A Joint Venture III: Chicago Green
™ Ashley Sametz and Ashley Calvert, 1999

Another Fine Alterashley Production....

Ash C: Stand back folks, we’re at it again.
Ash S: Run! Run like hell!
Ash C: Oh, but look what we’ve done. Another glorious addition to the ‘A Joint Venture’ series.
Ash S: I bet they missed us.
Ash C: Of course they did. Everybody loves Claudia and E.J.
Ash S: Wow, EVERYONE??
Ash C: Sure. Even the Pope likes Claudia and E.J.
Ash C: And the king of Canada.
Ash S: That’s low, Yank.
Ash C: Cuckin’ fanuck.
Ash S: Yeah, well, getting to the point here... this is the part of our introduction where one of us goes “Claudia Reid and E.J. Ramis belong entirely to us.”
Ash C: Claudia Reid and E.J. Ramis belong entirely to us. And if you take them, we’ll blow up your computer.
Ash S: We can do that now you know, coz we’re hacker monkeys.
Ash C: Shh! No we’re not!
Ash S: Oh right, we’re not.
Ash C: And also, our story is rated PG-13 for obscene language and serious scenes. But honestly guys –  if we’re mature enough to handle it, YOU should be too. Oh, and we’ve also got juvenile drug use. Hey, it’s about a nark, what’d you expect?
Ash S: Which may get you wondering, “Hey, how do these guys KNOW so much about drugs?”
Ash C: I’ve often wondered myself.
Ash S: We read books.
Ash C: Lots of books.
Ash S: Same way we know about raves and sex, all of that.
Ash C: Yeah, and late night HBO.
Ash S: A ha... I’m laughing. On the inside.
Ash C: Oh, and we’re using Ray Kowalski here, because, well, he’s cool.
Ash S: Right.
Ash C: Thank you kindly’s to our drug dealers and gun-dealing cohorts... (just kidding, Mom!) Thank you kindly to Mr. Moran, my 9th grade government teacher, for lending me his Big Book of Street Law, from which the idea for this story came.
Ash S: (“Woo hoo! We finally get to use the word “STATUS OFFENSE” in a sentence!!”)
Ash C: And lastly, shameless self-promotion. To find out more about our characters and their backgrounds, be sure to check out “The Girl”, “The Godfather”, “The Godfather II: The Perfect Drug”, “A Joint Venture”, “A Joint Venture II: Code 207”, “The Great-Canadian-Balcony-Pusher-Offer”, “The Blues Sister”, or “In The Name of the Father”. (Wow. I didn’t realize we wrote that many. Cool.)
Ash S: Sorry to waste your time. On with the show.


    “Ray, you really shouldn't be letting them do that. It's unprofessional,” the Mountie reprimanded his partner. Ray Vecchio shrugged his shoulders a little and smiled.
    “They like it okay. Besides, we won't get in trouble as long as Welsh doesn't know.” Ben Fraser sighed in disapproval. The two men were standing on the outside of one-way mirror, looking in on a lineup. There were about seven people all lined up in front of a wall marked with height measurements. The first and second suspects were two similar-looking men, covered from the neck down in elaborate tattoos and dressed greasily in black leather clothing. The third suspect was not actually a suspect at all, but Fraser's Goddaughter, Claudia Reid. The girl stood with a small grin on her face, sticking out like a sore thumb between the two biker-types. The fourth man in the lineup was another greasy, leather-clad type, and the fifth was, also, a tad more obvious than the others. Claudia's best friend, E.J. Ramis, was grinning, standing between the huge tattooed men. Again, the Mountie sighed.
    “They look ridiculous up there, Ray. You really shouldn't have let them do this.” Ray smirked, ignoring his partner.
    “Turn to your left,” a voice outside the room commanded to the defenders within. Predictably, the five men turned to their left, whereas Claudia turned to her right and E.J. turned around to face the wall. Fraser began rubbing his temples, disgusted.      “Left,” the voice repeated. E.J. turned to her right and Claudia turned to face the wall. The woman who was brought in to identify her attacker in the first place couldn't help but laugh. Ray covered his mouth with his hand so Fraser could not see his smile.
    “I'm sorry ma'am, they're not usually this insubordinate,” Fraser apologized. The woman shook her head.
    “It's alright. I've got three daughters of my own, I know how teenagers can be,” she replied.

    After the members of the lineup were released, the girls rejoined the officers. “Thanks, Ray,” Claudia said, smiling. E.J. nodded her thanks as well. Fraser shook his head at his Goddaughter.
    “Really, Claudia. Ray allowed you two to in that lineup because he trusted you to act responsibly, and instead you acted like you belonged in a circus,” he scolded.
    “I didn't think that. Don't you think I know them by now? They're not responsible,” Ray said. The foursome arrived at Ray's desk and Ray plopped down into his chair, busying himself with a file conclusion. Claudia and E.J. sauntered over to Claudia's desk and began working on some different reports. Minutes passed by before the door to Welsh's office swung open. Huey leaned out and looked over to Fraser and Ray.
    “Fraser, Vecchio. Welsh wants you,” Huey told them. Ray swallowed as he made his way up from his desk. Hope it isn't about the lineup, he thought, preparing himself for any possibility. The officers made their way into Welsh's office, closed the door, and stood at attention near the doorway.
    “Constable, Detective. Sit,” Welsh said in a tone that was not as harsh than any chastising voice. The Mountie and the detective took two chairs near Welsh's desk, while Huey and his partner Dewey sat on the couch near the wall.
    “Problem, sir?” Ray asked. Welsh shook his head and leaned forward.
    “Nah. This involves Fraser here more than you, I think,” Welsh replied. “It's about your Godkid.” Fraser raised his eyebrows, avoiding his initial instinct to look outside the office's window to glance at her.

    Claudia nudged E.J. “What?” E.J. said, looking up from the game of Hearts she was playing on Claudia's computer. Claudia motioned towards Welsh's office.
    “Did you see that?” Claudia asked. E.J. looked over to the office as well.
    “See what?”
    “The five of them keep looking over here. I think we're in trouble,” Claudia said thoughtfully. E.J. scratched her chin.
    “We probably shoulda turned to the left when they told us to,” E.J. replied, smiling.

    “A... narcotics agent, sir?” Fraser asked the Lieutenant. The Duckboys nodded.
    “Yeah, see, what we do is we put Claudia in with a couple of kids, she gets some evidence, she gets out. It'll take less than a week,” Dewey explained. Fraser looked pensive. Ray looked annoyed.
    “That's a great idea, guys,” Ray said sarcastically. “Why bother going out there and arresting the dangerous criminals when you can bust a couple kids with half the work? It's brilliant.” Welsh shook his head.
    “It's not that kind of deal. Look.” Welsh pushed a manila folder towards Ray and continued talking. “Three dropouts in one month. Two heroin overdoses. Two different hospitalizations due to abuse of some drug or another. Gunfights, both parties intoxicated. The list goes on.” Ray studied the folder closely as the Lieutenant spoke. “You know how this stuff works. It spreads like wildfire.”
    “We just want to get somebody in there to stop it before it goes any further,” Huey added.
    “For the good of society,” Ray muttered under his breath.
    “But why Claudia?” Fraser questioned.
    “A couple reasons. One, we know her. Two, we can trust her to pull it off. Four, she knows how cop stuff works,” Dewey explained.
    Ray tapped on one of the pages in the folder with the tip of his ring finger. “This is E.J.'s school,” he noted aloud.
    “That's three,” Huey corrected his partner. Dewey looked confused.
    “That's what I said.”
    “You don't have to involve her in this at all,” Welsh assured Fraser. “We just thought she'd be a good candidate for the job, but there's no pressure.”

    “They're looking over here again,” E.J. whispered.
    “Do they look mad?” Claudia whispered back.
    “No. Well, Ray looks kind of mad.” The two teenagers craned their necks to see into the office.
    “What if they fire you?” E.J. said, the tiniest amount of concern in her voice.
    “They can't fire me. They don't even pay me,” Claudia replied.

    “Sorry, I just don't think it's a good idea,” Fraser said, rising to his feet. Welsh nodded understandingly, but Huey and Dewey looked dissatisfied.
    “C'mon, Fraser. Claud's a smart kid.” Dewey protested. “She'll only be in this deal for a few weeks, tops. We just have to do a few busts.”
    “I'm just not sure about it. I'm aware that Claudia is very responsible, but....this could be dangerous, and I don't want to cause any grief with the Children's Aid, after all-”
    “But we can trust her.” Huey interjected. “And we know what she's like, she'd never actually touch the stuff-”
    “And isn't she in some drama-thing at her school? She can act, she can do improv, she can get out of a dangerous situation-” Dewey rambled on.
    “Exactly my point, gentlemen. This could be dangerous.” Fraser repeated. Ray's patience was beginning to wear thin. He tossed the folder down on the lieutenant's desk.
    “Sir, I'm with Fraser on this one. You're always yelling at me for being too personally involved in this stuff, what about now?”  Welsh shrugged.
    “She just seemed like a good choice.” Dewey nodded again.
    “Can't we just ask her if she wants to do it? I mean, this might appeal to her-”
    “No!” yelled Ray. “Haven't you heard a word we've said?! We're not gonna use her as smack-bait!”
    “Well, maybe E.J. would-”
    “NO! Absolutely not! Do you know what happens if they get found out? They'll get the crap beat out of them, and they'll wake up in an intensive care unit!”
    “But she can-”
    “No, goddammit!”

    E.J. and Claudia winced simultaneously as Ray hit Welsh's desk with his fist. “Damn, I really should learn my directions.” E.J. mused as Ray continued to cuss.
Part One
     Let’s Get This Story Started

    Huey and Dewey casually walked by  Claudia's desk, whistling. They quickly looked to see if anyone was looking, and then ducked behind the desk, and squatted beside E.J., who was seated in Claudia's chair. Claudia and Francesca had taken a break.
     “Hey, Eej. Can we talk for a sec?”
     “Sure Tom, what's on your mind.”
     “Drugs.” E.J. put her hands up.
     “Look, I did that a looooong time ago,” she said. “And I've lost all my connections. And besides, you're cops! You shouldn't be doing that stuff anyway.” The two detectives rolled their eyes.
     “No, E.J. That's not what we mean.” Huey said, peering up over the desk to see if anyone had noticed them. “Look, we need a nark for a few busts. Someone who can infiltrate these groups without drawing attention. And, we figured you already know a lot about this stuff, so we came to you.” E.J. faked wiping a tear from her eye.
     “Geez guys, its nice to know that you see me as a reefer-smoking freak.”
     “Actually, our first choice was Claudia, but we weren't allowed to use her.”
     “Oh, Welsh afraid you might make her impure?”
     “No, he was afraid we'd get her killed. But that's another story. Look, Eej, you have to promise us something.” Dewey looked up at her, seriousness showing in his eyes.
     “Sure, what?”
     “We're not actually supposed to be doing this. Welsh didn't approve of this, so, keep it quiet, OK? We get caught, we could lose our shields, 'kay?” E.J. nodded, and put a hand over her heart.
     “On my word as a pro lawn-bowler.”
     “OK, OK. Fine.” The two detectives extended hands, and E.J. shook them both. They stood up quickly.
     “Remember E.J., don't tell anyone.” She nodded solemnly, and the two officers walked away briskly. Claudia and Franny returned to their station. E.J. stood up, giving Claudia her seat back.

     “Know what they were yelling about?” Claudia said, adjusting the height of her chair. “They wanted to make us narks...can you believe that?” E.J. faked looking surprised.
     “Narks? Like those people who rat on the dealers an' stuff?” Claudia nodded.
     “Yeah.” She laughed slightly. “You and me narks....that'll be the day.”
    “Yeah,” E.J. said, laughing a little in return. “Where'd they want to plant us anyway?” Claudia scratched her cheek.
    “Your school,” she replied. “They said it'd be fine, nobody would know because it's so big.” E.J. nodded in agreement; her high school had more than 5,000 students in it.
    “It would've been kinda cool though, don't you think?” E.J. asked subtly. “I mean, you would've been able to go to my school for a few weeks. We might've even had a class or two together.”
    “Yeah, or I could get my head shot off,” Claudia retorted, shaking her head. “It's just another one of their stupid ideas.” E.J. leaned back against Claudia's desk, nodding in agreement.
    “Yeah,” she replied, looking a little wistful. “Pretty stupid.”
Part Two
     Wow, E.J. Has Friends

    “Don't be dumb, man. If you act clean and look clean, they always believe you're clean. Rehab's a joke.” The other girl laughed.
     “That's cool, Eej. And all this time, you coulda still been hanging out with the crowd?” the girl asked. E.J. shrugged.
     “It was just a front. Like I need more crap on my record,” she replied. “So can you get it or not?” E.J. and a girl from her grade were both sitting outside the school building on the sidewalk after school.
     “Depends,” the girl replied. “How much did you want?”
     “A forty. Think you can get it by Friday?” The girl thought for a moment.
     “Yeah, sure.” E.J. grinned.
     “Thanks, Ameena,” E.J. said, reaching into her pocket and retrieving two rolled-up twenty dollar bills. She handed the money to the girl and stood up, brushing the dirt from her jeans.
     “All this time... you coulda fooled me, seriously,” Ameena said, also climbing to her feet. “We had some great times. You remember that time at the Starwild?” E.J. snickered.
     “Not most of it,” she answered honestly. Ameena smirked.
     “Me neither. It was fun.”
     “Later,” E.J. said, smiling. The girls slapped hands and both walked away in separate directions.

     E.J. crossed the road and walked into the parking lot of a shopping center across the street from her school. She approached Huey's car and leaned forward into the window. “Get that?” she asked, peering into the car. She reached down her shirt and plucked off the microphone that was taped to her collarbone. Both Huey and Dewey were looking straight at her, almost glaring.
     “The Starwild?” Dewey asked accusingly, raising one of his eyebrows. E.J. rolled her eyes.
     “Gimme a break, man. You asked me to do this and I did it, you got no right to complain.” Huey leaned forward and E.J. climbed into the backseat.
     “So what did you do?” Huey asked her. E.J. tried to keep from smiling, but let out a laugh.
     “Uh, nothing. Just drive.”
     “You're bad, kid.”

*          *          *

     “Have you taken a look at this thing before?” Huey asked his partner, flipping through E.J.'s police record. Dewey shrugged his shoulders, not really listening. The pencil he was balancing on his upper lip fell to his chest and onto the floor.
     “I guess, why?”
     “This kid's got a pretty hefty file, considering she's, what.... fourteen?” Huey asked, smirking at E.J.'s photo. It was a pretty funny picture of E.J., since her eyes were slightly crossed and she was not even looking at the camera. He shook his head and snickered.
     “Sixteen,” Dewey replied, retrieving his pencil from the floor. “What do you mean, hefty?”
     “Look at this. Been arrested three times since she was twelve. Kid's been caught doing everything from shoplifting to crack-cocaine.” Dewey looked up with interest.
     “Three?” he asked, surprised. He stuck the pencil between his front teeth and twirled it up and down. “Baff alaw fuh a  sissee yeeoh.”
     “Huh?” Huey asked, baffled. Dewey took the pencil out of his mouth.
     “That's a lot for a sixteen-year-old,” he repeated. “Lemme see that.” Dewey took the folder from Huey's hands and began scanning through it. He stumbled over a certain part of a page and shook his head a little and whistled. “You know she got suspended from middle school?”
     “For what, smoking?”
     “No....” Dewey's jaw dropped. “She killed her math teacher.” Huey choked. “No, just kidding. Smoking weed,” he replied. “Kid grew up in a pretty tough part of town.”
     “How many status offenses?” Huey asked. Dewey scanned the pages and counted on his fingers.
     “Looks like around a dozen or so. Typical stuff. Cutting school, smoking... um... Jesus, ran away from home at least six...”
     “But she's good now, right? I mean, clean, counseled, still going to school...” Huey's voice trailed off. Dewey nodded quickly.
     “Yeah, she's good now. That's what I'm told, anyway. Here, recent drug test,” Dewey said, pulling another sheet from the folder and handing it to his partner. “All negative. Good attendance record for this year... couple dozen 'tardies', but hey, it happens to the best of us,” he added with a sly smile. “I know her, Jack. She's a real good kid.”
     Huey handed the test results back to Dewey and sat back in his chair. “It's a big risk for us, you know. I mean, it is our butts on the line. If she tries any stuff, we lose our badges, we're stuck helping pre-schoolers across the street until we hit pension. She gets hurt, and it's all over.”
     “Nothing's gonna happen. Don't worry about it.” Dewey slapped his partner on the shoulder and smiled.
Part Three
    Claudia Morphs Into a Bitch

    “Waiiiiiit for it........ waiiiiiiit for it....... O.K.!” The cross-eyed wolf quickly lurched his head up and snapped at the dog cookie that had previously been balancing on his nose. Diefenbaker quickly gobbled down the treat, then looked back up at Claudia with a proud smile. “Good boy,” Claudia said approvingly, rubbing the wolf's head.
     “That's a cool trick, Claud,” Ray told her, propping his feet up on his desk. “Think you could teach him how to balance something bigger? Like a chair or something?”
     “Right,” Claudia snorted. “You try getting a deaf wolf to listen to you for that long a time.”
     “Claud-i-AHHHH!” Ray and Claudia simultaneously looked up from Claudia's desk. E.J. approached them and smiled. Claudia tilted her head a little.
     “Yeah?” she asked, puzzled. E.J. pushed Ray away from where he was leaning against Claudia's desk.
     “Move it,” she said, forcing him to stand behind Claudia's chair. E.J. squatted down and opened up the middle drawer of Claudia's desk. “Sorry, I left my tie here and I need it. Me and the band got rehearsal at seven,” she explained, referring to the Blues Brothers act she was in with Huey and Dewey.
     “You left your tie in my desk?” Claudia asked, baffled. E.J. shrugged.
     “I always lose it when I leave it with my own stuff.” She pulled the black tie around her collar and left it dangling. “You wanna tag along? It's mozzarella stick night.”
     “Mm, fatty cheese fried in hot grease? I'm there,” Claudia replied, grinning. She checked her watch. “I get off in two hours. I'll be around, alright?”
     “Alright, see you in a couple hours.”

*          *          *

    “Don’t you need a lift home, Frase?” Ray asked as Fraser opened the door to his GTO and exited the car. He turned around and leaned in the window.
     “If you don’t mind. I’ll just be a second,” Fraser replied. Ray nodded. Fraser opened the door to the pool hall where E.J. worked and stepped inside, the heavy aroma of cigarette smoke and alcohol wafting into him instantly. He spotted his goddaughter sitting at a table with Huey, E.J. and a number of people Fraser didn’t know. Claudia threw her head back, and laughed at something one of them had said. Fraser’s jaw tightened, and he marched over to the table.
     “Claudia Miyax Reid.” She winced upon hearing her middle name and hearing the voice that spoke it. E.J. took her cue to leave. She waved to the table and exited through a door marked ‘Employees Only’.
     “Ben, I was just leaving, I swear.” She lied through a mouthful of funky wings.
     “Don’t lie to me young lady.” Fraser said sternly, trying to sound like a responsible guardian should. “You still have food on your plate. And I thought you were making dinner for us tonight?” Claudia got up from the table swallowing her food.
     “But Ben, E.J.’s-”
     “I don’t care if E.J.’s performing or not.”
     “No, of course you don’t.” Claudia said walking towards the doors, Fraser a few feet behind her, still lecturing.
     “Claudia, as a child of-”
     She spun on her heel, fed up with the way Ben was treating her. “I’m not a child!” Fraser was taken aback. So was Claudia, yet she continued on her rant anyways.
     “Claudia Reid-”
     “Don’t ‘Claudia Reid’ me! You did that when I was six! I’m almost seventeen Ben, and I’m not allowed to go out after work or school? We’re not in Inuvik and I’m not a kid anymore. I don’t need you telling me what I can and cannot do.”
     “Claudia, I am your godfather, not to mention your legal guardian.”
     “That doesn’t make you my warden.” She threw the door open, and stormed down the street, completely ignoring the GTO parked at the curb. Fraser followed after her.
     “You’ve developed quite the attitude, Ms. Reid.”
     “And you’re gonna blame it on E.J., aren’t you?”
     “Ray, as well, but-”
     “Stop deflecting it. It’s your fault. If you loosened the lead you’ve got me on, maybe it wouldn’t bug me so much being stuck in a job that doesn’t pay, living in a house with no one but a wolf and having no social life.”
     “Claudia, what is your problem?!”
     “Let me be a normal teenager, Ben. Please. I can never go out, you don’t let me out anywhere on weekends-”
     “Yes I do, Claudia.”
     Claudia turned to face her godfather, wishing that a few inches could be added to her height so she could stare him directly in the eye instead of looking up at him from her five feet, four inches. “No you don’t! Nowhere good! I can’t go and see my best friend because she’s in a bar, I can’t go to the mall ‘cause you think I’ll turn into one of those mall rats, I can’t go out to clubs because you have this predetermined mold for all teenage boys and you’re convinced all they’re after is-”
     “Claudia, that is quite enough!”
      Ray, who had been following in his car took in the sight: Two very determined Canadians, blue eyes staring down into grey-green ones, angry stances, one in a serge, one dressed in cargo pants and civilian aid shirt. They made quite a sight.
     “That is enough.” Fraser repeated. “Let’s go.”
     “I’ll walk.”
     “No you won’t.”
     “Then you walk.” Claudia climbed into the passenger seat of the GTO and slammed the door, Ray wincing. She stared     straight ahead. “Floor it.” Ray complied.
     “You’re way better backseat driver than Frase, Claud.”
Part Four
     Handcuffs, Bottlecaps, and... Wait, Wrong Story

      “Evening, boys.” There was a party going on in a house, and the owner of the house was unknown to E.J. But it was a good party, at any rate. There was plenty of drinking, plenty of stupidity, no parents around, and the cops hadn’t showed up yet. E.J. took a seat on the couch in between two guys she recognized from her Driver’s Ed class.
     “Eeeej, my bestiest girl....” the boy to her right slurred, grinning. He put an arm around her shoulders and giggled. “What can we do y’ for?” E.J. shook her head and laughed.
     “Christ, Jim. Your pupils are bigger than quarters, man.” The boy’s only response was another giggle.
     “You come for some stuff? ‘Cause we got it.” The guy to her left, Brian, tapped her shoulder.
     “You want a drink?”
     “Sure,” she replied. He got up and left momentarily. E.J. turned her attention back to the other guy. “So whatcha got for me, amigo?”
     “Depends on how much you got.”
     “Don’t worry about that, I got enough. Hook me up.”
     “What’s your fancy?”
     “All of it.” Again, Jim giggled.
     “I got some good ol’ Chicago green.”
     “Don’t bullshit me, gimme something heavy,” E.J. replied.
     “I got antifreeze, but you don’t want it.”
     “I might if I knew what the hell antifreeze was.”
     “Yeah, heroin,” Jim repeated.
     “Then why the hell don’t you just say, ‘heroin’?! Jeez, dealers these days, talking some shit lingo I never follow...” E.J. muttered, though she was smiling. Brian returned with two plastic cupfuls of beer. He handed one to E.J. and clinked glasses with her. “Hey, thanks,” she said, as Brian took the seat on the other side of her. He faked stretching, and ended up with his arm around E.J. as well. She rolled her eyes and grinned.
     “This punk giving you a hard time, Eej?” Brian asked her.
     “Nah, he’s just stoned. He says he’s got all kinds of shit, and refuses to speak English to explain what it is,” E.J. replied.
     “Well he’s got the same stuff I do, only... mine’s cheaper.” E.J. smirked.
     “Uh huh.”
     “And lasts longer,” he added.
     “It’s virtually better than his in every way, shape and form humanly possible.” E.J. took a drink of beer and nodded.
     “So what can I get you?” Brian asked her.
     “How about a couple rocks?”
     “Um, nope, don’t got ‘em.” E.J. slapped her forehead and groaned. She finished off her beer, crumpled up the plastic cup, and tossed it onto the floor.
     “You want another, babe?” Jim offered, grinning like a fool. E.J. shook her head.
     “Nah, I’m driving,” she replied. The boys nodded, taking this as an acceptable answer. She wasn’t really – she didn’t even have her license yet – but leaving the party intoxicated and then getting a ride home from Huey and Dewey wasn’t such a bright idea.
     “Anything else you wanna try?” Brian pressed. E.J. thought for a moment.
     “Coke, then.”
     “Coming right up,” Brian replied, leaning down and opening the velcro pocket on the side of his cargo pants. “How much do you want?” E.J. pretended to think for a moment, though she already knew how much to buy.
     “I guess some for now and some for later. Three bags?” He nodded, and removed three small ziploc bags of white powder from the pocket.
     “That’s thirty...” he said, leaning closer to her and placing the bags into her palm. “But you can have ‘em for twenty if I get a kiss.” E.J. rolled her eyes, and placed two bills into his hand. She rose to her feet, then snapped her fingers in front of the other guy’s face.
     “Hey, Jim.” Jim looked up at her slowly, eyes glassy.
     “Brian says he wants a kiss. Later.”
Part Five
    Got Heat?

