“Give me five, detective.”
“Uh, Fraser, you got ink all over my fingers.”
When they told me there was no evidence that Victoria had ever been in my apartment, no fingerprints, I was certain—probably for no more than a few seconds, though it felt like a lifetime—that I had lost my mind. I’d imagined it all; I was living in a world of my own creation. But then the truth crashed down on me: not a dream, not a delusion, merely a betrayal. She had been there, but she was gone, and all I would have to remember her by were my increasingly distorted memories.
So, when I arrived at the 27th precinct to find a stranger greeting me in Ray Vecchio’s name, and everyone else telling me nothing had changed. . . Well, I considered the possibility of insanity, but what I truly believed, in my gut and heart and mind, was that I was being betrayed—again—by everyone in Chicago who claimed to be my friend. And so, when I gathered evidence against Ray Kowalski, when I took his fingerprints, it wasn’t with the intention of convincing Welsh of the obvious. I meant to build a case against them all. I would bring them down, make them pay. Starting with the blond stranger who dared to embrace me, to claim me; who dared to look me in the eye and lie to me.
Of course, it turned out to all be a misunderstanding, more or less. I never understood why Ray Vecchio couldn’t have come out and told me he was going. (But he did, he told me loud and clear, I just didn’t want to hear him.) I understood the point of the deception, however, and I supported the ruse, for Ray Vecchio’s sake and the sake of the work. And I forgave them all, more or less.
Not long after that, I entered Ray Kowalski’s apartment without his knowledge. He was running already, and I was on his trail, for Ray Vecchio’s sake, because Welsh had asked me. Because Ray had looked into my bewildered, angry eyes and whispered, “Partners, Fraser.” I did not violate his privacy more than necessary: did not enter the bedroom or the bathroom, did not open the drawers of his desk. But I catalogued each detail that my eyes and nose presented. And I touched things: doorknob, picture frame, desk, table, newspaper. Left my fingerprints all over his apartment, evidence of my uninvited presence.
I kept the page of fingerprints I had taken from Ray that first day. I tucked the scrap of paper between the blank pages of my journal, along with the postcard from Ray Vecchio showing us with our arms around each other’s shoulders. So that if—when—he disappeared one day and the world denied his existence, I would have proof that he had been there.
“Well, Ray, I’m afraid that I have no option. By the powers that are vested in me by the government of Canada, I am placing you under arrest. You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed to you without charge. Do you understand these rights?”
Ray Kowalski’s bound hands were strangely still, strangely vulnerable, the insides of his wrists offered up to me. His hands were always most expressive, fascinating to watch, but never more so than in that moment after I snapped the cuffs on him. Ray’s face was staring at me in astonishment, his intellect not yet having understood what I was doing to him, let alone why. But his hands had already yielded, trusting me, completely and instinctively.
(I remembered the click of the cuffs locking—phantom feel of metal around my own wrists—Welsh’s regret and resolve—Huey’s apology as he snapped the cuffs—Ray Vecchio standing by, watching—a moment in which I could have resisted, could perhaps have taken them all by surprise. But although I had not committed the crime of which I was accused, they were not wrong to restrain me, and I was not yet so far lost as to strike at them.)
I was, of course, keenly aware of the irony of arresting Ray to prevent his arrest, imprisoning him to ensure his freedom. I admit that I dramatized the situation, and my actions, more than was necessary. There was no need to handcuff Ray, it served no purpose, and indeed, once I had made my point—to whom?—I released Ray’s hands. But dear Lord, the reluctance I felt to do so. My instinct was to lock him to a radiator, to pin him down for once, to know that he wasn’t going to disappear the moment I let my eyes stray from him.
One cannot put a leash on a wolf and expect affection. This is self-evident, and should not be as difficult to remember as it is.
Often, watching Ray Kowalski’s supple hands flying as he talks, or resting lightly on the steering wheel, I imagine enclosing those soft, slender wrists in the living circle of my own strong hands.
“You don’t have a gun?”
“Well, obviously you weren’t fully briefed. I’m not licensed to carry a firearm.”
“And you didn’t bother to tell me before?”
