Merry Go Round

by Speranza

Author's Note:  This story is for Bone and Aristide, for all the pleasure they've given me, not least of which is the magnificent "How Ray Got His Groove Back."  Good God, Ladies!!  <Speranza falls to knees and bows southwest, splitting the difference.>

"No, no." Ray grabbed the phone out of Huey's hand and slammed it back into its cradle. "Not that place. The other place."

Huey glared at him. "I like this place. The dumplings are better at this place."

"You're on drugs," Ray retorted. "They're much better at the other place. Frannie!" he yelled, snagging Francesca's arm as she passed by. "Be honest. Which is the better place—this place or the movie theatre place?"

Francesca rolled her eyes at him. "Not the movie theatre place. You're not thinking of that place—you're thinking of the other place. The place next to the deli with the really good fruit."

Ray frowned. "I am?"

"You are. That's the place with the good spare ribs."

"Not spare ribs," Huey interjected. "Dumplings."

"The best dumplings are at the place over on Jackson," Francesca said firmly.

Ray was shaking his head wildly now. "No, no. No way. Fraser, help me out, here."

I pushed off the desk I'd been leaning on, and got as far as opening my mouth when Lieutenant Welsh appeared at the door to his office. "Are we getting Chinese?"

"Yes!" Huey called.

"No!" Ray called.

"Yes!" Francesca yelled, overriding them both. "From the place with the fruit."

"Get me a pork lo mein," Welsh said and disappeared again. However, his voice was perfectly audible: "With an egg roll! And a can of grape soda!"

"Can do, sir," Huey said, grinning ferally at Ray and picking up the telephone receiver.

Ray looked at me pleadingly. "Fraser...?"

"The place near the movie theatre is the best place," I confirmed.

"Hah!" Ray said, wheeling on Huey triumphantly.

"Except it isn't a movie theatre anymore," I continued. "It's a performance space—"

Ray waved this amendment away. "Whatever."

"—and they don't deliver," I finished.

Ray groaned and stared at me, as if it were my fault that Foo Joy didn't deliver.

"Which?" Francesca asked, turning to stare at me. "The Chinese place or the performance space?"

"Neither, I presume," I answered her.

"Great," Ray spat, stalking over to his desk chair. He sat down and stared up at me irritably. "Don't you have anything positive to contribute?"

"Actually, yes," I said, leaning back against the side of Ray's desk again. "The good news is—that isn't the place you're thinking of either."

Ray leaned back in his chair, his face clearing with relief. "Really? So where am I thinking of?"

"I believe you're thinking of the Japanese place down the block from the Chinese place by the movie theatre which is now a performance space. You said, last time we were there, that the dumplings at Sakuma East were better than any—"

"Gyoza!" Ray yelled, leaping out of his chair, startling me with his enthusiasm—he could have been a skinny, blond samurai but for the lack of sword. "Gyoza! Right! They rock! That's what I want," he declared, wheeling on Huey, who looked up from the menu with surprise. "Count me out of the Chinese, put me down for gyoza."

Huey tucked the phone under his chin and said, "Put yourself down for gyoza, asshole. We're doing Chinese."

"Is anybody doing any work here?" Welsh roared from his office, and Ray dropped back down into his chair and looked up at me.

"You try to tell people," Ray said with apparent and profound sadness, "you try to teach them, put them on to something good—and what do you get?"

"Insults and ingratitude," I answered with a smile.

Ray looked momentarily taken aback, and then he shrugged and smiled back at me. "Yeah, I guess so. Must suck to be you."

"Vecchio!" Welsh hollered, and I saw Ray wince and cringe in his chair; he looked like a boy caught passing notes at school. "Get your ass in here!"

Ray looked up at me. "You'll save me, won't you? If he gets, you know, violent?"

"Certainly, Ray," I said promptly. "Though, of course, I'd have to wait until you were in imminent physical danger."

"Right. Thanks. You're a pal," Ray said, just as Welsh again yelled, "Vecchio! You waiting for an engraved invitation or what?"

"I'm coming, I'm coming," Ray grumbled, and pushed himself out of his chair. I followed him to Welsh's office, remaining a tactful step or two behind.

Welsh leaned back in his chair and straightened his tie. "So?"

"So?" Ray echoed.

"The case?" Welsh pressed, crossing his arms.

"What?!" Ray yelped, flinging his arms up in the air. "I look like Merlin or something? We just got the lab—"

I tapped Ray on the shoulder and coughed quietly. He jerked his head to look around at me.

"Not that case," I murmured. "The other one."

"Raggasi?" Ray whispered.


"Oh. Well. Wells!" Ray said, relief flooding his voice. "Wells is good, Wells is all sewn up, Wells is history! In short, sir—it's Miller Time."

Welsh looked skeptical. "I thought Wells was in the dumpster."

"Ah-ha!" Ray said, sounding victorious. "But that was before—"

"Partial print," I murmured. "On the—"

Ray turned on me again, looking annoyed. "I'm getting there!" He turned back to Welsh. "We found a—"

"Partial print on the gun," I said, flashing a smile at the Lieutenant.

"Yeah." Ray shot me a glare. "Ballistics said 80 percent. Additionally, there's a mess of corroborating accomplice testimony—"

Welsh let out a long sigh. "That and a sack of beans, Detective..."

"—most of which can be verified by independent sources," Ray finished. He crossed his arms and gave Welsh a look that said, "Oh ye of little faith." Or perhaps something else.

Lieutenant Welsh actually looked hopeful. "Yeah? Independently verifiable?" He shot a questioning glance at me and I nodded briskly.

"Nothing but the best, sir," Ray replied with a smirk. "Unlike that lo mein you just ordered."

Welsh frowned. "What's wrong with the lo mein?"

"Nothing," Ray said, looking regretful. "If you like Huey's place."

"Didn't he order from the place on Jackson?" Welsh demanded.

Ray shook his head no, then raised his hand and see-sawed it. "You pays your money, you takes your—"

"Huey!" Welsh yelled. "Get in here! And you," he added to Ray, apparently not yet willing to let him off the hook. "Get me the paperwork on Wells. No Miller Time for you until I see it all with my own eyes."

"No problemo," Ray said and turned to go. I nodded and followed him. We passed Huey, who was coming in while we were going out. "Enjoy your dumplings," Ray said sweetly, and pulled the door shut behind him.

Francesca was staring reprovingly at Ray. "That was mean, Ray. That was really, really mean, what you did to Huey."

"Yeah, life's tough all over," Ray snorted. "I need a paper search."

"Raggasi?" Francesca asked.

Ray shook his head. "Wells."

"Wells?"  Francesca groaned. "I just filed that stuff..."  Ray made a chirping gesture with his hand.  "All right, all right—gimme five minutes."

"Take ten," Ray said graciously, and went back to his desk. He yanked open his center drawer and started rummaging through it. "We got a menu for the Japanese place?"

