Wildly Dangerous Ways
Author's Notes: Terri was really the assisting physician on this birth—the woman's got an ear like you wouldn't believe! and an eye that can spot a typo at a thousand paces Any mistakes left in this puppy are my fault—believe me. Thanks also to Anna for batting cleanup—and to resonant, Kat, Mia, and Cin for readthroughs and support.
So there's fourteen of them and two of us—plus they got Uzis, plus I only got two shots left, plus Fraser's got no weapon at all except for his winning Canadian ways.
We're crouched down together in the warehouse behind an oil drum and staring at each other, eyes locked in pointless conversation: "You got an idea?" "No, do you?" "No, you?" "No, not me, no. You?" Another blast of bullets overhead and we're hunkering down, edging in, trying to get the fuck out of the line of fire. Fraser's hair's all messed up and I think he's even sweating a little, which means this is seriously bad news.
"Come on!" I yell finally, practically into his face. "You just gotta have a suggestion, here!"
Fraser licks his lips and peers around the edge of the drum—then jerks back as a bullet pings! off the metal two inches from his head. Fuck! "Well, I might have one, but—"
"One is good, one works," I say instantly. "Sold. Gimme."
"—it isn't a very good one, and—"
"Sold! Hand it over! Chop-chop!"
"—it'll probably get us both killed," Fraser finishes, and now he's glaring at me.
I glare right back at him, then wrinkle my nose and make a face. "Oh yeah—I'm shocked, I'm stunned, catch me if I faint."
"All right, Ray." Fraser takes a deep breath. "Do you remember where the office door is? Can you visualize it?"
I close my eyes tight; yeah, I can visualize it. "Yeah. And?"
"To the left of the door are some crates. Do you remember?"
Crates. Yeah, I remember crates. They're on my mental map now—big, ugly wood crates. "Yeah? And?"
"The third crate from the right—"
"Wait, wait—" Crates on the left. Third crate from the right on the left. Okay. Right. Got it. "Yeah? And?"
"I suggest you fire your last two shots into that crate."
I open my eyes and stare at him. "That's what you suggest?"
"That's what I suggest, yes."
"And then what happens?" I ask suspiciously.
"Well, that's where it gets hypothetical," Fraser admits. "I'm fairly sure that the crate will explode rather...explosively."
I squint at him through my glasses. "Big bang, huh?"
"A really big bang, yes," Fraser confirms breathlessly, ducking down under another wave of shots. "But—"
"Here comes the but," I mutter.
"—you have to make the shot without getting shot yourself, while we're running for the exit, at which time there's a fairly good chance that we will get caught in the resultant crossfire or by the force of the explosion."
"And then we die."
"And then we die, yes."
"Uh-huh. Right." I think about this for half a second. "But to look on the bright side for a minute, you're telling me that if I make that shot everybody here goes with us? Whole place go boom?"
"Yes," Fraser replies seriously. "Whole place go boom."
"Right. Okay. So fuck 'em. On three, Fraser—"
Fraser nods quickly and shifts, tensing to run.
"One," I say, staring at him and trying to hold that damn third crate from the right on the left in my mind. "Two..."
There was no three; even now I do not remember three. I remember popping up and firing blind and bang! and then BOOM! and ORANGE! and HEAT! and fucking FIREBALL flying toward me and falling backwards, away, pulled away, Fraser's hand on my arm and BLACK CLOUD FLAMES SMOKE HEAT AND I GOT NO EYEBROWS LEFT, CHOKING—
—and then the door, outside, black smoke outside, running into the black smoke cloud and Fraser's hand tight around my wrist and pulling, nearly tripping, really tripping and hitting the gray gravel, hard. My glasses are flying off and I'm scraping my palms and there's this great fucking black smoke cloud covering everything, like it's night time right in the middle of the day. Fraser's fallen with me, but he's moving, scrabbling, grabbing me and hauling me up and looking over my shoulder. I can see why—the place is on fire, the place is really on fire, and we have to get back, further away—and yeah, there it is, a second huge BOOM and another burst of flames shooting out toward us, heating our backs but not reaching us because we're both running like hell.
Finally I stop, turn, brace my hands on my knees, panting— and I lift my head to stare back across the parking lot at the warehouse, which you can barely see in all the black smoke and orange flames; fucking hell on earth back there. I straighten up and glance at Fraser, who's staring at the fire too— he's looking flushed and out of breath and sorta funny cause he's got black streaks all across his face and his uniform, like something out of a cartoon, like Daffy Duck after a bad encounter with the rabbit.
I touch my own face and then stare at my hand, which comes away black and sort of bloody. The two of us must look a sight, like a minstrel show, and that makes me crack up. Fraser looks at me and smiles, then laughs, then steps close and touches my face and says, still laughing, "Oh hell, Ray, you've been hit with shrapnel—wood—splinters, I think, from—"
"Those fuckin' crates," I say, grinning wildly.
Fraser's glowing with laughter. "Those fucking crates, yes. Whole place go boom—"
Then, see, I'm not sure exactly what happens except that I'm on him and he's on me. I don't even know who was on who first, who made the move or if the move just got made—one, two, and no three—but suddenly, wham, I'm up against a wall of Fraser and his mouth's on mine—and they say, you know, that kissing a smoker is like kissing an ashtray but hey, whoever coined that little chestnut never kissed someone who's just been through a huge motherfucking explosion. I don't know if it's him or me but the whole thing tastes like shit—like ashes and smoke and death.
But I can't stop.
It comes to me then that there's a hand on my dick, that Fraser's hand is on me and he's feeling me up through my jeans. I'm maybe gonna yell or push him or slug him except then I realize that my hand's on him, too—that that hard hot thing in my hand is him—and I squeeze and he moans and he squeezes and I moan and then everything goes even crazier. Because next thing I'm unzipping his pants and he's popping open my buttons and I'm fumbling and he's fumbling and then I got him. I got him in my hand and he's got me in his hand and I'm just helpless, then, cause he's jerking me—jerking me rough and hard and kissing me still. And I must have been jerking him too because my hand's hot and slippery and wet with him, plus I have a wrist cramp later for extra proof.
Maybe six strokes, maybe seven, I forget—quick anyway—and then Fraser makes this sound I never heard him make before, breathes this soft, sweet sound right into me, and then he's shaking and my hand's all sticky. He sways a little and I fling my arm around him and lock my knees and then—wham!—like a kick to the head, I'm seeing stars and I'm jerking and coming all over him.
My knees go out and his are no good neither and so down we go—him on his ass and me down beside him, gravel digging into my knees. We let go of each other and I throw out my hand to steady myself, and it's sticky and scraped and fuck, I do not believe this.
I look at him but he looks worse than I feel—all confused and dazed and lost, with his perfect Mountie pants all undone and his dick hanging out.
I point at him and shout, "Do not tell me that doesn't count!"
Fraser looks up and blinks a couple of times before he finally sees me. "Uh, no. That...would count."
"Good! Cause I've been buying your bullshit line about adrenaline, Fraser—and okay, I grant you, adrenaline's a part of it, the building just blew up, so yeah. But that was not just adrenaline there, that was weird, that's now officially weird and sort of fruity."
Fraser sighs and rubs his sooty forehead with the heel of his hand. "Okay. Point."
"This is now—right now, officially—over the line." I'm ranting but I can't stop. "I've been waiting for it, I knew there was a line, I've been wondering where that line is—and here we go, wham, this would be it right here."
Fraser nods distractedly and digs into his tunic pocket. Then he pulls out a large, white handkerchief and starts swabbing himself off, wiping up the mess. "It would seem so, yes."
I force my eyes up away from his crotch. "That was not a 'circumstance', Fraser—that was sex. That was, like, officially sex right there."
"Am I arguing with you?" Fraser's folding the handkerchief up with tight, angry movements. "No. I don't believe I am."
"Hey, I'm just trying to forestall any of your bullshit explanations."
"Well, I'm flat out of bullshit explanations," Fraser retorts. "Are you happy now?"
"Yes! No! Gimme that," I demand, and he thrusts his hand up and gives me the handkerchief. I swipe my own dick off and tuck myself back into my jeans.
When I look up Fraser's staring across the lot, watching the building burn to the ground. "What do you suggest we do?" he asks quietly.
I blow out a breath and shove the handkerchief into my jacket pocket. "I think we back off, cool off, stay apart for a while."
Fraser nods slowly, not looking at me. "Excellent idea. I have seventy-nine sick days accumulated—this seems like a good time to take a few."
"Okay, good—I'll take a vacation, too," I say, feeling relieved. "You go north, I'll go south—we'll meet back up in—what?—say, two weeks?"
"Two weeks sounds like sufficient time." Fraser cocks his head and listens—and after a moment I can hear it too. Sirens. Fire department, I'm guessing, and maybe that backup we radioed for ten years ago.
"Fraser," I say, and his head jerks round. "When we come back? We do not talk about this."
Fraser's eyebrows fly up. "Good heavens, no, Ray," he says, sounding shocked.
I have to nearly bust a lung before Welsh agrees to two weeks—what for? he wants to know, and how come? Cause Fraser and me are starting to fuck outside of crime scenes! I feel like yelling, but instead I just say, "What's it to you? I want to see the pyramids of Egypt, what do you care?"
Whatever, he gives me the two weeks and I book a flight to Miami. I figure beach, maybe rent a car and drive down the Keys, do some fishing. What I don't figure is a fucking four and a half hour delay at O'Hare, which of course I should've figured into the travel plan, since it's inevitable, like death and taxes.
So I wander around the airport with my duffle bag over my shoulder and stop in newsstands and buy gum and look at glossy magazines with nearly naked chicks on the cover and try to pretend like they do shit for me, which really they don't. Eventually, though, I end up in the glass enclosed smoking room with two fat guys and a bleached blonde in tight jeans who's maybe seventy-eight years old, and that's being generous.
Already, this is taking too long; already, I've got too much time to think. I stare up at the monitor and it's flashing DELAY DELAY DELAY like I don't know already, like it's rubbing it in or something. I slouch back in the chair and close my eyes—and instantly I'm back in the alley where it all started, where he started it. Or maybe where I started it, I can't remember—or maybe I just don't want to.
What I remember is Fraser on the ground with blood pooled around his head and soaking his hair and dripping down from the sharp edge of the dumpster. "Fraser," I'm shouting, and my voice is hoarse, "oh, god, Fraser," and he looks up at me, totally normal, and sits up. "It's all right, Ray," he says, and his voice is all clear and rational, "it's all right—you know how head wounds bleed, they look worse than they are," like bleeding to death is not a problem, here, which it totally is. I'm on the ground next to him and I'm kneeling in his blood and yelling into my cellphone, "officer down! officer down"—
—and see, this is the part I don't quite remember how it happened, just that I'm clutching him, or he's clutching me, or both, and his face is pressed up against my neck and he's breathing into my neck and I am holding him tight, I am holding him so tight, and—
"USAir Flight 9 to Miami, now boarding at Gate 17. USAir Flight 9 to Miami, now boarding at Gate 17. All passengers please report to the gate. Flight 9 to Miami, now boarding at—"
I open my eyes and the monitor's now flashing BOARDING BOARDING BOARDING, which is good.
