I wrote this fic in July/August 2006 and then moved jobs - only to discover I'd lost all my fic!! Noooooooo!! The unspoken horror! Well, kinda spoken now I guess. Anyway, my ever faithful beta reader - Know Your Dog a.k.a. KYD, Kai, Madama DiNozzo - discovered that not only had I remembered to send her the fic to beta for me BUT that she'd kept it safe!! Heartfelt thanks mon brave for this - I'm a very happy Duesie :)
A long one-shot - I've always loved Ray K, and this one's for him.
Letters to Kowalski
Stanley Raymond Kowalski hated his alarm clock. Well, maybe 'hate' was too mild a word. 'Loathe' was a better one, he decided as he rolled out of bed and into the shower.
"Good Morning Chicago!" the DJ cried, sounding far too awake, "It's three minutes past six am and here's a tune to get you all out of bed!"
Ray stood under the shower head, wondering how many kinds of stimulants the guy was on to sound so damn cheerful at this unearthly hour as Dire Straits' 'Walk Of Life' started playing from his radio alarm.
"He got the action, he got the motion, oh yeah, the boy can play," Ray sang along as he shaved and dressed.
He searched in vain for his Chicago Bull's t-shirt, settling instead on a khaki one with a fake ad slogan for cars instead to team with another pair of his trademark jeans.
"It's going to be another hot one today, people, so remember, drink plenty of water and stay in cool as much as you can. " the DJ told them, his public service broadcasting remit now made for the day. "Here's Chris Rea with a track to remind us where we'd all like to be!"
Ray rolled his eyes as the opening riff to 'On The Beach' started.
Rifling through his fridge, he settled on cereal and a banana for breakfast, flicking through the paper on draining board as he did so.
"No decent flicks on, all rom-com, yeurck…" he mumbled to himself, briefly dwelling on the time when he had no objection to snuggling in the back row with Stella. Back then, it didn't matter what the film was; neither of them had paid much attention to it.
"Enough." He told himself firmly. This had to stop. He still loved Stella, he knew that, but she had moved on since their divorce.
Ray was at least honest with himself to admit that he hadn't. He still longed for Stella to turn up and say 'Ray, this has all been a horrible mistake. Let's get back together."
Some days were definitely better than others when he started thinking about this. He needed to move on – emotionally. He couldn't go on like this, and he knew it.
Maybe today was the day he could start the process and begin his life again.
And maybe, some days the radio DJs had it in for you.
The opening strings to Bon Jovi's 'Always' were more than Ray could stand right now, and he flicked the radio off with a decisive movement.
He stood in front of the mirror, checking his appearance was up to standard.
"Clothes, check. Hair, well, hmmm, kinda. Teeth?" he leaned closer to the glass," Check. Glasses?" he tapped his jacket pocket, "check. Weapon? Check."
He closed his eyes and shook his head, like he was trying to clear a bothersome insect from his hair.
"C'mon Kowalski!" he pepped talked himself, "Pitter patter!"
Grabbing his car keys and slamming his door behind him, he bounced down the steps of his building and into his sleek black GTO.
Flicking on the radio and turning the engine over, he pulled out of a precious car parking space and into the flow of traffic, heading for the 27th Precinct.
It had been years since Ray had learnt to drive and surf the radio searching for decent tunes, and he did this as he picked his way through the streets of downtown Chicago.
Shortly he arrived and parked his car in the last remaining space closest to the Precinct building.
He looked up at the early morning sky, already blue with not a cloud in sight. The precinct building already had all the windows that could be thrown open, and Ray sighed, not relishing another day inside.
He shrugged his jacket off and slung it over his shoulder, his warrant badge tapping against his hip.
The corridor was airless and empty of people as Ray walked towards the Detective's squad room. He could hear Francesca clattering about making iced tea. He stuck his head in.
She looked over her shoulder, smiling at him.
"Hey Ray. Want one?" she proffered a glass, already covered in condensation in the warm room.
"Sure. Thanks." Ray walked over and sunk the drink back in one, leaving the ice cubes clinking in the glass.
"Thirsty much?" Frannie asked, a sarcastic tone in her voice.
"Well, yeah." Ray put the glass back on the side, looking at her outfit, "Does the Lt. Know you're dressed like that?"
"Like what?" Frannie put her hands on her hips, challenging him to clarify his question.
Ray paused for a moment, taking in Frannie's Capri pants, blue wedges and halter neck top. Her long tresses were twisted up in a large clip, lifting her hair off her neck.
Her concession to the dress code was a patch stitched to her top that read 'Civilian Aide'.
"Not that I don't think it looks good," Ray started.
"I hear a 'but' in your voice, oh 'brother mine'." Frannie leaned closer, tilting her head to look him in the eye.
Ray breathed in her perfume, for once subtle and was momentarily intoxicated.
"There's no 'but' here, Frannie, you look really, er, nice." He stumbled.
Frannie smiled at him and took a step back.
"Why, thank you, Ray! You look pretty good yourself." She picked up a large glass of iced tea and walked out the room, turning at the door and winking coquettishly at him. "Stay cool!"
Ray sagged against the work surface behind him. The brother/sister act he was supposed to play with Frannie could be more than difficult, Frannie being the accomplished flirt she was.
At first he had had seriously un-brother like thoughts about her, but they had settled down as they got to know each other. Thank goodness.
Besides, thought Ray, Frannie has a long running thing about Fraser, so that keeps me safe!
He grabbed himself a drink of water and headed for his desk, walking through the already close squad room.
The window behind his desk has been sealed shut with the accumulated dirt of the years, but with the onslaught of the summer heat, he had worked it loose with help of a screwdriver and Fraser's handiwork with his knife.
Ray clicked on the fan that was balanced precariously on his in-tray and hung his jacket up in his usual haphazard manner.
Sorting through the debris of his previous shift, he sorted through a completed case file, punching holes and putting the right forms in the right order on a treasury tag.
He dropped the file in his shallow 'out' tray, taking a moment to lean into the welcome draft from his fan.
"Ray? Mail for you."
