Disclaimer: This story is written for the private entertainment of fans. The author makes no claims to the series' characters by the creation of this story. Fraser, Vecchio, et. al. belong to Alliance; Faith Warren, etc. belong to me. No infringement of any copyrights held by CBS, Alliance, CTV, TNT or any other copyright holders of due SOUTH is intended. I'm not making any money here, and no body else should either! (Ah, I think you know what I mean!)
Note to the Readers: I've only discovered due SOUTH since it came on TNT . I began writing this before seeing the final episode, Call of the Wild pt. 1 & 2. It was cool for them to write an actual ending and all, but I didn't really agree with most of the 'final epilogue'. (Vecchio retiring -- in Florida?! Give me a break!) Anyway, this is set sometime after Vecchio's return, both he and Kowalski have a part, but before any of that final epilogue stuff. (Work with me on this!) Also, I've never been to Chicago, nor do I know how the Canadian Justice System is set up. I've taken some creative license and ask you to bare with me. This is my first Fanfic. I hope you have as much fun reading it, as I had writing it. I'm not sure yet whether there will be a sequel. There are a few loose strings I left on purpose, an open door for your imagination. Feedback, praise, carefully censored and gently rendered criticisms are welcome at email@example.com. 'Thank you kindly!'
Janice R. Sager
"Constable Fraser!" Inspector Thatcher's voice called just as he was about to be seated. Her head appeared around his office door. "My office if you please," she ordered curtly and disappeared.
Please. . . . Well, whatever he'd done to warrant his superior officer's attention couldn't be too bad. She often dropped the niceties when she was really upset. Fraser glanced at the stack of files he needed to review and offered a mental shrug. They were going to have to wait--again. He rose and, giving a tug to his bright red tunic, quickly followed in the Inspector's wake.
"Close the door behind you, Constable," Thatcher instructed as she moved to take her seat behind the desk.
Fraser noticed the slim, dark-haired woman seated to his right and acknowledged her with a nod of his head. She seemed lost in her thoughts and didn't notice. Obviously, she was a part of the reason he'd been summoned to the Inspector's office. Thatcher gestured toward her.
"Constable Fraser, I'd like you to meet Miss Warren," she introduced the girl and folded her arms on her desk. "Miss Warren is a material witness in a case back home involving 'white slavery'. Due to on going investigations and pending further arrests, the trial isn't scheduled to begin for at least two months, which is where we come in.
"There has already been one attempt against Miss Warren's life and the Home Office fully expects there may be more. Her testimony is critical to the case which could fall apart if anything were to happen to her.
"I should also add that Miss Warren is an American citizen which is part of the reason she's been sent here, secretly, to be placed in protective custody. The United States' Federal Bureau of Investigations is assisting us, but as this is a Canadian -- case," she searched for the correct wording, "it was felt an RCMP officer should be in charge of her welfare. The powers-that-be have chosen you for the job."
She steepled her fingers and regarded him quite seriously. "This is a very unorthodox and potentially dangerous assignment, Constable. I can't order you to take it."
"Then I will be happy to volunteer," he answered readily, again glancing at the young woman who was to be his charge. She was pointedly ignoring him. "If I might point out however, there are any number of officers at the Home Office who are more qualified for such an assignment. I have no experience in the Witness Protection Program."
"Granted, but you do have extensive experience dealing with both American Law Enforcement officers and criminals," she explained and then shrugged. "The request came down from high up. That's all I know."
High up, hmm? He hadn't made very many friends 'high up' three years ago when the pursuit of his father's killers had ended with a Mounty gone bad and the embarrassment of several high ranking government officials.
"You mentioned American criminals," he noted. "Is this an international case then?"
"Not yet," Thatcher answered, "but I understand Interpol has taken an interest. The FBI is following up on several leads. Two of their agents will be arriving this afternoon, about one o'clock. You have time to pack, change your clothes and eat lunch. You are to consider this a deep undercover assignment. I will be your contact. This number is secured," she told him, handing him a business card for 'All State Auto Insurance' and a cellular phone. "So's the phone. If you use any other phone or number make sure you follow secrecy procedures. Your code phrase is 'blind faith'. You'll need this also." She handed him a small yellow piece of paper that opened to reveal a special license to carry a firearm. "Questions?"
He frowned for a moment as he regarded the license and then schooled his features as he tucked it into a pocket. He'd avoided getting a license because his present duties at the Consulate really didn't require him to carry a weapon. Nor did he particularly like guns, having been raised to regard all life as sacred. There were usually other ways to end a confrontation. He understood the necessity demanded by this new assignment, but that didn't mean he had to like it. He glanced at Miss Warren again but she had barely moved since he entered. Whether she was frightened or simply shy, he couldn't tell.
"Our covers?" he asked, turning his mind back to more immediate concerns.
"The FBI will provide that. They've set up a safe-house for our use."
He nodded minutely. "I was supposed to meet with Ray Vecchio at division headquarters around five tonight. I'd appreciate it if you could get some sort of message to him."
Thatcher nodded. "I'll make sure he understands what's going on."
"Thank you kindly. I'll--" He hesitated and glanced at his charge again. "I'll get my things then?"
Thatcher nodded, indicating that she would care for the young woman until he could return.
"Miss Warren," he offered in parting but she merely nodded in turn, refusing to meet his eyes. Well, he'd have ample opportunity to overcome her reticence in the next couple of months. He touched the brim of his Stetson and quickly left.
* * *
Fraser was a bit surprised by what the two agents had told him and it must have shown on his face.
"This is a Canadian matter Constable Fraser," Agent Taylor offered, "and we do not have the mandate or man power to offer more at this time. Now, if and when it should become a US matter, well, then things will change, but right now I don't have the authority to assign a security task force to Miss Warren."
"Our government has done quite a bit really in providing the two of you with covers and free use of one of our safe-houses," the other agent inserted. "So long as you maintain a low profile, there's no reason to believe that either of you will be in any great danger. If on the other hand, something does happen, you have only to hit the panic button and the local police will be immediately alerted. Someone will be there in less than five minutes."
Five minutes is a long time when someone's shooting at you, Fraser thought.
"Our people here will be checking on you periodically in any case," the first man assured him dismissively. "Don't worry about it. You'll be fine."
"I believe it is my job to worry about it," he rejoined simply, not at all pleased by the patronizing tone of the other man.
"What kind of gun are you packing?" the second man asked off-hand, redirecting the conversation.
"'Packing'?" Fraser repeated, the colloquialism catching him off-guard. It took him only a moment to define the meaning based upon context clues. "My weapon you mean? A Standard RCMP issue .38 revolver," he answered.
The other two then became involved in a debate concerning the merits of different firearms as Fraser proceeded them down the hall and back to Thatcher's office. He listened with half an ear until they entered and then turned his attention to the enigmatic young woman who was now his responsibility.
She didn't seem to have moved in the past three hours, 'though obviously she had. She sat in exactly the same place, and in exactly the same manner, as she had when he'd left earlier. And still she didn't turn or glance back as the door shut once more. He frowned pensively as he studied her stiff-backed posture. She sat straight and tall, not as he would expect were she overly shy . . . An aloof attitude did not bode well for what he already expected to be a rather difficult assignment.
Fraser forced his attention back to Inspector Thatcher, dismissing his worries. He refused to prejudge his charge. She undoubtedly had reason for her reticence. Instead of seeing possible confrontation in her manner, he should be admiring her for her courage and fortitude. It could not have been easy to come forward as she had. She seemed rather young to face such danger so stoically. He knew it had to be a facade.
"Constable," Thatcher greeted him readily. "You're ready then?"
"Yes Sir," he answered with a nod and glanced at the two agents who'd accompanied him. "I've been fully briefed as to the FBI's limited involvement and provided with all the necessary paperwork to establish our covers."
"The taxi will be arriving in about ten minutes," Agent Taylor interjected, checking his watch and glancing at Miss Warren. "You'll be taken via a circuitous route to a parking garage where you'll find your assigned vehicle. Drive it carefully, Constable, as your government will have to pay for any damages." He turned back to Thatcher. "Constable Fraser will have to brief her as to their covers in route. Do you have Miss Warren's things together? "
"In the front hall," Thatcher answered readily. "Constable Turnbull is guarding it."
"Good, good," Taylor allowed and turned back to Miss Warren with his hand extended. "If I might have your purse then, Miss Warren--"
"My purse?" she frowned even as she allowed the agent to take it from her.
It was only then that Fraser realized the truth. Miss Warren sat frowning as the agent explained the need to confiscate her I.D. and credit cards, anything with her real name on it, but she didn't look at him. She simply sat staring-- No. She wasn't staring. There was nothing to stare at. She was blind!
Inspector Thatcher noticed his surprised look and awarded a significant frown. He easily read the look and quickly schooled his features once more; 'though he thought she really should have included this little fact in her run down of the assignment!
"You'll find a completely new set of credit cards, driver's license and ID in the wallet inside," he heard Agent Taylor informing Miss Warren as he exchanged her purse for a new one.
"Excuse me," Fraser interjected, clearing his throat. He reached up to tug on his ear pensively as he searched for a diplomatic way to correct the agent. "But, ah, wouldn't a driver's license be a bit suspicious -- given Miss Warren's lack of visual acuity I mean?"
"Lack of visual acuity?" Miss Warren echoed in surprise and fought to suppress her amusement. The agents and Thatcher stared at Fraser as though he'd addressed them in Swahili. "I -- don't believe I've ever heard it described in such velvet terms before!" his charge admitted, unable to repress a broad grin.
Fraser was taken aback by that smile which seemed to come from the depths of her soul and light up her face like a ray of spring sunshine. It seemed to reach out and touch something in his own soul. . . He had to clear a suddenly tight throat. "I --ah-- that is--" He cleared his throat again. "I think the driver's license should be removed, don't you Agent Taylor?"
"Right," the agent agreed, fighting to suppress his own mirth as he reached for the purse again. Fraser offered a mental sigh and was simply thankful that his awkward choice of words hadn't offended Miss Warren.
"Can I at least keep my own make-up?" she protested as she took the purse back and felt around its contents.
It was Agent Taylor's turn to be surprised by her, but Fraser noted that the young woman did indeed wear make-up, very carefully and tastefully applied. With a shrug, Taylor opened her original purse and dug out a small cosmetic's bag.
Ovitz knocked just then, coming to inform them that the taxi had arrived.
Thatcher rose to address them all. "All right. Is there anything else we need to cover before we get this show on the road?"
"Ah, yes Sir," Fraser interjected quickly. "Diefenbaker, Sir."
"Diefenbaker?" Agent Corwin repeated, totally confused.
