Title: A Very Drunk Leprechaun
Author: Pita Patter. Feedback? Yes, please.at
A Very Drunk Leprechaun
The jukebox screamed old rhythm 'n' blues songs while a few die-hard sports fans watched a bad hockey game on the TV at the opposite end of McGinty's, the Irish pub by the corner of Franklin and Illinois. Ray was with the Duck boys shooting some pool across the bar, waiting for Benny to call at the end of his shift. He had brought Diefenbaker with him to the pub, but the wolf had preferred to stay near the hockey game crowd - no wonder cajoling for some treats.
"Come on, Vecchio, quit complaining, and just shoot already!"
"Shut your face, Guardino!" Ray growled.
"Down with it, you two. You are drinking too much and scaring the customers." Huey put his pool cue on the rack and shook his head. He gestured towards the bar. "Look how frightened is that short guy over there."
All three heads turned to where Huey was pointing. "Shorty" was a little man in a green suit, who had his back to the three cops. All they could see was a man who didn't even match the average height of an American male and whose clothes were as green as steamed broccoli.
Guardino snorted. "Yeah, Vecchio. You'll make that little redhead fella run to his mama in his little green suit."
Huey made a face as he paid closer attention to the short guy in question. "Wow. He missed Saint Patrick's Parade this year. Can you spell fashion-challenged?" He snorted at Ray. "Oh, sorry, Vecchio. I didn't mean any offence."
"Hardy har-har to you, pal. I'm the one wearing Armani." Ray leaned over the pool table to prepare his shot. "Leave the poor guy alone and see how I kick your ass here."
No ass kicked, except his own. Guardino laughed long and loud as Ray missed his shot. Huey sneered evilly, "So what did you say about kicking whose posterior, Vecchio?"
"Bite me!" spat Ray.
Guardino faked being terrified, "Oooh, I'm so scared. I get all worked up when my little red Mountie stands me up. You gotta know you can't trust Canadians."
"Hey, watch your mouth!" Vecchio pointed a finger. "You might offend Diefenbaker. He is Canadian, too, you know."
"Yes, good comparison, Vecchio. Nice police work."
"So, you'd rather offend a wolf? I'll make sure he knows that so he can rip off your throat!"
A shout came from the bar. "Hey! Is there a Detective Vecchio here?" With a phone in his hand, the bartender was craning his neck in all directions.
Ray raised his arm. "Here."
The man raised the phone above his head, "Call for you."
"Hope it's not Welsh." Ray put down the cue on the pool table and went to counter. It was Fraser.
"Sorry, Ray, but I won't be able to make it tonight after all. Inspector Thatcher wants me to finish all reports." Ray sighed silently. He was looking forwards for a night out with Benny. Unknowingly, his friend went on, "Could you please take Diefenbaker with you for the night? I'll pick him up in the morning."
Ray didn't want to sound as if it would be trouble. "No problem, Benny. I'll take Dief with me in the morning, and I can give you a ride to the Consulate."
"Thank you, Ray. That's very nice of you. Enjoy your evening."
"Don't let the Dragon Lady slave you around, pal. Good night."
Ray sighed and hung up the phone, then thanked the bartender. The man, a round, friendly guy with an Army haircut nearing his thirties, asked, "Are you really a cop?"
Ray was really not in the mood for that. "Do you want to see the badge?"
"Take it easy, man. I'm just worried about that fellow over there", he pointed to the little guy with red hair and green suit that had caught the attention of Huey and Guardino.
"Why? Is he giving you trouble?"
"No, no, it's just that he's been drinking for a long time, and he's given me no sign of any money so far."
"Well, ask him for the money, and if he doesn't have any, then you call the police, OK?"
"Couldn't you use your dog to sniff him?"
Before Ray realized what he was doing, he said, "Actually, it's a wolf. I'll get back to you on that, but in the meanwhile, can I get another round of beer?
"Right on, Chief."
Ray shook his head, then finally located Diefenbaker. The wolf wasn't with the crowd watching the game- anymore, because the game was over and so were the treats. At that moment, Dief was intent on curiously looking at a seeing dog for a blind woman, a beautiful black girl on her late twenties, sitting in one of the booths. The German Shepherd standing on attention by her side looked quite elegant, with a lustrous, thick hair and shiny eyes. The dog was also observing Dief. Ray wondered if the dog could see that Dief was a wolf, not a dog. At any rate, Ray was glad Dief had found a friend and just went back to the pool table.
When he joined his friends, Huey asked, "Was that Fraser?"
"Yes, he's not coming. How did you know?"
Guardino rolled his eyes as Huey giggled before putting his hand out, "Pay up."
Ray looked as Guardino put a ten-dollar bill in Huey's palm, then sighed, "You guys are so funny."
The waitress, Robyn, came with more drinks as Ray picked up his cue. "Is it my turn?"
"Yes, Vecchio, your turn to stop drinking. Soon, you'll be in no condition to pick up the cue and I'll rip you off."
"You can always try, Guardino."
"He's right, Ray." Huey added, in a serious voice. "Maybe you should lay off the booze a bit."
Ray didn't fight it. "You guys are right. I've had my share. Since Benny's not coming, I think I'll call it a night."
The game ended a little while before the drinks did. As he was putting the cues away, Ray realised he was feeling sad, but not angry. It was not Benny's fault he couldn't come. He just wished Benny were there. He missed his friend.
Gardino and Huey went home and Ray looked for Diefenbaker in the nearly empty bar. He was still around that German Shepherd. *Maybe doing some dog talk*, thought Ray, amused. It struck him as odd, though, that the woman was still there, and she was all by herself. He approached the bartender.
"Hey, man, do you know that lady?"
"Sure. Her name is Marissa." The guy leaned in conspiratorially. "If you are thinking of making advances, let me tell you she's a very nice lady and a friend. So you better behave."
Ray almost felt offended. "Hold your horses, pal. I'm a police detective and all I'm interested in is her safety. Is she going home alone or is someone coming to pick her up?"
"Oh, she's waiting on her friend, Gary. Spike also takes care of her."
"The dog. See, don't need to worry about her. She's got it covered."
"Good, then." He turned around, ready to call Dief and go home.
The bartender, though, had other ideas. "But if you're really interested, you could see someone else's safety, though. Could you please take our friend here home?" He pointed to the guy in the green suit. "I found out that he's a tourist from Ireland and I can't send him back to his hotel in his present condition. He'd be more than certainly robbed." He leaned, "Besides, it's an order from Mr. McGinty. If he finds someone from Ireland, that person has special treatment." The bartender shrugged and Ray laughed.
The little fellow in question turned to look at Ray and smiled at him. It was a dazzling smile coming from a tiny ugly man in shiny green suit. He had sparkling green eyes, bright red hair, an equally bright red beard and orange freckles in a very pale face. He was very short, too, and in his left hand he had a very large pint of dark beer - a Guinness, no doubt. It would be impossible to be more Irish than that.
Ray shrugged. "Yeah, yeah why not?" He couldn't believe he was doing that. Must be something from Benny rubbing off on him. "But don't forget that the next time I come here."
"Don't worry. The boss will love ya for that." He raised his voice to a big, balding man with a friendly face. "Hey, Mr. McGinty! We found our customer a ride!"
The pub's owner raised a glass (another Guinness, no doubt) and thundered, "Thank you, young man! May Saint Patrick give you countless blessings!"
Ray laughed at the big man's spontaneity and looked once more at his alcohol-filled rider, who was trying very hard to focus on Ray and balance himself at the edge of his stool at the same time.
"Green clothes!" the tiny man said. He looked at Ray's dark green suit and smiled with unconcealed satisfaction. His thick accent was unmistakably Irish.
Ray sighed. He must really have been hanging round Benny too much, because the little man had already touched a soft spot inside him. "Yes, my suit is green and now I'll be taking you to your hotel. Do you know its name?"
The little man made a frown, bringing his thick, red eyebrows together, and reluctantly produced a card from his pocket. "It's Dublin."
*Of course it had to be Irish*, thought Ray, taking the card. Everything around this guy seems to be Irish. "Ok then. Dublin Hotel. Now if you please come with me, Mr...Mr..."
"Ach, don't bother with me name, lad. It's way too difficult for you Englishfolk in America." He laughed at his own joke. "We're going to the hotel right now? It's way too early! Come, sit here. Have a drink with me!"
"I'd love to, but you see, it's very late in Chicago time. And pubs here have a closing time. I hear they have the same thing in Ireland."
"They do, aye. But we don't give a rat's ass and drink until the dawn of the day, anyway!" And he laughed out loud, almost rolling to the ground in the process.
"Well, unfortunately, we can't do that here, sir. What sort of hosts would we be if we let such things happen? Now if you’ll please follow me to my car?"
The little man swallowed the rest of his Guinness in one only gulp then belched. He sighed happily. "Aye, that was good. A loud belch is a sign of good health, indeed." He tapped his own protuberant belly, and turned to Ray, almost tripping in the process. "Let's go, good man. Lead the way!"
Ray sighed. Where would he find the patience?
The Italian cop ended up paying the man's tab and felt great relief when he finally stepped out of McGinty's Bar and Grill. The man and Dief followed Ray as he looked for his Riv. As they approached the car, the little man couldn't resist in observing, "Green chariot!" He seemed genuinely enthralled. Actually, the guy seemed to have a definite attraction for anything green, thought Ray.
During the ride, Ray tried to make some small talk. His companion didn't talk too much, and gave on any information whatsoever about himself. But he kept a close eye on Ray, to the point that Ray felt uncomfortable at times. Diefenbaker was quiet, too. The man was humming some sort of tune, or chant, and Ray sighed. Great. A singing drunk, no less!
The hotel wasn't that far from McGinty's, and to Ray's relief it took them less than 20 minutes to get there. Unfortunately, it looked as cheap as the one where Buck Frobisher stayed when he was running from that fugitive named Harold Geiger. Ray parked just across of the building's entrance and stepped out of the car, taking a good look at the dilapidated structure.
