Having to decide this on
the anniversary is just poetry. Fate. Something. A year to the day.
Doesn't seem possible it's been that long, but well... Here we go,
scene of the crime: Birnbaum and Rudolph. And I asked to see Comet
and Blitzen. Right. Twenty-ninth floor. Nothing like a mind for
details. Stella in that soft blue silk suit, sorta Easter egg colored.
And yeah, the earrings. Way to rub it in, Stell. Those gold earrings,
couldn't-afford-it birthday gift for hitting the big 3-0. The ones
that looked like shells kinda, the scallopy kind with ridges on
them. Details, yep. What I get for being a detective.
Lobby looks the same. Swanky polished
granite and glass public atrium thing. Couldn't find the elevators
without directions that first time. Three dollar coffees. Newspapers
from places I've never been. Shoeshine guy hidden in the corner
with the payphones. Still the same.
No need to go upstairs now, the
last time was enough. Jerkboy, Richard, passed that fat Waterman
across the conference room table and that was all she wrote. Kaputnik.
Official. Signed, notarized, suitable for framing. And there wasn't
even anyone to fight with or yell at by then. They didn't need that
thick carpet or soundproofed walls. Not for me.
When it was over, Stella... she
was cool. Not like she'd just admitted a major failure. And man,
she sure looked at home here in plush-land. Like Richard. Always
hated Richard, especially once I knew he'd asked Stella out in law
school. But leave it to Stella to keep that network open. Never
know when you're gonna need a good divorce lawyer.
Part of me can't help wondering
if things might've been different if I was more like Richard: sixty-K
in student loans paid off already, linen-blend business cards, and
this fancy-ass office on South Wacker. But what's funny, in that
way that isn't really funny at all, is that if I'd been like him
she might still be in love with me today, but she probably never
would have fallen in love with me in the first place. She still
works in the State's Attorney's office, not here. Right? Stella,
Stella, Stella, you're one crazy mixed up chick. I don't know. Maybe
it is funny. Yeah, and I'm laughing on the inside.
The Stellazoic Era was twenty-three
years. The Emptylithic? One and counting. What the hell am I supposed
to do now?
All right, stop it. This isn't helping.
Supposed to be making a decision, not wallowing. So far, the little
trips down memory lane have gotten me exactly nowhere. Less than
two hours to call the Lieu. So what now, keep playing This Is
Your Life, Ray Kowalski? Huh. More like, This Is Your Life,
Of Which You No Longer Have One.
Pass the newsstand again on my way
out, and the title of Ring World catches my eye. Something
about the guy on the cover... big, good looking, familiar... Sugarman!
Wow. One of Franco Devlin's kids from the Community Center hit the
big time. Man, have I ever been out of it.
And for a crazy instant, I start
to walk on by. Like I can't buy a copy. Like Stella's gonna get
home and see it, and give me a bunch of yadda that adds up to: boxing's
for lowlifes. You'd think the days when she got off on it never
happened. When she'd come down to the gym after class and breathe
in all that sweat, liniment, and blood, then fuck my brains out
the minute we got back to her room.
Used to. Before. I turn back and
reach past the rows of out of town newspapers to pull a copy of
Ring World off the stand.
"Should read it in my underwear,"
I mutter, handing over a five.
Newsstand guy forks over my change,
looking at me like I'm a loon. And maybe I am one, but it feels
damned good. Hell of a lot better than I felt the last time I walked
out of this building, that's for sure. I tuck the Ring World
under my arm, swing around to take one last look at the lobby, and
revolve back onto the street. Sun's bright off all the Loop's glass
and chrome, making me squint against the glare while I pat around
for my shades. Spring kind of snuck up on me this year, but all
of a sudden it's warm and green, and chicks are in short skirts,
so I guess it's here.
Get to the Crown Vic and notice
a new ding in the driver's side door. Some moron must've sideswiped
it trying to park. Too noticeable not to report. Great. More paperwork.
Car's such a piece of crap, thin as a soda can. Why the hell do
they buy these things? God, I miss the GTO. Wonder if Dad still
even has it, out in Arizona. Stupid to give it back.
Stop it. Focus.
I get in the soda can, chuck the
magazine on the passenger seat, and sit a minute tapping the steering
wheel. Should I do this? It's kind of a nutty idea, cover for a
cover. Not like I'm going to fool anyone, I don't even look Italian.
Must've been a fun meeting, where they thought of me: 'Oh hey, let's
get Kowalski! He's got nothing to lose.' Right, thanks. Not sure
what to make of the 'oh yeah, your partner's Canadian' thing, either.
Canadian. Stupid Blue Jays. Just because we call it the World
Series doesn't mean anyone else is supposed to win.
Now what? Less than two hours. What
I really want is a beer, but that's probably a bad idea. What the
hell, Lincoln Park. The lagoon. Yeah, me and Dad fishing for carp
with balls of dough smashed out of Wonder Bread when I was like
twelve. Before Stella and hormones took over my last brain cell.
I head up Michigan and park below
the Zoo, past the bandshell. Park is pretty, flowers, smells good,
fresh. Lots of kid sounds now, getting louder, and I remember it's
that playground Dad would take me to sometimes after fishing if
we didn't catch anything. Like compensation. That was more like
when I was eight though, or maybe ten, because somewhere around
there after a lousy fish day, Dad suggested it and it was embarrassing
all of a sudden. But I don't really remember now how old you get
before you don't want to climb on monkey bars and be happy you're
a kid. Not like I'm gonna find out anytime soon. Wonder how long
it'd have taken me to figure out that all of Stella's not yet's
really just meant no.
The sounds, the shrieks and laughter
draw me and I want to see if the playground is how I remember it.
I'm usually pretty good at recalling the details of stuff like this,
but the scale seems all out of whack. Everything looks so small.
The black painted iron fence is new, and the clothes are kind of
different, but the sound is just the same. And the way one kid can
walk up to another kid who doesn't look too stupid and say "hey,
you wanna play?" and you're good to go, best of buddies just
like that. At least until you hit twelve or whatever and you've
seen enough Steve McQueen movies to know you're a dork, and it's
too embarrassing to even go fishing with your dad, forget about
playing in a playground.
The upshot is, being a grown-up
kinda sucks. Especially in a place like Chicago where everybody
's already got all the friends they want, or they're too busy, or
at least they want you to think they are. Maybe what I need is a
change. Change of scene, change of luck. Whole new life. Nothing
to lose, right? Nothing left to lose.
Dig out the cell and call the Lieu.
He answers on the second ring.
"All right, I'll do it, I'm in. You got yourself a Vecchio."
Never trashed a car that
bad before. Not even a shell left to salvage. Blew it up and sank
it down. Vecchio'll be royally pissed when he gets back. Can't say
I blame him. Sure, Riv's never really turned my crank -- and that
color! Puke-o-rama. But at least the guy has an actual car. Had.
Guess now I'm back to driving a fleet soda can.
So I don't know what's the matter
with me that I'm thinking flying into 'the lake they call Michigan'
on the verge of fiery death with an unhinged Mountie and a big,
deaf wolf was the most fun I've had on the job in... well, ever.
Hell, even taking that slug in the chest was no big deal, and hello,
how nuts is that? All of a sudden I'm so smug and happy he called
me "Ray" I forget I could have just been killed a thousand
My new partner. Talk about making
Benton Fraser is like an anvil dropping
out of the sky in one of those Warner Brothers cartoons. I studied
Vecchio's case files up, down, left and right, and there's still
no way I would have been prepared for him. Welsh, Huey, they tried,
but I cannot believe this guy is for real. The jacket, the hat,
the sincerity, the wolf. Impossible. And what the hell is
a guy that good looking doing working as a cop for, anyway? Damn,
if I looked like him... well, I bet Janie wouldn't've rather been
staying home to treat her dog's foot fungus than go out dancing,
for one thing.
Come on, stop it. Back on the horse,
no biggie. Janie's just a girl, Elaine too. Plenty of fish in the
Anyway, we got 'em. Duet, huh. Lennon
and McCartney, Leopold and Loeb...
Bonnie and Clyde...
And for a second, all I can hear
in my head is Stella's husky, in-the-mood laugh when she'd say "Bonnie
and Clyde" and straddle my legs on the big white chair in our
old living room. That whole dirty partners-in-crime thing. Way more
fun to play the bank robber than the kid who pissed his pants. Mmm...
God, Stell... look out, we're dangerous. And it seems like
forever ago. So far away, like in a dream.
Don't go there, just do not even
I shake myself out of it and look
up to see Fraser coming out of Welsh's office. Surprised me when
he said he'd come back here after I dropped him at the Consulate
to dry off and change. Wanted to help with booking Greta Garbo,
and the paperwork. The paperwork! Pretty cool. Of course, he was
the one getting stalked, but I get the feeling he'd have come back
to help out anyway.
