagers, Ray, and Butterman down the street.
I looked at Inspector Angel. He looked back at me. We both watched the pursuit down the street, and then he turned quickly on his heel, waved a hand in my direction, and said, "Come on, this way."
We scaled two fences, skirted one small backyard lily pond, and accidentally landed in a heap of garbage cans, upending them across an alley, just as Terrence and his compatriot, followed by Ray, Sergeant Butterman, and the two detectives skidded into the alley. Terrence and his compatriot, who had yellow hair with small blue polka dots burned into it, skidded over one can, windmilled, and went down with a large crash into spilled trash all over the alley.
Inspector Angel, still spotless save for damp cuffs on his pants, scrambled to his feet and planted a slightly damp boot on the chest of Terrence's compatriot, who was attempting to scramble away. Terrence himself had been pinned down when Ray fell onto Terrence and a patch of rotting lettuce, and Ray had fallen when the detectives had plowed into Sergeant Butterman's back, who in turn plowed into Ray. A short stop without accident is not a skill that many people, officers of the law or not, have acquired.
"Ricky," Inspector Angel said, as the youth struggled under his boot, coffee grounds clinging to his face, "your hair is simply stunning. Did you do that yourself?"
"F'ck off, copper." Ricky spat coffee grounds onto the ground in front of him, and something he'd slid through was reacting poorly with the dye in his hair; the yellow was slowly morphing to a burnt orange color near the back of his head.
"Just because I gave you a pass once, Ricky," Inspector Angel said grimly, and hauled him to his feet. Ray was manhandling Terrence -- whose hair was a blinding shade of blue that matched Ricky's leopard spots -- into a pair of handcuffs with the help of Sergeant Butterman, and the detectives were leaning against the stone wall to one side of the alley, smoking cigarettes.
"Oi, I didn't do nuffin'," Terrence said.
"I know you've passed your A-levels, Terrence, please refrain from mangling the English language for mere effect," Inspector Angel said calmly. He had Ricky gripped firmly with a single hand above Ricky's elbow, and the teenager was hanging limply from Inspector Angel's grip. "Constable Fraser," Inspector Angel said, holding Ricky's arm out in my direction. "Would you help Danny and Detective Kowalski escort these two back to the station house? I will stop by the pub and apologize for the disturbance, and see if Doris needs help transporting our mid-day meal."
The chase -- and Inspector Angel's well-thought-out shortcut -- had left us conveniently around the corner from the station house, and our group -- handcuffed Terrence; sullen, coffee scented Ricky; officers of the law from three separate countries -- strolled around the corner, expecting the end of the story.
Ray's passport would be recovered; we would spend another evening in Sandford, celebrating a closed case in the fashion to which Ray is accustomed, that is with a great deal of beer, and then we would return to our luggage and London and perhaps, then, I would find the courage to let Ray know that I valued his partnership over my Canadian citizenship.
Unfortunately, peace was not to be ours -- the station house was in an uproar when we returned, and it only had three current residents: the day shift officer at the desk, who was placidly reading an Ian McEwan novel; Jason, still handcuffed to the chair; and the swan.
The shift officer was seemingly oblivious to the honking, screaming, and scraping coming from the squad room, and the entire party returning to the station stopped in the hallway in a brief moment of shock when we heard the noise.
"It's the fucking swan!" DC Cartwright cried, crushing his cigarette out on the doorstep and bolting for the squad room. Sergeant Butterman and DS Wainwright were hot on his heels, and Ray and I, together with our teenager offenders, followed cautiously behind them.
The squad room was a sight -- overturned furniture, flying feathers, and Jason, missing large chunks of his green hair and dripping blood from a bite over one eye.
"I swear, I didn't do shit," he shouted, cringing into a corner with the chair still handcuffed to his back, while the swan closed in on him, honking ominously.
DS Wainwright, still smoking, pointed to the left with his cigarette and said, "Butterman, you go that way. Andy, you go the other way. Jason, stop fucking shouting or I'll brain you m'self, and then I'll tell your mum about your foul mouth."
