A Moment Of Insight
For Author's Notes, click HERE
A moment of insight can change your life. The moment, the insight, is Ray's.
Ray reaches across the faux-marble tabletop, swipes a French fry off my plate, and dunks it in the paper cup of ketchup. The French fry never reaches his mouth. He stops suddenly, the fry still between his fingers. "I've seen this," Ray says.
I haven't the faintest idea what he could mean. He's seen what? French fries? The diner?
Ray flings the fry back onto my plate, splattering the ketchup. "I've fuckin' seen this, Fraser—come on," and now Ray squirms in his seat and pulls his wallet out of his back pocket. "C'mon, c'mon," Ray murmurs urgently, and now he's out of the booth, shoving his arms into his leather jacket, throwing a twenty down onto the table between our plates. My own calculations tell me that the bill should be precisely $11.65, but Ray's clearly in a hurry, and our waitress will doubtlessly appreciate the tip.
I follow Ray out of the diner and back to his car, sliding into the passenger seat beside him. He's still talking softly as he pulls out of the lot. "I have fuckin' seen this before, I know I have. Bells, alarms, chimes, ding, ding, ding—something wrong here, knew it, fuckin' knew it—"
I stare across the car at him, at his tight-knuckled grip on the wheel. Now I understand, and I'm worried, because we're back to this again—the case of Lisa Brightman. Ray just won't let it go, or perhaps he can't.
This may, I think, be the case that undoes him.
Twenty minutes later Ray's at the computer, long fingers flying over the keys. I stand a pace or two behind, watching him, not the screen. I'm just wondering if I should suggest a cup of coffee, since Ray's resistance to coffee is practically nil, when Ray slams his hand down on the desk so hard that I jump.
"Goddammit!" Ray leaps out of his chair and spins wildly, hands clenched. I open my mouth to console him, to assure him that he's already done justice to Ms. Brightman, when Ray jabs a finger at my chest. "I told you," Ray says, and suddenly I understand—this isn't a display of disappointment, but of triumph. "I fuckin' told you, Fraser—something stinks here, something stinks real bad." Ray steps away from the computer, nearly shaking with anger. "Look at that, just look at that."
I look at him. He's thrumming like a high voltage wire, and it's hard to look away. "Come on!' Ray yells, and I instantly take the seat he's vacated and turn my eyes to the screen. Another young woman, another overdose, another case where forensic evidence indicates that the victim had engaged in aggressive sexual intercourse just before her death. I hear the scrape of metal, and suddenly Ray's sitting next to me in a folding chair.
"You saw the brother?" Ray asks, leaning forward.
"Yes." I can picture him—pock-marked, whip-thin, weeping beside his mother in the first pew.
"Let me tell you how this goes," Ray says softly. "Lisa's not a junkie—it's her brother, the brother's the junkie. But Lisa buys the drugs. I'm not sure why—best guess would be that the brother and his dealer are on the outs. Maybe he didn't pay, maybe they got into a fight or something, bad blood. Doesn't matter, I can find that out. But he still needs his fix, so Lisa does the buy for him. You with me?"
"Yes," I say quietly, trying to put the truth of it into my voice. Because I am with him now, I can see what he's theorizing—and I'm ashamed of my previous doubt.
"Lisa does the buy, and see, this scumbag—" Ray's voice is shaking now, with fury, or perhaps grief, "—the scumbag who did this, he follows her, grabs her, dopes her, rapes her, and leaves her to die."
The perpetrator of this horrible crime may have made only one mistake; he abandoned Lisa Brightman's body across the street from Ray Kowalski's apartment.
The morning after the crime, I found Ray at the station, looking exhausted and still wearing his clothes from the previous day. He told me, in a dead voice quite unlike his own, how he'd parked in his usual spot near the all-night grocery. How he'd stopped in to buy a six-pack of beer, and then walked up the street toward his building. How it had been late, and dark, and very, very cold. He'd passed a group of homeless men clustered around a fire they'd built in a trash can, and Ray had stopped to flash his badge and tell them that he could arrange to find them shelter for the night. They'd refused him, and so Ray had shrugged and moved on, but the light from the fire had illuminated a pale, white hand extending from a nearby cardboard box. Ray told me that he'd stopped, crouched beside the box, and touched the hand, which was ice cold. He told me that the only thing in his mind at the time was the idea that this woman simply must go to a shelter, and he had his cell phone out, dialed, and pressed to his ear as he dragged her body out of the box. Lisa Brightman's dead, staring eyes must have given him a shock, because he dropped his phone, which broke on the hard, concrete sidewalk.
"Except Lisa isn't a junkie," Ray says angrily, jabbing a finger at me to make the point. "That's a fuck up—he can't anticipate that. And that's where we nail him. The rest of them, they're gonna be junkies, this guy stalks junkies, Fraser. This one I remember," and now Ray's sitting up and staring at the screen. Janelle Brown, age 22, found dead in her tenement building three months ago, days after the overdose that killed her. "This one I remember, because the arresting officers flirted with the idea of opening a rape case on her, she was so torn up inside. Except she was a big-time junkie, plus dead already, and it's hard enough prosecuting a rapist with a live victim, let alone a dead one. So they let it drop, shipped her out, and buried her." Ray gnaws the corner of his lip, staring at the screen. "But I'm betting she's not the only one. There's more, Fraser—I'm betting there's more, here. Find the pattern, find the guy—"
"Yes." I reach out and touch Ray's arm, and his head jerks around. "You're right. Let me help you."
Ray stares at me for a long moment, and then he nods.
It is nearly three in the morning by the time the last piece of paper whirs out of the printer—to our growing dismay, we find thirteen women who fit the pattern. The crimes aren't limited to Chicago, or even to the state of Illinois, but after our third hit reveals a victim on the Indiana border, we begin broadening the parameters of our search. We find similar victims in the states of Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, and Massachusetts.
After the ninth hit, Ray can't sit still at the computer anymore. Instead, he strides angrily around the empty bullpen, looking like he doesn't know what to do with himself, where to put himself. "The bastard's working his way West," Ray says suddenly, and then he turns and hurls a punch at the wall behind him, hitting it so hard that the plaster cracks from the impact. In a flash, I'm on my feet, ready to pull him away from the wall by force if necessary. But it isn't necessary—Ray stumbles away from the wall, looking calmer, as if that one punch has eased his mind considerably. His knuckles are scraped and reddened, but he doesn't seem to mind; he just licks across them absently. "M'ok," Ray tells me. "Just needed—something. Dunno."
I return to the computer and find our last four hits of the night, four more women who fit the profile: death by overdose, the telltale puncture in the left thigh, signs of sexual assault. By three in the morning, the last pages are in the printer tray, and Ray gathers them up, crosses to an empty desk, and sits down, spreading them out before him. "Pattern," Ray mutters, half to himself and half to me. "Gotta be a pattern..."
I stand behind him and read over his shoulder, one hand braced against the desktop. Scanning across the thirteen files, I see one obvious pattern right away. "Two in each city," I murmur.
Ray lifts his head to look at me. "What?"
"There are two in each major city," I say more clearly. I lean forward and gently push the papers across the desk. "Two in Boston, two in Cleveland, two in Toledo, two in Gary."
Ray is already nodding. "Two in Chicago, which is ten—one each in three small towns in Pennsylvania and New York. Too hot for him in a small town."
"Presumably," I agree.
"So he's done here, he's going. He's either going or gone." Again, Ray isn't talking to me—he's talking to himself, staring ahead into space. "If he's not gone, he's going. Gotta get him before he goes."
"The crimes are on a straight line," I point out to him. "Or near enough." I yank the desk drawer open, pull out a battered atlas of the United States and a wooden ruler. I lay the ruler across the map, connecting Boston and Chicago. The other locations line up fairly neatly, and my eyes drift helplessly leftward. Ray's head is turning left too, and together, we look West.
"Davenport," Ray says softly. "Cedar Rapids. Des Moines."
"Yes. That's very likely the trajectory."
"We gotta warn 'em," Ray says, abruptly gathering the papers together in front of him. "I know a guy transferred there, Frank Delaney, I'll—"
"Tomorrow," I interject, and Ray looks up at me. "Ray, it's nearly four in the morning. Normal people sleep."
"Fuck normal people," Ray mutters. "I'll leave a message," and Ray leaves a brusque message on Detective Delaney's answering machine, asking him to call first thing in the morning. "All right—tomorrow," Ray says, slamming down the phone. "Tomorrow we call all the lieutenants, put the cops on alert. And then we scour this fuckin' city in case he hasn't left yet." Ray stuffs the papers into his case file, puts the whole thing into a manila folder, and winds the red thread around the spool to keep it closed. "You'll help me with that, right?"
"We recheck the forensics, see if there's something we missed, something you can track." Ray is looking at me now, and the expression on his face makes me feel proud, grateful, inadequate. "If anyone can track this bastard, you can," Ray says, getting up.
"I'll do my best," I tell him, and then I reach across and close my fingers around the folder in his hand. "Leave it, Ray," I say quietly. He's already fraying around the edges. "Don't take it home with you."
Ray frowns down at the file, and for a moment I think that I've persuaded him to leave it behind. But then he shakes his head. "Can't," he says, averting his gaze, not meeting my eyes. "Just—in case, you know? Something hits me, I gotta be able to check it out."
"All right." I know there's no point in arguing with him about this. Still, I'm worried; I know Ray's been losing sleep over this case, and there doesn't seem to be any way to prevent him from losing more. Part of me wants to suggest that he have a drink, or perhaps even take some sort of sleeping draught. A wiser part of me refrains from articulating such a suggestion. "Will you drive me back to the Consulate?"
This puts a grin on Ray's face, the first genuine grin of this long night. "No, Fraser, I'm gonna leave you to walk home at four in the morning." He knocks his fist into my shoulder. "Don't be an idiot."
The streets are dark and deserted as Ray drives me home. He's driving more slowly than usual with so few people around, which tells me that his mind is otherwise occupied. Ray stops at every stopsign, at every red light, and sometimes I need to clear my throat to indicate that the light has now turned green.
Finally, he pulls up in front of the Consulate, absently shifts into park, and turns the engine off. This is further proof that Ray is driving on autopilot, but I suddenly wonder if I ought to take advantage of his unconscious error and ask him if he'd like to stay the night with me. It would be a natural enough question under the circumstances; one could quite reasonably read the switched-off engine as a silent request to come inside.
"Would you like to come in?" I ask.
Ray looks confused for a moment as he returns from wherever his thoughts have led him. "I—no," Ray says, shaking his head. "Nah, I should go home—"
—and then suddenly there is a screech of tires and a black sedan, no, two black sedans in the street beside us. Ray quickly looks out his window, and I try to look past him, because I hear doors slamming, the muted yell of voices, and there are black-clad figures surrounding the car, black figures with guns.
"Fuck," Ray mutters, and he's got his own gun in hand now, but it's too late—there's a gun trained on his head outside the driver's side door. I turn as I feel the blast of cold air on my side—my door is open now, and I can see the barrel of a gun pointing at me.
"Out of the car," a voice says, a woman's voice, and I have no time to even look at Ray again before hands are grabbing me, pulling me out into the street, patting me down for weaponry. There are four of them, all heavily armed, and apparently following some sort of procedure: they are moving in a proscribed pattern, acting with smooth synchronicity. Two of them step back to cover me with their weapons as the other two grab my arms and hustle me streetwards. I hear Ray's voice, soft and savage—fuck you, I'm a cop—and twist my head toward the sound of it.
They've got him, too; they've seized him by the upper arms and they are steering him toward the first of the black sedans. Ray cranes his neck toward me and yells, "Fraser!" before they shove him inside. The other car looms in front of me, and there is a hand on my head, forcing it down, forcing me into the back seat. I have a brief moment when I wonder if I can simply barrel through and escape on the other side, but that hope is dashed as the opposite door opens and a man with a gun gets in.
The slam of four doors, the press of people on each side of me, the car lurching into motion. I study all four faces—the man who is driving, the hard-faced woman beside him, the two men on either side of me. The car, I see instantly, is equipped with a radio, and as I watch the woman reaches for it, clicks it on, and speaks into it. "Alpha, Alpha, this is Red Group, mission accomplished, we have them."
The radio crackles for a second and then I hear the reply, "Roger, Red Group, proceed to local base fourteen, Alpha out."
The woman nods with satisfaction and hooks the radio receiver back onto the dash.
I clear my throat, and she looks back over her shoulder at me. "Might I ask what this is all about?"
"FBI," she says, without smiling. "And you'll know all about it soon enough."
We drive for what seems like a long time. It's difficult to tell where we are once we leave the city, as the surrounding roads are dark and empty and remarkably devoid of signage. Hours later, as the sky lightens, the signs seem to return: DAVENPORT 10 MILES; DAVENPORT RIGHT LANE ONLY. We pull into the right lane, and then we're driving through the streets of an unfamiliar city in the cold, gray light of dawn.
The car loops into the city centre and then makes a sudden hard left into the driveway of an underground parking garage. We coast around concrete pylons and then pull up in front of an elevator. The car stops with a jolt and then the doors open.
We have, apparently, arrived.
The agents hold their guns at their sides, not threatening directly as before, but still they surround me as we wait for the elevator, as we move inside, as we ride up to the fourth floor. And then the door opens onto a hallway, brightly lit with fluorescent lights, and I am brought down the corridor to an unmarked door on the end.
The female agent steps in front of me and knocks. The answer comes immediately: "Yes, send him in," and the agents step back. I look from one to the other, and then open the door.
A man is standing on the far side of a large conference table which is covered with paper. Behind him is a freestanding blackboard with a map taped to it. I recognize the points on the map at once: the Western diagonal, the familiar trajectory. I've drawn it myself only a few hours before. The man is wearing a rumpled suit and no necktie, and he looks very tired, as tired at Ray Kowalski has been looking lately, and from much the same cause I suspect.
He shows me a wry smile and comes around the table, extending his hand to me. "Constable Fraser," he says, and I find myself unsurprised that he knows my name. "Believe me, I'm sorry about all of this, but I'm sure you'll agree that we've got a pretty good reason."
"I'd certainly like to be able to agree," I tell him, and that earns me another wry smile. "I'm afraid you have the advantage of me," I add, deliberately not raising my hand to shake his.
"Ben Lupold. I'm the Associate Director of the Bureau's Behavioral Science Unit," Lupold adds, "and this is my case. We want the same thing you and Kowalski want—we wanna get this guy, okay?"
I study him for a moment, and then I take his hand and shake it. Lupold gestures for me to take a seat and I do. "Here's the thing," Lupold says, sitting across from me. "You guys rang the cherries this morning. We've got a tracer on those files, those women, and you guys starting ringing them off this morning, one by one. Good police work," he conceded with another wry smile, "but lousy timing. I'll make you a bet—you guys were about to alert the appropriate precincts in Davenport, Cedar Rapids, and Des Moines."
"We were, yes," I admitted.
"Then we got you just in time," Lupold said, looking serious. "Because we can't have that. We're really close to catching this guy, and the last thing we need is a fucking circus to scare him off. You put the local cops on alert, our guy maybe hears about it and goes underground. We can't afford to take that chance."
"I see," I say quietly. "So you're aware that there's a serial killer working his way West from the East coast?"
"Sure we're aware," Lupold replies, looking almost offended at the question. "We know all about it: that's what we do, that's our job. You guys are just the first local cops to twig onto him—so congratulations, but now you've got to step aside, get out of our way."
This sets off the first real warning bells of the conversation. "Ray—Detective Vecchio—Detective Kowalski," I amend quickly, remembering that Lupold already knows Ray's real name. "Detective Kowalski will want to remain part of the investigation."
Lupold sighs and leans back in his chair. "So I gather. You may be wondering where he—"
"Yes," I interrupt. "I am indeed wondering."
"They had to make a little side trip to the infirmary," Lupold tells me, wearily. "I'm afraid your Detective Kowalski had himself a little scuffle with Agents Olsen and Pierson, and got himself a broken nose for his trouble." I open my mouth to protest this act of brutality, but Lupold raises his hand and cuts me off. "He started it," Lupold says tersely, and I find myself believing him. "They finished it. Constable, you've got to make him understand—he's done good work, but he's got to step aside now."
I blow out a deep breath and nod slowly. "All right. What do you want us to do?"
"Nothing," Lupold says shortly, and I frown. "Absolutely nothing. We can't have you guys running around unchecked, especially a guy like Kowalski, who's a loose cannon at the best of times. We're gonna be sequestering the two of you for the immediate future—take it like a vacation, Constable. Full pay for doing nothing."
"Detective Kowalski won't like that," I murmur.
"That's tough," Lupold replies.
"I don't like it either," I add, raising my eyes to his.
"I'm sorry," Lupold says, not looking sorry at all. "But that's the way it's got to be."
Associate Director Lupold escorts me down the corridor toward another room, and I can hear Ray's voice well before we reach the indicated door. "Dirtbags!" Ray is yelling. "Fucking dirtbags," and with a sigh Lupold reaches for the knob and turns it.
Two armed agents turn to look at us, and between them, in the small interrogation room, is Ray Kowalski; he has a white bandage plastered across the bridge of his nose beneath his glasses, and he's handcuffed to the metal table in front of him.
"Gimme my file back," Ray instantly snarls.
"I'm sorry," Lupold replies evenly. "You'll get it back later."
"This is my case." Ray bangs his fist against the tabletop and his chain rattles. "You can not take me out of it."
"We can, and I'm afraid that we have to," Lupold says, and then again: "I'm sorry, Detective."