"Yes," Fraser answered and explained, "My wolf." His long time companion was at the veterinarian's and wouldn't be released for at least another day. He'd had a nasty run in with a barbed wire fence a couple of days earlier as they'd been chasing a purse snatcher. Fraser had gotten the criminal but Diefenbaker had gotten several stitches.
"Do you want to take him with you?" Thatcher asked before the others could interject further questions.
"He would be an asset, sir," Fraser admitted, "but I'm afraid he will require a recovery period before he could do so."
"A wolf?" Taylor exclaimed. Fraser and Thatcher ignored him.
"Leave it to me, Constable," Thatcher ordered. "I'll have Turnbull pick him up and I'll take care of him here myself. Perhaps we can find a way to get him to you later."
"Thank you kindly, Sir," he replied, relieved of at least one worry. "I appreciate it greatly."
"Yeah, yeah," Thatcher waved his gratitude away, not wanting to acknowledge the special friendship she felt toward this particular Mounty. It wasn't that big a favor any way. "You'd best be going before the agent outside plays his part too well and decides to drive off without you."
"Excuse me," Miss Warren interrupted them. "I'm going to need my cane. It's in the back pocket of my purse."
"We don't want you to use it right now," Taylor explained, gently lifting her from the chair and steering her toward the door. "It's just possible that someone's watching the place. We don't want to advertise you're presence."
She stopped dead in her tracks, forcing the agent to stop as well or trip over his own feet.
"I'm going to need it later," she argued and held out her hand in silent demand.
Taylor might not be happy with the momentary delay but her argument had merit. He picked her purse up again and frowned down at it. "How the hell do you get a cane to fit in a purse?" he wondered aloud.
"It folds up," she answered patiently, "something like a carpenter's rule. Back pocket," she repeated. "Black and about ten inches long."
Taylor dug out the described item and held it up. " 'This what you mean?"
The young woman cocked a brow at the question for, clearly, she couldn't see what the man was holding. Fraser came to the rescue and laid it in her hand. "It seems to match the description," he allowed simply.
She nodded and quickly slipped it into her new purse.
Fraser had used the opportunity to maneuver himself to take the agent's place at her side. Given what he'd seen so far, he suspected the man would simply manhandle her down the hall outside. Instead, Fraser tucked her arm into the crook of his elbow as he'd seen done somewhere once before with the blind. She deftly repositioned his arm and took a light grip just above his elbow.
"Back straight and shoulder relaxed," she told him. "Try not to walk me into anything."
"I shall do my best Miss Warren," he assured her and turned back to the agents.
"Okay!" Taylor sighed and slapped his hands together, "let's get this show on the road."
The walk down the hall was accomplished at a sedate pace, with Miss Warren offering quiet advice and instruction as they went. There were no obstacles to be maneuvered around but leading the blind wasn't something Ben had ever done before. It took them both a long moment to find a comfortable stride.
Ovitz and the Taxi driver had already loaded what small amount of luggage there was into the boot of the car. Fraser frowned, thinking that if there were the danger of anyone 'watching the place', as agent Taylor had put it, then he and his charge were being a bit too obvious in their departure. The only concession agent Taylor made was to order Fraser to put his arm around her and for her to act as though she were weeping, this in an effort to disguise her blindness.
As Fraser led her to the vehicle, a dark blue sedan with tinted windows suddenly pulled up before the Consulate and the two FBI agents swept forward with a young woman ensconced between them. She wore a scarf, dark glasses and carried a black and white cane looped about her wrist -- not that she was given opportunity to use it as the men hustled her into the car. It left as quickly as it had come, all but squealing rubber as it merged back into the mid-morning traffic.
"What was that?" Miss Warren asked.
"A carefully orchestrated deception," Fraser answered and finished getting into the car beside his charge. "You were just rushed out of the Consulate between two agents, ushered into an unmarked sedan and hastened off in a southerly direction."
"I was?" she offered with an amused smile and shrugged one of her shoulders. "Ah, the things I have to go through." She shook her head.
The driver offered a quiet chortle as he pulled out into traffic. " 'Glad to see you haven't lost your sense of humor," he offered without turning around.
"No," she agreed quietly. The driver could not have heard her, but Fraser did. "Just my innocence."
Her eyes might be sightless but they were still quite expressive. They'd suddenly gone very dark in sadness. Fraser turned away, scanning the streets they traveled to give her time to recover. Apparently she didn't need it.
She cleared her throat gently and turned to face Fraser slightly. "I believe you were going to tell me about our covers?" she prompted expectantly.
"Yes," he agreed, masking his surprise at her quick emotional shift. He reached into a pocket and withdrew the single type-written sheet of paper he'd been given concerning their histories. "It's fairly simple really," he offered, reassuring himself as much as her. He wasn't particularly comfortable with their covers. "Apparently, given the fact that I will be required to guard you twenty-four hours a day, someone thought it expedient that we pose as man and wife." He frowned down at the paper he held. He'd been told to memorize it, then destroy it. "We are Ben and Tracy White." He paused, wondering if that were her real name, given they had used a variation of his own. It could of course be simple coincidence . . . "--We met in a coffee shop in Albuquerque, New Mexico and have been married a little over a year. No kids. I'm a novelist and free-lance writer." Which would allow him to stay at home. There was a list of books and articles he had supposedly published. "You are, or were," he corrected himself, "a hotel receptionist for one of the Hilton's down in Albuquerque. You were involved in a serious car accident six months ago which left you blind. We moved to Chicago because we had heard of an innovative medical treatment which might restore your sight but were turned down when you applied to be part of the research group." An interesting twist, he thought. "The details are left to us to work out," he finished and put the sheet back in his pocket. He needed to study the list of titles before he could destroy it.
"Like knowing what each other's favorite foods are and what not?" she asked.
"Yes," he nodded, " 'though if we've been married only a year we can excuse any mistakes by saying we're still learning each others preferences and idiosyncracies."
She nodded in turn and smiled. " 'Sounds like the choice of novelist is a perfect cover for you," she offered and suddenly fought to brace herself as the car made an abrupt evasive maneuver. She was thrown up against him and he automatically caught her.
"Stay in your own lane, you damn idiot!" their driver cursed, swerving around the car that had cut him off. Fraser quickly scanned the other car and the surrounding area for a possible threat--but the danger was innocent enough. The other driver simply flipped them off and went back to arguing with his passenger. When nothing further occurred, Ben relaxed.
"Are we okay now?" the young woman in his arms asked tentatively. He realized he was still holding her and quickly let go.
"Just a reckless driver," he informed her, silently chastising himself for noticing the enticing scent of her perfume. Jasmine? he wondered, and berated himself again for the errant thought. He needed to keep his mind on his duties. Yes, she was a lovely young woman but he couldn't allow himself to be distracted by her. Her life was in danger and it was his job to protect it.
She sniffed the air and paused as she moved away to turn back and lean close, sniffing again. "That's not Old Spice," she thought aloud.
Ben actually felt his face start to heat as he realized how closely their thoughts had tracked. He glanced in the review mirror to make sure the driver wasn't enjoying his discomfiture too much, but the other man wasn't paying any attention as he concentrated on the increasingly heavy traffic. "Ah, no," he responded as she sniffed him again.
"Some kind of musk?" she asked.
This was embarrassing. He all too easily remembered the time he and Inspector Thatcher had been handcuffed together aboard a train and how her subtle scent had intrigued him. He'd questioned her in the same manner as he worked at picking the lock of his handcuffs only to learn that she wasn't wearing any perfume; that she in fact hated perfume.
"Eau de Canada?" his charge offered teasingly, when he failed to answer.
"My shampoo is an herbal based product," he offered, hoping she would simply drop the subject. "Perhaps that's what you're sensing."
"You're not wearing a cologne," she surmised, straightening in surprise.
It really wasn't a question but he answered anyway. "No."
She offered a small embarrassed nod and quickly moved away. "Umm, nice shampoo," she commented vaguely.
Oh dear. Was this how Inspector Thatcher felt when I-- He shoved the thought aside, locking it away in his 'DO NOT OPEN' file. This was not the time or place to examine such feelings.
There was a definite blush high on her cheek bones, with which he could sympathize, but he could think of no way to relieve her embarrassment. He turned his attention to the street and saw that they were just entering the parking garage he'd been told about. "We're almost to our vehicle," he informed her, effectively changing the subject. She merely nodded and turned to face straight ahead.
* * *
Fraser frowned at his map. The FBI didn't want him going directly to the safe-house. They required him to take a circuitous route, one they had mapped out, and he had to pause every so often to see where he was supposed to go next. He also took a moment to scan the cars behind him but so far he hadn't spotted anyone following them.
"Ah, Constable Fraser?" the woman at his side broke the silence that had fallen between them as he moved back into the flow of traffic.
"Ben," he corrected her. They needed to get accustomed to their personas. Again he wondered if 'Tracy' were her real name or not.
"Ben," she repeated obediently. "We're supposed to be married, right?"
"Correct," he agreed, concentrating on his driving.
"Ah, we don't have any wedding rings," she noted uncomfortably.
Fraser frowned sharply as he realized the FBI had missed that small detail. "Hmm," he offered quietly as he pondered the problem. "I'll mention it in the check in procedures but we're not going to be getting out that much," he decided, unable to come up with an immediate solution. "If someone should notice, we can say they're being resized," he suggested.
She shook her head, clearly as unhappy with the answer as he was. "Here," she sighed, removing some kind of necklace. He couldn't take his eyes from the road to see what she was doing, but after a moment, she held out her hand, offering him something. "Try this on."
He took the ring she offered and glanced at it as they waited at a stop light. He'd thought it a piece of costume jewelry at first but now realized it was a man's plain gold wedding band. He glanced at her and watched as she slipped a matching ring on her own hand.
"Your fiancee's?" he guessed as he followed her example and slipped it in place. It's presence and meaning made him uncomfortable. The fact that it was a perfect fit didn't help.
"My father's," she corrected him. "Guard it with your life."
"Understood," he replied seriously. "And that would be your mother's?" he glanced again at the ring that rested on her own hand.
"Yes," she nodded.
"I'm sorry," he offered as he made a turn. It wasn't much farther. "I assume they're dead?" he asked, thinking perhaps they might simply be divorced or--.
"My father is," she answered stoically. "I don't know about my mother."
He frowned in confusion, noting the way she touched the band she wore. It had to be her mother's. "Then -- you're parents divorced when you were younger?" he guessed.
"My mother and sister were sold overseas three months ago."
"Sold?" he repeated and then remembered that her testimony was required in a case concerning 'white slavery'. "You mean -- as slaves?!" He had a difficult time saying the words let alone accepting that people were capable of committing such crimes. He'd run up against some of society's worst, but never modern day slave runners.
