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The Land of Lost Content

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   That is the land of lost content,
    I see it shining plain,
    The happy highways where I went
    And cannot come again.

         --  A. E. Housman

 

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Benton Fraser to Ray Vecchio

Fort Conquest, NT, July 3, 1999

Dear Ray,

I must extend my warmest congratulations (as if you need more warmth in Sarasota! I’m given to understand the summers can be particularly oppressive in their humidity) on your marriage. My interactions with Assistant State’s Attorney Kowalski (as I knew her) were brief, but she is a formidable woman and will make an excellent ally in your new venture. Bowling is rather popular here in Fort Conquest, so I shall think of you when next I throw a frame.

Best wishes,

B. Fraser

 

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Benton Fraser to Ray Kowalski

Fort Conquest, NT, July 3, 1999

Dear Ray,

I had hoped to hear from you by now. I appreciate your leaving a message with the detachment in Norman Wells, letting me know you had arrived home safely. I would, however, like to know more of how your days are shaped. Now that you have reclaimed your name and your identity, have you also regained your vocation? You mentioned that often as a source of concern to you during our time together. Are you, as yourself (so to speak), back at the 27th? Or have you been assigned to another district? Have you heard from Francesca, or Elaine? Is Huey’s and Dewey’s comedy club as dismal as we speculated?

Turnbull is recovering well, although he had to suspend his campaign. His therapists are optimistic that he’ll regain full motor and verbal abilities; I hope they are already acquainted with his baseline, or they may be in for some unwarranted disappointment. Inspector Thatcher seems to have disappeared off the face of the Earth, but I was reminded of her the other day when I heard a woman’s voice singing the Iraqi national anthem prior to an international football match (by which I mean soccer, as you can probably surmise). For just a couple of notes, I could have sworn I was back in Willison. I know you remember Willison quite well. If you can bear to rewind the game tape to the beginning, you will be treated to the Inspector singing your national anthem with assurance and style.

Best wishes,

B. Fraser

 

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Ray Vecchio to Benton Fraser

Sarasota, FL, July 11, 1999

Dear Benny,

It's great to hear from you! How's Canada treating you, now that you're a big hero and all? Since you're writing from someplace I never heard of, I'm going to guess you got yourself a posting where you get to run around in the woods chasing fish-dynamating desperadoes to your heart's content. I hope that's going well for you.

How was your big adventure, by the way? You didn't leave Kowalski's body in a frozen lake up there or anything, did you?

It's too bad you couldn't be here for the wedding, but don't sweat it -- I know it's a big deal to haul your butt all the way across Canada and the US. Benny, I've got to tell you, being married to Stella is everything I ever imagined -- no, scratch that, it's not at all like I imagined, certainly not much like my first marriage -- but it's real good. I'd tell you all about it, but I don't want to make you jealous. Seriously, though: I really lucked out with Stella. I don't know what I did to deserve her, but you can bet your ass I'm going to do whatever it takes to make her happy.

I hope you find a girl who makes you as happy as Stella makes me, Benny. If anyone deserves that, you do.

Take care of yourself out there.

Ray

 

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Ray Kowalski to Benton Fraser

Chicago, IL, July 12, 1999

Dear Fraser,

Sorry I didn't write sooner. I'm not much good at this letter-writing stuff. Me and paperwork, you know. Plus, I  XXXXX

I don't know if that thing about vocation means you want to know if I have a job or if I feel good about it or what. But anyway, yeah, I ended up back at the 27th, under my own name. Kind of weird, I know, especially since when I left I got the impression Welsh didn't care much one way or the other about seeing me go. But I guess maybe that was just me getting my head all messed up with Vecchio coming back and everything, and probably everyone else was thrown off their game by that too, being such a surprise and not really in the plan. Anyway, when I got back, I got a call from Welsh saying that since Vecchio had taken off to Florida, he was looking for a detective and did I want to stay on after all? And you know, nothing against my old district, but I kind of got attached to the 27th, and Welsh is a great boss, honestly. So, yeah, here I am, same desk and everything.

Frannie's pregnant. No man in the picture as far as anyone can figure. She keeps claiming it's a virgin birth, which she probably means immaculate conception, but either way, I don't think she's serious but it's always kind of hard to tell. You don't know the story there, do you? I mean, I would have thought if   XXXX   Never mind, and I bet if you do know anything you're too much of a gentleman to rat her out, even to me.

Elaine's got herself a beat. I don't hear from her much but sounds like she's doing well. I'll tell her you say hello, next time I see her. The Duck Boys suck at comedy, I don't need to tell you that. I did go once; kind of felt like it was my duty, you know?