"Fuckhead here says you've known about this guy since Cleveland," Ray says, staring narrowly up at Lupold through his glasses. "That's seven murders ago—you guys have your heads up your ass, or what?"
Lupold ignores this and turns his attention to the two armed agents. "Take them to the safehouse. I want a twenty-four hour guard on them, is that understood?"
"Cause I wouldn't want to get in the way of the great job you're doin'," Ray sneers as the agents move to unlock his cuffs. "I got two dead women in Chicago what with such a great job." The cuffs click open and fall away, and Ray rises from his seat, rubbing his wrist. "I'm so fucking impressed."
"We'll notify the 27th precinct," Lupold told him, "and the Canadian Consulate," he added, turning to me. "We'll provide you with clothing, personal items—food, of course. If there's anything else you need—"
"I want my fucking file back!" Ray yells.
"—please feel free to request it," Lupold finishes and leaves, shutting the door behind him.
We don't speak, Ray and I, as we are escorted down the hallway, back to the elevator, down the four floors to the garage. There is only one car waiting for us now—apparently we are being permitted to ride together. We sit together in the back seat, and I watch as Ray tests the door—locked—the window—locked—before slumping back, long legs bent in the confined space. We look at each other for a long moment, and for an instant Ray lets the barrier of his anger down, and lets me see the desperation, the raw sadness in his eyes. I nod, feeling a lump rise in my throat, and look away. I can not bear to look at him any more, not now, not until we are alone and can talk freely.
We drive through the streets of this unfamiliar city, and eventually pull into the parking lot of the Diamond Hotel. We bypass the main entrance with its elegant landscaping and revolving gold doors, and drive instead to the back, to the service entrance, where we pull up with a screech of tires. We wait for a moment, and then the back door opens and four more armed agents walk out. The locks of the car pop up with an audible click.
I look at Ray and we have a quick, urgent conversation with our eyes. "Should we?" "You think?" "They've got guns." "Too dangerous." "Play along." and then we are getting out of the car, and the moment for action has passed.
We form a line—two agents in front, then Ray, then me, then three agents taking up the rear. The service elevator is waiting for us, its industrial door open wide. It is run by a single lever, and no floor numbers are indicated; still, I have no trouble counting the flashes of light as we rise. One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six—and on the sixth floor, we stop.
An agent pops out ahead, checks that the corridor is clear, and then we're walking across the hideous floral carpet toward the room at the end of the hall. The first agent pulls out a card key, inserts it, and gets a flashing green light—but already I can see that this is not the only lock on this door. Unusually, there are at least three more locks, and the keys to those locks are nowhere in evidence.
The agent offers the plastic card key to Ray with a smile, as if she were simply the concierge, as if we could actually come and go at our pleasure. I can see that Ray is debating shoving the bit of plastic right down her throat—and so I reach out and drop a hand on his shoulder. He turns to look at me, and I tell him, silently, "Don't." He sighs, nods, snatches the key card from between her fingers and pushes through the unlocked door.
I follow him, and the one agent follows me, but pauses in the doorway behind us. "That telephone," she says, pointing to the large, black phone on the desk, "is a hotline. You need anything, you call. You're hungry, you call. You got a problem, you call. Got it?"
Ray ignores her, and so I reply for both of us. "Understood."
She smiles at me, apparently grateful for my politeness. "The whole room service menu applies," she says, "plus if you've got a craving for something, we can probably get it for you."
"Thank you very much, " I tell her, and then she's turning, leaving, pulling the door shut behind her. In an instant, I'm at the door, and Ray's beside me, and we're staring at each other, listening intently. Click. Click. Click—three locks, all engaged now, and Ray's eyes are narrowed, like those of a trapped animal.
We stare at each other for one more second and then we're in motion, working together, our task clear even without words. Ray is checking the doors, the windows, the telephone. I am searching the light fixtures, the moldings, behind the headboards, under the beds.
A few minutes later Ray slams the telephone receiver down and turns to me. "Well?"
"Nothing," I reply. "No listening devices that I can detect."
"Me neither," Ray agrees, turning the desk chair around and sitting down on it, backwards. "Windows and doors are all reinforced—this ain't a hotel room, Fraser. It's a fuckin' cell ."
I nod grimly and reconsider my surroundings from a more aesthetic perspective. "Well, at least it's large," I suggest, and it is certainly a large enough room. Two queen-sized beds with a night stand between them. A large desk bearing the telephone. Sofa, armchair, and coffee table. Two television sets, one in the cabinet in front of the beds, one across from the living room area. No proper kitchen, but a small refrigerator in one corner with a microwave oven and a coffee maker on top of it.
There is a shopping bag at the foot of each of the two beds, and now I reach for one and up-end it. Clothes—a pair of jeans, two t-shirts, a flannel overshirt, underwear, socks. Ray's size, I notice, inspecting the labels. A bag of toiletries—soap, shampoo, razor, shaving cream. "Yours," I tell him, moving to the foot of the other bed, my bed. The second bag contains the same necessities, but in my size. "I lost my hat," I say, turning to Ray.
"Where?" Ray asks dully.
"It's on the dashboard of your car," I tell him.
Ray shrugs. "Thatcher'll find it. Or Turnbull. Somebody."
I nod and sit down at the foot of my bed. "What do you want to do?" I ask Ray quietly.
"I don't know. What can we do? We're trapped like rats." Ray braces his forearms on the seat back in front of him, and lets his head hang. "Fuck."
The hotline works well enough. We're both hungry, and we order an elaborate breakfast, even though it's nearly lunch time now. A knock on the door, three clicks as the locks are disengaged, and then I'm accepting the laden tray from the hands of a federal agent.
I bring the tray over to the coffee table and set it down. "Two."
Ray reaches for the coffee pot. "Both armed?"
"Yes." I sit down on the sofa and unwrap a tea bag. "The one carrying the tray had his firearm holstered. The one behind him had his hand on the butt of his gun."
Ray nods, sitting back with a mug in his hand. "You think they'd actually shoot us?"
I think about this for a moment. "I don't know. Perhaps. They seem fairly determined that we should stay out of it."
"Stupid," Ray mutters into his coffee. "If not me, at least you. They don't know what they got in you."
After we eat, I again use the hotline, requesting today's Tribune and a copy of Moby Dick. I glance over at Ray to see if he wants anything, and he mouths, "Notebook. Pen. Deck of cards." I ask for these items and hang up. Twenty minutes later there is a knock at the door, and an agent hands me a large paper sack.
"Two," I report, unpacking the paper satchel on the desk. I reach for the deck of cards and ask Ray if he wants to play.
"No." Ray pulls out the notebook and the pen, and moments later he is seated at the desk and scribbling furiously. I watch him for a few minutes, and then drift over to stand behind him, to look over his shoulder.
He's re-constructing his case notes. I drop my hands to his shoulders and squeeze the tense muscles there. He ignores me; he is writing furiously, anything, everything he can remember.
"I'm going to take a shower," I murmur. "Change out of my uniform before it's ruined."
Ray's pen never even slows on the page.
The hours are long. I'm well into Moby Dick by the time I'm hungry again, and I have to force Ray to stop writing, to come and eat his dinner. We have ordered steaks, baked potatoes, green beans, pie, coffee. Again, they send two armed agents to deliver our meal.
Ray stops writing long enough to eat, though he keeps the notebook near to hand, in case he remembers anything. After dinner, Ray returns to the desk and continues scribbling. I turn off all the lights in the room except the desk light that Ray is using, and go to stand at the window. From here, I can see out over Davenport—I can see an apartment complex across the way, and a closed shopping center, a movie theatre, and what appear to be several restaurants.
I watch the apartment complex with some interest. In several windows, I can see the blue flickerings of television sets. Directly across from us, a young woman appears to be making dinner. A young man comes up behind her, puts his arms around her, and kisses her neck—and I move my eyes elsewhere. An elderly man is reading a newspaper at a table.
"We might be able to signal someone," I say softly, and Ray shifts, rises, and comes to stand beside me at the thick curtains.
"Who?" Ray asks, and I nod my head toward the apartment complex.
"Someone there. If we could get their attention. And if we knew what to say."
We stand there, shoulder to shoulder, for a few minutes, watching normal people live their normal lives across the way. My eyes have drifted back to the young couple and their dinner; the young man is still holding the young woman tightly as she chops something on the cutting board in front of her. I can read their body language clearly, though I can't see their faces, and for a moment I delude myself that I'm seeing Ray and Stella Kowalski. I turn to compare that mental image to the man standing next to me, and find that Ray looks shockingly old. His blue eyes are tired, his face lined and tense.
I have a sudden, sharp premonition that this case will be Ray's last.
We sleep in our t-shirts and shorts for lack of anything else, and to our surprise, we sleep much longer than we expect to. The heavy hotel drapes block out the light entirely, and when I finally open my eyes and look at the bedside clock, it's half past ten. I sit up, stifling a groan—my body aches from the night of sleep I've missed, and from oversleeping this morning.
I glance over at Ray—as my eyes adjust to the darkness, I can make him out from the crumple of surrounding blankets. His arms are tangled in the white motel sheets, one partly buried underneath the pillow upon which he is laying his head. His blond hair sticks up at all angles, and his nose is horribly swollen and sore-looking, but he seems to be sleeping peacefully. He is not, it seems, dreaming of Lisa Brightman, of cold dead hands reaching out for him, of predators or patterns or case files, and that is a good thing.
I slip out of bed as quietly as I can manage, and cross the room to the bathroom, where I use the facilities and then wash my face and hands. Ray is still asleep when I re-enter the room, and though I'm now fully awake, I don't want to risk waking him by turning on any lights, and there isn't much I can do in the dark. So I return to my bed, slide under the covers, and roll onto my side to watch over Ray.
He wakes slowly, first rolling onto his back, then writhing beneath the sheets. He shoves the blankets down his chest before finally coming awake with a muttered, "God." His t-shirt is rucked up around his armpits, and he takes a wet-sounding breath and scrubs at his face.
I understand suddenly that he doesn't know where he is, and so I say, softly, "Good morning, Ray."
His head jerks to the side and he squints at me through the darkness. "Fraser?" he whispers, and I realize that he can't see me without his glasses.
Ray fumbles on the nightstand for his glasses, and works them onto his face as he sits up. The covers fall to his waist, and he yanks down his t-shirt and looks over at me. "Morning," he says, licking his dry lips. "What time is it?"
"Nearly eleven," I tell him.
He bends his knees under the covers and leans forward, stretching his back. "Sheez. How long have you been awake?"
"Not long," I reply. "I was as tired as you were—we did, after all, lose a night's sleep with one thing and another."
Ray scrubs at the morning stubble on his cheeks. "One thing and another, yeah," he mutters, then he slides his thin legs out from under the covers. "Gonna rewrite my notes today," he tells me, sitting on the edge of the bed between us. "Will you look when I'm done?"
"Cause maybe you'll see something I'm not seeing. Maybe you remember what I don't. We can brainstorm together, yeah?"
"Yes. Certainly." I refrain from mentioning that there isn't much that we can do with our knowledge, even if we do manage to develop a theory of the crime. But Ray is incapable of inaction; he needs to be working on this case, and so work we shall.
We rise, put on our jeans and flannel shirts, and neatly make our beds. And then Ray begins to copy his notes, meticulously organizing them. He carefully tears each page out of the notebook as he finishes it, and hands it to me. I read, adding my recollections in the margins.
Finally, Ray completes the last page, hands it to me, and stands over my shoulder as I read it. I read slowly, adding what few additional facts I remember, and then I put it neatly down on top of the pile of pages that have accumulated before me.
"Is that everything?" Ray asks me.
"Yes, I think so," I say, closing my eyes and thinking hard.
"Do you remember anything else?"
"Shh," I hiss. "I'm thinking."
"I don't remember the dealers, you remember the dealers?" I can hear him pacing behind me.
"Shh," I repeat, and then add: "I don't think there are any dealers to remember. They didn't track them down in most of the cases."
Ray's voice explodes. "Well, then, how the fuck —"
"Shh!" There is something on the edge of my memory, something that I remember but don't recall reading in the notes in front of us. Something from Boston. Some small—I open my eyes. "Centreville Methadone Clinic," I say, and Ray stares at me for a second before snapping his fingers rapidly, click, click, click.
"Right." Ray falls onto the sofa, reaches for the pen and scribbles that down. "The first two, whatsanames—"
"Sarah Blake," I tell him. "Joanna Thomas."
"Right, yeah—both were in treatment at Centreville. Not that it was doing any good."
"Or perhaps it was," I say, leaning forward to stare at him. "You said so yourself—Lisa Brightman wasn't a junkie. Perhaps Ms. Blake and Ms. Thomas were on the road to recovery as well and—"
"Right, right, right," Ray says, pen flying over the page. "We gotta re-examine all our fuckin' preconceptions. Goddamnit, if we only had the computer—"
"Well, we don't," I remind him.
Ray looks up and pins me with a savage look. "I know we fuckin' don't. But wouldn't it be lovely to confirm that these really are the first two cases, these Boston cases. We don't even know that much—they were just the first fuckin' ones we found." He tosses the notebook back onto the coffee table, and sends the pen clattering down onto top of it. "But say they are."
"Say they are...?" I prompted.
"Both of them at Centreville—that's weird, that's strange. You think they checked out the employee lists?"
"I don't know," I said. "Why don't we ask them?"
"Just listen to me, you assholes!" Ray's long fingers are hooked under the telephone cradle, and he's carrying it around with him as he stalks across our room and back. "Boston, okay? The first two deaths are in Boston. Both chicks were in treatment at the Centreville—just shut up and write this down! Centreville! Methadone! Clinic!—you got that? Check out their employee lists, find out who quit or got fired or left in the goddamned timeframe!" Ray slams the receiver back into the phone so hard that the bell rings.
"What did they say?" I ask, wincing.
"Nothing, they say nothing, except—" Ray stops in front of the desk and puts the telephone down. "Except I heard the pen scratching, so maybe, you know...?"
I cross the room, and in my stockinged feet I make no noise on the thick carpet. "It's a reasonable lead. They should check it out if they haven't already."
Ray turns toward me, his lips twitching in a sad smile. "My kingdom for a computer. A telephone, fax machine, something —"
"Well," I say, showing him my own faint smile, "we do have cable television," and suddenly, to my surprise, Ray's arms are around me and he's hugging me tightly. Instantly, I raise my own arms and awkwardly hug him back. "I'm sorry," I murmur.
"I fuckin' hate this, Fraser."
"I know. They won't let you do your job."
"They killed Lisa practically in front of me, and what am I supposed to do about it now?"
I give him another consoling squeeze, then drop my arms, and tug him into the living room area, toward the television. We sit down together on the sofa, and I put the remote control into his hand with a smile.
Ray doesn't let go of the remote control for the next two days. He flips constantly between ESPN and the local news stations. Basketball and news, hockey and news, football and news—and while I consider myself a sports enthusiast, I can't sustain interest in that many games. Instead, I read Melville, but look up helplessly every time I hear Ray cut to the news. We both know what we're looking for, what we're dreading—the report of another overdose, here in Davenport, Iowa.
The only thing that structures this odd existence is mealtimes. We mark the days by breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I structure breaks by offering steaming mugs of tea or coffee. But trapped as we are, we're hardly burning any calories, and our appetites dwindle. Ray is either slumped on the sofa, or draped across his bed, staring at the television, devoid of his usual energy. I myself am stiff with sitting, though I take to doing sit-ups and push ups each afternoon, just to keep my blood flowing and my heart rate up. Ray watches me from wherever he's sitting, the remote control still clutched in his hand, the sound of cheering crowds providing a soundtrack to my workout.
On the third day Ray turns the television off. This, I realize instantly, is worse—much worse. A heavy silence falls over our room, broken only but the sound of me turning pages, or Ray flipping cards onto the coffee table in game after game of solitaire. I try to make conversation, but Ray gives me listless, one-word answers and I soon tire of the sound of my own voice.
Ray finally abandons his card game and sits hunched over in the armchair, fists dangling between his knees. Anger, I think—Ray is still gripped by the anger which has dominated his life for the last week and a half. But now it is bottlenecked, trapped. He has no outlet for his emotions, he is caged—and Ray should never be caged.
Moving more by instinct than by thought, I close my book and set it down. I cross the room toward him and stop in front of his chair, feeling oddly naked before him. I've offered conversation and cable and coffee, and now, perhaps, may be the time for more drastic measures.
Slowly Ray raises his head to look at me, his blue eyes moving up and up and up until they reach my face. "What?"
I offer him my hand.
Ray frowns at it, and then stands up so that we're eye to eye. "What?" he repeats.
"Do you want...?" I realize that I don't know how to finish the question. Do you want—what, precisely? To have sex with me? To make love with me? Sexual release? A distraction from your current emotional state? I would offer him any or all of these, but I don't know how to convey the breadth of my intentions.
Finally I decide that words don't suit my purpose, so I lean forward and touch my mouth to his. Gently, in case he wants to make love—but then I slip my tongue between his lips, into his warm mouth, to insure that he understands that carnality is indeed an option.
The kiss is brief, but I savor every moment of it, in case I am rejected, in case these few seconds are all I have. And then I pull back and wait for his answer. The choice is his.
Ray stares at me, mouth slightly open. The anger has drained from his face, and he looks surprised, vulnerable, as naked as I feel. "I—yeah," Ray says, and then he's stepping closer and slinging a strong arm around the back of my neck. I inhale sharply as he takes my mouth, this time forcing his tongue into me. I part my lips for him, and he pushes harder, deeper. I can feel passion and rage rising within him, building rapidly toward explosion now that I've provided an outlet for their expression.