They put me in a window seat next to a fourteen year old who's reading Teen Beat magazine and snapping her gum. She gives me a nasty look, so I snap my own gum at her and give her my best 'fuck-you' smile. She rolls her eyes at me and puts her headphones on, which is just as well, because really, I'm sure we got almost nothing in common.
I put my seat back and close my eyes and try to make some happy, non-Fraser-type plans for what to do when I get to Miami. Couple of days on the beach, no question, just to get my tan started—they've got those chairs you can rent there, right on the ocean, which is totally worth it. Then at night, hey, Miami is a dancing town, if you like Latin which I do, so maybe I hit Washington Street a couple of nights, find myself a nice little chica who—
—is holding a gun; her hands are shaking but she's still managing to hold it up, even if it does take two hands. Of course Fraser's totally calm about it, and he's managing to be totally nice to her: "Carmen. Please. We want to help you—sé que él le lastimó—"
That's when she shrieks and starts firing, first toward Fraser, then potshots at me. But Wyatt Earp she ain't, so I see it coming and duck down quick behind the bar. When I raise my head, Fraser's got her—she's face down on the sawdust floor and her arms are behind her back and she's crying, but Fraser's totally impassive, doing her hands up tight.
"Shit," I say, and he looks up at me, and I can see he's worried. "She didn't hit you, did she?" he asks, and I say, "She wasn't even in my zip code, Fraser"—
"May I get you a drink, sir?" I'm grinning before I even open my eyes because it hits me that the only people as polite as Mounties are airline stewardesses. I open my eyes and look at her and man, she is a doozy—blonde and slim and gorgeous and offering me alcoholic beverages, which is A-O-K.
"Sure," I say with a smile, and fuck if Little Miss Teen Beat next to me isn't shifting and rolling her eyes—I could brain her, honest. "I'll have...um...you got scotch?"
The stewardess smiles at me and pulls a little brown bottle out of her cart, then offers it to me with a little plastic cup of ice.
"Thank you kindly," I say with a smile. She moves on, and Little Miss Teen Beat snorts out a laugh. "Read your magazine already," I snap at her. "Or can't you read?"
"Take a cold shower, man," she says.
"Hey, I'm not the one who wants to gang-bang NSync."
She looks up at me, pursing her mouth. "Are you sure?"
So Little Miss Teen Beat turns out to be named Vanessa, and she's actually thirteen and going to visit her grandparents. She tells me her grandfather is a whacko who moved out of Chicago when the old Polish neighborhood went bad—"you know, when those people moved in," she says, rolling her eyes—and now he lives in a big house in an all-white neighborhood and collects guns.
"Plus, he smells funny," Vanessa tells me, and makes a face. "Their whole house smells funny—it's, like, gross."
"Yeah, grandparents always smell funny," I muse, leaning back in my seat. "I don't know why that is."
"Your grandparents smell funny, too?" she asks.
"Yeah. Well, they did. Now they're dead." We look at each other for a second and then we're both grinning. "Now," I begin, and point at her—
"—they smell really funny," she finishes, and laughs.
So Vanessa turns out to be okay. I trade her my pretzels for an hour with her Game Boy, which makes the flight go a lot faster. We hit turbulence right at the end there, bouncing and jolting around in our seats as the bell dings and dings: seatbelts on, tray-tables up, seats back up. Vanessa stops looking like a wise-ass and starts looking sick and sort of scared, so I hold her hand tight through the landing and tell her that, really, the odds of a plane crashing are almost none, like a million to one, like you're more likely to be hit by lightning or win the lottery—
— except of course, if it's Fraser and me, and then the plane crashes for sure, one hundred percent. And okay, so it was a private plane, but you'd think they woulda put in more than one parachute. Like there really oughta be a law about that, and there probably was—but as Fraser pointed out at the time, we didn't have time to file any safety violations just then.
"You take it," Fraser says, pushing the parachute at me.
I shove it right back at him. "No, you take it."
Fraser shoves it back again. "Ray, you take it and I'll hold on to you, all right?"
"No, you take it and I'll hold on to you—I weigh less than you do!"
"No," Fraser says, and his voice is getting edgy, "you take it and I'll hold on to you because I'm better at holding on to things than you are."
I think about this for about half a second and then I nod. "Right. Okay. I'll take it!" He helps me get the straps on and then we push the door of the plane open and, oh, holy fuck, there's a whole lotta ground down there, rushing past us and coming right toward us.
"Fraser!" I yell, wind flying through my hair. "Fuck! Fraser!"—
—and see, that was the first real kiss if you don't count that whole buddy breathing thing on the Henry Allen, which I didn't at the time but you know, maybe in hindsight, yes. But I can't remember who kissed who on that plane, mainly because we were hurtling toward sudden and sure death on that bucket and I was scared out of my freakin' mind and not really dotting the i's and crossing the t's on the details. Still though, there was a kiss there, I remember it, because I thought it was gonna be my last one ever ever—fucking clutching Fraser and saying, "right, bye, I loved working with you" with my tongue.
Then he grabs me and shouts, "Jump, Ray! Jump!" and we're turning together in the sky—around and around, head over heels. His arms are locked around me, legs too, and they feel like iron—Fraser is, in fact, really, really good at holding on to things, even me. Fraser yells "Pull the ripcord!" and I pull and the thing just BLOOMS over our heads like a giant mushroom—and it's easier then, because we're not flipping upside down any more, and it must have been seconds but it feels like years before we—
—land hard on the ground, in a cornfield, the white nylon billowing around us and—
—then falling on to the ground, faces windburned and me crying, and—
—he kissed me then, I'm pretty sure of that much. I'm pretty sure that he said, "Ray," and grabbed me and kissed me. Except maybe it really was the other way around—
"Gimme my hand back."
I let go of Vanessa's hand; and shit, we're already on the ground. People are moving about the cabin, as they say in the air biz. "Sorry, kid, I spaced out."
"Clearly," she says, rolling her eyes.
I frown at her. "Hey—did you just call me an asshole?"
"Yeah. Asshole is as asshole does. Speaking of which," Vanessa says, unlatching her seatbelt and squirming around to lean over the back of her seat, "come meet my family."
So Vanessa's grandmother thinks I'm a child molester, I can see it in her eyes. I debate not giving a shit but end up pulling my badge out. That's almost worse—she goes into the whole patronizing middle-class "thank you officer for looking after my child" thing. Vanessa's dying of embarrassment, which I don't blame her for one bit. I knock her on the shoulder with my fist and she gives me an apologetic look.
I sling my duffle bag over my shoulder. "See you around, kid. Buy Stick-Ups."
Getting out of the airport is like the Long March of Death. Part of me wants to just bolt ahead, cut the taxi line and shove everybody the fuck out of my way—but I can't do that so I just stand there, shuffling forward with everybody else, slapping out the drumbeat to "Back In Black" on my dufflebag. It's hot out here, it's like an oven out here, and I'm sweating in my leather jacket, though the sweat feels kinda good.
Finally I'm at the front and I get a cab and tell the guy to take me to the Governor Hotel. It's nice in the cab, he's got the air-conditioning on, so I lean back into the seat and just look out the window. Miami's a whole different set of colors, pale blues and pinks and big white buildings—
—and when Fraser stops kissing me, or I stop kissing him, whatever, he sits back in all that white nylon and I can see he's thinking hard, Mountie-brain working on all cylinders. "Go ahead, I'm waiting," I tell him, waving my hand.
"Um," Fraser says, and he frowns, shifts his brain into overdrive.
"Cause that wasn't no buddy breathing there. I mean, we're clear on that, right?"
"Right, yes. Not. No," Fraser admits.
"So what was that exactly?" I demand.
"Well, that was a kiss," Fraser says, but he's in explanation-mode, which is good: it makes everything nice and dry and boring. "And of course, normal rules of social interaction prohibit that sort of—communication—between men. Still," he adds, with a cough, "there are moments of extreme—um—extreme..."
He's losing it. "Panic? Terror? Crisis?" I suggest quickly.
"Yes," Fraser says, looking grateful, "where normal rules of interaction are suddenly breached in the service of—um—"
"Stuff," I supply. "Big stuff."
"Right," Fraser says instantly. "Where it's suddenly more important to express a powerful emotion than to preserve the social niceties. So—fear for one's life. Joy at finding oneself alive. These are—gigantic emotions, Ray—huge, human emotions—Shakespearean, really," Fraser finishes—and winces a little.
Christ, I wonder if he knew it was bullshit even then. Still, though, it sounded good to me. Or maybe I just wanted to believe—
"Governor Hotel," the cabbie says, and god, you've got to be kidding me: thirty-five bucks?!
I check in and go up to my room and hang up the one or two decent items of clothes I got. Then I go and take a cool shower because it's hot and I'm sweaty and I smell like the airplane, which I can't stand. It's already getting late, so no beach today—but this is primo drinking time, and then it's dancing time, and dancing time in Miami doesn't end till noon the next day, which is one of the things to love about this town. I spend about half an hour working my hair, and then I put on a shiny blue, short-sleeved shirt with an open neck and some jeans and I am ready, totally ready, to hit the town. Before I go, though, I straighten up the room a little—cause who knows, even I might get lucky, and—
—"proper preparation prevents poor performance," Fraser says, and he's wet and shivering and gasping for breath. "I told you before, Ray—"
I've got him and I'm banging him against the wall of the marina, I'm so fucking angry. "No way you prepare for that! No way on earth you could prepare for that—"
—but I can't go there now, I can definitely not go there now. I shove my room key into my pocket and head out the door. I gotta get some food, gotta get a drink, maybe a nice outside table with an ocean view, where I can people-watch—
"Not directly, no," Fraser says, arching an eyebrow at me—and water's streaming from his hair, dripping off his nose. "But more generally, yes—after all, you managed to leap on to a moving speedboat, Ray, and I'm sure you never trained to do that specifically."
—and get a nice cold beer with a twist of lime, Christ, Fraser, please, get out of my head.
I get my table; I get my view—and fuck the ocean, really, cause it's the people you gotta see. Swarming up and down Ocean Drive—man, the outfits! and just—the bodies! Everyone looks like a model for underwear brands I can't afford—like, dig the tanned blonde in the shiny gold hotpants zipping by on roller blades just there. Fan-fucking-tastic.
So I drink cold beer and watch and grin behind my hand a little every now and then. I trade a couple of appreciative looks with a couple of people that don't really lead to nothing and then suddenly, pow, I've hit it—a slinky brunette with a great smile breaks out of the river of people, leans over the wooden cafe railing, and smiles at me. "You alone?"
I show her my slowest, best, most seductive smile and she shows me hers right back. Then she's moving, ducking around the railing, sitting down in the chair next to mine. "You looked a little lonely," she says, crossing her legs—long, long legs, there—all tanned and gorgeous. "And my parents were missionaries," she adds coyly, "so I have this inherited urge to save people."
