Disclaimer - Don't own / Don't make money / Would settle for a chorus of serenading Mounties.
Chapter 1 - Beginning with Consequences
"It's like you're trying to ruin my career."
Benton Fraser walked somewhat unhappily through the dusk-lit streets of Chicago from the 27th District police station to his tenement apartment some twenty blocks away, the words of his unofficial partner Ray Vecchio ringing in his ears.
"I don't know why you can't leave well enough alone. You gotta keep prodding and prodding. We had a clean bust, we had a confession, and you blew it."
Benton sighed. His breath hung frostily in the air in front of him. It hurt him that he'd hurt Ray Vecchio, again. He'd see a flaw in the logic that had lead to an arrest in a case, and tease away at the hole in the fabric until he'd figured out where it was wrong. But he didn't see how Ray could be so upset, because every time, together, they'd find the right answer.
"I don't want your help, not on this case, not any more. Give me a break. We can't always be perfect."
Those had been Ray's words to him as they left Lieutenant Welsh's office, and all Benton had found to say in reply was "As you wish, Ray." It went against every instinct to drop the case and leave Ray to it, but he had confidence that after they'd released a certain John Gantz, who they'd been holding for the murder of a rival gang leader's sister, Gracie De Angelis, Ray would have no problem solving the case on his own. After all, he'd managed perfectly fine for years before Benton arrived.
Gracie De Angelis had been shot execution-style in her kitchen on a Friday afternoon. The immediate suspicion, leveled by her brother, the influential and dangerous Marco De Angelis, was that one of his 'business rivals', Gregory Mack, had ordered the hit as a personal retribution against De Angelis for crossing him in a recent shady business encounter. Not that Marco De Angelis put it in those terms. Mack denied involvement but the gun used was traced to a man known to have worked for him, John Gantz. Ray had brought Gantz in for questioning and the man had broken and made a confession. As far as Ray was concerned it should have been that simple. As far as Benton was concerned, there was a major flaw in Gantz's confession, which he couldn't help but point out.
Benton climbed the stairs of his apartment building, picking up trash on the way to dispose of properly when he reached his small set of rooms. As he reached the top of the stairs, the first warning that something was wrong was the sound of his wolf companion, Diefenbaker, making a frantic attempt to break out of his apartment. Benton paused, wary, and then took a step back, not quite avoiding a heavy blow across the chest from a baseball bat, wielded by a man who had been waiting with his back to the wall, hidden from view.
Benton tumbled down backwards, grasping at the banister in an attempt to slow his fall. He landed as gracefully as possible on the landing, though he was sure he felt his ankle twist under him, and somewhere on the way down a stair had punched him in the nose, which was bleeding profusely. He could hear Diefenbaker's howls of fury, and it occurred to him that it wasn't entirely fair that everyone in the building would do their level best to pretend not to hear or see anything if it weren't they who were at risk. He pulled himself to his feet, ready to tackle the assailant with the baseball bat, but he heard steps behind him climbing the stairs, and turned to find himself facing the business end of a sawn-off shot gun.
"Downstairs. Now." The holder of the shotgun barked. The man with the baseball bat was crowding Fraser, and there was no real option but to go. As they reached the next landing, Fraser grabbed for the stock of the shotgun, pulling it backwards, and snapping the barrel upward to catch the man holding it in the ribcage, winding him. The success of this action was limited by the immediate and violent response of the man with the baseball bat, who swung it in an arc to meet Fraser's shoulder. Jolting pain enveloped Fraser for the vital seconds it took for the man with the gun to be back in control, now leaving nothing to chance by walking Fraser in front of him, the gun pressed unwaveringly against his back. Neither man said anything more. When they reached the ground floor, they hustled Fraser out a back entrance toward a waiting van.
The back door of the van opened, and Fraser was pushed inside. There was a light rigged up, but the windows were covered, and there were no seats. There were, however, two other men. His heart sank. The chance of escape was minimal. One of the men spoke.
"Listen, you should have settled for the arrest you had in the De Angelis case. We ain't gonna put up with you sticking your nose in no more." the man said.
"Not that I expect it to make a difference, but I'm not involved in that investigation any more." Fraser said, trying to conceal any trace of discomfort in his voice and barely managing.