In me. Ray forces me backwards across the room, toward his bed. It hits the back of my calves and I stop, gripping his denim-clad hips to steady myself. I am intoxicated by his kisses, drunk on the raw power of his emotions.
Ray twists his face away suddenly, breathing hard. I slide my hands to his ass and clutch tightly, so there will be no mistaking my desire. Ray looks back at me, pupils dilated. A moment later I am on my back, and he is on top of me, long fingers buried in my hair, holding my head still so that he can drive his tongue into my mouth. This is wonderful, and I groan and grip to tell him so. I also spread my legs a little so I can cradle his thighs between mine. He is thrusting already, hips gently rocking, which I take to be a very good sign.
His hips are still moving when he again lifts his head. "What," Ray begins; he is breathless and his eyes are wild, "are we doing?"
It is a technical question, not a philosophical one, and I answer it as such. "Anything you want."
"Anything?" Ray repeats, staring down at me.
"Anything." My heart is pounding. I wonder if he can feel it. "Everything."
Ray nervously licks at his kiss-swollen lips. "What do you want?"
"Anything," I repeat, meaningfully. "Everything."
I can see that he's not sure whether or not to take me at my word; for the second time today, words fail to serve my purpose. I reach up, make a fist in his hair, and pull his head down to mine, kissing him as hotly as I can manage, trying to infuse the kiss with carnal intent. Ray keeps still for a moment, passively accepting the thrust of my tongue down his throat, and then he slides back into the driver's seat, taking control of the kiss.
I tug at the buttons of his shirt, wanting it off him, wanting to touch his skin. Ray's callused fingers brush my wrist, and for a moment I think he is going to yank my hand away. Instead he reaches for the buttons himself. And then we're pulling our clothes off between kisses, unable to resist the temptation of each other's mouths even as we pull off our new shirts, trousers, shorts, socks. This makes the process awkward and exciting: I glimpse his freckled shoulder an instant before his mouth returns to mine, then the smoothness of his hip as the denim of his jeans is shoved away. Again his face looms close, again I drown in his mouth, and when he pulls away to tug his undershirt off, an elbow sails in front of my eyes, inches from smashing into my nose. These glimpses of his body tease me, and I'm breathing hard as I wrench my own clothing off. Finally we fall back together, panting, on his bed, our naked limbs intertwining.
The sight of bare skin, even my own, is in itself a luxury. The room is warm, which means that we needn't burrow under the covers, hiding ourselves from view. I can see our bodies blurring together, stretching down the bed—my own pale side, the jut of Ray's hipbone, the way his leg is slung over mine. He is angular where I'm fleshy, hairy where I'm smooth. We are entangled from the waist down, but there are a few inches of space between our bare chests. I press my palm to his breastbone and feel his heart thumping, the warmth of his skin. I can see the faint lines of his ribcage; my own is well buried under a layer of subcutaneous fat.
I can't help myself; I move my hands all over him, touching everywhere I can reach. Decadence, pure decadence, the feel of all this warm skin. Ray's hard, deep kisses fill me with lust. He's still thrusting against me, almost unconsciously, and now I can feel his erection hot against my hip, sliding wetly where he's leaking. He presses closer, trapping his erection between us, and for a moment I can feel the scratch of his pubic hair, the soft weight of his testicles.
God. God. Please. For a moment, I blank out—and when I come back to myself I'm hovering over him. I'm braced on one arm, and I look down and find that my other hand is wrapped around his erection, which is beautiful—long and thick and burning hot where it presses against my palm. The soft, blood-reddened head protrudes from my fist, and my own erection throbs excitedly, keeping pace with my thundering heart.
Ray is gasping, staring up at me with glazed eyes. I pump his erection once, twice, experimentally, wanting to feel the entirety of him in my hand. Ray closes his eyes and breathes faster still. I bend and take his cockhead into my mouth, and above me I hear an explosive cry—pure sound with no meaning. Fluid leaks onto my tongue, thick and slightly bitter. I let it flow into my mouth for a moment, then pull back so I can lick and kiss his erection more completely. I slide the flat of my tongue along the deep underside vein, then lick around the thick root.
A hand sinks into my hair, twines, pulls, and I lift my head.
"C'mere," Ray pants. "Now."
I go to him, now, because he asks me to. I bend down to kiss his mouth, and he grabs my shoulders, rolls me over, pushes me onto my back. I see only the top of his head, the blond spikes, darker at the roots, as his mouth closes around my nipple, the flat of his tongue stroking and rolling the tiny nub of flesh. The sensation is delicious, and suffuses my entire body, and just when I think I can't stand any more of this sublime torture, Ray moves his mouth and starts again.
I close my eyes, the better to focus on the physical excitement spreading through my body. He's a good lover, I think—but of course I knew that, anticipated that, guessed it from the grace of his movements and the strength in his hands. His tongue trails down the center of my chest as he moves lower, and then Ray kisses my erection just as I have kissed his—taking it briefly into his mouth, then kissing and licking it down to the root. The deliberate reciprocation of the gesture warms my heart, and my last, few fears melt away into nothing.
When Ray's mouth finally returns to mine, I know instantly that his passion is stoked to a fever pitch, and that is good, that will make everything easier. Ray uses his teeth to worry my lower lip, tugging and biting softly. I'm brutally fisting his hair to hold his mouth close. The animal intensity of our coupling makes me shake. I realize that he's still driving his erection against me, bruising my hip. Good. Good.
Ray lifts his head, my lip gently slipping from between his teeth. "You want me to fuck you?"
Bless him for understanding so easily. "Yes."
"Not—" Ray is now sucking hard on my earlobe, his attention span apparently not large enough to allow him finish his thought uninterrupted. "Really. You know."
I don't know; in fact, I haven't the faintest. And I don't much care. I slide my hands down his back, focusing on the feel of his musculature.
"Set up," Ray says into my ear. And then all together: "Not really set up," he says.
I slide my hand to his wrist, grab it tightly, and pull his hand to my mouth. "We'll manage," I murmur, and start sucking his fingers.
Indeed, we manage just fine. Where there's a will, there's a way, as my grandmother used to say, though I can't imagine she ever contemplated a situation quite like this one. But the principle still holds, and Ray and I have plenty of will between us. Ray is lust-blind, which makes him utterly focused on the task of opening me with his tongue and fingers. He drives toward release with the single-mindedness he has been reserving exclusively for the Brightman case. And I am determined to seize this moment—for him, and for me.
Obsession is a thing that I understand all too well, its joys, its particular dangers. Given the chance to redirect it, I will direct it this way, toward me. I would have given Ray anything he wanted, but this—it was this I wanted. He must have guessed when I didn't hold him in my mouth, when I didn't stroke him to orgasm with my hand. I would like those things, too, but this—
If I have but one chance, it must be this.
He understands, I think, from the moment his finger slides into me. I try to control my reaction but I cannot; my breathing quickens, bringing me near to hyperventilation. Ray's face contorts, as if he's on the verge of losing control—and then he is blurring into action, his hands trying to maintain their grip on my sweat-slick skin. Our lovemaking becomes even more urgent. We are neither of us are in the mood for slowness or subtlety. Ray moves with an almost reckless speed, for which I'm very grateful—he pushes on, past, faster, the very second I'm beyond each particular pain threshold.
I cajole him, roughly egging him on with my hands and mouth. My desire to have him inside me is perhaps only balanced by his desire to be inside me, to release himself in me—and as a blessing, our desire makes us graceful. We move in easy synchronicity.
Finally, Ray rears up, strong hands gripping my thighs, and pulls my hips forward into his lap. He's kneeling before me now, and I can see evidence of our arousal everywhere I look—in his dusky, kiss-bitten nipples, in the blood-dark erection rising hard against his belly, in my own leaking erection, laying just inches below his. I look down my body and see that my chest is rapidly rising and falling. I am nearly dizzy with anticipation as I lock my legs around him, but he doesn't make me wait—one last caress and he leans forward, pushing in.
It hurts for a second, but only for a second, and then I'm feeling no pain at all. Ray strokes in and out of me, in and out of me, and I am drenched in pleasure as his erection rhythmically nudges my prostate. A drop of sweat falls onto my chest as Ray leans over to kiss me, and for a moment everything is perfect, utterly perfect.
The moment passes, as all moments pass, and I find myself licking my lips, which are dry from my panting. I need more, and I lift my hips to meet his next thrust—difficult, this, as I can't get any leverage. But Ray understands, Ray understands—and he shoves himself forward, tilting my hips up to better the angle, driving forward and down, faster and faster and—
My vision blurs, but that's all right. Everything is all right now, because Ray understands. He cannot give me more than I can take. His needs do not exceed my wants. He—
He pulls out of me, and my last moan mutates into a cry of frustration. But Ray's hands grip me, turn me—and yes, I understand, this is better. I brace myself on hands and knees, head hanging, as Ray clutches my hips and drives into me again.
Better. But Ray is lost to passion now, and each thrust sends me skidding forward across the sheets. I reach back and seize his forearm, signaling the need for yet another shift in position, and then knee my way up toward the head of the bed, pulling him with me. No sooner have I closed my hands around the carved wooden railing then I feel him behind me, arms tight around my torso. But I am braced solidly now, arms extended, knuckles white, and when he penetrates me again I manage to remain perfectly still, though I can not help letting out a long groan of pleasure.
Fortified, I hold steady, my immobility heightening the impact of each thrust. I steel my body not to give—now, nothing is wasted, not a jot of Ray's energy or intensity. Now there is no room for shock-absorption, and my body absorbs the entire jolt.
Ray senses my lack of resistance and takes advantage of this position, jerking his hips first into double and then into triple time. The world whites out before my eyes at the conjunction of force and rapidity elevates my pleasure to near-unbearable levels. I hear my own voice calling out incoherently, but in my head the words are clear. Harder, harder, harder, yessss—
I'm coming suddenly in rapid, helpless jerks, ejaculate splattering my belly and then dripping down in wet streaks. Ray neither slows nor stops—if anything, he thrusts harder, harder, harder, harder—and through the haze of my gratification I hear him cry out, his voice seemingly ripped from his throat. Yes, I think, my body still vibrating with excitement from the sheer force of him. Let it out, let it go... His last thrust is so violent that my arms buckle, and I go flying forward helplessly. But Ray catches me, tightening his arms around me and sobbing raggedly against my back as he achieves climax. We fall together, almost in slow motion, and rest where we land, amidst the crumpled sheets of the bed.
Ray's arms are still around me when I wake up, though the hand pressed against my chest is very, very cold. I grip his cold hand with my warm one and squeeze tightly, hoping to bring blood back to his chilled fingertips.
Behind me, Ray comes awake with his muttered cry of "God." And then I feel the brush of his lips between my shoulderblades, and then the scrape of his stubbled cheek. "Fraser?"
I close my eyes, wanting to bask in the perfection of this moment. "Hm?"
"What the fuck was that?"
Ah, yes. We're back to this again, the dilemma of nomenclature. Was it sex, love, release, distraction? I don't dare to name this, and I certainly would never presume to name it for Ray.
Finally I give him the only honest answer I can give. "What do you need it to be?"
This is, apparently, the wrong answer. Ray pulls his arms away, leaving me cold, and a moment later he's propped up on one elbow and scowling down at me. "What the hell kind of answer is that?"
My throat tightens; I don't know what to say.
"You asked me to fuck you," Ray says softly.
"Indeed," I reply, helplessly brushing his arm with my fingertips. "Thank you kindly."
Ray stares down at me, looking as confused as I feel. "Yeah, but—why? Why now?"
There is absolutely no good answer to this question. Because I wanted to sounds horribly self-centered. Because you needed to is patronizing. Because I'm in love with you is presumptuous; there is no indication that our lovemaking either can or should bear this kind of emotional weight, and I'm not willing to risk crushing something so beautiful.
"Is this a pity fuck?" Ray asks in a low, urgent voice.
For a moment I don't know what he means. And then the words combine into sense, and I reach out for him, horror-stricken. "No," I say, as my hand fists his hair. "No," I repeat, pulling his mouth down to mine. And then I communicate "no" more effectively—with my mouth and my tongue, with the intensity of my kisses.
When Ray lifts his head, he is flushed and breathless. "So you want to do it again, huh?"
I lick my lips and nod; non-verbal communication is so much more efficient.
"So this isn't, like, a one-off?" Ray presses.
"It's whatever you want," I say, gripping his biceps tightly in anticipation.
But Ray's eyes are narrowing again; here we are, back at square one. "Fraser, seriously, I'm going to punch you."
"Why?" I let go of him, and let my arms fall back onto the bed. "What am I saying that's so terrible?"
"Nothing!" Ray nearly yells. "What you're saying is exactly nothing, Fraser! You do something like this, I'm entitled to know where your head is at—"
"You did it, too." My voice comes out more sharply than I intend. "Didn't you?"
"Yeah." Ray's voice is soft and sort of rough. "Yeah, I did."
"I didn't sense that you minded."
Ray averts his eyes, his expression clouding. "I—no. I didn't mind."
I take a deep breath and touch his arm again, gently. "All I'm saying," I murmur, struggling to find the right words, "is that I'm willing to—engage—at whatever level you feel comfortable."
Ray shoots a penetrating look at me. "Willing to engage?" he repeats softly.
"Yes," I say, willing him to understand.
Ray stares at me for what seems like a very long time. "All right," Ray says, finally. "Fine. Take a shower with me."
I stare at Ray through the steam of the shower, dumbstruck by his beauty. He stands in the spray, arms raised above his head and bent at the elbows, shoving his fingers through his soaking hair. Water sluices over his lean body, soaking the tufts of brown hair at his armpits and groin, streaking down his limbs in silver rivulets. He closes his eyes, dunks his head under the spray, then opens them and looks at me.
One step brings him close, his body steaming hot from the water. He raises a hand to my shoulder and caresses my skin—no, he is soaping my shoulder, he has a bar of soap in his hand. I cannot speak, I can barely breathe, as he washes me—shoulders, chest, stomach. And then, still holding my eyes, he takes my genitals in his soapy hands.
I inhale sharply and feel myself hardening for him. Ray twists his lips into a small, crooked smile and begins to stroke me. His slippery hands glide over me easily, and soon I am dizzy and gasping for air. Ray steers me against the tiled wall of the shower, hand still stroking, and then ducks his head to sip a rivulet of water off my shoulder. His lips are soft.
I clutch his slick, wet sides—my excitement is building feverishly, now, and I want to be holding him when I ejaculate. On the verge of my climax, just as the world is beginning to white out, Ray slings his free arm around my neck, tightens his hand on my erection, and pulls me under the spray with him.
I come, moaning against his neck, as the water drenches us.
My orgasm leaves me weak, and I hang around Ray's neck while I get my breath back. Ray's strong arms steady me; Ray's wet mouth touches my cheek, touches my ear, and whispers, "You are so full of shit." I don't reply, feeling too weak to argue.
Besides, it might just be true.
When I've recovered myself, I lift my head off Ray's shoulder. He raises his hand and strokes my wet hair, training it away from my face. Ray's wet body is still pressed close to mine, and I can feel his erection bobbing against my abdomen. I lean in, kiss the corner of his stubbled mouth, and murmur: "Tell me what you want."
Ray doesn't answer—instead, he turns and switches the water off. The bathroom is suddenly, utterly quiet. Ray reaches through the curtain for towels and hands me one. Wordlessly, I accept it from him and begin to dry myself, watching as he does the same.
Ray is fully erect, his body clearly in a state of sexual excitement. I feel my mouth literally watering at the sight of him. He dries his body, then roughly rubs the towel over his hair. I wrap my own towel around my waist and step out of the shower. Ray follows me, watching me closely, still idly rubbing at his head.
I try not to stare too obviously at his naked body, at his obvious erection, but my eyes betray me, constantly slipping back to look at him. When I can finally bring myself to speak, my voice is oddly hoarse. "Do you...want to go back to bed?"
Ray looks at me for another long moment, then nods and flings his towel toward the sink. He heads out of the bathroom and into the suite, bare feet leaving faint, damp prints on the carpet. At the foot of his bed, Ray stops and turns back to me. I lick my lips, eager to go to him, touch him, kiss him—but to my surprise, Ray sits down at the foot of the bed, leans back on his arms, and spreads his legs a little. The look on his face is pure challenge.
I swallow hard at the picture he makes and lick my lips again. Ray's needs do not exceed my wants. I take the few remaining steps toward the bed and drop to my knees before him, bracing my hands on his thighs. I catch a momentary glimpse of confusion on Ray's face as I bend my head to his erection, but then my mouth is full of him and I have better things upon which to focus my attention.
He's large and lovely and thick on my tongue, tasting faintly still of soap. I begin to suck him, and above me I can hear a soft, shocked-sounding gasp, followed by muttered cries and obscenities: oh, fuck—fuck—oh, God, Fraser— I suck harder, my hands massaging his thighs—loving this, loving the taste and weight of him in my mouth, loving the slight feeling of suffocation as he jerks into me, loving the way his hands tighten in my hair, loving—
Ray pulls sharply, tugging my head up, and reluctantly, I lift my head and look at him.
"Stop." Ray sounds strangled, and his hands tighten around my head, holding my face still. "We've got to get some things straight, first, okay?"
"Yes, Ray." I'm glorying in the warm cup of his hands.
"Cause I've been thinking," Ray continues breathlessly, staring down into my face. "I'm okay with this, I'm good with this—but it stays here in this room, okay?"
