A Joint Venture
By Ashley Sametz and Ashley Calvert

A.C.~ This story is everything. It's a crossover, the first in a series, a drama, and a humor (NOT humour, by the way.)
A.S.– Bite me, Yankee.
~ Cucking Fanuck.
– We're getting off topic. Well, E.J. Ramis is here returning from 'The Girl' (by Ashley Calvert) and Claudia's back from 'The Godfather' series (by Ashley Sametz).
~ So you guys might wanna read them first, or suffer the consequences of not knowing who they are.
– Basically, what we did was cross the stories over, and used a basic crime plot idea to base it upon.
~ Standard disclaimer, we don't own 'em, but we use 'em anyway. And if Alliance doesn't want them, we'll be glad to take them home......
– Just as long as I get Callum!
~ And don't swipe our characters, man!
– Cause we'll hunt you down and kill you. After all, Ash is American, which means she's got bombs...
~ *L* Rated PG for mild violence, substance abuse, adolescent suicide, misuse of rubber bands, pancakes...
– Thank you kindly's to our friends, whose names we've swiped, and made a bad name for.
~ Actually, I, uh, made them up to impress you, Ash.....I don't really have friends….
– *LOL* I know ya don't, Ash. Before you read this, we suggest that you take a potty break, have a light meal…
~ Pick the kids up from daycare, or ask if they have an overnight program... write your will…
– Etc., etc. This is kinda like the Titanic of Fan Fics!
~ Yeah… except no  Leonardo DiCaprio OR Celine Dion! Woo Hoo!
–  Shut up, Yank.
~ Cucking Fanuck. Oh yeah, and just to avoid confusion, Ray Vecchio is new Ray, not old Ray.
– So...Enjoy the show!

"Check, please."

 The sound of dishes clattering against each other rang behind them as Detective Ray Vecchio took the last sips of his Diet Coke. Sitting across from him was friend and partner, Constable Benton Fraser of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Fraser poked at the ice in his empty glass with his straw.

 "Benny," Ray began, "Why so quiet today?" Fraser looked up from his ice.

 "Hmm?" he replied. Upon hearing that hmm-thing, Ray lifted an eyebrow but decided not to mention it.

 "I said why are you so quiet?" Ray repeated. "I usually can't get you to shut up." As usual, Fraser did not seem at all hurt by this comment.

 "It's nothing. I've just been thinking." Ray's cup made rude slurping noises as he sucked the remaining drops of soda from the bottom. "You know, about Claudia," he continued. Ray set his glass on the table.


 "Yes…" Fraser's voice trailed off. "She's been going to school for about a month now, and she's still having trouble…adapting. Making friends, I mean. I think it's starting to get to her."

 "Well I'm not surprised. I'll bet it's because she's Canadian."

 "What?" This time, Fraser did appear a slightly offended.

 "Ah, Benny, you know how kids are. They pick on the fat kid, the short kid, the kid with glasses…. It's only appropriate they should pick on the polite kid who can't pronounce her O's." Ray smirked to himself. Fraser did not seem at all amused.

 "First of all," Fraser began, "She does not mispronounce her O's. And second of all…" He stopped. "Well, she is rather polite, isn't she? Never mind." The waitress came to their table and placed the check face down in front of the two men. He glanced at Ray, observed that Ray made no effort to touch the check, and picked it up.

 Meanwhile, a thirty-something, female patron was reaching into her purse. The cashier standing in front of her drummed his warm, anxious fingers on the countertop. She glanced up at him briefly as she continued to dig through the messy purse in search of her credit card. He could feel his hands getting clammy, and his breathing became short and rapid as the woman smiled uncomfortably at him. She noticed his eyes began to dart angrily about the restaurant, and she looked into her pocketbook with a puzzled look on her face. Where was that stupid credit card? Ah, there it was.

 A shot rang out in the ears of every customer nearby. The woman dropped to the ground.
Part One
 The Adventure Begins

 Claudia Reid walked down the District 27 hallway slowly, leafing though a manila folder, deep in thought. As she passed by interrogation room 1, she was jolted from her reverie. She looked up to see who she had run into. A young girl, about 15 stood in front of her.
 "Can I help you?" asked Claudia.
 "Umm, have you seen Constable Fraser?" the girl asked.
 Claudia was somewhat taken aback. After all, it wasn't everyday that a person who wasn't wearing red serge came into the station asking for Fraser. But Claudia, always polite, simply answered: "Umm, no. He went to lunch with detective Vecchio."
 The girl seemed anxious. "When, when do you expect him back?" she asked.
 "Half an hour, give or take," replied Claudia. "You're welcome to wait for him here if you'd like. Detective Vecchio's desk is right-"
 "I know where it is. I've been here before."
 Claudia couldn't help herself. "Were you arrested?"
 "No, my aunt and I, we, umm, never mind. So you don't mind if I just hang around for a while?" the girl asked.

 "Oh, no, not at all."

 Hearing this, the girl made her way to Ray's desk. She plopped into his chair, and absent-mindedly swiveled in it. Claudia sat near her, flipping through the folder she had been looking through when she had been bumped into.
 "How rude of me not to introduce myself," thought Claudia. "I'm Claudia Reid." She finally said. "And you would be...?"

 "Oh, sorry." The girl said, forcing a smile. "I'm E.J. Ramis."

 "E.J..." said Claudia thoughtfully. "What does that stand for?"

 E.J. made a sour face. "Elizabeth Jane," she said solemnly.

 Claudia smiled. "How do you know Ben?" she asked, starting a light conversation.

 "Oh, my aunt and him, they go back a while. How do you know him?"

 "He's my Godfather," replied Claudia. Just as a deafening silence was about to hit, Ray Vecchio and Benton Fraser entered the station. Both girls couldn't help but notice that the officers were not smiling.

 "Ben?" asked Claudia. "What's wrong."

 Fraser and Claudia had a quick conversation with their eyes. Claudia quickly walked back to the desk where she and Francesca worked. E.J. followed her with worried eyes.

 "Umm, E.J.," Ray began, scratching the back of his neck. "I...aah, I'm not sure how to tell you this but... um....Fraser? You mind helping me out here?"

 Fraser reluctantly began to speak. "It's about Caroline," he said. E.J. looked up at him. Fraser avoided her glance. "She...she was shot about three hours ago. She went to the hospital, but...they couldn't help her." Fraser paused, looking at  E.J.'s reaction.

 "Three hours ago?"  E.J. asked, trying to hide how sick she felt. "Three...Fraser, why did you wait so long?"

 "I'm sorry E.J., but with all th-"

 E.J. cut him off. "Excuse me." She leapt up from Ray's desk, and ran out the door.

 "E.J.! E.J., get back here!" called Fraser, picking up his Stetson, and making a move to go after her. The hand that landed on his shoulder stopped him.

 "She'll be back," said Ray.

 "How can you be so sure?"

 "She'll get hungry, want her supper."

 Claudia looked over at Fraser. He looked down at the floor.
Part Two
 All I've Got Left

 "This isn't real. This isn't happening to me. This can't happen to me. It's not." E.J. kept repeating this in her head as she aimlessly stumbled about the streets. She was confused and irritated, and above all, she was getting very tired. She took another drag on her cigarette and wrapped her arms more tightly around her waist. It had been several hours since she had stormed out of the station, and she still hadn't gone anywhere. She just kept walking. Night brought with it a deep black sky, and the cold wind bit her ears and fingers. E.J. looked down at her hands, which had now turned bright pink, and fingered at the gold ring she occasionally wore. It was far too big for her. It had belonged to her father.

 "This can't happen to me. I can't be an orphan. If I'm an orphan, I'm alone. And I'm not alone! I'm not! Because I've got-" she stopped in her tracks. "I've got…" For the first time since 1:00 that afternoon, her solemn face broke its hard shell. She squeezed her eyes shut and allowed herself to cry. "I've got…me. That's all I've got now. I've just got me."

 She was too tough for that. Or, at least, she tried to be, even though she wasn't inside. She wiped the tear from her icy nose with her bare finger and continued walking. She hadn't been walking in any particular pattern, just further. She considered going home, but something within herself prevented her from doing so. She couldn't face going home and seeing the nothing that would greet her with an empty heart. "Just keep walking…"

 E.J. started to recognize the streets she had turned on to. She was fairly sure that she was very near the police station. She wouldn't go in there, though. She wouldn't allow herself to go back. An empty alley that lay between two vacated buildings seemed to welcome her. She turned in to it, hoping to hide herself away.

 "Damn you!" she screamed. "How could you leave me?! You don't just abandon somebody like that!" Her sadness turned to rage as she picked up a metal rod lying on the ground and she beat the nearby trash dumpster with it. The dumpster clanged with each blow she struck to it. She threw the rod as far as she could into the back of the alley and shouted after it.

 "I never even liked you! I hated you! But that sure as hell didn't mean I didn't need you! I needed someone! Anyone!" she cried out. Her pleas turned almost to desperation as her fury subsided and she fell to her knees. Her tears returned, and she covered her crying face with her chilly hands. "Anyone…" she repeated, more softly.

 "E.J.?" She didn't turn around to face the familiar voice calling her. She could hear the light footsteps and could feel the person approaching her. "E.J.! What are you doing out here?" Claudia put her hand under the E.J.'s arm and helped her to her feet.

 "I'm…crying, I guess," she replied. For some reason, she felt too ashamed to look Claudia in the eyes, so she kept eye contact with the ground. Claudia put an arm around her shoulder to steady her.

 "Come on. Let's get you out of the cold," she said quietly.
Part Three
Understanding: adj.;  Harmony in feeling,  a better understanding between people

 Claudia opened the door to the police station, and stood aside to let E.J. enter first. E.J. unwillingly entered. Claudia entered after her.

 "Where's Fraser?" questioned E.J., more curious than actually caring.

 "He's in the basement, speaking with Dr. Mort...Do you know him..?"

 E.J. shook her head. "Did, did Fraser want to see me?" asked E.J.
 Claudia shrugged. "Perhaps...he seemed worried when, uh, when you took off like that."

 "Ohhh, I'm sure," retorted E.J. After all, with everything that was going on, no one ever seemed worried about E.J. Well, except for her aunt, but that didn't count much anymore.

 "Why wouldn't he be?" questioned Claudia.

 "Well, it sure doesn't seem like many people care...everyone I care about is gone...why should Fraser be any different?"

 Claudia nodded. "I understand how you're feeling, but you know Ben better than that. He cares," Claudia sighed, "sometimes too much."

 E.J. looked up angrily at Claudia. "You...understand?" she asked, her tone of voice implying that understanding was forbidden. "How can you possibly understand?" Claudia attempted to speak, but was cut off. "My whole damn family is gone, and you say, you understand? I have no one anymore! No one!"

 "No, but E.J., really, I-"

 "You don't know what it's like!" E.J. yelled. She wanted to keep going, how nice it was to get this off her chest!

 "No, you don't-"

 "You don't understand! How can you understand what I'm going through?!"

 "Because I lost my family too!" Claudia yelled back, on the brink of crying. She stopped abruptly, blushing. "Sorry, I guess I just got caught up in the moment."

 E.J. looked at Claudia with a newfound feeling of closeness. "I'm sorry, I didn't know..."

 Ray poked his head out Lt. Welsh's door. "Is everything O.K. here, or do I need to throw you in the tank? Oh, E.J., glad you're back. I'll tell Fraser."

 "No need," said a familiar voice, coming up the steps. "E.J." he said. "Are, um, you O.K.?"

 "Yeah Frase, I think..."

 "Good. Claudia, we'll be going home soon, so...." Fraser trailed off, catching E.J.'s dejected look. "Oh, E.J.-"

 E.J. spoke up. "No Fraser, I can go home, I'll be O.K., I just want to go to bed, and um...I just wanna go home."

 "No, come with us," said Claudia. "I hate to sound monotonous, but I understand how you're feeling. You should come with us, be with some people."
 "Ben, I've seen where you live, three people and a wolf won't fit.

 "So we'll make room," said Fraser.

 Ray stepped out of Lt. Welsh's office, nodding.

 "Listen E.J., why don't you go with them. We'll go by your house, pick up a few of your things, and drop you off at Fraser's," he said. By "we", he didn't realize he was saying the four humans and a wolf sharing one car. E.J. accepted his offer and followed Claudia back up the steps into the station. Behind them the two officers dragged behind slightly, and Fraser took Ray's elbow in his hand and stopped him.

 "Ray," he said quietly, "Although I agree it was very gracious of you to offer my apartment to E.J., there was another alternative. Of course I'm not suggesting that I wouldn't like to shelter E.J., but…"

 "Benny, I just figured Claudia might be able to help us out here, you know? Same age, same predicament. May as well be same apartment." Fraser nodded.

 "I see."

 "Besides," Ray continued with a smile, "You're getting pretty good at this whole parenting-thing."
Part Four
 Handcuffs, Bottlecaps, and Rubber Bands

 She could feel her jeans getting hot under the weight of the wolf. "I wish I had the end with the face," Claudia thought to herself, glancing down at Diefenbaker's tail lashing back and forth against her stomach. Sitting next to her in the backseat of Ray's car was E.J., who was fondly stroking Dief's ears. Lucky for her, she was the possessor of the wolf's front end. Every time E.J. smiled at him, it would get that darn tail going again. It surprised Claudia a little to see E.J. smiling for the first time since they had met that afternoon. Apparently, she was capable of not being so depressing. That being the case, it surprised all three of them when E.J. voluntarily began to speak.

 "My uncle Jack had a dog once. I had forgotten all about that dog until just now. He looked a lot like Diefenbaker – same size and color," she said absent-mindedly. Fraser turned around to face her, and a look of ease spread across his face.

 "I can barely remember your uncle, but he was quite a man," he said. Ray and Claudia listened with interest.

 "I miss him," E.J. said sadly. "He died when I was a kid. That's why I was sent to live with Caroline, you know." Claudia looked confused.

 "What do you mean?"

 "Jack was my father's brother. He and Caroline divorced around the time when I was born. After my dad disappeared, they shipped me off to Chicago to live with him. But when he died, I got sent to live with Caroline instead." She paused. "Living with him was great. He taught me all kinds of stuff that would have made my mother roll over in her grave." Fraser laughed.

 "Yes, that does sound like Jack," he replied. "He used to drive your aunt crazy."

 "What kind of things?" Claudia asked, intrigued.

 "Hmm…" E.J. answered thoughtfully. "I remember when I was nine, he showed me how to open a bottle of beer with my teeth." Claudia laughed out loud.

 "That's nothing," Ray muttered. "I can do that."

 "He also showed me how to tie a cherry stem in a knot with my tongue. And when I was twelve, he showed me how to escape from a pair of handcuffs." Provoked by the raised eyebrows coming from several directions, she added, "Don't ask how – or why – he knew that." She continued with her story.
"When I was ten, he showed me how to properly launch a rubber band with one hand." She smiled wistfully and resumed rubbing Diefenbaker's ears.

 "We're here," Ray said as he stopped the car outside of Fraser's apartment building. "See you in the morning."

 "Thank you kindly, Ray," Fraser said as he opened the car door. He held it open for the girls and they climbed out. Dief followed them, carrying E.J.'s knapsack in his mouth. The four turned to leave, but were stopped by Ray's call.

 "Hey, wait a second!" Ray climbed out of his side of the car and met them on the sidewalk. "Hold on. I want to see something." Fraser paused and released his grip on the door of the building.

 "Come here, E.J.," he said with a smirk on his face. Puzzled, she promptly obeyed and stood in front of Ray face to face. Diefenbaker let the knapsack drop to the ground and sat beside it impatiently. He placed one hand on each of E.J.'s shoulders and turned her the opposite direction.

 "Hey, um, Ray?" she asked, confused. "What are you-"


 She groaned as she realized her hands were bound together with cold metal. She tugged, and as expected, the handcuffs did not give.
 "You're a very funny man," she said sarcastically. He grinned at his handiwork. She pulled at them again, and this time he snickered.

 "Ray!" Fraser reprimanded. "Get her out of those!" Claudia, being the polite person that she was, wasn't sure whether to help E.J. unlock herself, or to push her to the ground and watch her try to get back up again.

 "No, it's okay," E.J. said calmly. "Just give me a few minutes." Ray laughed at her again, and this time E.J. turned around and kicked him in the leg.  She turned to Claudia. "Got a hairpin?"

 "Nope, no hairpins. I want to see you do this unassisted," Ray said. He folded his arms over his chest and observed as E.J. awkwardly fumbled about.

 "I can't believe my tax dollars paid for your stupid handcuffs," she said bitterly.

 "You're a minor," he shot back, "You don't pay taxes, remember?"

For a moment, E.J. almost lost her balance and fell on her face, but was rescued as Ray and Claudia simultaneously grabbed her arms to stable her. While they still gripped her by the elbows, an elderly gentleman passed by.

 "Way to go, officer. It's good to know there'll be one less punk out on the street tonight," he told them. When the man's back was turned, E.J. squinted at him and stuck her tongue out. Then, without warning, she keeled forward and snapped back again, still struggling. She winced in pain and backed up, so she was facing all three people at once. She gritted her teeth, and then a look of relief spread across her face.

 "There," she said proudly, dangling the handcuffs in front of Ray's nose. "Happy?" Fraser sighed and shook his head disapprovingly. Ray certainly wasn't the ideal role model for either of the girls.
Part Five
 Another One Bites the Dust
 That morning, Claudia was accompanied by E.J. into the station. Claudia found her place at the desk, and E.J. sat in a chair beside her. Claudia immediately threw herself into her work, answering phones, and updating files. E.J. felt extremely out of place.

 "Is there anything I can do?" E.J. asked, feeling that she was only taking up space.

 Claudia looked up from the glowing computer screen. "Umm,  well.....the computers all use confidential access codes, and Franny's probably gonna be here soon, so you can't really use them, but I suppose you could answer phones, or make some copies or-"

 "Reid! The coffee pot has no coffee in it!" yelled a blue and white from the other side of the room.

 "Make coffee." Claudia finished. "They may seem like gopher jobs, but you don't want to see this place function without coffee. Umm, the maker, it's kinda dysfunctional, Ray had a temper tantrum after he lost one of his collars, but if you whack the side, and hit the switch a few times, it'll start."

 E.J. nodded, and made her way to the desk holding the coffee pot. She knew how to make coffee, she made it for herself quite often, and would often drink it with a smoke to calm her rattled nerves. She watched it brew,  and decided to have a cup herself. She gagged. Ray, who had come to re-fuel, grinned.

 "That's the way police station coffee is. If it's good, it's an omen of bad things to come."

 "Ughhh. I'm gonna go get some real coffee from that place around the corner."

 Ray handed her 2 dollars. "Hey, I never said I didn't like good coffee."

 "And as for the omen?"

 "I predict you're gonna hear a bedtime story derived from Fraser's childhood, with at least 3 references to some Inuit legend. Now, coffee?"

 E.J. nodded, and shuffled out of the station, making her way down the street. She walked 2 blocks, and pulled open the door to the little German restaurant. She was greeted by the smell of coffee and fresh pastry. She inhaled deeply. However, the warm feeling was short lived. A man in his early thirties knocked her down and ran out the door, not turning back.

 "Hey!" yelled E.J., scrambling to her feet. She pushed open the door, and contemplated running after him and giving him a piece of her mind, or fist, whichever she felt like. But the feeling of uneasiness kept her from it. She went back into the store, and knocked on the counter top.

 "Hello...anybody ho-ome?" she said in a sing-song voice. She waited, but there was no answer. "I need caffeine." E.J. leapt over the counter. "Yo! Is this a self-serve?" She was tempted to grab her coffees and blow the two bucks on something else, but she was curious. She walked back into the storage room and stepped in something. She lifted her foot and made a face. "Eeeew." She attempted to wipe it off on the floor, but then noticed what color it was. A deep crimson. She peeked over a freezer, and saw what she had expected: a cashier, well, what she assumed was the cashier. She gagged, backed up, and ran out of the store.
Part Six
 Caffeine'll Kill 'Ya

 E.J. almost broke her neck flying through the doors of the police station. She skidded to an awkward halt in front of a desk and cried out, "Help!"
  Everyone in within a hundred foot radius eyed her quizzically. "Dead- dead body!" she cried nervously. "Coffee shop! Murder! Blood- I mean- dead- dead guy!"

 "Whoa, slow down, girl," Ray said calmly as he approached E.J. in her state of half-hysteria. "English, please." E.J. nodded and took a big breath of air.

 "I went… to the coffee shop. No one there. Went to the storage room and I saw… dead cashier." E.J. swallowed sharply and looked up at Ray's reaction. By this time Fraser had joined him and was eyeing her intently. "There was blood everywhere… See?" she said, lifting up her sneaker to display the dark spots of red encrusted in the rubber sole. Fraser peered at it.

 "Are you all right?" he asked her, helping her to a chair. She took a gulp and nodded. She sighed and forced her sanity to slowly return.

 "I'm okay," she said slowly. "Just kind of creeped out."

 "Claudia is with Francesca. Why don't you stay with them while we go check it out," Fraser told her gently. She nodded, wide-eyed. "Why don't you just relax. Get yourself some coffee."

 E.J. narrowed her eyes at him as she watched the two officers turn to leave. Get myself some coffee. Yeah, right. Maybe I'll get a soda instead.

*  *  *

 "Claudia! How lovely of you to join us!" Dr. Mort exclaimed as Claudia pushed open the doors to the morgue. She nodded graciously in his direction and peered at the semi-covered body he was hovering over.

