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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, Kowalski et.al. belong to Alliance, Paul Haggis and all the creative genius who made this show so special. No infringement of any copyrights held by CBS, Alliance, CTV, TNT or any other copyright holders of due SOUTH is intended. No money being made here.

Spoilers: Being set Post CotW everything's fair game, but notable spoilers would include The Pilot, BitH, ICBAD, VS, LG, ATQH, HS, MStB, and CotW. Blink hard and you'll miss DDO, The Deal, JiB, The Promise, Asylum, Eclipse, M&S, Odds, and SA. (See--you really didn't want that list after all, did you?) Praise, comments, questions and otters are all equally welcome--'though I do hope you'll enjoy! 'Thank you kindly!'

Note to the Reader: This is a Sequel to 'Blood Red Serge', and #2 in what is becoming the Red Serge Series. The R rating on this one is due to language and one scene of graphic violence. Additionally, my knowledge of American Sign Language is somewhat limited and we’ll be getting into it later on. We are told in the series (The Blue Line) that Ben knows ASL. Interpretation of advanced ASL is not a straight forward process. For instance, if I wanted to sign ‘You are in grave danger’, I might sign ‘You in danger, danger, danger.’ This is different from MSE, or Manually Signed English. For the sake of story continuity, most of my interpretations are based on what Ben, and others, are wanting to convey, and not necessarily exactly what they are signing -- other times I do offer direct translation, depending on story requirements. No offense to the deaf or deaf community is intended.

due SOUTH:
Silent Red Serge

By: Janice R. Sager
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The smell was the first thing that hit him as he slowly rose from the depths of sleep. The sharp, astringent odor of antiseptic stung his nose and left a metallic taste in his throat. He swallowed, trying to dispel it. It was inescapable and he realized he must be in a hospital. Was he just being brought in? Was he waking from surgery? He had no memory of what might have happened to land him here once again. His thoughts were foggy but he'd been here too many times before for the disorientation of first waking up to alarm him. Must be the drugs they had him on. He knew it would eventually pass.

What was it that had woken him? There was something... He turned his head slightly on the stiff pillowcase, recognizing the crinkle of the vinyl that lay underneath, and blinked his eyes open. His chest was tight but his arms were too heavy to reach up and check for bandages. It took all his effort just to squeeze Ray's hand.

Ray. That’s what had roused him. Ray’s voice. It was good to not wake up alone.

"Welcome back Benny!" his friend offered with a silly grin -- which told Ben more about how badly hurt he'd been than maybe he wanted to know. But whatever had happened, the worse seemed to be over. "Welcome back!"

He smiled and even that effort exhausted him. God, this was too much like the time Ray, the other Ray, had shot him in the back. He wondered if he'd liked the postcard he'd sent with the polar bear sitting on the beach...


It was a new voice. A woman's voice. He fought to open his eyes again and focus on her. He'd learned the last time he'd been shot that the nurses wouldn't go away until he answered them. --The last time? Had he been shot again?

"Can you hear me Sir?"

He managed a slight nod and she smiled.

She took his hand in hers. "Squeeze my hand Sir," she instructed. He did.

"Very Good," she smiled again. "Can you tell me your name Sir?" she asked next. Standard questions. Testing cognizance and awareness.

He opened his mouth -- and offered a strangled kind of groan. He was just too dopey to manage anything else. Even his thoughts seemed leaden. Whatever drugs they had him on must be very strong. He hated the feeling!

The nurse frowned and he knew he was going to have to try again. She wouldn't leave him alone until he managed to say it. 'Benton Fraser' his mind offered clearly, but his mouth wouldn't form the words. Even his throat refused to work correctly. All that came out was a hiss.

It was his turn to frown.

"Do you know your name Sir?" the woman asked, watching him closely.

He nodded weakly. Lord, but he didn't need this! He was so tired. All he wanted to do was go back to sleep! He tried again and this time produced a hum of sorts.

Blasted drugs. They were probably what was making him so tired to begin with!

The woman patted his shoulder reassuringly, and he frowned up at her, fighting the cobwebs of sleep.

"It's all right Mr. Fraser," she offered gently. "Just relax. You're in a hospital. You were badly hurt but we're all taking good care of you. I need to go tell your doctor you're awake. Do you understand me?"

Again he nodded. Anything to get her to go away. He doubted he'd be awake when the doctor showed up. He sighed, knowing they'd only wake him up again.

Ray replaced the nurse and took his hand again. It was then Ben realized he was in bed restraints. He must have been really out of it to require restraints. He frowned momentarily but it took too much effort to hold it. Too much effort to ask questions or even say his name. His eyes drifted shut and he let sleep take him once more.

Ray would understand.

Ben fought the panic down and ordered his fists to relax their death hold on the sheets to either side of him. He had faced many dangers in his life -- but few had evoked this level of fear. A chill passed through him as he tried again.

And failed again.

The doctor, a young man with straight blonde hair and wire rim glasses, frowned and made some kind of note on Ben’s chart. Whatever was wrong, Ben knew it wasn't the drugs. He'd been given stimulants to reverse any such possible side-effects and was completely awake now. The fog had lifted from his mind and he remembered pieces of what had happened. He knew he'd been shot while standing guard outside the Consulate. He remembered staring up at Meg as she called for help, and he remembered not being able to breathe.... He wasn't sure exactly where the wound had been because his chest was completely covered by a large white dressing, but given Ray's reaction when he'd first awakened Ben suspected he was lucky to be alive.

Diefenbaker, sitting tall in a chair at his bedside, offered a worried whine, knowing only that Ben was upset and that something was wrong. Ben was a bit surprised to see his lupine companion. His friends had talked their way around the hospital staff before concerning Dief, but this was ICU, not a regular hospital room. The many tubes and various pieces of equipment connected to him told their own story about his present condition. He somehow knew he’d been here a while; certainly longer than the twelve or so hours he might have expected after being shot. Kowalski moved over to the wolf and offered him a quiet pat of reassurance. The chair was positioned just a little too far down the bed for Ben to reach the wolf himself.

“Say ‘Aaaaah’,” the doctor instructed with a pensive frown.

Ben tried, concentrating on his facial and jaw muscles, his tongue position--


He folded his hands into fists again and resisted the urge to hit something, even if it was only the bed at his side.

“That didn’t sound right to you?” the doctor asked.

Ben frowned at the question and shook his head. Was the doctor saying his ears were playing tricks on him now?

The doctor frowned at him. "You can understand me clearly? No confusion of meaning or missing words or odd words, that sort of thing?"

Again Ben shook his head.

"And your own thoughts seem completely coherent? You know what you want to say, you just can't get the words to come out?"

He nodded and watched the man note something further in the file he held. The doctor glanced up again with that pensive, compassionate frown that they always wore when they weren't quite sure what was wrong.

"I know it's frustrating...and frightening, Mr. Fraser, but try not to worry about it too much. Quite frankly, I'm not particularly concerned at this point. There are any number of reasons why you may not be able to speak, and most of them are temporary. It could be as simple as some damage or swelling at the back of your throat from the endotracheal tube. You were on a respirator for six days. Your throat is probably still irritated and the swelling could be pressing on a nerve or two."

Six days! Ben blinked in silent dismay.

"So you're saying it's temporary?" Ray spoke up from where he still stood next to Dief.

The doctor frowned up at him and sighed. "I'm saying it could be," he answered and returned his attention to Ben. "There are other possibilities and I'm going to talk to another doctor about setting you up for a complete neurological work up to rule some of those out."

"’Neurological’?" Ray echoed in obvious concern. "As in brain scans and stuff like that? We talking brain damage here, Doc?"

Again the man glanced up at him and Ray didn't miss the irritation or warning in his frown this time. Neither did Ben.

"Brain damage is always a possibility in such cases," he admitted, and again returned his gaze to Ben. "But damage to the speech centers of the brain almost always effects comprehension, as well as expression. Quite simply, you'd have a hard time understanding what I'm talking about. Any confusion?"

Ben shook his head, there was none.

The doctor nodded. "I think the problem's physiological but I want a neurologist to take a look just to be sure. So, like I said, don't let it worry you too much. Your energies are needed elsewhere." He glanced significantly at Ben's chest. "We'll know more after we do a few tests."

Ben nodded, allowing himself to be reassured, and relaxed back into the bed. Exhaustion was swamping him again, despite the stimulants.

"Rest, Mr. Fraser," the doctor patted his arm. "You've got a lot of healing to do. You're voice will sort itself out in time."

Ben nodded weakly and closed his eyes.

"Mr. Kowalski, could I have a word with you for a moment?"

Ben snapped his eyes open again. "Be right back," Ray assured him and followed the doctor out. Ben frowned as he watched the door close. He'd read the byplay between the two and was hardly stupid.

What wasn't the man telling him?

Kowalski cocked his head to the side and watched the doctor as he hugged his clipboard, frowning down at the floor for a long moment. He finally glanced up again and pinned Ray with a warning look.

"I want you to be very careful what you say around your friend for the next few days," he ordered bluntly. "It's very important that Mr. Fraser not be upset or stressed at this point in his recovery. He suffered a near fatal injury six days ago involving his heart. That's not an organ that can be turned off and allowed to rest until it's healed. I want him kept calm."

"Are you saying you think it is brain damage?" Kowalski asked, giving the door beside him an anxious frown and keeping his voice down.

"I am not in the habit of lying to my patients, Mr. Kowalski," the doctor answered firmly. "However, your friend has suffered a massive blood loss which resulted in a coma. He has suffered brain damage, how extensive and whether or not it will have a permanent debilitating effect on his life is questionable. Personally, I don’t think it’s the cause of his speech difficulty. In any case, I don't want him to worry about it! Worrying about the possibility won't change the facts -- but it will slow his recovery. His blood chemistry is completely out of wack at the moment and having him worried about something will only make it worse. I'm having a hard enough time trying to stabilize it as it is."

"Blood chemistry?" Kowalski repeated confused.

"He lost over ten units of blood, Mr. Kowalski," the doctor explained, quietly. "He basically underwent two complete transfusions while on the operating table. Everyone has their own blood chemistry and it's a hell of a lot more complicated than simply red and white blood cells. His endocrine and immune systems are completely confused. Now, eventually, it'll sort itself out, but in the mean time his body is attacking itself and I've got to stay ahead of the battle or he'll wind up with some serious and permanent damage. Do you know much about vintage cars, Mr. Kowalski?"

Ray blinked sharply as he did a double-take on the last question. "Some," he admitted.

"What happens if you suddenly change the weight and brand of motor oil in an older engine?"

"Oh," Kowalski frowned sharply. "That's not good."

"No," the doctor agreed. "It isn't."

"But he's not exactly old," Kowalski offered.

"He's not eighteen either, Mr. Kowalski."

Ray nodded pensively, understanding the analogy all too well.

"Calm and happy," the man repeated. "At least for a few more days. And let him sleep. By all means go reassure him but limit your visits for a while -- and go tell his sister what I've told you. I normally wouldn't have given you any of this information but she specifically asked me to. She's waiting for your report."

"Will do, Doc," Ray nodded curtly. "Thanks for -- you know--"

"You're welcome. I'm glad he finally woke up," the man offered a bit more relaxed. "He's not out of the woods yet, but he is well on the road to it. I'll be back this evening to check on him again. I'll leave word of any changes with the floor nurse if you're not here."

Ray nodded again and watched the man walk to the nurses' station before taking a deep breath and re-entering Fraser's room. He hoped his friend's uncanny hearing hadn't been up to catching the quiet discussion -- or the doc was going to have his head!

It was mid-afternoon and Ben was more than tired. Too tired. Sleep, as much as he wanted it, wouldn’t come. He'd been hauled all over the hospital like a dead carcass most of the day. He wasn't even permitted to lift his head from the pillow. He'd been poked and prodded, x-rayed, and scanned. Various strangers had frowned at him and asked stupid questions he couldn't answer. At one point, he'd been injected with some kind of radioactive dye and his head placed in a giant donut of a machine that rotated around him so he didn't have to move. It was loud and uncomfortable and he was exhausted despite having done absolutely nothing. ‘PET scan’ the technician had called it, but no one had bothered to explain what that was. The nurse had merely told him what they were doing as they did it, explaining everything in the most simplistic terms as though speaking to a child. They'd all treated him that way. It had been extremely frustrating -- and exhausting. Now all he wanted to do was sleep.


It was a woman's voice. Very soft. Almost a whisper.

It couldn't be a nurse then, or an orderly come to take him for yet another test of some sort or other. He wasn't in the mood for a visitor, but he opened his eyes anyway and glanced to the curtain at his left.

'Maggie!' his mind said. His throat offered something else, more like a surprised grunt.

His sister smiled and stepped to the side of his bed. "I hope I didn't wake you," she offered gently.

He shook his head no and lifted his brows in clear question. It was rather hard to miss the sling and soft cast on her left arm. He also noted the way she held herself, rather stiff and overly erect. Either she'd injured her back or-- He frowned at the lay of her clothing.

"Oh just a little run in with a door," she answered the unasked question and pulled a chair to the bedside -- carefully.

He lifted a brow and cocked his head to the other side in obvious disbelief.

"Okay, the door got blown off its hinges in an explosion," she admitted, assuming the seat carefully. "Broken arm, a few broken ribs and a cut. I've had worse. I'm well on the road to recovery, and under orders not to upset you so just keep your big brother hormones under control or you'll have an army of nurses in here to chase me out! So," she sighed, again carefully, and frowned at him. "Ray tells me you can't speak."

It wasn't a question. Blunt and to the point, that was Maggie.

Ben shook his head. His mind, however, was on that explosion and he was irritated by his inability to ask about it. Given how tender her ribs apparently were, he could safely assume it was a recent injury. Which meant she'd probably gotten it while helping Ray find the man who'd shot him.

He and the other man were going to have to have a long talk as soon as he could speak again...

"I'm afraid he wasn't very specific about what was wrong," she offered with a pensive frown. "I take it the doctors aren't real sure yet?"

Again he shook his head and sighed.

She reached out and took his hand. "I'm just glad to see you awake," she told him gently. "It would be pretty sad to discover I have a big brother only to lose him before I can get him to fix my hot water heater."

He gave a short chuckle. It hurt, a little, but at least he could still do that! Leave it to Maggie to sneak a smile pass all his fears and anxiety.


Ray made a quick u-turn in the path he'd taken toward the canteen and headed for the Lieutenant's office.

"You bellowed Sir?"

Welsh awarded the smart mouthed detective a glare and jammed a large file into his hands. "The McKenna Case," he said curtly. "It's all yours."

"McKenna?" Kowalski echoed in surprise, glancing down as part of the file started to slip free of the folder. He barely caught it before it wound up all over the floor. "I thought you assigned this to the Duck boys, Sir?"

"You don't want it?"

"No -- I mean, yeah, I want it," he corrected himself, following the larger man into his office with a confused frown. The McKenna case was big and ugly, the kinda thing any detective liked to dig into until he hit pay dirt but--

"Dewy broke his leg on that fire escape outside Donnelly's apartment," Welsh informed him, moving smoothly around his large desk to sink into the chair. He rotated it around to frown up at the younger man who faced him. "And Huey called in with a death in the family. The case is fresh enough I've decided to give it to someone else rather than wait for them to get back up to speed. It's yours and I want you moving on it. The girl survived the attack and you'll find her statement and description of one of her attackers in there. Could be a serial. I want these two or three scum-bags caught before they try to rape and kill someone else. Clear Detective?"

"As rain Sir," Kowalski nodded sharply and turned to leave.

"Oh, I'll be assigning you a temporary partner in a day or two. Gotta check and see who's available--"

"A partner Sir?" Kowalski spun back around, dismayed. "If it's all the same to you...”

"No Detective!" Welsh interrupted firmly. "It is not. You’re not doing this one alone. It’s big. It’s ugly. And it is dangerous. Vecchio and Big Red aren't gonna be able to help you so I'm assigning you a partner until one of them can. And it’s not open for discussion. Do you know Sign Language by any chance?"

Kowalski did a double-take. "No Sir," he answered.

Welsh frowned and shook his head. "Gotta find you someone who does. The girl's deaf." He suddenly glanced back up. "You were at the hospital yesterday weren’t ya? How're Ray and the Mountie doing? I understand Fraser woke up?"

"Couple nights ago," Ray answered with a nod. "Got something wrong with his throat and can't talk. Vecchio's already screaming to be let out and afraid this is gonna kill his chances to get back on the force."

"Crazy Italian flatfoot, turning down a chance at early retirement," Welsh muttered and shook his head. "Five years from now he'll be screaming about what an idiot he was. Tell 'em both hello for me and tell Vecchio he's got a stupid commendation waiting for him in my desk drawer. That should make him happy."

"Commendation Sir?"

"Yours'll be here in a day or two, Kowalski," he sighed and leaned back. "The Canucks were rather happy about how fast you two were in tracking down Donnelly. The mayor was impressed --'though Thatcher almost chewed my ear off about the lack of inter-agency cooperation you were supposed to give her." He scowled at the memory and stuck a finger in his ear to clear it of the phantom pain of that remembered conversation. "Next time I'll send you over to give her a formal apology, understood?"

Kowalski visibly quailed at the idea of having to face Thatcher in a snit. He'd rather shoot himself in the foot! "Understood, Sir!" he answered smartly.

"Good," Welsh allowed and leaned forward to scan the many papers strewn across his desk. "Now get out of here and back to work. And send Gross in here! I want his and Keeley's report on the Sierra Bank robbery, now!"

There was a gentle tap on the door a short moment before it opened and Dr. Spears appeared. It was more a warning than a request for permission to enter. Ben turned and watched silently as the man came to his bedside, closely followed by a nurse who immediately busied herself with supplies.

"You're looking bright eyed this morning," the man commented. "Good night's rest I hope?"

It was a rhetorical question designed to put Ben at ease. He found it merely irritated him but managed to mask his reaction as the man took hold of the covers and drew them back.

"Let's take a look at Dr. Brennan's handiwork, shall we?" the doctor continued and began to remove the dressing which covered the majority of Ben's chest. Ben had been through the procedure before and merely stared up at the ceiling, nodding or shaking his head as appropriate while the man examined the surgical site, listened to his heart, lungs and bowels, and then palpated his abdomen.

He noted that Dr. Spears's manner seemed to have changed slightly in the last twenty-four hours; or perhaps Ben was simply imagining a patronizing attitude after all the condescending treatment he'd gotten the previous day. He frowned as he considered the man's body language, his choice of words and facial expression. He noted that the man studied his face far more closely after each question, as though not quite sure of his understanding.

God, he hoped his was imagining it!

The other man spoke to the nurse, giving detailed instructions -- and there was a definite shift in his voice as he did. Ben told himself that wasn't unusual, nothing more then a boss talking to a subordinate, except-- Ben had heard him address the nurses before. When he spoke to Ben again, his volume and rate of speech changed noticeably. He also repeated himself, but simplified the terms.

Ben wasn't imagining it.

The central line IV at his shoulder was checked, the chest tube and water levels noted, a new dressing applied to his chest and the doctor decided they could remove the urinary catheter. The procedure helped distract Ben from the fear that was growing once more at the back of his mind. Finally, the man was done and helped the nurse lift the covers back into place, telling her that he wanted Ben started on a diet of soft foods to be increased as his appetite dictated.

"It'll be a while before you feel up to a three course meal, so take it slow. We’ve got you on Cefotaxamine -- that’s a powerful antibiotic. Injuries such as yours tend to leave you open to pneumonia and other nasty infections. We want to prevent that. This drug will help but it’s going to make you nauseous, or sick to your stomach. Try to eat a little anyway, if you can. Food services will provide you with a menu at lunch for the next day, simply circle what you want and that's what you'll get. If you can't read it, one of the nurses will help you, okay?"

Ben frowned sharply at the idea that he wouldn't be able to read something! It was a slip of the tongue on the doctor's part and confirmed the nagging suspicion that had risen its ugly head earlier.

He gestured sharply, pointing at his eyes and then running his fingers over an imaginary book. It was sign language for 'reading' but, whether the man signed or not, he should understand what Ben was saying.

The doctor frowned in turn and straightened as he suddenly understood his own faux pas. "Ah," he sighed unhappily, and studied Ben's face again, seeing the fear that had blossomed, "you are understanding everything then -- and more than I want you too it seems."

Ben nodded and tapped his head. It wasn't a question but he needed to hear the confirmation from the man anyway. He knew they'd found brain damage.

The doctor glanced up at Ben's monitor's for a long moment and then frowned down at him again. "I was wanting to wait a few days before discussing your test results with you," he allowed, "but I guess that's out. So...have you ever heard the term 'aphasia' before?"

Ben closed his eyes for a long moment, wrestling with his reaction to the word. Yes, he’d heard it before. He blinked his eyes open and lifted his hand to indicate 'a little'. He knew it was a fairly generic term for a certain type of brain damage that occurred in stroke or, as in his case, severe blood loss. More than that--

The doctor nodded. "The mere suggestion of brain damage tends to panic people and quite honestly there’s nothing to panic about, at least not in your case. Just because you can’t speak now, doesn’t mean you won’t later. You are in point of fact very lucky to be alive Mr. Fraser. It was touch and go for a while. That your only difficulty seems to be speaking is quite remarkable. Your PET scans indicated that-- Well,” he shrugged and offered a wry smile, “I’m not a neurologist, so let’s just say I’m surprised. I should also assure you, that your situation won’t get any worse. Aphasia isn’t progressive. You will in fact see some spontaneous improvement over the next few months whether we do anything for you or not. And we will. I've seen patients just like you walk out of the hospital without any lasting effects from such injuries. On the other hand, I won't lie, I've seen others who never recovered.

“The brain is an incredibly complex organ. It can’t heal the way a broken bone or twisted ankle can, but it can and will compensate for the injury. It's too early for me to tell you what's going to go on here. We're going to have to run several more tests to define the problem more specifically. Once we know exactly what's wrong, we can devise a treatment plan. I need you to be a little patient, and keep your frustration and fear in check. Can you do that for me?"

Did he really have a choice, Ben thought. He sighed and nodded, remembering the conversation he'd overheard between the man and Ray two days before. Worrying about the situation was not going to change the facts. When Ray Vecchio had shot him in the back three years ago, there'd been a very real danger, at least for a few days, that he would never walk again. He'd accepted that possibility as a challenge and this was no different: Another challenge to be overcome.

He was getting tired of such challenges.

"Okay," the doctor sighed, "right now, we're going to concentrate on the physical aspects of your case, getting that chest healed and your strength back. The surgical site is doing quite nicely. In a couple of days or so, we'll remove the chest tube and central line IV, and we'll get you started on some physical therapy. I understand you've been through that before?"

Ben nodded, wondering what the chances of getting Miss Kennedy as his therapist again were? He didn't even know if she was still with the hospital.

"What about Occupational Therapy?"

Ben frowned. He wasn't ready to give up on the RCMP just yet!

The doctor read his frown quite easily and smiled. "It's not what you think it is," he assured his patient. "I'm not talking about Vocational Rehabilitation. Occupational Therapy simply teaches you how to do things a little differently, like how to lift a pan of water, or get in and out of a bath tub. Sounds easy I know, but those chest muscles are going to be quite weak for a while. You'll be released from the hospital a long time before they're perfectly healed and back to full strength. It's rather amazing how much we use certain muscles without ever being aware of it and if you attempt something the wrong way before they're ready, well, you could cause further damage. We don't want that, do we?"

Ben ignored the 'we' and merely shook his head.

The doctor retrieved Ben's file from where he'd tossed it on the table to his right and opened it to make several more notations. "I'm also going to set you up with a Speech Diagnostician, but we'll wait a few days on that. He'll put you through a battery of tests to determine exactly what the problem is and then turn you over to a Speech Therapist. I want you a little stronger before we put you through that routine. Any other questions -- sorry!" He corrected himself. "Bad habit. I think I've pretty well covered everything."

Ben had a sudden thought and motioned for pen and paper.

The doctor frowned suddenly, but turned and retrieved a clip board that had been set next to the phone for this very purpose. Ben took the pen and frowned for a moment in thought before--

He stared at the paper blankly. 'How long' he wanted to write. It was simple enough. It should be simple enough. He glanced up at the doctor's name badge as a new fear formed -- but no, he could read.

But he couldn't write.

As with speech, he knew perfectly well what he wanted to write -- but he couldn't 'see' it. It wasn't that he couldn't remember how to spell, he just couldn't seem to translate his thoughts into letters and words on paper.

The doctor sighed as he watched Ben suddenly sink back against the pillows and drop the pen to his side, defeated.

"I should have warned you that you might not be able to write. It's all part of the same problem,” the doctor explained. “I saw you glance at my name badge. Can you read it?”

Ben nodded wearily and frowned at the pad and pen again. For some reason the idea of not being able to write was more disturbing than not being able to speak. He was suddenly exhausted, both physically and emotionally. He’d been through so much three years ago when Victoria had torn through his life. He hadn’t thought anything could be worse than that, but at least he’d recovered. Now this. Hadn’t he had his share of pain for one lifetime?

“You’re actually quite lucky Mr. Fraser,” the doctor assured him. “That you can read and understand me is quite promising. Let us find out exactly what’s wrong and I think you stand a good chance at a full recovery. Just give us some time, okay?”

Time. Ben nodded, swallowing the pain of knowing just how much time was likely to be demanded. He’d paid that price before. Spending weeks in bed was not something he looked forward to.