"No," I said. "I don't think so." I glanced at my watch, considered. "We might consider having an early dinner instead of a late lunch."

"We might," Ray conceded. "Except of course I might gnaw my own arm off in the meantime." The phone rang, and he sighed and snatched it up. "Vecchio," Ray said, shoving the drawer closed; it went in lopsided and didn't close properly. "Yeah," Ray said, then snapped his fingers at me. I paid attention. "Yeah. Yeah. Yeah," Ray repeated, and I rolled my eyes. Marvelously informational. "Where? Okay. Don't move." He banged the receiver down and said, "We got a witness."

"Raggasi?" I inquired.

Ray shook his head. "K&W. A kid—sounds about fourteen, though he seems to know what he's talking about." Ray yanked his jacket of the back of his chair. "Sounds scared, though, so we better move before he loses his nerve."

I picked my hat up off the desk. "Right. Let's go."

Francesca stopped short next to us, carrying an armload of files.

I put my hat back down again. "Let me help you with that, Francesca."

"Nah," she said. "Just—the top one. Take the top one."

I nodded and carefully slid it out from underneath her hand.

"Wells for Welsh?" Ray asked.

"This, yeah," Francesca replied, bouncing her armload up and down. "What Fraser's got—that's the lab report on Maplewood."

"Oh, cool. Okay. We'll take that," Ray said, roughly grabbing the folder away from me. "Let's go, Fraser."

I put my hat on, tipped it to Francesca, and followed Ray out of the station and to the car. We got in and buckled up. Ray switched on the engine, and instantly the speakers started blaring out some awful racket. I leaned forward and tried to fumble the tape player off.

"Aw, come on," Ray said, flinging one arm over the seat and staring out the back window as he pulled out. "I like that—that's Kiss."

I found the correct button and the loud thrash of guitars instantly ceased. "I know. But honestly, Ray—they're lyrically mundane."

Ray swiveled forward again and peeled out of the station's lot with a screech of tires. "You don't listen to that stuff for the lyrics, Fraser."

"Thank goodness for that."

"Just simple words. Just plain speaking."

I rolled my eyes. "'Shock me: make me feel better. Shock me: put on your black sweater—'"

"Leather," Ray corrected.

"Whatever," I said tersely. "It's still silly."

Ray shrugged. "Well, that's heavy metal for ya—silly as shit. But I wouldn't mind some loud music right about now."

"Well, how about that other tape?" I suggested. "The tape from the other day. The group with the interesting West Indian under-rhythms."

Ray shot me a skeptical glance. "West Indian under-rhythms?"

"Yes." I leaned forward, popped open the glove compartment, and began to fish through an assortment of black audio cassettes. "We were listening to it just the other day. Infinitely preferable to this muck."

"West Indian under-rhythms..." Ray mused.

While Ray's musical taste was wonderfully catholic, his filing system left a lot to be desired. His tapes were largely unlabled, or if they were labeled they bore highly informative descriptions like "Music 1" and "Music 2."

"West Indian under-rhythms," Ray repeated with a frown. "What the hell could you be talking about..?"

"You know," I insisted, irritated with him and his incompetent filing system. I shoved the tapes back into the glove compartment, which now wouldn't shut. "They're loud, but there's still some attempt at musical sophistication..."

"West Indian—what, is that reggae?" Ray turned toward me, looking shocked. "Fraser, are you talking about The Clash?"

"Clash, yes," I confirmed, relieved that he'd put his finger on it.

Ray leaned over, reached out with his right hand and fumbled through the glove compartment. He pulled out a black tape that looked like every other black tape. "Well, blow me down. That's punk, Fraser."

"At least they use polysyllabic words," I replied defensively.

Ray shoved the tape into the player with the heel of his hand. "Hey, knock yourself out, man—I'm not complaining. I love those guys."

The tape started, Ray turned the volume up, and we drove along. Ray tapped his long fingers happily against the steering wheel. "I'm So Booooored With The U.S.A," he sang, a little off key, and then he shot me a sly little glance. "West Indian under-rhythms, huh? You oughta be shot."

"I didn't say I minded the thematic content," I pointed out evenly.

"You trying to send me a message?"

I laughed aloud at this, unable to keep a straight face. "No, Ray. I'd be much more direct."

He grinned and shook his head.

Ten minutes later we pulled up in front of a corner pizzeria. Ray roughly shifted the car into park and switched off the engine. "Whattya think?"

I nodded slowly. "It's only four blocks from K & W Jewelers."

"You think the killers ordered a pizza?" Ray asked.

"I think somebody ordered a pizza," I said, and got out of the car.

Ray and I crossed the street and pushed our way into the crowded pizzeria. "Oh, man," Ray moaned, making a beeline for the glass counter. "They've got calzones..."

"Witness now, calzones later," I murmured.

A gray-haired gentleman wearing a white apron stained with tomato sauce noticed Ray's interest and stepped forward. "We got three kinds—all fresh, straight out of the oven. These are sausage and cheese, these are spinach and cheese, these are—"

I nudged Ray gently. "Uh," Ray said, forcing his gaze up from the counter. "We're looking for Ronnie. Does Ronnie work here?"

The elderly gentleman scowled. "Boy, that kid sure got popular—what'd he do?"

"Popular?" I interjected. "Has anyone else—"

He jerked a thumb down the corridor that led to the restrooms—at the end, there was a metal door under a sign that glowed "EXIT." "There was just another guy asking for him. They went out back in the—"

I ran down the corridor, knowing Ray was on my heels. We burst out into the back alley—turned round in a circle. Nothing, nobody.

"Ronnie!" Ray yelled, unholstering his gun. "Ronnie! Chicago P.D.!"

There was a crash to my left and I ran down the alley toward it—skidding around a corner just in time to see a young man in a red delivery uniform bolt away from a larger man who appeared to be dancing with a metal trash basket. I instantly directed myself toward the fleeing boy, leaving Ray to deal with the other man.

"Ronnie!" I called; he looked back over his shoulder, saw me, and ran faster. "Ronnie, wait! We won't hurt you!"

The boy was apparently unconvinced—he threw himself at a chain link fence and scrambled up it, and then used the height to lever himself up onto a nearby garage roof.

And I'd just had these trousers pressed.

I followed his path—up the fence, onto the garage roof. He was still running full out, and I assessed his intent and his direction. I followed him for a bit across the rooftop, then stopped to greet an elderly woman who was hanging laundry on a line that wound round a pulley nailed outside her window.

"Pardon me, madam," I said, stopping and removing my hat, "but would you mind terribly if I used your window to make a short detour?"

She stared at me for a moment, and then shrugged. "Be my guest," she said, and shuffled away from the window.

"Many thanks," I said, and scrambled through. "The exit?"

She pointed. "Take a left out of the kitchen, straight down the hall."

"Ah," I said, putting my hat on again and straightening it. "Thank you kindly."