 "Hello, Dr. Mort. Who's this?" Claudia asked him, examining the dark curls of hair belonging to the unfortunate man beneath the sheet. Fraser stepped up from behind the doctor. Ray and E.J. clung squeamishly to the corner, trying nervously to avoid eye contact with the corpse.

 "This is the cashier that our young adventurer here discovered yesterday," Mort replied, pointing at E.J. She thumbed at the top to her soda can and glanced at Claudia.

 "The coffee shop guy, remember?" E.J. reminded her.

 "Oh, yes," Claudia replied. "What happened to him?" Dr. Mort seemed pleased by the inquiry, and folded the sheet down on the man, revealing his bare chest. Both E.J. and Ray averted their eyes and murmured tiny groans of sickness. Mort pointed to the prominent bullet wounds that covered the man's skin.

 "Shot five times. Three times in the chest, once in the neck, and once in the ear," Mort explained. "The inconsistent distance between each wound would suggest the killer was a wild one. Not much aiming involved, only trigger-happiness." Claudia scratched her chin thoughtfully.

 "Any ideas who did it?"

 "Not yet. We haven't begun the investigation just yet," Fraser answered. Ray briefly pulled his hand away from his eyes, and everyone noticed he seemed to have turned a slight shade of green.

 "I'm going to go get a drink of water," he whispered. E.J. grabbed his shirt sleeve.

 "Take me with you," she whispered back. The nauseous pair stumbled out of the morgue.

 "Can I help, Ben?" asked Claudia. Mort pulled the sheet back up over the man's head.

 "Not yet," Fraser answered. "At least, not until we figure out who we're going after. But thank you for the offer. You have homework yet. First though, do you think you and E.J. could drop by my apartment and check on Diefenbaker?"

 Claudia nodded, still looking at the unfortunate soul laying on Mort's table. "No problem, Ben."

  Dr. Mort grinned at Fraser's Goddaughter. "And then dear, could you make some coffee for me please?"
Part Seven
 A Canadian Sets A New Record
 "So," E.J. asked, looking out the window of Fraser's apartment. "Do they have any idea who may have done it?"
 Claudia set Dief's water bowl on the floor. "No," she said. "But there's talk of this being the same guy who... um... killed your aunt."  Dief, who had finished his business,  clamored up the stairs, and entered the apartment. Claudia looked at him. "Well, can we leave?" Diefenbaker whined. E.J. shook her head.

 "You've been spending too much time with Fraser." She said, picking up her coat and following Claudia out the door.

 "What do you mean?" asked Claudia, locking the door to the apartment. "Oh, you mean by the talking to Diefenbaker?"
 E.J. nodded. "Yeah. You're really polite too."

 Claudia sighed as she and E.J. exited the building. She had heard this before. Next E.J. was going to tell her that "House" was not to be pronounced "Hoouse".

 "You hold doors open for you elders." pointed out E.J. as Claudia held the door for one of the tenants of Fraser's building. "And you probably help old ladies across the street, and let people cut in front of you in line."

 "Do you mind?" said Claudia, getting defensive. "Just because I'm Canadian doesn't mean I'm perfect."

 "Commit a crime," said E.J.

 "What?" replied Claudia, baffled.

 "Something small, you're a first timer. J-walk or something."

 "E.J., I'm not intentionally going to break the law simply because I'm trying to prove something. And J-walking has killed-"

 "Shut up!" cried E.J. laughing. "Forget I mentioned it!  I didn't think you'd take the bet anyways. You'd lose."

 Claudia set her jaw. "Fine, I'll J-walk. "Josh, you'd better not be watching,"  Claudia thought to herself, as she began to cross the street. "If I get killed," she called to E.J., who was standing on the sidewalk,  "Fraser'll have your hide." E.J. hid her laughter. A moment later, a car swerved around the corner. E.J. shrieked.

 "Claudia! Look out!"

 Claudia turned and saw a  Sunfire Sedan screaming down the street. She rolled out of the way, and felt the heat of the car as it passed, only inches away from her face. E.J. ran towards her.

 "Claudia! Are- are you O.K.?"

 Claudia shakily stood up. "I, I think so." She dusted her navy blue jeans off. "That's the last time I'll ever J-walk."

 The girls laughed, only to be cut off by the loud bang of shots fired down the street. They immediately jerked and looked in that direction, and heard a loud female scream.
 A young woman was kneeling over a young man, laying motionless on the sidewalk. "He was shot!" the woman cried.

 E.J. and Claudia looked at each other.

 "It can't be the same guy who did in the cashier!" said Claudia jogging to the crime scene.

 "Hey, a Canadian just J-walked. Anything's possible."
Part Eight
 Irresponsibility Man and his Trusty Sidekick Sarcasm Girl

 E.J. almost broke her neck flying through the doors of the police station. She skidded to an awkward halt in front of a desk and cried out, "Help!"
 Claudia followed her closely behind. Ray got up from his desk and approached the two. He glanced at his watch and raised an eyebrow.

 "I just got this weird feeling of déjà vu," he said. "I feel like we've been through this before." Neither girl laughed. "Let me guess – something unbelievable just occurred."

 "Yeah!" E.J. said excitedly. "Claudia J-walked!" Claudia hung her head in remorse. "But, that's not why we're here."

 "Some guy just got shot a block and a half away," Claudia reported. "He – he died already. I don't think the ambulance has come yet, though."

 "Really?!" Ray asked. They both quickly nodded. "No, I mean about the
J-walking. Did she really?" E.J. rolled her eyes and crossed her arms impatiently. "Claud, I'm impressed."

 "Ray, listen to us. It may have been the same guy that…" Claudia stopped herself and glanced cautiously at E.J.

 "Killed Caroline," E.J. finished.

 "Why, what happened? How do you know?"

 "Some guy in a…Sunfire, I think. A black Sunfire. He sped right past the both of us. Fifty feet later, he shot a guy," E.J. said professionally.

 "You catch the plate?"

 "Nah," she replied. "It was going too fast."

 "Sierra Charlie Alfa, 3891," Claudia said modestly. Ray stood wide-eyed.

 "That's very good, we can run a plate check on that. But what makes you think it's the same guy?"

 "The guy was shot a bunch of times, all over. It was… well, it was pretty horrible," said E.J.

 "But it was a drive-by, right? In drive-by's, don't people usually get shot all over?"

 "Yes," Claudia said slowly. "But as I recall, he stopped. I mean, he didn't actually park, but he stopped the car before he killed the guy."

 "So do you  think there was a second person involved?" he asked.

 "I don't know, I think. We were a little distracted, what with Claudia's senseless crime-spree and all," E.J. said. Claudia looked mortified.

 "I hardly think almost J-walking constitutes a crime spree, do you?"

 "Thanks, guys," Ray said. "We'll probably need you later, to give your story. You should go back home."

 Claudia seemed disappointed that the action had died on the spot. Nevertheless, she shrugged her shoulders and turned to E.J.
 "Okay. You ready to go?" E.J. nodded. "We'll be at Ben's… should you need us."

 The two girls turned around and exited the police station. At the front of the building, E.J. opened the door and held it open for her companion.

 "Please," she said with a sarcastic smile, "After you."

*  *  *

 "Hey Claud," E.J. began as she grabbed another handful of buttery popcorn from the bowl on the floor. She munched on it thoughtfully and swallowed.

 "Hmm?" Claudia replied.

 "What do you think's going to happen to me?" Claudia reclined on the floor and tucked one elbow behind her head.

 "What do you mean?"

 "I mean, what happens after everything clears? Is Fraser going to let me live with him forever, or what?" Claudia sighed and stared blankly into the ceiling.

 "I'm not exactly sure what to tell you. The thing is, when I lost my family, they shipped me off to my Godfather."

 "Like they did to me when I was kid," E.J. interrupted.

 "Yeah, exactly. But my Godfather didn't die, so I'm not sure what happens next," Claudia said. Inside, Claudia knew that she was hiding the truth from E.J. The truth was, if Claudia's Godfather had died, she probably would have been hauled off to a foster home. She didn't have the heart to tell that to E.J., so she remained quiet.

 "Maybe I'll ask Ray to adopt me," E.J. said jokingly.

 "Yeah, I'm sure you two would get along great," Claudia said, laughing at the idea. "Irresponsibility Man, and his trusty sidekick Sarcasm Girl." E.J. tossed a popcorn kernel into the air and caught it with her tongue. "You two would probably starve to death. Or end up eating take-out pizza until it came out your ears."

 "Do I get to be Sarcasm Girl?" E.J. asked with a grin.

 "Together they roam the streets, fighting crime and opening bottles of beer with their teeth," Claudia continued. "It has a nice ring to it."

 Diefenbaker approached the pair sprawled over the floor and sniffed them with interest. He became engrossed in their popcorn, and casually slipped a few kernels out of their bowl when he thought they weren't paying attention. Claudia propped herself up on her elbow and scolded the wolf.

 "Dief! You should know better!" she cried, examining their bowl to make sure there was no wolf spit in it. "Ah, like you can hear me anyway," she sighed. E.J. took another handful.

 "I think he can," she said, without looking up.


 "I don't think he's deaf," E.J. replied. "He can hear every word that you say."

 Claudia looked confused. She watched Diefenbaker suspiciously.

 "And what gives you that idea?"

 "Well, just look at him. He's got the advantage over everyone he meets. If you had a one up like that, wouldn't you use it?" E.J. said. Claudia looked doubtful.

 "Nah… He's a nice, honest wolf," she said, still not sounding convinced.

 "That nice, honest wolf tried to steal our popcorn less than a minute ago," E.J. retorted. "Watch."

 She snapped her fingers in the air. No response from the wolf. Claudia sat upright and observed. E.J. clapped her hands loudly. Still, no response.




 The wolf paid no attention to E.J., and continued to devour his snack. E.J. looked sheepishly at him for a moment, and Claudia shook her head and laughed.

 "Milk Duds!"

 Diefenbaker jerked his head around and stared E.J. straight in the eye. Claudia appeared to have not noticed this phenomenon, and rested her head upon the floor again. E.J. sighed and pushed the remnants of the popcorn bowl in his direction.

 "You know what I think, E.J.?" Claudia asked.

 "Yes I do. And quite frankly, I don't care how many chili-dogs could fit in a lizard's large intestine," E.J. replied straight-faced. Claudia closed her eyes and smiled.

 "Sarcasm Girl strikes again," she said softly. "But seriously, you know what?"

 "What?" asked E.J., folding her hands behind her head.

 "I never had a sister," she answered. "So I'm glad I met you." E.J. pretended to wipe a tear from her eye and smiled at her.

 "Yeah…" she replied. "I guess I'm pretty lucky that I met you, too."
Part Nine
 Hello, This is Kitty Hawk

 "Okay Fraser, look at this. I think I finally found a pattern." Fraser leaned over Ray's desk to examine the printout that he was holding.

 "What is it?" Fraser inquired with interest. Ray handed the sheet to him and he cocked his head at it.

 "First victim, Caroline Ramis. How many times was she shot?" Ray asked. Fraser examined the sheet.


 "And what did Dr. Mort say about the bullet wounds?" Ray asked. Fraser squinted into the wall as he scratched at his memory bank.

 "They were inconsistent. Far apart," Fraser quoted.

 "Right. Now, here's our second guy, Tim Koczur . The guy from the coffee shop. How many times was he shot?" Fraser examined the sheet again.


 "Exactly. And what did Mort say?"

 "The pattern was incongruous. And that it was a result of trigger-happiness," Fraser replied, already seeing what Ray was getting at.

 "Okay. And our third guy, Erik Schrank. This guy was the drive-by victim. Shot three times," Ray said.

 "Now, you see Ray, Schrank doesn't exactly fit the pattern. I mean, of course, the bullet wounds fit the same description, but that's because the killer was so far away. There was no way to be accurate," Fraser pointed out.

 "Ah, Benny, that's where you're wrong," Ray said with a smirk on his face. "I dug a little bit deeper than just the causes of death. Guess what else I found out?" Fraser's blank expression stated he did not particularly want to guess, but he courteously did so anyway.

 "What else did you find out?"

 "All three of these people are German. Or, of German descent, at least," Ray said.

 "So you're suggesting this was a hate crime?" Fraser asked, eyebrows raised.

 "Maybe. I don't know yet. But, here's something else," he said, pulling out another sheet of paper. "The plate is false. There's no Illinois plate with that registration number."

 Fraser furrowed his brow. "So, we have no leads then." He let out a long-suffering sigh. "And we've got three dead bodies in the morgue." He raised his brow, deducing the events in his mind. Ray spoke up.

 "Umm, speaking of that, when's Caroline's funeral?"

 "Two days. On Wednesday. They postponed it because the forensics wanted to compare the wounds."

 Ray nodded. The uncomfortable silence was broken by E.J. and Claudia pawing through a sheaf of papers on Claudia's desk. They were obviously looking for something.

 "Lose something?" Fraser asked the girls.

 "Oui. Est-ce que j'ai laiseé mon cahier du francais ici, par hasard?"

 Fraser shook his head. "I haven't seen it. But it's Spring Break."
 "Et alors? Madame doesn't care. She enjoys torturing us with conjugation homework."

 E.J. and Ray looked blankly at the two. Ray shook his head. "I don't even want to know." He looked back at the computer print-out sitting in his hands. He narrowed his eyes in thought.

 E.J. pointed at the paper. "What's that?" Claudia looked at it too.

 "Nothing. That plate you told us doesn't exist. Either you messed up on it, or...it doesn't exist. Whoever owns that car must have some friends in pretty high places. Or, at least in the plate business."

 Claudia pondered it for a minute. "Then ask dealers if they've got a record on who's bought a Sunfire recently. It was pretty new, wouldn't you say E.J.?"

 E.J. nodded in agreement. "Definitely. It was probably a '98" And it had the decals on the side....what was it? RR?

 "Yeah! I forgot about that! It's gotta stand for something, right? Maybe...his name? Or, a company or something. Oh, and the tires weren't worn, another sign of 'newness'."

 Ray looked at Claudia like she should be committed to an institution. "The...tires? When did you find time to look at his tires?!"

 "Well, I was pretty close to being under them, but that's not how I know. The skid marks he left after he pulled away were very distinct. Only new tires could leave such a detailed mark."

 Ray shook his head at the girls. "O.K., so you want us to go around and check all the GM- Pontiac dealers in the Greater Chicago Area,  and ask what?  Have you sold any black Sunfires to deranged serial killers who may happen to have 'Down With Germans!' written on his shirt?!"

 Fraser shook his head disapprovingly at his partner. "That's just silly Ray. We'll just ask for a record of all the Sunfire sales. Then, we can call the buyers, and tell a story."

 "Yeah!" said E.J. "Like: The custom RR decal you purchased from us seems to have a problem. You see, it has a high lead content, and can damage the paint."

 Ray looked at his watch. It was 5 o'clock. "O.K., Frase, me and you go check out all the dealers, get a list, then call up these buyers. Pitter patter, lets get at 'er."

 "Claudia, E.J., what are you two going to do?"

 "Desecrate graves, and drink the blood of sacrificed goats," said Claudia, grinning at E.J. She grinned back. Fraser shook his head at the girls. They were spending too much time with Ray.

*  *  *

 Fraser and Ray re-entered district 27 two hours later, under their arms page after page of lists of people who had bought Sunfires.

 "So, what did you two find out?" asked E.J., finishing off her microwaveable soup.

 "That black Sunfires are a lot more popular than we thought," said Ray, dumping the lists in front of Claudia. "And we flipped a coin. You're the lucky one who gets to call all these people."

 Claudia laughed. "Nice one Ray." She made a move to get up out of her chair. Ray pushed her back into it. "You're not joking? You're serious?"

 Ray smiled and nodded. "It is, after all, March Break, and you've got all that free time on your hands. We might as well put it to good use."

 Claudia sighed. "Fine, fine. How many people do I have to call?" Claudia asked, figuring that she'd be done at eight, go home, and watch ER.

 Ray laughed his barking laugh. "Three hundred and forty-seven people are about to become your worst enemy."
 "Three hundred?!" cried Claudia. Those in the station looked over in her direction. "That'll take forever! Approximately 3 minutes per call, times three hundred and forty is....17 hours! And most people don't like being disturbed in the wee hours of the morning. Plus, I'll have to access files of all these people! That is, if they've even got them!

 "We all have to over come obstacles in our lives Claudia. Start young, build your strength," said Fraser. Had this been anyone but her Godfather,  Claudia would have kicked him in the shin.

 "Good-night, Reid. I'm going home," rubbed in Ray.

 Fraser nodded. "So are we, Claudia." By 'we' he meant he, E.J. and Dief. "We'll be back tomorrow morning to see how far you've come. Francesca will be back from New York tomorrow morning, and she'll probably be able to help you. Good-night."

 Fraser, Ray, E.J. and the wolf exited the building, leaving Claudia at the dimly lit desk. She sighed, and picked up the phone.
 "Mr. Abeck, you're first." She looked at his phone number, and dialed. It rang once, and then was picked up.

 "Yeah?" said a gruff voice from the other end of the line.

 "Hello, this is Ms...." Claudia looked around the room for inspiration. Her eyes fell upon the ticket stubs from the hockey game Ray went to last week. "...Hawk." she finished. "Kitty Hawk. I'm calling from Pontiac customer relations, and the RR decal you purchased from us-"

 "I didn't buy no decal."

 "Oh, terribly sorry sir. I'm-" A dial tone rang in Claudia's ear. She hung up, and crossed his name off the list with a RCMP pen. She looked down the list. "Only three hundred and forty-six more people to go." She sighed.

*  *  *

 The sound of the people flooding into the police station didn't wake the Mountie's Goddaughter, who had fallen asleep at the desk. Ray came in and smiled.

 "Claud?" he asked, tapping her gently on the shoulder. She stirred.

 "Hello...Your black Kitty is...Sunfire...Mr. Hawk..."

 Ray grinned. "Claudia, get up." He sat her up, and she opened her eyes. She took her glasses off, and rubbed the bridge of her nose. She squinted, and yawned.

 "Coffee..." she said. "Double-double. I need caffeine."

 Ray nodded, and looked at the list. There were only about one hundred more people to go. "So, is our search narrowed down?" he asked, looking at the computer screen with a record search for Robert Rankin on the screen.

 "Coffee first. Then I'll give you the information."

 Ray produced a styrofoam coffee cup from a cardboard tray. "Here. Now, tell me everything you know."

 Claudia smiled. "I feel like I'm in a bad cop movie." She sipped her coffee, and let out a sigh, making her shoulder bones crack. Ray shuddered. "Well, I got 7 people who didn't want to talk, and I don't blame them, it was one in the morning. But there were also four people who just didn't  talk. I accessed a bunch of files, and it turns out that these black Sunfires are pretty popular among the bad-boys of Chicago. I've got sixteen files for Sunfire owners. And as for the RR decal, well, there's a Robert Rankin in the bad-boy list."

 Ray nodded, somewhat impressed. "So, you think this could be the guy?"

 Claudia shrugged, her shoulders snapping again. "I don't know. I guess it's possible, but all he had was misdemeanors. Shop-lifting, assault. Nothing really big scale. But, hey, Arthur Bishop was a pretty normal guy too."

 Ray let out a breath. "Any other RR stuff?"

 Claudia shook her head. "Not unless you count the President of the Robert Redford fan club. He drives one too."

 "His crimes?" Ray asked.

 "Umm, assault at a Redford convention. There was a dispute to which movie was his best."

 Ray smiled. "I think we'll count him out."  Ray nodded in the direction of Claudia's glasses sitting on the desk. "You need sleep, pal." Claudia only wore her glasses when her eyes got tired, because of her adept eyes.
 Claudia nodded. "Yeah. I'm crashing in the holding cell." She got up, and shuffled down the hall to the tank.

 A moment later, E.J. and Fraser entered. "Did we get any leads?" Fraser asked.

 Ray nodded. "Yup. A Mr. Rankin. Not Guy Rankin. Robert Rankin. We assume it was him with the decal and all. Claudia also wrote beside his name "Jumpy", so I'm assuming he was like that on the phone.

Fraser nodded and smiled down at E.J. "I think we're one step closer to getting the killer."

 E.J. didn't smile. "Good."
Part Ten
Fraser! Shut UP!

"Good day, sunshine," E.J. whispered, poking at her friend's back. Claudia's face was buried in her pillow, and she made a loud snorting noise upon being nudged. She murmured something, and returned to unconsciousness.

 "Hey," E.J. said quietly, pushing her again. Claudia didn't stir.

 "Wake up, dammit!" E.J. cried impatiently, bouncing on the cot. Claudia snapped to attention and quickly sat upright and wide-eyed.

 "Huh? What!?" Claudia said with the full-attention of one who had just had a pencil violently lodged in her nose. Her breathing slowly returned to a normal rate as the realization of her surroundings sunk in.

 "Fraser asked me to wake you up," E.J. said, still bouncing beside her on the cot. Claudia rubbed her eyes.

 "What time is it?" she asked, trying to squint at E.J.'s watch.

 "Six," E.J. replied.

 "I've been asleep for twelve hours?!" Claudia cried, setting her feet on the floor. "Why didn't anybody wake me up?" E.J. stared at her blankly.

 "I just did, you moron. Now come on, I'll buy you dinner." Claudia nodded as she smoothed the wrinkles out of her shirt.

 "Where are Ben and Ray?" she asked as she put her sneakers back on her feet.

 "They decided to pay Mr. Rankin a little visit. I'm not sure when they'll be back – Franny found three more suspects while you were asleep. They said they would also interrogate the people in the restaurant where my aunt died. For all I know, they're coming back next week."