     E.J. paced back and forth in the vacant lot behind Jack’s Place. She was nervous. Not the kind of nervous you get before the math final or when you’re in the starting blocks waiting for the gun to go off - no, this was a stuck-in-a-shark-tank-with-a-belt-made-of-raw-meat nervous. She extinguished what must have been her fourth cigarette using her foot, with such force the rolling paper split down the entire length of it.
     Finally, after what seemed like hours but in reality was only about 30 minutes, a silver, 1986 Monte Carlo pulled up about fifteen feet away from E.J. The window rolled down, and E.J. approached the car.
     “Eej, what’s goin’ on, pretty lady?”
     She smiled at the guy and they hit knuckles. “Not much Liam, I’ve been waiting for you for half an hour. What took you?”
     “Sorry, someone required my...services.” He grinned crookedly, exposing a row of straight white teeth. If he didn’t suffer from such severe Ego-titis, E.J. would have thought he was cute.
     “I hesitate to ask,” she said.
     “I heard from Christian you wanted to buy a piece.”
     “Yeah, you heard right. So, can you, accommodate my needs?” Liam nodded. He gestured to his friend to hit the trunk button as he climbed out of the car. E.J. followed him to the back and the trunk popped up about an inch, Liam thrust it open the rest of the way.  He pulled up the carpet, and exposed about eight guns. E.J. sucked in a breath. They were....creepy.
     “I figure you’re gonna be wanting something reasonably small, compact.” E.J. nodded, still staring down at the arsenal in the trunk of the Monte Carlo.
     “That’s nice,” she said, picking up a model 99 Baretta.
     “Yeah, but it’s been through a lot. Fired more than a fifteen-hundred rounds. It’s a 9mm, so it’s a good size, but on the whole, it’s been abused.” Liam picked up another gun, similar in shape to the one E.J. has selected. “I was thinking this one for you. It’s a compact Glock, model 23. It’s nice for a chick like you, about twenty-two ounces. It’s got a compensator too.” He handed it to E.J.
     “Nice.” She said. How the hell was she supposed to know what a compensator was?
     “That one’s two-fifty. If you’re looking for something cheaper and smaller, I’ve got a .22 short. Mini revolver. Smallest five shot in the world.” He handed E.J. another gun, this one much smaller than the other two. “That one’s one-seventy. More in your price range.”
     “I can afford the Glock.” Liam smiled again and nodded.
     “Wise choice. The Glock’s got a 14 round mag in it. The .22 only holds five rounds. So if ya think you’re gonna like, be in a John Woo flick, the Glock’s better. The .22’s only for small stuff, and it’s older.”
     “Wow...what’s that one?” E.J. said, pointing to the largest gun out of all of them.
     “That, my friend, is a Barett. Model 82 Al, semi-automatic, ten round magazine. Mind you though, that one’s the heaviest thing I got. It’s ‘bout thirty pounds.”
     “Who do you sell that kind of gun to?”
     “Snipers mostly. But on occasion, you’ll just find someone who wants a big gun. I’ve had a few of ‘em. Oh, and here, you might wanna lookit this one. 9mm Parabellum Baretta. 35 ounces or so.” E.J. put the Glock down, and looked at the Baretta.
     “Nah...I like the little Glock better.” She put down the 9mm and stuffed a hand in her pocket. “Two-fifty you said?”
     “Yeah...but for a chick like you, I’ll make it two-twenty-five.” E.J. nodded in agreement, and pulled out two one hundred dollar bills, one twenty, and one ten. She handed them to Liam. He fished in his pockets for change. “Why do ya need a gun anyway?”
     “Protection. I’ve....well, I’ve been dealing with a lot of people lately, I don’t know who to trust.”
     “Trust me man, you got yourself a damn good deal.” He slapped a five dollar bill into E.J.’s hand and then slammed the trunk. “Nice doin’ business with you, pretty lady.”
     “You too, Liam. See ya.”
     “Lates.” Liam climbed into his car, slammed the door shut and peeled out of the lot. E.J. looked down at the weapon in her hand. She tucked it into the waist of her black pants and covered it with her white shirt. She did a few buttons up on the suit jacket concealing the gun. She glanced down, making sure it wasn’t obvious, and jogged back to the bar.
Part Six
    What’s in E.J.’s Wallet?

     “Your wallet’s a real mess.”
     “Yeah, tell me about it. Have you seen the rest of my room?” Claudia was sprawled out on the floor of E.J.’s bedroom, poking through E.J.’s belongings. E.J. was hanging upside-down halfway off her loft bed, dangerously close to falling to the floor below. “Hey, what’s that? You got a present for Ray’s birthday already?”
     “Yeah, I did,” Claudia grinned. “Can I leave it with you? I don’t want to leave it at work or anything.”
    Claudia prodded through the green nylon wallet in her hand. E.J.’s wallet was crammed with junk; the coin pocket was not filled with coins, but actually gum wrappers, a sticker, and a yellow ticket reading “REDEEMABLE FOR VALUABLE PRIZES!”. The credit card pockets were filled with E.J.’s ATM card, a library card (which had remained unused for several years now) and a Windowpane Music Store membership card. Dangling from a small velcro strap inside the wallet was a very tiny key, with a plastic label reading “IF FOUND, DROP INSIDE ANY U.S. POSTAL OFFICE BOX.” Claudia stole a quick glance into the bills pocket. E.J. had a surprisingly large amount of money, about $180, from what Claudia could tell. She quickly forgot about the large sum though, for Claudia stumbled onto a square, foil-wrapped object. She gasped.
     “E.J.!!” Claudia cried, shocked. E.J. looked down at the... preventative in Claudia’s hand and blushed. “Why do you –”
     “Claud, Claud...” E.J. interrupted her, embarrassed. “They were giving them out at school. What was I supposed to do, throw it away?” Claudia snickered. “Guess they don’t give those out at Catholic schools, huh?” E.J. grinned.
     Claudia shook her head and sighed, then continued poking through the wallet. “Ew... Eej. You keep a picture of Ray in your wallet?!”
     “Not just Ray. See, there’s Fraser, and there’s Huey and Dewey, and see, there’s you...” E.J. said, pointing to the pictures. The first picture was a snapshot of both girls in front of Casa Loma, from their trip to Toronto. The next was a picture of E.J. and Dewey standing back to back in their black suits, ties, hats and glasses, which one of Dewey’s friends had taken on the opening night of their Blues Brothers act. The third was a picture of Fraser, Claudia, and Diefenbaker, all standing outside the Canadian Consulate. The fourth was a picture of just Ray, sitting with his feet propped up on his desk, giving the camera the finger. Claudia snickered. The fifth was of Huey, Dewey, and E.J. singing onstage. The sixth picture was of E.J. and her foster dad, Nick. The picture had been taken unknowingly by both of them by E.J.’s foster mom, Lesa. In the snapshot both E.J. and Nick had dozed off on the couch during a basketball game, Nick with his mouth hanging open, and E.J., snoring, her head resting on Nick’s arm. It was cute. The next picture was of a bald man Claudia vaguely recognized, though she couldn’t remember where she’d seen his face before. He was tall, bald, well-dressed, and leaning against some old, shiny green car.
     “Eej.. who is this?” Claudia asked, puzzled. E.J. looked down at the picture and smiled.
    “Silly. That’s Ray.” Claudia gave her a blank look. “Not Ray, Ray. That’s the real Ray Vecchio.” Claudia nodded for a moment, studying the photo, then flipped through the rest of the pictures.
    The last was E.J.’s personal favorite; it was simple, a little goofy looking, and also very cute. It was of Claudia, E.J., Fraser, and Ray, standing together outside the station. Ray was holding Claudia on his back, since she had sprang there voluntarily. E.J. was standing in front of Fraser, arms folded assertively over her chest, and leaning back into the Mountie so he was literally keeping her from falling backwards.
     “I see you have a lot of pictures of the cops,” Claudia said, leafing through the pictures again. E.J. nodded.
     “It’s kind of a long story. My shrink was just saying, like, maybe it’s a good idea to have reminders of who my influences are, role models, people I trust, stuff like that. He said doing stuff like that would help me get a better idea of what I really think is right and wrong. Something like that.” Claudia smiled at her friend.
     “I don’t know what’s scarier – that you have pictures of Ray and Dewey in your wallet, or that you consider them role models.”

     “E.J.! Would you come here for a moment please?!”  E.J. groaned and rolled onto her stomach, trying to ignore Lesa’s call.
     “Eej, you’d better go see what they want.” Claudia said, not entirely surprised at her friend’s disregard for her foster parents but still disconcerted about how she treated them. E.J. muttered something under her breath and eased herself onto the floor beneath her bed.
     “I’ll be right back.” She sighed. E.J. turned, hung her head and left the room. “Yeah?” her voice echoed down the hall. Claudia proceeded to look around her friends room. Her eyes fell upon the wastebasket beside E.J.’s desk. A very colourful and oddly designed flyer was poking out of it, under a number of Chupa Chups wrappers and crumpled sheets of lined paper. Not wanting to invade E.J.’s privacy, Claudia didn’t get up from her place, but still continued to look at the flyer. She couldn’t make out the letters. Stealing a look to the door and straining her ears to hear fragments of the conversation, Claudia deduced that E.J. and Lesa were in the kitchen. Drying dishes perhaps?
     Curiosity got the better of her and Claudia soon found herself poking through the basket. She read the flyer.


     Wild graphics surrounded the heading and she could hardly make anything else out. The flyer was obviously done by someone who knew what they were doing. Completely forgetting about her friend’s right to privacy, Claudia pulled the paper from the wire mesh basket. Turning it over she recognized E.J.’s haphazard printing. A date, time and location, or what she thought to be a location, were scrawled in blue ink. She turned the paper over and inspected the front once again. It was an advertisement for something...but what? She’d seen similar flyers before; intricate graphics, some bold title. The hard-core stoners would always post them in their lockers. What were they for? Big wild parties that included drugs, drinking and glow sticks...Robes...Raids...oh, wait. Raves. That was it. E.J. was going to a big wild party with drugs, drinking and glow sticks. E.J. was going to a rave?
     Without thinking twice, Claudia quarter folded the paper and shoved it into the back pocket of her khakis.
Part Seven
     She’s Freakin’ Tank Girl!

     E.J. blew out a puff of smoke into the night air. She glanced down at herself, trying to get psyched for the long night ahead of her. The wallet in her pocket contained about 200 dollars and a fake driver’s license. Tucked into the waist of her green camouflage pants and completely hidden by her baggy KoRn t-shirt and leather gang jacket was a toy Chicago PD badge, just to be funny.
     A blue car pulled up next to the curb outside Jack’s Place on Saturday night. The windows were tinted darkly and there were three passengers inside. The boy in the front passenger seat rolled down the window slightly and grinned.
     “Let’s go, yo!” he called at E.J. She smirked at him and let her cigarette fall to the pavement, then crushed it with the toe of her black hiking boot. She opened the back door to the car and climbed into the backseat next to another girl that she knew, Kelly.
     The driver, a seventeen year old boy with dark black hair and light brown eyes, turned around and nodded at her. “Sup, Eej,” he said.
     “Sup, Willy,” she replied, and smiled at him. The boy extended his closed fist and E.J. did the same, the two hitting each other’s knuckles in greeting. The car sped off, and E.J. settled inside. “So this is the place on Lancaster, right?” she asked.
     “Right. The big building. Did Kelly tell you the plan?” E.J. shook her head.
     “Only that we’re selling, like, 7 bags worth of stuff,” she replied. “I don’t know to who or anything, though.” The car stopped at an intersection and a second car blew past them. Willy punched the car horn with his fist.
     “Watch where you’re going, dickhead!!” he screamed. In the back, Kelly giggled. Willy let out a sigh. “Yeah. Anyway...” he grumbled to himself. “Christian will fill you in.” He punched the horn again.
     Christian turned around from the passenger seat. “Alright, so we got two bags of noise, two 20’s of weed, six hits of acid and a bag of crumbs. We figure that –”
     “Wait, what the hell is noise?” E.J. interrupted.
     “Heroin,” Christian said. “Yeah. So we got heroin, weed, acid and crack. Okay? Okay.” E.J. snickered. “But you two,” he said, nodding at E.J. and Kelly, “don’t have to worry about any of that yet. Here’s the thing – The guy getting the crumbs is gonna be on the second floor, under the neon clock. He doesn’t know either of you guys, so he says send his ‘girlfriend’.. You know what that means, a special exchange.” Both Kelly and E.J. groaned. “But we figure you guys can flip a coin to see who gets to be the lucky seller. The other one can pawn off a bag of noise and some acid. Me and Willy’ll take care of the rest.”
     Both girls scowled. They knew what Christian meant by “a special exchange” – having to put the bag of crack into their mouth and kiss whoever it was under the clock to make the exchange, rather than just slapping it into his hand like they normally would. E.J. pulled a quarter out of her pocket. “Call it,” she sighed.
     “Heads,” Kelly said as E.J. flipped the coin into the air. E.J. caught the coin and slapped it onto the back of her hand. Tails.
     “Dammit!” she cried. Kelly snickered.
     “Here you go, you lucky bitch...” Willy said, retrieving a tiny plastic ziploc from his own wallet and handing it to E.J. The girl  rolled her eyes and stuffed it into her jacket pocket.
     “This had better be a decent mosher or I blow,” she huffed. Kelly snickered.
     “Don’t worry about it, it’s gonna be wicked.”

*          *          *
     Claudia looked at herself in the mirror. She scrutinized every inch of her body. No, she certainly did not exude the essence of a raver in her school uniform. She sighed.. "I can't believe I'm *doing* this..." she said out loud. She yanked open her Eddie Bauer backpack, and pulled out a plastic bag with the words "Underground" scrawled on it in silver. She looked at Diefenbaker laying on Fraser's cot, silently thanking her lucky stars Ben was working late; he probably wouldn't be back until one. She pulled out a red pen, and scrawled in her slanted writing that she was going to be out. She reminded him that she was baby-sitting until late at the Andersons, and would be staying the night. Or, so she had told him a day beforehand.
 She went back to the plastic bag. "One pair of navy blue cargo pants with baby blue stripes up the leg..." she tossed them on Ben's bed. "One black tank top with the number 69 on the front in baby blue, to compliment the pants, of course..." She looked at the number again, and stifled a laugh. "I'm gonna look like a cheap crack-whore." She pulled out a piece of paper "One bill for forty-eight dollars and seventeen cents. Pants were half price." She told the wolf. "And in the next bag..." she pulled out a Rite-Aid bag and dumped it out on the bed as well. "Silver mascara, blue hair streaking comb, buncha clips to pull a Ray Kowalski with my hair, silver eyeshadow and glitter." Diefenbaker sniffed the bottles and clothing surrounding him, and yawned. "Didn't think you'd be impressed." She retorted, collecting her things, and heading to the bathroom. "Just wait fifteen minutes, and you'll see." She told him. He woofed in response.

      Twenty minutes later, a *very* different Claudia Reid exited the bathroom, clad in her new clothing, and make-up. Her hair had been wound into about twelve little buns, and were held safely by the metallic clips. Wisps of flyaway hairs stuck out at all angles. Frightened greyish eyes were offset by silver and blue, and her cheekbones had been dusted with purple glitter. Diefenbaker growled.
     "I agree. I look like a sideshow freak." She shrugged, and looked in the mirror. "Wow....that is *so* not me." She grinned at herself in the mirror, and laughed. "I feel like freakin' Tank Girl." Claudia went to the front closet, and pulled out her metallic blue and orange Reeboks. She thought for a moment, and yanked them on her feet. "If you're supposed to clash, I'll fit right in." She said out loud. Diefenbaker hopped off the bed, and padded over to her, whining. She rubbed his ears. "Look, I know Ben's not gonna be happy with me doing this, but E.J.'s my best friend. We fall back on each other, kinda like you and Benny." The wolf barked back. "Yes, I know if they find out I'll be in trouble, but....awww, you wouldn't understand. Look, Ben thinks I'm baby-sitting the Andersons. And you're not to tell him elsewise. Understand?" Diefenbaker let out a long drawn howl. "Good." Claudia snatched her black canvas wallet, and checked the slot where credit cards are supposed to go. In it, was her fake ID which she had purchased in Toronto. It clearly said her name was Gwen Ramsey, and she was twenty-one years old. She shoved her wallet in her back pocket, and left the apartment, drawing odd stares from most of her neighbours. "Well, at least they won't recognize me." She thought to herself.
Part Eight
    F***in’ Strawberry

     Looking for a neon clock. Right. All E.J. could see around all sides of her were strobe lights, fog, and smoke coming from various directions. E.J. could see down below, since the second floor was open and overlooking the dance pit. There had to be at least 50 people of various ages moshing, drinking, and acting totally wild. She hadn’t been to a rave in almost forever, yet everything about it was so familiar to her. The smell of marijuana smoke, the psychedelic lighting, the weird guys with glassy eyes and dilated pupils, all of it was coming back to her.
     She was so lost in her daze, she almost walked right past a huge, electric neon green clock hanging on the wall in a dark, dark corner. The hazy lime-colored lighting just barely illuminated the face and hair of a man standing beneath it, arms folded over his chest, eyes closed.
     Sweet mother... E.J. thought to herself in shock. He was... gorgeous. Insanely gorgeous. This person stood at around six feet tall, which was a little taller than E.J., who stood around 5’7. He had dark brown hair that fell into his eyes and hung past his ears, and as E.J. stepped closer she thought she saw that he had olive eyes. She loved olive eyes. Perhaps it was just the lighting, or the fog, or... E.J. snapped out of her trance and forced herself to stop staring at the person. Hold it, Eej... This guy has to be at least twenty. You are only sixteen. Don’t be *stupid*, keep thinking!
     The boy caught her glance, but E.J. quickly looked back down, so he did as well. From her peripheral vision, she noticed he was clad in a leather gang jacket much like her own. Wide-leg blue jeans hung flatteringly on his hips, and beneath his jacket was a plain khaki shirt, the top three buttons undone, revealing a nicely muscled –
     Stop! Think sports! Think music! Can’t fall for him! He’s a crack-smoker! Concentrate... Think... igloos... Grandma Ramis.... Not real, I’m a nark... She stood up straight, rubbed her eyes, and stepped back into the dealer character she was playing. She slowly reached into her jacket pocket and retrieved the tiny plastic bag of crack-cocaine. Holding it delicately in between her middle and index finger, she casually brought it to her mouth and slipped it beneath her tongue. She nodded to herself confidently and sauntered over to the boy beneath the clock.
     “Hey, sweetie...” she said slowly, stepping up to this complete stranger. She obviously caught his attention, and he stood up straighter, examining everything about her. He quickly caught on.
     “Sup, love,” he replied. The guy reached an arm out and before she could blink, he slipped an arm beneath her jacket and pulled her into his grasp. This took E.J. by surprise and she let out a little gasp, startled. He laughed. They looked into each other’s eyes for a moment. His eyes were definitely olive. Cool. He moved to begin kissing E.J.’s neck, and her eyes widened. Before his mouth hit her neck, however, he whispered something into her ear.
     “You her?” he murmured softly. He pressed his lips to E.J.’s neck.
     “I’m her. Now get off me,” she muttered, pushing him a little, but still totally remaining locked beneath his arm. The guy stood up again and grinned at her. This guy is definitely high, E.J. thought disappointedly as she caught another look into his eyes.
     “You’re beautiful,” he whispered to her. E.J.’s heart melted.
     He doesn’t mean it, Eej. He’s high. He’s twenty. You’re too young. You’re being stupid. He’s not *that* cute. Just give him the stuff and... oh... well... he is *kind* of cute...
     “Look,” E.J. said, leaning into the person and unconsciously breathing in his scent. It was the same cologne Ray used. Nautica. “This stuff is gonna melt under my tongue. You want it or not?” He grinned.
     “Right, yeah,” he said slowly as he wrapped his other arm around E.J.’s waist. “I’m Ford, by the way...” He smiled at the girl. Nice smile. E.J. let out a breath she had been holding. However, instead of taking the bag like she expected him to, he moved back down to E.J.’s neck and began kissing the spot between her neck and shoulder. E.J. looked up helplessly.

