The silence that followed Detective Stanley Raymond Kowalski Vecchio's first attempt at summarizing the evening's events was of somewhat mythic proportions—the proverbial pin could have done a straddle back to handstand, followed by a pirouette and a triple full dismount in the time it took Harding Welsh to find his voice again and cement an impassive demeanor in place. He cleared his throat and raised an eyebrow,
and being careful not the look in the direction of the inspector or her thigh high stiletto boots and chaps—not to mention the corset—
said carefully, "Perhaps you could run that by me again, Detective."
At which point the four people gathered in his office began to talk all at once, Detective Kowalski, Constable Fraser, Inspector Thatcher—and Detective Huey, who had taken the call.
"Sir, perhaps I could be helpful in explaining—"
"No! No, Fraser, no, you cannot be helpful in explaining, considering you got it all wrong to begin with—"
"—not entirely sure you have any jurisdiction over Constable Fraser or myself—"
"Dispatch got a report of a live sex show—"
"Gentlemen. Gentlemen. And—"
No. No, he was not going to let his eyes linger on the studded collar or the generous cleavage on display, although he would not have thought the inspector could fill out a corset quite that well—
"—uh, uh, ma'am. One at a time, one at a time, please."
"Okay." Kowalski stepped forward, predictably edging out Huey in the race to open his mouth. "Sir, it went down like this. See, Fraser and me—" He stopped and stole a quick glance back at the constable, who returned a look that could best be described as somewhat—well, pissy—and folded his arms over his chest. "Aw, c'mon, Frase, c'mon—"
"I believe the lieutenant is waiting for an explanation, Ray."
It was clear to Welsh that the ability to reduce room temperatures to freezing with just a glance was not a talent reserved to the upper echelons of Canada's Mounted Police force—
—was that? Nah, couldn't be—a pierced—?
—and Welsh wondered idly if there was a course in it at the RCMP academy. Or maybe as part of the diplomatic training?
Meanwhile, Detective Kowalski ran a hand through his hair, sighed explosively, and turned back in Welsh's direction. "Fine. Just…okay, fine. So, like I was saying, see, Fraser and I were just out hanging around—"
Detective Huey snorted. Kowalski whirled on him.
"You wanna make something of this? Huh? Huh? 'Cause I'm good to go, Duck Boy, I'm good to go right now!" He raised his fists.
Welsh coughed discreetly.
"—Vecchio, I can kick your ass—"
"Yeah, you and what—"
Welsh thought momentarily and longingly of an ice cold glass of beer and a thick corned beef sandwich—
—were those boots vinyl? Or—or real patent leath—No. No, no, no, no—
"Detectives. Please. We'll be here all night and some of us—" Welsh rubbed the back of his neck and nodded at Kowalski. "Go on, Vecchio."
Kowalski gave Huey a vicious, triumphant grin. "Yeah, okay, so like I said, Fraser and me were out and we see the bar, and we think maybe we'll drop in for a drink—"
"I thought Fraser didn't drink," Huey interrupted again.
Welsh sighed. It was going to be a very long night. He pulled out his chair and sat down.
"That's not quite accurate, Detective." Ah. The constable again. Wonderful. "While it is true that I generally abstain from intoxicating substances, it is also true that on infrequent occasions I enjoy the liberating aspects of imbibing the results of a good fermentation of malted barley."
Huey looked at Welsh. "What?"
Welsh shook his head. "He likes scotch." He made a 'let's get on with this' motion at Kowalski. "Proceed, Detective."
"So we see this bar and we decide to have a drink, and so we go inside and we order, see, and then we start looking around and we realize that it's a—well, we notice that it's a—" Kowalski looked back over at Fraser. The constable was slightly pink but he tightened his arms across his chest and raised his chin.
"I believe the turn of phrase Detective Vecchio is laboring so profoundly to recall is 'gay bar'," he said, in a tone of voice that almost pulled off cool and indifferent, but had no problem with snippy.
"Ah, Christ. Okay, yeah," another venomous look tossed in Detective Huey's direction, "okay, yeah, it was a gay bar, okay?" He swung his gaze challengingly around the room. "Okay? Everybody got that? It was a gay bar, it was a G-A-Y bar. And if someone wants to make something outta that—"
"Then I'm sure they'll take that conversation up with you, Detective, at another, more opportune time. Right now—"
The door to Welsh's office rattled under the sharp rap of knuckles, then Frannie Vecchio pushed the door open. "Anyone for a latte? Cappuccino?" She looked over at Fraser and smiled. "Hi, Frase."