 "You're really treating me to dinner?" Claudia asked politely. E.J. nodded, and silently thanked Fraser for the twenty dollars he had given her to pay for dinner.

 "Yeah. On me," she said with a sly smile.

*  *  *

 "Nothing," Ray muttered as he hit his palm fiercely against the steering wheel. "Not a damn thing! How many guys does this leave us?" Fraser set his Stetson on the dashboard.


 "And what have we found out so far?!"

 "Well, we know that our killer is probably mentally unstable, prejudiced, and liable to strike at any moment. We also know that he owns, or may have stolen, a black Pontiac Sunfire with a decal reading RR on the side. Now, given the approximate times of-"
 "Fraser! Listen to me. We have nothing," Ray snapped, annoyed.

 "On the contrary, Ray. With a little intuition, persistence, and maybe luck, I'm guessing we can find our man by-"

 "Fraser! Shut up!"

 "Understood." Fraser stole a quick glance at Ray, opened his mouth to say something, and closed it again.

 "But Ray-" Fraser began, but was interrupted as Ray held one finger in the air and turned to face out the window away from him.

 "Although-" Ray shook his finger in the air.

 "Don't talk to me right now. I'm too damn frustrated to talk," Ray said sulkily.

 "However, Ray, you're-"

 "Fraser, shut up." Fraser let out a small sigh and stared down into his lap. He quickly started to speak before his friend could interrupt again.

 "I think you're overlooking the obvious," he said hurriedly. Ray squeezed his eyes into a harsh glare at Fraser.

 "And that would be?"

 "The restaurant where Caroline was killed. It's the only place we know for sure that we have a connection to our man," Fraser replied.

 "So? You think a triple-murder convict is going to stay in the same place where he was actually found committing the crime? Wrong, Fraser! Dead wrong!" Fraser looked disappointedly at him.

 "All right, then. If you think," he replied. Ray rubbed at his sore eyes and covered his face with his hands. For a moment, there was only silence that filled the car.

 "We should just get home, then. Make sure the girls are safe and sound," Ray began, more calmly this time. Fraser agreed. As Ray put the keys in the ignition and brought the cold car to life, more silence followed.

 "But it's not as if we've run out of suspects. We still have-"

 "Shut up, Fraser."


*  *  *

 It was about 12:00 when Fraser opened the door to his apartment and tried to silently shuffle in without waking the girls. He put his coat away and went to the kitchen. The sight he saw surprised him, though.

 "What on earth are you two still doing up?"

 Claudia sat at the kitchen table with her arms crossed, looking perturbed. E.J. sat behind her cross-legged on the kitchen counter, playing cards with herself on the stovetop. Both of them eyed him warily.

 "We wanted to ask you the same question," Claudia asked, irked. "Do you know it's after midnight? Don't you know how much we worry?"

 "Claudia, for god sakes, I'm an adult. I shouldn't have to tell you what time I'll be returning to my own home," he said, his face almost breaking into a smile.

 "Here I am, losing my hair because I don't know where you are! You could have been shot, or kidnapped, and you didn't even call!" Claudia told him. E.J. scratched her neck wearily, her eyes already beginning to droop.

 "She made me stay up. I told her you were fine, she wouldn't listen to me," E.J. said as she hopped down from the counter. "Glad you're home. I'm going to bed."

 "Goodnight," Claudia and Fraser said at the same time.

 "You weren't really worried about me, were you?" Fraser asked his Goddaughter as he joined her at the table. In the other room, E.J. plopped down onto the couch and muttered to herself, "I need a real bed."

 "Of course I was," Claudia said, as E.J.'s sly smile slid over her own face. "So what'd you find?"

 "Well, Rankin was no help. You were right though, he's very jumpy. He nearly wouldn't talk to us at all. He had no decal, and no new tires on his Sunfire, either. According to him, he's owned it for just under a year." Claudia scowled.

 "Well that's what you didn't find. What did you find?"

"Well, we know the restaurant cashier is our man. Hopefully we can find out where he is when we go back there later this week," Fraser replied.

 "Can I come?" Claudia asked.

 "If you want," he replied. "Now if you don't mind, I think I'll go to bed as well. I suggest you do the same."

 "I don't think I can. That twelve hour nap really threw off my sleep schedule," Claudia said. "Hey Ben," she started quietly as she looked behind her to make sure E.J. was sleeping, "Can I ask you something?" Fraser raised his eyebrows.

 "Of course you can."

 "Well, it's about E.J.," she said, and glanced behind her once more. "What's going to happen to her?" Fraser's face gained an unsmiling seriousness.

 "You mean after the case is solved?"

 "Yeah," Claudia said. "Is she, um, going to stay with us?" Fraser did not look at Claudia, and instead fixed his eyes uncomfortably on the floor.

 "I don't think so, Claudia," he said slowly. Claudia focused on the same spot he was fixed upon. "I'm afraid she'll be going to a foster home."

 "Isn't there any way she could stay?" Claudia protested, her eyes softening.

 "She can't, Claudia. I'm not her legal guardian," Fraser said as he met her gaze. "I'm sorry."

 The two didn't speak. Finally Fraser moved away to his own room and left Claudia sitting alone at the kitchen table.

 Behind her, E.J. squeezed her eyes shut tighter and pulled her blanket up to her chin. There was something small inside her that wanted to cry, but she swallowed sharply and did not allow it to remain. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Part Eleven
 This Is It

 She couldn't be seen from where she lay, but E.J. knew that she was not the lively person she had been the week before. Her aunt was now still, and E.J. stood silently, respectfully. The other people attending the funeral kept their polite distance from the lone girl as she paid her final respects.
 The casket was closed. Ray, Claudia, Fraser, and Diefenbaker stayed toward the back of the room, each of them occasionally stealing glances at her. E.J. seemed to remain emotionless and blank, as she clasped her hands together and lowered her brow. She could not feel her own pulse, and would not allow herself to feel the sadness that should have been brewing deep within her. Her entire body seemed completely placid. Finally, she broke her silence very, very quietly.

 "Caroline…" she whispered. "I- I know I never treated you the way I probably should have, and maybe we didn't get along so great. I know I was a handful. I want to apologize for that." She closed her eyes. "I know it's too late to say it, but I have to say it anyway. I never told you how grateful I was for what you did for me.
 "If it hadn't been for you, I'd be another broken drug addict. Just another sad statistic - You didn't let that happen to me. You helped me at a time when I thought no one would ever help me again.
 "I'm sorry I never thanked you. I'm sorry I never acted the way I should have… I'm sorry for all the trouble I caused you, and I'm sorry I couldn't have been there to say goodbye. I hope you're someplace wonderful right now."

 E.J. felt her eyes begin to water, but she blinked it back. She cleared her throat to try and rid herself of the harsh lump that was slowly rising in it. She opened her eyes again.

 "Goodbye," she whispered. She turned around and did not look back.

 E.J. was met with sympathetic eyes as she returned to her seat between Claudia and Ray. Claudia tried to give her a compassionate look, but E.J. turned her head away. She saw that Fraser appeared very distant from the rest of them. E.J. took a deep breath and let it out languidly.

 "Hey, kid," Ray spoke to her. "You all right?" E.J. nodded. Ray shifted awkwardly, wishing he could think of something more comforting to say than just that. At a loss, he took E.J.'s hand in his. She tried to smile at him, but couldn't seem to fully shake the lifelessness out of her expression.

 "I guess this is it, Fraser?" E.J. asked him.

 "I guess it is."

 Fraser and five other men, three of whom E.J. recognized, congregated around the casket. They each took a handle and lifted it onto their shoulders. The rest of the attending party followed the pallbearers as they made their way outside of the building and into the cemetery. As they slowly walked along, E.J. did not let go of Ray's hand.
*  *  *

 The priest's words gave no comfort to E.J. as the casket was lowered into the ground. E.J. kept her eyes on the casket, even as it disappeared into the dark void. Claudia stood beside her, and E.J. could see the tears glistening on her lower lashes.
  "Why is she crying?"  E.J. wondered. "She didn't even know my aunt."  It soon dawned on E.J. that perhaps the tears weren't being shed for Caroline in particular. After all, Claudia had lost enough family members, and being at another funeral was probably just as bad as being at the first one she attended.
 "I wish I could do that too," thought E.J., knowing that she would never be caught dead crying in front of a bunch of people. She looked over at Claudia again, and this time Claudia caught her glance, and looked back at E.J. She quickly lowered her head. E.J. took her time looking from person to person. Half of these people E.J. had never seen in her life. He glance soon fell upon Fraser, who's red serge stood out amidst the sea of black. She couldn't see much of his face for his Stetson, he just stood there as if on sentry duty. E.J. then looked to Ray, who was obviously uncomfortable. He narrowed his eyes, avoiding the glare of the sun, and looked down at his feet.

 Almost as soon as it began, the service was over, and a number of women threw pale yellow carnations onto the casket. E.J. turned, and walked towards Ray's car. She noticed Claudia going in the other direction.

 "Where's she going?" E.J. asked Fraser.

 "To visit Lucas." He replied, watching her stoop in front of the polished marble grave, some hundred yards away.

 "Who's Lucas?" E.J. questioned, also watching Claudia.

 "Her boyfriend, I suppose. He died a month ago. Claudia doesn't talk about it much. I guess she wants to forget."

 E.J. raised her eyebrows. She waited for Claudia to finish whatever she was doing. Claudia soon began walking towards Ray's car. Her mascara had left dark smudges under hey eyes. E.J. looked at her. "Are you O.K?" she asked.

 Claudia nodded. "Sure." She wiped the mascara-y water from under her eyes, and climbed into the backseat of the GTO. E.J. climbed in after her, and took Claudia's hand. They both needed it.
Part Twelve
 You Take the High Road, I'll Take the Low Road

 "So, how are your pancakes?" Claudia asked E.J., who was sitting across from her in a small booth.

 E.J. chewed thoughtfully for a moment. "Light, fluffy, and just like my Granny used to make." The girls laughed.

 Ray looked back at the girls, and tapped impatiently on the counter top. He glanced at his watch. "It can't take 15 minutes to find the manager of this place," he muttered. "I've seen phonebooths bigger than this."
 "Ray, the size of the restaurant gives it atmosphere. The food is what matters."

 Ray shook his head. "I've seen better atmosphere in my turtle bowl." He sighed, and yelled out, "Hey! I'd like to see the manager?!"

 A old man, in his early 60's emerged from the double doors behind the counter. "I guess that's me, then. What can I do for you boys?"

 Ray opened his jacket, and allowed for his badge and shoulder holster to be seen. "Detective Ray Vecchio, Chicago PD. I'd like to ask you a few questions about one of your employees."

 The man nodded. "Which one?"
 Ray was about to say, but then he realized he had no idea who the man was. "Umm, well, I don't know his name. But I'm sure you must know who we're looking for. He shot a woman a few days ago." Ray lowered his voice so that E.J. couldn't hear him. Fraser excused himself to go check on Dief.

 The man ran a hand through his thinning grey hair. He sighed. "Bartos." He said simply. "He's my neighbor's boy. I usually have him working in the kitchen, Bart doesn't like working the cash, he's very introverted. I had too many hands in the back, and not enough in the front, so I just stuck him up here. I had no idea what would happen."

 Ray nodded, and jotted something down on his notepad. He clicked his pen absently. "Did he ever mention anything about Germans, or anything?" The man laughed.

 "Germans?" he laughed again. "Why? Is Bartos part of a gang?"
 Ray raised his eyebrows. "No, but I suppose it's possible." He studied his notes, but his train of thought was broken by the bell above the door clanging. Fraser walked in, and Dief looked inside the restaurant sadly. Fraser looked disapprovingly at his canine friend.

 "Oh, for Pete's sake." He mumbled. "I explained to you why you can't come in. This is a restaurant, pets aren't allowed in, health reasons." The manager looked at the Mountie quizzically.

 "Wouldn't it be better if you opened the door to speak to your dog?"

 "No," Fraser explained. "You see, he's deaf, and he reads lips, so it really doesn't make a difference." The manager didn't look convinced. "So Ray, what have we found out?"
 "Not much." Ray replied. "So, this Bart guy, he didn't talk much to the customers?"

 "No, he was a pretty quiet guy. He'd only talk to his little clique, about four of them would come in on Friday evenings. They all sit over in that booth, where those two girls are sitting." The man pointed to Claudia and E.J. "Anyway, they'd speak really low, and never in English. Always native tongue."

 "And what language would that be?" Ray asked.

 The man laughed again. "Polish of course!" he smiled. "What language would that be...!" The man wiped a tear from the corner of his eye, still chuckling.

 Ray laughed, hiding his embarrassment. "Yeah, so this Bart guy, what kind of car did he drive?"

 The manager shrugged. "I'm not sure. But it was black."

 "Did it have a red decal on it?" Ray questioned.

 The manager shrugged again. "I don't know. I don't think so."
 Ray nodded. "Do you have any idea where he may be now? Any places he mentioned, bars, anything?" Again, the manager could only shrug. Ray scratched the back of his neck, and thanked the man. "If you can think of anything that may help, here's my card." Ray handed the man a white card, and then he and Fraser sat with the girls in the booth.

 "So, what did you find out?" Claudia asked, as Ray snatched a homefry off her plate.

 Ray sighed. "Not much. However, we are sitting in the sacred booth of Bartos." He took a sip of E.J.'s orange juice. She shot a look at him.

 Claudia pulled the list of names out of her jeans pocket. She scanned down the list. She smiled. "Bingo." She said, sliding the list across the table to Fraser. "Right there. Bartos Matecjick."

 Fraser looked at it. "No fixed address, ergo, no telephone number. The registered license is Albert Albert Romeo, 7513."

 Ray slapped the table. "Woo-hoo! We've gotta lead! Claudia, run back to the station, and run that!"

 Claudia laughed. "Call Francesca. She's back now."

 Ray quickly dialed the station. Franny picked up. "Hey! Sis, run me a plate! Yeah, O.K., I'm glad you're back. Yes, that's wonderful. Look, you can tell me about your shoes later. It's Albert Albert Romeo, 7513." Ray drummed his fingers on the table impatiently. "Bartos? All right! O.K, what are his priors? O.K., O.K., great. Talk to you later. Bye." Ray smiled. "We've got our guy. E.J., that decal you saw on his car stands for 'Rybnik Revolution', Bartos' gang. He's the leader, believe it or not. Now, this German thing, it is a hate crime. Turns out the gang's gotta thing against them, because of that Concentration camp thingie a bunch of years ago."

 Fraser furrowed his brow. "But why start it now?"

 Ray and the girls shrugged in unison. Claudia cupped her head in her hand, and accidentally knocked her fork off the table, and it slid down the space between the seat and the wall. She nudged Ray to get him to stand up, and he obliged. She lifted up the cushion on the seat.

 "Wow..." she said.

 "What?" said Fraser.

 "Take a look at this!" she exclaimed. She was pointing to a bunch of numbers carved into the wooden base of the seat. "Zero, three, one, six, two, three, nine and eight. What's that supposed to mean?" Ray quickly wrote the numbers down.

 The group was silent. The check was placed on the table, and since he was thinking so hard, Ray didn't notice and grabbed it this time. The bell above the door rang, but no one seemed to notice. Ray got up to pay the bill, and Fraser excused himself to go and speak to the manger again, regarding the numbers. E.J. poked at the last piece of pancake sitting on her plate.

 "So, tell me about Lucas," she said.

 "Fraser told you?" asked Claudia, deducing that he must have told her his name. E.J. nodded.

 "You don't strike me as the type to have a beau. No offense."

 "None taken." Claudia began telling E.J. about how they met, when she was cut off by a loud bang. E.J. and Claudia both knew that sound: A gunshot. They ducked under the table.

 "Get out!" screamed a young man, in his mid-thirties, poking the gun at the girls. They slowly got out from under the table. He grabbed them both, and headed for the door.

 "Ummm,  Ben?" yelled Claudia, remaining strangely calm under the circumstances.

 Ray was already posed, his gun drawn. "Look, put the gun down, and we'll sort this out, in a calm, rational way."
 Fraser then tried reasoning with the man. Unfortunately, he was beyond reasoning. He backed out the door, Claudia in one arm, E.J. being held in the other.

 "The Germans don't deserve to live!" he cried.

 "I'm not German, you ape!" screamed E.J.

 Ray debated it for a moment, relied on a whim, and took a shot, wounding the man in the arm holding E.J. Surprised and in pain, he released his hold on the girls, and they ran behind Ray.

 "Nice shooting," commented E.J.

 Ray pulled his cuffs out from his holster, and walked towards the injured man. To everyone's surprise, he got up, and started running down the sidewalk.

 Ray and E.J. tore after him and Fraser and Claudia took the optional route, onto the roof.

 Ray and E.J. ran down the busy Chicago street, in pursuit of Bartos. As Ray jumped over a fallen trash can, a store door opened, and caught him in the eye. He let out a yelp of pain. E.J. slowed down, and approached Ray.

 "Are you O.K.?" she asked.

 Ray took his hand off his right eye. He had a deep cut beginning where his eyebrow ended, and a shiner was beginning to form around his eye. He wiped the blood away. "That smarts," he quipped, wincing. "Stitches?" he asked E.J., leaning forward, and inviting her to look at the cut.
 "Without a doubt."

 Fraser and Claudia clambered down the fire escape on the side of building. Ray looked at the two with his good eye.

 "You're telling me you leapt from roof-top to roof-top, the both of you?"

 Fraser nodded. "Yes. There was a particularly hard jump, I'm surprised I made it." He patted Claudia on the shoulder. "Very good."

 She smiled. "Thank you."

 E.J. and Ray looked at each other.

*  *  *

 "Hello, Mr. Vecchio… My name is Dr. Ericson," she said, glancing at her clipboard. "Goodness, what happened to you?" the young medical intern asked Ray with surprising compassion. Ray's immediately stopped slouching and wiped the frown away from his mouth as the young redhead examined his forehead. He smiled coolly at her.

 "I was injured on duty," he said courageously. "Ah, but that's what happens when you're a cop, I guess. You take risks. This happened when I was in pursuit of a gang leader." Claudia and E.J. hid their smiles as the intern turned away from Ray and rolled her eyes.

 "Did you catch the guy?" she asked, playing along. Ray shook his head.

 "Nah. He got one over on me, swung at me with a 2 by 4." Claudia snickered at him.

 "Oh, he did not, you sissy. You were nowhere near him and you know it," E.J. said, laughing. Ray looked hurt that the girl had betrayed him. "He ran into a door," she told the intern. Dr. Ericson tried her best not to laugh.

 "Well, not exactly. I'd say the door ran into me, really. Damn thing came out of nowhere, jumped up and hit me in the face," Ray said, trying to keep his cool stance.

 "Right…" she said. "Well, let's just get you taken care of, shall we?"
Part Thirteen
 Popping the Question


 "Ow! Quit it!"

 "That was much better. Now, this time, you want to keep your index finger perfectly straight, and make sure your target is lined up evenly with your knuckle, instead of your fingernail."



 "Perfect!" E.J. cried. "You're a natural!"

 "Fraser! They're shooting rubber bands at me again!" Ray protested as loudly as he could. Fraser poked his head out of the kitchen.

 "Girls, are you shooting rubber bands at Ray?" Claudia looked away guiltily. E.J. nodded proudly and grinned.


 "Well, don't hit either of his eyes. He still needs the one good one." He returned to the kitchen.



 "Okay, okay, sorry…" E.J. laughed. "Another time, my dear, another time," she said, picking up the plastic bag of rubber bands that lay between herself and Claudia on the floor.

 "Thanks, that was very enjoyable. Quite satisfying," Claudia said as she helped herself to her feet. Ray grumbled something barely audible as he went into a sulk.

 "Thank my Uncle Jack," E.J. said. "I'll be back." She found her jacket near the door of Fraser's apartment and pulled it on. She walked back across the apartment, pulled open a window, and climbed out onto the fire escape. She received three confused looks, but was left alone.

 It was too late in the morning to watch the sun rise, but she enjoyed the feeling of fresh air on her face anyway. E.J. sat with her back to the wall of the building, reached into her jacket pocket, and pulled out one of her cigarettes. She held it between her lips, flicked on her lighter, and lit it.
 She hated the taste of cigarettes. They were revolting to her, but she sucked in the thick smoke nevertheless. E.J. seemed to soak in the newly-acquired solitude that she had been so well-accustomed to so recently before. The feeling did not last long, however, because her deep thought was interrupted by the sound of the window squeaking open again. Ray climbed out, shut it behind him, and sat down beside her.

 "Hi," she murmured, without looking into his face.

 "Hey," he replied. "What are you doing?" E.J. raised her eyebrows.

 "I'm hunting a llama. What do you think I'm doing?" she retorted. Ray didn't laugh.

 "Don't you know those things can kill you?" he asked her, nodding disapprovingly towards the cigarette she held between her fingers. She seemed careless.

 "Well they haven't yet, so I must be doing something right," she said with a smile.

 "Let me ask you something," he said as he pulled one arm around his knee. He used his other hand to rub at his sore black eye.


 "Do you- do you have any living family members?" Ray asked. E.J. looked thoughtful, and she squinted away from the sun. She did not speak for a minute, as she tried to rack her brain.

 "No…" she said slowly. "I don't think I do. My mom died when I was little, and my dad died when I was eight. You already know about my aunt and uncle. No cousins, and no siblings. Not that I know of, at least. And no grandparents, either. So, no, I suppose I don't. Why do you ask? Trying to depress me?" Despite the seriousness of her dialogue, her face still held a vague smile.