“Well, it didn’t seem germane at the time.”
In the United States, I am not licensed to use a firearm, nor carry one loaded. This is a rule I strictly obey. Ray—both Rays—always objected to this practice of mine in strong terms. They felt that I was deliberately leaving myself vulnerable, and worse, failing to provide them with a vital form of support. Both accusations are, of course, entirely justified.
They framed my refusal to use guns as one of my incomprehensible Canadian affectations. They laughed at me, perhaps partly as a way of dealing with their incomprehension and frustration and—yes—fear for my safety. I have always allowed them to laugh, to think of me as the good-hearted freak, their Mountie. To be accepted in civilization, one must fit into an understood role; as long as I play the eccentric, I am explained, accounted for. My wild, foreign scent is masked by my submissive behavior.
I have not inquired whether Diefenbaker’s acquired fondness for donuts is similarly motivated.
Ray Vecchio saw me with a rifle in my hand and laughed at the old-fashioned weapon. In the end, I fought that particular battle with sled dogs, cliffs, ice cracks, and other people’s guns; two men died and six were badly injured. Ray Vecchio laughed at our triumph over our opponents and, as far as I know, thought no more about it.
Ray Kowalski put a gun into my hand as we crossed into Canada and saw me fire—but Ray was not wearing his glasses, so I can hope that he missed the feral joy I felt spread across my face when my hand closed around the warm metal handle of the gun.
Victoria never saw me fire a gun, but she knew what I was capable of. My gun in her hand, her murderous deeds upon my head: it was not simply revenge, not merely to bring me down. It was a message: I know you, Benton Fraser. I know you as no one else does.
With a gun in my hand, I feel alive, complete. Deadly. With a gun in my hand, I am a predator. With a gun in my hand, without laws to leash me, I would run wild. I might vanish into the dark woods forever, without a friend to call me back.
So I keep my gun unloaded; I keep my safety on. I let first Ray Vecchio and then Ray Kowalski bear arms for me, play Bad Cop to my Polite Mountie, cover my back. I relied on Ray, I rely on Ray, to be the weapon I draw in need. On the Henry Allen, shoulder-deep in water, searching for Ray Kowalski’s gun in order to rescue him, I suddenly felt betrayed by its absence. I had relied on him to have it; counted it among my assets. Relied on him, unquestioningly, even in the midst of the worst argument we have ever had about the nature of our partnership and our trust—or lack of it—in each other. And Ray came through after all, his second gun having escaped his captors’ notice. And later that day, I held out my hand and he sent a gun arcing into my grasp; his fists knocked my adversaries down on cue.
“I have a partner who should be showing up just about now.” Those words have fallen from my lips on numerous occasions. The truth is that I rely on Ray Kowalski to be the teeth behind my bluff, as I rely on Diefenbaker to be my legs and nose and instinct; as I rely on a well-maintained gun to hit the target I aim at. Is this the soul-deep trust of true partnership, or arrogance bordering on self-destructive insanity? Can I afford to let my safety and success depend on someone else? A moot question: after years of partnership, I can no longer afford not to.
Ray Vecchio carried a firearm and used it skillfully, but he carried the gun like he carried his badge: a part of his job, what he did, not who he was; a formal uniform that he took off when he was off duty.
Ray Kowalski wears his guns. They’re part of him, like his tattoo, like the scent of blowback. It is when he takes off his jacket, gets less formal, that the gun is revealed. Ray Kowalski in a t-shirt and shoulder holster is more naked, honest, vulnerable, and courageous than I am ever likely to bring myself to be, in any state of dress.
“Well, you’ve got quite a few mementos here. Left leg’s been broken and reset . . . hmm, twice. Second one was pretty nasty. Fell what, fifty, sixty feet?”
I do have one concrete reminder of both Victoria and Ray Vecchio. I cannot see the scar without a mirror, but I can feel it with my fingers. Of course, neither is possible unless I am naked, a state in which I spend little time. Nevertheless, I am aware of its existence without looking or touching. It does not hurt. The opposite, in fact: the nerves there are dead. I feel nothing in that spot.
