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The Laughing Academy
A Life of Noisy Desperation
"About a Dog" DVD Commentary, Pt. 2 
1st-Oct-2006 06:20 am
Aurora Borealis Trees
PART TWO.
In the end, Fraser conquered his horror at the idea of a Consular guest sleeping on his office floor by forcibly reminding himself that said Consular guest was his dog. Here’s Fraser thinking of Dief as a dog instead of a wolf again. Both instances follow moments of tenderness: Fraser watching Dief romp in the new snow, and Fraser petting a dozing Dief’s hair. Still, he’d carefully draped a blanket over Dief’s snoring form before changing into his long johns and putting himself to bed.

In his dream, the shaman was drumming slowly, rhythmically, and the dancers were moving in unison. He was outside of the circle but inside the tent, allowed to be present, allowed to share the warmth of their fire, their rugs, their furs--the warmth generated by their swaying, circling bodies. Dimly, he heard the shake of the deer hoof rattle, watched the shaman raise his arm and--

Not drums. Not a rattle. Dimly, Fraser realized that he was hearing footsteps in the hall, the rhythmic knock of a fist against his office door. And the rattling sound was keys jangling. Someone was unlocking his--and the warmth was--?

Fraser’s eyes flew open. Diefenbaker was on the bed with him, curled tightly around his torso and legs, face pressed into his hip.

And that sound was the knob turning...

Ray stood in the doorway, mouth open, keys still dangling from his hand.

Without thinking, Fraser gave a massive heave and shoved Diefenbaker off the bed. Dief fell onto the floor with a massive thump and let out a pitiful yelp. Smooth, Fraser.

To Fraser’s surprise, Ray was instantly crouched on the floor next to Dief. "Hey, you okay down there?" Ray asked, and then he turned his head to glare at Fraser: "What the hell is the matter with you?"

"Well, you see, that’s my wolf, and I throw him off the bed all the time," Fraser didn’t say--no, not a bit of it. "Um. Good morning, Ray," Fraser said.

"Remind me never to sleep with you," Ray said, and then he turned his attention back to Diefenbaker, who was whimpering softly and rubbing his head. "You all right?"

Diefenbaker nodded, and then winced, like nodding hurt him. "M’okay."

"You want some ice or something?" Ray asked, wincing in sympathy. "Because you fell right on your head there."

"M’okay," Dief repeated vaguely, and then he blinked a few times and seemed to focus on Ray. "Heyyyyyy!" he exclaimed happily and literally dived for him.

Lord Almighty, Fraser thought. He looked away quickly, and closed his eyes tightly for good measure, because it was entirely possible given past history that Diefenbaker was licking some visible, protuberant part of Ray’s anatomy.

"This is my former partner," Fraser heard himself say from a great distance away, fifteen miles perhaps. "We used to work together up North. I’ve, er--I’ve told him all about you."

Ray’s voice floated back to him, dripping with sarcasm. "What the hell did you tell him?"

Fraser forced himself to open his eyes and saw that Ray was sitting up, but only barely--Dief was hanging around his neck so tightly that Fraser could barely see Ray’s disheveled hair and confused expression over Dief’s massive flannel-clad shoulders. Fraser became aware that Dief was now whimpering very, very faintly, and that Ray was rubbing reassuring circles between his shoulder blades.

He felt--well, he wasn’t sure exactly what he felt.

Fraser sat up, pulled his blanket up around his waist, and opened his mouth to say something, anything. He hoped that some reasonable explanation for Dief’s behavior would suddenly occur to him, though he wasn’t very optimistic on that score.

But Ray didn’t give him the chance to exercise his creativity. Ray just raised a finger and gave him a look which conveyed, "Shut up, Fraser," as clearly as if he’d said it aloud.

So Fraser shut up and watched as Ray gently pried Diefenbaker’s arms from around his neck. "Why don’t you go get some water?" Ray suggested, and while Dief was in no position to appreciate the perfection of Ray’s, "I’m-just-going-to-have-a-little-chat-with-the-boss-man," tone, he seemed to get the message anyway, looking from Ray to Fraser and back a couple of times before nodding and heaving himself to his feet and out the door.

"So." Ray rose to his feet again. "What’s his name?"

Fraser made the split-second decision to give Ray only as much information as he asked for, and not a jot more. It was a tactic that had worked well for him in the past. "Dave Baker."

"Huh. Former partner, you said?" Ray’s tone was casual, but Fraser knew Ray’s interrogation techniques pretty well, and this deceptively casual tone was one of them.

"Yes," Fraser replied cautiously.

Ray nodded thoughtfully at this as he scratched the back of his neck. "Don’t remember you ever talking about a partner."

Fraser noticed that his fingernails needed cutting. When had he gotten so slovenly in his personal habits? "Perhaps I neglected to mention it." Fraser is nonchalantly examining his nails. Oh yeah, Ray will never suspect. *eyeroll*

The cot dipped as Ray sat down beside him--quite close to him; in fact, rather too close to him, Fraser thought. It wasn’t like Ray to...well, actually it was like Ray to position himself within Fraser’s personal space, but this was really quite close, even for Ray. Ray’s denim-clad thigh was lodged firmly against his fleece-clad one, with only the thin blanket between them. If Ray got any closer, he’d be sitting in Fraser’s very lap.

And then Ray did lean closer. "You neglect to mention a lot, Fraser--anybody ever tell you that?"

"I." It was an effort not to swallow, but at this range, swallowing would be highly noticeable, and he didn’t want Ray to gauge the state of his emotions. "I suppose that’s true."

Ray looked away, giving Fraser a moment to swallow and inhale and generally compose himself. He thought he was doing pretty well until Ray turned back to him and put a heavy, warm hand on his thigh. Fraser felt sure that his eyes were about to fall out of their sockets, but he couldn’t stop himself from staring at Ray’s ragged fingernails and scarred knuckles, at where Ray’s long fingers were clutching his leg--and even as he watched, Ray’s hand convulsed and gave Fraser’s thigh a suggestive little squeeze. Excellent use of italics in this paragraph.