Kinda neat to see him out of uniform
-- jeans, leather jacket. Doesn't look so much like someone who'd
go charging into a burning house or climb around on a moving car
anymore. Doesn't look so... official, either. Just a regular guy.
A really nice, regular guy. And I wonder if we were friends like
he is with Vecchio and my apartment was on fire, if he'd run back
in to rescue the turtle. Probably. Seems to think of little things
When I see him, I remember the postcard
I found on top of the pile of mail on my desk when I got back from
taking Garbo down to lockup. I scoop it up and bring it over to
"This turned up on my desk.
It's for you. What do you make of it?"
I hand him the postcard. He looks
at the picture, flips it over, reads the back.
"It's a message."
I'm about to make another 'there
you go again, stating the obvious' crack, but something about the
way he said it makes me stop. He means a message, like significant.
"Something I should worry about?"
A single day with Fraser's enough for me to understand that the
kind of weirdness that went down today is not going to be a one-time
He reaches over and grabs Jimmy's
lighter off the computer desk, flicks it open, and waves the flame
behind the postcard. One of those invisible ink type deals. The
snowy mountain lake photo starts to fade away, and you can see that
hidden beneath it is a picture of Fraser and a big-nosed, slick
haired guy -- Vecchio -- looking buddy-buddy.
What with all the craziness and
excitement today, it isn't really until now that it sinks in, how
shitty it must've been for Fraser to come back from vacation to
find his home gone, for one thing, and then this whole switcheroo
we pulled on him to boot. Suddenly, this doesn't feel like just
a job any more. Vecchio's not just some name and a made up story
and case files to memorize. The guy's got a family. A partner...
a friend. I wanted to change my life. Fraser didn't get a choice.
And for the first time since I took this assignment, I'm having
second thoughts about it.
"No, no. No, everything's all
right." Fraser's looking at the picture of him and Vecchio,
and he sounds quiet, thoughtful. Then he returns his attention to
me. "Everything is actually fine."
"Okay. Well..." He does
look all right, but I feel funny. Want to give him a little privacy.
Some space. I start heading over to the file cabinets to finish
off the Garbo forms, when I hear him say my name.
"Hey, Ray." When I turn
around, Fraser's still standing there by the desk, and he's looking
at me with an expression that's somehow, dunno... familiar. "Would
you like to go and get something to eat with me?"
"Yeah. I just got to, uh, I'll
put away these files and meet you at the car."
"All right. Good."
Right. We are. We're good.
Coffee's even worse than
usual. Watery and bitter. Yuck. It's bad enough this instant garbage
will never come out like Stella's with the fresh ground beans and
all, but I've been out of sugar for what, three days now. Throwing
those chocolates in there seemed like a good idea, but I must've
been pretty desperate to think they'd really work.
Notice it more this morning. Get
to the bottom and there's these partly melted candy shells that
taste kinda waxy and wrong from soaking in this lousy stuff, and
you'd think I'd have learned my lesson by now. Maybe if I ran the
water a little hotter... But somewhere inside I know I'll drink
it anyway, and it doesn't really matter. So I forget to stop at
the store. Glutton for punishment. I must be.
Set the mug down on the nightstand
and sit on the edge of the bed. Just need to wallow a few minutes
more. Definitely have to have my head screwed on a little tighter
these days. Never know what kind of lunacy I'm going to face when
I show up for work since I became Ray Vecchio.
Lunacy, yeah. I shake my head and
smile thinking about how sweet it was to bamboozle that Brandauer
mook with all his tough talking crap about taking down Welsh and
the whole 2-7. Yeah, it's just my adopted district and all, but
that really made me see red. Remember Stella telling me what a disgrace
Brandauer was to the State's Attorney's office. Understatement of
the year there, Stell, understatement of the year.
Anyway, guess I'm glad Fraser showed
up at my little stake out and didn't let me chuck the badge after
all. I did need to see Ellery, did need to confront him -- but I
lost my head when I saw that obit notice about his mother and I
know I wasn't thinking straight when I left here.
Funny how humiliation stays with
you like that. So much detail I can close my eyes and see it in
technicolor. But now that I've had some time to think about it,
I know Ellery was just the trigger. The accelerant. What happened
with him in that bank set me on a road, and Stella's wanting to
be a lawyer helped me along, but I wouldn't have done it, wouldn't
have stuck with it -- wouldn't have fucked up things with Dad so
totally -- if being a cop wasn't something I really wanted too.
Letting Ellery go felt
Getting rid of a weight or something. Maybe I was right that it
started with him, but it doesn't end with him, because after
he was gone, in a funny kind of way, I felt more like a cop than
ever. And I thought about that stuff Fraser said again, about feeling
good knowing people can tuck their kids in at night 'cause we're
and it was
and I'd kind of forgotten
He's a good guy, Fraser. Weird as
all get-out. I mean, telling that story about getting eagle feathers
while we're running around in the cemetery? Like there wasn't anything
else pressing going on at the moment. Like, oh, say, bullets whizzing
past our heads. Bullets. I've been shot at more times in the week
since I took this gig than I have been in all my years on the job
put together. Mountie, what is that, Canadian for 'magnet'? Magnet
for trouble. And a target, sheez. Haven't Canadians ever heard of
But nice, yeah. Remembers Vecchio's
birthday, organizes a party -- freaky as hell party, but a party
nonetheless. It's sort of a shame we're such opposites and probably
won't wind up real tight or anything, but I'm glad at least he thinks
we can be work-type friends. I think we can too. Partners, friends
that would be good.
I look over at the window where
the dream-catcher thingy's hanging. I know he meant to make that
for Vecchio originally, and instead wound up making it for me. Seems
dumb to be feeling any kind of jealousy towards Vecchio considering
his skinny neck's in a hell of a lot deeper water playing masquerade
games with the Mafia in Vegas than mine is, safe at home, playing
him. Guess it's just weird getting a taste of someone else's life
and wanting what they've got a little bit. Like an honest to God
best friend. Stella was always mine.
Okay, wallowing over. Time to go to work.
Gym at the Community Center
looks the same as it did, what, twelve years ago? When I used to
box here. God, I'm getting old. Hell, it probably looks the same
as it did in 1963 or whenever it opened. Not like they've gotten
any new gear or anything since then. Same old heavy bag with the
stuffing poking out around patches of duct tape. Duct tape. Dad
always said there was nothing in the world you couldn't fix between
duct tape and wire coat hangers. Right. Thank you for that Nostalgia
I look around for any familiar faces,
and notice bunches of guys in gang colors gathered around the different
rings. Must be some new off-the-streets program. Mess of Cabrini's
let out a whoop and I look up to see what they're so excited about.
Huh. One of the kids sparring looks pretty good. Rough around the
edges, sure, but moves well, got instincts. A fighter.
I almost jump out of my skin at
the phlegmy voice and the heavy mitt that lands on my shoulder.
Step back to see who it is that snuck up on me, and bite back a
laugh. Jimbo Murphy, crazy old coot. Talk about familiar faces.
"Jesus, Murphy. I've seen guys
in the morgue looking better than you."
I joke to shake off my surprise,
but he is a pretty brutal sight. I don't know how the hell old Murphy
must be by now, because he's always seemed ancient with the grey
hair and the cigars-and-whiskey voice, and considering all the busted
noses and times his jaw's been wired, he was never an oil painting
to begin with. But now he's kinda pokey too, a shell of himself:
stooped in the shoulders, hair mostly gone, sweats all bagged out
where his shape used to be.
"Still making it up in mouthiness,
"Vecchio," I cut him off,
then pull my badge and add quietly, "Ray Vecchio, Chicago PD."
Murphy's seen enough shady deals
in his day, he doesn't even bat an eyelash at my new ID. Just takes
it in stride.
"Kid in the ring. One you're
watching. Name's Levon Jefferson. Not bad, huh?"
"Won a few league fights already
on potential and guts. But, you know, that only gets you so far."
"Yeah," I agree, half
listening, watching the sparring match end.
"So, you looking for someone,
I turn back to Murphy and smile.
Guess if half your regulars are bangers, suspicion is normal.
"Nah. Just got curious to see
how the old place was doing. Had a little time on my hands."
"Miss it, huh?" Now Murphy
smiles back, and I get a flash of mostly fake teeth. They must be
fake, because there's more of them than I remember. "I heard
about you and the wife. Sorry, kid."
"Yeah. Me too."
"Guess that means you got a
little more of that free time on your hands these days, huh?"
"Rub it in." I laugh.
"Now I remember what I loved about you."