My heart sinks a little, but it wasn't as if this were totally unexpected. I try to nod, and Ray's hands tighten even further, stilling the movement. "Yes."
"Outside of this room, this never happened—it's business as usual. And you can't fuck me," Ray adds suddenly, leaning forward, "because I don't do that, you hear me?"
"Yes," I whisper, telling myself to focus on the feel of his hands, the warmth of his hands. "All right."
Ray's blue eyes narrow into slits. "And I won't let you come in my mouth. We need to be clear on these things—boundaries, limits. Set the rules right up front."
"I—yes." I close my eyes to better focus on the feel of his hands. Feel his hands. Don't look at him. "Certainly. If you—"
"And no more kissing," Ray is murmuring against my mouth. "I think kissing is girly. And we sleep in separate beds from now on, because that's what I'm comfortable with."
I open my eyes to stare at him.
Ray's eyes are kind.
"You are so full of shit, Fraser. You love me."
My throat closes up, and I squeeze my eyes shut again. I can't face his kindness. I can't face myself. "Yes. Yes."
"And I, you, Fraser," and then Ray's mouth is on mine, and he is kissing me softly, and I am undone.
We spend most of the day in bed, making love. In between bouts, Ray holds me close, stroking my hair and making fun of me.
"Yeah, and you gotta wear the bullfighter uniform, Fraser. With the cape and the whole thing—cause I'm real comfortable with capes."
"Okay, so what I really want is to be smeared with carrot cake. And then you jump out of the closet. Dressed like a bunny—what, you can't engage that? And then you lick it all off me real slow and—hey, are you mocking my needs, here?"
"I've decided what I need this to be. A puppet show. I really need this to be a puppet show, Fraser—"
"Oh, shut up," I say finally.
"A toaster oven. No, like an aquarium, with a little treasure chest on the bottom and a lot of exotic fish. I'll be a carp. No, wait, I've really got it this time—I need our relationship to be like the Security Council of the United Nations. Where are the Chinese?"
Fortunately, by the end of the day, Ray is pretty much out of smart remarks. He's reduced to saying, "Hey—engage this!" at appropriate intervals, and generally, I do.
I come awake suddenly, heart pounding, and lift my head off Ray's chest. For a second I just stare into the darkness, trying to figure out why I'm awake—and then the phone rings again and I know.
"What?" Ray mutters beneath me. "What's that?"
"Telephone." I roll off him and switch on the bedside light.
Ray sits up groggily, shielding his eyes from the light. "Telephone?" A moment later, he's scrambling, naked, down the bed, to his feet, across the room to the telephone on the desk.
"Yeah, hello?" Ray says, snatching up the heavy black receiver and pressing it to his ear. "Yeah, this is Kowalski—who's this?" Ray listens intently for a moment, and then he starts searching on the desk for his notebook and pen. "No, wait—I'm glad you called," Ray says quickly. He flips open his notebook and scribbles something down. And then he looks up at me, and the message in his eyes is clear.
Fraser, get over here.
I quickly get out of bed and join him by the desk. I glance down at his notebook, where he's written "PAUL BARTON."
"Yeah, exactly," Ray is saying. "Did you find something?"
As I watch, Ray scribbles: "JUNIOR GUY, FBI. ASS. TO CEN'VILLE.
It takes me a moment to parse this. Assigned to research Centreville. Assigned to follow up on our inquiry.
Ray's hand moves swiftly across the page. "FOUR EMPL. QUIT. ALL MEN." And then the scrawled names: "BLAKE, FOSTER, QUINLIN, SHEA."
"Yeah, I hear you," Ray is saying, "but did you check—" Ray's pen stops suddenly, the point digging into the page as he listens. "Huh. Yeah. Interesting."
The pen launches into movement again. "ONE WAS SARAH BLAKE'S BROTHER," and he draws a large asterisk next to the name BLAKE.
I frown at the words, and then look up at Ray, but he's not looking at me; his face is intense, familiarly troubled. It occurs to me that we're standing here naked, and the sense of familiarity dissipates.
I look back down at Ray's notebook, and see a series of statements that look like headlines, like telegrams:
"FBI THINKS BRO QUIT RE: HER DEATH."
"BARTON THINKS NOT."
"BARTON THINKS BRO IS THE GUY."
"Yeah, but why?" Ray is saying, his forehead creased into a frown. "How're you figuring the psychology—"
I watch the pen move. "BRO AND SIS LIVED ALONE. PARENTS DEAD. BRO 6 YRS OLDER. INCEST POSSIBLE." Ray has underlined this last with a brutal stroke that tells me everything about his present state of mind.
But something is nagging at the back of my mind, and I drift over to the coffeetable, where we've left Ray's notes. I flip through the pages, find what I'm looking for, and, still clutching the sheaf of papers, I return to the desk.
Ray looks up at me curiously, and I extend my hand for his pen. He gives it to me, and I bend down to his notebook. Ray has since added the words, "BRO HAS LEFT BOSTON AREA," and beneath that I add: Sarah Blake was murdered after Joanna Thomas.
I feel a hand on my bare shoulder; Ray is standing beside me, braced, reading over my shoulder. I continue writing.
If Sarah Blake is the imprint crime, how do we account for this inconsistency? Is Barton theorizing that Joanna Thomas's death was some sort of practice run? Was there money involved? Does SB's brother stand to inherit? Was he in any way involved with Joanna Thomas? Is there any hard evidence of an incestuous relationship between the siblings, or is that simply speculation on Barton's part?
Ray finishes reading what I have written, then pulls the pen out of my hand and prints beneath that: "GOOD FUCKING QUESTIONS."
"Hey, look—I believe you," Ray says into the receiver.
He's lying—I know his voice well enough to detect the false note.
"That's why we asked the question," Ray says. "We're working along similar lines ourselves. Hey, believe me, I get it—they're a bunch of assholes, your bosses. Course they should listen to you. Yeah. So listen," Ray says smoothly, and I tense, because he's playing his card now. "Maybe we could get a copy of the Boston cases, huh? Maybe we see something you don't, find some proof about Brother Blake and—" He stops, listens. "Well. there's gotta be a way, right? Tell you what, I got an idea." Ray's eyes glint like steel behind his glasses. "We'll call up and request ourselves a book. An obscure one. A big, obscure one—Canadian Impressionism."
I can't help it. I smile.
Ray's lip curls and he turns away from me, still clutching the phone to his ear. "And you put the files in there and get it sent to us. How would that work?"
Ray listens, nodding, and then says, "Okay. Yeah. That would be good. We can't dial out to you, so—" He stops, listens again, and then says, "Okay, yeah. Talk to you then."
Ray gently drops the receiver back into its cradle, stares at it for a moment, and then looks up at me.
"Tell me," I murmur.
Ray turns and leans tiredly back against the desk, in a pose that is utterly Ray-like, aside from his state of complete nakedness. I keep my eyes fixed on his face. "I think he's legit, this Paul Barton—low-level, but who else would even talk to us? He says he was part of the first team, worked the Boston murders, now he's stuck in a basement somewhere with his files. He's convinced it's the brother—Sarah Blake's brother Ted."
"Hm," I say, trying to be noncommittal.
"Hm exactly," Ray says, scrunching up his face in distaste. "Lotta problems with that theory, the way I see it—not least of which is what you just wrote down there."
"Still," I add, "it is probable that our killer is intimately connected to the first crime."
"Right, which would be Joanna Thomas, not Sarah Blake."
"True, but they were both at Centreville. Ted Blake likely knew them both."
"Yeah, maybe," Ray says, but he's already shaking his head, "but I don't see a guy killing someone else first and his sister after."
"Unless it's for money," I suggest, thinking about it. "Or perhaps there's a more intimate connection between Mr. Blake and Ms. Thomas."
"Money, yeah," Ray mutters, almost to himself. "That's good, that's smart thinking."
"How's this for a theory?" I say slowly. "There are two killers. Killer One murders Joanna Thomas. Ted Blake uses the pattern to kill his sister for money—"
"Yeah, sure, maybe," Ray interrupts, almost angrily, "except you still gotta believe that it's Killer One who goes West and keeps killing, which means that all in all your theory gets us nowhere." Ray stops, frowns at me. "Or are you sayin' that maybe old Ted snaps, gets a taste for it and—"
Suddenly I have another idea entirely. "Or perhaps there's only one killer. Ted Blake. Maybe Joanna Thomas's death was a genuine accident, and Ted Blake took advantage of it to make a pattern. Two deaths makes a pattern—"
Ray is suddenly tense, feral, snarling, his hands clenched into fists. "Could be, may be, we don't fucking know anything!" I step close and touch his shoulder, hoping to calm him. "No, because this is just the fucking problem, Fraser—we're fucking here, in this fucking hotel, and we don't fucking know crap about anything. Coulda, woulda, shoulda: theories and bullshit—"
"Ray," I murmur.
"—and nothing else! No equipment, no information!—"
"We're getting the Boston files," I remind him, softly. "Aren't we?"
"Maybe. If our buddy Paul comes through."
I lean forward to kiss him, but Ray twists his face away so that my lips only brush his cheek. "Not now, Fraser," Ray says, shoving me away. "I gotta write this shit down before I forget. What did we say," Ray mutters, picking up his notebook. "What were those three theories again?"
Ray sits at the desk, scribbling furiously, as I telephone for breakfast, today's newspapers, and several large art books, including Canadian Impressionism.
I've just finished shaving when I hear a knock at the front door. "One moment please!" I call, moving quickly into the bedroom to search for clothing—I haven't worn clothes for two days. "Ray," I whisper, because Ray is still sitting naked in the desk chair.
Ray glances over at me, and snorts dismissively. "Fuck 'em," he says, looking down at his notes again. "I ain't got nothing they've never seen before."
The knocking returns, more loudly, as I put on my boxers, my jeans, a t-shirt. "Yes, all right. Coming!" I say, and crack the door open a few inches.
Two armed agents are standing there, one carrying a breakfast tray, the other carrying a large plastic bag by the handles.
"Ah," I say, realizing that I'll have to pull the door open wider to accept the tray. Best, I think, to be utterly nonchalant about it: Yes, well, we often work naked in Chicago. I open the door, take the tray, and quickly carry it to the coffee table, returning as quickly as I can for the plastic bag.
The agents' faces are neutral, impassive—so much so, in fact, that I'm sure they've seen far too much. "Here's your newspapers," the second agent says blandly, handing me the plastic bag. "We're working on your books."
"Thank you kindly," I say, and shut the door with some relief.
Ray flings his pen down and stretches, tipping the desk chair back a little. "Okay, so I've actually thought of a whole bunch of theories, none of which I got a shred of proof for. Turns out I got a real Agatha Christie-type imagination, though, which is something."
"I'm sure you have," I reply.
"If I can't solve this case, I can maybe write a novel about it." The chair settles back onto all four legs with a faint thunk, and Ray stares down at his notebook for a few seconds. "So what now?"
"Breakfast," I reply.
Ray looks at me, and his face is suddenly sad. "And then what?"
"We wait. Hope for the Boston case files to arrive."
"And if he can't get 'em to us?" Ray asks quietly.
For long moments, I have no answer to this. If we can't get the Boston case files? If the book comes to us empty? "We'll read Canadian Impressionism," I say finally, pouring Ray a cup of coffee—black, with four sugars. "In bed. We'll learn to appreciate beauty," and when I look up, coffee in hand, I see that Ray is showing me the faintest of smiles.
We eat breakfast, and then we divide the local papers between us, reading carefully, thoroughly, looking for any hint of our killer, anything unusual at all. The neat pile of folded pages becomes a larger pile of read ones.
"You got anything?" Ray asks periodically—and unfortunately, I have to tell him no.
I do, however, feel like I'm familiarizing myself with the city of Davenport. I try to get a sense of the area, its significant landmarks, its important events and institutions—
"Is there nothing the fuck happening here, or what?" Ray says, throwing his last paper down.
"That's not true," I object, still reading. "There seem to be a number of interesting things going on here. The River Renaissance, for instance—they seem to care a great deal about the Mississippi. And they have a symphony orchestra, a number of museums—"
"—and they're building new municipal parking downtown, yeah, I know, I read the papers too. Point is, Fraser," Ray says, glaring at me, "this is Iowa."
I raise my eyebrows at him, not knowing what he means.
"Iowa," Ray repeats. "Fucking Iowa. We're trapped in Iowa."
"Oh, you just like saying Iowa," I say, raising my paper again.
"I do not just like saying Iowa!" Ray explodes, the statement itself invalidating his point. "I know that it is hard for you to understand this, Fraser, but Iowa is like—"
"Do you want to have sex again?" I ask, putting down my paper.
"God, I thought you'd never ask," Ray sighs.
I strip out of my clothes and take him to bed. Ray slouches against the headboard, propped up against several hotel pillows, and I bend into his lap to suck him, determined to make it last as long I can. We have nothing but time on our hands at the moment, and every moment we spend making love is a moment that frees Ray from the tyranny of the Brightman case. So I take it slow, licking and kissing and wetting him thoroughly with my mouth. I deliberately explore all the contours of him—the thin fragile skin of his shaft, the wrinkly folds near the root, the smooth, soft head. I linger there a long time, brushing the welling fluid onto my lips, stimulating the tiny slit with the tip of my tongue.
Above me, I can hear Ray sucking desperately for air—long, heaving gasps that tell me that he's finding this all very pleasurable. I close my hand around the root of his erection, guide his cockhead into my mouth, and start sucking—gently, no rush, no hurry. He tastes wonderful, he feels huge and wonderful in my mouth, and I close my eyes to better appreciate the sensation. His aroused flesh is hot and thrumming, and he's leaking steadily now, filling my mouth every few minutes and forcing me to swallow hard around him lest I choke.
I feel his fingers touch me, and for a moment I'm sure that he's going to clench my hair in his fists and force more of himself into my mouth. But he doesn't; instead he simply nudges my face a little, changing the angle of my head in his lap. Suddenly I understand—he wants to see my face, wants to watch me fellate him. My own eyes are closed, and that makes me brave—I can let him watch, but I'm not sure I could stand to see him do it. Blindly, I turn towards him like a plant turning toward the sun. "Oh," Ray says—just that, very softly, and I can only imagine that I look indescribably lewd.
Without really intending it, I start to suck harder, my mind's eye picturing our strange intersection, our coupling of mouth and penis. Above me, Ray moans, and I feel like I am sucking the moans out of him, the way one sucks venom from a snake bite. I will suck the pain out of him. I will suck all his tension away. Above me, Ray is whispering dazedly, "feels good, feels so good, feels so—" and then he's shuddering and spurting into my mouth. I swallow several times around his swollen flesh, trying not to choke on the bland, thick fluid.
When his climax has passed, and he's starting to soften in my mouth, I release him and lift my head. Ray has fallen back against the pillows. His eyes are closed, his chest rising and falling rapidly as he struggles for breath.
I run my thumb gently across his stubbled jaw. Ray's eyes, when he opens them, are dilated and unfocused. "Fraser..."
"Ray," I murmur, leaning over to kiss him gently.
Ray breathes a sigh of satisfaction into my mouth. "Fuck me," he adds, in a whisper. "Fuck me unconscious."
My own erection throbs at the thought, and I feel my nipples tightening. "That doesn't strike me as much of a challenge at the moment."
Ray blinks a few times, slowly, and then seems to focus on me. "It's not a challenge," he says quietly, raising an unsteady hand to my face. "It's a request."
So I do; with shaking hands, I turn him over—help him brace himself on the threadbare motel pillows. I get behind him, between his sprawled legs, and massage his shoulders, his back, his ass, until he's nearly purring with contentment. And then I hold him open with my hands and put my mouth to him. He trembles, but his body doesn't resist in the slightest—he's relaxed, ready, and he opens for me easily. I drive my tongue deep into him, more to bring him pleasure than for any practical purpose. Ray responds to this stimulation with unashamed joy.
Finally, however, I can no longer resist the temptation he presents. I give him a last, loving swipe and pull back. I take care to wet myself as much as I can, but I have been leaking copiously for some time now, so it is very much a matter of thumbing my own slickness over the head of my erection, and using spit to at least wet the rest.
But these few brief touches are almost too much—I feel electrical, wired to explode at any moment. And as I look down at Ray, spread face-down before me and mind-bogglingly beautiful, I suddenly think, why now? Why have I denied myself this before now?
Except I know, really. In fact, I know all too well.
I brace myself on one arm and guide my erection into him with my other hand. I sink in easily, deeply, and his body is tight and hot and wonderful. Ray moans, instinctively spreading his legs, and I slide even further into him. Already, my vision of him, the spiky blond hair, the flushed neck, the thin shoulders, is whiting out as sexual excitement overwhelms me—
—and suddenly, unbidden, I am thinking of Victoria. I am thinking of Victoria not as I saw her last but as she was all those years ago, fifteen now at least. The white of my excitement is the white of the snowstorm, the white of my insight, and I am lying with her and we are freezing to death, we will freeze to death, if we can't, if we don't—
Fumbling between layers and layers of clothing, trying to reach her without exposing her, feeling her cold, cold cheek against mine. Creating that small space for contact, for my erection to penetrate the many layers of her clothes, even if I could never penetrate the layers of her, herself. Sinking into her, feeling her pull me into her, feeling her gloved hands clutch at my shoulders, hearing her voice in my ear, "Yes, hurry." Driving into her, feeling my heart jackhammer and my own pounding pulse. Feeling pain, such terrible pain, as blood returns to my cold fingers, my aching legs, my nose, cheeks, and feet. Feeling her clamp down around me, under me, feeling her lift herself off the ground as she strains toward her own orgasm.