Half of the lights that used to spell "Hotel Dublin" were gone, and now the new words were no longer readable in English. Even on daylight one could only guess which were the original colours of the walls, mainly because a great part of their decor now consisted of gang symbols and other very inartistic grafitti. Ray whimpered and Dief whined.
Ray looked up, as if he wanted make sure the building wasn't about to fall. He turned to his guest, "Are you sure this is the right place?"
"Aye, right place it is," said the little man, trying to stand on his short, wobbly legs. "I see your concern. Your are a good man, sire. A good man, yes. Yes. I can sense a deep sadness in you, but I can fix it." Ray felt a shiver to hear those words, but it was replaced by surprise. The tiny fellow raised his arms, as if trying to balance himself. Acting as if he was a magician or something like that, he mumbled that same tune he was humming in the car. Ray wondered if the guy was a total wacko.
"There. You can go home now." The stranger looked quite pleased with himself, and tried to balance himself, but stumbled. Ray reached out to catch him from falling, but the little fellow said, "Ooops. My mistake! It's all fine. No cause for alarm."
Dief growled, and Ray was getting worried. "Are you sure you don't need help to get inside?"
"Nay, sire, much obliged. I can find me own way to me own bed, thank you." The little man craned his neck up and looked deep in Ray's eyes. "Ach, such bright green eyes, too..." He smiled. "You shall be fine, sire. Just fine."
The strange man, getting stranger by the minute, turned to Dief. The wolf whimpered and took a few steps back. "No need to be afraid, good doggie. Take good care of him." The man looked at Ray, smiling. "The doggie likes you, my good man."
"Yeah, he's OK," said Ray, taken a little aback by the wolf's reaction and feeling a sudden urge to get away from that wacko. "So, if you're all set, I'll be on my way."
The little man gestured, going inside the lobby. "Yes, yes, go, go. Live your life. Good night, good man. And enjoy your gift."
Ray didn't quite understand what the short man meant with those words, but maybe the guy had even more beer than he thought. Ray got inside the Riv and made sure the little guy was safe inside the hotel. Fighting his own alcohol-induced dizziness, he revved up the Riv and glanced at Dief, "Let's go, furface. Time to get some shut-eye."
That was exactly what he did as soon as he got home. He heated some leftovers for Dief and drank a glass of water before going to bed. As he laid down a small blanket so Dief could feel comfy on the floor, Ray realised he might have had a drink or two too much. So, he just let himself sprawl on the bed, his head a bit tingling, the face of the little man with red hair, red beard, orange freckles, green eyes and green suit forgotten.
* * *
"Wake up and open the door. No, you don't have to wake up. Just open the door. I'm hungry."
Ray groaned. There was a slight headache at the back of his eyes and it was starting to throb straight into a full migraine. He cursed himself inwardly. The voice in his room (no, it wasn't in his head), didn't budge, "I am hungry, all you have to do is open the door."
Brain half-fogged in slumber, Ray struggled to make his mind work, but the voice, a relentless drone, insisted, "Open the door, open the door. They're about to start breakfast. I'm gonna miss first servings. Hurry up."
Ray was getting pissed. "So you have plenty of time before the second servings. Sleep some more and leave me alone," he mumbled.
"You heard me?" The voice was quiet for a minute. "I understood you. Can you hear me?"
Ray's eyes were still closed, but he rolled them upwards anyway.
"Of course I can hear you! I'm trying to get some sleep here, and you keep yammering in my ear!" Frankly pissed, Ray gave up sleeping, and yanked the covers.
He sat up to look straight at the annoying person, "And why don't you open the door yourself if you're in such a -"
The rest of the words died in his mouth when he saw clear amber eyes glued on him in a white furred body. "Oh, my God. Diefenbaker...?"
The wolf cocked his head at him, "Who?"
"Diefenbaker", repeated Ray, "can you hear me?"
"I obviously can hear you. Now explain this Diefenbaker to me."
"That's you. You are Diefenbaker. That's your name."
The wolf seemed nonchalant. "How quaint. Does it have a meaning?"
Ray was still appalled at what was going on, and the words totally flew out of his mouth before he could think about what was happening. "You are named after a very famous Canadian of his time. Benny gave you your name."
"Benny? What is a Benny?"
"It's not a Benny, it's *Benny*. Short for Benton Fraser. Benton is your..." Ray stopped before he said "owner" and got his throat ripped off by a wolf. "friend. You know him. The one you saved at the block of ice. He saved you, too."
"Ah," made the wolf, still very unimpressed with all the facts that were going on. "The packmate. It's nice to know a bit more about him other than just what I can see." He stared at Ray curiously. "Do you have one of these... names, too?"
Ray was still in such a state of shock that he kept on answering. "Everybody has one. Mine is Ray."
Dief seemed to glow in delight. "I know what it means. It's beautiful. It means Piece of Light. You chose the best of all. I wish I had been asked before mine was given. It seems no one talks to me very much." The last sentence seemed to have a touch of sadness.
Ray jumped at the chance. "I'm glad you mentioned it, Dief, because now it gives me an opportunity to ask you: how come we are talking now?"
The wolf blinked at him and asked, "We are talking now because we can understand each other."
"I know, but why?"
"Intriguing question, but why should it bother you? Can't you just accept it happened and celebrate it? It's nice to talk to you."
"Yes, and I also think it's nice to talk to you, but it's not natural. Men and wolves don't talk to each other every day. We couldn't do that before and now we can. There's got to be some reason that can explain why this happened."
Dief sat on his hind legs. "You may be right, Raymate. Maybe that leprechaun we transported from the noisy bar can help us. I am sure this is his doing."
The cop widened his eyes and stared at Dief. "Leprechaun? What do you mean, a leprechaun?"
"Raymate, that small two-legged human with fire fur and green covering who walked as if sick and smelled a tad abundantly was a leprechaun. Couldn't you tell?"
"Diefenbaker, I don't know how are things in Wolfland, but here in Chicago there are no leprechauns."
"I don't know where this Chicago is, but we saw a leprechaun last night and you put it inside that big sled of yours to get it to its den. Spike told me."
Now Ray was amazed. "Do you know Spike?"
Dief looked offended as only he could get. "What kind of question is this? You saw Spike and me together with his dependent, the blind female. You know we've met, so why are you asking?"
This couldn't be happening. Ray tried to look at his options. Number one: maybe he had really had too much to drink, and this was all some sort of weird hallucination. Number two: in the same line of thought as option number one, he could still be dreaming. A weird dream, of course. In that case, all that would disappear the moment he splashed cold water over his face. Number three: impossible as it seems, there was always the chance that all that nonsense was actually the truth and that he needed to sort it out.
*Get a grip, Vecchio*. Ray sighed. "All right, all right, Dief. We can talk about all this later. Right now, I'm starting to get hungry, too, so let's get some breakfast. But you have to promise me to keep that big muzzle of yours shut. No one can know what's going on until we can figure out a way to make it all straight again."
"You are talking about making things going back the way they were? Don't you think it might be a great opportunity for us to -"
"Not now, Dief. Or I'll leave you without breakfast. Now are we clear on this?"
Dief thought of something to say, then kept his promise and just whined the old-fashioned way. Ray nodded, "Now that's a good wolf," he said, jumping out of bed. He opened the door and said, "Now go. I'll meet you downstairs."
Ray sighed heavily as the big white shadow of a wolf left his room. It looked like things could only get much worse before they could get any better.
* * *
Ray took two painkillers (extra-strength) for his headache and crept into the kitchen for his breakfast. His whole family was there, for the morning meal. As usual, they were flamboyant and loud. Ray didn't even sit to eat with them. He stood by the door, sipping his coffee.
All the time Ray kept surreptitiously glancing at Dief, as if waiting for something to happen. He wasn't exactly sure what should happen; he just knew something should. He sipped his coffee silently, standing by the door and watching as Dief gulped down hot treats from Ma Vecchio. Ray wondered when his dream would end and he'd wake up on his bedroom. That would be bad, because the coffee was so good.
"Caro, you are quiet and you are not sitting at the table," said his mother, by his side. "Did you drink too much last night?"
"Wish I did, Ma, but I didn't. Not that much, anyway." He kissed her face. "I gotta go."
"But, Raimondo, you didn't eat."
"No time. Benny's waiting for me, Ma." He put his cup on the table. "Come on, Dief, let's go."
The wolf followed Ray without a sound. Silently, he watched the Italian cop in his morning ritual from his house to the driveway to where his car was.
Ray carefully got inside his beloved car and drove it out of the driveway, still waiting for that "something" to happen. Deep inside, he was beginning to think he might have imagined the whole thing about talking to a wolf. His Ma could have been right. Maybe he just had too much to drink, and now that he had some coffee, the whole world was getting on focus again. And then he could tell Benny, they'd both laugh about it. Who knows?
Yes, it was probably just imagination. He was almost convinced of that, and most of his anxiety was beginning to go way. It would be good to be able to relax, thought Ray, relieved. Everything had just been his imagination, right?
"Geez, and I thought I was losing it," he mumbled, taking the car out of North Octavia.
"Did you lose anything?" asked Dief.
Ray jumped looked sharply at him. "You are talking to me." It sounded like an accusation.
Dief gave him a puzzled look. "I thought we had already established that."
"I thought it was just my imagination, because you were quiet."
"You said I was to (quote) keep this big muzzle of mine shut (unquote), so I kept to myself. When you started talking again, I assumed you were talking to me. Did I assume wrong?"
"No, Dief, it's all right. I just... I just... Gee, I don't know." Ray began to get agitated.
Dief was continually sniffing the air. "I smell some tension coming from you, Raymate. Is there anything I can do to help?"
Ray exploded, frantically trying to gesture at the same time he had to drive through the heavy Chicago traffic. "Can you tell me why suddenly I have become Dr. Doolittle? Can you tell me what do I have to do to make things normal again? Or why I can't understand Ms. Norris' cats meows? Or what am I gonna tell Benny?" God, he wished he could pace and flap his arms how he usually did in situations like these.
