Benton Fraser walked alone. It was sometime in the early morning, when the sky had a faint hint of light, but the sun was far from even reaching the horizon. He had always loved waking up before dawn, but realized that life in this city was beginning to change him. Now, he found it close to impossible to wake up early on most mornings. It bothered him. That's why he forced himself to wake up at four in the morning and take a walk to keep his old patterns in this still-alien place.
He looked down to find a stray cat looking up at him with big eyes, walking around his feet. It wasn't wild in the accepted sense. The way it acted, it must have had a loving home at some point.
"Sorry. I'm already adopted," Fraser explained. "Dief wouldn't understand if I brought you home."
[meow] The cat seemed to understand and went about its way. Fraser looked at the cat as it faded from view, knowing that for some reason this recent event was significant, but not knowing why.
"Hey, buddy. Can you spare some change?" The voice was old and raspy, and it sounded a lot like an Inuit speaking. He turned and saw a bum lying up against the brick wall, a cheap cigarette in his hand. His smell was quite . . . strong.
Even so, Fraser took it in stride, not even making a face. "Of course. Would ten dollars be sufficient?"
"Whatever you have."
Not even thinking about it, he pulled out ten dollars and handed it to the man. When he got close enough, he could see that this was a truly wretched man, his clothes half-rotten, most of his teeth missing, and his long, black hair in matted clumps. "You're a long way from home."
"Yeah, don't remind me!" he spat. "At least down here, my joints don't freeze every winter, and I can get food. Back home? There's NOTHING!" He was really upset now. "Those damned Greenpeacers took away our livelihood, and told us to live in harmony with Mother Earth! Is this the harmony that they want us to live?!" His eyes grew distant, "It was so strange . . . whales, whales everywhere, and not a one to eat."
Fraser shook his head sadly. He'd lived up in the Territories, and knew how hard life could be . . . and how hard it was to adjust. Left alone, perhaps the Inuit could continue living the old ways, but with the actions that the world made as a whole . . . he didn't know.
As he looked at this Inuit, he wondered if that was an omen of his own fate. To have his very soul uprooted and left to wither in some faraway and alien land.
The old man held out his hand, "Take it. Can't be taking handouts now, can I?"
Fraser looked at it. It was a bone necklace with a main bead of bloodstone. He looked at the old man, his eyebrows lifted.
"Take it! Think of it as a gift, if you don't want to think of it as a sale."
Fraser nodded, "Thank you kindly." He took the necklace, and it seemed heavy.
When he looked back at the old man, he was asleep.
Fraser smiled sadly, knowing that no matter what he did, misery would always be around him. He had a temptation to lower his level of misery and give the old man the cellular phone that Ray always insisted that he carry. But no, he wouldn't be that cruel, not even to a vicious animal, let alone a human.
* * *
Later that day, Fraser rode in the passenger seat as Ray went through another one of his ranting sessions. They were on the way to question someone concerning a homicide, a loner by the name of Michael Paladin. Ray filled in the empty spaces. "I just can't believe it! So here I am, ordering my hot dog, and the vendor asks me if I want ketchup on it! Ketchup??? On a HOT DOG??? What kind of crazy idiot puts ketchup on a hot dog???"
"Someone who lives outside of Chicago?"
"Then they're all crazy! That's what I think!" he snorted.
"Isn't that the place over there?" Fraser interrupted.
"Yeah! That's the place!" Ray pulled the car sharply over to the curve and came to a screeching halt.
"Why are you in such a hurry?" If anything, Fraser seemed to be genuinely curious.
Ray looked genuinely angry. "I'm not in a hurry! I just want to get this over with!"
Fraser shrugged, "Whatever you say. Let's get going."
Ray led the way, muttering, "We would have been going if you hadn't slowed me down . . . "
The apartment complex was pretty run down, filled with mostly old folks killing time. The occasional young one who was there was either a gang kid or under three years of age. The really young ones were always with what must have been their grandparents.
Nobody between the age of fifteen and forty was in sight.
To Fraser, that seemed a bit . . . odd. But he let it slide, not even mentioning his thought to his partner.
Ray found the door and pounded on it quite loudly. "Police!"
There was a little shuffling from behind the door. "What do you want?" The voice was quite hostile.
"We want to question you. May we come in?"
"Do you have a warrant?"
Fraser was about to say, "No," but Ray stopped him with an angry face and said, "Yes!"
"All right . . . all right . . . I'm coming!" The door opened, and they saw a bitter young man with a severely broken leg using an ugly staff to stand. By the looks of it, he'd done a home fix-it job on his leg, bandannas and sticks to keep it straight.
"Ouch," was all that Ray said. "Have you seen a doctor about that?"
"What? And pay several thousand for a fifty-buck job? I could do a better job myself and get better food in the meantime! Doctors . . . [hmmmph!]" The man, whose name was Michael, sat on his padded chair, and waved the other two over to some empty chairs. "Have a seat."
"Thank you," Fraser sat across from Michael, while Ray grunted and sat without saying a word.