Fraser’s head jerked up; Ray’s eyes were huge and intent and blue and locked on his. "I’d never have guessed he was your type, Fraser."

"Wwwwhat?" Fraser could barely get the word out; he felt like somebody’d rolled a boulder onto his chest. Maybe he was having a heart attack. Was his arm tingling strangely??

"You know," Ray said softly. Suggestively. "Big guys." Ray jerked his head toward the door, toward where Diefenbaker had gone--and then suddenly Fraser saw it, the wicked glint, the sparkle of mischief behind the extremely thin veneer of sincerity, and in a burst of fury Fraser heaved and knocked Ray off the bed and onto his ass. Again, Fraser puts Ray in Dief’s place, this time literally.

Ray was laughing before he even hit the floor. "Hey, no wonder you never get laid. You’re too damn picky!"

"You--!" Fraser felt positively beside himself. "I can’t believe you’d--" He reached for the nearest hurlable object--his bedside copy of Paradise Lost, as it happened--and hurled it at Ray, who defended himself with raised forearms.

"Oh, come on! You’re supposed to be a good sport!"

"Sorry to disappoint you." Fraser’s hand closed around Tristam Shandy, which he promptly chucked at Ray’s head, missing by mere inches. His face was hot and the back of his neck burned with shame. "You’re--incorrigible."

Paradise Lost describes the rebellious angels’ defeat and expulsion from Heaven, and Adam and Eve’s banishment from the Garden of Eden; and The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman (usually abbreviated to Tristram Shandy and often mistyped as "Tristam Shandy") is a fictional autobiography that repeatedly strays into discursions and shaggy-dog jokes. So, Fraser’s bedside reading is a book about exiles and another that consists largely of seemingly pointless anecdotes. Does any of this ring a bell?

Ray just grinned at him, and when it looked like there were no more literary volumes within reach, he drew up his knees and dangled his hands between them in a pose that was half-slouch, half defensive crouch. "Hey, come on--I’m corrigible. Where there’s life, there’s hope, right?"

Fraser found his eyes drawn back to Ray’s scarred knuckles and quickly looked away again. "Possibly not in your case."

"Yeah, maybe not," Ray said, and his voice was so full of good humor that Fraser was ashamed of himself. Ray was right--he wasn’t being a very good sport. But he could still feel Ray’s hand clutching his thigh. "Anyway, I just came over to tell you that the forensics are in," Ray said, abruptly shifting topic, his tone growing more serious.

Fraser looked at Ray, the suspicion already forming in his brain.

Ray nodded in confirmation, like he could read Fraser’s mind. "Yeah," he said. "La Scala wasn’t in that building. And neither was Dief--"

Relief made him so weak it was all he could do not to sink back onto his pillow. He wasn’t entirely cloud-cuckoo crazy.

"--but I guess you know that already," Ray said, flinging his hand vaguely toward the hallway. "What the hell happened there?"

"What?" Fraser asked nervously.

"Diefenbaker," Ray replied--and then Ray boggled at him, briefly bugging his eyes out in what Fraser could only guess was a cruel parody of his own expression. "Who looks a lot like Jeff Daniels, by the way," Ray added, relaxing his face again. "You notice that?"

Fraser fell back onto his pillow and stared at the ceiling; clearly his insanity had been too close to call. "Ray, for God’s sake--"

"You know--Jeff Daniels, he was in that one movie, and then that other movie, and also the movie with Michelle Pfeiffer and the piano. Or maybe that was Jeff Bridges, I’m not sure. Anyway, Dief looks just like him. Are you having a seizure?" Ray confusing Jeff Daniels with Jeff Bridges is a great touch, because I do that all the time. I also have to sort out Peter Gabriel, Gabriel Byrne, and David Byrne whenever one of them comes up in conversation. Well, not so much in the case of David Byrne, because he’s distinctive—always looks about thirty seconds away from getting beamed back up to the mothership. But I digress. The important thing is, Dief’s transformation has Fraser questioning his sanity, but for Ray it’s just another day in the office. To Ray, a dog/wolf turning into a Jeff Bridges/Daniels lookalike isn’t much weirder than some of the other situations Fraser has landed him in.

"No," Fraser managed. "I don’t think so."

"Okay, good. Just checking. Bang on the wall if you need an ambulance or something."

"Ray." Fraser rolled onto his side to stare at him. "How on earth did you recognize Diefenbaker?"
Ray snorted. "He licked my face, Fraser. Believe me, I don’t normally get so lucky on a first date. Besides," Ray added, absently gathering and folding the blanket Diefenbaker had slept in, "he looks like Diefenbaker."

"I wouldn’t have thought you believed in the supernatural."

"You’d be surprised," Ray replied with a shrug. "I believe in lots of impossible things. You, for instance."

And Cesperanza makes the same point I did in my previous comment.

Fraser suddenly wanted to provoke Ray out of his complacency. "Diefenbaker says that Raphaella La Scala is a witch."

But Ray wouldn’t be provoked. "Yeah," he said, and fumbled his notebook out of his inside jacket pocket. "Her landlord says the same thing."

Fraser sat up. "Excuse me?"

Ray studied his notes with a furrowed brow; Fraser knew that Ray’s penmanship tended toward the erratic. "Also, she filed as a witch on her tax return."

"Really?" Fraser asked, surprised.

"No." Ray, still staring at his notebook, cracked a small grin. "I made that last part up. But she reads fortunes for a living: tarot cards, tea leaves, that sort of a thing. Her business card says she’s a Spiritualist. Me, I think if you’ve got religion you should keep it to yourself."

"Hmm," Fraser said, rubbing his chin. "You think she could’ve turned Diefenbaker into a person?"

"Like I know." Ray absently flipped a page of his notebook. "But you got any other explanation for Jeff Daniels out there--hey, I’m listening."