Welsh exchanged a look with Huey. Okay, maybe it was mean but it was certainly predictable that Big Red would twitch whenever Ms. Vecchio got him in her sights.
Except. Fraser unfolded his arms and smiled. Wow. A big smile. With what Welsh considered a completely unnecessary display of teeth. "Hello, Francesca."
"Thank you, Ms. Vecchio, I'm sure we would all appreciate an opportunity to wet our—"
Do not look at the inspector.
"—the offer of coffee. However, perhaps you may have noticed that we're trying to conduct an investigation here?"
"Really." Frannie hopped up on the edge of his desk and looked critically over at the inspector.
—standing defiantly, arms crossed over her chest and pushing up her—
"Investigation, huh? Looks more like Halloween to me," Frannie said sweetly.
Welsh cleared his throat.
"That will be enough, Ms. Vecchio. Detective!"
"…you are taking this all the wrong way, Fras—Sir?"
"You were saying?"
"Sir." Fraser stepped forward. "Lieutenant, I certainly don't wish to insert myself unnecessarily into an ongoing investigation by the Chicago PD; however—"
Huey looked at Kowalski. "Since when?"
"—perhaps I can be of some assistance in providing a more…coherent explanation. Sir."
Welsh nodded slowly. "Coherence is always appreciated, Constable."
"Excellent. With your permission, sir?" Fraser looked over at the inspector. Welsh noticed he seemed to be concentrating on a point somewhere over the inspector's left shoulder.
The inspector opened her mouth, and then just shook her head. "If you think you can say or do something that will get us out of here as quickly as possible, Constable, then I am all in favor of your interference on this occasion."
Fraser straightened. If he'd had a hat, he would have tucked it under his arm. Since he was in his civvies, he simply stood at parade rest. "As Detective Vecchio has already related, sir—albeit in a somewhat haphazard fashion that I would note is not conducive to a swift and effective investigation—we were indeed out for an evening's walk and elected to stop in at the 'Cock Tail'—" There were quotation marks in the constable's voice. "—to purchase an alcoholic beverage. Now, perhaps the name of the establishment alone should have alerted us to the fact that this was indeed not one of your typical Chicago drinking establishments—"
"Y'know, my brother's gonna love finding a report on this in his file," Frannie said under her breath, adjusting her skirt. Predictably, Welsh noted, in the wrong direction.
"—although that, of course, is a purely subjective assessment, and one that does imply a certain level of discomfort with alternative expressions of sexuality and perhaps an attendant degree of xenophobia. I would note that for a certain segment of the population the 'Cock Tail'—" Quotation marks again. "—constitutes a perfectly legitimate and might I add entirely legal choice for an evening's entertainment—"
"Pow. Bam. He's gonna go right through the roof," Frannie said, sounding—well, one might even say gleeful.
Kowalski whirled around. At this rate, he was going to have a helluva case of vertigo by the end of the evening. "Your brother can go fuck himse—"
"Whoa, bro." Frannie held up her hands. "Don't blow a carburetor."
"Gasket," Huey corrected helpfully.
"—and perhaps I'm simply more comfortable with variant expressions of human sexuality, given that—and I say this without malice towards the United States, although I think Americans have much to learn from Canada about cultural inclusiveness—that Canada has a very impressive human rights history in matters such as this. Also, as a Canadian citizen I am of course more acquainted with efforts to embrace a purposefully multicultural approach to all social interactions, as dictated by the Charter of Rights and Freedom—"
"Constable." Welsh could feel a headache coming on and wondered why someone didn't market a brand of painkillers specifically formulated to counter the effects of interacting on a long term basis with Canadians, "perhaps we could compromise on a Cliff Notes version of tonight's events?"
"Of course, Lieutenant, although I do recommend you look up the history of the Charter someday—the legislative record alone makes for fascinating reading. In any case, as I was saying, I was immediately aware of the atypical nature of the clientele at the 'Cock Tail', although frankly, I don't think Detective Vecchio was mindful at first. I believe it took him several minutes to become cognizant of the fact that many of the patrons displayed mannerisms and dress commonly associated with the gay community."