Dief went quiet for a few seconds, then answered, in a very subdued voice, "I'm sorry, Raymate. I did not mean to cause you any distress."
"Aww, Dief, I'm the one who is sorry. This is not your fault. It's just that I am..." He sighed, rubbing the back of his neck. "I'm kinda scared. What are we gonna tell Benny?"
Dief gave a quick sniff in the air. "What do you fear?"
"I'm not sure. Dief. We're gonna meet him and I don't know what to tell the man."
"We tell him what we know, of course."
Ray glared at the wolf and said, "Now I know why Benny sometimes gets so mad at you. You *are* annoying."
"I have no idea what you are talking about."
"Yeah, I bet you don't."
Dief ignored the last remark, "Raymate, I suggest you tell Benton what you feel you're able to tell him. Sometimes he's thick to understand what we say, I grant you that. It happens to me. He can't understand a word I say, anyway."
Ray turned once more to the wolf, now in awe, still driving. "He can't? But he acts as if you two engage in deep dialogue."
Dief shrugged the best way he could. "It doesn't surprise me at all. Of course we communicate, but not verbally. But that's because I can smell emotions, like most normal creatures of this earth, unlike you two-legged humans. Most of the times I can tell that he's angry or worried, happy or sad, anxious, tired. There's also the way he approaches me, the way his body looks, or how he touches my fur. Besides, I've been with him for many seasons. Of all other humans, I can sense him the best. I'm learning to smell you pretty well, too. After all, we are a pack.
Ray thought it was a shame the conversation had to be interrupted, because they had just turned to Racine and he spotted Benny in front of his building. "Shit. There he is, Dief. Oh, God. I don't know what to do."
"Just follow your heart, Raymate."
Ray stopped the Riv, his heart banging against his ribs, and Dief jumped to the backseat. Benny opened the door and slid inside the car. "Good morning, Ray. How are you this morning?"
"Benny, that should be my line. Did the Dragon Lady keep you up until late last night?"
"Not as long as I had expected, Ray." He looked at the backseat. "Did Diefenbaker behave himself?"
*Don't lie, at least.* "Benny, your wolf is surprising."
"That's nice to know, Ray", said Benny. "I knew you two were actually good friends."
Dief heard Ray's words about him and said, "Thank you, Raymate,".
"Don't push it, pal." Ray wasn't quite sure whom had he said it. "I was about to ask you if I could hang out with him today, if that's OK with you."
Benny looked surprised. "You want to 'hang out' with Diefenbaker? Why?"
"Actually, it's for a case. We met a strange man on the pub last night and I want to check the guy. Dief might be able to help, track the guy down, and that sort of thing."
"Is this man a suspect on a police investigation?"
"Benny, I'm doing an investigation and this guy is probably the only one who might have the information I need."
"And Diefenbaker might be useful?
Benny reminded Ray, looking surprised. "I thought he annoyed you."
"Let's say I began to get a totally different understanding on Dief since last night. He's cool."
Benny seemed impressed. "You've managed to surprise me, Ray. Of course you can have Diefenbaker's assistance. I'm sure he'll be glad to help. Do you need any more help on this case? If you need me to track anyone else..."
"Thanks, pal, but you seem a little swamped right now, with the Dragon Lady breathing fire down your neck. But Dief and I will keep you posted on this one, OK?"
"All right, then."
They arrived at the Consulate, and Ray stopped the Riv.
"I'll give you a call, Benny, but I'm pretty sure I'll be able to pick you up at five."
"Don't worry about it, Ray." Fraser was about to step out of the car but he stopped and turned to look at both his friends. There was silence inside the Riv for a few embarrassing seconds.
Fraser was smiling. "I am glad you two are getting along fine. You seem more...connected somehow."
Ray smiled. "Yes, Benny. Dief and I are really connected."
"Keep me posted then. And good luck." The Mountie looked straight at Dief. "You try to do your best to help Ray. He's counting on you. You're Canada's ambassador now."
The wolf blinked at him and Fraser seemed satisfied at that, leaving the car and getting inside the Consulate. Ray brought the Riv back to the traffic and Dief asked, "What did he want this time?"
"He said that you're Canada's ambassador."
It was Ray's turn to sense the wolf's distress from his tone of voice. "Dief, anything wrong?
"You know, Raymate, it's amazing that I can understand you, but it's even more amazing that there are things that I know that I'm not supposed to understand and yet I do. Still, many of those fail to catch my grasp. One of those is that word Canada. What is Canada?"
Ray laughed. "Canada is the place where you and Benny come from."
"Is it the place where the air is clean, the ground is soft and snow is white?"
"Yes. That's Canada. Of course, Canada is bigger than that, and there are other parts of Canada. Remember when we fell from a plane, and we had to walk on a forest and you had to carry things on you back?"
"That other place where the air was clean, where the water was sweet, where the leaves were green and the ground was soft?"
"Yes. That was also Canada."
"It wasn't that different from our place."
"You're right about that."
"And what is this place?"
"This one here?"
"Yes, this one crowded with two-legged creatures, where the ground is hard, the air is dirty, the trees are confined and the snow is brown?"
"I like this name. But I like Canada, too. It has good sounds. Ca-na-da. Chi-ca-go."
"Yes, the names are good. Good sounds. Sounds. Sounds? Hey, wait a minute!" Suddenly, Ray jumped. "Hey, you mutt! You wrenched liar son of a bad canine! You can hear what I say! You're not deaf!"
"I most certainly am."
"But you can hear me!"
"Just because I can hear you doesn't mean I'm not deaf.
"What?! Of course it does."
"Not from my point of view. You two-legged creatures can barely see a few meters ahead of your muzzle, yet you call it vision or sight. From my point of view, it's blindness. You can't smell other person's feelings, and that's why you are so easily deceived. I guess that's why Benton gets so mad at me. He tells me something but he smells something entirely differently, and I pick up his real scent. When I don't let myself be fooled, he gets angry. It is rather childish. But then, a human child is so different for me, since I measure my age in dog years. In short, from my point of view, I am quite deaf, Raymate."
Ray laughed, "I gotta tell Benny about this." He turned a corner.
"Please do tell him", pleaded the wolf. "It will make my life much easier."
"It is strange that you can't understand other humans talking."
Dief couldn't help to reply, "Frankly, I am starting to think it is really quite fortunate."
"And I can understand Benny better by the minute. Well, it settles a lot of doubts about your hearing abilities, I can tell you. And it's about time we get to work."
Ray picked up the radio from the Riv's panel and called the precinct.
"Elaine, it's me."
"Ray, Welsh wants to see you."
"I'm going to see a suspect, Elaine. I was just calling to inform I was gonna be a bit late."
"Try to come in as soon as you can, Ray. Word's that you got bombed last night."
"I did not. Elaine, you know I don't drink."
"That's not what the Duck Boys are spreading around."
"I'll get Gardino for this," Ray fumed. "All right, Elaine, thanks for the heads up."
Ray put away the radio, annoyed. Dief sniffed, then asked, "Something is wrong, isn't it?"
"People has spread the word that I got drunk last night. Damn it, I don't drink. My father used to drink, and now I can't stand alcohol. We gotta find this little guy fast, because I need to go the station."
"Where are we going?"
"To his hotel. It's early. Maybe he's still there."
But as Dief stepped inside the Dublin Hotel, he said, "He's not here, Raymate."
"How do you know?"
"His scent is not here. It hasn't been here for hours. He hasn't spent the night here."
"Are you sure?"
Dief looked up to face Ray, sounding indignant. "I may be deaf, but there's nothing wrong with my nose. Not even in case I catch a cold."
"Ok, let's see if I can do this my way. No offence, right?"
"None taken, Raymate."
Ray's questions to the manager of the dump hotel resulted in nothing, as well as his visit to the hotel room the small guy had occupied. His entrance on the guestbook mysteriously disappeared and so did any trace of his presence in the hotel. Dief's observations were much more helpful. Ray seemed at the verge of panicking.
The detective went back to the Riv trying to control his temper. "Now what are we going to do?"
"I don't think leprechauns are easy to find when they don't want to be found," said Dief. "Perhaps we can lure the creature with some alcohol. They seem to enjoy it."
"I have to tell Benny about this. About everything that's going on." Ray shook his head. "Why didn't I tell Benny in the first place? I feel like I'm betraying him, and I don't like this feeling."
"You had doubts about telling him."
"Stupid move of mine. Of course I can trust Benny. I can always trust Benny." Ray looked at his watch. "Here's the plan. I gotta go to the precinct. Maybe we can go together to the K-9 division. I need to confirm something."
"You need to know if you talk to dogs or only wolves, or just me, correct?"
Ray looked at him. "You are really amazing, Diefenbaker. Nice powers of deduction."
"Be sure to tell Benton that, Raymate."
"You are really a Canadian wolf, you know that?"
"Why do you say so?"
"You talk like one! So polite, my Ma would say."
"Oh. I am very flattered, Raymate.
"And your English is improving by the minute. Now you talk less formally, with more idiomatic expressions and stuff. If you keep this up, you'll be talking South side slang by sunset!"
"It'd help if I have contact with Southsiders."
Ray smiled, then asked more seriously, "Since we are totally honest with each other, may I ask you something?"
"Why do you call me Raymate?"
"Because you're part of my pack. You're my packmate. Don't you like it?"
"No, it's cool. But you call Benny Benton, not Bentonmate, or anything like that. Why don't you nickname him as well? He deserves it more than me, because he's been your packmate longer."
For the first time ever, Ray thought Dief sounded embarrassed or uncomfortable. "Well, it's because I don't want you to think I'm engaged in a competition or anything. I don't want to come between you two, so I can't call Benton a mate without your permission."
"My permission? Why would you need my permission?"
"Because you're his mate."
Ray was getting confused. "So are you, Dief. You said so yourself right now - we're packmates."
"No, Raymate, I'm talking about mates. Life mates. Like you and Benton."