Score. Her name is Amanda and she's got a nice line in witty banter, which I appreciate. She's also got nice lines almost everywhere else—including these high, perky breasts that really maybe aren't actually hers but hey, I dye my hair, so nobody's perfect. I buy her dinner, she buys me a couple of drinks, and then I'm asking her if she dances, if she wants to go dancing.
So cool, we walk the couple of blocks up to Washington and hit the first place that looks really hopping. And it's jammed in there, dark and crowded and throbbing with these powerful, beating lights overhead—the sort of place Fraser would hate, I think, totally hate, except I am not going to be thinking about Fraser right now. Amanda and me, we go out on the dance floor, and whoa, the chick moves, those feet move, even with those tiny, strappy, silver sandals on. She shows me her moves and I show her mine—and another cool thing about Miami is that everyone's a good dancer, so it's not like in Chicago where two minutes into it I've become the fucking floor show, which pisses me off. My personal feeling is, if I'm gonna be the night's entertainment, I wanna get paid for it.
Here, though, it's just great—mindless and wonderful—and the only person I'm personally entertaining is Amanda, which is okay because she's personally entertaining me right back. I can see she's impressed with me, which is good, I'm impressed with her, too—and soon we're getting closer, more intimate, dirty dancing, with those breasts that might not really be hers rubbing up against my chest and making my nipples hard. I've got my hands on her ass, on her thighs, and suddenly she's licking her lips and saying, "Buy me a drink, Ray, okay?"
So we push our way to the bar and I buy us some drinks and then we go stand in the back, out of the way, to guzzle them down. She takes three long sips from hers and then puts it down on a table, and then her hands—cold from the glass—are touching my forehead, brushing my sweaty hair out of my face.
"I like you," she says, smiling.
"I like you, too," I manage, and then she's kissing me, she's got me up against the wall and she's kissing me. I kiss her back, holding her head, caressing her shoulders, her back, her thighs; she's all short skirt and smooth skin and—
—wet serge, cold and damp, and the water's slick with something. Fraser's shivering, he's so cold, he's pretending not to be cold but he is. I'm wet too and I should be cold, I should be a walking icicle, but I'm not, I'm too mad, I'm too scared, I'm too—
—she's closing her legs on my thigh, humping against me, and I hold her close, I hold her close, and she's writhing and—
—hot, the lake water is practically steaming off me, and I can't keep my hands off him. I want to back off, back away, but I can't let go. It's like I need proof that he's there, that he's real, that he survived, because he shouldn't have survived—that boat dragged him for miles before I could make the jump, knock out the one guy, clock the second, throw the third over the side and grab the controls and stop—
"Don't stop," she's moaning. "Don't stop. Oh yeah," and I'm breathing hard, cause she's hot, she might just bring herself off, bring me off, bring the room off, right here, which would be amazing, and she's rocking against me, rocking—
—the boat, cut the engines, and then I'm hanging over the back, frantically pulling the rope, and god, I'm praying he's on the end of it, on the end and alive and he is.
Of course he is. Because "Proper preparation prevents poor performance," he tells me later, back on land, behind the marina where we've gone to argue about it. "I told you before, Ray—"
I've got him and I'm banging him against the wall, I'm so fucking angry. "No way you prepare for that! No way on earth you could prepare for that—"
"Not directly, no," Fraser says, arching an eyebrow at me—and water's streaming from his hair, dripping off his nose. "But more generally, yes—after all, you managed to leap on to a moving speedboat, Ray, and I'm sure you never trained to do that specifically."
I can't keep my hands off him. I want to back off, back away, but I can't keep my hands off him— I need proof that he's there, that he's real, that he survived this. It takes me a second to realize his hands are on me too, that he's clutching my shoulders, squeezing my wet jacket. Water's dripping onto my shoes.
"You were wonderful, Ray," Fraser says quietly, and he means it, I know he means it—and then he's got a hand on the back of my neck and he's pulling me into a hug, or I think it's a hug.
It's a hug, it's more than a hug, it's—an embrace; it's sort of a—tangle; it's maybe a—coupling; it's—we're—I'm—he's—
—rocking against me, she's rocking against me, my mouth is full of her, my hands are full of her, rocking her, holding him, wet serge in my hands, wet fabric between us, and I want to let go but I can't, can't, can't. I'm rocking into him and gasping and shit! fuck! how is this happening? what are we doing? how can I, how can we—
—I'm coming, I'm coming, oh, Christ, Fraser—
"What?" Amanda asks breathlessly, and I grab her, hold her tight, hold her close, and mutter, "You're wonderful, you're wonderful, you're just wonderful."
My guess is that Amanda's up for more, but I'm tapped out—so we exchange numbers and I tell her I'll call her tomorrow. Maybe I even will. I have a second's pause over how to get home, cause I've got a serious wet spot on the front of my jeans. But then I have a brainstorm—I buy a bottle of water on my way out, uncap it, and empty it over my head. It feels great, and I shake my head wildly, sending water splashing onto a couple of girls there by the curb, who shriek and laugh. I grin at them, and now I'm soaked, cooled off, and feeling fine. I toss the plastic bottle into the trash and head back to the hotel.
Once inside, I strip off, scrub the come-stains out of my pants, and hang them on the towel rack to dry. I turn the air-conditioning up to high and then jump in the shower: I need another shower, what with the real-dancing and lap-dancing and all. By the time I'm done the room's freezing, which is good, and so I towel off quick and throw on a t-shirt and shorts and get under the covers, clutching the remote control. There's almost nothing on, even the late late show's come and gone, but there's the end of some movie I've never seen on HBO, so I let that flicker past me to calm me down.
In my head, though, I'm back at the marina. I'm thinking about how it felt to shudder and come against Fraser, his clammy hand clutching the back of my neck, my hand clutching all that cold, wet serge. I think he came, too—in fact, I'm sure he did. I remember the sharp inhalation, the way his fingers scrabbled against my skin.
Later, in my car, still wrapped up in itchy, sour-smelling blankets from the ambulance, Fraser turns to me and says, quietly, "Ray?"
I shake my head and tighten my hands on the wheel. "I don't wanna talk about it."
He nods and looks out the window, tightening the blanket around his shoulders. "Just," he says after a moment, "I want to apologize—"
"What part of 'I don't wanna talk about it' don't you understand?"
"—for my reactions," Fraser continues doggedly, not looking at me. "I wasn't in control of myself, as I'm sure you've already surmised."
"Yeah, well, you're right. I surmised," I snap at him, "being as we just had sex up against the wall, there—"
Fraser's head whips around. "That wasn't—sex," he says, and he's suddenly beet-red, like he can't even bear to say the word. "That was—adrenaline, that was a purely physical reaction. Elevated heart rate, elevated blood pressure, constriction of the capillaries—and yes, Ray, even erections are symptomatic of bodies under stress as well as of sexual excitement. Or, to put it another way, excitement is excitement is excitement—and certainly being dragged behind a speedboat for two miles qualifies as excitement, does it not? And what you did—saving my life like that—must have stretched your physical and emotional resources near to their limits."
I'm frowning now, shooting glances across the car at him, confused. "Adrenaline, huh? You really think that's what that was?"
"Yes," Fraser says firmly. "Absolutely. Not," he adds quickly, "that that's an excuse." He reaches up, pushes his wet hair back from his forehead with both hands, looking as frustrated as I've ever seen him. "But it is an explanation."
"So you're saying that wasn't sex. That was just—" I wave my hand, trying to pull the word out of the air.
Sure enough, Fraser finds the word. "Circumstance. Just an unusual circumstance, Ray—each of us on a hair-trigger, and in rather unfortunate proximity."
I'm suddenly weak with relief. "So it doesn't count."
"It most certainly does not count, no."
"Okay. All right. Okay—"
I stare up at the ceiling of my room, watch the lights from the television flicker there. After a while I raise the remote control and flick the TV off. The room goes dark and silent. "Benton Fraser," I say aloud, "you are so full of shit."
I find myself reading rather a lot of D.H. Lawrence. He's hardly a model for healthy sexuality—the man was a narcissist, and he was clearly obsessed with his mother. Then again, I'm more than a little obsessed by my own mother, so who am I to sit in judgment?
In any case, I find the trepidation with which Lawrence approaches sexual matters to be—well, quite moving, really.
Why were we crucified into sex? Why were we not left rounded off, and finished in ourselves, As we began, As he certainly began, so perfectly alone?
I look up, over the snowy landscape before me, at the distant mountains: certainly here, on my father's porch, it is possible to imagine oneself perfectly alone, to imagine that one is the only person alive on the entire planet, in fact. I think about Saint Joan, in Shaw's play, comforting herself in her abandonment, reminding herself that God is alone.
Diefenbaker barks sharply at me, and I turn to look at him. All right, Dief, yes. Obsessed with my mother, and a bit of a narcissist, too. Point taken.
I smile and return to the poem, reading slowly, not wanting to miss a word. I find both terror and wonder in Lawrence—he is connected to life in the largest sense, and yet he fears both its joys and its pains.
I remember, when I was a boy, I heard the scream of a frog, which was caught with his foot in the mouth of an up-starting snake; I remember when I first heard bull-frogs break into sound in the spring; I remember the heifer in her heat, blorting and blorting through the hours, persistent and irrepressible; I remember my first terror hearing the howl of weird, amorous cats—
Dief barks again, and again I look up. "What, Dief, what? I'm trying to read this." Dief bounds up the steps where I'm sitting and brushes past me, thwacking me in the face with his tail. "All right, that's enough. What's the matter with you?"
Dief flops down beside me and gives me a feral look. "You are not bored!" I say, shocked. "Don't be ridiculous! Look at that!" I fling my hand out: the entire natural world, literally on our doorstep. "Go! Run! Chase something!"
Dief doesn't move, just thumps his tail once. "No," I say sharply, "there are no Ring Dings here, as you well know." I raise my hand again and point toward a string of distant trees. "Go. Kill something. You're a wolf." Dief doesn't move, but he's not howling either, so fine, be that way. I return to my book with a sigh.
Where was I?
I remember my first terror hearing the howl of weird, amorous cats; I remember the scream of a terrified, injured horse, the sheet-lightning, And running away from the sound of a woman in labour, something like an owl whooing, And listening inwardly to the first bleat of a lamb, The first wail of an infant, And my mother singing to herself—
Well, there you go. It really wouldn't be Lawrence without his mother coming into it somewhere. I close my eyes and remember my own mother singing.
You made me love you. I didn't want to do it. I didn't want to do it.
And really, knowing my father as I now do, I can see why she wouldn't have wanted to—
Dief howls and I'm about ready to hurl my book at his fat head. Except, I realize a second later, it isn't Dief—it's further off, it's another wolf. I open my eyes and Dief is up, on his feet, wildly at attention—and then he's running, paws flying, across the snow and into the trees. Good. Goodbye.
I shake my head and return to the poem.
The cross, The wheel on which our silence first is broken, Sex, which breaks up our integrity, our single inviolability, our deep silence, Tearing a cry from us—
I jerk my head up and look for Dief, suddenly suspicious. I listen intently, but I don't hear anything—well, I hear a lot, actually: sandpipers, owls, what sounds like a lost moose, but no copulating wolves, thank God. I take a deep breath and resume reading.