     Though Ford did not know it, there were two detectives observing the couple from a couch only twenty-five feet away. Huey was clad in bright yellow golf pants, a ‘Born to Surf’ t-shirt, and twenty-hole boots. Beside him, Dewey was decked out in leather pants, a reflective shirt looking as if it was made of shiny blue plastic, and a Cat-In-the-Hat hat.
     “What the HELL is he doing?!” Dewey cried, picking up E.J. and Ford’s conversation through an earpiece connected to the microphone taped to E.J.’s collarbone. “That punk! The dirty punk!” Dewey moved to climb to his feet, but Huey grabbed his shoulder.
     “Stop,” Huey commanded, pulling his partner back down onto the couch beside him. “She’s fine. If we move in now, she’ll get hurt.” Dewey gritted his teeth and let out a small growl in the back of his throat, which Huey could not hear over the blaring music.
     “I’m gonna break his neck, Jack,” Dewey muttered, glaring at Ford from all the way across the floor. Ford was still busy kissing E.J.’s neck. Dewey popped his knuckles.
     “Just stay here,” Huey told him.

     “You’re beautiful,” Ford repeated into E.J.’s shoulder. E.J. giggled through her closed mouth. “Come home with me... please. I can make you happy, baby.”
     “My name’s not baby. Now take the goddamn stuff or I’m gonna kick you in the head,” E.J. said firmly, reaching a hand up and pushing Ford away by pressing a single finger into his forehead. Ford grinned at her. He began kissing all the way up her neck, up to her chin, until his lips landed on her own. She realized then, as this stranger began kissing her mouth, she hadn’t kissed a guy in a long time. Not since... well, not since the last time she was partying with the drug crowd, she guessed.
     The kiss lasted longer than E.J. expected – Ford certainly was taking his time. He tasted like smoke and the unpleasant aftertaste of lemon Vodka. At last, Ford retrieved the small plastic bag from E.J.’s mouth and inside, she breathed a sigh of relief. However, he still did not pull away. Unthinkingly, E.J. pulled a hand up to the back of Ford’s hair.

     “That’s it!!” Dewey cried. “That’s IT! She’s out of here! I’m taking her to the station, and throwing her in the tank for a week! No, no, until she’s 30!!!” Dewey sprang up from the couch angrily and, predictably, Huey sprang up right behind him and dragged him back down.
     “Tom, she will be *fine*. Look, she’s just a kid having a good time... Put it this way, she could either be doing this out on her own, or she could be doing this with us here to make sure nothing happens to her.” Dewey grumbled to himself, folded his arms over his chest crossly, and shut up.

     “Mm, baby. Please come home with me tonight. You won’t regret it.” E.J. remained silent, momentarily letting her conscience step aside so the rest of her could enjoy herself. Ford rubbed E.J.’s back a little, until he suddenly slipped his hand up beneath her shirt. E.J. let out a surprised gasp and broke away from Ford’s hold, looking at him awkwardly.
     “That’s it, pal. I get paid *now*,” E.J. told him, folding her arms protectively over herself. Across the room, Huey and Dewey were ready to jump into action. Ford looked disappointed.
     “Hey, look... you come home with me tonight, I’ll give you half the rocks. Okay?” E.J. cracked her index knuckle with her thumb and burned her eyes into his.
     “Cash. Now,” she ordered. He grinned at her.
     “You can have it tomorrow morning,” he said, smiling to himself.
     “I’m no fucking strawberry,” E.J. growled. “You’ve got five seconds.” Ford let out a sigh.
     “You sure?” he asked pleadingly. E.J. glared at him and he frowned. “Alright, alright.” He reached into his pocket and retrieved a wad of crumpled up bills. He slapped it into E.J.’s palm. “Thank you,” he said quietly.
     “Whatever,” E.J. muttered. She stuffed the money into her pockets and sauntered away.
Part Nine
    Fireballs and Tonsil Hockey (AKA Back Off My Brother!!)

     Claudia flashed her ID, and the heavy wooden door swung open. She casually wandered inside, wondering what it'd be like. She was taken aback. It was...crazy. No, it was more than crazy, it was absolutely *insane*. Music was blaring from all angles, lights were flashing all over the place (she could feel a migraine coming on), and people were dancing in a fashion that could only be described as 'different'. Look cool Reid, you come to places like this all the time...look cool...Her train of thought was interrupted by a guy slamming into her side. She staggered and looked up to see who had rammed into her. The guy looked up at her and laughed
     "Sorry, Babe." He grinned foolishly, and Claudia almost laughed at him. "Can I buy you a drink to make up for it?" he asked with pleading eyes. Claudia contemplated it. A drink, which meant alcohol, which meant Ben could find out, and she had come to keep an eye on E.J., not drink.
     "So?" he asked again. She looked at him. He wasn't bad looking, more of a pretty-boy than what Claudia would have liked. He had an eyebrow ring though, and for some reason, Claudia was quite attracted to it.
     "Sure. But only one, I've gotta find someone." He grinned again, and extended his hand and lead her to the bar.
     "Whaddya want?" he asked, still holding her hand. She only knew one drink-drink, and it was what her father drank.
     "Fireball." I can't believe I'm doing this....
     "Sure." I've never drank before! How the hell is a shooter gonna sit with me?! A drink slid across the bar, and the guy scooped it up. He tossed a cherry in it, and winked. Claudia found it strange that he put a cherry in it; nobody drank shots with fruit. Her newfound friend raised his brows, smiled again, and clinked glasses with her. He tossed his shot down his throat, and looked at Claudia expectantly. She grinned back, silently prayed she wouldn't make a fool of herself, and mimicked him. It wasn't as foul as she had been expecting; it tasted like cinnamon hearts, but with a strong aftertaste. A second later, her head began to swim.
     "So, who ya looking for?"
     "My best friend." Claudia replied, checking out her drinking buddy with watery eyes. Hawaiian shirt unbuttoned, revealing the t-shirt underneath, far too big jeans. Bleached hair, couldn't make out the eyes, hers were still watering. She still couldn't get over how much of a turn-on the eyebrow ring was. He caught her looking at it.
     "Like it?" She blushed slightly, embarrassed he caught her staring.
     "Yeah, I like it a lot." She decided to do some casual flirting, and reached out, and ran a finger across it. He smiled.
     "Sure." Claudia was about to go back on it, but decided she may as well fit in with the crowd. "What's your name?" she asked as he pulled out his lighter.
     "Turner. You?"
     "Claudia." She picked up the cherry from the bottom of the glass, and ate it slowly.
     "I like it." He lit the joint of marijuana, and put it to his lips, inhaling deeply. He then handed it to Claudia. She swallowed her cherry, and gritted her teeth. E.J. had once demonstrated how to smoke a cigarette, and she figured it'd be the same thing. She inhaled, not as deeply as Turner but enough for her to feel the brain cells drift away.
     "Good stuff, huh?” Turner said over the blaring music. Claudia nodded, afraid her voice may betray her and do something weird under all the chemical influences. "So, why ya looking for yer best friend?"
     "She's dealing." Claudia said, figuring she may as well tell the truth. After all, wasn't everyone there dealing? The intro bars of a song blared over the speakers, and Claudia paused, recognizing it. It was 'Razorblades and Bandaids'. Econoline Crush. A little tame to be played at a rave, but they had souped it up a little, added some guitar feedback and white noise. "Dance?" she asked hopefully. Turner nodded, and ordered two more shots. He and Claudia downed these simultaneously, and made their way to the floor, Claudia's arm around him. He thought she was flirting; in reality it was so that he could lead her since her head was still floating somewhere above her neck. Turner put his arms around her shoulders, and Claudia wrapped her arms around his waist. She'd look for E.J. as soon as this song ended. Until then, she'd just be a regular 16-year-old girl trying desperately to rebel.

      "...I wish I'd noticed all the postponements you saved...I never told you...."
     Huey tugged on his partner’s arm. "Is that Claudia...?" Dewey took his eyes off E.J., and let them drift to where Huey was pointing. It looked like her, vaguely.
     "Nah, couldn't be. Claudia doesn't have blue hair." His eyebrows raised as the girl and her partner did a slow grind. "And she doesn't know how to dance like that." He focused his attention back on the rave, scanning the place for E.J. He finally spotted her, talking with one of the girls she came in with.. He and his partner went back to watching their nark.

     The song ended, and without a split-second delay, another song was blaring from all corners of the room. Claudia had never heard it before, but she and Turner never left the floor.
     "Come to the pit!" Turner screamed as more smoke was pumped in to diffuse the wild lighting. She grabbed the back of his pants, and followed him to a throng of people throwing their bodies around like there was no tomorrow. Claudia couldn't have stayed still if she wanted, and began thrashing around like everyone else. Someone decided to body surf, and was being passed around. Claudia laughed, though she wasn't sure why. In the back of her mind, where some sanity still reigned, she thought that maybe the hits of marijuana she had smoked while dancing were beginning to take effect.. But why on earth could she *see* the music notes, drifting through the air, and landing above people’s heads? And why was the strobe light spitting out blobs of white and purple? Was this what pot did to you? Oh well...
     "Turner! Lift me up, I wanna go too!" He laughed at her request, but boosted her up anyway. She soon was being carried around by complete strangers, a number of whom where grabbing her in the most inappropriate of places, but she couldn't have cared less. She was vaguely aware of the fact that she had come here to do something, but the thought was quickly dashed as she ran out of crowd to surf. She fell to the floor with a thud.
     "Owwwwww!" She let out a wail, and a cheer went up from the crowd. She spotted Turner making his way towards her.
     "You OK?" he asked.
     "Sure." He helped her up, and she and Turner began gyrating again. Turner tapped her on the shoulder a few minutes later, and screamed at her, "Wanna meet some friends?!" Claudia nodded, and followed Turner to a quieter area in the building. Quiet, in this case meaning your internal organs no longer shook with the bassline.

*          *          *

     “He’s too old to be ravin’. He must have some goooooood shit. Ask him.”
     “No way, you do it.”
     “Think he’s cute?”
     “For a thirty year-old, yeah.” The two seventeen year old girls walked side by side to the couch where Dewey and Huey were parked. “Whaddya got?” The blonde one asked.
     Dewey looked up to see who was talking to him and his partner. “Can we help you?” Huey asked them.
     “Whaddya got? Crank? Flake?” Dewey shook his head.
    “Ummm.. sorry, all sold out.” His voice rose a notch as one of the girls parked herself in his leather-clad lap, the other going to the back of the couch, and running her hands along Huey’s chest.
     “I’m sure you can find some for us...can’t you sugar?” the brunette crooned in Huey’s ear. He shot a sidelong glance to his partner, and he mouthed to him, “High?” Dewey nodded slightly in response.
     “Babe...you’re so tense....”
     “Um....yeah..” Dewey squeaked out, trying to shove the girl off his lap. “Can you...um...can you just, you know...” He was cut short as she began to unbutton his shiny blue shirt. “Oh God...”

*          *          *

     “Ummm...Um...Ow...hold on...” Claudia undid her beaded necklace, and shoved it in her pocket, a formidable task seeing as though Turner was nearly on top of her. She grinned, and looked back into his eyes, that she still didn’t know the colour of. Yes indeed, she was drunk. Not to mention high, and sporting a hickey or two on her neck, one of the generous persons unknown.
     “Where were we?” she asked innocently.
     “I think we were somewhere here....” Turner began kissing her again, and Claudia sighed into his lips in a drunken stupor. She closed her eyes for a moment and put her hands up to his head, and ran her fingers through his bleached hair which was stiff with mousse. She opened her eyes slightly as Turner progressed down her neck, and looked around with hazy vision. The rave seemed different then when Claudia first came in. That pixy-dust wasn’t floating through the air before, and those people didn’t have purplish-blue aura’s around them. The bars to “The Rockerfeller Skank” seemed delayed compared to the  words. Had she thought to do it, she might have worried. Through the disillusion and the general weirdness of things, Claudia spotted someone.
     “E.J.?” Turner stopped short.
     “My friend. I found her.” Claudia sat herself up. “Ya wanna meet her?” Turner nodded.
     “Sure.” Hand in hand, the infatuated couple weaved through the crowded warehouse, and found E.J. once more.
     “Eej!” Claudia screamed. E.J. looked up with a confused expression, which then lead to horror, to shock, then to amusement. She quickly ran up to her friend.
     “Claud! What are you *doing* here?!”
     “Looking for you. E.J., this is Turner.” He nodded, and E.J. returned the favor.
     “Excuse us for a moment, Turner.” E.J. said, taking Claudia by the crook of the arm, and leading her away from the crowd.  “Claud,” she began “The Duck Boys are here. If they catch you, you’re dead in the water.”
     “I can swim,” she replied, a permanent smirk across her face.
     “Look, Claud, I don’t know why you came, but go home. This isn’t the kinda of place you should be. You might get messed up with the wrong crowd.”
     “E.J., stop worrying. I’ve got Turner for protection.” Claudia waved her hand around, trying to get rid of those shiny specks she kept seeing.
     “Claud, what that guy wants from you probably won’t involve protection.” Claudia laughed, her alcohol breath filtering in front of E.J.’s face. “Claud! You’re drunk!” She giggled like a maniac.
     “Three beers, and two shots.” Claudia held up four fingers. “I had a toke too. Do you think Ben’ll notice?.” She laughed again, trying to cover up the feeling in her head that she was losing her mind. “You’re all blue!”
     “What the hell is wrong with you!?” Claudia diverted her attention away from E.J.; being lectured by her best friend wasn’t at the top of list of things she wanted to do tonight. While her eyes wandered the room, her gaze fell upon Huey and Dewey, the two girls still all over them.
     “Um, Eej? I hate to interrupt your sermon here, but what are those two chicks doing to...Jack and Tom?” E.J. looked in the direction in which Claudia was pointing.
     “The fuck...!?” E.J. tore down the stairs angrily, and took off across the room, Claudia staggering behind.
     “Woah...” Claudia gingerly made her way down the stairs. They certainly looked like they were melting to her. Turner laughed, grabbed her hand, and raced down the stairs with her.
      E.J. tapped a blonde on the shoulder. Dewey and Huey looked relieved, even though their aid came in the form of two sixteen year olds. “Would you mind not getting so friendly with my...brother?” She asked, shades of hostility in her voice.
     “And back off my uncle, man.” Claudia said, motioning to the girl all over Huey. The blonde giggled.
     “He’s your brother? He’s hot....I heard he’s got some wicked stuff, too.” Taking a cue from the look on Tom’s face, E.J. pulled the girl off him.
     “Look, I said leave him alone!”
     “Who’s gonna make me?” Blondie stood face to face with E.J., both of them glaring into each others eyes. By this time,     Claudia and the other girl had completely lost interest in their own fight, and were watching E.J.
     “I will.” E.J. shoved her.
     “Yeah?”  The girl shoved back.
     “The hell you will!” Dewey felt that it was best to intervene. He stood up.
     “Umm, guys?”


     A blow to the face sent Dewey flying back onto the couch. “Leave him the fuck alone!” E.J. swung her fist next, hitting her antagonist squarely on the cheek. Claudia and the brunette, feeling left out, joined in on the brawl. In less than twenty seconds, half the rave-goers were either cheering them on, or had joined in. Splintered crates, bottles, ashtrays and profanity flew through the air at an alarming rate.
     “Dewey?!” Huey yelled to his partner, both of whom were hiding behind the couch. “I think it’s time we called for back-up.”
Part Ten
     Hark! A Lark in a Park, with a Nark.

     “E.J.! Duck!”
     “Oww!” A broken bottle sliced into Claudia’s open palm, and she clutched her hand. E.J. sniffed the blood dripping from her nose. A resounding “Duck!” echoed throughout the warehouse every time something big flew above the heads of everyone. People were fighting purely for the enjoyment and pride of fighting. The sound of skin-on-skin was omnipresent. Huey and Dewey were still cowering behind the couch. In a situation like this, their police presence had no effect unless it was multiplied by twenty-five.
     “Watch it!”
     “Turner! There you are!”
     “You OK?!”
     The doors to the warehouse flew open, and police in riot gear streamed in.
     “Shit!” Claudia grabbed Turner’s hand with her bloody one and yanked his arm. “C’mon!”
     “Claud, what’s the hurry?!”
     “I know them!”
     “The cops?!”
     E.J. looked up and cursed under her breath as well. She gave the blonde one last punch for good measure, and took off after her friend, leaving Huey and Dewey behind.
     “Claud! Wait!” People were now in a frenzy trying to avoid the police, others were fighting with them. “Claud!” She caught up with Claudia and Turner, and the three of them began searching for another exit. The music was still blaring, and everything seemed as though it was running in fast forward. The group began looking for an alternative exit as all the doors were subject to a swarm of police. The three of them noticed an unmanned door, and raced towards it. Suddenly, four police raged in. The threesome stopped short, and ran the other way.
     “Over here! C’mon! If Ray catches you, you’re dead!”
     “Nevermind! Let’s go!” They raced upstairs where they were greeted by more officers in riot gear.
     “Dammit!” They turned and raced down the stairs, E.J. deciding to slide down the rail.
 Feeling like they were stuck in a rat race, they frantically tried to find a way out, or at least an escape from the mob. Turner, who was leading, turned back to see where E.J. was. He was still holding Claudia’s hand so he needn’t worry about her. He turned to face front again and was struck by a police baton as it was brought back. He staggered back into Claudia.
     “Son of a bitch!”
     “Are you OK?!”
     “No! That bastard hit me!” Still clutching his nose, he kicked the officer in the back of the knee. The cop swayed, but remained standing. He turned around quickly to see who had kicked him.
     “Turner! Let’s GO!” E.J. took Claudia and Turner by their arms, and took off with them in tow. More police were storming in, and their chances of getting out without getting caught dropped dramatically. Taking a risk, E.J. led her friends toward one of the doors where there were only two officers. E.J. picked up a bottle, and tossed it about eight feet away from the cops. The officers turned to see what had happened, and the three delinquents made a break for the door. They had just set foot outside the door when they were all harshly grabbed by plainclothes officers, many of whom were leading people into the paddywagon. They were quickly separated as more people were hauled out of the rave and tossed in the back of the wagon.
     “E.J.!? TURNER!” Cold steel cuffs were slapped onto Claudia’s wrists. She struggled and kicked and squirmed trying to get out of the officers grip. “Let me *go*!” Profanity flew out of Claudia’s mouth. The officer wasn’t amused and threw her into the wagon. The doors slammed behind her. She squeezed her eyes shut, trying to block out the weird sights and sounds surrounding her.  She hung her head. “Oh, shit.”

*          *          *

     The parade of ravers streaming through the station wasn’t exactly quiet. And they certainly didn’t blend in. Claudia hung her head and tried to be natural. Things were still fuzzy and the wrong colours, and she felt funny....like her mind wasn’t quite with her.
     Not everyone had been brought to the 27th district. Others had been taken to the 23rd. Claudia hoped that E.J. and Turner were around somewhere. She looked over to Ray’s desk. He wasn’t there. She let out a sigh, and looked to see if Huey and Dewey had come back. They hadn’t. Yet. She stood patiently and waited to be booked.
     “Claudia?” She turned her head around so fast, she thought she might have gotten whiplash. The second she saw who had called her name, she quickly turned away again.
     Ray thrashed his way through the clump of people and without a word, grabbed her by the arm, and dragged her away.
 The sudden motion made her head spin. Everything was a few seconds off, like one of those dubbed films. Claudia stopped short, and closed her eyes. The hubbub going on around her sounded tinny, and too loud. She finally noticed that she was sweating and cold. OK, now would be the time to worry. Ray stopped too.
     “Claudia?” His tone wasn’t nearly as harsh as before. She didn’t move, just clamped her hands over her ears, smearing blood over the side of her face. “Hey...are you OK?” She slid down the wall and sat, eyes still closed and hands over her ears. Ray crouched down to her level.
     “What is going on?” Claudia asked.
     “Claud, what did you do at that rave? What did you drink? Did you take anything?” She opened her eyes slightly.
     “I had a few beers....and I smoked up. But I swear I didn’t do anything else.” Her voice was shaking.
     “You sure that was it?”
     “I had a shot too.”
     “What kind?”
     “Fireball. Same as my dad drank.”
    “Who gave it to you? The bartender?”
     “Did he put anything in it? Anything at all?”
     “No....wait, yeah. A cherry.”
     “Did you eat it?” She nodded, and then shook her head. “Why’re you shaking your head?”
     “There’s thingies floating around.” Ray took a step back.
     “Like...sparkles?” She nodded.
     “And people were glowing and stuff.” She repeatedly tapped her right foot, trying to calm herself down. “What the hell is wrong with me?”
     She’s tripping.... Ray thought. He placed his palm against the girl’s clammy forehead and quickly checked her temperature, just in case she had a fever. None. He shook his head disapprovingly and sighed. “Hallucinogens,” Ray muttered, his only explanation. He still had difficulty believing the blue-haired, silver-faced teen before him, whacked out of her mind, was the same Claudia Reid that was the Goddaughter of his friend Benton Fraser... though those spiky things in her hair were kind of cool. He opened his mouth to speak, but was interrupted as a leg rammed into his side.
     “Huey! Jack Huey! Find him, he’ll explain, I swear!” Ray and Claudia looked up simultaneously and saw E.J., arms cuffed behind her back, being escorted roughly by a blue-shirt. She struggled against his grip, which only made the officer push her more roughly. “Or Tom Dewey! They’ll explain...” E.J. didn’t even notice Ray and Claudia on the ground, and she and the cop continued through the sea of delinquents. Ray shot to his feet.
     “Stay here,” he told Claudia, eyeing her again before rushing to E.J. He tapped the rookie on the shoulder and coughed. Both he and E.J. looked up, though E.J. suddenly looked horrified, rather than relieved. She cringed. “Hey, hey...” he said to the other cop. “I got it.” The rookie shrugged his shoulders and thrust E.J. over to Ray. She looked up at him and forced a smile as the cop sauntered away to continue booking people. Ray narrowed his eyes down at her.
     “Hey, Ray...” E.J. said abashedly, looking down at her feet. “You mind, um, undoing my cuffs?” Ray ignored her statement, placed a hand on her back, and gave her a hard push in Claudia’s direction. A chill ran down E.J.’s spine.
     “You’re. In. So. Much. Trouble,” Ray said through clenched teeth.
Part Eleven
     Claudia Still Doesn’t Know the Colour of Turner’s Eyes

     “Sorry, Ma’am. Excuse me.... excuse me. Pardon...” Fraser elbowed his way through the surges of  people in the station to Ray’s desk. The sight that met him once he arrived there, however, took him by surprise. “E.J.!”
     E.J. slapped her forehead when she heard the familiar voice behind her. She looked up from where she was handcuffed to the chair beside Ray’s desk and eyed Fraser for a moment. “Hey,” she replied dryly. “You seen the Duckboys?”
     “No. What happened?” Fraser replied quickly, looking in all directions. Before E.J. could reply, Ray and Huey returned to the desk. Ray’s form of greeting was more of a grunt, and Huey said nothing. He simply leaned over E.J., unlocked her handcuffs, whispered something in her ear, and removed the microphone from her collarbone. E.J. nodded her head in response, and Huey quickly walked away. Ray plopped down into his chair and rubbed his forehead, drained.
     “Ray?” Fraser asked, baffled. “What’s E.J. –”
     “Siddown, Fraser,” Ray interrupted his partner, closing his eyes. He leaned forward and rested his head in his palms. Reluctantly, Fraser took the chair across from Ray. “You didn’t hear what happened?” Fraser shook his head. “Huey and Dewey – you remember when they asked your permission to use Claud as a nark?”
     Fraser furrowed his brow. “They didn’t, did they?” Ray shook his head.
     “Close. E.J.”
     “E.J.’s a nark?”
     “And she’s been arrested!?”
     “Not that it was my fault,” E.J. interjected.
     “You, shut up,” Ray said, not in the mood to play. He turned back to the Mountie and continued. “Not exactly. She was arrested at a rave, with about a hundred other teenage hooligans, but the charges were dropped already. But here’s the thing –”
     “This is where Claudia comes in?”
     “Here’s the thing,” Ray repeated. “Claud was at the rave.”
     “What?!” Fraser exclaimed, his jaw dropping. “Why?”
     “I don’t know, Fraser. I haven’t been able to get more than a few sentences out of her.”
     “She’s tripped out of her mind. She’s in the drunk tank, if you wanna talk to her.” Fraser’s face went pale. At first, Ray thought Fraser was going to cry, but quickly shook the idea from his head. Fraser just looked... disappointed. He’d failed in his duties.
     “Are they both alright?” Fraser asked. Ray nodded.
     “Yeah, they’re both fine. Apparently they were in some scuffle – E.J. mostly, minor injuries. Claud’ll be fine by tomorrow, it’ll wear off by then. I don’t want to be around her when she wakes up tomorrow morning though, that’s for sure.”
     Fraser hung his head and let out a solemn sigh. “The drunk tank, you said?” Ray nodded.
     “Yeah, with about twenty other pissed teenagers.” Fraser nodded slowly, turned on his heel, and walked slowly away.
     “So,” E.J. said cheerfully, trying to distract Ray, “who’s hungry?”
     “Nuh uhn. Not this time. I know what you’re trying to do.” He grabbed E.J. forcefully by the back of her shirt. “Lets go find Dewey.”