He opened his eyes and found Frannie standing by his desk, holding out half a dozen envelopes for him.
"Oh, thanks Frannie." Ray took them from her, nodding his thanks.
"No problem." Frannie sashayed back to her own desk.
Ray opened the envelopes one by one. One was from the Police Federation, reminding him his annual subscription was due any time now. Another one was them again, a duplicate of the letter, but this time reading 'Detective (1st Class) R. Vecchio'. Ray made a mental note to pass that on to Frannie, she had taken responsibility for her real brother's official correspondence.
A misdirected letter for Detective Jack Huey was next, so Ray got up and left it on Huey's desk.
When he got back to his desk Ray looked at the last envelope, and started.
It was labelled with an 'Air Mail' sticker, and bore a British Stamp.
The address read:
Detective First Class S.R.K Vecchio
C/o 27th Precinct
Chicago Police Department
And had 'Personal' written on it.
Ray turned it over; noting there was no return address.
He shook it, then sniffed it carefully.
Deciding it wasn't an explosive device he carefully slit the envelope with his pen.
He peered inside it, noting there was only paper inside.
He reached inside and eased the paper from its envelope.
There were two sheets of hand written paper, green ink on yellow paper.
Ray unfolded the paper and started when he read:
'Dear Detective Vecchio
Or should that be Detective Kowalski?
I don't know if this will find you, but I hope it does. I hope you don't mind a complete stranger writing to you, and from 'Across The Pond' no less?
This is just a letter to say how I enjoy watching you and Constable Benton Fraser chasing the bad guys down every week. I imagine this would count as fan mail!
I can see it's not easy for you, filling in for Ray Vecchio while he is off, doing his 'other job' so to speak. I mean, you've taken on his family, which can't be the soothing job in the world with Francesca as your 'sister'!
You've put your own life as Stanley Raymond Kowalski on hold and stepped up to the mark with style and aplomb as far as I'm concerned, and I'd like to tell you I think you are very brave for doing so.
I loved it when you described yourself as 'a poet on the inside, but on the outside? Grrr! Shake, bad guys, shake!' that was very funny! I can see what you mean though, your deep introspection on one hand and police work on the other are a kind of juxtaposition aren't they?
Would you mind me just giving you one piece of advice? I know this is terrible cheeky, but I do think you might try and get some more flattering glasses. I imagine the ones you have are standard issue, but with your face shape (and very nice it is too if you don't mind me saying) you could do with a completely different set of frames. I appreciate how difficult it is, I am a fellow glasses wearer myself, but now I have stopped hiding behind my frames, I do feel better for it. Like I said, I hope you're not offended by that suggestion.
Please would you pass on my best friendly greetings to Constable Fraser, and also to Diefenbaker? You guys make a great team, your different styles compliment each other perfectly, well, I think so anyway.
If you ever have the time to reply to me, I would appreciate that greatly. My address is at the top of the letter.
Thank you for reading my letter to you, and keep up the good work!"
It was signed off, but the signature was illegible.
Ray looked at the address, it looked genuine enough, though he had never heard of the place in England.
He was still puzzling over it when Fraser turned up.
"Good morning Ray."
"Hey Fraser." Ray mumbled, staring at the letter.
"Ray? Are you alright?" Fraser peered at his friend. He came round the desk and looked closely at the detective, "Ray?"
Ray shook himself out of the reverie he had been in.
"Right, Hi Fraser." He laid the latter aside.
"Is everything alright? I mean, you haven't had bad news?"
"I couldn't help notice you were absorbed in your letter, Ray, and together with several other small suggestions I came to the conclusion you had received less than welcome news via the postal system. Is it your parents?"
Ray sat back in his chair, bemused by Fraser's logic.
"Several small suggestions?"
"Nothing you wouldn't have picked up on yourself had our situation been reversed, I'm sure."
"I'm sure, Fraser, but you wanna point them out for the viewer?"
"Never mind, Fraser. Aren't you hot in that?" Ray waved at Fraser's brown day uniform.
Fraser sat on Ray's desk and leant a bit closer, saying in a hushed, embarrassed tone,
"It is a trifle warm, Ray, yes. In fact, in this current heat wave I've even taken the unusual move of leaving one layer of clothing off."
"One layer?!," Ray mock gasped, "My Lord, Fraser, what would your grandmother say?"
A fleeting look of annoyance crossed the Mountie's face.
"Doubtless that I should 'grin and bear it' and that 'it was good for me to sweat', but thank goodness I don't have to deal with that now!"
"Your grandmother was a tough lady, Fraser."
"You have no idea, Ray. Not that I don't miss her, of course."
"I'm ashamed to admit I envy you being able to, well, dress according to the weather. There are times in these current temperatures I would welcome your more casual attire."
"I knew you appreciated my wardrobe sense really!" Ray grinned.
"Ray? If I could return to the matter in hand?"
"Is it bad news?"
"No. No, not bad, just weird. Hinky."
"Yeah, Hinky. Ya know. Odd, kinda funny feeling, one where you know something is just not right, but you can't put your finger on it."
Ray picked up the letter and paused, before handing it to his friend.
Fraser looked at Ray, "Ray, this is a personal letter. Are you quite sure you want me to read it?"
"Yeah. I mean, it is a personal letter, but I'm sure. C'mon Fraser, if I can't trust you, who can I?"
Fraser nodded curtly and took the papers.
He looked at the handwriting, examined both sides of the paper and then looked at Ray.
"May I ask, do you still have the envelope?"
"Yeah, it's right here."
Ray passed the envelope over the desk.
Fraser looked inside of it, checking there was nothing else contained, looked for the non-existent return address, and again at the handwriting.
Then he produced a small magnifying glass and bent over the stamps and franking mark.
"Hmmmm." He sat back up and took up the letter, holding it up to the light and looking closely at the handwriting.
Finally he read the letter.
Ray sat, bemused, watching his friend while he went through these steps.
He waited, and grinned as a flush of red passed over Fraser's face.
"You got to the friendly greetings bit?" Ray asked him.