So many lies. More lies than a fair-minded person could ever count. But, still, through all of it, one enduring truth that holds me captive, that will in some way bind me to her forever.
We fuck each other to life. We fuck each other against death. We fuck each other to whistle in the dark, to defy the ultimate darkness.
And even here, now, with this person who is not her, who is nothing like her, that truth remains—her one truth. I'm moving helplessly within him now, driving into his warm, welcoming body, and calling to him. Ray calls back to me in a voice roughened by too much alcohol, too many cigarettes, too much death—and together, we're almost singing.
Ray does, in fact, slip into a deep sleep a few minutes after we climax. He lays his head on the pillow, closes his eyes, and slips away, looking relaxed and at peace. I lie next to him, one arm flung across his chest, and just watch him sleep, watch his eyes flicker under the thin skin of his eyelids.
When the knock comes, loud and strong and confident, I'm utterly furious—they'll wake him, they'll wake him up, God damn it! And then I remember that outside this room, in the real world of Davenport, Iowa, it is only mid-afternoon. They have no reason to believe that Ray and I are asleep, that we're nestled warmly in the dim, private cocoon we have constructed for ourselves.
I look down and see that Ray is still asleep, and in a flash, I'm up and bolting toward the door. My hand is on the knob when I abruptly remember that I'm naked, but I can't risk a second knock. I step behind the door, and jerk it open a few inches.
"One moment, please," I say, and then quickly shut the door in the stunned agents' faces. Again, I put on jeans and a shirt, and then I return to the door, opening it a bit wider this time. "Yes?"
The agent passes me large brown paper parcel. "Your books," he says.
"Ah. Thank you kindly," I say and shut the door.
The package is heavy in my hands. Coffee table books, so I take them over to the coffee table to unwrap them. A volume on Picasso's sculptures and ceramics that I thought Ray might like. The complete catalogue of modern art from the MOMA; I find I can't resist this, and flip through it idly, glancing at pictures by Cezanne, Klimt, Otto Dix, Edward Hopper, Stuart Davis. Reluctantly, I close it, set it aside, and run my fingers over the cover of Canadian Impressionism.
The files will be in here or they won't. I glance up at Ray, who is still sleeping deeply.
Better to know, surely.
I grip the cover and pull it open—and there, inside, are the manila file folders, two rubber bands around them. I expect to feel relief, but instead I feel a strange sort of dread. To my surprise, I realize that I was more than half hoping that the files would not arrive. In fact, I realize, lifting my eyes to stare at the hideous floral curtains across the room, if I could wave my hand and make magic, Ray Kowalski would have walked home on the other side of the street and never found Lisa Brightman's body at all.
Looking down again at the files, I wonder if I should read them, get a head start, take advantage of the time to familiarize myself with their contents. And then I close the cover and set the book down on top of the others.
I go back to the bed and stretch out next to him, still fully clothed.
I wake to find Ray shaking me—he's lying next to me, two fingers knotted in the belt loops of my jeans, and tugging hard.
"What's this about?" Ray asks, grinning wolfishly at me. "Why'd you get dressed—you sending me a message?"
"No," I murmur, and then I yawn, helplessly. It's ridiculous to be so tired after this much sleep, but there does seem to be a point at which sleeping itself seems to make you tired. "The books arrived," I explain—
—and instantly, Ray's sitting up, face contorted in fury. "The what? What did you say?"
I take a deep breath. "The files, they—"
"Why the fuck didn't you tell me?" Ray yells, scrambling for his glasses on the night stand and shoving them onto his face. "For Christ's sake, Fraser—what's the matter with you?" He leaps off the bed, bends to swipe his boxers off the floor, and pulls them on—a moment later he's on the sofa, and I hear the thud of the book falling back onto the table, the loud snap of the two rubber bands.
I stay put on the bed, and drape my arm over my eyes. I listen as Ray works his way through the pages, muttering dates and times and places under his breath. I hear him rhythmically snapping his ballpoint pen, the tempo increasing whenever he sees something that interests or upsets him. And then I hear another page turn, and the sudden, shallow inhalation, and then nothing. Nothing. Perfect stillness.
I get up and go to pull him away from the pictures.
He's stopped at the first one—the very first one has got him. He's not even looking at it—he's just sitting, hunched over, eyes shut tight, with his hand splayed across the glossy surface as if he were holding it down to the table. Between his fingers I can see fragments of the image—an awkwardly placed arm, a long brown thigh. I drop my hand on Ray's shoulder, and he jerks away from me violently. "Fuck off."
I take my hand back, but continue to sit there.
"Fuck off, I said," Ray repeats, eyes still shut, still not looking at me.
Still, I do not move.
Ray lifts his head and looks at me savagely. "What part of 'fuck off' don't you understand?"
I stay put, waiting.
"Christ, can't you give me a little fucking space here," Ray nearly yells. "Trapped in this fucking room—I'm trapped in this room with you, with this, with—"
But in his anger he has lifted his hand from the photograph, and his hand is shaking. In fact, he's shaking all over. Ray's face contorts into something ugly, and he twists it away from me, showing me the back of his head. I reach out for him again, put one hand on his forearm and grip it tightly, and after a long moment, he leans into me—but not easily, awkwardly, his body stiff with tension. I move my hand from his arm to his back, press my splayed palm against it.
He's twisted and contorted himself to keep his face averted from mine, but in a moment I hear the first wracked moan of many—pained, twisted sounds, sobs without tears. They torment me with their likeness to the noises Ray makes during sex, and with their vast difference—no ecstasy in his voice, only agony, as if he were trying to walk on a broken leg. Similarly, the sweat that has broken out on his face, on his neck, has a bitter, acrid smell; they are pain-sweats, with no hint of joy in them.
Finally, Ray pulls away from me. He is dry-eyed, but his forehead is glistening slightly, as if he were fevered. "I, uh," he says unsteadily, wiping his forehead with the heel of his hand. "I don't know what's the matter with me."
"It's all right, Ray," I reply quietly.
"I've seen bodies. I've seen parts of bodies. Lots of them," Ray adds, "most loads worse than this. So I just don't get why..."
But I get it. It's simple, really. This is just one too many. Perhaps we all of us have a fixed number of bodies we can stand, written deep inside us somewhere, etched onto our soul like a serial number. Seventy-eight. Fifty-nine. One hundred and twelve. Forty three. Fifteen. My own personal body-count started with my mother on February 16th, 1967. She was my number one. The following years brought accidents, drunken shootings, and the occasional deliberate murder, bringing my count to sixteen by the time I left Canada for Chicago in 1994. My father was number sixteen.
In the few years since, my total has more than quintupled. Louis Gardino, Irene Zuko, Andreas Volpe, Guy Rankin, Jamal Martin...murders, suicides, accidents, overdoses, body piling upon body, bringing my personal count up to ninety-one.
Ray Kowalski has been a Chicago police officer for seventeen years. I don't know his number, but it is doubtless very high. If my own experience in Chicago is anything near typical, Ray has probably seen something in the neighborhood of three hundred bodies.
This much I know for sure: Ray's number one was Jake Botrelle, and for a while I was sure that Beth Botrelle had Ray's number writ upon her somewhere, that she was going to be Ray's last case. Beth survived, and so did Ray—but there have been so many bodies since then, leading up to Ray's discovery of Lisa Brightman two weeks ago.
Lisa Brightman. I saw her in the morgue the morning after Ray found her, a pale and cold ice-princess. Did she have Ray's number on her, perhaps tattooed discreetly around her ankle in pale blue, or twined around the thorny stem of a rose on her shoulder? And what would that number be? Two hundred and eighty-eight? Three hundred and four? Three hundred and twenty-four? thirty-four? forty-four? More?
"I don't know why I'm being so lame about this," Ray mutters; he is still rubbing his temples, like his head hurts, like his brain might explode.
I lean forward and give him a quick, heartfelt kiss with no lust in it at all. "You're not lame," I tell him. "Not in the least. Take a break, give me the files, let me catch up with you."
Ray looks at me for a moment, then closes the top file and pushes the folders toward me.
"Order some food for us," I say, picking them up. "And a pot of coffee—coffee will do you some good."
Ray nods, rubbing his bristled cheek meditatively, and then gets up and moves toward the desk.
"And Ray?" He turns to look at me, one hand on the telephone. "Take a hot shower. Have a shave. I'm starting to get beard-burn."
As Ray lifts the receiver, his lips curl into a smile.
I read through the Joanna Thomas file with particular care—as far as we know, she is the first victim, and therefore her link to the killer is apt to be the strongest. Apparently, she was a model patient, six weeks clean and sober as far as anyone as Centreville knew. In fact her shocked-sounding case manager told the Boston police that Centreville had considered taking her on as staff.
Everyone the police interviewed about her death automatically assumed that her overdose was self-administered, that Ms. Thomas had simply relapsed. From my current vantage point, twelve murders further down the line, I can see both how simple it would be to draw such a conclusion, and how very, very wrong that conclusion was. But when Ms. Thomas was found dead in the alley behind a local Irish pub, everyone jumped to the wrong conclusion—even her parents, Frank and Sondra Thomas, even her two sisters, Carol and Michelle.
I look up, briefly, at the knock on our door. Ray, fully dressed now, goes to answer it, and I return my attention to the file.
Joanna Thomas apparently knew Sarah Blake, her fellow patient, but not well—just to speak to. Blake's case is more complicated—she'd had three serious relapses into heroin addiction despite the fact that her elder brother, Ted, was himself a professional drug counselor and an employee of the clinic.
Despite? I think to myself with a sudden frown. Because—it was much more likely to be because. Ms. Blake might well have felt hemmed in, living with her drug-counselor brother, as if she were constantly under surveillance.
Or perhaps, some small, cynical part of my mind whispers, her brother was actually giving her drugs. Horrible to think about, but perhaps true nonetheless.
In any case, the records from Centreville seem to imply that this fourth attempt at quitting was the charm. Sarah Blake was nearly through the program at the time of her death; she had continued to get her methadone regularly and had attended both the private and group counseling sessions offered to her. But she had been found by her brother in their apartment, overdosed in her bed; he'd become distraught when he couldn't wake her, and a transcript of his 911 call had been placed in the file.
I realize that a cup of coffee, light, has been placed at my elbow, along with a neatly-quartered triple decker sandwich. I pick up a triangle and eat as I read.
Sarah Blake was pronounced dead at the scene. There were no obvious signs of sexual assault, and the BPD autopsy doctor, no doubt already inclined toward 'death by misadventure', had simply confirmed the overdose. Ms. Blake was mourned and buried by her brother in the graveyard at St. Stephen's.
Both women's deaths were ruled accidental by the Boston Police Department, and their cases closed.
The FBI didn't open files until fully four months later, roughly about the time of the eleventh murder. This shocks me, and I lift my head to mention it to Ray—but Ray is standing at the window, nursing a cup of coffee, and I don't want to disturb his fragile peace. I look down again and read a letter sent to Ted Blake by the FBI, asking him to sign an exhumation order. He agreed, and a closer examination of Sarah's body yielded evidence which fit the pattern.
The next file folder contains a thick record of the FBI's investigation of Centreville—employee lists, patient lists, personnel files, tax returns. The investigation quickly focused on and then dismissed Ted Blake as a suspect. There was a lack of obvious motive: Mr. Blake was already in sole control of the monies left to him and his sister by their deceased parents, although this was not very much money in any case. There appeared to be no personal connection between Ted Blake and Joanna Thomas, and Ted Blake had an alibi for the night of her death: his timecard, which shows him working the late shift at Centreville.
There is a summary report from an Agent Charles Whitney, who appears to be Paul Barton's immediate superior at the Bureau, stating that Ted Blake's resignation from Centreville and subsequent departure from the Boston area was unsurprising, all things considered. Blake had, the report implies, been literally tied to the area by his worthless junkie sister. After her death, he might certainly be inclined to remake his life.
The file concludes with several dissenting letters from Agent Paul Barton. Barton insists that the FBI had been premature in dismissing Edward Blake as a suspect. He points out that Blake's timecard had not been corroborated by a single eyewitness—nobody, so long after the fact, could remember whether or not Ted Blake had actually worked on the night in question. Furthermore, Blake had seen no patients on that shift, which was odd, and had filed no date-stamped paperwork. Barton also points to Behavioral Science's own psychological profile of the killer, which seemed to fit Blake aptly—male, twenty to thirty, likely to have suffered an early traumatic loss, likely to be in a strong, perhaps even paternal, position of power vis a vis his victims. Barton argues that Ted Blake had assumed a parental role in his sister's life upon the death of their parents, and that the conflation of the father-brother role had, in psychological studies, been correlated with cases of brother-sister incest.
With a sigh, I close that file and reach for the last one, which contains the photographs. Steeling myself, I open the folder. Joanna Thomas in situ, from several angles, her arms and legs sprawled in the graceless pose of the dead; Sarah Blake, her mouth frothing with red and white, lying amidst the rumpled pink sheets of her bed. I find myself frowning down at the pictures, but not feeling much of anything—this is, I suppose grimly, the difference between ninety-one deaths and three hundred.
There are pictures of the pub where Joanna Thomas was found—the eerily named Horse and Axe. Pictures of the Thomas apartment, of the Blake apartment, many pictures of Centreville—interiors, exteriors, patients, staff. A copy of Ted Blake's work identification card—the picture shows a dazed-looking man with sandy hair and light brown eyes. Two more pictures of Blake, these taken surreptitiously—Blake getting into his car, a tan Buick; Blake pushing out the door of his apartment building.
I slide the file containing the pictures onto the table and sit back on the sofa, thinking hard. When I come to myself, I realize that Ray's wandered back over and is watching me closely.
"So? Talk to me."
I lean back into the sofa cushions and stare up at him. "Interesting, I thought, that the FBI have only been involved since Gary. I thought they said Cleveland."
"Yeah." Ray's face hardens. "Lying bastards—they acted like they were so fucking ahead of us. They're two murders ahead is all." Ray takes a step closer and adds, "What about Barton, do you buy Barton's theory that Blake's the guy?
I lick my lip as I consider the question. "I don't know. He certainly makes some good points—the weakness of Blake's alibi, for instance."
Ray straddles the arm of the sofa and bends to slide his coffee cup onto the table. "Yeah, I know, I saw that too. Still, though. Something doesn't add up for me."
"Well, the FBI seems to share your opinion. They did investigate him, after all—and while I'm not entirely confident in their abilities, I have to believe that they'd find something once he was within their sights."
Ray shows me a scowl. "Yeah, you'd think. Then again, Fraser," he adds, shaking his head in slow disapproval. "That much ego doesn't make for good investigation, if you ask me."
"That may be," I concede. "Still, they answered the financial questions, ran his fingerprints, took photos—"
"I didn't see the photos," Ray interrupts, flushing slightly. "Except for the first one. You get anything from them?"
"I didn't notice anything in particular." I pick up the photos and quickly flip through them again, careful to tilt them away from Ray's eyes. I stop at the picture of Ted Blake and hand it over to him. "Ted Blake."
Ray glances down at the picture, nods disinterestedly—and then squints at it. Holds it closer to his face. "Wait a minute." Ray squeezes his eyes shut, and taps the picture against his thigh. "I know this guy. I seen this guy."
I realize I've moved to edge of my seat. "That night?"
"Yeah. Maybe." Ray doesn't open his eyes. "Where the fuck have I seen this guy...?"
"Retrace your steps," I murmur. "Try to visualize—"
Ray's eyes flick open, and he stares into space as if he's seeing something utterly fascinating.
"What?" I ask quickly
"Sonofabitch," Ray says softly, almost marveling, and then he turns to me. "He was there, Fraser! Totally conspicuous, too—except he was that kind of conspicuous where you don't even notice at all, cause you're half-expecting it." Ray suddenly looks murderously angry, and his long graceful hands clench into fists. "He was there. Hanging out with the homeless. Handing out flyers." Ray's blue eyes narrow mercilessly. "The bastard was dressed like a fuckin' priest."
The mention of a priest sets off bells in both our heads, and together we root back through Ray's reconstructed files. However, we find only one connection—the second murder in Cleveland was reported to the police by a priest, who was still with the body when the first officers arrived.
"You don't remember his name?" I ask Ray, trying desperately to remember myself.
"No I don't remember his name!" Ray looks like he wants to hit me. "I only saw the damn thing once—I'm amazed I remembered that there was a priest at all!"
I try to picture the computer printout in my mind. "Was it Father Ted?"
"Father Ted, Father Ed, Father Fred—who the hell knows? I didn't bother to memorize it, Fraser, because stupid me, see, I thought there was this neat thing called paper, that you could write things down on—"
"—which means that you don't have to carry massive amounts of information around in your head. Which means that you don't have to be a human camera, Fraser—because see, you make these little black marks on the paper, and then later you look at them and it all comes flooding back to you. A fucking miracle, except—"
I rub my thumb hard between my eyebrows. "This isn't helpful, Ray."
"—when giant penises from the planet Mars steal your pieces of paper and won't give them back to you. Then you're fucked, my friend, but good. Then you sit there trying to be a fucking human supercomputer—FIND FILE, SEARCH NOW, FIND FUCKING FATHER FRED—"
"I don't believe there's life on Mars, Ray. Phallic or otherwise."
Ray jerks his head away, his lips curled into a snarl. "Don't make me laugh when I'm pissed off. I hate that."
"Father Edward," I say, suddenly feeling certain. "Father Edward, I'm nearly sure of it—though not Blake," I add with a frown. "I would have remembered the name Blake had it been attached to a priest."