Fraser swung his legs out from the covers and put his bare feet on the floor. "You know, neither philosophy nor theology admits that animals have any real intelligence, let alone a soul. Yet I’ve always believed that Diefenbaker possessed both."

"Of course Dief has a soul." Ray sounded offended on Dief’s behalf. "At least as much as anyone does. And more brains than most people."

"Unfortunately, no philosopher would agree with you. Descartes was quite clear on the point: cogito ergo sum does not extend to animals, I’m afraid."

"That’s ridiculous--I mean, some police dogs I know are smarter than human cops," Ray insisted. "And what about those horses that do math?" Ray gave a creditable neigh and then thumped the floor three times with his booted foot. "That’s intelligence right there--how would a philosopher explain that?"

"I suppose," Fraser said gravely, "he would say that we’re putting Descartes before the horse."

"You should die," Ray suggested with great sincerity. I’m with Ray. Seriously, ouch.

Dief appeared at the door, looking anxious, carrying a glass in his hand. "I brought water," he said, looking from Fraser to Ray and back. "I thought the Captain might need some water."

"Diefenbaker," Fraser sighed, "I’m not a Captain and you know it."

"I’m not p-r-i-m-e m-i-n-i-s-t-e-r," Dief pointed out, spelling the difficult words as he slurred through them. "Didn’t stop you."

Ray grinned at this. "He’s got you there, Fraser. You name him--he names you right back."

Diefenbaker looked triumphant and recited, in a rough voice:

"’O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done, The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is--‘"

"Whitman." Fraser let his head hang. "Since when do you read Whitman?"

"Since you do," Dief said, rolling his eyes. "It’s not like I have a library card."

"I think that’s very touching," Ray opined.

Fraser glared at him. "You don’t know how the poem ends." "Exult, O shores, and ring, O bells! / But I, with mournful tread, / Walk the deck my Captain lies, / Fallen cold and dead." Robin Williams, what were you thinking? He extended his hand for the water, and Diefenbaker crossed the room and gave him the glass, which he downed all at once. His head was swimming.

"Be careful with that stuff," Ray chided. "It’s a slippery slope to lemonade, Fraser, and next thing, you’ll be doing one, maybe two quarts a day." Diefenbaker sniggered, but quickly covered his mouth with his hand. "We’ll have to check you into Betty Ford."

"Out." Fraser stood up and pointed toward the door. "Now. Both of you."

At this, Dief twitched and looked nervous. Ray raised placating hands. "Hey, don’t get your knickers in a twist--" Ray began.

"I have to get washed and dressed," Fraser said with as much dignity as he could muster. "And then we have work to do: Raphaella La Scala told Diefenbaker she was innocent."

That seemed to jolt Ray, who turned to Dief with a startled look on his face. "Oh yeah?"

Dief nodded glumly. "Yeah. Just before she did this to me."

"Huh. And you believe her?" Ray asked him.

"I got to," Dief said, looking suddenly very young. "She could have killed me. I got to believe what she says."

"Okay. Okay." Ray rubbed his stubbled chin, which rasped softly against his palm. "What we need is some kind of plan--"

"Could you please," Fraser said, speaking as distinctly as possible, "give me a moment to collect myself? And then perhaps we could discuss our options like civilized creatures."

Ray and Diefenbaker exchanged "hooo-eee!" looks and headed for the door. "All right, all right, sheesh," Ray said. "I’ll make coffee."

Ray’s voice continued to be audible even as he headed down the corridor toward the kitchen. "No way," Ray was saying to Diefenbaker. "No coffee for you, buddy. You’re a fuckin’ dog."


By the time Fraser had washed and dressed himself (casually, in jeans and a blue flannel shirt, since this wasn’t technically Consular business, and he didn’t want to have to explain himself to anyone) and made his way to the kitchen, Ray and Dief were apparently hard at work. Fraser stopped at the door and just watched: they were sitting at the kitchen table, bent over some kind of diagram. Ray had also apparently caved on the coffee, as a second mug was sitting right near Diefenbaker’s hand.

"Not officially, I can’t," Ray was saying. "What am I gonna say: ‘I got evidence which was presented to me by my friend’s wolf?’"

"I could say something myself! I could talk--I can talk now," Dief protested.

"Okay, but miraculous as this is? Legally, you got nothing--you got a hearsay statement of innocence. We only believe you because you used to be a dog," Ray explained. "Without the miracle aspect, your statement isn’t really worth much. No," Ray mused, banging his fist softly upon the table, "what we need is hard evidence against somebody else-- something we can use to reopen the case, get a change in the indictment--"

Dief reached out and pointed at the diagram with a thick finger. "I think we should take another look at the lawyer."

"Oh yeah? Why?"

"He smelled funny," Dief replied.

Ray snorted at this. "Lawyers always smell funny. It ain’t probable cause."

Dief looked so thoroughly disappointed that Fraser felt compelled to intercede. "Perhaps not," he said encouragingly, "but it’s certainly a start." Fraser crossed the kitchen to the table and looked down at the diagram they had drawn: a rough map of the crime scene.

The victim in this case had been Randolph Schlect, an accountant. He’d been found dead in his office at 14 Wallace Street, a four story professional building down on the south side. A lawyer named Thomas Dolenz occupied the storefront offices on the ground floor. Schlect had been renting the second floor, and the third floor was occupied by a computer design firm called Veni Vidi Vici, which turned out to be a group of dazed-looking youngsters apparently living on computer code and pizza.

The tiny top floor had been occupied by Raphaella La Scala, who was living in commercial space in flagrant violation of the city’s zoning laws. They had interviewed her in her makeshift apartment, an already claustrophobic room made even more so by its dim lighting, thick tapestries, overstuffed velvet sofa, and sickly-sweet-smelling flowers. She had struck them as a fairly suspicious character, and they hadn’t been surprised to find her fingerprints on the thin, intricately wrought stiletto that had apparently served as the murder weapon.

Ray was groaning and rubbing his face tiredly. "You want coffee?" he asked, as Fraser pulled out a chair and sat down with them. "I made coffee."