"So, what do you make of it? Am I being stalked?"
"I would say that is the least of your worries, Ray. The writer of this letter would appear to know all about, well, you know?"
Ray leaned over his desk, "What? About me not being the real Ray Vecchio?"
"Well, yes. How does the writer know this?"
"I have no idea, Fraser!"
"And, what does he or she mean, by "I enjoy watching you and Constable Fraser chasing the bad guys down every week'?"
"That's what made me think we have a stalker."
"And you've never received a letter like this before?"
"No! Er, do you think it's genuine?"
"The postmark most certainly is. I have received correspondence at the consulate from Britain, and took the opportunity to study them for future reference. This postmark is similar, though obviously I would have to analyse the ink to confirm 100 percent. The handwriting is genuine, it has enough irregularities to convince me that this isn't from a computer. Besides which a laser printer couldn't produce this sort of quality."
"The stamp is definitely genuine. You can tell by the perforations, though it is slightly odd in that it appears to be self adhesive, rather than gummed. Still, I am not as up to date with the Royal Mail's procedures as perhaps I ought. I'll make enquires of the post officer who delivers to the consulate tomorrow morning, she is usually most helpful in all things post related. "
"Fraser, you just spent five minutes talking about an envelope – what about the actual letter?"
"Oh, the letter is the same, Ray. The handwriting matches the writing on the envelope, the tone friendly enough. The only thing that worries me is the date. But that could just be a slip of the pen."
Ray held is hand out for the letter.
"Fraser, " he said, looking at the date, "it's 1998 – right? I mean, I haven't slipped into some freaky alternative universe have I? I've not done a Marty McFly?"
"I'm sorry, Ray, you seem to be referencing material I have no way of sourcing at this juncture…"
"'Back To The Future'? The best film was the first one. Man, I loved that Delorian. I'd just dropped out of college and started at the police academy, I must have seen the movie about a dozen times when it came out…" Ray slipped into another reverie.
"Surely that's a contradiction in terms, Ray? How can you go back to the future?"
"It's a movie, Fraser, not scientific fact! Guy jumps into this car, and ends up back in 1955, and nearly doesn't get born, rock and roll stuff happens, his parents do get together as teens and he gets back in the car and comes back to 1985."
"Oh. Was it a regional hit?"
"No! C'mon Fraser, you're joking, right? It was huge!"
"Well, it never made it to the touring cinema projectors in Dawson Creek to my knowledge."
"Yeah, well, that says nothing for the discernible tastes of the Yukon does it?"
"I think you mean the North West Territories, Ray."
"Where ever, Fraser."
"To return to the letter, yes, this is 1998, Ray," Fraser confirmed by pointing out the date on the newspaper doing the rounds of the squad room.
"Right, confirmed fact then. So why is this letter dated 2006? That's more than a slip of the pen!"
"Yes, and the franking mark reads the same. Month is correct, July, and the date is reasonable considering airmail deliveries, but the year still reads 2006. Most odd."
"Most odd? Fraser, when are you gonna stop talking like a novel from the fifties?!"
"Ray, there is nothing grammatical incorrect about using the word 'odd' to describe this missive," Fraser told him.
"Okay, stop right there – 'missive'? Are you speaking some secret Canadian language only you and the, er, what do I have to call the Eskimos now?"
"Yeah, some language you and the Inuit use?"
"Ray, it simply means 'a letter'. It's in the Oxford English Dictionary.."
"We're not in Oxford, Fraser! Isn't there a Chicago English Dictionary?"
"I think you mean Webber's which is the North American equivalent, Ray. I believe there may be a copy, somewhat outdated, somewhere in the department. I'm sure Francesca wouldn't mind finding it, should we ask her?"
"Fraser, Frannie would bring you anything you asked for – on a gold plate!" snickered Ray.
"So, as I was saying, " Fraser bravely pressed on, pulling at his collar and tie in his embarrassment, "I believe this letter to be genuine."
"Yeah, okay. So what do I do with it?"
"Other than the suggestion that you go and see your opticians?"
"Yeah, what does she mean by that?"
"Well, I, er, I can only assume – oh, you concluded the writer is a woman too. Good."
"Concluded? Well, I made a, what do you call it? An educated guess. The writing is all loopy and what kinda man writes green on yellow paper?"
"Good points, Ray."
Ray took the letter back from his friend.
"How does she know?" he asked himself.
"There is a simple way to find out." Fraser told him.
"And whose definition of 'simple' would that be? Canadian or American?"
"Oh, I can't wait for this one. C'mon then – what simple way do I find out how she knows?"
"I would have thought that was obvious, Ray."
Ray did a passable impression of a startled goldfish, but was spared giving his friend an answer by an urgent phone call.
Later that evening, Ray sat flicking through the television channels. It was no cooler at dusk than it had been the rest of the day.
The heat took the edge off even his rapacious appetite, but like the rest of the city, he couldn't get enough to drink.
Empty glasses littered his apartment, most had contained water or cola, though Ray was now nursing a beer in front of a programme he really wasn't watching.
He had propped open all the windows, not trusting his apartment's elderly air conditioning to last all evening and all night.
A feeble breeze made his curtains flutter occasionally, and even the traffic sounded sluggish.
Ray flicked his television off and stood up, stretching his frame to its limit.
Finally he gave in and went into his bedroom, where the detritus from his pockets had been dumped when he came home from work.
He hadn't come straight home from the station, he and Fraser had been called out on a case of money laundering that promised to be a long and drawn out affair involving a high powered attorney, a shady property owner and, bizarrely, a Bulgarian Restaurant.
At the end of a very long day trying to get past the Attorney's P.A., which they failed spectacularly to do, despite Ray's shortening temper and Fraser's seemingly endless patience, they called it quits.
It was Ray who decided that he needed something to eat, and he never liked eating alone, though that was not he main reason he asked Fraser to join him.
Fraser always seemed surprised to be asked if he wanted to join Ray for a meal.
This seemed odd to Ray.
They had sat across from each other in a diner they frequented both nursing coffees till their meals arrived.
"Did you and, well, the other guy?"