"Oh yeah?" Ray asks, squinting at me. "Why?"
"Well, you know. Blake." Ray just looks at me. "'The Marriage of Heaven and Hell,'" I hastily explain. "The 'Proverbs of Hell' The famous etchings. The name Blake in a religious context is really rather evocative. I'm sure I would have remembered it."
"No wonder you know so much about Mars." Ray collapses backwards onto the sofa, apparently on the verge of a major sulk. "You've been there."
"Let's assume for the moment that the priest was Blake," I say, attempting to ignore him. "That means—"
"Of course it was Blake." Ray crosses his arms and glowers at me. "I'm a cop, plus I get out some, live a full life, and I run into priests practically not at all. They're thin on the ground, Fraser. Now I got two in this case and that's an accident?"
"I don't know," I admit. "Perhaps."
"Half these murders were called in to 911. Anonymous. By men," Ray says grimly. "The bastard's calling them in, Fraser—he is killing these girls and then calling them in when he can, watching the cops, that's part of the fun for him—"
"That's a leap," I begin, but Ray's leaning forward now, intent on making his case.
"How much of a leap is it? I saw him, Fraser—what's he doing in Chicago if he's not involved in this thing?"
"I don't know," I repeat. "But—"
"Barton's right. Blake's doing it," Ray says. stabbing a finger at me. "I don't know how the FBI missed him, I don't know how he fudged his alibi for the first murder, I don't know why in hell he didn't kill his sister first—but Blake is doing it, Fraser. It's the only thing that makes sense!"
"Except it doesn't make sense." I speak quietly and don't meet Ray's eyes, not wanting to enrage him. "It doesn't answer any of the important questions."
I can feel the waves of anger and frustration coming off him. The very air vibrates with pressure, with the sense of impending explosion. "It's got to be Blake," Ray says furiously. "It's just got to."
"Why?" I venture to lift my eyes; his are like blue steel. "Because you need it to be?"
For a moment I think that Ray really is going to hit me, that he's just going to swing his fist back and smash it into my face.
The ring of the telephone is unbearably loud. I manage to stay perfectly still, watching Ray, waiting. The phone rings again, and then again, and on this third ring Ray shakes his head a little, like a man coming out of a dream. Without a word he gets up, crosses the room, and lifts the receiver.
"Kowalski," Ray says, staring down at the black base. "Yeah, Barton. I got 'em. Yeah. Yeah. No, I believe you. I think he did it. Yeah. I think he's our guy."
I stare at Ray; he's refusing to look anywhere near me.
"No," Ray says suddenly, vehemently. "No, I will not fucking help you. Not from here. You want my help, Barton—you want to know what I know—you get me out of here. You just come and get me." Ray listens intently for a few seconds and then smiles thinly, lips pursing. "Hey, it's already thirteen," Ray whispers into the telephone, and the harsh rasp in his voice makes me shiver. "Fourteen, fifteen, sixteen—what's the difference? Not my fault. I'm just a rat in a trap."
Ray drops the phone into its cradle and stares at it. I give him a few moments to recover himself, and then ask, "Did he buy it?"
"Dunno," Ray says, still not looking up at me. "Maybe."
"Do you buy it?" I ask quietly.
Ray's shoulders slump a fraction, and I feel warm relief spreading through me. "No," Ray says, barely audibly. "Blake didn't do it."
The phone rings again, and Ray lets it ring—once, twice, three times, four—before picking it up. "Kowalski," he says, and then he just listens for a very long time.
That night, we make love like the first time—animalistically, so hard it almost hurts. I find myself glorying in the strength of Ray's body, the tight grip of his hands. This attraction to strength is, I think, the constitutive part of my sexuality—the harder body, the higher proportion of muscle mass, the potential for equal physical fierceness. He holds my head tightly in his strong, elegant hands as he kisses me; I move on him swiftly, unafraid of bruising him, knowing that my needs do not exceed his wants.
We roll together, kissing and groping, twisting and shoving each other as we jockey for position. He holds me down to suck my nipples; I pull his hair, tug his head back, so that I can reach a tempting expanse of neck. Ray moans a little as I kiss the soft skin under his ear, and I think I can make out the words: Why now?
This is a question I would like very much to distract him from. I nip his earlobe sharply with my teeth, feel him jerk with pleasure-pain, and whisper: "What do you want?"
Ray's sideburn brushes against my lips as he turns to look at me; his eyes are lust-hazy. "Anything. Everything." I feel his strong hand close around my erection, and for a moment my head swims. He's squeezing me rhythmically, possessively, and it is as if a mirroring hand is clutching my heart. "This," Ray murmurs, giving me another hard squeeze, and suddenly he's sliding down my body and pulling me into his warm, wet mouth.
I find myself moaning steadily as I caress his hair, the top of his head, the warm back of his neck. His moans seem to vibrate throughout my body, making me quiver in sympathetic response. Ray sucks harder, and I respond entirely. He has me completely.
As the world begins to white out, I hear Ray's voice in my head, soft and gruff. You can't come in my mouth. You can't fuck me. I think kissing is girly, and for a moment I'm perilously close to giggling stupidly. Wonderful, marvelous Ray—
Ray slowly draws his mouth off my erection and raises his head. I lie there, gasping, and look down my heaving chest at him. His lips are pursed in a wicked smile. "Hold that thought," he says, and suddenly he's hovering over me, straddling me, his hands tight around my wrists. I stare up at him still gasping, dizzy with pleasure and fighting to keep myself under control. Deep breaths. Deep breaths. I'm poised on the knife's edge, and Ray seems to know that. He lowers his head and whispers, "Say that again."
Say that...what...excuse me? I stare up at him. I must have been speaking aloud, I realize suddenly. Must have been giving voice to the ridiculous thoughts in my—
Ray closes his eyes and sinks back slowly, impaling himself on me, his chest heaving. "Wonderful, you said," he murmurs, almost to himself. "Marvelous..." and he's full upon me now, inhaling raggedly and shuddering. I'm pinned beneath him, and every fiber of my body feels stretched to the limit, quivering under the strain of so much physical pleasure.
After another two or three gasps, Ray's breathing steadies. He opens his eyes—and the truth I see there slams into me. He wants me. He wants me. He's looking at me just the way I look at him—wonderful, marvelous...
The angle of penetration from this position is not deep, but it's still deeply satisfying. Ray is moving upon me now, slowly and shallowly, his eyes again drifting closed—what long, pale lashes he has. I'm trapped, the mattress hard at my back, and I'm not sure what excites me more: the way he feels, or the way he looks as he rides me. His face contorts with pleasure upon each shallow, downward thrust. He's teasing himself, I think, using my body, and that's all right, that's just fine, that's—
Before my eyes, Ray's erection hardens, his nipples tighten; he has worked himself into a state of full arousal. Now he's moving faster, harder, his teeth gritted—and I am lost, helpless to do anything but gasp for air and feel my own arousal building. He's slamming down upon me now, ruthlessly driven by desire. His body moves in fitful jerks and starts, as if he were having a seizure, as if he were experiencing each jolt of pleasure as an electric shock. I'm drenched with sweat and moaning continuously, contradictorily: Now. Stop. More.
Still moving, his strong thighs flexing, Ray flings out one hand to steady himself and fists his own erection with the other. Too much, much too much, and I close my eyes to shield my shame from him. I'm desperate for him to ejaculate against my skin, dying to smell the musky scent, to feel thick trails of it ooze down my chest. I'm being jerked up and down by the strength of his thrusts, and I'm shaking with anticipation: Will it be now? Or now? Or—
Ray lets out a short, sharp shout a second before the first wet splash hits me. Instantly, my body convulses sympathetically, my orgasm overpowering me with its intensity and strength. I hear myself cry out in a voice that is strangely high-pitched, strangely rapturous, just as another jet of Ray's semen hits my chest. "God!" Ray yells, and my eyes fly open just in time to see his head loll backwards, face twisted in ecstasy.
His hand flails for balance, and a few drops of semen fly from his fingertips and splatter across my arm and neck. A bright light blinds me, but I reach out for him nonetheless, because he's falling, he's going to fall, he's—
I make a desperate lunge and manage to catch him, grab him, pull him forward, hold him tightly. I can feel his chest heaving against mine as he struggles for breath. I can feel his sweat-soaked hair against my face as we settle back onto the wrecked bed and wait for the world to stop shaking.
"I'm sorry," Ray mutters against my cheek. "Fraser, I'm sorry—"
I hush him and he quiets. His strong arms wind around me as we drift in and out of sleep, but at some point I open my eyes in the darkness and hear Ray whisper, "This fucking-your-partner thing—it breaks about ten thousand rules, doesn't it?"
I close my eyes again, the better to focus on the feel of Ray's body against mine. "Yes."
"Hm," Ray says, and falls silent. I feel his body tighten around mine, feel a hand slide deep into my hair. And then, a few minutes later, I feel hot breath against my ear, and then the brief touch of Ray's lips. "We're not going to be partners for much longer, are we?"
It's not a question. So I don't answer.
I don't think he even expects me to.
"No, no, no." Ray's hand shoots out from behind the shower curtain, grabs my tunic, and throws it onto the floor. "Not that. Forget that."
"But Ray..." I glance down disapprovingly at my crumpled jacket. I had been planning to use the steam of the shower to work out the wrinkles.
Ray sticks his wet head out. "C'mon, give me a break here. When you go on the run, lookin' like a fire engine is a bad idea. Leave the uniform, Fraser."
I sigh, pick up my tunic, and hang it up neatly. "If I do, I'll never get it back."
"And if you don't, we'll be back here in five minutes. Lose it," Ray reiterates, and withdraws behind the curtain. I can hear his body disrupting the spray. "I'll buy you another one, okay?"
"Okay," I concede, and reach for my jeans instead.
Ten more minutes sees us shaved and dressed and hovering by the telephone. Ray hesitates, his hand on the receiver, and then says, "So what's your idea of a last meal, Fraser?"
We order bacon and eggs, jam and toast, coffee and tea, and all the morning papers. And then we wait, nervously, glancing at our watches, at each other, at the door.
Ray paces to and fro across the length of the room, his hands jammed in his pockets. Suddenly he stops and says, "I'm gonna miss this place," and then he ducks his head and whirls away from me, though not before I notice that his face is flushing. "Just, you know..." Ray mutters, reaching up to rub at the now-pink back of his neck, and of course I do know. This odd cell is our honeymoon suite.
"So will I." Perhaps he can hear the honesty in my voice, because he turns back to me and shows me a faint smile. "But we're not out yet," I add, wanting to caution him not to get his hopes up.
But Ray seems confident. "We'll get out, don't worry. Barton'll get us out."
"Perhaps, " I grant. "But then what? Barton thinks Blake is the killer—are we going to help him arrest Ted Blake?"
"I don't know, Fraser." Ray suddenly sounds annoyed. "I haven't gotten that far."
"Well, you might want to think about that," I suggest.
"Why don't you think about it?" Ray retorts.
"I am thinking about it."
"Well, good for you." Ray crosses his arms and stares up at the ceiling for a minute or so, then says, all in a rush, "Look, he's on to something, Barton, but not the right something. Close but no cigar is my feeling."
"Close but no cigar, yes," I agree. "But something's off."
"Off, exactly." Ray straddles the arm of the sofa beside me. "But Blake's in this somehow. He's maybe not the killer, but there's something not right there. Because I don't buy this thing where your sister dies and you close up shop and hightail it out of town, do you? Doesn't make sense to me."
I smile ruefully at him. "I may not be the person to ask, Ray. My own actions after my father's death could reasonably be described as 'closing up shop and hightailing it out of town.'"
Ray waves this away. "Yeah, but that was different, that was—"
Ray's hand stops in mid-air, just as I jerk forward, banging my knee hard on the coffee table. "Ray—" I gasp.
"Fuck!" Ray yells. "That's it, isn't it?"
"That's right. That's right. That feels so right." Ray slides down off the sofa arm and fumbles for his notebook, which he's bound up with the files under rubber bands. "That's it, that's totally it, that's—"
The knock on the door is brusque and loud and we jerk towards it as one.
"Shit," Ray says, his fingers white where they're clutching his files. "They're here. Whatta we—?"
"A distraction," I say, quickly getting up and banging my shin against the coffee table again. "Distract them."
Instantly Ray's beside me. "Distraction how what?"
My mind is totally and unfortunately blank on this question. "Haven't a clue," I say, striding toward the door. My mind is no longer on the question of escape—it's going click-click-click on the matter of Ted Blake. Who's closed up shop. Hightailed it out of town. I get out some, live a full life, and I run into priests practically not at all. I pause, my hand on the knob, and look back over my shoulder at Ray's panicked, pale face. "But I think I know where to find Ted Blake."
I open the door and greet the two armed agents. One is holding our laden breakfast tray, the other is gripping the plastic bag containing our newspapers. The first agent offers me the tray, which I accept, vaguely regretting that, if things go well. we won't be getting any breakfast this morning, Ray and I. "Thank you kindly," I say, turning away from the open door—
—and suddenly Ray is in front of me, wearing that look of admiration which so embarrasses and thrills me. "Fraser, you know?"
"Er, yes," I admit nervously, shooting a sideways glance at the agents. I bend to set the tray on to our coffee table. "I believe so."
When I straighten up, Ray reaches out, grabs my face, and yanks me close for a rough kiss. Even through my astonishment, I hear a thwack and a thump—and, pushing Ray away, I turn my head to see the first agent sprawled face forward on the carpet.
"Nice distraction," Paul Barton says, lowering the cosh he's pulled from the plastic bag. "He sure didn't see that coming. You must be Ray Kowalski."
"Yeah," Ray replies, turning to look at Barton with narrowed eyes.
Barton reaches again into the plastic bag and comes out with a thick roll of duct tape. "Gimme a hand with him, willya?"
"My pleasure," Ray says.
Working together, we tape the unconscious agent's wrists, ankles, and mouth before dragging him into the bathroom. Ray, grinning savagely, flicks on the shower—which is smart, because the rushing water is certainly loud enough to muffle whatever noises the man might make should he awaken. After another moment's consideration, Ray pulls the agent's gun out of his holster, checks it, and tucks it into his jeans at the small of his back.
This seems to make Barton rather nervous, but he doesn't protest. "You guys got everything you need?" he asks instead, glancing from Ray to me.
We're abandoning everything but the case files, which Ray clutches to his chest like a shield. "Yeah. All set."
Barton reaches into his pocket, and comes up with a single key on a ring. "On the far side of the parking lot," he says, holding it up. "1996 Chrysler. Black."
"Stylish," Ray almost sneers.
Barton only smiles. "Rented," he replies, and Ray looks somewhat mollified. "Look, I'm going to report in, claim that Charlie's gone home—hopefully that'll buy us some time before anybody figures out you're gone. Take the back stairs down, try to avoid being seen, and wait for me in the car, okay?"
Ray reaches out and snatches the key from Barton's fingers. "Okay. Fine. We'll wait in the Boringmobile."
Barton opens the door, checks that the coast is clear, and then gestures us out of the room. I feel a sudden, strange sense of loss as I watch him pull out another set of keys and lock each of the door's three locks. I almost feel like I'm being locked out rather than freed.
I notice that Ray is also watching Barton's hands closely as he turns the keys, but then he jerks his head toward the door leading to the stairs, silently suggesting that we make our way out. He leads, and I follow him, into the brightly-lit concrete stairwell and down six flights. We pause at the final door—bright red metal with a huge number "1" painted upon it. Ray presses his ear to the door, then looks at me inquiringly.
"I don't hear anything," I report, and Ray nods and reaches for the handle.
The corridor is indeed empty, and it's only a few paces to the glass back door. Ray presses the bar and then we're out! free! and fresh air has never smelled so wonderful to me before. Ray scans the parking lot, spots the Chrysler, and nods toward it. We move quickly, and then Ray's inserting the key and unlocking the doors. We slide in, pull the doors closed, and, as one, slump down so that our heads are not visible to anyone looking through the back window.
"This is one ugly-ass car," Ray opines.
"It's not so bad," I say, and really, I don't think is is so bad. Power everything and quite roomy.
"It's bad," Ray says, snorting dismissively, and then without missing a beat he says, "So where's Blake?"
"Well, I don't know precisely," I admit, "but I think I know where to start."
"Where?" Ray asks.
"The Archdiocese. We'll need to get a list of local parishes, and call all the rectories."
"Wait, wait, whoa," Ray says, holding up one hand. "You're saying he's fooled actual priests into thinkin' he's a priest?"
"It's the only thing that makes sense," I explain. "Think about it. Blake's been on the move for months, now, following the killer West. City to city, town to town—that's expensive, and Blake's no longer employed."
Ray frowns, thinking about this, and then nods. "Right, yeah. I see that."
"And if he's managed to establish credentials as a priest—well, most parishes welcome visiting clergy. That would provide him with a base of operations, a safe place to stay—"
"—and a legitimate cover story," Ray finishes, "for hanging around with junkies and not getting himself arrested. So all right. So okay." To my surprise, Ray sits up, jams the key into the Chrysler's ignition, and starts the engine.
"Ray," I protest, as Ray flings one arm over the seat back, and looks over his shoulder. "What about—?"
"Barton?" Ray asks as we reverse out of the spot with a squeal of tires. "Fuck Barton. We gotta find Blake."
I'm disturbed by Ray's impetuousness; it seems wrong to betray the man who has aided our escape. Ray, however, seems to feel no such qualms. "He's a Fed, Fraser," Ray growls as he drives, "he works for them—and they're the ones who locked us up in the first place, remember? Finally we're ahead of them for five minutes, finally we know something they don't and—"
"—and we're acting just as rotten as they have," I murmur.