 "Well, right now we're in the middle of trying to work out some new living arrangements for you," Ray answered. E.J.'s heart sank; inside, she was still childishly hoping that if no one mentioned this touchy subject, she might be able to prolong the consequences a little bit longer. She was unable to hide the disappointment in her voice.

 "Oh," was all she whispered back.

 "Look, E.J…" Ray began. He stopped himself, because he wasn't exactly sure which words wouldn't sting the girl. "I know… I know this is pretty rough stuff for you." Again, he was not sure how to finish his comment. He backed away. "Well, what do you think?"

 E.J. shook her head and laughed. "What do I think?"

 "Yeah, I want to know what you think."

 "I think this whole situation sucks. I think I don't know what I'm doing, and I don't know how to fix any of this whole ordeal. I think I'm confused, and I'm really starting to miss isolation," she said bitterly.

 "Do you want me to leave?" Ray asked her.

 "No," she replied. There was an awkward moment of silence between the two of them. "Ray, can I ask you something? Something personal, I mean."

 "Yeah, sure."

 "Well, you wanted kids, didn't you? I mean, didn't you and Stella…" E.J. looked a little embarrassed. She looked into his eyes and saw the slight anxiety building behind them.

 "Yeah, sort of. I wanted kids, but she didn't want them. She said we wouldn't have time to take care of kids," Ray replied. He looked a little wistful. When he looked back at her, he hoped she wasn't getting at what he thought she was.

 "Well, you and me, we get along pretty well, right?" she asked again.

 "Yeah, we do," he said slowly. He remained silent in hopes that she wouldn't ask the next question.

 "Ray," she said. "Why don't you…" E.J. had trouble making the candid words come out of her mouth. "Why don't you adopt me?"

 Darn it, there was that question. The question he hoped she wouldn't ask. He shook his head nervously and stared out into the gray city street below. E.J. flicked the ashes off the end of her nasty smoke and stared down at it hopelessly.

 "E.J., I'm sorry," he started. That answer pretty much told it all for E.J. "The thing is, I want to, you know? But I can't."
 "Please don't ask why," he thought to himself. The atmosphere was far too uncomfortable for the both of them as they sat beside one another on the grated fire escape.
 "As soon as we found out Caroline died, that was the first thing I thought. I thought, 'What's going to happen to E.J.?' But I just can't make that kind of commitment. I'm just too big of a doof to try and take care of someone besides myself."

 E.J. laughed a little. "Yeah," she lied, "I understand. Don't worry, I understand."

 The tension that floated in the air seemed to wane down. E.J. placed the butt of her cigarette under her sneaker and extinguished it. She flicked the dead smoke onto the cold street below and watched it fall.
Part Fourteen
You Stab 'em, We Slab 'em

 "Where are you two going?" Claudia asked, seemingly offended. Ray pulled his other arm through the sleeve of his jacket and Fraser put on his Stetson of Invulnerability. This was a sure sign of action. E.J. looked up from the notebook she was scrawling in.

 "Out," was Ray's brief reply.

 "Well where, out?" E.J. urged on.

 "We're going hunting for…" Ray lowered his voice dramatically. "Bartos."  Claudia looked hurt.

 "Well, can we come?" Claudia inquired. Fraser shook his head.

 "Sorry. You two have to stay here this time." E.J. stuck her lower lip out and gave a loud sniffle.

 "Why?" E.J. suddenly sat up straight, as if something shocking had just occurred to her. She glared at the men accusingly. "You two are seeing other kids, aren't you? That's where you're going, isn't it?! To meet the girls that are replacing us? Is that it?!?"

 They laughed at her. "No," Ray replied. "We really are going to look for…" his voice dropped again and he whispered harshly, "Bartos."

 "Well why can't we come?" Claudia pleaded.

 "I got a buddy who lives around the Polish neighborhood downtown. We're going to visit him, see if he can tell us anything about the RR," Ray told them. They stared at him blankly, confused. Claudia repeated herself, more forcefully this time.

 "Well, why can't we come?" Ray rolled his eyes.

 "We just don't want you two getting hurt, that's all. This…" again, he lowered his voice, "Bartos is pretty wild. If memory serves me correctly, he's probably thinking you two are German sisters. You should just stay here to be on the safe side, alright?"

 Claudia and E.J. each let out a melodramatic sigh. "Yeah, ok…" E.J. muttered sadly. "It's ok. We know when we're not wanted…" She stood up slowly, shoulders hunched over, and hung her head desolately. "Come on Claudia… maybe Dr. Mort will want us." Claudia played along, and she too got up, hung her head pitifully, and walked away with E.J.

 "Sheesh," Ray breathed. "Those two are getting more sarcastic by the day."

*  *  *

 "You're sure this is where your friend lives, Ray?"

 "Sure I'm sure," Ray said uncertainly, looking up at the shabby brick apartment building before him. "Of course, I haven't talked to him in awhile or anything…"

 Fraser held the door open for Ray and the two entered the building. "Of course, I haven't seen him since high school, now…"

 They climbed three flights of steps and the cold wind wafted around them on the second story. "And, you know, he might not remember me all that well…"

 They stopped when they reached apartment 32 D. Fraser knocked on the door, then politely stepped back. The door opened part way, restricted by the chain lock on it. A stocky, black-haired man peered at them from behind it.

 "Yeah?" he asked cautiously.

 "Hello, Mr. Verbinski. My name is Benton Fraser, and this is Ray Vecchio. I believe you spoke on the phone with him?" The man closed the door, set the chain loose, and opened it for the officers.

 "Yeah. Come in."

 Fraser and Ray entered slowly, stepping around carefully. The man gestured to a couch, and they maneuvered around piles of dirty laundry, empty bags of old take-out food, and various books strewn about the floor. The two sat down across from Mr. Verbinski.

 "So what can I do for you men?"

 "What do you know about the RR?" Ray questioned.

 "You mean the Rybnik Revolution?" the man replied. He leaned over the coffee table, as if afraid the windows would hear him speaking.

 "Yeah, the Rybnik Revolution," Ray repeated. "How much do you know about it?" The man seemed hesitant.

 "Everybody around here knows about the Revolution. They're dangerous," he began.

 "Dangerous how?" Fraser asked him, lowering his eyebrows curiously.

 "They're crazy," the man stated, as if these two words would clarify everything. The officers looked at him expectantly to elaborate. Verbinski sighed. "Their leader, Bartos. He's always got blood in his eye… because of all those things they did to his father in the Concentration camps… he's been carrying that grudge since the day he was born."

 "When you say 'crazy', what exactly do you mean by that?" Fraser queried. The man looked spiteful.

 "I mean, they don't have any feelings. They wouldn't think twice about taking out a baby, if they got it in their heads it was a German. Crazy bunch," the man repeated.

 "Can you tell us where they might be now? Bartos, or any of them?" Ray asked. The man leaned further over the coffee table and squinted slowly at the Mountie, then at Ray. He gestured for them to do the same, so both officers hunched over the small table anticipatingly.

 "And this is just between us, right?" Verbinski asked.

 "Right," Ray said. "Just between us." The man nodded thoughtfully.

 "Ok." His voice dropped to just above a whisper. "The Revolution has a safe house six blocks from here," he told them. "Do you know where the old Bodnar building was?" Ray nodded. Fraser didn't know, but he listened observantly anyway. "It's all boarded up now. But I hear – and this is just a rumor, mind you – that they get in through some hidden entrance in the back. But that's just what I hear, understand?"

 Ray and Fraser nodded in unison, and stood up.

 "Thanks, man," Ray said, heading out the door after Fraser. Verbinski put a hand on Ray's shoulder, and rubbed his index and middle finger against his thumb. Ray sighed. "All I got is a twenty."

 "Good enough for me," replied Verbinski, grinning maliciously.
 Ray heaved another sigh, and handed the man a twenty dollar bill. Verbinski nodded, and Ray just sucked his teeth at the loss.
*  *  *

 E.J. tapped a jar containing an unknown organ. She made a face, and turned to see what Claudia was doing. E.J. gasped.

 "Claudia!" she yelped. Claudia and Dr. Mort looked up from the body they were dissecting. "What are you doing!?"

 Claudia narrowed her eyes, and scrutinized the body on the table in front of her. "Well, you see E.J., this man was found dead in his bed this morning. Now, the coroner, when checking his eyes, found these little blood splotches in them, which indicates head trauma. We think it could be homicide." Claudia resented how official she sounded, but went back to poking in the man's eyes.

 E.J. let out a breath. "That's disgusting."

 Mort smiled, and looked up at the girl. "Wait until we saw the top of his head off."

 E.J.'s eyes grew wide. "You're, you're not actually gonna do that, are you?"

 Claudia nodded, cleaning the tweezers. "It's possible he died of an aneurysm, and not by a whack to the head. We'll have to check his brain for that."

 E.J. shook her head in disgust and disapproval. "You know, most normal kids your age are shopping, or, taking in a movie. Not poking around in dead peoples brains."

 Claudia grinned. "Well, I'm just not that normal." She made a face like that of a mad scientist, and laughed. She was snapped back into her regular self when the phone rang. E.J. grabbed it.

 "Hello, District 27 morgue, you stab 'em, we slab 'em!" She was silent for a moment, listening to the caller. "Hold on, let me check." She called to Dr. Gustafson who was searching for the saw. "Hey, Mort, can we squeeze another dearly departed in today? Ray wants to know."

 Mort looked around the morgue. "O.K.," he said. "But tell him no more people can die today, full house." Mort wagged his finger around, indicating all the bodies.

 E.J. nodded, somewhat disturbed by this man, and relayed the information on to Ray. When she hung up, Claudia asked her:

 "What'd Ray say?"

 E.J. raised her eyebrows. "Well, he and Fraser went to check out a safe house, and when they got there, Fraser saw that they had a hostage. When Ray tried to save the guy, they shot him. The man, I mean, not Ray."

 "Did they catch the guy? The guy who thinks we're German sisters?"

 "Nope. But they did catch one of his lackeys. Do you think we can watch them interrogate him?" Claudia shrugged.

 "I don't know. Once they had me take notes, but Ben's afraid that the violence isn't good for me."

 "Violence?" E.J. asked.

 "Yeah, Ray's got something of a temper, especially if he's having a bad day,  or someone he knows was hurt."
 "Like Caroline," pointed out E.J.

 "Exactly," said Claudia. "But if we are allowed in, then we'll get one hell of a show. Ben and Ray do this bad cop-good cop thing. It's pretty interesting."

  A few minutes later,  Fraser and Ray pushed through the doors to the morgue.

 "Hey Ben, Ray."

 Ray nodded in acknowledgment, and Fraser asked the whereabouts of Mort.

 E.J. scrunched up her face. "He's looking for a saw." Fraser looked down at the body laying on the table.

 "Head trauma?" he asked after looking in the man's eyes.

 "We're not sure," said Claudia, pulling her rubber gloves off. "Mort's gonna saw his skull off so we can check. You know, E.J. you should stay and watch. It's very interesting."

 E.J. smiled at Claudia's idea. "You know, that does sound quite....fascinating. I think I will." Ray's eyes widened, and he shook his head.

 "No!" he cried. "I'm not gonna let another perfectly normal kid be mutated into a brain-poker. Come upstairs, you can watch us interrogate the guy. Much healthier." The girls smiled at each other.

 "Aww...I guess," said E.J., faking disappointment. "I guess we'll have to do this some other time, Mort." Claudia hung her head.

 "Yeah, O.K. What room are you guys in?"

 "Body in the wall room." Replied Ray, who disappeared into the scrub room in search of Fraser. "I'll see you guys up there."

 E.J. raised her eyebrows in a devising way. "So, you think he'll actually kick the guy?" she asked Claudia, as they exited the morgue. "And, what's with the body?"
Part Fifteen
 Hit him! Hit him!

 Ray shut the door behind him, and he sat facing the culprit. Fraser stood behind him, in case a need to restrain Ray was in order. E.J. and Claudia we're watching from the other side of the one-way mirror.

 Ray leaned his hands on the table "O.K., Look, Tomak, I've got a very busy schedule today, and I'd like to get the scummy portion of it out of the way. So, if you'd kindly gimme me the whereabouts of our friend Bartos, you'll be much happier."

 "Why would I be happy?"

 "Because you'd still be retaining most of your bodily fluids. Now, the place?"

 Tomak looked Ray straight in the eye. "I don't know. Bartos doesn't tell us where he goes."

 "If someone's gotta reach him, how do they do it?" Ray asked. "This gang he runs seems to be pretty well organized, seeing that they've pulled off 4 murders without any difficulty. So...if you could fork over the name of the place...."

 "Do you know the Piast?" the Tomek asked.

 "No," said Ray simply, getting up, and pacing around the room.

 Tomek shrugged. "Tough luck." Ray grabbed Tomek by the back of his head, and hit it against the table, holding it there.

 "Ooh, I don't think so. It looks like you're the one experiencing that, wouldn't you say?"

 Tomek let out a little noise. On the other side of the mirror, the girls were watching intently.

 "Will he hit him?" asked E.J., not taking her eyes off the action inside the room. Claudia shrugged.

 "Depends. If he pushes the right buttons he will." Inside the room, the animosity was building.

 "What do you mean, you don't know?!" Ray yelled. "You just gave me the name of the place! Do you want to get your head kicked in!?" Tomek didn't move. Ray let him put his head up. "That's it," Ray said. "I'm gonna punch you."

 "Hit him! Hit him!" E.J. chanted to herself from the other side of the mirror. Claudia shushed her and continued watching with full interest.

 "No you're not," Tomek sniffed.

 "Oh, I am." Ray replied, pulling up his shirtsleeves. "I'm gonna whack you back into Poland."

 "He's not gonna hit me," said Tomek to Fraser. "Is he?"

 "Well, given my experience in the subject,  he probably will hit you," said Fraser reasonably.

 "You're lying." Tomek said.

 "Ooh, Mounties never lie," Ray said, winding up. He let his fist come towards Tomek's face.

 "O.K! O.K.!" yelled Tomek. Ray's fist stopped half an inch from smacking into Tomek's face. He let out a shaky breath. "O.K. North end. About thirty minutes from the John Hancock Center. Old brick building. But, don't say anything about me telling you, or he'll kill me."

 Ray nodded, and stood up. "We're gonna keep you here for a bit, just in case that info you gave us was bad."

 Fraser took the man by the arm, and led him out of the room, taking him into the tank. He reappeared a few minutes later.

 "Well Ray , do you think we should take some back-up?" Fraser questioned. Ray looked dumbfounded.

 "Fraser, this gang land we're going to. Of course we'll need back-up. We'll take the Duck Boys." Ray and Fraser exited the room. "Umm... Frase? Can you do me a favor?"

 "Of course. What is it?"

 "If we run into any gang lingo, promise me you'll keep your mouth shut."
*  *  *

 Fraser, Ray, Dewey, and Huey approached the front doors, and were advanced upon by two gun-wielding gang members. Ray and Huey punched each once, and they were out on the ground. With his head, Dewey signaled to enter the building. They did so. Once they had entered, Ray drew his gun. Sitting around a wooden table were Bartos, and a number of thugs, speaking quickly in Polish.

 "On three," whispered Ray. His partners nodded. "One...two....three!"

 "What the..!" cried Bartos, cursing in Polish as Fraser grabbed him, and Ray cuffed him. Dewey and Huey were keeping the other gang members at bay with their guns.
 "Bartos...Mateyjickey...Materjick..Materwhats-its-it, whatever, you are under arrest for the murder of Caroline Ramis, Erik Schrank, and...a bunch of other people. Not to mention the attempted murder of E.J. Ramis, and Claudia Reid."

 "They deserved to die!" cried Bartos as he and his gang were being led to the waiting squad cars. "The Germans don't deserve to live after what they did to us!"

 "Tell it to the judge," said Ray.

 "I think he'll be going insanity," Dewey replied.

*  *  *

 "Did he actually confess to the murders?" Claudia asked after the Rybnik Revolution had been booked.

 "No, but seeing that he was screaming 'They deserved to die!', we assume that he's guilty," said Huey.

 "Where is he?" E.J. asked Fraser.

 "In interrogation room two," he replied. "Why?"

 "I want to see him. Like face to face. Or, I guess it'd be more like face to face on the other side of the glass."

 Fraser shrugged. "I suppose you could see him. You know where it is." E.J. nodded in thanks, and walked down the hall. Claudia joined her. E.J. stopped in front of the glass.

"That's the guy," said E.J. "He killed my aunt."

 "And he almost killed us, too," spoke up Claudia. They stood in silence for a moment.

 "When you saw your family's killer, what did you want to do to him?" Claudia shook her head.

 "I wanted him to go away and never come back," she said. "And I wanted to ask him 'Why would you kill my whole family, when you were only angry at my grandfather.' Unfortunately, I never got to ask him that stuff, because he was chunked into jail the second after they proved he was guilty. I didn't go to the court hearing. I watched it on tv. That way I could turn it off."

 E.J. nodded sympathetically. Claudia and her, despite their extreme differences, shared a common bond: they were alone, and the people they cared for most, always happened to leave. She was beginning to feel depressed, a feeling which she was getting unhealthily accustomed to. She tried to shake it off.
 "Let's go talk to Fraser," she said. "I want to ask him something."

 Claudia took one last glance at Bartos, and followed her friend down the hall

 "Hey Ben, did you ever figure out what the significance to those numbers were?" E.J. asked Fraser. He shook his head. Claudia sat down at her desk to close the program.

 "As a matter of fact, no. I didn't. They completely slipped my mind."

 Claudia wiped a smudge off her computer screen, and E.J. froze. "Hey...." she said.

 "What's up?" Claudia asked her friend.

 "What were those numbers again?" E.J. asked. Fraser rattled them off by memory.

 "Zero, three, one, six, two, three, nine, eight."

 "Today's date..." said E.J. "It's zero-three for March, two-one, for twenty first, and nine-eight, for the year nineteen ninety-eight. Do you think the numbers stand for the dates of all this stuff? Like, the killings start on the sixteenth, which they did, and were supposed to end on the twenty-third?"

 Fraser rubbed his jaw thoughtfully. "You know E.J., I think you may be right. But now the question is how did he think up these numbers?"

 The group sat in silence for a moment. "A phone number....a registration number...map coordinates..." Fraser thought out loud.

 "A registration number!" cried Ray. "Only, not really. Remember how Verbinski said that stuff about Bart's dad being in a concentration camp?" Fraser nodded. "Well, do you think it could be the tattoo on his arm? You know how they did it to all the prisoners?"

 Claudia nodded. "Wow...Ray actually unraveled something." He grinned, proud of himself. "Of course," she added, "Irresponsibility Man couldn't have done it without the help of his trusty sidekick, Sarcasm Girl."

 E.J. grinned.
Part Sixteen
 Death and Poetry

 "What's that?" Fraser cocked his head to try and look at the notebook that E.J. was mindlessly scrawling in. E.J. looked surprised to see that someone else was in the room. She shifted around on her place on top of Fraser's kitchen counter.

 "It's nothing," she said, sounding fatigued. She put her pen down on top of the stove. Fraser smiled.

 "You're very fond of that spot, aren't you?" he asked her. She nodded.

 "It's my favorite spot in this whole apartment," she replied, and Fraser laughed a little. He gestured toward the notebook.

 "Can I see?" E.J. shrugged her shoulders.

 "Yeah, sure, if you want." She handed him the notebook and rested her cheek upon her fist indifferently. Fraser leaned against the countertop beside her and examined her work. Carefully etched upon the white paper was a portrait of Diefenbaker, standing elegantly in what appeared to be a snowy forest. He recognized the wolf by the accurately drawn face, and nodded approvingly.

 "That's very good," Fraser said encouragingly. "Where did you learn to draw like that?" Again, E.J. shrugged.

 "When I was younger, I used to carry a notebook around with me in my backpack all the time. You remember that – in my traveling days," she said with a quiet chuckle. She was referring to the many times she had run away from home at a slightly younger age, and Fraser recalled it easily. "Sometimes I'd just find a corner to put myself in and just draw for awhile. It gave me something to do."

 "Got any more?" Fraser asked her intently. She nodded, and took the notebook away from him to turn to a different page.

 "These," she said, handing it back to him. Sketched onto the page in front of Fraser was a comical-looking picture of an old woman in a park bench, leaning forward to feed a small flock of pigeons. "That was a real lady," E.J. told him. "She got up and left before I could finish the picture, so that's why it's looks a tad distorted." Fraser turned the page. It had a poem scratched onto the light blue lines of the paper. He read it slowly:

Death and Poetry
What I felt was a lost romance
A smile broken, a fearless chance
The change it brought was quickly lost
No one remembered its lengthy cost
That left its prisoners there to die
They had one smile and said good-bye.
Now they can't see the pain behind
My eyes, still masked, still left to find.

Imprinted in bold, capital letters was the single name "RAMIS" in the lower right corner of the page, along with the words "Dec. 11, 1994".

 "That's quite impressive," Fraser told her, handing the notebook back to her. She nodded at him.

 "Thanks," she replied.

 "It's sad, though," he continued. E.J. didn't seem to even hear his comment, and hopped down from the countertop and on to the floor. She picked up her notebook and pen and shuffled past Fraser.