"Do you want a banana?" I stopped—she'd picked a banana out of a bowl of fruit that was sitting on the kitchen counter.

"Um," I said, considering.

"Here, take a banana," she said, and extended it to me. "The lock opens to the right," she added.

"Very well," I said, taking the banana and putting it into my holster. "Most kind of you."

"I'll never eat them all," she said. "Shame if they go bad."

"Indeed," I said, and then hightailed it out of the kitchen. Left, straight down the hall. I turned the lock to the right and pulled the door open—one short flight of stairs and I was in the lobby. I pushed through the glass doors just in time to grab Ronnie's red shirt and push him back against the brick wall. "Nobody's going you hurt you," I assured him.

Ronnie gaped, stared, flailed at me. "Yeah, well—-tell that to the other guy! That guy was gonna kill me! He had a gun!"

"Who is he?" I asked.

Ronnie gasped for breath and bent over, bracing his palms on his knees. "Hey, I didn't get a name, okay?"

"Did he shoot Mr. Kimball?" I asked.

Ronnie shook his head. "No. Different guy. The other guy was—taller. Thinner. Meaner."

"Can you give us a description?" I asked.

Ronnie snorted. "I just did. Taller. Thinner. Meaner."

"Any idea who he was? Had you seen him before? Perhaps one of Mr. Kimball's business associates? Someone you'd seen near the store?"

Ronnie looked frightened now. "No. See—that's what I was calling to tell you guys. He—the guy who shot Mr. Kimball? He wasn't alone. There was a car waiting outside—like, with the engine running. I was unchaining my bike when I heard the shot—and then I saw this guy come out of K & W's and right behind him was Mrs. Kimball."

"Mrs. Kimball?" I repeated.

"Yeah." Ronnie swallowed, nodded.

"You recognized her?"

"Sure. I done deliveries there sometimes."

"And you actually saw the shooting?" I pressed.

Ronnie hesitated. "No. I mean, I heard it, though. I was right across the street and I hear this bang and then the door's open and the guy and Mrs. Kimball come out, get into the car, and take off."

"You were the only one on the street?"

"Yeah." Ronnie licked his lips nervously. "It was pretty late—way after the strip closes. But Markby's—across the street—they was working late cause they're getting audited. They ordered three pizzas—two pepperoni, one mushroom and extra cheese."

"I see. That's good, Ronnie—that's very good." I patted his shoulder. "Come on—let's go see how my partner is making out with your assailant."

Together, we walked back to the alley. Ray was sitting on top of the trash can, smoking a cigarette; the other man was lying at his feet, unconscious and handcuffed.

I shook my head, walked up to him, and pulled the cigarette out of his mouth, tossing it to the ground and extinguishing it under my boot. "Here," I said, unholstering the banana. "Have a banana."

Ray accepted the banana and began to peel it. "So? You get the story?"

"Part of it," I explained.

"So?" He took a bite and talked while he chewed. "Talk."

"Ronnie says that Mr. Kimball was killed by a man who was in the company of Mrs. Kimball."

"Hmmph. Mrs. Kimball, huh?" Ray considered this. "Guess there's worse things than alimony."

"Indeed. I think we should take Ronnie down to the station and get his statement."

"Oh, no way!" Ronnie groaned. "This is my shift! Mr. Abruzzi'll fire me if—he's already pissed that—-"

"I'll talk to him," I assured Ronnie. "I'll explain that you're an important witness. And a hero."

"He doesn't want me to be a hero," Ronnie protested. "He just wants me to deliver 'em."

"I'm sure I can make him..." I trailed off, my attention caught by Ray, who was slowly eating his way down the banana. I stared at him, and he stared right back at me. He appeared to be...savoring it. He also appeared to be grinning at me, which was ridiculous since he had a mouth full of—banana.

But his eyes were grinning. I was almost sure of it.

"I—" I said, and then stopped, having completely forgotten what I had intended to say.

Ray chewed slowly, swallowed, and then he did grin. "Go talk to the pizza guy. I'll wait here for backup.

"You're all right?" I asked inanely.

"Sure," Ray replied. "Great. I'll just hang out—kick the guy in the head if he wakes up. Go talk to the pizza man."

I went to talk to the pizza man.

He wasn't, I confess, entirely eager to let Ronnie go for the evening. I spoke to him at length, though, and I could sense that Ronnie, behind me, was pulling apologetic faces and projecting contrition in his body language. By the end of the conversation, he'd consented to let Ronnie go, and he was sending Ronnie sympathetic looks. Either he'd really understood the importance of Ronnie's role in the justice system or he and Ronnie had quietly bonded over their mutual dislike of me. I preferred the former but found the latter perfectly acceptable. I sometimes had that effect on people, and it usually worked to my advantage.

Ronnie and I returned to the alley and found Ray leaning against a black and white police car, chatting with the officers who had arrived. "Yeah, he's a pig, so watch him," Ray told them, and then he glanced over at Ronnie and me. "This one, the kid," Ray added, "we need to get a statement and then maybe have him check out some mug shots."

The officer nodded, wrote that down.

Ray pushed himself off the police car and said, "Hey. Ronnie. You're gonna ride with these guys, okay?"

Ronnie nodded wearily. "Okay. Whatever you say."

"They'll treat you right." Ray jerked his head, gesturing for me to follow him around the block back to the car.

I nodded and turned to take my leave of Ronnie. "He's right, you know. They're fine officers. If you run into any difficulties, ask them to contact either Detective Vecchio," I nodded my head at Ray, "or myself. I'm Constable Fraser."

"You're a Mountie, right?" Ronnie asked, squinting at me. "Should I ask?"

"Not really much point, no," I conceded. "It's a long story and—"

"Riiiight," Ronnie said, and got into the car.

I followed Ray back to the GTO; he was already inside and had the engine running. "I might wanna make one more stop," he said as I settled myself in the passenger seat.

"Certainly. Where?"

He shifted a bit, pulled the lab report he'd picked up at the station out from under his bottom, and handed it to me. "Look at that."

I scanned the first page. "Synthetic butter?"

"Keep reading."

"Popcorn," I mused, but kept reading. "Movie theatre..."

"Keep reading," Ray said and tapped the steering wheel.

"Refined sugar. Orange peel. Mustard. Amusement park," I suggested, lifting my head.

Ray nodded at me. "Sure sounds like it, don't it?"

"Yes. It does."

"We got Wells, we got a break on K & W—maybe we can make it a hat trick today." Ray gunned the engine, and the GTO took off down the street. "There's only maybe only one or two parks near enough to make a difference—we could go now, or we could check it out later tonight."

"Oh," I said, frowning.

Ray turned his head to look at me. "What, you'd rather go now?"

"No...only I thought that maybe tonight..."

"What?" Ray demanded.

"It's the last night of the film festival at the Forum," I explained. "I thought we might catch the concluding picture."