So, life is pretty much the same old same old. Except that you're not around, which is a big difference, of course.   XXXXX   I'm partnered with a new guy, Moldina. He's okay -- seems like a good cop.

See, this is why I don't write letters. Do you really want to read this crap? Yeah, you probably do. I wish I had something more interesting to put, but life's been a lot less weird since you left and hell, what do people write in letters anyway?

I'd like to  XXXXX

Ignore that, sorry. I don't know what I was trying to say there.

You got anyone watching your back up there, Fraser? You better. You get yourself killed doing something stupid off by yourself, and I will come up there and kick you in the head, I promise you.

Say Hi to Deif for me, will you?

Ray

 

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Ray Kowalski to Stella Vecchio

Chicago, IL, July 13, 1999

Dear Stella,

The card is to both of you, even though I don't really know Vecchio (although in some ways I know him probably better than most people). But this letter is for you, just to say that I hope you'll be happy with him & with your new life. I can't say I understand why you want either, but it ain't my job to understand. And he's a good guy – I know you don't need me to tell you that, but I hope you'll take it like I mean it.

I'm fucking this up, huh? Seriously, Stella, have a great life. You know I want the best for you, right? And I know you're smart enough to make it happen, unlike  XXX  most people.

I didn't get a chance to say so before you left town, but I hope we can be friends again, now that we've had some time to cool off from all the other shit. I'm not going to go all crazy on you, don't worry. It's just, you're maybe the one person in the world who really knows me, and maybe that's not always a good thing from your point of view, but it means something to me. And I could kind of use a friend right now.

If that's too much to ask, don't worry about it, I understand.

But can I ask you a question, anyway? Don't worry, it ain't nothing personal. Just, can you explain to me how the hell to write a letter that doesn't suck?

Love,

Ray

 

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Benton Fraser to Ray Vecchio

Fort Conquest, NT, July 18, 1999

Dear Ray,

I'm not sure "big hero" is a particularly apt description, although Canada, at least in the sense of the RCMP, has finally allowed my...repatriation seems like too strong a word in some ways, and too paltry in others. I'm home, Ray.

Fort Conquest, as it is currently called, was the closest available assignment to the cabin. It's nine days of hard walking, assuming one has a compass, does not encounter criminals, and has not been either blinded or paralyzed. I think we both know better than to make such assumptions. In any case, it's a short enough trip by plane that I should be able to visit (visit! my own home!) at least twice before the winter sets in.

So far my duties have been light. Most residents are fishing (through traditional means) and building. There was a bit of an alarming mystery when some of the explosives were missing; fortunately it was not in connection with fishing, but rather a misplaced decimal on the manifest. Perhaps someone mistook a happy face for a zero. Did you ever explain that discrepancy to either Welsh or Det. Kowalski? It did cause some consternation at the time, although admittedly not as much as when I foolishly exposed your identity just before you were, well, shot.

Speaking of Ray Kowalski, the last I heard, he had arrived safely in Chicago when we had to call off our quest for the remains of the Franklin expedition due to lack of snow. I am sure he is fine.

I have not had much of a chance to meet with suitable women here in Fort Conquest. I appreciate your generosity of spirit, but I must confess I sometimes wonder whether it is a question of deserving or simple fate. I all too frequently confuse what I want with what I can attain, and what I can attain with what I deserve.

Oh, here I am being a grumpy bachelor at my married friend! Sometimes I wonder if my secret life's goal is to achieve a cliché Yahtzee.

Could you possibly send some pictures of the bowling alley? St. John Beavertoe, who runs For(es)t Lanes (he changed the sign from Fort Lanes; as you can imagine, the name Fort Conquest is considered unfortunate by most of the people who live here, myself included), has an expressed a professional interest. He is also curious to know if you and your wife (forgive me, it is very hard to think of her by her new name or even her first name, although the pictures show her radiant joy at having become Stella Vecchio) have a newsletter and, if so, he would like a copy.

Best,

B. Fraser

 

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Stella Vecchio to Ray Kowalski

Sarasota, FL, July 19, 1999

Dear Ray,

Well, just to start with, make sure you know who you're writing to. Your card was lovely, and ended up in a stack of cards from nineteen separate and individual Vecchio cousins (we haven't even gotten to the ones who aren't technically Vecchios!) and Ray started to read it, coughed like he was bringing up a bullet and handed it over to me forthwith. I didn't think you'd appreciate my sharing it with him, so I just took it and told him you sent your best.