Ray asked, "Life mates? What is that? You gotta explain it to me. You know I'm new at wolf talk."
"Life mates. What you two-legged people call life partners. Lovers."
"Lov- Life *what?!*" Ray grew beet red and shaky, in shock at what Dief was implying. "H-How...? Wha-...? No! No, Dief, you got it wrong! Benny and I are *friends*! Friends, you understand?"
Dief seemed unimpressed by Ray's antics. "I'm sorry, but that's not what I see. I see you as life mates. And you match really well, I might add."
Ray tried to put some air inside his lungs. "Look, what you're saying is... is... not true! Benny is not like that, neither I am! So, just... just stop saying it."
The wolf kept his eyes glued on Ray. "I can't help it. I mean no harm or offence. I understand same-sex partnership isn't usual in two-legged creatures, but it's quite common amongst wolves. In my pack, you are the couple. It would be quite clearer for you if you take out the words and examine only the attitudes, the gestures, and the expressions. I told you before that I am deaf. But I am not stupid, Raymate."
Ray was still angry, "It seems to me that you are stupid, at least in this."
"Why don't you ask Benton, then? He'll tell you."
"What?! Ask Benny? Yeah, right! I can see the scene: 'Hi, Benny, may I ask you something? Are we mates? I am just asking because Dief says that we are and he sees us that way!' Benny will punch me, and then he'll never want to see me again!" Ray made a sharp turn, and the Riv almost crashed into a lamppost. Ray could turn in the last minute, cursing out loud, then grumbling, "And I didn't even know wolves knew about such things!"
The wolf simply refused to be intimidated. "Yes, wolves do know about such things, and don't change the subject. I think you never realised it until I said it, and now you are trying to deny it. But every time I mention it, I cannot scent anger in you. Instead, I scent passion."
"No! You smell no such thing!" Ray sighed, trying to bring himself back in control. "Look, let's focus on our real mission here, OK? We have to find that little guy. Let's concentrate on that. Right now I gotta talk to Welsh before I lose my job, then I better go to McGinty's. Your buddy Spike might give us some information on that little guy."
"Now don't distract me. You keep on saying... saying... those things, and you'll convince even myself that I was plastered last night and I am hallucinating right now."
Ray pulled the Riv at the precinct's parking lot, his hands shaking, his forehead glistening with sweat. "Damn. How can I come in there looking like this?" He turned to the wolf. "See? See what your talk did to me?"
"Are you so afraid I might be right?"
"Geez, you are just like Benny. Once you start talking, there's no way to stop you, is there?"
Dief conceded, "All right, then. If it means that much to you, I will keep quiet. Just think about what I said, then."
"Great, advice from a wolf. What's next? Confidences from a parakeet?"
"Now that's just silly, Raymate."
Ray glared at the wolf. He let the animal out of the Riv and went inside the precinct still trying to make his heart stop hammering against his ribs.
The first person he spotted was Elaine, who was crossing the busy bullpen with her arms full of reports. She didn't even stop; she just shook her head and smirked, "You're one very lucky man, Vecchio."
He opened his mouth to ask her what was going on, but a tapping coming from the window in Welsh's office caught his attention. He whispered at Dief, "Wait here."
Dief was sniffing the air. "Raymate, there's no need to worry."
Ray hissed, "Stay here."
Dief shrugged mentally and trotted to take his place near the detective's desk, and watched as his friend entered the lieutenant's office. Ray hadn't given the wolf a chance to tell him that there was no scent of tension coming from that side of the room. *Well, let that be a lesson to him*, thought Dief, resting his head between his paws.
That was the main reason Ray had such a surprise to find Welsh and Benny examining a report with great interest.
"Come in, detective", invited Welsh, when he came inside. "Constable Fraser was pointing me to your last report. I'm glad your typing is finally improving."
Ray blushed. "Thank you, Sir." He noticed Benny blushing, too. "I was tracking down a suspect."
"Did you catch him?"
"Unfortunately, he managed to escape, Sir."
"Oh, sheer bad luck. Was he a suspect on a crime?"
Ray answered, "I believe he has some useful information."
"I see. Can you still track him?"
"I think I can, that's why I stopped by. I was wandering if I could take Fraser this time."
"What do you say, Constable?"
The Mountie said, "If you don't need me anymore, Leftenant, I'd be glad to help."
"Go ahead. And thanks for your help, Constable."
Fraser nodded, "You are welcome, Sir."
Both cops turned, but Welsh called before they had a chance to leave the office. "Oh, Vecchio?"
"I heard there was a pool game last night at the McGinty's Bar and Grill. You were there, weren't you?"
Knowing where this was going, Ray blushed six ways from Sunday. "Yes, Sir, I was."
Welsh took a long sip from his coffee. "Funny thing. I also heard you wouldn't be in shape to get here this morning. I believe it was a rumour from some other detectives who feel threatened by the raising rates of your solved cases. Despite the rumours, you have already tracked a suspect this morning. Guess it just proves you can't believe everything your hear, right, detective?" The lieutenant shot a knowingly look at his detective.
Ray smiled, relieved. "Yes, I guess you can say that, Sir."
Welsh turned his attention to his papers. "Carry on, detective. And close the door when you leave."
"Yes, Sir. Thank you, Sir."
Both left Welsh's office in silence, heading straight for Ray's desk without looking at each other. Benny took his usual chair by the detective's table and Ray pretended to be straightening anything inside his field of vision: papers, knick-knacks, telephone... Finally, he mumbled, "Thanks, Benny."
Benny shrugged, "It was nothing, really, Ray. I just saw the notes you left yesterday and when Elaine told me the situation, I thought - "
"Fraser," Ray hissed, finally looking at him, "I am trying to thank you here."
"Oh. Well, in that case, you're welcome, Ray."
Ray looked at his tunic. "And while we're at it, and not wanting to be too nosy, aren't you supposed to be working?"
"Apparently, Inspector Thatcher got called for matters outside the Consulate and decided to give me the day off, to compensate for the extra hours put in this week. I'm free to help you with your case, Ray."
"You don't have to do this, Benny."
"I don't mind, Ray."
Ray smiled, touched. "Thanks, pal."
It had been quite a nice thing his friend had done for him. Benny was quite a friend. Such a gesture. Only a best friend would go such a long way to do that for another friend.
Or more than a friend.
In the wink of an eye, Dief's words came back to hunt him. *In my pack, you are the couple. It would be quite clearer for you if you take out the words and examine only the gestures, the attitudes and expressions*.
"Ray?" Fraser's concerned expression brought him to the present. "Do you feel well?"
"Just peachy, Benny." Ray looked around. "But where's Dief? We can't go without him."
Fraser grabbed his hat and couldn't hide his amazement, "So he was really helpful?"
Ray was careful to answer. "Dief's been fundamental to the investigation. But we're running out of luck. The man we're after escaped from his hotel room this morning. It was probably hours before we arrived, that's why Dief couldn't pick up a scent."
The Mountie seemed increasingly impressed and was about to say so when Ray spotted Dief trotting back to his back. Ray couldn't hide his impatience when he and the wolf finally were face to muzzle.
"Well, where have you been?"
"Foraging," was the wolf's calm reply. "You haven't bribed me today, so I had to find me someone who did. The search was successful."
Ray looked up, and Elaine was giving him the evil eye. She approached the desk, and scolded him, "Really, Ray, once you've switched the poor animal's diet to donuts, you should at least keep him fed." She turned his back from him and walked without giving him a chance to reply.
"She's right, you know," said Dief, his nose all sprinkled with white donut sugar.
"Enough talking, we've waited too much!" exploded Ray, and marched off to the Riv, arms flailing the air in sheer frustration of being outsmarted by a deaf wolf. Payback was a bitch.
Dief and Benny cocked their heads before heading off to the Riv.
* * *
Ray couldn't remember a time when he was more eaten up by doubt, fear and guilt. Now he had some new feelings brought by the wolf, but he'd rather not acknowledge them at that particular moment.
His priority was his partner. He simply couldn't hide everything that happened from Benny anymore. The problem was that Benny probably would have him committed in the nearest mental institution. But he had to do it. Benny had a right to know, and he just couldn't lie to Benny.
Ray was driving to McGinty's with the biggest knot in his stomach and then suddenly he said, "You know Benny, Dief has been more helpful than ever before."
Dief growled, "Raymate..."
Unaware of the concealed dialogue, Fraser said, "I am glad to hear it, Ray. But frankly, I'm getting worried about Diefenbaker. He doesn't seem like himself today."
Ray snorted, "Oh, he's different today, that's for sure." Fraser looked at him inquiringly.
Dief was getting alarmed, "Raymate, are you sure this is a good idea?"
Ray simply ignored the wolf. "Benny, I gotta tell you about... something that happened today."
"You sound serious."
"Benny, there's no easy way to way to tell you this, so I won't beat around the bush. I woke this morning understanding every word Diefenbaker said. He understands what I say, too. And let me tell you this, his grammar is as good as yours. Must be a Canadian thing, I guess."
Dief straightened himself, proud. "Thank you, Raymate."
"You're welcome, pal," he smiled. Quickly, he added, "Pal is another word for friend, mate."
"I'm aware of that," assured Dief. "I don't have the slightest idea how I know that, but I do."
Benny followed the exchange with extreme interest, carefully alternating attentive looks at Dief and Ray, observing their expressions and voice intonations. It seemed very odd. Diefenbaker noticed his reaction and informed, "Benton doesn't believe you."
Ray said annoyed, "I can see that for myself, thank you."
The Mountie was very careful to ask, "So you and Dief were talking right now?"
"Exactly," confirmed Ray.
"Just like you and me."
"So he understands English?" inquired Fraser.
"I'm not sure. He understands me. When you talk, he says that he doesn't understand."
"Why is that?"
"Benny, that are so many things I don't understand about this whole thing I wouldn't know where to begin."
Fraser was concentrating hard on a line of thought. "Can you understand other wolves, or dogs?"
"Not as far as I know. Only Dief." He leaned conspiratorially. "He calls me Raymate."
