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You know, I just realized why they had to have someone pretend to be Ray Vecchio when he was gone undercover. It was a real 'Duh' moment, I have to tell you. The following will tell you all about it.
For the purposes of this story, parts of the epilogue of Call of the Wild did not occur...yet, at any rate. At least, not Frannie's part, nor has RayV gone to Florida with Stella...and he came back to work. This takes place after RayK got back from his adventure. Hmmm. It would appear that Fraser is sadly lacking in this one. It's almost exclusively the two Rays. See, Carole? I can do both Rays...oh, my...what I just said!
Ray's On First(With apologies to Abbot and Costello)
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"Okay, so, tell me who the new guy is?" Detective Tom Dewey asked his partner.
"I told you, his name is Ray."
"No, not Vecchio, the new**guy."
"Right, that's Ray Vecchio."
"Not him, I know him, I want to know who the new guy is."
"The new guy is really the old guy, Ray Vecchio. The old guy, who is really the new guy, is Ray Kowalski." Jack Huey was trying to get his report done, and he wasn't really paying attention to his partner.
"Okay, so the new guy is Kowalski, right?"
"The old new guy, not the new old guy."
Jack sighed. "The guy we've been calling Ray Vecchio is really Stanley Raymond Kowalski. The guy you think of as being new is the real**Ray Vecchio. Understand?"
"Yeah...no." Dewey shook his head, totally confused. "Wait, Stanley**Kowalski?"
"Look, the real Ray Vecchio went under cover with the mob, while he was gone, the other guy, Ray Kowalski was here pretending to be Ray Vecchio."
Jack stopped what he was doing and looked up, his face going blank. "You know, I have no idea."
"It's not fair, lieutenant. I've always gone by Ray."
"But now we got two Rays, so you're going to be Stanley, or Stan, if you prefer."
"I don't prefer. I go by Ray. Why can't you just call me Kowalski, instead?"
Lieutenant Harding Welsh looked up at the overly-thin detective standing before him. Two months in northern Canada in winter had turned him from a too-thin city kid into a much-too-thin whipcord of a man. He was thinner, but he was stronger, as well. There was a new ...something, about him. A quiet strength. He didn't seem quite so... jittery, any more. He knew how to be still, something he'd never been able to do before. Welsh recognized the new confidence in the man. Whatever hardships he'd gone through up in Canada had obviously set well with him. He was looking forward to seeing him interrogate his first suspect, now that he was back. His pale blue eyes were even more piercing than before, and his body language exuded a certain self-contained confidence. Ray'd found out who he was on that trip. Maybe one day, he'd ask him about it, but not today.
Seeing the intensity of the man, Welsh nodded. "All right. You be Kowalski, and he can be Vecchio. No first names, period. Okay?"
Ray smiled, a thin, almost-smirk. He nodded slightly, although, it seemed his entire body moved, "Good. That's good. Thanks."
Welsh sat back, now that the formalities were over, "You think you can work with Vecchio?"
"Sure." The response wasn't the cockiness he used to exude, more a calm assurance.
"So, the Mountie come back with you?"
Ray grinned and relaxed, knowing that the business portion of this interview was over. "Yeah. He's back at the consulate." He glanced around as though to make sure they couldn't be overheard, "I think he missed Chicago."
Welsh looked at him in surprise, saw the glitter of amusement in the pale blue eyes and chuckled. "Who'd a figured?"
Ray joined in the laughter, "Yeah, I know. Well, I guess I better get out there and find me a desk, huh?"
"You've got a desk, it's next to your partner's. Oh, and send him in, would you?" I got some paperwork he needs to go through. He may need to talk to you about some of it."
"Yes, sir." Ray turned to go, then his chin dropped to his chest and Welsh again saw the shy, uncertain man who'd worked for him for the better part of a year. Ray turned back for a moment, "Thanks for letting me come back." There were thousands more words in his eyes that he didn't speak.
Welsh nodded. "You're a good cop, Kowalski, and a good man. I'm pleased to have you on my team." He was graced with the shy smile he hadn't been sure still existed, after two months of hardship in the cold north. "Now, get to work, and send in Vecchio."
