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Middlegame

Monday morning

Monday morning Ray was back in court, wearing his second-best suit. It felt like when he used to wait for Stella outside her dance lessons: excited, out of place, not too sure of his welcome. Was Fraser still pissed off at him for whatever he said wrong on Saturday?

Stella flat ignored him when she walked in. But she'd been doing that in court for years now. Fraser entered the courtroom. He walked down the aisle, not looking left or right, cool as a cucumber in a snowdrift. As Fraser pulled out his chair, he looked Ray right in the eye, gave a tiny nod.

That was a good sign. Definitely.

Stella started off by calling Detective Abercrombie, from Alaska. While he testified about the original robbery, Ray glanced at Fraser's sketchpad. The detective was nowhere to be seen. Instead, Fraser was drawing a woman's face. A gorgeous woman with long curly hair. Abercrombie mentioned the name "Victoria Metcalf", and Fraser tapped his pencil hard against the paper.

He was telling Ray that this was the woman he'd arrested years back, the woman who showed up in town to frame him and kill his partner. Suddenly Fraser's head jerked to the left, like someone was standing next to him. He stared at nothing, shook his head no, and muttered something under his breath. After that he grabbed a sharpener from his lawyer's briefcase and focused on getting a perfect tip on his pencil.

The rest of the day was forensics testimony, confirming that the money recovered from Fraser's place was from the Alaskan robbery and that his service revolver had been used to kill both Jolly and Vecchio. They even recreated the scene.

But the real drama was on that sketchpad. Over five hours Fraser drew four incredibly detailed pictures of Victoria Metcalf.

Victoria curled up in the snow, desperate. That would be from the time Fraser arrested her, up in Canada. The files had mentioned the two of them had been trapped in some kind of blizzard.

Victoria in a fur coat, angrily wiping a tear off her cheek. Ray guessed she'd have to be pissed off at the guy who sent her to prison.

Victoria smiling sensuously, shoulders naked, wrapped in a striped blanket. Man, she really fucked with him. And fucked him. Fraser's testimony had said that Victoria had been staying in his apartment. Not an easy woman to kick out of bed. But he had to have known she was after him!

Ray wondered if he was more disappointed because Fraser had slept with a crazy, murdering bitch, or because it turned out that long-haired beautiful women were his type. Like maybe Fraser'd been saving himself for the right skinny Polack guy to come along.

It was kinda pathetic.

Victoria in the jungle, laughing, with a gun. What was that about? Fraser finished that one, laid it on the table in front of him, and then snapped his pencil in two. He sat motionless until the end of the day, and then walked out without a glance Ray's way. Fraser's lawyer, Jameson, picked up the sketchpad but left the broken pencil behind. Ray pocketed it. Then he followed the lawyer out of the courtroom.

Jameson scurried along down a service corridor and out a back door. Probably trying to avoid the press. Ray caught up with him in the parking lot.

"Hey, Jameson!" The guy jumped, looked like he thought he was about to get mugged. Which pissed Ray off, 'cause he was actually wearing a suit for once.

"Yes?"

"I'm Ray Kowalski, the PI you got in to see Fraser this weekend."

The lawyer relaxed a little. "Oh, of course. I didn't recognize you from the credentials photo. What can I do for you?"

"Welsh asked me to help you prove Fraser's innocent, so I'm the new member of your defense team. We gonna go see him tonight?"

Jameson looked flustered. "Ah, Mr. Kowalski, you seem to be under the impression that …"

Ray had been living with a lawyer for years, and he knew a stall tactic when he heard it. He threw a mostly friendly arm around Jameson's shoulders. "When you get to know me better, you'll find it's easiest just to give me what I want, Jameson." He turned the little guy to face him. "So what time should I meet you at the prison?"

"Ah … 7?"

"Sounds good! See you then!" That gave Ray plenty of time to go back to his apartment, grab a shower, change, get a bite to eat, and pick up something at the store.



Monday night

Lawyers had contact visitation rights, which sounded like fun when Jameson said he could get Ray in the door. It actually meant they met with their clients in a 10x10 green concrete room with a fluorescent light, a card table, and two folding chairs. Stella always said he was a little too intense in small spaces, but maybe he could make it work for him. He always thought best on his feet, anyway.