Dief snarled louder, this time without words. Clearly, it was a subject he didn't want to discuss.
"Oops. Sorry." Ray turned to Benny, with a serious expression, "Look, I know you don't believe me, but I swear it's true. Besides, how could I come up with a story like that?"
"Don't you have any clue as to why it happened?"
Ray winced. "See, that's the part you're really *not* gonna believe. I'm trying to find a guy who might actually have some answers about it. I met him last night."
Fraser brightened up. "Really? That's very encouraging, Ray. Did he tell about this situation?"
"No. As I said, I met him last night, and I only found this new... ability this morning. Actually, I believe he was involved with this whole thing and is probably responsible for it. That's why we need to find him ASAP."
"I don't understand. What makes you think he's involved with it or that he holds the answers to it?"
Ray noticed how dry was his throat when he tried to swallow, and he actually cringed, as the Riv made its way across the ever-busy Wacker Drive. "Well, the this is that, er, according to Dief, he's a, huh, well, he's a leprechaun."
"A leprechaun." Benny repeated.
"The kind that has a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow?"
"As for the gold, I'm not sure, because it seems to me this one spent all of it in tacky green suits and booze."
The Riv made a turn on Wabash and finally reached Illinois Street. Ray was frankly glad he could change the subject. He said, "There, I see a parking spot. Let's go, McGinty's is at the next corner, at Franklin. After we're done there, we can continue this, Benny."
"It won't be necessary, Ray."
He parked the Riv and stared at Benny, surprised. "It won't?"
"I believe you, Ray."
"Really?" Ray was surprised, but then got suspicious. "What's the catch?"
Calmly, Benny answered, "There is no catch. I believe that you believe."
That was just too much.
Ray pounded his fists at the steering wheel of the Riv. "I should have known! Now you're giving me the same crap that every shrink say to the wackos who claim to see aliens! You think I lost it, don't you? You're gonna hand me over to the department shrink, have them commit me, and they'll throw away the key!"
Fraser was taken aback by his reaction. "Ray, please - "
But Ray couldn't stop. "Do you want me to ask Dief something only two of you have been through? You know, something to prove that I'm telling the truth? Something that happened in Canada? Come on! Ask me. Give me the best you can. Come on!"
"Raymate." Dief tried to say. "Raymate."
Ray turned to him, enraged. "What do you want now?!"
"Raymate, I can sense Benton's hurt. He's unhappy."
That was enough to make Ray stop his verbal assault and stare at Benny, who looked quite dejected. His heart broke, and he wished he could insert the proverbial foot in his mouth. "Oh, Benny, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to hurt you. This whole thing has got me totally out of control, and I don't know what to think. Please, Benny, I'm sorry. Forgive me, please."
"It's fine, Ray." The Mountie sounded far from that. "I understand this whole situation must be very stressful for you. Really, I do understand."
"I'm very sorry, Benny. See? Well, that's why we need to find some answers." Ray opened the door, determined. "Come on, people. McGinty's is right there. Let's go solve it for good."
* * *
When Ray stepped inside the Irish pub, he felt a cold shiver travel through his spine. He looked through the great hall filled with tables with upside down chairs and blanched.
The pub had changed. Drastically. The pool table was now at another level. The bartender's spot was at the opposite side of last night's, and so were all the bottles and beer kegs. And he could see a formerly hidden back door at the far end of the bar.
The door to the administration office was plainly visible, and tables were not near the windows anymore. The twin columns at the central of the bar had been substituted for just one. Most of changes would have been possible without major restoration - the kind that cannot be done overnight, of course.
Behind the bar, a blond bartender saw them enter and didn't stop his task of polishing glasses to warn them politely, "Sorry, guys, but we don't open till four in the afternoon." His eyes found Benny's red unformed and the man squealed, "A Mountie! A real live Mountie! Oh my God! I think you guys rock!!"
Benny blushed beet red and Ray produced the badge. "Chicago PD. We're looking for your night bartender."
"That'd be me. I work both shifts," smiled the man in his early twenties. He put down his glass and cloth and offered his hand, "Patrick Quinn."
Ray took it, puzzled, "Detective Ray Vecchio. This is Constable Fraser." Ray gave Patrick a long stare. "You weren't here last night."
"Yes, I was. I worked the whole shift. We close at one in the morning."
Ray insisted, his voice changing. "I was here, and you weren't. There was a tall, chubby guy tending the bar. He was older, too." He snapped his fingers. "And there was also a waitress. I remember her name: it was Robyn. A brunette, not very tall, very nice. Seemed to be college girl."
Patrick shook his head. "Never heard of her. I've been working here for almost two years and never heard of any Robyn."
Ray was getting anxious. "This can't be so. I'm not seeing things, Benny, I'm not!"
"It's all right, Ray."
"The old man," Ray said suddenly. "He talked to me. Is your boss here? I talked to McGinty himself. He was sitting right there, and he convinced me to take one of his patrons home. And now I am looking for this guy. That's all I want. To find more about that guy."
Patrick seemed as puzzled as Ray. "I'm sorry, Detective, but Mr. McGinty sold the bar two years ago to Mr. H. Mr. H preserved the name, but he's the owner with a partner, Miss Clark.
Ray asked, "And where can I find McGinty, then?"
"I honestly don't now."
Ray felt his head spinning. Fraser looked at him, and he looked a bit sick, so he turned to Patrick and repeated, "So Mr. McGinty sold the bar to Mr. H. And the H stands for...?"
"Hobson. Gary Hobson. He is running some errands now. But his partner, Miss Clark, is in the office. Would you like me to call her?"
Fraser consulted Ray with a look, then answered, "We'd appreciate it, thank you."
The young man went to the office and Ray shook his head. He was getting more anxious by the minute, his breath getting shorter, too. "I don't understand, Benny. Everything's changed. The bar's changed, the bartender isn't here..."
The Mountie tried to calm him down. "Take it easy, Ray. We'll find an answer to all of this, I'm sure."
The bar's office door opened and from there emerged an elegant black woman guided by a Golden Lab in a harness. Ray immediately recognised her. "It's Marissa..."
The blind woman heard her name. "Yes, I am Marissa Clark, manager and partner of McGinty's. Patrick told me you wanted to see me. Do I know you?"
Ray stepped forward, and Dief ran to sit beside the Lab. "I'm afraid not. I was here last night, and old man McGinty told me about you. Only you had another seeing dog. He was a German Shepherd, and his name was Spike."
Marissa seemed confused, and very carefully, asked, "Who did you say you were?"
He was about to take his badge again, but then realised she was blind. "I'm Detective Ray Vecchio, Chicago PD. My friend is Constable Fraser, Canadian Mounted Police, with his wolf Diefenbaker."
"I don't know who you really are, sir," said the woman, growing very suspicious, "but Spike's been dead for two years now and McGinty no longer owns the bar."
"Listen, Ma'am, I assure you, we are not pranksters, and we mean no harm. This is a police investigation, and we're trying to put together a puzzle here." Ray insisted, "We're only trying to understand a lot of things that simply don't make sense. Do you know where we can find Mr. McGinty?"
"The last time I heard, he moved to Flagstaff, Arizona, because of his health."
"Would you happen to know if McGinty's ever had a waitress named Robyn?"
Marissa Clark seemed even more amazed. "As matter of fact, yes, there was once a bartender named Robyn here. My friend Chuck even used to flirt with her. She quit the job almost three years ago. It was before Gary took over the bar."
Ray sighed. This was getting nowhere fast. He looked at Benny, who had his hat in his hand and was looking at him expectantly, unsure of what to wait. Ray located Diefenbaker by the door and interpreted it as a sign that the mission was a total and complete failure. There was nothing else to do.
All Ray could do was leave his card with them, ask for their call if they had any information, thank them for their time, apologise for his behaviour and leave as soon as he could with the last shred of decency he had, if any at all. He led the slow, quiet, defeated, hard walk to the Riv.
It was not like him to accept defeat like that, but there were a lot of things going over at Ray's mind at that exact moment. There was a total lack of clues about the leprechaun, and he doubted that a second trip to the dingy hotel would get a different result. Ray couldn't lie to himself. He was giving up on the investigation because they were many other things weighing on him right now. His feelings for Benny were making everything else lose importance in his life, even his career. Not that chasing a leprechaun in Chicago would boost his career, anyway.
But what was he to do? And would he be talking to Dief forever? Was that what the little man meant when he said, "Enjoy your gift"? And what about that part of "You carry a deep sadness inside of you" or whatever was that he said?
Boy, was he in a fix.
"Things didn't work out quite as you expected, is that right, Ray?" Benny broke the heavy silence.
He sighed. "That's an understatement if I ever saw one, Benny."
Diefenbaker said, "I warned you a leprechaun can be very hard to find if he doesn't want to be found."
Ray shook his head. "I just don't know what to do. I got no more ideas. I don't have any more leads. I had hoped that at least you could get some information from Spike, Dief. What about that Lab?"
The wolf was not very enthusiastic. "He simply ignored me. That was not very nice. He even told me that he was Canadian, just like me. It was very un-Canadian."
"Yes, but don't let it get to you. Did you scent anything?"
"Time had passed, Raymate. It was not the same place."
"What do you mean it was not the same place and time had passed?"
"I meant what I said. The place was changed in time. I can't explain it. I just state what it is."
Ray sighed in frustration. "You are just like Benny sometimes."
The Mountie looked first at Ray, then at Dief, puzzled at the one-sided conversation. Ray explained, "I meant that it's like one of your Ahs."
Fraser nodded. "Ah."
Ray let his head rest against the steering wheel of the Riv from sheer frustration.