*          *          *

     Oh, for the lova God, people. SHUT UP.
     Claudia rested her head on her knees, and inhaled deeply. Everyone was being so loud. She sniffled and let out her breath slowly. Claudia silently repeated a mantra in her head, “Everything will be fine, just fine.” It didn’t seem to be working. A glistening layer of sweat broke out across her bare shoulders, and she shivered again. A tear still hung onto her lower lashes, though she wasn’t sure why she had cried in the first place. Maybe it was because she was so terribly frightened of the fact that she was on LSD, or maybe because she felt violated, or maybe because she had let Ben down. The door to the tank swung open, and more people filed in. She spotted Turner, but her mind wasn’t functioning as it should have been, and she didn’t really make a connection. However, Turner was still reasonably sober, and sauntered over to his former tonsil hockey player. He sat beside her.
     “Eehyah?” Her foot still tapped repeatedly on the hard concrete floor.
     “Are you OK?”
     Claudia turned her head to the side so that she could face Turner. “I. Hate. You.”
     “I’m sorry Claudia.”
     “No, you’re not. You wanted to get me doped up, and it’s not fair because I didn’t know that that cherry was bad.” Her eloquent vocabulary suddenly decided to fly south for the winter, leaving Claudia with the speech of a ten year old. “You shudda said something to me.”
     “Yeah, but you should have known...”
     “Yeah! Maybe I should have known! As a matter of fact,  I did walk into that rave thinking, ‘Gee, I think I’m gonna go have drinks with the first thing that runs into me, and see if we can get it on later.’ I may be stupid, but I’m not drunk.” Turner resisted the urge to smile.  “Look, Claudia. I’m not a bad guy. I could tell from the start you’d never been to a rave before.” Claudia felt the heat rise in her cheeks. “You’re not the type.”
     “What type?”
     “You looked too smart and too naïve and you trusted everyone.”
     “I’m not naïve.” She said indignantly.
     “Yeah, you are.” Claudia tucked her head between her knees again, and shut her eyes, trying to calm down. Despite what Ray kept telling her, she still didn’t believe that she’d be better in the morning. Her thoughts were swirling, and she just wanted to sit in a white, polished clean, silent room, and maybe, just maybe, this odd feeling in her head and her stomach would go away.
     “Turner....just go away...and be quiet.”
     “Claud, I was watching out for you.”
     “You’re full of it, you know?”
     “No, I’m not.” The door swung open, and everyone looked up to see who would be joining them. About six more people filed in. Two of them looked ready to kill the first person to cross their path. The cell was getting to the point to where anyone could get claustrophobic, and for Claudia and quite a few others, this was not a good thing. Claudia and Turner looked away from the newcomers back to each other.
     “And why should I believe that...” She ran a trembling hand through her damp hair, trying to look nonchalant and under control in front of Turner.
     “I’m not a bad guy, I didn’t want you getting acquainted with the wrong crowd.”
     “Wow, if the right crowd spikes your drinks and lets their friends make out with you, I don’t even wanna see the wrong crowd.”
     “Claud, No. I mean it. There’s a lot worse people there, I didn’t wanna see you go off with some guy and wake up with him in the morning. I could have given you a way worse drug and-”
     “Why did you give me LSD anyway?”
     “Because you would have been picked out in a second as a rave baby, and guys would be giving you way worse stuff. I was worried, OK? Go ahead and yell at me, but I didn’t wanna see you with the hard-core-stoners. LSD isn’t addictive either, so relax.”
     “I really would like to, but I’m kinda scared right now.”
     “You’ll be fine...and you’ll have a great story to tell your friends.” Claudia forced a smirk. “But you don’t look too hot, that’s for sure.”
     “LET ME GO, AND FIND TOM DEWEY!!!!” screamed E.J., who was being escorted down the hall by two blue-collars with firm grasps on E.J.’s arms. She kicked violently, and twisted in their grasp. “Oh, hey Claud.” She said amiably as her head was shoved roughly up against the bars of the cell. Claudia waved slowly with a very confused expression on her face.
     “E.J., I said stay at my desk!” yelled Ray running from the other direction and instructing the blue-collars to let her go.
     “I got hungry, I wanted a Twix bar.” Ray grabbed her again and dragged her with him. “Fine.” E.J. said haughtily, “Two for  me, none-for-you.”
     Turner pulled off the sweatshirt tied around his waist, and draped it over Claudia’s shoulders. He turned to her, with concern. “But serious, was my making-out really that bad?”
Part Twelve
     Nick and Welsh Square Off

     “You’re lucky, Ramis. You’re a hair away from being booked til you’re eighty for starting a riot.”
     “I know. I’m sorry, Sir,” E.J. replied, sitting in front of Welsh’s desk, conversing with the Lieutenant. Huey sat in the chair beside her and Dewey hung in back, near the door. E.J. paused her formality momentarily and added, “But seriously man, that chick so had it coming to her. She was sitting in Tom’s lap, an’ her hands were –”
     “Hey now!” Dewey interrupted quickly, blushing terribly. “Good thing your charges were all dropped, kid...” Welsh eyed him and shook his head, sighing.
     “Detectives,” Welsh began, leaning back in his chair. “Perhaps you have a reasonable explanation I can borrow when Ms. Ramis’ parents come barging through my door, demanding to know why their daughter has been in such a scuffle, selling drugs, et cetera.” He gestured to E.J., Huey, and Dewey with a #2 pencil, all three looked away awkwardly.
     “You did give us your full authority to use her, Lieutenant.” Huey pointed out. “She –”
     “Wrong, Detective,” Welsh interrupted. “I said Claudia Reid.”
     “But we did have your clearance on using a kid,” Dewey pointed out. Welsh slapped his forehead. He opened his mouth to say something else, but was interrupted as someone knocked quickly on his door. Ray popped his head in.
     “Sir? Um.. Scotts here to see you.”
     “Send ‘em in.” E.J. hung her head and let out a groan. Both she and Huey got up from their chairs and moved away as Lesa and Nicholas Scott entered the office. Both considerably-upset parents stood in front of Welsh’s desk; Nick’s arms crossed in front of him, displaying his opinion silently, while Lesa wrung her hands. E.J. sat down on the green couch, digging her toe into the floor in a state of fear and accomplishment, and the Duck Boys were conversing with their eyes in the corner.
     “I would like an explanation why E.J. was sent to this rave, Lieutenant.”
     “I suggest you ask our very intelligent detectives over in that corner,” Welsh directed Mr. Scott as Dewey and Huey looked up. Nick’s eyes widened as he saw the detectives’ costumes. Dewey’s leather pants creaked whenever he fidgeted.
     “Umm, well you see Mr. and Mrs. Scott, E.J. is part of an undercover sting op on a number of drug targets-”
     “Drugs?!” cried Mrs. Scott. “She’s into drugs again?!”
     “No, no. She’s helping us take drugs off the street!”
     “Is this dangerous?”
     “Who was she doing the sting on, gentlemen?”
     “When was this going on?!”
     “I’m sorry we didn’t tell you, but-”
     “You’re sorry?!”
     “This is undercover! No one is informed but the nark and the appropriate persons.”
     “What are we?!”
     “She could get killed!” Nick yelled. “You didn’t even have clearance from your superior officer on this! This was completely under the table, and E.J. was involved! You do not do things like this without consenting the parents first! E.J. is our daughter-”
     “No I’m not!” screamed E.J., springing to her feet.  Silence reigned.
     “E.J....” Lesa breathed.
     “No.” E.J. said, determination and anger clearly on her face. “Look, I did this because I wanted to. This has nothing to do with detectives Dewey or Huey, and I could pull out whenever I wanted. If it was dangerous, do you think they’d be letting me do it? This was my own conscious decision and no one is at fault, and I’m perfectly fine.”
     “Look, sweetie...” Lesa began again, taking a deep breath. “We know you thought this was for the best. That’s not what we’re saying. The point we’re trying to make here is that you should have come to us, this is very risky...”
     “So what? You’re not the one doing it, Lesa. I am. And I’m fine. So relax.”
     “Lieutenant, may we have a word? In private?” Nick looked down at Welsh threateningly, though Welsh didn’t feel very threatened.
     “Of course, Mr. Scott. If the rest of you wouldn’t mind...?” Lesa, the Duck Boys and E.J. who was still scowling, exited the office.
     “Lieutenant, I have to ask you something. How can you possibly be unaware of what your own detectives are doing? Especially when there is a child involved. Surely this whole ‘nark-idea’ went through you first.”
     “Of course it did, Mr. Scott. However, we intended on using another person, not E.J. When we were not given clearance to use that other person, my detectives decided to use E.J. instead. I understand that it was not procedure and it didn’t come to me first, but if you were to look on the positive side of things Mr. Scott, you’d realize that your daughter has been the key element in taking down three well known drug dealers in the area, and at her school.”
     “At her school...?”
     “Yes, Mr. Scott. So you see, even at school, she would still be subject to drugs and danger. My detectives were looking out for her well-being, so in essence, she was safer with them than she would be at school.” Welsh smiled, pleased with himself, and leaned back in his chair propping his feet up on the desk in a gesture of distaste to Nick Scott. “So, if you wouldn’t mind...?” He waved towards the door.
     “If you think this is over, Lieutenant, you’re wrong.” Nick turned, flung the door open, and strode out.
     “Oh, it’s over.”

*          *          *

     The drunk tank was about ready to burst at the seams. It was built with drunkards in mind, and only about 15 of them, maximum. Instead, it was filled with thirty raving, drunk, chemically intoxicated punks, most of which had passed out on the floor or on each other.
     “Reid, Claudia?”
     The tank snored, sighed and puked in response.
     “Reid, Claudia?!” The officer called once more. She awoke with a jolt and became aware of her surroundings.
     “Turner...move...” Her mouth felt fuzzy, like it had been packed with cotton, and tasted...well, pretty horrible. She shoved Turner away from her; she had been using his side as a pillow. She kept her mouth closed as she sat up, assuming that her breath smelt like it tasted.
     “Let’s go, missy.”
     “Gimme a sec...” Using the wall to help her stand, she climbed to her feet and delicately made her way to the door. The uniform officer directed her to an interrogation room and instructed her to sit. She did.
     “Officer Baker will be in in a moment.”
     “Why.. Baker?” she asked alarmed, feeling in her pockets for a piece of gum.
     “Why not?” He exited the room. Claudia pulled the gum out of her pocket, but it slipped out of her unsure fingers onto the floor. Leaning over to pick it up, she silently reminded herself that she was *not* leaning over a toilet bowl and grasped it in her fingers. Straightening up, she unwrapped it slowly, the faint smell of imitation cinnamon wafting in front of her nose. Normally she would have only chewed half of it, but this was an emergency situation.
     “Ms. Reid?”
     “Yes?” she turned, and faced the young officer strolling into the room. He pulled up a chair across from her. Her heart rate increased. She had been in the room many times, but never to be questioned.
     “Do you know what this is about, Ms. Reid?”
     “No, I don’t officer.”
     “Assault on a police officer.” She froze. Was this about kicking the officer that shoved her in the back of the wagon? It couldn’t be....
     “Officer Lowry has a shattered kneecap.”
     “Apparently, he has identified you as the person who did it.”
     “No, no officer. It wasn’t me! I swear!” She knew police procedure backwards and forwards, but she had no idea what a criminal’s rights were. She had the right to remain silent, she knew that. But that would make her look guilty...maybe if she called Ray in...yeah. That would work.
     “I’ll only talk to Vecchio.” She said, trying to put an edge in her voice. She tried imitating E.J.’s Chicago tough-girl accent.
     “I ain’t talkin’ to you. Get me Vecchio. The guy with the ‘whack’ hair.” It *was* whack, right? Or was it ‘messed’? Or ‘ill’? Oh man, why couldn’t she have written down this slang stuff....
     “Is there an echo in here?! I said get me Vecchio!” She crossed her arms and slouched, much like E.J. did when she was being lectured.
     “I’ll be right back.” The officer left the room.  A moment later, Ray entered. She let out a sigh of relief, but drew it back in when she saw who was behind him.
     The two of them ignored the use of chairs, preferring the tactic of standing over Claudia and intimidating her.
     “Assault on an officer, kid?” She turned to her left where Ray was hovering over her.
     “I swear Ray, it wasn’t me. It was Turner! Ray, you *know* I’d never do anything like that!”
     “No, Claudia, you may not. But when you’re high and drunk, you just might.” She turned to her right where Fraser was staring her down.
     “Ben, no, I swear. I swear on my mother’s grave. I didn’t touch him! It was Turner! He got hit in the face with the baton and he kicked the guy in the back of the knee. Ben, I’m not lying-”
     “How can I trust you after this Claudia?” She had never seen her godfather so angry with her. She felt terribly both physically and mentally.
     “I know, I did something really bad-”
     “You humiliated me, Claudia.” She felt her cheeks flush.
     “Look, Claud. Don’t think were gonna go easy on you ‘cause we know you. It’s your word against Lowry’s. You think the judge is gonna buy a 16 year old’s story over a veteran cop’s? I don’t think so.” She turned to Ray.
     “Please Ray, I know I didn’t do it. I know it.”
     “Can you give an account of the entire night?”
     “No, but-”
     “Then you’re sunk.”
     “Do you actually believe that I’d break a cop’s knee?!” she cried. “I know, I know. I did some really stupid things last night, but beating up Lowry wasn’t one of them! Ask E.J.! She was there with me!”
     “Which brings up another question, Claudia. E.J. said she had no idea why you were there. Care to enlighten us?”
     “I was afraid she’d get hurt....” Ray stifled a laugh.
     “No, Ray. Hear me out here. I was scared for her, OK? She’s my friend and I wanted to make sure she was OK.”
     “Claud, that’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard coming from you.”
     “Hey, I didn’t know that Huey and Dewey we’re gonna be there, OK?”
     “You lied to me, Claudia. I always trusted you to be honest.”
     “Look, can we get back to the task at hand? Claud, you’re gonna have a pretty hefty charge against you. You’re gonna be headed for juvey.”
     “I can’t go to juvenile hall! I can’t! I won’t last a day there!”
     “E.J. did it.”
     “Yeah, well E.J.’s from Chicago, and she can beat people up. And she wears those heavy boots...and she sneers...and knows the slang...and she’s got that demented inner-city accent. No offense, Ray.”
     “Ray, can I have a word alone with Claudia?”
     “Sure.” Ray sauntered out the door, and closed it softly behind him. Fraser sighed.
     “Ray, turn the intercom off.”
 Ray’s bodiless voice answered. “How’d you know?”
     “Just turn it off.” Fraser and Claudia were silent and heard the slight click of the intercom being turned off. Fraser wandered to the mirror and leaned on it, so he was hypothetically out-numbering Claudia in hopes to dissuade her from leaving anything out of her story. He crossed his arms, cocked his head and asked, “Why didn’t you tell me the truth?”
     “Because I knew you wouldn’t let me go. Ben, this is the *only* time I’ve ever done anything against your wishes.” He raised his eyebrows. “OK, ignoring the time you said “Don’t date that McCowan boy”, “Don’t go to Jack’s Place”, and that time I ended up losing your favourite jacket in the Berring Strait, but I was only seven, and that doesn’t really count.” 
    “Claudia, I don’t know what’s gotten into you lately. You’re lying to me, talking back, going to the bar with E.J....” he drifted off, seemingly lost in thought. “Do you mind telling me what happened last night so maybe we can get you off the hook for this assault charge? And don’t leave anything out.”
     Claudia sighed, and wondered where E.J. was, wondering if she was being given the ninth degree from the Duck Boys and Welsh. The image of being yelled at by Welsh popped into her head and she was suddenly grateful that she was being yelled at by Ben instead.
     “Ok....well, I went to the rave...”
     “How’d you get in?”
     “They let me in.” This wasn’t entirely a lie. She certainly didn’t look 21 and yet she was still allowed in. “I started looking for E.J...and then this guy, Turner, bumped into me. We started talking-”
     “How old is he?”
     “I don’t know, I never asked.” Claudia chose not to look at her godfather’s reaction to that. “He took me to the bar and we ordered shots...” Claudia was waiting to be vehemently interrupted, but was met only with silence. “He slipped the LSD into my drink...I had a few hits on his joint - his marijuana,” she quickly clarified unless Ben thought elsewise, “and then we started dancing...I had a bit more to drink...he introduced me to his friends...we, uh... kindamadeout...”
     “We were making out and then I spotted E.J.” Claudia paused hoping Ben would yell at her. This whole “I’m listening, I care” thing was weird. “Anyway...so I see E.J....then I go over to her, we talk...I can’t remember about what, and then she sees these two girls bugging Tom and Jack...and she goes over, and starts yelling, and I start yelling too, and then everyone starts fighting, and then more cops show up.”
     “And that’s when Turner kicked the cop, right?”
     “Right. Well, we were running around for a while first, you know, trying to get out, then Turner gets this baton in the face and Whoomp! He kicks Lowry’s knee. E.J. grabbed me, and we took off again...then another cop grabbed me, and tossed me in the paddywagon. And that was that.”
     “So what do you think your punishment should be?”
     “You’re asking me?” Fraser nodded.
     “I don’t know...ground me...for a month?”
     “Sounds good. And no seeing E.J. for two weeks-”
     “...and the apartment has a lot of fixing up to do. You can help me with that as well.”
     “Ahh...this sucks.” Ray’s voice came over the intercom.
     “Stop stealing my phrases!”
Part Thirteen
     Burned, Flamed, Shish-Kabobbed, Whatever

     “So, we’re good? I mean, I’m not in any trouble, you’re not in any trouble...we’re OK?”
     “Well, so far.” Huey said. “But, if the Feds decide to drop by, then we’re in trouble.”
     “Because if they find out about this, there’ll be hell to pay, from Welsh and them.” Huey explained.
     “Because the second they hear about this rave and the potential danger we put a young citizen in-” The door to Welsh’s office flew open. The lieutenant was accompanied by two federal agents clad in trenchcoats, suits, and had styrofoam coffee cups seemingly implanted in their hands.
     “This is our case now, boys.”
     “Why?” Dewey kicked the chair that E.J. was sitting in.
     “Agents White and Exley have decided to make this their case. And personally,” continued Welsh, “I have no objections.”
     “But sir-”
     “Thank you, Harding.” The agent labeled Exley said.
     “Woah woah woah,” said Huey. “You’re kicking us off our own case?”
     “As you will recall detective, I never actually gave you clearance for this case.” Welsh reminded the two detectives sulking in the corner.
     “But sir, we’ve busted way more-”
     “But you did it while endangering lives.” E.J. groaned.
     “My life was never endangered!” she wailed, exasperated. Franny chose this moment to walk in.
     “Excuse me, Sir? I’ve got the medical report on our officers?” Dewey and Huey hung their heads.
     “Medical report, Harding? Police officers were injured?” Agent White shook his head disapprovingly. Exley picked up where he left off.
     “You see, Harding, had we been placed on this case, none of this would have happened. No police officers would have been injured-”
     “Yeah, a buncha you guys would have had the schnozz beat out of them instead.” Francesca said testily. Welsh, The Duck Boys and E.J. all shook their heads slightly. “I mean, I mean the slop.” They kept shaking. “Or the, erm, boogers.”
     “Snot.” Mouthed Dewey.
     “Snot. I said snot.” Francesca dropped the manila folder on Welsh’s desk. “I’ve got some....filing to do...” She exited post haste.
     “Look, I don’t care.” Protested White. “I’ve got better things to do than hang around here and try and sort things out with a bunch of city cops who are using a sixteen year old to do their dirty work. You’re off this case from now on, detectives. Off it. Do you understand that?”
     Francesca poked her head into Welsh’s office again. “Sir, I hate to disrupt you, but, umm...the...the media...is here?”
     “Why the hell is the news here?!”
     “They found out about the, about the rave Sir and, well....I think-” Before Francesca could finish her sentence, cameras, reporters and boom mics were all being thrust inside Welsh’s office.
     “This is Linda Coopman reporting for channel seven, live!”
     “...For channel three news at District twenty-seven of the Chicago Police department.”
     “Get E.J. out of here! She’ll be burned!” hissed Dewey to Francesca who had placed herself strategically so that each camera lens had her in the view.
     “Toss something over her and GET HER OUT!” Huey said through clenched teeth. Franny huffed, slid off the desk and pushed her way over to E.J. She grabbed Welsh’s sports coat from the coat rack and said, “E.J., put this over your head!” E.J. looked up, confused. “Just do it!” E.J. shrugged and hid her head under the jacket. “C’mon.” The two quietly left the office without much notice from the reporters.
     “We understand you have a nark?”
     “It has been rumored that this was under the table, is this true?”
     “How many busts have been made by this individual?”
     Once away from the office door, Franny and E.J. were approached by Fraser and Ray. “What the hell’s goin’ on in there?”
     "The media found out about the rave.”
     “E.J.’s gonna be burned. Get her out of here.” instructed Ray. Franny nodded and lead E.J., who was visually impaired for the time being as the jacket was over her head, down to the morgue.
     “Ray, could you elaborate for me please?” Fraser asked.
     “You said E.J. would be ‘burned’. What exactly does that mean?”
     “Burned, Fraser. When she’s found out by the general, drug dealing public. That, my friend, puts her in a whole lotta trouble. And, if she gets hurt in any way, the rest of our asses are in trouble because this was under the table.”
     “Ahh, I see,” replied Fraser. “So, once she has been found out, or, ‘burned’ as you put it, then she’s....?”
     “Put out to pasture. No more E.J. the drug dealer. She’ll be given curfew you know, stuff like that. Keep her under until all this blows over. Until everyone forgets about her.”
     “Is that really necessary?”
     “Absolutely.” Ray scanned the bullpen, looking for more reporters. “Look, they’re gonna wanna talk to anyone that knows anything. Keep your mouth closed until they’re gone. Capise?”
     “Understood. Not a word.”
Part Fourteen
     Claudia and E.J. make a mess