Fraser was already seated at the table when Ray and Jameson walked into the room. Ray waved Jameson to the chair and started right in with barely a glance at Fraser.

"So I spent some time this weekend looking through Stella's case files, and the way I see it…"

Fraser raised his hand.

"Yeah?"

"While I appreciate your efforts on my behalf, there may be something of an ethical dilemma here."

"Nope. There ain't. You got a lot to learn about the American legal system, Fraser. See, Stella's job is to prove that you're guilty. This guy?" Ray gestured to Jameson. "His job is to prove that you're innocent. The fact you are innocent don't matter. Lawyers don't care about the truth any more than cats care about carrots."

Fraser looked perplexed and opened his mouth. Ray pointed at him. "Do not say a word. You know what I mean." Fraser settled back in his seat, mouth closed.

"Now, Stella's a heavyweight, and our boy Jameson here? Good guy, but more of a welterweight. So the way I see it, little old blind lady justice needs a hand, and I'm gonna give it to her. Besides, the prosecution has to tell the defense all their witnesses and exhibits ahead of time anyway, right?" Jameson and Fraser both nodded.

"Right. So, the ethics are all good." Just let me help, Ray thought wildly at Fraser.

Fraser shook his head a little. "Your point is well-taken, Mr. Kowalski. And we can certainly use the help."

"Ixnay on the Mister," Ray said, pulling out his notebook. "Now, the case against you is solid, but I think there are a some angles we can work." He flipped through the notebook to a particular diagram. "Like, right here, we could call your neighbor, Mr. Mustafi …"

After half an hour Jameson started hinting that it was time to go. Ray ignored him. Fifteen minutes later the lawyer took off. "I suppose I'll see both of you in court tomorrow," he said on his way out the door.

Ray and Fraser had been talking non-stop about the case, but there was a kind of awkward silence after Jameson left. Ray let himself look at Fraser, really look. Guy looked tired, like he hadn't been sleeping right. His short brown hair was so tidy it made Ray want to run his fingers through it, mess it up. Suddenly Ray's body woke up to the fact that he was all alone with Fraser. He plopped down into the chair to hide his hard-on.

Fraser rubbed his temples. "I wish I knew why," he began. Then he stiffened and sat all the way back in his chair. "I don't know where the money from the robbery is," he said in a clear, cold voice.

"Yeah, we been through that," Ray said, confused.

"The small amount that was discovered on my person was placed there by Victoria to incriminate me. I have no access to more."

Ray lost his hard-on as he figured out where Fraser was going with this. "You think I'm in this for the money?"

Fraser's voice was steel. "In December 1986 you were a newly sworn officer of the Chicago police department. Detective Franklin claimed that you attempted to break the chain of evidence in his homicide investigation, at the behest of the suspect. You accepted a substantial bribe. There wasn't sufficient evidence for a criminal trial, but you were removed from the force."

How the fuck did he find out about that in here, Ray wondered. Nine years of this shit had him on his feet, chair across the room, both hands on the table as he yelled in Fraser's face. "Just 'cause people say I did something, doesn't mean I actually did, and you should know that!" Taking a deep breath, he continued. "Franklin was a dirty cop. He lied, everyone believed him, and they took my fuckin' badge!"

Fraser glared up at him for a second, and then his gaze flicked over Ray's right shoulder, like there was someone standing there. "Yes, I suppose that makes sense," he said.

"Better believe it!" Ray said, turning around to see if there was somebody in the room with them. There wasn't.

"I fail to see how that applies in this situation," Fraser argued with empty air.

Okay, so Fraser was a few fries short of a Happy Meal. Ray picked up his chair and moved it back to the table. "Earth to Fraser!" he called, sitting down.

Fraser looked back at Ray, kind of embarrassed. Which Ray could see, given he'd just got caught talking to an imaginary friend in prison. Ray just hoped he didn't do that in front of the other inmates.

"I am sorry, Mr. … Kowalski. I had to be certain of your motivation."

The apology was nice, but Ray was still feeling pissed off. He used it. "So, since we're dredging up bad old shit, let's talk about Victoria."

Fraser flinched.

"I saw those pictures you drew today. The first ones I get. But when did you see Victoria in the jungle?"

"Jungle?" Fraser ran a thumb over his eyebrow. "Ah. The Reptile House."

"You didn't mention any Reptile House in your statement."