"All I'm saying, Ray, is it's
good to see you back. And if you were ever interested... there are
some kids here could use a guy like you. Levon, there. Little guidance
might help him get to the next level."
"Uh, Murphy, maybe you took
a few too many blows to the head over the years or something, but
look at me -- I'm no trainer. I'm not in shape. I haven't even set
foot in the ring in like a decade."
"You were never a great fighter,
Can't help but crack a grin at that.
"But you know the sweet science.
And you're smart. You'd be a hell of a lot better than what that
kid's got now."
Murphy jerks his head in the direction
of the sparring ring, and I see Levon climbing down, taking pats
on the back and a towel from a couple of the Cabrini's.
"Levon's good, but he's vulnerable,
if you catch my drift. He's not using or dealing, yet. But you know
how it goes."
I sigh, knowing Murphy's got me.
"Think he'd even want help from a cop?"
"Only one way to find out," Murphy croaks, flashing those phonies again and slapping my shoulder. "C'mon, I'll introduce you."
"Frannie, you got that
file on the Mullen brothers yet?"
I'm afraid if I pick my head up to look for her, I'll lose my place, and starting over is not an attractive option. Can't believe Fraser actually offered to help me. Not that I'm not grateful, but who in their right mind would volunteer to go through LUDs? Although I guess the jury's still out on whether Fraser's really in his right mind.
"Here you go, bro."
Frannie drops the folder smack over
the spot I was reading. Thanks a bunch. I glance up to give her
a little what-for, and her ass is like, right in my face. Christ,
where does she even buy pants that tight?
"Hi Frase," she's doing
her purring thing now, voice gone all honey, and she brushes her
hip against Fraser's shoulder as she walks away from my desk.
Fraser's still looking down at the
stack of paper in front of him, but his ears are starting to redden.
Huh. And I thought I was going to be the one having a tough time
with Frannie working here. If she came on to me every day like that,
I'd say to hell with the fake sister thing and have her bent her
over the desk in a heartbeat. So I don't know what's up with Fraser,
if it's because of Vecchio, or if he's really that old fashioned,
"Yeah," I glance up and
Fraser's passing a phone log page across the desk with one line
circled in pencil, in that super-neat way of his.
"Have a look at that."
He seems to be over his Frannie-trauma,
anyway, because he's got that 'we got 'em' gleam in his eye and
I can't help but smile.
I look down at the paper and see
what Fraser's highlighted: one call from Joe Mullen's apartment
to Nicky Fotiu's cell phone the night before the murder. Bingo.
Even Stella will be happy with a paper trail this tight.
"All right, let's go pay our
friend Nicky a visit, maybe he'll sing us a song." I jump up
and pat my pockets to make sure I've got my keys. Fraser grabs his
hat, wakes up Dief with a tap on the head, and we're off.
It's almost funny how well we work together, after only what, a month? Out of all the partners I've ever had, I can't think of anyone who seems more different from me than Fraser. But, for whatever reason, we're on the same wavelength so often it's kind of spooky. Hell, the way we're going, I'm almost starting to feel sorry for the bad guys.
Well, maybe I don't quite feel sorry for Nicky Fotiu. Not if he's the drug pushing, murdering scumbucket we think he is. We stand out on the stoop where he sets up shop most days, doing the polite cop, bad cop thing on him for a while, but I can't tell now whether the kid is just playing dumb, or if he still honestly doesn't realize we've got him nailed.
"Perhaps then, you could explain the nature of the phone call you received from Mr. Mullen on the evening of the twenty-sixth?" Fraser asks in that patience-of-a-saint voice.
Fotiu starts shifting from foot to foot, eyes darting around all over the place. "Uh, Mr. Mullen?"
"Yeah, dumbass, Joey Mullen. You know, the guy that hired you to whack Cooper," I say, in my trust-me-buddy,-I-don't-have-the-patience-of-a-saint voice.
"Um, I don't know no, uh..." Fotiu starts shifting around again, leaning back against the door to the building. I exchange a quick glance with Fraser, catch his expression -- a barely raised eyebrow -- which nobody else would be able to read, but I know means he thinks something's queer with Fotiu too, like he's about to make a break for it.
And then he does. Fotiu twists and shoves the door open, dashing up the stairs like a maniac, yanking up his sweatpant leg and pulling a .22 out of his sock all at the same time. Damned kid's like twenty-one, and pumped with adreneline. We start off after him, Fraser first of course, which makes me nuts, and I pull my gun to cover us. Three, four, five... yeah ... five flights later we hit the roof access door, just slamming back in our faces with Fotiu on the other side.
By the time we get the door open again, Fotiu's already disappearing onto the fire escape down the far wall. He pops up just long enough to fire a few rounds at us, but he's scared, shooting wild. Fraser takes off across the roof after him, yelling back to me to meet him on the street. The last I see of him is a flash of red swinging onto the fire escape. God, it makes me crazy when he pulls shit like this without a damned gun. But I know it's our best chance to catch Fotiu, so I run back to the building and down the stairs, calling in for backup on my way.
"Fraser!" I yell, hitting
the street and turning the corner back into the alley, but wouldn't
you know it, Fraser's already got Fotiu tackled face down on the
sidewalk. Jesus, that was fast. Maybe Frase is only thirty-six in
dog years or something.
We get the kid patted down, cuffed and Mirandized by the time backup shows. We hand him over to Huey to bring in while me and Fraser look over the roof and the alley for the spent shells and the stash he must've ditched.
Fraser exhales deeply, still recovering
from his sprint. I pat his shoulder.
"Yeah," he admits, sounding
a little surprised.
"Sending you after perps is
like exercising the wolf, Frase. Gotta keep you fit and happy."
"I hardly think that's a fair
comparison." He's trying to sound dismissive, but the look
he shoots me says he knows I'm teasing him. I think he likes it.
That triggers a grin I couldn't fight if I wanted to.
"Did you, or did you not spend
your last vacation chasing a litterbug halfway across the Canadian
"I suppose, in a manner of
"I'll take that as a 'yes'."
I put up my hand to stop him before he can launch into one of those
longwinded reasonable sounding explanations that never actually
make any sense.
"Well..." He looks for
a sec like he might argue some more, but instead he breaks into
a smile. "Perhaps."
People don't tease Fraser very much.
They make fun of him plenty, but that's different. You've got to
know someone to really tease them, and I'm actually getting to where
I know Fraser a little bit. Go figure.
Fotiu spills big time on the Mullen
brothers once we get him down at the station. It's a good bust and
Welsh is happy. He lets me and Huey knock off early and I kind of
wish Fraser hadn't had to go back to the Consulate for his shift,
'cause I'd have asked him to hang a little, come out for a beer.
But he doesn't drink anyway.
Guess it's that leftover Chinese
then. Been out 'liaising ' so much lately, I hope it hasn't gone
bad. Can't tell if this is the stuff from Saturday or not, damn
cartons all look the same. As I line the suspects up on the bar
for the big sniff test, I notice the answering machine light blinking.
Punch the play button and go to undo the flaps on the first carton
when Mom's voice freezes me in place. She sounds weird, hesitant.
"Stanley? Please give me a
call when you get the chance. There's something you should know.
It's ... it's about Stella."
I put the food back down and just
stand there a minute, drumming my fingers against the bar. Don't
want to have heard in Mom's voice what I damn well know is there.
Check my watch and count back for Arizona time. Three o'clock, she'll
Shit. If Mom's breaking a confidence,
this is gonna be seriously bad.
Stella's seeing someone.
And there they are in front
of the restaurant, just like Mom said they'd be. I pull the car
up to the curb slowly and watch in the side view mirror. So that's
what he looks like, Mr. Alderman Orsini. Wonder how much he spends
on keeping up that tan. Jerk.
Damn, he's got his filthy paws all
over her! And what the hell is she thinking, wearing that skimpy
little dress? She's practically naked!
Fraser's voice catches me by surprise.
Forgot he was in the car with me for a sec.
"Well, kissing right out in
the middle of the street like that. Flaunting it all over the place."
"I didn't realize you were
Prudish! That's rich coming from
the guy who makes like a tomato every time Frannie says 'hello'
to him. Prudish. I feel like telling Fraser I was married, not brain
dead. Funky, sweet, dirty, whatever, whoever -- you name it, I've
thought it. But I don't want to shock him.
"Me? Hey, that's not it, I'll
try anything. That's not the point."
The point is, that's not just some
PYT in spaghetti straps getting her ass fondled for the enjoyment
of every idiot on the street. The point is...
"The point is we got laws in
this city and I'm sworn to enforce them. And one of those laws bans
lascivious acts." I hand Fraser the old Criminal Code book
I stuffed between the seats, without taking my eyes off Stella and
that pig. "Thank you very much, Fraser. Page 118. And that,
my friend, is definitely a lascivious act."
