"You mean like a best friend?" BJ pressed, finally understanding the reason for the man's interest in their little trio.
"Yeah, I guess so." The younger man replied.
"Well come with me, Detective." The older man encouraged. "Let me give you a living example that having more than one best friend is entirely possible." Picking up the martini glasses he led Ray across the room to his table. "Guys, there's somebody I would like you to meet." As he set the glasses down he introduced. "Hawk, Trap this is Detective..." He turned and looked at the younger man, an apologetic look on his face. "I'm sorry, I didn't catch the last name."
Ray hesitated for a moment before replying "Kowalski. Ray Kowalski."
"Detective, eh?" Hawkeye's eyebrows raised questioningly. Looking at his best friend he quipped. "Beej, we said gin!" BJ chuckled good-naturedly.
"Kowalski?" Trapper repeated thoughtfully, then looking at his friends he asked. "Why does that name sound familiar?" BJ and Hawkeye both shook their heads unsure. Looking back to Ray the other man questioned. "Did you have any relatives in the Korean War?"
"Yeah, my great uncle served in Korea for about six months." Ray replied. "He was injured during a sniper attack and sent home."
"What was his name?" BJ asked eagerly, something clinking.
"Cedric. Cedric Kowalski." Ray replied giving the man a curious look.
"I remember now!" Hawkeye exclaimed excitedly. "Sergeant Cedric Kowalski. He was a corpsman." Looking at BJ he asked. "Weren't you the one that treated him after he was hit by the sniper?"
"I think so." BJ replied thoughtfully. Looking to Ray he asked. "He got hit in the leg right?"
"Yeah." Ray nodded. "Got hit pretty bad. Guess that's why they sent him home."
"Well how bout that!" Hawkeye exclaimed in amazement. "It is a small world after all. I certainly didn't believe it when we were in Korea, but now I'm beginning to."
Realizing he hadn't introduced his two friends to the detective, BJ said. "Ray, I'd like you to meet my two dearest friends in the whole world, Dr. Ben Pierce."
"Pleased to meet you." Ray greeted as he shook the offered hand. "I have a friend named Ben, actually it's Benton but he sometimes goes by Ben...or Benny." The older men caught the slight bite to his tone as he said the last name. "What do people call you?"
"Most people call me Hawkeye." The older man replied as he released the younger man's hand.
"Hawkeye?" Ray repeated in surprise. "How do you get 'Hawkeye' from 'Ben'?"
"You don't." Hawkeye replied with a mildly amused smile. "My father got it from a book. It's a nickname."
"Oh." Ray nodded slightly, still not sure what to think of the name.
"And this is Dr. Trapper John McIntyre." BJ finished the introductions.
"'Trapper'?" Ray chuckled slightly at that name. "What is this the 'Nickname Club'? Only people with nicknames can join?" Looking at BJ he asked. "What does 'B.J.' stand for?"
"Anything you want." Hawkeye piped up before his friend could, giving him a sly smile. Trapper chuckled with amusement at the exchange. Looking back to the detective Hawkeye asked curiously. "So what brings you to our neck of the bar? Looking for girls?"
"Ah, no..." Ray hesitated, suddenly feeling uncomfortable about being there.
"The detective is wondering if it's possible for a person to have more than one best friend." BJ explained as he reclaimed his seat and gestured for Ray to take the empty one between him and Trapper. "I told him that I'd show him a living example of the fact."
"I see." Hawkeye remarked as he took a sip from his martini glass. "And what, might I ask brought on such a thought provoking question?"
"Well, ah, you see, um..." Ray stumbled for a few moments before finally blurting out the story. "About a year ago I started working as an undercover police detective at a local precinct. My assignment was to pretend to be a certain detective that worked there while he went undercover in the mob. Basically I took his name, his partner, his family, his life as my own."
Hawkeye leaned over and in a stage whisper asked. "Was the guy married?"
"No." Ray shook his head.
"Shucks." The older man joked as his old buddies laughed knowingly.
"So, what happened?" Trapper pressed curiously.
"It was a little rough at first." Ray admitted. "His partner, an RCMP Constable from the Northern tundra was a little suspicious of me at first."
"How come?" BJ pressed intrigued by the story.
"Wait a minute." Hawkeye broke in, a look of surprise on his face. "What is an RCMP Constable from the Northern tundra doing in Chicago?"
"He first came to Chicago on the trail of the killers of his father." Ray rambled off the familiar spiel with little enthusiasm. "But for reasons that don't need exploring at this juncture he has remained attached as liaison with the Canadian Consulate..."
The gentlemen chuckled slightly. "It sounds like you've been asked that question more than once." Trapper remarked.
"Actually, that's Fraser's patent answer to that question." Ray replied. Then shaking his head he chuckled slightly. "As if people that asked really cared."
"So why was he suspicious of you at first?" BJ asked again.
"Well, he had been away for a while on vacation when the switch took place." Ray explained. "When he came back everyone, including me, tried to pass me off as 'Ray Vecchio', the real Ray Vecchio. My ID said 'Ray Vecchio', I had been briefed on all the cases that Fraser and Vecchio had investigated together, but of course he wouldn't buy it." He chuckled again. "He slyly found ways to take my fingerprints, an imprint of my teeth marks and even measured my nose to prove that I wasn't the real Ray Vecchio."
The men chuckled slightly. "The guy sounds like a real fruitcake."
"Yeah, that's what I thought at first." Ray admitted. Then after a pause he added. "But he turned out to be the best friend I ever had." He sighed and gulped down the rest of his drink.
"So you're worried about what might happen when the real Ray Vecchio shows up?" Hawkeye deduced from the man's expression.
"When?" Ray looked at him, his expression turning angry. "The 'when' part has already arrived. Vecchio showed up suddenly last night."
"Oh." The three men exchanged knowing glances.
"Look...Ray." Hawkeye began, a little hesitantly as he tried to think of something comforting to say. "Just because the real Ray Vecchio showed up doesn't mean that you're out of the picture."
"He's right." Trapper piped up. "Just because he's back doesn't mean that your RCMP partner likes you any less."
"Yeah, how would you guys know?" Ray spat out a little bitterly. "You weren't there. You didn't see the way Fraser's face lit up when he saw his old partner. You didn't see the way Vecchio smiled at him. Those two are back together and I'm going to be pushed out of the picture. Goodbye, Adios, end of story."
"What makes you so sure?" Hawkeye asked seriously.
"Because it's happening already!" Ray exclaimed angrily as he slammed his hand down on the table. "Vecchio waltzed into the precinct today to reclaim his job, his desk, his identity..."
And his partner." Hawkeye concluded, exchanging knowing looks with his friends. Then looking back to Ray he asked. "Have you guys talked about this yet?"
"We haven't had the chance." Ray admitted softly.
"You haven't had the chance or you haven't made the chance?" BJ pressed.
"What difference does it make?" The detective asked in mild annoyance. "The facts are still the same: Vecchio's back to reclaim his life which means he and Fraser will team up again, which means Stanley Raymond Kowalski is history."
"But it doesn't have to be that way." BJ reiterated. "There's no reason why the three of you can't be friends."
"You keep saying that." Ray exclaimed with a hint of exasperation in his tone. "But just because you three met up in that police action M*A*S*H unit of yours and became friends doesn't mean that the same will happen with me, Fraser and Vecchio. I mean come on, me and Vecchio have nothing in common."