Ray got right to the chase, "What do you know about the murder that happened last week?"
"You mean the old man down the hall who got murdered by the system, or the family being slowly murdered because they're stuck in a corner by discrimination and 'the times'?"
Ray's face fell in his hands. "How old are you, kid?"
"Twenty!" He spat it like a curse.
"You're too cynical for your age!" Ray muttered in his hands.
"That wasn't the murder that the detective was alluding to," supplied Fraser in an almost cheerful tone.
"I knew that!" smiled Michael viciously. "You're talking about that string of serial murders?"
"That's it!" Ray did a Captain Picard 'engage' gesture, his face still in his hand.
"There's not all that much to say, really. I was out fixing a neighbor's truck, when this guy comes up to me and asks if he could help. I tell him that everything's all right and he goes postal on me!"
"'Postal?'" Fraser raised his eyebrow.
"Oh. You're Canadian," Michael observed. "Consider yourself lucky you don't know what that means. I could give you a full description about the environmental pressures and the intense feelings of progressive pain and anguish that lead a post office worker to senselessly massacre his fellow post office workers with an assault weapon, but I don't think that's why you're here."
"No. We aren't."
"I thought so. Then suffice it to say that the man behaved like a murdering lunatic. Is that sufficient description?"
"Admirably sufficient," nodded Fraser.
Ray raised his head at this point, and on looking at the straight and sincere face on Fraser, and the sincerely sarcastic face on Michael, let his head fall into his hands again.
"So the guy pulls out a knife on me. I'm from New York, see, and to me that's like saying ##&$(#@, and I can't have that."
"I suppose you couldn't."
"Well," continued Michael, "he gave me no choice but to pull out a pipe wrench and knock the knife out of his hand. I left it there, since he was holding his hand in pain, and I just wanted him to back off."
"You showed amazing restraint," Ray observed.
"I thought so myself. Well anyway, the guy glares at me and picks up a pipe wrench out of my toolbox, which was closer to him than me, and he starts to pummel the crap out of me."
Fraser winced. "And that's how you got into this condition?"
"Are you trying to suggest something?" Michael raised his voice. "Are you questioning my manliness? Are you saying that I wasn't strong enough to beat off that monster?"
"You're right." His tone and volume returned to normal. "The bastard smashed my leg in several places, and would have killed me if it weren't for one of my good gang-member-for-a-neighbors blasting him full of holes 'cause the kid felt like plugging someone. The chance of being saved by a bolt of lightning, hitting the man in a cloudless sky would be only slightly higher."
"I see. Do you understand that the chances of that would be well over one in one hundred trillion?"
By then Ray had to intervene. "Did you get a good look at him?"
"Nnnnooo. But I got a good look at that pipe wrench. It was quite a solid one, I'd say. A good, solid one foot long pipe wrench. The heavy kind."
"Yes, I suppose it would have to be," agreed Fraser.
"Anything else you could give us?"
"How about a wallet? Still has money and the guy's ID in it."
"Give me that!" snapped Ray, snatching it from Michael's hand and pouring through the contents. "You snagged this off the guy?"
"Do you see anyone else here? Of course I snagged it off him! It's a hell of a lot better way of nailing the guy than saying, 'Why yes, he had a big nose and plaid hair.'" He spoke the last in a falsetto voice.
"Are you saying then that the man had a big nose and plaid hair?" repeated Fraser, writing it down on a notepad. "That description shouldn't be hard to match."
"He was being sarcastic!" snapped Ray, pulling out a driver's license. "This is the guy we want!"
"But he has a big nose. If Mr. Paladin was being sarcastic, then shouldn't we discount the big nose as well as the plaid hair, which this man doesn't have?"
"Fraser!" Ray put his head in his hand.
* * *
It was sometime later that the results from the ID check came back: Paul Johnson, normal guy, no convictions, just got killed in a Toronto police station when breaking loose from a straight jacket a moment before he would have walked out the front door as a free man.
Ray and Fraser looked at one another.
"Why do I have a feeling this isn't going to be as easy as it seems?" Ray shook his head. "We'll have to take Michael and have him ID the body."
"Yep. Let's give him a visit."
The only problem was, when they got there, Michael's parts were spread all over the apartment.
"I don't like the looks of this."
Painted on the wall was a very intricate and distinct character, written in blood.
"Chinese?" wondered Ray.
"No. Chinese letters are very distinct in their style. This isn't Chinese."
"No, Ray. This isn't any form of Asian writing. Do you have your camera?"
"I don't have a camera!"
"Then we'd better bring one here."
As Ray ran out to call for the dead squad, Fraser looked over everything in great detail. He knew that even though 'the killer' had died, there was still a great deal going on. His necklace itched, and if he'd looked down, he would have thought that he'd seen a faint red glow.
In fact, the game had just begun.
* * * *
|Previous Chapter||Sideways Main Page||Next Chapter|
|Main Page||My Fanfiction||Henry's Fanfiction||My Favorite Links||Webrings I'm On|