"Coffee’s good," Dief seconded, with a satisfied lick of his lips. Amen, brother.
Fraser narrowed his eyes at Ray, who clearly bore responsibility for this. "I suppose you’ll be taking him drinking next."

Ray brightened at the suggestion. "Great idea," he said, and turned to Dief. "Plus we should go bowling, because you should use that thumb while you’ve got it. Waste not, want--" Bowling. Oh, Ray, I love you so much.

"Can we please," and the sharpness in his voice brought them both to attention, "focus on the matter at hand? I think these celebratory plans are premature, don’t you?"

Ray and Dief exchanged quick glances and then stared down guiltily. "Yeah, okay," Ray said, finally, reluctantly. Dief nodded in mute agreement.

"Very good. Ray, could you please summarize the case as it stands?"

"Yeah." Ray flipped open his notebook again. "How it stands is that we got an indictment against La Scala mainly because 1) she was kind of creepy, which boy if we only knew how much, and B) she was living in the building illegally," Ray now was ticking the points off on his fingers, however illogically numbered and lettered, "which C) put her on the scene at the time of the murder which Forensics estimates was sometime between midnight and four, not to mention that D) she owned that fruity little knife which her fingerprints were on."

"Hm." Fraser frowned at this. "So she had both means and opportunity. What about motive?"

"Beats me about motive," Ray replied, scratching his head, "though her running away sure doesn’t look good."

"No," Fraser agreed. "I’m afraid she didn’t help herself there."

"Though, you know--points for creativity in terms of turning Dief into a person."

Fraser ignored this and turned to Dief instead. "What do you think? Any insight?"

Dief thought about it for a moment and then said, "I think she smelled funny."

"Right." Fraser’s head, momentarily refreshed from a good night’s sleep, began aching anew.

"Hey, wait..." Ray said slowly. "I just thought of a motive."

"For La Scala?" Fraser asked.

"Yeah. Yeah." Ray was quickly flipping through the pages of his notebook now. "Remember how I joked about her filing as a witch on her taxes?"

"Yes?"

"She never filed taxes," Ray crowed. "And I checked--that’s why I had taxes on the brain. I’ve been looking through her finances, and it looks like she ran a cash business and never paid a dime to Uncle Sam."

"And Schlect was an accountant," Fraser mused. "Perhaps he found out."

"He threatens to audit her and she stabs him through the heart with the fruity stiletto." Ray dramatically illustrated this scenario with a violent stabbing mime. "Works for me!"

Dief let out a faint snort, though he didn’t appear to be aware of it.

"What?" Ray demanded, bringing his mime to an abrupt end.

"I thought we were trying to prove she didn’t do it," Dief replied.

Ray’s face fell. "Oh yeah. That’s right." Dief’s not the only one who can get caught up in a chase.

"We need another suspect," Fraser said.

"I think we should take another look at the lawyer," Dief maintained.

"Okay. Right," Ray said, and looked at Fraser. "Dolenz."

"All right, then," Fraser said, and stood up decisively. "Let’s go interview Mr. Dolenz."

"And get donuts, eh?" Dief added hopefully.

"That’s hardly a nutritious--"

"Second," Ray murmured.

"Oh, all right," Fraser said.


They stopped and got donuts, along with a variety of beverages: tea for Fraser, more coffee for Ray, and cafe au lait with four sugars for Diefenbaker, who’d apparently developed an instant addiction to Ray’s light and wildly sweet version of coffee.

Ray glanced at Dief in the rear-view mirror and grimaced; Fraser turned and saw that Diefenbaker was sitting there, enraptured with joy, strawberry jelly smeared all across the lower half of his face.

"Napkins in the glove compartment," Ray sighed.

"Right. Thanks," Fraser said, and leaned forward.

"Dief, you’re a pig!" Ray yelled into the mirror.

But Dief couldn’t hear him, and just sat there happily, lapsing into a sugar coma.

"We should take him to a hot dog eating contest," Ray said conspiratorially, as if he’d forgotten Dief was deaf. "He’d be a shoo-in--" All of Ray’s field trip suggestions for human!Dief are marvelous.

"Ray," Fraser chided.

"All right, all right, just a thought." Ray parked in a metered parking spot up the block from 14 Wallace Street. Fraser handed Dief a wad of napkins.


A little bell rang when they pushed open the door to Thomas Dolenz’s storefront law office. A severe looking blonde with tightly pinned hair looked up at them. "Can I help you?"

Ray showed her his badge. "We’d like to talk to Mr. Dolenz," he said, and Fraser found himself admiring how Ray included them all in that royal we--himself, Ray, and Diefenbaker.

The blonde frowned at the badge and then said, uneasily, "What’s this about, Detective?"

"The Schlect murder." Ray snapped his I.D. shut and showed her a smile that was all teeth. "We’d like to ask him a few more questions."

She stood, and said, looking nervously from one to the other of them, "Let me see if he’s available." She disappeared through a side door, and then reappeared a moment later and gestured for them to enter the inner offices.

Thomas Dolenz was already coming toward them with his hand extended; he was a good-looking man in his mid-forties, with thick wavy brown hair and a broad smile. If Fraser privately found him a little too slick--well, his grandmother always used to say that he had an uncharitable streak. "Detective--Vecchio, isn’t it?" Dolenz said, taking and shaking Ray’s hand vigorously. "And Constable Fraser. Good to see you again. And who’s this?"

Dief, who was taller than any of them by several inches, took a nervous step backwards as Dolenz approached him with his slick smile and his outstretched hand. Ray was instantly on it: "That’s, uh--that’s Detective Baker, Homicide First Division, he’s uh, just taking this opportunity to demonstrate some new evidentiary techniques."

Fraser and Dief stared at him. Ray shrugged nervously and looked away.

"Ah," Thomas Dolenz said. He continued to proffer his hand, but straightened up even further now that he understood that he was dealing with a person of some status. "I’m delighted to--"

To Fraser’s horror, Diefenbaker took Dolenz’s hand, yanked it up to his nose, sniffed it, licked it, and let it drop. And so the Mountie gets a taste of what the Rays have been going through all this time.