"You know, Ray, this is the
1890 Illinois Criminal Code."
I look again and they're still going
at it, her clutching at Orsini like he's some big wonderful hero.
I really must be a glutton for punishment. It hurts even more than
I thought it would -- this dull, throbbing ache centered right in
the pit of my stomach. Don't know why I thought I needed to see
this. To make it real?
Damn, Stella. Him? Connected guy.
Influence guy. Rich guy.
Right, like it would feel okay if
it was someone else? A plumber, mailman, another cop? No. Capital
N, capital O.
But there is something extra knife in the guts about seeing that Stell's finally become her father's daughter after all her swearing she never would. Makes me wonder if you really can't fight your fate. And I wonder what mine is going to be. Because what I thought it was is out there on the sidewalk with a bunch of dumb yellow flowers and a guy who isn't me.
Yeah. Mistake. I know. I know that.
Instead I wake up on my own sofa in the middle of the afternoon,
dick sore from jerking off and exhausted from dancing with shadows
half the night. But that's not real enough. There's nobody here
Guess at least I should be glad
all this happened before she got too involved with Mr. Dirty Politician.
Oh yeah, I'm a regular humanitarian.
Stop it. Just stop. I shouldn't
even care. It's none of my business anymore. Shouldn't be.
But damn, I hate that Stella can
still yank me around like that, reel me in, throw me back. And I
let her, I keep letting her.
It's good that I left. Good. For
me. Because she doesn't want me. Not the way I need her to, or she
never would have actually gone through with signing the fucking
divorce papers. This isn't like the other times we split up. It's
been over thirteen months, and she's gone, and the sooner
I get that through my thick skull, the sooner I can get on with
Whatever. Jesus, I need to clean
this place up. Laundry, shopping. Yeah, that's it. No more thinking,
And the errands help, carry me through
the rest of the afternoon, but when I get back home, I'm as bummed
as ever. Think about trying to track down Levon for some training
at the gym, but my heart and my head just aren't there. Try and
listen to some CDs for a while instead, ones that don't remind me
of Stella -- except they all remind me of her, even if it's just
knowing which ones I had when we were together and which ones I
I crouch down in front of the aquarium
to check on the turtle. He's out on his rock, sitting there quiet,
like he's thinking about his problems. You and me both, little guy.
How about some snails, huh? Maybe a little UV lamp action, keep
the ol' shell nice and healthy.
And I wind up sitting there a long
time, me and the turtle, hanging out listening to music. He doesn't
move a whole lot, just blinks once in a while. Zen master. I wonder
if it's okay that I've got him here like this. Like in a cosmic
kind of way. Maybe I should drive him down to Lincoln Park and set
him free in the lagoon. I don't know. Maybe he would meet a girl
he really liked. Maybe he'd get eaten.
This is sad. I turn off the stereo
and flop onto the sofa. Not even eight and I'm tired again. Not
sleepy tired, worn out. Grope around between the couch cushions
for the remote, turn on the TV, and I'm surprised at how much light
it throws. Gotten this dark and I didn't even bother turning a lamp
on. Way to be motivated. I zap through the stations three times,
then watch the what's on channel for a while in case I missed something,
but there's zip. Nothing even on the channels I don't get.
Ray, my friend, you may be depressed,
you may be pathetic, but there is no way in hell you're going to
sit here all night watching the what's on channel. And this is the
thing about being single that really blows. Nights like this when
I'm not working and there's nothing on TV, no good movies, not even
a ball game. When I don't know what to eat for dinner, or when to
go to bed. What to do with myself. Nobody to talk to. No one to
Well... there's Fraser. I could
call him. We're friends.
Wow. We are. I could. He's probably
just holed up there at the Consulate reading some book on moose
migration or something. Wonder if he's eaten yet. Eight o'clock,
shit, he's probably sleeping already. I feel bad enough for breaking
in on him the other night. Stop it, stupid. Just call him. He didn't
mind. What if... Call!
He answers on the second ring. Doesn't
sound like I woke him up at least.
"Hello Ray. Is everything all
"Yeah, fine. You know."
What the hell am I doing? This is beyond dumb. Bugging Fraser. This
is lame, this is...
"Look, you had dinner yet?"
"Well," he says, and hesitates
and I know that means the answer is 'yes', but he doesn't want to
"S'alright," I say, to
let him off the hook. "It's late anyway, I'll just grab some..."
"Although I wouldn't mind going
out for a cup of tea."
"Tea?" And I'm actually
about to be stupid enough to remind Fraser that he has like ten
thousand different kinds of tea in the kitchen at the Consulate
they keep around for all the diplomats from different countries
that visit. It's like the United Nations of tea over there. But
he said he wouldn't mind going out for a cup of tea. Gotcha.
So, we wind up at the diner near
the 2-7, which, while not exactly famous for their tea, makes a
reliable cheeseburger deluxe and I haven't eaten all day. There's
something strangely comforting about sitting in this booth, under
these dumb too bright fluorescents, now that Fraser's here with
me. He's in casual mode, jeans and a worn-out flannel shirt that
might start to look kinda ratty on anybody else. But Fraser looks
like he could do ads for a 4x4. Like, buy our truck and you might
actually take that fishing trip you've been talking about for the
past ten years. And you might look all rugged and cool and handsome
while you're at it. Right.
At first we just make small talk
while I devour my burger and he sips at his tea. Stuff about some
cases, Turnbull's latest stupidity, how Elaine's doing as a uniform.
But once the edge is off my appetite, and my nerves begin to settle,
I start wanting to bring up all the things I've been trying to avoid
even thinking about since I walked away from Stella's apartment.
I don't mean to do it, but somehow Fraser's being here feels so
reassuring I find myself just letting go.
"I mean, look at me, Fraser.
I am what I've always been. Just some working class schmo. Kinda
skinny, no great student, can't see too good... and Stella ...she
was, you know, she was the impossible dream."
"Yeah, a duet. Well, that plus..."
And I feel a little pink, imagining this quick, mental crazy quilt
of naked Stella while at the same time remembering how I'd said
the duet thing to Fraser when we first met.
"Understood," he says,
a little too quickly, clearing his throat. And I don't know why,
but it's pretty fun to tease him, even by accident. I find myself
fighting a smile, and suddenly the words are just flowing.
"I mean, it wasn't always roses.
We split a bunch of times, but we always came back. Got to where
I didn't know anything else, couldn't imagine life without her."
I push my plate away. "So, at first when things started to
change after we got married, I wasn't too worried 'cause, well
we'd done that dance before."
Fraser nods, watching me intently.
He really pays attention when you talk. I become aware of it, how
his head cocks slightly to the side, eyes focused, sharp. On me.
It feels kinda funny. Not bad-funny. Definitely not bad. Just...
it's still weird having anyone listen to what I have to say like
it matters so much. Especially a guy like him. I blink, and for
a second, I can see almost from a distance, objectively. All the
little details that make up Fraser. And he seems impossible again:
too smart, too good looking, too clean to be here. To be
a cop, sitting in a greasy cop diner in downtown Chicago, taking
in the sob story of my busted marriage like it was some great opera
or something. But then I blink again, and it's just my friend, sitting
there across the table, waiting for me to go on.
"I don't know how to explain
it, Frase. I say it was the two careers thing, I say it was stress,
but I don't think that's what really killed us."
"What do you think happened?"
"I think... she just grew up.
I think she fell in love with all the stuff that made me different
from guys she knew, and I... man, believe me, I played into that
for all it was worth. But when she got a little older, I don't think
she wanted someone different anymore. She wanted someone the same.
Someone like she thought Orsini was."
"Anyway, we were just kids."
I shrug, smoothing the wrinkles out of a paper soda straw wrapper
with my thumbnail. "I only wish I hadn't been so blind. It's
like she made a turn somewhere that I missed, and there I was for
God knows how many years, going along, talking to myself like she
was right there beside me when she was really long gone."
And I realize this might be the
first time I've ever spilled all this so completely, and I'm not
sure what it is that's letting me. If it's time, or Fraser, or both.
Whatever it is, it feels so good to get it off my chest, finally.
I feel lighter, easier, than I have since Mom told me about Stella
dating Frank Orsini in the first place.
"And then, you say, she moved
"Yeah. She thought she had
to. We kept winding up back in bed together otherwise."
Zing. Gotcha, buddy. Fraser
looks down at the table, color creeping up from his collar. So predictable.
I still don't get what it is with him. You'd think there wouldn't
be much else to do in an igloo or whatever, and it's not like Fraser'd
be short on volunteers to keep him warm.