 "I'm going to bed," she told him. Fraser sighed. "See you." E.J. took her notebook and moved away without saying another word.
Part Seventeen

 She remembered when she was eight years old, she asked her uncle why her dad had gone away. This was before the police presumed Robert Ramis to be dead, and still considered him to be a missing person. Her uncle had sat E.J. in her lap, put her arms around her, and gave her a kiss on the head. He told her that he didn't have the answer. He said that only God had the answer.
 Now as she passively lay thinking on Fraser's couch, she recalled her uncle's words. E.J. Ramis didn't believe in God anymore; by the age of 11, she had lost faith in pretty much everything except herself. She mindlessly fingered the silver cross that dangled from the chain around her neck. She almost laughed a little as she recalled being Catholic. Yes, she was Catholic, wasn't she? Of course, it didn't matter anymore, did it? Her family was all dead, there was no one left to enforce it and no reason left to believe.
As much as she hated self-pity, she realized with a twinge of resentment that now she had even begun to lose faith in herself. The strong barrier that shielded her vulnerable self from the rest of the world was very slowly beginning to fall, and she couldn't seem to build it back up. That annoyed her; she disliked any kind of advantage people could obtain over her, especially when it came to hurting her emotionally. Physical pain was bearable, but emotional pain was not.

 "Why am I feeling so lonely?" she thought. The obvious answer was because there was no one around; Fraser and Ray were still at work, Claudia had gone with them. Just like every other day, they had politely invited her to tag along, but something was different today. This time she just shook her head no. She was not persuaded, and at last they gave in and let her alone. The apartment was empty, totally barren. It seemed very strange inside Fraser's apartment, with no people nor wolf to occupy it. She looked at her watch, and it told her that it was late afternoon. She was bored – there was nothing to do here, and there was some kind of tense urging that was driving her forward. It made her realize she needed to keep herself occupied, for fear of losing her mind. She sprang off the couch, quickly snatched her jacket, and escaped the lonely place.

 The sky was a hard gray. It seemed miserable, so E.J. looked up defiantly at it and was twice as miserable back. She had a talent for walking extreme distances; sometimes her mind would keep her so busy thinking that she would not realize she had walked many miles. She realized how close she was to her old home, the one she shared with Caroline.
 "Just like the good old days, right Caroline?" she thought to herself as she pulled the zipper on her jacket right up to her chin. "You remember how your friends used to call me 'that runaway'? It wasn't funny then, but I guess it's kind of funny now. How I'd just go for a walk, and not come home until a week later…"
 Oddly enough, her wandering feet brought her right to the house's doorway. She was too deep in thought to actually absorb her actions. She let herself in, found her old room, and did not even stop long enough to sit on her old bed or to take a look at herself in her old mirror. She made sure that she distracted herself enough so that her emotions did not take a firm hold on her. Still not even trying to think about what she was doing, she opened her closet doors, sat down on the floor, and rummaged around until she found a tired-looking old shoebox. She hesitated, closed her eyes for just a moment, then forcefully opened the box and stole a look at what she already knew was inside. It was something she had kept all these years, just as a reminder. Just because she was never very good at completely letting go.
 She took one last hesitating sigh before she took the joint of marijuana out of the shoebox, tucked it into her jacket pocket, and left her room. She closed the front door behind her, but did not lock it. She turned away, and did not look back at it once.

 In the back of her mind, she knew her feet had the intention of bringing her back to Fraser's apartment. Yet, as the sky grew further dark and uninviting, E.J. saw that her feet had brought her right to the door of Ray's apartment. She let herself in easily with the key that she and Claudia mutually possessed. ("I don't want either of you two using this key to get into my place unless you really, really, really need it," he had said. They both had solemnly nodded and promised on their mother's graves, and finally he turned the sacred key over to them). Ray's apartment was just as desolate as Fraser's had been. The only difference was that none of the lights had been turned on, so it seemed to E.J. that the entire apartment was like one big graveyard, because it was so fruitless and cold. She flipped on all of the lights, and as she settled down on his sofa, she noticed that the wind was starting to strike the windows with strong gusts.
 Before she propped her feet up on his sofa, she removed her shoes and socks so that her bare feet hung beneath the legs of her jeans. She sighed, still feeling curiously unsatisfied. At last she gave in, and allowed herself to think the thoughts she had been suppressing a few hours ago. She got back off the couch and brought her jacket to the sofa with her.

 "Here goes nothing," she whispered to herself. She found the joint, held it between her lips, and lit up. Once again, she cleared her mind of everything except the happy place in the back of her head that she once again allowed to surface. She inhaled deeply, held the smoke in her lungs for a matter of seconds, and exhaled. She laughed to herself a little bit, then quickly made her face go blank again. She laughed another time.

 "Jesus," she said out loud. She started laughing again. "Jesus!" she repeated, much louder this time. The only response that she got was a distant echo of her own voice in the back of the apartment. She shook her head, chuckling at herself. Before she knew it, the joint had dwindled down to almost nothing. She got up and wandered into the kitchen, where she promptly tossed it into the sink. She gave a loud sigh.
 She still felt unsatisfied. It was a burning kind of unsatisfaction, like a dull ache that ran through her whole body. She found herself rummaging through Ray's refrigerator, until at last she found something that she hoped would put her at ease. It was a bottle of Vodka, and she held it firmly in her hand as she backed away from the fridge. She settled back onto Ray's sofa and untwisted the cap on the bottle. The moment she did, the strong odor hit her nose and stung her eyes very slightly. Nonetheless, she made herself stop thinking again as she held the bottle to her lips and took a huge drink.
 It was foul. Her face coiled as she choked down the liquor. She had hoped that perhaps all those years of drinking coffee would have at least numbed several major tastebuds in her mouth. That did not seem to ease the pain that the taste had created.

 She began laughing again. The first thing that involuntarily ran through her mind was "How much do I weigh, anyway?" She wondered how long it would be before she would be completely drunk. She began giggling uncontrollably again and took another huge swig of Vodka and downed it quickly. Yes, it was definitely still very disgusting. She propped herself up in such a way that she could see the evening sky turn very dark behind the harsh storm clouds that were now laboriously brewing.

 As more time passed, more of the Vodka seemed to be vanishing out of its bottle. E.J. had experienced one uncontrollable laughing rage, and upon after doing so she fell off the sofa and onto the floor. Once she was able to find her feet again, she stumbled into Ray's bathroom. She knew by this time her mind may have wandered off for good. She was thinking too many things now, just too many things at once. She hoped her mind would come back, because she had not had the opportunity to give it a proper farewell.
She looked into Ray's bathroom mirror and for the first time since longer than she could remember, she actually saw her own face. The smiles had completely disappeared, and staring back at her was a complete stranger. It was not the E.J. Ramis that she had been since she was eight-years-old… and yet, drunk as she was, she knew it was the E.J. Ramis she had been her entire life. Her face was pale and her eyes seemed glossy.
 She shook her head violently, as if once again trying to rid herself of reality. That unsatisfied feeling had returned, and it was growing more intense with every breath that she took. She pulled back Ray's mirror and peered curiously into his medicine cabinet. She grabbed the first thing her eyes saw, a small bottle. She stuffed it into her jeans pocket and stumbled back out of the bathroom.

 The unsatisfaction was growing with a furious heat inside her. She looked around for anywhere to be; the slow rain that tapped the windows seemed to draw her in like a magnet. She found herself unlocking Ray's window, pulling herself out onto the fire escape, and climbing right up to the roof, Vodka bottle still in hand.

 A loud clap of thunder took her by surprise, and she nearly dropped the glass bottle. She set it down on the roof as the rain went from lightly falling to pouring. She ran her hands through her wet hair, trying to brush it from her eyes. The rain continued to come down in torrents, soaking her jeans and shirt right to through to her skin. At first she didn't realize how cold she was, but as she began anxiously pacing back and forth, she noticed she was completely freezing. Her bare feet almost went numb with every step she took on the cold rooftop, and her the skin on her wet arms were covered with tiny goosebumps.
 The unsatisfaction was now welling up inside her uncontrollably, like a pot of water ready to boil over. She tried to put her finger on what exact emotion it was, but the alcohol running through her whole body made her attention span snap in half. It was frustration, she decided. No, anger. No, wait. Her feet were so cold!

 "Helter skelter…" she mumbled to herself. "Tell me, tell me, tell me the answer…" She laughed.

 Her breathing became short and choppy, and the cold wind whipped against her face. She paced to the very edge of the building and stared down below, astonished. She was so high. Where was she again?
 It was sadness, that was it. That emotion boiling inside her, it was sadness. Her feet were numb.

 Very slowly, she sat down on the edge of the roof and pulled her feet to the other side, so they dangled several stories off the ground. The rain had made her completely drenched, and the wind had made her go almost completely numb. She placed both of her hands on the ledge upon which she sat, and very gradually brought herself to a standing position. She looked out into the black Chicago night sky, and found herself screaming at it. For once, she did not scream words. Her anger alone projected itself into her incomprehensible yells. Her feet were wet.

 She slipped. For E.J., time stopped as she realized her bare feet had slipped on the wet ledge. She fell and landed sharply on the corner of the ledge, and she let out a loud cry. Her body slid back onto the roof, and her heart was pounding hard inside of her. It was pounding so hard she could feel it inside her head and her temples. She crawled back to the middle of the roof where she had left her bottle of liquor.

 She wanted to cry so badly. Every ounce of energy inside of E.J. seemed to be building up into an anxious ball of sadness, and she wanted to cry more than anything. But she couldn't - her mind had not come back yet, and she could not make herself cry.
 She began screaming into the icy wind again, but her cries were carried away like a feather. She was holding her head in her hands, and she realized she was on her knees. She had collapsed onto her knees… she slid her hands all over her face and neck, and then she found the chain that she had been wearing forever.

 Her cross. She was still wearing her cross. The unsatisfaction boiled a little bit more, and she began groaning unintelligible garblings that came out in the form of hiccuped  gasps. In a state of total fury, she pulled at the chain as hard as she could. The yanking stung the back of her neck, but she could not really even feel it anymore. She felt it break, and the cross came off in her hand. With one more loud scream, she stood up and flung it as hard as she could into the night.

 Finally, the poison brewing deep within E.J. boiled over. She was completely hysterical, she could not stop screaming. She was not crying, but she knew her eyes were watering uncontrollably. She made a tight fist with her right hand and punched the roof as hard as she could, still yelling loudly. She winced as she felt her knuckles slam the cold roof, and she could almost feel the tiny cuts on her hand that the impact had made.
 She fumbled until she found the small bottle she had discovered in Ray's medicine cabinet. She retrieved it from her pocket and struggled to remove the child-proof cap. At last it popped off in her hand, and she tossed it behind her. She poured several of the small pills into her hand and unhesitatingly brought them to her mouth and swallowed them.

 Her breathing was short, she couldn't seem to get enough air. She looked at the bottle that she still gripped tightly in her hand. Written clearly on its label was "For the relief of pain". E.J. began pacing nervously on the roof again, bottle of liquor in one hand, pills in the other. She wanted to see exactly how much pain they would relieve.

*  *  *

 Everyone knew that something was wrong when no one answered the phone at Fraser's apartment. Ray put his key in the lock of his apartment door, but the door opened itself under the pressure of his hand. Both Ray and Fraser immediately switched into their cop-mode and carefully entered the apartment. Ray already had one hand placed on his gun when he took his first few cautious steps inside. Claudia and Diefenbaker brought up the end of the quartet. The four of them instinctively remained quiet, as if to listen for any intruder. Ray went in the direction of the TV room and signaled for Fraser to check out the other end of the apartment. Claudia stayed behind Fraser as he investigated everything.

 The ice-cold draft that blew into Ray was the first thing that caught his attention.

 "What the…?!" was all Ray said. He immediately ran across the room to his open window. Just as he was about to call for Fraser to come, he noticed something very tiny sparkling faintly outside. It was on his fire escape. He squinted to try to see it better, but when he moved, the glint disappeared. At a loss, he leaned out of the window and saw what had been making the shine. He stretched as far as he could and picked up the item.
 It was a silver chain with a cross suspended from the end of it. It felt cold in his hand, not to mention wet. He held the chain up to the light to examine it more closely.

Before Ray could open his mouth to call for Fraser, Ray's ears picked up an odd, unsettling sound outside. It was a loud crash, followed by the distinct sound of glass breaking. Ray was already out on the fire escape and following the sound before Fraser reached the TV room.

 "Jesus," Ray breathed when he reached the ledge of the roof. He could only make out the form of a collapsed person lying still in the middle of the roof. He shouted loudly.

 "Fraser!!" Ray's voice traveled very softly through the wind. He rushed to the figure. He was already uncomfortably damp when her crouched down. "Oh, no…" he said slowly. He put his hand on her back and rolled E.J. over. "Jesus, no," he repeated.

 E.J. had never looked so pale. Her eyes were outlined by red tear stains, and when he rolled her over he saw what had made the breaking sound. E.J. had a gash on her forehead that was bleeding badly, and next to her head was a broken bottle.

 "E.J.!" he said, shaking her. The girl did not stir at all. "E.J.!" he said again, even louder this time. He was frightened by how cold she was, and so pale. He put two hands on the sides of her neck, trying to assure himself that she was still alive. She did still have a pulse, and he quickly wrapped his arms around her and picked her up. She was completely limp in his arms.

 "Fraser!!!" he shouted down again. He tentatively made his way back to the fire escape and brought the girl back to the open window. He carefully brought her back into the apartment. Fraser and Claudia bolted into the room as soon as they heard Ray climb back in. Claudia was completely taken aback when she saw her friend, lifeless, cradled in Ray's arms. He knelt down in front of the sofa and set E.J. on top of it.

 "Claudia, call 911," Ray said, not taking his eyes off E.J. Claudia looked panic-stricken, but obediently backed into the kitchen to make the call. Ray looked completely unsure of himself. Fraser knelt next to Ray and placed a hand on E.J.'s neck, finding her pulse just as Ray had done minutes ago. He was remaining calm, although on the inside he was severely rattled. Ray's breathing was heavy.

 "She's cold, Frase… we need blankets," Ray said worriedly. "There's some in the hall closet." Fraser nodded and quickly got up. Ray pulled out a white handkerchief from his pocket and carefully dabbed at the blood that was trickling down E.J.'s forehead. She was so colorless and still that he had to keep reassuring himself that she was alive, and would stay alive. He tried talking to her.

 "Come on, kid," he whispered as he wiped the blood from her cheek with his handkerchief. He held it tightly against the gash on her forehead. "Wake up, E.J. You're scarin' me. Come on."
 As he sat still, he was able to pick up a faint smell. He tried to calm himself down so he could think clearly, and suddenly the pieces of the puzzle began to fall into place. He smelled liquor, and it was on E.J. That was the broken bottle. There was another bottle up there. He saw it, it was in E.J.'s hand. It must have fallen out when he picked her up. What was it?

 "Oh my God," he breathed. "Fraser!" Fraser entered the room with his arms full of blankets. They each took one and tried their best to wrap the girl up in them.

 "Fraser, she tried to kill herself," Ray said shakily. "There was – liquor, and painkillers, up on the roof. She O.D.'d…"

 "Try to stay calm, Ray. She'll be ok," Fraser said positively. Ray didn't look convinced.

 "Christ, how could she overdose? What was she thinking?" Ray cried, his hand still holding the handkerchief tightly to the gash on her forehead. Another realization slowly hit him.
 "This is my fault, Fraser. I don't believe it. This is my fault," he said slowly.

 "Now, Ray, it-"

 "No, you don't understand!" Ray interrupted. "She asked me if she could live with me, Frase. I told her she couldn't. I told her-"

 "Ray, this is certainly not your fault!" Fraser cut in, putting another layer of blankets over E.J.'s body. "I'm sure this wasn't even remotely your fault, Ray." Ray looked slightly comforted, but still skeptical.

 "It was my medicine cabinet… I shoulda locked it. God, what was I thinking? I shoulda locked it!" Ray's voice had grown shaky again. Fraser was about to contradict him, but they were both interrupted by Claudia.

 "Guys," she said with wide-eyes, "They need to know exactly what happened." Ray looked up at Claudia with a sick look on his face.

 "Tell them she mixed Vodka with over the counter pain medication," Ray told her flatly. "Call out anything else you need to know from the kitchen," he added, since the phone cord would not reach to where Ray was. Claudia nodded and quickly hurried back to the kitchen. Ray tried to tuck the extra patches of blanket over the spots of E.J.'s body that were not already covered warmly.

 "They need to know if she's comatose yet!" Claudia called from the other room. Fraser looked down sadly at E.J., but Ray looked away and did not speak.

 "Yes," Fraser called back. They heard her repeat that into the phone, followed by a few "Okays" and "Uh-huhs". Ray closed his eyes and rubbed the bridge of his nose.

 "God," he said softly to no one in particular. "What was she thinking? Why would she…" his voice trailed off. Claudia called out to them another time.

 "They want to know how long it's been since she went comatose!" Ray looked as if the entire situation was too much to handle. He rubbed at his forehead.

 "Uh…I don't know," he said slowly.
 Ray squinted as he tried to rack his brain for any kind of comfort. Without warning, something came back to him and he perked up intently. It was the loud sound of glass breaking that had been replayed in his mind. E.J. was on the roof with a bottle in her hand. Ray heard the crash and the break. She must have broken the bottle at the same time that she collapsed.
 "Oh!" Ray cried, looking at his watch. "Tell them she's been comatose for ten minutes!" More mutterings followed from the kitchen. Ray just kept shaking his head in disbelief. Fraser recognized the anxiety appearing in Ray and tried to calm him.

 "She's going to be alright, Ray," Fraser told him. "We've got time. Just try to stay calm. She'll be ok." Ray closed his eyes and took a deep breath.

 "Yeah, yeah…okay," he replied. The Mountie placed a hand on E.J.'s shoulder and stirred it gently. He shook his head disappointedly when she gave no physical response. After a few awful moments, Claudia returned to them, her eyebrows arched sadly over her eyes.
 "I, um, found this in the sink." Claudia extended her hand and showed them an extinguished joint of marijuana. Fraser closed his eyes angrily. Claudia set it down on the table at sat down behind them. "What happened to her?"

 "We don't know, Claud," Ray said. "We don't know anything yet." Ray noticed that the red handkerchief he was pressing down onto E.J.'s forehead had become almost completely soaked with blood. He let out a frustrated groan and removed it, then tossed it onto the floor. Fraser handed him one of his own, and Ray replaced the old one with it, pressing more lightly this time.

 "What did they say?" Fraser asked, turning to speak to Claudia.

 "They said they'd be here as soon as possible, and to keep her covered, like you guys did already. And she might stop breathing, too, and if she does we have to give her mouth to mouth." Ray didn't look like he could handle any more distress. Claudia paused, still not removing her eyes from E.J. She put a hand on the back of her own neck and rubbed her tense muscles. "She tried to kill herself?"

 Neither of the men seemed capable of answering her. All of them stayed very still until the paramedics arrived.
Part Eighteen
  The Waiting Game

 The muscles in Fraser's left bicep were beginning to shoot pain through his entire arm. Nevertheless, not wanting to wake his dozing Goddaughter that was using his shoulder as a pillow, he remained perfectly still in the chair where he sat.
 Claudia sat between Fraser and Ray in the uncomfortable waiting room chairs. To her left, Ray was slouched horribly in his chair, staring wearily into the wall across the room from him. Hours had passed since they had come in the ambulance to the hospital, although to three nerve-racked people in an ER waiting room that have been severely deprived of sleep, hours sometimes seem like days. Farther down the hallway, a sneaker squeaked loudly on the polished linoleum floor. Upon hearing the sound, Claudia immediately snapped to attention and sat upright, panicked. The men glanced at her, too tired to make any sign. Fraser gave a small sigh of relief as he moved his aching arm into a new position. Claudia calmed down, leaned her head against the wall behind her, and took her glasses off to rub her nose.

 With each passing minute, the three unconsciously memorized the cover of every magazine and book that lay nearby, for there was not much else to look at. Ray reached into his coat pocket in hopes that maybe his keys could keep him entertained for another minute or so. What he actually pulled out was the silver cross and chain that he had found dangling on the fire escape. He mindlessly twisted the chain, then watched it spin around as it untwisted itself.

 "I think… I think I'll go find some coffee," Claudia said, drained. "Anybody want some?" Fraser politely shook his head no.

 "Yeah, sure," Ray said. Claudia left the wearied duo to go in search of her caffeine. Ray did not take his eyes off the spinning chain to speak to Fraser. "Hey Benny," he started. Fraser sat up straighter.


 "What if-" Ray seemed to choke on the words. "What if… what if she doesn't make it?" Fraser looked him in the eyes.

 "She'll make it, Ray." Fraser did not sound doubtful. "Don't worry, she'll make it." Ray nodded hastily, brushing the horrible idea from his mind.

 "Right," he said slowly. "But, um, why do you think she did it?" Fraser sighed and shook his head uncertainly.

 "I don't think there's any way of knowing just yet, Ray," Fraser told him. "Suicides are most generally a result of severe emotional imbalance, like a traumatic event or extreme depression. E.J. was probably just depressed, that's all."

 "We should have seen it, Frase," Ray said guiltily. Fraser disagreed.

 "E.J.'s a solitarian, Ray. There's no way we could have seen it in time to stop her."

 "A what?"

 "A solitarian. One who keeps emotions inside." Ray nodded understandingly.

 Soon Claudia returned to the men, balancing two styrofoam cups of coffee in one arm and a glass bottle of iced tea in the other. She divided up the beverages and sat back down between them. As each opened their drink, a doctor wearing green scrubs and a white coat approached them. They immediately sat upright in their chairs.

 "Hi, my name is Dr. Lien," she said, sitting down in the chair next to Fraser. They all turned to face her. "Are you the family of E.J. Ramis?"

 The group was not in the mood to explain any kind of story to this woman, so the three of them simply nodded. The woman spoke to Claudia.

