This story is rated NC-17 (adults only). It includes mild implied violence and explicit male/male and female/male sex. If this is what you came for, scroll down. If it isn't, hit the Back button.
The Teeth of the Hydra
Part 1: You Dance When You Walk
Well, you dance when you walk,
So let's dance,
Take a chance,
Understand me.T Rex, "Bang a Gong"
Stanley Kowalski's father could loosen a lugnut with his bare hands. Or so he said, anyway. Mainly he used a wrench, just to be safe.
Stanley liked to sit on the kitchen stoop and watch his father take an engine apart, hairy arms smeared with grease to the elbow. "Feel that?" his father would say say, tossing a socket wrench at him. "Feel the balance? Feel the weight? Never skimp on your tools, Stanley," while Stanley scrambled to catch the wrench before it either hit the concrete or broke his arm.
Stanley's father wore a long-sleeved shirt to work, whatever the weather. But he did car work in his T-shirt. An anchor peeked out under his right sleeve, faded navy blue.
"Don't even think about it, Stanley," he said. "I made one bad decision when I was young and drunk and stupid. And now anyone who sees it, I have to prove that they can take me seriously."
"Can't you take it off?" Even the dirt on his elbows came off when his mother went at them with a pot scrubber.
"Doesn't come off," his father said. "They do it with needles, and afterwards it's there even when you're dead."
When Shannon Reynolds limped into the station on a Sunday morning, Ray and Fraser were next up to take a walk-in. But they had to turn her right over to Elaine, even though Elaine was up to her armpits in Martians, because it was pretty obvious that Shannon wasn't going to be able to handle going into an interrogation room with two guys.
She talked so quiet it was just about impossible to hear her from the other side of the two-way mirror. Ray listened to Fraser breathing beside him and hoped he had his bat ears on. Dief was probably listening, since it was none of his business, but unfortunately he couldn't tell them a whole lot about what he heard.
"And when you regained consciousness," Elaine was saying, "the man was no longer in your apartment?"
Shannon shook her head.
Fraser leaned toward Ray and murmured, "I understand Jenny and Mike have two wine glasses down in the lab."
Elaine was speaking again. " ... were undressed when you awoke. Was there any sign that he hurt you or assaulted you sexually while you were unconscious?"
Shannon made an ambiguous head gesture, neither a nod nor a shake. " ... didn't hurt anywhere else," she murmured, "except for the --"
Whatever it was, it made Elaine sit up a little straighter. "Can you show me?"
Awkwardly, Shannon stood up and hauled down her sweats on one side. And then he spotted the little blot of color on her hip.
"That bastard," he breathed. "He tattooed her."
Stanley Kowalski was nobody in particular, just another kid, until the day he started sixth grade. When Mrs. Bates was handing out cards to fill out, the cute girl beside him looked straight at him for the first time. She had the prettiest eyes he'd ever seen.
"I'm Stella Kirkman," she said. "What's your name?"
And that was the day Ray Kowalski was born.
The doctor didn't find any sign that Shannon Reynolds had been sexually assaulted, but they sent her to a rape counselor anyway, because that was what she seemed like she needed.
The lab report on the wine glasses came back inconclusive . A team went back to the apartment to dust more thoroughly, but nobody really expected to find anything useful.
Elaine took as many pictures of the tattoo as she could manage before the girl started shaking too bad to hold still. The perp was obviously using the real deal, not straight-pin-and-ballpoint-ink stuff. They took the pictures to the copy center up the street, and the kid there cleaned them up a little and bumped up the contrast, but they still couldn't make out a lot of detail.
Fraser, Ray, and Elaine squinted at the print of the tattoo. It was roughly circular, with one end tapering off in a horizontal line at the top and the other fanning out in a complicated tangle in the center.
"It looks like a really sloppy peace sign," Ray said.
"That bit in the middle," Elaine said, "that's more like a Celtic knot."
Fraser nodded. "Yes, I can see a resemblance. It's really quite beautiful, despite its unfortunate --"
Ray sat up suddenly. "Snakes. It's a bunch of snakes, see -- no. It's one snake with a bunch of heads. Six heads."
In the spring a kid named Kornbluth moved away, so Stella and Ray sat together in third-period history as well as homeroom.
Ray'd never had a girl for a friend before. He couldn't exactly wrestle with her and call her names, like he did with Chip Szujewska up the street, who'd been his buddy since second grade. But when he remembered some story of his mom's and offered to carry her books for her, she looked at him like he had three heads and said, "What for?"
She had lots of friends, but she seemed perfectly happy to add him to the crowd.
There was a record store called the Pit a couple of blocks from school. Some days Ray and Stella would stop in with the other kids after school, killing a little time before she walked north and he walked south.
One day she pulled an album out of the bin and handed it to him. He flipped it over and --
It was a girl. It was a guy? It was a guy with stuff on his eyelashes and a smear of something greasy on his lips. Ray felt his cheeks grow hot.
"Looks like a fairy," he said.
Stella laughed lightly and took the album out of his hands. "If Marc Bolan is a fairy, then you're Charles Atlas." She brushed her fingertips over the shiny lips, ran a thumb over the cheek, and put the album back in the bin.
"Bye, Ray," she said, and he went home and got five dollars of his birthday money and went back to buy the album.
There were tons of great bars in Rogers Park, so Ray had no clue why Shannon Reynolds would have wasted her time picking up guys at a plastic fake-Irish place like O'Malley's. "Jeez," he told Fraser, "I bet they get these places in a kit. Pictures and tables and beer and bartender all in one big box." Fraser didn't laugh, but his eyes crinkled, so Ray counted that as a win.
Bars were weird in the morning, with all the lights on and everything smelling like bleach and Pine-Sol. Dief made himself right at home, even scored a Danish from one of the cleaners, but Fraser wandered around, touching the vinyl pad in front of the bar, frowning at the foozball table, like he was in an art museum.
All the places they'd gone together on cases -- a kindergarten, a strip club, the back room of a Korean grocery, the back room of a place that sold wedding dresses -- and Fraser always looked exactly the same, like some student from outer space who'd come to learn all about the people of Earth and their strange ways.
The only thing he learned at O'Malley's was that the bartender saw nothing and the owner saw nothing and the DJ might have seen something but he left an hour ago for a week in Florida. Big surprise there.
Every time they went to the Pit now, "Daniel" was playing over the speakers. "That's the prettiest song I ever heard," Stella said, and Ray said, "Yeah."
Russell Dunn, who was in Ray's bio class, was over at the next bin looking at Elvis albums. "I don't see how you can like that faggot music," he said.
"What?" Ray said, and at the same time Stella said, "It's about his brother, Russell. Don't you even listen to the words?"
Russell smirked at them. "Sure it is," he said. "You do what you like, but I don't listen to faggot music."
Ray thumped the album Russell was holding. "Better than old people music," he said, and Stella giggled and gave him an admiring look.
After Russell huffed out the door, Ray turned to Stella. "It's not about his brother?"
"Oh, Ray," she said.
Fraser pulled open the door and held it, and Ray almost walked right into a pair of muscular calves.
"Whoops," said a voice from over his head, and a guy climbed down from a ladder carrying a bucket of soapsuds.
A window washer could see lots of useful things. "CPD," Ray told him. "Can we talk to you a minute?"
The guy looked at Fraser and Ray could almost see his eyes popping out, like in a cartoon. "David Bruce," he said. "I would be more than happy to do anything I can to help."
Every time Ray asked David a question, David answered to Fraser, which was starting to piss Ray off. Plus the guy looked like Peter Frampton, and he was wearing cutoffs when it wasn't even hot out, and Ray really didn't like the way he was eyefucking poor Fraser, who was probably not going to tell him to cut it out because that wouldn't be courteous.
"OK, well, if you're not here at night you won't be able to help us," Ray interrupted in the middle of some long pointless story, and David was so surprised he actually looked at Ray for the first time since Fraser came into view. "So whatever, fine, take his number, Fraser. We gotta motor."
As he started the car, he told Fraser, "Sorry you had to put up with being ogled like that."
Fraser gave him a well-rehearsed expression of mild surprise. "I noticed nothing untoward in Mr. Bruce's behavior, Ray."
"Fine, Fraser, he was a perfect gentleman and you should invite him to tea with your grandmother."
"Well, in point of fact, Ray, my grandmother ..."
Ray put the car in gear, not exactly gently. Not his fault if he didn't like people to look at his partner like he was a piece of Grade A Prime, even if his partner didn't seem to mind too much.
Chip Szujewska would do any stupid thing if you dared him. In the fourth grade he ate a caterpillar -- said it made his tongue numb. In the sixth grade he broke his arm trying to jump his bike over three garbage cans at the bottom of his driveway, and a week after the cast came off he broke his leg trying to do it again. Which was why he didn't have a bike any more, and also why his mother took those pills.
So naturally he was the one that could pinch his sister's Salems, two at a time, and bring them to smoke with Ray behind the gym before school. Ray only coughed a little now.
There was a spring dance coming up at Holy Family, and Chip had decided Ray needed to ask Stella. So when she came up the walk with her pals the Beths, Chip gave Ray a hard shove, and Ray staggered out into their path, and then he had no choice.
"Uh, Stella, you, uh --" The Beths wouldn't take the hint and leave, they just stood there looking at him like it was any of their business. Behind him he could hear Chip making chicken noises.
"You, uh, you don't wanna go to the dance with me, right?"
She looked totally shocked. "I'm going with Mike Levine."
Shit. Mike was a junior. With a car.
"You should ask Kim Ashe," Beth Hunt put in. "She likes you."
"She totally does," Beth Burke said.
Kim Ashe was a foot taller than him. "OK, well, see ya," he said, and shrank back into the cloud of minty smoke. The five-minute bell rang, and the three girls took off.
"Loser," Chip said comfortingly.
"Guess the next thing is to check my sources and see if anybody saw our guy buying roofies," Ray said in the car. "Wish we had a better description." Shortish guy with longish hair, they had from Shannon -- otherwise all she could say was "average" or "I didn't notice."
"Is it possible that our culprit was using some form of topical anesthetic in addition?" Fraser said. "Or is rohypnol powerful enough to assure unconsciousness even through the pain of tattooing?"
"I'm sure the ro would be enough," Ray said. "It don't hurt that much while it's happening. But the next couple days are a bitch."
He hadn't really been sure whether Fraser knew he had a tat or not. From the slight change of posture beside him, he guessed not. Good. Surprise the guy for once. "I'll show you mine sometime," he said. "Got too many clothes on now."
"That," Fraser said cautiously, "sounds fascinating."
Dried pee was probably the worst smell in the world, but it was hardly noticeable now, and nobody could smell it but him. He hoped. God, he hoped they couldn't.
Sitting in the police station, with phones ringing and people yelling all around him, Ray felt like he was in some kind of tunnel, looking through a thick plate of glass at himself. A little skinny kid with crooked glasses and a jacket spread out over his lap, shivering a little in the hard plastic chair.
A couple chairs down, Stella was telling the story to her parents. He saw her point at him, giving him a look full of admiration, and he sent up a silent prayer to whoever was listening that she wouldn't tell her parents exactly how he'd distracted the robber. And that she would, please, God, stay where she was and not come any closer.
Stella's dad had moved out earlier in the year -- "Whatever. He was never home anyway," she said -- and even now he and Mrs. Kirkman wouldn't sit together, but kept Stella in between them like a wall.
Ray'd called his mom to let her know he was OK, but his dad couldn't leave work and they only had the one car and the bus schedule was iffy this time of day, so it was going to take her a while to get to the station. He didn't need to have his mother there, anyway. He wasn't a baby.
There was something kind of soothing about all the craziness and noise. Ray slid down in the chair, trying not to move too much so nobody would get a whiff of him, and waited for somebody to call his name.
When they went back to the station to fax a notice to all the districts, Stella was there, waiting to see Welsh about some kind of warrant.
Stella seemed to make Fraser really nervous. Ray had never figured out whether it had anything to do with him or whether it was just a personality conflict. Anyway, he made sure he got in between them while he told Stella about Shannon Reynolds.
Stella raised her eyebrows. "Every time I begin to think there's nothing new in the criminal world ..."
"Hope this doesn't mean they're smarter than us," Ray said. "Bad enough they outnumber us."
"Want to get a picture on the news?" she said. "I've got contacts at WGN and ABC, and I think Maria knows a guy at Fox."
He shook his head fast. "No, no, no. Don't want to spook the guy." Fraser was being awfully quiet over there. Worried him a little.
"You still have that bracelet," Stella said, and he realized he was twisting it around one finger. "The way you live, I can't believe it lasted twenty minutes."
"You kidding? I break it all the time. They're like three bucks, though, so I always get another one," and then Welsh's door opened and she said, "See you around," and went in.
There was always something different by the cash register at the Pit -- keychains, buttons, lighters with band logos on them. One day Ray was ambling up the glass display cases, looking at T-shirts he didn't have the money for, when his hand bumped a rack of heavy silver ball-chain bracelets.
Ray had never worn jewelry in his life. He didn't even own a wristwatch yet, though sometimes he put on his father's, which hung loose from his wrist, heavy and warm. His hands were big and clumsy -- his feet, too. His mother said it meant he was going to be tall. He hoped it would happen soon.
He took down one of the bracelets. It was strung through a cardboard hanging tag, so he couldn't put it on, but he laid it over the back of his wrist --
It looked great.
He paid his three bucks and tore it out of its cardboard right there at the counter, moving down absently when the kid behind him nudged him. He had to tuck his thumb in to make his hand small enough to squeeze through.
It felt distracting, dangling and shifting, making him aware of his hand, his wrist, his forearm.
He held up his hand. It looked like a man's hand now.
"Your bracelet was a gift from Stella?" Fraser said in that bland just-making-conversation voice. Whenever he used that voice, he was hiding something -- Ray could feel it, even if he hadn't yet figured out what.
"Naw," he said. "I just bought one when I was a kid. Thought it looked cool." He thumped the fax. "Come on, you stupid thing, send."
"If I may?" Fraser hit a couple of buttons at blinding speed, and the fax squealed happily and started to suck down the sheet of paper. "And you've kept replacing it?"
He didn't know why himself. "Sort of my trademark by now," he said.
One of the guys from the motor pool went by, and Ray took a deep happy sniff of grease and lava soap. "Smells like a weekend," he said.
"My dad had this old shirt he used for car work. Used to say it was more 10W-30 than cotton. I'd smell that shirt and know it was time to go to work."
"I remember my father's uniform," Fraser said. "It was what he put on to go away."
Ray grimaced sympathetically. "Uniform have a smell?" he asked, and took a sniff of Fraser's shoulder.
Sweatery wool smell, leather, something sulfurous that was probably some kind of polish. Sweat, too. He didn't know why that should surprise him. Thing was probably hot as hell, and you couldn't clean it every time you were in it.