Other than that, I'd say you've got a pretty good handle on letter writing. I actually teared up a little. You forget, I know you. And that won't ever change. So I know you meant exactly what you wrote, and when you wrote "have a great life," I actually kind of panicked a little, because that's what people say when they don't think they'll ever see you or talk to you again. And I don't want us to be that way.

I know I was hard on you last year. I felt bad about it even at the time, worse so now, but I knew if I showed even an ounce of interest we'd just be where we were before you busted my boyfriend for graft. And that wasn't fair to either of us.

Anyway, it sounds like things are kind of tough for you now, but not in a way that has much to do with me? I guess? Because you sound like you're reaching out for, well, almost a new friend, not for Stella-and-Ray-from-the-old-days. Because we can't be that anymore, Ray, but like I said, there's something in your letter that makes me believe you know that now.

But I can be a new kind of old friend to you, if that makes sense. Shit, maybe I'm the one who needs to know how to write a letter that doesn't suck!

Stella

 

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Benton Fraser to Ray Kowalski

Fort Conquest, NT, July 21, 1999

Dear Ray,

How wonderful to hear from you! Although you did make a bit of a liar out of me; by the time I received your letter, I had already complained to Ray Vecchio about not hearing from you. In my defense, he seemed suspicious that I might have, perhaps, hidden your remains at some point during our Quest. I realize there was some friction between the two of you that may have been exacerbated by recent events in Ray Vecchio's personal life, but I believe the comment was meant in all jocularity.

But how rude of me to complain that you didn't write soon enough rather than to thank you for writing! You are right; this is precisely the sort of thing I want to learn about. I suspect Elaine will not be on the beat for long; she is very sharp and already had some community college and, last I heard, was planning to do upper division work starting this fall. Not that formal education is the only route to success within law enforcement, as we both know, but I believe she is ambitious beyond most.

Lieutenant Welsh is a good man, and I'm glad you're working under him again, because I always felt that you and he actually had a strong bond; he always seemed to hold you in fairly high regard, given his standards. And now you even have a proper partner who, I trust, is tolerable and not given to endangering your life in bizarrely wild ways. And perhaps has a better understanding of US sporting analogies and television references than certain of your less official partners!

I am quite surprised to learn of Francesca's impending motherhood. I agree that immaculate conception seems an unlikely explanation, but although she confided in me on several occasions, nothing she said ever indicated that this was in store for her. I'd like to weave a fanciful tale of ice maidens and the men who impregnate them without their knowledge (yes, that was a talk show joke; there's a humorous Canadian television series called "Twitch City" which revolves around such things...the man who runs the local bowling alley shows videos of it Wednesday nights and I really should run him in for broadcast copyright violation, but I think there is a time to look the other way and this would be it). However, I suspect that the truth is more mundane. Perhaps the father is unavailable, or unwilling to offer Francesca his name or support. If so, he is a rotten excuse for a man, and I hope someone hunts him to the ends of the Earth. Or perhaps Francesca is participating in a top secret medical experiment. Beware if she has a daughter named Dolly! Or perhaps I should say, beware to the men of Chicago circa 2019 if she has a daughter named Dolly.

On a more serious note, I did not mean to imply anything about your job or your skills, Ray. I simply felt that, at times during the Quest, you were beginning to think that perhaps you might want to take your settled life and throw it all away. But it sounds as though you've found the road back home again.

Best,

B. Fraser

PS: Dief is fine and returns your greetings with enthusiasm and a request I refuse to pass along. Unfortunately, he is my only backup for the nonce, but I'm supposed to get someone as soon as the most recent Depot graduates finish their post-Depot orientation exercises.

 

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Ray Kowalski to Stella Vecchio

Chicago, IL, July 25, 1999

Dear Stella,

Don't worry, I'm not going to start stalking you by letter or anything (for one thing, writing letters really kind of sucks -- no offense to you, I just mean in general). But I just wanted to say thank you. Because your letter really meant a lot to me. And also I was worried that maybe I'd accidentally scared you and I want to make sure you know everything's okay with me -- I mean, I'm not about to disappear undercover or jump off a bridge or anything like that and I didn't mean to sound that way.

Don't worry about last year, either. I gave you a hard time too, and I know you know I wasn't doing it to hurt you, I just took a long time to get my head out of my ass and let go of the dream of you & me. You probably did the right thing, not that it felt good at the time, but hey, a lot of divorced couples do worse, right?

I do know we can't ever be the old us, and -- I was going to say that's OK, but it's not really, but you know what I mean. I'm OK with it.

In fact I  XXXX    XXXX

Sorry about all the mess there. I want to ask you a question but it turns out it's weirder than I thought it would be to say.