"My previous colleague?"
"Yeah, him. Well, didn't you ever just do this? Y'know? Chew the fat over a coffee? Or, in your case, bark tea?"
"Of course, Ray. My previous colleague was very kind to me when I first arrived in Chicago. I was rather at sea when I got here, not having lived in any sort of urban environment before."
"What, not at all?"
"The Northwest Territories are not known for their overpopulation problem, Ray, rather the reverse. Though we are not without culture and access to the outside world."
"Really? What, they tie a weekly newpaper to a moose and let it loose?"
"Ray, please. Though that is an amusing thought, it would be illegal to employ that particular species in that way. No, we rely on the postal system, bought in by seaplane and air drops."
"Right. So the Chicago system must seem a bit weird to you then?"
"From the few pieces of mail I receive, outside of bills, Ray, I can only comment on it's swiftness of delivery."
Their meals arrived, Fraser diving into some kind of salad, while Ray pushed a burger around his plate, picking at the fries.
"So, Ray, are you going to reply to that letter?"
"I don't know, Fraser. I mean, I kinda half expect some weird woman to come leaping out of car or maybe appearing from nowhere now I've got that."
"Yes, I can see how unsettled you are about it. Maybe it would be as well to let sleeping dogs lie."
Ray thought over that again as he stood in his apartment, mulling over the letter in his hand.
He unfolded the letter again, casting his eyes over the lines: "If you ever have the time to reply to me, I would appreciate that greatly.".
"Why not?" he told himself, and started to look for a pen and paper.
A week later, the heatwave showed no signs of abating.
Lt Welsh was incandescent, and the whole detective staff was making themselves scarce.
Returning from another abortive attempt to try and get past the allegedly crooked attorney, Ray pitstopped at Francesca's desk.
"The state of the Nation!"
"Do I look like a politican, Ray?"
"Welsh? What's wrong with Welsh?!"
"Oh, our resident bear with a sore head. All I know is the District Attorney came by, waving some file at Welsh, and the Lt? He went nuts! The DA walked out looking pleased with himself and we – or should I say I – have to put up with his demands for coffee and whatever else he decides he can't live without!"
At that moment, another bellow went up from the small, enclosed office.
"Excuse me," Frannie told Ray, the sarcastic note very firmly in her voice, "I think I may be required."
And she stalked over to the Lt's office, pen twisted in her hair to hold it off her neck.
Ray went to his desk, grabbed the file on the Bulgarian Restaurant owner and high tailed it out of the building.
Retreating to the Precinct's adopted coffee shop, he found a corner table under the air conditioning and ordered an iced coffee.
Looking out of the window, trying to let his thoughts reveal themselves into a string of events that might mean a break in the case, he saw a familiar white haired figure walking towards the door.
Fraser was not far behind, though he seemed to be talking to himself. Again. Ray hadn't known Fraser for long before he determined his Canadian friend did this a lot.
Out of charity, and sheer disbelief, Ray put down the mumblings of the half conversations Fraser had with himself as the effects of spending too much time in the wilderness of the Yukon with only a deaf wolf for company.
Man and wolf spotted Ray, Fraser raising his hand in greeting as they came through the doors.
Diefenbaker headed straight for the counter and issued a whine.
The waitresses gathered round him, making a fuss of the animal while feeding him titbits of cakes and pastries.
"Good morning, Ray."
"Hey, Fraser. I see Dief's getting his usual. What about you?"
"An iced tea would be most welcome, thank you Ray."
Ray finally caught the attention of one of Dief's fan club and she fluttered over with Fraser's drink.
She smiled widely, fluttering her eyelashes at him, but as usual, the Mountie was oblivious to this feminine attention.
"Can I get you anything else today?" she asked hopefully.
"Ray? Did you want anything else?"
"Er, no, I'm good."
"In that case, I just need to pay for the doughnuts that Diefenbaker seems to be enjoying so much."
The waitress flapped her hand at him, "No, no, it's on us! He's such a sweetheart! Would you like us to get him some iced water?"
"Well, only if it's no trouble…"
"None at all – anything to assist law enforcement." Another flutter of the eyelashes, this time including Ray.
"Well, thank you, I'm sure he'll appreciate it."
The waitress sashayed off, giving her hips an extra swing as she did. Ray watched appreciatively.
Fraser lowered his voice.
"They are such polite girls, I don't like to be rude, but Dief gets spoilt every time we come in here."
"Hey, don't complain! Most guys would give their eye teeth to have a busload of woman making a fuss over him."
"Hmmmm. He rather wallows in it."
"Oh, let him wallow! Its way to hot to be bugging him, Fraser."
"I know why he does it of course. To make me feel guilty. He feels I'm neglecting him, though heaven knows why. We are in such close proximity now we're living in the Consulate, you thought he would be glad to get out and stretch his legs…."
"Fraser you make him sound like a kid!"
"It's as big a responsibility, Ray. However, enough of this. What did we find out about Restaurant Sovoya?"
"Other than the Baklava is to die for?"
"Yes, I was impressed by their Rhodopean Moussaka as well."
"Good food – shame about the money?"
"Yes, it would seem an large amount of counterfeit currency being passed through the restaurant's suppliers."
"Yeah, I did, er, review the case notes when I got in. I can't see how it ties up with the property dealer though…."
Fraser placed his drink on the table.
"Ray, I don't have to use my considerable investigative skills to see you are pre-occupied about something."
"I am not!"
"Ray, have you written that letter back yet?"
"Oh." Ray dropped his head and pushed some paper about. "Am I that obvious?"
"Not obvious, Ray, well, not to the casual observer. We are friends, however, and I am fully aware this has been on your mind."
"Yeah, well, it has."
"And do you intend to do anything about it?"
"Maybe." Ray sipped from his coffee.
"I see." Fraser leant back took a drink from his glass.
The quiet 'hmm' and 'swish' of the air conditioning echoed in the silence between them.
"Oh alright! I wrote back!" He dropped his head on the table in a mixture of embarrassment and disbelief at his own actions.
