Bait and Switch
(Part of the Canadian Shack Challenge)
Ray leaned the motorcycle against the side of the cabin, brushed the road dust from his trousers, and shouldered his leather overnight bag. Dis, as they said in the gangster movies, must be da place.
The key from Benny's letter slid into the lock smooth as ... now, don't jump to conclusions, Detective.
Because whatever you think it is, it's always something else, he thought wearily as the figure by the fire stood up fast and revealed itself to be a vibrating bundle of scrawny, furious Polack. "What the fuck are you doing here?"
"Hey, hey, easy, Kowalski. I come in peace."
"And if you're not outta here in thirty seconds you're gonna leave in pieces." Kowalski dropped gracefully back into the ladderback chair and turned his head away, firelight picking up colors in his hair that might even have been natural. "I'm expecting somebody."
Aw, jesus. "Anybody I know?"
The place was warm enough that the fire must have been going for a couple of hours at least. "He told you he was coming?" Kowalski's clothes were spilling out of a plastic grocery bag under the table. Ray was pretty sure there'd be a few extras from the drugstore in there, just like the ones in his overnighter.
Still without looking at him, Kowalski nodded at a piece of paper on the table. Instead of picking it up, Ray pulled a matching sheet out of his inside pocket. White notepaper, blue-black ink.
"Fuck." Yeah, he got the situation right off. Not a stupid man, Kowalski. Sloppy dresser but definitely not stupid. Ray began to feel less disappointed and more sympathetic. Or something.
"Yeah. Evidently when the Mountie sent me out to the sticks because he wanted me to --" He unfolded the note to get the wording right -- " 'develop a relationship in which I take a keen interest,' he wasn't talking about one that actually involved him."
If he read the guy right, this would be the time for a good offense. "Never figured you for a queer, Vecchio." Yeah, there it was. He sounded like a kid who knows being mad's the only thing keeping him from bawling.
Ray, who had some experience with toddlers, went on as though he hadn't spoken. "Dunno what it is about the Mountie. Got something everybody wants to be part of."
For a city kid, Kowalski'd built a pretty good fire. Ray scooted closer to it. "You'd do any stupid thing for him," he went on. That made Kowalski look, but Ray went on looking placidly at the fire. "Sacrifice your suit, your day off, your car ..."
That got something close to a smile. "Harbor spies in your apartment. Drive a burning car."
"Yeah." Ray dared a glance. Kowalski was looking into the fire, too, dangling his hands between his knees. The bracelet picked up the glow. Not a stupid man, Kowalski, and a hell of a dancer, and they had a hopeless romance in common -- wait, now they had two. Maybe the long drive wasn't wasted after all. "You here all weekend?"
Ray scooted his chair a little closer. "I won't tell nobody if you won't."
Kowalski looked him in the eye and smiled for real. "Oh," he said, "you're gonna want to tell."
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