The thing is, I think I might want to start something with somebody, I mean a specific somebody, except I'm not sure it would be possible in the first place and then I think I also might have fucked it up to start with and so maybe it doesn't matter but anyway. You're not the only person I've dated, but you're the only person who's ever been in love with me, and I know this is a weird question but do you have any idea how the hell I'm supposed to do it?

Okay, that's probably way over the line, and really I should just tear this up but you said friends and honestly I feel like my head's going to explode if I don't talk to someone just a little bit.

If this is too much just tell me to shut up. I won't take it the wrong way, I promise.

Tell Vecchio I say hello and not to freak out because I'm not trying to steal his wife by mail or anything stupid like that.

Thanks for listening.

Ray

 

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Ray Vecchio to Benton Fraser

Sarasota, FL, July 26, 1999

Dear Benny,

Yeah, Kowalski's fine as far as I know -- he sent us a wedding present a week or two back. Were you worried about him for some reason?

I have no idea what you're talking about, some discrepancy I was supposed to explain to Welsh and Kowalski? I barely set foot in the 27th before I got shot, engaged, off the payroll, and on a plane to Florida. Smiley faces?? But I wouldn't worry about it; if they haven't called to pester me about it, it can't be all that important. Not everyone worries about every stupid little detail, you know.

Benny, are you OK? I say I hope you meet a nice girl and you start talking about what you want and what you can get and what you deserve, and I've got to say, it sounds like you've got something specific in mind. But it doesn't sound like you're too happy about it. (Grumpy bachelor?? Not how I'd expect you to describe yourself.) I don't want to be nosy, but you know you can talk to me about this kind of stuff, right? Or maybe I'm way off base, wouldn't be the first time. But if there's something on your mind, whatever it is, you can tell me, right?

Take care. (I mean it.)

Ray

PS: I don't have any pictures of the bowling alley lying around, not like real estate ones or anything, but I'm sending along a couple from the Grand Opening, and also a couple of me and Stella that we took when we were just fooling around the other day. No newsletter, sorry. Who writes a newsletter for a bowling alley?!?

 

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Ray Kowalski to Benton Fraser

Chicago, IL, July 28, 1999

Dear Fraser,

What the hell were you doing talking about me to Vecchio? I mean, whatever, it's a free country, but I doubt he's interested in hearing the story of my life, you know?

OK, that was a dumb way to start a letter, sorry. You said you wanted to hear more about what Elaine's been up to and I wanted to tell you this anyway because you'll like it. I ended up working on a case with her this week -- well, by "working" I mean the way you and me used to do sometimes. Off the record. See, this friend of hers was in trouble and the cops weren't giving her the time of day because they thought she was just making shit up to stir up trouble, because she's kind of a kooky animal rights activist who goes around stopping people in train stations to yell at them for wearing fur (although not in the middle of July I guess). Anyway, Elaine's boss told her to let it alone, so Elaine came to me. I guess she figured with you not around any more I was the next best thing or something. Made me feel kind of good, actually, that she'd do that. So we did some sneaking around looking into things, and one thing led to another and that led to way too much running around trying not to get shot, but in the end we got the bastards who were trying to set up Anita and put a dent in their rare animal parts smuggling ring (did you know there are people who pay big bucks for rhino horns and turtle fetuses cause they think it'll help them get it up? You probably knew that. I didn't know that.).

Anyway, it was good. Elaine's a good person to work with. I didn't really get to know her much before, she was pretty much on her way out when I showed up at the 27th and I was kind of busy paying attention to other stuff. But you're right, she'll make a good cop, the kind who cares about getting it done right. Your kind of cop -- well, maybe not as crazy, but you know what I mean.

She asked me how you were doing. Said to tell you hello and that she thinks about you when things get hard or stupid at work and she wonders what she became a cop for. She thinks about you standing up to Warfield and shit like that, and it reminds her what the point of it all is supposed to be. She ain't the only one.

Frannie says hello, too. Told her I got a letter from you. She seemed kind of disappointed that I didn't have any stories to tell her about you doing crazy superhero stuff.

Fraser, about the Quest. XXX   XXXXXXXX   XXXXXX

XXXXX

You know I say all kinds of shit, Fraser, and you usually don't take most of it too seriously. (Sometimes I wish you'd take more of it seriously but I'm not going to start up that fight again in a letter.) What I mean is, yeah, when we were on the Quest I felt like I wanted to just run away into the sunset and never come back, but it wasn't about the job. I complain about it but I do love being a cop, you know that. Well, maybe love ain't the right word. A lot of times the job is a pain in the ass, or boring, and then a lot of other times it makes me so mad I want to bust something because it's like the world will never be right and out of the 10 million things that need fixing maybe if I'm lucky I'll get to do one of them, if the brass doesn't come fuck me over with the reg book. But there are days it's worth it all, when it all clicks and you're in the groove, or when you put some creep away and you know you've fixed someone's problem at least for today. Come to think of it, maybe love is the right word afterall, because I think I just kind of described my marriage there.

