Author's Note: This is the second fan fic I ever wrote. It's rough but I hope you enjoy it anyway.

Xanthia

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The characters in this story are based on the television show "Due South" and were not created by me nor are they owned by me (unfortunately). Anyway, the main characters are the property of Alliance except for Markham Webster. He's mine. This story takes place after COTW and follows the premise that no one moved away.



For Whom the Bell Tolls

By Xanthia Morgan





"I wasn't quite sure what do about this. Initially I was going to ignore it as a hoax, but this is the third one I've received."



Lt. Welsh looked at the handwritten threats that lay on his desk. He read and reread them, then looked at the woman sitting across from him. "And each of these was delivered to you in a different location?"



"Yes. That's why I hesitated to dismiss them out of hand. As you can see, I've marked each one with the location I received them in."



Welsh rubbed his head. "Well, I can have the writing analyzed and that sort of thing. It would help if you gave us a list of people who might want you dead."



A bitter, mirthless laugh escaped the woman's lips. "It would be a long list."



Lt. Welsh could sympathize. In their line of work, one's enemies always outnumbered one's friends. Always. "If you could list the highlights, it would give us some place to start."



"I'll have it for you later today." The woman stood to leave. She went to the door but stopped short of opening it. She turned. "I would appreciate it if Constable Fraser didn't find out about this. You know how he can be."



Welsh smiled knowingly. "I understand. I'll do my best. But if you don't mind my saying so, he's one hell of an investigator. Fraser'd be an asset on this case."



She was undaunted. "I would like to keep this private for now. I have my position to consider." Welsh nodded. She opened the door. "Oh," she turned back again, "thank you, Leftenant."



Lt. Welsh watched Inspector Margaret Thatcher walk away, wondering who would hate her enough to want her dead.



************************



Constable Benton Fraser put another log on the fire and leaned back against the sofa. He put his arm around his fiancee and nestled his face in her hair. He sat quietly for a while, just breathing in her scent, relishing these moments when he didn't have to hide his feelings for her. But despite the outward serenity of the evening, he could feel a turmoil within her. He'd been silent about it during dinner, making small talk to cover the awkward pauses in conversation. Finally he knew he had to say something. "Meg, what's wrong?"



"Hm? What did you say, Ben? I wasn't listening."



"What's wrong, Meg? You've been unusually quiet all evening. For that matter, you've been unusually quiet during the past few evenings. I know something is bothering you. What is it?"



"Oh, Ben. It's nothing. Really. Just . . . you know. Nothing."



"Meg," he took her face in his hands and turned her to meet his gaze. "I know something is bothering you. I can feel it. I know you. Please, Meg. You can trust me to help you, whatever it is."



Inspector Margaret Thatcher raised her hands to cup the face of the man she loved. "Oh, Ben! I love you so much," she whispered, tears forming in her eyes. "This is just something that I have to work through. I'll tell you soon, I promise. Trust me?" The plea in her voice alarmed Fraser even more but he nodded in agreement. She put her lips against his and kissed him deeply, shutting out everything but the feel of his arms around her.



************************

I don't know, Dief, I just can't figure it out." Fraser walked home in the damp, chilly autumn air. "Something's wrong, I know it." Diefenbaker barked in reply. "I tried that already," Fraser replied to the dog. "I'm worried, Dief." The wolf whined softly.



He and Fraser continued toward home, each quiet in the city's unquiet night. Deep in their own thoughts, they were oblivious to everything; the cold rain beginning, the approaching el, the eyes that watched them from the alley ahead, waiting for them to come just a little closer.

************************

Meg secured the door behind Ben and leaned against it. She turned off the lights and headed for her bedroom, her thoughts tumbling like dice. She went over each of the notes she had received in her head.



** I'M COMING FOR YOU ** was delivered to her office in an envelope which had been postmarked from Montreal.



** PAYBACK TIME IS NEAR** showed up in her mailbox at home. This one postmarked from Toronto.



And the last one **ASK NOT FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS, IT TOLLS FOR THEE ** was shoved into her locker at the health club. This one had no postmark. That's the one that prompted her visit to Lt. Welsh. She had to have help and she didn't want to involve Fraser, he would just get excited and worried and - she should have told him. She realized that as she sat on her bed. "Meg, you've blown it big time," she thought. She resolved to tell Ben in the morning and with that resolution came the tears. She sat on the bed sobbing, hating herself for it. She hated to be weak. Hated to cry. But she had been under so much stress the last few days. She eventually got herself together and realized she'd worked up a pounding headache. She downed some aspirin and went to bed, feeling better now that she had released some of the tension and decided to tell Ben.

*********************

Diefenbaker and Fraser walked on, the el approaching fast, its sound like oncoming thunder. A faulty neon sign in the window of the bar across the next alley flashed like street corner lightning. In the bar, loud rap music played. Fraser heard the familiar sounds like vague background noise to his busy thoughts. He never heard the silenced shot that downed his friend. He only knew that as the el banged overhead at it's loudest, Dief yelped in pain and fell in front of him. Fraser knelt by his side. "Dief! Dief! What is it?" He saw the blood on the wolf's flank and then sensed rather than actually heard someone approach behind him. He whirled around, still in a crouch, and met the butt of the gun head on. The blow struck his forehead just above his left eyebrow, splitting the skin and sending the Mountie into blackness. In the cacophony of the city night, no one heard the wolf's howl of anguish as his pack mate was dragged away, leaving him helpless and in pain on the sidewalk. The wolf howled again in frustration and desperation, a lost sound in the Chicago night.