Maggie frowned into the depths of the box she was unpacking, or leastwise trying to unpack, and knew she was going to have to take Kowalski up on his offer to help her. She stood with an irritated frown and swept her shoulder length strawberry blonde hair from her eyes, wishing once more she could put it back in the braid she preferred. Unfortunately, there were certain things that could not be handled with only one hand, a braid was just one of them.

She was momentarily confused when a loud electronic bell intruded in the silence of the small, one bedroom apartment until she realized it was the doorbell. Who would be-- Then she remembered and glanced at the clock beside the bed: 4:00 pm. The woman was right on time.

Maggie stood and quickly hurried to the front door, hoping she wasn’t too much of a mess from her rather inept attempts to establish some kind of order out of the stuff she’d had her friend ship down to her. A quick glance around assured her she hadn’t even made a decent dent. Oh well....

She flung the door open without checking the viewer and offered the smartly dressed young woman outside a broad smile. “Pamela Rogram?”

The woman nodded, offering a ready smile in return. “Ms. Mackenzie?”

“Please come in,” Maggie quickly invited her, stepping back. “Ignore the mess. I just got my stuff from home and I’ve only just started to unpack. Might I get you some tea or soda?”

“Oh, no thank you,” the other offered, glancing around the small apartment and following Maggie to the couch, the only available seating. Pam silently wished she’d gone with her first impulse and worn her jeans and a loose sweater, but there was always that desire to convey a professional image. Now she’d have to work to set the other woman at ease. Her hostess quickly made to clear the coffee table but Pam stopped her. “Don’t worry about that. I know what it’s like to move. Is this permanent or temporary?”

“Temporary,” Maggie answered readily, joining the other woman on the long couch. She winced sharply as she moved wrong and quickly changed her position, drawing her legs up under her. “Actually I own a little place about five kilometers outside Inuvik in the Northwest Territories. Surrounded by trees and the untamed wilderness.... I miss it already.”

“Sounds beautiful,” the other offered.

Maggie shrugged and regretted it. “One room cabin,” she explained, shoving her discomfort aside. “It’s enough for me. So--” She sighed, carefully. “You said you needed my help on something to do with Ben?”

“Yes,” Pam agreed, sweeping overly long dark bangs behind her ear. She needed another haircut she decided even as she settled a narrow briefcase across her lap and pulled out a manila folder. “As I told you on the phone, I’m a Speech Diagnostician. Dr. Spears has asked me to do an evaluation on your brother but I need a family member to help me with this pre-evaluation form.”

Maggie frowned. “I’ll try,” she offered pensively, “but I’m afraid I don’t know him that well. Until four months ago, I didn’t even know he existed. That is, I knew he existed, I just didn’t know he was my brother.”

Pamela’s brows lifted in clear question.

“It’s a long story,” Maggie told her dismissively. “How can I help you?”

It was a story that Pam was sure she’d like to hear, but she decided not to press for it. “The questions are really fairly simple. Can you tell me his full name?”

As it turned out, there was very little that Maggie was able to provide beyond general information. Name, address, marital status, occupation and that sort of thing was easy enough. She was a bit surprised to realize that she didn’t know his birthday or how old he was, and she was completely lost on the personal and social information questions.

“Why do you need to know hobbies or what his personality was like prior to the injury?” she asked confused.

“This kind of brain trauma can also cause personality changes.”

“You mean like depression?”

“No,” Pam shook her head, then frowned as she reconsidered that answer. “Or I mean yes, he will undoubtable go through a period of depression sooner or later, but that’s not what I meant by personality change.”

“You mean he won’t be Ben any more?” Maggie asked in sudden concern. “He could --change somehow? Become mean and irritable?”

“Meaning he never has before?” the woman smiled.

Maggie took the question seriously. “Ben is one of the sweetest, gentlest, most polite men you could hope to meet, Ms. Rogram. I’m sure he has a temper like anyone else, but I’ve never seen it, or even heard tell of it.”

“He --internalizes his pain?” the other asked with a pensive frown. “Bottles it up?”

“I’m not sure I’d--” Maggie sighed and fought to find a way to best describe Ben. She wound up relating the story of how he’d come to Chicago in the first place on the trail of his father’s killers, how he’d been punished for turning in one of his own, how he’d later recaptured the man when he escaped, assumed responsibility for his safety --even risking his life to protect him-- and seen him returned to prison. It was a story that had taken her most of the last four months to piece together, but if it didn’t say something about who Benton Fraser was, she didn’t know what else would.

“He sounds like a remarkable man,” Pamela offered when Maggie finally drew the story to a close. “It also sounds like you’re pretty proud of him.”

Maggie had to think about that one for a second. “I guess so,” she agreed. “Quite frankly I didn’t believe half the things I’d heard about him before I met him. Risking his life to arrest a man in the middle of a severe blizzard for fishing over the limit? Tracking a man seventeen hundred kilometers for littering?” Maggie smiled in memory. “But now I have no doubt that they’re all true --and that there’s a lot more to the stories then I’ve heard. There was one down here a couple of years ago, I think. Something about a train full of Mounties and averting a nuclear catastrophe?”

“That was him?” Pamela asked in surprise. “I remember that one. It made the national news!”

“That was him,” Maggie agreed. “You want to know a funny thing about Ben?”

Pam cocked her head to the side, clearly interested.

“If you asked him, which he was more proud of? Stopping that train or -- I don’t know -- helping a little girl find her lost puppy? He’d probably chose the puppy.”

“You’re kidding me?”

Maggie shook her head. “That’s Ben,” she said simply. “I’m sure he’s happy he was able to save the city and all, but somehow I just know winning a child’s smile means more to him than getting a commendation or his picture in the paper.”

“He likes children then?”

Maggie blinked as the question brought her crashing back to the purpose behind this interview. Again she had to stop and think. “I don’t know,” she answered honestly. “I only knew him for a few days before I had to return to Toronto. And for most of those, I didn’t know he was my brother. But somehow--” She shook her head. “Child, drunk, prostitute, movie star or politician-- I don’t think it much matters to Ben. They’re all equal. He’d give his life to protect any of them and he’ll chase them to the ends of the earth for stealing a pack of gum. Well,” she corrected herself with a smile, “maybe not for a pack of gum, but I think you know what I mean.”

“He has a very strong moral base and ridged value system,” Pam summarized, clearly impressed --but also worried. “Strong self-esteem and personal integrity. Duty comes first. That’s important for me to know. He sounds like a perfectionist. How’s he going to handle -- the loss of that perfection?”

It was Maggie’s turn to frown. “I don’t know,” she offered quietly. “I honestly don’t know....”

Margaret Thatcher listened pensively as she was given the same non-answers again, this time by Dr. Spears instead of Detective Kowalski. Apparently, the police officer hadn’t been trying to shield the truth after all.

“And when will you have a more definitive answer concerning his prognosis?” she asked, frowning into the phone.

Constable Turnbull stood to the side and frowned as well as he listened to her half of the conversation

“I see,” she sighed. “Thank you for your time Doctor.”

She hung up with a sad frown.

“I assume the news is bad, Sir?” the younger Constable observed quietly.

“The doctors don’t know anymore than Detective Kowalski at this point,” she sighed.

“And that would be--?” Turnbull prompted and immediately turned contrite. “Forgive me, Ma’am. I understood that there was a problem but not its nature.”

“He can’t speak Turnbull,” she told him bluntly. “It’s called Aphasia.” She frowned in confusion. “Or Aphonia. He mentioned both terms.” She shook her head, dismissing the confusion. “And is apparently the result of brain damage.”

“Brain damage!” the younger man echoed.

“I’m very much afraid Inspector Carruthers is going to have the same reaction,” she decided, frowning at Turnbull’s shocked expression. Mounties were suppose to be physically and mentally fit. Even the mention of brain damage in her report was going to cause a furor back in Ottawa. As a result of his investigation concerning his father’s murder four years ago, Fraser still had several enemies in the upper echelons and Thatcher knew perfectly well they would grab onto this as an excuse to see him removed from the force. Heck, she’d been more than willing to fire him without a second thought after simply reading his personnel file when she was first assigned down here!

“I’m going to have to do some major fighting if he isn’t to be forced into mandatory retirement,” she thought aloud.

“But if he can’t speak--”

“No one has said his condition is permanent yet Turnbull!” she snapped at the younger man. “As I recall there was the possibility that he might be paralyzed after Detective Vecchio shot him in the back two years ago but he was able to make a complete recovery from that debacle. I see no reason why he shouldn’t be accorded every opportunity to do the same again.”

“Of course not Ma’am!” Turnbull quickly agreed.

“Unfortunately, that decision isn’t going to be mine to make,” she continued darkly. “I’ll be leaving in another three days. I can’t put off the transfer any longer than that and Inspector Carruthers will be here tomorrow. He’s going to take one look at Fraser’s file, read the medical report and declare him unfit for duty! Fraser will be drawing a pension within two weeks if I can’t do something to stop it.”

She frowned pensively and drummed her fingers on the desk blotter.

Turnbull leaned forward slightly and asked conspiratorially, “If I might ask, Sir, what are you planning to do?”

She glanced up irritably and the younger man instantly straightened. “I don’t know yet, Constable,” she admitted, very much afraid what her failure might mean. The RCMP was Fraser’s life! If he were forced to retire.... “I don’t--”

A sudden thought hit her and she narrowed her eyes as she tested it. It was certainly unorthodox, she thought, and she doubted Fraser was going to like it-- She smiled. Damn what he liked. He’d like it even less if he were ordered to turn in his badge.

“Get me the phone number for Mackenzie King,” she ordered and leaned back in her chair. “You should find it in Fraser’s Rolodex.”

“The...reporter, Ma’am?” Turnbull questioned, confused.

“Don’t think Turnbull,” she dismissed him irritably, “you’ll hurt yourself. Just get me that number and do it quickly. We’ve got to get this snowball rolling before Carruthers can hope to stop it.”

“Anyway, I just wanted you to know what was going on,” Francesca offered with a little uncomfortable blush. Her gaze slid away from his to where the two dogs, Dief and Ante were getting reacquainted. She was glad she’d thought to bring the poodle with her. The sight, while bringing a smile to her lips, didn’t distract her from what she was saying. “I mean, I know I’ve been a bit of a pain in the past, flirting with you and all. I’ve made no secret of the fact that I -- well, you know what I mean. I made a real donkey’s posterior out of myself in the church that one time.” She blushed even harder at the memory. “I’m quite sure you -- um -- noticed my -- um -- condition earlier, or maybe Kowalski told you. It’s getting a bit difficult to hide and all. But I didn’t want you getting the wrong idea or anything. I’m really not--” She sighed suddenly as she glanced up and caught Ben’s somewhat uncomfortable but patient gaze. “Who am I kidding. With the way I’ve thrown myself at you, I don’t see how you could possibly have thought anything else!”

“Frannie!” Ray Vecchio exclaimed as a nurse wheeled him into the room. He noted Dief sitting quietly in the chair next to the window and smiled. Some things never changed. “Hey ya Dief! I see you have a girlfriend.” he greeted the wolf and big white poodle before turning a mock scowl on his sister. “When did you decide to get a dog Frannie? I shoulda known I’d find you here. You can’t be bothered to visit your own brother but you’ll pester poor Fraser here to death, is that it?”

Frannie had turned a momentarily shocked expression in his direction, which he fortunately missed, and now quickly stood, pulling her jacket closed as she fought to award him a teasing smile. “Well, you gotta admit Fraser is a lot easier on the eyes!” she quipped. “Besides all you ever do is complain when you’re sick. Who wants to listen to that?”

“Another business suit Frannie?” He eyed her suspiciously and caught the signs of an obvious bulge under the pale pink material as she gripped the two lapels tightly together. It was chic and expensive --but it wasn’t Frannie! He cocked his head to the side as he regarded her knowingly. “What’s under the coat Frannie?” he sighed. Was she sneaking Fraser lunch or something? “Champagne maybe?” he guessed, not putting it past her to want to celebrate Fraser’s reawakening in such a manner. Only Frannie would fail to realize that with the meds Fraser was on he didn’t dare have any --even if he wanted it, and Ray knew his friend didn’t drink to begin with. Unless that too had changed in the year he’d been undercover with the mob! Given everything else that had happened while he was gone, he didn’t think anything could surprise him anymore.

Frannie, however, wasn’t answering, she’d bent and picked up her purse and was making a hasty exit. “Yeah right,” she quipped with her normal acidity, stepping around the bed table and heading for the door, “like I don’t know he doesn’t drink! Come on Ante. Fraser, I’ll--”

Ray snagged her arm and spun her around. She wasn’t about to escape that easily. He was shocked by what he saw as her suit coat flew open, revealing all too clearly what she’d been trying so discreetly to hide.

Pregnant?!” he exclaimed in shocked disbelief and immediately glanced at her left hand. No he hadn’t missed the ring. She wasn’t wearing one.

Frannie had stepped slightly away from him and now drew herself up, defiantly proud before his shocked expression. She tugged her suit jacket back into place and buttoned it.

“Pregnant!” he repeated, still unable to believe-- His eyes swung to Fraser in disbelief.

“No Ray,” Frannie told him quietly, reading his expression easily. “It wasn’t him.”

Ray turned his gaze back to Frannie, surprised by her cool composure in the face of his righteous indignation. He narrowed his eyes angrily. “Kowalski--” he hissed.

Frannie grinned and bowed her head to hide her sudden amusement. She gave up the effort and looked back up with a grin, shaking her head. “Give it up Ray,” she told him, suddenly relaxed about the whole thing. “You’ll never guess and I’m not telling.”

Ray glared impotently up at her. “Oh yes you are or I swear to God I’ll drag myself out of this damn chair and shake you until your teeth fall out!” he declared angrily. “Of all the stupid-- I will not have my niece or nephew growing up a bastard because of your over-active hormones!”


It took Ray a long moment to realize that his sister had just hauled off and slapped him. He actually saw stars for a moment before the burning in his check registered and pulled his shocked mind back to reality.

“I grew up a long time ago Ray,” she hissed at him. “I’m not some kid needing you to chaperone me and I certainly don’t need your out-dated ideas concerning motherhood and marriage. I did the marriage number once Ray, remember? Because I was pregnant? You remember how that ended. The next time I tie the knot it’ll be for good, not because someone forced a woman-beating loser to marry me!”
She spun on her heel and marched for the door. Then suddenly stopped and spun back.

“Maybe when Fraser gets his voice back he can explain it to you, but I guarantee it’s not what you think! But you know what? You just go ahead and think whatever your dirty little mind wants to think because I just don’t care!” she hissed angrily. “And don’t you ever call my child a bastard again!”

With that she spun on her heel and stormed out of the room, pink coat flying behind her and high heels tapping sharply against the linoleum, Ante’s nails clicking at her side as the dog scrambled to follow. Dief gave a little whine at her leaving, and then laid his head on his paws while awarding Ray an irritated frown as only a wolf can do.

“What the hell?” Ray asked the air, still in a state of shock over the fact that his little sister had hit him. He turned to Benny and stared at him. “Did my sister just tell me where to get off, or did one of the nurses give me an overdose of something or other?”

Ben wasn’t at all sure how to react to what he’d just witnessed. He knew Ray wouldn’t appreciate his amusement but Francesca had been magnificent in her anger! He hid his smile in a cough and offered his friend a careful, non-committal shrug. For the first time in seventy-two hours, he was at least partially grateful that he couldn’t speak!

Ben was getting frustrated. Bored, frustrated, angry, irritated and depressed. They were all emotions he was far too familiar with of late. He held onto them like a shield against the pain and fear that lay hidden just beneath the more turbulent emotions. And he held onto his pride and dignity to keep it all carefully under firm control. But it wasn’t easy, and the Speech Diagnostician wasn’t helping matters. She kept asking him, repeatedly, to do things he simply could not do!

He could not say his name. He could not count to ten or say the alphabet. She expected him to be able to say the days of the week? He couldn’t even imitate her, though she insisted that he try.

“Scissors,” she said. He merely stared at her, refusing to humiliate himself any further. It was more than obvious he couldn’t say it. The only sounds he’d produced since waking were best described as noise, despite his best efforts. They had absolutely no relationship to the sounds he fought to produce. Quite simply, he saw no point in continuing the exercise.

“Frustrated?” she asked with a sympathetic smile. Her gentle understanding made him feel like a heel. He closed his eyes and bowed his head. He couldn’t even apologize! “I know this is difficult Mr. Fraser but it really is very important. Your doctor claims that your comprehension is still intact so I’ll try to explain. Stop me if I say something that confuses you, okay?”

He frowned, knowing he was going to get one of those simplistic little speeches that told him absolutely nothing except ‘don’t worry’. He closed his eyes and shoved the feelings aside. It was getting harder to do.

“You know you have ‘aphasia’, but that’s a very generalized term and painfully misunderstood. It's what we call a multi-modality language impairment, meaning that it effects the speech centers of the brain. There are two. Broca's area and Wernicke's area. Interestingly, the two speech centers are confined to only one side of the brain, typically the dominant left side. This is different than most other brain functions which are handled by the analogous brain regions on both sides. Your PET scan showed significant damage to Broca's area which is in the frontal lobe--" She indicated an area on her own head. "Roughly here. It's responsible for generating meaningful speech."

"Wernicke's area is necessary for speech recognition. These areas are closely related, naturally, and your PET scans indicated possibly damage here. Quite simply the fact that you're having no problem understanding me is surprising --and quite promising.”

“My job,” she continued with a sigh, “is to try and determine what kind of aphasia you have. Is it an articulatory problem? Is it a voice problem? Is it a problem with programing?” She tapped her head. “Is it aphonia, apraxia, arthria, dyslalia or something else? Each one is treated differently. Once I’ve determined exactly what the problem is, then I can help design a course of treatment that will benefit you the most. If I’m asking you to do something that you know you can’t do, please try it anyway. You just might surprise yourself, and each attempt tells me a little bit more about your condition. Do you understand me?”

Ben sighed and nodded, glancing over to where Dief lay in the visitor’s chair, snoring softly. A mute man and a deaf wolf. That suddenly struck him as a rather painful pairing.

“Mr. Fraser?” the woman asked, drawing his attention again. “Do you understand me?” she repeated patiently.

He frowned, having already answered and not at all liking the intimation that he was simply responding with what he thought she wanted to hear! He nodded again, curtly -- and won a smile.

“I’m irritating you, aren’t I?” she noted easily.

He rolled his eyes. That was an understatement! But she just kept smiling and after a moment he found himself smiling as well. He suddenly realized that though she might have questioned his assertion of understanding and repeated herself --she hadn’t spoken down to him. Her explanation had been detailed and technical. And she seemed to accept his second affirmation. She knew perfectly well exactly how frustrating this was for him, having worked with patients just like him many times before. She knew she was irritating him and merely sat back to give him the time he needed to deal with it, accepting him at his pace, on his terms.

That knowledge went a long way to easing the building tension and anger that was locked carefully away.

He offered a deep sigh and shoved the rest of his irritation aside. Yes, this was going to be frustrating. She was going to ask stupid questions and he was going to sound like an idiot, but it was something they were both going to have to get through. He did understand her explanation and understood her need to document his non-answers to her questions. If she said it would tell her something, he would simply have to believe her.

With a nod and a shrug, he waved at the papers she held. There were obviously several sheets to the test --and they were only half way through the first one.

It was going to be a long afternoon.

“Mr. Fraser?”

Ben blinked, bringing his thoughts back to the present and turning from the gentle fall of rain against the hospital window to his unknown visitor. She was an older woman, with long salt and pepper hair pulled back in a simple braid. He estimated her to be in her late forties or early fifties. She was dressed in the omnipresent uniform of all doctors, a white smock. The bright floral dress beneath it was a surprising contrast.

“I didn’t wake you?” she asked solicitously as she entered his area of the room he now shared with another man.

Ben opened his mouth to respond -- and snapped it shut just as quickly. His inability to speak was really beginning to be more than frustrating. He shoved the sudden surge of anger and pain away, refusing to acknowledge it, and simply shook his head.

Diefenbaker offered a soft greeting and the older woman smiled at him. “Hello there,” she nodded. “I’ve heard about you. Diefenbaker isn’t it?” She glanced at Ben for confirmation.

He nodded. The attention-starved wolf, or so you would think from his reaction, wagged his tail happily as the doctor awarded him several long strokes. Ben rolled his eyes. Diefenbaker was getting terribly spoiled here!

The woman gave Ben’s companion another long moment of attention before turning from him back to her patient. “I’m Dr. Martin,” she supplied with a smile. “I’m in charge of Occupational Medicine here at the hospital. Normally I simply oversee things, Occupational Therapy, Physical Therapy, Vocational Rehabilitation -- that sort of thing. It all pretty much falls under my auspices. I do however like to keep my finger in the pie so to speak, and my speciality is Communications Disorders. To make a long story short, your case caught my eye and I have a bad habit of getting personally involved with cases that catch my attention.” She offered him a conspiratorial wink. “Since no one has been officially assigned as your Speech Therapist, I’ve decided to take it on myself. I hope you don’t mind?”

Ben couldn’t think of any reason why he should. He offered another shake of his head.

She pulled one of the visitor’s chair closer to his bedside and settled herself before opening a thick file she’d brought with her. “I understand you’re a Mountie?” she asked, glancing up from the papers.

He nodded, suspecting this was going to be another long interview....

“I don’t believe I’ve ever met a Mountie before,” she observed. “If you actually believe in that ‘always get your man’ motto, then I suspect you are going to be quite tenacious about getting your voice back, aren’t you?”

Ben sighed, unable to correct her as regards to the RCMP motto. He was surprised at how much the simple but common mistake irritated him, and realized it was an artificial reaction caused by depression. He refused to give into that particular emotion and forced it aside once more. Instead, he pasted on a pleasant expression and offered a simple nod. He had every intention of being more than ‘tenacious’ as she put it.

“Tenacity is good,” she nodded. “Are you also a perfectionist?”

Ben frowned and considered that. It wasn’t a label he was particularly fond of but he’d heard it before. In certain areas of his life, he supposed it did fit.

He lifted his hand and rocked his palm back and forth to indicate that she might use the term loosely.

“Perfection is not good,” she answered. “I’ve already spoken with Pam, the Speech Diagnostician that was here earlier?”

Ben nodded, indicating he knew whom she was talking about.

“Anyway, I haven’t got her official report or anything, but she did give me a run down on her findings. That combined with the other tests and neurological work up Dr. Spears ordered has lead me to a preliminary prognosis. Pam said you’d want to know it.”

Again Ben nodded. He hadn’t expected any kind of a report quite so quickly.

“I have to warn you quite bluntly, that your chances of a complete recovery here are not good.”

Ben closed his eyes for a long moment as he absorbed this. He had to get his voice back, and quickly, or they’d kick him off the force. Anything less than a hundred percent was unacceptable for a Mountie, or at least for him. He couldn’t imagine being stuck behind a desk for the rest of his career, relegated to the role of file clerk because his communications skills were in any way diminished.

“That isn’t to say it’s not possible,” the doctor added quietly, winning his attention again. “You have what we call apraxia. It’s basically a disruption in voluntary muscle control necessary for speech. You can chew and eat and swallow, but --” She paused in thought for a long moment. “Let’s say you’re eating an ice cream cone. You might lick your lips and think nothing of it. However, if I were to ask you to lick your lips?”

It was a leading question and naturally Ben attempted to --lick his lips-- and found he couldn’t.
She noted his sharp frown and nodded. She’d expected that.

“Again, we’re talking about voluntary or conscious control of the muscles. Pam also said you have some Global Dysphasia, which means that you can’t write --at least without great difficulty. She said you did manage to spell out your name but it took almost a full minute and was accomplished one letter at a time. Sound right?”

Again Ben nodded. He’d been both frustrated and pleased with the result. Three days before, he hadn’t been able to do even that!

“She also noted that your comprehension, memory, reading and math skills all appear to be intact,” Dr. Martin continued. “This is very promising. Quite simply I’ve never seen a case of aphasia where comprehension wasn’t impaired to some degree and quite often in direct proportion to the expressive modality impairment.” She gave a self-mocking shake of her head. “That didn’t make any sense did it?

He nodded, indicating that he had understood perfectly.

She lifted a brow in surprise. “You understood that?”

She seemed simply surprised that he had understood the technical language, not questioning his honesty.

He nodded again.

“You’ve had medical training?” she guessed. He shook his head, surprised to find a smile pulling at his mouth. “A family member with aphasia?” He shook his head again. She was grinning broadly as she tried to figure it out. It was contagious.

She drummed her fingers on the table in thought and suddenly glanced up. “You read a lot!” she decided and snapped her fingers.

He nodded and cocked his head to the side in clear question.

“Your case history includes the fact that your grandparents were traveling librarians,” she answered the unasked question. “‘Wasn’t too hard to figure out you like to read.”

He nodded -- and waited.

She looked down at the file again and sighed, forcing herself back to their previous discussion. “Everyone always wants percentages when it comes to questions like this and I really hate having to break it down into cold numbers because no two cases are exactly alike. I imagine you’re one of those who wants it broken down anyway, don’t you?”

Ben nodded. He wanted to know exactly what he was facing.

She nodded grimly. “Twenty-percent,” she answered bluntly. “The brain scans showed extensive damage to the areas which are most responsible for all expressed communication. They’re basically dead where you’re concerned and they will always remain that way. The brain cannot heal itself like a broken bone or twisted ankle. Once the nerves die, they do not regenerate. However,” she added emphatically, “the brain can and will compensate for the damage. When I say your chances for a complete recovery are only twenty-percent, I’m not saying you’ll never speak again, ‘though there is that possibility too. Personally, I’m a bit optimistic. You don’t strike me as the kind of man to give up easily. It’s going to be a long and difficult struggle, and I doubt you’ll ever take speech for granted again the way the rest of us do. It will always require an effort --but, if you work at it, you will speak again. And you will have to work at it.” She closed the file and leaned forward in her chair. “This may seem like a stupid question to you right now, but I’m going to ask it anyway: Do you want to speak again Mr. Fraser?”

He nodded grimly.

She nodded in turn and stood, putting the file down on the bed table and moving to stand beside him. “Say ‘yes’,” she ordered him.

He knew too well that he couldn’t but he tried anyway. It seemed to be the effort that she was wanting more than the words anyway. She nodded, making no comment on the disjointed sound that he’d produced.

“Now don’t say it,” she told him. “Mouth it.”

He frowned in confusion but did as she said, concentrating on mouth and tongue position. “Good, good,” she decided. “You repeated the same motion. That’s important.” She paused and suddenly produced a rather large mirror from her pocket which she handed to him. “Remember what I said about apraxia? You don’t realize it, naturally, but you’ve forgotten the necessary muscle coordination of speech. Basically you’re going to have to relearn what you thought you already knew. It’s a little more complicated than that but I have a hard enough time trying to explain it to my students without trying to break it down into lay language. Okay, so you might understand the non-lay-language version but it involves a two hour lecture, so we’ll skip it for now. Watch yourself in the mirror and try again.”

Fraser frowned at the mirror and was somewhat surprised at the odd shape his mouth made. It certainly wasn’t what he’d been trying to do.

“Practice,” she told him. “Without sound. I don’t suppose you know how to read lips?”

Ben surprised her with a nod.

“You do?” she repeated. “Then you were deaf at some point in your life?”

No, he shook his head, frustrated that he couldn’t explain.

“Well, it’s a story you’re going to have to tell me one of these days. Do you sign by chance?”

Sign language? Why hadn’t he thought of that!

^Yes!^ he quickly signed. ^I -- friend -- deaf --^ He frowned as he struggled with the words, not at all sure why it should be so difficult --unless this was related to the same problem he had experienced when trying to write.

“Slower Mr. Fraser,” the doctor told him. “This kind of injury results in impairment of all methods of expressed communication including sign. However, sign language is very similar to pantomime which, while a form of communication, is not a language per se. You may find it the easiest method of comunication to relearn but it too will take effort on your part. Try signing one word at a time, picturing the sign in your head clearly before attempting to form it with your hands.”

Ben did as instructed. ^I -- had -- a -- friend --^

It took him almost five minutes to explain that he’d had a friend in Tuktoyaktuk who’d been rather cruelly excluded by some of his peers because he was deaf. It wasn’t something the teachers liked, so as part of a ‘learning experience’ the class had all been challenged to not speak for as long as possible. The teachers had been quite cunning in how they phrased it, making it into a game wherein the losers were the ones who were excluded from the group. Observation skills were vital for survival in the far north and this merely helped reinforce those lessons. Ben had gone a full month without uttering a single word in class.

Of course, choosing to be mute for part of a day wasn’t the same as being trapped in silence as he was right now, and he’d already learned the fundamentals of sign from his friend before the experiment began. No, that experience, while honing his sign language skills and teaching him something of reading lips, had done nothing to prepare him for the challenge he found himself currently facing.

He was both relieved and frustrated at the end of his little explanation. And a bit exhausted. His arms felt like lead.

“Most interesting,” she offered when he finished, showing absolutely none of the impatience he felt with himself. “I’m going to have to remember that one,” she continued. “I work with several families and it’s sometimes hard for them to adjust to an injury that robs a son or daughter of speech or hearing. Being forced to walk in another’s shoes is always a good way to open a closed mind.”

Dr. Martin nodded her salt and pepper head once. “As to your signing, I was quite pleased with what you just demonstrated. I saw the frustration on your face, and know you found it to be quite difficult, but you were able to form complete sentences and express abstract ideas. That is quite promising. I think we’re going to make your treatment program two fold. First of all, you will naturally have to undergo some intensive speech therapy. These will be one on one sessions with either myself or one of my assistants. But I also want you involved in a group setting. You need the emotional support of others who are in similar situations whether you realize it right now or not. I don’t want you to withdraw from social contact because of an inability to communicate. You’ve lost something very precious to you here, much like an arm or a leg, and you’re going to have to go through a grieving period, but I don’t want you to be overwhelmed by depression. A group situation will help you keep your goals and achievements in perspective. Besides,” she shrugged and offered an amused grin, “I have an odd number of students right now and that makes things rather awkward. Now, I don’t think you’re physically up to joining us quite yet, but I’ll check with Dr. Spears and we can certainly begin the speech therapy sessions. I’ve already given you your first assignment.” She gestured to the mirror that he’d set upon the table at his side. “Concentrate on the word ‘yes’ to begin with, then ‘no’. Later we’ll work with your name but right now I want you to work on forming one syllable words without sound. I’ll also work up a series of exercises I’ll want you to go through twice a day. Remember, no sound, not yet. I want you concentrating on your mouth and tongue, not your throat, okay?” Ben nodded. “Any questions?”

He did have a few but he was simply too tired to try and sign again, so he shook his head. They’d simply have to wait.

She nodded, standing to leave. “Well, Ben-- May I call you Ben?”

He nodded.

“Well Ben,” she continued, “I am glad I finally got to meet you and I’ll leave you to get some sleep now. Either I or one of my assistants will drop by tomorrow. Try to stay positive. I know you’re probably frustrated but you can and will get better, okay?”

Again he nodded and closed his eyes even before the Doctor had finished her leave taking. Damn but he hated being so weak. Having been through it before didn’t help any. He knew the tiredness would come and go, and right now it was overwhelming him.


Ben instantly recognized Inspector Thatcher’s voice and sat straighter as he turned from staring blindly out the window. There was another man with her, somewhat older and grey haired but standing tall and proud as he offered Ben a searching glance.

“May we come in?” Thatcher asked politely.

Ben nodded readily and adjusted his bed to a higher position.

“I stopped by earlier in the week but you were sleeping and I didn’t want to wake you,” she explained as the two moved to his bed side. He was quite frankly amazed that she was still in Chicago. Her transfer was supposed to have taken effect as of a week ago. He also knew he must be the cause.

“Let me introduce you to Inspector Carruthers,” she indicated the man standing at her side. He readily offered his hand and Ben took it. “As you know, he’ll be taking over as Chief Liaison Officer starting tomorrow. I’ve delayed my transfer as long as I could in order to help him acclimate to our rather unique relationship with Chicago and the States here.”

‘Unique relationship’?

“I have been hearing a great deal of good things about you son,” the man offered warmly. “Quite frankly I was a bit skeptical after reading your personnel file but that thing must have been compiled by some rather narrow minded men. Your methods may be a bit unorthodox but I certainly can’t complain about the results. You’ve got the entire city of Chicago rooting for you. You even made the New York Times you know.”

The New York Times?!

“I don’t think the RCMP could ask for a better poster boy, either here or up north!” the man concluded exuberantly.

Ben blinked in confusion. What was he talking about?! Ben glanced inquisitively at Meg, but read the warning light in her eyes and returned his attention to Inspector Carruthers. There was definitely something going on here he didn’t know about.

“Yes,” Meg inserted crisply. “Constable Fraser has been invaluable to me at the Consulate and a major credit to the Force.”

“Quite so,” the other man agreed readily. “Quite so! We can’t let those idiots up north throw him away because he was injured in the line of duty. I ask you, is that anyway to repay a man for his years of dedication and loyalty? I promise you son,” he leaned forward and patted Fraser’s forearm, “I will do everything in my power to see you are given every break possible. Those short sighted politicians in Ottawa may not like you but I think it took real courage to embarrass the hell out of them with that East Side Dam nonsense. Yes, a man who puts duty before self is a true symbol of what our motto is all about: Maintaince les Droit!”

Ben was-- He didn’t know what he was, but he was certainly confused!

“I think we’re embarrassing the Constable, Sir,” Meg offered the older man conspiratorially and Fraser clearly saw the amusement in her eyes. Whatever was going on, she seemed to be behind it!

“Ah yes, you did warn me he was modest, didn’t you?” the other rejoined knowingly and again patted Fraser’s forearm in a fatherly fashion. Ben found the move somehow patronizing but there was certainly nothing he could do about it. “Modesty is a virtue, son, but not if it gets you forced into early retirement!” The man winked at him.


“But that isn’t going to happen here so don’t you worry about it,” the man continued with another pat. “You just concentrate on getting well. I’ve already agreed with Meg here and submitted the necessary paper work to see you put on indefinite medical leave. If the powers that be want to fight that, we’ll just give them a battle they won’t forget!”

Ben was finally starting to get the picture here. Someone up north was using his injury as an excuse to force him into mandatory retirement. Meg had apparently seen it coming and made him into some kind of national icon or something!

He wasn’t sure if he should be grateful or appalled!

“Well, I guess we better let you get some rest. It’s been a pleasure meeting you, son, and I hope to see you back at the Consulate real soon, hmm?”

Ben was left with no option but to simply nod and shake the man’s hand, still somewhat bemused by what he’d been told.

“You go ahead David,” Meg told the other man, “I’ll meet you at the car. There are a few things I need to discuss with Constable Fraser. I’ll be down in a few minutes.”

“Ah!” the man offered readily. “A private good-bye. Of course. Take all the time you need.”

Meg fought not to roll her eyes and resisted the urge to shake her head until the man had left the room. “He’s supposed to be one of the best diplomats we have,” she commented to the air, “so why does he grate on my nerves so much?”

It probably had something to do with the condescending attitude but Fraser didn’t try to express the thought.

“So!” Thatcher sighed. “I guess this is our true good-bye then. I won’t have time to stop by again before my plane leaves tomorrow morning. I just wanted to tell you that I’ll miss you. We may have gotten off to a rocky start but I have truly enjoyed having you work under me --with me!” she corrected herself sharply and cleared her throat as a mild blush threatened her normal composure. “You’ve--opened my eyes to looking at things in a somewhat different way. Knowing you has changed me, I think for the better.”

Fraser knew the Inspector didn’t know sign language so if he was going to say anything he had to do it in writing. He reached for the bed table where a clipboard and felt tip pen lay. This wasn’t going to be easy.

“You want to tell me something?” she guessed as she watched him.

There were a lot of things he wanted to tell her but he lacked the courage to make a blunt pronouncement of his feelings. This was hardly the time or place anyway. The same obstacles that had always stood between them were still there, but he needed to say something!

He found he had to use the same painstaking concentration to write as he did to sign, only instead of concentrating on words he had to concentrate on letters. Meg stood close and read over his shoulder as he forced the words onto the paper. She reached out and gently stopped him after he’d managed one short sentence.

“I know Ben,” she said softly. “I know.”

She reached up with her other hand and traced his jaw, looking deep into eyes that mirrored her own memories and what might have been. And then she kissed him.

It wasn’t the deep passionate kiss that they’d shared atop a speeding train, or the defiant and hungry embrace they’d known in the tundra of the Canadian wilderness only a few short months before. This one was gentle and poignant and full of sadness. This was the last kiss. There were tears in both their eyes as she finally straightened again.

“I’ll never forget you Benton Fraser,” she sighed tearfully and fought valiantly to wrap her armor about herself again as she gathered up her purse and gave her business jacket a little tug. “I put my neck on the line to get you that indefinite leave of medical absence,” she informed him, forcing her normal manner into place. “You have one year before you’ll have to go before a Medical Fitness Review Board. I expect you to have made a full recovery by then, clear Constable?”

Ben nodded, knowing now that she had pulled some major strings to keep his enemies at bey. He couldn’t thank her enough for giving him the chance anyone else would have denied him. If he hadn’t made a complete recovery within a year, then he was no longer fit to remain in the RCMP and that was all there was to it. At least he still had a chance and silently vowed he wouldn’t let her down.

A nurse chose that moment to come in with his medication and a new IV bag. Her presence helped Margaret Thatcher complete her transformation back into the proud and slightly aloof superior officer she needed to be.

“Very well then,” she offered, fully composed once more. She reached out and took the small note he’d managed to write and careful folded it before slipping it into her purse without comment. “Inspector Carruthers is waiting so I better be going. I’ll be checking in with the Consulate periodically and expect to receive only glowing reports of your rapid improvement.”

There was nothing more to be said as neither of them felt like saying good-bye. With a nod and a self-conscious glance at the nurse, Inspector Thatcher turned on her heel and quickly left the room, leaving a part of herself behind her forever.

Ben watched her go and closed his eyes wearily, swallowing emotions he wasn’t willing to examine too closely as the nurse went quietly and efficiently about her routine.

“So,” Marty offered as Ben finished settling himself into the wheelchair and folded his hands before him. “Ready to go then?”

Ben offered a slight smile for the man’s infectious good mood and lifted a hand to circle in the air then toss forward as though saying ‘forward, Ho!’ It was good to get out of that bed. Even better to get out of that room! He’d been here two weeks now; and awake, trapped on his back, for eight of those days. They’d split his chest wide open to save his life and he had a number of wires and staples holding him together. At least the chest tube and direct IV line to his heart were now gone. There was still an IV attached to a pole on his wheelchair but he could ignore it.

He wasn’t particularly looking forward to this group therapy session he’d been told about, but anything was better than staring out the window at nothing. The last time he’d been shot, he’d had a westward facing window and had been forced into a voyeuristic situation, watching the interactions of other patients and doctors in the windows opposite his room. This time, his room was on the east side, and he had nothing but the traffic to stare at.

The class was not a speech therapy class per-say but was designed to help both in-patients and out-patients suffering from various types of communications disorders. The class Dr. Martin had placed him in was largely deaf, or so he’d been told. Many of her patients were fighting to learn to speak for the first time, others were dealing with the sudden loss of hearing due to accident or illness. He would be the only one without a hearing impairment, but Dr. Martin still felt it was the ‘right fit’ for him. Ben wasn’t sure why but bowed to her authority and experience in such matters. He figured it had something to do with the fact that he already ‘spoke’ sign, if somewhat brokenly at present.

They entered an elevator and Ben watched Marty push the button for the top floor. The group sessions were held in the solarium on the north wing and he’d been told they lasted for one and a half hours every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. It was late afternoon and the shades had been pulled on the westward facing windows while the eastern ones displayed a city cloaked in rapidly lengthening shadows. The sky beyond was festooned with ribbons of maroon and grey as the sun kissed the high streaks of cloud, bidding the world another slow and inevitable good-night.

There were about twenty other people already in the room gathered at one end and Marty leaned forward to whisper in his ear. “Whoops!” the man sighed. “Looks like we’re a little late. I’ll have to reset my watch.”

^Ah Ben!^ Dr. Martin greeted him enthusiastically. ^Glad you could join us. Marty, put him next to Jaelyn there and we’ll get started.^

He and Dief were instantly the center of attention. Actually, Dief caused more of a stir then he did.

Ben found himself maneuvered between two young women, one of whom stared at him blatantly, while the other stared momentarily at Dief before glancing away. He awarded both of them a friendly smile and pointedly turned his attention to the front of the class. He would never get use to the looks some women insisted on giving him. The reactions he sometimes got simply confused him, and sent a rather disquieting chill down his back. It always reminded him of the look a wolf might give an injured caribou.

Dief insinuated himself between Ben and the rather forward blond, much to Ben’s relief.

Dr. Martin took a moment to introduce Ben to the class and explain his condition. Then she had to do the same for Dief. The fact that the wolf was deaf sent a ripple of surprise through the group and caused a few questions which the doctor deflected for another time. Then each of the others in turn was required to stand and to at least attempt the same introduction of themselves, either verbally or through sign. Dr. Martin provided missing words and gentle correction while several aides throughout the group wrote the conversations out for those who couldn’t follow them. Ben realized that there were actually only about ten or eleven students in the class. The rest were assistants and volunteers.

He concentrated on memorizing the other patient’s names, knowing he would be interacting with them on a regular basis --whether he wanted to or not. They were quite an eclectic group, male and female, ranging in age from a teenage girl to a senior citizen. Many had been in car accidents, a few had suffered strokes and others had been ill; all were in various stages of recovery. Their verbal and hearing impairments also ran the gambit from moderate hearing loss, to a near locked-in quadriplegic who was learning to use a computer interface for communication. Ben’s condition was fairly moderate compared with most of them and he felt a stab of guilt for being somewhat depressed earlier.

The woman to his right stood in turn and faced him. ^My name is Susan,^ she signed slowly, spelling her name and adding the symbol at the end which the others had given her. At least Ben assumed the others had given it to her. It was considered rude in certain deaf circles for a person to name themselves in such a manner. It was a honor left to a close deaf friend. The sign chosen always reflected something of the person’s personality. In this case, Susan’s ‘name’ was an ‘s’ that brushed the tip of her nose, which seemed to indicate that she could be silly at times. Apparently she agreed with that or she wouldn’t have accepted it.

^I had--^ she continued and had to spell out ‘meningitis’. ^And now I am deaf. I am very--^

Ben glanced away as she made a fairly common mistake for someone who was just learning sign and tried to repeat ‘very’ incorrectly. For most words in sign, repeating for emphasis was fine, but ‘very’ was one of the exceptions to the rule. It took on a very different, and somewhat obscene meaning, if repeated incorrectly. An assistant quickly stepped forward to correct her as a few of those around them choked back incoherent giggles. Fortunately, Susan couldn’t hear them. Ben simply ignored the mistake as best he could as she concluded correctly--

^--very, very happy to meet you.^

--even if he did suspect it had been no mistake. Ben merely awarded her the same polite smile and nod he’d given all the others and turned his attention to the young woman on his left. She was the last to introduce herself. She stood hesitantly and faced him, but did not make eye contact. It was obvious she was an in-patient. He saw evidence of bandages beneath her clothing and, like himself, she had an IV pole attached to her wheelchair. She was the exact opposite of Susan and paused to sweep her long, dark hair nervously behind an ear before beginning.

^My -- name -- is --^ She was one of the few to attempt both sign and spoken words. The signs were slow and awkward, but he noted that her voice seemed to be quite normal. Any hearing impairment must be quite recent.

^--Jaelyn,^ she spelled carefully but did not add the symbol at the end to indicate that she had yet been given her ‘sign’ name. ^I am deaf,^ she concluded simply and sat down. He noted that she hadn’t included the reason for her deafness as everyone else had. So did Susan.

The willowy blonde to his right leaned forward and signed dramatically. ^Why?!^ she demanded, her gestures large and aggressive, the equivalent of shouting. ^She never says ‘why’!^

^She doesn’t have too Susan,^ Dr. Martin answered crisply in both languages. ^We don’t force people to talk about things they don’t want to. She’s not ready yet.^

^That’s stupid!^ Susan rejoined rudely

“I was attacked.”

It was little more then a whisper but Dr. Martin reacted sharply, lifting a hand in clear order to forestall any further comment by Susan, her attention riveted to Jaelyn who merely bowed her head in silent pain, letting her long chestnut hair fall forward to shadow her face. Ben didn’t know what had happened to her, but clearly this was an important moment for her.

He couldn’t allow her to let it slip away. Gently, he reached out and tilted her head back up.

She jerked from his touch. That, and the momentary panic in her grey eyes, told him more clearly than words that she’d been raped, in addition to whatever other injuries she’d suffered. Her gaze was shuttered and fearful as she stared at him.

^Susan -- cannot -- hear -- you,^ he signed slowly, making no attempt to touch her again.

Her gaze slipped beyond him to the other woman who was frowning in irritated confusion. Jaelyn drew herself up straighter and glared at her defiantly.

^I -- was -- attacked!^ she repeated in sign, her movements jerky but clear. ^Happy now?^

^No Jaelyn,^ Dr. Martin stepped forward, intervening. ^No one is happy to know that, but I think you’ve taken a large step forward in being able to tell us. Now,^ she sighed expansive, which was quite an achievement in sign language, ^I think it’s time we move on. Let’s break into our pairs. The assignments are on the board if you’re not sure. Ben, you’re paired with Jaelyn. Either she or Marty will explain what’s required. Keri? Could you work with Thomas for a moment. Susan, I’d like to speak with you outside please, now.^

Ben was not surprised the other woman was pulled aside but hoped she’d be given another chance. He’d been warned that the expression of emotion here was actively encourage, but attacks on other patients were forbidden. The others dispersed around the large room as he turned to Marty and Jaelyn with a curious look. He’d been given very little other information about what to expect.

^Okay,^ Marty offered with that ever present smile of his. ^The idea here is quite simple. You two have to talk. It doesn’t matter what you discuss as long as you practice your communication skills, right now that’s sign language for both of you. Hopefully, Ben will eventually help us teach lip reading, once he progresses a bit toward getting his voice back. For now, both of you will use sign. For the next hour and--” He glanced at a wall clock, “ten minutes, you’re best buddies. We change partners every session, so eventually you’ll meet everyone and hopefully form some lasting friendships. Visiting outside of group hours is perfectly acceptable and actively encouraged. Now,^ he faced Ben more squarely, ^Jaelyn’s injury and loss of hearing are fairly recent, so she’s still learning sign.^ He turned to Jaelyn, signing slower. ^Ben’s injury effects all forms of expressed communication. He may be a little slow to sign something, but he understands everything clearly and already knows sign language, so if you get stuck for a word he can help you.^ He glanced back at Ben, producing a large pad and felt tip pen. “If she doesn’t understand something you sign, you get to write it, then repeat the sign. If your chest starts hurting, you’re to tell me. Questions?”

Ben frowned at the pad and pen, hoping Jaelyn didn’t require a lot of translations or they’d never get anything done.

It all seemed fairly straight forward and Jaelyn had obviously been through it before. Ben offered both of them a nod. Jaelyn glanced away and swallowed convulsively. Ben watched her pensively, part of him wanting to comfort the obvious pain she was in; another part angered by it and wanting only to run as far as possible from her. The second reaction was irrational and selfish, and completely unlike him: He didn’t understand it.

^Then go for it!^ Marty signed cheerfully, standing up and stepping aside. ^I’m just the referee here!^

Something red caught the corner of his peripheral vision and Ben turned to see Turnbull in full red dress uniform trailing closely on Kowalski’s heels as the two followed the sidewalk to where he, Ray and Dief sat in the morning sun. Well, in Dief’s case -- snored.

“Hey Fraz! Vecchio!” Kowalski sang out as they drew nearer. “Nurse said I’d probably find you out here. How’s it going?”

“Same ol’--same ol’,” Vecchio answered for them both and leaned back in his wheelchair as he eyed the Mountie beside Kowalski. Seeing the two of them together was a bit-- Nah, he thought dismissively. Thatcher was gone. She couldn’t have ordered-- Still, the thought did make him smile. Turnbull musta just asked for a lift or happened to arrive at the same time by pure chance. “Benny here’s trying to teach me sign but it’s kinda hard given I have only one hand at present, and my left one at that!”

Kowalski grabbed a nearby chair and plopped down. Dief offered an undignified grunt as his morning nap was abruptly ended. He stood, stretching languorously, and Turnbull quickly bent to ruffle his ruff before assuming that relaxed parade rest stance that Mounties seemed to prefer. Ben swallowed his irritation at being unable to correct the wolf’s rather unseemly behavior.
Vecchio cocked his head to the side and grinned up at the younger Mountie. “So Turnbull,” he sighed, “who’s guarding the Consulate while you’re visiting Fraser?”

“Constable Mackenzie has requested a temporary transfer to the Consulate and been granted convalescent duty,” the over-exuberant young man offered readily. “She is filling in for me while I fill in for Constable Fraser, temporarily, of course!” he added with a reassuring smile.

Ben appreciated, but didn’t need, the reassurance. He’d known that a replacement would be needed, ‘though he wasn’t sure he could see Turnbull in the position. And he was of course quite pleased to hear that Maggie would be sticking around for a while. They might actually get a chance to know each other. As long as the powers-that-be didn’t try to jerk him back to Toronto or Ottawa, Ben would be happy. He’d never planned to stay in Chicago indefinitely but he didn’t want to be in a city of strangers. After the two months he and Ray had spent in the Yukon, home was calling him harder than ever. He sighed.

Kowalski noticed. “Hey!” he frowned in concern. “You okay?”

Ben answered with a smile and dismissive shake of his head. He was fine. He was always fine.

Ray took his answer at face value and shrugged. “Okay, so!” It was his turn to sigh as he turned his mind to some secondary thought. “I don’t suppose you know a young lady here by the name of Jaelyn McKenna, do you? She’s deaf and Turnbull seemed to think you might have run across her.”

Jaelyn, he frowned? He offered a shrug, wondering at the possibility of there being another deaf woman by the name of Jaelyn in the hospital and seriously doubting it.

“Was that a maybe?” Kowalski asked.

Vecchio laughed and winced as his broken ribs complained. “Definitely a maybe,” he answered. “Why you need to know? You involved in her case or something?”

Kowalski nodded. “She was attacked about four weeks ago, kidnap, rape, multiple stab wounds, left for dead. Evidence suggests there were at least two involved, maybe three. Really ugly stuff. Huey and Dewy were supposed to be handling it but Dewy busted his leg and Heuy had to leave town, family emergency. Besides, neither of them knows sign and Turnbull here does, and-- Well, your new Inspector seemed to think teaming one of his people up with one of us was a great idea. So, ah--”

Vecchio suddenly had a severe and prolonged coughing fit. Kowalski glared at the man while Turnbull quickly poured him a glass of water.

“Thanks-- Thanks Turnbull!” Vecchio managed to gasp and tried to control his grin, hiding it behind his water glass.

Kowlaski cleared his throat. He should have known Vecchio would laugh! Damn that Thatcher.

“Any ways, it looks like we’ve got one of her attackers but she refuses to talk to us, let alone come down and identify him. If she doesn’t talk to us real quick like, we’re going to have to let the scuz bucket go. And I guarantee, this guy’ll go out and do it again. Only next time, the girl won’t survive.”

Ben frowned grimly. He had seen the fear in her eyes two days ago when he’d first met her. He knew how hard it had been for her to even admit she’d been attacked. He glanced from Kowalski to Turnbull, lifted his hands and signed a question slowly.

“Ah,” Turnbull nodded and turned to Kowalski. “He wants to know ‘What about DNA testing?”

Kowalski shook his head. “They wore condoms apparently, or it just didn’t get done in time. The docs were a bit more worried about saving her life than doing a rape assessment.”

“You only have the one suspect?” Turnbull translated, watching Ben’s slow movements closely. “I am quite fluent in ASL, Sir,” he interjected. “I grew up with my cousin who was deaf. There’s no need to sign so slowly.”

“He can’t* sign any faster Turnbull!” Vecchio snapped irritably, and rolled his eyes in exasperation. Didn’t the idiot know anything!

“He can’t?” Turnbull frowned in confusion and corrected himself sharply, turning to address Fraser. “I mean, you can’t, Sir?”

Fraser felt a muscle in his jaw twitch. He wasn’t sure why the question should make him so angry, but it did. He was becoming more frustrated with the entire situation every day. He forced himself to take a calming breath and simply shook his head. He wasn’t in the mood to be explaining --again! He forced himself to concentrate on the case.

^You -- have -- only -- the one -- suspect?^ he repeated. ^I -- assume-- the D.A.-- is offering -- Witness -- Protection?^ It was a dangerous assumption to make, and he knew it.

Turnbull translated his words haltingly. It would have been better if he’d simply waited for Ben to finish, but he didn’t and it made Ben sound stupid, at least in his own ears.

“If she comes forward, then the D.A. will go with protection, otherwise--” Kowalski shrugged.

Ben understood what wasn’t said. There was a good chance that the perpetrators would come after her again, in a desire to silence her permanently. Whether she came forward or not wouldn’t change that, but without at least some form of police protection, she didn’t stand much of a chance.

He nodded his understanding and sighed, knowing he was going to have to confront the young woman. He wasn’t looking forward to it. Her pain had been a palpable thing the other evening and, while he sympathized with her, he had enough difficulties of his own to deal with. Selfish though that thought might be, it was a simple and inescapable truth. He didn’t want to do this --but knew he had no choice. Someone had to talk to her--

^Her --doctor?^ Again Turnbull translated haltingly and Ben struggled to hide his irritation.

Kowalski shook his head in disgust. “She refuses to get involved. Says it could undermine the patient / doctor relationship or some such nonsense.

Hardly nonsense, Ben thought, but she would have made a good ally. He glanced at his watch. 2:05 pm. Their class wasn’t until 4:00 and he wasn’t scheduled to be paired with her again in any case. No, he needed to do this privately.

^What --room?^

“315,” Kowalski answered. “She’s just down the hall from you.”

Ben was in 320. They were practically neighbors. He sighed wearily and decided to get this over with. It wasn’t going to be easy --for either of them. She wasn’t simply scared. She was terrified, and he didn’t know if he could break through the wall she’d built around herself.

^Take me -- there,^ he signed. He still found it painful to wheel himself around, ‘though the doctor assured him the muscles of his chest were healing nicely. He would, however, be much happier once the doctor allowed him to walk again for more than a few feet.

He’d be happy when he had the strength to walk more than a few feet!

She frowned at the Inn’s expenditure report for the month and tapped her pencil irritably on the desk top. It was an unconscious habit she had when frustrated. Her friend, Jeanie, had often teased her about it. The rhythmic sound often helped her focus-- But of course there was no sound now. The movement caught her attention and she glanced at the pencil, fascinated as she watched it quickly rise and fall, striking the hard surface and bouncing back up. She could feel the vibration of it, in her fingers and the bed table she was working on. She knew exactly what it should sound like. The vibration wasn’t something she’d ever even given a thought to before. It was -- almost as soothing in its own way as the sound had always been....

But, watching it-- up, down, up, down-- in silence... It was as though it were someone else were causing the action, not her.

She suddenly clenched her fist and still felt very separate from her own hand as the pencil broke in two --again without a sound. The silence was deafening. Deafening? Had she actually thought that? She closed her eyes and fought back the tears that begged for release even as a hysterical little bubble of laughter forced its way from her throat. She couldn’t hear it, but she could feel it. Not the emotion but the vibration of her own voice. If she didn’t control it, she’d be screaming.

God she was so tired of controlling it!

Something bumped the bed and she did scream, jumping half out of her skin as her eyes popped open.

A man sat in a wheelchair at the foot of her bed. ‘Ben’ her mind instantly provided. The mute Mountie from her group session the other day, the one she’d been paired with. She was quite curious about him, having gotten very little of his story in the time that they’d spent struggling to communicate, but now was not a good time. She glanced away self-consciously and hastily wiped at her checks where she knew a tear of two had escaped her tenuous control. She quickly wrapped that control back around herself like an invisible blanket, and forced herself to face him again.

He was frowning in concern.

^Are --you --okay?^ he signed slowly.

^Fine,^ she lied.

He cocked his head to the side.

Jaelyn sighed. Damn the man! “I’m depressed, okay?” she answered aloud, remembering that he heard just fine --and because she didn’t know the sign for depressed! “I don’t like being deaf. Is that surprising?”

He looked down, momentarily nonplused by her answer, then glanced back up and simply shook his head, his gaze and manner very serious. No, of course he wasn’t surprised.

Jaelyn closed her eyes and forced herself to take a deep calming breath. She couldn’t believe she’d just lashed out like that. He didn’t deserve it. She opened her eyes again and forced a small smile. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have snapped.”

A simple flick of his finger next to his head. ^Understood.^

She was quite certain he did. “Ummm --was there something in particular you wanted? I’m not good company at the moment.”

He nodded pensively and then seemed to sit straighter, squaring his shoulders as though he expected a fight of some kind.

^The --something --find --one --of --your --something.^

She frowned as she struggled to understand the signs she didn’t know. It took her a long moment to fill in the blanks. She suddenly felt herself pale.

“The police have found one of my attackers,” she repeated. It wasn’t a question but he nodded grimly just the same. “I know,” she answered in a monotone. “Get out.”

She closed her eyes and lay her head back upon the pillow, refusing to ‘listen’ to anything more he might have to say. She remained that way for a very long minute. She could not hear if he left or not, and so remained unmoving with her eyes closed for another long minute. God she didn’t need this right now!

Finally, she opened her eyes again.

^You --can’t --hide --from --this.^

She glared at this patient intruder irritably. “Why not?” she asked curtly.

He winced slightly under the lash of her sarcastic tone. She might not be able to hear her voice, but she still remembered how to use it. She’d tried to be polite, and it hadn’t worked.

^You --saw --them,^ he answered simply.

She shrugged. She had very little memory of what she had or had not seen. She’d been nothing more than a convenient target, a faceless female-- She shoved the thoughts back into the darkest corner of her mind with her other nightmares and turned her anger on this unwanted visitor. “But they didn’t see me,” she rejoined brutally.

^They --know -- who --you --are,^ he answered.

Jaelyn shook her head. “They didn’t exactly ask my name.”

^They --know,^ he affirmed solemnly. It was a certainty in his solemn gaze.

“No,” she refuted but he simply nodded, his gaze relentless.

^They --will --come --again,^ he promised her. ^You --saw --them. They --tried --something --you. They --will --try --again.^

Again, she guessed at the missing pieces easily enough and fisted her hands in the sheets beside her. She didn’t need to be reminded that they’d tried to kill her. The rape had seemed almost incidental.

“No!” she repeated again with desperate firmness. “I come forward, and I become a threat. They’ll see me then all right. I’ll be signing my own death warrant!”

^The --something (she thought it was the same sign he’d used earlier for police) --will --something --you.^

“Police protection?” she translated and offered a bitter laugh. “For how long? They’ve found one of them, Ben. One! I don’t even remember most of what happened to me. Thank God I don’t remember it! But I do know there was more than one of them. Even if I could identify the son of a bitch the police have, and I seriously doubt it, and even if I went through all the horrors of a rape trial and he was convicted --what about the other men who attacked me? Or what about when he gets out? You think he’ll get life or be rehabilitated? I’m not an idiot! The police can’t protect me forever. I come forward and I become a target. I stay quiet and they just might ignore me!”

Ben knew that everything she said was true. The man would not get life, perhaps ten or twenty-years if she were lucky, if he had previous convictions --and he’d be eligible for parole in less than half that. She had every right to be frightened of eventual retaliation, either from him or the others. It didn’t change the fact that she was already a target, or that she would forever be a victim if she didn’t stand up and face those fears.

^They --will --do --it --again.^

Ben watched as her face paled again. She might not remember everything that had happened to her, but she remembered more than enough for it to haunt her.

“--Damn you!” she hissed quietly.

He winced at the epitaph. She might not believe it, but he was trying to help her. However, given her obvious pain and fear the other day, he hadn’t expected anything else.

^If --you --don’t --identify --him, --they will --have to --let --him go,^ he finished resolutely.

Jaelyn glared at him. She was caught up in a tidal wave of emotions she didn’t want to deal with and it was all his fault! Why the hell did he have to just sit there so quietly and patiently, sympathetic and encouraging and demanding-- Who was he to reawaken all the pain and terror of that night! She’d had it all safely contained, buried except for the nightmares. He was worse then Dr. Vernes, her psychologist! Ben didn’t have any idea what had happened that night. She had very little idea what had happened that night! Yet he --and the police-- expected her to relive it --again and again and again! The idea of taking the witness stand against any of them made her want to vomit. She’d read too many horror stories about what the defense would do to her. They’d make it her fault. Make her look like a slut and that she’d asked for it! This Mountie actually expected her to sacrifice herself for the sake of someone she’d never even met? She knew those monsters enough to know they’d do it again! He didn’t have to tell her that, and make it her fault! Why couldn’t someone else come forward? Why hadn’t anyone come forward before her?

No one had tried to protect her!

God, why did she have to think of that? Why did she have to see the vicious circle and know that the next victim would hate and blame her as much as she did the one who must have proceeded her? Those monsters had been too organized not to have done it before. The circle had to be broken --but why did it have to be her? Why?

She cried, a part of her wishing that her mind would shatter and give her an escape, an excuse to flee the pain of reality. She thought it really should. Other people fell apart and went insane with far less provocation. Why couldn’t she? It sounded so peaceful right now. She wanted to scream --but she wouldn’t be able to hear it even if she did. The idea of not being able to hear her own screams somehow made it impossible to opt for that release. She had absolutely no care that the stupid Mountie or anyone else might be there. He’d done this to her, ripped her heart wide open again. He deserved to see what he’d done!

She opened her eyes to offer him another glare --only to discover he was about to leave. Good, a part of her screamed! She had her excuse.

“No!” she cried aloud. He turned back to her in surprise. His eyes were filled with a sad compassion, and guilt that he’d caused her so much pain. Her breath caught in her throat at the silent understanding she saw mirrored there. He merely nodded acceptance of her ‘no!’ and turned away again.

“No!” she repeated, knowing he’d misunderstood. “That’s not what I meant! I’ll do it, damn it! I’ll try to identify the son of a bitch!”

Ben turned back, not at all sure he’d heard correctly. Jaelyn was an emotional wreck. He’d known he was going to hurt her by confronting her about what had happened, but he hadn’t known how much. Her emotions were a raw and gaping wound, and all he’d done was rip it open again.

“I’ll do it,” she repeated in a whisper. “What do I have to do?”

Jaelyn sat as if frozen and concentrated on Ben who sat in his wheelchair at the foot of her bed. It was the only way she could get through this. She blocked the others in the room from her mind and fought to imagine that he was the only one there. The spiky haired detective and his red clad companion, the Assistant State’s Attorney in her immaculate grey suit and the state certified sign language interpreter were unwanted phantoms. Why the hell did she need a certified sign language interpreter? She was still learning the stupid stuff and preferred the questions to be in writing. It wasn’t like she was gonna try to answer in sign language. The woman asking the questions claimed it was required by law. Jaelyn would have really preferred to just make her statement into a tape recorder and not have all these strangers listening and analyzing her every word!

This was painfully difficult. How the hell was she going to make it through an actual trial? She clasped her hands firmly before her and switched off the rising tide of emotion as though turning off a lamp.

“I remember the party,” she answered in a monotone. “I remember thinking it was getting out of hand and wanting to go. That --what’s his name --was --was being overly friendly.”

~Mr. Dawson?~ the woman in her suit jotted the question on her legal pad. The spiky haired detective had to cock his head at an odd angle to read it over her shoulder. Jaelyn ignored the sign language interpreter who automatically repeated everything, both written and spoken. Jaelyn simply nodded. ~Did he say anything to you?~

“I don’t remember his exact words,” she sighed. “He --liked my dress and wanted to dance. I --he made me uncomfortable. I don’t remember anything after that until I woke up in the bed. The doctors said I was probably drugged.”

~But you don’t know for sure? You’re missing large pieces of your memory, and not just that night. You could have returned his advances and not remember it?~

Jaelyn’s hand clenched the sheet beside her as she read the question. It was the kind of thing the defense was sure to ask her in a trial.

“No,” she answered firmly.

Ms. Kowalski studied her for a long moment before writing again. ~The defense is going to attack that. I need to know, honestly, how many boyfriends you’ve had and how many you’ve slept with?~

Jaelyn watched as Ben glanced away from the interpreter, seemingly almost as uncomfortable with the question as she was.

“None,” she answered curtly.

Ms. Kowalski frowned and Ben glanced back at her. Damn the man and his blue eyes!

The woman wrote quickly and shoved the pad back at her. ~You’ve had no boyfriends, ever? No one’s going to believe that.~

“I’ve had boyfriends,” she snapped irritably, and glared at Ben, angry that he was putting her through this. “Exactly two and I didn’t sleep with them.”

~How old are you?~


~Are you homosexual?~

Jaelyn stared up at the ceiling for several long moments, wondering how in the world she was going to be able to do this! She couldn’t do this. She just couldn’t!

Ms. Kowalski touched her arm and Jaelyn gasped, jerking away from the contact. The woman held the pad up for Jaelyn to read.

~I can’t help you if you don’t tell me the truth Jaelyn,~ she had written. ~The defense is going to do everything in their power to make you look bad. I guarantee they’ll find your boyfriends and ask them about you. Do you expect a jury to believe you were a virgin?~

“I am telling the truth!” she hissed angrily, turning her glare on Ms. Kowalski and ignoring Ben’s stoic regard. She was sure he wouldn’t believe her either but it didn’t matter. “The only man I will ever sleep with, willingly, will be my husband! I am not homosexual but I’m not promiscuous either! The jury may not believe me, and society may scoff, but it’s my body and my decision, and those bastards stole it from me!”

She glanced at Ben and was surprised to see a quiet sympathy in his regard. She didn’t want his sympathy! Why did he have to believe her? Why did it matter to her if he did or not? She shoved the thought from mind. It didn’t matter. He was nothing more than a stupid cop who’d snuck by her defenses and was putting her through hell! A Mountie. She glanced at the red clad stranger beside the detective. He was blushing profusely and pointedly looking away. He almost looked like he wanted to cry or something! Her mind instantly flashed on an image of Ben in that uniform, standing beside the detective, with that patient, understanding look--

She shoved the image aside. Given what she’d been through she was a bit surprised she could find any man physically attractive, especially given that she still cringed when the doctors inspected her wounds.

God, she would be so happy to get out of this place!

She forced the flood of emotions aside, imagining herself in a frozen wasteland where her feelings were as frozen as her body, where this stupid Mountie was the only person for miles around and if she screamed in the silence of her mind, she could actually hear the echos.

Ms. Kowalski dropped the question of her virginity and moved on to the rape itself, but Jaelyn remembered very little about it. What she did recall was disjointed and nightmarish, as though it were happening to someone else. She remembered--whats-his-name, but not the other guy. How many times had they told her the one’s name? It wouldn’t stick for some reason. She could not remember it. She remembered his face though. She’d had no trouble picking him out of the mug book they’d brought her to identify him. But the other man was a faceless mannequin. She wasn’t even sure of the color of his hair, only that he wasn’t --what’s-his-name.

Part of Jaelyn’s amnesia was organic, part of it was traumatic. Dr. Vernes thought she was suppressing the identity of her second attacker because it was someone she’d known.

She prayed he was wrong. Jaelyn couldn’t imagine anyone she knew doing-- The rape itself was bad enough but it was incidental. There was no effort to conceal their identities. They’d planned to kill her all along!

She remembered the knife. It was a broad bladed chef’s knife and she remembered her blood on it. She didn’t remember the pain and she didn’t remember being stabbed. Her mind had mercifully blocked that. She did have three very deep wounds which should have killed her, but by some miracle hadn’t. The blood loss had, however, caused brain damage, leaving her deaf and with large holes in her memory she might never get back.

Like Ben.

She stared at him as she answered their questions, tuning her own words out. He’d been shot, she knew. The blood loss had caused brain damage, just as it had with her, only in a different part of the brain. Was that how he’d snuck by her defenses? Because he was in the exact same position she was? Because he had to know exactly what she was going through, at least on some level? Because someone had tried to kill him too?

She focused on him and ignored the others. He seemed to understand --that need, to focus on--something or someone-- and returned her angry glare solemnly, without flinching. She would glance away only long enough to read Ms. Kowalski’s questions and then direct her answers at him, watching the others only in her periphery. She saw the other woman note her intense regard of the man at the foot of her bed and frown, but she didn’t question it, for which Jaelyn was grateful because she couldn’t have explained her need if the woman had asked.

“I don’t remember anything else,” she answered at last when she finally realized the questions were getting repetitive. She suddenly found herself barely able to hold her eyes open. She was totally exhausted and desired nothing more than to curl into a ball and cry herself to sleep. Hell, she was even too tired to cry!

~Rest Jaelyn,~ the woman wrote. ~I think we’ve got enough to go to trial. I’m going to have an officer posted outside your room. You’ve done the right thing by coming forward. I’ll talk to you again in a few days. Here’s my card if you need anything at all. Feel free to call at any time.~

A cream and gold business card was placed beside the pad of paper and Jaelyn merely nodded, knowing she’d never call the woman for anything unless her life depended on it. Maybe not even then. There was too much of a professional detachment about her. It made Jaelyn want to shiver.

She glanced back at Ben, fighting the sudden exhaustion aside as she realized he was getting ready to leave as well. She wanted him to stay but recognized that there was something not quite healthy about that. She was latching onto him for some reason and needed to fight it. He made her feel...

That was the problem, she realized. He made her feel. She’d turned off her emotions, buried them, and he’d forced them all to the surface again in ways that her psychologist had been trying to do for the last two weeks. Ben had made her confront her memories and pain, forced her to examine what had been done to her and make some hard decisions --not let her run away from it.

She wasn’t sure if she was grateful or terrified --but she was feeling something again.

The detective leaned forward to say something in parting, speaking slowly and apparently enunciating clearly --but she had no idea what he said. She assumed it was some kind of gentle reassurance from his manner. The red clad Mountie who’d accompanied him, and who was preparing to push Ben’s wheelchair for him, paused to sign something.

^You’re --something... I --something --they put --something...^ She was too tired to try and figure it out so merely pasted a weak smile in place and nodded. She was sure he meant well, whatever he’d said.

^You --okay?^ Ben signed slowly, a mild frown of concern on his face. Those eyes of his saw far too much, she thought.

She nodded. ^Tired,^ she signed in excuse. It was at least the truth.

He offered a curt nod. ^Sleep,^ he offered simply.

Again she nodded, knowing that she was going to wether she wanted to or not. All she could do was pray there would be no nightmares. She’d just lived through one and didn’t need any more.

And then the men followed the two women out and Jaelyn was suddenly alone, trapped in silence and too exhausted to do anything more than turn her head to the side. A single tear rolled a warm path down her cheek as she closed her eyes and escaped the pain of her memories. She was too tired to even bother wiping it away.

Ray was not a particularly happy man. It was one o’clock in the stupid afternoon. He’d been officially discharged three hours ago. He was about to give up on his stupid brother-in-law who’d promised to come get him and call a stupid taxi!


He glanced up with a start and stared opened mouthed at the young woman in his doorway. Of all the people he’d expected to visit him-- Well, she hadn’t even made the list!

“Elaine?” he gasped in disbelief.

“Hi Ray,” she answered easily, giving him a ready smile as she came in. She glanced at the bags on the bed. “Looks like I just caught you.”

“Yeah and if my stupid brother-in-law had shown up three hours ago like he was supposed to, you would have missed me.”

He let his gaze rove her trim figure in jeans and loose cable knit sweater as his memory replayed happier times and shared moments of inconsequential banter.

“You haven’t changed a bit,” he complimented her honestly and cocked his head to the side. “I hear you’re a cop now? That true?”

“No,” she answered with a slight frown. “Who told you that?”

Ray frowned in turn, confused. “Everyone!” he declared sharply. Frannie had even admitted to a desire to follow her friend into the academy much to his amusement. She hadn’t liked his reaction.

Elaine suddenly offered him a mischievous smile. “Then why did you ask such a stupid question!” she teased him. “Do you think everyone is gonna lie to you?”

He blinked, knowing she’d got him but good with that one! “You are a cop,” he repeated himself, only this time it wasn’t a question. She answered anyway with a proud little nod.

“A little over a year now,” she supplied. “Street cop. I’m working out of the eighth precinct.”

“The Ritz, huh?” he offered, using the common nickname for that particular precinct. “Them doctors and lawyers keeping ya hoping answering false alarms on their fancy security systems?”

“Some,” she admitted, “but they’re just as subject to major crime as the rest of the city. Actually, I prefer dealing with the fender benders and shoplifters. I’ll leave the homicides and drug dealers to the guys who like to wade through that garbage.”

“Garbage?” Vecchio echoed, not sure if he should be insulted or not.

“Relax Ray,” she returned. “Nothing personal. It’s just that stuff isn’t why I got into police work to begin with, you know?”

“Yeah,” he sighed, understanding easily. Elaine was a people person, always had been. It made sense that she’d be drawn to that aspect of the job verses the down and dirty of detective work. “Yeah, I know.” He offered her a teasing grin of his own. “I just can’t picture you behind a gun yelling, ‘Drop it scuz-bucket or I’ll blow your freaking head off!’”

Elaine rolled her eyes. “You’d be surprised what I can do when someone’s reaching for a gun, Ray. I have no desire to wind up as your next door neighbor here.”

“I always said you were a smart girl,” he responded easily. “So what brings you clear across town? Don’t tell me you couldn’t live without seeing my charming smile or hearing my razor sharp wit another moment longer?”

Elaine laughed lightly. “You haven’t changed either Vecchio,” she declared and shook her head. “Here you and Fraser are all over the news again and I can’t stop in to see how the two of you are doing?”

“Ah, Fraser!” Ray exclaimed with another laugh and a leer. “Now we get the truth of the matter! What’s wrong? Was he asleep or something when you stopped in so you decided to look me up just since you were here anyway?”

“Fine! Fine!” Elaine sighed in dramatic exasperation and tossed up her hands. “If I can’t visit a friend and fellow officer without my perfectly innocent intentions being called into question, I just won’t do it again.”

“Wait, wait, wait!” Ray exclaimed quickly before she could make good her escape. “Jeez! I was just kidding Elaine,” he apologized. “Give me a break. I’m glad you stopped in. I appreciate it. Really.”


“Really,” Ray answered and crossed his heart.

Elaine glared at him in suspicion for another long moment before nodding and folding her arms. She glanced out the window and offered the blustery weather outside an amused grin. “He was in Speech Therapy,” she admitted with a little shrug.

Ray grabbed at his still tender ribs as he broke into inescapable chuckles. “Damn it Elaine!” he laughed. “Don’t do that to me!”

“Sorry Ray,” she offered in honest concern. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah, yeah --give me a second,” he sighed, fighting to control his breathing again. He offered her a broad grin, assuring her he was fine even as he held his protesting side.

She watched him for a long moment and slowly relaxed as it became evident he was indeed just a little sore. She shook her head and offered him another bright smile. “So you gonna keep hanging around here all day waiting for your brother-in-law or are you going to break down and ask me for a lift home already?”

“I was just getting ready to call a taxi,” he admitted with another grimace for the clock.

“Oh, I got something better than a taxi, Ray,” Elaine smiled knowingly. “Something much better. A little investment I made about a year ago that I was planning to discuss with you later. How much money do you got in the bank? Do the Feds pay well?”

“She lied,” Stella declared bluntly and tossed a thick file onto Welsh’s desk.

“Nice to see ya too,” Ray offered his angry ex and glanced at the file she’d so negligently dropped in front of the lieutenant.

Welsh frowned at it as well. “Keith Manly?” he read aloud.

“Jaelyn McKenna’s manager. She owns a small bed and breakfast outside town. He was also a boyfriend about six months ago,” Stella answered stoically and folded her arms. “He swears they were intimate. Damn it! I told her to tell me the truth!”

Turnbull, standing behind Kowalski, frowned over the Chicago Detective’s shoulder to where the file teetered on the edge of the desk and caught it before it could slide to the floor. Without so much as a glance, Welsh took it from him and slapped it back onto the desk in a safer location as he frowned darkly up at the Assistant State’s Attorney.