"No, I … they never asked."

"Good. Now we're getting somewhere. Tell me about that picture."

Fraser looked down at the table, traced a stain on it with his forefinger. "After Jolly's attack, I searched the zoo for Victoria. As I entered the interior of the Reptile House, I heard her call my name. She was inside the Ophiophagus hannah exhibit. A rather clever hiding place."

"The wha…?"

Fraser glanced up, and then back down at the table. "The King Cobra exhibit. The serpent was gone, and Victoria was hidden in the foliage. I stepped up to the glass and told her how worried I'd been that Jolly would find her before I did. She said that he had, and she had shot him. He was dead. Victoria shrugged out of her fur coat. It pooled at her feet. That was when I saw the gun."

"So what'd you do?"

"I urged her to go to the police, told her that it was a clear case of self-defense and that I would do everything in my power to help her. She laughed and asked me to come away with her."

Fraser shifted, wiped his hands on his pants. "I said that was impossible; I had duties here. And Victoria said, 'Not any more, you don't.' She had made sure that the blame for everything would fall on me. I asked if she meant Jolly's death. She said the other one, as well. My friend."

There were tears in Fraser's eyes when he looked up. "I thought she was confessing to shooting Diefenbaker. I was angry," he said, shaking his head, "but she kept going. She hadn't planned that part, she told me. But he had seen her shoot Jolly, and no cop was bringing her back to prison."

Fraser took a shuddering breath and then continued in a measured tone. "That's when I realized she was referring to Detective Vecchio. Sometimes," he said as if the words were dragged out of him, "I wonder if Victoria truly saw Diefenbaker and Ray as threats, or if she attacked them simply because they were my friends."

Ray had a pretty good idea why Fraser hadn't been sleeping real well lately.

The pain that he had seen that first day in the courtroom was naked on Fraser's face. "I asked her if she hated me so much. Victoria replied, 'Hate, love, those two emotions about cover it.' She asked me again to come away with her. When I refused, she said, 'Well then, let's see how much you like prison.'"

In a voice not meant for Ray, Fraser whispered, "I don't like it. Not at all." Then, more loudly, "Victoria picked up her coat and ran to the exterior door at the back of the exhibit. By the time I reached the outside, she was gone. Two uniformed officers found me shortly thereafter, and invited me to accompany them to the station house."

Ray looked at Fraser, sitting almost at attention, staring at the opposite wall. He was good at reading people, and Fraser wasn't lying, but there was something still eating at him.

"And? What are you not telling me, Fraser?"

Fraser's gaze flickered to Ray and away again. He licked his lower lip. "It's just that … even after I understood … and she had the murder weapon in her hands, I still … I wanted … Oh, God, Ray." Fraser looked bad, like he was about to puke, or scream, or maybe fly into a million pieces.

Since that "Ray" wasn't to him, Ray walked to the far wall. He counted the cracks in the concrete and hummed an old Clash song under his breath for a little while, to give Fraser some privacy for whatever he needed to do or say. Guy might be a little nuts, but he had his reasons.

Ray turned around once he finished up the song. Fraser was looking pale and calm under the fluorescents. Ray reached for his bag under the table and pulled out the copy of Never Cry Wolf he'd bought at the bookstore. "Figured today was a tough day. I thought this might help. I would've wrapped it, but the PO's would just have ripped it apart."

He slid the book across the table, facedown. Fraser picked it up and turned the book over, spent a moment looking at the howling wolf poised on the cover.

"So what happened to your wolf, anyway? The files didn't say."

"Half-wolf," Fraser corrected automatically. "Diefenbaker made a full recovery and was shipped up to Sergeant Frobisher, an old friend of my father's. Unfortunately neither of them is much of a letter writer, so I'm not certain how he's been spending his time."

Fraser put the book down and looked up at Ray. "Thank you. That was a thoughtful gift. I find myself with plenty of time to read, but the prison library is somewhat lacking."

The lights flickered twice overhead. Fraser sighed. "Ah. I need to be going. Protective custody prisoners have 15 minutes to lights-out."

"Protective custody?" asked Ray.

"Yes. Former officers of the law," Fraser's lips thinned, "are considered at special risk from the general population, so we're kept isolated."

Ray thought about that. "Isolated like, stuck in a cell by yourself?"