Sex, which breaks up our integrity, our single inviolability, our deep silence, Tearing a cry from us— Sex, which breaks us into voice, sets us calling across the deeps, calling, calling for the complement, Singing, and calling, and singing again, being answered, having found. Torn, to become whole again, after long seeking for what is lost, The same cry from the tortoise as from Christ, the Osiris-cry of abandonment, That which is in whole, torn asunder, That which is in part, finding its whole again throughout the universe.
And I have to close my eyes, and replay those final lines in my head. The Osiris-cry of abandonment. That which is in part, finding its whole again throughout the universe.
I put the book down beside me and cover my face with my hands, even though there is no one here to see me, even though I am so perfectly alone.
Okay, so the part I always forget when I'm in Chicago and freezing my nuts off is how the beach bores the fuck out of me. One day, fine, great—but two days is more than enough, and three days is torture. So on the afternoon of the third day I rent a snazzy car and I'm in motion again, which feels pretty good.
It's a nice drive to the Keys, even though there's like a million of them. You got your Cedar Key and your Big Pine Key and your Duck Key and your Long Key and your Summerland Key and your Pigeon Key—and after a while I'm smiling and dopey and getting silly, making up some of my own.
So there's the CarKey and the HouseKey and KentuckKey and MalarkKey and SparKey and OffKey and the Hey!Hey!We'reTheMonKeysKey. Then I totally lose it because I'm Kowalski drivin' a carski down to a barski there on the coastki somebody stop me—and I nearly fucking turn the car around and go back to the airport.
I realize in hindsight that the whole thing with the million stupid Key names is to soften your brain for a town in which the sole record on the radio is Margaritaville. This drives me bugfuck in less than twenty-four hours—by which point I want nothing more out of life than to find Jimmy Buffet and kick him in the head until he is dead. I'm supposed to be calm, I'm supposed to be in a better, drunker, more laid back kind of place, and instead I'm in a murderous "find-Jimmy-Buffet-and-kill-him" kind of place, which is just not good. But you can't go anywhere on the whole fucking island—you could, like, row out to sea for a thousand miles—and you'd still hear, "...searching for my lost shaker of salt..." wafting to you from somewhere.
So seriously, twenty-four hours of that and I'm back in the car and really heading for the airport, blasting the Beastie Boys the entire way, having this whole elaborate fantasy about the three of them beating Jimmy Buffet to death in an alley with bats.
So five days is a decent vacation, right? Sure it is, especially in a boring backwater like Florida. I tell myself that a thousand times as I wait for my flight home. Plus nobody says I gotta go back to work right away—I can hang out at home, in my own apartment, where nobody gets to play Margaritaville without my permission. This seems like paradise.
I get a row to myself on the flight home, which seems like a Sign from God that I am Doing The Right Thing. I'm sunburned and tired and I doze on and off nearly the whole way home.
"Carmen," Fraser says. "Please. We want to help you—sé que él le lastimó—" She shrieks and fires, first at Fraser, then at me. Wyatt Earp she ain't, though, so I've got time to duck down behind the bar. When I raise my head, Fraser's got her face down on the sawdust floor with her arms behind her back. She's crying, but Fraser's totally impassive, doing her hands up tight.
Fraser looks up at me, and I can see he's worried. "She didn't hit you, did she?"
"She wasn't even in my zip code, Fraser," I say, stepping around the bar—
—and when Fraser gets up he's grimacing and I see that she's hit him. He's clutching at his shoulder and there's blood oozing between his fingers.
"Holy shit!" I shout, and I've got my cell in my hand, ready to phone it in.
Fraser shakes his head, strides over and thrusts his shoulder toward me. "Look," he says firmly, "it's nothing, it's just a graze, Ray," and I look close at it and yeah, it is just a graze—the bullet must've just skimmed him, slicing his uniform sleeve open and putting a nice deep groove into his bicep, but nothing terrible, nothing bad at all.
I exhale a long breath, nodding my relief. I smile at him and he smiles warmly back; unthinkingly we share a quick kiss, and—
I freeze. He freezes. I take a sharp step back; so does he. I'm stunned and humiliated; Fraser's staring at the floor, and then he's taking another step away from me, one hand clutching his bloody shoulder.
"I—" I sputter, "I, uh—"
"Adrenaline," Fraser murmurs, turning away. "It's just adrenaline, Ray."
"Look," Fraser says firmly, thrusting his shoulder at me, "it's nothing, it's just a graze, Ray." I look close at it and yeah, it is just a graze—the bullet must've just skimmed him, slicing his sleeve and his arm open. I exhale a long breath, nodding my relief. I smile at him and he smiles warmly back—
—and he's leaning toward me with his eyes closed. I'm leaning toward him but I don't close my eyes until the last second. I feel his lips touch mine, and it's just for a second, just a snatched thing, a hard, fleeting pressure—
—and then it's over, and there's ice in my gut: I'm ashamed and humiliated, and Fraser's turning away—
"It's just a graze, Ray." I look close and yeah, it is just a graze—
Fast forward. Stop.
I smile at him and he smiles warmly back, and our mouths are coming together quick, just a quick, snatched kiss, hard fleeting pressure—
—mouths coming together, a hard, fleeting pleasure—
—a fleeting pleasure, his lips against mine, just for a second, a quick relief—
"We are about to begin our descent into Chicago. Local time is 7:25 P.M. Local weather is cloudy, with a sixty percent chance of rain by this evening. It is forty-eight degrees."
Home turns out to be a pretty good place to be: I get the apartment cleaned up, get some food in, do my laundry, do a little work on the car. There's a swap meet on Saturdays out on Rt. 55, past the Home Depot—and I get another Sign From God in the form of four vintage Cragar wheels with tires for a hundred and eighty bucks. This keeps me occupied for another couple of days—cleaning them, polishing the chrome, putting them on the car, then driving around town showing them off, burning a little rubber here and there just cause I can.
But by the end of the week my own personal flight monitor is flashing DELAY DELAY DELAY and BORED BORED BORED—and on the last day I hardly step two feet away from the phone, because I know Fraser's gotta be back and I know he's gotta call me, if only to work out whether I'm picking him up for work tomorrow.
Thing is, I don't know how I feel about that. I don't know if this whole vacation thing has done what it was supposed to do. I don't even know what I want, anymore— I wanted to get away, to clear my head, but all I got was a head full of Fraser, a head full of weird truths and half-lies. Cause the one thing I know for sure is—all that stuff was a lie, just all of it.
Buddy-breathing. Shakespearean emotion. Circumstances. Adrenaline. Lie upon lie to make this seem like it's something normal, when it is not normal. Things haven't been normal between us for a damn long time, not since me drowning on the Henry Allen—no, not since before that, not since—
—the alley, and there's blood on the dumpster and blood on the ground and I'm kneeling in it and shouting into my cellphone. Fraser's clear-eyed and perfectly normal-sounding and bleeding all over everything. "It's all right, Ray," he says, like it's normal, "you know how head wounds bleed," like it's normal, like this is normal, and I'm clutching him and his face is pressed up against my neck and he's breathing into my neck and I am holding him tight, I am holding him tight, tight, so tight—
When the phone rings, I'm too freaked out to pick up. I just stare at it—ring, ring, ring, ring—and then the machine gets it and I'm hearing my own voice in the room. "Ray Vecchio, I'm not here, leave a message."
The machine beeps and yeah, it's Fraser all right. "Hello, Ray?"—and two steps, I've snatched the phone up and I'm fumbling it to my ear.
"Fraser, yeah, hi—you back?"
"Yes," Fraser says after a moment. "I'm back. I got in earlier today."
I take a deep breath. "How was Canada?" I ask, taking the phone with me as I wander across my clean, clean living room floor.
"Very nice," Fraser replies. "Most relaxing. How was your trip?"
"Great, wonderful, fine." We are gonna have a nice, normal conversation here, if it kills me.
I'm being normal, he's being normal, this is so good. This is what normal people do—they ask each other stupid questions, give each other stupid answers.
"Ray," Fraser says after a moment, "I was just calling to ask—"
"Sure, yeah, I'll pick you up tomorrow," I interrupt, and then suddenly I'm jittering and twitching and psyching myself up. "Hey, look—you wanna go eat something? We could go to the diner, or you can maybe come here—I've actually got food in, believe it or not."
There, it's out: the ball's in his court. Let's just push this normal thing a little—we'll have a nice, normal dinner, maybe go to a nice, normal sports bar, watch a nice, normal hockey game—do some nice, normal partner-bonding-type-things that don't involve big emotions or adrenaline or erections.
"Uh," Fraser says, and that doesn't sound good, that "uh", not one bit. "Well, actually, I've already started...I've already got a meal on," Fraser says, and fuck, I'm disappointed, I'm disappointed way more than this is worth, but I can't help it.
"Oh," I say, trying to sound cool. "Well, hey, that's okay. Half-past eight, tomorrow?"
"But you could—" Fraser says and then stops. "What I mean to say is, you're welcome to come here, if you'd like. I—we could eat here."
"No, no," I say quickly, because I am not gonna barge in on Fraser's dinner, whatever he's got there, which is probably hardly enough for himself. "That's okay, really, don't—"
"It's pasta," Fraser says, maybe reading my mind. "I—have enough, Ray, really."
And this is damn tempting, because part of me—okay, so I'm dying to see him, and I want to see him before tomorrow, where it's gonna be the station, and work, and maybe adrenaline and death all over again, all that weird stuff. On the other hand, I know that Fraser wasn't calling to invite me to dinner, because he never does, because he feels, I think, like the Consulate isn't really his to invite people to.
"You don't have to," I insist, wanting to give him an out.
"I know, Ray. Come anyway. The door will be open—I'll be in the back, in the kitchen, all right?"
"All right." I blow out a breath. "Okay. You want me to bring anything?"
"Bring whatever you want."
I stop on the way, pick up beer and some pastries for dessert, like any normal person would. The Consulate is dark and sort of unwelcoming—but the door is open, like Fraser said it would be. From the hallway I can see light coming from somewhere in the back, so I head that way.
Fraser's there, at the stove, wearing jeans and a gray flannel shirt. He's got his back toward me, and somehow he doesn't look very Mountie-like at all. The kitchen does, though—it's efficient and sort of industrial and really huge—but there's a small table there, and Fraser's set it for two. I stand there for a moment, clutching my brown paper bag, and watch him—he moves with total self-sufficiency in the kitchen, like he does everywhere else. Fraser's used to cooking for himself, I guess, and that makes me sort of sad.
I raise my hand and rap, once, on the open door. Fraser turns—and he looks sort of tense and pleased to see me at the same time.
"Ray. Come in." Fraser reaches for a dishtowel, wipes his hands, and then reaches for my bag. "Dinner is almost ready."
"It smells great," I say, because it does, and because that's what you say.