Now he registered that he was standing in the hallway smelling his partner, like he was the wolf or something. Fraser was frozen, hardly even breathing. Jeez, that's me, Ray thought: always pushing.
"Not Evening in Paris, but not bad," he said, clapping Fraser on the shoulder and easing back to give him a little air.
Fraser thawed out one muscle at a time. "I'm happy to hear it," he murmured.
David Bowie was Stella's favorite singer. Her face was subtly different when they played "Moonage Daydream" at the Pit, and she liked to stare at the photo on the back cover, where you could see his nipple if you looked close. She had the album at home, and she said the pictures in the liner notes were even wilder.
"I'd let him," she said dreamily.
"Like you'd ever meet him." Ray looked down at the photo, at the pale vulnerable body. "Anyway, he doesn't do girls."
"Yes, he does, too, sometimes. He does both." She leaned back on the record bin and hugged the album. "I could meet him if he played in Chicago again."
Ray pictured it -- Stella and Bowie intertwined in poses imperfectly remembered from Penthouse. It squeezed his belly in a strange way, the white fragile limbs, the pale hair.
Of course he'd thought about himself with Stella, doing things he could only half imagine. But that was a little different from picturing her with another guy.
There was probably something wrong with him.
Monday morning there was a pink memo on Ray's chair: The two-four had just had a call from a girl who got tattooed. Ray called Fraser at the Consulate and said, "Hope you didn't start on anything yet."
Where Shannon Reynolds was tall, white, and terrified, Amanda Jackson was short, black, and matter-of-fact. She arrived at the station straight from the hospital where she was a surgical resident, still wearing her white uniform.
"I'm not hurt," she said. "I am angry, and I am confused, and I feel like a fool for making myself vulnerable, but I suppose I was lucky I wasn't harmed -- only decorated."
She'd met the guy at an acoustic blues show. "I don't know what made me invite him home," she said. "I know better. He just seemed completely harmless somehow -- not anything he did, just something about him."
"Once you got back to your apartment, did you have drinks?"
She made a disgusted noise. "Yes, fool that I am," she said. "But I figured, my wine, my glasses, what harm, do you see?" The people at the two-four hadn't had any luck getting prints off the glasses, either.
"You'll probably need to see it?" She tucked down the white pants to show them.
The snake had seven heads.
"What is it?" she asked when she saw them exchanging glances. Without a word, Fraser showed her the picture of Shannon's six-headed snake. She bit her lip. "You think he's keeping count?"
"I'm afraid," Fraser said, "that it's all too real a possibility."
Ray sighed. "OK, we get some kind of serial tattooer out there, and evidently there's five victims we don't know about yet. We better get a composite drawing out to the departments. When's Cecil coming in next, what, Thursday?"
"Perhaps I could work out a sketch and spare Ms. Jackson a return trip," Fraser said.
Ray nodded; the department artist had a pretty irregular schedule. And Fraser, of course, just happened to have a sketchpad on him. Ray had no clue where he'd had it hidden. Maybe in his pants again.
Fraser drew, Ray watched, and Amanda critiqued. "Not such a heavy jaw. No, no stubble at all."
They looked good together, Ray thought. Fraser seemed to like tough, self-reliant girls. Maybe they'd hit it off.
"That's a pretty good likeness," Amanda said at last. Ray looked.
"That is the least suspicious suspect I ever saw," he said. The face was almost pretty, with longish hair and full lips and a kind of a weak chin. "No wonder girls felt safe to take him home."
"That must have been what made me drop my guard," she said. "You're a good artist, Constable."
"Thank you kindly," Fraser said. "If it wouldn't make you too uncomfortable, it would be helpful if we could get a better likeness of the tattoo as well."
"Yes, of course." She stood up, which put her hip just about at Fraser's eye level, and held down her pants on one side again.
There was a long, awkward silence while Fraser drew and Amanda tried to find something to look at.
She was doing good. Ray doubted he'd be able to stand around with his pants half down while some handsome weirdo in a red coat stared at a spot two inches from his crotch. Her skin was dark enough he couldn't tell if she was blushing, but it seemed like she was breathing kind of fast.
"I know all this, it can't be easy," he said, softly so he wouldn't spook her.
"I want to help any way I can," she said, kind of tense.
"Yes," Fraser said warmly, putting down his pencil and standing up. "Your help will be invaluable."
"Fraser, give the lady your phone number," Ray said. "She might remember something later on." Fraser would never get on the clue bus by himself. Maybe Amanda would give him a little push.
Fraser tore off a sheet of paper and wrote his name, including middle initial. He thought for a moment, and then wrote down a phone number. Ray looked over his shoulder and saw that it was his own cell phone number. Good idea. You really wanted to make sure that the path of justice didn't go anywhere near Turnbull's desk.
"Let me give you mine, too." She wrote down three numbers. "I'm happy to help in any way I can."
Fraser took the paper. "I appreciate your civic-mindedness."
Ray shook his head. Not like he was any great Romeo himself, but even he could do better than that.
Part 2: The Mystery Dance
Well, I remember when the lights went out,
And I was trying to make it look like it was never in doubt.
She thought that I knew, and I thought that she knew,
So both of us were willing but we didn't know how to do it.Elvis Costello, "The Mystery Dance"
Stella's mom was dating an English professor from Loyola University. Stella said she'd marry him except she didn't want to lose the house, but he was over there pretty much all the time, and sometimes Stella called him "my dad."
Professor Adler had a daughter named Nancy who was a college junior. Nancy came to Stella's house a lot because it was bigger than her dad's apartment and quieter than her dorm, and she seemed to think Stella was a Barbie or something. Stella was all the time coming to school with her fingernails painted gold or a row of silver studs hammered around the cuffs of her jeans because she and Nancy had been doing girl stuff the night before.
Ray saw Nancy sometimes when she came to the Pit to meet Stella after school: a tall plumpish college girl with big tinted glasses and her hair frosted in four or five shades of blonde. She was OK, though he never quite knew what to say to her and she always looked at him like she was trying not to laugh.
She was useful, though. She had friends in New York and would go visit and come back with wild records, which Stella would sometimes lend him. And when Stella complained about not being able to get into any of the live music shows, Nancy's boyfriend Knox got her a fake ID. Then he got Ray one, too. It gave his birthdate as 1957, which was weird. Ray's parents hadn't even been married then.
Stella went out a lot with Nancy and Knox, and most of the time she brought Ray along, even though there were a couple of other guys she was actually dating. "They have no taste," she explained. "It's all Led Zeppelin with them."
Knox never said a word to Ray. "He thinks you're, you know." Nancy held out her arm and let her hand drop limply from her wrist. Ray stared at her, and she added hastily, "Because of the bracelet. Guys don't wear bracelets."
"Lots of guys wear bracelets," he mumbled. Knox must have some weird ideas about fashion.
"You know what, though," Stella put in. "you know who had on a bracelet -- the bank robber guy did."
Ray felt a hot bloom of humiliation he always got when he remembered that day. "Shut up," he said. If she still thought he'd done it on purpose, why should he tell her any different?
"You shut up." She poked him with her sharp little elbow. "He did. I remember. You notice stuff like that on a hand with a gun in it.
"Besides --" She slipped her hand into his back pocket and out so fast he could almost believe he'd imagined it. "Ray likes girls. Don't you, Ray?"
"He likes you," Nancy said.
"So," Ray said when they had seen Amanda out. "Any idea about our next move?"
"Unfortunately, it appears that we can't expect any consistency in either the victims or the venues."
"I was thinking," Ray said. "Tattoo equipment is not something you can buy at Kmart."
"Perhaps it would be useful to try to locate his supplier, then," Fraser said.
There were probably a hundred tattoo parlors in greater Chicago, but that was where some of Ray's shadier contacts came in handy: He and Fraser went straight over to Belmont and Clark to the Double Dragon.
Fat Len was in the back on the typewriter like he always was between customers. "Hey, Hemingway," Ray called through the office door, "quit working on your novel and be a good citizen for a minute."
At Fraser's raised eyebrows, Ray said, "Len and I go way back."
"I do Ray's arm." Len could actually speak perfect English when it suited him, but evidently he thought it would be a good idea to let Fraser underestimate him. "In seventy-seven, first year I open shop."
Ray could see Fraser doing the math in his head.
"He look young, yes, have baby face, but he have a card, it say he's twenty. I come from China one year, never know Americans such liars." He looked down. "Is that a wolf?"
Len raised his eyebrows when Ray showed him the drawing of Amanda's tattoo and then the polaroid of Shannon's. "Not bad," he said. "Professional, yes?"
"Involuntary," Ray told him.
"Son of a bitch," Len said, all trace of accent gone. Ray sneaked a look at Fraser and was insanely pleased to see no surprise at all on his face. "City hassles us even when we only ink people who want ink."
Ray showed Len the drawing of the suspect. Len shook his head. "I'd like to wring his neck," he said.
"Yeah, well, we gotta find him first," Ray told him. "You couldn't do this with stuff just anybody would have, right? So I'm wondering, maybe we can track him by his supplies."
Len nodded. "I'm not really plugged in," he said. "You ask Silver. Silver will know."
The person at the door of La Mere Vipere, a skinny brown-haired guy in torn jeans, a lace bra, and some kind of dog collar, examined Ray's fake ID, pursing his magenta lips. The cups of the bra were crumpled and deflated on the narrow chest. Ray didn't know where to look.
Finally he handed the ID back to Ray, wordlessly shaking his head.
But a couple of blocks over was a place called the Fallout Shelter that would take anybody that had two bucks. Ray followed Stella and Nancy and Knox down a narrow flight of stairs into a room so full of smoke that the beam of the spotlight looked like something solid.
Knox and Nancy were looking for some guy named Carter, but since they didn't know what he looked like, they were just going to wander around. Ray and Stella pushed their way through the crowd, and Ray handed the big bald guy at the keg a dollar and got back two plastic cups of beer that had probably been cold last night.
The band was called the Crave. Stella knew the lead singer, who had written a song for her, or so she claimed -- it was called Garbage Baby, and the chorus was more or less "Don't waste your time, she's too young to fuck."
Even with the jackhammer beat and the screaming, there were still some couples slow dancing, or else making out standing up. Ray squinted at two really tall people in the corner.
"Hey, hey, Stel." He grabbed her elbow. "Get a load of those --"
"Ray, if you're going to be a moron and embarrass me, you can just go home."
The whole place gave him a weird feeling in the back of his neck, like when he was getting ready to do something humiliating. "I'm staying," he said.
Len went to call this Silver person and say they were coming, and Fraser started looking at the work samples on the wall. There was your basic stuff -- Mother and Polish Princess and Born To Lose, roses and skulls -- but most of them were Chinese characters. For all Ray knew, he was reading them.
"Does yours resemble these?"
"Naw, mine's one of a kind, Fraser." He was just wearing a T-shirt, so he pushed up the sleeve to show him.
Fraser was quiet for a while, long enough to make Ray edgy. "The ink coverage is very heavy," he said finally. "It must have hurt a great deal."
"I don't remember much." Ray gave Fraser a quick glance. "I woke up with a pounding hangover and something stuck to my face, which turned out to be the flap I tore off the spark plug box to show Len what I wanted --"
Fraser touched it gently, like it might still hurt, all these decades later. "Why Champion?"
"Everybody asks that, and I never been able to say, exactly." His shoulder tingled. "It just said something. Lotta things." He put his hand over the mark. "My mom always said I did everything for shock value and don't encourage him, Damian, but my dad was so pissed he could hardly speak. Figured I'd, like, branded myself low-class forever. If I'd mouthed off at him like I usually did, I probably would have gotten thrown out of the house."
"Well, it isn't as if it said Born To Lose," Fraser said.
Ray gave him a wry grin. "Don't kid yourself, Fraser. In those days every tattoo said Born To Lose."
The drummer from Yeast claimed to have played with Johnny Thunders. Frankly, Ray had his doubts, but there was no question Yeast fans were hardcore.
Ray had pawed through his closet for half an hour looking for an outfit that would get him out the door past his parents, but not get him called a poseur once he got to the Fallout Shelter. He didn't rip up his clothes because he hated to make his mom waste money. So maybe he was a poseur.
Stella could probably show up in a ball gown and a tiara and not get called a poseur. Maybe girls couldn't be poseurs. With a girl, you knew she wasn't just doing it to get laid. Girl wanted to get laid, all she had to do was show up.
Stella could dance, though. She'd been at it for hours, cheeks pink, hair a little sweaty -- when she lifted it up to cool the back of her neck, the scent made Ray lightheaded. He didn't think it was the beer. You burned through a lot of beer, dancing.
About one o'clock in the morning, she pulled him off the dance floor and kissed him.
Kissed him for so long he nearly passed out, her little mouth slippery with purple lipstick and tasting like cheap beer. He'd been imagining it for so many years, but now that it was really happening, he was only half there because where was he going to put his hands, and would Nancy tell Mrs. Kirkman, who really didn't approve of him, and his nose was smashed up against her cheek so he couldn't breathe --
It was incredible.
But on the way home, she rode up front with Nancy. And the next day at school she was holding hands with Brian Swensen like nothing was different, and something in the look on her face made him think she'd laugh at him if he said anything about it.
He must have been paying more attention than he thought while it was happening, because afterwards he could relive it in every detail. He failed two vocab tests and missed the bell three times before the memory wore thin and real life came back.
He figured he'd be able to think clearer at home than at a restaurant, so they picked up Chinese on the way. He tossed Fraser the remote while he was pulling all the boxes out of the bag, tossing a piece or two to Dief in the process. He wasn't paying attention to the screen till a familiar face caught his eye.
"Hang on, Fraser, go back a couple -- I thought so! That's Frank Constantine, my old partner from the one-nine."
Same eyes that turned down at the outer corners, same sloppy oversized cardigan -- it was Frank all right, even with all that extra gray in his hair.
The sound kicked in. " ... not only a little more sympathy for people that get victimized for being gay," Frank was saying, "but also a little more support for officers of the law who are gay themselves, which god knows they need ..."
Ray went hot all over. He could feel Fraser looking at him, and he made a shushing gesture.
"And in fact," the interviewer chick was saying, "it was just such an experience that led you to found the task force, isn't that right, detective?"
"No way," Ray muttered, sitting down blindly. "No way Frank was queer."
It was a girl's voice that answered. "That's right." The camera pulled back to show a young woman sitting next to Frank. Khakis, black T-shirt. Those same sad Constantine eyes. "As one of the city's first openly lesbian detectives, I found myself the victim of everything from --"
Ray sagged. "It's Jessica," he said to Fraser. "It ain't Frank. It's his daughter."
"And, you know, pretending to be something you're not -- it takes a lot out of you. My dad always said, 'Life's too short, kiddo,'" Jessica said, grinning at Frank.