"Don't 'Ah' me, Fraser!" Ray spoke, his head still on the table, "I need you to tell me I haven't just done something completely stupid – again!"
"I can't do that, Ray…."
"Gee, thanks for the support, buddy!"
"Ray, please, let me finish. I can't tell you that your actions have been unguarded or foolish until you tell me what you said in the letter. I mean, not everything. Unless you want to. Because I don't want to pry."
Ray raised his head from the table and gave his friend a half smile.
"Fraser, ya know, I'm not going to bite your head off for giving me advice when I've asked for it."
Ray sheepishly ducked his head and reached into one of his jeans back pockets. He produced a carefully creased piece of paper and placed it on the table between them.
Fraser cautiously held his palm over the paper, raising an eyebrow, seeking permission, and Ray nodded.
"Just don't read it out loud."
"Understood." Fraser unfolded the paper to find it was a photocopy of a letter.
Ray had used the precinct address, supplying zip code and street of the station.
Fraser sped read.
"Thank you for your letter, it did find me correctly.
While I thank you for your appreciation, I am a little concerned how a lady in England knows about me and my partner in law enforcement? Are we on some sort of weird real life programme or in a news article in the English press? Because if so, we know nothing about it!
I have so many questions I would like to ask you, like how you knew where to write to me, and how you know about how I described myself to Fraser? How come you know so much about me?
I'm sorry if I got your name wrong, I guess I'm not used to your handwriting. I would really like to know how you know what you do, if that's not asking too much?
I've spoken to Fraser about your letter, and he said 'Thank You Kindly' which is kind of his standard response to be honest, him being so polite and Canadian and everything.
Diefenbaker is okay by the way, though not really loving the heat wave we have here in Chicago.
Thanks for the pointer about my glasses. I have made an appointment with the police optician and, if you write back, I will let you know what he says. I did try contacts but didn't get on with them. Have you?
Well, thanks for writing, and, can you just check your date next time, because I think you may have a problem at your local post office."
"So?" Ray asked anxiously, "What do you think?"
"Well, er, I think it's to the point." Fraser advanced cautiously.
"It sucks." Ray dropped his head on the table again, making the glasses rattle.
Their waitress returned, looking concerned.
"Are you guys okay?"
"Oh, yes, thank you, ma'am, " Fraser assured her, "It's the heat. He doesn't agree with it."
"Oh, you sure?"
"Yes, thank you. May we have another two iced teas please?"
"Sure." And she bustled off to get their drinks.
Dief appeared a moment later, licking his muzzle and looking smug.
"Oh, you've decided to grace us with your presence have you?" Fraser asked haughtily, "Well, Ray needs my help, so just settle down, Mister."
Dief folded up by their table and set his head on the cool linoleum flooring.
"I do. I suck." Ray moaned.
"Ray, neither you nor your letter, ahem, 'suck' as you so eloquently put it."
"But it's not exactly the most – what was that word you just used?"
"Yeah, it's not the most Eloquent letter you've ever read is it?"
"You want me to be honest?" Fraser asked nervously.
"Just break it to me gently. I always did suck at letters. My notes to Stella were never great works of art…"
"Ray, you are writing to a complete stranger, and as such, the first letter is always a tricky proposition. You had some questions you want answers to, and you've asked them. This comes across as friendly but not overly so, firm but not heavy handed. I fail to see how you could improve on the tone of your questions."
"But I could've what? Made it more graceful?"
"Perhaps, but you obviously worked long and hard on this Ray."
"Well, yeah, I did," Ray looked up, "But how did you know that?"
"Your writing is neat and of a consistent standard, there are no amendments, or correction fluid marks and no signs of hesitation as you were writing. This would suggest that you were copying from a prepared rough document."
"Oh, well yeah, I was."
"Besides, I've seen wadded up starts of letters all over your desk for the last four days."
"Great. I'm not only obvious, I'm transparent!" Ray moaned.
"Only to those who know you well, Ray."
"Well, that narrows it down."
"Have you sent the original?"
"Yeah, last thing last night. Cost me about $4, airmail, but I figure I need to know, so it's an investment for my piece of mind."
"You think I did the smart thing, y'know? Only putting the station address on it?"
"Oh yes, Ray, perfectly sensible. Should this be the work of a stalker with less than friendly intent, at least they can only trace you to the station where you will be adequately supported by your armed co-workers."
"I guess that's a comfort, Fraser, not much, but some. So. What happens now?"
"Patience, as my Grandmother used to drum into me as a small child, is a virture, Ray."
"Great for your Grandma, Fraser."
"No, what I mean is, is that you will just have to wait and see if you receive a reply."
Another week past, and Ray started to get nervy. Fraser noticed that Ray checked with Francesca about every post, which, in the Mountie's humble opinion, was only going to alert the gossip hungry Frannie with ammunition for a later date.
After ten days, Frannie finally twigged something was up with Ray.
"So give, Vecchio, Oh Brother Mine." She teased him one afternoon.
"What about Frannie?" Ray looked up from his report, tucking his pen behind his ear.
"Don't come the innocent with me, Ray, it won't wash. You, at my desk as soon as the post arrives? What gives?"
"Nothing?! Ray, I did not come in on the last boat!"
"No, no, no, no! You are not going to distract me from my purpose!"
Frannie waved a letter at him.
"Who is this from? Who do you know in England?"
Ray snatched at the letter, but Frannie danced back out of reach.
"Oh no! Not till you give me some answers!"
Ray snapped out of his chair, papers fluttering onto the floor behind him, and advanced on Francesca till she backed up against her own desk.
He leaned in close to her, pinning her body to the desk, his face mere centimetres from hers.
Eye to eye they locked their stares – Frannie's colour rising in her face.
Ray could see her dilated pupils and feel her breathing, quick and nervous.
Both of them seemed to forget where they were till a nervous cough made them both jump.
Ray looked over Frannie's shoulder to find Fraser standing in the doorway, his gaze anywhere but on Ray or Frannie.
"Hello Ray. Francesca."
Frannie blushed deep red and fussed with her hair.