"Film festival?" Ray's brow creased. "Which films?"

"It's a retrospective on the works of Elia Kazan," I explained.

Ray shot me a vicious look. "You don't mean—"

I coughed and looked away. "Well, it is the masterpiece, Ray..."

"No, no, no, and no! And no!" Ray yelled. "And no again! And no another time! And no plus one! You've got to be kidding me—"

"Well, yes." Sometimes Ray was really just too easy.

He stared at me for a second, and then he was half-laughing, half-snarling, and slapping at me wildly with his right hand as he drove. "Fuck you, Fraser," he said. "Just fuck you and fuck you and fuck you."

"That is also an acceptable alternative," I said mildly.

"This is revenge for the banana, right?" Ray asked.

"Yes," I said. "Don't do that to me in public. Ever again."

Ray stifled a grin. "But it's just so easy."

"Be that as it may," I chided.

"All right, all right," Ray relented. "So whattya say—now or later?"

I glanced at my watch. "We still haven't had lunch. And the time for dinner is fast approaching. I'm all right, but I thought you were starving."

"The banana helped. I can make it," Ray said determinedly. "Let's just get it over with."

"All right," I said, and Ray pulled GTO onto the expressway and drove us out of downtown. He turned the tape player on, and Clash again blasted through the speakers. Snorting, Ray hit a button and the music changed, becoming soothing, almost surreal.

"What's this?" I asked.

"David Bowie," Ray replied absently, and then he added, "The Man Who Fell To Earth. You and he have a lot in common."

"You're hilarious," I said, rolling my eyes.

"Aside from the drag and the coke habit, of course."

I opened my mouth to correct him but then decided that I would be foolish to provide him with ammunition. "Of course," I repeated.

"And where'd you get the banana anyhow?" Ray asked suddenly. "You run after the kid, you come back with a banana."

I grinned inwardly; the question was a gift. "Well, Ray, I have always depended on the kindness of strangers."

"I am gonna crash this car," Ray threatened. "One more word and I'm gonna crash this fucking car into the embankment and make us two smears on the dashboard. So just shut up."

I shut up. I could afford to. I was ahead.

The sky had gone dusky by the time Ray pulled the car into the gravel parking lot of the Thornelee Amusement Park. He pulled up close to the wooden gate, parked illegally, and turned the engine off.

The moment we were out of the car I could hear the repetitive churnings of calliope music and the smell the sickly sweetness of burning sugar. We crunched our way across the gravel to the shack that served as a ticket booth. A bored looking teenager stared at us and Ray flashed her his badge.

"Chicago PD," he said. "We just wanna take a look around."

"Yeah, okay," she said and waved us through the gate.

We wandered into the park and looked around. There were screaming children running everywhere, beleaguered looking parents standing on line for the rides, teenaged sweethearts clutching stuffed animals and walking arm in arm. The tilt-a-whirl was tilting, something that looked like a slingshot was whipping round and round, the horses on the carousel rose up and down on their poles.

I turned to Ray, who was staring stonily at a booth which advertised, "Test Your Strength! Ring the Bell!" A young man wearing a denim jacket was wielding a mallet while a young woman, presumably his girlfriend, stood squealing on the sidelines.

I touched Ray's arm and he glanced at me. "I used to come here with Stella," he muttered. "Was I a dipshit or what?"

"Come on," I said quietly. "Let's find the concession stand."

"I—okay. Right." Ray turned his back on the Test Your Strength booth and we wandered through the park toward a corrugated metal shack that promised "Refreshments."

Ray stared at the food—cotton candy, soft pretzels, hot-dogs rotating inside a metal case under hot lights—and then turned to me. "You want something?"

"Not if you paid me money," I replied firmly and turned away from the stand. The scents alone were making me sick to my stomach, and I tried to focus my attention elsewhere.

"Aw, come on, it's not that bad," I heard Ray say. "Reminds me of being a kid. This whole scene was like—a rite of passage."

"In the Territories," I replied, "our idea of a rite of passage was to see who could hurl a log the furthest distance."

"Sounds like a blast," Ray muttered. "All right, I'm gonna get—"


I heard Ray's bark of laughter. "Hey!" he called to the service person. "Gimme one of those foot-long hot dogs—"

"Ray..." I groaned.

"—with everything: mustard, kraut, relish. And a small Coke, no ice. Oh, and by the way, Chicago PD..."

I crossed my arms and shook my head. And then, on the edge of my peripheral vision, I saw a figure stealing out of side door of the concession stand. I turned my head, saw the man stare at me, eyes widening, and take off across the park.

"Ray!" I yelled, and took off after him.

I chased him through the crowd, trying not to knock over any small children or canoodling couples. At the carousel, I went left and he went right. I raced to the other side and then stopped—nothing, he was gone. I turned slowly in a circle, scanning the crowd for any glimpse of him. Nothing. Nothing. I'd lost him.

And then I heard a child shriek and whirled around—Ray and the man were struggling on the merry-go-round, reeling back and forth between the rising and falling horses. I leapt on to the spinning ride, already now ten or fifteen feet behind where they were, and unsteadily weaved my way toward them.

Ray grabbed the other man's shirt and then heaved forward like a linebacker. The other man's feet slipped underneath him and he stumbled backwards. I sprinted forward, but it was too late—Ray and the other man went careening, crashed into a riderless horse, and fell off into the dirt.

I stepped off the merry-go-round and carefully approached Ray, who was straddling the other man and slapping him about the head.

"Leave me alone!" the man shrieked. "I don't know nothing, I ain't seen nothing!"

Ray grabbed him by the shirt and jerked his shoulders up off the ground. "What nothing?"

"Nothing! Nothing about anything!"

"Yeah, well, I'm tempted to believe you but I don't." Ray let go of the shirt and the man's head crashed to the ground. I winced. "Even you gotta know something about something."

"I know nothing about nothing!" the man whimpered.

"You knew enough to know we're looking for something," Ray objected. "You knew enough to run. So you must know something, right?"

The man stared up at Ray for a moment and then said, weakly, "I assumed."

"Yeah, you assumed, sure." Ray crossed his arms and glared down at him. "You assumed we were looking for something and so you took off just on the odd chance that we might ask you when you don't know nothing. Figured you'd spare us the disappointment."

"Eg-zactly," the man said fervently; Ray pulled his arm back in a fist.

"I'm gonna punch you in the head," Ray informed him.

"All right, all right!" the man yelped. "Maybe I know something about something. But if you guys say I said that, I'm gonna end up in the lake wearing a cement necklace."

"Be an improvement," Ray told him, and then he looked up at me. "Frase? Would you mind calling for backup? I think we're taking this asshole in."

"Certainly," I said. "I'll use the radio in the car."

I turned and nearly bumped into a small child. "Hey," she said. "Mister. Would you hold my balloon?"