"Jeez, she looks just like her mother," Ray muttered. "She was just a little kid the last time I saw her." Fraser was giving him a funny look. "Sorry. Just freaked me out a little to think about Frank being --"
"I understand," Fraser said soothingly.
"I mean, nothing wrong with it, but you know, you think you know somebody, and then --"
On TV, the interviewer girl was saying, "Does it bother you that some Chicago officers are referring to your group as the Queer Corps?"
Jessica grinned again. "Believe me, Amy, we've all heard much worse."
"Oh, hey, the Runaways album is in!" She elbowed Ray and handed him the album. "You think they're sexy?"
There they all were, with their soft-hard baby-punk sneers. "They look like they could kick my ass." It was a compliment.
"Yeah." She gave him a mischievous look out from under her eyelashes. "If you didn't want to, they could make you." She pointed to the dark-haired one. "She could pin your hands --"
Jesus. Why did she do this shit to him? In a record store? Sometimes he thought she just liked to mess with him, see how much crap he'd take and keep coming back.
But in his dreams that night, as tough little mystery girls climbed on top of him, it was Stella who pinned his hands, laughing so close he could feel her breath on his face.
Silver's studio was a light-washed, green-tea-scented space at the far end of the student shopping district in Evanston. Silver herself was soft-spoken as only a six-foot woman can be, with close-cropped gray hair, a ring in her nose, and her tank riding low to show an acrobat and a bull tattooed on her bony chest.
Metal glinted from her fingers, eyebrows, wrists, and ears. Ray had a momentary desire to show her his tattoo, but that was stupid. He had nothing to prove. Plus, whether they were talking hipness or pain threshold, she had him beat hands down.
They'd told about two sentences of their story when a brass bell signaled a customer. "Take a look around the gallery," Silver said. "I'll be right with you."
The first picture Ray stopped at was a woman's face, beautiful and distant, with a swirling mass of snakes for hair. Obviously they were a long, long way from roses and bleeding hearts.
Next up were two women who looked a lot like Silver herself, holding bows and arrows -- each, shockingly, with only a lump of scar tissue where her right breast would be. Then a guy chained to a rock, with a big bird tearing chunks of flesh out of his belly and an expression of ecstasy and pain on his face. Then a skeleton warrior like in that movie about the Argonauts.
"These are extraordinarily powerful," Fraser said.
Ray followed his eyes and saw a bearded guy chained to a pole. He was trying to get away -- you could almost see his muscles moving as he strained. And a couple of feet away, a woman sat, with her mouth open like she was talking or singing, and her eyes crinkled like he was funny.
"Silver appears to specialize in mythological themes. This one is Odysseus and the siren," Fraser said.
"She tie him up?"
"No," Fraser said. "The siren's song was reputed to be irresistible. Odysseus wanted to be the only man who heard it and lived, but he didn't rely on being able to remember his duty when he heard the song. He had his men chain him to the mast."
Dief gave a little whine and leaned up against the back of Fraser's calves. "Not well enough, apparently," Fraser answered.
Girls liked to play with each other's hair, Ray had noticed. One of his science teachers actually took away hairbrushes and rubber bands, same as he would gum. "Ladies," he'd say sharply, "you will please refrain from primate bonding behavior while in my classroom."
"He's just jealous because he's bald," Ray whispered, and Stella got her first lunchtime detention because she couldn't stop laughing.
Before they went to the Fallout Shelter, Knox and whatever friends he'd brought would usually hang out downstairs playing pool or raiding Mrs. Kirkman's fridge, but Ray liked to go up and watch Stella and Nancy do each other's makeup and fix each other's hair. Sexy as it was to watch a girl put lipstick on herself, it was even sexier to watch her putting it on another girl.
Ray had long ago given up trying to understand why things turned him on. Sometimes he wished he had somebody like Stella had Nancy, an older brother to tell him he was normal.
The night the Crave came back from New York with a new bass player, Nancy had a new hair gel she wanted Stella to try. It smelled like a giant strawberry, even across the room. "You're gonna attract bees," Ray said.
"Shut up," Stella told him as Nancy expertly worked the pale-pink stuff into her hair.
"Whatcha want, sweetie? Elvis hair?" Nancy lifted Stella's bangs up with a comb. They stayed up.
Stella made a face over Ray's shoulder into the mirror. "God, no," she said.
"Close your eyes and trust me," Nancy said. "Ray, tell me if she peeks." She slicked back Stella's hair on the sides and flopped it over in front. "If we had some jello we could put some color in."
"Ooh," Stella said, opening her eyes. "I look tough." Then she got a wicked look and grabbed the gel. "Now let me do Ray."
Stella hustled him into her chair and squeezed a big smelly glop into his hair before he could say anything.
Stella's fingers were cool in his hair. It was nothing at all like being in Mr. Demetrios' barber chair. Nancy pulled her folding chair closer and pushed his hair back at the temples. God, it felt incredible. He didn't dare breathe for fear he'd embarrass himself.
"Wow," Stella said, and he saw that she'd made his hair stand up all over the top of his head. Jesus, he looked nineteen. "You should let me bleach it sometime."
Nancy grabbed a comb and started smoothing down the hair on the back of his neck, which gave him goosebumps. "Girls do this to each other in school?" he said.
Stella and Nancy exchanged an amused glance in the mirror over his head. "So?" Stella said.
"Girls get away with murder."
Ray was so busy looking at a man turning into a pig that he almost bumped into Fraser, who'd stopped short in front of a picture of two warrior guys with swords and shields, shaking hands. The nearer guy, who was throwing his shield on the ground, had snakes tattooed over both arms. A tat within a tat. Cool.
OK, not shaking hands. They had a grip on each other's forearms, so tight it almost looked like a hug, and they were standing so close that one of them had a thigh stuck between the other one's legs. Not dirty, but definitely suggestive, especially with the looks on their faces, which were hard to read as anything but love. It was like something off an album cover from the seventies, except that Ray didn't think Fraser'd been looking at a lot of David Bowie albums up in Yucktuck.
Ray glanced at him. He was completely riveted by it.
"Pirithous and Theseus," Fraser said, almost to himself. "Throwing down their arms and choosing friendship over combat. One of the greatest partnerships in mythology."
"Yeah? How'd it end?"
"Ah ... well, with one of them abandoning the other in the underworld, actually, but nevertheless ..."
"Sorry about that." Silver appeared at his elbow. "Now. You were saying ... rape by tattoo? You hear rumors, but this is the first confirmed case I've heard of." She looked at the drawing of the suspect and shook her head. "Nobody I know."
"So you think we could track the guy based on where he gets his stuff?"
She smiled sympathetically. "There are hundreds of mail-order sources. I buy nearly everything I use through mail order from New York."
"You couldn't just do a stakeout or whatever it is you people do?"
"Hard to do when he never uses the same bar twice."
"And his victims?"
"Pretty. Other than that, nothing. Different races, ages, everything."
"We've met two," Fraser said. "We have reason to believe there are at least five others." He showed her the drawing of Amanda's snake. "Do you know of artists who specialize in snakes or in this sort of Celtic knotwork?"
"Really just about every artist is going to do some of both. They're very popular themes." She tapped her lower lip with two fingertips. "But then again, these aren't prefab designs. That narrows it down."
"Would you be able to give us the names of artists who would be capable of doing work on this level?"
Silver dragged over a big rolodex and started paging through it. "I couldn't," she said. "But my photographer could. She's sort of the center of a whole tattoo community -- it's a big thing for her." She found the number and wrote it down on the back of one of her business cards.
Ray rubbed his chin. "You think you could maybe call her, put in a good word for us? Because these people are her clients, and she doesn't know us from Santa and Rudolph."
"You tell her the guy's an ink rapist," Silver said, "and she'll help you string him up herself."
Chip Szujewska was never exactly what you'd call a good-looking guy -- he was scrawny and bucktoothed and pizza-faced -- but one thing you could say for him, he didn't mind being stared at.
In tenth grade he shaved all his hair off, and when it grew back in, he shaved it off again except for a floppy strip down the middle. He had a bunch of bandannas, and he used to tie a couple of them around one thigh -- which in Ray's opinion would have been more impressive if his thighs hadn't been skinny as arms.
And then one day he came to school with a big A in a circle tattooed on his arm.
"Is that the real thing?" Ray asked. "You must have had to lie like hell to get that." It was like Chip was walking around with proof that somebody believed he was eighteen, which was cool. "Did it hurt?"
"Like a mofo," Chip said.
One of the first things that happened was that the social studies teacher made Chip do a paper on anarchy. Which was probably proof that it was a stupid, poseur thing to put on your arm.
But it was still the real thing.
"So," Ray said as they walked to the car. "Looks like I missed a bet when I blew off all the myths in tenth-grade English."
"Some of them are very powerful," Fraser said. "Perhaps more to me than to others. My social and ... romantic development occurred in isolation from popular culture. So rather than being under social pressure to map my desires onto Raquel Welch or a succession of interchangeable centerfolds, I ..." And he fell silent, just when things were getting interesting.
Ray waited a minute or so, till he could be sure he wasn't going to go on. "So you went in for the, what do you call it, the sirens, or what?"
There was another long moment of silence, and then Fraser said, "Something like that."
Ray was beginning to think they weren't lying when they said smoking stunted your growth. His dad was pretty average height, and his mother's father had been over six feet, but he was one of the shortest guys in school.
Half the tenth-graders were tall as men now, with deep growly voices and big chests. Some of the ones who'd been shrimps last year liked to use their size to hassle the ones who hadn't grown yet. They didn't hassle Ray, though, because Ray knew the way to walk.
It was easy for a guy who'd sneaked in to see "Bullitt" five times in the third grade. You didn't walk like you were going to beat the other guy up. You walked like you'd already beaten him up, and it never crossed your mind that he wouldn't stand back and give you some room when you went by.
Ray's dad had taught him a few moves where a little guy could knock down a bigger one if he caught him off guard. But mostly he didn't need them. A guy who could walk like Bullitt didn't get in a lot of fights.
Stella liked it, too. If he put on a full-scale strut in the lunchroom, she'd look right past whatever Gold Coast guy she was sitting with and give him a long, hot smile.
He made her mom nervous, and that was exactly why she'd haul him out to the Fallout Shelter every week, exactly why after midnight she'd forget whatever boyfriend she'd said no to that night and let Ray kiss her in the dark corners or in the gravel parking lot, let him put his hands under her T-shirt and touch her through the little scraps of satin and lace until she was breathing even harder than when she danced.
"Ray, don't," she'd whisper, and then lick his ear, which was the kind of mixed message that made him sure he was never going to understand girls.
Stella blew away her PSAT even though she'd been out dancing and making out with Ray until two o'clock in the morning. She was going to be a lawyer like her dad, she said: "My real dad." Ray opened his mouth to say, "Girls don't --" and then changed his mind.
Dana Phillips Fine Photography was two rooms of a four-room apartment on the near north side. There was a shoot in progress when she buzzed them in, but there were photo albums, a huge hardcover book, and a bunch of photocopied articles on the coffee table to keep them occupied while they waited.
Dief immediately dragged down a photo album and nosed the pages over until he found a family of wolves baying at the moon, which he studied carefully. "Somebody you know?" Ray asked him, and he made a little whuffing noise like he was actually answering the question. So Ray shrugged and turned his attention to the clippings.
Looked like Phillips was a big shot. There was a Newsweek article on the table that called her "the voice of the radical feminine in tattoo culture," whatever that meant. She'd been interviewed in Chicago Magazine, too, and had done a big essay for the free weekly on "Ink and Sisterhood: The Tattoo As Community Building Among Women."
It was amazing the variety of work Phillips had shot -- from native Hawaiian tribal tattoos to male models with barbed wire around their biceps. There were the usual skulls, flags, and centerfolds. There were weird things -- a woman with flaming suns circling both nipples, a guy with his calf ringed with what looked like red tooth marks as if he'd narrowly escaped having his foot bitten off by a shark.
They recognized Silver's work and a couple of Chinese characters that were probably Fat Len, but as Silver had predicted, there were so many snakes and Celtic knots that they couldn't begin to guess which, if any, might be done by their mystery artist.
There was a big, glossy hardcover book on the table. "Hey, she did that one, too," Ray said.
"Tattoo Culture," Fraser read. "Dana Phillips, with an essay by Michael Tobias."
Ray paged through it, reading the large-print blocks on every page. "Pharaohs blah blah, Greek pottery blah blah, mark slaves as their master's property -- there's what our guy wants. Bestow magical powers blah blah -- identify members of a secret society, prove physical prowess and pain tolerance --"
"Stop a moment." Fraser turned back a page. There were two old vases, red and black. One had a naked woman with a little spiral marked on her upper arm. The other had a naked guy with a sword, fighting --
Fraser nodded. "Hercules fighting the Hydra."
Ray counted the snake monster's heads. "Nine," he said. "How many we got so far?"
"Shannon Reynolds' snake had six," Fraser said. "And Amanda Jackson's had seven."
"You think he'll stop at nine?"
"Or go on to something else. A second phase," Fraser said grimly.
Eleventh grade was the first time Stella ever went to two school dances with the same guy.
Jonathan Greer was pretty much your classic example of a Stella boyfriend. Tall, clean-cut, sober, responsible, boring as hell.
He was a big guy, already looked like a man. Athlete -- track, not football. Kind of a loner, like they all were. Stella wanted respect, and she knew better than to try to get that from the locker room dogs.
He was respectful to Ray, too, so Ray didn't even have the satisfaction of hating him.
Ray just happened to be riding his new motorbike on the basketball court the night of the homecoming dance, and when he looked in the window, he saw Stella and Jonathan slow-dancing to the faintly heard strains of Queen's "Somebody to Love."
They weren't really dancing, just doing this kind of loose swaying hug. Stella's cheeks were pink, and then they made a turn and he could see that Jonathan's were, too, and Jonathan's eyes were closed. His mouth was almost touching her hair.
Ray felt pumped up with anger and jealousy, like a balloon full of air. Not ten days ago she'd let him -- and now she was --
He shook it off. Got to learn from it, that was the main thing.
He knew enough about girls to know that if you thought you weren't worth their notice, they'd think so, too. So he went over it in detail, putting himself in the picture: his own hands spanning her waist, his own mouth on her hair.
He was going to have her someday. She belonged to him.
Phillips showed her model to the door -- a muscular guy with ink peeking out the cuffs of his white dress shirt -- and sat down in an armchair across the coffee table. Silver must have warned her about the wolf, because she didn't even give him a second glance.
Fraser handed over the polaroids and the drawings of Amanda's tattoo. Phillips looked at them for a long moment. "I hate to say it," she said at last, "but these are beautiful." She had a voice like a radio DJ.
They showed her the drawing of the suspect next. She looked at that for so long that Ray started to think maybe she was critiquing the artwork.
Eventually Fraser gave her a little verbal nudge: "Silver said you'd know all the artists in the area. How many would you say were capable of work on this level?"