“Are you saying what I think you’re saying?”

“I had to cut him loose.”

“Damn it!” Ray cursed angrily. “What about the nail scrapings and fibers we found on her body?”

“It’s all been declared circumstantial. A search of Mr. Dawson’s house and car found no positive matches and he’s not O negative. She must have scratched the other guy. Find him and I’ll give you a DNA match. If the doctors had--” She bit off her words and sighed wearily, running a hand through her straight blond hair. “I wish the rape assessment had turned up something, but it didn’t. That leaves us with the fact that Dawson has a nasty history and was at the same party and disappeared at the same time. That’s not enough to charge him with kidnapping, rape and attempted murder. Unless you can give me something more concrete, the case against him is being dropped.”

Kowalski frowned darkly. “He’s one of ‘em!” he declared firmly. “He all but admitted it!”

“When?” Stella pounced. “When you jumped all over him in the interrogation room after he asked to speak to a lawyer? Yeah, I read the transcript Ray. His sarcastic description of her isn’t admissible in court and you know it.”

“Excuse me please,” Turnbull interrupted quietly. They glanced up in surprise to see him shift his weight under their regard. “I --ah --find it hard to believe -- that is -- Miss McKenna seemed very--” He blushed bright scarlet and cleared his throat. “If I might ask, Ms. Kowalski, how is it that you can be so certain Mr. Manly is telling the truth?”

“She has a crescent shaped birth mark in a rather intimate location which he was able to describe and place accurately,” she answered bluntly and turned back to Ray, dismissing the Mountie. “You got anything else?” Kowalski frowned darkly but was forced to shake his head. “Then I’m dropping the case and pulling the police protection.”

“What!?” Ray exclaimed. “Stella! You can’t do that!”

“I don’t have a choice!” she snapped. “Look, I wanted to believe her too. Frankly, I still do. Dawson’s our guy, but I can’t prove it! I don’t dare put her on the witness stand and without her statement I have nothing. I wanted to help her but she lied to me! If she hadn’t, I could have handled it. As it is I have two sworn depositions here and Mr. Manly has no reason to lie. Her credibility is completely blown! Pull the protection.”

“He’ll go after her again!”

“I know Ray,” she answered grimly, “but it’s not my decision. I’m the Assistant State’s Attorney, remember? The witness protection program is short of funds as it is. The new DA won’t authorize protection if we’re not prosecuting. Tell her to hire guards of her own or get out of town, but there’s nothing I can do. Sorry.”

“Yeah,” Ray muttered quietly, staring down at the file as Stella spun or her heel and marched out of the office. “I’m real sure.”

“May I?” Turnbull asked politely, indicating a desire to see the file.

Welsh shrugged and waved him to it. “Why?” he asked the young Constable with a patient frown. He knew there had to be more to the innocent young man then he’d seen so far. A posting to the Chicago Consulate might not be considered a good career move, but he was still a Mountie when all was said and done.

“Forgive me Leftenant Welsh; but, well, to be quite honest, I simply don’t believe that Miss McKenna lied, Sir,” the younger man answered off hand and opened the file with a pensive frown. “She seemed far too sincere to me.”

“Everyone seems sincere to you, Turnbull,” Ray sighed at the other man’s naivete.

Turnbull offered him a patient smile and shrug of one shoulder. “True enough I suppose,” he admitted. “But she had nothing to gain by lying about her -- ah -- er...”

He was suddenly blushing the same color as his uniform.

“Virginity, Turnbull?” Ray supplied with an impatient frown.

“Well, yes,” the man answered, burying his nose in the file and attempting to hide the blush that still flamed high across his fair cheek bones.

“If she didn’t lie, then Mr. Manly must have,” Welsh offered with a frown of his own. “But then how would he know about the birthmark?”

“Ah!” Turnbull offered with an intensely serious look and a conspiratorial wink. “That is the paradox, Leftenant Welsh. That is indeed the paradox!”

Ben frowned sharply as he heard Stella Kowalski’s quiet but obviously angry voice drift down the hall to his room. It was only two or three words, and he wasn’t able to make out what they were, but he was quite certain it was her. They were immediately followed by the angry staccato of her heels as she marched down the hall and past his door. He only caught a glimpse of the young man who was following on her heels but it was hard to mistake the uniform.

His brows rose in sharp surprise as he realized she was pulling the police protection she’d promised Miss McKenna!

Oh dear, he thought; and, with a grimace, swung his legs off the side of the bed. He debated for only a moment the merits of the wheelchair over the walker he’d been given yesterday. He hated both of them equally but he couldn’t wrestle with the wheelchair and the IV pole at the same time. Tempted as he was by his concern to pull the thing out, Dr. Spears would not appreciate it and the nurses would undoubtably have a fit. He shrugged his free arm into the lightweight, cotton robe Ray had brought him and quickly belted it. He knew he looked rather strange with the one arm left to hang behind him, but the only alternative was to call a nurse to disconnect and reconnect the IV -- or forgo the robe.

He hated hospital gowns.

He grabbed the metal frame of the walker and quickly rose onto shaky legs. It was only down the hall after all. He’d been undergoing intensive physical and occupational therapy for the past two weeks. There was nothing wrong with his legs that a bit of exercise wouldn’t take care of. And a good meal, he thought irritably, ignoring the nauseous flip of his stomach. The doctor had warned him that the antibiotics he was on would do that. The IV might be providing him with basic nutritional requirements but he doubted his body was making proper use of them. He didn’t think he should be so weak.

He hadn’t attempted more then a few steps without assistance before, but he wasn’t particularly worried. He hadn’t been shot in the spine this time. He had to get down to Jaelyn’s room and find out what was going on.

He made it about three steps into the hall before he found a nurse at his side.

“Good morning Mr. Fraser,” Melanie offered without interfering with his effort. “Feeling a bit stubborn this morning, are you?”

He offered her a glare. Her cheerful facade had been an inescapable part of his routine for the past three weeks and her blunt assessment of his state of mind was irritating -- as well as wrong.

He ignored her and concentrated on his balance, taking another careful step, then reaching behind him to drag the stupid IV pole forward again. She took control of it and walked beside him.

“I’m glad to see you’re feeling stronger, Mr. Fraser,” the young nurse offered lightly, “but you know you really should buzz for assistance with the walker. Dr. Spears would have a hemorrhage if you were to trip on the IV line.”

Buzzing for the nurses caused nothing but confusion as none of them knew sign language, and his attempts at written messages were either hastily answered or dismissed. It was just after breakfast and he knew that the staff was rather busy right now. He wasn’t in the mood to be put off till later.

“I also know that he recommended you take a walk down the hall once a day, but I would greatly appreciate it if you could wait an hour or so,” she continued gently. “I’m really quite busy at the moment, but will be more than happy to walk with you as soon as I’ve finished settling a new patient in her room.”

He gestured with his head to the left as they came to Jaelyn’s room, his face set and determined.

“You want to visit Miss McKenna?” Melanie surmised. “Now?”

He glared at the young nurse again. She was very good at talking him into doing exactly what she wanted but not this time. He was going to see Jaelyn, and he was going to do it now.

Melanie frowned in surprise at the angry set of his features. Mr. Fraser was normally one of the most understanding and tolerant patients she’d ever worked with, but it was obvious he wasn’t going to be dissuaded from whatever had set him off this morning. She had to wonder what this sudden intensity was all about. He’d been moping about in a quiet kind of depression the last several days -- not unexpected or severe -- and now this? Did it have something to do with that lawyer who came stomping out of Jaelyn’s room a few minutes ago? Melanie knew he had something to do with her.

“All right,” she sighed and lead the way forward, watching the drop of the IV line so he didn’t step on it. She really did need to get back to Mrs. Paterson. Becky would cover for her, but it was Melanie’s job-- “Jaelyn?” she asked in alarm as she glanced up to find the young woman curled into a tight ball, sobbing silently but uncontrollably into her pillows.

Damn! What had that lawyer done? Melanie dropped the IV line and hurried forward. Mr. Fraser was going to have to wait for a minute as she hurried to the other woman’s side and snatched up the pad and pen that was kept for communicating with her. She jotted down a quick question and gently touched the other woman’s shoulder, trying to calm and soothe her.

Jaelyn exploded.

“No!” she shouted at the top of her lungs, throwing the woman’s hands off. “Leave me alone! Leave me alone!”

Ben was not at all surprised as two more nurses quickly appeared. They brushed by him with barely a glance. There was another attempt to calm Jaelyn but she only shouted louder. The doctor on call suddenly appeared, demanding an explanation. By this time, Jaelyn was completely hysterical, ‘though Ben thought she’d be all right if they’d simply leave her alone as she asked. A quick order was given and one of the nurses rushed out as the others attempted to subdue the screaming woman.

Ben was simply appalled at what he was witnessing and completely helpless to intervene. Yes, Jaelyn was upset. There was no doubt about that, but they were only making it worse. They kept talking to her and trying to soothe her while holding her arms down!

The idiots! She couldn’t hear them! Ben tried to go to her, to try and make them understand what he suspected was going on, but one of the male nurses held him back. The doctor took one glance at him and ordered him out. The nurse who’d left earlier reappeared with whatever medication the doctor had ordered and Ben was all but dragged from the room as it was administered. Moments later, silence descended and Ben knew she’d been heavily sedated. He ground his teeth in frustration, knowing it hadn’t really been necessary if they had simply left her alone...

“Who the hell are you?” the on-call doctor was suddenly in his face. The man’s voice was carefully controlled and quiet, but it was obvious he was more than irritated with Ben and mistakenly blaming him for the incident.

“Doctor--” Melanie tried to interject, but a sharp gesture from the doctor silenced her.

“I asked you a question,” he demanded quietly, forcing his obvious anger aside. “I need to know who are you and what you said or did to upset Miss McKenna so much.”

“Mr. Fraser cannot speak doctor,” Melanie interjected forcefully. “He’s mute. He didn’t do this.”

“Then what the hell was he doing in that room?” the doctor hissed softly, turning his anger on the nurse. He really didn’t like it when his patients went ballistic on him!

Melanie quickly explained what she knew of the situation, but there wasn’t much to tell beyond the fact that ‘her lawyer’ seemed to be the cause. Ben shook his head in frustration, unable to correct the mistake.

“It wasn’t her lawyer’s fault?” the doctor frowned as he noticed Ben’s reaction. “Do you know what caused this?”

Ben nodded curtly. He wasn’t certain, and didn’t know specifics, but he had a fairly good idea. He was quite upset himself by the fact the promised police protection had obviously been pulled.

The doctor glanced from Ben to Melanie. “Can he write?” he demanded abruptly.

“Barely,” she answered bluntly. “He has aphasia.”

The doctor sighed wearily and promptly dismissed him. “Get him back to his room and someone call Miss McKenna’s primary care physician. Let him know what happened, and if that lawyer should show up again -- keep her out of that room! Where the hell is her guard? I thought she was supposed to be under police protection or something?”

Ben lifted his hands and tried to sign. He didn’t know if the doctor would understand or not, but he had to try. Again, the man simply ignored him and, after a few more curt orders to the nurses, patted Ben on the shoulder and spun on his heel, disappearing back into Jaelyn’s room with her chart in hand.

Ben didn’t think he’d ever been more tempted to hit another man in his life! He turned to Melanie but she was no better, as ignorant of sign as the doctor was. A second nurse moved to his other side and between the two of them he was forced to return to his room despite his weak protests which no one understood. Once they were back in the room, he instantly picked up the pad and pen. The adrenalin rush from everything that he’d witnessed was fading, that and the simple unaccustomed exertion made his hand more than a little shaky.

Melanie took the pad and pen from him, forcing him back into bed. She was calm and reassuring -- and very insistent. Ben didn’t have the strength to fight her. He demanded the pad and pen back as soon as he was settled and Melanie reluctantly gave it over.

“Dr. Spears is going to have my head if you don’t calm down and get some rest,” she warned him firmly. “I’ve got to go. I’ll be back as soon as I can to read whatever you think is so important, and I’ll pass it onto Dr. Wainright, but do me a favor and keep it simple. Don’t push yourself too hard or you’re going to wind up hurting yourself. Okay?”

Ben sighed and concentrated on his writing. He wanted nothing more than to curl up and fall into a deep sleep, but he couldn’t until he at least conveyed some of his suspicions. His own answers would have to wait until after Jaelyn had woken up.

“What are we doing here again Turnbull?” Ray sighed as he got out of the car and slammed the door.

“Observing Miss McKenna’s normal surroundings Ray,” the young Mountie answered, centering his Stetson squarely on his head much the same way Fraser always did. “Looking for inconsistencies in either her or Mr. Manly’s statements.”

“Inconsistencies?” Ray questioned, leaning across the roof of the black GTO and frowning at the three story Tudor style Bed and Breakfast nestled in the woods outside Chicago. “Like what? That rose bush should be on the right instead of the left type of inconsistencies, because I don’t remember there being much by way of description about this place in either of their depositions.”

“Oh no Ray,” the younger man frowned as well at the charmingly quaint structure from another era. “Actually I was speaking about attitudes more than physical descriptions. I find it a bit strange to think that after a six week torrid affair, at least according to Mr. Manly, that they would simply end it and go back to the status quo, don’t you?”

“Status quo?”

“Status meaning condition, situation or state; and quo meaning balance, equality, normality.”

“I know what the word means Turnbull!” Ray assured the man impatiently. He was even more of a walking dictionary than Fraser was! The blond haired detective sighed and ran a hand through his already tousled hair, trying to translate the other’s words. “You’re saying you don’t believe she’d throw him over and let him go back to being her general manager just like that?” He snapped his fingers.

Turnbull leaned forward slightly, an excited and pensive look on his face. “I believe if you review Mr. Manly’s statement, Ray, you will find it was her manager who ‘threw her over’ as you so crudely put it.”

“Men don’t admit it when they’ve been dumped Turnbull,” Ray rejoined. “Of course he’s going to say he was the one to end it. She’d have fired him if he was the one to dump her!”

“My point exactly Ray!” the fresh faced Mountie exclaimed in quiet enthusiasm. “And the first of our inconsistencies. Number two would be the odd fact that Mr. Manly has yet to visit Miss McKenna in hospital. If they were supposed to have had an intimate relationship which ended amicably, then I would expect him to at least visit her.”

“He hasn’t?”

The bright eyed, overly eager young man shook his head. “No Ray. He did however send flowers. I believe it was a mixed bouquet of carnations, azaleas and daisies in blue and yellow with one of those Mylar balloons that said ‘Get Well Soon’--”

Ray shuddered visibly and waved the detailed information aside as completely irrelevant. “So because this guy says he dumped her instead of she dumped him, and he hasn’t visited her in the hospital, you made me drive forty miles to the edge of town so you could see if she decorated her place in blue and yellow?”

Turnbull frowned in thought. “You know Ray, I hadn’t considered the color scheme as a possible clue in this case,” he admitted. “That is an astute observation. We’ll have to consider that once we get inside.” He offered the building before them another intense frown. “Should we attempt the back door or do you think a window would be best?”

“How about the front door Turnbull!” the other exclaimed, rolling his eyes and moving around the front of the car. Jeez but the guy was dense!

“Ah!” the younger man cleared his throat sharply, blushing slightly as he realized what he’d just said. Oh dear, had he actually just advocated breaking and entering? He really must consider the situation more carefully before opening his mouth. This wasn’t one of his beloved spy novels after all. “Of course, Ray.” He gestured politely for the other man to lead the way and once more merely seemed to irritate him. The Chicago Detective sighed dramatically, grabbed him by the arm and propelled him forward at his side.

Dewy sighed and rolled his eyes as they heard one of the waitresses scream from in back. “I swear I’m going to fire that guy if he doesn’t keep his hands to himself!”

“He’s French!” Huey rejoined, glancing around the small, dim interior of the restaurant the two of them had gone in on together. It had been an absolute mess when they got it but a little elbow grease had worked wonders. It looked almost as good as The Laugh Factory in LA did on TV with its brick walls and small white draped tables. This was smaller, darker, more intimate. He thought their place could be just as good as anything out west -- if they could just keep their chef from getting them hit with a sexual harassment suit before they even opened tomorrow night!

Obviously, they needed to have another talk with the guy...

The door to the kitchen crashed open and Linda scrambled backwards. It was immediately evident from the horrified expression on her face that they were dealing with something more than Henri’s extravagant flirtations. She turned a pale face toward them. “Out back!” she hissed, shaking like a leaf as she pointed her finger. “In the dumpster!”

Huey and Dewy exchanged glances, instantly dumping their friendly banter for the mean and ugly mind set required of violent crime detectives in the Chicago P.D. They both knew without Linda explaning further what they were likely to find in their dumpster. Huey swept through the kitchen, Dewy following awkwardly as he hobbled on his walking cast past a rather bemused chef. They paused before opening the back door and drew their weapons.

“Think one of the local insurance rackets is giving us a message?” Huey asked quietly as he carefully scanned the narrow alley before moving out of the protection of the doorway.

“Nah,” Dewy refuted, scanning the area as well. “Everybody knows we’re cops. They may not like us but this is Little Mickey’s neighborhood. He may be a little bastard but he’s a cool little bastard. He knows we can’t touch him and isn’t going to rattle our cages if he doesn’t have to.”

Huey maneuvered to the dumpster, ignoring the garbage Linda had spilt in her panic. Pale face, open and sightless eyes, small black hole between the eyes. Yep. Linda had reason to be shaken. Huey didn’t even bother checking for a pulse. He did check other things.

“Middle age, Caucasian male, snappy dresser and it wasn’t a mugging. Still has his watch.” He sighed and stepped away. “One to the head.”

“Not Mickey’s style,” Dewy frowned pensively, checking the safety on his weapon before holstering it and pulling out his cell.

Huey shrugged. He didn’t know Little Mickey but Dewy had a bit of a history with him, much as Vecchio had with Zuko a few years back -- only not as heavy. Mickey sounded downright polite compared to the Frank Zukos of the world. Huey scanned the alleyway one last time before putting his weapon away with a sigh. One of the reasons he’d gone in with his partner on this club idea was to make a place where he could escape the more ugly aspects of his life.

Apparently, it had decided to follow him here.

“Ray,” Turnbull called from where he stood beside the dresser. “I believe I may have found something.”

Kowalski turned from his casual perusal of the room to find the young Mountie frowning down into Miss McKenna’s lingerie drawer.

“I don’t think they’d fit, Turnbull,” he offered in quiet sarcasm as the other man lifted a pair of white cotton briefs with a pensive frown. “Miss McKenna is quite a bit smaller than you are.”

It took the other a very long moment for Ray’s meaning to penetrate and then he literally jumped back from the dresser as though he’d been stung!

“Detective Kowalski!” he gasped in shock. “How dare you-- I’d never! --I assure you--”

“Relax Turnbull!” Ray chuckled lightly as the man’s face threatened to make Frannie’s lipstick look pale by comparison. “I was only teasing you. What you got?”

“Well, I--! I--!” The poor man was still too flustered to manage a coherent thought. Ray hadn’t seen Turnbull quite so irritated since the time he’d dared disparage curling as a sport. As the man struggled to regain his composure, Ray reached around him and sorted through the drawer, half expecting to find a gun or something buried in the white froth. He found nothing.

“Well?” he asked again, gesturing at the drawer.

Just then his cell phone interrupted them. He turned away from Turnbull and flipped it open, giving the other man a chance to cool down. Ray knew he shouldn’t have needled the other guy like that but it was hard to resist sometimes. It was even harder to believe anyone was really that innocent! Fraser was positively jaded next to the guy!

“Kowalski!” he answered crisply. He listened for a long moment and spun back to Turnbull with a frown. “Got it,” he announced simply. “We’re on our way.” He slapped the unit closed and slipped it back into his pocket. “That was Huey,” he told his de facto partner. “They just found Dawson dead in the dumpster behind their comedy club: Caught a bullet between the eyes.”

Turnbull frowned sharply. “Then we need to get someone over to the hospital right away, Ray. Miss McKenna is in great danger!” he insisted, jamming his hat back on his head and leading the way out of the room, past the startled chef who’d let them in to begin with, and racing down the stairs.

“Turnbull!” Ray shouted from the top of the landing, completely lost as to what the Mountie had been babbling about. Turnbull froze at the foot of the stairs and stared up at Kowalski. “Miss McKenna?” the American repeated and gave an exaggerated shrug.

“Mr. Manly said she often wore a black camisole and tap pant set when they were together,” Turnbull explained abruptly. “Miss McKenna said that she received such a set of undergarments as some kind of joke from her best friend the day before the party.”

Kowalski glanced back toward the room they’d just left and the obviously confused Chef who was wondering if he should have let them in after all. “White cotton--” he thought aloud, remembering that lingerie drawer. “He was one of her attackers!” he made the logic jump Turnbull already had.

“He has killed the only other man who could identify him and now he will again go after Miss McKenna.”

“Damn it!” Kowalski swore violently, flinging himself down the stairs even as he wrestled his cell phone back out. “He knew Stella would pull the protection! I hope we’re not too late!”

“Mr. Fraser?”

Ben glanced up to see Dr. Martin frowning at him. He frowned in turn. The older woman had ceased calling him ‘Mr. Fraser’ long ago.

“I was wondering if I could get your help with something,” she continued.

He knew instinctively that it had to do with Jaelyn. ^Is -- Jaelyn -- well?^ he signed awkwardly.

“She was very upset earlier,” the doctor offered pensively. She cocked her head to the side. “I understand that you’re involved in her case in some kind of official capacity Mr. Fraser?”

Ben frowned and shook his head. ^Not -- official,^ he answered. ^I -- advised her --as -- a friend.^

“But you are aware of the nature of her attack?” the doctor continued carefully. “You were there when the police questioned her?”

Ben nodded and the woman frowned at a file she’d brought in. “This isn’t something I would normally ask anyone but her family to help me with. However, Jaelyn has no family and she is refusing to talk to anyone. I’ve read your note about the incident this morning and I think you’re right in assuming it had to do with the Assistant State’s Attorney’s visit but I haven’t been able to get a hold of her all morning. So I have to ask you.” She pulled out some papers and handed them to Ben. “These were found scattered on the floor beside Jaelyn’s bed. They’re court documents of some sort and obviously confidential and personal so I am trusting in your sense of -- duty as a police officer to -- whatever,” she sighed. “I’m not sure I should be sharing them with you or anyone else but they obviously have something to do with what happened this morning. I’m hoping you can explain what it was all about because Jaelyn is demanding to be released and frankly we don’t have a medical basis for forcing her to stay at this point. It might be AMA, or against medical advice, but she’s of sound mind, and of no danger either to herself or anyone else. We’re stalling right now but we can’t prevent her from leaving. She was scheduled to go into outpatient treatment next Wednesday, same as you.”

Ben frowned down at the papers in his hand, reading quickly and only listening with half an ear to what the other woman was saying. He frowned sharply as he read, understanding almost immediately what had upset Jaelyn so badly. What he didn’t understand was why Ms. Kowalski hadn’t questioned Mr. Manly’s statement more closely before pulling the police protection? Were all American’s truly so jaded that they found the idea of a twenty-eight year old virgin unacceptable? The fact that he knew about the birth mark was--

Ben frowned as he re-read the document, searching for contradictions beyond the obvious.

“Mr. Fraser?” the doctor interrupted his concentration.

He dropped the pages to his lap. ^Call -- Detective -- Kowalski,^ he instructed her, forcing his thoughts to slow down as he signed the man’s cell phone number for her. ^Tell him -- I -- believe -- Mr. Manly -- is -- one of -- Jaelyn’s -- attackers.^

“But Mr. Manly is her manager,” the doctor argued, confused. “He’s listed as next of kin. She would have been able to identify him!”

Fraser made a sharp and angry gesture, touching his forehead and flinging his hand outward.

“Forgot?” the doctor translated. “You mean her amnesia?”

Ben nodded curtly and flung back the covers, reaching for the walker. A single finger in the middle of his forehead forced him back to the bed.

“Where do you think you’re going?”

^Jaelyn!^ he replied with an exasperated sigh. She was in danger. There wasn’t time to be explaining everything to the doctor!

“Are you sure about this Ben?” the doctor demanded sharply, in obvious and very clear concern. “She’s upset enough. Dr. Spears will likely order another Psychiatric Evaluation if she has to be sedated again.”

^Certain,^ he signed sharply.

Both their heads jerked up and around as someone suddenly yelled for security. There was a loud crash and then the sound of feet running down the hall. Dr. Martin turned and reached for the phone at Ben’s bedside. She quickly punched in three numbers.

“Dr. Martin,” she identified herself calmly. “Code green, third floor, north wing. Code green, third floor, north wing.” She listened for a long moment and then hung up, turning to frown at Ben. “Stay here!” she ordered firmly. A moment later she had disappeared out the door in answer to whatever emergency had just transpired.

Dief stood where she had been, staring up at Ben. He was waiting for Ben’s direction but his human companion couldn’t-- Maybe he could. Dief was more than smart. It was possible he’d picked up a few of the signs Ben had been using. ^Jaelyn,^ he offered clearly and then pointed sharply at the door. ^Go!^

The wolf merely cocked his head to the side, confused, and Ben sighed. Dief didn’t need sound but he was used to reading Ben’s lips. He knew signs such as ‘Go!’ but, in this case, he needed to know where to go. Apparently he hadn’t picked up the sign for Jaelyn.

Well, Ben was not about to sit still and wait for someone to get around to telling him what had happened: Especially when he was very much afraid Mr. Manly had just paid Jaelyn an unexpected visit! He yanked the IV from his arm and grabbed up the walker.

Someone offered an angry and loud curse causing Kowlaski to glance up. He immediately caught sight of a young man in jeans and a grey sports jacket over a white t-shirt who’d obviously just come barreling out the hospital doors. An older woman and young couple were sent sprawling as he turned sharply to the right and took off across the parking lot.

“Hmm... That might be Mr. Manly now. Please excuse me Ray,” Turnbull offered politely and quickly settled his hat upon his head before taking off on an interjectory course with the fleeing man.

Kowalski shook his head and glanced heavenward. “Not another one!” he sighed, and then he was jumping back in his car, making his own calculations for intercepting the man.

Turnbull frowned fiercely as he slowly closed in on the man. There was of course no way to be certain that it was Mr. Manly he was chasing, but there was no doubt the man had done something for which he felt guilty. Why was it that American criminals were always so foolish as to openly advertize their complicity by fleeing in such a manner? Had the young man simply walked calmly from the hospital, he would have made good his escape by now. As it was, he was endangering not only himself and Turnbull, but pedestrians and motorists alike! Wheels screeched as the man darted out into the heavy traffic much to Turnbull’s trepidation.

Only the thought of what Constable Fraser would do in such a situation kept the younger Mountie on the other man’s trail. He remembered clearly the time that he, Inspector Thatcher, Constable Fraser and Detective Kowalski had enjoyed an afternoon matinee only to witness what appeared to be a kidnaping as they were exiting the theater. Had it not been for Constable Fraser’s selfless act of heroism, a young boy could very well have been crushed beneath the wheels of a large truck. Turnbull cringed as he was forced to dance into the slow lines of traffic, shoving the thought of using the crosswalk to a distant corner of his mind lest he lose the man.

Fortunately, the fugitive’s flight had already disrupted the vehicles’ flow and Turnbull judged his own danger to be greatly lessened by this fact. The motorists, however, didn’t seem to agree. Their angry epithets rang in his ears as he spun around bumpers, shouting ‘excuse me!’ and ‘so sorry!’ as he did, still fighting to close the distance between himself and the man he was chasing.

Had the other been aware of his pursuit, Turnbull might well have given up the chase as being too dangerous, not for himself but for the motorists and pedestrians the man was endangering with his reckless flight. Yet, the man hadn’t even glanced behind him once, until he heard Turnbull call out, and would have obviously chosen this dangerous and ill-considered path regardless.

Not much further... Turnbull had to stop him before someone was seriously injured!

The badly winded man skipped back onto the sidewalk, glancing around desperately as he fought to catch his breath. The fugitive suddenly spun, grabbing an older gentleman and literally throwing him at the determined Mountie. A small bag of groceries went everywhere. Turnbull and the poor old man both went down, the younger man fighting to twist and break the other’s fall, shocked and angered by such an attack on an innocent bystander!

He landed hard and awkwardly, but he’d managed to maneuver the innocent victim so that the gentleman landed atop him and not vice-versa. A quick glance around assured Turnbull that the man he’d been chasing had made good his escape in the confusion.

Turnbull blinked owlishly up at the small old man as the other struggled to right himself. “Are you all right Sir?” he asked in concern, judging the man to be somewhere in his late sixties or early seventies and fearing that the simple fright he must have experienced at such an unexpected attack could prove deleterious to his fragile health.

“Stupid kids!” the man snapped, shaking his fist in Turnbull’s surprised face. “If ya wanta kill yourselves by playing in the traffic it’s fine by me, just leave me outta your idiotic games!”

“Sir I assure you--”

The older gentleman had managed to get to his knees and retrieve his cane. This he suddenly brought around with every intention of hitting Turnbull. The young Mountie only barely managed to block the blow in his surprise.

“Inconsiderate morons!” the man yelled further and lifted the cane high in angry threat. “Look what ya did to my groceries!”

“Whoa there now Gramps!” Kowalski suddenly appeared behind the man, grabbing the cane firmly to prevent any further blows from falling as Turnbull quickly scrambled to his feet. “Where’d he go?”

“Police!” the older man wailed as he wrestled for his cane. He managed to jerk it free, being quite a bit stronger than he appeared, and swung it smartly at Kowalski, catching him on the shin.

Kowalski let out a curse as he tried to hop back away from the angry man.

“Sir!” Turnbull intervened in a clear, sharp voice. “Sir! We are the police! I was chasing a possible murder suspect. Did anyone see where he went?”

He glanced around at the curious crowd that had gathered but they all instantly turned and began to disperse, the show over. Kowalski stopped him from pressing the matter with the nearest pedestrians. “Forget it Turnbull. Ain’t nobody here gonna say they saw anything.”

“Police?” the older man who’d pummeled them both frowned as he continued to confront them, his cane still raised in a defensive manner. “Since when do cops wear bright red coats? Let me see your badge!”

“Oh dear, well, of course you’re right,” Turnbull stuttered, even as he bent to help the man with his spilled groceries. A sharp swipe of the cane clearly demonstrated that the man didn’t want his help. The younger man eyed the slender stick nervously as he tried to explain. “But it’s not a coat, really, I’m afraid. It’s more rightly termed a tunic. You see--”

Kowalski jammed his badge in the old man’s face with one hand while he hauled Turnbull back with the other. “Here ya go,” he spat irritably. “Detective Kowlaski. Satisfied? Constable Turnbull here works at the Canadian Consulate so he has to play doorman regularly -- at least that’s the only reason I can figure the uniform is so damn bright.” He turned to the flustered Mountie at his side and shoved him in the direction of the curb where the GTO was illegally parked. “Can we go now before I get a ticket? Did you at least get a good look at the guy?”

Turnbull turned back to the older gentleman, torn as to what he should do but Kowalski got a firm grip on his shoulder. “The guy’s made it clear he don’t want your help, Turnbull.”

“One moment please Ray,” the Mountie decided, abruptly reversing his direction and easily shaking free of Kowalski’s grip. Kowalski rolled his eyes as he watched Turnbull pull out some money from his pocket and apologize to the elderly man for spilling his groceries. What? Were overly polite manners a required course at the RCMP Academy!?

“Let’s go!” Kowalski snapped as the younger man turned back to him and repocketed the rest of his money. At least it was green, and not pink or blue or whatever! “I wanta get back to the hospital and make sure Miss McKenna’s still in one piece.”

Jaelyn stared out the window in silence. From her bed, there was nothing to see but dirty grey sky. The angry autumn clouds reflected her own struggle to contain and control her emotions. It was like trying to control a crack in a dam. Sooner or later everything she held back was going to burst loose in a destructive surge of uncontrolled pain.

Like it had earlier.

A movement at the end of her bed caught her peripheral vision. She turned to glare-- Her glare instantly became alarmed concern as she saw not the expected nurse but Ben, leaning heavily on his walker and looking like he was about to collapse!

Dr. Martin was at his side, but it was clear he wasn’t listening to her or anyone else. His face was a pale, stubborn mask very near the color of his white pajamas, and beading with sweat. Only his determination seemed to keep him upright. He glared at Jaelyn-- Or no, glare wasn’t the right word. There was no anger in his regard....

Dr. Martin was saying something to him, but his face was set and grim as he continued forward. The doctor offered a sigh and quickly jerked a heavy visitor’s chair into place, all but tripping the man into it. He fell back and glared up at the older woman. Jaelyn could not hear what Dr. Martin said, but her facial expression was just as determined as Ben’s. The walker was swept aside and some kind of cut on his arm examined. Jaelyn realized belatedly that it was the site where his IV had been. Apparently, he’d heard the commotion in her room and ripped it out in his desire to get to her.

Jaelyn stared at him in wonder as he impatiently tolerated the examination. What had she ever done to deserve such bulldog-like protection? The last time she’d seen Ben had been during the Assistant State’s Attorney’s interview. She’d spent the entire time glaring at him. Since then, she’d avoided him as much as possible and he’d made no attempt to breach the barrier she set up. Now, he tossed it aside and lifted shaking hands. ^You --well?^ he signed simply.

Jaelyn swallowed and nodded, still confused by this incredibly aggravating man. Why did he care? After the way she’d treated him, he really shouldn’t care!

^Manly?^ he slowly finger spelled the name.

She nodded and frowned. ^How did you know?^ she asked, automatically using sign in return.

^Read --deposition,^ he replied in short hand.

Jaelyn glanced to her left where she thought she’d thrown that -- piece of garbage -- and then remembered: It had slipped to the floor. That was right before she’d fallen apart and the idiot doctor had ordered her knocked out. She was still angry about that one.

^I’m sorry, Jaelyn,^ Dr. Martin signed slowly. ^I was worried about you so I showed it to him. If that was wrong, then I’m the one to be mad at, not him.^

Mad? She frowned as she considered that. No. Irritated maybe, but not mad. She frowned at Ben. ^He lied,^ she signed with a snap to her wrists, indicating where her real anger lay.

^I know,^ Ben nodded then cocked his head to the side with a frown of worry. ^He --didn’t --hurt --you?^

She shook her head. ^I’m not sure what happened. Melanie came in right after he did and apparently screamed. I don’t know why.^

“He was holding a hypodermic behind his back,” Dr. Martin informed Ben, not signing the explanation. He understood her desire to keep Jaelyn calm.

He offered a small nod. ^Have you --called --the police?^ he asked.

“No!” Jaelyn interjected firmly. “No police!”


“NO!” she shouted defiantly, then had to make a conscious decision to lower her tone. Dr. Wainwright would be all to eager to sedate her again, the son of-- She redirected her anger where it belonged.. “You’re stupid DA pulled the police protection you promised me. She called me a liar and hung me out to dry! I don’t know what’s going on with Greg but he’s the one who lied. We’ve never even dated! I don’t know why he’d say such--” She controlled her tongue with difficulty and offered a weary sigh instead. She shook her head and frowned. “I don’t know why he showed up here either. He has to know I’m going to fire him!”

Ben sat back in shock, staring at her for a long moment before glancing at Dr. Martin.

“Are you sure Ben?” the doctor asked him quietly.

He glanced back at Jaelyn, who now frowned at him in mild confusion, not understanding his obvious reaction to her words. “What?” she asked, with a frown. “You don’t think I should fire the guy?!”

^Jaelyn...^ Ben began slowly.

A sudden commotion in the hall interrupted him. He heard running feet and Kowalski’s voice call his name. A moment later and the spiky haired blond detective skidded into the room. He instantly took in the tableau and frowned at Jaelyn. “You okay?” he asked in obvious concern.

Jaelyn was beginning to be able to pick up a few things in lip reading. She had a good idea what he said, and so nodded. He seemed relieved. His red clad Mountie friend appeared behind him and offered her a smile.

Then they were all talking and ignoring her. Ben, of course, signed, so she could follow him, but his small part of the conversation made no sense. Something about the police protection. She allowed it to continue for a couple long minutes before her irritation got the better of her.

“Excuse me!” she interrupted them curtly. “Would someone mind letting me in on this little discussion as it is taking place right in front of me!”

The red clad Mountie was the first to respond. He smiled brightly and lifted his hands to begin signing -- until Ben waved, frowning sharply. Ben transferred his frown to Jaelyn and signed a reluctantly explanation himself -- but not for her.

^She doesn’t know about Manly,^ he offered silently. She saw the red clad Mountie translate. Both he and the detective seemed surprised.

“What is this about Greg Manly?”she exclaimed in confusion. “I know the guy lied and everything, but it’s not like he tried to kill me or anything!”

The three men exchanged uncomfortable glances. Even Dr. Martin looked away.

Jaelyn frowned sharply -- and then laughed. “Oh come on guys!” she exclaimed. “Greg wouldn’t hurt a fly!”

^He --knew --about --the --black --something,^ Ben answered with a grim look.

“Black what?” she asked confused.

The man actually blushed and glanced away. She smiled, now there was a novelty! Then something in the back of her head clicked and she frowned again. “Lingerie?” she guessed.

Dr. Martin drew her attention, resorting to slow finger spelling to make sure Jaelyn understood.

“Tap pants and camisole,” Jaelyn repeated aloud, still confused. “So?”

The detective said something and it was Dr. Martin who translated. ^Did you own any before the set you got the day before the attack?^

“No,” Jaelyn smiled and ducked her head as she felt a blush warm her own cheeks. “It was a joke. My friend dared me to--”

Something again clicked in the back of her mind and her head jerked up. She automatically swung her gaze to Ben, remembering his words ‘She doesn’t know about Manly.’

“No,” she whispered, shaking her head in denial. Greg was one of her best friends. She trusted him with her life! He wouldn’t-- She remembered the deposition and paled. She remembered the description of her lingerie-- and her birth mark. There was no way he could know that unless-- “Are you sure he made that deposition? Maybe someone impersonated him!” She was reaching desperately for any excuse and knew it. But she just couldn’t believe Greg--

The blond detective said something but Jaelyn ignored him, her eyes boring into Ben and waiting for him to answer her. She knew, somehow knew, he wouldn’t lie to her.

^He’ll-- confirm,^ Ben offered slowly, indicating the Chicago police officer who opened a cell phone-- Dr. Martin quickly intercepted the move with a sharp frown and made him use the room phone instead. Ben ignored him and cocked his head to the side in concern as he continued. ^It was --Mr. Manly --that ran from --here --earlier?^

Jaelyn nodded. “But I still don’t know why,” she offered.

^The nurse --screamed for --security,^ Ben explained with an unhappy sigh. He didn’t want to have to tell her these things. ^He --was --holding a --^ He frowned as he paused to finger spell ‘hypodermic’ -- or tried to anyway. Finger spelling was almost as difficult as writing. Turnbull supplied the necessary sign. He nodded his thanks and repeated it. It was a very simple one and difficult to misunderstand.

“A syringe,” she translated in a monotone. “He was going to poison me or something?”

^It --seems--,^ Ben nodded sadly. Jaelyn was obviously in shock. He knew what it was like to be betrayed by someone you trusted: The disbelief, the pain, the anger... At least she didn’t appear to have been in love with the man. She would be spared that twist of the knife.

Jaelyn looked away from those quiet and understanding blue depths to stare back out the window at the dark roiling sky. She watched in numbed detachment as large fat drops of water began to splatter against the glass and slowly slide downward, creating a distorted shimmer of the angry clouds as they cried. It was a strange release to watch, because of course she wasn’t about to cry herself, not in front of all these people. She watched in her periphery as the conversation she’d interrupted resumed. The detective’s body language suggested he was concerned for her and had lowered his voice.

She smiled at the thought. He could shout at the top of his lungs and it wouldn’t make any difference to her. Strange the unconscious actions that ruled a person in such situations. Ben was watching her closely, and his concern was the most visible of all. Quiet, undemanding-- but suffocating. She didn’t want his pity.

She heaved a small sigh and turned back to them, interrupting their words again without care. “When can I go home?” she asked, regarding Dr. Martin calmly.

The question got the response she’d been expecting.

They argued with her-- or more accurately-- at her. She watched their faces, watched their hands gesture. Dr. Martin tried to sign but Jaelyn merely looked away. Ben simply sat at the foot of her bed, watching her. He didn’t try to sign. He knew she wasn’t listening. He didn’t need to sign, blast the man. His face told her exactly what he was thinking.

Jaelyn turned her calm regard back to Dr. Martin. “I’m going home,” she declared quietly. “If I have to work through a Patient’s Representative or a lawyer, then so be it. I know my rights.”

In her periphery, she saw the detective offer a protest. The doctor lifted her hands to translate but again, Jaelyn merely glanced away. It was the first time she’d ever been glad to be deaf!

Unfortunately her gaze collided with Ben’s again. He hadn’t moved or attempted to sign a single word. He merely watched her. Worse, he didn’t seem to be judging her like the others were. He was merely concerned and she was struck again by the question of ‘why?’

She closed her eyes and shoved the thought aside.

Ben sighed as Jaelyn’s eyes closed. Then watched as she blinked them open again a moment later only to glance immediately to the window, refusing to see -- or listen -- to what the others were saying.

“Fraz,” Ray sighed in exasperation. “Make her listen!”

He shook his head and glanced at his friend. ^She’s deaf,^ he stated the obvious and Ray rolled his eyes.

“You know what I mean!”

Ben nodded and a simple gesture of his hand calmed his friend down. ^When --she’s --ready.^ It was impossible to force a deaf person to listen. After a long moment, he gestured for the pad and pen on Jaelyn’s bedside table. The doctor handed it over and he struggled with a message.

He was quite sure Jaelyn was aware of what he was doing, despite her refusal to look anywhere but out the window. She probably thought it was a message for her, but the opposite was true. This was a message he didn’t want her to see. It took him five minutes to struggle through it. That was actually an improvement he thought. He found that by concentrating on neatness, the letters flowed a bit more easily.

He handed the pad over to Kowalski who’d been reading it over his shoulder to begin with. He was already reaching for the phone again and dialing.

Frannie sat and stared at the doctor in shock, unable to take it in. Two shocks in one week. Wasn’t the last one bad enough?

She remembered the sonogram clearly. The doctor had thought he’d heard two heart beats and wanted to check it out. Multiple births weren’t that unusual, given her situation. Frannie hadn’t been able to make sense of the black and white jumbled image, but the technician had and she’d imediately called the doctor in. His dismay had been poorly masked as he took the scanner and adjusted the knobs and switches himself, unable to believe what his instruments were telling him. That was just last Monday.

Now, this? She reacted as she always did and found herself suddenly numb. “How?” she asked in a soft monotone.

“Car accident,” the man answered. “A semi-lost control and slammed into them.”

“God,” she whispered, offering up a prayer for her best friend and her husband, now gone forever.... Hadn’t it been just last week they’d laughed about chosing baby names?

“I have to ask this,” the doctor warned her gently, leaning forward and gaining her attention again. “What do you want to do now?”

She frowned in confusion. Maybe it was shock, but she didn’t understand what the man was asking. “I beg your pardon?”

“The pregnancy,” he specified. “I’ve already advised you to consider a reduction. Bearing sextuplets is very dangerous, both for yourself and the unborn children.”

“No!” she interrupted him firmly. She’d heard his arguments before and wasn’t about to consider aborting even one of the children God had given her! When she’d agreed to become a surrogate mother for her best friend-- well, she’d known there was a slight possibility of a multiple birth-- but no one had expected sextuplets! Even the doctors didn’t know what had gone wrong because the artificial insemination procedure had been only four eggs, as it was quite common for a percentage of the fertilized eggs not to take. Not only had they all taken, but two had apparently split into twins! -- Well, she’d already dealt with that shock. She and Karen had talked about it at length. Her friend had been very worried about her, but Frannie was adamant in her refusal to even consider aborting one or more of the children in order to give the others a better chance. The fact that she was pregnant with six was nothing short of a miracle and she figured God had to have a reason for it.

But, Karen and her husband were dead. What purpose did it all serve now?

“Miss Vecchio,” the doctor continued firmly. “They are not your children.”

“Oh no?” she questioned sharply, her voice raising angrily as his words drew her out of her numbed shock. The doctor winced, knowing the patients in the waiting area of his small practice would be able to hear her clearly. “Then who the hell’s are they Doc? Karen and Mike are dead! Are you going to tell me her brother has any claim on these kids? I don’t think so! Maybe genetically they aren’t mine-- but God has given them to me. Talk about your Immaculate Conceptions! He must want me to have them for some reason and by God I’ll keep them! Don’t you even dare to mention a reduction to me again. Are we perfectly clear, Dr. Micheals? Because I can always find another obstetrician if you can’t handle it!”

He sat back with a sigh. “Actually you’re going to have to Miss Vecchio,” he told her. “I don’t specialize in multiple births and the only way you’re going to carry all six fetuses is under the close supervision of someone who does. I’ve already consulted with Dr. Romano at the Hill Rise OB/GYN Clinic. He’s one of the best in the field and he’s willing to take your case over if you’re insistent about continuing with the pregnancy.”

“I am,” she said firmly.

The man nodded and offered a weary smile, remembering all too clearly the first time he’d broached the subject of a reduction with her. “I rather thought you might be. I’ll contact his office and set up an appointment for you. Liz will call you with the information before the end of the day.”

Out in the waiting room, a young woman who’d come in for her anual exam, clicked her pen closed and tapped it against her lips as she considered what she’d jotted down in the small notebook she carried everywhere. Immaculate Conceptions? Plural? Genetically not mine? Brother’s claim? Had she heard that correctly? Mackenzie King had found stories in unusual places before, but she’d never expected to find one here.

She eyed the door and then the receptionist, wondering what it would take to find out just exactly what that shouting had been about...

Stella Kowalski read Constable Fraser’s painfully neat missive arguing for the reinstatement of police protection, crumpled it into a ball and tossed it in the trash.

“Let me see if I’ve got this right,” she frowned darkly and started to pace the Lieutenant’s small office. “We’ve got a less than credible victim with a shaky memory; a drawer full of white lingerie and an ex-boyfriend describing black lingerie; a nurse who may or may not have seen a syringe, and a dead suspect. That about it?”

Welsh and Kowalski both winced.

Turnbull merely frowned. “Actually, Ms. Kowalski,” he inserted, “the boyfriend, if he was indeed her boyfriend, would now be a suspect in both cases.”

She glared at him. “I am aware of your supposition Constable,” she rejoined firmly, “what I am not aware of is any real physical evidence to link him to either crime! You haven’t even been able to come up with a known association between Manly and Dawson, let alone a gun or fingerprints or -- my personal favorite -- a witness! The victim remembered Dawson but she doesn’t remember Manly? Despite the fact that they have been friends for several years, regardless of their depositions? Add to that the fact that he has a spotless record and I think you’ll agree any case against him is painfully weak. You might be able to get a warrant to search his place based on what happened at the hospital, but I need more than circumstantial evidence and another Mountie chase through the streets of Chicago to justify a charge of rape and attempted murder, let alone first degree murder!”

“We know that Stella,” Ray sighed. “The investigation is ongoing. What we want is for you to reinstate the witness protection for Miss McKenna.”

“She’s not a witness Ray.”

“But she’s in danger and you know it!” Ray suddenly snapped, losing his patience with his ex-wife’s icy demeanor. He jumped up from his seat and paced over to the Lieutenant’s desk, unable to sit still.

“So are a lot of other people!” she snapped right back. “Do you know how many women try to leave abusive husbands everyday? How many are in fear of their lives? And what about the addicts and hookers who are trying to do the right thing by testifying against pushers and pimps? What about the upright citizen who’s tired of being shaken down for protection money or the boy who witnessed a gangland murder? I’m lucky if I can give half of them the protection they need and I have to have a damn solid case first. All I have here is cobwebs!” She snapped her briefcase shut, opened the door and spun to face him once more. “Sorry Ray, you get me something solid, or someone actually takes a shot at her, and maybe I can help you. Otherwise, the best I can do is recommend she take an extended vacation.”

And with that, she was gone.

Jaelyn jerked upright, gasping as the terror of the nightmare forced her awake and she discovered herself back in the hospital room. She fell back against the pillows, closing her eyes as she fought to slow her racing heart and control her trembling. Damn but she hated those things. When she’d first started having them, she’d wake up screaming but not be able to remember what had frightened her. Now, she remembered, pieces of it anyway, and wished she didn’t. At least she wasn’t having them everytime she fell asleep anymore, but when she did have one.... A violent shudder passed through her small frame as she shoved the images away. Dr. Vernes had recommended she keep a journal and write everything down, but she wasn’t ready to dwell on those phantom memories yet, no matter what he said. --Not yet.

She blinked her eyes open, staring up at the acustical tile overhead as she latched firmly onto the reality of her surroundings. The sunlight reflecting off the water in a pitcher on the table to her left created a dancing light show against the ceiling that was surrealistic but soothing to her frayed nerves just the same. She found she didn’t even remember falling asleep. The last thing she recalled was staring out the window as Ben and everyone else was trying to talk her into staying at the hospital

That wasn’t going to happen.

She sighed and quickly glanced around, looking for the nurses’ call button. It was time to get the ball rolling on getting out of--

It was then she realized Ben was still sitting at the foot of her bed. He was slumped slightly downward in the oversized chair, his arms locked together and crossed over his chest, his head dropped forward and eyes closed, lifting and falling in slow time to his gentle breaths. Obviously, he was asleep, ‘though it didn’t look to be a very comfortable position. His dog glanced up from where it kept a silent vigil at its master’s side and gave her a single thump of its tail. Jaelyn still didn’t know how in the world the man had talked the hospital into letting the dog in, let alone staying with him!

She couldn’t decide whether to smile or frown as she contemplated the sleeping form. Someone had set up an IV pole beside him and she had to wonder how much of a fight either Dr. Martin or Spears had gotten about that!

The smile was winning out, drat the man! He was interfering where he wasn’t wanted. She knew perfectly well that he’d had no intention of falling asleep there. He wanted to talk to her -- when she was ready. Yeah, she’d seen his signing even if she was looking the other way. She was very much aware of everything he did whenever he was in the same room with her -- and she didn’t like it.

For heaven’s sake! She’d just been raped and nearly killed! Okay, so that was almost four weeks ago, but she was still traumatized by the event. Her recurrent nightmares were only a part of that. Wasn’t she supposed to be terrified of all men or something for a while? Ben didn’t even make her feel uncomfortable. Where were her self-preservation instincts?

Greg’s visit hadn’t sent off any alarm bells either, she remembered. A cold shiver ran down her spine at the thought. She still couldn’t believe he was capable of-- Memories suddenly swamped her mind, bits and pieces of nightmare mixed with what had really happened. She remembered what’s-his-name whom the stupid DA had let go. They’d probably never find him again!

And the faceless man.

Try as she might, Jaelyn could not fit Greg’s face over his. Her mind simply recoiled at the attempt. She felt tears burn at the back of her eyes. She recognized the inescapable truths Ben had pointed out in the deposition and Greg’s actions, but she couldn’t reconcile those things with what she knew of her friend. Why would he be carrying a syringe? Had Melanie seen wrong? Why had he run? Had he learned of the tap pant set from Jeanie somehow? Was the deposition some kind of sick, misguided attempt to protect her?

Was she right and everyone else wrong?

She must have made some kind of noise because Ben’s head suddenly jerked up. She wondered momentarily why he hadn’t woken earlier when she fell back against her pillows -- and then caught her breath as she watched him blink those incredible blue eyes of his. For an instant there, he looked like a confused little boy. It was--

It was gone as quickly as it appeared, and she had to wonder if she’d imagined it. There was nothing of the little boy in the quiet gaze he leveled at her as he straightened in the chair. A little chagrin and self-annoyance at having been caught napping, perhaps, but that was quickly cast aside in favor of more important issues.

^Mr. Dawson -- is -- dead,^ he informed her bluntly, as if he were afraid she would turn aside and shut him out again before he could tell her.

It took Jaelyn a long moment to realize who he was talking about. The name, no matter how many times she’d been told it, would not stick. But mention of it triggered other memories....

“Good,” Jaelyn declared honestly. She wasn’t about to mourn the man.

Ben winced and glanced away. She knew her blunt answer had shocked him. Still, Ben glanced back at her again and he didn’t seem relieved to have been able to tell her one of her attackers was dead. If anything, he seemed more worried.

^We -- think -- Manly -- did -- it,^ he informed her just as bluntly.

Jaelyn closed her eyes and turned her face away. She wasn’t ready to hear that! Her legs were suddenly bounced as Ben struck the mattress firmly. She glanced back at him in surprise.

^You -- can’t -- hide -- from -- this!^ he offered with an impatient frown.

Apparently the man was capable of anger!

^Jaelyn,^ he sighed, his impatient frown becoming a look of tired concern. ^How -- could -- he -- know -- about -- the birthmark?^

Jaelyn looked away again but not because she was wanting to shut him out. “I don’t know,” she whispered, her throat tight with the tears she refused to let fall. That was the one part of the puzzle she couldn’t explain away. There was no way Greg could know. The tap pant set, yeah. Jeanie might share the joke with him. The three of them were like brother and--

She glanced up in sudden concern. God no, he wouldn’t-- There was no reason for him to--

^What?^ Ben asked, reading her suddenly distraught face.

“My friend, Jeanie,” she answered. “The three of us basically grew up together. He wouldn’t--” She couldn’t even bring herself to voice her nameless fear. It was completely groundless of course. Just because he might have attacked her didn’t mean he would have any reason to--

Ben stood, grabbed the IV pole and forced himself to her bedside where he grabbed for and pushed the nurse’s call button. Then he took the pen and pad on her table and began the laborious task of trying to write a message. Jaelyn reached over and took it from him. “Tell me what you want to say,” she told him, knowing he signed much faster than he wrote. “I’ll translate.”

Melanie answered quickly. “Ah, you’re awake!” she noted with a smile, but Ben didn’t responded, merely turned to Jaelyn, signing as quickly as he could.

“Call -- policeman -- Kowalski,” she hoped she pronounced that right, “Tell him -- Manly...” Jaelyn had to swallow and let Ben finish his sentence before she translated it. “He thinks my friend Jeanie is in danger. He wants someone to check on her and warn her about -- Greg Manly.” She clutched the bed sheets as she forced herself to convey his message.

Melanie said something and Ben shook his head, frowning at Jaelyn as he signed again. “It’s very important,” she offered and paused as he instructed her further. His sense of concern and urgency were contagious. The plan was suddenly revised. Instead of calling his friend, he asked Melanie to call Jeanie and tell her to go to the twenty-seventh precinct police station, and to wait for his friend. Jaelyn quickly gave Melanie the necessary phone number and watched as she dialed, lifting her own hands to sign so as not to interrupt what the nurse was saying into the phone.

^Why would he hurt Jeanie?^ she wanted to know, fighting down her own fear.

^Did -- he -- have -- reason -- to want to -- hurt -- you?^

She suddenly found herself choking back tears again as she shook her head. Lord help her, but she still couldn’t get her mind around the idea of Greg-- They hadn’t wanted to hurt her. They’d wanted to kill her! That she’d survived was a miracle. Why would Greg want her dead? She simply couldn’t accept it.

She closed her eyes and wrestled with her emotions, fighting to keep the tears at bay. Her struggle only lasted a moment before a gentle touch on the back of her hand interrupted her. She glanced up and had to blink tears aside as Ben lifted his hands to sign again. Melanie was done with the call and watched them both in concern.

“Call Detective Kowalski,” Jaelyn translated, slamming a door on the water works and brushing her tears away with a shaking hand. “Tell him what you told Jeanie and that Ben wants to talk to him.” She then gave Melanie the cell phone number.

After a few moments and a brief telephone exchange, the nurse and Ben fell into a yes / no type of conversation as Melanie conveyed a couple of questions from his friend. After several more long moments, the nurse hung up and conveyed a longer message, with a glance at Jaelyn.

Whatever it was, Ben didn’t seem pleased even as he nodded his thanks for Melanie’s help.

“Is Jeanie all right?” Jaelyn asked, not sure how to interpret his worried frown.

Ben quickly nodded. ^Jeanie -- is fine,^ he assured her. ^She -- is -- going to -- the police --^

Melanie interrupted with something and Ben nodded. Again they fell into a yes / no conversation but it didn’t last long. The dark haired nurse glanced at Jaelyn again and offered her a gentle pat on the shoulder. Ben lifted his hands and translated what she said. ^Call -- if -- you need -- anything.^ Jaelyn nodded. “Thank you,” she offered quietly and watched as the other woman left.

Ben frowned and explained part of what the conversation had been about. ^The D.A. -- will not -- reinstate -- police -- protection.^

Jaelyn shrugged. She didn’t want it anyway. “Why?”

He seemed to think for a minute before finally offering, ^You’re -- not -- a witness.^

Well, she couldn’t argue with that and felt a small smile pull at her lips! She had a feeling there was a bit more to it than that, but also realized that Ben was looking rather grey.

“You look like you’re about to fall over,” she noted with concern of her own. “Why don’t you go back to your room and rest?”

He shook his head. ^I’m -- fine,^ he signed but did turn to find the chair again, offering his IV pole a glare as he wrestled with it. Stubborn man, she thought!

“I don’t need protection!” she snapped irritably. She could be stubborn too. Her only answer was an enigmatic shrug before he all but fell into the chair once more. She watched him shove his own weakness away, denying even to himself that he might be as exhausted from the day as she suspected.

She sighed. Apparently she had a guard, whether she wanted one or not!

Kowalski was not in the least surprised to find Ben still in Jaelyn’s room when he and Turnbull came looking for him again later that evening. Ray knew just exactly how stubborn Ben could be when he set his mind to something. Dief glanced up momentarily and then settled right back down without even a huff. A glance at the bed confirmed that Miss McKenna was sleeping as well. Not surprising either. The clock read ten pm.

Turnbull shook his head as he regarded his sleeping friend and clucked his tongue. Ben was going to get a major crick in his neck sitting like that.

Ben’s eyes instantly snapped open at the soft sound. With a little jerk, he sat straight, frowning sharply as he blinked the sleep away. Neither of his friends were surprised when a hand came up to rub at his neck.

“That chair looks real comfortable Frase,” Kowalski noted with a mocking nod.

Ben automatically glanced to the bed, realizing belatedly that Ray could shout and it wouldn’t make any difference to the sleeping beauty there. ‘Sleeping beauty’, he thought? Where had that come from? He glanced at the IV pole with a frown.

“Ready to get back to your own bed?” Kowalski continued. “The nurses are starting to talk.”

Ben frowned in irritation, knowing perfectly well that Ray was exaggerating. He glanced at Turnbull and opened his mouth without thinking. He caught himself at the last instant and closed his eyes in frustration. It was a constant mistake he made when he first woke. You would think he’d have learned better by now. With a sigh, he lifted his hands and signed what he wanted to say.

“Ah!” Turnbull answered without translating. “We anticipated this Sir. If you will permit, I will be happy to take over the post as Miss McKenna’s guard. Ray will relieve me at three, thus allowing us both to get some sleep and assuring that she is properly protected for the night. I think your doctor would appreciate it as well, Sir.”

Ben nodded. He didn’t particularly like the idea of leaving Jaelyn but he had to admit a bed, even a hospital bed, would be better than this visitor’s chair! He couldn’t see using the empty bed here when he had his own just down the hall. There was no telling when this one might be needed. With the removal of the police protection, it was no longer a private room and--

“The three of us together are probably better than she’d get with your standard police protection detail anyway,” Kowalski interrupted his thoughts, “but not if you’re falling asleep on the job tomorrow while the two of us are digging the dirt on this Manly character.”

Ben swallowed a smile. He was a bit surprised at how readily Ray seemed to have accepted Turnbull as part of the team and wondered what the younger man had done to finally prove himself to the streetwise Detective? The two men had barely tolerated each other when Ben had placed Ray under arrest at the Consulate. Ben had to admit Ren could be a bit -- hard on the nerves. He shoved the question away and concentrated on a more immediate concern.

“What have you got so far?” Turnbull translated his sign.

“Trade,” Kowalski immediately offered. “You get in your own bed, and I’ll tell you. Turnbull will stay here. Deal?”

Ben sighed but allowed himself to be persuaded. The chances of Manly turning up at the hospital tonight were pretty slim; but, even so, he had to admit that Turnbull would do a much better job of protecting her than he could. He knew he wasn’t in the best condition to be acting as anyone’s guard at the moment. It wasn’t something he wanted to think about, but it was a simple inescapable truth nonetheless.

Kowalski frowned pensively as he contemplated the early morning traffic and slapped his cell phone closed. Charlie had just given him some food for thought, enough to make him forget the breakfast he’d missed earlier. There hadn’t been time earlier.

They’d just dropped Frannie off for her first visit with her new baby doc downtown. This after arranging to have Vecchio ‘drop by’ to see Benny who was once again happily ensconced stubbornly guarding Miss Jaelyn McKenna despite the young woman’s protest that she didn’t need guarding. The fact that Ray was wanting to brag about having bought a new 1971 Buick Riviera from Elaine hadn’t hurt the deception any either. And Elaine would ‘just happen’ to drop by later as well. Kowalski figured it was worth the hassle of playing taxi for Frannie if he knew Ben was being kept safe by her brother....

Besides, Kowalski had been a bit amused to see her and Turnbull fluttering around each other. The poor Mountie had it bad... And it was definitely funny to see Frannie as disconcerted by the painfully shy and sincere man as she was wont to make poor Fraser!

He shook his head and offered his neck a sharp crack as he brought his focus back to the present. At least they didn’t have to pick Frannie up again. She’d said she wanted to do some shopping before grabbing a bus home. Kowalski hadn’t been real happy with that, but he wasn’t sure why. She wasn’t that pregnant and it was the middle of the day. He dismissed the feeling as stupid.

Sometimes he really hated his instincts....

“Was your friend ‘the snitch’ able to provide you with any new information?” Turnbull asked, displaying the same quiet intensity with which he seemed to confront any problem.

Ray nodded and rolled the news around in his thoughts again for a long moment. “Apparently Mr. Manly’s a bit of a gambler,” he explained.

“Ah!” Turnbull nodded, scanning the streets as they drove. “And I take it, he’s in a bit of a finacial pickle?”

Kowalski shoved aside the exasperation the other man’s odd choice of words always evoked. He had the strangest-- Again he shoved the thought aside. He’d given up trying to understand the younger man some days before.

“That’s the strange part,” Kowalski frowned. “He was but he ain’t now. He was in to Fat Eddie for about twenty grand, but he paid it off more than a month ago.”


“Mmm?”he answered as he wrestled with the question of how Manly had managed to pay off such a debt.

“Might I ask where we’re going?”

“Nowhere,” Ray answered. “I like to drive sometimes when I think. Ya got a problem with that?”

“No Ray,” Turnbull answered with a shrug. “I just thought--” A glance at the other man’s sudden frown silenced his rambling thought. It was too early to get into an arguement with the volatile American. “Never mind. Ummm... Fat Eddie would be-- ?”

“A bookie, Turnbull,” Kowalski answered irritably. “Pay attention! Manly suddenly came into twenty thou a little over a month ago-- at almost the very same time that someone tried to ax Miss McKenna.”

“You said he was her manager?” Turnbull asked for confirmation but didn’t wait for the answer. “Then perhaps he was -- how do you say -- skinning from Miss McKenna, and she found out about it?”

“Twenty grand is a lot to miss. Only with the amnesia, she doesn’t remember it,” the Detective agreed. He didn’t bother to correct the Mountie’s slaughtered use of slang. He was even worse than Fraser sometimes!

Again Turnbull nodded sagely -- only to suddenly frown. “Then why did he wait so long before trying to kill her again? He would have had ample oportunity to poison her and make it look completely natural while she was first recovering from her wounds.”

“I don’t know!” Kowalski shrugged and quickly changed lanes, ignoring the blare of a horn behind him. “Maybe he couldn’t get a hold of the right poison. Maybe he thought he could explain the bookkeeping away!”

“And maybe he continued his gambling.”

“And his skimming...” Kowalski surmised, following the other’s logic. “Isn’t he one of the beneficiaries of her Will?”

“She has no family Ray,” Turnbull nodded, having discovered that information shortly after they started working the case and recalling it now with ease. “He and a Jennifer Tallin, better known as Jeanie, Miss McKenna’s best friends since childhood. They would split her estate fifty-fifty I believe.”

“Ah huh,” Ray murmured, remembering the old Tudor style Inn and its immaculate lawns. “Just exactly how much is Miss Jealyn McKenna worth anyway?”

“I believe the estimate in the Will stated approximately ten million dollars in total assets,” Turnbull answered and continued to frown at the detective beside him. “Do you really think it’s that simple? Greed?”

“Oldest motive in the book, Ren,” Ray shook his head because they’d missed it the first time through questioning everyone. “Oldest motive in the book.”

“Actually I believe jealousy is supposed to be the oldest--”


“Yes Ray?”

“Wrong book!”

“Ah,” Turnbull agreed, with a confused nod, and frowned out his window. “Would you pull over here please Ray? I need to get out.”

“What?” Ray asked even as he checked the rearview mirror and pulled to the curb. “You spot Manly or something?” he joked.

“Yes,” Turnbull answered. He grabbed his Stetson and was out of the car, running before Ray could even realize what he’d just said. He scanned the crowds and knew exactly who Turnbull meant when the man is question spotted him and suddenly took off. He was wearing exactly the same outfit as yesterday.

Jeez! Turnbull was even faster than Fraser! Must be the longer legs.

Manly skidded around a corner and ran into a group of people standing at a bus stop. He suddenly spun, grabbing a bystander and pulling a gun. Turnbull skidded to a stop as others screamed and ran for cover.

Frannie froze as she felt the barrel of a gun thrust painfully below her right ear. There was no mistaking the cold feel of the steel against her skin or the near panicked grasp that held her captive.

“Back it off!” the man holding her screamed. Frannie blinked in terrified confusion and suddenly recognized Turnbull standing frozen about ten feet away, his hands held carefully away from his body in a clearly non-threatening manner. He recognized her at the same instant and a hard, very serious light seemed to come on in his eyes. She’d seen that look once before, when she’d been in a similar situation. Unfortunately, Turnbull had been the first to faint when Fraser sat up in his ‘coffin’, so she wasn’t at all sure what that look really meant.

“Put the weapon down,” the Mountie told him calmly. “There’s nowhere to run. You’re only making your situation worse.”

“Worse!” the man scoffed. “What do you know about worse?! I’ll show you worse if you don’t back off! Now!”

“I really don’t think that would be very wise of me,” he rejoined and Frannie was surprised to hear steel behind the velvet soft tones. “You have apparently already killed one person and made two attempts against another. Now you threaten a third. I don’t see where my ‘backing off’ as you put it, would help the situation in the least. Whereas if you put the weapon down and surrender, you stand a very good chance of getting off with a ‘slap on the wrist’, I believe the expression is. Because although we have reason to suspect you of many things, the evidence is lacking. Continuing in this vein however does, as I said, only make your situation worse.”

The man seemed to suddenly realize that Turnbull was unarmed. The gun shifted from Frannie’s neck to aim at him.

“I said back off!” he repeated desperately.

Kowalski’s voice suddenly rang out. “Chicago P.D.! You wanna think about this some more scuz ball?” he shouted.

The gun shifted again as the man turned, stepping back and dragging Frannie with him. He suddenly found himself backed up against a brick wall. Kowalski had leveled his gun at him over the roof of the GTO, but he hadn’t had time to put on his glasses. Now the woman was even more -- Damn. “Frannie?”

“Hey Ray,” she sang back, swallowing around a dry throat. “Nice day we’re having, huh?”

“Shut up!” the man screamed frantically. The gun was suddenly brought to bare below her ear again. She winced as her head was forced to the side.

“Drop it!” Ray ordered sharply.

Manly wasn’t listening. He glanced around and discovered an alley to his right. He began edging his way toward it dragging Frannie with him. She blinked back frightened tears and suddenly realized Turnbull had disappeared. Where had he gone to?

“I’ll kill her!” the man shouted, “I swear to God I’ll kill her!”

“You do and I kill you,” Kowalski shouted back. “Stalemate. You ready to die, Manly?”

“Dead is dead. What the hell has being manly got to do with anything?” the man offered with a bitter laugh. “I’m not on a macho trip here but I’d rather die than go to prison, Copper, so don’t go thinking I won’t do her! I’m getting out of here and you’re going to let me!”

Kowalski frowned sharply as he struggled to pull his glasses from his pocket without taking his eyes from Frannie -- and whoever the hell is was who’d grabbed her.

“You’re not Greg Manly?” Ray asked, squinting hard as he heard sirens in the distance. He had to keep the guy talking, keep him calm, keep him thinking. He panicked and someone was going to wind up dead.

“Who the hell’s Greg Manly?”

He’d almost reached the alleyway. Kowalski could see the tail end of a car parked in the delivery area of the Chinese restaurant and knew this was what the guy was headed for. He debated his options. He didn’t have much time to decide. He cursed silently as his glasses slipped out of his hand and dropped to the pavement.

Damn it! He bent and retrieved them quickly, jamming them on his face. He glanced back up in time to see Turnbull suddenly appear behind the guy and toss something at the car to his right. There was a loud clatter. The man automatically swung toward it. The gun swung away from Frannie’s throat--

Turnbull was ready and his attack was ferocious. There was no other description for it. Kowalski sprinted around the car as Frannie was torn from the man’s grasp. Turnbull grabbed the arm with the gun and twisted. The weapon went sailing into the alley. Ray’s mouth dropped open as Turnbull connected with one of the most vicious right crosses Ray had ever seen outside the professional ring and sweat exploded in a corona from the man’s head. It was immediately followed by a picture perfect uppercut. He never even had a chance to fight back, it all happened so suddenly. Another quick twist and the man had been flipped to the ground, his arms pinned behind him as Turnbull put a knee in his back, ‘though Kowalski seriously doubted the man was still conscious. It was over by the time Kowalski ran up.

“Damn Turnbull!” he exclaimed as he produced his handcuffs. “Where’d you learn to fight like that?”

“St. Francis School for Boys,” he answered concisely, accepting the handcuffs with a smile.

“No way!” Ray protested. Frannie joined him, staring at Turnbull as though she’d never seen him before.

“Oh yes,” Turnbull insisted as he snapped the cuffs in place and released the prisoner. He stood, brushing dirt from his hands. “It was quite necessary I’m afraid. You see I was fascinated with cooking. That’s not exactly a male dominated field of study. The other members of our hockey team weren’t exactly thrilled by my -- unorthodox hobby.”

“They beat ya up?” Ray guessed.

“Only once,” the other answered with a wide and surprisingly innocent seeming smile. He turned to Frannie with a sudden frown of concern. “Are you quite all right Miss Vecchio? He didn’t hurt you, did he?”

“No,” Frannie assured him, fighting to fit this new side of Turnbull in with what she already knew of him. She unconsciously lifted a hand to rub her neck. “No I’m fine.”

He noted the action and stepped forward with a click of his tongue. “He was not at all gentle I’m afraid. Let me take a look--”

The car the man had been headed for suddenly roared to life, spinning its wheels as it shot backward. Turnbull grabbed Frannie and dove out of the way even as Ray dove the other way. The car backed right over the prisoner with a sickening thud and skidded into traffic. A weapon of some sort appeared in the driver’s hand as Turnbull moved to stand. Automatic weapon’s fire sprayed the area, making sure of the prisoner’s demise even as the young Mountie quickly covered Frannie’s body with his own.

Kowalski dove from behind a dumpster as the car roared away, but he couldn’t get a clear shot and wound up cursing as he lowered his gun again.

“Damn it!” he exclaimed. “If he had an accomplice why didn’t the guy meet him at the hospital ‘stead of all the way over here!”

He glanced over to where Turnbull and Frannie were struggling to sit up.
“Ray!” Frannie suddenly exclaimed, and the note of panic in her voice told Kowlaski all he needed to know.

Turnbull had been hit.

“Ben!” Maggie, in dress red uniform and dark blue sling, hurried into the room followed by Dr. Spears and an unknown hospital employee. His sister paused only long enough to award Jaelyn an apologetic little nod for the interruption and then quickly squatted beside Ben’s chair, hastily sweeping several loose strands of hair behind her ear. He had immediately picked up on her sense of urgency and braced himself. Something had happened -- and he knew it was bad.

Maggie read the knowledge in his gaze and nodded grimly. There was no easy way to tell him so she didn’t try.

“Renfield’s been shot.”

Ben closed his eyes for a moment and fought down the surge of emotion the words brought with them. He’d fought that battle too many times in the pass for it to show on his face now. He felt Ray put a hand on his shoulder and squeeze. They’d both fought that battle before. It was an occupational hazard.

Ben latched onto Maggie’s choice of words and hung on tenaciously. She had not said Ren was dead. There was still hope. He swallowed and opened his eyes, ready to hear the rest of it, and hoping it wasn’t as bad as her solemn face seemed to indicate.

Quickly, she related what little of the incident she’d been able to piece together, ending with the fact that Turnbull was in surgery even now. ‘Still’, was the word she used. Ben didn’t ask how long it had been, knowing it had taken a while to get everything together before coming to see him. He knew she was here to do more than deliver bad news. Turnbull’s parents were in the Diplomatic Corps and stationed in China. Ben was listed as his next of kin.

“I brought Turnbull’s personnel file,” she continued, turning to take a clip board from the unknown woman who’d followed the doctor in. “I’ve already filled out all the paper work, but they still need your signature on everything. This top sheet gives them permission to release information directly to me and Kowalski. He’s downstairs with Frannie. They’ll probably come up after the doctors get done checking her over.

“Frannie!” Ray echoed and the grip on Ben’s shoulder convulsed. “What’s wrong with Frannie?”

“She’s fine Ray,” Maggie assured him. “Turnbull saved her life. Apparently he used his body to shield her when the man in the car opened fire. The doctors just want to check her out because she’s pregnant.”

“What was she doing there anyway!” the other man exclaimed as he wrestled with his own emotions in his own way. “They were supposed to drop her off at a doctor’s appointment this morning!”

Maggie didn’t try to explain what she didn’t know and dismissed Vecchio as he turned to stare out the window, running a hand through his thinning hair in helpless frustration. She turned her attention back to Ben and handed him a pen. He glanced up and saw Dr. Spear watching pensively from a distance. Ben quickly signed a question, or as quickly as he could, and Maggie translated. “Do you know anything about our friend’s condition?”

The young doctor shook his head and adjusted his glasses. “Not really,” he answered quietly. “He apparently took two bullets, one in the back and one in the hip, and Dr. Brennan’s performing the surgery. He’s the same man who operated on you, so your friend’s in good hands, but it’s going to take a while. That’s all I know right now.”

Ben nodded grimly and turned his attention to the paperwork he held.

“Do I want to know what’s going on?” Jaelyn asked from her bed as she tried to make sense of what was happening while trapped in her silent world.

Ben and Maggie exchanged a glance, and Ben nodded. It was her room after all and she had met Turnbull, if only briefly. It was only polite to tell her what they were talking about, especially as the younger Mountie had been injured in the investigation of her case. As Maggie lifted her hands to explain, Ben forced himself to slowly scrawl his name in the necessary places.

Frannie sat silently on the edge of the gurney after the doctor had finished his check and waited for the nurse to bring the discharge paperwork. The doctor had wanted to admit her, simply because of the multiple pregnancy, but she’d refused. She hadn’t suffered so much as a bruise, whereas Turnbull--

She was a nervous wreck when Kowalski slipped through the door with a concerned frown. One look at a friendly face and her control dissolved. She fell apart the moment she saw him and opened her arms in a silent plea for a comforting touch. He instantly stepped forward and enveloped her in a tight hug, without admitting that he rather needed one at the moment himself. His mind flashed back to the scene in the alleyway as the car sped away.

Kowalski had rushed over to the two of them, sparing only a glance for the bloodied remains of their prisoner. The man’s head was half caved in from being run over. There’d been no need to spray the area with bullets!

A glance at Turnbull’s pain contorted face -- a quick scan. He was holding his hip, blood leaking between his fingers. There was another stain starting to appear on the back of his tunic.