"Sex slaves," she rejoined bluntly. "It's big business in certain parts of the world. The rest of us pretend it doesn't exist."
"I'm -- sorry," he offered inadequately, horrified at the thought of the pain such knowledge must bring. "Are there any leads as to where they might be?" he asked, thinking perhaps that was where Interpol came into all this.
"The men I'm testifying against know exactly where they are," she answered coldly. "Their partners are afraid one of them will break, which is why they're after me."
"Understood," Fraser nodded, searching now for house numbers. It also explained her determination to testify. "Hopefully they will find that a bit more difficult now that you've left Canada."
"Money is an international language, Constable," she rejoined, refusing to be reassured. "I understand someone has put a five million dollar price tag on my head."
The car came to an abrupt halt.
"Five million?" he repeated is shock. "Canadian?" he asked hopefully. Even given the disparity between the two--
"American," she confirmed the worst. "--Tempting, isn't it?"
"To some," he rejoined, coolly dismissing the near insult she'd delivered. "Rest assured, Miss Warren, that I take my oath as a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police very seriously. I didn't chose this life for the money."
"Maybe that's why the 'power's-that-be' chose you for this job."
Maybe, he thought. Maybe. . . . But he wished he knew more about exactly who those 'powers-that-be' were.
* * *
The safe-house was a typical American sub-urban bungalow. All that was missing was the white picket fence.
"Do they have white picket fences in Canada?" Miss Warren asked as Fraser finished his description.
"Generally speaking, no," he answered. "Although there are several fine examples in the suburbs of Quebec. Unfortunately, the snows are such that few survive for long. The tradition is not nearly as prevalent up north as it is along your own east coast."
Having answered, he exited the vehicle and came around to help her. She took his arm and automatically slipped her hand into the crook of his elbow as she stood up. A ball suddenly sailed into their yard, landing only a few feet away. A couple of neighbor kids and their father were playing catch and the ball had gotten away from them.
"It must be beautiful up there," she continued to comment. "What part of Canada--"
He could guess what she was going to ask and knew he had to shut her up, fast--so he kissed her.
It wasn't much of a kiss, but the shock of it was enough to have the desired effect. She froze and he quickly gathered her close, hiding her face in his shoulder while whispering in her ear. "Neighbor," he hissed in warning. A throat being cleared confirmed his words and they stepped apart with a guilty start.
"Hi," the stranger greeted them, ignoring the kiss and embrace he'd witness as he extended his hand to Fraser. "You must be our new neighbors. My name's Phillip Troblik."
The two boys, about six and eight, ran up to retrieve the ball they'd lost--and give the new folk the once over.
"My sons," Mr. Troblik introduced them. "Steven and Shawn."
"Do you have any kids?" Shawn, the youngest spoke up boldly.
"No," Fraser answered, suppressing a smile for the crestfallen face. "Sorry."
The boy's unhappiness didn't last any longer than it took for his brother to steal the ball, and for him to turn and give chase.
"They're a bit of a handful," the father admitted, "but they're good boys. 'Won't give you any trouble."
Fraser nodded, thinking trouble and young boys went together, but he didn't anticipate anything worse than maybe a broken window. "I'm Ben White," he introduced himself, slipping a reassuring arm about Miss Warren's shoulders. "And this is my wife, Tracy."
"How do you do, Mr. Troblik?" she managed to respond with a tentative smile.
"Tired," the man responded readily and glanced back at the boys. "And the name's Phil. Those two are determined to wear me out today." He turned back with a shake of his head. "But I imagine the two of you are pretty tired too," he allowed, "so I'll let you go. If you ever need any help however, just give me a holler."
"We'll keep that in mind," Fraser answered with a friendly nod. "Thank you kindly."
"Your welcome kindly," Phil responded jovially and turned back to his own yard. "Shawn!" he yelled, hurrying away, "get off your brother's back before someone gets hurt!"
'Tracy' offered a soft chuckle. "They sound nice enough," she decided.
"I'm sure they are," Fraser agreed, turning her toward the house.
She turned to him as he wrestled with the keys on the stoop and gave him a mock punch to the arm. "That's for that ridiculous peck you gave me," she claimed teasingly. "Make sure the next time you want to shut me up like that, Mr. White, you do a better job of it! I haven't had a kiss like that since grade school."
Her smile and tone assured him she was joking, but it made him uncomfortable all the same.
"I shouldn't have kissed you in the first place," he apologized quietly, working the lock. It was obviously new and the key was stiff. "I should have thought of another way to warn you of his impending arrival."
"We are supposed to be man and wife," she responded in equally soft tones. "Kissing is to be expected. Don't worry. I'm not going to wind up with some kind of 'Oedipus complex' just because you're my protector. This arrangement is temporary and a kiss now and then doesn't mean anything. Nor am I interested in anything more than a kiss. That isn't to say that I'm interested in your kisses! I'm not. What I mean is-- Argh!" she growled in frustration as she stumbled over her own words and realized just how big of an idiot she must sound.
"Understood," Fraser rescued her as he swept the door open and ushered her inside. "In public we will play our parts as need be," he surmised for her. "In private we will keep our relationship strictly professional."
She groaned. "No please," she surprised him with her desperate plea, "not too professional. Constable Fraser, I've been through hell and back in the last six months. There's a price tag on my head big enough to buy a small kingdom and someone has already tried to kill me once. I'm terrified that the next time I might not be so lucky. I don't know where to turn or who to trust anymore. I have to trust you because I don't have any choice!" She suddenly seemed to realize she was on the verge of hysterics and brought herself firmly under control. "I'm sorry," she offered calmly. "I'm under a lot of stress but I shouldn't be taking it out on you."
"You didn't," he corrected her gently. "Your fears are all quite reasonable. I was beginning to wonder if you truly appreciated the nature of your situation."
"My stupid teasing," she rejoined with a brittle laugh. "The more stress I'm under, the worse I get. I guess I'm afraid that if I don't laugh, I'll fall apart."
"Escapism," he surmised with a nod and gently swept several strands of dark hair from before her sightless eyes. "Everyone has their own way of dealing with stress and pain. Yours is far more healthy than some."
"Just --" She struggled to find the words she wanted as she lifted tear misted eyes. "Please. Don't go and do the all-professional-bodyguard-number on me. What I need most in the world right now is a friend. Do you think you could do that for me? Just be my friend?"
He reached out again and this time gently wiped away the single tear that had escaped her control. "I would be honored to be your friend, Miss Warren," he assured her seriously.
"Faith," she offered, taking a deep breath as she forced her raging emotions back behind the dam of her will, and stepped away. "My name is Faith."
"Faith," he repeated, forcing himself to follow her lead and assume a more conventional manner as well. It was a beautiful name. It also explained the code phrase Inspector Thatcher had given him. He did think it a bit too obvious however--
She cleared her throat and turned further away, stepping forward. She stopped only a few feet into the room. Ben didn't offer to help her, instinctively knowing she didn't want it. "So," she offered brightly, "don't you have some kind of check in procedures you have to go through?"
"Yes," Ben agreed, reluctant however to leave her on her own just yet. Still, there were things that needed to be done. "Is there anything I can do for you before I bring in the luggage?"
"You can tell me how user friendly the room is," she requested, pulling out her cane and unfolding it.
"Is it full of sharp edges and breakable objects or is everything made of heavy plastic and covered with soft pillows to fall on?" she explained, her smiling facade firmly back in place.
"I would have to say it was somewhere in between," he offered and quickly described the sparse but tastefully decorated interior. He then did a quick inspection of the other rooms as she carefully set out to explore her new surroundings. He didn't find anything out of the ordinary, and hadn't expected to. "I'm going out to the car now," he offered as he re-enter the living room and found her making her way slowly around the perimeter. He paused in the doorway and turned back as something about the room struck him wrong. He frowned and glanced around again -- until his eyes suddenly lit on the vase of fresh flowers that had been placed in the center of the coffee table.
It was a beautiful arrangement, rather large and exotic. And very expensive. It was the expense of the item that had caught his subconscious mind.
"Tracy," he called to his 'wife' in case Mr. Troblik and his children were closer than he thought. "Could you come here for a second? I'm at the door."
"Sure," she agreed, turning toward his voice and moving across the room with a short sweeping motion of her cane.
He took her by the shoulders and directed her out onto the porch. "Stay here," he ordered softly. "If anything happens, go next door and call the Consulate."
"'Happens'?" She suddenly tensed, grasping his arm. "What is it? What's wrong?"
"It's probably nothing," he assured her. "Just some flowers. I'll be right back."
Flowers? she wondered and was left hanging as she heard him re-enter the small house. He did not come 'right back' as promised. She checked her watch. It was more than half an hour before the front door opened again and he came out.
"We can't stay here," he told her urgently and deftly locked the door behind him, scanning the neighborhood as he hurried her back to the car. Using it was a calculated risk as it might very well have a homing device but right now he simply needed to get her away from the house.
She grabbed his arm again, jerking him to a halt. "Why?" she demanded calmly.
He didn't want to upset her but knew it couldn't be helped.
"I found a bomb," he explained bluntly, and gently pried her fingers free of his sleeve. "We've got to go!"
She nodded curtly and reached for her seat belt even as she quickly swung her legs into the car. They were several blocks away before he allowed himself to worry about her again. Fraser had never driven so hard before in his life. Ray would have said he was just getting the hang of things.
"Shouldn't you call the FBI?" she asked nervously. Her fingers clutched her belt buckle and he knew she was thinking about jumping out.
"I am not betraying you, Miss Warren," he assured her firmly, scanning his review mirror for the hundredth time, "but someone at the FBI has. Someone had to have inside information to have placed that bomb before we even arrived."
"You took a long time to find it," she noted. "How do I know you didn't contact someone and make a deal? Five million would make even a Saint think about chucking his halo!"
"I had to disarm the bomb," he explained. "It could have harmed Mr. Troblik or his children. There was enough plastic explosive in that vase and under the table to blow up two houses."
"I'm supposed to believe you're a demolition's expert now?" she snapped.
Her teasing had degenerated into sarcasm. He didn't bother to explain that the bomb was an obvious amateur construction which even she could have probably disarmed. All he'd done, after thoroughly inspecting it, was fill the vase with water, short circuiting the timer. Instead, he pulled the car over to the curb and stopped.
He frowned at the windshield, knowing he didn't have time for this but knowing he had no choice.
"I can't make you trust me--"
"I have no choice!" she interrupted him, angry at her own helplessness.
"I'm giving you a choice," he told her calmly, hoping to keep her from bolting. "What do you want me to do? I can take you back to the Consulate if you'd like. You'll be safe there, at least for a little while."