Ray didn’t miss a beat. "Like that," he said, pointing his finger in the direction of Dief’s unmentionable activity, "that would be a new technique right there. He got training for that," Ray quickly assured Dolenz. "In Switzerland." Ray’s a better liar than Fraser, or at least a quicker one.

Dolenz looked down at the glistening stripe on back of his hand, looking like he desperately wanted to wash it off but wasn’t sure if that was appropriate. "I see," Dolenz said, and Fraser had to give him credit for remaining polite under such circumstances. "That’s...fascinating. How can I help you gentlemen?"

Ray pulled his notebook out of his pocket and asked Dolenz to confirm the answers to questions he’d already been asked on the first go-around--where he was the night of the murder? What was his relationship to Schlect, his upstairs neighbor?--and as Ray talked, Diefenbaker wandered around the perimeter of the office, picking things up, sniffing them, licking them, putting them down. Fraser tried to stand casually in between Diefenbaker and Dolenz, but he could see Dolenz glancing over nervously, especially when Diefenbaker began sniffing the armpits of Dolenz’s suit jacket, which was hanging on a hook near the door.

Dief looked up at him with eyes full of meaning, and Fraser hesitated for only for a second before going over and taking a deep whiff of the jacket. Hmm--Dief was right, Dolenz smelled funny. Kind of like... He closed his eyes and took another deep sniff of the bitter, familiar smell. Some kind of herb. Some kind of... Here’s a moment where Dief = Fraser; they’re sniffing things while Ray handles the verbal portion of the investigation.

Dief was already ahead of him. Dief was looking over Dolenz’s desk, picking up his coffee cup, sniffing it, sticking his long tongue into it. Fraser noticed that Ray was trying to look as if this were nothing unusual, merely standard procedure--but this time Dolenz wasn’t buying.

"Hey!" Dolenz glared at Dief, who shrank back and handed the cup to Fraser.

Fraser saw that the bottom of the cup was full of strange, colorful dregs. "What kind of tea is this?"

"I don’t see that it’s any of your business," Dolenz said, crossing his arms. Fraser found it was vaguely satisfying to see his slick demeanor so thoroughly disrupted.

"It doesn’t look like a commercial product," Fraser explained.

That was Ray’s cue, and he was ready for it. "I can take it down to the station, have it analyzed--"

Dolenz let out a long sigh. He clearly didn’t think the tea was worth making a federal case over. "It’s just tea. A friend made it for me. She said it would help ward off colds."

Fraser suspected that he knew which "friend" that was. "Raphaella La Scala?"

Dolenz bit his lip. "Yeah."

"Is there any more?" Fraser asked, and this brought out another long sigh from Dolenz, who reached into his desk drawer and brought out a small, colorful tin canister.

"Yes, but I can assure you--it’s just tea." Dolenz’s voice was full of irritation, but he handed the box over compliantly enough. Fraser gently pulled the top off. The box was still half full of various leaves and herbs. "It tastes terrible," Dolenz confessed, with a shrug, "but I have to admit, it really helped with the cold, and I haven’t been sick since."

"Interesting," Fraser said, closing the tin box again. "May I keep this?"

Dolenz stared narrowly at him, all his lawyerly instincts aroused. "Why? I’ve already told you, it’s just tea. There’s nothing illegal about--"

Ray was instantly between them, bristling and defensive. "Yeah, how do we know that?"

Fraser unobtrusively pressed a hand to Ray’s leather-jacketed side to signal that everything was all right. "I’m sure it’s just tea, Mr. Dolenz."

"So why do you want it?" Dolenz demanded. "How do I know that you won’t tamper with it and then use it as evidence against her?"

"What is she, your girlfriend?" Ray shot back. "You guys do Schlect together, or what?"

Fraser quickly slid his hand forward, curling his arm just below Ray’s rib cage, and pulled him a half-step away from Dolenz, like he was partnering him in a waltz. "Actually," Fraser clarified, "we’re looking for exculpatory evidence."

That evidently surprised Dolenz. "You are?" he asked, and Fraser nodded. "You’re looking to clear her?" and Fraser nodded again.

"Yeah," Ray agreed, but Ray managed to make even his agreement sound hostile.

"So any help you could give us would be greatly appreciated," Fraser said.


Dolenz gave them the tea. Ray then led them upstairs to Schlect’s office, which was crisscrossed with yellow police tape. Fraser slit the tape neatly, and Ray reached into his pocket and took out a small envelope containing a duplicate key.


"Now Dief, be careful," Fraser warned as Diefenbaker ran into the apartment ahead of them. "This is a crime scene."

Ray shut the door and turned to Fraser. "What do you make of the tea?"

"I think that’s what makes him smell funny," Fraser explained.

"Okay, great--mystery solved--but I don’t see where this is getting us," Ray said--and then, across the room, Dief howled joyfully.

"What?" Fraser asked instantly. "Dief, what?"

"Tea!" Dief held up an identical canister with a surprisingly dainty gesture. "He’s got tea, too."

"Indeed!" Fraser pulled the tin cap off and took a whiff. It had the same bitter smell.

"I don’t get it," Ray said, rubbing his neck. "What the hell was she doing?"

"Well, that’s what’s so interesting," Fraser said. He extended the can toward Ray’s nose and said, "Take a sniff."

Ray glanced at Diefenbaker, who nodded reassuringly. He bent his spiky head over the canister, inhaled, and then made a face. "Okay, that’s gross," Ray said, rubbing his nose. "Somebody tell me why I needed to do that?"

"The dominant smell," Fraser explained, "is an herb called rue--right, Dief?"

Dief nodded and repeated, with some confidence, "Rue!"

This sounded eerily like one of Diefenbaker’s old barks, and it took Fraser a moment to remember what he’d been saying. "Rue is also known as ruta or ruda," he said, turning back to Ray, "and it’s long been thought to have magical properties."