Fraser nodded. "For 22 hours a day, when I'm not otherwise occupied with my trial."

"But I thought solitary confinement was a punishment!"

"Not under current prison regulations, Mr, … er, Kowalski. Now, if you'll excuse me?" Fraser picked up his book and walked over to tap on the door.

Ray realized there was something he hadn't mentioned yet. He turned sideways in his chair. "Hey, Fraser?"

Fraser turned around. "Yes?"

"You know Stella?"

"Stella Kowalski, your wife?" The door opened behind Fraser. A tired-looking PO was there to escort him to his cell.

"Yeah, well." Ray jittered in his seat, and then blurted out, "Not any more."

Fraser searched his face. "I'm sorry if my case was a precipitating cause."

The officer grabbed Fraser's shoulder. "Time to go, bud."

Ray and Fraser both ignored him, locked in a look. Ray shrugged. "Would have happened sooner or later."

Fraser nodded gravely, even as the officer hauled him out of the room.




The rest of the week was rough. Stella called one witness after another, and with each one, Fraser sounded more guilty. The coroner, Mort Gustafson. Detective Louis Gardino. Detective Jack Huey. Civilian Aide Elaine Besbriss. Ray Vecchio's sister, Francesca Vecchio. These were the people Fraser should have had in his corner, and Stella had them lining up to put nails in his coffin.

Fraser was still polite and distant, still drawing in court each day, but Ray could see it was getting to him. He was losing weight and the circles under his eyes were getting darker.

Jameson and Ray visited again on Wednesday night, working on the defense case coming up next week.

Thursday Stella had a shrink up on the stand, talking about how Fraser was some kind of sociopath. That he was smart, charming, and manipulative, with no real empathy or feeling of remorse. Claimed Fraser's "inability to maintain enduring relationships" and "extreme risk-taking behavior" were classic signs, and that trying to put the blame onto the non-existent Victoria Metcalf was exactly what he would expect from an individual with this disorder.

Guy obviously had issues, but the jury seemed to buy it hook, line, and sinker. At the end of the day Ray caught Fraser's eye and mimed ripping up the guy's sketch into itsy-bitsy pieces. Fraser just gave a little shrug.

Things were not looking good for the home team.

Thursday night Ray tracked down the missing teenage girl he'd been hired to find. She was living with a thirty year-old boyfriend in Evanston. Her parents' check meant his rent, electricity, insurance and phone bills were covered. The rest he could let slide for another month.

Friday was the only bright spot. Stella called Welsh, and he was nowhere near the friendly witness she'd planned on. The jury got to hear one hell of a character witness. He stood up there on the stand and said under oath that Constable Benton Fraser was the kind of man who would not lie or steal, never mind murder his best friend.

Of course, as Stella pointed out to the jury, that would be the perfect cover for a criminal.



Friday night

Jameson wouldn't go with him to the prison Friday night, so Ray was stuck with another no-contact visit.

He brought a travel chessboard, which got him some seriously funny looks from the POs when they searched him. Like he was some kind of freak, for wanting to play chess with a guy in prison.

Whatever.

Ray had the chessboard all set up and the phone tucked into his shoulder by the time they brought Fraser in. The board was definitely a good call; Fraser perked right up when he saw it.

"Hey, Fraser! You play chess, right?" Ray called out as soon as Fraser picked up his phone.

Fraser winced a little, and Ray made a note to take his volume down a notch. "Ah, yes, Kowalski, I have been known to. Were you hoping for a match?"

"Yeah, how 'bout some blitz chess?" Fraser looked confused. "You know, speed chess, with time limits? I usually go five minutes per side, but you can take ten, if you're new to it."

Fraser's eyes narrowed at the challenge. "If five is customary, then that is what we should use." He hesitated. "My time sense is quite accurate, but I'm not sure …"

"No problemo, Fraser. My watch has a double count-down timer." Ray took off his watch, set the timers to five minutes, and held it up to show Fraser.

"In that case, I'll take white."

Ray moved the board so that the white pieces were on Fraser's side. "Ready when you are, Fraser."

Ray hit Fraser's start button. "Pawn to king's bishop 4," said Fraser. Ray slapped the stop button. He moved the white pawn, immediately pressed his own start timer, moved his piece, and hit stop. "Next move?"

Fraser played a solid opening, but started to get flustered in the mid-game.