"Hi Frase, how are you today?"
"Quite well thank you."
Taking advantage of her discomfort, Ray grabbed the green envelope covered in stamps and frank marks from her hand and tipped his head to Fraser in a 'follow me' gesture.
Both men went to Ray's desk. Fraser hovered uncomfortably at the edge of Ray's work area.
"Ray, I must apologise, for, well, interrupting you and Francesca, I mean…" he stumbled.
Ray shrugged, "Fraser, you interrupted nothing."
"And what does that mean?"
"Well, I thought, by your behaviour, and such invasion of each other's personal space?"
"That?" Ray grinned, "Means to an end, my friend."
And he held up the green envelope.
"I gotta reply."
Thank you so much for replying to my letter. Such a prompt reply too!
I hope I haven't got you in any kind of difficulty by referring to the other Ray? It was not my intention at all, and I hope you understand.
You ask how I know all these details about you? You and Constable Fraser are on a programme every week here, though it's not a new one, I see from the date on the credits, it was all filmed in the late 1990's. So, I know all about you guys, and don't worry, I'm not stalking you! It'd be a long trip to do so, and I can't afford to relocate to Chicago either!
You mentioned the date on my letter to you, but I promise you it is correct. The date on your letter, however, seems to indicate that you are about eight years behind me! I knew post took time to get shipped, but even so, it is a bit odd. Oh well, at least it found me.
What did your optician say by the way? I hope it was a successful appointment? In answer to your question, no I haven't tried contacts, as I'm pretty much hopeless with that sort of thing. I'd worry about stabbing myself in the eye every day!
I hope Constable Fraser is well? If your heatwave is continuing, I imagine he'll be boiling in his uniform, poor soul. I can't believe the RCMP don't have a summer issue uniform, not all of his home country is covered in snow and ice! Though maybe Inspector Thatcher wouldn't let him wear it anyway, she is a bit of a stickler for protocol isn't she?
Poor Dief, it can't be fun for him, sweltering away in his fur coat. However, I'm sure he has his own ways of keeping cool.
Thanks again for your letter,'
And was signed off with a unintelligible squiggle.
Fraser and Ray looked at the envelope again.
"Same franking machine, same self adhesive stamps, same everything really…" Fraser muttered.
Ray sat grinning at the letter and humming.
"Ray, what are you doing?"
"I'm humming that tune from 'Back To The Future'!" Ray told him.
"I really don't understand this, Ray, not at all." Fraser was perplexed.
"Fraser, this is totally cool! I'm writing to a woman in a completely different country and time zone!"
"Ray, the United Kingdom is approximately 7 hours in front of us and, therefore, already in another time zone…"
"Fraser, I don't mean like Daylight savings time, I mean, another year altogether!"
"Ray, that is completely impossible. Despite the best science fiction writing by H.G. Wells, Isaac Asimov and a host of their fellow authors, time travel is just that – fiction!"
"Oh yeah? Explain the date stamp thing on the envelope? And us being on the tv in England – " Ray waved the letter at him "in a programme 'in the late 90's'? We could be talking alternative universes here…."
"Ray, I hate to disappoint you, but this is merely the product of a complicated practical joke. I suggest you look to Detectives Huey and company for a logical and quite simple solution to this puzzle."
"Hey – you stick to your logic, Fraser. Me? I'm gonna write back…" Ray dived for his desk drawer and fresh paper.
Fraser closed his eyes and settled himself in the chair by Ray's desk with the case file they were supposed to be working on.
He sensed their search for justice could be taking a comfort break while Ray was so distracted.
Three months seemed to fly by.
The hot sunny and sticky weather dragged out into September, bringing a welcome Indian summer to the residents of Chicago.
October arrived with crisp mornings, and the leaves started to brown and fall off the trees.
Ray and Fraser solved the case of the Bulgarian Restaurant owner, who turned out to the be the twin brother of the crooked lawyer, both of whom where blackmailing the property owner over various misdemeanours that were going to take at least twenty years each to work off in the state penitentiary.
Francesca plumbed the depths of her wardrobe for more practical clothes for work, and Dief started to grow his winter coat.
Fraser was not entirely sorry the warm weather had passed, it allowed him to work without feeling like he was about to keel over in a heap, and that would never do.
Ray kept writing. He seemed to get a letter every couple of weeks, which he responded to immediately, reading bits of the letter he had received out to Fraser that amused him.
One day in mid-October, Ray received a small package from his correspondent. He waited until Fraser came to see him in the afternoon until he opened it.
Fraser entered the squad room, followed by Dief, both slightly damp from the storm rattling the windows in their frames.
"Good afternoon Ray." Fraser greeted his friend, "I'm terribly sorry, I'm dripping all over your floor. Well, my coat and hat are…"
"Frannie!" Ray called, waving at her from across the room.
"What? Oh, hi Frase!" Frannie quickly changed her tone of voice when she saw her favourite Canadian.
"Good afternoon, Francesca. I'm terribly sorry, but due to the adverse weather conditions…"
"Fraser! You're soaked! Here, let me take your coat and hat!" Francesca practically dragged his peacoat from his back.
"Th-thank you Francesca…"
"And Dief! Poor baby!" The 'poor baby' whined pathetically, "Come with me and I'll dry you off."
And with that Frannie marched off with Fraser's coat, hat and wolf in tow.
"Anyone would think you'd just swum in from the Ark." Ray noted snarkily.
"Francesca has a kind heart," Fraser said, and settled in the visitors chair.
"Yeah, right. Hey! Fraser! Guess what arrived today?" Ray visible perked up.
"Would it be another missive from your English friend?"
"Better than that! A parcel from her!" Ray opened one of his desk drawers and produced a small box with a flourish.
"I see. Your birthday isn't for some time is it?"
"It's not a birthday present! I don't know what it is. I thought I'd wait till you and Dief got here so you could see what we've been sent."
"Yeah, this parcel has got something for each of us in it. Well that's what the last letter said anyway."
"Oh, well, that's very kind."
Ray grinned and reached for his scissors to get past the tape that had been liberally applied around the box.