"So--was La Scala trying to hex everybody? Make Dolenz her love slave?"

"Well, that’s the really interesting part. Rue is typically used as part of a protection spell. Italians in particular use rue defensively; they believe that it wards off the mal occhio, or evil eye."

"Yeesh." Ray looked down at the tea with what seemed like renewed respect. "So you’re saying, this here tea--"

"--was meant to protect Schlect and Dolenz, not to harm them; correct."

Ray shot a sideways look at the outline of Schlect’s body on the floor by the side of the desk. "It didn’t do such a good job, really."

"Well, I doubt any herbal concoction protects against stab wounds, Ray."

"Fair enough. So you think we’re looking for another witch?" and these words sent Diefenbaker nervously skittering over to Ray, who reached up and began to rub the base of Dief’s skull with hard rhythmic strokes of his thumb. Ray is much more comfortable giving Dief comforting touches than Fraser, which is kind of sad.

"Possibly," Fraser said, considering it. "But not necessarily. As I recall, the mal occhio doesn’t have to be intentional magic. You can hurt someone inadvertently, by looking upon them with envy."

"That’s great, Fraser," Ray countered, "but considering that Schlect was stabbed in the chest, I think we can conclude that somebody was actually trying to hurt him."

"Yes, all right, I take your point. And it seems as if Raphaella La Scala knew that someone was trying to hurt Mr. Schlect, so she tried to protect him."

"With tea, yeah," Ray snorted, "very helpful."

"Well, it was better than nothing, wasn’t it?"

"Uh--not really, no."

"It must at least have boosted Mr. Schlect’s immune system."

"Yeah, and I bet he really appreciates that now." This back-and-forth was so them.Ray cracked his neck with a sharp jerk of his head to one side. "C’mon, let’s go talk to the geeks."


They went up to the third floor and pushed through the doors into Veni Vidi Vici--and were instantly transported into a different world. There were long worktables covered with computers, and wires snaking everywhere. Vividly colored posters covered the walls, advertising Dungeon Lord 2 and Timesurfer and Ultimate Command and Total Auto Racer 3.
Fraser found the illustrations truly appalling, but Ray seemed interested in the lurid designs.

One of the young men--Fraser recalled his name as Mark Saunders--looked up from his screen, rubbed his eyes, and grunted inarticulately. "Hey. What up?"

Ray seemed to understand this and was able reply in kind. "You got a minute?"

"Yeah. You’re the cops, right?"

"Yeah. We came before."

"Yeah, that’s right. You got more questions, or..."

"Same questions," Ray replied, pulling out his notebook.

"Yeah, okay. Shoot." Saunders pushed back in his wheeled desk chair and whirled round to face them.

Ray began to re-interview him with the standard questions, Where were you on the night of--? What was your relationship with--? Fraser became aware that Dief was growling softly. "What?" Fraser mouthed.

Dief looked warily around the room before looking back at Fraser with narrowed eyes. "I don’t know. Something--something’s not right."

Fraser opened his mouth to argue, and then shut it again. He was always wrong when he contested Ray’s instincts, and Dief’s would naturally be stronger and even more likely to be correct. It wasn’t anything he’d given much thought to when Dief was in wolf form, but it was strange to watch Dief struggling to control himself now that he was human. Dief looked like he wanted to fly forward and start punching Mark Saunders in the head. It occurred to him that Dief, like Ray, might enjoy boxing. More Dief and Ray parallels.

"I really never saw him much," Saunders was saying. "Pass ‘im in the hallway every once in a while. I saw her more, because like I told you, she was living here."

"She ever give you any tea?" Ray asked.

Saunders lifted an eyebrow. "What?"

"Tea," Ray repeated. "Tea, tea--you make it with leaves."

Dief growled louder and Fraser took his arm and gently led him away to stare at the art on the far wall, moving him away from Ray’s interview. "Try to focus," he mouthed silently, "on what’s disturbing you," and then Fraser suddenly realized that he was staring directly at a picture of the murder weapon.

Raphaella La Scala’s intricately wrought stiletto was dripping blood and tucked into the white lace garter encircling a shapely but disembodied leg. The illustration was for a game called Revenge of the Demon Wench III. Apparently the Demon Wench’s appetite for vengeance continued unabated after two previous attempts. Heh.

Fraser absently traced the curlicues of the handle with his finger. It was the exact knife, he was sure of it-- and this weapon wasn’t anything that one could buy from the Sears catalogue. They’d researched it, and it was one of a kind, made by hand in 1680.

And yet here it was in all its ornate and deadly glory.

He and Diefenbaker exchanged significant looks, and then turned back to where Ray was shaking hands with Saunders. "Okay, yeah, thanks," Ray was saying, and then he looked over at them and straightened up a bit, having instantly realized from their body language that something was up. Ray glanced from them to his young host and back again before stroking his cheek absently with a finger and asking, "Mind if we look around?"

Saunders waved his hand absently as he rolled his chair back in front of his terminal. "Suit yourself."

Ray shut his notebook and walked past the other programmers toward them. He was wearing a carefully neutral expression, but Fraser could see curiosity glinting in his eyes. "So," Ray said, casually tucking his notebook into his pocket. "You guys find anything?"

"They did it," Dief said in a hoarse voice.

Fraser shot him a sharp look, annoyed at the leap. "We know no such thing," he murmured. "However, we did discover something very interesting indeed," he added, and nodded his head with some delicacy at the poster for Demon Wench III.

Ray searched the poster with unseeing eyes for a second or two before zeroing in on the bloody stiletto. "Whoa," Ray said in a low tone, and then he turned to look at Dief. "Wow, you’re right--they totally did it."

"Told you," Dief said smugly.

"We can’t jump to conclusions," Fraser insisted. "There are many plausible reasons--"

"Why they got a picture of the murder weapon on their wall," Ray said, skeptically.

"Yes," Fraser hissed. "Perhaps their artist admired the design. It’s a very unusual object, as you know. Perhaps--"

"They don’t smell like tea," Diefenbaker said, signing as he spoke as if to underline the importance of the point.