"It's nothing much," Fraser replies, unpacking the beer and putting all but one into the huge steel refrigerator. "Pasta. Garlic bread. I didn't know that—I mean, I hadn't planned for—"
"It smells great, Fraser," I repeat. "Take a compliment."
"All right. Compliment taken—thank you." Fraser pulls a glass out of the cabinet, opens a beer, and pours it carefully. I get the feeling that he's doing it not just out of being a host, but because he wants something to do with his hands, because he wants to be normal, too. He turns to me, holding the glass, and I take it from him. "What's this?" he asks, pointing to the box of pastries I brought.
"Dessert," I say.
"Oh. Thank you. Should it be refrigerated?"
"Don't think so." I lean against the counter and take a long drink of beer. Fraser goes back to the stove, picks up a wooden spoon, and lifts the top off a large saucepan—and wow, that smells good, that smells unbelievably good. "Fraser, geez," I say, coming closer, "what do you do to make it smell like that?"
That makes him smile, he looks really pleased at that. "Well, for one thing," he says, "you let it cook forever. This has been on for," he glances across the kitchen at the wall clock, "over three hours. Nearly four. Here," Fraser adds, and now he's holding out the wooden spoon to me. The sauce isn't bright red like normal pasta sauce but a sort of dark, dark, almost-orange. "Blow," he cautions.
I blow, and then I lean forward, take a taste. Holy fucking cow, that's good. "All right, so spill," I say, licking my lips. "What the hell is in that?"
Fraser's smile eases into a grin. "Stewed tomatoes, a lot of butter, a lot of sour cream, half a bottle of white wine—
"Christ," I mutter, peering into the bubbling vat.
"—sauteed chicken, mushrooms, capers, and artichoke hearts."
"I'm sold," I say, grinning at him. "Can I help you with something?"
"You can bring over the bowls."
"Right. Okay. Sure."
We get the food dished out—chicken and artichoke hearts and all that other good stuff in a wine sauce over linguini—and it tastes like heaven. For a while we're both too busy stuffing our faces, but then Fraser looks up at me and asks: "Did you have a good time in Miami?"
I'm not sure how much I want to tell him. "Yeah," I hedge. "Miami's fun. Weather's gorgeous."
"I'm sure," Fraser says, sounding careful, like maybe he's not sure how much he wants to hear. "It certainly has that reputation."
I try to think of what a normal guy would tell his normal friend if things were, you know, normal between them. "Yeah, well, everything they say about the place is true, Fraser—the weather is beautiful, the beach is beautiful, the women are beautiful—"
"Hm." Fraser's fidgeting with his water glass. "Well. How very nice."
"It is," I say, sort of sharply. "It was. I met this one woman, this one night, Amanda—"
"Amanda," Fraser repeats softly, and he's turning that glass around and around and around.
"—and she picked me up, Fraser, right there on Ocean Drive—"
Fraser smiles faintly and stares at the table. "Oh, I'm sure she did, Ray."
Suddenly I slam my hand down so hard that everything on the table jumps. But Fraser just sits back and looks at me—goddammit, he knows, he's doing it on purpose.
I point my finger at his face. "Don't you look at me like I'm the fag in this room!"
Fraser just looks at me mildly. "I'm giving you no such look, Ray."
"Cause if anyone is queering the dice around here, Fraser, it's you. I'm a red-blooded American boy, which you can't say for yourself."
Fraser's eyes narrow. "Of course, Ray—American as apple pie. As James Dean. Rock Hudson. Liberace," and that ain't fair, cause who the fuck's the Canadian Liberace, anyway?
"Ooooh, snap snap, Fraser—aren't you a bitch?" We stare daggers at each other for a second and then he's laughing, and I'm laughing—and okay, this isn't normal, but it's us, anyway.
Fraser gently bites his lower lip. "That's really very funny, Ray."
"Yeah, well, the Liberace crack was good, too," I admit.
I sigh and scrub at my face. "How the hell was your trip, anyway?"
"It was very beautiful," Fraser says with a tight, quick smile, "and it was very boring. Dief whined for Ring Dings the entire time, and I read a lot of poetry."
"Sounds like a blast," I say, dropping my hands.
"Yes, it was," Fraser says. "What about you? How was Miami, really?"
"It was fine. I got bored after three days, drove down to the Keys, got Jimmy Buffetted out and cut the trip short."
Fraser frowns at this. "Oh?"
"Yeah, I got back last Wednesday. However," I add, showing him a smile, "I did get a really good deal on some Cragar wheels—a hundred and eighty bucks for the set."
Fraser looks impressed. "That's very good."
"Yeah, with tires yet."
"Did you check the diameter of the bolt circle?" Fraser asks.
"Yeah, it's fine, I put them on already—they fit good."
Fraser nods at this and gets up, taking our bowls with him. "It's time for dessert, don't you think?"
"Fraser, I'm sorry," I say to his back, cause I am sorry, I'm just sick sorry. "What I said there, that was just totally—"
"It's all right, Ray." Fraser puts our dishes into the sink and then brings the dessert box back to the table with two small plates. He reaches for his knife, cuts the bakery string, and pulls the box open. "Ah. Napoleons. I like Napoleons very much."
"Yeah, I know," I say softly.
Fraser doesn't stop, doesn't look up at me, just keeps dishing out dessert with a sort of grim determination.
"We're going to have to talk about this," I tell him.
Fraser hands me a Napoleon on a plate. "You said not."
"I changed my mind."
"All right," Fraser relents. "After. Dessert first. Do you want tea? Coffee?"
"I'd love a cup of coffee, yeah."
Afterwards, we're drinking our coffee and Fraser's not looking at me and so I know it's time, it's gotta be now or it's never. "I, uh," I begin, and then I'm feeling around in my pockets for cigarettes, cause I am jonesing big time. "Do you mind if I—"
"Yes," Fraser says. "I mean, no, I don't mind—but not here. The Consulate's strictly no smoking, Ray—"
"Oh," I say, frowning.
"—but, here, come with me." Fraser gets up, taking his mug with him; I pick up my own mug and follow him. "We can go out in back."
"There's a back?" I ask, surprised.
"A small area, yes." Outside in the hallway there's a fire door, a huge ugly metal thing with a bar across it. Fraser pushes the bar and it opens out onto the night air. Three ugly metal steps lead down to a dark concrete courtyard ringed with unused flower beds. Fraser props the door open and we step out, boots clanging on the metal, and sit down on the top step.
"I didn't know this was here," I say, pulling a cigarette out and tucking it into my mouth.
"It's just the backyard. It's not utilized. I thought of maybe trying my hand at a little gardening, but—well, you know." Fraser raises his hand and then lets it fall: a gesture of futility. "There's just never the time."
I nod, flick my lighter, and light up. I inhale deep, maybe deeper than I should, but this is gonna be a weird conversation, here, and I need all the help I can get. "So?" I prompt.
Fraser's looking down, away, across the yard—anywhere but at me. "So."
"We should talk," I remind him.
Fraser takes a deep breath and then lets it out slowly. "All right. Go ahead."
Fine. Okay. He wants me to start it, I can start it. "Just—none of it's true, Fraser, okay? Everything we've been telling ourselves. It isn't about circumstances, it isn't about adrenaline, it isn't about strong emotions—it's something about you and me."
Fraser's already nodding, though he's still not looking at me. I wait, but he doesn't seem to have anything to say.
I take another deep drag and then blow out a cloud of smoke. "So what are we going to do about it?"
"I don't know," Fraser says quietly. He's hunched forward in his flannel shirt, staring down at his boots. "Have you ever read D.H. Lawrence?" he asks finally.
I wasn't expecting a quiz. "Uh, yeah, what—he was the guy who wrote Lady Chatterley's Lover, right?" Fraser nods. "I tried to read that—I was looking for the dirty bits. Didn't find any, though."
Fraser cracks a smile. "Yes, they are rather...oblique."
"So they're really there? I figured it was a conspiracy of English teachers—"
Fraser's smile widens a fraction. "No, they're there all right. In addition to the four letter words—"
"There's four letter words?!"
"—there are a number of fairly elliptical sequences which require...well, I'd say a very penetrating read, but then you'd accuse me of having a sense of humor."
I smile at this. "Which you don't."
"Not even a little. There's actually a wonderful section in that book which goes something like, 'I thought I would die of shame, but instead the shame died.'"
Fraser goes all quiet again, like he's lost in the words, so I nudge his shoulder with my shoulder. "So?"
"What's the point?"
"You know me, Ray—most of my stories haven't got a point."
Nuh-uh, not this easy. "This one does, though," I say firmly. "Think back. D.H. Lawrence. Oblique. Elliptical sequences. Shame—"
Fraser looks up at me and says, "'Why were we crucified into sex? Why were we not left rounded off, and finished in ourselves—'"
I am instantly creeped out. "What—like a Weeble?"
Fraser frowns at me. "A weevil?"
"Weebles. They wobble but they don't fall down." I shake my head, wave my cigarette. "Forget it."
"Is that a riddle?" Fraser asks.
"Forget it." I take another drag of my cigarette and then burst out: "And what does he want us rounded off for? That's gross. And crucified—what kind of word is that? Crucified into sex—"
"Well, that's how Lawrence sees it."
"Well, then Lawrence has got problems," I retort.
"Yes," Fraser says, and suddenly he's glaring at me. "Yes, he does, Ray."
"Oh boy," I say, a second later, because fuck, right, I get it. I get up and clomp down the last two steps to the courtyard, shivering in the cold night air. "Oh boy, oh boy..."
"Have you had enough talking yet?" Fraser asks in a bright, hard voice.
I turn my back to him, go off to study the empty flower beds. I remember I have a cigarette in my hand so I smoke it, and then I light another one off the tip and I smoke that. After a while I hear Fraser shuffle behind me and get up.
"Nothing's...worked out as I expected," Fraser says quietly, and then I hear the metallic clang as he climbs the stairs and goes back into the Consulate.
When I finally go back into the kitchen Fraser's at the sink, washing the dishes, Diefenbaker jumping around his legs. I head straight for my chair, where I've left my jacket, giving him a wide berth. "So look," I say, finally, backing up toward the door, "I'll pick you up in the morning."
He nods, not looking at me. "Eight-thirty's fine, thank you."
I turn around to go, then stop at the door. "We're still partners," I say, and it isn't a question.
"Yes, Ray," Fraser says. "Yes. Of course."
Ten minutes in the bullpen and I'm a lunatic. I look up from my crap-covered desk and yell, "It was only two weeks—what's the matter with you people?" because I can see right away they've given me every shitty case, every shitty job, every shitty task that they didn't want to take on themselves.
"Hey," Frannie says smugly, "he who smelt it, dealt it,"—which makes no fucking sense, but try explaining that to her.
Christ, and there's ten thousand little pink memos marked WHILE YOU WERE OUT. Johnny Lopez called, Mira Franklin called, Paul Verrati called, Simon Weitzman, Roland Bates, Stella, Stella, Stella, hell—
I lift my head and look at Welsh, who's smirking at me from the door to his office. "Didn't somebody get killed today that I could work on?" I ask hopefully.