"You wanted to see me, sir?" Ray Vecchio had been back only a little over two weeks, since recovering from the bullet he'd taken in the chest during the Muldoon case.
"Yeah." Welsh stood up. "Come with me, detective. You have some work to do. Got a pen?"
Ray looked confused, "Sure, why?"
"No, black. Why?"
"Here," he handed the puzzled detective a blue pen. "New policy is that all live signatures must be in blue ink, now."
Welsh sighed. "Yes, signatures. Come along, detective." Ray followed the lumbering lieutenant as he was led to the interrogation room that was used as a viewing room for their other interrogation room.
Ray looked at the ugly patch on one wall. "What happened there?"
"Ah, yes. You'll find out all about it when you go through your 'reports'."
"My reports, sir? What reports would those be?"
Welsh move so that Ray could see the table. There were three stacks of files, all of them over one foot in height. "These reports, detective. It seems that they all are somewhat lacking. Your partner signed off on them, but you did not. Therefore, I need you to go through them, make sure they are accurate, and sign them appropriately."
Ray gaped. He approached and lifted the first file from the first stack. Opening the file, he frowned, "This was from when I was away, sir. I didn't have anything to do with these!" he protested stridently.
"Oh, but you did, detective Vecchio. You very much did. You and your partner, Ray Kowalski, worked each and every one of these cases. Well, except for the Greta Garbo one, but you might as well read that one, too, since you may have to one day answer questions about it."
Ray was reading, the Garbo case being the one he'd picked up. "My car...He killed my car! That slime ball! I'll kill him!" Ray turned towards the door, murder in his eyes.
"No, you will not, detective." Welsh insisted. "You will do your job and go through your reports and sign them as indicated. After you're through, then, and only then, may you confront your partners on what happened to your car."
"But lieutenant," Ray started to whine.
"No buts, Vecchio. I'd like to see some progress on this today. Some of those cases have already gone to court. Lucky for you, your partner didn't have to testify, if you know what I mean?"
Ray understood. With a disgusted sigh, he plopped down in a chair and started reading the report in earnest. Welsh watched him for a minute or two, enjoying the view of his detective's emotions going from anger, to humor, and back again. Having already been privy to the contents of the files, he knew that Ray was in for a long, and not very boring day or three, catching up on his 'life'.
"I get two calls, right?"
"Yeah, yeah. Two calls." Dewey spun the phone around so the man could use it. "Take your time." He then fastened the suspect's cuff to the ring on the side of his desk that he'd had attached for that purpose.
He waited until the cop moved away. Hunching over the phone, he quickly dialed a long distance number. When the phone was picked up, he whispered into it. Five minutes later, when Dewey came back, he was sitting back in his chair, a smug grin on his face.
"So, you want to talk?"
"No. I want to wait for my lawyer."
"Okay by me, come on, let's get you down to holding." Dewey called out and a uniformed officer came over to escort the suspect to holding.
"Look I seen him. I'm tellin' you, it's Langostini! He ain't dead." He was a small-time grifter and gofer for the Mob. But he'd been in Vegas six months earlier, delivering a package, and had seen the man everyone knew as Armando Langostini. With any luck, he'd not only get off, but get a big score for this. The lawyer was skeptical, however.
"You're trying to tell me that he's a cop? I've known Armando for years, and he is no cop."
"Look for yourself. He's goin' by the name Vecchio, now. I swear to you, he's a cop!"
The lawyer gazed at him, no emotion showing on his face. "Very well. Where is he?"
"I seen him up in the detective's offices. He was talking to some girl, the civilian aide. Up on the third floor."
"I'll go check it out. You know that if you're wrong, you won't have to worry about prison?"
The little man swallowed hard. "It's him. I know it is. You'll see."