Ray clapped his hands together. "I’m convinced. Let’s book ‘em."

"All of them?"

"Sure," Ray said. "Why not? This is my party."

"For what," Fraser inquired, "precisely, do we book them? Failing to consume tea?"

Ray waved a hand in the air. "Details," he said, and Dief growled agreement. "Look," Ray said, stepping closer and dropping his voice to the barest whisper. "Knowing the truth is half the battle, right? Now that we know what we know, the evidence will shake out, you’ll see. Already we know that these guys had access to the murder weapon--to draw a picture like that, you had to really look at the thing, right?"

"Or take a Polaroid," Fraser said and showed Ray a thin, quick smile. "They could have photographed it, scanned it, sketched it--"

Ray’s shoulders slumped. "Okay, yeah."

"And of course, there’s also the question of motive. What motive would these young men have for murdering Mr. Schlect?" Fraser looked from Ray to Dief and back again.

Ray sighed and scrubbed at his face. "All right, all right. We’ll hold off."

"I suggest that we investigate Ms. La Scala’s apartment," Fraser said, and then he decided to throw his demoralized partners a bone. "Maybe now we’ll find new evidence. Now that we’re finally focused on the right suspects."


Raphaella La Scala had rented the building’s smallest space, and if anything it was dustier and more claustrophobic than when they’d seen it last. Fraser had to fight the urge to tear the heavy velvet curtains down and fling the windows open. Ray was turning on light after light, but it didn’t seem to make much of a difference as the bulbs were encased within heavy pink shades.

"I think I’m going blind," Ray said, peering around the room.

Diefenbaker was drawn directly to an ornately carved mahogany bureau that looked like a makeshift altar. Dief fell to his knees before it, a gesture that gave Fraser a brief chill of blasphemy before he realized that Dief wanted to investigate the contents of the bureau’s many tiny drawers.

"Wait!" Fraser said.

Dief hooked his finger in a shiny silver drawer-pull; he wasn’t looking, and therefore hadn’t "heard."

Fraser crossed to Dief and touched his shoulder. Dief looked up. "Wait," he repeated. "We don’t have a warrant."

"Fuck the warrant," Ray said, waving for Diefenbaker to continue. "The warrant would protect La Scala, and we’re already protecting her--we’re trying to get her off the hook, here. It’s in her best interest for us to be snooping around."

Fraser bit his lip. This was fuzzy logic at best, and yet there was just enough truth there that he could accept Ray’s version of the facts if he squinted. Certainly Raphaella La Scala was unlikely to complain about the invasion of privacy, though she might of course turn Ray into a newt. Fraser shot a quick glance at Ray. Or perhaps a squirrel. Not a wolf, Fraser?

Dief was already rooting through the first tiny drawer, which was about the size and shape of a drawer in a library’s card catalogue. The drawer seemed to contain--

"That’s the tea, isn’t it?" Ray was saying, and then Ray was on his knees beside Diefenbaker.
Fraser left the bureau to them and took it upon himself to search the rest of the apartment. A small desk contained bills, receipts, and check stubs; apparently, even witches were required to have a checking account. La Scala had used a couple of Japanese screens to mark off a separate sleeping area, and Fraser, who knew better than anyone the trials of living in a commercial space, found himself admiring her ingenuity.

The makeshift bedroom, which he naturally hadn’t been invited into on their last visit, consisted of a closely grouped bed, nightstand, and wardrobe. Fraser opened the wardrobe’s doors and was nearly overwhelmed by the wafting scent of flowers--lilacs, he thought. Ms. La Scala’s wardrobe seemed to consist entirely of silky, gauzy, floating fabrics. Fraser checked the hatboxes on the wardrobe’s top shelf and found only hats.

Shutting the wardrobe, Fraser turned to the bed, which was so elaborately clothed, highly pillowed, and softly quilted that it looked like a wedding cake. Fraser felt uncomfortable with such manifestly female frippery, and had nearly convinced himself that the bed didn’t require searching when he realized that Raphaella La Scala was quite smart enough to have counted on that when she selected her hiding place. That much lace, that many throw pillows, would certainly serve as a deterrent for all but the most dedicated of police officers.

Fraser took a deep breath and began to search the bed.

He stuck his hands under the pillows, ran his palms along the sheets, slid his outstretched arms deep between the mattress and the box spring. He felt like he was dancing with a good-sized woman wearing layer upon layer of petticoats, crinolines, corsets and hoops. In other words, he felt ridiculous--until his fingertips brushed a sharp edge tucked away under the mattress. He shoved his arm in further, wiggling his fingers until he could nudge whatever it was into his grasp. A moment later he had the thick manila folder in his hands.

He flipped it open and...ah hah, these were financial documents relating to the fiscal heath of Veni Vidi Vici. Fraser sat down on the edge of the bed and let his eyes drift down the complicated pages of numbers: it seemed that, simply put, the company was not earning as much as it was spending. And he was utterly unsurprised to see the signature at the bottom of the audit: Randolph Schlect.

He looked up and saw that Diefenbaker had come into the room and was looking around, sniffing the air absently. He waited until Dief turned to look at him, then held up the folder. "I found a motive."

Dief nodded, and held up his own hand, which was so large that it took Fraser a moment to see the silver chain wrapped around his fingers. "Necklace," Dief said thickly; he seemed to have trouble saying the word.

He handed the fine chain to Fraser, who saw that there was a pendant hanging from it. The pendant was finely wrought, and shaped to look like...

"Rue," Fraser said, frowning as the pendant spun and glinted in the light. "I’ve seen these before; they’re meant to protect the wearer. I’m surprised she wasn’t wearing it."

Dief sat beside him on the edge of the bed. "I’m not surprised," he said, and then he started wiggling all ten of his fingers. Fire, Fraser realized--that was the sign for fire--and of course Raphaella La Scala hadn’t been wearing her pendant. She’d gone out without it, and she’d had rotten luck.