"Ray, with your knight out there in the corner, he has very limited capabilities."

"Yeah, well, that's where he is, Fraser, so the guy'll just have to do the best he can. Now, you gonna give me advice, or you gonna move? 'Cause it ain't my timer ticking away."

Fraser called out a move – a bad one.

"Oops!" said Ray gleefully, taking full advantage. Fraser played a tight end game, but after that mistake it was all downhill.

"Ooh, Fraser can't play the fast game," Ray taunted before declaring checkmate.

Fraser frowned. "There's no need to be insulting."

Ray grinned. "You got it all wrong, Fraser! Trash talk's a part of how this game's played! You don't mess with your opponent, it's like saying he's not even worth your time."

Fraser's frown smoothed away and he got a little twinkle in his eye. "In that case … another game?"

The next match was a weird one. Fraser's attempts at trash talk were pretty damn hilarious. Ray wasn't sure if it was intentional at first, but somewhere between "Are you absolutely certain that's the optimal move?" and "That was 0.2 seconds slower, Kowalski. We may be in imminent danger of death from old age before you finish," Ray found himself howling with laughter.

"You fight dirty!" he accused, when he got his breath back.

"That's just silly, Kowalski. I'm merely trying to play chess according to local customs," was the smug reply. "I believe you have under 30 seconds remaining on your clock."

Ray threw himself into the game. No time to think. See the pattern, move. Pattern, move. Pattern, move. He checkmated Fraser's king with 10 seconds to spare, and was rewarded with a warm smile.

"That was impressive," Fraser congratulated him. "You think well under pressure."

Only not so much, because the only thought in Ray's head was, Christ, he's beautiful when he smiles. His heart pounding, Ray managed, "I only got two speeds, Frase. Off and full throttle."

Feeling all tingly and distracted, Ray crashed and burned in the third game. Not that he minded.

Taking a break after his defeat, Ray brought up something that had been bugging him. "Jameson tells me you might not testify in your own defense next week."

Fraser pulled the phone away from his shoulder and stretched a moment, before holding the phone in a position to reply. "I haven't decided yet. It does open new lines of questioning for the prosecution. It might be wiser to let the truth speak for itself."

Ray decided to nip this one in the bud. "Fraser, that's just dumb. The truth can't speak for itself. Truth needs … a spokesman. Somebody tall, gorgeous, got some charisma going on. And Fraser, you are that guy."

It was hard to tell under the fluorescents, but Fraser might have blushed a little. "You make a trial sound like a popularity contest."

"Yeah, now you're getting it. Juries like pretty people. They trust 'em."

Fraser shifted uncomfortably in his seat. "I would like the jury to decide in my favor based on the merits of the case, Kowalski, without any tricks."

Ray pulled the phone away from his head and tapped the glass with it, right next to Fraser's head. One, two, three times. Then he put it back to his mouth. "Fraser, get this through your head. This is not a game. This is not some duel where Stella and Jameson are gonna salute each other before fighting over your honor. You think Stella looks that good walking into the courtroom every day by accident? Hell no! Stella will use every trick in the book to convict you. That's what makes her a good lawyer."

Fraser tried to say something, but Ray kept going. "Let's be clear about this. Your life is at stake. Cop-killers get the needle in Illinois."

Shaking his head, Fraser contradicted him smoothly. "The Canadian government waived their extradition rights on the condition that I be ruled ineligible for the death penalty."

That pissed Ray off. Lawyers on both sides of the fucking border, negotiating away Fraser's rights to make sure no politicians got embarrassed. Fraser sure as hell deserved more than a single lawyer and one beat-up PI on his side.

"Yeah, well, life in prison doesn't sound too cozy. Its not like your case has a whole lot going for it, here. So you will get up on that stand, and you will smile at the nice jurors, and you will make them believe the truth when they hear it. Comprende?"

Fraser sat back in his seat. "Je comprends, Kowalski." A tiny smile danced around the edges of his mouth, then Fraser asked, "Full throttle?"

"You know it."

So that was a good night.



Saturday

Another Saturday at the prison. The guards all knew him by name by now. Jameson had come and gone. They'd gone over every step of the defense. It was kind of weak, but none of them could find a way to improve Fraser's case. All the evidence was against him

Ray assumed Stella wouldn't be meeting him for brunch, so he had all day. He was wondering if there was any way he could sneak out for a smoke and get back into the room when he noticed something.