Ray jerks the car to a stop at the next light and glares at me. "Whose side are you on, anyway?"
"How can you even ask me that?" I say quietly.
"Then why don't you just shut up?" Ray snaps. "They've locked us up for days and days—and for what? Thirteen dead women and what have they got to show for themselves? Nothing." Behind us, a horn beeps, and Ray blasts his own horn with a quick punch to the wheel before launching the car into motion. "It's a fuckin' miracle nobody else is dead yet. This is maybe the only shot we got here, Fraser, and damned if I'm not going to take it."
I nod slowly, not saying anything, as Ray turns into a parking lot and pulls up beside a phone booth. He shifts the car into park, turns the engine off, and looks at me, his face tense. "Are you gonna call the churches or am I?"
I look at him for a long moment. "I'll do it," I say finally, and get out of the car.
I have an aptitude for negotiating hierarchically structured institutions. The RCMP has taught me that, among other things. I find that if you simply present yourself as having the proper authority, and don't alarm anyone by asking too many questions, the gates of power will open for you, voila.
I suspect that Ted Blake knows this, too.
So I ring up the Archdiocese and speak to a very pleasant sounding lady who answers the telephone as Miss Latham. "Good morning, Miss Latham," I say. "I'm hoping you can help me." "Certainly, Father," she replies, and for a moment I find myself wondering what she's heard in my voice to cause her to leap to such a conclusion.
Apparently politeness is next to godliness, and can only be learned at divinity school.
The thought makes me smile.
I ask her for a list of local parishes and their contact numbers. She offers to fax the information to my office. I explain, regretfully, that I'm away from my office at the moment—can she not read me the information? "Certainly, Father," she says, and I scribble the names and phone numbers down in Ray's notebook: St. Paul's, St. Ephram's, St. Stanislav's, St. Theresa's. "Thank you kindly," I tell her, and hang up.
It's the same at each of the parishes I call. "Have you any visiting clergy at the moment?" I ask Miss Soren, Mrs. DiGreco, Ms. Chapman, and a bubbly young woman who identifies herself only as "Martha."
"Do you mean Father Ted?" Martha replies, and helplessly my hand tightens around the telephone receiver.
"Father Ted, yes, precisely. I'd like to speak with him. Is he there?"
"No, Father," Martha says doubtfully. "I'm sorry—he went out, he's working on his survey."
Survey. Survey. I take what I think is a probable guess. "Of drug clinics?"
"Yeah," Martha says, and I think I hear the sound of gum snapping. "It keeps him out most days."
I'm sureit does. I look through the glass of the booth at Ray, and show him a thumb's up. "Ah, I see. Any idea where he's gone today?"
"Dunno," Martha replies. "He's probably at Lutheran, though. Or at I.H.N.—Iowa Help Network. They're the two largest around here."
"Thank you kindly, Martha," I say, and hang up the telephone.
Ray's barely restraining himself as I slide back into the car. "Where? What happened? What's—"
I raise my hand in mock benediction. "Patience, Ray."
"I got no time either for patience or for your delusions of grandeur, Fraser. Spill it."
"He's staying at St. Ephram's," I tell him. "And he's likely out prowling around one of two drug clinics—"
Ray turns the car key savagely. "Let's go."
The Lutheran Hospital Outpatient Drug Clinic is on the ground level of a building that is falling apart. Its sign is brightly painted in primary colors, an attempt to be cheerful that fails utterly. The window of the storefront next door is soaped over; the concrete sidewalk badly cracked and covered in litter. We drive past slowly, peering out the car's windows. A number of young people are loitering out front, talking—a young man clutching a beer in a paper bag, a young woman in a leather jacket who is obviously pregnant.
Ray pulls up at the end of the block, parks the car, and says, "I'm gonna go in and scope it out. I give better junkie than you do."
I nod and watch as Ray flicks up the collar of his jacket, runs his fingers through the blond spikes of his hair, and gets out of the car. I'm struck with admiration as I watch him. Somehow, with a shrug of his shoulders, he's managed to change his entire affect. His posture is different, his walk is different, and I think, not for the first time, how much I respect him. He's a very good policeman.
The young people gathered around the doorway look, for a moment, as if they're going to challenge his entry—but then Ray adjusts his stance and they back off, parting for him. He disappears inside, and now there is nothing to do but wait and scan the streets for signs of Blake.
Ten minutes later Ray returns. "He ain't there," Ray reports, switching on the engine again, "but he's been there. They've seen him, they recognized the description—I asked." With a glance over his left shoulder he pulls the car away from the curb.
"So what now?" I ask. "I.H.N?"
"Not yet." Ray's driving slowly now, scanning the sidewalks. "He may still be around here, this is all likely turf."
Unfortunately, I have to agree with that. Everyone we pass looks poor, or tired, or ill. We move out from the clinic in an ever widening radius, passing groups of people clustered here and there—elderly men talking outside a cigar shop, women sitting on the stoops of the decrepit buildings watching children at play, teens loitering on a corner.
But no Blake.
Ray tightens his hand on the wheel, and pulls us into the drive-through lane of a fast food restaurant. He doesn't bother to ask me what I want, just shouts an order into the battered metal microphone and pulls around to the service window. A moment later he's handing me a chicken sandwich wrapped in greasy paper and a cup of tea. He himself gobbles a hamburger in three bites, then turns the Chrysler towards the Iowa Help Network, sipping coffee as he drives.
He parks across the street from I.H.N. It, too, has that failed air of determined cheeriness, with a happy face serving as the "O" in "IOWA". It takes no imagination whatsoever to imagine the reaction of the patients to this bit of childishness, just keen eyes to see the faint graffiti that has integrated that same happy-faced "O" into the phrase, "Fuck Off."
Ray drains the rest of his coffee and crumples the cup. "You can never register for too much methadone," he says, and gets out of the car.
Again, I wait; again, I watch. The streets here are more deserted, though, and there is very little foot traffic. Occasionally someone goes into the clinic; occasionally someone comes out, but there is nothing suspicious.
Five minutes. Ten. I eat my greasy chicken sandwich, and sip my tea. Fifteen minutes turns into twenty, then twenty-five, then—
Ray comes out of the clinic, but not alone. He's with a slim, pretty brunette who's wearing tight jeans and high-heeled boots. They pause outside the door to continue their conversation, and instantly I can see the anxious, jittery way that Ray's moving—scratching his head, twisting his shoulders, shifting his weight from foot to foot.
He's flirting. I recognize the moves.
The woman tucks a strand of her long brown hair behind her ear and tilts her head at him, smiling. Instantly, Ray moves closer, his body language still projecting awkward shyness. The conversation between them seems to intensify, and a moment the woman jerks her head toward the end of the block. Ray nods at her, and together they begin to walk down the street. With utter casualness, Ray turns his head and looks at me—and instantly, I'm with him, I understand, and I slide into the driver's seat of the Chrysler and start the engine.
I wait until they turn the corner before I pull out of the parking space and follow. My own propensity to drive slowly, what Ray has called 'walking with a vehicle', serves me well in this situation, as I'm able to remain well behind them, following but not obviously so.
They're well down the next street by the time I turn the corner, and then they cross and keep walking south. I'm grateful for the stoplight at the corner—I can still keep an eye on them, but not obtrusively, as I wait for the light to change. Three blocks, four, five, and then they cross the street and turn left—
—and then Ray's running hard, away from the woman, bolting out of my view. I hit the gas pedal and lurch forward, tires screeching as I make the turn. As I zoom past the young woman Ray's abandoned, I can hear her screaming after him. Ray has stopped in front of a brick building, and now he's grappling with someone, fighting with Ted Blake, grabbing his shoulders and arms and—
—someone else, a body on the ground and—
—blood on Ray's hands, on his shirt, his—
Blake, struggling furiously, breaks free and falls onto his knees on the sidewalk beside the girl. I'm already rushing toward them—I can see her clearly now, lying on her back, blood staining the ground around her. Blake's leaning over her, his face twisted in grief as he presses hard on a thick wad of cloth over her chest. He seems like he's trying to save her life, but Ray's having none of it, and he pulls his fist back and punches Blake hard in the face.
It's chaos and craziness and confusion as I try to separate them without further injuring the already injured girl at our feet. Blake is screaming at Ray, "I had him! I had him! I nearly had him!" and Ray's yelling, "You fucking bastard! You knew all the time!" He lunges, taking another swipe at Blake with his fist, and as I grab Ray and pull him backwards I notice that Blake's bleeding too, that his shirtfront is ripped and he's bleeding, and that's why Ray's all covered in—
Another loud screech of tires, and I turn my head and glimpse two more black sedans, and men, and guns. Neither Ray nor Blake deigns to notice, locked as they are in combat. "Freeze!" somebody yells, "FBI!" Ray ignores this, though it distracts me considerably, and with a vicious twist he breaks free from me and tackles Blake to the sidewalk.
For a long moment, I'm torn between rushing forward to break up the fight, and raising my hands to placate the FBI. For a long moment, I'm conscious of everything—the tense crouch of the agents; the guns aimed toward us; Ray and Blake rolling on the sidewalk like animals, savagely punching each other; the girl lying in the center of it, utterly still—dead, I think.
"Freeze!" the voice repeats—but I can't freeze. I have to help Ray, I have to stop Ray before he kills Edward Blake. The endless moment snaps and I dash forward, praying that nobody shoots me. I grab Ray under the armpits and heave upward with all my strength, yanking him up off Blake. Blake remains sprawled on the ground, panting, face contorted with pain, and I shout, "He's been stabbed! He's been stabbed, Ray!" hoping that my words will penetrate the fog of Ray's rage. And perhaps they do, because Ray doesn't fight me as fiercely, though he's still straining forward toward Blake.
"You knew," Ray whispers furiously. "You knew the whole time, you coulda stopped it, you coulda cooperated—"
Blake pushes himself up on one arm, his other hand pressed against the stab wound in his side. His face is twisted, his eyes crazed. "He killed my sister! It was personal!"
Ray surges forward in my arms, his nose and lip bleeding raggedly. "You want personal, I'll show you personal, I'll show you personal—"
It takes all my strength to hold Ray back, but suddenly it's easier, because there are other men around us, grabbing Ray, restraining him. Other black-clad figures are hauling Blake off the ground and wrenching his arms behind his back. He moans in pain.
"This one's dead," a voice says, and that seems to kill some buzz of tension in the air around us. Almost as one, we turn to look—and Paul Barton is kneeling next to the girl on the sidewalk, checking her pulse, her pupils, her breath. "Dead," Barton repeats flatly, and although his voice is calm, I can see that he's utterly furious. He stands slowly and looks hard at Ray—and what I see in Ray's face terrifies me.
Lisa Brightman was penultimate. This is it, now. This is the end.
Ray has gone utterly still, his face white, the blood dripping from his nose and welling up on his lips making him look even paler. Only his chest moves, heaving wildly, as he struggles to breathe. He looks like he's going to be sick— and I'm suddenly thankful for the two agents restraining him, because they're clearly also holding him up.
Barton walks toward Ray—and for one horrible moment I think that Barton's going to punch him. But he doesn't. He just stops in front of Ray and says, "Had to be the big man, didn't you? Just had to get Blake on your own."
"Blake isn't the killer," I say into the silence, but nobody's listening to me.
"I tried to help you," Barton says in a low, terrible voice. "We could have stopped this if you hadn't been such an asshole. We could've sent out units, covered the streets—"
Ray's eyes flicker a bit and then open, and I notice that the two agents restraining him are tightening their grips, re-adjusting their stances. I think Ray might have blacked out for a second there, though he seems to have gained control now.
"Blake isn't the killer," I say, raising my voice, and now Barton's head turns toward me. "But he knows who the killer is. He's been tracking him, and he's just been stabbed by him—look."
Barton frowns at this intelligence, then strides over to Blake and yanks open his jacket. Barton hisses at the rough contact. The ripped black shirt beneath his priest's collar is soaked with blood.
"He needs to go to the hospital," I murmur.
"No." Barton slowly raises his eyes to Blake's and says, "No hospital. Not until he tells us who did this."
Blake stares at him for a long moment, clearly torn between pain and fury, and then he says, in a strangled sounding voice, "His name is Michael Shea. He used to work at Centreville."
Barton's expression clouds suddenly. "Joanna Thomas's case manager?"
Blake licks his dry lips and nods, once. "Yeah."
Barton turns to one of the other agents and says, "Put out an APB out on Michael Shea. Then get this guy to the hospital and stay with him." Barton then turns toward his car, but pauses in front of Ray. "We're not done, here, Kowalski. You're gonna pay for this—when I'm finished with you, your career won't be worth shit."
Ray's eyes are still fixed on the dead girl. Slowly he moves them to Paul Barton's face, and I brace myself for what I know is coming. "You can't fire me," Ray says, lifting his chin. And then the key words: "I quit."
The FBI orchestrates a massive manhunt for Michael Shea while Ray and I are dragged back to FBI headquarters and interrogated. I'm forced to spend hour upon hour answering questions for Associate Director Lupold.
Q. What made you think Blake was here in Davenport?
A. Detective Kowalski saw him in Chicago.
A. At the crime scene. When he discovered Lisa Brightman's body.
Q. Why wasn't that information recorded in your files?
A. It was a recent discovery. Detective Kowalski identified a photograph of Blake that Agent Barton smuggled to us.
Q. What made you think Ted Blake wasn't the killer?
A. There were still too many unanswered questions...
Now, however, all the questions have answers. Michael Shea was Joanna Thomas' case manager. But Joanna Thomas had successfully graduated the program and stepped out on her own. Shea had contrived to get her hired on at Centreville, but Joanna hadn't been interested. Shea had arranged a meeting with her at the Horse and Axe to beg her to reconsider—after asking his friend Ted Blake to cover his shift. Which was why Blake hadn't had any appointments that evening: it not being his normal working time, his patients hadn't expected him to be there.
Only months later, when the FBI asked to exhume his sister Sarah's body, had Ted Blake realized the implications of Shea's absence on that particular night.
Michael's Shea's capture later that afternoon brings even more information. Shea returned to his hotel covered in blood, and the suspicious clerk called the police. Shea instantly went to pieces and started to confess—to murder after murder, all the way back to Joanna. Yes, he met with Joanna Thomas. Yes, she'd refused him. Yes, he'd brought a syringe of heroin—but he hadn't meant to kill her—just to readdict her—he'd only wanted her to come back. Yes, he'd injected her, stabbed the syringe into her thigh as she sat in the booth. Furious and frightened, Joanna Thomas had tried to run—but she'd barely made it out the pub door before the fatal dose hit her bloodstream and she began to have seizures.
No, he didn't call for medical assistance.
Yes, he'd dragged her into the alley behind the pub.
Yes, he'd found her state of physical distress erotic. Yes, he'd been sexually stimulated. Yes, he'd—
I know instantly, when I finally see Ray again, that he's been told all this; the knowledge is heavy in his eyes, and he looks tired, and worn out, and old. "Whattya want to do?" Ray asks me quietly, not quite meeting my eyes. "Stay, go, what?"
"We'll need a car, I suppose," I reply. "Unless there's public transportation—a train, perhaps."
Ray's already shaking his head. "Don't want a train. Don't want public."
"A car, then," I say, and glance down at my watch. It's already past eight o'clock at night. "Though it's rather late," I murmur. "We should perhaps stop the night, get ourselves a decent dinner and—"
"Not here," Ray mutters, shoving a hand up through his hair. "Let's get out of here."
"All right," I reply.
We get a taxi to the car-rental agency. Ray, after surveying the lot, selects a dirty white Ford pick-up truck—which costs him a little bit extra, but resembles not at all the black Chrysler we drove this morning.
We set off toward the nearby Illinois border, Ray driving grimly, focused entirely on the road. "We don't have to get there tonight, Fraser. Just get out of here."
"Yes, of course."
In fact, we drive for almost two hours before Ray pulls off the road. "We don't eat soon," Ray says, scanning for approprate eateries, "everything's going to be closed." I don't actually feel very hungry myself, but as all I've eaten today is a single fast-food sandwich, I know that I ought to eat something.
A carved sign reads, "American Family Restaurant," and Ray pulls the truck into the drive. Outside, the air is cold as we walk across the dark parking lot to the huge wooden door. A bored looking man looks up and says, "Two? Smoking or nonsmoking?"
"Non—" I begin, just as Ray says firmly, "Smoking."
The man grabs two menus and leads us to a table in the corner. The glass ashtray, I notice instantly, has been emptied but not cleaned, though the kitchen-smells promise food that is simple and fresh. On that basis, I order meatloaf, roasted potatoes, and peas and carrots from the waitress who comes to take our order. Ray has picked up the plastic stand on the table, and then says, "Jack Daniels. Neat. And the steak sandwich."
I wait until the waitress has taken the order and walked away before saying, quietly, "Ray—"
Ray, staring down at the faded wood table top, lifts a hand. "Not yet. Not yet, okay?"
"Okay." The waitress brings over Ray's drink, and Ray wraps his long fingers around the tumbler and stares down into it. I watch him, pretending not to watch him: he's wearing that meditative look he wears when he's working on a case, though there aren't any more cases and won't be—not anymore.
When the waitress brings over our platters of food—and indeed, my assessment is correct; the meatloaf is fresh, as are the vegetables—Ray seems to take it as his cue to speak to me. Possibly because my mouth is now full.