The lawyer made his way upstairs and into the bullpen. The place was a study in barely controlled chaos. He wasn't given more than a passing glance. His suit marked him as a lawyer, and relatively invisible. Over in the corner, he spotted a slender man in Armani. Well, the suit was right. As was the height and coloring. He watched as the man moved, the way he talked with his hands as he yelled at the scrawny looking blond with him. When the cops turned, he almost gasped. If this wasn't Armando, it certainly could have been his twin brother. Of course, this one had less hair, and was a lot thinner. A good twenty or thirty pounds thinner. He didn't think Armando could have lost that much weight in just over two months. Not unless he was very ill, and this man did not look like he'd been ill. However, there was enough of a resemblance for him to investigate the little weasel's allegation.
He watched the two cops, the guy who looked like Armando was obviously angry and agitated. The other guy, though, was cool and composed under the onslaught. He knew Armando, had played golf with the man, and didn't think that this agitated guy could possibly be the Armando he'd worked and socialized with for the preceding year. He truly believed the reports that Armando had been killed by that crazy Canuck three months ago. Still, the resemblance was remarkable. Vecchio. He'd need to pull a few strings and ask some questions. See where this Vecchio had been for the past year or two. With one final glance around, he turned and left, still unnoticed by any of the cops who were too busy with their normal routine to bother with some stranger in a suit. He smirked. He had a very low opinion of cops in general, and this batch didn't strike him as any better than any of the other cops he'd ever dealt with.
"How could you blow up my car, Stanley? Why did you do that?"
Ray calmly stood his ground. "I didn't blow up your car, Vecchio. And I swear, if you call me 'Stanley' again, I'm gonna clock you one." There was nothing in his tone of voice or body language to indicate he was bluffing and Vecchio backed off a bit.
"Okay, okay. So, then. Where is my car, now? At the bottom of Lake Michigan?"
"No. Ain't you been home, yet?"
"No. I'm still stayin' in a hotel. Which reminds me, my house burned down?"
"Not down. Just a bit of smoke damage, mostly. Well, and the water damage. And there was some flame damage, but that was minor, really." Kowalski said. "Why ain't you been home?"
"I'd'a thought that from what I heard about you, you'd be home faster'n Dief after a donut."
Francesca sauntered by, and paused. "We're not good enough for the big Mob man," she sneered, but her eyes gave away the hurt she felt over her brother's refusal to come home.
"Oh?" Kowalski asked in surprise. He shook his head, "Man, if my family was like yours and I'd been away for almost a year, I couldn't wait to get home."
Frannie looked up at him in pleased surprise. "Thank you, Ray. That was sweet of you to say that."
Kowalski flushed slightly and smiled shyly at her. "You're welcome."
"Okay, so I'm scum for not rushing home to my family, so sue me. Where is my car?"
Ray looked at his partner...and he wished he didn't have to work with him. They had nothing in common, and Vecchio got on his nerves, his constant whining and complaining was old after only two days working together...and Vecchio had spent almost the entire time in the interrogation room going through the files Kowalski had worked while pretending to be him. "Go home, Vecchio. Take a look around when you get there." Kowalski turned away and followed Frannie. "Hey, Frannie, wait up. You busy Friday night?"
Vecchio was fuming, the guy didn't answer his questions. Not that he was listening anyway, but still.... Then, what Kowalski had just said to Frannie registered, and he spun around to hurry after them, but when he looked, they were gone. Hurrying, he headed for the break room, where he found them smiling and flirting by the coffee pot. Flirting? His baby sister was flirting with that Polish Goombah? Not if he had anything to say about it!"
"Stay away from my sister, Kowalski." He growled as he approached. The two looked up at him and Kowalski leaned back against the table and watched as Frannie tore into her brother.
"I swear, Ray, they must have overdosed you on those testosterone shots they give you in the Mob. You don't even come home, Ma's all upset about it, but you don't call, either, and you have the nerve to tell him to stay away from me? What if I don't want to stay away from him, huh? What then, mister 'head of the family', Vecchio? Huh? What then?" She got right up in his face, blushing in fury. "I have had just about enough of you, Ray. So back off!" She spun on her heel and headed for the door, pausing for a moment to turn a soft look back at Kowalski, "Friday at seven will be wonderful, Ray. Thank you."