"I—" She was already extending the balloon to me, and I felt I had no choice but to take it. "Well. All right."

"Fraser!" Ray yelped from behind me. "Backup! Now!"

"Yes, in a moment!" I called back to him, then returned my attention to the little girl. "Is your mother with you?"

She nodded quickly and pointed. "Oh, yeah. She's right over—"

I looked in the direction she was pointing and a flashbulb went off in my face. I blinked rapidly, seeing little purple dots dancing in front of my eyes."

"Thank you," a woman said. "That's a great picture!"

"Can I have my balloon back now?" the girl asked me.

I gave her her balloon back and went back to the car, rubbing my tired eyes.

Twenty minutes later we were back in the GTO, finally heading away from the fairgrounds. The sun had set, night had fallen fully, and the carnival lights lit up our rear-view mirrors for what had to be a mile.

"Two chases in one day," I sighed, settling back in my seat. "We really could have used Diefenbaker."

"He had the raging shits," Ray replied, absently flicking on the turn signal and merging onto the expressway. "I'm not lettin' him in the car when he's like that."

"We could have managed."

"Maybe." It was hard to see Ray's face clearly in the darkness, though he lit up each time we passed underneath one of the large highway lights. "Still—we did good work today, you and me. Not bad for one day, right?"

"Right," I agreed. "Not bad at all."

"I'm thinking we arrest this guy, take his statement, and cut him a deal if he gives us anything decent to use. Whaddya think of that? That sound like a plan to you?"

"Yes. That sounds appropriate."

"Okay, good. So let's call it a day. We'll stop by the station, punch out, then get food." Ray turned to look at me, and his eyes flashed with sympathetic warmth. "I'm dying here, and I had the banana. You haven't had a thing."

"I'm not complaining," I said.

"Nah, of course not. You never complain." Ray reached out with his right hand, found my left hand in the darkness. He squeezed briefly, then returned his hand to the wheel. "Dinner's on me," he said. "I'm still craving that gyoza—Japanese all right with you?"

"Japanese is fine," I said. "But—"


"Let's get take out," I said, and even in the darkness, I could see Ray smile.

When we arrived at the station, Ray and I sat in the car for a moment and made a plan. Ray called the station "the Roach Motel"—"it's easy to get in but hard to get out, Frase,"—-and so we often found it prudent to divvy up our tasks so that we could get in and out more expediently.

We agreed that I would see what had become of Ronnie, Ray would make sure our friend from the amusement park was safely in custody, and we would then meet in front of Welsh's office to say our final goodnights.

Ronnie had given Officer Brisbane his statement and had then topped his achievement by finding the man who had accompanied Mrs. Kimball in the mug-shot book.

"That's the guy," Ronnie said to me excitedly, stabbing the picture three or four times with his index finger. "I gotta tell you, man—I thought this was gonna be pointless, you know? I thought, 'yeah okay, they want me to look at some pictures, so I guess I got to,' but I never thought I'd actually find the guy. I was sort of flipping the pages and then bang! there he was, looking up at me."

"That's very good," I said warmly. "That's wonderful, Ronnie."

"And they say he's this totally vicious hit guy!" Ronnie added eagerly, apparently thrilled at his brush with stardom. "A major criminal dude!"

"Well, there you go. Congratulations," I said. "You're part of justice in action."

I ascertained that APBs had been put out on both the hit man and Mrs. Kimball and that Ray had been correctly listed as the primary detective on the case. Then I took my leave of Ronnie, who was happily wondering if he'd could get the hit man's autograph at trial.

I knew that not all was well with Ray from the moment I entered the stairwell. I could hear the sound of his voice—yelling—the scuffle of footsteps—and I sped up, taking the stairs two at a time.

I burst through the fire door into the bullpen and heard Francesca scream, "Fraser! Thank god! He's lost his mind!"

Ray did in fact seem to have lost his mind. To my surprise, he was struggling not with a perpetrator, but with a fellow officer—Jack deWitt. Two other officers—Huey and Reynolds—were struggling to pull him away and back.

"You cunt!" Ray was yelling. "I can't believe this!"

"Vecchio!" Welsh was standing there, shirt rumpled, looking red-faced and furious. "Calm yourself down!"

"What is this—some kind of revolving door?" Ray's hands were knotted in deWitt's tie. "Do you know—do you understand—-"

The crowd around them parted and let me through. I gripped Ray's shoulder. "Ray."

"—does anyone understand what a monster that guy is? Or the work it took to bring him in? What are we—playing numbledefuck around here?!"

"Ray," I repeated; Huey stepped aside and I grabbed Ray's arm tightly, pulled him back. "Ray. Come on."

Ray turned, stared at me, like he had only then noticed I was there. "Wells got bail! That fuck got bail!"

I pulled Ray back, and he let go of deWitt, who gasped and took a few shaking steps backward, chest heaving. "Christ, Vecchio, " he said, shakily. "Don't shoot the messenger, okay?"

Ray wasn't listening to this; his attention was fully on me. "That fuck got bail, Fraser—partial print, corroborating testimony, for murder—he gets bail and he's out!"

"He had money," deWitt muttered, one hand covering his throat. "That's how it works—they have money, they make bail."

Ray turned, and looked like he was about to lunge for deWitt's again. I put my arms around Ray's chest, tightened my grip, and dragged him a few steps backwards, down the hall toward the interrogation room. There was a scatter of applause.

"Fuck you!" Ray yelled at deWitt. "Fuck you and fuck the entire D.A.'s office—"

I pulled Ray a few more paces up the hall, past an exhausted-looking Lieutenant Welsh. "I'm sorry, sir," I murmured. "He hasn't eaten."

"Calm him down and get him out of here, Fraser," Welsh replied wearily.

"—including Adorno!—and Chumard!—and my fucking wife!" Ray cried.

I nodded and pulled Ray into the first open interrogation room, then pushed the door shut behind us. Ray ripped himself away from me and launched himself across the room; he looked like he wanted to hit something, and I hoped to God it wasn't me.

"Goddammit, Fraser. Goddammit. Round and round in circles—bring one in, let one out, get one convicted, one makes parole. What the fuck is the point? What the fuck is the point?"

I approached him slowly, carefully. "It's very frustrating."

"Why the fuck are we knocking ourselves out?" Ray's entire body was pulled taut, muscles tense and straining; his face was tense, too, etched with deep lines that hadn't been there a couple of years ago. A blood vessel was angrily pulsing across his forehead.

He was getting older. So was I. "Because it's what we do," I said quietly.

"Christ," Ray said; he'd closed his eyes, now, and he was breathing hard, shaking with rage. "I can't believe it. What the fuck were they thinking? What the fuck were they thinking?"