     “Claudioah, harme na phibbis lead.”
     “What was that?” Fraser crawled out from under the sink with a penlight in his mouth. He spat it out.
     “Hand me the phillips head.” Claudia pawed through the large, red, metal tool box in search of the elusive screwdriver.
     “Here.” She pressed it into her goddad’s hand, and his upper body once again disappeared into the abyss under the sink. She sat back on her heels and sighed. Fixing the shower, that was OK, mainly because it meant that now she could have a shower of a reasonable temperature. Fixing the toilet, that was kind of fun, because Fraser almost said ‘crap’ when he cracked the bowl. But this...this was downright boring. Aside from seeing that green flame, which Fraser explained was a chemical reaction with the blowtorch flame and a mineral deposit on the rusted pipes. Fraser emerged from under the sink again.
     “I’ll have to go and get another propane tank. I’ll be back in a while.” He stood up, dusting his jeans off. “Don’t you go anywhere.”
     “I know, I know. I’m under house arrest.”
     “Claudia, it’s called ‘being grounded’. And you’re lucky you’re *not* under house arrest for that assault charge.”
     “I knew Turner would confess. He’s a good guy.”
     “How is he faring in Juvenile hall?”
     “Not bad. Better than I would. He’s only in for eight months.” Fraser pulled the door open.
     “I’ll see you in a bit.”
     “Bye.” The door closed, and Claudia let out a exasperated sigh. “A break. At last.” She stood up, her knees cracking, and wandered over to the fridge. She pulled it open, and felt let down. The only half-decent thing in there were half-frozen perogies, but she needed water to cook those and they had shut the water off while they were working. A knock at the door startled her, and she smacked the top of her head on the egg shelf as she backed out of the fridge.
     “I’m coming!” she yelled, rubbing her head. The person on the other side of the door knocked harder. “Relax! I’m coming!” The knocking didn’t stop until Claudia yanked the door open. “What?!”
     Claudia was met with her best friend. E.J. was grinning broadly, arms open.
     “Claudia!” E.J. pulled her into a hug, and then held her back at arms length. “How you’ve grown!”
     Claudia remained unimpressed, arms at her sides. “E.J., it’s only been a week.”
     “Sheesh, remind me never to come and cheer you up again.”
     “Sorry. What are you doing here?”
     “I figured you could use a little help.” Claudia rolled her eyes.
     “Thanks Eej, but we’re not supposed to see each other for another week. And besides, I think Ben would appreciate keeping his home intact.”
     “Hey, that was only one time. And I bought Ray a new microwave. And repainted his ceiling. And it wasn’t his whole home, it was just the kitchen.”
     “The turtle probably needed therapy.”
     “Oh, shut up. What do you need help with?”
     “I was just trying to make lunch, E.J...it’s not...” Claudia trailed off as E.J. walked into the apartment.
     “What are ya makin’?”
     “I was gonna make perogies, but the water’s not turned on.”
     “Then we’ll turn it on. It can’t be that hard.”
     “But the sink’s not repaired yet. Ben still has to-”
     “Oh, relax.” E.J. said, pulling a pot out from the cupboard and grabbing the ziploc of perogies from the fridge. “We’ll use the bottled water.” Claudia groaned, and grabbed the pot which E.J. had just dumped the contents of the ziploc into. She brought it to the counter, and rubbed her temples as E.J. opened another cupboard and pulled out a liter container of spring water. “See Claud,” E.J.’s voice echoed from under the counter, “this is why you have no friends.”
     “Because I eat perogies?” E.J. reappeared.
     “No, coz you don’t take risks.”
     “I took my risk, thank you very much, and as a result, I was tripped out of my mind for almost eleven hours. Not to mention grounded, almost sent to juvey, and spending a beautiful Saturday inside fixing a water closet with my insane guardian.” E.J. grabbed the pot, and filled it to the brim. She lifted it onto the stove, and flicked it on. The stove protested at first but then the burner turned bright red.
     “See? No problems. How do you cook perogies?” E.J. asked as Claudia tossed a palmful of salt into the pot.
     “Let ‘em boil, when they float to the top, they’re done. Cut an onion, would you?” E.J. shrugged, but complied. E.J. sliced half the onion lengthwise then attacked it in the opposite direction, onion bits flying everywhere.
     “Owww!” E.J. wailed while clutching her thumb.
     “You cut yourself, didn’t you.” said Claudia, not looking up from her boiling food.
     “Yes....” E.J. grabbed her entire wrist and hopped around the kitchen. “Ow ow ow ow ow ow....”
     “E.J., go get a Band-Aid. You’re dripping blood all over the floor.” E.J. hopped off to the bathroom while Claudia found a wooden spoon to stir the contents of the pot with. Everything was quiet for a moment and Claudia actually thought that it might be kind of pleasant to share lunch with E.J. Ben would let her stay, wouldn’t he?
     “E.J.?” Claudia dropped the spoon into the pot and skidded into the bathroom where E.J. was wailing. “What happened?!”
     “It STINGS!” E.J.’s face was tear streaked, but it could have been from the onions. She held out her hand for Claudia to see. Around the cut was grey goop, the consistency of glue.
     “What did you put on it?!” Claudia gasped.
     “That walrus stuff...you know, the mucus menbrame...”
     “Membrane.” Claudia corrected. “Where did you get it? Ben carries it in his Sam Browne, it’s not in here.”
     “Then what’s that?” E.J. pointed to a small circular container the size of an ant trap. The grey stuff E.J. had smeared on her finger was inside.
     “You moron! That’s soldering paste!”
     “It’s for the soldering iron! It’s corrosive! Wash that off!”
     E.J. turned the  handle on the sink, but no water came through it. She turned it further.
     “The water’s shut-off!” E.J. screamed, still holding her finger. Claudia grabbed her friend, and hauled her into the kitchen. She stuck E.J.’s hand in the pot.
     “Relax! We’ll get the paste off!”
     “It’s boiling!”
     “Oh, good. They’re ready.”
     “Claudia!!!” E.J. yanked her hand out of the boiling water, resulting in the pot sliding off the stove.
     “OW!” the boiling water spread across the linoleum like the Hoover Dam bursting. Claudia, who was in her bare feet, jumped onto the counter.
     “Get me ice!” lamented E.J. who was standing in Diefenbaker’s water bowl. Claudia slid off the counter and tiptoed her way to the fridge through the hot water. “Hot, really hot.” Claudia yanked the freezer open and pulled out two ice cube trays. She tossed one to E.J., a few cubes falling out in the process.
     “Here ya go.” E.J. sighed, and leaned back against the wall, momentarily forgetting that she was standing in Dief’s water bowl. The bowl slid forward, E.J.’s feet sliding along with it. She skidded around the kitchen, fighting to regain her balance. However, the water on the floor made it hard for her to control anything. She slid towards the front door, Claudia watching with mild interest, sucking on an ice cube. The door swung open. E.J. screamed. Fraser caught her just as she was about to fall on her backside.
     “Claudia, an explanation please.”
     “Frase,” E.J. began. “You’ll never believe it. We were cooking, and all of a sudden-”
     “E.J., don’t bother.”
Part Fifteen
     Is It Just Us, or Is Welsh More of a Raw Meat Instead of Ice Pack Kinda Guy?

     “Who are you?”
     “Friend of Willy’s.”
     “So you’re him.”
     “No, I’m her.”
     “We weren’t expecting no chick,” another one contributed.
     “Good for ya,” E.J. replied, unfazed.
     “Come... join us.”
     Warily, E.J. stepped up to the group of about five people, two girls, three guys, two of them near her age, three of them slightly older. The noise and shouting of a daytime skate-park echoed through the fence behind them. E.J. stepped up onto the curb and hooked her thumbs into the front pockets of her jeans, slouching.
     “I got what you ordered,” she said flatly. “Best shit in the tri-state area.” The group eyed E.J. up and down, inspecting her carefully. She took a drag on her cigarette and inspected them back. At last, one of the guys nodded his approval.
     “Alright, chica. Let’s see it.” Without breaking eye contact, E.J. reached into the pocket of her leather jacket and inconspicuously removed a medium-sized plastic bag filled with a white powder. She displayed it to the group, then concealed it again in her palm.
     “How much?” asked one of the girls beside her.
     “One-twenty,” E.J. replied quietly.
     “One-twenty?” the girl repeated, surprised. “You sure?”
     “Like I said, it’s the best shit you can find. You don’t want it, I got other stuff to do.”
     “Nono, s’ok,” one of the guys replied. “One sec.” He and his friend both reached into their pockets and began fishing out bills. E.J. nodded, and flicked the butt of her cigarette down onto the sidewalk. None of them spoke; the only noise around was the sound of skaters behind them skating, screaming, and crashing.
     “Here’s seventy. Gimme another second,” the guy told her, slapping a large amount of money into E.J.’s hand. She shrugged. More silence.
     “Wait a minute.”

     The group turned around and faced the oldest boy, who hung in back and hadn’t spoken a word yet. “What?” a girl asked. The boy took a step forward, until he was intimidatingly close to E.J. She folded her arms, and the boy poked her.
     “What’d you say your name was, babe?”
     “You don’t really need to know now, do you.” E.J. replied.
     “No...” the boy replied. “I know you.” The tiny crowd of teenagers looked at him curiously.
     “I don’t think you do,” E.J. said quickly.
     “No, I do,” he repeated. “You’re name’s Ramis, isn’t it.” E.J. swallowed.
     “Never heard of no Ramis, amigo.” He shook his head.
     “No....” he said slowly, leaning down. “Word’s going around that CPD’s got a rat working for ‘em, by the name Ramis. I think you’re her.” E.J. remained straight-faced. Show no fear, she knew that.
     “You wanna frisk me? I got no bugs on me,” she told him. She lifted up both her arms out to her sides. “Go ‘head, check. There ain’t nothin’ on me.”
     Obliging, the guy frisked E.J.’s shirt and jacket. She felt him move to her waist, and suddenly felt her jaw tighten. His hand traced the nose of the gun she had concealed in the waistband of her jeans.
     Everything must have happened in about a split second, but it sure felt like more. All of a sudden, E.J. jerked herself away from the guy, shoving his arm away from her. “Back off!” she snapped fiercely, and the guy braced himself.
     “She’s got a piece!”
     E.J. whipped out the gun and pointed it at the guy, her finger wrapped around the trigger before she even had time to realize what was going on. “You need to back the hell off, man,” she said, out of breath. Within the next second, the two guys behind the guy also had their own guns pulled and pointed back at E.J.
     “No, I think you got some explaining to do. Ramis.” E.J.’s eyes widened, and she tightened her grip on the gun. Her brain raced. Heart pounded. Palms sweated. She hadn’t planned on this. Crap. She swallowed hard.
     “You’re a nark, bitch!” one of the guys barked at her. E.J. remained still, not sure of her next move. The frisker, the only guy without a gun pulled, folded his arms over his chest.
     “You know what we do to narks, bitch?” he sneered. E.J. narrowed her eyes and pointed the nozzle of the gun right at his forehead.
     “You wanna call me that again?” When she did this, she heard the distinct sound of one of the other guy’s guns cocking to her side.
     “Back off him before we fuck you up, nark. You’re gonna be sorry you came here.” E.J. remained steadfast on her aim at the guy’s forehead.
     “You try it and I roll him,” she said toughly.
     “You try it and we fuck you up,” he replied, equally as toughly. While E.J. and the guy she held at gunpoint remained totally still, the two girls in the group moved behind E.J. One of them jabbed her fiercely in the side, and when she did this the other one swiftly kicked the gun out of E.J.’s hand. The frisker took his opportunity and punched E.J., first in the stomach, then in the face. The girl doubled over in pain, vision reeling. After that point she was unclear as to who was doing what, exactly. She was only aware that she was being brutalized, it hurt, and she couldn’t fight back. Two people – strong people – grabbed her arms and forced her to stand back upright. Another person had her hair. Next, the nose of a gun was shoved under her chin. E.J. struggled fiercely, but found herself unable to move. There was two of everything around her. Somebody said, ‘Go ahead’, and the next thing E.J. knew, one of the girls had punched her in the face again. E.J. kicked out at her assailant, vision totally blurred. She cursed. Three other people cursed right back at her. They were twisting her arms behind her, pulling her hair, and... she didn’t even know. She only felt one all-over pain. She was punched again, in the stomach. Then in the face. And again. And again. Yelling. More cursing - a gun cocking beneath her face. Crap, crap, CRAP.
     The last thing E.J. heard was a shot being fired. She was dead.

     “Chicago PD! Drop the gun! On the ground, now!!”

     Wait a minute, she wasn’t dead! Somebody fired into the... air. E.J. opened her eyes, and saw -
     “Fraser!” she cried. Fraser punched somebody really hard, and all of a sudden there wasn’t a gun under her chin. Unable to maintain her balance, E.J. just fell down and held her face, feeling tender bruises forming beneath her hand.
     “I said drop the gun!” Ray shouted, gun aimed at another person. The guy took off running, and fired a shot at Ray. Ray tore off after him, firing back. Meanwhile, the other guy with a gun had turned on Fraser. E.J. looked up and saw the Mountie swiftly disarm the guy, elbow him in the face, and drop him right to his knees. Before he had to do anything else, the two girls had already lowered themselves onto the ground, their hands placed on their heads. E.J. felt some small amount of satisfaction in this. Seeing that the situation was pretty much taken care of, Fraser approached E.J. and bent down in front of her.
     “E.J.?” he asked her. She looked up slowly, and Fraser gently put a hand under her chin, examining the marks on her face. The side of her face and her eye were both swollen, her lower lip was split open, and a cable of blood leaked from the side of her nose. “What’s going on?”
     “They found out about the nark thing,” she whispered slowly. She wiped the blood from under her nose off with the back of her hand. “They were gonna kill me, Fraser.”
     “You’re okay now,” Fraser told her. She nodded slightly.
     “Yeah, I’m okay,” she said. She paused, looking around. The group that attacked her were all on the ground, with the exception of the one guy, who Ray had taken off after. He and Ray were both well out of view. “Thanks, Fraser.”

*          *          *

     Fraser pushed open the doors to the detective’s division of District 27 and Ray entered, gripping E.J. by the arm and pushing her in front of him. None of them spoke until they entered the station. As soon as they did, Huey had an arm around E.J. and was leading her away from the officers.
     “What the hell do you think you’re doing?!” Ray snapped at him.
     “Welsh wants her, Feds are dropping in,” Huey replied, and escorted the girl away. Ray scowled angrily. Fraser followed as Ray stormed away to Dewey’s desk, and slammed his fist down in front of his nose.
     “What’d I tell you?” Ray demanded. Dewey looked up at him.
     “Problem, Vecchio?”
     “I said, ‘Don’t use Claudia or E.J., you’ll get them killed!’ And what happens? The kid almost gets her head shot off!” Ray barked at him. Dewey stood up and moved to walk away.
     “We didn’t know she was gonna do this, alright?” he replied.
     “If we hadn’t shown up she woulda been killed!” Ray snapped. He shoved Dewey backwards, threatening to punch him. Dewey turned around and shoved Ray back.
     “Detectives!” Fraser interjected, coming between the officers. He opened his mouth to speak again, but Welsh appeared in the door of his office.
     “Dewey! Your presence!” he shouted. Dewey obliged and sauntered away to Welsh’s office. Welsh looked to Ray and continued, “Vecchio, get to work!” Ray stormed away to his desk, grumbling something. Lastly, Welsh scanned the station for Fraser’s goddaughter. He leaned against the frame of the door and bellowed, “Reid!” Claudia looked up from her desk and turned around. “Find me an icepack,” he told her, then slammed the door shut.

     Inside Welsh’s office wasn’t pretty. Huey had helped the girl onto the couch. She pretty much stayed there without moving, all of her muscles and joints searing with pain. Welsh was looming over E.J., with Huey and Dewey behind. “An explanation would be fine anytime soon, gentlemen,” said Welsh.
     “We were kind of looking for one ourselves, Lieutenant,” Dewey said slowly. E.J. felt her cheeks flush.
     “They... found out I was a nark,” E.J. began.
     “Who did?” Welsh demanded.
     “The... group of kids. The, um... Well, I don’t know their names, but, uh...”
     “What the hell possessed you to go there in the first place, Ramis?!”
     “This guy, Willy. He’s the one Huey and Dewey set me up with in the first place, right? Well, he came to me yesterday, and outta nowhere he goes, ‘Here, you gotta pawn this for me.’ I was like, ‘What is it?’ And he was like, ‘It don’t matter. You just give it to three guys outside Freevert Skate tomorrow, it’ll make you a lot of money.’ I told him I was busy, but he wouldn’t take no for an answer,” E.J. explained.
     “And... it just slipped your mind to mention this to White and Exley, or me, or Jack and Tom,” Welsh supplied.
     “What are you, stupid? It was a setup!” Welsh snapped. E.J. closed her eyes. She hated being called stupid. Before E.J. could continue speaking though, a knock came at the door and Claudia entered.
     “Here’s your icepack,” she said, handing a cold compress to the Lieutenant. She looked around and spotted her best friend slouched in a chair in front of Welsh’s desk. She noticed E.J.’s face, and what looked like a black eye forming over her right eye. “Eej?!” she blurted out. Without turning around to look, E.J. waved slightly.
     “Out,” Welsh said, pointing to the door.
     “What happened?” Claudia pressed, now severely intrigued.
     “Out,” he repeated. Claudia sighed, and sauntered back out the door. Huey closed it behind her.
     Welsh crushed the insides of the icepack with both hands and shook it a little, until it turned cold. He gently slapped the pack onto E.J.’s eye. She winced slightly, then held it there.

     “Hey...” Claudia said, approaching Ray’s desk. She took a seat beside Fraser. “What’s going on in there?”
     “Apparently, E.J.’s stumbled into a predicament. Again.” Fraser told her. Ray said nothing, and continued just glaring down at his desk.
     “How’d she get the black eye?” Claudia asked.
     “The predicament found out she was a nark and tried to whack her,” Ray said. Claudia looked over through Welsh’s office window. She couldn’t hear exactly what was being said – yelled, rather – but she could tell that E.J. was being given the third degree by the Lieutenant.

     “I don’t know what to do with you, Ramis! The press finds out about this and you’ll have to join the witness protection program. And I got no idea how the hell to explain this to your folks.”
     “Don’t worry about the Scotts, sir,” E.J. said.
     “Yeah, right,” Welsh said. “Your old man’s gonna sue our asses. Huey and Dewey are practically outta a job.” E.J. shook her head.
     “They won’t sue.”
     “How’re you so sure?”
     “Because up until recently they’ve just been my foster parents, right?” She waited for a response from the Lieutenant, but received none. “Well, a year’s passed, so now they can either hand me over to the state, or we can all sign the official adoption papers. And they know I won’t sign the papers if they sue the station.”
     “You’d do that?” Dewey spoke up from behind.
     “Where else would I hang out if I didn’t hang out at the station?” E.J. offered. Welsh slapped his forehead and groaned.
     “And that reminds me, kid. It’s not making 27 look so hot letting a known criminal spend all her free time with our detectives, you know.”
     “Sure it is!” E.J. disagreed. “Consider yer detectives, ah, what’s the word... Mental.”
     “Oh, I do,” Welsh replied.
     “Um, you mean mentor, kid?”
     “Same difference.”

     “Are the Duckboys gonna get in trouble?” Claudia asked.
     “Depends. If the Feds find out they almost got E.J. killed, yeah,” Ray said.
     “What about E.J.?”
     “We’re not sure,” Fraser said. “If she comes into contact with the media, she’ll be... flamed.”
    “Burned, excuse me.”