Kowalski smirked. "Thank you, Frannie. I'll pick you up at home, okay?" She smiled and nodded, then turned and headed back to her desk.
Vecchio was livid. For most of a year, he'd been someone important. Someone people feared. Now...now he was just plain old Ray Vecchio again. No power, no control. No one afraid of him. Even his own sister showed him no respect.
"You can't expect her to respect you if you don't give her any," Kowalski said softly.
Vecchio looked up in surprise. Could this guy read minds, too? "What?"
"Francesca. You can't treat her like some...underling. She's her own woman. You've been gone a long time, Ray. She's been doin' for herself. Got the job as the civilian aide and done a really great job at it." Seeing Vecchio's expression, he chuckled, "Yeah. I know. She's your little sister, and you always thought of her as something of a screw up, right? Well, she's not. She's kinda weird, sometimes, but she's pretty good at her job. Ask anybody."
"Why are you taking her out?"
"Because I like her. We both know it's not anything serious, but I like to go out dancing, and she's available, now that I don't got to pretend to be her brother, that is."
Kowalski smiled, "Yeah. Crystal Ballroom. Okay food, great band and greater dance floor. It's been a while, and I want to go dancing, all right?"
"With my sister..."
"Well, not with you, that's for sure."
"How about with Fraser?" Vecchio smirked.
"Nah, he's not my type, either, but if you want to, go for it." With a smirk of his own, he picked up his cup of coffee and headed out the door, leaving his partner gaping at him in shock.
"Hey, did you hear? Vecchio's taking his sister out for dinner and dancing on Friday!" Tom Dewey announced to his partner.
Jack frowned, "What? I thought she was going out with Kowalski?"
"Nah, she's goin' with that crazy brother of hers. It's kinda sick, don't you think? Dating your own brother?"
"That's not her brother, that's Kowalski." Jack shook his head, wondering why his partner was so dense.
"She's not goin' out with the new guy, she's goin' out with the old guy."
"Right, she's going out with Kowalski."
"No! Wait, I thought he was Vecchio?"
Jack sighed. "The guy we've been calling Vecchio is really Kowalski, and the guy who just got back is the real Ray Vecchio."
Friday at last. Ray Vecchio heaved an enormous sigh and looked at the last three inches of files. He shook his head. It seemed that Kowalski had had about the same luck as he had working with Benny. Unbelievable. He went back to the first folder, the one where the two men met. He looked at it again. There were a few pages which Fraser had added, indicating that Kowalski had jumped between the Mountie and a gun, taking a bullet for him. Of course, Kowalski was wearing a vest, but still...the guy had guts, and had taken good care of Fraser for him. Only now, Fraser considered his replacement a friend, too.
He was jealous! His jaw dropped at the realization. Kowalski had taken his place and become his Benny's friend. Shit. He leaned back in his chair and gazed over the piles of files. Hell, Kowalski had even cleared out his backlogged files. Not just the reports, but actual cases he'd put in his 'who cares' pile. He shook his head. He'd finally gone home last night. His house looked fine, there really was very little damage, mostly like Kowalski had said, smoke and water. His Ma had told him that Kowalski had come over to help paint and do repairs. He'd done a great job, too. He couldn't tell there had ever been a fire. And the Riv...his precious car. He'd gone out to the garage and found it there, under a tarp. It was clean, shiny, and fully restored. It was in better shape than when he'd left it. And Kowalski never said a thing. Tony had informed him that he'd helped with the car a few times, until Kowalski got mad at him for screwing up and sent him away. Only to call him back when he needed the strength to hoist the engine and tranny in and out. The guy had rebuilt his car for him. And he kept picking fights with him.
He looked up as the door opened and Welsh came in. "How's it goin' Vecchio?"
Ray nodded. "I'm almost done. Only about five more files." He fell silent, frowning. Welsh stood, waiting, knowing that there was more coming.
"He's a good man, isn't he, sir?"
"One of the best."
"Would you be bothered if he wanted to go out with your sister?"