The knuckles of Fraser's right hand were bloody.

"Hey, what happened to your hand?"

Fraser made a fist, inspected the small wounds, and absently licked them. "I was granted some yard time this morning. Prison toughs, like schoolyard bullies, are remarkably resistant to reason."

Fraser sounded normal, but there was this wild little light in Fraser's eyes, like he'd enjoyed it. No, like he'd loved it, and couldn't wait for an excuse to do it again. For Ray, that would've been pretty much a normal day. But for Fraser, it was way wrong. Prison was really starting to mess with his head.

Ray got up and started to pace. There was only one solution, and he couldn't believe he hadn't thought of it before. "I'm gonna find Victoria Metcalf, bring her in."

"No."

"It’s the only way. I can do this, Fraser. Tracking people down is my job, and it's the only way we're gonna prove you're innocent."

Fraser shook his head, stood up. "I won't allow it."

"Yeah? Hate to break it to you, Fraser, but you're not in much of a position to stop me."

Fraser strode across the tiny room and backed Ray up against the wall, one arm on either side of his body. Fraser leaned in and said firmly, "No."

The little guy in Ray's pants was all over that, but there was a bigger issue here. Ray ducked out as if he were in the ring and cracked his neck.

"What the fuck? You still protecting Victoria? She killed Vecchio."

"Ray, I don't want you to go after her!"

Hearing Fraser say his name was a rush. "You called me Ray!"

Fraser leaned further forward to rest his forehead against the concrete wall for a moment. He took a deep breath and then turned to Ray.

"You don't understand. I'm not protecting Victoria. I'm protecting you. She has left a trail of bodies behind her, and I do not want yours to be one of them. I cannot have that."

Ray liked the way that sounded. Like Fraser really cared. Maybe this thing between them wasn't all just from his side. But Ray Kowalski could take care of himself.

"What?" he said. "You think I can't take her down? I am careful, I am lucky, and I am good, Fraser."

Fraser walked back to the table and sank down into his chair. "Somehow, I doubt that," he muttered.

"You think I'm not good at what I do?" Ray challenged, weight on the balls of his feet, ready for a fight.

Putting his hands up, Fraser said, "No, I'm sure you are an exceptional private investigator. I just can't imagine you being very careful on the job."

Oh. Had somebody been telling Fraser stories about him? "Well, going after Victoria, I'll be careful." With a quick smile, he added, "Just for you."

Fraser sat staring at Ray as if to memorize him. Then he gave a short nod. "I'll take that as a promise," he said.

Ray reached out his right hand, and they shook on it. "Okay, I'll get on that tonight. Might not be in court Monday, but I'll let Jameson know as soon as I've got info on her location."

All the long drive back to his office, Ray's hand felt strange; warm and heavy with the weight of all the other promises he'd be willing to make.

If only Fraser would ask.


Continue to the final chapter.

Comments

( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
dswdiane
Feb. 21st, 2007 03:52 pm (UTC)
yay--Diefenbaker not dead. On the last chapter
mackiedockie
Feb. 22nd, 2007 06:24 am (UTC)
Whew. Dief's safe. As safe as he can be with Frobisher, anyway...*g*

Really like the way Fraser and Ray are winding each other up. Amazing the glass hasn't melted between them.
keerawa
Feb. 23rd, 2007 06:47 pm (UTC)
Fraser's been alone and hopeless. Ray's good for him. Sadly, prison glass is lust-proof.
akamine_chan
Dec. 5th, 2007 04:42 am (UTC)
Okay, that hurt.

Fraser's gaze flickered to Ray and away again. He licked his lower lip. "It's just that … even after I understood … and she had the murder weapon in her hands, I still … I wanted … Oh, God, Ray." Fraser looked bad, like he was about to puke, or scream, or maybe fly into a million pieces.

That was like a kick to the gut!

I really liked Fraser's "insults" during their speed chess...hysterically funny...

On to the final chapter...
keerawa
Dec. 5th, 2007 05:37 am (UTC)
I think you're the first person to mention that line, and to me it's the one that gives us a glimpse of the self-imposed purgatory Fraser's been living in.

Fraser's trash-talk still makes me giggle.

Thanks for the comment!
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )