"Now that is something I just do not understand."
I looked up from the newspaper spread across my lap. Ray waved his coffee at the street immediately in front of the GTO, where two men were attempting to cross. The nearer of the two held a folded newspaper and a paper bag from Biorno's Bakery; with his other hand, he clasped his friend's arm, just above the elbow. It was a picture of casual domesticity-a couple out for a stroll. Certainly neither of the two was engaged in anything that could be called offensive. I gave Ray an uncertain look.
"See what I mean?" he said, shaking his head, "Totally ridiculous, making such a spectacle. There just ain't no excuse." He curled his lip, then grinned at me and took another sip of coffee. He didn't seem to expect a response. A small mercy, I supposed-for once in my life I could think of absolutely nothing to say.
9:35 PM: "...so after all that, when we finally get him to the car, the lady goes 'oh dear, I'm afraid that's not the man I saw after all.' Can you believe that? The wrong freakin' guy, Frase."
I shook my head, trying to arrange my features into an expression of attentive sympathy.
Ray squinted at me. "You even listening, here?"
"Of course, Ray."
"Cause if I'm boring you or something, you just let me know."
"I assure you, Ray, I am quite enjoying your anecdote. I'm captivated, actually. Intrigued. One might even venture to say that I am 'all ears'."
"All right, already. Down, Mountie. Geeze."
"So where you wanna eat?"
"Oh thank-you, Ray, but I find I'm really very tired this evening. Perhaps you could just leave me at the Consulate."
Ray gave me an assessing look, but said nothing. Diefenbaker was nowhere near as respectful. I turned to glare at him. "Oh, for heaven's sake. That's simply not true, Diefenbaker--we have plenty of food at the Consulate."
Diefenbaker yipped indignantly. I rolled my eyes. "Well. Pardon me for suggesting you do without Mrs. Ming's ginger beef for the space of an entire evening. Of course, I was labouring under the impression that you were a wolf, rather than some kind of domestic... canine ... companion animal."
Diefenbaker turned his back on me.
Ray was staring at me out of the corner of his eye. When I looked at him, he shook his head, reached over to shift gears. He was smiling, a very little. I narrowed my eyes.
"You know, Frase, we could just go someplace quiet, eat, relax, hang out. You don't have to be good company or nothing. We're pals, right? Buddies. We know eachother good enough for that."
I leaned my head against the window of Ray's GTO and counted the number of moving violations taking place at the intersection ahead of us. There were at least nine that I could see. I cleared my throat. "Diefenbaker has become far too accustomed to the many conveniences available here in Chicago, Ray. One night of dried rations will do him good."
"You want that last piece?"
"Pardon...oh. No, thank-you, Ray. You go ahead."
Ray's long arm snaked across the table, his chopsticks closing neatly on the remaining piece of lemon chicken. I kept my eyes on the empty platter, my hands folded carefully around the napkin in my lap. Diefenbaker was asleep across my feet, having forgotten his pique at the first hint of ginger in the air. All around us was the lulling sound of late-night conversation, Cantonese and English melting into one strange, muted tongue.
I lifted my head and found Ray staring at me, his eyes very blue above the white of his napkin. He finished wiping his mouth and tossed the crumpled paper on his plate. Leaned back in his chair, sprawling now, his long arms crossed over his chest. He looked relaxed, but I was not deceived; I had seen him use this very pose while interviewing suspects.
"Yes, Ray?" I let my head tilt a little, lifted my left eyebrow.
Ray smiled, shaking his head. "Oh no you don't," he said, "I got your number, pal. Something's bugging you. I ain't blind. You gonna tell me what's going on? Or are we gonna keep playing games?"
I corrected my posture. "I'm afraid I don't know what you're talking about," I said, "But then, it is very late. Perhaps I should retire; we can always continue the discussion in the morning." I pushed back my chair and stood, digging in my pockets for my share of the meal's cost. Ray watched me, his eyes narrowed. I sighed. "Come, Diefenbaker." I laid the money on the middle of the table and led the grumbling Dief toward the door.
We were halfway down the block before I heard Ray's footsteps behind us. I could tell they were Ray's footsteps because his left knee is slightly weaker than the right, due to a childhood injury, and he tends to favour that leg when he runs. Also, he was calling my name, his voice sharp, puzzled, annoyed. At the end of the block, I sighed and stopped walking, though I still did not turn around.
"Fraser, geeze," Ray gasped, behind me, "You catch deaf from the wolf or something? I been trying to catch up with you here."
I sighed again. Suddenly I found I was overwhelmingly exhausted; the effort required for social niceties seemed entirely beyond my reach. "Well, Ray, perhaps there is a more plausible explanation for my failure to stop when you called. Perhaps, for example, I didn't want you to catch up with me. Perhaps I was trying to take some time alone."
Ray gaped at me. I could hear him doing it even before I turned, and saw him. He might have looked comical under different circumstances. Tonight, I could only glare.
After a long moment, he seemed to regain some measure of control. He closed his mouth, swallowed audibly. Lifted one hand, two long fingers extended, and pointed straight at my chest. "You," he said slowly, "are pissed. Oh yeah, Benton Fraser. Don't even bother to deny it. You're angry as hell." He let his hand drop to his side, gave a little nervous bounce. "What'd I do?"
I caught myself reaching toward my eyebrow. Forced that hand to return to my side. "It's nothing, Ray."
"Bullshit. Come on. Lemme have it."
"There is nothing I wish to 'let you have,' Ray." I began to walk again. Briskly.
"Fraser..." Ray sighed and set off after me. "Just tell me."
He raked his fingers through his hair, creating chaos out of artful disorder. "Fraser, how the hell can I apologise for something if I don't even know what I done? I'm asking you, here. Please."
I stopped walking abruptly. Ray took two more steps, realized I was no longer with him and turned. "This afternoon," I said, feeling somewhat breathless, "Outside of Biorno's. You were...very insulting about those two young men."
I watched Ray's face move through confusion and into memory. Saw his eyes widen. Before I could read the emotion dawning there, he squeezed them closed and covered his face with his hands.
Well, in for a penny, I thought. "I understand that homosexuality can be an uncomfortable issue for..."
"Fraser." Ray's hands still covered his face. His voice was muffled, and very strange.
"Ray, I'd really appreciate if you'd let me..."
"Fraser. Fraser. I was talking about the dog."
I closed my mouth. "The dog," I repeated.
Ray lowered his hands. "Yeah, Frase. The little terrier those guys had with them. It had on some kind of tartan? With a little matching cap? That's what I was being insulting about." His eyes were bright with humour and concern and...something else. I found that breathing had suddenly become a matter of deliberate concentration.
"Oh. Well, in that case I...apologise, Ray. I'm afraid I must have...leapt to a rather..." I waved a hand, finding myself quite deserted by my vocabulary.
Ray ducked his head, not quite managing to hide the broad smile creasing his face. He set a hand on my shoulder, patted me hesitantly. "It's okay, Frase. Just a misunderstanding." He patted me again, and left his hand where it landed, his fingers gripping me gently. "For the record," he said, the smile leaving his face, "That kind of thing ain't the kind of thing I would ever say." And he raised his eyes to meet mine, holding my gaze for the space of several heartbeats before he looked away.
I let out the breath I had been holding. "Understood, Ray," I said.
We stood there a moment longer, poised on the corner of the closing-down street. Then Ray nodded, once, and used the hand on my shoulder to steer me toward Dief and the car.