"Figure we'll spend the night here, if that's all right with you." I nod, indicating that of course, certainly, that's fine with me. "We can ask the waitress where the hotel is," Ray adds, absently raising his glass to his lips.
I stop my fork on its way to my mouth. "Drink if you must, Ray," I murmur, "but do eat something." It's all I plan to say on the subject, but I shove the forkful of potatoes into my mouth in case Ray requires an illustration. Ray grins faintly, nods, and takes another sip of whiskey. Eventually, however, he does eat most of his sandwich, although he also orders another drink.
It does, however, seem to relax him, though I'm not sure I'm pleased about this. The waitress brings over the check while I'm eating a piece of pie and Ray is smoking a cigarette, and he asks her about local hotels. She directs us to a Motel 6 just down the road.
When we stand up to go, Ray hands me the keys to the truck.
Our room at the Motel 6 suffers in comparison with our suite at the Diamond Hotel. For one thing it's cramped, barely containing its two double beds and single bureau. It's also damp and smells vaguely of mold. Ray turns on the lamp between the two beds, throwing light on the orange shag carpet, the brown floral bedspreads. The lamp's paper shade has been singed by the heat of the bulb, leaving a burn mark.
Ray sits down on the edge of the bed and stares down at the carpet. I'm already stripping off my jacket, my flannel shirt, my jeans—it's time for bed, and rest, and recovery. It's been a long and trying day.
I turn down the covers on the other bed, wondering if Ray means to sleep in the bed he's sitting on. Whether he means to sleep with me. "Come to bed?" I ask quietly, turning back to him.
Ray lifts his eyes from the carpet and nods vaguely, then stands up and starts to undress. His fingers slide down his shirt front as he undoes the buttons, and then stop. "You knew." I look up at Ray's face and see that he's staring hard at me, almost into me, the same way he looked into his glass of whiskey. "You saw this coming."
Slowly I sit down on the bed opposite him. I have a momentary impulse to pretend not to know what he means, but that would be unfair and possibly damaging. "I suspected," I confess finally.
"How?" Ray asks, and there's an almost-desperate curiousity in his voice. "Why?"
I shrug my shoulders. That's difficult to explain, and I'm not sure I know the answer myself. "I know you."
To my surprise, Ray seems to find this answer satisfactory. He takes off his shirt and his jeans and throws them onto the made bed behind him. I feel a vast relief as Ray sits down on the bed next to me in his t-shirt and boxers.
"So is this," Ray asks me quietly, waving a vague hand between us, "some sort of consolation prize?"
Unbidden, the smile tugs at my mouth, and I struggle to control it. I look away, still feeling my lips twitch. "Prize?" I repeat. The word strikes me as amusing; I'm afraid I'm not much of a prize. "Hardly. Not by half. Consolation?" I consider this word, and find it rather more appropriate. "Perhaps. If you need it."
Ray lets himself slump backwards on the unmade bed and stares up at the cheap, stuccoed ceiling. Instantly, he has become a tangle of freckled limbs and white undergarments and bedclothes.
I twist sideways, drawing one leg up onto the bed, so that I can look down at his face. "Do you need consoling?"
Ray gives a long, disgusted groan. "God, I dunno..."
"Because there are other options," I feel compelled to point out. "Fighting, for instance. We've been held against our will, effectively kidnapped, and I can't imagine that Lieutenant Welsh isn't furious—"
Ray's already shaking his head. "No, no—"
"—or that he wouldn't fight on your behalf. You're a good policeman, Ray, and we can certainly challenge—"
"—the FBI's evaluation of the situation and stem any damage to your career."
"Career." Ray mutters the word as if it's an obscenity. "This ain't a career, Fraser, it's a—I don't know what it is." Ray props himself up on his elbows and looks at me. "Doesn't matter anyway, we both know it's not about that. The rules and the hearing board and I.A.—that's not the point. I got the job if I want it."
I nod quickly, profoundly relieved that Ray knows this. I hadn't been at all sure.
"The question is—do I want it? Or maybe that isn't even it either," Ray muses. "Maybe the real question is—can I do this anymore?" He stops for a moment and seems to think hard. "We got Shea," he says slowly, "we helped to get Shea. I mean, we did at least help, right?'"
I'm surprised that he has to ask. "Of course we helped," I retort, almost angrily. "Arguably we did more than help. Arguably, in fact, we actually solved—"
"So that's not such a bad way to go out. Because the Feds are right, Fraser," Ray confesses quietly. "I got lost on this one. Took the whole thing too personal, got caught up in Lisa..." and she's always been Lisa to Ray, never "Ms. Brightman" or "the victim". Lisa always.
"Ray," I say, feeling exasperated. "The fact that you take things so personally—that's what makes you such a good detective!"
Again, Ray surprises me. "Yeah, I know," he replies easily, "except now I'm sort of thinking, like, maybe I want a personal life to take personally. Like, my own life. I'm tired of feeling this much about other people. Mainly dead people. I don't think I can feel like this about any more dead people, Fraser. It's enough. I've had enough."
"I understand, Ray," I tell him, and I do.
"Three more years and I could retire." Ray relaxes his arms and drops back onto the bed. "Except I won't make another three years, not like this. And I don't wanna do it if it's not this—I don't see myself behind a desk, Fraser. Filling out forms and dealing with bullshit. I'm no desk jockey."
"I don't like it much myself," I admit. "As you've no doubt surmised. My association with the Chicago Police Department is the only thing that's made my time in Chicago bearable."
Suddenly Ray's frowning. "Shit. I hadn't thought of that. If I pull out, what the hell will you do? I guess you could partner up with someone else—"
"No," I interrupt gently; there's no point in even his entertaining such a thought. "I rather think not. Every fool knows not to light three on a match."
It takes Ray a moment to work through this and then he's laughing, one arm loosely draped across his stomach. "Okay, right," he says, smiling up at me. "I get that. So whattya think?"
I pretend to think about it, as if I haven't already, as if I hadn't been shaping and honing the idea since the moment I first suspected that Ray was on the verge of this decision. But these things must be introduced, well, delicately. "Well," I say, pausing as if in thought, "I suppose I might reactivate my transfer. Go back to Canada."
"Oh yeah?" Ray's voice is a study in neutrality.
"Mm," I say, trying to seem non-committal. "Of course, my life there isn't very exciting. The sort of work I do...well, it's mainly patrolling the territory. Mountains, forests, lakes," I add with an offhanded shrug. "I'm the only policeman for hundreds of kilometers in an area that's mostly uninhabited wilderness. Oh, of course, every once in a while there's a criminal to confront—there's always crime, you know; that can't be avoided. Poaching, industrial dumping, illegal mining or drilling, firearms and explosives—and of course we do encounter the occasional escaped convict. However, last year there was only one case of murder in the entire Northwest Territory," I explain. "One murder, three attempts, one case of manslaughter—all in Yellowknife, unfortunately, as were the considerably higher number of sexual assaults. However, when it comes to regular assault—well, I don't want to mislead you," I add, looking away; I don't think I can meet Ray's eyes at this juncture. "We do get our fair share of those. They're mainly alcohol-related, and there are always fights to break up, disputes to settle. Last year there were forty-seven bicycles stolen across the Territories, which is a shocking increase from—"
"Enough, already. I got the picture." Ray reaches up, knots a hand in my t-shirt, and pulls me down, but I brace myself on one arm and manage to hold myself up, over him. "It's Disneyland."
"It's not," I counter firmly, glaring down at him, determined that he hear the entire story "The temperature can range anywhere from thirty degrees below zero to the mid-seventies in summertime—that's without wind-chill, by the way," I add severely, "which can bring felt temperature down to seventy degrees below zero. In that sort of cold, the average person will get frostbite in less than two minutes." Ray winces, or perhaps that's a sympathetic shiver I see. "We have months of no daylight, and then months of nothing but, with no night-time at all. It's a frontier," I say with considerable emphasis, because he has to understand this, must understand. "Native peoples, a few oilmen in the company towns, and some folk who just can't fit in anywhere else. Do you understand?"
Ray, staring up at me, nods. "Yeah."
"But it's beautiful," I insist.
"Yeah," Ray repeats.
"Just hard," I caution.
"Yeah," Ray repeats.
"But it's my home. It's where I live. It's—"
"Take me with you."
Epilogue: Two Years Later
Ray squats down in the snow beside the tree stump, and suddenly he's fumbling in his pockets, pulling out his knife, selecting a small blade and digging into the wood. A moment later he's pulled something out, though I can't see what it is, and I have to stumble through the snow toward him for a better look.
Ray holds up what he's found, squinting against the bright snow-glare. A wooden peg, perfectly rounded, machine made, around which has been carefully wound a coil of wire.
"I've seen this before," Ray says with a frown. He turns it around in the sunlight, studying it. "Didn't that guy—whasisbucket, Harrison—didn't he make shit like this?"
Ray extends the tiny contraption to me and I study it. "Interesting," I murmur. "And no—not exactly. Harrison's work was a lot more primitive."
"Maybe he learned something in prison," Ray suggests grimly. He stands up, brushing snow off his knees, and does a slow turn, looking around.
"Perhaps," I grant. "I kept specimens of his work—they're back at the cabin. We could do a more in-depth comparison—"
But Ray's already stalking off through the snow in his boots, and I know exactly what he's doing—-he's looking for the other connector, the mate to this, which would have conveyed the electrical current necessary for such a trap. I get up, carefully pocket the peg, and follow him.
It takes him less than three minutes to find it—and moreover, he's found a large, square hole buried at the foot of the same tree. It's empty now, but past experience tells me what it would contain, and I feel my mouth tighten.
"Battery," Ray mutters, and I'm forced to agree. "That bastard."
"He's not even supposed to be here," I say, feeling suddenly angry. "It's expressly forbidden by the terms of his parole."
"Don't think he cares much." Ray stands and hands me the other peg; it's the perfect match to the one in my pocket. "Wire's gotta be around here somewhere," he adds, waving his hand, "but that's a fucking needle. It's probably in pieces."
"True, but it was doubtless stretched directly from there to here." I turn back to the first stump, and try to calculate the most direct line. "We could probably find it."
Ray shakes his head. "Except it's buried under two feet of snow and why bother. Nah, forget it, Frase," Ray says. "Better off checking the computer if you ask me."
"I didn't," I note wryly.
"You shoulda," Ray grins, and lopes back toward the sled.
"Ha," Ray mutters, startling me; he's leaning over my shoulder and staring at the computer screen. "Told you."
I lick the corner of my mouth and nod; Roger Harrison jumped parole seven weeks ago, and the samples we found are consistent with other specimens of his work.
"I should call Billy," I sigh, leaning back in my chair. "See if he brought anybody up recently."
"Like he'd tell you," Ray snorts. "Billy'd do anything for a bottle of scotch or a couple of beers, Fraser."
I tilt my head backwards to peer up at Ray. "So we'll buy him a beer."
Even though he's upside down, I can tell that Ray's grinning. "Clever. Evil," he says, and drops a kiss on my forehead.
"Hardly evil," I protest, turning in my chair as Ray makes his way into the kitchen.
"Evil totally. And you oughta call Natalie," Ray adds, pouring himself a cup of tea and padding back into our living area. "Find out if she's seen a decline in bears."
I shake my head. "I'll ask Chuck first."
Ray settles down on our sofa and looks at me curiously. "Why not Natalie?"
"By the time the satellites report in, and her data gets collated..." I wave my hand with some impatience. "Chuck will ask the tribe, and if anything odd's happened, they'll've noticed."
"Okay, point," Ray says, and sips his tea. Diefenbaker trots toward him, leaps up onto the sofa, and curls up at his side. "Fraser, even the dog's cold."
I smile at this, and instantly move to log out from the RCMP website. "Diefenbaker isn't cold. He's merely needy."
"That makes two of us, then," Ray replies. "Get your ass over here."
I close programs as quickly as I can, tapping my fingers impatiently as I wait for the modem to disengage. Finally it does, and I order the machine to shut down. I stand, surveying the room: we're battened down for the night, doors locked, everything put away, and despite Ray's complaint, the fire in the masonry stove has already been banked up.
I'm startled by the sudden, piercing screech of a guitar—Ray is fumbling with the remote control to his stereo, and he rapidly thumbs the button. The shrieking guitar solo abruptly stops, plunging us back into silence.
"Sorry about that," Ray mutters. He aims the remote again, and the music changes, first to Ella Fitzgerald, then to something soft and rhythmic—Latin, I think. One of the records that now falls into the broad category of "Ray's dancing music." I smile to myself as I light a lantern and hang it on the hook near our bed in the corner. The first time Ray tried to dance with me, it turned into such a scuffle that we were fortunate to escape without black eyes or broken bones. Moreover, I'd been laughing so hard I'd knocked the kerosene lamp over, and frankly we were lucky that the entire place hadn't burned down. I remember how Ray boggled at me, half-amused and entirely frustrated, yelling, "For Christ's sake, we're five hundred miles from the nearest human being—can't you relax a little? Who the hell's gonna see you, the dogs?" He was right, of course, but being right didn't make a damn bit of difference. I felt awkward, and clumsy, and stupid.
Now, of course, I've improved considerably. It helps, of course, that we do it only when we're alone; it also helps, I confess, for me to think of it not as dancing but as a species of foreplay. The fact that we usually end up making love while we dance is, I suppose, my contribution to the genre, but I find it impossible to hold without touching, to touch without kissing, to kiss without building passion. Much easier to put my hands on him and move with him when there's another rhythm driving us besides that of the record.
Ray, as he has explained to me during the long, lingering moments after orgasm, likes this a great deal. Now he tosses the remote control aside, gets to his feet, and glides over to me in the dim light. No hesitation, just straight into my arms, a coy twist of the head, and he's kissing me. Our bodies press together, my hands move over him, molesting him—and perhaps this isn't quite dancing, but who's to judge that, the dogs?
For my own part, I like this very much, because it brings out a competitive streak in Ray which excites me. If this isn't exactly a test of grace, it certainly measures strength and agility—which turn out to be requirements when one attempts to make love standing up. It's a balancing act, in every sense of the word, as we struggle both to stay upright and to arouse each other to the point of weak-kneed collapse. Most times we barely make it to the end of a three minute song; other times, half an album might pass in giddy, spinning pleasure before we break, gasping for breath, our mouths slick with each other. Occasionally, one of us has unexpectedly and violently climaxed in the other's arms, and that's its own sort of challenge.
This, however, will surely take less than three minutes. I can tell from the way Ray is kissing me that he has, for the lack of a better word, an agenda. His hands are everywhere, and his tongue is heavy in my mouth. We hold each other, turn together, kissing, stroking, hips moving in rhythm. Ray's radiating that particular brand of confidence that dancing seems to give him; he's strong, seductive, relaxed. He moves his hands over my chest, then down my shirt front, undoing the buttons. And then he thumbs open the top button of my jeans and slides his hand into my pants.
It's all I can do to hang on, to remain standing. I tighten my hands on him, turn my head, and suck his earlobe into my mouth. Ray shivers, and that's good, points for me. Instantly, I press my advantage by putting my tongue in his ear—and this perhaps, gets me more than I bargained for, though not more than I want, because Ray gasps and whirls me around and shoves me back against the bed. And so much for vertical, and so much for rhythm.
My legs give out and I sit—then I'm shoved, sprawling, onto my back. Ray falls to his knees next to the bed, yanks my jeans down, and starts sucking me hungrily. All I can do from this position is gasp at the ceiling, but that's fine by me; I'm not capable of more. Ray's mouth, Ray's fist, the twirl of Ray's tongue speeds faster and faster. I'm thrumming, can't last, take deep breaths, but Ray is coaxing me to--come on, Fraser, comenow—
With a moan, I ejaculate—a sweet relief that leaves me relaxed and trembling with aftershocks. I feel Ray's mouth kiss me, leave me, and then his strong hands are on my hips and turning me over. I roll easily, instinctively spreading my legs for him; a brush of fingertips, a touch of something slick, and Ray drives into me, his strong, lean body draped across my back, his hips thrusting hard. We're at an awkward angle, half on and half off the bed, but I barely notice—I'm too conscious of the heat of his skin, the thick length of him thrusting in and out of me.
I gasp aloud as I feel Ray jerk and spurt deep within me—the pulse setting off a nearly unbearable pleasure-wave. And then Ray collapses heavily upon my back, and I feel his hot breath at the back of my neck. "God, that's good," he mutters, and mutely I agree. After a moment he heaves himself up off me, and I feel suddenly cold as my sweat-soaked back is exposed to the air. "Stay put, I'll get you a washcloth," Ray says, and disappears into the bathroom, turning off the stereo as he passes it. A moment later he returns with two wet cloths and a clean towel, and we clean and dry ourselves before Ray gathers everything up and drops the bundle into the laundry basket.
"Move over," Ray says, and puts out the lantern.
I move over, pulling myself into bed properly, and a moment later I feel Ray slide in beside me. Immediately I reach for him, draping one arm across his chest and resting my head on his shoulder. Lying here in postcoital bliss—well, this is a pleasure which has has not yet palled. I feel his arm come around me, his hand work itself into my hair. Beneath my head, his chest rises and falls rhythmically as his breathing evens out. I drift in and out of consciousness before realizing, after a while, that Ray is awake.
"Ray?" I murmur into the darkness.
"You're thinking about Harrison, aren't you?"
"Yeah," Ray replies absently, and then adds: "That psychotic polar-bear-killing bastard—"
I smile against his chest. "Go to sleep, Ray."
Ray caresses my hair and whispers, laughing, "Yeah, okay."