Phillips chewed her lip. She had kind of striking eyes, very dark brown, and they always looked like she was about to smile, even though she wasn't. She was dressed way down, Bulls baseball cap turned around backwards. "The workmanship is ... journeyman level," she said, pointing to a ragged edge. "Not bad, mind you, but most any well-trained, experienced artist could equal it. Silver's work, now, is far superior technically."
She spread the prints over the books and photo albums on the coffee table. "The design, now," she said. "That's what sets it apart. Unless he's copying the art from some other source -- but no, that's not likely, is it? Because of the heads. I suppose you could check some antique art collections or perhaps --"
"Let's assume, for the moment, that the tattooist is designing his own art," Fraser interrupted. "What artists in this area could create something like this?"
Through the open studio door, Ray could see a table cluttered with stuff -- lights, piles of cardboard, rolls of gauze and surgical tape, coffee mugs and pop cans, a tin of the same loose face powder Stella used to use. More of the same kinds of stuff were spilling out of a backpack on the floor in there.
"Silver herself, of course," Phillips said. No help there -- even if she wanted to dress up like a guy, Silver was a good six inches taller than their suspect.
"Now, Jamie McDonough, way out in Aurora," she went on, and flipped the album open to a woman's back covered with what looked like a page from an old book. A dragon was swallowing the first letter, and all around the edges was that same complicated braiding. "He does a lot of custom-designed Celtic work."
She flipped the page again. "Eddie Graves could have done it, now." There was a snake swallowing its tail. "He left the business because he kept getting harassed for underage. Oak Park sets its own age limit, and they set it higher and higher until they basically put him out of business."
Ray and Fraser exchanged glances. "Oh, that's a clue, isn't it?" She sounded delighted. Ray sighed internally. He just hoped she didn't decide to get in their way playing amateur detective.
Ray's seventeenth birthday was the day after Homecoming. After his parents took him out for Italian and gave him fifty dollars and a wristwatch, Chip came over, wearing the denim jacket with the upside-down American flag that had gotten him suspended from school and carrying a six-pack of Hamm's under each arm, and the two of them sat in the driveway and drank beer and smoked.
"Chainsaw's doing an outdoor show at Sarkow Park," Chip said.
Ray thought about Jonathan Greer's hands clasped in the small of Stella's back. "No music," he said.
"We could go over to Diversey and watch the queers."
"Not all of us are so easily amused."
Chip stuck four beers in the inside pockets of his jacket, and Ray did the same, and they took the El over to Clark and drank them in the parking lot of the Punkin' Donuts. After a while they walked up the street, looking in the windows of the stores and restaurants, until they came to a place that was still open.
"It's that Chinese guy that did my tattoo," Chip said.
"Yeah?" Ray stuck his hand in his pocket. The piece of cardboard he'd been carrying around for a couple of months was still there. He went in and handed it to the big guy behind the counter. "How much for that on my shoulder?"
"You not have money. And you just little boy," the guy said.
Ray just grinned and threw down his birthday money and his fake ID. "Shows what you know," he said.
The door buzzer went off, and Phillips jumped to her feet to let in her next appointment, which turned out to be a skinny little guy with a band of stars and stripes around each wrist.
"Hey, that's what you need," Ray told Fraser as they went down the stairs. "Go get Silver to do you some maple leaves."
"Perhaps not," Fraser said in his schoolteacher voice, "though once in the line of duty I very nearly ... well, it's not important." Ray felt like an idiot. He got in the car and leaned over to unlock the passenger door. Fraser was frowning when he buckled himself in.
"When I was growing up," Fraser said, "I saw tattoos only on old women rumored to be witches. Inuit women have tattoos sewn onto their hands and faces using a needle and a caribou tendon soaked in oil and soot."
"Ow," Ray said, starting the car.
"Years later I learned that most tattoos were simply an expression of what you might term the artistic instinct, but due to my upbringing, I still continue to think of them not as something one chooses but as something that must be bestowed upon one."
"So it'd be like buying yourself a Harvard diploma or something."
"Yes, that's it exactly."
Ray grinned at him. "OK, then, I'll get you one," he said. "You can be in my club."
Fraser blinked at him.
"You know. The Most Likely To Die Strangely Club. Whaddaya say? We'll put, you know, like a nuclear warhead and a tossed salad, and, like, some guy who strangles people with guitar strings and some kind of Anti-Canadian League ..."
Fraser was smiling, too. "I'm touched, Ray," he said.
"I think we already established that," Ray said, giving him a tap in the middle of his forehead. "Now. If we put it on your face, it might serve as a warning to others ..."
The first morning, it felt like raw hamburger. He could hardly move his arm.
The second morning, it felt like somebody had jabbed him over and over with knives, like his dad did to tenderize steak. He cut school because it hurt so bad to write, but it was a waste because it hurt to do everything else, too.
He managed to keep it hidden from his dad for almost a week. But then Saturday morning he came out of the bathroom at the wrong time and his dad spotted it.
He went white first and then red. Ray could only stand there with his longish hair, which his dad hated, dripping on his shoulders, heart pounding, waiting for a word or maybe a fist.
At last his father spoke. "Champion," he spat, and in a couple of minutes Ray heard the front door slam hard enough to rattle the china shepherdess on the shelf.
"Damian?" came his mother's voice from the kitchen. "Stanley?" Ray fled down the back steps and rode his motorbike, steering left-handed, to Stella's house.
Stella came to the door with her toenails half painted. She grinned when she saw it was him. "Come up to the rec room," she said. "Got a birthday present for you."
It was an album by some group called the Clash. The music was somehow rough and polished at the same time, and Ray sat gingerly on the beanbag chair and looked at the album cover.
"You hurt your arm?"
He was afraid she'd think it was gross, but he pushed his sleeve up and showed her.
"Oh," she said.
He looked up at the ceiling.
"Oh, wow," she said.
She touched it gently. It was still tender, and her fingers felt cool against the reddened skin. He looked down on the part in her hair.
"Did it hurt a lot?" She was a little flushed when she lifted her face.
"You sayin' I'm not?"
She smiled. "Take your shirt off and let me see it," she said.
He felt his face get hot, struggled to keep his breathing slow. "OK." It was still awkward to get a shirt off using only one hand, but there was no way his right arm would bend like that yet. When he had the shirt off, he just sat there. He'd been lifting weights and stuff, but Jonathan Greer was a track star, and he knew he couldn't compete with that.
But her eyes on him were hot. "Wow," she said. "It really makes you look ... different."
She cupped her cool hand over it, and he bent quickly, before he could change his mind, and kissed her. It was the first time they'd ever kissed in a private place without Nancy keeping an eye on them.
Her mouth came alive under his, and she pulled him down on the floor on top of her. They kissed and kissed and kissed. He put his hand under her shirt and she let him, and then he put it down her shorts and she let him do that too.
She was slippery and complicated there, and everything he did made her gasp or flinch or press forward or pull back, until he had no idea which way to move. He pulled the shorts and underpants off her, and she let him, but when he tried to get where he could maybe see how everything worked, she pulled him back down on top of her, hiding her face in his neck.
"I want you to," she said. She tugged at the back of his jeans.
"I don't have any -- anything."
"I just finished on Wednesday," whatever the hell that meant. "I'm safe. I want to."
He scrambled off her and took the rest of his clothes off as fast as he could. She lay there and watched him without moving -- rugby shirt pushed up to her ribs, narrow hips and skinny legs and little triangle of dark-gold hair. He wanted to smell his fingers, or maybe taste them, but he didn't want to gross her out, so he didn't.
When he was naked, he hauled her shirt awkwardly off and got back on top of her.
Nothing seemed to fit where it was supposed to, and she really didn't look like it felt good to her, and getting in was hard work. Every time he took his weight on his arms, the pain in his shoulder was sudden and sickening. But she kept pulling at him like she didn't want him to stop.
He got all the way in, and then while he was still wondering what to do now, his body made him pull back and drive deep. Her eyes widened, and her knees came up on either side of his hips.
The second time, she pushed up to meet him, and he turned his head to the side and gritted his teeth, but it was no good -- he was coming and it was too late to stop it.
The record was over and he could hear the hiss-bump of the needle hitting the end of the groove, over and over. He shifted over beside her -- jesus, he had no idea it would be this messy -- and wrapped his arms gingerly around her and pressed an awkward kiss to the side of her hair. "Did I hurt you?"
"I'm OK," she said, eyes closed, still breathing a little hard.
There was a rumble in the floor as the garage door opened below them. She sat up like somebody'd poked her with a pin. "Mom," she said, looking at him with wide eyes, and pulled her shirt on.
He threw on his clothes fast as he could. There was a little blood on him, not much.
She opened the door to the back stairs. "I'll see you Monday," she said, and it helped a little.
His dad was home by the time he got back. He yanked Ray into the kitchen by the collar and hauled up his sleeve. His mom made some peacemaking noises. Ray's hands were cold, and their voices seemed to be coming from far away. He just listened to his dad like somebody on TV until his dad wound down and said something about making your bed and lying in it, and walked off with a puzzled look on his face.
Next day Ray got a couple of calls about people buying ro, but none of them turned out to be very helpful.
He was just pulling all the stuff together and getting ready to call Fraser and see if he could make any sense of it when Stella came in with one of the other ADAs, both of them looking like they were going to crack up any second.
"Ray," she said, "oh, I have to tell somebody," and she grabbed his jacket and pulled him backwards into one of the conference rooms, which thank god turned out not to have an actual conference going on in it.
"Oh, you are going to laugh. The new paralegal? Nick? Tall skinny guy with the glare?"
Ray nodded -- he hadn't known the guy was a paralegal, but there's no mistaking that glare, like he disapproved of the whole world.
"Well, he's out at some nightclub, right, and Maria is there?" Yet another of Stella's co-workers, four-foot-eleven with the filthiest mouth he'd ever heard; he nodded again. "And she's got Alexa with her, and they're, you know, making out -- and then Monday morning he got her alone and tried to blackmail her."
"Oh, jesus." Ray tried to imagine Maria responding to that. Most Spanish-to-English dictionaries didn't even have those words in them.
"And she just said, 'Pay you off? What for?' and laughed at him, because she's one of those people like you who've been bi forever and never had any great soul-searching about -- what? Oh, don't worry, she turned him in, he won't be getting any more paralegal jobs for a while --"
"I'm not." The words sounded too loud in the deserted conference room.
She blinked at him for a second, coming down from the laughter, and then figured out what he was saying. "Oh, Ray." She was still smiling, but the familiar exasperated look was creeping up. "I was there. David Bowie? Lipstick? Ringing a bell?"
She looked so knowing. It pissed him off. "That was --" His voice sounded like it wanted to be twelve again. "That was all about you. All that was about you."
And when he couldn't look at the smirk one second longer, he slammed out of the conference room, feeling for cigarettes that weren't there any more, and he got in the car and just drove.
He saw her Monday, all right. Sitting on a bench in the lunchroom, all but engulfed in Jonathan Greer's jacket, not to mention Jonathan Greer's arm around her. She gave him a pointed look across the room, just daring him to come up to her, and then she snuggled back into Jonathan, whispering in his ear.
Ray went to the boys' room, threw up, and smoked a cigarette. Then he walked back into the lunchroom and walked right up to the two of them. Jonathan looked up at him, wide-eyed with shock.
Ray took hold of Stella's arm, not hard. "Come on," he said.
She stood up fast. Jonathan's coat slid off her shoulders onto the floor.
He didn't have to pull her across the room. She went as fast as he did, taking little running steps to keep up. They went out the side door to the parking lot, and when she got on the motorcycle behind him, she wrapped herself around his back and put her chin on his shoulder.
What a rush.
He had no idea where to go, but she put her mouth right on his ear and said, "Mom's at a Red Cross meeting," and he hung a hard right and headed for her house. She hauled him up to the rec room by the hand and threw her bookbag down and dragged him onto the floor, kissing him like she was going to eat him.
Afterwards, she looked at him and said, "Jeez, Ray" and fished a compact and a kleenex out of her bag. Squinting in the mirror, he saw his own face with a smear of Stella's maroon lipstick over his mouth.
Ray didn't remember going to Milwaukee, but when he came to himself, he was coming back, with an almost-empty mega-cup of coffee from some gas station with an unfamiliar name.
He was thinking, for some reason, about Jonathan. Funny how he'd forgotten the guy. There'd been a time when he was on Ray's mind all the time. Every Saturday morning on the rec-room floor, every little drama in the cafeteria -- he'd spent most of his adolescence trying to win Stella from Jonathan Greer.
He was a physics professor somewhere in Minnesota now. They'd -- oh, shit, they'd invited him to the wedding, how could Ray have been so stupid as to say OK to that? And he didn't come, but he sent them a nice set of pottery bowls, which Stella still had, all but the biggest one that the movers broke. She kept them, and maybe there was some sort of message of forgiveness there that Ray'd been too oblivious to see.
Jonathan Greer. Ray hadn't thought about him in years. He remembered one afternoon idling his motorcycle outside the chain-link fence while Stella cheered for Jonathan at a track meet, how the track was laid out so that when Jonathan crossed the finish line he was looking right at Ray. And Ray had aimed all his hatred and envy into one long stare, and then flicked away his cigarette and roared off without ever looking back to see if Stella was watching.
She wanted to make it something dirty, but he'd been jealous, that was all, jealous and mad because he loved Stella and she wouldn't love him back, and there she always was at lunch with Jonathan's big hand cupped protectively over her shoulder, Jonathan's gray eyes looking at Ray over the top of Stella's head --
He almost started laughing. Jonathan Greer.
For a long time Ray had suspected that teachers just liked messing with kids for fun. Like when his tenth-grade chem teacher had made Kim Ashe his lab partner, even though everybody knew she liked him and he wasn't interested in her. They had to do that stuff just for entertainment.
Though Kim had turned out to have a knack for blowing things up, so there'd been a bright side to that one.
But to look over a whole gym class and end up making Ray run laps with Jonathan Greer -- Jonathan, who was going out with the girl Ray loved -- there was no explanation for that but pure sadism.
Two laps in and Ray was already out of breath. Jonathan jogged along easily beside him, making small talk about the weather and the White Sox, quite obviously not using half of what he had. But if he wanted a challenge, he could have asked to be paired up with one of the other track guys. Jim Sawin was in the same period, and Mary Katherine O'Reilly, too, who was damn fast for a girl.
Fourth lap, and Ray started coughing bad enough that they had to stop, other kids jogging past them two by two. Ray bent over and grabbed his knees, breathing slow and easy,
Jonathan squatted down beside him. "You should really think about giving up smoking," he said.
Ray raised his head. "You should really shut the fuck up," he said.
"Just saying." Jonathan stood up, did some calf stretches. The waistband of his gray shorts was just starting to darken with sweat.