"All a waste of time. It's obvious I'm not gonna find that leprechaun or whatever he was. I'm doomed. Now I have to spend the rest of my life listening to a deaf wolf, and somehow someone's gonna find out and then I'll be on Oprah or Jerry Springer, or in a freak circus, as the Amazing Italian Doolittle and the Arctic Killer Wolf. I'll be the attraction between the Bearded Lady and the Calf with Three Heads, and I'll tell stories that this gift or curse was given to me by a little green man who appeared to me one night out of the blue. I'll be giving autographs to freaks throughout the country! I can hear their freaky voices, 'Look at him, Mary Sue! It must be the nose!' And it'll kill Ma, I'm sure." He lifted his head just to hide it with his hands at the brink of total desperation. "I so want to die right this minute. I could cry."
He felt little pats on his back and knew it was Benny, trying to comfort him. "Er... Ray, you seem quite upset. It's almost lunchtime, so let's go to your favourite deli, get something to eat, and have a nice and quiet meal at my apartment. You can relax, and we can think about it more clearly. What do you say?"
Heavily, Ray shrugged, "OK, Benny." What he really meant was "Whatever".
* * *
The meal was quiet, all right. Fraser ate in silence, Ray was nervously picking at his food, Diefenbaker had already gobbled down his food and was keeping an eye on Ray's plate. Tension filled the air.
"Aren't you gonna eat that, Raymate?"
"I'm not hungry, Dief."
Fraser said, "Ray, relax. Everything is going to be fine."
Ray rose suddenly, angry and so very scared, pacing near the table. "How can you say that, Benny? You can't guarantee it, can you? How long before you find that Dief will be better off living with me because I can talk to him? Then you'll be alone. It's not fair, because Dief is your partner. He's been you partner longer than me. I know what will happen: I won't have it, you'll insist, and we'll fight, and then everything will change between us! I don't want things to change between us, Benny."
"Ray, I think you are overreacting. Besides, I would never tell with whom Diefenbaker should live. He is free to do whatever he wants. It has always been this way. He has come to Chicago of his own free will." Fraser smiled. "Things will only change between us if we choose so, Ray."
Ray finally stopped pacing and looked at Fraser - and he was terrified. "I'm scared, Benny. I don't know how to deal with this thing. I don't know why it happen to me, or how. I'd like to think it'll go away, or that I imagined it." He looked at the floor. "Only it won't go away, because I didn't imagine it. It's real, it's here, and I don't know what to do." He looked at his watch. "It's been less than four hours and it has already made me lose my mind. In four hours I've lost my life!"
Dief asked, looking a little hurt, "Is the perspective of spending a lifetime being able to talk to me that horrifying to you, Raymate?"
"No, Dief, that's not what I meant. I enjoy our conversations, I really do. It's just that... I'm scared. I'm not even sure I know what I'm scared of, but I am."
Dief took a step closer to him. "I heard what you say, and I think you're right. Maybe you're afraid that your new ability might change things between you and your mate."
Ray clenched his teeth, "Dief, don't get started with this again."
He sniffed the air, "Ah, there it is again. Passion. Yes, there is some anger, but that is at me. For what I just said."
It was Ray's turn to growl, "Dief..."
Fraser got curious, "What are you two talking about?"
Ray said, "It's about my new ability. Dief and I have some... disagreements."
Dief suggested, "Raymate, why don't you tell him about it? Just say what I told you. You don't have to confirm or deny anything - to him or to me. Let him know how you feel, that's all."
Ray blushed furiously. "Are you crazy?", he hissed. "I'm not gonna do this."
Fraser was lost, "Do what?"
"See? You piqued his curiosity," pointed out Dief. "You know Benton: he won't give it a rest until you tell him."
Damn wolf was right. Ray closed his eyes, raised his head as if looking to the ceiling and took a deep breath to cool himself down. Fraser was quite confused and asked guilelessly, "Is there something wrong?"
Ray turned to him, now more controlled and asked, "Huh... Erm... Benny, could we borrow your closet for a few minutes? There's something we need to discuss first. Do you mind?"
The Mountie was really lost. "Oh. No, not at all. Make yourselves at home."
Ray pointed, seething. "In there, mutt. Now mush!"
Dief dashed in there, and Ray followed him, stomping his feet, then closed the door of the closet. "What do you think you're doing?" He wanted to scream but had to keep his voice down so Benny wouldn't be alarmed.
"This is a perfect opportunity. You can solve your doubts and –
Ray was hissing now. "I don't want to solve my doubts, furface, I don't need to do that."
"With all due respect, Raymate, I disagree, because what you say is one thing and what I scent is another."
"*That* I can believe. Can you smell me wanting to strangle you?"
"No need to resort to violence. But in that case, you are aware that I can slash your throat. Aren't you?"
Ray grinned evilly. "It'd be worth the trouble."
"It is unheard of in packmates. Anyway, you are changing the subject. All I said is that perhaps telling him what I said would be opportune. Just throw in the subject to see how he reacts."
"But I don't want to raise the subject!"
Dief gave a good, long sniff. "Oh, now there's fear, too. What are you afraid of?"
"Dief, his reaction can't possibly be good. This... subject is not a comfortable one."
The wolf paused and studied Ray. "Raymate, I can't help but see you two as mates. When you two are together, there's a different scent around. It's not like you're in heat -
"Hey!" protested Ray. "Can I have some respect around here?"
"I said that's not similar," apologised Dief. "But the scent in you is passion, the scent when you are together is affection. I'm sorry, Raymate, but I insist. What I scent is fondness, infactuation, attachment, desire. What I scent is ..."
" ...is exactly how I feel," completed Ray. "And I know that."
Surprised, Dief looked at him, and Ray paused, to let the words sink in. The Italian cop looked deeply into Dief's eyes and said, softly, "I love him, Dief. I love him with all my heart. Are you happy now?"
It was the wolf's turn to get taken aback for a few seconds, then reassume his nonchalant posture. "So you figured it out. Finally."
"Yes. I've just realised it. I'm still a bit freaked out. All it took was you to say it, then it hit me like a ton of rocks." Ray kneeled inside the closet and lowered his shaky voice even more as he petted Dief. "You are absolutely right. I wonder how long would it take me to see the obvious. It took you to start talking for me to see such a simple thing. Weird, huh?"
"This only make things easier." Dief wagged his tail. "Now that you know, you can tell him."
Ray widened his eyes and lowered his voice even further. "No, Dief, no! I can't tell Benny this! It would ruin everything we have. Benny can't know that. I'm sure he doesn't feel the same way, you know? He's gonna kill me if I say something like that. Between humans, this is a big offence. Benny would hate me if he knew. I don't like lying to him, but this is for a good cause. I don't want to hurt our friendship."
"He is more than your friend, Raymate," reminded Dief. "He is your packmate. And I'm sure he is your mate, too."
"I'd love to tell you that you're right about this, pal, but you're not. He doesn't feel the same way. Love among humans is a complicate affair. Being a wolf is much simpler than being a human, I can grant you that."
The wolf hummed in pleasure at the petting, and commented, "I can't see why is that so. We mate for life. Dogs have more fun."
Ray shrugged, "I think I'm caught for life, too. I'm still a bit shaken up for what I feel for Benny. It's too much. I've never loved anyone as much like I love him. I don't think I can love anyone else like that in my life. That's why I won't ever tell him. I don't want to run the risk of not having him out of my life. I need him in it. In any way I need him, even if it's just as a friend and nothing more than a friend."
Dief asked, "Just as a packmate?"
Ray nodded. He stopped petting Dief because his hands were shaking and his heart was slowing breaking. "I am glad just to be near him. He doesn't need to know. Since he can't scent my passion like you, I think I'm pretty safe. I wouldn't stand being away from him, Dief. It'd hurt too much. I'll be near him, and it'll have to be OK. Even if he finds someone to love, it'll have to be OK. He is my life, Dief."
The last sentence was almost whispered, because Ray was already crying, trying to convince himself he could go through with this ordeal his whole life through.
"That is very sad, Raymate." Dief licked Ray's face. "Your face is wet. And salty." He licked directly Ray's closed eyes. "I've seen two-legged creatures wet their faces that way when they are in pain. It must be hard for you. I wish there's something I could do to help stop the hurting." He nuzzled the space between Ray's neck and shoulder, comforting him.
Ray shrugged, and tried to wipe his tears. "It'll hurt less, someday, I guess. But I need him near me, need him by my side no matter what. That's why he can't know how I feel, ever. Do you understand?"
The wolf gave him a long stare with those deep amber eyes, then confessed, "Not really, but you can explain it to me later. Not now, though. I think he is getting impatient out there. Since you are not going to tell him, what are you going to say?"
Ray shrugged, "I'll think of something. Let's go."
They opened the door and went back to the kitchen area, where the Mountie was doing the dishes. He saw his two friends returning and apologised, "I'm sorry. I wasn't sure if you still wanted lunch, Ray. But I can make you anything - "
"I'm not hungry, Benny, but thank you anyway."
Fraser dried his hands and came closer to Ray, concerned. "Is everything all right?"
Ray looked at the floor, thoroughly inspecting his shoes so that he wouldn't have to look at Fraser. "Yes, Benny. It's just that... Diefenbaker suggested me to tell you something, but it'd upset you, so we thought it over and we decided against it. That's all."
"You can tell me anything, Ray." Fraser's voice was so close that startled Ray. "You know that."
"Sure." Ray tried to recover his breath. "That's why it wasn't worth the bother."
"Aren't we friends?" Fraser kept getting close. "I'd like to help you. Unless it's a secret between the two of you."
"No, it's not," Ray rushed to say. "There are no secrets between us, Benny."
Diefenbaker sniffed the air once, twice, and suddenly announced, "Raymate, tell Benton I'm gonna visit Maggie. I will return tomorrow, OK?"
Ray turned to him. "Dief? Dief!" Too late. The wolf had disappeared down the stairs of the fire exit.
Fraser asked, "Where did Diefenbaker go?"
"He said he was going to Maggie's and that he wouldn't be back until tomorrow." Ray was intrigued. "Strange, because he didn't mention it before."
Fraser shrugged, "I told you Diefenbaker is free to do whatever he wants. He's always been that way. But I suspect that he wanted to give us some privacy. So we can work out together on your... problem, whatever it is. After all, you said that he was the one who suggested you tell me what you needed to tell me."