*******************

She was dreaming about him, as she almost always did. But in this dream she was searching for him and he was gone. She called his name over and over but he didn't respond. She was pounding on the door of the consulate, calling his name, not understanding why he wasn't answering the door. Pounding and pounding to the rhythm of her headache. Pounding and POUNDING! She awoke with a start and sat up in bed. The pounding was very real, very urgent, and at her door. She jumped out of bed and ran to the door, putting on her robe as she scrambled to unlock it. She wrenched it open without even looking through the peephole. She stood face to face with detectives Ray Vecchio and Stan Kowalski. Her heart jumped into her throat as panic washed through her. The dream came back in full clarity. Ray and Stan looked at her wide eyes and the clenched hands at the neck of her robe and they knew she knew that something was terribly wrong.



"Dief was found shot and laying on the sidewalk about halfway between here and the consulate," announced Stan calmly. His emotionless voice at odds with the panic in his gut.



"Ben?" she asked the question automatically.



"He's missing," answered Ray. "There's a trail of blood leading into an alley nearby and then nothing. He's vanished. We found this by Dief." Ray produced a white envelope addressed to Inspector Margaret Thatcher, Canadian Consulate.



She opened it and read the note with unseeing eyes.



"What's it say?" asked Vecchio.



Meg blinked as if in a daze and really looked at the words written there. Even as she read the terrible message, her trained mind took in the fact that they were written by the same person who wrote the other notes. The same man, actually. She now knew who was behind this.



"I need to see Leftenant Welsh immediately." She turned away into the house and dropped the note on the couch as she passed it. The words stared up at the two detectives.



** You took away my fiancee. Now I have taken away yours.

He will suffer alone for all the years that I have suffered alone

and you will suffer alone while I exact my revenge.**

**************************

Fraser woke up violently, soaking wet and freezing cold. Through his right eye he could see a man standing before him, staring, an empty bucket at his feet. Fraser was stripped to the waist, his hands fastened over his head. His head felt like it was splitting open and his left eye was swollen shut and caked with dried blood.



"So you're the new man." It was not a question. "Typical." The voice of the stranger was sneering, hateful. His British accent only emphasizing his contempt.



"Who are you?" croaked Fraser. "What . . . ?"



"What are you doing here?" smiled the man. "Why you are part of a plan, my good man. A grand plan, one which has required years of planning to execute." The man carried a riding crop which he now began to tap against his thigh. "As for who I am, well, all in good time, all in good time. Let's just say that I am an old acquaintance of your superior."



"Meg. If you've hurt her . . . " Fraser lunged against the chains holding him. The riding crop whipped out and caught Fraser along the hard line of his rib cage. Fraser cried out in surprise and pain.



"Now, now, my good man," the stranger smiled evilly, "let's not get carried away, shall we? We're going to spend lots of time together over the next few days and I don't want to wear you out too soon."



Fraser could feel the blood welling out of the cut to his chest and was quickly losing his temper, something that didn't happen very often. "What are you talking about?" he snapped.



"Ooh, temper, temper," chided the man. "I always thought you damn canucks always prided yourselves on your politeness. She always did, you know. Always so polite. So damned polite. Even in bed she was polite." He gauged Fraser's response to that revelation. "You didn't think you'd been the first, did you? Surely even you aren't so blinded by her charms as all that."



Fraser had gotten a hold of himself and wasn't going to play along. "What do you want?"



"I have what I want, old man," chuckled the man, "I have you. And you are all I need. For now." He looked at his watch. "Oh, look at the time. I must be going, I'm afraid. Margaret," he stressed her name "will be waiting for my call by now, I'm sure." He turned to go. "Oh, one more thing. I wouldn't want you to forget about me while I'm gone, so I'll leave you something to remember me by." He approached Fraser and produced a night stick from a small table Fraser hadn't noticed before. He smiled at Fraser and then rammed the stick into Fraser's ribs. Fraser's breath whooshed out and he felt the ribs bend. The nightstick came again and again, until the ribs gave way with a crack. Fraser stifled a cry of pain and tried to force the air back into his lungs. The stick came one last time and Fraser blacked out. The man laughed as he left the room, locking the iron lock behind him.

*****************************

"His name is Markham Webster." Meg sat on the couch, a hot cup of tea in her hands. Lt. Welsh sat opposite her and Ray and Stan were on either side of her, supporting her mentally if not physically. Detective Huey stood behind Welsh, taking notes and Detective Dewey leaned in the doorway to the kitchen. They were all disheveled, having been summoned out of bed, but none of them cared. They wanted to be there.



"He's . . . he's an old . . . he was a member of the British consulate in Toronto. A diplomat of sorts, if you will. He served as envoy to Canada and we crossed paths quite often."



"Why would he want to do this?"