The more pissed off Ray got, the harder it was to catch his breath. "You wanna keep those teeth, now that you don't got the metal on them any more?" Jonathan could probably pound him through the wall, but he thought he could get in a couple good ones first.
"Kowalski! Greer!" Coach yelled from the foot of the folded-up bleachers. "Is there a problem, gentlemen?"
Jonathan looked at Ray out of the corner of his eye and dropped his foot out of his quad stretch. "No problem," he called, and then he said, "Ready?" and started up again.
It was getting on for evening when he walked back into the bullpen. Fraser was sitting on Ray's chair, reading something. He had a new haircut, and the back of his bent neck was cut close with the trimmer.
He looked up as Ray came down the stairs, and for a moment Ray looked at him like he'd never seen him before, catalogued him like he would a witness or a suspect: He's stiff, restless, been sitting all day long. He's happy to see me. He was worried about me.
"I'm OK," he said, and realized he hadn't talked to anybody for hours. He cleared his throat. "Sorry. Had to take a drive, clear my head."
"Did Stella come to give you bad news?"
Fraser's hair was combed sharply off his forehead. They'd cut all the curl out of it. How long had he known Fraser's hair that well? "Weird news," he said. "Bad, I dunno. Definitely weird."
Ray stuck it out at UIC for a whole year. He narrowly passed speech and remedial math and freshman comp, and he would have done pretty well in sociology except for getting downgraded for what he called going with his gut and the professor called theorizing in advance of the evidence.
His mom had probably already figured out that this college thing wasn't gonna last. But every night at dinner his dad would have some speech about the college experience, and how Ray ought to join the debate team or go out for baseball or something, until Ray started wondering if maybe his dad thought he was some other person entirely. And then after his mom wiped off the table, he'd pile up his books and study just like he didn't know that it was all going to squish out of his head in two days, and after 45 minutes he'd stomp out on the back step and have a smoke so he could stay awake.
Stella actually got into Stanford, but after putting Ray through a couple months of agony, she picked Northwestern. She moved into a sorority at Christmastime, and she actually lived in a stone-and-ivy building on something called "the quad." Maybe she was having the college life his dad had in mind.
She was all the time going to formals, buying fancy dresses and dancing with guys whose families owned more than one house. It was cool, though, because when he'd lean the bike on the stone steps of the Tri-Delt house and stride up in his boots and leather jacket, she'd get that hot look in her eyes. And she'd put her hand in his back pocket and tug him the long way around, by the back steps, so all the girls could look out their open doors and see.
She liked him to be a little bit rough -- not hurt her, but push her around a little. He thought, sometimes, that he would have turned her on even more if she didn't know he loved her.
Fraser had been looking at Dana's list of tattoo artists while he waited. Ray took it out of his hands (square thumbs, a voice in his head reported) and pulled up a chair to sit beside him (Fraser must have gotten a shampoo, because he didn't usually smell like coconuts), and when he sat down, Fraser's knee touched his for a long moment before Fraser moved away, and Ray squeezed his eyes shut and silently begged all these voices in his head, shut up shut up just shut the fuck up already --
"Ray? Are you well?" There was a little roughness in Fraser's voice, like he hadn't talked for a couple of hours either. Shut up.
Ray sighed. "I'm OK," he said. "I'm just going to think about work for a minute, if nobody has any objection, all right?"
Fraser gave him a curious look, but he didn't push.
Dana Phillips had given them a list of eight names, but Fraser had already crossed off one that was Korean, one that was black, and three that were women.
"Huh, so we only got --" He counted the names, and then he counted them again. "Three." He shook his head hard, and a thought finally clicked into place. "Think it might be a team, Fraser? One guy picks them up, somebody else inks them?"
"It's possible." Fraser was still frowning at him, like he'd like to ask if he was OK again. He looked back down at the list. "But it would be logistically complicated, as the actual tattooing is done at each woman's apartment." He rubbed at the back of his neck. Always itchy after a haircut until you could take a shower. Shut up. "It's possible that the tattooist is working from art provided by someone else."
"Except that would be somebody else that could give him away," Ray said. "Stupid risk. Plus I don't think this would even occur to somebody if they didn't do the art themselves, you know?"
Fraser brushed back the hair over his ears, and Ray discovered that he had his hand in Fraser's hair only when his fingers started reporting "soft soft soft." He cleared his throat and went for a save: "Who, uh, does your hair?"
"Cuts it, you mean? There's a barbershop under the el station at Roosevelt that's quite speedy and economical, as well as tolerant of wolves on the premises."
"I should give you Kim's number," Ray said. "She gives great scalp massages."
Fraser frowned. "What for?"
When classes ended for the summer, Ray stayed in bed for most of a week, reading car mags and listening to the hum of his mom's vacuum cleaner. And then one day he got up and told her, "I'm gonna go look for a job."
He found a place in the mailroom of one of the downtown office buildings. It was mindless, but at least it didn't require a lot of sitting. His dad was so happy he wasn't flipping burgers or working down at the plant that he pulled out half a dozen stories about various guys who started out in the mailroom and ended up running the company, all of which had probably been in mothballs since 1955.
In a tie but no jacket, Ray spent half the day pushing a mail cart, and the other half sorting incoming and sealing outgoing in the company of a Jheri-curled guy from South Carolina named Jermaine. Ray never figured out if Jermaine was queer or just Southern, but he was a bottomless well of gossip, which made up for the way he kept calling Ray "child" and winking at him.
Stella spent most of June with her roommate's family on some Caribbean island Ray had never heard of. She sent him a postcard the first week, and then he didn't hear from her again until she came back and went to work as a secretary for a couple of lawyers in Glen Ellyn, in which role she planned most of one partner's 20th high school reunion and did the papers for the other one's divorce. Civil law bored her, she said; she didn't know whether she wanted corporate or criminal, but there was no way she was going to spend her life writing up how people were going to split up their gardening tools.
When August came and the air started to cool off, Ray started waking up sick to his stomach. Class registration week came closer and closer, and he couldn't even make himself go down to school and pick up a catalog. His adviser left a message with his mom about getting together so Ray could pick a major, but he never called back.
The first day of registration week, Ray went out after dinner and just kept walking. Past his old high school, past the Pit, past the fire station. The streets became unfamiliar and then familiar again, and he looked up and realized he was at the police station where they'd taken the kids after the bank robbery. The waiting area looked and smelled exactly the same, except for the dried pee.
The girl at the front desk blinked up at him through glasses thick enough to be bulletproof. "Help you?"
"How do you get to be a cop?"
"I'm not paying for you to play at being a hero on television," his father said when he came home with the brochure.
Ray looked at him steadily. "I got savings." He'd banked most of his paychecks to pay some of his tuition.
"You have enough to live on your own? Because you're not living here unless you give up this ridiculous --"
"Damian," his mother said soothingly. "Every young man needs to find himself."
"Well, when he finds an adult in there somewhere who's ready to face the real world, he's welcome to come home." He tossed his newspaper on the table and stalked out.
Ray's mother gave him a sympathetic look. "Don't mind him, Stanley," she said. "He'll cool down, you'll see."
Ray picked up the paper. "Did you throw away the classifieds?"
The car was the worst. Ray'd always been prone to run off at the mouth while he was concentrating on something else, and there was a serious danger that one of these days he was going to stop at a traffic light and say, "You know, evidently I been bent since the sixth grade and never noticed, Fraser, what do you think about that?"
Fortunately it was annual inventory time at the Consulate, so Thatcher had both her Mounties crawling around behind all the equipment looking for serial numbers. Fraser may have noticed that Ray was doing most of his investigating by himself, but he didn't say anything.
Anyway, he didn't need anybody else along when he went to interview Eddie Graves, because Eddie Graves talked enough for three and a wolf all by himself.
"There's no respect for freedom of expression in this country any more," he said. "The village board is all stuck in the forties. Tattoos are for punks and cons and losers, tattoo artists are corrupting our children, blah blah blah. "
He was one of those short muscular bearded guys that looked like they could wrestle with bears. His hands were big as paws, and looked way too clumsy for the delicate work he did.
"They can't outlaw it outright, so they harass us with the zoning code and keep raising the age limit -- twenty-one! Sixty percent of my business was between eighteen and twenty-one. I can't make a living without them."
"Chicago age limit's eighteen now," Ray said.
"My customers can go there, but I can't. My mother's in a home in town."
Ray showed him the drawings. "I know all the artists in Chicago, and none of them would do something like this," Graves said. "It's a community. We have a code of ethics. People think we're just a bunch of outlaws, but --"
"Could an amateur do this, you think?"
"Probably not," Graves admitted. "But whoever he is, he's from out of town or he's trained but not practicing professionally. I know these people, Detective. This is my community."
To Ray's shock, the academy was a breeze. Once he got his eyes fixed, it was actually easier to do well than to screw up. They didn't seem to have any problem with theorizing in advance of the evidence; they called it thinking fast.
And then in January he woke up one morning and said, "Holy shit, I'm a cop."
The only weird thing about the job was how easy it was. The Bullitt strut that had kept the high school guys from messing with him because he was five foot two turned out to be just as good for stopping the grown-up bullies for messing with him because he was nineteen.
He walked his beat every night until he knew every block, every stone, every Laotian grocery smelling like five-spice and Lysol, every alley that might be full of rats or young lovers or old gummy-eyed winos. He broke his ugly shoes in and got used to the weight of the gun.
And after sleeping through the morning, he'd drive up to Evanston and his boots would ring on the stairs as he walked up to where Stella was waiting for him in an honest-to-god dorm room, with a dresser full of sherbet-colored sweaters and a teddy bear on the bed and little paperback Shakespeares all over the floor.
By this time he'd figured out she wasn't the only high-class girl who had a thing for a guy with a tattoo and a motorcycle and a South Chicago accent. But he never wanted any girl but her. He believed her when she said that wasn't normal, though, because all his friends said so too, even the girls.
Stella and her roommate liked to put makeup on him sometimes. He let them, since it seemed to amuse them, and to be honest he liked the attention. But he didn't care how many times they said he looked just like Peter Gabriel, he drew the line at going out in public like that.
"You wanna go to bed with girls?" he asked Stella as she licked her finger and rubbed a stray fleck of something off his cheek.
"No, you moron," she said, "I want to go to bed with Peter Gabriel."
She dabbed some lip gloss on his mouth with her fingertip. "I think I could do it with Chrissie Hynde," she said.
Stella's grades started slipping in the middle of junior year. She had to drop an econ class for fear it would ruin her GPA. She started getting lavender circles under her eyes.
Sometimes she'd come hang out with Ray and the couple of friends he'd made at the station. The older guys loved to tell cop stories, competing to try to gross her out, but she held her own. She made Ray proud.
They'd be hanging out at Mike Hadfield's apartment when they'd hear her little tan Toyota sputter up. "Here comes Ray's girl," Mike said.
"She ain't my girl."
"That's right." Bri Olutzky would elbow him approvingly. "Kowalski knows how to pick 'em. She'll fuck him but she won't date him."
"Sounds like the perfect girl to me."
Ray was still arguing that they'd scare the guy off if they went public, but Fraser and Welsh double-teamed him until finally he gave in. Welsh didn't issue press releases, but he wasn't above slipping something to the news crews if he thought it was to his advantage.
So one night the Nightwatch News ran Fraser's sketches, and the next day Ray got a call from a Sue Truman, way out on the northwest side. "I went to the local police at the time," she said, "but I had no idea there was a pattern."
He picked up Fraser and the wolf on the way, and he actually managed to make an hour's worth of small talk to fill up the trip to her house.
"It's been several weeks, but I'll tell you what I remember," she said, sitting forward on her denim-covered sofa -- a small, curvy, fortyish woman in a flowered skirt. "Little on the short side, average build, average everything -- helpful, huh?" She gave a high laugh. "Sandy hair, long. Really, really blue eyes -- like yours, boy, hmm?" she said to Dief, who laid his head on her lap and looked at her adoringly. Fraser glanced at Ray and pursed his lips.
She looked critically at the composite drawing. "It's not wrong exactly," she said, "but it's not right, exactly, either. There's something off around the jaw, the shape of the face ..." She trailed off. "I can't put my finger on it." She shook her head.
"You want to see the tattoo?" She stood up and hauled down her waistband, grinning at Ray's startled look. "People who know me are used to this. I like to show off my art." And she turned around and showed them a dragonfly on her butt. "The snake is actually better work."
It only had three heads. It was, what, three weeks from Sue's three to Amanda's seven? The guy was working his way up the numbers pretty fast.
"Who did your bug?"
She shrugged. "Some woman in Union Square in San Francisco."
"How long ago was this?"
"Ninety-two." She didn't even have to think about it.
"What made you --"
"My divorce was final May first," she said, counting off on her fingers. "My fortieth birthday was May twelfth. On May twenty-first, my ex-husband married his business partner's daughter ... shall I go on?"
Ray grinned at her. "Gotcha."
"I ain't done nothing!"
It had been a really stressful morning, and Ray was in no mood to be gentle with an underaged kid drinking beer and tagging stores in his neighborhood.
"Shut it." He tightened his grip on the filthy shirt collar. The kid's right thumb and forefinger were stained fluorescent orange, highlighting the gnawed fingernails. "Think you're a tough guy, huh?"
He got right up in the kid's face, crowding him back. "You know what I did today, tough guy? You see that bank over there? I walked into that bank, and another little moron like you pointed a gun at me, and I shot it right out of his hand. Bank robber points a gun at you, you'd probably pass out."
He gave the collar a shake and let go. "Get the fuck outta here. I see your face again during school hours, you're under arrest for willful destruction, got it?"
Back at the station, he went down to where Bridget was typing on the new computer. "Need everything you can find on a bank robbery," he said. "It's an old one."
"We have everything back to the sixties now," she said proudly, patting the computer like it was her baby, which it basically was.
"Good, then," he told her. "I'm looking for First City Bank, somewhere in the 500 block of South Wabash."
"You know the year?" she said as she typed.
"February fourth, nineteen-seventy-four."
"Three heads, six heads, seven heads," he said in the elevator. "Where the hell are those other girls?"
"That's a good question. We can only hope others will come forward now that the pictures have been made public."
Fraser was silent as they got in the car. "Ms. Truman seems to have gotten her tattoo -- her other tattoo -- as a sort of declaration of independence," he said at last.
"Pretty common," Ray said.
"Is that why you got yours?"
"Hard to say why you do anything when you're seventeen and drunk," he said, and it was the truth, but he could see from Fraser's posture that he thought it was a brush-off.
"What it is," he said at last, "see, people look at you and they think they know what they're seeing. Pissed me off. You know?"
He could feel the weight of Fraser's eyes on him, and it had seemed like a safe thing to say, but now that it was said, he wanted to take it back.
"Oh, yes," Fraser said. And then he didn't say anything else. He didn't push.
Didn't he want to know? Why the fuck didn't he push?