Wow, I'm really running off at the mouth here. Symbolically speaking, as you would say, except that's the wrong damn word. Never mind, you know what I mean.

My point is, the job is fine, it's the settled fucking life that's bullshit. Because really, what do I have here, except for the job? There's nothing to throw away Fraser, which is what I was probably complaining about when I said whatever you're remembering me saying on the Quest.

OK, I'm going to sign off before this letter goes even further down the toilet. I told you I suck at writing letters.

But write back anyway? I want to hear what you're up to, besides which if everyone's going to keep asking me about you I'd better have something to tell them.

Tell Deif if he lets you get shot up or fall down a mineshaft or anything he's going to be in big trouble. And get yourself a partner who can use a gun. No offense to Deif but there are some jobs humans do better.

Ray

PS: You mentioned a TV show in your letter. Who are you and what have you done with the real Benton Fraser?

 

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Stella Vecchio to Ray Kowalski

Sarasota, FL, July 30, 1999

Ray,

Oh, Jesus, Ray, you cannot steal a person from another person! And if you were going to try, you'd have to find a better medium than the USPS!

Okay, feminist rant over. For now, but I'm watching you like a hawk.

So you've met someone, huh? And you're sure you've already fucked it up. You're like some kind of relationship overachiever. "I met her on Monday, we had a nice date on Tuesday, and by Friday I'd shot her dog and stole her Bible." Since when does Ray Kowalski give up that easy?

I think I fell in and out of love with you about twelve times, minimum. I fell in love with you because you protected me and put me on a pedestal. Then I fell out of love with you because I was lonely up on that pedestal. And then you said, and I quote, "For such a nice girl, you're really kind of a stuck-up bitch" and I realized I wasn't on the pedestal and that you really did know who I was. Not that I'd recommend calling your new lady friend a stuck-up bitch. Even if she is one.

Now that I think of it, I think each time it was the same: put Stella on a pedestal. Stella gets bored on the pedestal, thinks Ray can't love her because he doesn't know her. Ray does any one of a number of things that indicate Stella is no longer on the pedestal. And they were a bunch of different things. Calling me on my bullshit was a big one. But...remember that time I thought I was pregnant? When I told you I was two weeks late and we assumed the same thing, it was almost like it wasn’t just me, Stella, on the pedestal, but a vessel. On a pedestal. But when I had that horrible, horrible period five weeks later and you were so scared for me, you didn't even care about the baby, or even if there had been one, and while I didn't want to fall off the pedestal and into a sickbed, you really saw me again. And when you said "You must be relieved" and just...held me...once it was all over, I knew you didn't just mean I was relieved about being back on my feet. And that made me feel like I was back off the pedestal, that you knew me for who I was and loved me for it, not despite it.

It was a dozen things like that, so I guess what you should do is make sure you love her for who she really is, and that she knows that. In that order. Don't fall in love with someone who doesn't actually exist. And for Christ's sake, Ray, do not call her a bitch! That was a once-in-a-lifetime fluke that you said that to exactly the right person at exactly the right time.

And for the record, last year didn't feel good to me, either, but I knew I had to do it. It would've been a lot easier if we weren't seeing each other all the time.

I hope it works, Ray, and keep in mind that my advice may be entirely constructed of "lawyerly bullshit made to look like chocolate cake." It's not my intention to give you bad advice, but what the hell do I really know?

Stella

 

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Ray Kowalski to Stella Vecchio

Chicago, IL, August 7, 1999

Dear Stella,

I'm not saying your wrong but what do I do if the person I love really is just better than me?

It ain't a question of not knowing each other well enough. At least, I sure as hell hope not, cause if so then things are so far fucked up that there's no point. But no, we know each other pretty damn well. This ain't someone I just met on Tuesday.

But I can't tell -- see, I kind of tried to drop hints, you know, but it didn't work so well, and I don't know if the problem was I didn't get my point across or if I got it across fine and got dealt a really gentle polite smack-down.

And if I push harder, maybe I get a less polite smack-down and at least I'd know where I stand. But I'd rather have a friend who don't want to be more than that, than another person who has to move all the way to Florida before they feel safe talking to me cause they know I don't know when to quit or how to love someone without being an asshole about it.