     “Now I told them,” Welsh said slowly, leaning down so he was eye-to-eye with E.J. and gesturing to Huey and Dewey, “That if they mess this one up, they could lose their shields.” E.J. swallowed. “Now the question here is, which one of you is gonna take responsibility for this?” Welsh stood back up, and the two detectives and one teenager averted their eyes. “Jack and Tom, and they’re out of a job. You, Ramis, and you’re back in juvey.”
     “Can’t we blame the Feds?”
     “Don’t start with me, Ramis.”
     “Sir, c’mon, there’s gotta be another option here,” E.J. said quickly, a nervous laugh escaping from her. “I didn’t do anything wrong, I can’t go back to juvey.”
     “You bought a gun!” Welsh barked.
     “You wouldda done the same thing!” E.J. cried back. “You know how these guys are! You don’t got protection, you could get yourself killed.”
     “They were your protection,” Welsh said, smacking Dewey and Huey. E.J. covered her eyes with one hand, still holding the icepack closely to her face.
     “I know, I’m sorry...” she said. “I... I messed up. Okay? I’m sorry, I messed up a lot.”
     “You’re damn right you messed up, kid.” Welsh paused in his speech, rubbing the back of his neck sorely. “Gimme the name of the guy you got the gun from.” E.J.’s jaw dropped.
     “What are, CRAZY?! You want me to rat out a guy who sells guns?!?” E.J. belted out. “E.J. Gun dealer. Ratting. Not a good combination!”
     “I don’t wanna hear it, Kid. You’re in enough trouble already.”
     “When they kill me, give me a real pretty funeral, okay?” Welsh grumbled something. He picked up a blank card of paper from his desk and began scrawling something onto it.
     “Alright, here,” Welsh said, capping his pen. He handed the paper to the girl. “My work number, cell number, and pager. Huey and Dewey’s cells. These goons come after you and we’ll drop what we’re doing and come back you up.” E.J. read the paper, then pocketed it. “Now gimme a name.”
     E.J. let out a final sigh and at last said, “Williams. Liam... Williams.” Welsh scribbled down the name and nodded. He gestured to Huey and Dewey.
    “So why didn’t you tell the Feds about the deal today? They wouldda backed you up.”
     “I didn’t have time.”
     “You didn’t have time,” Welsh repeated.
     “Yeah. Willy gave me the stuff last night, today I went to school, and I had to do the deal right after classes. I didn’t have time to call.”
     “You coulda got your brains blown out, kid,” Welsh said. “What the hell were you thinking?”
     “I dunno,” E.J. said, embarrassed.
     “How much money would’ve come outta this deal?” asked Welsh. E.J.’s blurred vision focused down on her boots.
     “I’m not sure. Forty, maybe?” E.J. looked up to check the Lieutenant’s expression. “I wouldn’ta kept it or anything,” she added quickly.
     “Good thing.”
     Welsh let out a sigh and returned to the chair behind his desk. He folded his hands over his desk calendar and leaned forward. Huey and Dewey, who had remained standing the entire time, relaxed slightly. Welsh picked up a pencil and tapped it absently on his keyboard. At last, he spoke again.
     “I’m warning you, Ramis. This is the last time your ass is getting covered by the station. And I mean that,” Welsh said. E.J. inwardly breathed a sigh of relief. “I’ll do my best to keep you outta juvey hall, as long as you hold up your end of the bargain. You keep your ass outta trouble. No more deals, ever. I mean that.”
     “I understand, sir.”
     “How much did the pistol set you back?”
     “Um... about $220, something like that.”
     “Then you can consider it a gift from you to the District 27 ammunitions department,” Welsh said. E.J. cringed. “And furthermore, your record will still be cleared of all narcotics charges. But,” the Lieutenant continued, “I’m still gonna be talking to Judge Elkins later.” E.J. raised her eyebrows, stomach sinking.
     “The juvenile court guy?”
     “Yeah. He’ll probably be putting you on probation.”
     “But –”
     “Nark or not, you still broke the law, Ramis.” E.J. groaned, head sinking into the hand that was holding her icepack. “Relax, Kid. You should be used to it by now.”
Part Sixteen
     Wow, E.J. Can Read!

     E.J. stood by the door preparing to smoke her after school cigarette. She pulled one out of her pack of Players and began searching in her jacket pocket for her lighter. She gasped as lightning careened across the sky. She sighed. “Goody. Rain.”     Normally it didn’t bug her, but normally she didn’t have to make her way home in it. She groaned, cigarette held loosely by her lip, and picked up her canvas backpack with graffiti scrawled all over it.
     “Hey, Eej?” She turned.
     “Hey, wassup?” Her cigarette wobbled, dangerously close to falling out of her mouth.
     “E.J., this is my friend, Carter.” Ameena introduced him. E.J. only nodded, she was still focused on finding her lighter.
     “He wants something from you.”
     “Can’t speak for himself?” E.J. muttered as she reached inside her backpack. Ameena nudged him.
     “I’m having a party this Friday. I was-”
     “I don’t like parties.” E.J. announced as she pulled her hand out of her bag, clutching the prized lighter.
     “No, I need you to supply something.” E.J. looked at him critically, lighting the cigarette. She wasn’t a nark anymore. Not that these people knew that of course, but that simply meant that she couldn’t get what these people needed as she could before. She exhaled in the direction of Carter. She already didn’t like him.
     “Look...people are getting suspicious.” Plumes of cigarette smoke punctuated her sentence.
     “I’ll cut you some.” She raised a brow. So she wasn’t a nark. So what? She could still act like one. She just wouldn’t do anything.
     “How much?”

     The operator of the black GTO driving by slowed.
     “Enough to satisfy your needs.” Thunder crashed somewhere in the distance and a light drizzle began to fall.
     “Whaddya want?”
     “Gravel...Chicago black, lace, turbo, anything basically.” E.J. eyed him again.
     “You do this often?”
     “Buying you mean?”
     “No, fucking your sister. Of course buying.”
     “Not usually. I get others to do it for me.”

     Ray rolled down the window so he could see outside clearly, the water-speckled window was too spotty to see through clearly. He recognized two of the three teens standing by the door trying to avoid the rain. He rubbed his eyes, wishing he hadn’t stopped to witness this.

     “You think I’m some crack maid?”
     “No, I just heard that you’re the person to go to for these things.” Ameena looked around unobtrusively.
     “You heard right.”
     “Look, I haven’t got any money right now-”
     “Then I don’t wanna hear it.”
     “No, I can give you this though, as you know, collateral...” He extracted a pipe from his back pocket.
     “I take cash only.”
     “Then this is a symbol of our friendship.” E.J. snatched the crack pipe and shoved it into the breast pocket of her flannel shirt.
     Ray backed up as to give the impression that he was only driving by when E.J. hit the sidewalk.

     “We don’t have a friendship, pal.” She slung her backpack over her shoulder. “Later ‘Meena.”
     “See you.”
     E.J. trudged away in the opposite direction of Ameena and her friend. E.J. groaned inwardly. She knew that this whole drug charade was over, but no one else knew it. How was she supposed to tell people who practically had a frequent buyer card from her that she was no longer dealing? She was jolted from her thought as a car horn blasted. She looked up, and immediately recognized the black GTO. She trotted over to the passenger window and leaned in.
     “Hey, Ray.”
     “Need a ride, Kid? It’s raining.” E.J. looked around as though she never knew the rest of the world existed.
     “Would you look at that, it is...”
     “Stop being a smartass. Get in. And lose the cigarette.” E.J. grinned fiendishly and  flicked the cigarette onto the ground. Ray leaned over and opened the door for her. E.J. tossed her bag into the backseat, resulting in the pipe falling out of her pocket. Ray snatched it.
     “The hell is this?”
     E.J. groaned and grabbed it from him. She snapped it in half and tossed it out the window. “Not mine.” She replied. Ray shot her a sidelong glance as he put his foot on the gas. He had a gut feeling that she was using. She had never snapped the other pipes that she had acquired while playing the role of the dealer.
     “So, you still being hassled by people? You know, ‘bout drugs?”
     “Yeah, it’s hard telling people that your not dealing anymore.” Ray nodded. “When I was having my smoke, buncha people kept asking me for stuff. I had to re-direct them.”
     “Where’d you get the pipe, E.J.?”
     “Collateral.” She said, imitating Carter’s voice. “I’m supposed to supply some guy’s party.”
     “How much’d you make for doing something like that?”
     “A lot.”
     “You used to deal, didn’t you?”
     “What are you getting at?” Ray shrugged. “What, you’re considering joining the ranks ?” E.J. said with a laugh.
     “Well, you know. I have access to that evidence lock up and most of that stuff just sits there...” Ray grinned. E.J. nodded, but said nothing more. Ray fumed inwardly. She kept dodging his questions.
     “Did you? Sell I mean?”
     “Yeah, occasionally.”
     “Miss the money?”
     “Drop me off at the bar, Ray.”
     Ray sighed. Ray pulled up to the corner and stopped the car. He and E.J. climbed out and entered the pool hall.
     “Vecchio, what are you doing here?” Ray turned to Dewey.
     “Dropping the kid off...can I uh, talk to you for a sec?” Tom eyed him suspiciously; Was it really that safe to go with a man that disliked him so much that he’d go to the extent of trying to choke him on the hood of a car? “Tom?” Ray called again.
     “Sure.” The two of them walked over to the pool tables. Making sure E.J. was out of sight, Ray lowered his voice, still scanning the room.
     “Look...E.J.’s done with the nark thing, right?”
     “Yeah. Why?”
     “Because she’s been acting strange. More strange than usual I mean.” Dewey looked concerned. “Her mother was telling me that she’s been going out a lot, I saw her today with a bunch of crack smokers. They gave her a pipe. God knows what else.”
     “Have you asked her?”
     “Sorta. But every time I bring up the subject of drugs...she seems to try and get around it some way. Claudia won’t tell me anything either.”
     “You think maybe she’s doing it too?”
     “No, you idiot. I think maybe she’s covering for her.”
     “She went to the rave to *protect* E.J. You think she’s gonna let her deal again? I don’t think so, Vecchio.”
     “Look, Tom. Can you just like...keep an eye on her? And ask Daniel to too?”
     “No, pissed.” Ray looked around the bar, his eyes falling on the door marked ‘Employees Only’. “I gotta go Tom, see ya.” Ray casually wandered over to the door, and yanked it open. He was somewhat disappointed to find E.J. sprawled out on a well worn couch, reading “To Kill A Mockingbird”. She looked up momentarily with the creak of the door.
     “Hey Ray, you hanging around for the show?”
     “Maybe. I’ve got some stuff to do.”
     “Well, we’re on in about fifteen. Thanks for the ride, by the way.”
     “Oh, no prob.” Ray grabbed E.J.’s backpack off the floor. She looked up again, but didn’t seem worried or concerned. Apparently, she had nothing to hide in there. Discouraged, Ray initiated his next strategy. He plopped down on the couch by E.J. and coolly shoved a hand down the spaces in the cushions in hopes to find something illegal. So hell-bent on his search yielding something, he didn’t realize that E.J. had completely lost interest in the woes of Jem and Scout and was now watching him, mildly amused.
     “Ray?” He looked up, hand still lost somewhere in the ratty couch. “If you needed change that badly, I couldda lent you some.” He flushed slightly, feeling somewhat stupid. “Are you OK?” Ray stood up.
     “Yeah, fine.” He paced slowly around the makeshift table which E.J. had propped her feet up on. “You’re a real slob, you know that?”
     “Happens to the best of us.” E.J. muttered, still lost somewhere in Maycomb County. Ray picked up E.J.’s jacket and backpack and wandered over to her locker. He pulled it open partway,  and was about to shove her belongings into it when E.J. noticed what he was doing.
     “NO!” she cried, leaping off the couch in a flurry of set lists, hiking boots and empties. She slammed the locker shut, Ray barely managing to get his hand out of the way before it was mangled in a mess of metal. “I...I can do that.” E.J. said, trying to slow her heart rate. Ray looked at her critically.
     “What’s in the locker E.J.?”
     “Nothing, it’s just messy, that’s all. You saw how messy I am.” E.J. panted while spinning the combination lock on her locker.
     “Mind if I take a look?” Ray made a move for the locker door.
     “Yes. That’s private property.”
     “You let Claud open it.”
     “You’re not Claudia.”
     “I know what you’re hiding E.J.” She glared up at him and was about to spit out a smart-ass comment but he cut her off. “You’re using again.”
     “Get out of here.” E.J. stormed over to the door, yanked it open and stepped aside, waiting for Ray to leave.
     “I’m gonna get proof.”
     “Get OUT.”
     “E.J., come clean. We’ve done this before.”
     “I’m not using anything. I swear.” She locked her eyes on his. “Now get the hell out.”  Reese walked into the employee lounge.
     “There a problem here?”
     “No.” E.J. said, “Ray was just leaving.” They were caught in a glaring match for a moment, then Ray broke away. He    exited.
     “You OK, Eej?” Reese questioned, a hint of concern resonating in her voice
     “Fine, really.” Reese nodded slowly, smiled at E.J. and left the lounge as well. E.J. let out a frustrated cry and kicked her locker as hard as she could.
Part Seventeen
     E.J. Takes Off Running Yet Again

     E.J. removed the key from the lock to her apartment door and let herself in, her bookbag draped over one shoulder. She shut the door behind her and let the backpack drop to the floor, sighing. She turned around and entered the large apartment, cracking her neck and relaxing. Her peacefulness was broken, however, when she saw who was sitting in her living room.
 Lesa, Nick, Fraser and Ray suddenly stopped talking as they saw E.J. enter the room. Each adult stopped and watched her, and the girl’s eyes widened in confusion. “Ahh... hello...” she said slowly, wondering what the occasion was. Their faces were serious though, filling her with a moment of anxiety. She’d seen expressions such as these before – it meant something bad. Her memory raced: Your Dad’s disappeared somewhere. Jack’s dog is dead. Your babysitter says she refuses to come back to sit again. Uncle Jack is dead. Aunt Caroline flushed your seamonkeys...
     “E.J.,” Lesa spoke up. “Come sit down. We need to have a talk with you.” E.J. took a seat in the recliner at the opposite end of the room, facing the adults. Lesa and Nick were seated on the sofa. Ray and Fraser were positioned on the couch across from them, Ray with his hands folded over his stomach, Fraser seated with his Stetson neatly in his lap.
     “Hey,” E.J. began, “If this is about those magazines, they’re not mine, I swear. And I only have them for the arti-”
     “Don’t wanna know, kid,” Ray interrupted. “It’s about the pipe.” E.J. looked almost hurt.
     “I thought we were clear on that! I never used it!”
     “Look, I know... what we talked about. But things have been really suspicious lately,” Ray explained. E.J. leaned forward in her chair and narrowed her eyes at him.
     “What things?”
     “Look,” Nick spoke up. “You were a nark and we never agreed to it –”
     “It wasn’t your decision to make,” E.J. interrupted, glaring.
     “And it was a stupid decision, furthermore,” Nick continued. “It was brash of Detectives Dewey and Huey. They should’ve known about your history with drugs.” E.J. looked horrified.
     “This has nothing to do with what I used to do!” she cried. “I never touched the stuff, and they knew that!”
     “It doesn’t matter how responsible you may be, Eej,” said Lesa. “It was just creating a temptation anyway.”
     “We’re not accusing you of anything,” Fraser said. “It’s just that things are very... suspicious, and –”
     “Like hell you’re not accusing!” E.J. exclaimed, rising from her chair. “All four of you – you’re just sitting there and calling me a drug user. You’re assuming I’m all messed up, just because of something really, really stupid I did so long ago.”
     “Two years is not that long ago,” Fraser replied calmly, though E.J.’s cheeks were burning. “And we’re not accusing you. We’re just saying –”
     “You wouldn’t even be here if you weren’t accusing me! If you didn’t think I was taking drugs, there’s no way you wouldda showed up at my door.”
     “Alright, fine,” Ray said, scowling. “Let’s assume for a minute you’re not taking drugs. That doesn’t explain the last deal of yours, after the whole nark thing was over. You were selling and there’s no way around it. You had an illegally obtained weapon without a permit or a license. You were –”
     “I don’t want to talk about this. This is stupid.”
     “I don’t care,” Ray replied through a clenched jaw. E.J. looked around the room at her parents and the officers, fury burning in her expression and tears threatening to sting her eyes.
     “I’m... not. Who. I. Was.” E.J.’s fists were clenched. “I wouldn’t go back if you put a gun to my head. It killed John Belushi and it killed Kurt Cobain. And I was there when crack-cocaine helped my best friend kill himself. I know I’ve done it before, and I’m not the same person.”
     “But the temptation was surrounding you the whole time, wasn’t it,” Lesa said. E.J. winced.
     “Goddammit!” the teenager cried. “Why won’t you believe me?!”
     “Lookit your record!” Ray cried, jumping to his feet. Fraser followed. “It’s all there!”
     “You’re not even listening to me! I just told you I’m not! What else do you wanna hear?!”
     “If you admit to us what’s going on, we won’t be mad, E.J.,” Lesa said calmly. “We only want to help.” E.J. slapped a hand over her eyes.
     “Forget this,” she grumbled. “None of you are even listening to me. And you know what?” E.J. looked directly at Lesa and Nick as she said this. “Forget about the adoption papers, too. I’m not signing. Like hell I wanna live like this. I know I’m fine, I don’t have to deal with this bullshit.”
     “E.J.!” Fraser admonished. The girl shook her head.
     “No,” she said firmly. “Forget it. Screw you guys. I thought I could trust you – I thought you trusted me – but none of that’s there. You’re not gonna let me get over all the stupid stuff I did.”
     “E.J., we really just want to help...”
     “You just don’t get it! There’s nothing to help! Jesus, this is like some bad TV cliché!” There was no stopping the ranting by this point. E.J. took a step backwards. “Screw you, screw this. I’m outta here.” Without another word, she spun on her heel and was back out of the room.
     “Eej, come back here!” Nick called. “We’re just –” His voice was interrupted by the thunder of the front door slamming. Lesa covered her mouth with her hand, the beginnings of tears surfacing. Ray and Fraser looked at each other, Ray looking like he was about to punch something. They could hear heavy footsteps clomping down the hallway, fading, until they were gone.
Part Eighteen
     Fraser and Claudia Bond

     “Alright....OK. Yes, we’ll be sure to tell you. Thank you kindly.” Fraser hung up the phone, and ducked out of the payphone booth into the pouring rain.
     “Nothing?” Asked Claudia, plunking a well broken-in Chicago Bears cap on her head in a vain attempt to avoid the rain.
     “No...Daniel was hoping we had something. I told him I’d call if we found her.”
     “Why’d she have to take off on a night like this....?” Claudia wondered absently, not really looking for an answer. She was scared for her best friend, there was no denying that, but she was also feeling (and it pained her to admit it) somewhat angry.
     “Claudia, I highly doubt she was planning to run away.” The twosome accompanied by the wolf plodded wearily on. Rain water was beginning to seep into Claudia’s shoes, and each time she took a step, they made an oddly comforting squishing sound.
     “I know she wasn’t planning on it, Ben.” Claudia said a touch witheringly, “I *mean* why’d she have to take off? It’s not like she doesn’t have anywhere to go this time.”
     Fraser shrugged, removed his Stetson and gave it a quick shake, ridding it of the beads of water that clung to the brim. He firmly replaced it on his head and raised the collar of his coat. Taking a cue from his master, Diefenbaker braced his legs and shook.
     “Diefenbaker!” Claudia wailed, staring down hopelessly at her soaked jeans.
     “Claudia, your pants are already sopping, don’t bother yelling at Diefenbaker.” Claudia let out a disgusted sigh, and tugged at the wet denim that was now plastered to her thighs. She caught up with Fraser who was a few steps ahead. They walked a few blocks in reflective silence until Claudia broke it.
     “Why do you think she took off, Ben?”
     “Possibly because she needed to get away from everyone for a while.”
     “You mean Ray.”
     “I never said Ray specifically.”
     “But that’s what you meant. He’s been hassling E.J. since this whole nark thing started, and now she’s not even doing it anymore and he’s convinced she’s using.”
     “Well, he’s concerned.”
     “Ray’s never concerned about her. Not for the right reasons, at least.” Claudia peeled the collar from Ray’s nylon CPD jacket off her cheek. She wiped the water off her face, and continued a few paces behind Fraser.
     “You may think they’re for the wrong reasons, but he’s right you know.”
     “About what?”
     “Well....he’s got reasons to be concerned.
     “She’s *not* using.” Claudia said with tenacity.
     “I never said she was ‘using’, Claudia. I mean that E.J. has a history of things like this. Running away, status offences, she has used drugs in the past.”
     “So that doesn’t mean a thing. People change. You’ve changed, I’ve changed.”
     “Oh, not as much as you think, Claudia. People are always linked to their past. Whether it’s for better or for worse.”
     “So, you’re saying E.J.’s linked to her past in the bad way.”
     “No, I’m not. I’m just saying that people will always have some of the traits they did before.”
      “But what if no one can find E.J.?”
      “I’m sure Ray will find her.” Claudia absently wound a finger around Diefenbaker’s wet fur. He whined in content.
     “That’s what I’m afraid of...”
     “Come again?”
     “I mean, he was already upset with her, thinking she was using, and the whole deal with her parents, so what do you think his attitude is going to be when he finds her in some ditch clutching a bottle of Goldschlager or something?”
     “He’s doing what any concerned adult would do.”
     “No he’s not. He’s gonna get pissed at her and they’re gonna end up in a fight.”
     “I’m sure her parents would do the same.”
     “No they wouldn’t, Ben. Ray’s not a parent; he doesn’t know what to do with kids when it comes down to certain things. It won’t be like her parents are yelling at her, it’ll be like when you’re yelled at at a friends house. If it were your own parents, or guardian,” she continued, nodding towards her godfather, still staring into the rain, “it’d be OK. But you don’t feel that this person, no matter how well you know them, should have the jurisdiction to yell at you. It’s out of line.”
     “Claudia, I thought you considered him a proxy father?”
     Claudia cringed; Fraser wasn’t supposed to know that. He’d be hurt. But apparently, he did know, word for word.
     “I do, it’s just that...he’s not like you are. You can go either way; you critisize and you compliment. Ray only critisizes.”
     “That’s because he doesn’t know how to say certain things.”
     “What do you mean?”
     “Ray never really shows how he’s feeling. Except when he’s upset. When it comes to being angry, you don’t have to commit to any feelings and you’re not put in awkward positions. When you’re forced to share intimate feelings, some of us can’t help but feel pressured so we figure it’s just easier keeping it inside. Think about it. We both do it all the time. We were raised that way.”
     “Was Ray?”
     “Well...” Fraser thought back to the time he met Ray’s parents. They were a nice couple but Ray’s father acted very cautiously. As though he didn’t know what to do. They shook hands, but that was as far as signs of affection went between the two. “Possibly. I can’t remember seeing Ray and Damian exchange more than a handshake.”
     “That’s sad.” Claudia said, stuffing her hands into her back pockets. “I mean, I should have taken advantage of those times I could have hugged my dad.”
     Fraser nodded, understanding. “I feel the same.” Fraser looked out into the street again. Just as he was about to tell Claudia that they had better start going, he was nearly knocked over by his goddaughter throwing her arms around him and hugging him fiercely. He froze for a moment, then returned it.
     “You know something Ben,” Claudia said, still holding onto Fraser, “....thanks.”
Part Nineteen
     Proof 80