"Excuse me, Fraser?"
"I think he's calling you an idiot, Vecchio," Huey said.
"Oh, so now we're re-writing history here? Listen, Fraser, I was just as cognizant of how queer that place was as—"
"Nevertheless, regardless of what Detective Vecchio may or may not have noticed, and when he noticed it, we ordered our drinks and were attempting to discuss the Meyerson case—by the way, sir, I really do believe we should re-interview all of the employees associated with the Bloomington office. I think it's statistically improbable that forty-seven people would independently reach the same decision to invest in a small, relatively obscure pharmaceutical company—"
Welsh cleared his throat.
"—yes, of course. My apologies, sir. As I said, Detective Vecchio and I were attempting to discuss one of his unsolved cases over music being played at what I would describe as excessively loud levels, when I became aware of Detective Vecchio's preoccupation with," and here the constable paused briefly to glance over at the inspector,
—sitting down now, legs encased in smooth, shiny leather crossed at the knee, the riding crop just resting on her knee, quivering with the motion of her heel tapping, tapping, tapping, against the—
"—well, some of the activities being engaged in by other patrons in attendance."
"I was not preoccupied, Fraser, I couldn't believe what the fuck I was see—"
"Now, I think it's important to stress that at this time, these—activities—could in no way be described as a 'live sex show', nor were they illegal in any respect, although I will concede the indisputable," quick glance again at the inspector—
—sheer black stocking above the boots, creamy thigh revealed through the thin straps of the garter belt—
"—carnality of some of the…of the—"
"Consensual acts between consenting adults," the inspector interjected.
Fraser flushed. "Yes, sir."
Welsh turned to Huey. "If there was nothing illegal in the, er, performance, then what is the Inspector under arrest for?"
Everyone in the room jumped at the sound of the riding crop hitting the edge of the inspector's chair.
Everyone except Ms. Vecchio, who crossed her legs.
"I am. Not. Under arrest."
"Of course you're not, sir. Lieutenant," Fraser turned back to Welsh, "I'm afraid you are laboring under a misapprehension. Neither the Inspector nor I, nor Detective Vecchio, are under arrest. Several individuals were placed under arrest at the bar; they are seated over there," Fraser pointed through the open blinds covering the office windows, "next to Detective Dewey's desk."
Welsh got up and went over to the window, and peered through the slats. Six men and five women were seated together on a long bench against the wall next to Dewey's desk. A seventh man was sitting in a chair next to Dewey, answering questions while Dewey typed out an arrest form. All of the men wore suits and ties; the ladies were in pastel dresses and skirts that came over the knee. All of them wore handcuffs. "Them?"
"Yes, sir. I performed a citizen's arrest immediately following the…incident, followed quickly by a formal arrest conducted by Detectives Huey and Dewey upon their arrival at the scene."
"And just what," Welsh rubbed his forehead, "are these fine citizens under arrest for?" He looked at Fraser. "Excessive littering?"
"They're whores," said Huey.
"Detective, are you seriously telling me that this group of men and women who look like they just stepped out of a revival meeting—" Welsh lowered his voice. "Is it some kind of weird sex ring?" he asked.
"Ah, no, sir." Huey looked embarrassed. "That isn't…what I mean to say is, that's what they call themselves—"
"Yeah." Kowalski had found his voice again. "It's like one of those, what do you call its, acrobats—"
Kowalski waffled his hand. "Whatever. Heterosexuals Organized to Redeem Sexuality. H--O--R--S. Whores."
Welsh rubbed his forehead again. "Fine, what are these whores—what are the suspects charged with?"
"Violation of Illinois Statute 720, section eight dash two, conspiracy, section ten dash one, kidnapping, section ten dash two, aggravated kidnapping, section ten dash four, forcible detention, section twelve dash one, assault, section twelve dash two, aggravated assault, section twenty-four dash one, unlawful use of weapons, section twenty-four dash one point two, aggravated discharge of a firearm, section eleven dash six point five, indecent solicitation of an adult, section eleven dash twenty, obscenity—'
"—and section eleven dash nine, public indecency. Not including the misdemeanor charges."
"Trespassing." Kowalski folded his arms and leaned back against the wall. "And creating a public disturbance." He grinned.
