On October 8, Mrs. Wiltshire died. It was a shock to the community; they’d seen her at church only two days before, her frail but energetic form a familiar sight at Sunday worship. Benton had seen her, too, had laughed with her about the way that M. DeGuerre protected his potato salad recipe.
Benton was first on the scene when Mrs. Wiltshire’s daughter called that evening because her mother was unresponsive. Benton radioed for medical personnel immediately, but he could tell there was no hope — Mrs. Wiltshire had been sitting in her favourite chair with Annabelle, her beloved Yorkie, at her feet, dead for at least an hour.
“It was a good death,” everyone said at the memorial service a week later, which got Benton thinking about all the not-good deaths he’d seen — starting, of course, with his father. Nobody had ever said his father had had a good death. What an oxymoron. What on earth was a good death, anyway?
Benton found himself getting angry as the funeral went on the way that small-town funerals for elderly people do: more like a social than a wake, with homemade squares and laughter ringing through the church hall. Not even the children were crying, and why should they? It was a good death.
He noticed Ray watching him a few times throughout the afternoon, and he wondered how much of his attitude was showing on his face, and if anyone else could see it. Probably not. Like him, Ray had had years of experience with death — plus the added bonus of being able to see right through Benton’s uniform to the man underneath.
So it wasn’t a surprise when Ray kissed him the second they got through the door of their cabin. Ray was a physical person — always more prone to speak with his body than his words — and Benton found himself responding in kind. He kissed back even harder, and when Ray touched him, Benton pulled his hands away, walked him backwards into the nearest wall and pinned him.
“That’s it,” Ray murmured, while Benton licked a stripe down his throat. “Let me have it.”
After, he asked Ray what had gotten into him.
Ray’s mouth twisted playfully. “Other than you, you mean?”
Benton chuckled. Ray went on. “You think I can’t tell when you’re angry? Everybody talking about how good that lady had it, meanwhile you’re the one who had to find her, take her body to the morgue, lead the mandatory investigation. Not to mention, this lady died, and everybody’s happy — you think I don’t know the way that pisses you off, with all you’ve seen?”
“It’s not their fault,” Benton said, feeling compelled to defend the inhabitants of his community. “They don’t know.”
“Yeah, I know,” Ray sighed. He rubbed Ben’s arm and looked him in the eye. “I know.”
And he did. Twenty years on the force in Chicago, Ray knew death better than anyone.
“So you don’t have to fake it with me,” Ray continued. “You get mad, you feel a thing, you tell me. You take it out on me. That’s what I’m here for. That’s why I’m your partner.”
“All right, Ray,” Benton said softly. He pulled Ray into his arms and held on tight. “All right.”
“Good,” said Ray. “That’s good.”
It was maybe not a good death, but a good life. Benton knew which he preferred.