"S'okay, that's just how we
were. Barely speaking anymore, but we could still do that. And dance.
We could... we can still dance together like nobody's business."
"I remember. You seemed to
fit each other very well."
Yeah, we did. And now we don't.
And I gotta learn how to move on already. Quit dancing with memories.
But I don't know how. It's been too long. Too long.
I notice the clock against the back
wall and we've both got the early shift tomorrow.
"Look, thanks for letting me
jaw at you like this, Frase," I say, throwing enough to cover
the bill onto the table, and putting my hand up to stop him from
even trying to pay for that little cup of tea.
Unlike a lot of people, I know Fraser actually means it. And for all the grousing I do about humping this job, and having to pretend to be something and someone I'm not -- well, at least I got this.
I watch Fraser's back disappear
into the Consulate, that big door closing behind him. Hope he's
gonna be all right. Poor guy. Don't know if dinner tonight helped
him at all, but what the hell, at least I think it distracted him
for a couple of hours.
Never seen him so interested in
a woman before, but that Janet, she really got to him. Huh. Weird.
I guess I always figured if it was gonna be easy for anyone, it'd
be easy for Fraser. I mean, look at him. And he's nice, smart.
A little annoying sometimes, sure, but who isn't?
I don't know.
So, does it make me a good friend
or a bad friend that I'm so glad she's gone? I mean, never mind
the little fact that she's married. Just something about her rubbed
me the wrong way from the get go. And her kids were bratty. Fraser
can do better than that.
Drive away from the Consulate, start
to head for home. It's funny. We're both single guys, me and Fraser,
but it never even occurs to me that we should go out, out.
I mean, where the hell in Chicago is a guy like Fraser gonna go
to meet women? I try and imagine him sitting in a bar or something,
sober and squinting in the smoke, getting hit on in totally rude
ways left and right by all the wrong people and I think I pretty
well have the picture right there.
And hell, now I'm depressed.
Because what am I going to do right now? Go home and stare at the
walls. Jerk off and think about Stella. Jerk off and try not
to think about Stella. Except that's a load of crap, isn't it, because
no matter who, no matter what I try and think about instead, somewhere,
somehow it changes into Stella. That picture in my head, that vision
of her, always intrudes. Still.
Right. Or I could go to Farrell's for a drink.
Yeah, crunch through the peanut
shells on the floor, elbow my way up to the bar, wait 20 minutes
to get a beer I'm either gonna down way too quick, or nurse for
an hour. Hope that woman isn't there, God, can't even remember her
name. What an awful night that was. Never got the fuck-and-run thing
before. Never wanted to. Smelling her perfume on my jacket the next
day. Just weird, wrong, bad.
Home. Go home.
"So tonight's the big
night, huh, huh?" I throw a teasing jab at Levon's head.
"Yo, cut that out!" he
yells, but he's laughing, excited.
I am too. This is big. Bigger than
big. This is major.
"What, guy gets one lousy fight
against a pro, now you're too much of a superstar to kid around,
huh?" I whack him upside the head, then duck his return.
"Come on, man!"
"Okay, all right, Mr. Big Shot."
I chuck him a towel and we climb down from the ring.
He looks good. He's worked hard.
Don't know if it'll be enough against Deron Martin -- lord knows
Franco Devlin wouldn't train a fighter who's a chump -- but Levon's
done his bit and then some. I'm really proud of him.
"So, your Aunt Winona gonna
come tonight?" I ask, and immediately wish I'd bitten my tongue.
Levon looks down at the floor. "Nah,
she don't come down here. She uh
"Yeah, my ex-wife didn't get
boxing either," I say, even though I suspect the real reason
Levon's aunt won't come is because she doesn't like his friends,
and the Cabrini's will be out in force tonight. "I, uh, I invited
a couple of people to come, if that's okay."
"Are they, uh
hesitates. We got ourselves an unspoken agreement, me and Levon,
and we're teetering on the edge of it. He gives me no grief for
being a cop, I don't hassle him about the gang thing. So far, clear
"Yeah they are, but they're
cool. No worries, okay?"
"Yeah all right."
I slap him on the shoulder.
"Come on, let's go see if Murphy's
got a last minute scouting report on this Deron clown, huh? Then
you go home and rest up, get some sleep, you hear me? No hanging
with your homies, no uh, getting friendly with the ladies
"Ray, man," Levon laughs.
"I mean it, okay? You. Home.
Sleep. Deal?" It's mostly a formality, because I know Levon's
really psyched about this chance tonight, knows it's a real opportunity
and I can't imagine he's going to piss it away over something stupid
like not being well rested. But hell, I'm pretty keyed up too, and
I want to hear it out of his mouth that he gets it, that he knows.
"Deal." He's rolling his
eyes, but I think he's kind of glad I care.
"Good. Come on, let's go."
God, this cannot be happening. I've
run the fight in my head a hundred times already and I still can't
figure out what happened in there. An accident, I know, like Devlin
said, must've just been some kind of one in a million freak punch,
"You're really worried about
him, aren't you?"
Fraser's voice startles me. I've
been so wrapped up in driving and looking for Levon, for Jamal Martin,
anyone wearing Rollin' 22 colors, so wrapped up in thinking.
"He's a good kid, Fraser. I've
gotten to know him a little. I mean, yeah he hangs with some bad
guys, but hell, that's where he's from. Levon's not like
that, he's not a hard guy. If Jamal gets a hold of him
"We'll keep looking, Ray."
And we sweep the neighborhood over
and over. Levon's buddies, any we can find, are tight as clamshells,
his aunt Winona says he hasn't been home. Now she's worried too.
I promise her we'll keep her informed. I'm getting groggy and bummed
out, but we keep driving.
Around 3AM, I'm finally getting
ready to suggest we maybe pack it in for the night, when Fraser
"Though your face is battered
to a pulp, your blooming heart is stout; Just stand upon your pins
until the beggar knocks you out
"Fraser, what the hell is that
supposed to mean?" I'm half wondering if he's really speaking
nonsense -- or did I fall asleep at the wheel and I'm dreaming this?
With Fraser, it's sometimes pretty hard to tell.
"Hm? Oh, sorry. It's from a
poem by Robert Service, sometimes referred to as 'the Bard of the
"Guy wrote a poem about
getting your ass kicked?"
Fraser looks like he's a little
surprised by the question, then nods. "You could say that,
"Nice subject for a poem,"
I mutter scanning the street for what feels like the millionth time.
"Well you know Ray, the Yukon
can be a difficult environment."
I shoot Fraser a quick look, but
his face gives nothing away. That guy. More shades of deadpan than
the Inuit got words for snow.
And good old Fraser, picks up where
he left off, rumbling away in that nice comforting voice of his,
this crazy poem about getting your brains bashed in.
"Your trouble is that you don't
know when you have had enough -- don't give in. If Fate should down
you, just get up and take another cuff; You may bank on it that
there is no philosophy like bluff
Fraser finishes just as I'm pulling
up to a red light. I look over at him again and he's just sitting
there as neat and groomed and perfect as you please. Nutjob. Pretty
cool nutjob, though, to drive around all night with me like this.
And he worked an early shift this morning, too.
"You are unhinged."
Fraser takes that with his usual nod of understanding, like maybe
he agrees. Dief whines from the back seat, letting me know the light's
changed. I hit the accelerator and start working back into the heart
of Cabrini territory where Levon would be safest. "Um, so you
know any more of those, uh, poems?"
"Look, the thing is this, Frase,"
I explain, easing myself down as gently as possible into the break
room chair. Damn, three days later and I'm still aching all over.
That Mason packs one hell of a punch. Not that falling through a
skylight helped. "Putting Franco Devlin away, that really hurt."
not sure how to explain. "See, boxing was something I loved,
always, since I was a kid. All through school, college, you know,
I hung out at that gym. Not that I was ever any good at it, but
it was part of who I was. And I gave it up because Stella decided
one day she didn't like it, that it was all corrupt and crooked."
Fraser nods, like he knows where
I'm headed with this, but I feel like I need to keep talking anyway.
Talk it all out of my system.
"So, when I went back there
a few months ago, hooked up with Levon, started working with him
and all, it felt like, dunno, like I was getting a part of me
back. That probably sounds kinda dumb."
"Not at all." He shakes
his head. "Sounds like you were just trying to reclaim some
things that you felt were missing from your life in the aftermath
of your divorce from Stella. Trying to reassert your own personhood,
separate from who you were as a part of a married couple."
"Yeah, yeah. Exactly. And Devlin,
you know, he was like what I always wished I could be in the boxing
world. And for him to turn out to be dirty
"It makes you feel as though
maybe Stella was right."