"Yeah. My sister is too old for him. But I wouldn't mind if he went out with my daughter." He'd been hoping that this would be the result of making Vecchio read the files. They painted a picture of a good man, a dedicated police officer, one he was proud to work with.
Ray nodded. "Okay. Thanks." He looked up, "D'you think I screwed up?"
"Yeah. But he's a good guy. He'll forgive you. If he doesn't kick you in the head, first." Welsh grinned and shrugged, "Even if he does, he'll still forgive you."
Ray smiled. "Good. That's good, sir. I guess maybe I may deserve that kick in the head, you know?"
"Yeah, I know, and yes, you do deserve it."
Two hours later, he signed the last of 'his' reports. He stretched, his back popping in relief. Standing up, he headed back to the lieutenant's office to report his success. As he walked down the hall, he bumped into a man in an Armani suit, very like his own. He barely gave the man a glance as he pushed on by. It wasn't until he'd gotten to the lieutenant's office that he reacted. He knew that guy...that was one of the Mob lawyers he'd played golf with! What the hell?
"Sir?" Vecchio had simply walked in, not knocking, and realized that Kowalski was already there. He blushed in embarrassment. "Sorry. I can come back."
"Nah, that's all right. I was just gonna send for you, anyway," Welsh said.
Kowalski noticed how pale his partner had become and stood up, pulling him over and pushing him down in the chair he'd vacated. "What's wrong? What happened?"
"I...I just saw Ciccone. He's one of the lawyers from Vegas. I bumped right into him. He saw me. He saw me good."
Kowalski's head shot up, looking out through the blinds, checking for someone who could be a lawyer. He shook his head. "He's gone, now, Ray. You sure he saw you?"
"I ran right into him! He couldn't help but see me! I am so**screwed."
Welsh, having taken a look, himself sat back down at his desk. "Not necessarily. What did you do when you saw him?"
"Nothing. I had just finished up those files and was on my way to tell you. I bumped into him, pushed on past and didn't realize who it was until I was at your door. I'm a dead man." Vecchio shivered, knowing just how he was likely to die.
"Not necessarily," Welsh said.
"Why not? He saw me!"
"He saw Ray Vecchio."
"Why do you think we had such an elaborate setup?" Welsh asked. Had he been the only one who understood why they had to have a Ray Vecchio around to cover for the missing cop? Seeing the two blank expressions exchanged between the two men, he shook his head and explained.
"Okay. He saw a man who looks like the late Armando Langostini, right? So, what does the Mob do? Kill a cop? Not if they don't have to. They know better. So, this cop looks like their dead/missing Bookman, right? So, where was he during the time Armando was in Vegas? Oh, he was on the job in Chicago, working? How do you know? People saw him? Yeah? What people? Oh, he was at work? Prove it. Gee, over a hundred reports, signed by the guy? Hey, that's pretty conclusive evidence, don't you think? So, this cop looks like the late, lamented Bookman. It ain't possible for a guy to be two places at once, so the cop in Chicago must be just that, a cop. You bumped into him and didn't react like you knew him, so, he's now convinced you're Vecchio, not Langostini."
"That's scary, sir." Vecchio murmured, still in shock and a bit shaky.
"Well, that's why the Feds set it up the way they did. You're covered, Ray." He pointed at Kowalski, "And you have him**to thank for it.
Vecchio looked at Kowalski, who had obviously not been privy to this information, either. "Uh, thanks, Kowalski."
"You're welcome, Vecchio." He smiled shyly.
"Okay, so, now that that's settled, can we maybe get some real work done here? You're up to speed on your old cases, right Vecchio?"
"Good. In that case, I have a little project for the two of you..."
Fraser had been busy all week settling back in at the consulate. He'd thoroughly enjoyed his time in the far north, but he was, much to his surprise, glad to be back in Chicago. As he entered the bullpen, he looked for his friends, pleased to find them at their desks.
"You are a freak, Kowalski! You're crazy, you know that?"
"Oh, like it was my fault? How was I supposed to know he had a hand grenade?"