Jason stopped talking. Ricky began to wriggle in my grip as Ray deftly used his borrowed keys to unlock one of Terrence's cuffs, clicking it firmly to a desk drawer, and waded into the attempt at swan-capture. "Hold still," I said to Ricky. He was a short youngster, and when I looked down at him, I noticed the tell-tale blue cover of an American passport protruding from the pocket of his hooded sweatshirt.
I pulled it free without relinquishing my grip on Ricky's elbow. He flinched, and out of the corner of my eye, I noticed that Terrence flinched as well, and the swan took flight and landed on Inspector Angel's desk, sliding through paperwork and an apparently still full mug of tea, sending it all to the floor in a shower of papers and shattered crockery. "Where did you get this?" I asked him.
Ricky shrugged insolently. Ray made a leap for the swan, succeeded in wrapping his arms around its body, and yelped sharply and suddenly. He let go of the swan, which honked angrily again and took flight, alighting on a fern perched atop a file cabinet in the corner. "Fucking swan," Ray muttered.
"Where did you get this?" I asked Ricky again.
"Nicked it from Terrence," he muttered.
"Nicked what from me, you tosser?" Terrence said, swiping out with his free hand to cuff Ricky on the head. The punch did not, in fact, land on Ricky's head, instead connecting with my own knee, as the swan swooped down from its file cabinet perch across the room. Ray lay on the floor, clutching his head, and cringed as the detectives and Sergeant Butterman leapt across him in pursuit of the swan, which was still honking angrily as DS Wainwright swung a net in its direction and DC Cartwright threatened to turn the swan into pate and serve it at his next party.
"Passport," Ricky mumbled.
"My fucking passport?" Ray said from the ground, pulling his hands from his face. "You thought you could look like me, you little jerk? I've never had yellow and orange and blue hair!" Ray's cheekbone was already mottled purple and green, from the swan's bite.
"Orange?" Ricky said, his free hand flying to his head. Sergeant Butterman took a flying tackle at the swan, wrapping one hand around a leg and beating off its head with his other hand.
"Oi, some help here?" he shouted, and DC Cartwright plunked an empty coffee carafe onto the swan's head, where it honked angrily and beat its beat against the glass.
"You nicked my passport?" Terrence said, kicking out at the rampaging swan and connecting with Sergeant Butterman's ribs instead. Butterman let go of the swan's leg, was vaulted by DC Cartwright, and collapsed on the floor near my feet.
"That's my passport," Ray said angrily, as the swan stampeded past him (followed by the two detectives, who were now running in circles after the swan), stopping only to shake off the coffee carafe with a large shattering of glass and bite Ray on the wrist. "Oh, fuck, ow, ow, ow," he said, rolling onto his back.
I pocketed the passport in my hand, carefully securing it in the pocket farthest from Ricky and Terrence, and spotted a second pair of cuffs dangling precariously from a desk. I slapped one cuff onto Terrence's free wrist, slapped the other onto the arm of Ricky's I had previously been charged with care of, and waded into the fray.
Ricky and Terrence immediately began to scuffle with each other, presumably over the identity of the rightful thief of the passport, and Ray and Sergeant Butterman remained on the floor, comparing wounds suffered at the beak of the swan. DC Cartwright and DS Wainwright assisted me in pursuit of the swan, and as we had cornered the bird and I was coaxing it into my arms so as to prevent any further destruction of property at the station house, Inspector Angel returned with PC Thatcher, their arms full of carry-out containers smelling strongly of grease and vinegar.
"What on God's green Earth have you done to my station house?" Inspector Angel said faintly.
Sergeant Butterman looked up from the floor. "Swan did it, Nick." He glanced in my direction, where I held the swan tightly about its feet and neck while supporting its body, and said, "'E caught it."
"My desk," Inspector Angel said sadly.
Ray struggled to his feet, pressing one hand against the bruise on his face, and said, "It's Fraser's fault. Trouble follows him like bad luck follows the fuckin' Cubs pitchers." Our British compatriots peered at Ray curiously. "Trouble just follows him, okay? Frase makes trouble when there's none, like the fact that I got bit by a swan twice and also I smell like garbage." Ray paused, and then continued, sounding oddly shocked at himself for voicing his innermost feelings, "But I wouldn't trade him for another partner in the world. I smell like garbage a lot because Fraser's a freak, but we got the best solve rate in the department."