"Well, there does seem to be
quite a bit of corruption in the world of professional boxing, but
that certainly doesn't mean that there aren't also a lot of honest,
hardworking people involved in the sport. Yourself, and Levon Jefferson,
and your friend Murphy from the Center, for example. There are still
a lot of kids who can be helped by a program like the Community
League. I don't think you should let this incident take boxing away
"You really think that? You're
not just saying it to make me feel better?"
And then I have a funny thought.
"You know, Frase, you'd probably
be a pretty good boxer if you could get over that whole 'being Canadian'
thing. Bet Jimbo Murphy'd love it if you came down to the Center
Fraser thinks that over a sec, then
a smile starts at the corners of his mouth.
"Right." I laugh. "With earflaps."
I'd know the back of that
head anywhere. I check to make sure the lids are smashed down on
both cups good enough they won't spill, then go stand on line behind
her quietly, resisting the urge to tap her on the shoulder. Wonder
how long it'll take her to notice, if she even does. But it isn't
more than a few seconds before she gets bored of waiting in line
I guess, and turns to look into the glass case where they keep all
the biscotti and scones and fancy coffee bar-type goodies. I see
her eyes widen, reflected in the glass and she spins a fast half
turn to face me.
"Good, great. Frase is
And even though I know she was just trying to make small talk and
doesn't really care, I pause and smile to myself anyway, trying
to think of a quick way to describe what the last few months with
Fraser have been like. But there is no quick way, so I shrug instead.
"Good. That's good. It must
She pauses again and looks up the
line to the woman behind the register who's futzing with a grouchy
guy in a suit bitching about his cup leaking, and this bag that
sogged through the bottom and ripped. I hate the silence, so I just
charge ahead, making dumb conversation at Stella's head.
"Yeah, I'm on my way over to
the, uh, Consulate now."
She turns back to me and blinks,
and for a second, actually seems to be paying attention again. It
might just be a knee-jerk reaction to the word 'Consulate', though.
Her dad always knew a lot of diplomats from parties and stuff.
"Oh. Working on a case?"
She kind of half-smiles and hell,
much as I keep trying to tell myself I only miss her out of habit,
I still want her like crazy. What is that? Why the fuck can't I
turn it off? And what kind of weird thing is it to stand
in line in an overpriced coffee bar next to the woman I slept with
for nineteen years and not be able to even touch her? It's like
there's a wall gone up around her, an invisible forcefield or something.
She's become such a stranger.
And she's right, it did take years,
but it's been way worse since that night with the bomb, the night
she said I could stay and I didn't. Now, I don't know, it gets harder
and harder to really remember things between us ever being different,
ever being close, when my wanting her didn't feel like a bad joke.
"Nah, I'm off duty. Just going
to see Frase, drag him out to catch a movie or something."
I almost add, we hang out a lot
these days, but it feels funny to say that to Stella. It would
take too much to explain how, yeah, I know I never spent much time
with guy friends when we were married, but I wasn't lonely all the
time back then because you were my best friend. And anyway, Fraser's
not like any old guy, he's really weird and smart and we talk about
stuff. But me and Stella don't have the kind of relationship anymore
where I don't have to explain, either. So we just stand there, and
"You're up," I say, finally,
nodding towards the line that shuffled on while we were not-talking.
I almost offer to get Stella's coffee for her, but I know she'll
just say no and that would be even more awkward and stupid than
it's been already, so I just shut up and hold my coffees, look at
my shoes and wait.
turns back after she finishes paying, and I know she wants to go.
"Yeah, I'll see you,"
I nod, and turn towards the lady at the register, dig out my wallet.
Not really rude, I don't think, but I don't know how else to deal.
This is what we're like now, walking on eggshells to keep from fighting
over nothing. Irreconcilable Differences. Except I realize,
suddenly, it's me who's different as much as her, and I want to
tell her, that I know that, that it's okay. But when I look up again,
Woman at the register hands me my change and the bag -- and there it is, my big splurge-- nice coffee.
Oh well. It smells good, anyway. And I can just imagine Fraser waving the cup under his nose to figure out which side of what mountain in Columbia the beans were grown on. Freak. I laugh to myself as I pick up the bag, and head out towards the car.
"Listen, Fraser, something
came up. I got to meet a guy, so I won't be dropping by tonight.
Finally. "Got to go."
I switch off the cell, take a breath, and gear myself up to deal
with this psycho. "Volpe."
We take a minute to size each other up, the whole sniffing dogs routine. Hold my arms out for the pat down and tease him a little when he gets near the jewels. "Ooh."
He gives me a look, almost smiles. Bugs the hell out of most guys when I mess around like that, and I kind of get a kick out Volpe's taking it in stride, sassing me right back. Got to give it to the guy, he's definitely got something going on. Bet he gets laid a lot. Then again, seems like the bad guys always do. Well they work good hours, for one thing.
"Do you the same favor?"
I ask after he finishes.
"I'm a criminal. What would
I be doing wearing a wire?"
"Posterity?" And I start
the pat down all over his big bald head just for fun, work my way
down, looking for whatever the hell kind of surprises Volpe might
be packing. But if he's willing to spill some dirt, it'll all be
worth it. Can't help but wonder what angle he's trying to work this
time, who he wants out of the way.
"Are you satisfied?" Volpe
"I'm never satisfied. What
do you want?"
"What do I want?" And
he shoots me this confused look. "You called me."
Huh? Huh. He's not bluffing. He's
not good enough. We both catch on something's hinky at the same
moment, step back
I hear shots
If there's one thing I hate, it's being stuck. And what am I here? Stuck. Place is surreal. Turnbull, curling, tea. Reminds me sort of Stella's parent's place, actually, all stiff and formal, maybe that's why I feel so uncomfortable. Duh, maybe I'm about to get extradited, arrested for Volpe's murder and railroaded by a State's Attorney on a psycho mission, maybe that's why I feel so uncomfortable.
Fraser seems to think he's got this
all worked out. What else is new. And me, I'm just supposed to go
to sleep and wait for tomorrow, see if I sink or swim.
Slide down into the chair and pull
the shirt I borrowed from Fraser up around me. Damned Consulate
is an icebox. Freaky Canadians. Mmm, shirt is nice though. Cozy...
smells good. Guess I lucked out there. And I think about poor Huey,
stuck in a car outside all day with stinky Tom Dewey. Not that I'd
want to spend all day stuck in a car with Dewey anyway, but
his lunch habits sure wouldn't help.
Hmm. Maybe it's the soap Fraser
uses. I should ask him about that. All his stuff smells good --
well, except that goop he put on my forehead, and the wolf after
a bag of Cheetos. Don't know how Frase manages that. Just takes
care of things, I guess.
He says I have to trust him. Trust
him, right. And I suppose I do. I must, or I wouldn't have come
running here in the first place, and I did that like instinct. If
there's anyone who can figure a way out of an impossible situation,
it's Fraser, right? Yeah, it's Fraser.
And finally, I'm able to get a little sleep.
I glance over at Fraser,
still staring out the passenger side window at the night. He took
the uniform jacket off a couple of hours ago, and usually that makes
him look surprisingly relaxed, in that weird old-fashioned way of
his, with the long sleeved henley and his suspenders. But he doesn't
look relaxed tonight. Not now.
There's tons of stars out, but he
hasn't told me any stories about how they got their names or anything,
even though I bet he knows them all. He's barely said a word, actually,
except to give me highway directions since we left Chicago. Better
than arguing, I guess, except it's not a buddies type silence. It's
awkward, and Sault Sainte Marie is still a long ways off.
He's been doing his best to carry
on like normal all day, I know, except I don't seem to have the
patience for business as usual with Fraser and I keep snapping at
him. Jumped all over him for cutting off questioning Gilbert Wallace
at Illinois Lake Freight, picked another stupid fight over where
the car was parked, blew a fit when he even hinted we should do
this crazy thing
I don't know. Guess he's given up
trying to act like things are normal now. Just wish he didn't look
so damned sad.
I want to talk to him, want to explain
it's just that he's like a steamroller sometimes. He believes
in things, causes, right, whatever, and he just runs with it, and
he expects me to go along with him. And usually I do, usually I'm
good with that. I mean, what am I gonna do, let my no-gun-carrying
partner charge off and not cover him? Leave him flapping in the
But sometimes... Sometimes he bugs
the hell out of me, always assuming I'm on the same page as him.
Assuming I'm just fine with doing it his way. That I'm on board
for risking my neck on one of his truth and justice crusades.
Am I overreacting? Being stupid
about this? I don't know. But lately, it's just been too much. Too
much assuming and not asking. I hate that I hit him, hate that I
feel like I need to quit working with him, but God, I don't seem
to know how else to get the message through that hard Canadian skull
of his that I can't go there right now. He just doesn't get it,
we're not communicating. He's not listening, is more like it, and
I can't do that again.