"I see." He returned to his chair. "I'm still not entirely clear how we get from you and Detective Vecchio having a drink at a gay bar—"
"—to the arrest of the Billy Graham Choral Assembly. If I'm following this correctly, you were observing the Inspector here, uh…"
The riding crop twitched. "Engaging in consensual acts between consenting adults."
"Yes, ma'am. Engaging in—in what she said—and?"
"Well, actually—I mean, at the time we didn't actually realize it was the Ice—uh, that it was Inspector Thatcher. Sir. She was, uh…" Kowalski looked at Fraser. Fraser's color deepened.
"The Inspector was…" Fraser cleared his throat. "That is to say the Inspector was masked. Sir."
"Masked?" Welsh looked at the inspector, who held up a vinyl hood, dangling it from one finger.
—shiny, black like the rest of the skin tight—shiny, black—small slits cut for the eyes and the nose and a round, round "O" where the mouth would be—
The Inspector smiled. "Masked."
"Yeah." Kowalski was off the wall again and pacing. "It's like this, we're having a drink and we notice some of the, uh, patrons engaging in a little bit of, uh, well, slap and tickle, you might say, y'know—doing their thing, see—and so I go over to, uh—"
"Have a closer look."
"Yeah, well, you were having a closer look right along with me, Fraser, so y'know, bricks and glass houses here, seems to me. So, anyway," Kowalski turned back to Welsh, "we were a little distracted and we didn't actually see these guys—and uh, women—come in but then next thing we know the music's cut, and that's when we see them, looking like some Sunday school choir that lost its way, except for the guns, of course, which they're waving all around and pointing at people, telling everyone to shut up and be quiet and stay calm 'cause they're gonna stage a, a, a—" Snapping fingers. "—a what do you call its, an 'intervention.'"
"An intervention for what?"
"Yeah, well, that's what I asked but they told me to shut up and get over in the corner with my boyfriend, which is apparently what they thought Fraser was—"
"Although I fail to see how they arrived at that conclusion, given your obvious preoccupation with the Inspec—"
"Fraser? Shut up. Just shut up, okay? Or I'm going to—"
"I'm simply reporting the salient facts to the Lieu—"
"—kick you in the head, Fraser, don't think I won't—"
"Detective! Constable!" Kowalski shut up. The constable cleared his throat.
Welsh imagined retirement. Florida maybe. "Detective Huey. Perhaps it would better at this juncture if you picked up the ball and ran with it."
Or maybe he should just start banging his head against the nearest hard surface. "Perhaps you could continue?"
"Ah. Yes, sir." Huey pulled out his notebook. "According to witnesses, the seven men and five women arrived at the 'Cock Tail'—" There were quotation marks in his voice as well. Perhaps it was contagious. "—at approximately 10:30 p.m. After shutting down the sound system and securing the doors with U-locks, they proceeded to separate the crowd into two groups, by gender. Which I understand got a little complicated with some of the patrons," he said with a grin.
"Yes, sir. After splitting the patrons into two groups, the group identified themselves as whores—as representatives of H.O.R.S.," he added, with another glance at Welsh, "and read a statement in which they 'denounced the perverse nature of homosexuality,' compared the 'Cock Tail' to Sodom and Gomorrah, and declared their intention to save the souls of all of those present by indoctrinating them into a Christian, heterosexual lifestyle."
"I see." Silence. "And just how did they intend to accomplish that, Detective Huey?"
"Well, sir, they told the patrons that," he consulted his notebook again, "that 'you are steeped in the sinful homosexual lifestyle and have forgotten the pure and spiritual pleasure of sexual congress with the opposite sex.' And they, well, they were gonna fix that. By…" Huey looked at Kowalski, then at Welsh. He cleared his throat. "By making them. Y'know. With each other."
Welsh sighed. "I think I get the picture, Detective."
"Yes, sir. Well, uh, so they pulled out one of those air mattress things, sir, and blew it up. Then they said that those with the greatest sin should go first, and that's when they, uh," quick glance at the inspector, "they picked Inspector Thatcher here. Uh. Sir."
"I see. And?"
"And, uh…" Huey squinted at his notebook. "Well, then they were trying to pick the guy, see—the worst guy, you see—and that's, uh, well, that's when, uh…"
"That's when Detective Vecchio volunteered." The constable folded his arms again. "Sir."