I'm trying to be better, Stella. Honest, I am.

I just don't know how to be good enough. I need to learn how to fall in love with someone who's in my league. But I've tried that, and it just leads to being dumped in Mexico. And anyway, you can't pick who you love. Too bad, life would be easier that way.

Thanks for listening.

Your friend (trying, anyway),

Ray

PS: Why didn't you tell me that being called a bitch turns you on? Apparently I was playing by the wrong rulebook all those years. I guess now I see what you picked Vecchio for.

 

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Benton Fraser to Ray Vecchio

Fort Conquest, NT, August 9, 1999

Dear Ray,

For some reason, I thought you'd been briefed about what "you" were up to while you were gone. There was some question about a heroin bust and a major discrepancy regarding quantity between two different reports. The Internal Affairs officer was what you would probably call "a real hard case" and was particularly antagonistic toward Lieutenant Welsh. If no one has gotten back to you about it (and nine kilos was more than just a "stupid little detail," or so it seemed at the time) then Ray Kowalski well and truly saved the day.

And I did hear from him, although it seemed like quite some time. Longer than I would've expected. I thought...well, I wasn't sure what I thought. But he seems to be settling back into his life in Chicago quite well. Perhaps too well! I may never get him up here again, although he seemed to like it well enough while he was here.

I think my maudlin outburst was partly due to not having heard from Ray Kowalski in so long. Now that I know he's happy, I find I'm quite relieved.

As for my comments about what I can have and what I deserve: well, you've always been a good friend and never thrown Victoria back in my face. By most people's standards, that was proof that perhaps I should leave love to those who are more experienced, more sure of themselves and their own judgment.

I have to wonder if there are some kinds of love that are inherently destructive and sinful, but for me these days, the questions are more abstract and philosophical than practical. And, as you implied, a bit depressing. Some days, things are too quiet and I fall so far inside myself I almost long for a crooked used car sales lot or schoolgirls selling Al Capone's secret treasures!

Thank you for the pictures. You and Stella look wonderful together. St. John Beavertoe (I believe he was born with the last name of Benson) sees his proposed bowling alley newsletter as a way to keep people updated on league meetings and results (also for curling on the pond behind the bowling alley when the time comes), but is really more interested in using it to form community connection and coherence. I imagine the people of Sarasota do not need one bowling alley owner to rally them around!

Best,

B. Fraser

 

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Benton Fraser to Ray Kowalski

Fort Conquest, NT, August 10, 1999

Dear Ray,

Ray Vecchio asked after you, and I simply told him that I knew you were back in Chicago and little else. Which was true at the time. It was not my intention to speak about you behind your back, and more recently I did make reference to the heroin bust discrepancy that caused us so many problems the day of the eclipse.  I hope I was not overstepping bounds by speaking of one close friend to another.

Your case (or perhaps more properly it was an adventure) with Elaine sounds like old times. I was aware of rhino horns used in the erroneous belief that they are an aphrodisiac, but had not heard of turtle fetuses being similarly exploited. I am sure that was distressing to you on a very personal level and am doubly glad that you and Elaine brought down the criminal gang responsible. And it gives me a much-needed lift to know that I’ve left the kind of lasting legacy you describe. Perhaps if I were to review my old Chicago case files I would get a similar boost. Fort Conquest is everything I dreamed of in a posting, but I confess I find it rather dull after the excitement of Chicago.

Elaine sounds like she is shaping up to be a fine and capable officer, whatever her other ambitions may be. Is she still, as they say, “single and ready to mingle?” I’m sure that, now that she knows you as well as she does, she would be much more receptive to your social overtures than when you first arrived at the 27th District!

Dief is fairly cognizant of, and largely takes a responsible attitude toward, his duties, but there are situations in which having a partner with opposable thumbs would probably be more useful. I fear that whatever “rookie” I get from the Depot come October will probably have that to recommend him or her and little else.

While I am glad that you find the job no more frustrating than usual, and get into the “groove” often enough to make those frustrations bearable, it saddens me to read that you feel your life is empty outside of your work. I would have thought that you would have found several satisfying social outlets by now.

I have to confess, I did not understand much of the television show I mentioned, aside from how its fictional talk show might make light of Francesca’s situation. Fortunately, the video store in town is stocked with all the classics and that is where I find much of my entertainment these days. I watched White Heat the other night and thought of when we finally attained the summit during our last great case before the Quest.