"Yes, but we decided it was not worth it."
"Apparently, he changed his mind."
"I said it's nothing, Fraser. A stupid thing, that's all."
"Tell me anyway, Ray."
"No, Fraser, it's..." Ray began to tremble. "It's nothing, and it might upset you."
"How do you know that?"
Ray felt his mouth starting to dry. "Geez, Fraser, why are you pushing on this?"
"Ray, you're still upset and very tense. I'd like you to relax." The Canadian raised his eyebrow. "Is this information so grave you cannot tell me?"
"No, it's just... All right, all right." Ray sighed, thinking fast. He had to find a way. He better think of something fast. "Well, Dief was telling me that he considers us his pack," He began shakily, still looking for a way to change the subject without lying to Benny. "From what I understood, it's like a family."
Fraser nodded, "One can say that, yes."
"And because of that he calls me Raymate. Don't tell him, but I think it's kinda cute. I don't usually have pet names, and this one is nice."
"Why don't you tell him? He'd be glad to know you liked it."
"You know Dief. He'd be impossible.
Fraser laughed. "You are right." But he wasn't fooled. "I still can't see why you wouldn't tell me about this. There's nothing wrong about the sociology of a pack of wolves."
*Damn*, thought Ray. "Well, it's just that Dief also told that you and I are also mates."
The Mountie nodded. "We are, indeed."
"Yes, but," Ray couldn't avoid being embarrassed to the last of the few hairs on his head, "I asked him not to say so, because it could sound as if it had a different meaning, you know? We are not mates of *that* kind."
"That kind?" Fraser frowned, but suddenly it dawned and he said, "Oh. I see. Yes, we are not mates of that kind."
"See? That's why I didn't want to upset you. Or embarrass you."
Ray's heart chose that moment to break, and his ears replayed Fraser's words saying they were not "mates of that kind" in his head. It reminded Ray of his new, cold and terrible reality: he would never have the one he loved in his arms. To hear Fraser actually say the words only made it hurt more. But Ray would have to accept that. He'd have to learn to live with that pain. It seemed his new life would be starting sooner than he thought.
God, he'd have to do something soon, or he'd start crying.
"Yeah", Ray forced a smile, feeling his heart shattering in even tinier pieces. "I guess you were right. It's kind of silly of me, if you think about it. Like I said, a stupid thing."
Fraser came close to him. "No, Ray, it's not stupid. Dief knows we're pack mates, and it is a strong bond." He clasped his hand on Ray's. The Italian green eyes went wide and were held by fierce blue-grey ones as the Mountie's voice grew softer and more intense. "Stronger than this. It's like blood mixing. But life mates... Life mates are like hearts entwining, parts of the same soul finally joining." Ray could feel his heart racing as Fraser took his other hand and held it - strongly. "I have considered you my life mate from the day I met you, Ray. I've loved you from the moment I met you on that holding cell. It's fortunate that Dief detected that. It's even more fortunate that you two were able to communicate and he has told you that."
Ray's heart was pumping violently, blooding rushing to his ears. He was speechless, a very fortuitous circumstance, since the Mountie hadn't finished talking, his eyes filled with emotion, his shaky hands still holding Ray's, "I hardly believe this is happening, and yet I am more able to believe in your ability to engage in intelligible dialogue with my wolf. I just hope you are not in shock or horrified, gathering strength to punch me straight in the jaw, abhorred by my words. But at this juncture, I need to ask you this: would you like to become my life mate in our pack?"
Throat more than dry, legs beyond wobbly, Ray opened his mouth with trembling lips and no voice came out at first. Their eyes had never left each other's, and both watched the intensity and the succession of emotions passing through them. Ray's second attempt to articulate was more successful, though, and he managed to blurt out, "Benny, I love you."
"Oh, Ray..." The square hands slowly moved to cup the long face and wipe a tear Ray never felt falling. Gently, Benny leaned in and his lips touched Ray's. Electric shocks jolted through the Italian's body and he felt his arms naturally go around Benny's body, pulling him tenderly to his body. This time, he kissed Benny.
It was Ray's first time kissing a man, and it was so different than kissing a woman. There was warmth and tenderness, but there was also firmness and strength, and a strange sense of familiarity. When Benny's lips parted and he slipped his tongue inside his mouth, he fell inside the depths of a furnace of delights, tasting sweet unknown places, deepening the kiss and pulling the Mountie even closer.
Ray explored Benny's mouth with gusto. He poured his heart in his explorations, as if was present everywhere. His whole body explored the contact with Benny, and revelled in the knowledge. Again, definitely no similarity to a woman: a hard body, filled with muscles, solid, resolute, and reliable.
Benny whispered, "I've been waiting a long time for this." And he covered Ray's long, elegant neck with small kisses, causing little tremors on the Italian, who moaned deeply, clutching to Benny's clothes as if his life depended on it. When his ear got nibbled, he felt goose bumps all over his arm, and gasped in pure delight.
His romantic feelings and words of love were rapidly losing ground to a burgeoning wave of lust that washed his whole body. His libido was screaming for some action. In more crude word, he was hard as nails, and from what he could feel from Benny, he wasn't any different. But Ray had doubts. He had never made love to a guy. Would it ruin what he and Benny had just found? Was it too early for that? Would Benny think of him as a disreputable mate if he suggested a more physical demonstration of their newly found love? In other words, would he look cheap if he dragged the Mountie to bed and they did the horizontal mambo?
As if listening to his questions, Benny whispered in his ears, panting between kisses, "I want you, Ray... Now. In my bed."
The husky voice not only made Ray shiver but also made all doubts completely dissolve from his mind. He began pulling Benny to the bed and at the same time pulling his clothes off, while Benny was doing the same to him. It was as if their clothes were burning their skin.
They liplocked fiercely, as clothes began to fly in the small apartment, and in no time they were totally naked, facing each other. Ray felt his breath catch at Benny's pure beauty, and his eyes filled with tears again. Benny wrapped him in his arms and began showering kisses all over Ray's face, licking the few stubborn tears that insisted on escaping his eyes. Soon his kisses turned from comforting to lustful and Ray moaned under the caresses, savouring the contact of Benny's warm, soft skin.
Benny lay on his back and pulled Ray on top of him, extending the touch to the full length of their bodies. A thrill travelled up and down Ray's spine. It was nothing he'd experienced before. He knew he was instantly addicted to the touch of Benny's skin on his own. His hands were roaming the vast expanse of Benny's chest, his lips were exploring his nipples, and Benny contracted his abdomen as his hips moved in search of Ray's groin. "Ray...", he panted.
Ray playfully nibbled the skin, moving upwards to the junction of the Mountie's neck and shoulder. Benny shuddered in pleasure and raised one leg, finally achieving his intent to make their groins touch. The sensations were so intense that both of them gasped and bucked their hips at the same time.
Benny raised his other leg and wrapped them both around Ray's waist, bringing their erections even closer. They had found a rhythm.
Ray let out a small cry of pleasure and felt his lust build up a notch, as his body writhed and squirmed on top of Benny's. His orgasm was building up fast. Ray wanted to warn him, but he could barely talk. "Benny, I... I can't..."
Benny held him in arms, "Let it go, Ray. I dreamt about this moment. I...It's... oh... so good..."
Their movement picked up speed, and they could no longer articulate in any way. They could only moan or groan louder and louder, feeling the blood rush and the passion inside their bodies bringing them to the inevitable orgasmic precipice. Yet they wanted to prolong all these wonderful feelings.
It was Benny the first one to go stiff and spill his seed between their bodies, his eyes closed, his mouth open in a silent scream, his whole body convulsing in waves of pleasure. The vision of such an angel seized by bliss triggered Ray's own rapture, and he called Benny's name as he poured his seed over Benny's, mingling their essence, their most basic nature.
Panting, his body turned to rubber, Ray lay curled in Benny's arms, trying to get some air back in his lungs as Benny did the same. After a few minutes of silence, their breathing rates got a little closer to normal and Benny stirred. Ray was almost asleep and startled, "W-what?"
"Don't worry. I'm just going to get a cloth to clean us."
"No. Don't go, please." Ray asked.
Benny turned to reassure him he'd be fast, but then he saw Ray's eyes, and something about them made it impossible to deny his request. "Of course." He settled back in bed and Ray secured him in his arms.
"Thank you, Benny." Ray smiled at him. "I love you."
"I love you, too." Benny bent to kiss his lips. "Very much. Don't you want to take a nap?"
Ray stifled a yawn. "Are you tired?"
Benny looked as if he was embarrassed. "Well, it's been quite an emotional and physical release... Aren't you tired?"
This time Ray couldn't suppress the yawn. "I bit, I guess. Maybe we'd better rest a bit. Then I gotta get back to the precinct, for the afternoon."
"All right", said Benny, knowing full well they'd never make it on time. "Rest well, Ray."
Less than five minutes, Ray was already snoring, his long limbs wrapped on Benny's body.
* * *
When Ray came back to the world of the living, the sun was setting in Chicago and dark clouds indicated that rain was coming for the night. He looked around, trying to assess his bearings, and he realised that Benny's apartment was dark. He remembered all that happened and a large smile spread through his face as he stretched his body like a big cat. Suddenly he sat up, startled to find himself alone in bed. For a few seconds, he felt abandoned, bereft of warmth, a sense of loss burning with an unbearable pain.
The voice came from his other side. "Right here, Ray."
A wave of relief washed Ray's body as he saw Benny sitting on the chair by the side of his bed. "What were you doing?"
"Putting back your cell phone inside your suit," was the calm answer. "I already called Leftenant Welsh and said the suspect definitely got away from us after a full day of pursuit, and I also called your mother warning her we'd be all night pursuing a suspect." Benny went back under the covers next to Ray and asked, "Did I do something wrong?"
Ray smiled, "Yes. You left me alone in bed. Don't ever do that again."
Benny smiled back at him. "I shall endeavour to keep that in mind."