"Ray, is your face all right?" I asked. It warmed my heart to know that Ray valued our partnership so highly; red ships and green ships, as he had said while delirious on the ice during the hunt for Muldoon. There's no ship like partnership.
"I'm good, Frase, I could just use some ice," he said. "Plus it's kind of embarrassing, looks like I got punched by a prizefighter but it was really a big dumb bird."
Inspector Angel was standing motionless in the doorway, food clutched to his chest, and he finally shook himself free and set the cartons down on the nearest desk that remained unscathed by the swan's rampage. "I'll just call Mr. Staker to come get the swan, then," he said, sounding oddly shell-shocked. "Andy, if you could help Constable Fraser secure the bird in a cell?"
DC Cartwright and I secured the swan, and returned to the squad room where everyone save Terrence, Ricky, and Inspector Angel were already enjoying their lunches. Ricky and Terrence were hungrily eyeing the food set across the room and shoving at one another, and Inspector Angel was sitting at his desk, still stripped clear of paperwork and mugs of tea, staring blankly at the ceiling.
"Got your food here," Ray called. He was holding a plastic sack filled with ice against his cheek and devouring the chips set in front of him as though he was starving. When I settled into the chair beside him, he smiled brilliantly at me, and said, "This was way more fun than museums, Frase."
"There's something to be said for, ah, experiencing one's own job in a foreign setting," I said quietly. "I'm sorry that you smell like garbage, Ray."
"Forget about it, I can't smell anything," he said. "Fucking swan bit me so hard my whole face is swelling. Look, when we get back, don't tell the rest of the 2-7 that a bird bit me, tell them I did something real heroic."
"It would be my pleasure, Ray," I said, before turning to my fish and chips. After the morning's exertions and the odd occurrences of the past day -- it hardly seemed as though it had only been two days, but we had arrived in Sandford in the mid-afternoon on the previous day -- I found that I was ravenously hungry. The press of Ray's passport in my pocket when I sat merely deterred me from the food momentarily, and I handed it to him. "Keep this safe, Ray," I said.
"'m gonna," Ray said through a mouthful of fish. "This country's crazy. I'm going back to Chicago where nobody ever calls us about swans."
"The occasional animal handling incident aside, I would find that the tranquility and relative peace of Sandford would more than make up for any swan-related injuries," I said. The food from the pub was quite excellent -- the fish fresh and lightly breaded, the chips steaming hot and doused delightfully with vinegar.
"That's what I like about you, Frase," Ray said, cheerfully and without a trace of sarcasm.
I must admit, I startled at this declaration; I was used to Ray expressing his admiration or respect for me in caustically sarcastic terms, no less heartfelt but certainly not kind, or emotionally honest. I was more comfortable with Ray's sarcasm than I was with Ray's honest emotion, though frankly, I was not particularly comfortable with either expression, and Ray's statement, mouth full of fish in the Sandford, Gloucestershire station house's squad room, was particularly disconcerting.
It was as though he'd read my mind earlier in the day -- looking for an opportunity to express myself, knowing that I would prefer a shack by the train tracks in Chicago to a rebirth and fresh passport in Canada, as long as Ray continued to keep my company.
"You're always looking at the bright side of things," Ray continued. "Plus, you like places like this dump. Ain't nothing to do here, but the people are nice, I'll give you that. And if I've got to be here, at least you're here with me."
He returned to his food, applying himself with great determination to the remaining piece of fish in his tray, leaving me open-mouthed in shock.
"What, Frase?" Ray said. The detectives were smoking while they ate, and Inspector Angel was still staring at the ceiling, his food going cold before him.
"Really what? Yeah, I'd rather be here with you than anybody else. I'd rather be on a big flat cold Canadian ice field if I'm with you. These guys are good," Ray said, waving a hand still clutching a thick chip dripping vinegar at the room, "but you're better. Can't think of a partner I'd rather have."