I stepped closer to him, took his biceps in my hands, and tried to calm him the only way I knew how. I kissed him—once, quickly, hoping to shock him out of it. Ray was still, and still shaking, when I pulled away, and so I kissed him again—gave him another hard, quick kiss to the mouth, wanting him to be with me. This time he stepped into it and kissed me back, his arms coming around me and clutching me briefly before letting me go. And this time his eyes were open when I pulled away.

"I thought you P.D.A."

"I did. I'm making an exception." I cupped his tired, lined face in my palms and kissed him one more time. He moaned softly into my mouth, and when I stepped back, he sank down into the nearest chair.

"I'm sorry," Ray muttered, staring down at the linoleum floor. "Tell deWitt I'm sorry. Tell Welsh I'm sorry. Sorry, Huey—sorry, Stella—sorry, God." He put an elbow on the table and began to massage his eyes.

"Let's just go," I said softly. "It's been a long day."

"Long day. Long life." Ray took a deep breath and got up. "All right. I'm ready. Let's go."

There weren't any parking spots near Sakuma East, so I told Ray to double-park and stay with the car while I went to get food. He nodded wearily and shifted the car into park, then called to me just as I was about to slam the passenger-side door shut.

"Benton! Wait!"

I bent over and peered into the car; Ray flicked off his seatbelt and squirmed around in his seat. A moment later he lifted his hand. He was holding his wallet between thumb and forefinger.

"Here. Take it."

"Ray..." I protested.

"It's on me," Ray insisted. "I said."

"All right." I was too tired to argue about it.

Five minutes later I was back, carrying a large brown paper shopping bag full of food. Ray eyed it with interest but said nothing. He did, however, noticeably increase our speed home.

We were greeted upon our arrival by the yips and barks of Diefenbaker, who was standing up in his cage, tail wagging furiously. Ray made a beeline for him, unlatching the metal hook and swinging the door open. Instantly Dief poked his head through the cage's opening, and Ray caressed it with his palms, scrubbing his fur, tugging at his ears.

"How ya doin', boy?" Ray murmured. "You have a nice, quiet day? Catch up on your reading?"

I put the bag of food down on the kitchen table. Dief bounded out of the cage, padded over to me, and pawed at my leg. I knelt, scratched his head, and let him lick my face.

I looked up at Ray, who was gingerly inspecting the bottom of the cage. "Well?" I asked. "How is it?"

"Nothing that I'd want to take a picture of, but better, I think. " Ray carefully folded up the sheets of newspaper and double bagged it in plastic. "C'mon, Dief!" he called, and then added to me, "I'll take this out and him out at the same time."

Ray held the door for Dief and then closed it after them both. I went into the bedroom and changed into a shirt and jeans. I hung my uniform carefully on its heavy wooden hanger, then went into the bathroom to have a wash. Hands. Face. Neck.

I had just finished drying my face with a towel when I heard the front door snick open and then shut again. I hung the towel up and wandered back into the living room. Ray was in the kitchen preparing a meal for Dief, who was jumping eagerly around at his heels.

"Is he all right?" I asked.

Ray glanced up at me and nodded. "Seems okay. I think he's got cabin fever—we really ought to take him for a long run. Except I'm just too fucking tired." He set the bowl of food down on the floor, grabbed silverware out of the drainer, and sat down at the kitchen table.

Ray ripped the paper bag down the side, scattering the metal trays and paper cartons. We descended on the food like crazed animals, eating straight out of the tins. Sushi. Tempura. Noodles. Negamaki. I suppose that I'd gone a bit overboard, but I'd been as hungry as Ray was, and everything had looked so good.

Ray dunked one of his gyoza into a little plastic tub of soy sauce and offered it to me. I leaned toward him and opened my mouth. They were very good—the meat spiced deliciously, the dough fried and just a little crunchy—and I exchanged an appreciative look with Ray.

We ate everything, much to the irritation of Diefenbaker, who'd clearly been hoping for a share of the spoils. "Not today, wolf," Ray said, finally rising from the table. He dragged the rubbish basket over to where we were, and then swept the discarded tins and cartons into it. "There. I've done the dishes."

I didn't answer; I was slumped with my elbows on the table, my entire body in post-prandial meltdown.

"C'mon," Ray said, coming behind me and tugging at my arm. "Sofa."

I nodded and heaved myself up out of the chair. "All right."

The moment I sat down on the sofa I had the startling premonition that I'd never move again. I was tired, full, and on top of something soft—why should I ever move? Ray settled next to me, yanked off his boots, and reached for the remote control. He sat back, put his feet up on the coffee table, and flicked the television on.

"Here," he said, handing the remote control to me. "Take control."

I took the remote from his hand and began searching through the channels. Ray listed against me, then curled toward me slightly, one arm slung low around my waist.

A well-coiffed woman was somberly explaining that a fire on the south side had killed four people, three of them children.

"No news," Ray said tiredly. "God, please—no news."

Obediently, I changed the channel. A man ran up a street, waving a gun.

Ray sighed. "No cop shows. No terrorists, no action adventure, no nature shows, no sit-coms."

I raised my eyebrow. "That pretty much leaves us with Streetcar—"

"No Tennessee Fucking Williams," Ray said firmly.

We ended up watching the last half hour of a movie about two brothers who were apparently a famous songwriting team of the nineteen forties. The film jounced along brightly as the brothers crested from success to success—leaping and hugging each other tightly backstage as a starlet in a sequined gown and a Veronica Lake hairdo sultrily sang their greatest hit, a song neither of us had never heard of, into a large, round metal microphone at some sort of big-band benefit concert. And then, in the last ten minutes, one of the brothers came down with rheumatic fever and died.

"Well," Ray said, when the credits were rolling. "That's very sad."

"Yes," I agreed.

Ray grabbed the remote from my hand and flipped the channel again. "Hey! Hockey!" He brightened. "We need beer!"

Ray disentangled himself from me, sprang up, and padded into the kitchen. He returned with two open bottles of beer and sprawled back into position beside me to watch the game. I drank my beer slowly, still unused to its thick, wheaty taste.

The Blackhawks sent the puck sailing across the ice. Penalty for icing: Chicago, I noted with satisfaction.

Ray murmured, "How long before we go North?"

"Seven weeks and four days," I replied promptly.

"Shit. That long?"

"Not long at all now," I said, taking a draught from the icy bottle.

"Man, I can't wait," Ray grumbled. "I'm ready. I'm ready yesterday."

I nodded and rubbed his arm consolingly. "Well, you know what they say."

"What do they say?" Ray asked.

"A change is as good as a rest."

"Well that's good, because I need a change and a rest."

"I know," I said quietly, still rubbing his arm. The Oilers got a shot in off the goalie's left skate and Union Center was filled with the sound of groans. Ray cackled at the screen.

"Heh. Go Edmonton." Ray started singing softly under his breath: "I' boooored...with the U...S... A."

I smiled helplessly. "Ray? Are you trying to send me a message?"

"Damn straight I am." He shifted on the sofa, turning toward me. "What would you say if I said that I don't think I wanna come back next time?"