"There were a series of murders in Toronto many years ago. Several people were tortured to death. My office aided in the investigation and Webster . . . " she trailed off, old pain mirrored in her eyes.



"...and Webster what?" Welsh prompted.



"Webster was implicated in the crimes. One of his - belongings - was recovered at one of the crime scenes. That, along with some other physical evidence, led us to consider him our chief suspect."



"What happened to him?" Welsh asked the question, although he was pretty sure of the answer.



"He was arrested and set to go on trial."



"But he didn't go on trial?" asked Stan.



She turned to him. "Have you ever heard of 'diplomatic immunity' Detective Kowalski?"



"What the hell is that?" Stan whispered to Ray.



"It's when some sick son-of-a-bitch gets off because he's got big time connections in the government of his home country. Am I right in assuming that's what happened, Inspector?" Lt. Welsh been through this before.



"Yes." Meg tightened her grip on the teacup, knowing inevitably what the next question would be.



Lt. Welsh consulted the note in the evidence bag on his knee. "Who's this 'fiancee' he mentions and what's she got to do with it?"



"She ultimately led the RCMP to him. She deduced his involvement in the crimes and went to the authorities. It was her testimony that helped get him indicted."



"It says here 'You took away my fiancee'. What does he mean by that? Did she go to jail?"



"No. She told him she would no longer consider marrying him, despite the lack of a trial. He felt he should be innocent until proven guilty but she knew in her heart he was responsible for the deaths of those people. She refused to ever see him or speak to him again. He told she had broken his heart and he would exact his revenge."



"Do we know where she is now? Maybe she could help us out, maybe she knows where this Webster asshole is." Dewey had moved from the doorway to stand next to Huey. "Is there any way to locate her through the consulate?" He looked expectantly at Thatcher.



"We don't have to go through the consulate." Meg kept her eyes down. "She's me."



********************************

Fraser swam up to consciousness by degrees. Each degree consisting of more and more pain, until finally he broke the surface and took a breath. A breath that caused him to moan in agony. *Get it together, Benton.* he told himself. *Think. Observe your surroundings. Anything, just don't focus on the pain. Use your brain, what of it hasn't leaked out of your forehead.*



Fraser studied the room he was in as best he could from his position and through his one good eye. He was overwhelmed by the feeling he was in some old monster movie chamber of horrors. His arms were drawn up on either side of his head and fastened to iron manacles on the wall above him. The room he was in was about 20 feet by 20 feet, stone, with a heavy wooden door. A wooden torture rack stood alongside one damp wall and a set of stocks sat in a corner. *Very gothic* thought Fraser. There was a table near him with the night stick, a set of brass knuckles, and several odd looking items, the use for which he didn't really want to consider at the moment. "I don't like the look of this" he said aloud to himself. "I don't like the look of this at all."

****************************

"Inspector Thatcher speaking." She had answered the phone in her living room on the third ring, as instructed. She looked at the officer across from her operating the tracing equipment and got the thumbs up.



"Hello, Margaret," came the cultured voice, "long time no hear, as you yanks say."



"Where is he Markham?"



Markham Webster laughed. "Do you know, my dear, you are the second rude Canadian I have encountered today. This is amazing. I believe I shall call the papers, no one will believe it."



"This is between you and me, Markham, let him go. Please." Meg didn't want to plead, but seemed unable to help herself.



"Please. Well, that's more like it, my dear. You are your old polite self again. I was telling Constable Fraser how very polite you always were, in every situation. And I did tell him about every situation, Margaret. I think I may be a bit offended to think you never even mentioned me, but then again, you did refer to our relationship as a 'bad dream' at one point, did you not? Tell, me Margaret, how were your dreams last night."



"You bastard where is he?"



"Why, Margaret, darling, this Fraser fellow seems to have ignited a flame in you, something I obviously failed to do." Markham's voice grew cold. "He's still alive, Margaret. For now. I have very special things planned for Constable Fraser. Very special. For now let's say that he has a very hard head, although it bleeds quite profusely when cracked, and extremely hard ribs. I don't recall it being so difficult to break any of the others'. Ta for now, Margaret. I'll call you later."



"Markham! You son of a bitch! Markham!" Meg yelled to no avail, the line had gone dead. She slammed down the phone, tears of rage and frustration streaming down her face. Kowalski and Vecchio came racing in from the other room, where they had been listening on a speaker phone. Kowalski put his hand on her shoulder but she threw it off and stormed toward the window, breathing hard. Lt. Welsh took off his headphones and the tracing officer rewound the tape. No one spoke. Finally, Meg turned to Lt. Welsh, her features set in lines of grim determination. "Well, he's alive. We have that to go on." She turned to the officer "Were you able to obtain a trace, Officer?"



"Yes, ma'am, but it's a cell phone. I'll try and narrow down the range, but he could be anywhere."



"And nowhere near Benny," Ray mused.



Inspector Thatcher, for that is what she was at this moment, did the only thing she could. She took charge. "Right. Let's check the tape for any sounds. If we can at least find any identifiable sounds we can compare them to the next call. If he's consistent, we can narrow down a search area. Leftenant, I officially request the support of the Chicago Police Department in this matter. May I depend on your full cooperation? Thank you. Detective Kowalski, how is Diefenbaker? Will he be able to help us track Constable Fraser?"