B. Fraser

 

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Stella Vecchio to Ray Kowalski

Sarasota, FL, August 12, 1999

Ray,

I refuse to believe that she's too good for you, if only for reasons of personal vanity. And you need to stop believing it. That's what the whole thing about the pedestals was about. If you think she's too good for you, then you probably just don't know her well enough. If she thinks she's too good for you, then she is in fact not good enough for you.

So I'm going to be kind and assume this is the insecurity of fresh love talking.

I find it very hard to believe that your hints were too subtle for her to pick up on, unless she's

(a) Extremely young. You can't just quote an ABBA song at the kids today and expect anything but a blank stare.

(b) Recovering from an abusive background. Remember Carrie and how she'd get like ten guys hitting on her a night and she wouldn't even know it? And then we found out about her priest from when she was a kid? I don't think those two aspects of her life were unrelated.

(c) Raised by wolves.

(d) Not straight.

As long as (a) is legal, the first three will be really difficult but if you really love her, you'll find a way. (d) is generally non-negotiable, but statistically unlikely, especially if you find her attractive. You always seemed to have a sixth sense for that, so I doubt that's the problem.

What really seems to be the problem is that she's apparently very important to you as a friend, and that's making you afraid to try to deepen the relationship. So ask yourself: what are you getting from her, as a friend, that you can't get from your other friends? To put it another way, if you make your move and she rejects friendship and romance both, what will you then be missing? Because, my friend, you seem pretty miserable with the status quo and what kind of friend wants to see you like that?

Don't even get me started on "your league." All I'm going to say about that is that your league is generally better than being dumped in Mexico.

Stella

PS: Ray and I got into a big argument the other night, something stupid about the bowling alley (talk about "don't get me started"), and I was kind of mean, and he just pointed at me and said, "Sometimes, you are not a very nice woman!" That's the closest he's ever come to calling me a bitch. Closest he's ever gonna get.

 

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Ray Vecchio to Benton Fraser

Sarasota, FL, August 17, 1999

Benny, I've got nothing to say about Victoria except for this: you didn't deserve one damn bit of what she did to you, and the only thing you did wrong there was fall in love with someone who wasn't worth it. If that was a capital crime, there wouldn't be too many people left walking the street, let me tell you. Just because she was a monster, you think you don't deserve to ever fall in love again? That's crazy talk, and that's all I'm going to say about that.

And what's all this about sinful love? I've heard you get preachy plenty of times, but I've never heard you run down someone for who they loved, even when the person they loved was a scumbag, or both of them were.

Have you fallen for a married woman, Benny? (Or a nun? Do they even have nuns up there in Fort Whatever?)

Don't take this wrong, but you'd tell me if you were in trouble, wouldn't you? I mean real trouble, not the kind you eat for breakfast, but the kind you can't handle alone. Because I know you don't like to think so, but there are some kinds of trouble you can't handle alone. I said I wasn't going to say any more, so I won't, but you know what I'm talking about.

Ray

PS: You don't want to hear about the heroin thing, Benny, no one needs to hear about that. Dead and buried. But it sounds like I owe Kowalski for covering my ass on that one, not like I don't owe him for taking care of my whole damn life for a year and half. And watching your back for me. Listen, next time you drop him a line, will you tell him I said so? What with one thing and another I never did thank him, and that was pretty rotten of me. So tell him I say thanks, OK?

PPS: Maybe if you weren't so hard to get hold of, you'd hear from your friends more. Normal people have a phone, Benny. I know they've heard of them up in Canada.

PPPS: Did you have some kind of fight with Kowalski? Is that what all this fuss about not hearing from him is about?

 

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Ray Kowalski to Stella Vecchio

Chicago, IL, August 19, 1999

Stell,

You don't know how funny you are. Jesus Christ.

I ain't cradle-robbing. That's about all there is to say about that.

Friendship ain't about what you get out of the other person, Stell. If you lose a friend you lose that person, and no one else can ever replace them. And that goes double the more you love them.

I thought you knew that.

Sorry, I don't mean to be a jerk. You said some really helpful things and I'm trying to act on them, or at least figure out which ones apply so I can figure out what to do about it.

I just hate the idea of losing him. And I'm scared maybe I already did.

But it ain't over 'til it's over, right? I'm still in there swinging.

Ray

PS: Hey, tell Vecchio I said you were probably right about whatever it was you were fighting about but he can't fold too easy cause you hate guys who tell you you're right all the time.