     Ten o’clock and starting to rain, the pitch black streets barely illuminated by whitish blue moonlight and streetlights. The newly-forming puddles on the pavement caught small patches of light and reflected them upwards into the night sky. Everything was cold. Few cars passed by. It made darker seem darker, lonelier seem lonelier.
     Ray stuffed his hands into his pockets with a scowl. He, as well as Fraser and Claudia, had spent the whole damn day looking for E.J., and still she was yet to be seen. He glared down into a tiny puddle beneath his foot, swirls of an oil rainbow catching his eye. Without warning, he kicked the puddle as hard as he could and sent large drops of water splashing across the street. Damn kid. Damn Duckboys. Just stupid, what it was, everything was just stupid. The night’s rain stung like ice, but Ray took no heed of it. Just kept on walking, a scowl permanently melted onto his face. He was ready to forget about the kid and just go home. E.J. knew the city just as well as he did, and if she didn’t want to be found, she wouldn’t be.
     He ducked into the arch under a traffic bridge, where there was only white concrete tunnel beneath, but no road. It provided adequate shelter from the rain, but not the cold, nor even the tiny streams of water flowing in from the streets. Towards the entrance was a homeless figure curled up in an ancient-looking blue blanket. Used to this sight, Ray pulled off the dampened hood of his jacket and continued walking. The figure snored as Ray passed by. Why was he here? It was somewhere past 10 P.M. and he was exhausted. He kept telling himself to give up. He wasn’t going to find her. Maybe it would’ve been different a couple months ago, a year ago. E.J. was a different kid. She wasn’t into bad things anymore, she’d cleaned up her act. But now – now, things were different. She’d gone back to drugs. Ray was sure of that. He didn’t even care anymore. No, he didn’t care at all. Nope. At least, he shouldn’t care.
     Ray passed a second homeless guy on his way to the other side of the tunnel. This one had a cigarette and a half-empty glass bottle in one hand, and was holding his forehead in the other. Just pitiful. From his peripheral vision Ray could tell the vagrant seemed to be shaking, but not a cold kind of shaking. When Ray caught a better look, he saw the homeless guy was crying. Ray turned around and stopped in his tracks, standing up straight suddenly, looking at the figure.
     That wasn’t any figure, though. The homeless guy wasn’t at all. He was a she, and she looked like E.J. Ray paced towards her slowly, narrowing his eyes. He stopped directly in front of her and folded his arms in front of his chest. E.J. seemed to take notice of him, but did not look up. Her focus remained fixed on the ground.
     “Look, I don’t have any money,” she muttered angrily. “So you can just keep on walking.” Ray coughed, still glaring down at her. Seeing that the person in front of her did not sway, she finally looked up. “What?!” she snapped. It took a moment for the realization to sink in, and suddenly her tear-stained eyes went wide. The two stared in silence at each other for several moments. Ray looked down into the girl’s face, noticing her facial injuries still had not healed. They glared at each other. Ray’s face was deadly serious, E.J.’s more frightened than anything else.
     E.J. made a few quick sudden movements, and Ray completely expected her to get up and take off running. However, all E.J. did was fumble around awkwardly, trying to hide the bottle of alcohol in her hand behind her back. The glass bottle dropped to the ground with a loud clatter, and E.J. went still. The two remained silent, unmoving, painfully awkward, almost frightening.
     After about half a minute, Ray finally broke the silence. He swiftly picked up the dropped bottle in his hand and eyed it for a moment. The only words he read were PROOF 80. E.J. did not look up, horribly afraid of the consequences. Without any warning, Ray spun around, and with an angry grunt he threw the bottle as hard as he could to the opposite wall of the tunnel. It shattered against the bricks 30 feet away, the sound of the individual glass pieces tinkling to the ground echoing all over the place. E.J. covered her ears, intoxicatedly frightened.
     At last Ray spoke. He hovered over the girl with more ferocity than a wolf. “What do you think you’re doing here, kid,” he uttered, more stating than asking. E.J. covered her head with her near-frostbitten hands and shut her eyes tightly.
     “Go away, Ray,” she murmured quietly. “You don’t know what’s going on.” Ray folded his arms over his chest. He still stared down at E.J., though the girl would not return eye contact.
     “Yeah, well why don’t I tell you what I do know, kid,” he said in a low, scary voice. “I know two parents and a best friend who can’t sleep because they’re worried sick about a stupidass kid who’s too arrogant and scared to come home. I know a Mountie who’s missed more work than he should because he’s out on the streets looking for that selfish little kid. And I know –”
     “Stop,” E.J. interrupted, annoyed. At last she looked up at Ray. “Just stop. I repeat, you have no idea what the hell is going on. Please leave.” As E.J. looked up into the detective’s face for a moment, she noticed he must have been walking in the rain for a long time. His normally poofy, spiked hair had been watered down into a flat mess, several strands of wet, dirty blonde hair falling right into his eyes. Ray cracked his knuckles and put his hands on his hips.
     “You’re drunk,” he started again, glaring.
     “Yeah, well you’re ugly.”
     Ray slowly crouched down in front of E.J. so that the two were eye level with one another. E.J. took a deep, shaky breath, wishing like there was no tomorrow that she was somewhere else. Nothing was scarier than the side of Ray that was mad as hell – especially if the anger was directed at her in particular. When she looked up at Ray, she was met with a surprise. Ray took one hand to the side of her head and quickly knocked her flat on her side, right into a huge, freezing cold puddle. He leapt to his feet.
     “You think this is a joke, E.J.?” he snapped. “I got news for you, kid! This is your life!” E.J. crawled to her knees, her denim jeans and the rest of her clothes now heavily-soaked with ice-cold water.
     “Yeah, that’s right, Ray,” she said, climbing to her feet. She tried brushing herself off. “It is my life. It’s my goddamn life, and I can make as many goddamn decisions as I want to, and guess what? I’m gonna do it whether I have your goddamn permission or not!”
     Ray snapped. He threw himself at E.J. and knocked her flat against a wall, his face centimeters from hers. “Listen to me!” he snarled at her. “You wanna hear about how goddamn familiar this is to me?” E.J. glared at him and went to move away, but Ray kept his fist tight on her collarbone and kept her pinned against the wall.
     “No,” she snapped back.
     “Lemme tell you, Eej! One year ago! Last time I found you in the rain! You remember that? Do you?” E.J. closed her eyes with anger, another intoxicated tear coming to surface. “Lemme tell you about the last time I found you drunk, kid! Or maybe you remember?” She avoided his stare and scowled. Ray quickly jerked the girl forward, then sharply shoved her back into the wall. “But you can’t, can you. You can’t remember it, but I do. I do.”
     “Get off me.”
     “Because you were only thinking about yourself. Didn’t think of how it’d affect the people who cared about you if you went ahead and pulled something that damn stupid.”
     “I said, get off me.”
     “You didn’t care about who you hurt back then and you don’t care now.”
     “I said, get off me!” E.J. repeated, shoving Ray back as hard as she could. “You have no idea what the hell I’m going through! You don’t know!” Ray stabled himself right in the middle of a widening stream of water in the middle of the tunnel.
     “Maybe I don’t know. Ok? Maybe you’re right,” Ray said. “But what you don’t know is that you’re not screwing only yourself over.”
     “What are you talking about,” E.J. replied, glowering at him.
     “Claudia.” E.J.’s face fell slightly at the mention of her best friend’s name. “You ever to stop to think about Claudia, Eej?” The girl remained silent. “I didn’t think so.”
    “Fuck you, Ray.”
    Ray looked down at his boots, which were now completely submerged in deepening water. It continued to rain increasingly harder, bringing more and more currents of water through the tunnel. The two remained silent for a few moments longer. “So how much you using now, Eej? What is it, anyway? Same old crack-cocaine?”
    “Fuck you,” E.J. repeated.
    “Yeah. That’s mature.”
    “Well you don’t know! You got no idea what’s going on!” E.J. protested loudly, starting to shiver under her wet, icy clothes.
    “What don’t I know?”
    “That I’m not using anything,” E.J. said, staring down at the concrete beneath her.
    “So fuck you.”
    “Yeah, yeah, yeah...” Ray said, annoyed. “Can you prove it?”
    “Yeah, I can prove it. You gimme a drug test. You gimme four damn tests, I don’t care. I’ll pass ‘em all.”
    “Oh, I will, trust me. But I don’t believe you,” Ray said, bringing a hand to his forehead and drawing the wet hair out of his eyes. “If you were so sparkly clean, you wouldn’t have taken off so fast.” E.J. looked down at her hands, which were now covered by chilly, damp sleeves hanging from her like dead rags. She let out a grumble and tore off the wet flannel shirt, leaving herself in just her wet jeans and one oversized t-shirt. She was pale.
“I don’t care if you believe me. It’s my goddamn life,” she repeated, throwing the soggy shirt down back into the puddle. Ray shook his head and sighed, frustrated.
    “Why can’t you just stop and think?” he cried, throwing his hands up in the air. “Just for one lousy second, why the hell can’t you stop and think about where you’re going with your life!” He looked at E.J., who was desperately trying not to hear him. “Where are you going, huh?”
    “I’m going to hell, Ray,” she quipped sarcastically. The deadpan expression on Ray’s face told her that making this comment may have been a mistake. He looked like he could snap again at any moment.
    “Christ. Just look at you,” he muttered derisively. “You’re sixteen fucking years old and getting wasted in the middle of nowhere. You’re covered with ice, you’re outta clothes, outta money, out of a home, outta luck. And you’re turning blue.” At these words, E.J. shivered. “God, you’re only sixteen! You’ve been getting into trouble with the law since you were what, eleven?”
    “How’d you like rehab?” E.J. narrowed her eyes at him, her bare skin crawling beneath her t-shirt. “Juvey hall? You like it there?” Ray continued. E.J. gritted her teeth and glared at him. “How about here? How’s living under a highway?” E.J. cracked her knuckles at him, though he didn’t notice. “You ever think you’d go back?” E.J.’s blood began to boil. “Did you?” E.J. turned her head and spat onto the ground. Ray never broke eye contact. “You ever think you’d take up crack again?”
    “Stop, goddammit!” E.J. screamed, shoving Ray backwards. She made a fist and began striking him repeatedly in the chest, tears flooding her eyes. “I’m clean! I swear to fucking God, I’m clean!” Ray grabbed her wrists tightly and knocked her to the ground, right into the growing stream of water.
    “Look at you!” he hissed at her. “Is this what you want?!” E.J. struggled under his grip, and Ray forced her head under the water. She came up choking. “Is this what you want?” Ray repeated as E.J. spat out strands of hair and dirty groundwater. She broke free from his grasp and managed to pull an arm around his back, trying to force him face down into the water. However, E.J. did not have Ray’s same physical stature, and Ray was sober. She didn’t push him down very far before she slipped and let go. “Goddammit, E.J.!” he said, seething. He shoved her right back down into the water. “If you don’t do something now, this is it. This is gonna be as far as you end up. Right here!”
    E.J. was shivering uncontrollably now, completely drenched in ice cold water. Her muscles cramped up painfully all over her body, and her skin really was a pale shade of blue. Ray wasn’t much better off, although he was wearing more on his torso than just a t-shirt. “Is this what you want?” Ray repeated for a third time. The girl didn’t answer, just remained on her knees in the middle of the numbingly cold flow of stream water.
    “Just... leave...” E.J. said, teeth chattering. Ray shivered and climbed out of the water to his feet.
    “I’ve seen you do some pretty stupid stuff, kid,” he said, rubbing his stubbled jaw. “You know damn well you wouldn’t have had people there in a hospital with you for 26 hours straight if nobody cared.” E.J. closed her eyes. She felt close to losing consciousness. She guessed if she relaxed she easily could have blacked out. She wouldn’t have to deal with him. “I was there through your coma and I was there now. And I’ll be goddamned if I just stand back and watch you kill yourself all over again.”
    “You don’t know...” she murmured.
    “And I could just leave,” Ray continued, shuddering from the chill. “Just like you said. You wanna screw yourself over, it’s your decision.” E.J.’s knees gave out from her kneeling position, and she ended up sitting in the middle of the frigid water current. She began involuntarily rocking back and forth, appendages becoming stiff and numb with cold. “I leave now and I guarantee you, you won’t last five more minutes out here.” E.J. shut her eyes and began to cry again.
    “Stop it...” she said, teeth chattering.
    “Say it one more time,” Ray said, lowering his head and letting some hair fall back into his eyes. “You tell me one last time you want me to leave, and I will. And I promise you – we won’t see each other again.”
E.J. ran her stiff fingers through her dripping wet hair, pulling all the runaway strands out of her face. She let out a short, hiccuped sob and bent over, almost collapsing into the knee-high surge of water. Ray stayed still, eyes fixed on her pensively. She let out a long, shaky breath and wiped away what felt like a fiery hot tear on a cheek of ice. At last, she managed to mumble his name.
    “Ray...” she mumbled, eyes shut tightly. At last, the angered expression on Ray’s face disappeared. He unclenched his fists.     “You gotta believe me. Please, on your fucking God, believe me.” She looked up at him, the white of her eyes stained red with tears and making the blue in her eyes even bluer. She put a hand on her bare collarbone. The neck of her t-shirt was stretched out from the struggle. “Look at me...”
    Ray rubbed the back of his neck sorely and looked down at E.J. He raised his eyebrows slightly and remained quiet. “Ray,” E.J. repeated. “I’m not on anything. At all.”
    Still, Ray did not say anything. He only stood still, listening to the girl whose skin color was now a ghastly frightening shade of pale blue. Had she not been moving and talking, she easily could have passed for a cadaver. “I’m not using anything,” she repeated. “And I will take a drug test.”
    Ray moved closer towards her and hooked his thumbs into two soaking beltloops on his jeans. “You want me to go?” There was a long, silent pause. E.J. sniffed and ran a hand through her wet hair again.
    “Are you gonna come with me or not?”
    E.J. shivered violently and hesitated before replying. “Yeah,” she answered finally. She closed her eyes and rested, smack in the center of a heavy current of ice cold water. She took in a shaky breath. “...yeah,” she repeated. Her voice was quiet under the sound of the pouring rain on the highway above them.
    A clear drop of water dangled from a strand of Ray’s hair, remained suspended for a moment, and finally dropped down to the side of his face. E.J. looked up as he approached her. They were both shivering severely now. He crouched down in the stream beside her, and they looked at each other.
    ...Is he crying?
    Jesus Christ, she’s totally blue...
    “C’mon, kid.” Ray wiped his cheek and put a hand beneath E.J.’s arm to slowly help her to her feet. This was a difficult task; E.J.’s legs were shaky from the severe cold, and her balance was greatly distorted by the alcohol inside her. “C’mon...” Ray took the girl’s arm and draped it around his own shoulder to support her. E.J. blinked slowly, her body feeling intensely fatigued and maybe partly ill. Ray bent down and picked up E.J.’s dripping wet flannel shirt off the ground. He wrapped his other arm around her waist and the two walked away, out of the tunnel and back into the real world.

*          *          *

    Ray lifted the handle on his shower faucet, sending a sudden burst of water out from its nozzle. He turned the water temperature to lukewarm and tested its warmth with two fingers. He waited for it to get just a little warmer, then turned back to E.J., who was sitting, almost sleeping, on his bathroom floor. He nudged her. “Up an’ at ‘er.” She opened her eyes slowly, seeming not really that coherent. Ray sighed and dragged her to her feet. “C’mon, get in,” he muttered. Reluctantly, E.J. climbed into the bathtub and into the warm flow of water, still fully-clad in her ice-soaked clothes.
    Ray took a step back and adjusted the shower nozzle so it pointed downward, and E.J. let out a scream. She nearly ran into him, trying to get back out of the tub. “What?” he cried, surprised.
    “It’s freakin’ boiling!” she howled. Ray tested the water temperature again; it was still only lukewarm. He pushed her back into the tub, her struggling against him all the way. “No! It’s too freakin’ hot!” she yelped.
    “Jesus, E.J.! It’s not hot at all!” Ray muttered, forcing her down into the bathtub. She let out a sharp cry of pain as the warm water ran onto her frost-covered clothes. “You need to hold still, ok? You’re gonna freeze to death if you don’t hold still!”
    E.J. slipped and landed on her side in the bathtub, but seemed to relax slightly. She screwed her eyelids shut, the room-temperature water feeling like it was boiling away her skin. Ray adjusted the water temperature slightly, then rose to his feet. E.J. stayed still for the time being, and after several minutes some amount of color finally returned to her skin.
    “I’m gonna get you some dry clothes, ok? You just stay here,” Ray said. E.J. said nothing, and he left the bathroom. Ray wandered into his kitchen and picked up his phone. He flipped through his mini-address book until he reached the name of E.J.’s foster parents, and dialed the number. It only rang once before he heard Lesa’s voice on the other end. “Hello?” she asked excitedly.
    “Hey, Mrs. Scott? This is Ray,” he said, leaning against the counter. He wrapped one arm over himself and shivered. He was still wearing very damp clothes, and freezing his butt off. The female voice on the other end of the line sounded slightly disappointed that the caller was not her daughter.
    “Ray, hi. Any word yet?” Lesa asked him immediately.
    “Yeah, actually,” he began. “I found her. You don’t have to worry, she’s okay.” Lesa gave a deep sigh of relief.
    “Oh, thank God... where was – how is she?”
    “She was off of Independence Circle,” Ray replied. “I have her at my place. She’s warming up in the shower right now.”
    “Ray, thank you so much...” Lesa said, at a loss for words. The detective blushed and scratched the back of his neck. “When can we come pick her up?”
    “It’s okay if she stays the night here. She’s not feeling too hot, and she’s been fighting off sleep since she got in the car. I’ve also gotta take her down to the station with me tomorrow to finish up some stuff. You mind if I drop her off tomorrow?”
    “That’d be fine. Are you sure it’s no trouble?”
    “Oh, nah, it’s no trouble... I wanted to have a talk with her,” Ray explained.
    “Good,” Lesa said agreeably. They talked a little while longer, before Ray finally hung up. He then proceeded to dial the station’s number. After several rings, he heard Claudia’s voice on the other end of the line.
    “District 27, Detective’s Division...” she said blandly.
    “Claud. Ray,” he said abruptly.
    “Hey, Ray...” Claudia replied. “What do you want?”
    “I found E.J. Make sure Huey knows.” Claudia suddenly perked up.
    “What?! Where is she?” Claudia asked.
    “She’s with me. I think she’s got frostbite,” Ray replied.
    “Frostbite?! What? Let me talk to her!”
    “No, Claud, I gotta go. Make sure Huey knows I have her, okay?”
    “Wait, Ray! Don’t hang up! Let me talk to E.J., please!”
    “No, I really gotta go. I think she just passed out in my bathtub.”
    “Tell Huey!”
    “Let me –”
    With that, Ray hung up the phone. He returned to the bathroom, where, as he assumed, E.J. had fallen asleep right in the bathtub with the shower still going. She didn’t look like she was in any danger of drowning, so Ray exited to his bedroom. He opened his closet and began poking around until he found an old Bulls t-shirt and a pair of green boxer shorts that he’d never worn, since they weren’t the right size. On his way back out, he got a towel from the linen closet and returned to the bathroom. Ray set everything down on top of the toilet seat. “Wake up, kid,” Ray said, leaning down and pushing E.J.’s shoulder. The girl stirred, then sat up slowly. She looked ridiculous, sitting in the bathtub with all of her clothes still on, her hair a wet, tangled mess. “Warmer?” Ray asked her.
    E.J. nodded sleepily. “Warmer. But I can’t feel my hands.” He looked down at her and frowned.
    “Listen,” Ray said. “There’s some clothes and a towel over there. Get yourself showered and everything. You can crash on the couch. Okay?” The girl nodded, tired. Ray stood back up and left the room, closing the door behind him. He looked down at himself and sighed as he sauntered back into his room. Wearing his cold, wet clothes had soon become uncomfortably painful. His fingers were a little numb too, but there wasn’t much he could do about that until he could get in the shower. He shivered and pulled off his t-shirt with some difficulty, since the wet cotton material clung to his skin. He tossed the wet shirt onto the floor. He left his saturated jeans on and looked at himself in the mirror. He didn’t see any hero. He was still feeling kind of angry.
    He wandered back out of his room and retrieved a couple fuzzy blankets from the linen closet. He spread them out on the couch, forming a makeshift bed for the time being. Something in the back of his head was nagging him, reminding of him of something he didn’t want to think of. E.J. wrapped up in his blankets. Unconscious on that same couch. He tried to brush it off. It was depressing.
    Ray sat down in his chair, not worrying about how his wet jeans would affect his furniture. He grabbed a blanket off the floor and pulled it over his bare chest, feeling his arms crawling with goosebumps. He sat in silence for a long time, immersed in his thoughts. After several minutes, he heard the water shut off in the other room. Awhile later, E.J. emerged, looking much warmer, but still very placid and quiet. Ray looked up as she wandered into the room.
    “How are the hands?” he asked. E.J. sat down on the couch covered with blankets, clad in the t-shirt and green shorts Ray had provided her with. The clothes were only slightly too big for her. It was cute. Her eyes hung half-open and welcoming rest. She shrugged.
    “Numb... is that bad?” Ray smirked.
    “Yeah, probably.” Ray stood up and let his blanket slip back to the floor. “I wanted to have a talk with you...” he mentioned, as E.J. wordlessly rested her head down on the arm of the couch and closed her eyes. She must have been pretty tired. “But, um...”
    “Hmm...?” E.J. asked, not opening her eyes. Surprisingly fast, she was already on the verge of sleep.
    “But we’ll talk after you’re sobered up,” Ray finished. He looked down at her. She was asleep. He sighed a little, and pulled one of the fuzzy blankets up over her to her chin. He walked out of the room with a sigh.
    Ray shut the door behind him as he entered the bathroom, noticing the air was slightly muggy. He stepped over the wet towel that E.J. had politely left rumpled up on the floor by her clothes and turned the shower water back on. He looked at himself in the mirror again as he waited for the water to heat up. His damp hair would not stay out of his face, it seemed. He looked down at his bare chest and noticed a light brown mark in the center. Ray brought a hand to it, only to discover it was a bruise. Must have been from... he couldn’t quite place it. The night’s events seemed to all swirl together, blurring his thoughts. He vaguely remembered E.J. punching him repeatedly in the chest, but he couldn’t concentrate on any one incident for more than a small while at a time.
    He fumbled with the button on his wet jeans and finally managed to step out of them, leaving them bunched up on the floor beside E.J.’s towel. At last Ray stepped into the shower and closed the curtain behind him. He only stood in the stream of hot water, unmoving. Ray hung his head, and the water ran into his hair and dripped right into his face. He remained still.
The night was still a blur to him. The past couple days, even... all of it, a blur. Claudia had once confided in Ray that she considered him to be... what was the word she used? A proxy dad. He had forgotten what proxy meant, but the memory still gave him goosebumps. Imagine, him, a father. If it was anything like this, he would easily forget about it.
    The water continued to pour down on him, dripping into his eyes and making breathing through his nose uncomfortable. Ray remained still in the midst of the warmth, aware that he was no longer cold, but not really thinking about it. All he could think of was what had happened. How weird things were, in general. How screwed up E.J. was. How he probably would’ve messed up his own kids, if he’d ever had any. How Claudia was so young, but could really seem older than he was at times. How the hell Fraser managed to keep a teenager with him without screwing her up. How sometimes he envied Fraser. How he was so pissed off at Huey and Dewey he could punch a hole in the wall. How he really did want a kid, really... but not a kid that runs away.
    Ray put one hand on the back of his neck and continued looking down. The water was hot, but he wasn’t even paying attention. He couldn’t stop thinking, but at the same time he was trying not to think at all. The steam filled his lungs and he let out a shaky breath. Nothing was right.
    Before he knew it, Ray was crying. He felt his chest being wracked with a silent, muffled sob. His tears were all washed away with the hot water, but he still felt the salty sting in his eyes. Nothing was right. Nothing was right. Ray clenched his teeth and screwed his eyes shut. He ran a hand over his head, finally getting the hair out of his face.