"You volunteered." Welsh looked over at Kowalski, eyebrow raised.
Kowalski shoved his hands into his pockets. "Yeah, well—I mean, sir, I figured it was better that I volunteer, see, than letting them make some guy fuck—I mean, rather than leaving a civilian open to, to—well, what they had in mind. Sir."
"So you're telling me this was a selfless attempt to prevent harm to the citizenry of Chicago."
The constable made a noise that sounded suspiciously like a snort. Kowalski hunched his shoulders. "Yeah. Yeah, that's what I'm saying although some people refuse to believe me."
"So you and the Inspector here…uh…"
"We, uh…" Kowalski looked a little helplessly at Fraser. "That is, the Ice—Inspector Thatcher and I, well…See, she still had the mask on, sir—"
"Engaged in the pure and spiritual pleasure of sexual congress with the opposite sex." Fraser's mouth was twisted up like he was sucking on sour apple candy.
"Boinked." Frannie made a circle of thumb and forefinger with one hand.
Stuck another finger through it.
"Ms. Vecchio. Please." Welsh turned reluctantly to the inspector, who shrugged.
"When in Rome…"
It was close to five in the morning when Welsh finally turned the last of the local news reporters over to Public Liaison Officer Marty Knicks and left by the back door of the station, heading for the parking lot. His 1983 Pontiac had developed a thin layer of ice over the last few hours; he turned over the engine, cranked up the heat, then scraped his windshield. He got in the car and tuned the radio to WSCR, looking for a recast of Boers and Bernstein, or maybe a recap of the scores, and waited for the car to warm up.
"…do not listen, Fraser, you do not listen!" The door burst open and bounced off the metal railing at the top of the steps as Kowalski came through it. "You think you already know everything there is to know and so you. Do. Not. Listen. No matter what anybody says or tries to tell you different!"
The constable had his volume set a bit lower, so Welsh didn't hear exactly what he replied, although it was clear from his "stick up his ass" posture that he was, in fact, not listening to a word Kowalski was saying and was just making free with the twelve syllable words. Kowalski waved a fist wildly and turned, and started towards his car, tucked away in the east corner of the parking lot, and from the wild gesturing that continued Welsh figured he was still trying to make his point. Whatever that was.
Big Red was following him, of course. Still talking himself, probably in that completely reasonable tone of voice that made you want to belt him. Halfway across the parking lot Kowalski whirled around again in response to something Fraser said and went on the offense again, punctuating his rant with a finger poked repeatedly into the constable's chest. Fraser was caught up short and Welsh watched Red's face get stonier and stonier, like it was freezing in the stiff, cold wind. Then Fraser said something, and shoved Kowalski's hand away, and Kowalski drew back as if he was going to throw a punch.
Fraser didn't move, although he maybe flinched back a little. Kowalski reined himself in before any fists started flying.
Welsh relaxed, and let go of the knob on his car door.
Now Kowalski was staring down at the ground, saying nothing, and Fraser was staring at Kowalski, and for a second Welsh thought maybe he was gonna have to get out of the car after all and tell them to take it home, before one of them did something stupid and Kowalski wound up on report. Finally, Kowalski shrugged, looked up and said something to Fraser real quietly, something you could see Red had to lean forward a bit to hear, and then Kowalski shoved his hands into his pockets and started back toward his car.
Fraser stood stock still for a moment, like maybe the cold had finally gotten to him and he'd become some kind of frozen Mountie popsicle. Then, as Welsh watched, Fraser suddenly got animated, the color rose in his face and he suddenly began walking fast in Kowalski's direction. Fraser reached Kowalski just as Kowalski reached his car and was bending down trying to see the lock. Fraser came up behind him and put a hand on Kowalski's shoulder, and Kowalski jumped and turned around, and for a moment they just stood there like that, looking at each other again. Welsh couldn't see clearly—their faces were only half visible in the sketchy light from the parking lot lamps--but he could see they were talking again, and then he saw Kowalski laugh and raise two fists, like he just survived twelve rounds with Lennox Lewis, and came out on top. And then Fraser was leaning down and Kowalski was wrapping gloved hands around the constable's face and they were—
They were kissing.