"He's healing up nicely, the vet says, but we can't spring him for at least a week. Then he's supposed to rest for the next two weeks after that. I'm afraid Dief's out of the equation for now."



"Thank you, Detective. Detective Vecchio, anything further from the crime scene you'd like to add?"



"No, sir," replied Ray, calling her by the term Fraser always used. "There were some tire tracks in the alley that were too generic to call. The blood did match Fraser's but I think we already had that figured."



"Right. Leftenant, what do you propose we do next? You know this city better than I."



"Well, Inspector, tell me all you can about this Markham Webster bastard and we'll see what we can do. You mentioned last night that he had been nabbed because of a personal belonging. What was it? Would it have to be obtained around here?"



"It was a riding crop."



"A riding crop?" queried Vecchio. "Like those little whips jockeys use in horse races?"



"Exactly, Detective. Markham has a fondness for whips. Only he doesn't use them on horses."



It took a moment for her meaning to sink in.



"Christ."



"I hope that's a prayer, Vecchio." chided Lt. Welsh.



"You bet your ass, sir."



"As for obtaining it, he only used ones made by a certain manufacturer in England. He would have brought it along."



"Anything else, Inspector. Anything at all? It doesn't matter if it sounds questionable. As you know, sometimes the loonies are the easiest to find, if they're eccentric enough."



"Eccentric. That's Markham. Shit! I just remembered!"



"Did you just say 'shit' Inspector?" Ray questioned her as if he couldn't believe his ears.



"Can it, Vecchio. What is it Inspector?"



"Markham had this fetish for dungeons. I know it sounds irrelevant, but he found them fascinating. In Toronto, one of the things that linked the murders to him was the fact they were all carried out in old buildings with dungeons." She looked at the group of policemen looking at her with their eyebrows raised. "They aren't all that hard to find if you know where to look. A lot of modern castles or large mansions had them built in, as curiosities. They would have their wine cellars modeled after old dungeons. He even used an old abandoned movie set once."



Welsh turned to his team. "Well, don't just stand there gawking. You guys have work to do. Check county and city records, state records if you need to. Find me every old building with a Bela Lagosi wine cellar in the vicinity. Get the hell out of here and do it. Inspector, I'd like a word with you privately." The officer and the detectives filed out.



"What is it, Leftenant. I should like to help in the location search. I can use the database at the consulate."



"Sit down, Inspector." Welsh motioned to the chair next to his. He looked at her for a moment and then began to speak. "When Fraser first showed up, I thought he was a royal pain in the ass. No pun intended. But I have come to respect and admire him over the years, not just for his police work, which is unsurpassed as far as I'm concerned, but for himself. He's one of the last of the good guys, if you know what I mean. Anyway, he's like one of us now, you know. He's one of my guys just as much as Vecchio, Kowalski, and the dynamic duo, Huey and Dewey, who have replaced Fraser as the pain in my ass. That's another story. Anyway, I want to reassure you that this psycho eurotrash, Webster, isn't going to get away with this. No matter what happens, we'll hunt him down."



"Thank you, Leftenant. I appreciate it. I felt very alone in this, but now . . . now I know we can do it. Together."



Welsh smiled. "You bet. Now get the hell out of here. It will be a while before that scumbag calls again. Let's see what we can do in that time, huh?"



*************************

Fraser had discovered that it was impossible to sleep standing up with one's arms attached above one's head. He dozed fitfully on and off, but every time his head jerked down in sleep, the sharp pain in his skull would jerk him back to wakefulness. He had taken inventory of his hurts and had concluded that he very probably had a fractured skull and several broken ribs. To take his mind off that, he was running through every case that he could remember Meg being involved in. He had done a thorough check of her file when she was assigned to the consulate and her most important cases were in there. This whole setting seemed familiar but it was hard to concentrate. His head felt fuzzy and ached abominably. He could only think so long before he would lose his train of thought and have to start over. He was going back over the case he had just lost track of when he heard a key scrape in the lock.



"Well," announced his captor cheerily as he swung open the door, "how are we feeling?"



Fraser, who was feeling uncharacteristically honest, replied in a most unFraserlike way. "We are feeling like shit, thank you."



"Ooh, we must be feeling better to use such language," came the sarcastic reply. "Let's see if we can remedy that, shall we?" The man's voice had taken on an evil tone. Fraser knew he had to delay the inevitable, plus he wanted to know more about this man.



"Who are you? Something about this seems familiar, but we've never met."



"Well, I should be glad for familiar, I dare say," he said as he approached Fraser stealthily, like a cat with its prey.



"So do you have a name?"



"Oh, yes. I would be quite the stand out if I didn't have one, wouldn't I?"



"Well, what is it?"



"So curious for one who really is in no position to be asking anything, wouldn't you say?" The man picked up a nasty looking pair of brass knuckles from the table. "Perhaps I should be the one asking the questions," he taunted as he put them over his right hand. He watched Fraser watch him put them on. A look of satisfaction came over his face. "Ah, so you're acquainted with these little fellows, I see."