"But not for long," she understood readily, and chewed her bottom lip for a long moment as she wrestled with her emotions. He couldn't blame her for being frightened or for failing to trust him. He'd done nothing as yet to deserve it.
"I'm sorry," she apologized brusquely, brushing away tears before they could fall. "I'm being paranoid. What do you want to do?"
"I have a friend at the Chicago P.D., Detective Ray Vecchio," he explained, having only just decided that question himself. "He's gone deep undercover with the FBI before so he knows how they operate. They can't all be bad. If anyone can help us, it'll be him."
"And you trust this man?" she asked. "With your life?"
"I would trust Ray Vecchio with the Queen's life," he answered seriously, offering his friend the highest compliment he could think of.
Faith was suitably impressed and nodded, apparently satisfied with his answer. "Okay," she decided. "Let's do it."
Ben offered a silent sigh of relief and quickly maneuvered the car back into traffic, hoping that the stop hadn't taken too long and cost them more than time. He reached out and squeezed one of her hands as they paused at another stop light. "It'll be all right," he promised with more certainty than he felt, praying his words would be true. She returned his grip strongly before releasing his hand as they started moving again.
"What's you first name?" she asked quietly.
"Ben," he answered. The station was only a few blocks away now.
"I mean your real name," she requested.
"Ben, or actually Benton, is my real name," he answered. "It must be a coincidence the FBI chose Ben for my cover. I thought for a while Tracy might be your real name."
"Do I look like a Tracy?" she asked indignantly.
"What does a 'Tracy' look like?" Ben asked in turn, happy to see the smile that played at the corner of her mouth.
"Spencer Tracy?" she offered readily. "Dick Tracy? Tracy Takes on Hollywood?"
"Ah, no," he agreed, suppressing a grin and bringing the car to a stop once more. "We're here," he explained, sorry he had to bring her teasing to an end.
He quickly got out of the car, scanning the area again as he made his way to the other side and helped her out. He swung her up into his arms. "Sorry," he apologized for the move, "we need to hurry." And with that he sprinted up the stairs and into the building.
Maneuvering down the narrow corridors in the busy building wasn't easy but he was well known here and most everyone gave way as he strode quickly into the bull pen where they were instantly the center of attention.
"Whoa there now, Fraser!" Welsh exclaimed, coming out of his office with a worried expression for the young woman in Ben's arms. "Somebody call an ambulance."
"No," Ben corrected him loudly and set Faith back on her feet. "The won't be necessary, Leftenant. However, it is imperative I speak with Ray immediately. Do you know where I might find him?"
"Hey Fraz!" The man in question came up from behind him. "That was some entrance, buddy. What's up?"
"We need to speak with you Ray," Ben answered urgently. "In private."
"'We' huh?" he noted with a glance at Ben's companion. "Yeah, well, room one is free. Com'on."
Ben turned to Faith and placed her hand in the crook of his arm, leading her to interrogation room one in the more conventional manner. Time was short, but there was no need to embarrass her further.
Ray closed the door behind them as Ben directed his charge to a chair.
"Blind, huh?" the other man commented with his usual lack of tack and just as quickly dismissed the observation. "So, Benny, I take it you're in trouble?" He pulled up a second chair and smoothly straddled it. "Thatcher just called me not ten minutes ago saying how you'd gone undercover for a while. Don't tell me you've broken the case already!"
"No, Ray," Fraser responded, resting a hand on the back of the young woman's chair. "It's not that kind of 'undercover'. Miss Warren here is a material witness in a case of international proportions, involving the RCMP, FBI and possibly even Interpol."
"Whoa! Heavy dudes," Ray declared, unable to sit still as he digested this. He strode quickly to the door and swung sharply back around. "So what brings you here?"
"I found a bomb at the safe-house the FBI set up for our use."
"Ouch!" Ray exclaimed. "You mean to tell me someone planted it even before you got there?"
"That is correct."
"You're talking internal corruption here,"Ray offered and began to pace. "You're sure it was a bomb?" he paused to ask sharply.
"Yes Ray," Fraser answered with an impatient sigh. "I am well aware of what C4 looks and smells like."
"And probably what it tastes like too," the other muttered to himself before looking up again. "You're in some heavy doo-doo here, Benny boy."
"I am aware of that Ray," Fraser confirmed. "I was hoping you might be able to advise us on what we should do."
"Yeah, well, as I see it, you've got exactly two choices," he replied, pacing once again. "You can either go back to the Consulate and let the proverbial shit hit the fan. If you're lucky you won't get any on you. Or you can go deeper undercover." He turned to cock his head at the girl. "What kind of price tag's she got on her head? Do you know?"
"Five million dollars," Fraser answered quietly.
The figure stopped his friend in his tracks. "You're kidding me," he whispered, glancing over his shoulder to make sure no one was at the door. Fraser merely shook his head.
"Five million?" He about choked on the words. "What the hell did you stumble into girl? Someone trying to rob Fort Knox?!"
"We can discuss that later Ray," Fraser interjected. "We came here in an FBI issued vehicle. It may have a homing device on it."
"Now you tell me?" his friend exclaimed. "We've been sitting here five minutes and now you tell me that the bad guys with FBI badges might be on their way here right now?! This is great. Just great!" He spun toward the door and yanked it open. "Well, don't just sit there," he ordered. "Let's go! Let's go!"
Fraser hurried to help Miss Warren and realized as she took his arm that she was trembling rather badly. Ray's blunt assessment of the situation had managed to frighten her much worse than anything she'd endured so far but there was little he could do to ease her mind. "It'll be all right," he assured her once again and squeezed her hand where it rested above his elbow. "Trust me." But he knew she didn't. He simply didn't have the time to offer anything more.
* * *
"Bring her back to the Consulate," Thatcher decided. "We can protect her here."
"Forgive me, Sir, but I don't think that would be a wise course of action at the moment," Fraser refused. "It would only place you and everyone else at the Consulate in mortal danger. I don't believe the people who are after Miss Warren will be deterred by a few armed men and locked doors."
"So what are you going to do?" she demanded, obviously worried.
"I really don't think I should tell you that either, Sir," he answered. "It's possible, even probable, that this communications has already been compromised."
"Are you saying you don't trust me, Constable?"
"Not at all, Sir," he quickly corrected her, "but too many people are aware that you gave me this phone, even if they aren't aware of the number. And I'm afraid it wouldn't be too very difficult for one of our own to uncover it, were they properly motivated to try."
"And five million dollars is a lot of motivation," Thatcher agreed. "I read you perfectly Constable. However, if we assume some of our own people have been corrupted, then we must also assume that the enemy is aware of our secrecy procedures."
"Exactly," he agreed. "Thus we need to set up our own procedures. Do you remember what you asked me to recite when I hypnotized you not so very long ago?"
"--Yes," she answered carefully.
"We can, with your permission, use that as the basis of a simple numerical transposition, page followed by word. Agreed?"
"Agreed. And if I should refer to -- the incident involving my perfume," she decided quickly, "you'll know the code has been compromised and you're on your own."
"Alright," she sighed, speaking quickly, "we've been on too long. I'll have times and dates for the trial next time you call. Hang up now."
Fraser snapped the cell phone closed and quickly slipped it back into his pocket.
"Well?" Ray asked, having only heard half the conversation.
"I believe we've established a secure means of simple communication," he allowed with a nod, scanning the street as Ray pulled out of the alleyway and back into traffic. "She'll pass my report along and, as you put it, the fecal matter will hit the fan."
"Yeah, well that's not what I said Fraser," he shook his head, "but at least you won't be around. 'Fecal matter', geez!"
"Now what?" Faith asked from where she crouched on the floor board behind Ray's seat.
"Now we get you to a real safe-house, or hotel as the case might be," he answered.
"Are you sure that's wise Ray?" Fraser questioned his long time friend.
"No," the other man answered emphatically, "but it'll do for a day or two until I can come up with something better. I've got to erase my trail and make some calls of my own. I've got people in the FBI I can trust, at least enough to get their own fan turning at super sonic speeds. They'll catch your bomber and trace the leak up the line. We're also going to need some other help, people we can trust to carry coded messages. I don't like the idea of using the phone all the time. It won't take them long to triangulate in on you. I don't suppose you have any money on you?"
"Actually I have about fifty dollars," he surprised his friend. "Provided along with several credit cards and a checkbook by the FBI in the name of Mr. and Mrs. White."
"Well, whatever you do, don't use the credit cards or check book," Ray warned him. "They're far too easy to trace. Here," he decided, suddenly pulling into a rather seedy looking motel. "This place looks cheap enough. You're now Mr. and Mrs. Greyson," he told them curtly. "They probably won't believe you but that's okay. Fraz, go register and make it fast. My car's a little too visible if you know what I mean."
"Understood Ray," Ben answered and hurried around the corner to the small office. Three minutes later, Ray had sped away and he and Miss. Warren were ensconced their small room.
"Is this place as bad as I think it is?" Faith asked.
"No, no. I wouldn't-- that is," he cleared his throat and nodded. "Ah, yes," he admitted reluctantly. "It is--pretty bad. Yes. --The sheets are clean," he offered positively.
"If anything runs across my foot, I'm going to scream at the top of my lungs," she told him pleasantly. "Just so you know. Is there anywhere I can safely sit down?"
"Umm, yes, of course," he replied and turned to brush off the only chair in the room. The result was a cloud of dust that set them both to coughing. "I don't think anyone has used it in a while," he managed to observe as the dust settled again.
"I sure hope your friend isn't too long about finding something better," she sighed, forcing herself to accept the questionable seat. Her legs were feeling like wet noodles. "What time is it?" Her watch had to be wrong.
"--Four twenty-three," he supplied with a glance at his own watch.
Her watch was right. "It feels like mid-night. Do I want to know what the bathroom looks like?"
"Ah, I'll -- just take a look." He retreated to the back of the small room. He returned shortly. "It's not too bad," he was happy to report. "The tiles are cracked and the sink leaks but someone has made a recent attempt to clean it; and the towels, though threadbare, are freshly laundered." It was actually quite nice compared to other such facilities he'd seen.
She stood and turned in the general direction he'd gone. "Am I going to kill myself getting back there?" She had her cane out.
"No," he assured her with a glance around the room. "There's not much by way of furnishings in here. Straight ahead and to your right."
"Don't tell me," she followed up smartly. " 'I can't miss it', right?"
"I don't believe so," he agreed, suppressing another grin. She moved smoothly past him and disappeared.
Ben frowned at the bed and the one chair, already contemplating sleeping arrangements and shook his head. He suspected the bed was bolted to the wall which meant the limited floor space could ne be enlarged-- He would simply have to make do. Ben added his thought to her earlier plea and silently hoped that Ray wasn't too long about finding something at least a little bigger.