Fraser watched him struggle for a moment, then offered his service knife attached to his Sam Browne.
"Thanks…" Ray bent back to the box, which in the end came open quite easily.
He produced a letter first, which he tucked in his pocket, and then pulled out three items from the packing.
The items were wrapped in white tissue paper with silver stars on and tied with silver ribbon.
"This one's for Dief.." Ray said passing it over to Fraser.
"Really? Oh, that's very thoughtful." Fraser took it and looked over his shoulder. Dief was ensconced with Francesca, being dried off with a towel and making appreciative noises at this attention.
Fraser cut the ribbon and carefully unwrapped the present. It was a bag of low fat dog treats.
"Some treat!" Ray nodded at them.
"Well, actually they might be one of the treats I don't tell him are good for him." Fraser lowered his voice, "A good choice for him. Anything to get him on a more sensible diet!"
"This is yours, Fraser." Ray handed over a flat parcel.
Fraser cut the ribbon again and pulled the paper aside, carefully refolding it.
"What have you got?" Ray asked him, peering at the book in his friend's hand.
"A book of notations about walks in a mountainous area of Britain," Fraser held the slim volume up, "How thoughtful."
"Not very useful though. I mean, are you likely to be heading off there?"
"Well, you never know, and this does look fascinating. Very kind. Will you allow me to put a small note of thanks in your next letter back?"
"Sure." Ray reached into the box one last time, and drew out another flat package. He ripped the paper and ribbon off and found another book.
"Oh. It's poetry. I don't read poetry. Well, not before." He sounded disappointed. Then he opened the book and suddenly grinned.
"What's it called?" Fraser asked, tentatively.
"One Hundred and one poems to keep you sane!" Ray told him.
"Oh. How apt. I've often found poetry to be a very calming and comforting influence in times of stress." Fraser mused.
"Yeah, well, there's always a first time I guess." Ray said, turning the pages of the book.
His phone rang, and he picked it up.
He paused, then reached for his weapon and coat.
"We'll be right there."
He slammed the phone down and thrust his arms into his coat.
Fraser leapt up.
"New case. C'mon, we gotta go!"
Both men strode out of the squadroom, Fraser pausing to collect his coat, hat and errant wolf.
That night, Ray sat in his apartment, and took out his letter.
Thank you so much for your last letter, you are so sweet! Thank you for the article you sent me from the Chicago Tribune of your latest arrest, the photo does not do you justice.
How are you getting on with that book we were talking about? I'm amazed you have time to read with your work, let alone the work you do with the boxing club. I'd rather be reading than down the gym, but sometimes I can get a few chapters in while I'm on the bike – which is static before you worry!
I know it's not Christmas or anything, and I have no idea when your birthday is but I wanted to send you all something, particularly as I don't know how much longer we'll be able to swap letters. So, I had a long hard think about what to send all three of you, something I think you'll all appreciate, and I hope you like your presents.
It's the last episode of your programme this week, and I feel quite sad, like I'm never going to see you again. I do wonder how we are able to swap letters like this, with the time thing so obviously out of our collective hands. As it is, I feel a need to thank you for all your letters, I shall treasure everyone of them. I feel like I know you very well now, even though we shall probably never meet. I say that now in case any more of my scribblings never reach you. Please believe me if when I say it shall not be for my lack of efforts.
So, hopefully, just for now, take care Ray."
Ray's forehead furrowed. Why shouldn't they be able to write again?
He picked up the book of poetry he had been sent.
On the inside leaf had been written "For your internal poet!", which made him smile. Stella had never appreciated that about him.
He frowned. That was odd. He hadn't thought much about Stella for a while now. In fact, thinking back, not since that first letter had arrived on his desk.
He smiled, thinking about the letter that had started this all off.
Out of the blue his attitude had changed. Maybe this was the beginning of moving on from his split. Maybe he wasn't doomed to be alone. Okay, so he wasn't exactly going to jump on a plane to England and track this woman down, but who knew what was going to happen tomorrow?
He placed the book down on his bedside table and went to get the writing paper out again.
A couple of days later, after tucking in Fraser's immaculately penned thank you note in with his own letter, Ray dropped into the post office and mailed the letter off.
As he stepped out of the post office, he shivered as an icy gust of wind blew down the street.
Ray pulled his jacket closer round him and made a mental note to seek out his scarf and gloves. Summer was over and autumn was fast turning into winter, and as any denizen of Chicago knows, there are few things harder than an Illinois Winter.
It was a just over a week later when Ray got to work to find his letter back on his desk.
He started as he grabbed the envelope off his desk.
What was going on? He knew he'd put the right amount of stamps on it, the woman at the post office had weighed it and everything!
A stamp across his handwriting told him: "UNDELIVERABLE"
"What the hell does that mean?" he muttered to himself.
Annoyed now, he pulled a Chicago Police Department issue envelope from his desk and put the whole envelope in the new one.
He wrote the address in careful block capital letters, and told Francesca he was running down a suspect for confirmation of a statement.
"Post Office again?" she asked, looking up from her nail file.
"None of your business, Frannie!" he told her as he marched down the corridor, pulling on his gloves.
Fraser met him at the door.
"Oh, Morning Fraser, Dief."
"Good Morning, Ray. Where are you going? Do you need us to accompany you?"
"Post office. Yeah, you can if you like. Damn postal system!" Ray muttered.
"What seems to be the problem?" Fraser asked him as they drove through the morning traffic to the Central Post Office.
"My latest letter got returned, with a big stamp telling me it was undeliverable. Like that explains anything!"
"There are any amount of reasons for that, Ray. Insufficient postage,"
"I sent it from the main post office!"
"Ah, well, it can't be that. Incorrect address,"
"I used the same address as always."
"Missing zip code?"
"Nah, not that either. Anyway, in England it's called a 'postcode'. See, I know stuff too!"
"Well, if nothing else, your correspondence has been educational," Fraser told him, smiling at his friend.
Ray huffed at this comment and pulled up front of the heavily ornamented Main Post Office.