"I have had some experience, yes. Very effective." Fraser watched the man put a matching pair on his left hand.



The man shrugged his shoulders. "I do like to get a thorough workout, don't you?"



"Well, yes, I find that there are, of course, other ways to get a more . . . " The man cut Fraser off with a hard blow to his mouth. "Do shut, up, would you? I hate to talk during a work out."

****************************

Markham stepped back, sweaty and pumped up. He surveyed his handiwork. Fraser hung limply, the shackles supporting him. His face was swollen and bloody beyond recognition and his stomach was a mass of blackening bruises. Markham, who believed in a thorough workout, had also gotten in a couple of kicks to his sides and legs. When the Mountie was unable to move, Markham had turned him in his chains so that his back was exposed, and placed some well placed blows to the kidneys. He loved this part of it all, the looking back at what he had accomplished. It had thrilled him from the day he had pulled his sister's hair that first time. What power it gave him, inflicting pain. The Mountie was hard work, though. It took a lot to make him acknowledge pain. But Markham liked the rush of satisfaction when he did get him to cry out. Oh, yes. It was well worth the effort. He gave Fraser a few lashes across his lower belly with the riding crop, just for fun. Fraser flinched. He was glad that Fraser wasn't so out of it that he didn't feel it. Now it was time to shower and call Margaret. She must be made aware of how things were going.

*******************************

They were all in Meg's kitchen, sitting around the table with papers spread everywhere. Huey, Dewey, Vecchio, Kowalski, Welsh, Francesca, and Meg.



"I found these listed in the registry of historical sites," Frannie was explaining while she fanned out her file, "all of them are open to the public except this one which was condemned about ten years ago. But wasn't even on the register then so I don't know how he'd know about it." She looked at Meg.



"He was in the states ten years ago. He could've found it then." She looked at the picture Frannie had placed on the top of the pile. It looked like an old European castle. It even had a moat.



"Well, if I was a big time psycho, this is where I'd roost. It's called the Van de Grall estate and is about 120 years old. The old man who had it built replicated an old castle he and his wife had stayed in on their honeymoon. They thought the old dungeons were 'romantic' and gave gala parties in them. Talk about your psychos. Anyway, it's about fifty miles from here in the middle of nowhere."



"Are there any others . . . " Welsh's question was left unfinished as the phone rang. Dewey ran to the tracing machine and the others went into the adjoining room to listen on a speaker phone. Welsh put on the headsets and nodded to Thatcher.



"I'm listening." She gave no greeting. She knew who it was.



"Margaret, old thing, how are you?"



"Where is he, Markham?"



"So abrupt, Margaret. Living in America has certainly affected your manners. Perhaps I should call back when you're feeling more hospitable."



"No, Markham, please don't hang up." Meg blurted out. She knew that to keep him on the line she would have to get control of herself. "I'm sorry, Markham. I'm upset, as I'm sure you can well imagine. It's been a very trying day."



"Oh, so sorry, my dear. I on the other hand have had a perfectly exhilarating day. I had a wonderful workout this afternoon. That Mountie chap is proving to be quite the surprise."



"How so?" Meg tried to keep her tone conversational, even though she was screaming inside. She didn't want to know what he'd done to Ben but she had to know if he was still alive. The only way to do that was to play his sick game.



"Well, he's so resilient. It's very hard to get a sound out of him, and you know how much I like to hear noises when I'm working."



Meg cringed at the blatant sexual overtone that was meant to remind her of their relationship.



"Anyway, he just refuses to utter a peep. I learned the trick though."



Meg gripped the phone until her knuckles were white. "And that is?"



"Come to find out, your fiancee has very tender kidneys. Did you know that? Well, I'd expect they're even more tender now. At least they will be when he regains consciousness. I do hate it when someone passes out in the middle of one of my parties. Well, I do need a shower after all that. I'll be sure and call you later, Margaret."



****************

"Inspector. Inspector?" She heard someone calling her, felt someone's hands on her shoulders. "Inspector, are you all right?" Someone shook her gently and she looked up into anxious faces. She was on her knees on the floor, folded in on herself. The phone was still clutched in a death grip in her hand.



Lt. Welsh reached out and touched her hand. "Here, let me take this." He took the phone from her cold fingers and hung it up. Stan Kowalski was stroking her back and Ray Vecchio held a sobbing Frannie in his arms. Dewey and Huey stared into space, their faces masks of rage.



"Did you hear?" Meg whispered.



"Yeah." Lt. Welsh ground out the words like so much chewed up glass. "We heard."



"How far is this Van de Grall place?" For some reason, Meg couldn't speak above a whisper.



"We can be there in about an hour. But if we're going there with an eye toward a rescue, we need some time to prepare." Welsh was figuring in his head even as he spoke. Technically it wasn't his jurisdiction. It was the state police's territory. Still, he could pull some strings. A lot of people owed him. It was time to call in the favors. "We should be sure he's there, first."



"He's there. I can feel it."

**********************

Fraser was on fire. He was certain of it. His body burned everywhere. And where he wasn't burning he was freezing. Time was measured by each heartbeat, each push of blood through his agonized veins. He thought about Meg. When he'd fallen in love with Meg, he had wanted to live forever. He had never thought about dying before, not in any real sense. Now he just wanted out. He knew his father would say he was giving up . . .