"No, Detective," Welsh says with a smile. "Hope you had a good vacation."
Right, okay, I need coffee, lots of coffee, buckets of coffee. I go down to the break room and make an entire pot, twelve cups, which if anybody else touches it I will chop their hands off. I stand there, watching the coffee brew, and then waste some time by calling Stella.
"It's me. What?" I say when she picks up; we're long past the niceties, now.
Stella gives me status reports on two perps of mine that she's prosecuting; one's fine, the other might walk in exchange for testimony—she wants me to know from her, first. Plus she's been talking to my mother again, who wants to know why I never call.
"I'm fine," I tell her, "Tell her I'm fine." Coffee's done, so I tuck the cell between my shoulder and my ear and pour myself a mug, throw in about four sugars. Then I hear Fraser's voice in the hallway and I'm saying, "Stell, Stell—call you back."
Fraser's out in the hallway with Frannie. I can hear her breathing hard from here.
"Sure," Frannie's saying. "Of course. You can ask me anything, Fraser. Anything at all."
"All right," Fraser says, and then adds: "Listen carefully, Francesca, because this is a very tricky question."
"Okay, I'm listening. Hit me," Frannie says.
"What wobbles," Fraser asks, and pauses for emphasis, "but doesn't fall down?"
I nearly drop the coffee, I'm trying so hard not to laugh. Two quick steps and I'm pressed up against the wall just inside the door, where I can hear this, cause this I gotta hear. But out in the hallway there's only silence—and hey, maybe Fraser's finally done the impossible: maybe he's finally shut Frannie up.
"Uh," Frannie says finally, and I can hear the confusion in her voice. "Maybe a Weeble, Fraser?"
Silence again, and then Fraser's little embarrassed cough. "Uh, yes. Right. That would be...correct. Thank you kindly."
He asks three other people before he finally gives up and comes back to me.
"It's a toy, Fraser, okay? It's shaped like an egg, and it's weighted on the bottom. They're like little people—and they wobble but they don't fall down. That was the marketing slogan."
"But why," Fraser asks, and he's frustrated now, I can hear it, "was it so crucial that they didn't fall down?"
I shrug, sit down in a chair and chug another mug of coffee. "Cause other dolls—you stand 'em up, they fall down. You ever have, like, a G.I. Joe—"
"No," Fraser says.
"Or whatever, a Canadian Joe, Mountie Joe or—"
"No," Fraser says, more edgily.
"You know, like a doll," I insist doggedly. "An action figure, something—"
"No," Fraser repeats, almost angry.
"Didn't you have any toys at all?" I shout, slamming my mug down.
"No," Fraser repeats, and he is angry now. "I didn't."
Well, fuck—that explains half of it right there. How can he be cool about sex if he never had toys? Hell, how do you even explain sex to a guy who didn't have toys? Especially the kind of sex we're talking about: play sex, of the non-procreative, non-useful—
Whoa, I get it. Suddenly I get it, I really get it—I get him in a way like I never did before.
"What?" Fraser demands, and he's got his arms crossed tight over his chest. Angry. Or protective, maybe.
"Nothing," I say quietly. "It's just a stupid toy, Fraser; I'm sorry I mentioned it."
"Fine," Fraser says tersely. "I'm going back to the Consulate—clearly, you're bogged down with paperwork today and have no need of me. Perhaps tomorrow, then," and man, he is gone, he is so gone, he sonic booms.
It takes me most of the whole day to get my desk into something like order, and then at 4:30 Welsh throws me a bone—a real case that I might be able to solve, even. I go back to my desk and call Fraser, but he isn't at the Consulate, and that surprises me, because if Fraser's not working here he's supposed to be working there, and if he isn't working he's at home which is still there, so where the fuck is he?
No clue, so I go to check out the stiff on my own. The guy's name is Walter Pendleton, he's 49, he's a banker, and he's got a bullet in his head. Thing is, he's also naked and in a motel room out on the highway, so the two most obvious answers here are wife and girlfriend.
I figure I'll break the sad news to the wife and scope her out at the same time. The Pendletons live in a nice little suburban jobbie—one story ranch, fenced in yard, happy dog, SUV. There's a bike on its side in the drive—and that's sad, really sad, so I can't think about that now. I go up to the door and ring the bell.
It ain't the wife, I can tell that right off. The poor woman's shocked, the poor woman's hysterical—and if she's faking it, she ought to get an Academy Award. I sit there and wait with her until her sister comes over, because with this kind of lady—well, this is how you get suicide on top of murder, and I've done that kind of case, and that is the worst.
So if it wasn't the wife then it was the girlfriend—but why does the girlfriend want to be knocking off a nice banker guy? I go back to the bullpen and pull the phone records from the motel—and okay, scratch girlfriend, make that hooker, because the guy made a call to the Xanadu Escort Service. Except why does a hooker want to be knocking off a nice banker guy?
The phone rings and I snatch it up and it's Fraser, thank God. "Ray, I'm sorry," he says, "I heard you called?"
I tell him about Pendleton and the wife and the hotel and the Xanadu Escort Service. Fraser goes "hmm" and "ah" and then says: "Well, Ray, it all seems a little overly obvious, no?"
"What—you mean that the hooker did it?"
"Well, her or the wife and it ain't the wife, I'm telling you that." The telephone flashes red and I say, "Fraser, hang on, I got another call coming through." I put Fraser on hold and punch the other line in. "Vecchio, yeah, hello."
I listen, and I take notes, and I listen, and then I say: "Okay, look, stay put, I'll get back to you," and then I punch Fraser back onto the line.
"Okay, Fraser, look—that was Mr. Adams of Adams Brokerage, where Pendleton works. And get this: there's a hundred thousand dollars missing. In cash."
There's silence for a moment, and then Fraser says, "I think we're being manipulated. It's as if someone's trying to draw us a map. Pendleton leaves the office with the money, goes to a hotel—"
"—calls an Escort Service, gets a hooker, does the hooker," I say, picking up the story, "who then shoots him in the head and—"
"—runs off with the money, never to be found again," Fraser finishes.
"Right," I say. "But it's wrong."
"It does seem wrong."
"It's totally wrong. Wrong-o-rama."
"I'll wager it's an inside job—someone at the brokerage house," Fraser muses. "And if that's true, Ray..."
I feel myself go cold. "The hooker. They'd have to kill the hooker, too."
"Quick. Come get me. I'll be outside the Consulate," Fraser says, and hangs up.
I pull the car up and Fraser gets in. "Do you have an address?" he asks.
"For the service, not for the girl," I tell him. "This all just happened, Fraser—this case is two hours old and—"
"How long has Pendleton been dead?" Fraser asks.
"Not long—two to three hours when they found him," I reply. "He went out to lunch and never came back—figure between noon and two."
"All right." Fraser squeezes his eyes shut for a moment, thinks hard, and then opens them. "Disregard their narrative. What do we think happened?"
"Our killer's an employee of Adams Brokerage," I begin. "Person X steals a hundred thousand dollars—"
"—and plans to blame the robbery on Walter Pendleton," Fraser finishes.
I nod. "Person X gets Pendleton to meet them at the motel—"
"How?" Fraser asks, frowning.
"I don't know how, just skip the how for right now."
"Fine," Fraser says. "Go on."
"Person X shows up at the motel with a gun.. Person X orders Pendleton to strip—"
"—or perhaps ties him up?" Fraser asks.
"No can do," I say, quickly shaking my head. "No signs of restraint on the body, I saw it."
"Hmm," Fraser says. "All right. Go on, Ray."
"Person X orders Pendleton to strip, then shoots him in the head. Then Person X calls the escort service—"
"But if that's true, Ray," Fraser interrupts, "then Pendleton was dead before the killer even made the call. And that seems like a foolish mistake—"
"No, it isn't," I point out, "because you can't get a time of death that accurate. It's always a window, Fraser—who can say, twenty minutes, either way?"
Fraser nods slowly. "All right. Go on."
"The killer calls the escort service, waits for the girl, and—"
"Kills her," Fraser says quietly. "Yes, I think so, Ray. I think he's killed her already."
I take a deep breath. "Okay. Okay. So where is she?"
"I don't know. But she isn't supposed to be found—in fact, it's key to the crime that she not be found. She's the killer's explanation for the missing money." Fraser sits back in his seat and then says, "But with a time of death between noon and two in the afternoon..."
"He hasn't had time to get rid of her yet," I say, banging my fist against the steering wheel. "He'll do it later, probably tonight."
"Yes," Fraser says.
"Bury her somewhere. Or put her into the lake."
"Yes," Fraser says.
I glance at my watch; it's nearly half-past seven. "So we gotta find her before we can't find her anymore. Because otherwise, even if we find him—"
"—he'll have a plausible, alternative theory of the crime. Yes."
We sit there for a moment or two in silence.
"So where does that leave us?" I ask finally. "How do we find her?"
"Well," Fraser says, "as you noted before, Ray, Person X somehow got Pendleton to meet him at the motel—"
"Yeah, and like you noted before, Fraser, we have absolutely no idea of how the killer did that."
"Right," Fraser says triumphantly, "but the killer knows." I turn to stare at him. "Don't you see, Ray? The killer knew how to get Pendleton there. Which means the killer probably knows Pendleton fairly well."
I'm with him, I got it. "Right," I say, and shift the car into drive. "So let's go back to the wife—find out who knows Pendleton best."
I hate barging in on grieving relatives but it's the kind of thing I got to do a lot of in my line of work. It's also the kind of thing that makes me grateful for Fraser, because Fraser is amazing in that sort of situation, all calm and centered and quietly empathetic. I stand by the door with Mrs. Pendleton's sister, trying to be still and respectful. Fraser sits on the sofa and talks quietly to Mrs. Pendleton, expressing his sympathy and asking his questions.
Mrs. Pendleton's shocky and sort of shaking and still crying, though she doesn't seem to notice that she is, and Fraser acts like he doesn't notice either. Yes, she knows all about that particular motel. Turns out they used to meet there, the Pendletons, before they were the Pendletons—back when she was Sheila Matthews, one of the accountants in the Adams tax department. They still meet there occasionally, Sheila says dully, for old time's sake—or they did, or they used to, before Walter—-
She's on the verge of a crying jag when Fraser asks, gently, "Who else knew about this?" and I'm tense as a wire because that is the key question right there. Sheila Pendleton thinks about it and then says, "I don't know. Almost nobody. One or two people, maybe—just our friends."
With friends like that she don't need enemies. One or two people, she says—and that's good, that's great, that's doable. On reflection she comes up with four names—her friends Janet and Michael from Accounting, Walter's friend Jack from M&A, Robbie the office manager. I'm scribbling down the names.
Fraser presses her gently: is she sure that's it? Isn't there anyone else who could have known? No, Sheila says, no one else at the office—and that's good. Then Fraser surprises me by taking her hand and saying, "Mrs. Pendleton, I would advise you not to watch television or read the papers for the next two or three days. They are going to say some shameful things about your husband during that time. They won't be true, but it will take a few days for the real story to come to light." Mrs. Pendleton looks at Fraser, all teary and wide-eyed, and nods. "Your husband didn't do anything wrong," Fraser says, and stands up.