Ray Vecchio was shot twice for my sake, and although I have not seen them, I know he bears the scars. Ray Kowalski was wearing a Kevlar vest when he stepped in front of a bullet meant for me, two hours after we met. He turned his head to look at me, laughing, and collapsed in my arms. He got up laughing. I have seen him without a shirt on several occasions, and I know that that bullet left no mark. I cannot help but wish it had.
Once, after a particularly energetic encounter with some particularly persistent criminals, I insisted on accompanying Ray Kowalski to his apartment and tending to his injuries myself, as he refused to have them seen to in a hospital. (I did not insist on the hospital, sharing both Ray’s dislike of hospitals and his instinct to lick one’s own wounds in private.) As I was applying salve to his bruised torso, I could not help but notice several old scars.
When I inquired, Ray offered up the stories of his scars in the casual, self-mocking way he has of revealing himself. A skateboarding accident. A struggle to break up a knife-fight between two gang members. A car crash that threw him against the steering wheel (“Honest to God, I pulled up short at a red light and the guy behind me rear-ended me at forty miles an hour. See, this is why following the rules is not always a good idea, Mountie ol’ pal.”).
“An impressive record of your personal history,” I told him. “Have you acquired any new ones during our association?”
He hissed as my fingers found a tender spot, then rolled his eyes at me. “What, you think I need a reminder of how you get me almost killed every week? Trust me, Fraser, I’m not in any danger of forgetting that.”
With one finger, I traced the outline of the tattoo on Ray’s right bicep. “This serves much the same purpose as a scar, doesn’t it? Only. . .self-inflicted.”
“Jeez, you make it sound like some kind of crazy thing, like slicing myself up with a razor blade. It’s just a tattoo, lots of people get them.”
“I’m sorry, Ray, I didn’t mean to imply that a tattoo is a sign of mental instability. Far from it.” I refrained from bringing up the various ritual and symbolic uses of tattoos among different aboriginal peoples. “I only meant that, in addition to serving as personal adornment, a tattoo can indicate a deliberate choice to commemorate something.”
“Yeah, I guess so. Mine was kind of, I dunno, making a statement. I told you, my dad was pissed when I decided to become a cop. Me, I said, okay, fine, and I went out and got the tattoo. Kind of joke, I mean, spark plugs, right? But I got it to remind myself that I knew why I wanted to be a cop, and I knew I could do a good job.”
“And did it help? Having a tangible reminder?”
“Yeah. Yeah, it did. It’s stupid, but. . .sometimes I look in the mirror, and the tat, it’s like a note from myself, the me that doesn’t doubt me. You know?”
I nodded. “I understand. Although, I must imagine that having a tattoo is an inconvenience when it comes to assuming an alternate identity.”
Ray laughed ruefully. “Yeah, if I’d known I was going to go into undercover work, I wouldn’t have gotten it, but hey, this is the world’s screwiest undercover gig anyway. One of these mornings, I’ll wake up in a straitjacket with some nurse bringing me happy pills. ‘Cause my life is too crazy to be real; it’s all got to be some big whadayacall, delusion.”
“I could endeavor to make sure that our next adventure leaves you with some sort of long-term physical evidence of the events that befall us,” I offered, with my best deadpan expression. “A new scar might serve as reassurance when you find yourself doubting the reality of your situation.”
He gaped at me, then shook his head. “Have I told you yet today that you’re a freak, Fraser?”
“I was only trying to be helpful, Ray,” I replied sedately.
“Yeah, I notice you’re not offering to get yourself carved up, just me.”
“On the contrary, I would be pleased to have a tangible reminder of our association. Implausible as it may seem, I, too, occasionally have cause to doubt my sanity.” It was safe enough to say this, because how else could Ray possibly interpret it, other than as a joke?
Even so, he gave me a quizzical frown that made my heartrate accelerate at the notion that he might have guessed my complete sincerity.
“That’s all right, buddy, I can live with the uncertainty, and you’re gonna have to do the same,” he said, at last, with another eye-roll. “Anxiety is the spice of life, right?”
