"Well, Ray," began Constable Benton Fraser of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, "As dutifully appointed representatives of the Chicago Police Force, it is our duty to act as liaison between the police and the band members."
Ray glared at his partner. "You just like saying the word "liaison", don't you?"
Fraser politely blinked and tilted his head questioningly. "I don't understand what you mean, Ray. The word liaison, coming from the latin "ligere" which means "to bind", has quite an interesting history--"
Ray started walking, drinking from his styrofoam cup and mumbling to himself. Earlier that week, Ray had been in a huge all out fight with Lieutenant Welsh, which he reflected earlier, was not a good thing, but what could he do now?
"You will take that security job and you will do it! I don't care if you hate it. I don't care if you quit the moment you are done and never work for the police again. You will do that job." Welsh stated it as if it was irrefutable fact. That was the end of the "discussion" and now Ray was stuck doing one of the most demeaning jobs of his career.
Fraser walked over to him. "Ray?" he asked softly. "It's time to meet our charges."
"I can't believe you set me up for this!" Ray had yelled. "Protecting a band of no-talent teen heartthrobs whose only talent is that they look good to twelve-year-old girls!"
"That's at least one more talent than you have!" Welsh snapped back. "These threats are serious business. You will treat it as such. No more arguments." Ray opened his mouth to continue, but Welsh held up a warning finger. "No more arguments."
"He's quite right, Ray. These warnings we received are very serious. They could mean an assassination attempt." Fraser said.
"Assassination attempt!" Ray threw his arms up in disgust. "Don't tell me they got to you too! These guys aren't politicians or diplomats or dignitaries. They're a bunch of hacks. They are nobodies. They don't qualify as assassinations."
"Ray," Fraser explained patiently while Welsh looked as if he was going to hit the roof, "These people are a large part of the modern music industry. They have millions of fans around the world. They are almost instantly recognisable in almost every large city on the planet. They are not nobodies."
"Traitor." snarled Ray. "You're supposed to be on MY side."
"The only side I am on, Ray, is the law's side. These people received death threats. They are entitled to our protection just like every other person in Chicago." Fraser intoned solemnly.
Ray sighed heavily as he pushed on the door into the air conditioned hotel room. Fraser stood obediently behind him, acknowledging Ray's superiority in the situation. Fraser was not technically assigned to the case except as a guard against Ray. Ray knew that, and was slightly resentful. He cleared his throat. The five guys, who were playing cards on the room's table, looked up.
"Hey," one said. "Are you our new body guards?"
Ray bristled. He finished his coffee, then crumpled the cup into a ball, tossing it neatly into the wastepaper basket on the other side of the room. "I'm with the City Of Chicago police."
"Impressive display," whispered Fraser.
"Actually, I was aiming for the other basket, but hey," Ray whispered back.
The guys were clearly taken aback by this. They looked at each other rather nervously as they wondered about this seemingly psycho cop they were locked in the room with.
"Please, don't be alarmed by my partner's animosity," Fraser said, stepping forward. This was rewarded with another set of slightly confused glares.
"Aren't you like, a mountie?" the first one said.
"Yes I am, in fact," Fraser replied. "I first came to Chicago on the trail--"
"Ofhisfather'slkillersandforreasonswedon'tneedtoexploreatth-isconjecturehedecidedtoremaininChicagoattachedasliason." Ray said all in one breath, putting special emphasis on liaison.
"Well, yes, that is essentially correct, although I usually say it slower than that."
"I know, Fraze. I have to sit around and wait for you to finish your dumb speech every time we talk to someone new." Ray snorted, rolling his eyes.
"I hardly think it's "dumb" that I explain my reasons for being in Chicago, Ray," Fraser replied, pulling on his earlobe, a little idiosyncrasy he had when he was dealing with people who were slow to understand.
The five guys turned back to their cards.
"Yeah, well maybe not everybody needs to know. Ever thought of that?"
"It's hardly classified information, Ray."
"It's not even secret information, Fraser. Every cop in the precinct knows that speech by heart."
"Really and truly, Fraser."
"I had no idea," Fraser replied, looking faintly pleased.
Suddenly the phone rang.
One of the five leapt up to get it. "Hello?" he listened for a moment. "Yes, speaking." He then got a confused look on his face. "Hello? Hello? Anybody there?" He turned to his friends, setting the phone back on its hanger. "That was weird--they hung up just after I told them it was me."
Fraser looked at Ray. Ray nodded. "Okay guys, time to leave."
"What? Why?" asked one of them.
"Just trust us. Come on." Fraser opened the door and looked down both ways as Ray waved them out. "Fraser, do you have the radio? We need the game plan."
"I believe there is another room in the hotel for this reason," Fraser replied. "You have the radio."