"Thank you," I said.
Ray looked at me curiously. "You really didn't know that, Frase?"
"I knew you enjoyed my company," I said.
"I've been saying it as clear as I can, you freak," Ray said, quietly. He sounded affectionate, and when I looked over, he had a tiny smile on his face and a smudge of catsup on his left ear. "Do I have to say it any clearer?"
"No, Ray," I said, reaching out to wipe the catsup from his ear. If I were not around, Ray would perhaps smell like garbage less often, but he would also be covered in his own food, more often than not.
"But I am not having this conversation here," Ray said, catsup free and still grinning at me like the cat who caught the canary. "Not in a squad room in Nowheresville, England, not with a swan in a jail cell, not with the chief of police in Nowheresville, England looking as about like he's going to crack up as he is."
I glanced over at Inspector Angel, who had finally removed his gaze from the ceiling and was now sadly surveying the room, which was coated in a fine layer of dust and swan feathers and bits of paper. "It's a bit of a mess," he said.
"Nothing a little elbow grease won't fix, Inspector," I replied. "Ray and I would be happy to join you in the clean-up efforts."
"We wouldn't be happy, Angel, but we'll do it," Ray said, and Inspector Angel laughed and smiled broadly at Ray.
"I appreciate your candor, Detective Kowalski," Inspector Angel said. "As well as your man-power."
"Bet he's got a lot of man power," PC Thatcher said, snickering.
DC Cartwright snickered, Sergeant Butterman hit Cartwright in the back of the head, causing the latter to choke on his hamburger, and Inspector Angel said, "What's the first rule of the station house, ladies and gentlemen?"
Butterman and Cartwright chorused, "Never abuse your fellow officers," and Cartwright concluded, "Unless you want Nick to run you in for driving your auto while tipsy after a night at the pub."
"That'll be enough, Andy," Inspector Angel said, his eyes still scanning the room and finally lighting on Terrence and Ricky, handcuffed to one another and to the desk. "Oh, I'd forgotten about you lot."
Terrence said, "Jase is in the corner. Looks like he's trying to escape. Did you turn us in, Jase, you tosser?"
"Swear on my hoodie, I di'nt," Jason said. He was hunched over in his chair, protecting his food from his hungry-looking friends. "I just told 'em where you were, 'cept you didn't stay there, so it weren't even my fault."
"No, it was dumb, blind luck," Inspector Angel said. "The same as you stumbled into when you lifted a passport from an American police detective, Terrence."
Terrence blanched visibly, and cut his eyes to where Ray was sitting and attempting to extract the very last of the vinegar from his carry-out container with a battered chip. "Yes, that one," Inspector Angel said. "And I think it would be polite if you returned the passport."
Terrence set his chin and said, "I ain't got it, he took it," nodding in Ricky's direction.
"Ricky?" Inspector Angel said.
"I ain't got it, he took it," with a nod in my direction.
"In the scuffle with the swan, I may have neglected to mention that I reclaimed the passport from Ricky's pocket," I said.
"That's right, took it right out of my pocket like it was his, bright as day!" Ricky exclaimed.
"Do be quiet," Inspector Angel said. "So Detective Kowalski has his passport?"
"Yep," Ray said cheerfully.
"Well, then, I think that you owe the detective and the constable an apology, Terrence, as they derailed their own holiday to pursue you to Sandford after the theft," Inspector Angel said. "And, also, possibly an explanation to the local officers of the law as to why you were in London thieving passports to begin with."
"Apology for what?" he said. "Ricky 'ad the passport."
"Everyone who is wearing handcuffs in this room should apologize, politely, to Constable Fraser and Detective Kowalski, right now," Inspector Angel said. "Then everyone who is wearing handcuffs should be very quiet so that I may eat my lunch, or I will be locking everyone who is wearing handcuffs into the cell with the swan and leaving you there."
"Uh, Chief?" PC Thatcher said, indicating Sergeant Butterman, who had a metal handcuff bracelet dangling from one wrist.