"I want to try something," Stella said to his belly button.
Her roommate had a boyfriend with an apartment, so they had the whole night. "Yeah, yeah, anything."
She lapped at him a little, clumsily, and pushed his legs apart, and then he felt her fingertips brushing down and back and back --
"Aah!" How could she -- there was no reason in the world for that to feel so good -- and he probably wasn't clean enough, a shower probably didn't get you clean enough -- and he really ought to make her stop now --
And her fingertip went in.
"Stel -- what --" he gasped.
She nuzzled his cock with her cheek. "You like that?" Deeper.
"Ohfuck. It's --"
"Dirty," she murmured, and twisted her finger.
"So, Fraser. Did Amanda ever call you?"
Fraser looked puzzled for a moment. "Ah. The witness, you mean?"
Jeez, it was like he didn't even see the possibilities. "The knockout med student with the crush on you, I mean."
"Ah." Fraser took another bite of noodles. "No."
"You gonna call her?"
"Do we have need of further information from her?"
"Fraser, are you interested in her at all?"
Fraser gave up the clueless act. "She's an admirable woman," he said, "and a very engaging one."
Oh. "No chemistry, huh." Then he had a thought. "Or is it just that she scares you?"
Fraser's head came up. "Ray?"
Ray sighed. "Forget it. Not my business."
Stella made it into Northwestern Law by the skin of her teeth. It was easier for Ray to see her now that she was living downtown, but she had less and less time.
"I know I'm smarter than these morons," she said. "Why are they doing better than I am?"
"Duh," said Tracy Paretsky, her roommate, who worked at the courthouse. "They study, princess."
"Don't call me that," Stella said, and threw a pen at her.
The next tattoo girl, Jennifer Kojima, was a real knockout. The girl was beautiful even in a white-hot rage.
"Look, I'm a dancer," she said. "I mean a stripper, you know, and how the fuck am I supposed to dance? I can hardly fucking walk. I've lost a whole weekend to this asshole." She took a drag from her cigarette. "When you catch him, I'm going to sue for lost income, you'd better believe it." She smoked furiously, like she'd rather be pacing if she could.
"At first I thought he'd stabbed me, till I looked under the gauze. You know what, I'm gonna sue him for more than just this weekend. My body's my livelihood. And the Doll House will take you if you have body mod, but some clubs won't. He's fucked up my career choices, dude."
"I gotta ask if we can see it, take a picture of it," Ray said.
She stood up carefully and hauled down her leggings. Underneath she was wearing a bright-red thong. "Enjoy yourselves, guys," she said. "That's a hundred-dollar view there." She picked at the edge of the tape, wincing, and peeled up the gauze.
Ray counted eight snake heads.
After a minute, she said, "Grab me that mirror over there, will you? I haven't even gotten a good look at it."
Fraser brought it to her, and for a moment they all looked at the tattoo.
"Actually it's kind of pretty," she said.
When Stella came to him in the middle of her first year at law school and said, "Ray, I'm pregnant," he didn't ask her any questions. He was her protector, so he knew what was the right thing to do.
"Sh, sh, Stel," he whispered into her hair. "We'll get married. It's OK."
She lifted her tear-swollen face from his shoulder. "I -- maybe. I need to sleep. Shit, I can't think, I have finals. Maybe." And he curled up around her in his skimpy little bed and watched her while she slept.
When he didn't hear from her for a week, he wrote it off to finals. When another week went by, he drove over to her apartment. Tracy let him in with a look he couldn't read.
Stella was in bed with a heating pad, like when her cramps were really bad. Did morning sickness do that? He'd never known anybody pregnant.
He sat down on the bed beside her. "You doing OK?" he said. "You need anything?"
"I had an abortion."
For a minute all he could do was stare at his hands.
"This morning." She pushed back her pillow-flattened hair. "Ray, I'm a law student. This is a terrible time for me to have a baby," she said, pleadingly, like he was arguing with her. He looked at her pale hand in his, at her grandmother's engagement ring that she always wore. Her nail polish was chipped.
"You need medicine?" he asked her.
Her hand tightened. "Would you really have married me?"
"Would you still?"
Part 3: If I Didn't Love You
Would you sit and glow
By the fire,
If I didn't love you,
Would you make me feel so --
Maybe love me,
If I, if I, if I, if I, if I, if I, if I, if I, if I --Squeeze, "If I Didn't Love You (I'd Hate You)"
Before Ray was partnered up with Fraser, he'd pretty much quit doing anything dramatic with his hair. Something about hanging out with the Mountie, though, made him want to make it wilder and wilder every time. Kim said he was a lot more fun than her other guy clients. Some of them would keep the same haircut for thirty years.
"Do something crazy. Whatever you want," he told her now, leaning back in the chair and closing her eyes. "I don't gotta be anywhere for two and a half hours, and I wanna be somebody else by then."
Give the Mountie credit for being open-minded: Ray showed up blonder than a Swede and he never batted an eye. "We have another tattoo victim. Near-victim, rather," he said. And then he reached out for a lock of Ray's hair, rubbed it between his thumb and his finger, and then leaned over and sniffed it, which was weird.
"Hey, Vecchio," Dewey called as they walked into the station. "Nice hair. Bet they love that down at Club Man."
"Yeah, well, if I see your mama there, I'll tell her to take off the fake mustache and go on home."
Huey laughed. Dewey glared at him. "That was pretty good," he explained.
Stella made some noises about waiting until she passed the bar before they got married, but when Ray said, "No, let's don't," she actually looked kind of grateful. In the end it was still longer than he wanted to wait, but she swore that ten months was as fast as anybody could plan a wedding.
Stella's mom drank too much champagne at the rehearsal dinner and cried in her chocolate mousse, squeezing Ray's hand in her bony fingers. "Look after her," she said in a loud voice. "You've always looked after her. Ever since you were children." Ray patted her hand awkwardly and glanced at Stella, who grimaced in apology. She was sitting with his mom, who was being calm and cheerful and everything a mom should be, instead of acting like a kid who needed somebody to take care of her.
He'd wondered how he was going to undo those millions of buttons on the back of the wedding dress, but after the pictures were done, she disappeared and came back in a suit the color of celery leaves, and that was what she was wearing when he opened their hotel room for the first time.
They were almost too tired for sex, and they had a long flight tomorrow morning, but it had to be bad luck to skip it. Ray kicked off his shoes and started to take off the gray tux Stella's dad had bought him, but Stella, already down to her slip and her bare feet, looked up at him from under her lashes and said, "Let me."
She pushed the jacket off and tugged the suspenders down, face strangely serious. Her hair divided over the back of her neck as she bent her head to work at the tiny buttons.
When the shirt and the suspenders were hanging from the back of his pants, she ran her hand back up his bare arm and under the sleeves of his T-shirt. Her fingers rubbed back and forth over his shoulder, like she was trying to find the tattoo by feel.
"Oh, Ray," she said, and he pulled her into his arms, and she buried her face in his shoulder and said again, "Oh, Ray."
A dark-haired guy with glasses opened the hallway door.
"We're looking for C.J. Keynes," Ray told him, flashing a badge.
"Yeah, come on in. I couldn't believe it when I saw your thing on TV." The apartment had a single-guy look, newspapers all over the coffee table, pizza box on the floor.
"You're C.J. Keynes, then," Fraser said in a puzzled voice. While Ray was still trying to catch up, Fraser said, "You see, thus far, all our victims have been women."
"Yeah, well, that night I was." He looked at them, amused. "You didn't know what kind of place Mal's was? I don't know why I'm surprised. She didn't, either, apparently."
"She?" Ray was still a couple of chapters behind.
Fraser said, "Perhaps you'd better start at the beginning."
Keynes tossed a couple of sweaters off the couch so they could sit down. "I don't do that really serious drag," he said. "I mean, I don't perform, I don't tuck, I don't do the wigs and corsets and that. I just, you know, put on a dress and curl my hair and go down to Mal's and be a girl for the night."
There was a practiced pause, like he was waiting for an objection. Ray drew breath to say something reassuring, but Fraser was saying in a soothing voice, "Yes, of course. It's not uncommon."
He had leaned until Keynes was blocked from Ray's view. Protecting one of them, though Ray wasn't sure which. Ray leaned forward. "So you met somebody at Mal's -- can you describe ... them?"
"A girl in guy drag," Keynes said. "About my height, hair a little lighter than mine and slicked back, longish. She wasn't doing that great of a job as a guy, really, but she was a girl in a tie with her hair slicked back, which was just what I was in the mood for." He shot them a challenging look.
"And then?" Fraser said blandly. Keynes looked at Ray to see if he was going to get the argument there, then shrugged.
"Brought her back here -- it looked better than this. She wanted a drink. I thought maybe she was nervous, like she hadn't done a lot of this before. So I got both of us beers, and then I guess she put something in mine, because the next thing I know it's morning and I'm alone. So, you know, nothing happened to call the police about, and I didn't think any more about it until I saw the drawing on the news."
"You were unharmed?" Fraser said, and Ray said, "Where were you when you woke up?"
"I was in my bed, on top of the covers, and my skirt was hiked up and my underwear half off."
"Like maybe she got outta there in a hurry when she saw you weren't a girl."
"Yes, yes, Detective, we've all seen the movie." He got up and went to the kitchen, still speaking. "So I'm not the best housekeeper in the world. It was quite a while later when I found this under the nightstand." He came out with a plastic grocery bag. "I'm sorry -- I didn't really treat it like evidence or anything. I've had my hands all over it."
It was an art transfer of a snake with four heads. And with any luck it would have some prints on it other than Keynes's.
"If I may ask," Fraser said, "the other witnesses have all described the culprit as male."
"They were all pretty much straight women, no drag experience? They're not gonna know what to look for. It's wearing a tie, you don't even wonder."
Stella liked to take long bubble baths. She liked to pad around the apartment in nothing but her candy-colored underpants, shooting him teasing looks from under her eyelashes.
If he touched her, she'd twist out of his grasp, giggling, "Don't, Ray, I have to study," and she'd pull on a little T-shirt and lounge on the couch with a law book propped on her stomach.
But if Ray grabbed her and growled, "Fuck studying," she'd melt into him suddenly, biting his mouth and scratching him. She wouldn't give him anything, but she loved it when he took it.
"We're looking for a woman." Ray started the car, and then he shut it off. Dief barked happily in the back seat. "C'mon, Fraser, I need to walk. I'm not gonna be able to think unless I can walk. You mind?"
"Not at all."
Ray needed to move pretty fast to think his way through something like this, but Fraser had no trouble keeping up.
"We ain't looking for a man, we're looking for a woman," he said again. "This changes everything." He unfocused his eyes, letting Fraser watch for obstacles so he could picture things in his head. "I don't get it, Fraser. How could a bunch of straight girls pick up a girl at a bar and take her home thinking she's a guy?"
Fraser nudged him gently and he detoured around a flower cart.
"Most people," Fraser said, "are more than willing to accept the message conveyed by another person's surface appearance, and never look more deeply."
Ray glanced at his face, and then he looked down at the uniform, and raised his eyebrows. And Fraser looked up at his hair, and back down at the shoulder where the tat was hidden under his T-shirt, and said, "Yes. Exactly."
It wouldn't have occurred to Ray to put in for detective for another couple of years, but his lieu sent him to the in-service training, and would take no argument.
They partnered him up with a veteran detective named Frank, one of those deceptively gentle guys who could take down three gang members without raising his voice. When Ray asked him about his record, Frank said, "I got two daughters, sport. Street psychos can't even begin to compete."
Frank treated him like a kid, but he was cheerful about it, so Ray couldn't get too pissed. Besides, Frank knew a hell of a lot. He'd already done most of what Ray wanted to do.
"You ain't had a smoke since Vietnam," Ray said one day, turning his pen over and over in his fingers. "When do you stop missing it?"
Frank switched his gum from one cheek to the other. "Who says you do?"
"Listen," Ray said as they came back to the car. He'd been thinking about seeing if Fraser would go for Ethiopian for dinner, but all this new information was squirming around in his brain until he wasn't sure he could really do anything difficult like relate to humans. "I gotta -- I got a thing. Tonight. Can I drop you at the Consulate? Maybe you come by the apartment tomorrow afternoon?"
"Certainly." He knew Fraser was curious, but he didn't know how he knew -- the guy gave no sign. "Is there anything I can --"
The phone rang, and he grabbed it. "Vecchio," he said, and a woman's voice said, "Oh, Detective. Do you know where I could reach Benton Fraser?"
"Oh, yeah. He's with me." He didn't know what made him put it like that -- only as soon as he thought that, he did know. "Hang on," he said absently, and dropped the phone on Fraser.
Fraser was watching Ray's face, and he caught the phone without looking at it. Ray looked away before his face could tell any stories he wasn't ready to share. Fraser didn't push, but he had good instincts.
"Constable Benton Fraser," he said beside Ray, and then, "Of course, yes. How are you?"
Nice voice. Not that Ray'd never noticed, but it was strange to put it together like this. Nice voice, nice face, good partner, good friend. So close the best way to reach him was to call Ray's phone.
"That sounds like an excellent idea ... No, that's correct, but if you'll give me the details, I'll be happy to pass them on to the others."
Fraser hung up the phone, and Ray blanked his face. "Amanda Jackson would like to start a support group for the victims," he said. "One of the hospital psychologists has volunteered to help."
"I'm afraid she was rejected as a blood donor, which was rather upsetting for her."
"I'll bet." Ray scratched the back of his neck. "Fraser, you ever feel like you got a total stranger in your head?"
Fraser regarded him for a long moment. "Frequently," he said.
It took Stella six months to study for the bar exam, and she was such a bitch with it that Ray started hanging around after shift so he wouldn't have to go home and get in another fight.
After a while, Frank smacked him in the back of the head. "Come on, Kowalski," he said. "Bev'll feed you, and the girls'll scream in your ear, and you'll feel right at home."
Bev Constantine had long curly dark hair, a comfortable wide-hipped body, and a sharp tongue. "Hey, you finally brought the kid home," she said. She was wearing a big oxford shirt with the sleeves rolled up, and her hands were mostly covered with something whitish. "Get him a beer, Frank. I left a plate half-finished."
"Pottery," Frank explained. Everything in the house was covered in a fine layer of clay dust.
Jessica and Heather were perpetual-motion machines in pigtails. It seemed to Ray that they never stopped fighting even while they were eating. Bev mostly ignored them through supper and then shooed them off to the den to watch Miami Vice while the adults did the dishes.
Frank and Bev seemed to argue all the time, but not like Ray and Stella did. Not like there was anything serious at stake. Watching them bicker was more like watching a one-on-one basketball game -- both sides going all out to win, but no hard feelings. After a couple of minutes Frank noticed him watching and winked at him. "The well-oiled Constantine Machine," he said, and Bev snorted and snapped him with a dishtowel.