"Right," Ray murmured, fishing his walkie-talkie out of his jacket.
"Okay, can we have some answers now?" one of the five asked.
"We believe your lives may be in danger," Fraser replied matter of factly.
"What?!" they replied in unison.
"Yo, Huey--we need the room number of the back up suite. We think our guy may be on the move. Yeah--telephone. How he got the number, I don't know. Suite 39? First floor? Gotcha." Ray clicked the walkie-talkie back in place. " Alright guys, first floor."
"We're not going anywhere until you tell us what is going on," one of them said, setting down his bag on the floor. He stared Ray straight in the face. Ray sighed.
"We've been given several death threats by your manager. It seems someone is seriously PO'ed at you, and would like you to finish your tour in Chicago, if you catch my drift."
"Our managers didn't say anything about any threats," another band member put forward.
"They didn't want to upset you or something. Now come on, get going."
"I don't believe you," the first one said.
"Fine. Don't believe me--"
"Ray--" said Fraser urgently. "Did you hear that click?"
"Click? What?" Ray's eyes went wide. "Oh no--Go! Go!" he screamed, shoving them down the corridor, just as the room exploded.
Ray limped out of the emergency room. He met Welsh coming from the doors. "Are you alright?" Welsh asked quickly. Ray nodded. Welsh tilted his head towards the emerg room. Ray nodded again, and Welsh sighed, running a hand through his thinning hair.
"Thank god. That's at least saved us some paperwork..."
"Has forensic been through yet?" Ray asked.
"Yep. Bomb. Hidden in one of the pillows. Took out two other rooms as well. No injuries though--the floor had been cleared for our boys here."
Ray winced. "I guess this means hush-hush, right?"
"The media would have a field day. Keep them all low, out of sight, and out of harm." Welsh ordered.
"Where the hell can we keep them?" Ray said out loud. He caught sight of Fraser's hat hanging on a coat hook inside the door.
"I don't really know if Inspector Thatcher would approve of this, Ray," Fraser said hesitantly.
"We have to keep them safe. Where is safer than Canada? Or at least Canadian soil? We'll just stash them in your back room until the concert."
"They're people, Ray. We can't just throw them in a closet and forget about them."
"Tell me about it."
"We could keep them in the Embassy until other arrangements are made," Fraser admitted.
"There you go!" Ray said brightly. "Now, let's get them and go."
"Brian is having a bit of a problem with his ankle--they think it might be fractured." Fraser remarked. "We'll have to wait."
"Which one is Brian?" asked Ray, not that he really cared.
"The blond one."
"There are two blond ones."
"The blond one with the shorter hair."
Ray looked around them down the corridor. "Which one is the one that answered the phone?"
"That would be--Howie," Fraser replied.
"I don't like the look of him," Ray replied. "He looks like serious trouble."
"Alright, passengers, here we are. And on your right you will see an authentic piece of Canada, land of beavers, ice floes and bad hats." Ray chirped in a stewardess impression.
"We have perfectly nice hats," Fraser said in a slightly offended tone. The van they were riding in slowed to a stop, and they all piled out, Brian with crutches.
"That hat is stupid looking," Ray replied. "I don't know why you are so attached to it. Come on, guys, let's get a move on."
Fraser said nothing but proceed to check the inside of the embassy.
"Turnbull!" he yelled. "Turnbull! Where are you?"
"I'm right here, sir," said Turnbull breathlessly. "I just finished watching the Mr. Dress-up reunion special."
"The one with Casey and Finnegan?" asked Fraser.
"Yes sir." Turnbull hesitated. "It was beautiful."
"I see." said Fraser, nodding. "Turnbull, these are our new guests for the moment."
He introduced them to a star-eyed Turnbull. "Oh wow," he said excitedly. "Mr. McLean, I am your biggest fan."
AJ McLean nodded, and continued staring around the Embassy.
"I just have to get an autograph!" Turnbull gushed. He looked around the room for something to write on. His eyes fell upon the portrait of the Queen.
"Honestly, Turnbull, it was quite a disgrace, the way you behaved. Very unpatriotic," Fraser added. He was standing at attention, not looking at Turnbull, who was slumped in shame.
"Oh give it a break, Fraser," Ray snapped. Fraser ignored Ray as well. Ray sighed. "You're not still annoyed about that hat crack are you? God. You are the most aggravating person I know. You beat out even Welsh for that honour."
"Speaking of this guy Welsh, shouldn't you have found out by know where we're going next?" asked AJ. He and the other blond one, Nick, had been playing cards for the last hour.
"Yeah, they're going to call in soon." Ray said, rubbing a hand through his hair. "Look, Fraze, I'm sorry about the hat crack. I didn't mean it. Your hat is not stupid looking. Right guys?" he said, looking around the room. They nodded. Fraser regarded Ray with a steady gaze.