"Yeah, like we would believe that. You too snoopy for your own good, cop." the man said.
"Think what you like, but whatever you do to me, Detective Vecchio will find Miss De Angelis's real killer." Fraser said, discretion not figuring in his current definition of valor.
"Let him try. Think he'll be too distracted tryin' to find your body." The man said. He snapped his fingers, and the man with the baseball bat swung again. Fraser found himself on the floor of the van, tucking his head into his arms and curling up into the smallest target possible for the rain of kicks and blows that came with sickening speed. It was not in him to lie still and take the punishment being dealt out, but any attempt to get to his feet to fight back was met with a cruel and immediate reprisal. Every time a foot caught the same shoulder the bat had hit, Fraser felt a rush of fire that filled his senses. He didn't know if he screamed, he couldn't hear, couldn't see clearly, the world was burning around him. Eventually, the steel toe of a boot caught the base of his skull and, mercifully, his grip on the waking world fell away.
The stars were bright above when the first tendrils of consciousness started to tickle at Benton's mind. His eyes opened and he took in the constellations, feeling detached and uncertain as to the physical reality of everything he was experiencing. So bright. And so foreign. He'd never seen the stars this far south so clearly. When rational thought finally settled in, he realized two things. One, he was in a lot of pain, which he'd rather have continued to be oblivious to, and two, he must be quite far out of the city for the glow of light pollution to have lessened so much. A third thought, or more a realization of sensation came to him. He was very cold. He was, he thought, icy. He moved his head a fraction to look sideways, the throbbing and clanging of warning bells notwithstanding, and found that he was lying on the frozen edge of an inlet, presumably of Lake Michigan. Piecing together the bare facts that he could remember; walking home, the van, he finally reasoned that he must have been dumped from the van and rolled down the bank to the ice.
"Are you planning on staying here?"
Benton blinked, and then sighed.
"Well, Dad, I really hadn't got that far in my thought process." he said, slightly impatiently, not bothering to look around for his father's ghost.
"You should get a move on. If you keep lying here, you'll freeze to death." Bob Fraser's ghost said sternly.
"I had just about reached that conclusion myself, but thank you. Do you have anything useful to add?"
"No. You know you need to find shelter. If you don't get moving then you've as good as let those punks kill you." There was a note of disgust in Bob Fraser's voice.
"Couldn't have that, now could we?" Benton said, attempting to pull himself upright.
"Of course not. I'd be the laughing stock of the afterlife if my son managed to get himself killed so easily."
Benton narrowed his eyes. "Go away, Dad. You're not helping." he said. He couldn't really sit upright. Too many things hurt. But he could roll over, and if he had to crawl on hands and knees for shelter, that's what he'd do. Preferably not while being chastised for not being good enough at staying alive. He already felt idiotic and hopeless without the negative reinforcement that Bob Fraser was there to provide.
He tried to move forward, tentatively putting weight on his left arm. Immediately he knew that the baseball bat had done him no favors at all - the pain that shot through his shoulder made him cry out, a short, guttural yelp from deep in his throat that he bit off tightly, rolling back down onto his back. He lay there for a few minutes. His ribs were not being shy about expressing their distress about their own meeting with the bat, and he took quick, shallow breaths. The last thing he needed was a punctured lung. When the first flare of pain had subsided, he carefully undid the buttons on his jacket with his right hand and, biting his lip, slowly withdrew his left hand from the sleeve, sweat beading on his forehead. He tucked the arm against his chest and, fumbling with each button, did the jacket back up. It was no kind of sling but it would have to do. After that was achieved, he allowed himself two more minutes of lying flat on the ice. The cold deadened the sensation, not much, but enough to make it tempting to stay there until he felt nothing more. But that, he knew, would be the coward's way out. While there was breath in his body, he had to fight to live.
Author's Note: I was trying to get ready for NaNoWriMo and this story wouldn't leave me alone, so hopefully I'll have all the writing wrapped up on it by Wednesday (I am up to the last chapter!) and can treat myself to revising and posting during November as a reward for meeting my wordcount on the NaNo project. Anyway, I hope you'll enjoy the story, it's got your angst, your action, and a bit of a mystery! Oh yes, reviews are wonderful and make me ever so happy.