But I have a foggy memory of lying in an ambulance—several years later—with Ray Kowalski’s voice (high tight cracking angry scared) battering at me, inundating me in words whose meanings slid past me into the fog as I struggled to grasp at them. Among the scraps I remember is: “. . .but at least you’ll have one mother of a scar to remind you of how much of a dumb-ass you can be, that’ll make you happy. . .” And I smiled up at him, or maybe I only tried to. Or maybe this is a false memory, an illusion born out of shock and drugs and pain. But I choose to believe it happened. In any case, that night left a new scar on my abdomen.
“This is not driving, this is walking in a vehicle.”
In America, the car is a symbol of freedom, prosperity, power, control, masculinity, sex. To me, if anything, cars symbolize all I dislike most about modern civilization: pollution, noise, isolation, speed, disconnection from one’s environment, waste and consumption. However, hypocrite that I am, I avail myself of automobiles despite my distaste.
In the matter of cars, as in the matter of guns, I habitually took advantage, first of Ray Vecchio and then of Ray Kowalski, relying on them to take me where I needed to go.
To be a passenger when someone else is driving is to give up control entirely. The driver makes the decisions; the passenger can only request and advise. For all my respect for law and authority, ceding control does not come easily to me—a source of frustration to every superior I have worked under, as well as to Ray Kowalski. To constantly be driven by someone else, even Ray, should be intolerable to me. And yet, I accept the role; indeed, embrace it.
The first day I met Ray Kowalski, he drove Ray Vecchio’s Riviera with fearless skill, despite Diefenbaker’s attentions, my hands in his face, a running argument, my acrobatics on the roof, and the eventual combustion of the vehicle. By the time we crawled out of the lake where he had drowned that car on my instructions, I knew that I respected him and could work with him. It took much sniffing each other’s tails, growling and circling, showing teeth and showing throat, before we learned how to make our partnership work. But it was Ray’s consummate driving—and his grace at the wheel under absurd pressure—that convinced me that the thing was possible, and worth the effort.
In America, people are often seen as interchangeable, but individual cars are valued as precious artifacts. Knowing this, and knowing Ray Vecchio’s attachment to his Riviera as a symbol of his “style,” I failed at first to understand that Ray Kowalski’s love for his GTO was of an entirely different character. The GTO was a gift from his father, their one means of connection and communication, as well as a tangible connection to Ray’s own pre-Vecchio past. Had I realized that when it was stolen, I would not have so lightly dismissed his distress; I would have worked to get it back for him.
Yet Ray risks his beloved car routinely, like he risks his own life: in pursuit of justice, on my say-so, to protect the innocent and helpless, to protect me.
The first time I drove Ray’s car, we got ten blocks before he lost patience with my driving and demanded the wheel back. The next time he let me drive the GTO, Ray was bleeding all over the backseat, and he criticized my driving for the entire duration of the ride. On the third occasion, he slapped the keys into my hand as I hauled him to his feet, so drunk he could barely stand. The fourth time, we had been running on adrenaline and candy bars and no sleep for forty hours, and when the perpetrators were finally behind bars and out of our hands, we stumbled out to the station parking lot, and Ray blinked at me a couple of times and said “You’re probably in slightly less crappy shape than I am, drive me home, will you?”
Last Thursday, we were working late and I offered to pick up some take-out for dinner; Ray tossed his keys at my head without even looking and said “Wang’s has better egg rolls; take the car.”
Driving together in a car, like sharing a bed, can be a form of intimacy. People doing either necessarily share body heat, odor (leather, hair gel, blowback, chewing gum, coffee, chocolate; leather, wool, neat’s foot oil, shaving cream, herbal tea, wolf saliva), and each other’s emotional outbursts. Sitting beside Ray in his car, I witnessed his jealousy, frustration and despair over the loss of his ex-wife. I witnessed his tears on the day Beth Botrelle returned home, after nearly being executed because of Ray’s error and his friend’s treachery. I listened and I kept his secrets; I sat beside him. I wished I had something better to offer him than my mere presence, but it seemed to comfort him.