"Apology accepted," he said evenly.
"I think it looks quite dashing, Sir," offered Turnbull.
"Shut up, Turnbull," Fraser replied, his face emotionless.
"Yes sir." Turnbull slouched off into the corner.
Suddenly there was the sharp sound of high heels on a hardwood floor, and Inspector Meg Thatcher flung open the door.
"What is going on here?!" she fumed. "I just saw the portrait--"
"Turnbull is paying for that out of his salary," Fraser explained.
"And who are these people? What card game are they playing? They're not gambling, are they?" she asked, horrified.
"No, Ma'am. Allow me to introduce the members of the Backstreet Boys, current political refugees. This is Howie, AJ, Nick, Brian and Kevin." Fraser pointed them out. At the last introduction Thatcher's mouth nearly dropped but she restrained herself. Barely.
"How do you do?" she asked, offering her hand to Kevin.
"Pretty good," he said with a smile. She began to smile herself.
"About the portrait, ma'am--" Turnbull started.
"Shut up, Turnbull." she snapped, never taking her eyes from Kevin.
"Yes Ma'am." Turnbull replied, and went back to his corner.
"Look, sorry to break up this little meeting," Ray commented, getting between Thatcher and Kevin, "But we need to use the phone."
"So use it," Thatcher growled. Ray nodded, and walked toward her office. Fraser followed him.
"I still have a bad feeling about that Howie guy," Ray said when they were out of earshot. "He just seems like bad news."
"That may be, Ray, but I've been going over what was written on those notes in my head and I think we may have a problem."
"What do you mean?"
"At first glance we thought they had been written by, well, an adult."
"I don't think they have been. If you recall the wording-"
"No I do not recall the wording, Fraser, I have more important things to do than memorise notes from wackos."
"At any rate, Ray," Fraser continued as they entered the office and Ray picked up the phone, "I think they may have been written by a child."
"A child? You gotta be joking." Ray snorted as he dialled the number.
"No, I'm not. Not a child, really; more likely a teenager."
"What's your first clue, Sherlock?" asked Ray. "Yes, hello, Lt. Welsh's office please. Oh come on. Frannie, it's me. Ray. Get Welsh on the phone now."
"I think that the fact that all the i's and j's were dotted with small hearts seemed to be a clue." Fraser remarked.
"Good for you. Yeah, Welsh? When the hell are we getting out of here? What we can leave now? Good. I'm sick of this building. Where do we meet? Front street and...Center street? Okay. Gotcha. What? Yeah, Fraze the Wonder Detective figured that out already. Okay. Bye." Ray hung up. "The police head-shrinker says the notes were written by a girl, thirteen to fifteen years old."
"I was thinking fourteen myself," Fraser replied.
"Yeah, well anyway, Welsh thinks the area's clear enough to get them out of here and to their rehearsal." Ray said. Fraser nodded. They headed out of the room, when Fraser stopped suddenly.
"Ray?" he asked.
"Why don't you like the Embassy?"
"Really? Like what?"
"What? I don't think "old" can be classed as a smell, Ray."
"Yes it can. Old. As in old people. As in old buildings. As in mothballs."
"Ah," Fraser replied. "Yes, the camphor can be a bit strong at times."
"At times?" Ray laughed. "It's like a solid wave once you enter the house."
"Is it all that unpleasant? I rather enjoy the smell myself."
"Yes, Fraser, it is." Ray replied, ending the conversation.
They crossed the small hall to the room they had left. "Okay, guys, time to head out."
"We have to wait for Kevin," Howie said. "He left with the Inspector to have a tour."
"A tour?" Fraser said, a bit puzzled. Then it dawned on him. "Oh dear."
"Oh dear?" inquired Ray. "Oh dear?"
"Nothing to worry about." Fraser said quickly. "Nothing at all."
Kevin and Thatcher joined the group after a few moments. They both looked rather ruffled, and Thatcher seemed to be walking on air.
"Enjoy your "tour"?" snickered AJ, elbowing Kevin in the ribs. Kevin just glared.
Sitting in the van, Fraser waited as the others piled in. "Fasten your seatbelts," Ray ordered.
"It would be a wise precaution," Fraser added, securely fastening his and gripping the door handle.
"Next stop, Front and Center!" Ray announced.
"Front and Center streets," Ray explained.
"Okay guys, there you go," Ray said. He opened the hall door for them, letting the five guys file past. "My esteemed colleagues Huey and Dewey will be taking over from here."
"Thanks for everything," Brian said, stopping to shake Fraser's hand.
"Our pleasure," Fraser said smiling.
As the doors swung shut, Fraser walked over to Ray. "Ray," he whispered. "Something has been bothering me."
"What now, Fraser? Did you see someone's litter on the sidewalk?"