I considered this. "I'd say that you've said that each and every time we've gone up."

Ray scowled at me. "Yeah, but this time I mean it."

"I'd say that six months is just about your limit. After six months, you start obsessing about restaurants and imported beer. Right now, you're obsessing about—"

"—sunlight and snowmobiles," Ray finished.

"Snowmobiles?" I asked, surprised.

"Yeah. I keep picturing last year, that morning when the snowmobile broke down. It was, like, six o'clock in the morning—but it was bright, remember? Sunlight gleaming off everything."

I closed my eyes, trying to remember the particular morning he meant.

"We'd popped the hood open, and it turned out it was only the—"

"Torque converter," I said, suddenly remembering.

"And we replaced the belts. Nearly froze my fingers off. Nothing special, just the same old, same old. Except I can't stop thinking about it. I think about it all the time. Fixing a snowmobile out in the sun...."

"We'll be there soon," I said quietly, feeling unaccountably moved. "And you'll have your fill of it, Ray—six months' worth."

"Six months, yeah," Ray snorted. "It's like that chick. We're like that chick."

I mimed confused and Ray looked annoyed at me.

"You know. That chick. In the myth." I made an encouraging gesture with my hand and Ray rolled his eyes. "In the myth book. At the cabin. Oh, come on..."

My mind raced—the myth book at the cabin. "Bullfinch?" I ventured, finally. "Frazer?"

Ray looked baffled. "Who's Bullfinch Fraser?"

I shook my head. "No, no—James Frazer. Was it James Frazer's book on mythology?"

"I dunno," Ray said with a shrug. "Did he give it to you?"

"I—no, look—"

"I mean, how'm I supposed to know which of your relatives—"

"Forget it," I said quickly. "Never mind. The chick. Which chick?"

"The chick in the book who's up and down like a yo-yo. Like us. Six months up, six months down. Something like—telephone."

I stared at Ray for a few moments and then something suddenly twisted and clicked into place. "Persephone," I said, feeling almost weak with relief. "Not like telephone. Like symphony."

Ray waved his hand. "Whatever."

"And it's eight months up, four months down," I corrected.

"Well, it sounds like she had the better idea," Ray retorted. "I mean, whadda we need six months in Chicago for, anyhow?"

I looked back at the television screen. "Six months of Inuvik will do you, believe me."

"I'm serious, Ben." Ray's voice was quiet and serious-sounding. "I'm not sure I wanna come back to this."

"That's just how you're feeling today."

Ray shifted beside me and blew out a frustrated breath. "Why are you giving me an argument about this? You should be happy."

I wasn't. I tried to focus my attention on the Oilers and the Blackhawks. I found myself missing older players—Wayne Gretzky, Jari Kurri, Mike Krushelnisky.

"You're not happy," Ray said, sounding surprised.

I sighed and rolled my head to look at him. "Can we postpone this conversation for a bit? Or do I have to decide right now?"

Ray was staring at me searchingly—and then suddenly he was grinning wryly. "Oh my god. You want to come back. You like Chicago."

"Of course I like Chicago," I snapped. "Do I look like a hostage?"

"Yeah, but— I thought you'd rather be home."

"Chicago's your home, isn't it?" I said pointedly.

"Well, yeah, but—" Ray stopped, grin widening, and sank deeper into the sofa cushions. "Man oh man. Who'da thunk? What got you? French fries? Easy video rental?" He poked me in the ribs, and I felt my bad mood lifting. "Indoor plumbing?"

I groaned softly. "All of it, all right?"

"Restaurants?" Ray teased. "Imported beer?"

"Yes," I confessed, adding: "Guacamole. Twenty-four hour dry cleaning. Your CD collection."

Ray slid closer to me and I let myself sink against him. "Aww. Yer sweet."

"Shut up, Ray," I muttered. He laughed and put his arm around me.

We went back to watching the game, but there was now a more interesting game going on on the sofa. Ray was pulling me closer, inch by inch, when he thought I wasn't paying attention. I made slow countermoves, keeping my eyes fixed on the screen—turning into him, shifting my legs against his. By the fourth quarter of the game, we were holding each other tightly, pressed so close that I only had to turn my head a couple of inches to kiss him.

His mouth instantly opened under mine, wet and warm. I shuddered with want.

"Ray?" I murmured finally.

"Hmm?" He kissed me again, not waiting for an answer, and this time his tongue was hot and heavy in my mouth.

When he pulled back, I tried again. "Ray."

"What?" I sighed; he wasn't going to make anything easy today.

"What you did earlier," I managed. "With the banana."

I felt a puff of laughter blow into my hair. "Yeah?"

"I want it."

"Of course you want it," Ray murmured, wetly licking my ear. "Every man alive wants it. It's the universal male demand." Ray's mouth brushed my cheek. "'Let me put it in you.'"

"Yes," I said instantly, my face growing hot.

"No—I mean—that's the universal male demand," Ray explained.


"But can I?"

"Yes," I said, and gently bit at his jaw. "Yes."

"Afterwards," Ray whispered. "First one and then the other, okay?"

"Okay," I whispered back, and then Ray's hands were at the waistband of my jeans, and he was kissing me hotly, pulling down my zipper, shoving the fabric away. My heart began to pound at the first, caressing touch of his hands.

Ray broke off the kiss abruptly. "Breathe," he ordered. I nodded quickly and took several deep breaths. Ray knew from long experience now that my instinct in these situations was to batten down and freeze up. "Don't forget to breathe, okay?"

"Okay," I promised.

Ray tugged his t-shirt off, up over his head, and let it fall to the floor. "Okay."

He gripped my arms and turned me toward him, then pressed his palm against my chest, encouraging me to lie back against the arm of the sofa. Breathe, I thought, and took a deep breath. And then I lay back, letting myself be moved where he would move me.

Ray shifted his position on the sofa, pulling my legs apart and settling himself on top and between them. "Breathe," he reminded me one last time, and then he bent his head to my manhood and pulled it into his mouth.

I gasped rhythmically for air, and felt Ray's other hand, the one not curled around the root of me, slide up under my shirt to caress my stomach. I knew him well enough to know what the gesture meant— he was pleased with me for breathing. When I wasn't breathing regularly, I didn't last—and Ray knew that what I wanted, above all else, was to last, for this to last. I wanted to feel every hot, sucking contraction of his mouth around me, every sweet lick of his tongue. I wanted to watch his face grow dreamy with sucking, watch Ray's eyes flutter closed as he tilted his head and moved his mouth around me. I wanted all of that, and Ray would give it to me. My part in it was simply to keep breathing, to keep breathing deep.

My fingertips were trembling, and I briefly clenched my hands into sweaty fists before reaching down to clutch Ray's bare shoulders. My gasps sounded nearly like sobs, now, and Ray's hand slid up my side to tell me that that was okay, that it was okay to breathe, and to tremble, and to make noise. It was going to last—we were going to last—and that was all about Ray keeping control and me losing mine.