* * *
"It was then that I heard her scream."
"Scream?" Faith repeated, listening raptly as she sat on the edge of the bed beside him. She paused to take a bite of the pizza he'd ordered for their dinner.
"Yes," he affirmed. "You see no one except Ray and Lieftenant Welsh were aware I wasn't truly dead. It seems that in her grief at my passing, Francesca--Miss Vecchio, was so over come that she sought to embrace me, and in doing so lifted my body, revealing a second body hidden beneath mine."
Faith offered a theatrical shiver. "Let me guess. The bad guys were arrested and somebody -- woke you up?"
"Not exactly," Fraser allowed, thoroughly enjoying the telling of his tale. "You see, Mr. Van Zandt wasn't at all pleased to be caught. He managed to grab Miss Vecchio and, placing a gun to her head, attempted to use her to gain his freedom. Unfortunately for him, I chose just that moment to wake -- and sat up."
She whooped with laughter, easily picturing the shocked reactions of everyone there. "Tell me he fainted, right?" she guessed merrily.
Ben bent his head and ran a thumb over his eye brow. "As did most everyone present, I'm afraid," he admitted. "It was quite embarrassing actually."
"'Embarrassing'?" she echoed with a soft chuckle. "I guess so. Still it must be nice to know you have so many people who care about you."
"Yes, well," he returned, embarrassed anew by the memory, "I expect most of them were simply being polite."
"Polite," she echoed yet again and shook her head. "Are all Mounties so self-effacing?" she teased him, turning her laughter filled eyes up toward his. Sightless or not, the soft gray depths were beautiful.
"Yes--I mean no!" he corrected himself, and then realized what he'd just said. He ducked his head and decided a tactical retreat was in order before he made an even worse fool of himself. "May I ask you a personal question, Miss Warren?"
"Miss Warren?" She frowned. "I thought we were beyond that."
"We are," he agreed. "I'm just not--That is--" He cut himself short of putting his foot in his mouth again. "Faith," he addressed her as she'd requested earlier, "may I ask how long you've been blind? That is if you don't mind?"
"I don't," she assured him. "It's four years. I lost my sight in the same car accident that took my father's life."
"Ah," Fraser nodded, knowing he'd stepped onto forbidden ground. "I'm very sorry to hear that. Forgive me for asking. I didn't intend to stir up painful memories."
"They're-- They're not that painful," she allowed. "My father had a good life. He was a Pentecostal minister and my memories are filled with songs and laughter. I have absolutely no doubt of where he is now. It was simply his time."
"A comforting thought, I'm sure," he agreed.
She shrugged and brushed the last crumbs of pizza from her fingers. "My turn," she decided. "May I ask you a personal question?"
"Such would only be fair," he agreed, finishing up his own share of dinner. "What would you like to know?"
"Well, you're very good at describing things," she complimented him and cocked her head to one side in thought. "What about yourself? What do you look like?"
"I--ah--" Oh dear, he thought. "Well," he cleared his throat, "I'm fairly average really," he forced himself to answer, remembering and dismissing the many odd looks and comments his looks had always drawn. He simply could not describe himself as 'handsome'! "I'm -- two meters tall," he allowed, sticking to basic facts. "One hundred and seventy-five pounds, short brown hair with blue eyes. At the moment, I'm wearing a light cardigan sweater, beige in color, dark brown pants and dress shoes. They're not very comfortable. I prefer my uniform boots."
She shook her head and clucked her tongue. "Oh please, Constable Fraser, I know you can do better than that! How old are you?"
"Thirty-five," he answered readily.
"Your voice sounds younger," she commented and then smiled at her next thought. "Of course your speech pattern sounds ancient!" she teased him.
He'd heard that before! "I -- was raised by my paternal Grandparents, in the Northern Territories," he explained, not sure why. "There weren't-- I didn't socialize much."
"No," came his automatic response, but he ameliorated it. "Sometimes. We lived near a native Inuit village, so -- we weren't completely alone. My Grandparents were good people. I learned a great deal from them."
Faith chewed her bottom lip in pensive thought before lifting her face again. "I wonder--"
"Yes?" he prompted.
"Would you--" She lifted her hand, tentatively between them. "Would you let me see you?" she asked quietly.
He understood almost immediately what it was she was asking and quickly moved to the edge of the bed, closer to her chair. In answer, he took her hand and laid it upon his cheek. Her other hand joined it and he sat very still as she slowly explored his features with a feather soft touch. She lifted one hand to his hair and threaded her fingers through the short dark strands.
"What shade of brown?" she wanted to know. "Sandy with sun kissed streaks? Chestnut turning to red when the light hits it right? Maybe coffee, so dark as to almost seem black. . . ."
"Loam," he answered self-consciously. His grandmother had always compared his hair to the rich earth of the northern forests. "Like-- soil, with many different shades; blonde, red, mostly brown."
"And a touch of curl," she observed, a smile pulling at the corner of her mouth. "I'll bet you hate it when it gets too long. --What about your eyes?" Her hands dropped to his cheek bones and he automatically closed his eyes, but her touch remained carefully soft, almost tentative, barely brushing his lashes. "Do they change with your mood, like the sky?"
"--Yes," he managed to admit. He'd seen them change from day to day in his mirror. He had to clear his throat again. This experience was proving almost intimate somehow. . . .
"My father had eyes like that," she nodded, her eyes closed in memory. "Springtime skies with laughter, dark velvet with anger. --Stormy grey with passion. When he looked at my mother--"
Fraser had a sudden coughing attack, her words creating images he wasn't at all comfortable with. Did she know she'd inherited her father's eyes?
"I'm sorry," she apologized, suddenly self-conscious. "I -- I didn't mean to embarrass you?"
"No. No. Not at all," he lied valiantly, knowing her sensitive fingers would undoubtedly detect a temperature shift along his cheeks were she to touch him again. He changed the subject. "Your mother must have been very beautiful."
"Is," she corrected him quite firmly. "She and my sister are both quite beautiful."
"Forgive me. I -- miss spoke myself," he offered quickly, wishing he could bite his own tongue. Her smile had vanished as though it never was, but her words also brought up a question he had. "How did you learn what had happened to them?"
"I was there," she answered, and blanched in memory. "They didn't realize I was blind at first. When they did-- Well, there was quite an argument. In the end, Mr. Gordon decided I wasn't a 'marketable commodity'."
"How were you taken?"
"We were on vacation," she answered. "They gassed our hotel room. How they got us out, I don't know. We were taken to a giant warehouse of some kind, under it actually. They'd excavated out a basement of sorts, soundproof of course, a building under a building, with cells and--" She stopped, wrapping her arms around herself as if cold.
He decided he didn't need the details. "It must have been terrible for you," he offered sympathetically.
"No," she denied, but he saw the horror of it still in her face. "I was off-limits you see: A virgin. The others--" Again she stopped and this time he took her in his arms, offering her the only comfort he could. She clung to him as the tears began to fall. "I heard everything," she whispered painfully. "There were fourteen of us in there. Most of the girls had to be 'broken' first: Taught -- how to please and obey their masters!"
"Shhh! Shhhhhh!" he soothed her, stroking her hair and all too easily imagining what she must have gone through. "How did you escape?" he asked softly, hoping to get her beyond the nightmare.
It took her a moment to calm herself enough to answer. She swallowed convulsively, listening to the steady rhythm of his heart and using it as an anchor to the present. "Mr. Gordon ordered me killed, 'destroyed' as he put it," she explained. "I was taken -- somewhere. The two men they sent to do the job wanted to have a little fun first. They thought because I was blind, I was helpless. One of them left and the other got careless. I hit him over the head with something. A two by four, I think. I probably killed him. I don't know and I didn't care. I had to get out of there. I made it outside before his partner spotted me. I simply started running until I literally ran into a group of off-duty Mounties." She sat up beside him and attempted to wipe at her face. Ben managed to produce a handkerchief. "There was a scuffle and 'Mr. Prescott' was taken into custody. The Mounties took me to the hospital and then the Home Office. The rest you know."
Hardly, he thought, wondering what had happened with the warehouse searches which must have resulted and the chain of events which had lead to her being sent to Chicago, but he wasn't about to ask her about those things just then. He reached down and retrieved her coke. She needed something stronger but it was the best he could do.
She took it in both hands. "Thanks," she managed. "I'm -- sorry about falling apart like that--"
"Nonsense," he stopped her, wiping a stray tear away. "I don't think anyone could have told such a story without falling apart."
"Yeah, well, that's twice today," she managed to offer with a watery smile. "I think I'm at my limit, don't you?"
"What I think," he offered lightly, "is that it's getting late and you need some rest. Knowing Ray, he'll probably show up in the middle of the night. Why don't you lie down and try to get some sleep."
"At the moment, I don't think I want to," she admitted with a shiver. "I'm afraid of what I might dream."
"Then I'll tell you a bedtime story," he offered readily. "I know several. It'll get your mind on other things."
"A true story?" she asked, brushing the last of her tears away.
"Of course," he answered, standing to turn down the bed for her and searching his mind for the most humorous story he could think of. He turned to find her kicking off her shoes. "Do you want to take off your clothes?" he suggested, thinking of how binding her jeans would be. "I'll turn my back," he added quickly, realizing she might misunderstand his intent.
"Thanks," she smiled, "but if your friend's likely to return in the middle of the night, I'd as soon be ready to go when he gets here."
"Understood." He watched her climb between the sheets and helped lift them in place about her. She suddenly offered a pensive frown.
"Where are you going to sleep?" she wondered aloud.
"Don't worry," he assured her, "there's plenty of room on the floor beside you."
"The floor?" she repeated and shuddered. "Are you taking off your clothes?"
He blinked, surprised by the question. "No," he admitted, "I wasn't planning to."
She suddenly threw back the covers and scooted over. "Then get in this bed and stop being so damn 'honorable'. I won't bite. I promise."
Ben debated her offer for a long moment but finally shrugged and sat down to remove his own shoes. He really didn't want to sleep on the floor if he could avoid it and they were both fully clothed.
"It was a bright spring day in 1846 and the banks of the Peel were nearly bursting with the early melt. . . ."
* * *
A loud thump and muffled laughter woke him from a light sleep. Fraser was instantly alert for possible danger but, when the springs of the bed next door protested loudly, he knew it was nothing to be worried about. He offered a silent sigh and dropped his head back to the pillow. Unfortunately, the walls of the motel proved to be rather thin and the sounds of the couple next door -- rather energetic.