Both men, and Dief, got out of the GTO and Ray almost ran up the steps.
A long queue stretched out in front of them, much to Ray's annoyance.
"Ah, well, it seems we'll have to wait." Fraser said, joining the queue and tucking his hands behind his back.
"No way!" Ray said, pulling his warrant card from his jacket pocket.
"Ray, Ray, Ray. Patience is a virtue!" Fraser looked aghast at this flagrant abuse of a police authority.
Ray paused and stood next to his friend, impatiently tapping his letter against his leg.
After a seemingly unnecessary wait, they reached the front of the queue. The post office employee took Ray's letter, weighed it, stuck an 'air mail' sticker on it, and charged Ray for the postage.
"And you're sure that's right?" Ray asked.
"You want my job?" the man at the window, already in a bad mood from dealing with several rude and demanding customers already that morning.
"I think my friend is concerned as he has the letter returned to him one before, sir." Fraser interjected, "And was not trying to infer any fault upon yourself."
"Oh." The post office guy was deflated, "Well, yeah, that's the right rate. Should be there in about a week."
"Thank you kindly!" Fraser tapped the brim of his hat with his forefinger and led Ray away.
"If that comes back again…" Ray fumed.
"Patience, Ray. I'm sure it's just a small confusion within the system." Fraser told him as they headed back to work.
But it wasn't.
A week later the letter was returned.
And again, twice over when Ray tried to send it.
"I don't understand it!" he told Fraser, as they sat nursing coffees.
"Neither do I." Fraser told him.
"The address is right, there's the right amount of stamps on it, it's not breaching any kinda postal regulation. Why isn't it going?"
Fraser sat quietly for a moment.
"I have a suggestion."
"Suggest away, Fraser, I'm fresh outta ideas."
"You may not like my idea."
"Well, I'm not loving what's happening right now!"
Fraser nodded and leant forward, pushing his cup to one side.
"In the last letter you received from your friend, she said the programme that she watches was finishing that week. If these letters are really coming from a different time zone then perhaps you can only correspond while the programme that allegedly features us is broadcasting in her time."
"But you said it was all science fiction! You don't believe this whole time travel thing!"
"I'm not convinced, Ray, but the letters have arrived to you, all dated in a logical order. You have written back to her, and these letters have obviously been received."
"Yeah, we've asked and answered questions about stuff to each other."
"And I did some math, and the dates and days are correct."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, in 2006? September the seventh really is a Thursday. Unless your friend has a perpetual diary for eight years in advance, I'd say it would be almost proof that she is eight years ahead of us."
"So she really is writing from 2006? Woah."
"Ray, you never talked about this?"
"Well, no! Other, er, stuff, but not 'oh are you really living in the new millennium?'!"
"Oh. I just thought you might."
"So, what you're saying is that now she can't see you and me on the tv, we can't write to each other before? Why?"
"It was your connection. You've never been to the United Kingdom, She has never been to Chicago. In her time, hmmm, there's a thought…." Fraser tailed off, his eyes going to the middle distance.
"What's a thought?!" Ray demanded, "Fraser!"
"Oh, sorry, Ray. I was just considering alternative realities and universes, and wondering how to factor to them into this situation."
Ray dropped his head onto the table in frustration.
"So, basically, " he voice was muffled, "you're telling me that now the tv show is off, our connection is broken and I've been writing letters to a woman not only in the future but maybe in another universe?"
"It's all possible, Ray, yes."
"Great." Ray lifted his head up and pulled a very battered letter from his inside pocket. He held it up in front of his friend.
"So, I should just try to stop sending this?"
"It would seem wasted effort, Ray, yes. Which is a shame, because we never did get the opportunity to thank your friend for her kind presents. Diefenbaker particularly enjoyed the snacks, and I can't seem to find them anywhere else. Have you read your book?"
Ray gazed out the window of the coffee shop, turning the scuffed envelope over and over in his hand.
"Yeah, I have."
The two friends sat in silence for several minutes as they finished their drinks, then Ray stood up.
"No point moping, right?" he said, with a brittle bright tone to his voice, "Can't miss what you never had, can you?"
"Well, that's not entirely true." Fraser said, collecting his hat, and reaching for some money to pay.
"No, this ones on me," Ray said, tossing $5 on the table and nodding at their waitress, "Why isn't that true? I mean, I never met her, we never spoke on the phone even, I have no idea what she even looks like. So ya know, never had, never missed. Right?"
Fraser paused in silence, his encounters with Victoria still gnawed at his heart, sometimes in the lonely watches of the night, he wondered about her and how he could have tied himself up in such knots over her.
"Ray, you shared a connection, and I don't think you forget that in a hurry. Besides, "he added, deciding to try and lighten the mood, "When I was small boy in Tuktotuktuk, I always hankered for a catapult."
"A catapult?" Ray was incredulous.
"Well, my friend had one, but my grandmother refused to let me have one. I used to covert his, tried to carve my own, but as I only had a blunt penknife, the results never lived up to my expectations. So, there you go."
The two men exited the coffee shop and walked back to Ray's car.
"There you go? What kind of ending to a story is that?"
"A perfectly understandable one, Ray."
"And what kind of word is 'hankered'? Where do you get these words?"
"I don't know what you mean."
"The other day it was 'proclivities' – like that's a proper word!"
"Ray, it is a perfectly accurate word for the situation we were immersed in."
"See? You're doing it again! You're in America now, Fraser! Speak English!" Ray threw his hands up in the air in despair, dropping his keys as he did.
Fraser stood by the passenger door of the black car, waiting for the vehicle to be unlocked.
"Ray, if you want me to be precise.."
"What? For a change?" Ray snarked at him, unlocking the door and getting in.
He reached across and let Fraser in. His friend climbed in, taking his hat off and settling it in his lap while he fastened the safety belt.
"Ray, I do strive for accuracy. Sometimes communication can be drastically misconstrued, no matter how succinct the speaker."
Ray put the GTO into gear and rolled his eyes as he slipped into the stream of traffic.
"Tell me about it," he told his friend, "Tell me all about it…."