Mrs. Pendleton's sister shoots a look at me. I lean over to her and whisper, "They're gonna say he stole money and was shot by a hooker. But it ain't true." She looks hard at me and then nods sharply—and that's good, the sister is on the ball, she's gonna make things all right over here.
Fraser picks up his hat, which is the universal sign for leaving a place, and then we're out of there. We go back to the car, without talking, and once inside I turn to him and say: "Who do you like for it?"
Fraser blows out a breath. "I'm not sure. I don't have enough information, and we don't have a lot of time—it's getting dark." He looks at me and asks, "What's your instinct, Ray?"
I could just kiss him for that—wait, no, ixnay on the issingkay, cause that's just fruity, damn it. "Robbie the office manager," I say, cause that's what my gut tells me. "Lowest guy on the totem pole, most likely to be needing cash or holding a grudge."
"All right," Fraser says, nodding. "Can we get warrants?"
"Sure. No problem. I got connections."
God Bless Stella, really, cause she's in front of the courthouse with four warrants not twenty minutes later, turning what could have been a massively painful thing into an easy drive-by. She comes up to the window of the car, shivering a little in her blue wool suit jacket, and says, "It wasn't quite probable cause, guys, but I called in a few favors."
"Yeah, it's more like improbable cause," I admit, "but hey, that's just how we work."
Stella leans a little further down, looks across the car, and says, "Hello, Ben."
"Good evening, Stella," Fraser says; he's always weirdly awkward around Stella, even more than me. "Thank you for the warrants."
"It's my job," Stella says, and she's not looking at me but she's talking to me, I know that much.
"Yeah, well, it's our job, too," I say quick, "so we better get back to it. Take care of yourself, Stell—and thanks again."
"Take care of yourself, Ray. Be careful," she says and she's gone.
I can't explain my hunches, it's something like second sight, wonky and unpredictable. Give me four names and I can tell you it's Robbie the office manager—but what I can't predict is how it feels to be jimmying the lock of Robbie's Ford Escort and seeing that girl there, all tied up and dead, with a big, dark red starfish of a bloodstain spreading over her chest. And what gets me, what really gets me, is that she's a kid—she's little, she fits into the trunk easy, and she's wearing these tiny, shiny, pink hooker clothes like she's only one step beyond Barbies herself.
I brace myself on the upraised trunk, squeezing the cold metal in my hands, and stare down at her. I'm trying to keep my rage in check, I'm trying to keep from rampaging and strangling Robbie the office manager with my bare hands. Cause this kid—she could be my kid, she could be my buddy Vanessa, she could be alive and snapping her gum at me and failing math like a normal person. Except she isn't, except she's dead, except Stella didn't want kids when normal people do that sort of thing, and so here we all are, one big happy fucked-up family: me and Fraser and the kid with a hole in her chest.
"Ray," Fraser says from behind me. "Ray, it's over—let's go."
But I can't go, because it is not over. You reap what you sow and I've sown this. I wanted someone I couldn't have and I ended up with this job and the stink of dead meat all over me. I'm just like my dad. The world is my meat-packing plant.
I lift my head and tell him what feels like the truth. "This is my daughter, Fraser, okay? This is our daughter here, so shut up!"
That shakes him, hard—Fraser goes white, looks down at our Vanessa, and then he's turning, going, gone. "Fine!" I feel like shouting after him. "You can't handle it, I'll handle it!" So I handle it, staying with Vanessa until they come for her, until the meat-wagon comes to take her away.
When it really is over—when Vanessa's gone and Robbie's gone and all the evidence is locked, boxed, bagged, and tagged: money, gun, fibers, and the fucking shovel he was going to bury her with—I head back to the car. And Fraser's there, in his usual place beside me, except he's pale and leaning back in his seat with his eyes closed, looking almost as dead as Vanessa.
For a minute I feel like just walking away—leaving him and the car and the job and everything, leaving the whole mess of my life behind me. Except I tried that already and it just left me murderous in Margaritaville—so I guess this is who I am now: I'm the guy with the Mountie and the car and the job, and that's that.
So I get into the car. Fraser opens his eyes, looks at me, and says: "Are you all right, Ray?"
"Yeah," I say, ducking my head a little and scratching the back of my neck. "I'm okay. Just—she looked a lot like this kid I know. It unhinged me a little."
The air is suddenly thick with the kiss that isn't going to happen. If things were different, Fraser might kiss me now: one of those quick "I'm glad you're all right, Ray," kisses which are different from the "Christ, Ray, are you all right?" kisses or the "Holy Christ, we're alive, Ray!" kisses—which are the ones where the boners come into it.
It might have happened before, back when we weren't conscious of it and could lie to ourselves about it afterwards. But all the lies are gone, now, I guess, so it's a no-go.
Fraser turns his face away and says, quietly: "I don't want to want you, Ray."
Suddenly I'm laughing, because next to the Weeble thing, this is the funniest thing I've heard all day. "Yeah, well, that's okay, Fraser," I tell him, "because I don't want to want you either. I wanted to want this rich, pretty blonde name of Stella. Have a couple of kids, run around like an idiot, grow old, die. Didn't work out that way, though, and so here I am."
Fraser rubs at his left eye for a moment, then drops his hands and laces his fingers together. "I had some...vague ideas myself about...marriage. Children."
"Yeah, I figured you did," I mutter, and I have already figured that. Fraser's just too—utilitarian—not to want kids out of sex.
But Fraser's still talking quietly, stopping and starting like he's forcing the words out from somewhere deep. "But I've—come to realize that—my ideas—such as they are—are—well, rather exceedingly vague. I'm—I think I'm just like my father, Ray. I want children but—intellectually. Not actually. And that's—that isn't fair, that isn't right—"
"Wait, wait, whoa," I say, because this conversation is not going in the direction that I was expecting. "You're saying—what? You think your father didn't want you?"
"Oh, I know he didn't." Fraser gets this part out easily, like it's the most normal thing in the world for a person to say. "I mean, I think that now that I'm here—actually alive and present and a Mountie and on the other side of thirty—-he's become reconciled to my existence. He may even have come to like me. But that's not the same as wanting, Ray."
I don't even know what to say to that.
"The point is, Ray, that I don't want to make that same mistake. I mean, honestly, I'd be a terrible parent, even if I could dupe some poor woman into trying the experiment—"
"Fraser!" I say, and frankly, I'm sort of shocked. "Don't say that. That's not—"
"It is true, it is perfectly true, it is beyond true and nearing the realm of the blindingly obvious. It is entirely clear that I would make a poor parent, just as you would make a good one."
I am totally freaked out by this—this—this assessment Fraser's making of me. I mean, part of me wants to believe it, to think that I could have been a good daddy, though I always wonder if I really had the patience, if I could have taken ten years of Big Bird singing, "Let's Clap Our Hands" and "Hey! You Can Speak In Complete Sentences!" and "When I Grow Up, I Want To Be a Helmet,"—all this total subliminal shit that's two steps down from The Ramones. Still, I suppose I'd've blundered my way through it somehow, the way people do, most of them dumber than me.
Fraser, on the other hand—okay, maybe he's right, though it hurts to think it. Fraser maybe doesn't make such a good parent, because, fuck it, Fraser needs a parent—and that's just so weird to think, because on the surface it's all wrong, totally backwards. I'm the one who's, like, perpetually stuck at thirteen; Fraser's the most self-sufficient guy on the planet. But maybe, just maybe, I need to grow up a little—and maybe, just maybe, Fraser needs to let some of that adult control go.
Suddenly I'm half-laughing, half-shuddering, because that's just so creepy in a Halloween ghost story sort of way. "Hey Fraser," I say, trying to deliver it straight, "you're not playing some kind of kinky 'Who's your daddy?' game with me, are you?"
Fraser looks blank for a moment and then he gets it—and the look of horror on his face is so priceless that I wish I had a Polaroid. "Oh God, no!" Fraser says, lurching back against the door. I'm grinning now and leaning forward and yanking his chain just as hard as I can, saying "C'mon, baby—who's your daddy?" until Fraser cracks up, red-faced and laughing and shaking his head and saying, "God, Ray, that's just—that's just so—so—"
I shrug and slump back in my seat. "Sick? Creepy? Disgusting?"
"Yeah, you're right," I tell him, though of course, like most really creepy things, it's maybe just a little true. "It is sort of creepy, but that seems to be where you're going with this—"
"That is not where I am going with this," Fraser says, sounding absolutely, utterly positive of that much. "Trust you to completely misinterpret—"
"Misinterpret what? I have no idea what you're trying to tell me, Fraser."
"I'm just trying to tell you what I've been thinking. I could easily refrain," Fraser snaps. "Or I could tell you an Inuit story," he adds, eyes flashing. "A nice, long one—"
"Drenched in metaphor."
"All right, all right," I tell him. "I'm sorry. I'm not your daddy."
I grin ruefully, shake my head, and start the car. We don't talk at all for about ten minutes, because talking seems dangerous—like we might end up in some other psychological haunted house, getting scared by the resident ghoulies. After a while, though, I realize that I have no idea where I'm going—I'm just driving in circles. Normally, after we close a case, we go out to the diner or something, eat something—except I'm getting the sense now that that isn't going to happen, either. Everything's just too fucking fraught right now.
"Where am I going?" I finally have to ask him.
Fraser doesn't look at me. "I should go back to the Consulate. It's already late."
"Yeah, all right," I say, and take the next left. Two minutes later I pull up and shift the car into neutral.
Fraser doesn't move for a second and I say, "Thanks for your help, Fraser—we did really good work today, I think."
"Yes," Fraser says absently. "Of course you're welcome."
"We nailed that bastard right and square," I say, and then Fraser's interrupting me and saying:
"What I was trying to say is—or rather, I've been trying to explain that—I've been led over the past couple of weeks to question my presumptively normal heterosexuality and the utility, desirability, and practicality thereof."
It takes me a second to parse my way to the end of this and then make a translation in my head. "Oh," I say, finally.
Fraser's staring straight out the front window. "But I still don't want to want you."
"Understood," I say, and he gets out of the car.
So things pretty much go back to normal—no, wait, that's wrong. Things go to normal for the first time ever between us. We start acting like normal guy-type partners, which means that we've both taken these giant steps back. We still work together okay—which is to say that we're still closing cases—but reality starts to feel a little thin, somehow, like we're living in two dimensions. Sometimes I look over at Fraser, there in his Mountie reds, and I feel like if I shove him he'll just go over like a cardboard cut-out, just fall thwack against the floor. And me, I feel three distances removed from myself—I feel like somebody pretending to be Ray Kowalski who's pretending to be Ray Vecchio, like I'm my own fucking third cousin.
Still, though, this appears to be the price you pay for not turning fag with your Mountie partner. Myself, I'm no longer convinced that it's worth it, but Constable Lawrence over there seems to think it is, and this particular dance takes two to tango.