I don't want to live like that.
That's not who I want to be or how I want my life to go. Had enough
of being steamrollered by Dad, by Stella, I damn well don't need
it from my partner. It's like Fraser said to me himself after we
put Franco Devlin away, about what did he call it, reasserting my
personhood. And he was right. What I decide, what I want, it's got
to stick sometimes. Right?
But I don't know what to say to
him. Don't know how to talk without making things worse than they
already are, and I just want to get this last case together done.
Do right for those poor guys who died on the Mackenzie.
Last case together. Is this gonna
be the story of my life? Get a partner, lose a partner.
Lose a father, lose a wife...
Stop it. Drive.
It's for the best. He's a good guy.
He's a great cop. He'll be better off back in Canada, back home.
Although I guess they're not really sending him home. Ottawa. Whatever.
Hell of a lot closer to home for him than Chicago is. And I got
to concentrate on getting my life back. My life.
I push the gas pedal a little closer
to the floorboards, watch the speedometer needle creep past eighty-five.
Just want to get there already. It'll be okay once we just get to
the boat and start working again. It's always been the inbetween
stuff that kills me.
And the silence.
When I come to, it sounds like somebody's
opened up a big ol' can of whupass all over this tub. Like we're
getting shelled with fucking artillery or something. Jesus, the
ringing in my head wasn't bad enough already.
I look around, but I don't even
know where I am now. Last thing I remember was going to check out
that Communications room, closet, whatever you call it and whammo!
Big time pain, see red, then lights out, Kowalski.
This is bad. I tug at the cuffs
anchoring me to the floor, but the pipe they're looped around doesn't
even budge. Try and move my lips enough to loosen the tape over
my mouth, try and at least get some spit through to weaken the glue,
but damn, whoever conked me out knew what the hell they were doing.
Wonder why they didn't just kill me. Wonder where Fraser is, what's
happened to him.
And then another big blast rocks
the ship and I really don't like the sound of that. What are we,
being invaded? I start tugging on the cuffs again, and yelling
as best I can with the tape on, hoping against hope that someone
will be able to hear me, that
"Ray! Ray, are you all right?"
Oh, thank God. Fraser. This is good. Fraser'll get me free, then we're getting the hell out of here. Forget the case, forget the Robert Mackenzie all of it. Out of here. Home.
No more of this craziness. No more whacked out partners and whacked out cases. Pirates! Forget it. Transfer. Cushy. Now.
Teeth won't stop chattering and
I think every inch of skin on my body is goosebumped. I know the
reason Fraser made me take my jacket off is so I could use my arms
better for swimming, but sheez, if it was cold before, it's unbearable
now, numbing. 150 meters underwater! Shit. I can't do this, bloom
and close, there's no way.
But I guess I have to. Well, or
die. Nice choice.
"You ready? Big breath..."
And Fraser turns and disappears
under the water, leaving me with nobody to argue with but my own
chicken-ass self. He's gonna be waiting for me, this is it, time
to go. Time to go... now.
Try and take a big breath like Fraser
said, but it comes out more like some panicky hyperventilating,
and then I finally steel myself and sink beneath the water. And
God it's cold, shocking, shrivel my nuts, seize my chest, hurt my
head to the roots of my hair cold.
I want to shut my eyes -- block
out where I am so I can concentrate on holding my breath and, I
don't know, maybe pretend I'm doing something else, not really feeling
helpless and stupid. But I have to be able to see where I'm going,
and I hate how it feels to have my eyes open, how the water makes
them feel dried out even when they're nothing but wet. Hate feeling
like the cold can seep around them, get inside my head, freeze my
It's even blurrier than usual without
my glasses down here, and kind of weird, like seeing everything
in thick, grey, slow motion. At least the boat's emergency lights
are still working. Stuff's floating around all ghosty and quiet
-- no, not really quiet, you can still hear the roaring of the water
pouring in through the hull, but all muffled now, hollow. And all
of a sudden, paying attention to what that sound actually is, what
it means, drives it home in a way I couldn't concentrate on before
when I was too busy yelling at Fraser about philosophy and fish.
We're sinking, really sinking, and
if this crazy swim for it doesn't work, we're really going to die.
Me and Fraser are going to die, trapped down here in the cold and
the dark and no one's going to have any stories to tell about us
like they do for the guys on the Robert Mackenzie -- although it's
not like those guys wanted any damned stories, either. Fuck no.
They just wanted to go the hell home.
I see Fraser ahead of me, swimming
low down the corridor, skimming right above this line of pipes.
Smart, yeah, can grab and kind of pull myself along using them some
because the whole bloom and close thing isn't working so good. But
we're moving at least, I'm moving, doing this. Can feel the pressure
start to build in my lungs, getting harder to hold, but we're going,
we're good, we're...
No, no, not stopped. Please, no...
but there it is, one of those big metal hatch doors, sealed shut
and looking like doom. Fraser's working at it, but for now, we're
This is bad. This is really, really
bad. Don't know how much longer I can go. When I was a kid I used
to see how long I could hold my breath, just for fun, just a dumb
kid thing to do. Could hold it for about a minute, I think, give
or take. Wonder how long we've been down here now. Feels like forever.
Right. Count heartbeats, sets of
ten. God knows they're loud enough in my ears now, booming. Stop
it. Concentrate. Anything except letting go.
One, two, three, four...
They always say you think about
your life and your family at times like this, but I don't really
know what I'm supposed to be remembering. All I can think of Stella
now is the things we never did. Plans, promises, fights over the
supposed-to's. Kids, house, all that. Getting so wrapped up in her
and what she would or wouldn't or could or couldn't, I never even
stopped to figure out if any of the supposed-to's were what I really
even wanted for myself.
...nine, ten, one, two...
Family. Huh. Can just hear Dad,
barely even getting past 'hello' if he picks up the phone when I
call. "I'll get your mother", mumbled low, already putting
the phone down like he's not even really saying it to me, but to
the air. At least Mom's good. But otherwise, I don't know. Maybe
if I was a smarter guy, like Fraser, I'd be thinking something more
Whatever. I hope he's not thinking
about anything right now except how to get that fucking door open
because I really, seriously can't do this anymore.
Pressure in my lungs keeps rising,
pushing up, up my throat, trying to force my mouth open. Squeezing
from the inside out, like I might pop. Try and seal my lips tighter
together, try to swallow that bubble of pressure back down, but
I can't. Not anymore.
I can't hold it anymore.
Oh, God. This really might be it.
Come on. Heartbeats, heartbeats in sets of ten... one, two, three...
but I can't concentrate enough to count, can't distract myself with
thinking. Pressure rising, pushing, body, blood, lungs, screaming,
bursting, needing to just open up finally and...
There's a shape, presence, something,
right up against me, touching me, my face, my mouth. Bubbles rising
all around, pressure escaping, easing back just enough to feel bad
again -- but not impossible anymore. Open my eyes, which I don't
remember closing, and there, right in front of me, startlingly close,
is... Fraser. The shape thing is him, it's his hands on my face,
holding me still, and his mouth... what the?
He pulls back from me, makes the 'okay' sign with his fingers, and swims on ahead again, still looking strong. I don't know what the hell he just did. What was that, some kind of crazy Canadian kiss goodbye? But whatever it was, all of a sudden I feel like I can hang on a little while longer. And I look up after Fraser and see he's got the hatch door open. Maybe I can hang on long enough.
Man, could they have possibly
made this thing any smaller? Like, if they tried?
"Got any idea where we are?"
"Yes, you are right behind
me and I am right in front of you."
Great. He picks now to become a
comedian. "I mean in the water."
"Oh. Well, we should be coming
across Six Fathom Shoal, at which point I'll be able to navigate
by dead reckoning. Well, that is, provided I've calculated correctly."
He's trying to do his knowitall
thing, but I don't like the sound of it. All the water where he's
from is frozen. "And if you haven't?"
"Oh well, then, we'll be hopelessly
lost." And he says it all matter-of-fact. I want to smack him.
I didn't almost drown back there to hear this little bit of Fraser
Although I guess I'd rather have
this snippy Fraser than the silent, hang-dog Fraser I had to sit
with in the car to Sault Sainte Marie. And then he turns, well as
much as he can turn considering how jammed up for room we
are, and he's staring at me, but he isn't saying anything. It's
unnerving suddenly, being smashed up in here like this, face to
face so close.
"What are you looking at?"
"Look, Fraser, are we under
the creek without a paddle here? Are we lost?"
"No, we're not, we're not,
"Just admit it, Fraser. We're
"No, we're not lost."
I don't believe this. He is impossible.