Beside him, Faith stirred and lifted her hands to her ears. "Oh God!" she groaned softly, and he knew the sounds were reviving memories better left undisturbed.
"Faith?" he called softly, wanting to make sure she was awake and not caught in the midst of some nightmare or other.
She immediately sat up, wrapping her arms around herself and bowing her head. "I'm sorry," she offered quietly and he realized she was shaking. "I didn't mean to wake you."
"You didn't," he assured her and sat up to wrap his own arms around her. She was trembling badly. He drew her back down on the bed and continued to hold her. "Would you like me to tell you another story?" he suggested over the sounds of their enthusiastic neighbors. She sniffed and nodded against his chest.
"--Ian McDonald was eighteen when Ray and I first met him. He was wanted back in Canada on a charge of perjury. Which, had you ever met this particular young man, would not have surprised you. . ."
* * *
It was early afternoon and still there was no sign of Ray. Ben released the Venetian blind he'd cracked and tried to concentrate on composing a coded message for Inspector Thatcher -- which wasn't easy, as first he had to write out the text of the regulation's manual they'd agreed to use. It wasn't something he normally carried with him. Well, actually the first ten pages should be sufficient for their purposes, but he knew that one mistake would throw off the entire transposition code and have him sending garbage.
He might have eidetic memory but he wasn't certain it was up to this particular challenge. There had to be a way to get a copy of it!
Faith stirred restlessly and he glanced at her again on the bed. The couple next door had insisted on several repeat performances throughout the course of the night so that neither he nor Faith had gotten much sleep. One night's lost sleep didn't bother him. He doubted Faith, on the other hand, had gotten a good night's sleep in months. She mumbled something in her sleep before suddenly quieting again.
Outside, he heard a car pull up and park. He glanced at the window again, resisting the temptation for another peak. Either it was Ray or it wasn't. Closing his eyes he listened for the footsteps. --They seemed to be coming this way, but he didn't recognize the tread. The stride was too short and light to be Ray's. Fraser quickly rose and stood behind the door, drawing his weapon as he waited for whomever to pass their door by. But whomever didn't. The footsteps stopped directly outside and a gentle tap sounded on the metal.
The sound was enough to jerk Faith from sleep and she sat up with a gasp.
"Get under the bed!" he whispered urgently.
The tap came again, more insistent.
"Who is it?" he called, cocking the gun.
"It's Franny!" their visitor offered as loud as she dared through the heavy door. "Let me in Fraser!"
Ben undid the safety chain and jerked open the door, his weapon ready--
He swung it back upward and stepped aside as he saw she was alone. She stepped quickly inside and Ben carefully scanned the parking lot before securing the door behind her once more.
"Don't worry," she offered quickly. "I made sure I wasn't followed. Ray sent me."
"Where is he?"
"Coming," she answered, "but it's going to be a couple of days. He's greasing the Federal gears but it's going to take a while to track down your bomber and work their way back up the chain. In the meantime, he claim's he's got people watching him breath!"
"A couple of days?" Faith echoed. Fraser and Francesca turned to see her head sticking up from beside the bed. "I assume it's safe to get up now?"
"Oh yes," Fraser assured her and holstered his weapon. "Let me help you." He quickly rounded the bed and gave her a hand up, pausing to help her brush her clothes off.
"Don't ever ask me to get under that bed again!" she declared emphatically as she slapped at her jeans and shivered in memory. She hadn't needed to see to know it was more than filthy under there!
Fraser realized Francesca was eyeing the bed suspiciously and knew the exact moment she noted that both pillows had been used. She lifted a dark and expressive eyebrow but said nothing.
"You said a couple of days," Fraser observed, redirecting her thoughts. "I'm afraid I don't have enough money to stay here for two more days."
"Oh, well that's okay because you're not staying here," Ray's sister answered. (A fact she was clearly happy about!) "I've got a car for you outside, actually it's a van. My cousin's boss's nephew's van. He's a dealer. Anyway, it's a loner and no one's going to be looking for it. Just make sure you get it back to me in one piece or Tommy's boss's nephew is--" She pantomimed a very angry, very large man. "I don't want to think about it," she dropped the mime with a shiver, then smiled brightly. "We can go anytime you're ready."
"--Where?" Fraser asked simply.
"Oh yeah," she slapped her forehead. "Stupid me. Ray, that's my brother Ray, got a hold of Ray Kowalski, that's the other Ray who used to be-- Never mind." She dismissed the explanation and hurried on. "Ray, that is Kowalski, got a hold of his Uncle who just happens to own the Hotel Marquise here in town, can you believe it? Apparently he owes his nephew, that's Ray again, not my brother Ray but Ray Kowalski, big time for something or other and he agreed to let you, or actually Ray, his nephew Ray, book you guys into one of their better suites for like an indefinite amount of time at no charge and no questions asked. Well, actually he did ask questions but Ray gave him some kind of yarn about you being an international spy for Interpol who's being framed for a murder you didn't commit and the mob being after you posing as FBI agents. But that there are real FBI agents after you as well, but that it's impossible to tell the difference, and Ray like knows you didn't do it and you're trying to clear your name but you've got to lay low until the heat clears and like if anything does happen he didn't want to be involved, his uncle that is, and that, you know, he should like just leave you two alone and not ask anymore questions if he knew what was good for him. The guy is so gullible! Anyway, you got the suite and no one's going to be bothering you. So!" She sighed grandly and clasped her hands together. "We can go anytime you want?"
"Did you understand a word she just said?" Faith asked in confused amazement.
"Yes, actually," Fraser answered, returning the other woman's indignant frown with a warning look to be quiet. "Thank you, Francesca. I think we're ready to leave now."
"No wait!" she said suddenly and slapped her forehead again. "Where did I leave my brains today? Ray gave me a disguise for Miss Warren here--" She reached into her oversized handbag and pulled out a couple of bottles and a pair of scissors. "He says everyone's looking for her, both good guys and bad. No one's real happy at you two for just disappearing like that. Anyway, they've passed out a bunch of photographs. The one of you sucks-- (Pardon my language, but it does!) So you don't have to worry, but Miss Warren's picture here is good so he wants me to give her a complete make-over. Well, not complete you know, just her hair and make up. Look's like my time in Cosmetology School's going to pay off, huh? By the time I'm done with her, her own mother wouldn't recognize her!"
"I'm blind Miss Vecchio," Faith offered with a frown. "A wig isn't going to disguise that. If anyone notices that, they're going to be looking at me a lot closer than my mother ever did. How am I supposed to walk into this hotel without tipping them off?"
"Ah ha!" Francesca rejoined and grinned triumphantly up at Fraser. "We covered that too. Take a look at the van," she said, gesturing at the window.
"I can't," Faith rejoined curtly.
"Oh yeah, right," Franny rejoined contritely, and cleared her throat. "It's a handicapped van," she explained. "You're not blind anymore. You're paralyzed."
* * *
Fraser forced a smile, thanked the waiting bellhop, handed him a five dollar bill as Francesca had said and closed the door. Then he moved nimbly around Faith in her wheel chair and made a quick inspection of the large room. It was about five times the size of what they'd just left. He didn't relax until he'd verified that the bath was empty.
"Ben?" Faith called.
"Yes?" he answered, moving around her again to throw the dead bolt.
"Is it-- I mean--"
"It's safe," he assured her. He was answered with a ragged sigh and turned to see Faith slump in her chair. She bowed her head and ran a hand through the short tosseled cap of auburn hair that Francesca had given her. (Faith had not been happy to learn her disguise wasn't a wig!)
"Maybe we should join a Traveling Theatre Troupe or something," she quipped weakly. "We're certainly building up a repetoir!"
True enough, he thought. First, Mr. and Mrs. White, then Mr. and Mrs. Greyson and now Ben and Fay McKinley.
"Would you like to lay down for a while?" he suggested gently. Her voice of a moment ago had lacked its normal vibrancy and he knew the stress of the past twenty-four hours was taking its toll. Fraser was feeling it as well. He never had done any acting in his life and hated having to lie even indirectly.
"If I lay down now, I won't sleep tonight," she answered and reached down to feel her watch. He noted it looked like any other watch -- and then realized the glass was missing. Well, he doubted anyone else would notice it.
"Are you hungry?" he asked, turning to regard the suitcases the bell hop had brought in. He hoped they were more than just weighted props but knew Ray hadn't had much time to get everything organized. "Francesca said room service was included." Actually, he felt quite uncomfortable accepting such largess but they had to eat. Perhaps he could find a way to repay Ray's uncle later. Another glance around the room had him doubting it.
"Not really," he heard her answer as he popped the catches on the nearest suitcase. "I think I'll just--" She offered a sudden, soft cry.
Fraser's head jerked up in time to see her fall, barely missing the dresser with her head. He was at her side a moment later, afraid she might have broken her ankle. Her breath had been knocked out of her and she blinked rapidly as she fought to catch it.
"Are you hurt Faith?" he asked in concern.
"What happened?" she asked sitting up shakily.
"You failed to lock the brakes on the wheel chair before you attempted to stand," he answered. "It slipped out from under you. Are you all right?"
"I seem to be in one piece."
Fortunately, he thought as he helped her to her feet again. A visit to the hospital would likely blow their covers. She continued to cling to him for a long moment after she'd gotten her balance. He didn't particularly feel like letting her go either but--
"Faith?" he asked in concern.
"I'm alright Ben," she answered his unasked question. "I'm just listening to your heart."
"My -- heart?"
She nodded against his chest. "Strong -- Steady -- Deep," she offered and lifted a quiet smile to his gaze. "Like you."
There was a silent question in her sightless eyes and he couldn't keep himself from answering, any more than he could stop breathing. He lowered his head and kissed her. It was a slow and gentle kiss, leaving him aching for more, but he knew he had to end it before things went too far. Heaven help him, they'd gone too far even before he kissed her! He lifted his head and simply held her tight, gently stroking her shortened locks and breathing in her subtle perfume. He knew he shouldn't have kissed her -- but he didn't regret it.
"Your heart is racing," she noted softly, snuggled against his chest once more. God she felt good there!
He cleared his throat and forced himself to take a step back. "Faith, I-- What I mean is--"
Her hand reached up and unerringly found his mouth, placing a gentle finger across his lips.
"I know," she answered. "Bad timing. I'm confused and frightened right now, and you're too damn honorable to take advantage of it." She offered a sad little shrug. "How is it I know you so well?" she wondered quietly, dropping her hand to rest gently over his heart. "It's only been twenty-four hours but I feel like I've known you all my life."