"Oh, for the love of --" Inspector Angel said. "Danny, why do you have a handcuff on your wrist?"
"So's I wouldn't lose them," Sergeant Butterman said cheerily.
"Well, take them off before I'm forced to lock you and these miscreants into the cell with the swan," Angel said. "Miscreants wearing handcuffs, apologize."
"Still don't know what I'm apologizing for," Terrence muttered.
"And I still don't know why you were lifting passports in London, so unless you'd like to get your mum involved, Terrence, you will apologize," Angel said.
Terrence muttered, "'Pologies."
Ricky said, "I'd be sorrier if my hair weren't orange," and DC Cartwright hit him soundly upside the head, whereupon Ricky said, "Sorry for lifting the passport from Terrence."
Jason mumbled something through a mouthful of hamburger, which seemed to suit Inspector Angel well enough. He settled in with his lunch, Ray and the detectives returned to their pre-outing poker game, and I joined Inspector Angel with my as-yet-uneaten lunch. Ray had never made it to the hotel to rinse the blue paint from his hair, and I watched him run his fingers -- with some clear trouble, the paint would take a great deal of care to remove later on -- through his hair while considering his hand of cards.
Ray must have felt my gaze because he turned and smiled and waggled slightly blue fingers in my direction. Inspector Angel, munching quietly if not contentedly on his fish, caught the exchange, and said, "Something work out with the partnership, mate?"
"Perhaps," I said. "A vacation to the country may be just what we've needed."
"Something about the air in Sandford," he said. "Really makes you reprioritize."
The air in the Territories is absolutely as clear as the air in Sandford. I wondered why I had not noticed before.
My partnership with Ray is more important than bureaucratic nonsense, and I remain certain that correcting paperwork errors will be far more manageable with Ray by my side, threatening to abuse Canadian High Commission workers most soundly. Life does not seem so difficult when your partner is prone to kicking miscreants, rude drivers, and the general public in the head -- though I wish that Ray was occasionally more discerning about the people he threatens to assault. We have not yet had an international incident, but I fear one is close.
But what is an international incident when compared to a partnership like ours?
Ray thinks that there should be a "snappy Three Stooges kind of ending" to our time in England, but I must report that there is not one. We spent another leisurely evening in Sandford, after Ray and Inspector Angel joined forces to determine that Terrence's theft of Ray's passport was simply a spur-of-the-moment poor decision made by a teenager who was attempting to impress a young lady who, apparently, failed to be impressed. Ray and Inspector Angel were fairly terrifying as they interrogated both Ricky and Terrence (Jason was freed and watched the interrogation with Detectives Cartwright and Wainwright and Sergeant Butterman, sitting on the edge of a desk and swinging his legs wildly); paired together, Ray and Inspector Angel were possibly the fiercest and most efficient team of interrogators I have ever had the pleasure to encounter.
I helped PC Thatcher make tea for the assembled group, and when the afternoon's interrogation had concluded and Terrence and Ricky had been released into the custody of their "very fucking cheesed-off" mums, to quote Sergeant Butterman, the officers and detectives of the Sandford police service accompanied Ray and myself to the pub for another evening of cross-ocean camaraderie.
Ray got rather drunk; so did the detectives and Sergeant Butterman. Inspector Angel and I passed the time by comparing paperwork in the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada, and by fending off not too serious (Inspector Angel reported to me), fairly tipsy passes by PC Thatcher.
Ray won 72 pounds in a game of poker from DC Cartwright and DS Wainwright, and the blue paint eventually came out of his hair. My passport was replaced with the sort of expediency I expect from the Canadian government, with a little help from Ray and his recently recovered concealed carry permit. He reports that the next time we are planning a vacation, together, as he says all our future vacations will be, we are going to go straight to Sandford and skip London entirely, and also that he plans to staple our passports to our hands so no terrible events can befall them.
I cannot say that I have complaints.
author's notes: sid and t. went above and beyond the call of beta duty on this one, reading three drafts apiece and breaking it to me gently when they had to tell me, about the first draft, "honey, this is actually too gay to work." i love them both.