Kowalski ripped his cell phone out of the pocket and hit the emergency dialer. “Officer down, repeat, officer down!” He’d had to glance around before he found a street sign and was able to rattle off their location, including the plate and a quick description of the vehicle.

“Are you all right Miss Vecchio?” he’d heard Turnbull gasp as he was giving the necessary information.

“I’m fine Ren,” she’d answered softly, moving to cradle his head in her lap, despite her pregnancy. There was blood smeared across the front of her powder blue coat and Ray realized it was from Turnbull’s mouth. Ray had known then that he was in serious trouble and automatically flashed back to when Fraser had been shot. Was it really only a little over a month ago? God, did he have to go through this again?!

“Keep him on his side Frannie,” he’d ordered her, holding Turnbull’s shoulder up as his other hand sought the wound in his back, pressing firmly not only to staunch the flow but against the danger of a sucking chest wound. At least it was nowhere near his spine. Ray had to swallow the gorge in his throat as he’d remembered fighting to stop the bleeding in Maggie’s arm when they’d walked into that booby trap.... First Fraser, then Maggie, now Turnbull! Had he suddenly become some kinda curse to Mounties since returning from the Yukon or something?

A squad had car screeched up but it was an ambulance they needed, not the police someone else had summoned when everything fell apart!

“Hang in there buddy,” Kowalski remembered reassuring the younger man as another siren approached the scene and the uniformed cop ordered the bystanders back. “Ambulance is on its way. Just hang in there.”

Turnbull blinked, fighting the pain and shock away to frown up at Frannie in concern. “Your -- baby --” He’d gasped.

“Is fine Turnbull,” she’d answered quickly, stroking a gentle hand through his hair as she fought to comfort him. “They’re fine -- thanks to you.”

“They?” the Mountie asked in surprise and fought to get breath for another question. He offered a slight smile. “Twins?”

“Sextuplets,” Frannie had answered with a silly little grin as Turnbull offered a surprised double-take. He wasn’t the only one.

“Sextuplets Frannie?!” Ray had questioned in shook. He’d known about the pregnancy and surrogate mother number since the beginning, but-- “As in six, right? Six babies Frannie?!”

Frannie nodded and smiled down at Turnbull who stared at her in shock. “Six,” she confirmed. “You saved all of us Ren. I’m going to have to name one of them after you.”

The poor man looked absolutely horrified for a moment. “No!” he whispered. “Please! No Renfield!”

The ambulance had chosen that moment to arrive, quickly rounding the corner and breaking smoothly to a stop.

Ray remembered Frannie offering a watery little laugh. It was a pretty atrocious name to saddle a kid with! “Well, then you better get well quick so you can tell me what you do want,” she’d ordered him, whispering a concerned little kiss on his brow and fighting back tears as the paramedics rushed to grab their stuff.

Ray viciously shoved the memories aside as he felt Frannie hiccup against his shoulder, her small frame wracked with sobbing. He pulled himself away to frown at her face and she automatically fought to control herself. “Are you okay?” he asked quietly. “Should I go get the doctor?”

“No!” she choked back her tears, lifting her hands to wipe her tear stained cheeks. “I’ll be all right. Just pregnant and emotional-- you know....”

“Bullshit Frannie,” he answered crudely. “You just saw a friend get gunned down while he was protecting you with his own body. Don’t give me any ‘pregnancy-hormones’ nonsense!”

She ducked her head again and fought to contain a fresh wave of tears. “Why?” she whispered harshly and glanced up again at the man who’d pretended to be her brother for more than a year. “I mean, why him? I mean, I know he’s a Mountie and all. I know he-- He’s nothing like Fraser. I always forget. I--”

Kowalski enveloped her in a hug again as the aftermath of what had happened caught up with her. It wasn’t something a doctor could help her with.

“We went on a date once,” she whispered into his shoulder. “Remember?” He nodded. It was the Tracy Jenkins’s concert case, when Fraser had sung backup for the Canadian singer. They’d have probably never gotten Frannie to go otherwise. Well, that wasn’t true. The concert singing hadn’t been planned. “Did you ever hear about the lunch he cooked for me at the station?”

He nodded again. It had been all over the station for a week afterwards, much to Frannie’s chagrin. And that must have been how Turnbull had talked her into going to begin with. Either that or it was something to do with the bet she’d had about country music with the Duck Boys.

“The guy may be a complete flake but he’s also an incurable romantic,” she hiccupped around a watery laugh. “You know he even had candles and a table cloth and everything! He embarrassed the hell outta me! But it was so -- sweet.”

“He’ll be okay Frannie,” Ray assured her quietly. The door behind them opened and the nurse froze in the doorway. Ray shook his head sharply and waved her out. “He’ll be okay.”

The nurse nodded silently and backed out of the room. She’d give them a few more minutes. It was a hospital, however, and Ray knew they would be a very few minutes. He leaned back again, gripping Frannie’s shoulders so he could see into her face once more.

“Hey, Turnbull’s a Mountie,” he reminded her. “Just like Fraser. He’s young and healthy. They always bounce back. I think it’s that wild tundra stubbornness that gets in them. Gotta be tough to survive up there!”

Frannie bit back the flood of tears. If she didn’t stop now she wasn’t going to be able to and then the doctor would really slap her butt in a hospital bed! She felt suddenly guilty and ashamed. She’d often compared the wayward minded man with Fraser, and never understood how he could have become a Mountie in the first place, let alone remained one.

Now she knew.

God why did she have to discover this side of Ren the hard way? Why couldn’t he have stayed the goofy little Mountie who was obsessed with country music? Okay, so he wasn’t so little--

She slammed the door on the water works and straightened the Vecchio spine that had been her anchor in times past which had been just as painful as this. Turnbull wasn’t dead yet, and she wasn’t going to mourn him until he was. There were other things to do.

“Can we go to the Chapel, Ray?” she asked, forcing as normal a voice as she could. “I’d like to light a candle for him and say a prayer.”

Ray nodded. He might not be Catholic but a prayer wasn’t a bad idea at all. “Sure Frannie,” he answered quietly. “We can do that.”

“Hey there.”

The two men immediately glanced up as Maggie reappeared at the door. She’d changed out of the uniform into jeans and a dark blue cable knit sweater. “I’m back. Any word?” she asked.

Ray shook his head and watched as Ben lifted his hands, automatically interpreting for Jaelyn.. “Still in surgery,” he sighed and glanced at the large clock above him. It had been three hours since they got the word. Elaine would be showing up in another hour, not that he was about to tell Benny that, and Kowalski and Frannie had come and gone. Their excuse had been needing lunch but Ray knew better. His sister simply hadn’t been up to holding the calm and upbeat facade she felt necessary for Ben and Jaelyn’s sakes. Vecchio wasn’t sure it would have made any difference. Both Ben and Jaelyn had only picked at their lunch trays. Kowalski had said he and Frannie would be going to the post-surgery waiting room--or whatever it was they called it-- after eating. He’d promised to call as soon as they knew anything--but that hadn’t happened yet.

“You get word out to his parents?” Ray asked for Ben, knowing his friend had been worried about that.

“Sent word up to the Home Office, they’ll forward it to the Diplomatic Corps who’ll forward it to the Embassy in China. They may already -- well, it’s after mid-night there,” she frowned glancing at the clock, “but I’m sure they’ll know within a few hours at most.” She shook her head, dismissing the observation as unimportant, and offered a different kind of frown for Ben. “Inspector Carruthers isn’t happy about having two of you in here. I’m afraid his opinion of the US as a whole isn’t real good at the moment.”

“ ‘A bunch a gun toting, shoot ‘em up cowboys’?” Ray offered mockingly.

“Mobsters, actually,” she corrected him. “Have the police learned anything about the shooter?”

Ray sighed. “Kowalski got the plate and we’ve got an APB out. ‘Registration doesn’t match the description of the car so the plate’s probably stolen. We managed to get a warrant to pick up Manly for questioning but he’s disappeared. Big surprise there.”

“Have you found any further evidence to link him to the various crimes, beyond the discrepancies in his statement and the incident here that is?”

Ray shook his head with a frown. That stuff was all circumstantial and wouldn’t hold up two seconds in court. “Not that I know of, but Kowalski and Turnbull might have found something I don’t know about.”

The phone Ray had moved from beside Jaelyn suddenly rang, ending all further discussion. He quickly answered it and then sat listening for several long seconds, presumably getting a report on Turnbull from Kowalski. He offered a nod and sighed before murmuring a quick thanks and hunging up.

“Manly’s dead,” he surprised them and raked a hand through his sparce hair. “They just fished his body out of the river after he drove his car off a bridge. We’ll know more after Mort does a full autopsy, but right now they’re ruling it a possible suicide.”

^...possible -- suicide,^ Fraser finished signing sadly, watching Jaelyn’s pale face. ^I’m -- sorry.^

She nodded stoically and closed her eyes, pressing her head back into the pillows. She would not cry. She would not cry. She would not-- Damn it.

The man didn’t deserve her tears.

“Detective Kowalski?” a doctor called, glancing around the waiting area. Several hopeful faces fell and shoulders slumped once more as Ray and Frannie exchanged anxious glances before rising. The green coated man gestured them out of the large waiting area and into a nearby room where they could have some privacy. At least he didn’t close the door, Frannie thought, as she fought to present a calm and intelligent facade.

Her mind kept flickering back and forth between her and Turnbull’s one ‘date’ at the station -- when he’d ‘whipped’ together an extraordinary dinner and spoken so eloquently about the poetry of country music-- and how pale he’d looked when he asked if she were okay after he’d been shot. There was no doubt in her mind that the man had saved her life.

“Constable Turnbull is resting comfortably. He came through the surgery quite well,” the doctor told them immediately, and then paused to let them absorb the information with grateful sighs. Kowalski glanced up at him and the detective’s broad grin slipped slightly.

“--But?” he asked, sensing that there was more to come. Frannie at his side froze.

The doctor sighed and frowned at the carpet for a moment. Clearly he was not a happy man. He folded his arms and explained. “There was extensive damage to Mr. Turnbull’s left hip. I’m afraid the head of his femur and the acetabulum--the ball and socket joint?--were completely destroyed. There was also extensive damage to the shaft of the femur, complicating matters. Basically, we had to do a complete hip replacement. That’s what took so long.”

“But he’s going to be all right otherwise, right?” Frannie asked anxiously. “I mean, people have hip replacement surgery every day, right?”

“Well it isn’t a simple or common surgery Mrs. Kowalski but--”

“Vecchio,” Ray corrected firmly.

“I beg your pardon?”

“Francesca Vecchio. Miss,” he emphasized. “Friend of the family. You were saying?”

It took the man a long second to readjust his mental gears but he shook any confusion aside and continued smoothly. “Normally, in cases such as Mr. Turnbull’s, we’d like to use a ‘Charnley’ type of prosthesis. He’s young and healthy with many years ahead of him. Unfortunately, the replacement head of the joint must be firmly seated in the shaft of the femur. Due to the damage Mr. Turnbull sustained in the upper section of the bone, we were forced to use -- a less satisfactory device. It’ll still do the job,” he quickly assured them, “he’ll be up and walking again in a couple of months, but he won’t be running in any more marathons.”

Ray rolled his eyes and Frannie merely ignored this apparent attempt at lightness. “Can we see him yet?” she asked anxiously

“He’s still in recovery,” the man answered, pinching the bridge of his nose as he fought exhaustion away. “Give us an hour or so for him to wake up and get him into a regular room. Check with the third floor main desk. They’ll tell you when he’s ready -- but only for a couple of minutes okay?” he frowned at Kowalski.
“Understood Doc,” Kowalski nodded seriously. He shook hands with the older man and then quickly turned to find a phone. Time to tell the guys up stairs that Turnbull was on his way and going to be all right.

Turnbull sighed and stared up at the ceiling. He’d never been in a hospital before; well, as a patient, he corrected the thought. He’d visited plenty of friends in hospital before, both before and since coming to Chicago. Yet, despite his chosen profession and having over seven years on the force, he’d never been seriously injured before. Not that by enlisting in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police he’d automatically expected--

He shoved the rambling thought aside as his hospital door opened and he turned to see Francesca Vecchio peek her head inside.

“Oh, you’re awake,” she offered quietly, coming quickly forward to stand at his bedside. She was carrying a large, colorful balloon bouquet, but didn’t seem to be aware of it. “I stopped by earlier, but I didn’t want to disturb you. How you feeling?”

“Oh, um, I’m -- ah -- I’m fine, Miss Vecchio,” he managed to stutter and wished he could bite off his tongue. He was hardly fine, as was more than obvious, but he couldn’t think of anything else to say and so wound up sounding foolish and tongue tied as her unexpected visit sent his thoughts scattering in all directions. He felt a blush instantly stain his fair cheeks, the realization only making it worse.

“Frannie,” she corrected him. “I thought we got beyond Miss Vecchio a long time ago.”

He blushed further and ducked his head as he smiled in embarrassment. He’d been trying for sometime to win her attention. He’d actually won it for a short while when he introduced her to country music, but work and other interests had quickly stolen it away once more. He knew he wasn’t exactly a Casanova, and he also knew that Miss Vecch-- ‘Frannie’s’ attention had been focused elsewhere, whether Constable Fraser had wanted it or not.... Still, he didn’t think this was a very good way to have suddenly gained what he had so long desired! He could hardly show himself to good advantage when he was trapped in bed. Well, he could, but not in a hospital bed certainly!

He decided he needed to redirect his own thoughts and glanced up at the balloon bouquet.

“Are those for me?”

“Oh!” Frannie started, suddenly remembering what she held. “Yeah,” she admitted and moved to deposit them beside his telephone. Was that a blush staining her own cheeks as well. “I just -- I figured -- just a little something. I thought they’d be better than flowers!”

“I think they’re perfect,” he told her seriously, feeling his own embarrassment melt as he realized she was almost as uncomfortable with all this as he was. “Thank you -- Frannie.”


Oh dear, Fraser thought, frowning at the foot of Jaelyn’s bed three days later as he sat watching her pack and listening to the others debate his own future. Where he was going to go after discharge wasn’t something he’d considered. Now, both Rays and Maggie were arguing about it.

^What?^ Jaelyn gestured in exasperation. It was frustrating when people insisted on having heated debates around her and she couldn’t hear a word!

Fraser glanced at the others and lifted his hands. It was her room after all and it was only polite to tell her what was being said. He summarized it only, knowing himself to be incapable of the necessary speed for a true translation.

^What do you want to do?^ she asked the one question the others had failed to consider.

Ben sighed and shook his head. ^I -- don’t -- know.^

“So?” Maggie was saying. “It’s not that small. He can have the bedroom and I’ll take the couch. When I leave he can just take over the payments. It’s a perfect solution!”

“Have you checked to see if they allow dogs?” Kowalski asked pointedly and Maggie frowned sharply. “Yeah, I didn’t think so. The cheapest places that do allow pets want five to six hundred a month and we’re talking dumps here. I know! It ain’t been that long ago I helped him look for something.” He turned to Vecchio. “And your place ain’t any better. Frannie’s talking about wanting to take Turnbull in when he’s released. He can’t go back to that cardboard box of his, I don’t care how nice it is.”

“Cardboard box?” Maggie echoed, completely confused.

“A joke, Maggie, a joke!” Kowalski sighed. “Ask Fraser to explain it. The point is I don’t think Ma and Maria are coming back from Florida, do you? Can you see Frannie trying to take care of two injured Mounties -- and you -- in her condition?”

“I don’t need to be taken care of!” Vecchio protested.

Ben sighed silently again and rubbed the bridge of his nose where a headache was starting to blossom. When he glanced back up, he caught Jaelyn smiling in sympathetic amusement.

^Tell them to get out and let you think about it,^ she suggested, tilting her head to the side.

A quick glance assured Ben that Maggie wasn’t paying attention to them and he again shook his head. ^I -- can’t,^ he answered wearily. ^They -- mean -- well.^
She nodded and frowned pensively for a moment, before shrugging and lifting her hands again. ^Come live with me,^ she suggested.

Ben blinked sharply and glanced away. He couldn’t have understood-- She couldn’t have meant-- He glanced back to see her grinning broadly.

^Not that way, stupid!^ she signed as she held back her laughter.

“What’s so funny?” Vecchio suddenly asked, noting the silent exchange and Jaelyn’s obvious amusement. Maggie shrugged out of her sling and carefully translated for Jealyn when Ben glanced away, a blush creeping its way up his pale face.

Jaelyn started to sign and then caught herself, reverting to voice for Vecchio and Kowalski’s sakes. “I suggested he come live with me,” she explained with a shrug and broad grin.

The three debaters did a double-take and exchanged surprised glances. Jaelyn didn’t bother to try and contain her laughter, until she thought about what it might sound like. She’d always thought it sounded a bit -- over much. She choked back the sound that vibrated her throat and wiped tears from her eyes as the four people in her room regarded her in surprise.

“I own a Bed and Breakfast,” she reminded them. “Lots of rooms, well, more than enough, and people, a full staff...” She shrugged and grinned at Dief who was regarding her in open curiosity from where he sat beside Ben’s chair. “Diefenbaker would love it!”

So would Ben, Kowalski knew, remembering the beautiful country setting. He frowned after a moment. “It’s kinda far out.”

“Not that far,” Jaelyn answered after Maggie translated for her. Ben had lifted his hands, but not to translate. She smiled as she read his attempt at a protest and waved it away. “Fifteen minutes on the interstate. I’ll be having a Physical Therapist come out there anyway and we can car pool to the group Communications Disorders Class, and probably on visits to the Speech Therapist too. He’ll have his own room, someone to cook his meals and do laundry, there’s a heated pool for exercising, plenty of sunshine and fresh air--” She was smiling broadly but Ben was still shaking his head. “You would not be imposing!” she insisted firmly. “It’s the off season, not that we tend to fill up even during the on-season.”

“How much?” Kowalski asked and shifted his weight from one foot to another as he tested the idea carefully. He knew that would be Fraser’s chief concern.


All four of them shook their heads. “No way!” Kowalski sighed and frowned at Ben. “I know Frase here. He’s gonna insist upon paying, at least something.”

Ben nodded firmly as Maggie translated. More than something. He wasn’t quite sure what such accommodation normally cost but he knew it was far beyond his means.

“Proud are we?” Jaelyn taunted him with a wry smile.

Ben winced but the other three all chuckled. “Not proud,” Maggie explained, signing as she spoke. “Scrupulously fair minded. It’s a nice idea, but Ray’s right. Ben will never agree.” She turned back to the others. “I still say he should come home with me. I can talk to the landlord about Dief.”

Vecchio rolled his eyes.

“Excuse me,” Jaelyn interrupted the discussion before it could resume again. “Are you going to turn me down flat before I’ve even had a chance to make a fair offer? Is that ‘fair’ to me?”

“A good B and B must cost a hundred bucks a day!” Kowalski protested.

“More,” Vecchio chimed in.

Ben was only slightly surprised at this figure.

“For one of the best rooms,” Jaelyn nodded and pursed her lips in thought. “I was thinking one of the smaller ones on the ground floor, toward the back. We tend to use it for storage because people don’t like to be that close to the kitchens. It would be perfect for Ben. If I were full and pressed to find a room, I couldn’t bring myself to ask more than -- and during the off season -- about thirty-five dollars a night or--” she did some quick math, “that would be a thousand fifty a month.” She saw Vecchio choke back another bit of laughter. She continued before anyone could protest. “I also advertize a twenty-five percent discount for anything over a week, so we’re down to --” She frowned fiercely as she fought to do the math.

^Seven eighty-eight,^ Ben supplied, surprised that she’d been able to get it down so low -- and make it sound reasonable. It was still more than he could afford.

“Thank you,” she nodded, still obviously thinking. There was a definite challenge in her gaze. “Any complaints about being ‘unfair’ yet? I can substantiate my figures with old records if you want me too?”

Ben shook his head and allowed a small smile to escape. He couldn’t argue her logic.

“Good,” she nodded. “Now-- how much were you wanting to spend?”

“He paid three seventy-five a month for his last place,” Vecchio offered readily. He was enjoying the game. There was a mischievous light in the girl’s eyes that told them all she was up to something. Maggie translated the figure and added the fact that Fraser’s ‘last’ place had actually been the Consulate which had been free, if incredibly cramped. However, it was well understood that Inspector Curruther’s was not going to permit that to continue. Jaelyn ignored it.

“Three seventy-five then,” she nodded. “How much for utilities?”

Vecchio smothered a smile as he saw where she was going with this -- but he still didn’t think she could get it up to seven eighty-eight. He was surprised when she got it up to five fifty with groceries.

“Two hundred and thirty-three dollars a month more than your last place,” she decided and frowned. “Oh dear,” she sighed and shook her head sadly. “At this rate I’m going to wind up paying you!” she claimed. She glanced up at Maggie. “Do you have any idea what a Certified Sign Language Interpreter makes?”

“Thirty-five dollars an hour,” Kowalski supplied, chuckling as he saw Ben making the same mental jumps the rest of them were doing. Damn the girl was good! “That’s what Stella had to pay the woman when they came here to take your statement.”

^I -- am -- not -- a something (she could only guess ‘certified’) -- interpreter.^

Jaelyn cocked her head to the side and leaned forward. “Do you have any idea what it would cost me to employ ‘anyone’, certified or not, to act as an interpreter? None of my employees knows sign language. What am I supposed to do, make everybody write everything down all the time? I can just see that in the kitchen! And what about the guests? If they have a complaint, I’m supposed to make them write it down? They might find that a bit irritating don’t you think? And remember, Greg was my manager.”

She had to pause and ruthlessly shove aside the pain that even mentioning his name caused her. It was hard to accept it all, but--

“Things are going to be a mess and-- I’m not up to it. I have assistants who are supposed to be able to handle most of it, but Greg hired them.” She frowned and stared at Ben. “I don’t trust them. I don’t trust anyone...except you. And I don’t know why I trust you! God knows you’ve pushed me into doing things I didn’t want to do, but if you hadn’t -- I’d probably be dead. Can I put a price tag on trust Ben? Or the simple security that having a friend nearby would bring me? My other friends all have lives and families of their own. At night-- I have a night manager, Kevin. He handles minor emergencies, watches for security problems, signs off on early morning deliveries and makes sure breakfast is ready at six if anyone wants it. He’s great, but he’s sixty-two years old and severely dyslexic! Not only is there no way we are going to communicate unless he learns sign but--”

She sighed and hung her head as she realized she was starting to sound desperate. She wasn’t sure where the emotions had suddenly come from; but the idea of being alone in her own home (as much as she loved it) with only Kevin (as much as she loved him too) and a bunch or strangers (as many times as she’d done so without second thought in the past) was suddenly terrifying. She blinked back the tears that threatened and glanced up, smiling at Dief beside Ben.

“I need to buy a guard dog,” she sighed, not caring how strange the comment must sound coming from left field like that. She sat straight again and forced herself to face Ben and those eyes of his that saw too much... She cleared a tight throat. “So how much?” she asked. “You need a place to stay and I need a friend who knows sign. I really think paying the equivalent of only seven eighty-eight a month for your help would be unfair of me, so how much would it cost me to hire you to be an occasional interpreter -- and a friend?”

^Friendship -- can’t -- be -- bought,^ Ben offered.

She’d known he would say that.

“Then why do you insist upon putting a price tag on my offer to let you stay with me?” she asked quietly. “That was offered in friendship. Your offer to pay me is an insult.”

Ben frowned as he fought with the Gordian knot of logic she’d thrown at him but could find no solution. She’d managed to twist the whole question around on itself like a mobius strip!

He was surprised to hear his sister start to clap and glanced over to her in confusion. “That was beautiful,” she offered with a broad grin, signing as she spoke. “The last time I saw anyone so elegantly strip a question down to its essential truths was Ben when I was holding a gun on my husband’s killers. He kept me from making a serious mistake.”

^The -- gun -- was -- empty,^ he reminded her, rolling his eyes.

^That was beside the point,^ she shrugged.

He shook his head. He could smile at the memory now, but at the time he’d been very much afraid she wouldn’t hear his ‘essential truth’, as she put it. But he supposed she was right. That the gun was unloaded was beside the point...as was the normal cost of a room at Jaelyn’s place.

He looked back up again, returning Jaelyn’s irritated frown with a smile. ^I’m -- sorry -- I -- insulted -- you.^

She nodded acceptance, the irritation instantly disappearing, and glanced at the others. “Any arguments or better ideas?”

They’d pretty much torn each others ideas to shreds, Ben knew, and wasn’t surprised when they capitulated easily. “Ben you’re gonna love it out there!” Kowalski sighed, clapping him on the shoulder. “It’s right on the edge of the forest--”

The man frowned as he removed the earpiece and stubbed out his cigarette, thinking about what he’d learned. The Mountie was going to be moving in with the girl. That was going to complicate things....

Once again he debated doing nothing. The girl obviously didn’t remember him and there was absolutely no evidence to tie him to her abduction, rape and attempted murder. Manly had been the weak link in the chain, him and his idiot friends. But that too had been taken care of. He’d paid his debt -- in a most costly manner.

No, the only loose end now was the girl’s memory.

The chances of her remembering him were less than slim. The chances of him messing up and bringing everything down around his ears was greater. Still...there was all that money. He’d never planned to let Manly live anyway. Why should he settle for a measly twenty grand when he could have it all? That ten mil she was worth was more than tempting. He’d just have to eliminate the Mountie, or find a way around him....

He hated loose ends.

The end

Continued in RSS#3: Fallen Red Serge