"You're -- vulnerable right now--"
Her hand again cover his mouth, silencing him. "Don't. I didn't really want an answer. I already know all about psychological dependency and-- I went through a lot of heavy psychiatry after the accident." He knew which accident she meant. "Maybe you're right and that's all it is. I don't know. But I did enjoy that kiss and I don't want you to apologize for it. Maybe, when every thing's settled, when the trial's over and I get my life back, maybe -- you'll ask me out, and we can explore it. I know I don't want to just let it go -- that is if I'm not being a complete idiot here and imagining more than one side to this."
"You're not," he assured her quietly, speaking through the fingers that still rested lightly against his lips. "And when this is done -- I'd very much like a chance to get to know you better."
She smiled sweetly and dropped her hand. "But, until then--" She sighed and stepped back. "--Until then I need to get my hormones under control! Do cold showers really work?"
"They -- have their benefits," he admitted with a smile of his own, knowing she wasn't going to be the only one seeking that particular cure.
* * *
We. . . . We. . . . Fraser frowned and flipped the page, seeking the word he needed. A week had passed since Ray had shown up with the requested regulation's manual and Inspector Thatcher would be expecting a report -- not that there was much to report. Except for acknowledging Ray's visit and his receipt of several braille books Faith had requested, all carefully disguised with dust covers, he had nothing to report. The last several days had been completely unremarkable. Boring was a better description. They hadn't left their room once since arriving and Faith was starting to chafe.
Fraser knew he'd have to at least take her down to the plaza on the ground floor if he didn't want them both to go 'stir crazy' as Ray had put it. He shook his head at the colorful expression, knowing it was apt. Americanism's were so -- American!
"Ben!" Faith cried out suddenly. The fear and urgency in her voice sent a shock of adrenaline through his system. He jerked around to see her reeling drunkingly. He leaped to his feet, only to set the room to spinning around him.
"--Gas!" he heard her gasp as she collapsed to the ground and he suddenly realized what was happening. She'd told him she and her family had been taken in their hotel room. That it had been gassed! He quickly held his breath as he reached for the phone and tried to dial 911, but whatever their assailants had used worked too fast. His vision tunneled to a spinning vortex as he felt his legs melt and the phone slip from his grasp. He never even heard it crash to the floor.
* * *
He woke with a serious headache, to discover himself tied to a metal chair-- Memory returned in a flash and he jerked his head up, looking for Faith--
She was laying on a large bed about six feet away, unmoving, but he didn't think she was dead. Not yet anyway. There was no reason to take either of them captive if all their assailant's meant to do was kill them.
Ben glanced around the room and tested his bonds, but whomever had tied him, knew their job. There wasn't enough play in the rope for him to work with, nor had they used anything that might stretch.
He was in a large bedroom, about fifteen by twenty-feet in area with two doors, one of which he assumed was a closet. There was a mirror and dresser against one wall, two night stands, lamps, and two more chairs. An armoire sat in the corner with a TV and stereo. A sofa table sat against the wall to his right-- He glanced quickly away from it, quite certain he didn't want to know exactly what was on it after recognizing what could only be described as instruments of torture.
Apparently, someone wanted revenge. . . .
Ben glanced around again, thinking furiously. He and Faith were in some very serious trouble and, unless he'd been out longer than he thought, if was doubtful anyone was even aware of it yet.
There were no windows, he realized, and the air was slightly musty, which probably meant they were underground, in some kind of basement or cellar. . . .
Testing the weight of his chair, he found he could move it and then forced himself to examine the sofa table more closely. If he could get his chair over to it, he might be able to free himself. . . .
The main door opened before he got halfway there and three men entered. The first man glanced around and immediately noted where Ben was.
"Now, now, Constable Fraser," he addressed Ben by name and offered a humorless smile. With a jerk of his head he gestured the last man through the door toward their captive. "We'll be getting to the contents of that table soon enough."
The man who approached Ben was huge. Easily six and a half feet tall and three hundred pounds. It was a simple matter for him to pick up Ben's chair and redeposit him where he'd previously been.
"You would be wise to set us free and simply walk away, Mr. Gordon," Ben observed calmly as the giant straightened to assume a clearly guard-like stance, "while you still have some small hope of escape."
"My, my, my!" the first man rejoined. "And how did you come up with my name I wonder?"
"Simple deduction," Fraser answered coolly, twisting his hands behind his back to no avail. "You're obviously in charge and anyone else would have simply killed us to collect the money you've offered for Miss Warren's life."
"I could have withdrawn the contract," the other man suggested.
Ben shook his head. "I can't imagine why you would do so," he rejoined.
"Besides, by referring to yourself in the first person, you've confirmed my assumption of your identity."
The older man shrugged. "No matter. You're not going to be around long enough to tell anyone."
Mr. Gordon ceased his byplay and turned to join the third man of their small group next to the recumbent figure of Faith on the bed. They spoke in Chinese, and Fraser did not like what he heard.
"I take it you've decided she's a marketable commodity after all," he called out in fluent Chinese, surprising both men and distracting them from Faith. It was the most he could do for her at the moment. That and try to stall as he fought to come up with any kind of plan.
Mr. Gordon offered a surprised laugh as he and his Asian associate approached the Mounty once more. "You are full of surprises, aren't you Constable Fraser!"
Ben offered a slight shrug and addressed the Asian in Chinese. "You'd be wise to withdraw from this deal," Ben told him. "Interpol is closing in on Mr. Gordon. If you don't leave now, you'll face prosecution with him."
"Your Interpol has no jurisdiction in China," the other man answered in English. He turned to Gordon. "He's a handsome man, as well as smart. Are you certain you have to kill him?"
"Are you saying you're interested in him?" Gordon asked surprised. Fraser felt himself blanche as the other man regarded him pensively.
The Asian nodded. "He would make a fine breeder," he decided. "There is always a good market for Eurasian girls, especially with blue eyes."
Fraser would kill himself before submitting to such a fate but he didn't dare argue it at the moment, not while there was any hope he might be able to help Faith.
"He is a Mounty, you know. . . ." Gordon argued pensively. "If he were to get free. . . ."
"He won't get free, my friend," the other answered, very sure of himself. "There are ways to hobble any man. Ten thousand dollars."
Gordon laughed. "You're joking of course," he rejoined.
"He's not worth anything if you kill him."
"His silence is worth more to me than that, Tsabuto," Gordon replied firmly. "You're asking me to take a risk in letting you buy him. You'll have to do considerably better than ten thousand dollars!"
"Hmm," Tsabuto offered pensively and shrugged noncommittally. "We shall see. . . ."
And with that they turned back to Faith. Ben was helpless to do anything but watch as smelling salts were produced and his charge roused. He continued to twist his wrists, hoping to loosen his bonds but so far all he'd done was rub them raw.
Faith recognized Gordon's voice immediately and very nearly fainted in fright. After a long moment, however, she suddenly exploded, coming up on her knees and swinging wildly. She missed and the two men simply stepped back from the bed, laughing at her.
"I told you she had spirit," Gordon offered easily.
"Kill me and get it over with, you spineless bastard!" she cried. "It won't make any difference. The DA has my sworn affidavit. I turn up dead, it just confirms everything I told them!"
"We have no intention of killing you Faith," Gordon answered. "In fact, Mr. Tsabuto here is interested in purchasing you."
"--Go to hell!" she whispered harshly.
Again, Mr. Gordon laughed. "But Faith, this is hell, don't you know that by now?"
Fraser ground his teeth in frustration. Had Ray checked back in yet? Did he know the two of them had been abducted? Was he conducting an exhaustive search even now? Ben had to believe that he was.
"Miss Warren," Tsabuto suddenly addressed her for the first time. "Aren't you even going ask about you protector, Constable Fraser?"
Ben had a terrible feeling he knew what was coming and jerked at his bonds as Faith momentarily froze.
"What?" she asked with a sarcastic and disbelieving bite to her voice. "You're going to tell me you didn't murder him? The Mounties will hunt you to the ends of the Earth for killing one of their own!"
"But that is exactly what we would tell you," Tsabuto answered calmly. "Constable Fraser is sitting here right now. I'm considering buying him as well."
"--Ben?!" she whispered, half hopeful, half fearful. . . .
A nod had the body guard grabbing a handful of hair and jerking Ben's head back. He stoically refused to utter a sound, knowing that Tsabuto meant to use him against her.
"He's being nobel, I'm afraid," Tsabuto observed. "Bring him over here beside her, where she can feel his face."
Fraser's guard once more picked him up, chair and all, and hauled him into position beside the bed. Fraser didn't bother maintaining his silence, knowing they'd simply force her to examine his face and confirm what they were telling her.
"I don't understand what difference it makes whether I'm alive or not," he offered coolly. "I'm a hired bodyguard, nothing more." Stall, his mind screamed. It was all he could do.
"--Ben!" she hissed in shock, instantly recognizing his voice.
Tsabuto easily recognized the meaning behind her reaction and chuckled softly. "More than a bodyguard I think," he offered quietly, "'though Mr. Gordon assures me she is still a virgin. You've been with her a little over a week. A very long week. Perhaps you've become friends, yes? Perhaps, good friends--"
Ben chose to redirect the conversation and turned to Gordon once more.
"How did you manage to find us?" he asked bluntly.
Gordon laughed again. It seemed he thought Fraser was exceptionally witty. "That was the simplest of things by far," he claimed. "I've known exactly where she's been since before she left the Canadian Consulate. It simply took me a while to gather my people and necessary supplies together to effect the perfect abduction. I pride myself on it you see, so don't go hoping for some last minute rescue. I left no clues for your friends to follow."
"You still haven't answered my question," Ben offered reasonably. "How did you know where she was?"
"I had a homing device planted in her cane," the other man gloated at his own ingenuity. "I knew she'd never go anywhere without it."
It was quite ingenious, Ben had to admit. He would have never thought to look there.
"If we could continue please?" Tsabuto interrupted them. "I am a busy man and would like to finish inspecting the merchandise before I offer a bid. Now, things will go much more smoothly and comfortably for everyone concerned, Miss Warren if you will simply accept your situation and cooperate. I know you are unbroken as yet, and I prefer to keep you that way. Would you please stand up and remove your clothes?"
Faith shrank back from the edge of the bed, clutching her shirt. "Why should I make anything easy for you?" she demanded defiantly.
"Because if you don't, it is your friend Constable Fraser here who will pay for your defiance," Tsabuto answered gently.
"Don't let them use me against you, Faith!" he told her urgently. "They're just going to kill me anyway, no matter what they say."
A sharp gesture from Tsabuto halted the blow from his guard Ben was expecting. Faith had gone quite white where she knelt on the bed.
"I've already explained that I'm considering purchasing him as well but I find his defiance irritating," Tsabuto offered. "I have an excellent way to deal with it. Unfortunately there are some serious side effects. I will leave it to you to decide how I am to deal with your friend." He reached into his pocket and removed something, holding it where Ben could see it clearly. "Would you please tell Miss Warren what it is I have in my hand, Constable Fraser?"