*          *          *

    Smells... different smells... Fresh coffee. Newly-washed linen. Nautica cologne. A bad, fuzzy taste in the mouth... Gunpowder?
    E.J. slowly opened her eyes, the room before her blurring slightly until her vision adjusted to the morning light. A few seconds later, she bolted upright with a start. She looked around, panic-stricken. Not her apartment. Not her room. Not her bed. This was.. this was...
    “Morning,” came Ray’s voice directly behind her. Ray leaned into the window connecting his kitchenette to the living room of his apartment and looked down on E.J., lying on his couch.
    “It is?” E.J. blinked groggily and rested back down on the couch, burrowing herself in the fuzzy blanket she had been provided with. Ray nodded. She rubbed her forehead. Ray filled two mugs with coffee and brought them into the room, taking a seat beside the couch. He set one mug down in front of each of them.
    “How you feeling?” Ray asked, picking up a bag of multi-colored candies from the table. He reached in and pulled out a small handful of chocolate Smarties, and plunked them into his coffee.
    “Like I been hit by a bus,” E.J. mumbled, pulling the blanket up to her chin.
    “No, just tired,” she replied.
    “Sure.” Ray dropped a few of the colored candies into E.J.’s cup, and they each took a sip.
    “How’re the hands?”
    “Kinda tingly... but much better.”
    “Good.” There was a long, awkward silence between both parties, as they each stared either into their coffees or down at the floor. Ray rubbed the back of his head and sighed. At last, E.J. broke the silence.
    “So.. what are we doing today?” They looked at each other.
    “Going down to the station, picking up my dry cleaning, going to MedTests, and taking you home,” Ray said, taking another sip of his coffee.
    “Ooh, big day,” E.J. replied. “What’s at the station?” Ray looked at the girl as if she were stupid.
    “I gotta bring you in, it’s procedure. Show everybody you’re alive, and start all the paperwork.”
    “Eej, you’re a runaway. Surely you remember some of the consequences.” She sighed. “We gotta meet with the Duckboys, and then your social worker.”
    “And the dry cleaners?”
    “My grey suit.”
    “You’re taking a drug test.”
    “And then...”
    “Home,” Ray finished. E.J. closed her eyes. Ray looked at her, straight-faced. The odd thing was, nothing was back to normal. Ray and E.J. weren’t buddies all over again. Though they were sitting in the same room sharing some coffee, nothing was friendly. It was more of a formal, awkward silence between strangers. Ray leaned back in his chair and parted his legs, taking another sip of his coffee.
    “So. How’s the craving?” he asked smartly. E.J. opened looked up and narrowed her eyes at him.
    “No craving. No withdrawal. No drugs to withdraw from.”
    “That’s good,” Ray replied. “Because I know, if you were going through withdrawal, it’d be tearing you up inside. The    constant craving, the unavoidable agony, the –”
    “Ray, stop,” E.J. said, annoyed. “Look at me, I’m fine.”
    “Okay then.”
    “I could use a smoke, though.”
    “Tough,” Ray muttered. “Check your clothes, brainiac. Your smokes are soaked. And this is a no smoking building.”
    E.J. thought for a moment. “No it isn’t,” she argued.
    “Well, this room is.” She thought again.
    “No, it’s not.” Ray rolled his eyes.
    “Then the Ray-bubble is a no-smoking environment,” Ray said, forming a large circle around himself with his fingers. “You     wanna smoke, you must not be anywhere near the Ray-bubble.”
    “That’s very cute.”
Part Twenty
    Part Roy

    E.J.’s boots were propped up aloft a large stack of papers on Dewey’s desk. She let out a yawn and cracked her gum, looking around the station and waiting for something to happen. Dewey returned to the desk, wearing his black hat from his and E.J.’s Blues Brothers’ act. He knocked the girl’s feet off his desk, and pulled up a chair beside her.
    E.J. smiled slightly at him, and Dewey tapped her amiably on the shoulder, returning the smile. “Hey Tom,” she grinned. E.J. opened her mouth to speak, but before she could a figure appeared behind the detective. She looked up, and her face flushed slightly. “Claud!”
    Claudia looked... a little tired. E.J. stood up, and Claudia put her hands on her hips, wordlessly. The two girls eyed each other for a moment. Claudia sniffed, and the two hugged.
    “Hey...” E.J. said quietly to her. “You okay?”
    “Jeez, Eej,” Claudia replied into E.J.’s shoulder. “I’m okay now... God, scared the hell out of me. Don’t do that...” E.J. tried to smile, and gave her best friend a tight hug.
    “I’m fine, Claud. I came back. I always come back.”
    Dewey coughed. “Alright... c’mon kids, we got some business to take care of. You can stay if you want, Claud.” Both girls shrugged, and sat down on the two chairs in front of the detective’s desk. Dewey flipped open a folder and began leafing through it. “Okay, first order of business. District 27’s favorite delinquent.” Claudia glanced at E.J. and couldn’t help but notice that the Chicago girl looked slightly proud. Dewey continued talking, although it sounded like he was only reading. “Missing, three days. Found by, a one Ray Vecchio, Chicago PD. Whereabouts found,” he continued, glancing up at E.J. and pausing slightly. “A gutter.”
    “Yeah, you missed me,” E.J. quipped with a smart-aleck grin. “I can tell.”
    “Consequences,” Dewey continued. “Or can you finish this part off for me?” E.J. thought for a moment, looking like she was racking her memory.
    “Hm... it’s... I got it,” she replied. “10 o’clock curfew... not that that makes a difference, what with the probation, right? Professional counseling. Investigation of living arrangements.. and... and...” E.J. snapped her fingers, trying to remember the last part. “Meeting with a...”
    “Excuse me... are you Detective Huey?” Dewey, Claudia and E.J. all looked up simultaneously at the man standing before the desk. Dewey rose to his feet.
    “No, afraid not. Tom Dewey. You are...?”
    “I’m Roy Fisher,” the man replied. E.J. did not make eye contact. Roy and Dewey shook hands. “I’m here for Ramis,” he said toughly. Dewey sat back down.
    “And the last condition,” Dewey finished off. “Meeting with a social worker.” At last, E.J. looked up and she and the man met eyes. The girl held back a smile. “Ramis, Elizabeth Jane. Meet Mr. Fisher.” E.J. stood up, leaving Claudia looking slightly bewildered. E.J. and the man stood before one another for several moments, eyeing each other silently. Without warning, both extended their arms and embraced each other with a friendly hug. E.J. grinned.
    “Good to see you, Roy...” she said, smiling.
    “Good to see you too, kid,” Roy replied. Claudia looked up and coughed slightly.
    “You two know each other?” E.J. turned around to look at her best friend.
    “Claud, meet Roy. He’s my social worker,” she explained. Roy extended his hand to the girl, and Claudia accepted it graciously. “He’s been saving my ass since I was twelve years old.” Claudia smiled at him.
“Sounds like a tough job,” said Claudia.
    “I’ve been trying for years to trade her in for a vandalist or car thief, but none of the other social workers would take her.”
    “I missed you too, Roy.”

    “Are you alright, Ray?” The Mountie eyed his partner, concerned. Ray looked up from his desk.
    “Yeah, fine. Just tired... Long night.”
    “I see,” Fraser replied. “Claudia didn’t sleep much either.”
    “No, kept getting up every hour or so and walking around the apartment,” Fraser told him.
    “Sometimes I think that kid takes stress better than any of the rest of us,” Ray sighed.
    “She’s very mature, yes,” Fraser agreed.
    “I swear, Fraser. I think I’m ready to snap.”
    “I just... I don’t need any more conflicts. Not today. I just need some rest.”
    “I understand.”
Part Twenty-One

     E.J. sat on the curb behind her uncle’s bar, staring out into the half-empty parking lot. She took another drag on her after-performance cigarette and exhaled slowly, trying to make ‘O’s with the smoke she exhaled. She heard the sound of footsteps making their way towards her, but thought nothing of it. She was, after all, sitting by the parking lot.
     “E.J. Ramis?” She looked up with the sound of the voice. It didn’t belong to anyone she knew.
     “Who the hell are you?” She inspected the person standing beside her. Young, about 16. His hair was hidden by a Pacers cap. Baggy khakis, Billabong t-shirt. Behind him stood another guy, about the same age.
     “Edwin Scalla. I go to school with you.”
     “I’ve never seen you in my life.”
     “I need something from you.”
     E.J. sighed audibly, plumes of smoke percolating in front of her face. “Crack, right?”
     “Yeah, and coke and PCP. I heard you carried them.”
     “I did. I don’t deal no more.”
     “‘Cause I got tired of dealing with wanna-be tough guys,” she hinted. It took a while for Edwin to get what she was saying.
     “Who do I go to then? I need the shit for tonight.”
     “I don’t know....try Dodgy. Know him?”
     “He’s dry. He ain’t got anything. I checked.” E.J. glared at him menacingly.
     “Oh, so now I’m playing second to a guy who can’t even find a grade ten math class?”
     “Dodgy’s in grade twelve.”
     “My point exactly.” E.J. grinned impishly and flicked her cigarette into the near empty lot. She stood up and dusted herself off. “Look, you want to buy some shit, you don’t come to me. I don’t have anything.”
     “Fine.” Edwin put his hands up, seemingly surrendering. He reached into his pocket and for a second E.J. though he was going to pull a gun on her. Instead, he pulled out a wad of cash.
     “The hell’s that?”
     “From Jacob Richardson. For the shit you gave him after school the last week.”
     E.J. grabbed the cash from Edwin’s hand. It was a lot thicker than she thought. Just how much *did* she give Jacob? She pocketed the money and turned back to the bar, pulling open a door marked “Staff Only.” “‘Night, boys.” She said spitefully. She closed it behind her and spun around.
     “The hell was that?”
     “You said you weren’t dealing! And I believed you!”
     “Screw you, Ray! I wasn’t dealing!”
     “Then what the hell’s the money for?” Ray followed her into the employee lounge. E.J. walked to the far wall, then turned to face him.
     “For my pimp! I don’t know, what do you want me to say?”
     “I want you to come clean!”
     “I *am* clean!” E.J. cried “Why doesn’t anyone believe me? I thought I could trust you to believe me, Ray!”
     “You can’t trust me when you’re lying to me!”
     “I’m not lying!” E.J. screamed. “I’m clean! Stick another needle in my arm! I told you a million times! I’m not using!”
     “Then why the hell do you have cash?!”
     “It’s from supplying some guy-”
     “-at the start of the whole deal! Ray, you gotta believe me! Please! I’m clean! I’m so fuckin’ clean!”
     “Watch your mouth!” Ray barked. “If you’re so clean, why the hell are you still hanging around the crack-heads, hun? Why are you still going out without telling yer folks, hun?!”
     “Because!” E.J. screamed. “I can’t help it! I can’t just tell them that I’m not doing it anymore-”
     “Because you still are!”
     “No I’m *not*!” E.J. picked up the tv remote and heaved it at Ray. “I’m *not*! I’m not!” Her emotions exploded in a mess of tears and profanity. “Why don’t you believe me!?”
     “Because I know you! You can’t let go of things that easy!”
     “I can! I *did*! What do you want me to do!? Wanna cut me open, look for crack?! Send a drug-sniffer though my shit?! Bug my fuckin’ shoes?!”
     “You can start by opening that damn locker!”
     “There ya go, you’re still using!” Ray spat.
     “No! I’m NOT!” Tears streamed down E.J.’s cheeks where they clung to her chin before falling onto the cement floor. “I’m NOT!”
     “Open the goddamn locker!”
     “Ray –”
     “OPEN IT!”
     “Open your damn locker or I’m gonna do it myself!” he bellowed.
     Wiping a hand across her face, she spun the dial with her thumb. She pulled it open as hard as she could and stepped aside for Ray to look inside.
     “Here’s your drugs!” she cried, staring him in the eye. Inside the locker were two small gift-wrapped boxes. Ray’s birthday gifts. He stared, open mouthed into the locker then to the teenager sobbing beside him.
     “There!” E.J. cried. “Are you satisfied? There’s your goddamn drugs!” She pulled the packages out of the locker and thrust them into Ray’s chest. “Happy birthday, Ray,” she spat, glaring at him with wet eyes. “And in case you’re wondering, I didn’t get them with drug money.” E.J. was almost pleased to see the regretful look on Ray’s face. “My gift,” she announced testily, pointing to one with a quivering hand. “Claud’s gift.” She said pointing to the other. “Happy fucking birthday.” She slammed the locker shut and left.
Part Twenty-Two
     All Grown-ups Ever Do Is Talk

    “So how long have you known E.J.?”
    “Um... since I first transferred to 27, I guess. Around a year, maybe.”
    “And you two are in some... act, correct?”
    “Yeah, we do a Blues Brothers thing at her uncle’s pool hall.”
    “I see.”
    “It’s cool. She’s Jake, I’m Elwood. You should see the crowds we draw.”
    “Right. To the point, Detective... Would you say you know E.J. well?”
    “How well?”
    “I don’t know, really well. We’re tight.”
    “Were you aware of her attempted suicide in March of last year?”
    “Yeah. I think the whole station knows about it, almost. Or everybody there who knows her, which is like, almost as many people that know Claud.”
    “Were you present at the time?”
    “No I wasn’t present. If I was present, you think I woulda let her do it?”
    “No, of course not...”
    “I visited her, though... me and Jack did.”
    “I see. Has E.J. ever visited your place of residence?”
    “Yeah, a bunch of times.”
    “Ever spent the night?”
    “Um, once or twice.”
    “I see.”
    “No no, don’t ‘I see’ me. I’m not a perv, alright? The kid was bummed and I gave her a place to stay.”
    “Don’t worry Detective Dewey, I understand.”
    “Okay then.”

    “And you are?”
    “Constable Benton Fraser, Royal Canadian Mounted Police.”
    “A Mountie in Chicago?”
    “Yes. You see, I first came to Chicago on the trail of the killers of my father, and for reasons not needing exploring at this juncture, have remained, attached as liaison, to the Canadian consulate.”
    “That’s fascinating.”
    “Thank you.”
    “Would you mind answering a few questions for me?”
    “No Ma’am, not at all. Do you mind if I...?”
    “Yes, please feel free to sit.”
    “Thank you kindly.”
    “So, Constable. Tell me how you know E.J.”
    “I’ve known E.J.’s aunt, Caroline Ramis, for a good portion of my life. We were great friends. I first met E.J. when she had just turned fifteen. She ran away from home, and Caroline came to me to ask to help locate her.”
    “E.J. was living with her aunt at the time?”
    “Did you?”
    “Did I what?”
    “Find E.J.”
    “Oh, yes. Yes, of course.”
    “Did E.J. stay at your place of residence in that duration?”
    “For a short amount of time, yes.”
    “And... how well would you say you know E.J.?”
    “I would say I know E.J. quite well.”
    “What are your thoughts about E.J.’s mental condition?”
    “I... was not aware that E.J. had a mental condition.”
    “Mm hmm..”
    “Well, I know E.J.’s been through amounts of trauma in her life, but if you know her, you’ll see she’s more than capable of handling it, with some support.”
    “What support?
    “Many different kinds, Ma’am. She and my Goddaughter are best friends, they rely on each other very much. Her parents – guardians – Lesa and Nicholas, as well as myself and Detective Vecchio and Detective Dewey... Many different kinds.”
    “Do you agree or disagree that Detective Vecchio plays a positive role in E.J.’s life?”
    “I’m... not sure what you’re getting at.”
    “Please just answer the question, Constable.”
    “Then I agree.”

    “Do you know why I asked to speak with you today?”
    “Any objections?”
    “Besides the fact that I’m missing my lunch? Nope.”
    “Please, have a seat.”
    “I’ll stand, thanks.”
    “As you please... So, Detective. It seems E.J. and... Claudine are both very fond of you.”
    “Her name’s Claudia. Get it right.”
    “Yes, Claudia.”
    “Is this gonna take long? I do have a job to do, you know.”
    “I just have some questions to ask about your relationship with E.J.”
    “Yeah, right. You’re a lawyer. These few questions are gonna keep me here ‘til tomorrow.”
    “Please, Detective Vecchio. This is all in E.J.’s best interest.”
    “Yeah, I’m very sure it is.”
    “You’ve known E.J. for over a year now, correct?”
    “Get along okay?”
    “Just fine.”
    “Has E.J. ever stayed at your place of residence?”
    “A couple times.”
    “What for?”
    “School field trip. What the hell do you think for?”
    “Please just answer the question.”
    “Look lady, this is stupid. What you want me to say is, ‘Yeah, E.J. spends all her free time with me and I’m a horrible influence on her. The Scotts would be better off making the move to Connecticut so E.J. can just forget about what a shitty life she has here.’”
    “Detective, please!”
    “But that’s what this meeting’s about, though. Nick and Lesa wanna take E.J. outta her home, school, and life to some goody two-shoes suburb where she’s never gonna see any of us again.”
    “Detective Vecchio, you aren’t –”
    “I don’t wanna answer any more of your stupid questions. You want your answers, talk to the kid, not me. It’s her life.”

    “Mr. and Mrs. Scott... it’s your call.”
    “From what I’ve seen, we could win a court case. Your child, with a history of drug use, was subject to mass amounts of danger that no child, history or not, should have to endure. The station is clearly at fault.”
    “I don’t know, Lees... she did threaten not to sign the adoption papers if we sue.”
    “There are other ways, Mr. Scott. Since E.J. is a minor, the child’s consent is not always necessary – especially if that child is legally considered a person in need of supervision.”
    “I’m just not sure.”
    “Mrs. Scott, if you’ll look at my report... yes. Every person I’ve interviewed today has summed up the same idea: her staying here in Chicago with these people is only encouraging her bad behavior. Your child runs away from home, and one of them always jumps to her rescue. Your child breaks a rule, and one of them covers for her.”
    “I hardly think covering for her –”
    “If she continues living here in the arrangements she’s in now, she’ll never learn from her mistakes. She’ll only -”
    “Do you have kids?”
    “Um... excuse me, Mrs. Scott?”
    “You don’t have kids of your own, do you.”
    “I’m... not sure if that’s relevant...”
    “Look, Miss. What you’ve proven to us is that when E.J. needs help, she gets it from these people. Nick, honey... are you honestly suggesting we just rip her out of her home city, away from Claudia, away from everything... and that will make her change?”
    “It’s so unsafe –”
    “She doesn’t need changing, Nick. She’s our daughter. We don’t need to isolate her.”
    “What about the court case, Mrs. Scott?”
    “Screw the lawsuit.”
    “Are – are you sure about that?”
    “For Christ sakes, Deborah. We’ll still pay your legal fees. Relax.”
Part Twenty-Three
     *Sniff* Why Didn’t You Adopt Me, Dammit?!

    The entire station was buzzing in a flurry. The place was booming – more or less – with Ray’s birthday party. Cake was on the table and the station was packed. Claudia looked up from a plateful of yellow cake, noticing Ray heading towards she and her friend. Claudia nudged E.J.
    “What?” E.J. asked through a mouthful of cake frosting. She caught sight of Ray and quickly turned around, trying to look preoccupied with the articles on Claudia’s desk. Claudia elbowed her.
    “Talk-to-him,” Claudia said through clenched teeth.
E.J. barely returned her glare and replied, also with her jaw clenched, “I-don’t-WANT-to.”
    “Talk to him or I tell him about your –”
    “E.J.?” Ray interrupted the girls quietly as he approached the desk. E.J. did not turn around.
    “Yes, Detective?” she replied. Claudia subtly jabbed her in the side again.
    “Yeah, um... We need to talk,” Ray said, glancing at Claudia. The girl took the hint, and wandered off. Slowly, E.J. turned around and stuffed her hands into her jeans pockets. She slouched against the desk behind her, but never once made eye contact with Ray. “About, um, that little... spat. The other night.” He waited for E.J. to reply, but she said nothing, nor did she acknowledge that he had said a word. “Well, um....” Ray brought a hand to the back of his neck and awkwardly rubbed his hair. “I just wanted to say I’m sorry.”
    E.J. looked up at the ceiling. Ray waited expectantly for her to say something, but there was only silence between them. “And, uh...” Ray continued on, “I was wrong, I guess. I was just worried. I mean, you know I was worried. And I wasn’t completely out of line, I just, um...” His voice trailed off. E.J. looked into the detective’s face with a deadpan expression, wordless. “I guess what I’m trying to say is you got me scared, but I overreacted. I shoulda trusted you and I didn’t, and I apologize. My mistake.”
    Again, thinking his prepared speech was finished, Ray waited for E.J. to say something. The girl only rolled her shoulders and continued watching him blankly. He sighed.
    “So I was really just trying to look out for you. I didn’t want you getting hurt.”
    “Or, you know, messed up.”
    “E.J., look. I am sorry I broke your trust. I’m sorry. I was wrong, you were right, you’re not a bad kid. You’re okay with me. Okay?”

    There was a long, deafening pause between them. Ray still couldn’t decipher what the hell was going through E.J.’s brain at that moment, because her face was so deadpan. After several long, painful moments, E.J. finally spoke.

    “Thanks, Ray.”
    This took him by surprise. It took him a moment to absorb the statement. “...Thanks?”
    “Yeah, for, apologizing. Thanks,” E.J. said slowly. They studied each other’s faces for a moment. Without thinking about it, E.J. brought a hand to the back of her neck, mirroring Ray’s own movements. “And... you were right. About one thing at least.”
    “I was?”
    “Yeah, you were. The other night, if you hadn’t shown up, I prolly would’ve frozen to death. And it woulda been my fault. So... thank you.”
    A smile barely cracked the corners of Ray’s mouth. E.J. looked up from the floor, looking slightly relieved. “No... no problem, Eej.” They both paused, then smiled. “We’re cool?”
    E.J. hesitated, then shrugged. “Yeah, we’re cool.” Ray extended his arms towards the girl, and her eyes went wide.
    “C’mon,” he pressed, grinning. E.J. looked around cautiously. “C’mon Kid. Hug me.” She looked around again, making sure no one was watching. “Hug me.” E.J. sighed.

    “Oh, that’s TOO cute,” Claudia giggled. Beside her, Francesca nodded in agreement.
    “He’s gonna be a great dad,” Franny snickered, watching Ray force E.J. into a hug.

    “Well, ah...” E.J. said awkwardly as Ray let go of her. “I’m... glad we had this talk.”
    “Yeah, me too,” Ray said. E.J. stood back and folded her arms over her chest. The sleeve of her shirt crawled slightly up her arm. Ray blinked hard, then his eyes went wide.
    “E.J...?” he said slowly. She looked up and he pointed to black-ink streaks on her arm.

    “Is that a tattoo?!”
September 25, 1999

By: the Alterashleys
Ashley Calvert (calvinball1968@usa.net)
Ashley Sametz (CKRs.chik@trust-me.com)