((Son, you're giving up, aren't you?"))



"A man can only take so much" Fraser rasped out. Even though his father was gone, had followed his mother to wherever you go when your work is done, he fancied he could hear him now, in this place.



((Benton, please.))



The new voice startled him. He opened what he could of his right eye, which had been blackened in the beating. He saw his mother and father. A tear slipped down his face.



"I thought you were gone forever."



((You didn't need us, son. You caught your man. You know our motto, we Mounties always catch our man))



((That's not the motto, dear, and you know it. Now be quiet for once and let me talk. You've had him for a lot of years and I only got to talk to him that once, in the mine shaft.)) Fraser's mother smiled at him. ((Benny, we can only come this once. We have laws here and we can't just leave anytime. We see you all the time, but we can only contact you under certain circumstances. Benny, you're not done on this plane. You are needed here, more than you know.))



"I'm tired, Mum. So tired. And he's coming back. I can't escape and no one knows where I am."



((You're wrong, son, you could escape easily. Just break out of those shackles and . . . ))



((Shut up, dear.))



((Yes, dear))



((Benton, help is on the way. Believe that. Your friends would not desert you. They are coming, Benton, just hang on.))



His mother's voice faded away. "Mum."



((Be strong, son.))



"Dad." They were gone.

********************

"Are we all assembled?" Lt. Welsh had been put in charge of the assault team.



"Yes, sir," answered a young state trooper named O'Malley. "The swat team is ready and the medivac unit is standing by."



"Is your team in place, Vecchio?" Welsh called softly over the comlink.



"Yes, sir," came Vecchio's response. "In place and ready, sir." Vecchio turned to his team. Huey, Dewey, and Thatcher all waited. Each was armed and had their weapons ready. Everyone but Thatcher. Vecchio handed her a loaded sidearm. "You may want this, Inspector. Just this once."



Meg took the sidearm and checked to make sure it was loaded. She looked at Vecchio. "The problem is I may actually want to use it, Detective."



Vecchio smiled grimly at her. "You wouldn't be the only one, Sir."

*****************

Fraser heard Webster coming. He knew his name now. He had searched his mind and came up with the only possible choice. He had known about Webster, of course, but never brought it up to Meg. He knew it was painful for her. It had to be. The key turned in the lock and Webster came in, slapping a coiled whip against his leg.



"Awake, I see, Constable. How nice. You've saved me the trouble of fetching another bucket of water."



In that moment, something in Fraser broke. He had spent his whole life following the rules of conduct and comportment, and here he was being tortured by an Englishman who oozed civility. He cleared his throat and said the one thing he'd never uttered in his life.



"Fuck you." That felt good.



"Feeling frisky today, are we?" A most unpleasant smile crossed Webster's face.



"You don't really think you'll get away this time, do you, Webster?"



"So, you've figured it out, I see. Very clever, Constable. I'm honored that my name is still remembered by the RCMP." Webster was clearly preening at the thought that his case was still talked about. Fraser saw an opening. It hurt to talk but he had to take this chance. It was the only one he had.



"No. It's not really. I actually found it in some dead files a couple of years ago. I only recall it because of the large amount of dust that had collected on the pages." He had hit home. He saw it in Webster's eyes. He continued while he still could. "It's too bad Meg pegged you so soon. Perhaps if you had been more clever in your choices of locations and," he nodded toward the crop on the table, "instruments you may have gotten away with it. My Meg is a clever girl, isn't she. She found you out then and she'll find you out now."



Webster's eyes turned hard. "No one gets the better of me!" he roared. "Especially not Inspector Margaret Thatcher. Not again. I will triumph. You'll see." He laughed. "No you won't see. You'll be dead. I'm going to kill you today. I wasn't going to but now I shall. How does it feel, knowing you are going to die!"



Fraser just looked at him. "But you'll never have Meg. She's what you want, really. And she's mine."



Webster lunged at him with a roar. Fraser tried to kick at him but his legs failed underneath him and he was yanked down hard off his feet by Webster. Webster delivered a powerful blow to Fraser's side. He crumpled in agony. He then delivered another blow to the left side of Fraser's head, reopening the gash there. With Fraser suitably stunned and out of breath, Webster dragged him far enough away from the wall to turn him around. Fraser felt the cold stone wall against his face and tried to brace himself for whatever was coming.



Webster stalked away from him to the other side of the room and uncoiled the whip. "Now we will see, Constable Fraser, who will get whom!"



Fraser heard the whip slice the air - whoosh - the split second before it ripped into his back - crack. Try as he could, he couldn't stifle a cry of pain. Again he heard the whip in the air - whoosh - before it made contact - crack. Again he cried out. But somewhere in the back of mind, on the edge of his hearing, he heard something.



Whoosh - quiet voices - crack. Fraser could no longer control it. Whoosh - stealthy footsteps - crack. He screamed in agony. Whoosh - a building silence - crack. And in that instant Fraser knew he was saved. Whoosh - Crash! - crack.



Suddenly, there was noise where there the silence had been. Webster was screaming. "No! No! It's not possible!"