"We could'a been killed, don't you realize that?"
"But we weren't, now, were we?"
"Good afternoon Ray, Ray," Fraser said, coming to attention between their desks.
"Hey, Frase. You all settled in, back at the consulate?" Kowalski asked.
"Yes, thank you kindly. And have you reacclimatized to being back, as well?"
"Yeah. Everything's hunky-dory here."
"Welcome back, Benny. I gotta ask you something. Did you have any problems with this guy almost getting you killed while I was gone?"
Fraser, who had removed his hat and tucked it under his left arm, fingered his eyebrow with the thumb and forefinger of his right hand, casting a slightly amused glance at Kowalski. "Ah, well, no. Not that I recall, Ray. Although, I do seem to recall having; how shall I say, 'risked his life in various wildly bizarre ways' a few times? Would that suffice?" His amusement was answered by Kowalski's chortle.
"Oh, yeah. Hey, maybe you're rubbing off on me, Frase."
"I am in so much trouble," Vecchio moaned, burying his face in his hands; the laughter of his partners echoing through his sudden, blinding headache.
Dewey was at his desk, looking down at a file folder, "Hey, Vecchio, I think this is yours!" he yelled across the room. Ray looked up and went over, grateful for the interruption.
When he got to Dewey's desk, the man looked at him in confusion. "I said Vecchio."
"Yeah? That's me."
"No it's not. You're Kowalski."
"No, I'm Vecchio."
"Don't give me that. You're the new guy, Kowalski."
"No, I'm the old guy, Vecchio."
"Then, who's he?" Dewey asked, pointing across the room.
"No, I'm Vecchio."
"I don't get it!" Dewey whined. "Jack! Jack, tell me again, which one's which?"
Jack looked up, pointed to Vecchio and said, "He's Starsky," then pointed at Kowalski, "He's Hutch." And turned back to his report, ignoring the wail of indignation from his partner and the laughter from Vecchio and Kowalski.
As they turned off their computers and desk lamps for the night, Vecchio paused by Kowalski's desk. "Uh, look. About you takin' Frannie out tonight..."
"Uh, have fun." Vecchio looked at the floor.
"I hope we do. You understand that it's nothin' serious, right? Just a couple of friends goin' out for dinner and a little dancing?"
"You really like to dance?" Vecchio couldn't understand it.
"Yeah. Always have." He glanced around, then leaned close and lowered his voice, "Besides, it's great exercise."
Vecchio looked surprised, "Yeah?"
"Yeah. Keeps you limber and light on your feet, too," Kowalski confided, as if it were a tremendous secret.
He grinned, nodding. "And, if you're lucky to have a lady all your own, it's even better." His smile was a bit sad. "I hear you're datin' Stella." Now it was his turn not to make eye contact.
"State's Attorney Kowalski...shit. She related to you?"
"My ex." He glanced up and saw the shock on Vecchio's face. "It's okay. It's been over for a long time."
"But you still love her?" There was a gentleness in Vecchio's voice and a softening in his posture, he understood about losing someone you loved.
"Sure. I probably always will." He shrugged, "But I know we'll never be together again. It's just not in the cards for us. So, I'm takin' Frannie out. She was really nice to me, while you were gone. It's kind of a 'thank you' for everything."
"Especially since Fraser won't give her the time of day," Vecchio's tone had a trace of humor in it.
"He likes her, a lot. Just not that way, you know?"
"Yeah. I know. I tried to tell her, but she wouldn't listen."
"Well, when you got shot..."
"I know. She cried on my good shoulder for hours." There was tenderness in his voice, now.
Kowalski nodded. "So, it's okay for me to take her out tonight?"
"Hey, she's a big girl, she can make those decisions for herself. But if you hurt her..."
"If I hurt her, I'll let you use my gun, okay?"
Vecchio smiled. "Okay. Have a good time." The two men smiled at each other and turned to head out.
As they passed Dewey, he called out to them. "Good night, Starsky. Good night Hutch," and smiled, finally having finally figured it out.
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