He is just
"All right! We're lost."
Crap. Lost. Maybe that wasn't an argument I really wanted to win. Anyway, whatever the hell it is we're doing now is getting us a big fat nowhere. It just feels wrong.
"Go that way."
"I got a feeling. It's a hunch,
it's a feeling. Go that way."
"Yes, but there's absolutely
no reason why"
And this is it, you know? This is the nut of what's wrong with us, with this partnership. And it is the story of my life, and it's never gonna change. It's never gonna...
"Look, Fraser, just this once. Just this once. I trust you every single time. Every single time I got to trust you. Just once you trust me. Go that way."
Why can't he see that? Why can't he just
But then he does it. Holy cow. Turning the wheel...
Never seen Fraser fire a weapon before.
Of course I know he's a sharpshooter, got those handy little merit
badge patches on his damned uniform sleeve as a reminder. But it's
different actually seeing him. Weird to think a gun could look at
home in his hands. That he could look so cool, confident.
Squeeze, bang. And he shoots
the glass out of the diving mask Wallace planned to make his escape
in. Wallace reaches for the next one in the row and I feel a smirk
break out on my face just knowing what's going to come next.
Squeeze, bang. Squeeze, bang.
No more masks, no escape. Fuck you
kindly, Mister Wallace.
One more perfect shot knocks the
detonator out of Wallace's hand and into the water. He makes a desperate
dive for it, but it's way too late, he's got nowhere to go.
"Bring up the net," Fraser
says, jumping down off the barrels and heading straight for the
edge of that little pool where the sub was docked.
I go to pull Wallace up, startled
a little that Fraser actually spoke to me. I've been in sort of
a trance and it feels like a long time since we've had to talk to
communicate -- I was already on my way. And once I step back from
the motorized winch that raises the net, I realize that watching
Fraser do his thing with Wallace there has left me with half a boner.
Sheez, and to think I always tease Fraser about getting a hard-on
for justice -- now look at me.
"Brave men lie below us in these
waters, men whose names and reputations you used. This is their
graveyard. You didn't think they'd let you get away with it, did
I glance at Fraser, staring down Wallace now. He's got this righteous gleam in his eyes that's really something, and I can't stop replaying what he looked like, up on those barrels, leveling that Glock and slowly, deliberately pulling the trigger.
I feel all juiced up, aroused, like
when me and Stella were still in the swing and I'd tell her stories
sometimes when I got home from work, embellishing a little just
for fun. And she'd go down on me while I talked, all greedy and
hot, and when I'd close my eyes it was sexy and cool like Steve
McQueen in Bullitt. Like... like...
Fraser looked so fucking good with that gun.
Maybe there's something to be said
for this high seas stuff after all. Lake, whatever. At least when
you're not drinking it, and nobody's shooting at you. Something
restful about the gentle rocking now that I'm dry and safe. Creaking
wood and ropes, wind beating in the sails, hell, just the plain
old sound of the water. Kinda Zen. Good for thinking.
Too bad I don't like what
I'm thinking better. I really blew it. I mean, sure, yeah, me and
Fraser were getting in each other's hair a little, but I should
have realized that wasn't really what was bugging me. Like when
I yelled at him about logic and Godel when I was really scared about
And I don't know why it took so long
for me to realize that half the reason Fraser does what he does
and acts how he acts, is because one of the things he believes in
is me. Which is weird and annoying and... kind of amazing.
Don't know quite what to make of it. Not exactly what I'm used to.
Not from Dad, not from Stella, that's for sure. But Fraser trusts
me. Maybe not in the small ways, like where the car's parked, but
in all the big ways, he does. The really big ways.
As for that other thing... hey, it
was just a thought, right? I was in the moment. Nothing to get bent
out of shape over. Doesn't mean jack. It's normal. Hell, is there
anything I haven't dreamed up at one time or another? I've
had thoughts before, I can handle thoughts.
And almost like thinking about him
can make him appear, I see Fraser and the Ice Queen come walking
slowly down the deck into my line of sight, talking quietly. There's
a funny butterflies feeling in my gut and I can't even sort out
all of what it is. Just know I feel sick thinking we're gonna end
it this way, especially now with all we've been through the last
few hours. I want to tell him I didn't mean any of the lousy stuff
I said to him. Really didn't mean to slug him. I was just all worked
up. Not thinking. Typical.
They finish their conversation, and
Fraser sees me, walks over towards the railing, and I go to join
him. He takes the Stetson off, runs a hand through his hair, and
looks out at the water. I don't know what to say to him, either.
Finally I can't stand it any more and just spit out the most immediate
question on my mind.
"So, transfer. You thought about
it?" I try to sound as casual as I can.
"Well, it would be the logical
For half a second, I think he's baiting
me with the logic thing. I brace myself against the rail. Keep my
voice steady. Neutral.
"I know. That's what I think.
It's what my instinct tells me."
He doesn't say anything then, looks
away, and I wonder what the hell is going on in that brain of his.
Then, just when I'm thinking that's that, he pipes up with, "Thank
you," out of the blue.
Whoa. Well... That's pretty big,
coming from Fraser. And then I realize he's trying to patch up what
he can. Make things right between us before we go our separate ways.
Forget butterflies, my stomach's churning so I almost wonder if
I'm not actually seasick. But I don't think that's it. Shit. Got
to at least meet him half way.
"I know. And I realize that
going on instinct doesn't always work, either."
He looks at me, maybe a little surprised.
"No... no. So?"
So? Time to cut to the chase. "You
going to take the transfer?"
I don't think I breathe again until
he answers. Hear wind snapping canvas, water sloshing overboard,
and it feels like forever even though I know it's not, before Fraser
shakes his head and says, "I don't think so. You?"
"Me? No." And suddenly,
I can't believe I ever even considered it.
"All right. So we're... we're
still, uh..." He can't say the word. Sometimes I don't know
if we're pathetic, or funny.
"I think." Maybe we're
a little of both.
"Right you are."
And it's settled, just like that.
I laugh a little, relieved. He smiles back, and then we're both
grinning like idiots and laughing and I feel almost dizzy. Except
it isn't just relief.
Fraser's as happy as I've ever seen
him, and I know it's not because we took down Wallace and saved
the day and the trout, and all that. It's not just because we went
through some really scary stuff and lived to tell about it, either.
No, even after how crummy I've been treating him lately, Fraser's
happy because we're still partners, still friends. And his smile
is just... I want to
Fuck, stop. Enough with this
stuff, stop it, okay? But...
My hands are twitching, hot with
this sudden urge, this need, to touch him, reach out for him, right
here on the deck. Pull him towards me, pull him in. The image is
in my mind so fast, so clearly, completely, I have to bite back
the apology on its way out of my mouth when I realize I haven't
actually done anything.
But we've been that close, I know
how we fit. I can feel it. Can recreate that, pick the details,
piece the puzzle. His heat beside me, crouched in an alley behind
a car just before a bust. The soapy clean, good leather scent of
him when he leans in to whisper something to me in the interrogation
room. His strength, behind me, solid, steady, in Welsh's office,
facing down the brass. And layered down beneath all that, the grainy
memory of his hands on my face, his mouth on my mouth, with me to
the end, in the cold, in the hopeless darkness. And I know.
Run it again, tune it, tweak it,
until he knows -- crazy, beautiful weirdo -- until he knows
what I'm feeling, what I want, and he doesn't pull away. No, no,
he closes his eyes, tilts his head, lips parting, leaning in. Waiting.
Kissing softly at first, then opening. Deeper, stronger, hotter,
wet. I swallow, to taste him, but it's only me.
Fraser starts talking, something
about the case, and I blink a couple of times, try and clear my
head. But I'm still just fixed on his mouth, his tongue, his teeth
-- strong and even except that one that's a little crooked. And
in a strange kind of way, I'm almost homesick for missing Stella.
Because as much as that sucked and as much as it hurt, at least
it felt normal. Like a kick in the head, I knew what it was.
I glance at Fraser again, still laughing
and talking about our adventure. Wind's ruffling through his hair
a little, putting color in his cheeks. He looks relaxed, confident,
like he knows we did good today and it's shining off of him, radiating
out. My heart is pounding, chest is tight, and I know it's too late
to write this off as just some thought. It's way too late. Bottle's
busted, genie's out.
The Stellazoic Era was twenty-three
years. And this?
What the hell am I supposed to do now?
Endnotes: The poem Fraser quotes is "Grin" by
Robert W. Service, from The Spell of the Yukon and Other Verses.
The Mullen brothers (Joey and Brian) and Nicky Fotiu are former
NHL players who learned hockey on roller skates in New York City.
And apropos of nothing: there are an even dozen in Part I. ;-)