Every few minutes Ray inhaled raggedly and then took me deep into his throat. The third time he did this pleasure swelled in me, blinding and huge. I was panting furiously now, chest heaving wildly—sure I was coming, I slid my hand into his short blond hair and held on. But Ray's hands gripped my hipbones tightly, holding me still, holding me down, holding me in his mouth. Slowly the edge blurred and receded, and Ray set upon me with a new, slow rhythm.

Soon I was boneless, drunk with pleasure and moaning erratically. Ray finally pulled his mouth off me and lifted his head. The air felt cool against my spit-slick erection, but only for a moment—Ray shifted forward, bent over me, and drew my erection against his chest near the solar plexus.

His palm cupped me protectively and he stroked me gently with a callused thumb. "Come on, now," Ray said softly. "It's time—give it up, give it up for me."

I was in a trance-like state, and I had to fight for focus. I took another deep breath and felt something deep inside of me relax—and then I saw, almost surreally, that my cock was spurting fluid onto Ray's chest, that Ray was cupping my cockhead to him and milky semen was leaking through his long, slim fingers.

Ray milked my penis for long minutes, and then he sat up and began to rub my semen into his skin. He knew I liked to smell myself on him, liked to mark him with my scent. I stared at him, struggling for breath; he was ferociously aroused, his nipples tight and dusky with blood. And an aroused Ray Kowalski was—was—well, better than sunlight on a snowmobile, that was for sure.

"Are you all right?" Ray's voice was hoarse.

I nodded mutely, not trusting myself to speak.

"Because I'm—" Ray's face tightened, and he squeezed his eyes shut. "I'm aching here..."

I took a deep breath, sat up, and reached to undo Ray's trousers. His erection looked painfully squeezed in his jeans, and he breathed out a sigh as I tugged his zipper down. I moved my hands to his face and pulled him into a deep kiss.

"Come on," I said, and found that my voice was hoarse too. "Let's go to bed."

He nodded and we stumbled to our feet, blazing through our evening routine—door locked, TV off, water for Dief, lights out. We didn't even bother putting on any lights in the bedroom—once we passed through the door, our hands were on each other, and we were blundering our way toward the bed.

Ray's hand fumbled over my shirt buttons, clumsily undoing them and then yanking the fabric down my arms. I shucked the shirt off and then reached for him, clutching him so that we were chest to chest. I inhaled deeply, smelled myself on him, and shuddered. "How do you want me?"

"On yer back," Ray muttered; his hand was in my hair, now, driving me backwards. "I wanna kiss you while we..."

My calves bumped the bed and I went down, pulling Ray with me. And then he was heavy on me in the darkness, kissing me and pulling me out of my jeans. We moved swiftly, economically, in unison—we'd done this dance together before, and we both knew the steps. Soon I was naked and on my back, a pillow propped beneath my hips, and Ray was hovering over me, his body hard and whipcord tough.

I wrapped my legs around his waist and waited for him to press into me.

The first time it had hurt. I remembered the pain, and the rush of despair. I can't, I'd thought frantically, I can't do it. I remember how he felt against me, blunt and impossibly huge. Ray's wiry, veined forearms had been wrapped around me, and he'd been gasping in my ear and murmuring "...slow...slow...easy..." But I was despondent, knowing it wasn't going to happen. He was too large, and I was way too uptight.

And then Ray's arms had tightened around me, and he'd kissed my ear, once, sloppily, and whispered, "Let me in, Frase. Please." And those words had hurt, because I wanted to let him in.   I wanted him with me and inside me.

I'd groaned and let my body relax—and then he was moving, pushing inside me slowly.  It had hurt, and I remember tears leaking out of my eyes even though I was squeezing them shut, trying to hold them back. And yet, it was good that it hurt, it was right that it hurt—because how could I have kept everyone out for so long and have it not hurt now?

The second time was better—my body remembered him and opened for him. And this time there was more pleasure than pain, and I remembered the shock of having the hard length of him inside me, and the jolts of ecstasy that seemed to come out of nowhere.

Now, it was easy—we'd done it countless times, and we'd gotten good at it. I liked it long and slow, and so did he. That made the game the same as before, a test of stamina and skill for both of us. I'd learned how to lose control, Ray'd learned how to take control, and we tested ourselves on each other's bodies again and again.

"Deep breath," Ray murmured, and obediently I took in a deep breath and held it. "Exhale," he directed, and he penetrated me swiftly on the out-breath, turning my exhalation into a cry of pleasure.

Ray moaned and squeezed his eyes shut. I held still, breathing steadily, giving him a moment to collect himself. After a moment he took a deep breath and opened his eyes.

"Ray? Are you all right?"

"Yeah. I'm good. It's good, Ben..." His fingertips skimmed my hips, trailed down my thighs, and then skimmed up again.

"Nice and slow," I whispered; I flexed my muscles around him, watching as he jerked with pleasure and then recovered himself.

"Right," Ray gasped. "Nice and slow," and then he leaned forward, kissed me, and began to move steadily within me.

It lasted forever, or what seemed like forever. He drove himself into me, jolting me with pleasure until pleasure was a faint, constant ringing in my ears. He held my head, he kissed me senseless, and I melted beneath him, opening completely. He'd said he was aching, and I wanted him to find relief in my body. Beyond that, I wanted to enjoy him, and for him to enjoy me.

So I held him while he moaned and sweated and rutted with me, and then finally his eyes went wild and he gasped, "Ben!—that's it—I can't—" The steady movement of his hips became erratic, and I hissed, "'s all's all right!" and he convulsed in my arms and flooded me.

We held each other tightly as the sweat cooled on our heated skins. We lay there, panting, with our arms round each other's necks and our legs intertwined. I felt Ray kiss my cheek and blurted, "If you want to stay up North, we'll stay. Whatever you want."

Ray kissed me again and whispered, "Nah. You're right—we're in the right groove."

"I—I want you more than I've ever wanted anyone." I groaned inwardly the moment the words passed my lips. It was true, of course, but I was sorry I'd said it. I didn't want to put Ray in an awkward position by giving him a compliment that he couldn't return.

Ray said nothing for a moment, and then he shifted slightly and buried his face in my neck. "I'm happy with you. It's better with you than it's been with anyone." He tightened his arms around me and whispered into my ear, "Tomorrow we'll get Mexican food. Burritos with extra guacamole. We'll make frozen margaritas and rent a video and fuck on the floor to La Bamba, which—"

"Which you just happen to have in your CD collection. I know, Ray."

"Hey, we've only got seven weeks and four days," Ray protested. "And we've got a lot of stuff to do—perps to bust, museums to visit, dry cleaners to patronize..."

I laughed up at the ceiling, amazed by the spinning, dizzying possibilities of it all.  

The End

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