"No. Actually, it's about the case. You see, the letters were written by a teenage girl."
"Yet the components used to make the bomb are nothing I could have afforded on my allowance. Granted, a raise for inflation, but still."
"What are you saying, Fraze? That the letter writer is a fake?"
"More like a false lead, in my opinion."
"So it's an adult."
"But why bother with the ruse of the teenager, anyway? Like we'd have any more trouble finding an adult then a kid." Ray said, slightly puzzled.
"Unless who ever commissioned the letters could be identified easily."
"Someone close to the Backstreet Boys, I surmise."
"Speaking of that, where is their manager, anyway? He handed in the letters then ran off."
Fraser stopped for a moment. "Yes, that is rather odd. I wonder something."
"Wonder what?" asked Ray.
"Who the profits from the trademarking and licensing go to, if they Boys themselves were removed from the picture."
"You're kidding?" Ray asked incredulous. "Are you sure?"
"Of course not, but it does seem to fit all the pieces. Easily identifiable writing style, motive--"
"Alibi--he's in Florida or something, isn't he? Personal business?"
"Fraser--" Ray said suddenly. "If it is him, then he knows that--"
"They were scheduled to rehearse here!" Fraser finished. They dashed inside.
"You are so singing off key, Kevin!" snapped AJ. "And it's step step step TURN step step."
"Sorry guys," Kevin said ruefully. "I guess I was just distracted."
"Hey, Huey?" Dewey said suddenly. "Who's that?"
"Who's who?" Huey asked, craning his neck to see out the door's plexi-glass window. They found out as two men with guns burst in.
"Everybody down!" Huey yelled. Everyone ducked, the shower of bullets missing them by mere inches. Ray and Fraser ran in the opposite door at that exact moment. They both dived, Ray pulling out his gun and firing.
Huey and Dewey flipped over one of the Hall tables, and crawled behind it. The thugs flipped over another one, and the Backstreet Boys flipped over another. Ray and Fraser crawled quickly to take shelter with Huey and Dewey.
"This isn't good," Dewey commented. Huey rolled his eyes.
Fraser peeked around one of the sides of the table. "They're okay," he said to Ray.
"And how can you tell?" he said exasperated. He leapt up from behind the table to fire off some more shots, managing to hit one of the gunmen in the shoulder.
"No blood." Fraser said.
"You might not be able to see it behind the table."
"No, but I'd smell it," Fraser said. Ray shrugged. Huey fired some shots of his own. Dewey was calling for back up on the radio when Fraser peeked around the table again and was surprised to see Howie peeking out as well. Fraser made some frantic hand signals, then nodded. He ducked behind the table.
"What was that? Don't tell me; Eskimo hunting signals." Ray said.
"No, Ray." Fraser replied. He waited until the gunman--the lone gunman--fired, then stood up.
"Fraser!" hissed Ray. "What are you doing?!"
"Excuse me," Fraser said to the gunman, "But I think you are making a mistake."
"Look, you freak," the guy hissed back in a Southern accent, "I know what I'm doing."
"What you are doing is giving into greed to fuel someone else's." Fraser said.
"So?" the gunman had his gun pointed straight at Fraser. "We all gotta make a living."
"But our living does not have to be killing people in orderto make other people benefit," Fraser continued.
The gunman sighed. "Look," he started, but was unable to finish the conversation due to the chair that Nick [who had sneaked up on him unawares] smashed down on his head.
"Hey, Fraze," Ray called out, holding his cell phone. "The guy confessed. And it turns out the manager was caught at the border anyway on charge of being suspicious looking."
"They won't like the news," Fraser said, gesturing towards the stage where the Backstreet Boys were performing to a sell-out crowd.
Ray shrugged. "They'll have to get used it."
"You could cut them a little slack, Ray," Fraser said chidingly.
"I could...but I won't." Ray said with a smirk.
Just then, Inspector Thatcher wandered up. "Great show, don't you think?" she said with a large grin.
"It's...interesting," Fraser admitted.
"Unless you're over thirteen," Ray snickered.
Fraser sighed, and Thatcher took no notice. "Constable, you wouldn't happen to know how long they're staying, do you?"
"I believe they will be flying back to Florida shortly." Fraser replied.
"Oh." Thatcher was crest-fallen, and drifted off to find Turnbull who was roaming among the crowds positively enthused.
"It's not that bad," Fraser admitted, listening.
"It's not that great either." Ray grumbled. "You call this music?" Fraser, unbeknownst to his partner, wandered off. Ray continued unhindered. "And what the hell do they mean by "Backstreet's back"? Where did they go, exactly?" He laughed. "More importantly, why didn't they stay there, huh Fraser? Fraser?" He looked around, totally alone with the exception of the crowd. "Fraze?!"