Fraser heard shouts, familiar voices. "Police! Drop your weapon!" Kowalski. "He's got a gun!" Vecchio.



"I'll kill you, Margaret!"



"Drop it!" Lt. Welsh.



BANG!



Then silence again.

******************

Fraser heard the voices, as if they came from far away. They were familiar but all mixed up. "Hang in there Benny."

"Ben!"

"See if the slimebag has the keys on him"

"Here they are, on the table."

"Ben!"

"Easy now. Easy."



Gentle hands held him as his arms dropped from the shackles, but even in their gentleness, they couldn't stop him from crying out in agony one last time before the blackness finally took over.



****************************

"Oh, God, Ben! What did he do to you?" Vecchio and Kowalski held up their friend while Lt. Welsh worked the key in the shackles, finally freeing his arms. Even though they braced themselves and tried to be gentle, Fraser fell like dead weight into their arms, crying out as they caught him. They lowered him to the floor and onto a blanket they'd brought in with them.



"Get the medivac unit in here, stat!" Lt. Welsh screamed into his comlink. He knew the paramedics were just upstairs and the helicopter only minutes away, but they couldn't come soon

for him.



He turned back towards the two partners who were swearing under their breath at the damage their friend had suffered at the hands of the madman who now lay dead on the floor not ten feet away.



"Benny. Can you hear me?" Vecchio's voice shook. He'd rarely seen anyone suffer such a savage beating, and he'd rarely seen anyone survive one.



Meg Thatcher just stood above them and took it in. The lacerations on his stomach. The enormous black bruises, streaked red, on his sides and chest. She had seen what Webster had done to his back. Thank God they had come when they did. She took it all in and then she looked up at Lt. Welsh.



Welsh was watching Meg. He didn't know what to expect. He watched her eyes follow every mark on Fraser's body and he knew she was thinking about the horrific scene that greeted them when they broke down the door. It was like something from a movie or a book. He watched her and when she looked up at him he knew what was coming. He watched the color start to drain from her face and he stepped toward her. He saw her eyes glaze over and reached out his arms. And before he knew it, Inspector Margaret Thatcher of the RCMP, head of the Canadian Consulate in Chicago, a woman who had faced down crazed terrorists without flinching, fainted dead away into his arms.



**************************

"We're losing him." The voices came and went, almost like in a dream. "I need the crash cart over here!" There was strident buzzing sound. "Charging." He felt something cold on his chest. "Clear!" Something pulled at his body and drew him upward. He could feel it tingle. "Again." This seemed strange that he could feel but not hurt, hear but not understand. "Charging." Like listening through Vaseline. "Clear!" That pulling again. Beep. A new sound. Beep. "I've got a rhythm!" Something was down his throat, expanding his lungs, breathing for him. He could feel it. It was a relief, not to have to breathe on his own. "Page Dr. Stanton and prep an OR. Stat." Someone was pressing something cold and sharp into his arm. "Yes, doctor." Someone took his pants off. He felt the rush of cool air on his skin. "Jesus, here's more. I need those x-rays!" He felt hands on his body, pressing here and there. "He's bleeding internally." It should hurt. He knew that. "Have we got a type and cross match? I want as many units as they've got!" He was moving now. He sensed that it was getting brighter and dimmer as he moved along. "I've got the x-rays." Brighter and dimmer. "God almighty! Get me Dr. Wexler! Tell him we've got acute kidney damage!" Brighter. "Let's get him under." And dimmer. And dimmer. And dimmer.

***********************

Meg Thatcher watched as the respirator moved up and down, breathing for Fraser. Breathing life into him. Keeping him alive. She knew they had almost lost him when he arrived at the hospital. She knew they had almost lost him two more times in the OR. She knew that almost was closer than she'd ever be able to deal with. Up. Down. In. Out. The soft sounds of the respirator lulled her and she dropped her head onto the side of her chair and fell asleep.

************************

"Excuse, me, Inspector Thatcher?" The nurse hated to interrupt what was obviously some much needed rest for this woman.



"Yes. Oh, God, is it Ben? Has something happened?" Meg looked frantically around the private waiting room, expecting the worst.



"Oh, no. Constable Fraser is still the same. No, it's," she indicated out the door and into the hallway, "them." Meg followed her gaze and stood up, not quite sure what she was seeing. "Who are they?" she asked, her eyes never leaving the crowd of people quietly standing in the hallway. "They've all come to ask after Constable Fraser. I thought perhaps you could talk to them."



Meg approached the crowd. There must have been fifty people, at least, crowding the corridor. "I'm Inspector Thatcher, of the RCMP. Can I help you?"



A bent old man came forward. From the look of him, he had been elected the crowd's spokesman. "We read about the constable in the paper," he said in a faint eastern European accent, "and we came to see what we can do to help."



"Si," piped up a middle-aged Latina from behind him. "Constable Fraser, he has helped us, all of us, at one time or another. He is our friend." The group nodded as one. Meg couldn't really take this all in. "You all know Ben?" she asked. "That's right" said a young black man dressed in gang colors. "He's like one of us, you know?" Again the crowd nodded as one. Meg turned to the nurse, who hung back watching. "Is there somewhere we can all go? I'd like to get to know these people."