I suppose I can get used to becoming a two-dimensional person, but what really bugs me is feeling like a two-dimensional cop. Cop work's the only thing I've ever been really good at—cop work and dancing—and yeah, I guess I'm still pretty good at my job, but I feel like I'm holding back, doing it all with one hand tied behind my back. It's that giant step back that Fraser and me took together—we're still nailing most of our perps, but we're doing it the hard, slow, boring way, seriously lacking style and inspiration.
So I'm not expecting much when the call comes through on the radio—carjacking in progress, white 1962 Mercedes Benz, license plate EG4 539. We're not too far from there so I glance at Fraser and he gives me the nod, and then I'm U-turning and speeding back up Michigan Avenue.
And lo and behold, there it is, ahead of us, speeding wildly and weaving back and forth—a white 1962 Mercedes Benz, license plate EG4 539. So I radio back that I've got a visual, that I'm in pursuit, and suddenly I realize that Fraser's alert and focused and staring straight out the windshield.
Then Fraser looks hard at me and says, "Floor it."
Which I do, I instantly do, and the rush hits me so fast that I'm nearly dizzy with relief. Yay, yay, fucking Cragar wheels!—because now we are flying up Michigan Avenue and the world is bursting back into three dimensions and wow, we are back, we are back. The GTO just purrrrs and grooves with all that damn fine TLC I give her and we're now coming up on the tail of the Mercedes. Fraser's arm is working, pumping, rolling down his window—and then he glances at me, and smiles, and says, "What the hell."
It's amazing, really, but I have developed a technique for driving with Fraser on top of the car. Like Fraser says, it's not really something you train for specifically: it's more like something you get the hang of when you've done it a few times. And I have done it more than a few times now, so I am damn good—I can keep that engine ticking at 85 m.p.h and stay in hot pursuit while keeping enough control to let Fraser get up there and get himself into position for the jump. I hear the thud above me, one bang of the boot—and okay, here we go, let's move that Mountie into position, Dale Earnhardt eat your fucking heart out.
I steal up on the left and I am close enough that I can see the driver's face—he's sweating and panicked and boy, is he gonna be surprised in a minute. I get as close as I can and wait for that faint scuffle that means Fraser's jumped—and then he's done it, he's jumped, and I floor it and my beautiful Pontiac just kicks the ass of that fucking German box: D-day all over again. I zoom ahead of the Mercedes till I'm at a safe distance and then I turn, swerve, cut him off at the knees. The guy hits the brakes and tries to turn but Fraser's sliding across the top and into the side window—oh, how I love that man and his wildly dangerous ways.
Now Fraser's in the driver's seat, at the wheel, and turning, skidding, stopping the car—
—and I am out of the GTO and running like hell and I am crouched outside the passenger-side door with my gun drawn the second the Mercedes finally grinds to a stop. "Freeze! Police!" I shout—and then I reach out and pull the door open. The carjacker falls out at my feet in a heap and in seconds I've got him flipped over and cuffed up tight.
When I look up Fraser's stumbled out of the car and he's grinning—he's flushed and breathing hard and he looks better than he has in weeks. I make a grab for his head and ruffle his hair in a sort of wild noogie. "You nut!" I yell into his face. "You fucking freak!" and then he's giving me this one-armed hug—quick, yeah, but tight, tight, so tight. And when he lets go of me I step back and shoot him a look that says everything I can't say in the middle of a crowded street in the middle of the day: We tried it your way, we tried it your way, and your way sucks.
The smile falls off Fraser's face so fast that I almost imagine hearing it crash to the asphalt. But then Fraser takes a deep breath and starts nodding at me—so hey, he gets it, I think he gets it, maybe he gets it.
The black and whites arrive and then it's the usual—custody, preliminary reports, signing off on a thousand clip-boards. When everything's near to done and the tow trucks are hauling the Mercedes away, Fraser turns to me and says, awkwardly, "Do you...want to go to the diner?"
"No," I say. "Let's go to my place and eat there."
Fraser goes still for a moment and then nods, once, curtly—and I swallow hard. We go back to the car and I drive us home, this time keeping the speed limit and stopping for every light and every stop sign. Suddenly, weirdly, I am in no fucking rush.
But even slow motion is motion and we get there eventually. My keys are jangling at the door because my hands are shaking so hard—but then it's open and we're in and pulling off our coats. "So hey," I say, going for a bluff and blustery normality, "let's see what we got in the fridge." I go into the kitchen and yank the fridge door open—and cool, there's beer, there's bread, there's a whole bunch of good sandwich stuff: black forest ham, roast beef, salami, cheese, turkey, even mustard and pickles.
I look up to tell Fraser this and he is standing there, by the door, apprehensive and still. I shut the refrigerator and drop the act. "Fraser, it's okay," I tell him, willing him to believe it and half trying to convince myself. "Really. Okay?"
Fraser nods, once, looking totally unconvinced—and so I take a deep breath and go to him and put my arms around him.
It's amazing how awkward this is without the adrenaline and the real possibility of sudden death. Fraser's stiff as a board, and I'm all skinny arms and pointy elbows, and it just seems wrong to be trying to hug him, too many angles and no fit here at all. Fraser raises his arms and sort of rests his hands on my back, holding me like I'm a weird package and he's not sure where to put me.
But I am a persistent bastard and so I just close my eyes, tighten myself around him, and hang on. We stand there for long seconds, two inept guys clutching each other—and then I pull back, not letting go of him, and whisper, "Jump, Fraser. Jump."
He stares at me for a second with those blue, blue eyes and then he leans forward and kisses me. Our mouths come together and it's a quick, sweet pleasure, his mouth against mine. I feel a sudden, hard ache because I've missed this, I've missed this so much—but see, I got more tongue from him in the fucking airplane, so I reach up and put my hands in his hair and pull his mouth closer—
—-and his hands drop to my ass and, bang! there we go. Suddenly I'm on him and he's on me, and we're melting into each other, against each other, arms tightening—and it feels so good to be able to do this, for as long as we want, without lies or excuses or witnesses. Fraser's hands are all over me, Fraser's touching me everywhere; I'm clutching him with everything I've got and humping him like a dog. It occurs to me that in a minute there's gonna be an accident—so I twist my head away and pant, "Come on—come to bed with me."
Fraser groans against my face, then manages: "Okay—yes."
But he doesn't let go and I don't let go and so we sort of stumble through the doorway and collapse onto my unmade bed. We fall together on the rumpled sheets and bunched-up blankets and my t-shirt and shorts from last night—but once we're horizontal things go faster: I'm kissing him and unbuttoning his tunic and he's groping my dick through my jeans and moaning into my mouth. It feels like forever with the clothes—his, mine, layers and fucking layers—but finally I'm into his pants and I've got him, I've got him, I've got his dick in my hand and I'm jerking him for all I'm worth—squeeze and release, squeeze and release, feeling him hot and thick and sliding in my hand.
Fraser moans again, his mouth falling away from mine, and I lift my head and think crucifixion, crucifixion, I get it—because it looks like suffering. His mouth is open and his chest is heaving and he's making these little agonized noises each time I stroke him, each time his cockhead slides into my fist. Lawrence, I'm thinking stupidly, that Lawrence has got something—cause this is hurting him, breaking him, killing him. But Fraser's cock is hard and wet in my hand, slick and slippery—he's leaking for me, easing the way for me, even as his face contorts and his eyes close and he cries out my name—
—and I jerk the first splatter of wetness on to his belly but keep stroking, not stopping until I've yanked a second splatter out of him, and then a third. Fraser's head falls to the side and he's sucking in deep breaths, and I slow my hand to something sweeter, more caressing, and bend to kiss him.
I kiss him long and deep and I'm on the verge of coming myself, I'm so buzzed. I turn into him and begin to nudge my erection against his hip—and I'm leaving my own trails of wetness against him, because I'm leaking, too. Fraser gasps and pushes my shoulders away and says, "...wait, wait...Ray..."
"Can't wait, Fraser," I manage, "I've been waiting forever," and the next thing I know I'm flat on my back, and Fraser's rolled over me, staring down at me. He drops his face down to mine; I feel his warm breath on my cheek. And then he's slowly moving downward, caressing me with his face—throat, shoulders, chest, belly. I'm breathing hard because it's incredibly hot, the way he's scenting me, caressing me, feeling the occasional tease of his tongue on my skin.
Then he drops his head further and he's nosing my groin—and I can't stand it, I just can't stand it, I'm going to have some sort of an attack right here and just die. I feel the wet swipe of Fraser's tongue at the base of my cock, and then I'm gasping, because he's kissing and licking me and this isn't a blow job so much as a—Christ, I don't know what the hell this is, but it's—it's—
Suddenly Fraser lifts his head and licks his palm and curls his hand around me—and his hand is strong and wet and tight and he makes me come in four strokes. Everything whites out for a while and when I come back to myself Fraser's resting his head on my belly and stroking my arm, gently. I drop a hand on his head, comb my fingers through his hair, and he starts to hum something softly, something sort of familiar.
"What," I manage, hearing my voice crack, "what is that?"
"Hm?" Fraser murmurs. "Nothing. Something my mother used to sing."
YOU MADE ME LOVE YOU
Lyrics by Joe McCarthy and Music by James V. Monaco (1913)
YOU MADE ME LOVE YOU
I DIDN'T WANT TO DO IT, I DIDN'T WANT TO DO IT
YOU MADE ME WANT YOU
AND ALL THE TIME YOU KNEW IT,
I GUESS YOU ALWAYS KNEW IT.
YOU MADE ME HAPPY, SOMETIMES,
YOU MADE ME GLAD
BUT THERE WERE TIMES, SIR, YOU MADE ME FEEL SO BAD.
YOU KNOW YOU MADE ME LOVE YOU
YOU MADE ME SIGH FOR,
I DIDN'T WANT TO TELL YOU, I DIDN'T WANT TO TELL YOU,
I WANT YOUR LOVE, THAT'S TRUE
YES I DO, DEED I DO, YES I DO
YOU KNOW I DO
GIVE ME, GIVE ME, GIVE ME, GIVE ME WHAT I CRY FOR,
YOU KNOW YOU'VE GOT THE BRAND OF KISSES THAT I DIE FOR
YOU KNOW YOU MADE ME LOVE YOU
I HAD PICTURED IN MY MIND,
SOME DAY I WOULD SURELY FIND,
SOMEONE HANDSOME, SOMEONE TRUE,
BUT I NEVER THOUGHT OF YOU.
NOW MY DREAM OF LOVE IS O'ER,
I WANT YOU AND NOTHING MORE,
COME ON ENFOLD ME, COME ON AND HOLD ME,
JUST LIKE YOU NEVER DID BEFORE.
YOU MADE ME LOVE YOU
I DIDN'T WANT TO DO IT, I DIDNT WANT TO DO IT
I THINK YOU'RE GRAND, THAT'S TRUE
YES I DO, DEED I DO, YES I DO
YOU KNOW I DO,
I CAN'T TELL YOU WHAT I'M FEELING
THE VERY MENTION OF YOUR NAME SENDS MY HEART REELING
YOU KNOW YOU MADE ME LOVE YOU