When I sat in the passenger seat with Victoria at the wheel, we were bound together, partners in crime, partners in a tragedy ten years old. In that space not much larger than a lean-to, we shared truth and lies, love and hate, betrayal (plane tickets, locker key). She pointed a gun at my head and I wanted nothing more than for her to pull the trigger. To consummate our love in the only way left, to free me, to destroy me. I gave her control, trusting her hate to send me to oblivion, but instead her love shoved me out of the car to sprawl on the pavement, alive and in pain and lost.
Another year in the same city, and I walked the streets alone, having turned my back on friends who cared more about protecting me than upholding justice. Not lost then: I knew my path was right, and that I would prevail or die in the attempt. But alone; and I was used to walking alone, but the weight felt particularly heavy to bear that night. And then Ray Kowalski’s car pulled up, and he leaned out the window, saying, “I’m proud of you.” Saying, “Ride shotgun.” Saying, without words, come home, welcome home.
That was the night I realized that somehow the passenger seat of Ray’s car had become a home to me, certainly more so than anywhere outside of Canada. It took a return to Canada, with Ray beside me—uncertain of his welcome but doggedly following me through hardship and danger—to make me understand that the snow and the dogs and the work would no longer be enough to make me a home (if they ever had been).
“I didn’t realize you were blind.”
“I’m not blind, I just don’t see all that good.”
My first impression of Ray Kowalski’s glasses was that they were a magic trick, almost like the costume or secret talisman of a superhero: he put them on his face and transformed from clown to sharpshooter. An incongruous effect given that the transformation of his appearance is more or less the reverse.
After some consideration, I could not help but see the glasses as a weakness, one exacerbated by Ray’s persistent refusal to wear them regularly, even into situations which might reasonably be expected to call for shooting (or driving). Ray’s skill with a gun was a match for my own, but his was flawed, contingent on an exterior crutch. I admired his skill, but I pitied his Achilles’ Heel. Of course, I took pains to disguise my feelings, wishing neither to be rude nor to wound Ray’s already damaged self-esteem.
At some point, I developed the habit, not merely of reminding Ray to don his glasses when necessary, but also of holding onto Ray’s glasses for him. I was not aware of quite how this had come to be, since asking for Ray’s glasses would have been both eccentric and presumptuous. But once the question occurred to me, the answer was obvious: Ray was in the habit of handing me his glasses when he took them off. As he had that day in the bunker, shortly after we met.
His talisman, the key to his superpower. Handed to me without a second thought, without a reason for his perfect trust.
My Chicago friends think I am overly trusting because I give money to strangers and prefer not to lock my door. However, although it does take faith in humanity to walk through the world turning the other cheek, the truth is that I do not fear for my possessions (I have none of value), nor for my physical safety (I can defend myself).
Ray Vecchio would say that I am in constant danger of being hurt, emotionally, because I trust too freely. But Ray Vecchio was fond of protecting me from the sorts of things he, himself, was afraid of. The one time when I should have heeded his advice, he failed to warn me, and in any case I would not have listened.
Ray Kowalski would likewise say that I trust too freely, but Ray Kowalski says many things that he does not truly mean. He knows firsthand the perils of trusting too much, and yet he gives his heart generously if given half a chance.
Victoria was not the first who taught me not to trust, but she was the only person for whom I deliberately let down all defenses. If I ever had a talisman, a key to my castle, I hid it so thoroughly after she left that it is lost forever.
Fortunately, my own glasses are the key to nothing except my ability to pretend to the vision of a younger man.
I hate them bitterly.
Ray Kowalski teases: “Hey, don’t worry, Fraser, they make you look distinguished, with those little gold frames and all, you look like a college professor.”
He jokes: “I can’t see far away, you can’t see stuff up close, put us together and we’re 20-20.”
He complains about the ache in his shoulder, about his hair growing grey, about his increased inability to recall specific words on demand.
Ray’s intuition is as sharp as it ever was, and he has had years to familiarize himself with my foibles.
He stands over my shoulder, watching me squint down at the papers on the desk in front of me. Wordlessly, he passes me my reading glasses. His other hand settles on the back of my neck and kneads away the incipient headache.