"You know," Diefenbaker mused, and Fraser turned to study his face, "I think you should fuck Ray." Great timing here—Fraser’s got his balance, grown somewhat accustomed to the situation, and then wham!

Fraser stared at him, then opened his mouth widely, so that his ears popped. He could not have heard that correctly. "Excuse me?"

"I think you should fuck Ray," Dief repeated, and this time he made the letter "F" with both hands and smacked them together with a slow, unstoppable rhythm.

While this sign was new to Fraser, it was still perfectly comprehensible.

"What on earth--" Fraser began, and then he realized that stress had made him raise his voice, which was not only stupid with Ray on the other side of a Japanese screen but pointless in any case, as he was talking to his own deaf wolf, "--what on earth," Fraser repeated, in the barest of whispers, "would make you say such a thing?"

He’d intended the words as a rebuke, but Dief seemed to take it as a perfectly straightforward question. "I think he wants you to," Dief replied, brow furrowed in thought. "He’s sending all the signals. And I think it would make you--" Fraser watched as Dief patted his heart with the palm of his hand, "--happy," and really, Fraser thought, it was amazing how close the sign for "happy" was to the sign for "heart attack." Close enough for government work, even in Canada.

"That’s--ridiculous," Fraser managed to stammer. "That’s just-- He--"

"He shows you his throat," Dief signed. "All the time."

"That doesn’t-- That--" But in his mind, he could suddenly picture the pale white of Ray’s exposed throat. Let’s take a moment to appreciate that image, shall we?…Mm. "He’s never-- "
"He won’t make the first move," Diefenbaker signed deftly, matter of factly. "So if you’re waiting for that, you’ll be waiting a long time."

It felt like his throat was closing up. "I’m not--"

"You should grab him," Dief suggested. "Grab him by the hair and see what happens," I second the motion! and Fraser stood up so fast that the manila folder flew off his lap, papers flying everywhere.

"You guys find anything?" Ray yelled from across the room, and Fraser nervously dropped to his knees to collect the scattered papers. Dief was instantly beside him, helping him gather them up.
"Yes, I think so!" Fraser called to Ray. He turned back to Diefenbaker and dropped his voice to a low murmur. "You’re out of your mind."

Diefenbaker merely shrugged his shoulders and handed him a fistful of crumpled paper.

"And you’re not just insane, you’re arrogant as well. Where on earth do you get the nerve to advise me on my love life?"

Dief raised an eyebrow at him. "What love life?" Ouch.

"What’d you find?" Ray called, from the other side of the room.

"Nothing!" Fraser called back, before realizing this was wrong. "I mean--tax returns! Financial records! A motive!" He dropped his voice back to a whisper and glared at Dief. "Humans aren’t animals. Not--not technically, anyway," he added, suddenly feeling rather less confident on this point. "Or rather just technically," he added, finding his way again. "The important point," Fraser declared, having finally put his finger on the important point, "is that human beings don’t go throwing each other to the ground and sniffing each other’s posteriors--"

"Hey," Dief shot back. "Don’t knock it till you’ve--"

"What the fuck are you two doing?" Fraser looked up to see Ray standing there, one hand on the edge of the screen, boggling down at them.

"Nothing," he and Dief mumbled, almost simultaneously. Grabbing the remaining pages out of Dief’s hands, Fraser stood quickly and said, "Just going through the evidence."

"Evidence of what?" Ray said, coming closer, and Fraser thrust the wads of papers at him.

"We had the right motive, just the wrong suspect," Fraser explained quickly, trying not to notice the smooth skin just beneath Ray’s ear as he tilted his head to one side and considered the crumpled documents. "Veni Vidi Vici are not what you would call financially sound, and Randolph Schlect apparently discovered that."

"Huh." Ray squinted down at the mess of papers, then tugged his glasses out of his breast pocket and balanced them precariously on his face. "This looks to me like they were keepin’ two sets of books. One for the investors, and one that was real. Lookee here," Ray said, tapping a flat-nailed fingertip at a specific part of the page. "That’s what they reported as last quarter’s income--that’s totally made up."

Fraser leaned over to see where Ray was pointing, but couldn’t seem to focus his eyes, because he was suddenly aware of the smell of leather--leather and sweat on Ray’s collar, the bittersweet smells of coffee and stale cigarette smoke and, mmm, perhaps that was peppermint, on Ray’s breath. His eyes drifted closed and he inhaled, slowly, deeply--

"Dief, you called it." Ray’s voice was ringing with admiration, and Fraser instantly opened his eyes. Dief was smiling crookedly, and Fraser suddenly felt very warm. "Remind me never to doubt you."

"Never doubt me," Dief replied, looking at Fraser as he said it. Ha!

"S’enough for a warrant anyway." Ray flipped another page, then looked up, grinning. "Dief, ol’ buddy, I think you’ve just made your very first collar," and then suddenly Ray was craning his neck and merrily yelling up at the ceiling, "Do you hear that, you stupid ol’ witch? I’m going to arrest those bastards!" and Fraser felt a sudden sting of fear.

Because Dief was looking panicked, his shoulders hunched--and then he jerked back hard, almost convulsing. Ray didn’t notice; he was still shouting at the ceiling in high spirits. "You’re free to go, lady! I’ll get the charges dr--"

"Ray, stop." Fraser felt like he was choking. "Stop," and a second later, he had Diefenbaker’s arm around his shoulders, and he was clutching Diefenbaker’s side. Dief’s knees were buckling, but he was managing to keep his feet with a little help.

"Holy..." Ray seemed to have twigged on to the fact that something was wrong. "Is he sick? Should I get help? Fraser, should I--?"

But Fraser didn’t even know what kind of help to ask for. Diefenbaker’s eyes were huge and glassy and his knees were giving way--and then Diefenbaker turned to him and covered his heart with his hand and tapped it, slowly, three times, before--

There was a flash of light and a sudden bzzzt! of electrical shock, and that was the last thing he remembered.

Part Three
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