Ray called home, and Stella basically told him to fuck off because she had to study. Frank was looking at him knowingly.
"Two years we been married, and sometimes I still feel like I'm playing a husband on TV," Ray said.
"Yeah," Frank said. "I remember that."
"When did it seem real to you?"
"Not till we had the kids."
It took a minute for Ray to realize that only part of that noise was the electric guitar; the other part was a knock on the door. Jesus, was it two already?
"Hey, Fraser. Come on in. Hey, furball."
Fraser looked curiously at the turntable on the coffee table. "I haven't seen one of those for quite some time."
"Spent all yesterday afternoon running all over town looking for one." On the record, the muttering broke into singing: "And I feel like a beetle on its back, and there's no way for me to get up." Ray turned the volume down.
"Is there a reason why you needed to obtain a turntable in such haste?"
"Because those who don't remember the past have gotta go through all that bullshit twice, Fraser."
"You're using these to re-examine your past?" Fraser sorted through the albums. Velvet Underground, Sweet, Wire, Pete Townshend, the Effigies, the Pretenders.
"Love'll get you like a case of anthrax," Ray sang back at him, "and that's something I don't want to catch. -- Hey, you got your dad's journals, I got my old record collection."
"I see." Fraser looked curiously at the cowboy and Indian on the Gang of Four cover. "And have you had any great insights so far?"
"You ever get any great insights from your dad's journals?"
Fraser blinked for a moment. "I did once discover a very fine recipe for a tenderizing marinade suitable for all varieties of game."
"Uh-huh." Ray scooted over on the couch. "Sit down, grasshopper," he said. "You might as well see if the Gang has anything to teach you."
When Stella went to work for a big downtown law firm, Ray was proud as hell. And then one day she came home late and said, "The goddamned Yip case is falling apart."
"Ferdie Yip?" Even in Chicago there couldn't be more than one felon named Yip. "That was Frank's collar."
They stared at each other while the significance of that sank in.
"OK, OK," Ray said. "Equal representation, even scumbags get a fair trial, I'm OK with that."
"I think," she said, "that if we're not going to compromise justice somewhere down the line, we've got to stop talking to each other about work."
It was just another thing on the list of things they couldn't talk about. No big deal.
Ray put down the albums and picked up the drawing of the suspect. "You think you could draw this again, same vital stats but a woman?"
"I could try." Fraser flipped over a takeout menu and started drawing again.
It was weird. Back when he used to let Stella and that other girl put makeup on him, he never used to come out looking like a girl, just like a guy with makeup on. But Fraser was making these really subtle changes -- hairline lower, forehead shallower, jaw finer -- and just turning a guy into a girl, just like that.
The final face was familiar, like somebody he might have seen on TV with a different hairdo.
He put the two drawings side by side. "From this, you'd think anybody could just switch sexes."
"It's less difficult than you might suppose," Fraser said. "The task is of course made simpler by people's expectations. I once impersonated a woman for a case," he clarified.
He'd mentioned that once before. "Hard to picture."
Fraser smiled a little. "I was a spectacularly ill-favored woman, I'm afraid. Which in itself was useful for the case," he went on thoughtfully. "To many people, there's nothing so invisible as an unattractive woman."
Ray looked at him. "You liked it," he said. "Not having everybody looking at you for a change."
Fraser's lips parted for a moment. "Yes." The pencil still hung loosely from his fingers, but he seemed to have forgotten about it. "In reality," he said, "when people look at me, they don't see me at all, but the uniform."
Ray narrowed his eyes. "You make them," he said. Fraser looked up. "You got a face like a mask, Fraser."
"Point taken," Fraser said, very precisely, "Detective Vecchio."
"Not the same thing."
"I had to commit fraud and subterfuge to find out who you were." Strange emphasis on those last three words.
And that just pissed Ray off, because it wasn't like he was trying to keep Fraser at a distance. You didn't have to try. Distance was the guy's middle name. "I would have told you if you'd ever bothered to ask."
He didn't ask. He didn't push.
Ray, though -- Ray pushed.
He leaned over Fraser, hands on the back of the couch. "Tell me who you are," he said softly. "Please," he added.
Fraser swallowed, and for a minute it seemed like he wouldn't answer. And then he said softly, "Benton."
"Benton," Ray said. And then he kissed him.
"Look, Ray, I work hard every day. I think I deserve to be able to relax without having my every move under scrutiny."
"A goddamned phone call when you're out after midnight, Stel. It ain't like being under house arrest or nothing -- Stella? Goddamn it." He slammed down the phone.
After a minute he looked up to see Bev leaning on the door. "She's having an affair," she said. It wasn't a question.
"Hell, no." He stared her down. "She belongs to me."
They neither one of them could apologize. Stella didn't because she couldn't stand to lose, and Ray didn't because he didn't want her to think he was a loser. So all they could do was be mad till they weren't mad any more, and then he'd do something dramatic and win her back, just like always. But in the meantime he knew better than to hang around the apartment like a big target, so he spent a lot of time at Frank and Bev's. Even if Frank was out doing house stuff for his mom in Aurora, Bev would let Ray in, let him pace around the studio while she worked on a mug or platter.
Eventually he slept on the couch so many times that Frank just gave him a pair of his sweats to sleep in. They smelled like cloves and clay slip and garlic. It was kind of comforting.
After another couple of nights, Frank finally said, "Leave a goddamned overnight bag at the house, will you, Kowalski? You keep coming out the door in yesterday's clothes, people are gonna think you're fucking my wife."
Fraser jerked away from the kiss, face flushed. "Ray, what --?"
Ray leaned forward, trying to catch his mouth again, because what he could do and what he could talk about were two different things. But Fraser eluded him, held him off with a hand on his shoulder. All that effortless strength. Ray stood up fast, and then he collapsed onto the couch, looking up at the ceiling. There were cobwebs in the corners. "Sorry," he said.
"Ray?" He turned his head without raising it from the back of the couch. Fraser looked more confused than mad. "I -- you -- you never said anything about this." He smoothed down the uniform like he didn't know he was doing it. "I thought you were doing it unconsciously."
Then he turned and gave Ray a longer look. "Or perhaps you were."
Ray shrugged. "How do I know? I don't know what I want till I see what I do."
Fraser looked away, the way he did when something pissed him off but he wasn't going to say anything. "Oh, no," Ray said, and he looked back again. "No way. We're way past this bullshit now, Fraser. You think it, you say it."
Fraser looked down. "It isn't any of my business --"
"Fraser, don't you get it? Everything is your business now."
That got him a look of such naked hope that he had to put his hand on Fraser's. Fraser looked down, then turned his hand over, slowly.
"Please understand," he said a little roughly, "that I don't intend any insult by saying this. But this --" he shook their joined hands -- "is a place at which I've arrived after many years of soul searching, and even so it's not a place where I feel entirely ... at home. And now you -- you have an instinct, an impulse --"
"A hunch," Ray said. "Don't devalue the hunch, Fraser. The hunch has never led me wrong." And Fraser wanted more words, but this wasn't something he could say with words.
He tucked his fingers behind the belt across Fraser's chest. "Say yes."
Fraser's eyes fluttered, but his voice when he spoke was firm. "Yes."
She came home smelling like somebody else's shampoo, still all wound up from whoever she'd been doing after work while he was arresting a guy for taking out a hit on his mother. Used to, they'd fight and then fuck, but lately it seemed like they were doing both at the same time, kisses turning to bites in the heat of it.
And afterwards she was all kitten-playful, like she always was when he'd won, when he'd proved once again that he was more man than whoever she put him up against. And he lay there, staring at the ceiling, while she drifted off.
It was easy to come in her, but impossible to sleep beside her.
Frank's car was gone, but the light was still on in Bev's studio. She came to the door in shorts and a long CPD T-shirt powdered white with clay. "Jesus, don't you people ever sleep?" she said, voice scratchy from singing along to the radio as she worked, and then, catching sight of his face under the hall light, "Ray? Are you all right?"
"Tired," he said, "just so fucking tired, Bevvie," and to his dismay his eyes were prickling. Without another word Bev wrapped him up in her freckled arms.
She had that homey Constantine smell, garlic and clay and cloves and Irish Spring. He couldn't lean into her, but he clung to her hard, fisting the T-shirt in back, closing his hot eyes and lowering his head to her shoulder. She murmured something meaningless, the same kind of sound he'd heard her make when Heather skinned her knee, and the sound that came out of his mouth was a creaky sort of laugh.
He gathered up a handful of her springy hair, feeling the hot skin of her neck against his thumb, and her eyelids went heavy. He waited for her eyes to open again, and then he kissed her.
It was incredibly weird to kiss somebody other than Stella. Her lips were more pillowy, her kisses slower and softer. She and Frank probably kissed like this, like comfortable married people, no hurry, all the time in the world. He closed his eyes and pressed closer.
She inhaled hard through her nose -- he could feel her chest inflating against him -- and then, slowly, like giving permission, she opened her mouth for him.
He let loose of the shirt and stroked his hands down her back, stopping just below her waist and spreading his hands over the unfamiliar swell of her hips, and he went on kissing her slowly, as though he was hypnotized, rubbing his thumb against her spine.
He opened his eyes and looked past her glossy dark hair to the couch behind her, one of Jessica's sneakers on its side underneath it, Frank's sloppy green cardigan draped over one arm. He suddenly felt hollow, almost sick with how not-right it all was, and he straightened up just as she started shaking her head and saying, "Ray, we can't."
"Sorry, that was stupid, don't know where that came from," he said, but she went right on talking.
" ... about it, I mean, hell, I think about it all the time. But god, Ray, there's no future in it, you know?" They were still standing very close, but not touching, and her hair brushed his face as she shook her head. "I could have a fling, maybe. But that's not what I'd want with you."
He met her eyes dumbly, and she put her hand out and touched his cheek, very gently. "I'm not stupid," she said, and then bit her lip and gave a little huff of laughter. "OK, but I'm not that stupid."
He could feel that there was a smile plastered on his face. He couldn't imagine what kind of awful-looking smile it must be. "Uh, I'll just -- I'd better --" He gestured stupidly toward the door, and then gathered himself up and jerkily made his way out.
Behind him, he heard the deadbolt click shut.
Part 4: Never A Next Time
No argument on do I love you or not.
No argument: You have the love that I see as mine.
Pull back your cover. I could love you for all time.
But do it now. You know there's never a next time.The English Beat, "The End of the Party"
Ray sank down into the kiss like going under and never having to come up again. Fraser's mouth was big, his tongue was aggressive, his arm around Ray's shoulders was strong and sure. And the familiar scent of Fraser surrounded him: wool and leather and polish and sweat. He remembered sniffing Fraser's shoulder in the hallway, remembered the tightness in his chest, and felt it again, and knew it.
He released Fraser's mouth and ran his lips down over his strong jaw, down the muscle twitching in his neck. Struggled with the fastenings and got the collar partway open, far enough to get the scent of the body under the uniform, different, indescribable, good, so good -- and Fraser's hands were there, undoing the cord and loosening the belts and undoing the buttons, letting him in.
White cotton over smooth hard muscle and pounding heartbeat. Ray nuzzled for a nipple in mid-pectoral, and then remembered and went off to the side, searching for it with lips and fingers, knowing he'd found it from Fraser's sudden gasp and curl long before it rose to his tongue under the heavy knit fabric.
"Ray," Fraser whispered on a sigh, "wait, let me --" and Ray sat back to wait for him to struggle out of the jacket, pull the undershirt over his head.
Ray kissed him again, traced his cheek and jaw and ear -- but he couldn't keep his hands away from Fraser's broad, smooth chest, had to pull back to watch his fingers tracing the muscles and stroking the sparse hair over Fraser's breastbone.
"Ray," and Fraser's eyes were full of wonder as Ray raised his hot face, "you've never --" Ray shook his head, and Fraser's eyelids fluttered. "Please," he said, "in bed."
Ray couldn't resist a grin. "Happens I've got a bed right in the other room."
Fraser had the boots unlaced so fast that Ray couldn't swear the laces hadn't moved by themselves. The pants looked even stupider over bare feet, but Fraser was watching him, and he had to go to work on his own clothes to hide the flush.
As soon as he got the T-shirt off over his head, Fraser was there, down to his shorts, moving like a guy who's mapped out the territory in advance: fingers dipping under the bracelet to stroke inside his wrist, mouth brushing down cheek and jaw and neck to land a surprisingly sharp bite on his shoulder, right on the tattoo.
"Yeah?" he said, and Fraser nodded, and Ray couldn't think of any other response but to drop his pants.
He collapsed on the bed and Fraser crawled up over him, still in those stupid white shorts but thrillingly feral all the same, and Ray said, "Bite me again" before he could stop himself. And Fraser did, hard.
After a while, Ray got tired of the shorts always being there to interrupt the sweep of his hands, and so he pushed till they were on their sides and took them off -- carefully, because Fraser was hard enough to get tangled up in the waistband, and that could be incredibly awkward. And then he moved down Fraser's body, and Fraser rolled on his back and went very still.
He'd been half afraid he was going to freak out at this point, but Fraser smelled so good that he found himself pressing his nose to the dark hair, breathing deeply. "God, Fraser," he said, and before he knew it he had a mouthful of Fraser's cock, blood-hot and silky smooth, like nothing he'd been able to imagine with three of his own fingers in his mouth.
Fraser was breathing loud, letting a little whimper escape every now and then, and Ray suddenly needed to kiss him. And from there it was easy to curl around behind him and look down the length of his body.
Ray pressed the back of his hand into Fraser's palm. "Show me," he breathed into Fraser's ear. "I want to do it how you like it," and Fraser said, "Oh," and guided Ray's hand.
Slow, slower than Ray could stand it, and Fraser pushed Ray's thumb down into the notch and pressed down with every downstroke. "Yeah, let me watch," Ray said, and Fraser whimpered a little and began to move faster, and his hips started to snap up into every stroke. It always turned Ray on to watch himself come, but it was nothing compared to watching Fraser.
After a while he loosened his grip, and then he brought his hand up to his mouth. Fraser's spunk was a little sweeter than his own, and he'd hardly tasted it before Fraser was rubbing his own hand in it, enclosing Ray's cock in a slippery grip and just letting Ray push his hips into it, panting out Fraser's name and coming like crazy.
He lay there stunned for a moment, and then he turned to see Fraser watching him cautiously, and suddenly he felt like laughing from pure giddy relief, because he'd seen what he'd done, and now he knew what he wanted.
"Stay," he said.
Fraser was looking at him, and for once there was no mask on there, and jesus. Wanting so much.
"Yeah," he said. "I mean it like that. Stay."
"You and Bev have a fight or something?" Frank said, never taking his eyes off the Sox on the breakroom TV.
Ray nearly choked on his hoagie. "What?" he mumbled, scrambling for a napkin. Frank handed him one.