 "Sweetie, I have some things to tell your… dad," Dr. Lien said, making sure not to look directly at Fraser or Ray when she said this. "Would you mind leaving?" Claudia glared angrily at the woman, but before she had the chance to snap back, Fraser replied to the doctor.

 "She can stay, it's alright," he told her. The doctor shrugged. "How is E.J.?"

   "Well, at this point, I can't really say. We've done all we can for her. It's up to her now to do the rest."

 "So, what have you done exactly?" Claudia asked.

 "Well, we've given her charcoal, and we've got her hooked up to an IV drip. But like I said, she's the one who's gonna predict the final outcome. She's still comatose, and if she remains like that for over twenty-four hours, I'm sorry to say, but the chances of survival are very low. And even if she did come out, she wouldn't be the same."

 "How do you mean?" Ray asked. Fraser remained quiet.

 "It was pretty severe alcohol poisoning. Starting out, she'd be the same physically, but mentally, she'd seemingly be intoxicated all the time. She'd be uncoordinated, slow, she may not even be able to speak properly."

 "Can we see her?" Claudia asked, fear settling in.

 "I'm afraid you can't, sweetie." Dr. Lien said. "You have to be eighteen or older to visit in the ICU. You two can see her now though, if you'd like," she said, nodding towards Fraser and Ray. Fraser nodded, and got up.

 "I'm going to go see her first. Ray, if you don't mind, I'd like to be alone." Ray nodded solemnly. The doctor lead Fraser out of the room to E.J.'s room. Once he had left, Claudia began to cry.

 "Oh my God...what if she...I can't even see her, and she's my best friend," Claudia sobbed. "She's my best friend..." she repeated.

 "Claud, come on. She's not gonna die. E.J.'s not like that. She's a fighter," Ray reasoned.

 "If she's such a fighter, how come she tried to kill herself?" Ray did not find an answer to this question. "She's my best friend...I didn't even notice...Ray...." she choked out before her voice was overcome by sobs. Ray brought her into a hug.

 "It's gonna be OK, it's not your fault." Ray blinked back his own tears, and shut his eyes.

*  *  *

 Fraser stared out the window, and catching the reflection of the girl laying in the bed behind him, he sighed, and turned around to face her. Dr. Lien had said that she could hear everything, but Benton was yet to speak. He got up out of the hard blue chair, and paced the floor. The night nurse poked her head in the door.

 "If you keep doing that, you're going to wear a rut in the floor," she said. Fraser looked up, and smiled politely.

 "Is she your daughter?" the nurse asked. "She certainly is pretty." Once again Fraser smiled sadly.

 "No, I'm not her father..." Fraser trailed off, and the nurse felt it was best to leave. Fraser rubbed his forehead, and shut the door to evade any more conversations. He wasn't in the mood to talk. He placed his chair beside E.J.'s bed, and took her hand. He looked at her.

 "E.J....how could…why did you do this?" he asked, absently rubbing at the hospital tape on her hand. "I'm sorry I never noticed how upset you were...I should have realized that..." Fraser shut his eyes and inhaled, maintaining composure. "I'm sorry E.J..." he once again found himself at a loss for words. He looked up to the ceiling, hoping perhaps he could gain inspiration from the holes in the paneling. He looked back at E.J. Fraser leaned forward, and kissed her lightly on the forehead.

 He stood up, and made his way back to the waiting room. On his way there, he checked his watch. It read one forty-five. He re-entered the waiting room, and couldn't help but smile. Laying across a number of the chairs was Ray, his hand dangling off the side, barely brushing Claudia's head, who was laying on her jacket on the floor. As Fraser sat down, Ray woke up.

 "How is she?" he asked, sitting up, still groggy.

 Fraser shook his head. "The same."

 "I'm gonna go see her now." Ray stood up, and accidentally stepped on Claudia's fingers.

 "Oh!" Claudia jerked her hand back, looking up to see who had woke her. She let out a disgusted sigh. "Why is that I can never wake up of my own free will?" she asked no one in particular. She sat up. "What time is it?"

 "One forty-five." Fraser replied. "Go back to sleep." Claudia shot a look at her Godfather. Ray quickly left the room.

 "I'm not going to go back to bed."

 "Claudia, nonsense. You need your sleep."

 "Ben, my best friend is dying in there. You can't seriously expect me to fall asleep."

 "You were sleeping before I-"

 "Benton! I'm not going to go to bed! My best friend could die! Do you get it!? My best friend could die! And I can't even see her! I'm not going to go to bed, and pretend everything is OK! Alright!?"

 "Claudia, E.J. will be OK!"

 "Ben , can you honestly say that?! You saw her! Do you seriously believe she's gonna be alright?"

 "I don't know how this is going to end up, Claudia, and neither do you. But we can at least try to stay optimistic. Do you think maybe you can try to do that?"

 "I'm afraid I can't, Ben," replied Claudia. Benton began to feel like he was fighting a losing battle. "Look, I tried to stay optimistic when my father was missing, I tried to stay optimistic when Josh's car was found with blood on the seats, I tried to stay optimistic when my whole goddamn family was gone. Fraser, I'm sick of it! I can't do it anymore! Everyone I love is gone, or going, and I can't!" Claudia was just about screaming, and she quickly turned, and made her way out of the room. Fraser grabbed her arm.

 "Claudia! Claudia, look at me!" Fraser said, looking Claudia in the eye. "Look, Claudia, I'm not leaving, OK? I'm still here, right? Everyone hasn't left you." Claudia began to cry again. "OK? Ray's not gone, and he cares, too. And E.J.'s not gone. I know you're afraid she might be, and I am too, but we've got to stay hopeful, OK? Can you do that? Or at least try?"

 Claudia nodded, looking like a lost child; tears slipping down her cheeks, and her wet hair curling at the ends. "Ben, I'm sorry I got so angry at you. I just feel...helpless, you know?"

 Fraser hugged Claudia and nodded. "I know, I know..."

*  *  *

 Ray's breath caught in his throat as he stepped into the dimly lit room. He swallowed the lump in his throat, and thought to himself "Oh my God, what did I do?" He sat in the chair Fraser had placed beside E.J.'s bed. Ray didn't take her hand, he just sat.

 "E.J." he finally said, "I'm so sorry." He brushed E.J.'s hair out of her face, and ran his thumb over the gauze on her forehead. "E.J., I, I'm sorry I didn't agree to adopt you. You're a great kid, I...Oh God, what did I do?" Ray buried his face in his hands. Hot tears stung his eyes. "E.J...come on, you, you can't leave, you're Claudia's best friend, your my surrogate daughter for Christ sakes. So, you..." the tears slipped down Ray's cheeks. "So...you can't leave...OK? Hang in there..." He picked up her hand, and held it.

*  *  *

 Two hours must have passed since Ray first entered the room. He wasn't aware that another person had joined him. Claudia stood behind his chair for a full thirty minutes.

 "Any change?" she asked. Ray jumped a mile.

 "Christ! Claudia, you scared the hell outta me," cried Ray turning around to face her. "And, what are you doing in here? You've gotta be eighteen."

 "Ben's sleeping. I figured I could come see her," she said flatly. "How is she?"

 Ray looked away from Claudia. "I don't know. She looks the same...that doesn't say much, though."

 "Are you OK?" Claudia asked Ray.

 Ray nodded, and his eyes welled up with tears. "Yeah, I...." he trailed off, and Claudia knew he was crying. Claudia fought to keep her own tears from falling. "I should have locked it.." Ray whispered. "I should put the Vodka back in the liquor cabinet. I should have agreed to adopt her...."

 "Ray, stop blaming yourself," said Claudia, walking to the window. It was still raining, but not as hard.

 "Claud, look. I know you're trying to make me feel better, but it's not gonna work. I'm to blame for this, and you know it."

 "How do you think I feel?" Claudia asked. "That's my best friend." she said  pointing to E.J.

 Ray shook his head. "She's just a kid...she's got no one...I should have said yes... I should have locked that damn cabinet. God, what a crappy father I would have made."

 "Ray, that's not true, and you know it." Ray sniffed in disagreement. "No, I mean it. What about the time when Keith had me? You saved my life. When Luke was killed...you let me stay with you. In December 1988, you saved a boy's life, even though your cover was blown, and you were injured. You'd make an awesome dad. Janet's kids think you're awesome..." Claudia paused, and let the words hang in the air for a moment. "and so do I."

 "Even though I may have killed your best friend?"

 "Ray, shut up." Claudia's tears slid down her face. "You had nothing to do with this. It was up to E.J."

 Ray smiled angrily. "You sound just like Fraser."

 "And you sound like a misanthropic, pitiful, pain in the ass." Ray looked up to Claudia, tears still in his eyes.


 "Ray, look at yourself! Stop blaming yourself! I don't care if I sound like Fraser, I'm worried! About E.J., about you. So stop! Please...I feel terrible too, but slaying yourself with all this guilt isn't going to do anything."

 Ray nodded. A minute later, he stood up. "No one's ever called me misanthropic before." Claudia smiled. "Are you hungry?" Ray asked. Claudia nodded. "Let's go get something to eat." They walked out of the room.

 "Hey, Claud, how did you find out that thing that happened in eighty-eight?" Ray asked as they walked down the hall to the elevators.

 "Oh, I went looking through the Chicago PD files. I was curious."
Part Nineteen
 24 Hours of Hell

 Franny came into the hospital waiting room like a bat out of hell. Despite the circumstances, she was disappointed to see that the chair beside Fraser was already occupied by his sleeping Goddaughter, so she took the chair next to Ray and sat down.

"Thank you for coming, Francesca," Fraser told her.

 "Sure," she said quietly, trying not to wake Claudia. "How is she doing?"

 "She's fine, Franny. Just great. She's just in a little bit of a coma right now, but other than that she's never been better," Ray told her crossly. Franny looked resentful.

 "Well excuse me for caring," she snapped back. She turned to face Fraser. "Is she going to be all right?" Fraser lost eye contact with Franny when he replied.

 "We don't know," he said wearily. "She hasn't shown any signs of improvement in the last three hours. All we can do is wait." The conspicuous turn of Fraser's head made it clear that he did not particularly wish to talk any longer. The lull in the conversation prompted Ray to gently shake Claudia's knee with his hand.
 "Hey kid," he said softly. "Wake up." Claudia began to stir, and lifted her head from Fraser's shoulder. She blinked hard to try and regained her sense of awareness, and nodded toward Francesca.

 "Hey, Franny," she said. She looked up at Fraser. "What's going on?"

 "We asked Francesca to come and give you a ride home," he told her. Claudia looked hurt.

 "Ben!" she cried. "You know I can't leave. I mean, not now, not yet! Please?"

 "You can come back first thing tomorrow, Claud," Ray said to her. "We just want you to go home and get some rest. There's no point in all 3 of us losing our sanity, so why don't you go back home and sleep."

"I can't," she told all three of them flatly. The tones of Claudia's voice were now forming dangerously serious tones. "I have to be here. I'd never forgive myself if she…" she couldn't bring herself to finish the sentence. She buried her eyes in the palm of her left hand and sat forward sadly. Fraser, ever-optimistic, leaned towards her and spoke gently.

 "She'll be ok, Claudia. At least until morning, I promise you," he said. She looked up sullenly. "You have my word." Claudia let out a weak sigh.

 "Yeah, ok." Franny stood up slowly, and at last Claudia joined her.

 "You want me to tell Welsh you're not coming in?" Franny asked.

 "Yeah, thanks," Ray said. "See you. Bye, Claud." The two of them moved away towards the door. Before they could exit, Claudia stopped abruptly.

 "I want you to call me as soon as anything happens," she directed both Fraser and Ray. They nodded. "I mean it, anything at all. If she sneezes, call." Claudia turned around, and finally they both exited the building. Both men sat back in their chairs again and returned to their deep stares into the wall. Both of them were on the brink of sleep, although neither would allow himself to do so. More minutes slowly crept by.

 By the time 5:00 AM rolled by, Ray had discovered that if he squinted a little bit, he could almost see pictures in the scratches in the white paint on the wall across the room from him. By 5:30, he had vaguely seen a tiger, a baseball bat, and Michelle Pfeiffer. Shortly after, the dull silence was broken as a familiar-looking person brushed past the pair. Ray sat upright attentively.

 "Dr. Ericson?" he called after her. The young doctor turned around curiously and slowly approached the tired two.

 "Uh, hi," he said. "I'm Ray Vecchio… I don't know if you remember me or not. You stitched up my eye just recently." The doctor's face broke into a smile.

 "Yeah, the door-guy, right?" she asked him. Ray was slightly too exhausted to be embarrassed.

 "Yeah, the door-guy," he repeated. He looked around awkwardly and scratched the back of his neck. "Um, this is my buddy Ben Fraser," he told her, nodding toward him. Fraser extended his hand and the redhead took it graciously.

 "How do you do," Fraser said, fatigued. She sat down beside Ray on a hard waiting room chair.

 "What are you doing here? Did you have a collision with a table this time?" she asked, laughing. Ray gave her a half-smile, but his face quickly regained seriousness.

 "No, actually," he told her. "Um…well, a friend of mine tried to commit suicide. She's in ICU right now." Dr. Ericson frowned sympathetically.

 "Oh, I'm sorry," she said to him. "Is there anything I can do?"

 "Nah – well, maybe," Ray said. "Maybe you could find out how she's doing for us? They haven't really been keeping us that well informed."

 "Well, it isn't strictly allowed," Dr. Ericson said hesitantly, "but I suppose I could. Where is she?" Ray looked very grateful.

 "I, um, I don't remember the room number, but I can show you," he said to her, standing up from his chair. She followed. "I'll be back," he said to Fraser. He left with the doctor at his side.

 "Here," Ray said, pushing open the door to E.J.'s room. His stomach twisted a little when he saw her lying so still on the bed, looking just as pale and lifeless as she had when he had first found her so many hours ago. He sat down on the hard blue chair that was placed at her bedside. Dr. Ericson looked a little bit surprised.

 "This is your friend?" she asked him.

 "Yeah, why?"

 "She's very young," she said. "When you said it was your friend, I was assuming you meant someone your age, that's all." Dr. Ericson flipped through E.J.'s chart.

 "It's kind of a long story," Ray said, not especially wanting to elaborate. "We're sort of taking care of her right now." As a silence rose upon the dull air, Ray took comfort in the steady pulsing line on the screen of E.J.'s heart monitor.

 "It says she overdosed on pain medication and alcohol?" Dr. Ericson said, more stating than asking. Ray nodded.

 "Yeah," he replied. "I found her outside on the roof of my building." The doctor nodded. More uncomfortable silence followed. At last she closed the folder and took a closer look at E.J.

 "Well?" Ray asked expectantly. "What do you think?" The doctor's expression filled him with slight uneasiness.

 "I don't know what I can tell you, Ray," Dr. Ericson said. "I can't really guess what the outcome of your friend's situation is going to be."

 "Well, can you try?" he asked her. The doctor sighed.

 "It doesn't look promising, I'm sorry." She looked up to see Ray's reaction, which was remarkably calm. He took a long pause before speaking.

 "Thanks," he said quietly.

 "Is there anything else you want to know?" Dr. Ericson asked him. Ray looked around, as if he was seeking a distraction. His gaze landed upon the clear IV bag that was hanging from a metal pole next to the bed. The long plastic tube that was connected to it was attached to E.J.'s left hand.

 "What's that stuff?" Ray asked, pointing to the bag. The doctor turned to look.

 "That's mucomist. It's given intravenously to help flush out her system," she told him. "It's to help clean out the damage that all those pills did." Ray exhaled slowly.

 "Oh," was all he whispered back. Dr. Ericson looked sympathetically at him.

 "Is there anything else I can do for you?" she asked.

 "No thanks," Ray replied. "I think I'd just like to be alone with her for awhile."

*  *  *

 By 9:00 in the morning, an intense ache had seeped into almost every muscle in Ray's tired body. He had fallen asleep in the waiting room with his head against the wall behind him; by the time he had awoken hours later, his neck made a loud crack when he shifted it. He got up and left the Mountie, who had fallen asleep sitting perfectly straight up.

 The men's washroom was empty except for Ray, so he took his time splashing water all over his face in the sink. He turned off the faucet and looked up into the mirror. His eyes were bloodshot and there were dark circles forming beneath his eyes. He rubbed them sorely. He dried his face off on the bottom of his t-shirt and returned to the dismal waiting room.

 Soon afterwards, Fraser woke up. Although his body was just as rigid and sore as Ray's, his body made no cracking sounds when he shifted his position.

 "Hey, Benny," Ray said. Fraser looked at his watch. It was twenty after nine.

 "Morning," Fraser said flatly, although it didn't feel like morning. Ray looked up at him and saw that he looked almost as terrible as himself. Fraser's face was rough and unshaven, and his eyes were forming the same circles as his own, only lighter in shade. Fraser stood up and stretched. "Have you been to see her yet?"

 Ray shook his head. "I just woke up too," he said. "You want to go?"

 "I think I will," Fraser said. He excused himself and went to the ICU. Ray sat back in his chair and let out a frustrated breath. He didn't pay any attention to the two people that were approaching him.

 "Hey Ray," Claudia said with a weak smile. She and Franny sat down on each side of him. He looked up dismally. "How's she doing?" Ray shook his head disappointedly.

 "She hasn't come out her coma. She hasn't gotten any better at all, but she hasn't gotten worse either," Ray said. Claudia sighed.

 "Here, we brought you guys breakfast," she said, producing a brown paper bag from beside her. He took it from her and opened it, and saw Egg McMuffin boxes and two hashbrowns inside. He smiled weakly.

 "Thanks a lot," he said, removing one of the hashbrowns from the bag.

 "I gotta get to work now, just call if you need me," Franny said, standing up. "See you later." They each exchanged toneless goodbyes, and Franny left the hospital as quickly as she had come. Ray noticed that Claudia had not changed her clothes; she was still clad in the worn jeans and blue army-print t-shirt she had been wearing the day before. Her eye makeup had left dark smudges under her eyes.

 "So what happens now?" Claudia asked him. Ray looked down into the floor.

 "Now we just wait."

*  *  *

 "What time is it?" Claudia asked Fraser for the fourth time in twenty minutes. Again, Fraser lifted his arm and examined his watch.

 "9:13," he replied. The trio had officially experienced a full day of hell, and now they were being rewarded by an evening of hell.

 "She's been comatose for 26 hours, Ben," Claudia said sadly. "The doctor said it would only be 24…" Claudia could feel tears almost reaching her eyes, but she blinked them back. Her eyes stung and pained her. They were sore as a result of sleep deprivation combined with a great deal of crying.

 "It's all right, Claudia," Fraser said, trying to soothe her as he had been doing for the past day. Even so, now Fraser was beginning to doubt his own words. "She'll be all right. I gave you my word on that."

 Claudia sat beside her Godfather in silence a little while longer. All she could do was sit and wait for Ray to come back out of E.J.'s room and tell her she was fine now. That's all she wanted. Just someone to come and tell her that her best friend would be ok.

 "This isn't fair," Claudia whispered to both Ben and herself. Although she felt guilty for doing so, she felt a twinge of anger towards E.J. "She'd better not leave me," she said quietly. "She'd better not." ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Part Twenty
 The Return of Sarcasm Girl

 All she could see was white light. Her eyes were barely open just a crack, and she peered through her lashes. She was so tired, and the light was so bright… where was she?
 She wanted to move, but something was keeping her from doing so. She didn't feel tied down, yet she couldn't seem to move. She didn't have the strength to. She attempted to open her eyes all the way, but couldn't muster the energy. She gave in and let her eyes stayed closed. There was only dark again.

 Minutes later, she tried again. She used every tiny bit of energy she could find to focus on only opening her eyes. At last it worked. Gradually, E.J.'s eyelids lifted, and a stream of white fluorescent light flooded into her eyes. She very slowly brought herself to blink a few times and tried to soak in her surroundings. She was in a bed. She was in a room. She was very, very tired.

 Her stomach hurt a lot. Why? What was going on here? She tried to recall, but she felt angry when her mind brought up a blank. What was the last thing she could remember? E.J. concentrated…
 Rain. She could remember rain, and being very cold. Yes, that was it. So why was she here now? There was rain, and there was cold, and what else? Rain, cold, and… bare feet.

 What the hell was going on?

 Okay, she would focus on her surroundings. She was in a bed in a room. Okay. Someone was holding her hand. She couldn't turn to see who, though, because she had used most of her energy when she opened her eyes. The hand felt warm in her own, and she gave it a small squeeze.

 Ray immediately snapped to attention when he felt the light squeeze of her hand. He looked up at E.J., and he felt his heart race. For the first time since the day before, Ray's face broke into a full smile.

 "Hey, kid," he said, grinning.

 So it was Ray. Ray was holding her hand in the room with a bed. She tried her best to smile, although her entire body was completely exhausted.

 "How are you?" he asked the girl, giving her hand a squeeze in return.

 My stomach hurts, she thought she had said out loud. And I'm tired. However, for some odd reason, Ray did not seem to hear her when she thought these words. He pulled his chair closer to the bed.

 "Can you talk?" he asked her gently. E.J.'s thoughts were very, very slowly organizing themselves. She slowly inhaled and tried to find the energy to speak.

 "Mm…hmm," she finally managed to whisper. She wasn't sure if her body would allow her the strength to continue talking.

 "Do you remember what happened?" Ray asked. She looked right up into his eyes, wishing she had more strength, and hoping he would elaborate for her. She was trying as hard as she could to regain her voice, but she shook her head no a very tiny bit. He smiled at her wistfully. "They said you might not," he told her delicately. She closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and opened them again. She spoke extremely softly and very slowly,

 "Where," she began weakly, "am I?"