************************

Ray Vecchio was sitting by his friend's side, holding his hand, when Meg came back into the room. Her voice startled him.



"He never said anything."



Ray jumped. "Jeez, Inspector, you scared me. Who never said anything?"



"Ben. About his life. The people he's helped. Lt. Welsh said he was one of the last of the good guys. I didn't know what he meant, not really, until now."



Ray looked at her. He was a little worried. "Inspector, with all due respect, what are you talking about?"



"They were here, Ray. People who's lives he's touched. They came on their own to see if they could help. You see, he helped them, and now they want to help him. Do you remember Anita Rosario?"



Ray thought for a moment, then smiled. "Yeah, isn't she the lady with the cat? The one that kept going up into that damned tree by her fire escape?" Ray chuckled. "That was something. Every time that cat got stuck, she'd call Benny, and he'd come get it."



"She was here, Ray. She gave me these." Meg held out her hand and from her fingers dangled a set of, what looked like genuine pearl, rosary beads. "She asked me if I was Catholic and when I told her I used to be she gave me these. They were her great grandmother's, Ray. She said I should use them in good faith and Ben would get better. She says she's been to mass three times a day since she heard."



Ray looked at the beads. "They must be worth a fortune."



Meg smiled. "They're worth more than a fortune, Ray. They're worth Ben's life."

***************************

After a few days, Meg got used to the people who came. And they did come every day. Always new faces coming to see what they could do to help "the Constable." She sat in wonder each evening at his side and told him of all his friends who'd come to see him. She knew he could hear her, even if he couldn't respond. She knew that under the bandages and the tubes, Ben was just resting. He would come back soon. She could feel it.

****************

Ray walked into ICU five days after Fraser had been brought in. He stopped dead at the edge of the empty cubicle. "Oh my God, Fraser!" he yelled.



One of the nurses came running. "I'm sorry, Detective Vecchio, I tried to contact you before you came in."



"He's dead isn't he, oh my God, I knew this would happen!"



"Detective, calm down, he's not dead!"



Ray looked at the nurse. "He's not?"



"No."



"Where is he?"



"He's in a private room around the corner. Dr. Stanton took him off the respirator early this morning and he's been moved."



"He's out of ICU?"



"Not technically. It's still ICU, just a little more private." She led him to a room around the corner and ushered him in. One wall was glass and could be seen from the nurses station in the main ICU. Fraser was still hooked up like a car battery but the respirator was gone. Ray leaned over him and checked on his breathing, just to be sure. The rise and fall of Fraser's chest was so much of a relief that he dropped into the chair by the bed. Through the window, Ray saw Stan Kowalski enter the cubicle where Fraser had been. He could read his lips clearly "Oh, my God, he's dead!" He saw the nurse hurry over and obviously relay the same news he had received. Kowalski disappeared from ICU and reappeared behind Ray.



"Jeez, they can sure scare a guy around here, can't they?" Kowalski was still shaking from the fright he had just had.



"Tell me about it." Ray was busy trying to catch his own breath.



"I sure hope Thatcher knows about the switch." Stan and Ray looked at each other. "Jesus." They said simultaneously and turned for the door.



"I hope that was a prayer," smiled Meg Thatcher from the doorway, a Styrofoam cup in her hand.



"You bet you're a. . . . " Kowalski began.

"It sure was Inspector."Vecchio interrupted. "So you knew about the switch?"



" I was here when they moved him. I just went down to the cafeteria to get some tea. Isn't it great!" She practically beamed.



"It sure is. Well we just stopped in on our way to the precinct. We'll check in again this evening, okay?"



"That would be fine. Have a good day, gentlemen."



"Yeah, you too." Vecchio and Kowalski left the room and headed for the elevator. They were safely on their way to the first floor when Vecchio turned to Kowalski.



"Is it my imagination or is she slowing becoming human?"



******************************

Meg had been reading to Fraser on and off all day. She had gotten into the habit during those first crucial hours when the doctors had said that talking could be helpful in bringing him out of the coma. She couldn't think of enough things to say, so she'd read from magazines or the newspaper and whenever something triggered a thought or memory from her past, she'd relate it to him. Ray and Stan did the same every evening, each taking a shift. Francesca came by on her lunch break.

Between them, Fraser was never alone. At night, Meg would lay her head on Ben's bedside, hold his hand, and get what sleep she could. The routine was tiring. Meg had been up early for the move into the private room and by 7:00pm she was beat. "I'm just going to lay my head down here for a few minutes, alright Ben?" She folded her arms on the edge of the bed and lay her head on them. At 9:00pm the door opened and Ray hustled in. They were late and knew by this time the inspector would need a break.



"Sorry we're late, Inspector, we were held up . . . " Vecchio's voice trailed off. He stared at the bed. "Sorry, we're late, Inspector . . . "Kowalski started talking before he entered the room and he too stopped short at the sight before him.



Meg was asleep, her hands folded under her head. Fraser's hand was stroking her hair. His eyes were open. Slowly he raised his other hand to his mouth. "Shhhh."



"Jesus."



"I hope that's a prayer, Ray." smiled Kowalski.