As the sunlight disappeared from the skies of Chicago, they engaged in a deep searching kiss, and when they surfaced for air, Ray marvelled once more at the sensation of their skins touching. It was overwhelming. Benny showered kisses all over his long neck, and Ray playfully thought that his lover had found a new favourite place to play.
Sliding downwards, Benny's tongue traced a path along Ray's jaw, eliciting quick breaths and moans from the Italian beneath him. As his nipples were being sensually chewed and his erection grew, Ray felt the last vestiges of sleep being instantly replaced by growing and irrepressible desire.
Benny lapped his way down Ray's flat stomach, circled his navel, and slowly licked the inner part of his thighs sensually. The Italian was flat on his back, eagle spread, arms clutching sheets, panting, trying to control his hips. Ray's brain was overloaded with pleasure beyond rational capacity, and his body was writhing, his engorged cock throbbing and furiously leaking pre-cum.
Benny carefully gathered a few pearly drops with the tip of his fingers, prompting a quick gasp from Ray, who looked down at him on the twilight of the dark bedroom. With a very un-Canadian smile, Benny looked at Ray straight in his green eyes dark with arousal, and lasciviously took the finger to his mouth to lick the pre-cum with his tongue sticking out. Ray gasped again, almost coming instantly. He knew he got even harder just from looking at this unknown wanton Benton Fraser.
Said Benton slowly approached Ray's rosy cockhead and gently kissed its tip. The sensitive flesh jumped at the contact and its overexcited owner let a small cry escape his lips. Without warning, Benny took Ray in his mouth. With a not-at-all subtle cry, the surprised Italian arched totally in bed, the top of his head and his ankles supporting his body as the Mountie took his long, elegant shaft until it bumped at the back of his throat. When Ray landed back on the bed, Benny began to suck him, hard, and it was up to the detective try not to fuck his friend's mouth at the best blowjob he had ever had his entire life.
The pressure, the twirl of the tongue and the warmth of Benny's mouth... Oh, that alone was delicious, but when Benny began to play with his balls, then Ray started to lose it. Benny did everything so well, and those lips sugared with maple syrup could slide on his shaft like nothing Ray had ever encountered before. When Ray raised to his elbows and saw that black head bobbing up and down, he could feel his orgasm coming faster than he'd like.
Suddenly, Ray started to panic. When he came, would Benny want to spit or swallow? It was their first time in oral sex and there had been no time to ask for preferences. He just couldn't assume that Benny would like to drink cum. He had never done it and he didn't know if he'd like that. He had never even sucked another man's cock. Of course he wanted to have Benny's cock in his mouth, but...
*No time to think about it now, Vecchio! Focus!*
The panic was growing in those stretching seconds his wits were still with him. His climax was nearing and he'd better do something. Quick!
"Benny... Benny... I'm... coming!" was all he could say.
In a swift movement, Benny jumped to his knees and put their cocks together. He rubbed both of them at the same time. In seconds, there was a scene worth of a slow motion shot in a Hollywood movie. The silhouettes showed a double explosion. Two geysers erupted on Ray's belly, milky seed flying in volley after volley of pearly thick spunk among fulfilling moans as long, contented spasms of completion raked the two male bodies.
After their lengthy, satisfying climaxes, they curled around each other's arms for a much needed rest and happy cuddling amidst a haze of endorphins. Benny pulled to covers to cover both their bodies and Ray let himself float on a light doze of post-coital bliss, feeling save in his love's chest.
Light kisses on his bare shoulder woke him up at night. Ray didn't know what time it was, but he knew the sun had gone for a long time. He looked up and Benny was looking down at him. They kissed without a word. Just kissed, a really tender caress, to show how happy they were to be with each other.
Ray rested his head on Benny's shoulder, and sighed. "I love you so much, and I didn't know it. I can't get over this."
"That you love me?" Benny was confused.
"No. I mean this whole thing. I woke up this morning, and in less than 12 hours, I found out that I can talk to my best friend's deaf wolf, that this gift or curse was given me a leprechaun, who somehow also messed up with time inside an Irish pub at the corner of Illinois and Franklin, that the wolf was the one that told me that I was in love with my best friend (a man, nevertheless), and now my best friend tells me he has been in love with me for a long time. It must be some sort of a record, I swear."
Benny caressed Ray's balding head tenderly. "We beat the odds once more, Ray. We're very good at it, actually."
Ray raised his eyes and looked deep inside Benny's grey eyes. "Benny, before anything, I want you to know that to me this is not just a thing, OK? I love you, and I really do, like never before in my life. I want to spend the rest of my life with you. We can talk about everything else later, like should we tell friends, my family, should I get Canadian citizenship or should you become an American citizen, or should we change names to Vecchio-Fraser or Fraser-Vecchio, but let's get the important things squared out first. I want you forever. For good, for bad, sickness, health, the whole enchillada. You're for keeps. So, if you don't want to go shopping for china patterns together and changing insurance plans, say it now, so I can get out of here, and there will be no hard feelings, OK?"
Benny closed his eyes, as if in pain. He was shaking, and Ray could feel his heart clenching. His happiness was probably over even before it began. *Oh, God. I've done it again. Damn it, Vecchio. Your father was right, you're a loser. What is it about you that you can't do anything without getting self-destructive?*
"Ray, you'll have to help me." Benny looked just miserable. "I've never shopped for china patterns my entire life. I'm afraid I'll disappoint you."
Ray was half-smiling, half-crying when he took Benny in his arms. "Oh, you crazy Mountie."
The kiss was so deep that in no time they were once more panting, their bodies entwined and ready for more lovemaking. And love they made, at the sunset and all night long, too - taking a few moments to rest at times, but then they were at it again. Surprisingly, it was neither frantic nor desperate. It was a lot more like charting out the undiscovered territory that they were to each other - mapping out their bodies, so to speak. They were also discovering the joy of being with each other.
Ray's skin simply refused to be apart from Benny's. The marvel lasted all night. Ray had never felt that way before. He was surprised, not so much from his resistance at the almost non-stop lustfest, but at the intensity of his feelings. He felt actual physical pain to be away from Benny every time one of them had to go to the bathroom or when they fed each other to recharge their bodies to keep the lustfest going.
In just one rainy night, they learned a lot about each other. Ray learned that yes, Benny liked to swallow at oral sex - it shouldn't be a surprised from a man who licked curbs. Ray learned how to give a man a blowjob, and he found out it was quite pleasant to do that to someone you love. Now he looked at his former girlfriends with a whole new light. But Benny was the only one who made him feel the way he was feeling now. Hopefully, that feeling would last their whole lives long.
* * *
The first lights of a sunny dawn after the rainy night entered the dingy apartment and caught Ray awake, looking at Benny in his sleep. Ray knew he should be sleeping like a log after the frantic hours they both had. But he couldn't. There was something fascinating about Benny in slumber. His face was all relaxed, and he was even more beautiful than ever. A genuine angel, a little boy with a bigger body. Ray raised his hand and, without touching Benny, retraced the contours of his face. It was the face he loved, the face he hoped to be caressing for the next 40 or 50 years. He knew he'd have the same love, the same intensity and the same fascination those years ahead. *God, I just hope he still wants me. Because I will never stop loving him.*
A soft noise pulled Ray away from his reveries and he looked at the fire escape to see Diefenbaker coming inside the apartment. Ray rose from the bed to greet his four-legged friend.
"Good morning, pal." He crouched to pet the wolf, who wagged his tail at him. "Dief, you're not going to believe what I have to tell you. But I want to hear some explanation from you first. You said you'd be at Maggie until today, but I thought you'd take breakfast, there, too. Why did you come in so early?"
Dief whined, then looked at Ray with solemn amber eyes. He whined again.
"What, Dief? Cat ate your tongue?" joked Ray.
Dief barked, then whimpered.
"Dief?", tried Ray once more.
More whining. Dief lowered his head.
Ray took him in his arms, scratching his ears, and Dief went on whimpering. Sadness filled Ray's heart. He could no longer talk to Dief. Too bad Dief no longer could understand him. Ray would miss their talks, the shared jokes, the companionship. It was more than friendship. It was the sense of the pack. That was something only someone who belonged to a pack could know. Ray was one of the few privileged persons who knew fully how that felt. More than that, the Italian would never be able to repay the great gift Dief gave him.
Ray could only hope Dief could smell his sadness and sense of loss.
"Oh, Dief. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. Yeah, yeah, I know you are, too." Ray scratched his ears fondly, and the wolf whined louder. "I wish I knew what happened, buddy."
Benny rose from bed, in his shorts, and joined them. "What is it, Ray? What happened?"
Ray got to his feet and had tears in his eyes. "Dief and I can't talk anymore, Benny. It just didn't happen this morning. He isn't talking."
As if to prove the point, Dief looked at Benny and whimpered.
"Didn't happen? Why?"
Ray shrugged. "I wish I knew. I can't understand him any more, Benny, and it... It hurts, it hurts a lot. It came as it went. No reason at all. God, I'll miss it, you know. It was only for a day, but I'll miss it."
Benny held Ray in his arms. "I am sorry, Ray. For both of you."
Dief sniffed the air and growled, then barked loud. Benny asked, "Dief, what is it?"
The wolf barked again, and immediately ran to the fire escape. He stood there, and barked again, calling them. They rushed to the stairs, Ray wrapped in the blanket they slept on and Benny in his robe. Ray squinted at the bright light of the day and asked, "What is it, Dief? What do you see?"
Dief barked again and looked straight at the clear sky.
Right ahead, stood the fierce explosion of colours typical of the Chicagoan dawn coming from Lake Michigan. In that very special morning, there was a different shade of green twinkling towards West Racine. Actually, it was almost a phantom light that resembled very much a full-fledge supernatural rainbow. The phantom light was nothing more than a sparkle of a very bright green suit, a very red beard, some orange freckles and a thick Irish accent. And it was a good thing Benny and Ray had rushed, too, because the phantom light was quickly fading away in the supernatural rainbow. And the phantom was quite pleased with itself, now that its mission had been fully accomplished.
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