"Just seems like you don't come around any more, and she got kinda weird when I said you should come to dinner, is all." He tipped back his head and funneled a handful of corn chips into his mouth.
Ray didn't look at him. "What the hell would I have a fight with Bev about?"
Frank shrugged. "Want to come for dinner tonight, then? Jessica's got a new trumpet solo, and you've probably done something bad enough to deserve that."
"Not tonight." Ray took a drink of his root beer. "Another time maybe."
That worked for about two weeks, and then Frank said, "I done something to tick you off, Kowalski? Because I thought we were buddies here."
"Naw, nothing like that. Lot on my mind, you know?"
"Beer after work?"
Frank seemed to veer between puzzled and pissed, and Ray felt like shit, because he really had been a good friend, better than a friend. But he really couldn't see sitting around the Constantine dinner table, listening to the girls squabble, watching Frank and Bev argue and laugh. And he was running out of excuses.
Finally one day he just said, "Look, Frank, me and Stella, we been having some problems. You know that, right?"
Frank went serious right away. "I know," he said. "I'm sorry."
"Yeah, well, thanks. Thing is, we're trying to work things out now, so I don't want to be out at night, you know?"
Jesus, a truth and a lie together worked so much better than a lie by itself. Frank was all sympathy and good wishes. And the invitations stopped.
They were still partners, but that was all they were. Ray tried not to think less of Frank for being taken in like that, but shit, the guy was a detective.
He probably thought he knew Ray really well.
Ray woke up just like he always did when the newspaper delivery truck started backing into the alley. Fraser's chest, rising and falling under his cheek, told him Fraser was already awake.
He kept his eyes shut just to revel in the moment: He was naked, and Fraser was naked, and Fraser was looking at him, and Fraser's body was warm and strong and relaxed.
After a moment, the hand that had been lying still on the back of his neck began to move, gently stroking his back.
"How'd you know I was awake?" he said without lifting his head.
He felt the vibration under his cheek as Fraser answered, "You were smiling."
He was still smiling when they arrived at the station, but then, Fraser was whistling, so at least he wasn't the only freak in the room.
It was pretty typical morning pandemonium -- there'd been a robbery at the flower show, and the waiting room was full of anxious women clutching houseplants -- and after a few minutes Ray stopped feeling like there was a sign on his chest and started focusing on his actual job, which was plenty enough to keep him occupied.
It did come back to him at unexpected moments -- not just the memories that raised his pulse but also the same feeling he got when a case was on a roll, like he couldn't fail, couldn't go wrong, every step was going to fall just where it needed to fall.
He heard Stella's voice at midmorning, arguing with Welsh about some suspect whose lawyer hadn't shown up yet, but by that time he was following a hunch through the mugshots in search of the guy who'd robbed the flower show, and he barely glanced up from the computer.
Then Fraser came back from the interrogation room, brushing potting soil off his hands, and when he saw Ray he got this little cautious smile on his face, and Ray just grinned at him and whacked him on the chest and said, "Let's get some work done, huh?"
And Fraser hauled out his drawing of Tattoo Woman, and somehow he and Ray ended up sitting on Ray's desk, grabbing notes and throwing them back on the pile and arguing cheerfully about whether some new direction was called for or whether they could just go on the same way -- and it was in the middle of this conversation that Ray looked up and saw Stella watching.
He hadn't even been thinking X-rated thoughts, just working like always -- seemed like always to him, anyway. But he could see it on her face.
"What is it?" Fraser said, and then followed his eyes.
She was too far away to hear them. "She knows," Ray said.
Fraser turned his eyes slowly from Stella to Ray. His face was blank. "Ah," he said.
Stella had face control. A good trial lawyer had to. But Ray had played poker with her, so he knew her tells. And she was struggling with it, and she was going to need somebody to comfort her like he'd needed somebody to comfort him after Orsini. But that wasn't his job any more.
After a while she met his eyes, and then she gave him the kind of smile you give somebody who's going on vacation while you stay in the office. He nodded like he'd heard the words.
Leaning toward Fraser, he said under his breath, "She wishes us luck."
Ray was happy that Rodney Wayne Keenan's arrest wasn't out of his division, because it was like a Christmas present for the defense with a big red bow on top. Defendant with unexplained bruises on his arms and face, key witnesses complaining of intimidation, crime scene photos shot with a malfunctioning flash, miranda irregularities worse than in the movies.
Ray heard all this through the department grapevine. It was Stella's case, and they couldn't talk about it.
In the end, a weapons misdemeanor was all that stuck. It was Stella's first case as lead attorney, and Ray took her out to celebrate -- she'd done good work, and the cops had deserved to lose that one. But she picked at her rack of lamb and messed with the candle on the table until she nearly drove him nuts.
"Ray," she said at last, "you know how he killed that kid? He stabbed him seven times with a steak knife."
"You got him a fair trial," Ray said.
"The state's case was so clumsy the judge disallowed four prior assault convictions and any discussion of his alcoholism," she said. "That little weasel is going to do it again." She held up her fork, examining the way the candlelight reflected off the silver. "Ray, how much have we got in savings?"
Ray banked most of his salary while Stella paid the bills with hers. "Nine, ten thou," he said, "not counting our retirement stuff. Why, you need a vacation?"
"I want to be a prosecutor."
"I suppose," Fraser said, "that we'll need to review the list of artists and interview the women whom we -- Ray?"
"Yeah, hang on --" Ray closed his eyes. There was something bugging him. Something he'd seen on a table someplace, and it wasn't right, and if he could just remember --
"The list, as I was saying, that we got from Ms. Phillips --"
Ray smacked the desk. "Tape," he said, and stood up. "Come on, Fraser."
"Where are we going?"
"To arrest Dana Phillips."
"Dana -- what?" Fraser was hurrying along behind him, still talking. "Our suspect has longer hair --"
"Which hers would be if she combed the curls out, plus what counts as 'long' on a guy isn't that long on a girl."
"Our suspect has quite striking blue eyes --"
"Which are obviously color contacts, since ninety-nine percent of the normal blue eyes in the world aren't striking at all -- they're just regular eyes, like mine."
Fraser slowed down to look at the composite drawing, then picked up the pace again. "May I ask how you --"
"Surgical tape." It was her, they had her, and the rush was the same as always only now he had a strong desire to just grab Fraser and kiss him right there in the stairwell from sheer joy. He settled for grabbing the back of his neck, a sort of public half-hug. "She had a backpack in the office, remember, all that stuff spilling out, and what does a photographer need with surgical tape?"
The week after Stella got promoted to ADA, she was home every night, laughing at his jokes and trembling in his arms just like the old days. That was when he knew it was really over.
"You know you're my oldest friend?" she said as she lay with her head on his bare chest.
"Watch who you're calling old, garbage baby," he said, and she gave this little hiccup of a laugh, and after a second he felt a tear drop on his skin.
He stroked her hair. "I love you."
"I know." She sat up and wiped her eyes with the heels of her hands. "I don't think I can love you the good way, Ray, I don't think I can -- and I can't go on loving you the bad way."
He sat up, too, suddenly panic-stricken, because he'd thought he was ready for this, but it hurt like dry ice in his belly. "Please." And fuck the Bullitt act, because this was Stella. "You're my whole life. Everything. Twenty-three years, Stel, you can't --"
"Don't make this harder." Her voice wasn't harsh but pleading. "Ray, it hurts, it hurts, but I can't be good for you, I can only be bad for you. You can only be bad for me. You see that, don't you? Please say you see it."
He looked at her, sex-rumpled and tearstained and beautiful, his Gold Coast girl.
"You're the only thing I ever wanted." It didn't sound passionate when he said it, just whiny, and she evidently didn't think it required an answer.
"Ah -- hello, again, detective." She was smooth, he'd have to give her that. There was nothing on her face but curiosity. "You've come at a bad time. I was just on my way to a shoot." She had her Bulls cap on, and the backpack was slung over one shoulder.
"I don't think so," Ray said. "Cause you have a conflict now on account of being under arrest and all."
"Arrest?" She was smiling, swear to god. "You have a charge and everything?"
"If you want to hear the whole rigmarole, you'll have to ask Fraser, but in the meantime we got a warrant on that backpack, too." Dief was nudging it with his nose. "We're starting with assault with a little bitty needle and going on from there."
She gave him a pitying look. "Now, detective, you tell me. The women who have been marked -- are they strangers to one another now? Are they alone in the world, as they were before? Or are they a community now? A community that will only grow faster the more you try to cut it off."
"Community?" There was a bunch of camera stuff at the top of the backpack, and then, underneath, Ray hit pay dirt. Gauze, surgical tape, disinfectant ointment. And a padded case that Ray was willing to bet would be full of tattooing equipment. "You're talking about drugs and assault and rape by tattoo for the sake of a community?"
"Oh, it's not rape, detective." She stood quite still while Fraser cuffed her. "I'm sure they'll come to understand. It's precisely the opposite of rape."
Ray could have mailed the divorce papers after he signed them, but he ignored his lawyer's advice and took them to her in person.
By habit he walked up the driveway to the kitchen door instead of going around front to ring the doorbell. She opened her mouth to tell him off for that, and then she saw the papers and shut it again and came over and dragged him into a tight hug.
She smelled same as she always did, like almond conditioner and expensive perfume and the underlying Stella smell that hadn't changed since he first smelled it in the dark corner of the Fallout Shelter. His throat tightened dangerously, and he buried his face in her hair, and when her mouth came up she tasted just like she always did.
He pressed her back against the kitchen table, careful of the one leg that always wobbled no matter how often he tightened it, and they kissed and kissed. After a while she pulled his shirt loose from his pants, and he broke off long enough to shed the holster, and her fingers sought out the sweaty place it left on his back, and she wrapped one leg around the back of his legs and pulled him closer --
The mail popped through the slot in the door with an explosive noise, and she sprang back like a scared rabbit.
She stood there staring at him while the pile of envelopes and catalogs slithered to the floor and the slot swung shut with a soft scrape. He looked at her red mouth, her wide eyes, the papers on the table.
"I'll go," he said, and picked up his holster off the floor.
"Weirdest thing," Ray said, turning around in Fat Len's rolling chair, "is that she's actually sort of right. She did sort of make a community. I mean, these girls, they're meeting every month now, they're getting together." He'd told Fraser he wanted to drop by and give Len the news in person. If he had his eye on a couple of apartments in the neighborhood, that was just a coincidence.
"It's more than that," Fraser said, "Amanda Jackson's support group is combing the city for the remaining victims. Ms. Jackson and Jennifer Kojima seem to have put together a whole wellness package for adult entertainers -- drug treatment, self-defense classes, even collective bargaining. And I understand that Shannon Reynolds has moved into Sue Truman's spare room because she feels safer not living alone."
Silver was walking around looking at Len's gallery. "I just don't understand how Dana could do something like this," she said. "She seemed so normal."
"Appearances," Fraser began, and that was so obvious that even he didn't feel the need to finish the proverb.
"She really did give them common ground?" Len said.
"Well, in a sense," Fraser said. "Though their primary goal seems to be to secure her conviction."
"Except the guy and the stripper," Ray put in. "They voted to knock her out and tattoo their names all over her."
"You're really branching out, aren't you, Len?" Silver said, looking at a wall section with a label that said Feng Shui Designs. "Seems like just yesterday you were working on little underage kids ..." She smiled at Ray.
"I can see," Len said, "that I'm going to have to do some more work on you, Ray. You're not a very good advertisement for me."
"You know, I been thinking about getting another one," Ray said. He leaned over backwards, his head nearly touching Fraser's stomach. Fraser smiled down at him.
"Well, I imagine nearly any artist in the city would work on either of you for free," Silver said. "I would. You're quite the heroes in the community."
"You got anything about, uh, you know, like a telescope? No, like a microscope, like, you look at stuff and see it for real?"
"Perhaps Perseus' shield?" Silver suggested. "He used that to see the Gorgon, who turned men to stone if they looked directly at her."
"Yeah? And when he saw the real thing, what did he do?"
"Cut her head off."
"That's no good. Don't you got any stories about somebody that saw something good?"
"Well, you see, Ray," Fraser said, "in mythology the lifting of an illusion is rarely a good thing. Oedipus, for instance, when he learned the truth, put his own eyes out."
"Would you consider something a little less Western?" Len flipped up the page he'd been drawing on. There were two complicated Chinese characters.
"Ah, very nice," Fraser said.
"What's it say?" Ray said suspiciously.
"Enlightenment," Fraser said.
So. New apartment, new job, new name, new partner. The apartment was pathetically empty and the partner was apparently unhinged, but that probably wouldn't matter for very much longer. Because Marcus Ellery was coming back to Chicago. And when he did --
Well, Ray wasn't entirely clear on that. But everything, somehow, was going to change.
It was warm outside, but chilly and damp in the crypt. He was glad he'd layered up. He glanced over at his new partner.
He'd met more nutcases in one week with the Mountie than in sixteen years on the force, and Fraser was the nuttiest of them all, or else he was sane in some way that was indistinguishable from nuts. Or else there was somebody else in there behind the Superhero of Justice mask.
Well, hell, not like Ray had room to talk there. Fraser was doing Dudley Do-Right, but Ray'd been doing Bullitt for years.
Only somehow he wasn't. Somehow when Fraser started asking him questions about Ellery, Ray actually found that he wanted to answer. Even if it ended up making him look pathetic.
Not that it mattered. Ray wasn't sure what he was going to do when Ellery showed up, but he was pretty sure that when he was done doing it, he wasn't going to be a cop any more. And that was if he didn't go down for whatever Vecchio had done.
So what did it matter if Fraser thought he was nuts, anyway?
"Listen," he said to Fraser. "Can I ask you something?"
"I been thinking, Fraser." He still felt giddy from the needle. Pain endorphins, Fraser'd said. He'd get a tat every day if it wasn't for knowing he was going to feel like shit tomorrow.
"Always a risky pursuit."
"Ha ha. You're real funny." He made a wrong turn just so he could drive by the Consulate and not stop, because Fraser was coming home with him. From now on, if he had anything to say about it. "No, what I been thinking -- when Vecchio comes back, I won't be Vecchio any more, right?"
"So what I thought -- you wanna go join Jessica's Pink Patrol with me?"
Fraser almost seemed to stop breathing for a moment. "You're talking about a public relationship."
"I'm talking outing us in a way that may get us on TV, yeah, Fraser. I'm talking about --" and then it occurred to him and he grinned -- "about putting you in the position of being liaison to the Queer Corps, how's that for an offer?" He absolutely was not giggling.
Fraser let out a breath, then grabbed his good shoulder in a grip that was almost painful.
Ray grinned. "That a yes?"
"Yes." Fraser was quiet for a few moments. "And in the meantime?"
Ray sighed. "Vecchio's sake, we gotta keep it quiet for now," he said. "But you know. And I know. That's probably enough."
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Story published July 13, 2002