 Ray sighed and put his hand on her cheek, running his thumb over the girl's forehead. "The hospital," he told her. E.J.'s eyes widened fearfully.

 "Why?" she said hoarsely. The whisper that escaped her lips was just barely audible. Ray's happiness sank momentarily. He couldn't find it in himself to tell her the truth.

 "You had an accident," Ray said. "You're going to be okay now, though. You're gonna be just fine." He smiled down at her. He saw that her face seemed to be regaining some of its color, although she was indeed frighteningly slow. She closed her eyes.

 "Hey, wait a minute," Ray said, almost laughing. "No you don't. No going back to sleep, not yet." E.J. opened her eyes, puzzled. She was too tired to argue, so she simply stayed passive on her bed.

 "You really scared me, you know," he said quietly. E.J. looked into his face, wishing she could comprehend him better. "For a while there, we were afraid we might lose you."

 So she was in a hospital room in a bed, and Ray was holding her hand, and she scared him. That explained it. Her stomach was aching very badly and it felt extremely empty. She wanted to roll over, or sit up, or move in any way at all, but she just couldn't make herself do it. Instead, she just stared blankly into space.

 "Hold on a second, ok?" Ray asked her. She looked up at him as if to affirm his request. "I'm going to go get Fraser." Ray stood up and moved to the door, and it made E.J. feel lonesome. She didn't want to be left alone. "Don't go anywhere!" he said jokingly before he opened the door and exited the room.

 E.J. sighed and closed her eyes again. She was just so tired.

*  *  *

 "Hey Benny!" Ray called excitedly. Both Fraser and Claudia sat up intently in their waiting room chairs. "Come on!" he cried, signaling. He quickly turned around and left them without bothering to elaborate. In a heartbeat, the two of them were on their feet and after Ray. They hurried to follow him back to E.J.'s room.
In their haste, neither of the men thought to order Claudia out of the ICU, so the three of them entered together. Ray sat back down in the blue chair beside her bed, and Claudia and Fraser positioned themselves at E.J.'s side. Claudia looked disappointed; E.J. was obviously not awake. Ray was almost laughing when he picked up her hand again.

 "Hey kid," Ray said smiling, squeezing her hand. "I thought I told you not to go back to sleep." Very slowly, E.J. forced herself to pull open her eyelids. Her vision was slightly blurred, and she had trouble concentrating. There was that hand again. She was still in a room in a bed. And Ray was not alone now.

 "Hey," she said softly, just barely discernible. Fraser and Claudia smiled at her. E.J. strained to move her head towards them.

 "How are you feeling?" Claudia asked her.

 "Fine, thanks," E.J. murmured quietly. Claudia laughed. "You?"

 "Probably a lot better than you are," she said with a smile. Claudia was about to ask them to be left alone with her friend, but she was interrupted by the creaking of the door. Panicked by the thought of being discovered as a minor in ICU, Claudia immediately dropped to the floor behind E.J.'s bed. E.J. looked terribly confused and looked to Fraser for an explanation. She did not receive one, however, because a nurse entered the room and spoke to him.

 "So, she's awake?" she asked him, examining E.J. Claudia tried to crawl into the space between the bed and the small nightstand. The nurse moved to E.J.'s feet. "How are you feeling?"

 "Fine, thanks," she said again, very hoarsely. The nurse smiled at her sweetly and approached her IV pole, dangerously near Claudia's knees. She adjusted a knob on the tube that reduced the drip of E.J.'s IV. She looked around at Fraser and Ray, then turned to leave.

 "I'll tell Dr. Lien she's awake," the nurse said to them. She exited the room. Claudia breathed a sigh of relief and stood up. Fraser looked at her disapprovingly.

 "I forgot you're not allowed in here," he told her. She smiled sheepishly.

 "Um, guys?" Claudia asked them politely. "Do you think we could, you know, be alone for a second?" Ray looked skeptical.

 "We shouldn't," Fraser said. "We're breaking the rule enough already." She turned to Ray and gave him a pleading look.

 "Well…I guess, Claud. But if you get caught, we don't know you," Ray said, getting up from the chair. Claudia smiled.

 "Thanks," she said to them before they left.

 "And be sure to be out of here before Dr. Lien comes back!" Ray reminded her. The two men left.

 Claudia had the same wistful smile on her face that Ray had been wearing minutes ago. Her eyes softened when she looked down at her friend. E.J. smiled back.

 "Claud," E.J. said quietly. "What… what happened?" Claudia sighed and looked out the window. The rain had stopped almost completely.

 "You really don't remember?" Claudia asked her.

 "No." Claudia took a deep breath before she spoke.

 "You....tried...to commit suicide, E.J." Claudia waited a moment. "You don't remember at all?" E.J.'s eyes became wide with fear again. She shook her head in disbelief.

 "No…" E.J. said softly. "No, I couldn't…" It sounded like E.J. ran out of breath before she could finish her sentence. Claudia took her friend's hand in her own.

 "Yeah, E.J. You did." E.J. shut her eyes tightly. She was too groggy to handle this. She just kept shaking her head, that tired feeling had returned to her.

 "No, I didn't. I couldn't," E.J. repeated quietly. If she could have, she would have sat up, but she did not possess the strength. "I just…" her voice momentarily faded out. "I just can't remember."

 "Don't you remember, you were at Ray's apartment? He found you outside on the roof of his building, in the rain?"

 Rain… she remembered the rain. She tried so hard to remember the rest. A bottle, a black bottle with a white polar bear, what was it?

 "You were drunk, E.J. You got yourself drunk and swallowed half a bottle of painkillers." Claudia stopped. She did not feel like reliving the rest of that godawful evening, so she became silent. E.J. grimaced.

 "So that was the bottle," E.J. thought.

  She didn't want to believe it. The two friends stayed speechless for another moment.

 "Why?" E.J. asked. Claudia looked at her, dumbfounded.

 "You tell me," she replied. Another pause followed. "So… does it hurt?"

 "Yeah… my stomach hurts a whole lot," E.J. said. Claudia noticed that E.J.'s volume was beginning to increase healthily since she had woken up, and apparently her comprehension skills were intensifying as well. That was a relief.

 "God, E.J…" Claudia said, her voice dropping to just barely above a whisper. "You had me so scared. Do you know that? I was just so scared…" Claudia let go of E.J.'s hand to cover her eyes. She could feel herself beginning to cry again. E.J.'s brow broke into a guilty curve, and she cringed a little bit.

 "Aw, Claud," she started, feeling a knot of remorse planting itself in her stomach. "Don't cry, please… I didn't know… I mean, I just didn't know what I was doing. I wouldn't –" E.J. ran out of breath again. She paused, inhaled sharply, then continued. "I wouldn't just abandon you like that…you're like, my…" She tried to breathe in and out a few more times, then coughed. "You're like my sister."

Claudia was beginning to sob, and the guilty feeling inside E.J. twisted a little bit more. She wished she could sit up and give her friend a hug, although she was so weak all she was capable of was lying still. Claudia brushed the hair out of her face and looked up at E.J.

 "I'm sorry, Claudia," E.J. whispered. "Please don't cry."
Part Twenty-One

 Claudia and E.J. were in the middle of a conversation, when a young male intern walked in. Claudia didn't have time to hide.

 "Hello there girls," he said. He looked momentarily at the chart, and winked at E.J. He left. The girls looked at each other.

 "What was that?" asked Claudia.

 "I think a better question would be who was that. I want him to come back!" The girls laughed, but E.J. drew in a breath, and winced. Even laughing made her stomach hurt.

 "You O.K?" Claudia asked, concerned.

 "Yeah...my stomach hurts like hell...but I'm O.K."

 Claudia smiled. "Sarcasm Girl is back."

 Fraser appeared in the doorway. "And Goddaughter Girl must leave." Claudia looked up to Fraser.

 "Aww, but Ben-"

 "Claudia..." Fraser said threateningly.

 Claudia put her hands up in defeat. "OK, OK, I'm going." She got up out of the chair, and squeezed past Fraser. "I'll be back," she mouthed to E.J. E.J. smiled.

 Fraser took Claudia's place in the chair, and smiled down at E.J.

 "Umm...E.J. I know you may not want to hear this right now...but I figured I should tell you. We've found a foster home for you." E.J. raised her brow. "A young couple, mid thirties."

 "Why do they want to adopt me?" E.J. asked.

 "The wife, Mrs. Scott, said she wanted a 'troubled' youth if possible."

 "Troubled?!" E.J. repeated, appalled.

 "Yes, but hear me out. Mrs. Scott's sister committed suicide... and she feels that... she's got something in common...." Fraser trailed off, expecting E.J. to say something. She was silent a moment.

  "Will I have any brothers or sisters?"

 Fraser shook his head. "No, you'll be an only child. But the Scott's don't live far from my area, so you're still going to see Claudia...I assume that's OK."

 E.J. nodded vigorously. "When am I leaving this place?" E.J. questioned Fraser.

 "Two days. Most of the drugs are gone, and they just want to keep an eye on you for a while. Then...a few weeks after you're out...you'll be leaving to go to the Scott's."

 "Not right away?"

 "No, not right away," Fraser replied. "Everyone wants to wait until… things cool down."

 E.J. was silent and nodded understandingly. "Can I still visit you and Ray?"

 Fraser smiled. "Of course."

*  *  *

 Claudia pushed open the door to Ray's apartment to grab her jacket. She hadn't been in there since E.J.'s attempt to end her life. No one had. The bloody cloth was still on the floor, the toke that E.J. had smoked was still sitting on the table, just where Claudia had put it after she had discovered it. Claudia picked up her jacket off the table, and looked to the window.

 "What the hell," she said to herself, and climbed out onto the fire escape, and up to the roof.

 It was cold up there, and Claudia was glad she had brought her coat up with her. She zipped it up, and sat on the ledge, looking down. She put her hands behind her to lean back on them, and felt something cut her hand. She looked back. It was black glass.

 "That's the bottle," she thought to herself. She wiped the blood off on her jeans, and stared out at the Chicago sky. It was almost dusk. She stared off, and looked at the Chicago skyline, a crowd of lights off in the distance. She sighed.

 She must have been sitting there for a good thirty minutes when she was jolted from her trance.

 "Claud! What are you doing on the roof?!" Ray called from the ladder heading up to the roof.

 "Thinking," she called back. "Do you want me down now?" she asked.

 "Well, yeah. Fraser wants you to go back home."

 Claudia slid back from the edge and stood up. She walked back to the ladder, and climbed down to Ray's apartment. She hopped in the window.

 "What exactly were you thinking about up there?" Ray asked as Claudia headed for the door.

 "How absolutely disgusting the sky is with all that smog in it." Ray grinned. "Actually, I was thinking about E.J." Ray didn't seem surprised. "I was thinking, what if she did die, or why didn't she just jump from the building."

 "Gee Claud, you're making me feel really great." Ray quipped sarcastically.

 "Oh, come on. You can't tell me you still feel guilty about this! E.J.'s fine, and she's got nothing against you."
 Ray shrugged. "I don't know. I do....but I don't. I mean, what if she hadn't made it? What would I do? Would you forgive me? Would Benny forgive me? Would I forgive myself? I keep thinking 'what if '."

 "Well, it's a boring game. Let's not play." Claudia turned the knob, and walked out the door. "See you tomorrow."

 "Hey, Claudia?" Ray called.

 "Yeah?"  she answered, turning around.

 "What you said about me being a good father....did you mean it?"

 Claudia smiled. "Of course." She paused for a moment. "You know... I kinda think of you like a proxy dad."

 "Proxy... what's… what's that?"

 Claudia smiled at Ray's confusion. "Replacement...surrogate, you know, proxy. And...personally...I envy your children, if you ever have any. My dad was never around, so I never really got to know him... E.J. thinks you'd be a pretty neat father too." She shrugged. "I'd better go. Ben'll have a narwhale if I'm not home soon."

 Ray smiled. "G'night." He opened the door for Claudia as she exited, then locked it behind her as she left the building.
*  *  *

 Claudia opened the door to E.J.'s room in the ICU the next morning. The bed was empty.

 "Wha....?" Suddenly, it clicked. She was no longer in the intensive care unit. She walked out of the wing, and to the information desk.

 "Ramis, Elizabeth Jane?" she asked the woman at the desk.

 "Room 320." The woman said, in a bored tone.

 Claudia thanked the woman, and walked down the opposite hall. She peeked in the door, and saw E.J. flicking paper balls into the wastebasket.

 "Am I interrupting anything?" Claudia asked, smiling.

 "As a matter of fact, I was just about to take my million dollar shot, but, come on in."
 Claudia smiled, and sat down in the familiar blue chair.

 "So, how do you feel about going home?" Claudia asked E.J.

 E.J. raiser her eyebrows. "Home?"

 "Oh, well, technically, not home, yet. But, after a while, it'll feel like home. After I went to live with Ben, after a while, I got used to calling that apartment 'home'."

 E.J. shrugged. "All right, I guess..." she said slowly.

 "Have you met your future parents yet?" Claudia asked cautiously.

 E.J. shook her head. "Nah, but Fraser's told me some stuff about them. From what I hear, they're not as odd as Ray, or as polite as Fraser, but they'll do, I guess."

 "You're not going to have any siblings, are you?"

 "Besides you?" E.J. asked. Claudia smiled. "Nope."

 Ray poked his head in the door. "Umm, Claud, hate to disturb you're little gab fest here, but Fraser'll kill you if you're in here when he gets back." Claudia nodded tolerantly.

 "O.K." she got out of her chair, and headed towards the door. "When Fraser's gone to the Consulate, I'll be back," she said, grinning devilishly.

 Ray laughed, and guided her out of the room. "Get lost, and while you're at it, get me lunch. Get the money from my jacket." Claudia smiled, and left the room. Ray took Claudia's place by the bed. E.J. sat up completely, and brushed her hair out of her eye.

 "E.J., I need to talk to you." Ray said.

 "What are you doing right now?" she pointed out.

 "No, I mean a serious talk. And don't interrupt until I'm done."

 E.J. nodded, perplexed.

 "E.J., when you tried to kill yourself, do you have any idea how much you scared me?" E.J. looked down at her hands, sheepishly. She could now remember most of what had happened that night.

 "I freaked," Ray continued. "I thought you were gonna die. And the worst thing was, that I felt so responsible."

 "But Ray, you-"

 Ray put his hand up, silencing the girl.

 "E.J., you scared the crap out of me. I was feeling so guilty, I..." he let out a breath. "Do you know what it felt like carrying you off the roof? I thought you were dead, E.J., you were... you were so cold… and, and limp, and... God E.J..."

 E.J. was still looking down into her lap, feeling degraded.

 "Do you know what was going through my mind that 26 hours? All I was thinking was I'm letting down Claudia, and I'm letting down Fraser. And I was really letting down you. You.... I was thinking…" Ray's eyes were red, and he looked up at E.J. E.J. looked up at him too, and seeing him so worried about her, her eyes began to fill with tears.

 "I'm sorry.." she said, her eyes filling with tears. "I didn't mean to hurt you like that... I... I wasn't thinking. I was upset." She stopped to sniff. "Ray, it wasn't to hurt you. It was a stupid move on my part, a really stupid move." She looked at Ray, who was looking straight at her. "I'm sorry.." she repeated.

 Ray wiped under his eyes with his thumb, and shook his head.

 "Can I ask you something now?" E.J. asked him, very slowly letting the air out of her lungs. Ray looked at her with his eyebrows raised. "You really think of me as your surrogate daughter?"


 "What you said last night, about me being your surrogate daughter… did you mean that?"

 Ray's face formed a small smile. "You heard that?" E.J. winced as a sharp pang hit the inside of her stomach lining, but she nodded anyway.

 "I didn't really recall until just now, but yeah…"

 "E.J., you weren't faking your coma, were you?" Ray asked her with a grin. She snickered. "Yeah, actually. You are kinda my surrogate daughter, I guess." The two of them took a moment to absorb the sentimental silence.

 "Hey Ray," she began again, very quietly.


 "Would you mind leaving for a second? I think I'm going to throw up again…"
Part Twenty-Two
 Can I call you Uncle Damian?

 "Give me a break... I can walk, you know."

 "Oh, come on, E.J. Just get in the damn wheelchair," Ray said, annoyed.

 "I don't want to."

 "Get in."


 "Get in."

 "I don't want to."

 "Did you know," said Dr. Lien, peering at the girl from behind Ray, "that there's a way to administer nutmeg intravenously, so that it acts as a poison?" E.J. looked frightened and slowly approached her awaiting friends.

 "Okay, okay," she grumbled, lowering herself into the wheelchair. She winced as her stomach twisted painfully. She looked up at the group standing around her, composed of Fraser, Ray, Claudia, and Dr. Lien. She raised her eyebrows and signaled for Claudia to come nearer. Claudia leaned forward.
"Get another wheelchair," E.J. whispered in her ear. "I'll race you down the hallway."

 Claudia laughed. "Are you ready to go now or not?"

 "Yeah," E.J. replied. "Let's go."

*  *  *

 Unfortunately for Claudia, March break had ended just when E.J. had been released from the hospital. Rather than accompanying E.J. to her first psychiatric appointment, she was forced to return to Algebra II and French conjugations.

 "Now I want you to be polite, okay?" Fraser warned E.J. as they stepped through the doors of the building. E.J. gave him a saccharine-sweet smile.

 "Angelic as always, Fraser," she replied with her trademark sly smile.

 "That's what I'm afraid of." The two entered the small waiting room and briefly observed its contents. A large, canvas, abstract painting decorated the left wall. Several potted plants occupied the space on the windowsill. The receptionist looked up from her folder and gave them a lukewarm smile.

 "Dr. Freeman will be with you in a moment," she told them, and returned to her paperwork. Fraser and E.J. sat down upon two faded red armchairs in the corner. E.J. picked up a parenting magazine and feigned interest in the cover. Fraser studied the large painting that hung across the room from him.

 "You know, Frase," E.J. said in a low voice. "We don't have to do this. It's not too late to just go across the street to that nice little pizza place, maybe take in a movie, no one will ever know the difference." Fraser raised his eyebrows.

 "No," he said firmly. "This isn't my choice, E.J. It's the hospital's law."

 "But I don't want to-" E.J. was interrupted by the heavy wooden door that swung open behind the receptionist. A tall, brown-haired man stepped out from behind it and handed the woman at the desk a fat file. He looked pleasantly at Fraser and E.J. and approached them politely.

 "Hi," he said, extending his hand to E.J. E.J. took it graciously and gave him a strong handshake. "My name is Damian Freeman, I assume you're E.J.?"

 "No, my name is Olga." E.J. said straight-faced. "I'm here for the position as gardener. It hasn't been filled yet, I hope?" Fraser gave her a sharp nudge. Dr. Freeman laughed.

 "And you must be Constable Fraser," Dr. Freeman said, shaking his hand. "How do you do."

 E.J. gave a loud sigh. Fraser and the doctor exchanged glances.

 "Well E.J., if you'd like to just step into my office, we can talk for a little while," Dr. Freeman said patiently.

 "Actually, I wouldn't," E.J. said coldly.

 "E.J.," Fraser said warningly. She gave another audible sigh and stood up.

 "Right this way," Dr. Freeman told her, escorting her through the thick wooden door behind the desk. E.J. entered his office and sat down on a plush purple armchair in front of the psychiatrist's desk. Dr. Freeman sat across from her behind the desk.

 "I thought you were going to have a couch," E.J. said, carefully eyeing the room. The doctor shook his head.

 "Nope, sorry. You'll have to make do with the chair for right now," he said. "So, E.J… why don't we get to know each other?"

 E.J. looked up at Dr. Freeman bitterly. "Yes, let's," she replied sarcastically. The man was not discouraged.

 "All right then… ask me anything you want," he said. E.J. looked puzzled.


 "Ask me anything," he repeated. E.J. paused and took this into consideration.

 "Okay…" she said slowly. "Can I call you Uncle Damian?"

 "No. Next question."

 "Are those certificates on the wall for real, or did you just photocopy somebody else's and frame them up there?"

 "They're real."

 "Do you ever diagnose anybody 'crazy as a loon'?"

 Dr. Freeman rolled his eyes. "No. I could make an exception for you, though."

 "Can I call you Grandpa Damian?"

 "Well, I think it's my turn to ask the questions now," Dr. Freeman said, tapping his pen on his desk calendar. E.J.'s only expression was the sarcastic smirk that seemed glued to her lips. She did not reply to this. He placed his thumb on his chin and squinted at the girl.

 "Alright, E.J. Tell me," he began. "What are you afraid of?" E.J. gained a serious air about her.

 "Well… to tell you the truth," she started.

 "Yes?" the doctor encouraged.

 "Ever since I was a little kid… I've had this really big fear of being analyzed," E.J. said, keeping a straight face. Dr. Freeman lowered his eyes at her.

 "Can you be serious?" he asked, trying successfully not to be annoyed.

 "No," E.J. said solemnly.

 "Well, can you try, please? For me?" Dr. Freeman asked. E.J.'s looked up and met the doctor's hopeful stare. Before she could open her mouth to speak, she allowed herself time to actually examine his features. She realized that she had not really looked at him since she had arrived.

 "Wow," she thought to herself as her pupils bore into the doctor's pale gray-olive eyes.

 "Um… yeah, okay," E.J. said quietly, trying desperately not to smile.

 "Why don't we play a game," he said, standing up and walking to a file cabinet in the corner. E.J. raised an eyebrow.