Fraser fell silent again, refusing to play their games.
"Tell her, Constable," Tsabuto instructed him firmly, "or I will use it on her."
A glance in those coal black eyes confirmed the man's sincerity. Ben frowned at the item in his hand and cleared his throat. "It's a hypodermic needle and syringe."
"Correct," Tsabuto agreed. "Containing two and a half cc's of pure heroine."
Fraser felt himself pale as he stared at the deadly narcotic.
"Now if you're smart and obedient, Miss Warren, I won't use this," he explained. "I will instead be patient and resort to far less drastic methods to get what I want from your friend. Consider it a reward for your good behavior. If however, you insist upon being foolish and force me to harm you, then I will have no patience. Heroine is wonderfully addictive you see. A dose today, followed by a dose tomorrow-- Within a week, he'll gladly do anything I demand of him to get another fix.
"Which will it be?" Tsabuto asked reasonably. "The choice is yours."
Faith was already reaching for the buttons of her shirt.
"No, Faith--" Ben hissed.
The door of the room suddenly crashed open and several men rushed in with guns at the ready. "Freeze!" several voices cried at once and Fraser recognized the Chicago P.D. swat unit as their small group was surrounded. Mr. Gordon and Tsabuto were too shocked to react. As it turned out, only the bodyguard was armed and that was quickly taken care of.
Suddenly Ray Kowalski was smiling in Ben's face, sawing away at the ropes that bound him. Diefenbaker bounded up next to him and gave a happy bark, clearly overjoyed to find his master once more.
"What happened Benny boy?" Ray asked lightly as the first of the ropes parted. "You forget your Swiss army knife in the uniform?"
"Something like that," Ben agreed and his eyes went to where Faith knelt, frozen on the bed. "It's all right now Faith," he assured her. "We've been rescued."
Half a minute later his arms were free and wrapped around his crying charge as all the terror of the last several minutes rolled forth in a soul cleansing flood.
He glanced over her head and caught Ray's eye again as he turned from watching his fellow officer's cuff Mr. Gordon. "How did you find us?" he had to ask. A part of him had been terrified that he'd gotten into a situation he could never hope to get out of.
"Hey, talk to Dief about that!" Kowalski explained. "All I did was give him your scent and tell him 'go'! He lead us straight here. The guy was so sure of himself he didn't even post guards!"
It seemed there were certain clues that Mr. Gordon hadn't taken into consideration when planning his 'perfect abduction'.
* * *
Predictably, he and Faith had been swept up by a small army of both Chicago's finest and the FBI. They'd been taken to the nearest police station where they were separated and their statements taken. Faith had not been happy to have Ben leave her but accepted his promise to find her again when he was done. Given that he'd been through such procedures innumerable times before, he was finished in less than half an hour. Explaining who he was to the FBI agents now assigned to her took another few minutes but at last they allowed him to join her in the interrogation room where she was being debriefed, with the promise of course that he wouldn't interfere.
She relaxed considerably when he joined her and was able to make it through the ordeal without falling apart. She'd been required to start at the beginning, reviewing her original kidnaping in Canada and the horrors of all she'd endured before her escape. The Prosecuting Attorney General's Office of Canada might have her sworn affidavit, but the FBI didn't. Fraser held her hand throughout her account, amazed again by her fortitude and resourcefulness. She had never given up. She had managed to escape and never questioned her decision to testify.
"Your testimony will no longer be necessary, Miss Warren," the agent taking her statement assured her gently. "The RCMP of Canada and our own people here have managed to break the case wide open. We have more people wanting to turn states' evidence than we could possibly need, including , I am told, the Japanese Ambassador to Canada!" He suddenly caught himself and gave them both a sharp, warning look. "That information doesn't leave this room. Understood?"
Faith might not have been able to see that look but she read the warning in his voice. Both she and Fraser nodded readily.
"Well then," the other man sighed, closing his notebook and turning off the tape machine. "I think we're done here, but--!" He offered Fraser a knowing glance and smiled at Faith, "I have a very special surprise for you before you leave."
Faith frowned as she heard the men around her silently file out of the room. She wasn't about to let go of Ben and, given that the agent had not require he leave, he chose to stay at her side. As the last man disappeared with a smile, two women appeared in the door.
Ben realized instantly who they must be.
"Faith?!" the older one called and the girl at his side gasped.
"--Mom?(!!!)" she whispered in obvious disbelief. Ben let Faith go and stood back as the two women enveloped her in a tearful reunion. He would have made a tactful retreat but Faith called out and insisted on introducing him. All three women were crying but none of them seemed to care. He pointedly ignored it as they seemed to wish.
"How did you get free?!" the overjoyed young woman at his side wanted to know, one hand clinging to him while the other danced lightly over her mother's face as though unable to believe what her ears were telling her.
Mrs. Warren took her daughter's hand in hers and kissed it, calming the younger woman. "The plane we were in had engine trouble," she explained. "We had a fire onboard and had to land at Dulles Airport in Washington, DC. Everyone panicked and, in all the confusion of escaping the plane, Mr. Taharimoto and his men simply forgot about us. We went straight to Airport Security and told them what had happened to us. The Ambassador decided he couldn't afford to let something like this get out and offered to turn states' evidence in order to keep everything quiet."
"But you were sold three months ago?!" Faith argued.
"The FBI has been keeping us in protective custody until they managed to track down Mr. Gordon," Sara, her sister offered. "I don't know why they didn't tell you unless they thought you'd be in even more danger."
"They may have suspected an FBI leak even before I discovered the bomb at our safe-house," Fraser offered in possible explanation. "If Mr. Gordon had learned of your escape--"
"He might have vanished," Sara concluded, "and none of us would have ever been safe again."
"We owe you an extreme debt of gratitude, Constable Fraser--" Mrs. Warren started but Ben quickly interrupted her.
"No. No, Mrs. Warren," he corrected her. "You owe me nothing. In fact it is I who owe your daughter my deepest apologies. I'm afraid that in the end I failed terribly in my duties to protect he--uh!"
Faith dug an elbow into his stomach, knocking the wind out of him and effectively silencing him.
"This guy's too modest," Faith decided. "No one, and I mean no one, could have known there was a homing device in my cane or prevented us from being gassed in that hotel room. I mean, it wasn't like we had a battalion of other people to keep a watch all around us, did we? We couldn't trust the FBI and your friends were doing the best they could, so don't go beating yourself up over something you couldn't control. If it weren't for you, that bomb at the safe-house would have probably gotten me."
"It was actually a very simple bomb," he allowed, uncomfortable with her praise. "I'm sure someone else could have--"
This time she reached up and covered his mouth with her hand. He offered her a tolerant frown which she couldn't see but which caused her sister to chuckle.
"Someone else didn't," Faith returned firmly. "Face it Benton Fraser, you're a hero. Argue with me and I'll have to talk to Inspector Thatcher about putting you in for a Commendation, 'though I wouldn't be surprised if she's done so already. I'll bet you've gotten a lot of them over the years. Shall I ask her all about them while I'm at it?"
Fraser could all too well imagine the kind of stories Meg Thatcher would enjoy relating to Faith and quickly cleared his throat. "That won't be necessary," he decided.
Faith offered a triumphant nod and then sighed. "So what happens now?"
"Now," he decided, glancing at the empty doorway, "I would say we are free to go."
"--Go," she repeated, suddenly pensive. "I suppose you have to get back to the Consulate, huh?"
"Yes, I really should," he answered simply. "I'm sure I have a lot of work to catch up on."
She nodded and turned to face in her mother's direction. "Can you two give us a minute please?"
The two women exchanged a knowing look and, glancing at Fraser, agreed to wait outside. He noted they closed the door behind them. He turned back to Faith, patiently awaiting whatever it was she wanted to say.
"--When you said that you wanted to get to know me better, when this was all done," she offered quietly, carefully folding her hands on the desk before her. "Were you just saying that -- or did you mean it?"
Ben frowned, surprised she had to ask. "I meant it," he assured her gently, and then frowned at a question of his own. "Have you changed your mind, now that the danger is past?"
"No," she quickly shook her head. "It's just that I realized--it's not going to be very easy. I don't live in Chicago. I live in Alamogordo, New Mexico. I'm an English teacher at a school for the blind there. At least I was. I've been gone so long, they might not give me my old job back."
"Ah!" he offered in unhappy understanding. He never had asked her about her past or what she did for a living. In point of fact, he was surprised to realize how very little he really knew about her.
"Quite frankly, I don't know what I'm going to do now," she admitted, bowing her head. "I'll probably be in town a week or two. After that--"
"Understood," he offered with a nod.
"No, Ben," she sighed, "I don't think you do." She lifted her face in his direction again and he easily saw the pain and confusion she was feeling mirrored there. "A part of me really wants to get to know you better. Most guys who can see make me feel self-conscious and awkward, but I never felt that with you. Maybe it was the situation, I don't know. All I know is you've made me feel things I've never felt before. I am both thrilled and terrified by it. I'm afraid of getting hurt, and I know that's stupid. Any relationship has it's risks and right now all we are is friends-- So I don't really know why I'm blithering on like this! You must think I'm an idiot."
"No," he answered her seriously, taking her fluttering hands in his to calm her. "I think you're expressing some -- very reasonable and logical concerns."
"What do we do?" she asked helplessly. "I don't want to just throw what we had -- what we might yet have -- away. . . ."
"We don't," he answered. "We take it one day at a time. Faith--" He searched for the words he wanted to say. "I'm not--that is, I've never--I've never really been very good at--expressing my--my emotions," he explained and frowned at the sound of his own voice. He cleared his throat and pressed on, offering a philosophical shrug. "In a week, you may decide you're more than happy to return to New Mexico."
"And you may want to high tail it back to Canada," she agreed quietly.
"Well, I always want to do that! --Oh dear, that didn't come out right," he corrected himself.
Faith merely chuckled, surprising Ben again, and shook her head. "What am I going to do with you?"
"Well, you could always go out to dinner with me tonight?" he responded, amazed that he'd been able to say that so easily. He had very rarely asked anyone out on a date before and usually -- well, the words were often difficult to say. He felt none of his usual awkwardness around Faith and he had to wonder why?
"I would be happy to go to dinner with you, Constable Fraser," she answered with a cocky grin, brushing her earlier concerns aside to enjoy what she could right now. Fraser was right. They would take the future one day at a time. Maybe it would hold family and love, maybe only friendship.
But she had no doubt, that whatever it was, it would be something very special indeed.
THE END (?)