The Box


Sunday wasn't quiet at the station. When Fraser said, really to no-one in particular, "I see that Sunday isn't very quiet at the station," five officers looked up from their work--which included in one case trying to wrestle a woman in a hoop-skirt through the squad room door--to snort in disgust at him.

"What's Sunday?" Ray asked him as he sidestepped a young man in hightops making a break for it and the two officers who were attempting to stop him. The three of them caromed into the lady with the hoop skirt who stopped hitting Officer Dewey with her shepherd's crook and started hitting the young man in hightops instead.

Fraser had to raise his voice over the shouting. "Sunday is the day of rest." He drummed his fingers on the box on the corner of Ray's desk. "In Christian cultures--"

"No rest for the--" Ray pointed a file folder at Fraser's face and waggled it. "For the whatevers. The punks and the thugs."

"Whiskers," Francesca interjected. "No rest for the whiskers, Ray." She made "Ray" sound like any number of unsavoury epithets.

"What the hell does that mean, 'No rest for the whiskers'? That doesn't mean anything. It's--"

"Wicked," Fraser finished helpfully.

"Dumb," Ray corrected.

Francesca stuck her tongue out at Ray, then turned to Fraser with a small, wicked grin. The tongue made a brief pass across her upper lip before she said, with a sidelong glance up through her lashes, "Hi Fraser."

Fraser swallowed and nodded. "Francesca." He considered diving behind Ray's desk for cover, but Ray was sitting in his desk chair reading his case file and bouncing his knee and muttering, "Whiskers. What the hell is that?" so there wasn't enough room for a mountie back there, too. Before Fraser had to come up with an alternative plan, however, Francesca had moved on to answer the phone at her own desk and Ray was asking him a question.

"--box?"

"I'm sorry. What?"

"What's in the box?" Ray repeated.

"What box?"

"The one you got that white-knuckled grip on there."

Fraser looked down. He was indeed gripping the edges of the box. It was a plain brown cardboard box, about 30.3 centimeters square. "Oh, yes, the box."

Ray got up and rummaged in the file cabinet, then headed off to the Lieutenant's office with the new file. After a prolonged period of yelling on the Lietenant's part, Ray came back out. His hair was standing up straighter than it was before and he looked a little wild around the eyes as he hooked his jacket from the back of his chair.

"Aren't you gonna open it?"

"Why?"

"Because boxes are made to be opened."

Fraser considered this. "Well, actually Ray, you could as easily argue that boxes are made to be closed."

Narrowing his eyes, Ray stared at him for a moment, then jerked his head like he was breaking someone's grip on his reins and headed for the door. "Whatever. Suit yerself. I got bad guys to deal with. No rest for the--"

"Whiskers," Francesca said from her desk.

Fraser stood with his fingers resting lightly on the box and counted. Before he got to five, Ray was back at his elbow.

"C'mon, Fraser. What's in the box?"

"What do you think is in the box?"

"I don't know what's in the box, Fraser, which is why I'm asking--" Another jerk of the head and he was on his way again. "Whatever. I don't care about your stupid box." He was still asserting his lack of interest in the box when he ducked under the hoop skirt and disappeared.

In the car, Ray asked him what was in the box.

While they were creeping along a roof after a pair of nefarious criminals he asked him what was in the box.

"Is it shoes?" Ray panted, massaging his bruised knuckles while Fraser applied Ray's handcuffs to one of the nefarious criminals.

"I bet it's some weird Yukon Territory cooking thing made out of whale teeth or something," Ray said, before he had to duck to avoid the second nefarious criminal who had flung himself from atop a stack of packing crates. The criminal, who had badly miscalculated his trajectory, landed inside a dumpster at the foot of the loading dock. The criminal didn't want to come out so Ray threatened to kick him in the head. Finally, when Fraser promised the criminal that he would not let Ray kick him in the head, the criminal crawled onto the loading dock. Ray lunged at him and grinned sharkily when the guy flinched. "Crybaby," Ray said.

"Not all whales have teeth," Fraser pointed out as they led the two criminals to their destined appointment with Justice.

"Some whales have teeth."

"Yes, that's true."

"So it's something with whale teeth?"

"I wouldn't think so."

"Oh." Ray signed the two nefarious criminals in and handed them over to a couple of uniformed officers to be placed in a holding cell. "Is it one of those soapstone carvings with the Eskimo guy standing on a dolphin?"

"Inuit," Fraser said.

"I knew it. Who's it for?"

"Who's what for?"

"The sculpture with the inuit and the dolphin." They paused at the squad room door. The lady was gone but the hoop skirt was still wedged in tightly. Fraser blushed a little as he lifted the skirt and waved Ray in ahead of him. "Is it for me?" Ray asked. He sounded like he really didn't care at all if it was for him, except that he really did.

"I suppose it could be for you."

"Why? It's not my birthday. Or my other birthday."

In the squad room, there was a small crowd gathered around the box. Everyone was talking at once.

"--reindeer mittens."

"Probably maple syrup."

"It's not heavy enough to have maple syrup inside."

"Maybe it's candy. Maple candy isn't that heavy."

"How do you know?"

"I've travelled."

Officer Dewey was reading a book. "Pemmican," he announced. Over the chatter of protest he said, pointing at the book, "In it's dessicated form, meat doesn't smell." He pointed at the box. "The box doesn't smell so it's probably pemmican."

"You got me pemmican?" Ray looked at Fraser like he didn't know whether to be happy or sad. "What's pemmican?"

"It's dessicated meat."

"You got me dessicated meat?" Ray's eyes went narrow again. "Is that supposed to mean something? You know, something symbolical, like--" Ray's expression got intense as he stepped up to Fraser and finished in a rough whisper, "--something about me and my meat?"

"Ray--"

"Because, listen, if you want to tell me something, you just got to tell me. You don't have to be all--with the pemmican and the secret messages about my meat and--I can take it, you know." Ray turned and headed back toward the hoop skirt.

Fraser followed. "Ray Ray Ray--"

"All a person asks for is an inuit guy on a dolphin but no, it's gotta be pemmican--"

"Does that come in flavours, do you think?" Officer Dewey was asking.

"Is cariboo a flavour?"

"Ray!"

Fraser caught up to Ray inside the hoop skirt. The light inside was soft and pink. Ray was sparky and impatient and bruised on the inside because of the pemmican. He looked at the middle button of Fraser's uniform and worked his jaw a little. Fraser laid his hand on the side of Ray's neck and bowed his own head toward his.

"I'm not trying to send you a secret message, Ray," he said earnestly.

"You're not?"

"No."

"Then why did you get me pemmican?"

"I didn't."

"You didn't?"

"No."

"Oh." A tentative smile slanted Ray's mouth up on one side. "Okay then." In the pink light, Ray looked at once sharp-edged and vulnerable. Fraser kissed him on the forehead. "Okay then," Ray repeated.

They stood like that together inside the hoop skirt, Fraser's hand on Ray's neck and Fraser's lips resting on Ray's forehead, until Fraser said, "You know, Ray, they can probably see our feet."

That made Ray straighten up. "Right." He ducked out of the hoop skirt and into the hall. Fraser followed. On the other side of the hoop skirt, the argument about whether or not cariboo was a flavour was still raging. As they headed toward the parking lot, Ray said, "So what's in the box?"

"I have no idea," Fraser answered. "It's not my box."


THE END



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