 "You mean, 'Why don't we use a different word for test so we can inspect E.J.'s brain'." Dr. Freeman stopped in his tracks and looked at her with an approving nod of his head, but did not respond. He opened the cabinet and produced a large booklet. He returned to his seat across from E.J.

 "All right," he said flipping the book open to the middle. Printed in black and white was a sketch of a small child climbing on a jungle gym. "Can you tell me what this is a picture of?"

 E.J. resisted the temptation to make a smartass comment. "It's a kid," she told him flatly.

 "So, how do you think he feels?"

 "About what? The playground? His life? His sneakers? His dad?" E.J. asked the doctor. She expected Dr. Freeman to give a tired sigh, but instead he scratched something down on his notepad. E.J.'s eyes widened in confusion. What had she said? Had she slipped accidentally?

 "You tell me," Dr. Freeman said. "Tell me how he's feeling." E.J. paused, and then purposely let her face break into a miserable-looking shape.

 "He's just sad," she said, sniffing. "He's feeling… pain… he's feeling so much pain…" E.J. buried her face in her hands and pretended to cry. This time, Dr. Freeman let a very tiny groan slide between his lips.

 "Let's try another one," Dr. Freeman said, turning the page.

 "Okay," said E.J. pleasantly. This time the page had a black and white sketch of a young girl, maybe her own age, crouched down in a cardboard box.

 "What can you tell me about this picture?" Dr. Freeman said.

 "She's, um, hiding, I guess." More scribblings in his notepad followed.

 "What's she hiding from?"

 E.J. slowly narrowed her eyes at the doctor. Her urge to contradict everything he said had very suddenly subsided. She thought carefully for a moment, then spoke.

 "She's hiding from all the people outside the room." More scribblings.

 "Why?" he asked her.

 "Because she doesn't know them, and she really doesn't want to bother."

 "Hmm...I see.." said the doctor, studying his notes.

 "Hey...are you Canadian, by any chance?"
Part Twenty-Three

 "Well class, did you all have a good break?" Ms. Gatonsby asked Claudia's homeroom. Many jumbled comments rushed out of every student's mouth at one time. Claudia sat with her cheek in her palm, remaining quiet.

 "What did you do, Katie?" the teacher questioned the girl in the front row sitting beside Claudia. Katie smiled.

 "My family and I went to Philadelphia for the week. It was pretty cool," she replied.

 "What about you, Claudia?" asked Ms. Gatonsby. Claudia slowly lifted her head up wearily.

 "Um… nothing," she replied quietly. One boy spoke up in the back of the room.

 "Hey Claudia, weren't you the one who's friend tried to commit suicide?" Almost as if a firecracker had gone off in the front of the room, the entire class became disturbingly quiet. Claudia brought her forehead to her hand and did not reply. The uncomfortable silence all seemed to now revolve around Claudia.

 "No way Claudia, really?" another student piped. Claudia's head sank farther into her hand.

 "I heard she tried to jump off the roof of your building, right?"

 Claudia was trying very hard to keep tears from forming in her eyes. She avoided making eye contact with the rest of the students.

 "Class," Ms. Gatonsby said warningly.

 "Her friend's name is E.J.," a boy near the windows proclaimed. "And she's a girl!"

 Claudia could feel herself shrinking in her seat. She was now physically losing inches as the rest of the class spoke. Soon enough she would disappear, she felt sure of that.

 "I heard she overdosed on, like, drugs or something, she didn't jump off a building!"

 Yes, she was definitely shrinking. If she could just wait another minute, perhaps she would be small enough to take refuge within her own shoe.

 She could hear someone laughing, and she managed to overhear the words 'dumb Canadian'. The same voice mumbled, "…only friend she can get is a psychopath…"

 No, wait, perhaps she was not shrinking after all. Claudia threw her book down on the ground and leapt out of her chair. With a hot temperament, she stormed to the back of the room and approached the boy who had muttered this cold sentence. He was laughing, but immediately looked frightened when he looked up and saw Claudia hovering over his desk. She paused for a moment and observed his deer-in-headlights reaction. Then, she quickly grabbed the back of his hair and thrust his head hard against his desk.

 "She's not a psychopath," Claudia growled bitterly. "I'd like an apology, please."

 "I'm sorry," the boy said meekly.


 "I said I'm sorry," he repeated quietly. Claudia released her death grip on his head. He sat back up, intimidated. Claudia glared at him, then moved back toward her own seat without saying a word.

 "…must be two psychopath friends, eh?" Claudia could feel her anger boiling over. Without bothering to go back and correct the nasty person, she took her backpack from the floor and fumed out of the class, slamming the door behind her.

*  *  *

 Fraser escorted E.J. into District 27, right to Ray's desk. Ray looked up with a suspicious smirk and raised his eyebrow. He noticed that, although E.J. had donned a proud grin, Fraser looked fatigued, to say the least. Had it not been Fraser, Ray would have said he looked almost… fed up.

 "Well?" Ray asked expectantly. "How'd it go?" Fraser responded with a very vague, tired look.

 "Apparently our young friend has taken an unhealthy interest in making her new psychiatrist work harder than he has to," Fraser sighed. "If you'll excuse me, I'm going to… check on Diefenbaker." With that, he abandoned the two and exited the station.
 Ray looked up at E.J., who was still grinning triumphantly.

 "What did you do?" E.J. sat down in the chair beside his desk.

 "Ah, nothing, really. I just wanted to get to know the guy better, and Fraser flipped out…"

 "Oh did he? Just because you wanted to get to know him better?"

 "Well, yeah!" E.J. replied. "I mean, the guy wasn't too easygoing, you know? I was just, like, can I call you Uncle Damian, and he's, like, no! Can you believe that?"

"Uncle Damian?" Ray repeated in disbelief.

 "Oh, sure. Me and him, we're tight now."

 Ray buried his face in his hands. "You know, E.J… that man is there to help you, not torture you..."

 "Oh, yeah, take his side," E.J. said accusingly. She reached over Ray's desk and picked up a rubber band, which she then wrapped around her thumb and forefinger. Claudia entered the police station just as E.J. released the rubber band.

 "Ow!" Ray cried. He was not angry for long, however, because the pair saw the distraught look on Claudia's face.

 "Claud! What are you doing out of school?" E.J. asked her, surprised. Claudia pulled up a chair and sat down beside her.

 "People suck," she said bitterly. She folded her arms over her chest and glared at Ray's desk.

 "They certainly do," E.J. agreed, picking up another rubber band. "What happened?" Claudia did not look up from her sour scowl.

 "Nothing happened. They just suck, that's all."


 "Ow!" Ray cried. "Will you knock it off?" He turned back to Claudia. "Who's they?"

"No one.." She sighed in frustration and looked up from her glower. She took a deep breath before she began again. "So… how'd your appointment go?"

 The proud smile E.J. had walked into the station with returned. "Just fine, thank you. You should meet my doctor, he's very nice."

 Claudia nodded. "Where's Ben?" she asked.

 "He went to check on Dief."

 "Ray, can I go to your place then?"

 "Wh...well, if you're gonna clean it, go for it," he remarked. Claudia picked at the Canadian flag sewn on her bag for a moment, then got out of the chair and left, muttering incoherently.

 "What's her problem?" E.J. asked.

 "Having trouble with her O's, I guess."
*  *  *

 Claudia walked briskly down the street, staring at her white and blue Adidas, her hands shoved in her pockets. She was softly whispering the lyrics to Jann Arden's 'I Would Die For You'.

"...I've never kissed a sweeter mouth...I've never been swept away... It's what dreams
are made up of..."

 She walked into someone. She  stumbled backwards, and even though the sun was in her face, she could still see the red serge in front of her. She hung her head, and Fraser stared down at her.

 "Claudia-" Fraser began.

 "-Reid. What on earth are you doing out of school! Followed by a 'Do you have any idea what your father would say?!'"

 "Exactly," said the Mountie, waiting for an answer.

 "Ben..." Claudia let out a wavering sigh.

 "What's wrong?" he asked his Goddaughter. "What happened?"

 Claudia sat on the curb, and Fraser stood behind her. "The kids at school...found out
about E.J." she said. "They...they really pissed me off. I whacked Mike's head against his desk." Fraser looked horrified.

 "Claudia! What ever possessed you to do that!?"

 "They were making fun of E.J., and they were making fun of me as a Canadian. God, I hate this country. I want to go back home."

 "Claudia, first of all, America is a wonderful country, with nice people, and a very interesting history. Second of all, we can't send you back home yet, we still don't have anyone who can take care of you."

 "Except you, Sam Steele of the South," she retorted. She blew her bangs out of her eyes.

 "What exactly were they saying about E.J.?" Fraser asked, sitting beside Claudia.

 "They said she was a psychopath." Claudia said, chaffed. "And they were making fun of her name..."

 "What did they say about you?" Ben said gently.

 "They...they said the only friend I could get was a psychopath. Then they said I was nuts." Claudia tried to fight back those very familiar tears, and opened and closed her kilt pin absently.

 "That must not have been easy to take."

 Claudia shook her head. "You have no idea." She managed a small laugh. "Maybe I'm cursed. What with Dad and everyone, and Luke..."

 "Claudia, it certainly is not your fault that E.J. tried to kill herself, and you had nothing to do with Lucas' death either."

 "I know...I just want a reason for all this stuff, I guess."

 Fraser nodded, understanding. He helped Claudia up. "Now, get back to school."

*  *  *

 "Truth or Dare?"


 "Flash Mr. Mustafi."

 The girls exploded into laughter. They were laying on a  blanket on Fraser's living room floor in their pajamas. They stopped once they had heard the knock coming from beneath them. E.J. got up and stomped as hard as she could on the floor.

 "E.J.!" cried Claudia. "Stop that! Ms. Belanger'll tell Ben we were up!"

 "So, you think he's gonna believe a ninety-six year old woman with no teeth?"

 Claudia nodded.

 "Where is Fraser, anyway?" E.J. asked.

 "Out driving Inspector Thatcher around. The Scottish ambassador's having some big party or something. And Ben said he'd be home around midnight." Claudia pointed to her watch, emphasizing that it was eleven forty-five. "And I've got to go to school tomorrow."

 "Then we'll just be really, really quiet," said E.J.

 "Hey, how was that Dr. Freeman guy?"

 E.J. shrugged. "I didn't really get to know him. I get a real kick outta being a smartass."

 "I'm sure you do." Claudia chewed absently on a nacho chip. "What kind of stuff did he ask you? Did he have inkblots?"

 "Nope. But he had a bunch of dopey pictures, like a kid in a box, and this boy looking in a mirror and stuff. All in all, it wasn't that bad."

 "But you still had to bug him..."
 "Of course." E.J. grinned. She picked up a bottle of water, and took a sip. "Hey, what was your problem today? You were skipping school, I thought that was against your religion."

 Claudia let out a long sigh, and threw an un-eaten chip back in the bag.

 "The kids at school found out about you... I don't know how.... Pauline's mom is a nurse there, so maybe she found out and told everyone."

 "What were they saying...?"

 Claudia shook her head. "It doesn't matter. But I threw Mike's head against his desk."

 "Wow....it must have been some pretty bad stuff to make you do that," mused E.J.

 "Yeah, well..."Claudia trailed off. She sipped the last of her water. "Hey! Don't you meet your foster parents tomorrow?" E.J. buried her face in her pillow.

 "You had to remind me, didn't you? Yeah, I do," she sighed. "Too bad you can't come with me. We could freak them out."

 "Yeah," said Claudia laughing. "Dress in drag.. sing 'Tubthumping', bite them, try to kill the cat... I could see it."

 The girls were in the middle of another laughing fit when the door opened. They stopped short.

 "What are you two still doing up?!" cried Fraser. "Claudia Miyax Reid! You have school tomorrow! And E.J., you should be in bed too!"

 "Sorry, Ben..." said Claudia, abashed, entering the bathroom.

 "Yeah, sorry, Fraser," said E.J. following Claudia into the bathroom to brush her teeth.

 "Hey, Claudia?"

 "Yeah?" replied Claudia brushing her hair.

 "What the hell kind of middle name is Miyax?"
Part Twenty-Four
 I am Juliet Capulet

 "E.J., get out of the car."


 "I know you're not sleeping, it's eleven a.m. Get out of the car."

 "I'm tired..."

 Ray had lost his patience. He got out of the car, and stood beside Fraser, trying to coax E.J. out of the car."

 "Kid, get the hell outta my car before I throw you out. And I mean it."

 "You're not going to do it."

 "Oh, I am." Ray grabbed the waist of E.J.'s army pants, and with his other hand, he took the back of her jacket. He pulled her out of the car.

 "Ow! Put me down, you baboon!" Ray released his hold on E.J., and set her on the sidewalk. She straightened out her shirt. "Jeez...take a valium, pal."

 "Got to get to work, Ben. Have fun with Rip Van Winkle here." Ray got back into his car and drove away. Fraser looked at E.J.

 "E.J., you are fifteen years old, I should not be telling you how to behave."

 "Then don't." E.J. looked up at the condo which she was soon to be living in. She let out a whistle. "Yikes...these folks are loaded." She made her way to the door, and Fraser followed. "What floor?" she asked.

 "Twentieth,"  replied Fraser. "Room 203."

 Fraser and E.J. boarded the elevator and rode to the twentieth floor in silence. They slowly walked down the hall, and stopped in front of room 203. E.J. made no move to knock. Fraser let out a sigh, and knocked the door himself. A moment later, it opened.

 A young woman with short brown hair answered. She broke into a smile. "Constable Fraser? E.J.?"

 "No, I am Juliet Capulet, I-" Fraser nudged her in the back with his elbow. "I mean, yes. I'm E.J." The woman stuck her hand out.

 "I suppose you already know me, I'm Lesa Scott." E.J. took the offered hand, and was pulled into a hug. She awkwardly returned the favor. Mrs. Scott invited them in. "Nicholas?" she called.

 A handsome man, around 35 years old entered the living room. "E.J.?" he asked.

 E.J. stuck her hand out, and offered it to Mr. Scott. Fraser was surprised at her courtesy.

 "Well, E.J., take a seat," said Mr. Scott after shaking E.J.'s hand. E.J. sat in a plush, blue lay-z-boy chair. Fraser sat on a sofa with Mr. Scott, and Mrs. Scott retreated to the kitchen.

 "First of all," Nicholas began, "I just wanted to say thank you for accepting our offer to come live with us. I know it must not be easy for you, changing homes and everything."

  E.J. shrugged.
 "Lesa and I wanted children, but she was speaking to one of the nurses at St. Barbara's, and she immediately felt connected to you somehow. I don't know how exactly, I just go along with her." He smiled, and E.J. smiled back.

 Mrs. Scott walked into the living room with a tray of cookies. E.J. took one, and thanked Mrs. Scott politely.

 "So, E.J. Do you want to ask us anything?" Mr. Scott asked.

 "Can I call you.." she paused, wanting to see Fraser's reaction. She smiled when sheer despair registered on his face "Nick, or what?"

 "Nick is fine, and you can call my wife Lesa. We understand that you'll call us Mom and Dad if you feel you want to. We're not going to make you do something you don't want."

 E.J. nodded. "Where's my room?"

 Lesa smiled. "Come with me." E.J. stood up, and followed her to a room at the end of the hall. She pushed the door open, and E.J. stepped in. The window looked out towards the skyline, and the walls were white. The bed was a loft, with the desk underneath it.

 "When you move in, we can paint the walls." Lesa explained.

 "O.K." agreed E.J. They walked back into the living room, where Fraser and Nick were in the middle of a conversation.

 "Any more questions, E.J.?" he asked.
 E.J. grinned. "Yeah. Do you mind a perverse sense of humor?"
Part Twenty-Five
 Be Fri and St Ends 
(Two Weeks Later)

 "It's like dreaming, Claud. I don't know how to take it," E.J. said slowly. She pulled her knees up tighter to her chest and shifted her position on the large rock.

 "How so?"

 "I'm just not sure what to make of this. I mean, when you get shipped from house to house for seven years, your sense of family, of home, gets kind of distorted, you know?" The girls sat facing across from one another in the shelter of half-leafy trees in the large park. They had plenty of privacy; it appeared that, since they were tucked away in the wooded area, no one within two miles could spot them. Claudia was sitting on the hard, flat dirt, her back leaning against another huge rock.

 "I do know what you mean, sort of, but it will go away. It probably doesn't seem that way now, but it will," Claudia told her. E.J. nodded.

 "I guess so. I feel… I don't know, I feel really scared," E.J. replied.


 "I'm just nervous. I'm going to live with two total strangers, and I'm expected to pretend that that's perfectly normal. Wouldn't you feel weird? It's like I'm invading their privacy somehow."

 "I don't think that's the case at all. I'm sure they want you in their home very much, and they probably won't treat you like an outsider at all."

 Silence fell between the girls. E.J. sniffed loudly and extinguished the remains of her cigarette.

 "Here," Claudia started again. "I wanted to give you something before you go." E.J. perked up with interest. Claudia reached deep into the pocket of her jacket and pulled out two long, white boxes. "Pick one," she directed. E.J. moved from her rock down to the ground, so they were almost knee to knee.

 "That one," E.J. said, pointing to the box on the left. Claudia smiled and handed it to her. E.J. raised her eyebrows with curiosity and lifted the lid of her box. Shining back at her was half of a heart pendant on a silver chain. Inscribed thickly in the pendant was

 "Aw, Claud…" E.J. said, grinning. "Does your necklace say "be fri" too?" Claudia laughed.

 "No, mine says 'st ends'," Claudia replied with a grin. "Be-st fri-ends."

"It's great, thank you very much." E.J.'s smile remained on her face as she undid the clasp on the chain and hooked it behind her own neck. She fingered the pendant and examined it closely. It was very pretty; the half-heart was bordered in tiny red stones. She watched as Claudia did the same to her own necklace and fastened it around her neck. The pair sat still a while longer, absorbing the quiet of the serene park air.

 "Well," E.J. said slowly. "I guess it's time."
Part Twenty-Six
 With a Little Help From My Friends

 "Wow," Claudia breathed. "You've got a hell of a view, E.J." E.J. looked up from her backpack and joined Claudia at her new bedroom window. She had a perfect view of the Chicago skyline. "You can see everything up here. Wow."

 E.J. gave her a half-smile. "Yeah," she replied. "It's pretty cool."

 "So," Claudia said, forcing herself to pull away from the window, "can I help you unpack?" E.J. returned to the desk chair where she left her backpack. She lifted the bag up to show Claudia.

 "This is it, man. I just have to dump it out, and I'm unpacked." Claudia gaped at her in surprise.

 "You're kidding! That's all of your stuff?" she cried.

 "Well, yeah. Most of the stuff I've ever owned is back at Caroline's house, and I couldn't think of anything there that I wanted that badly. So, this is pretty much it. Toothbrush, hairbrush, silly putty, cigarettes, jeans, a sweatshirt…. Umm…" she lifted it up and weighed it in her hand again, trying to recall the other inhabitants of the bag. "Uh… a deck of cards, and my dad's lucky ring."

 "Lucky ring?" Claudia repeated.

 "Yeah. The last time I ever saw him, he took it off his finger and gave it to me. He told me to hold on to it for him, in case I ever needed it." Claudia nodded understandingly. The two of them stood together in the middle of the bedroom, observing it's splendor. It was fairly simple; there were no posters on the wall, no figurines or stickers on the desk yet, but it was more than sufficient for E.J. The desk did, however, have a black and purple lava lamp, which was something she had always wanted.

 "Claud! E.J.! Come out here!" They heard Ray's voice calling to them from the living room. The two obediently did so, and met the four awaiting adults and wolf in the middle of the apartment. Nick and Lesa were standing opposite Fraser and Ray. The quiet conversation they seemed to be having died down when the girls entered the room.

 "It's time for us to go, Claudia," Fraser told her. E.J.'s heart sank disappointedly.

 "E.J.," Lesa spoke up, "if you'd like to invite Claudia over to spend the night next weekend, you're welcome to." Both girls' faces brightened.

 "How about it, Claud?" she asked.

 "Sure," Claudia replied with a smile. Stillness broke over the room.

 "Well…" E.J. began slowly. She crouched down in front of the wolf. "I guess I'll be seeing you, Dief." The wolf let out a small whimper. She rubbed his ears, and he gratefully licked her nose in return. She brought Diefenbaker into a quick hug, then stood up again.

 "Fraser," she said. "Thank you so much for everything. I really appreciate all that you did for me, really." E.J. stepped up to the Mountie and wrapped her arms behind his shoulders in a hug. "Thanks, Ben."

"Goodbye, E.J.," Fraser said, returning the hug. E.J. felt tears starting to sting her eyes as she let go of him and backed away.

 "See you, E.J.," Ray said with a plaintive smile, bringing her into a hug. She saw Ray's eyes beginning to water, and she pulled her arms around him and hugged him back.

 "Thank you too, Ray," E.J. said, feeling a tear slide out of her eye. "For saving my life." E.J. gave him a quick kiss on the cheek. Ray let go of the girl and looked down awkwardly at his feet. E.J. moved to Claudia.

 Neither of them had to say a word. Claudia wrapped her arms around her friend and embraced her. By now, each knew that the other was crying.

 "E.J., my best friend," Claudia said, trying to smile. "My sister…"

 "…Soul-mate…" said E.J.

 "…Accomplice…" Ray added. They let out a choked laugh.

 "See you, Claud," E.J. said, tightly shutting her eyes. She felt a tear roll off her face and onto Claudia's shoulder.

 "Bye, E.J."

June 7th, 1998
Ashleigh Sametz (CKRs.chik@trust-me.com)
Ashley Calvert (calvinball1968@usa.net)