 

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Ray Kowalski to Benton Fraser

Chicago, IL, August 19, 1999

Dear Fraser,

I've started this letter 3 times & torn it up. The thing is, I don't know what to write to you that isn't boring bullshit. And see, when we were on the Quest, or back when we were working together, we'd talk about random stupid stuff, or we'd talk about the job, and that was fine, but we saw each other every day, we didn't need to say anything important. Not all the time, I mean. If there was something important to say, we'd say it -- or maybe not but  XXX   My point is, a letter, that's a big deal, what the point of writing a letter if I'm just going to talk about hockey scores or the latest stupid thing Frannie said to yank Welsh's chain? I don't care about any of that stuff. Maybe you do, you care about everything except  XXX  about everything, I guess.

Christ's sake, Fraser, I just want to talk to you but I have no idea what I'm trying to say or how to say it and I have a feeling you might not want to hear it anyways.

But if I tear this one up I'll never send you any letter at all and I don't want that, so I'm going to keep going and hope you'd rather have this than nothing. (Of course you'll be too polite to say so if not.)

I was   XXXX  talking with  XXXX  someone the other day, about friendship and stuff, and she said if you want to figure out whether someone's friendship is worth keeping (worth risking), ask yourself what you're getting from it, that you're not getting from your other friends. But not wanting to trash-talk a smart lady, but I think that's bullshit. You can't just swap one friend for another, or compare them. People ain't interchangeable like that, like you told me on Day One, and that goes for friendships too.

You said we could be friends and partners even thousands of miles away, and it ain't that I disagree, but maybe I don't know how to do that so good.

And reading your letter, I'm wondering if maybe you're having the same problem. Or else you've figured out that it's not worth your time but you're too polite to just not write back.

If that's it, I wish you'd just say so. Believe me, you won't be doing me any favors by pretending. Just ask Stella.

Or maybe I've got it all wrong. I hope so, and if that's the case, there's a question I want to ask you. Except I really can't, especially not in a letter, so here's a different question for you instead.

Do you know that women are constantly trying to pick you up?

I know you hate talking about that kind of shit, but I promise, I got a reason for asking. And you can have a free hit on me if you like -- I don't mean literally, but, like, ask me something. Or ask me for something. Or whatever. I'll owe you one, of whatever you want.

I owe you more than I can even keep track of, anyway.

All right, I'm going to mail this now. I hope by the time you read this, life up in the frozen North has gotten more exciting for you, but not so exciting that you get your head blown off or nothing.

Your friend,

Ray

PS:  Me and Elaine? That's real funny, Fraser. Or flattering, I guess. But no, no action there (except the dodging-bullets kind) and that's A-OK by me.

 

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Stella Vecchio to Ray Kowalski

Sarasota, FL August 23, 1999

Ray,

Jesus Fucking Christ on a cracker, Ray! Him? HIM??

Warn a girl. I read your letter over breakfast and Ray practically had to heimlich my bagel-with-schmear out of my throat and of course I couldn’t tell him what I was reacting to.

Because I don’t know if you even realized that you slipped up. I re-read some of your old letters and only now realized you were playing the pronoun game. I promise I won’t tell anyone until you say it’s okay or tell them yourself.

Okay, this is the reset button on the whole situation. I am totally full of shit, like more so than usual. When I read your last letter before this one (HIM??? I knew you looked, but I didn’t even know if you knew you looked! This will always be the HIM Letter to me), I vowed to myself that I would be supportive of your attempt to form a new relationship unless there was criminal activity involved. Having said that, I’m relieved it’s not cradle robbing. That’s thorny in a number of ways.

And I wasn’t trying to say that you should totally analyze your friendship with “this person” (HIM!) in terms of what’s in it for you. I was trying to say that if you’re friends with someone, but afraid of risking that friendship because you want something more, which can’t you live without: the friendship or the…more intimate relationship? Which would hurt more not to have in your life: not having as much of him as you want, or not having him at all?

And that it’s a him makes all that stuff about why “she” might not have picked up on your signals totally irrelevant. Shit, Ray, do you even know if the guy is inclined toward men in any way? Because if you don’t even have that much information, no wonder you’re flying blind. And I’m really sorry if I made it worse.

Boggling here, Ray. Boggling. But supportive.

Stella

PS: Ray was actually right about that particular argument. I thought we should have a website, but it turns out it’s more complicated and expensive than I thought and, as Ray put it, “It’s not like people turn on a computer to go bowling.”

 

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Benton Fraser to Ray Vecchio

Fort Conquest, NT, August 24, 1999

Dear Ray,

I started writing with the full intention of telling you that I'm fine, of course I'm fine. Why wouldn't I be fine? I have a remote posting reasonably close to my cabin, the post I dreamt about for years, in fact. I no longer have to put up with the press of Chicago, the noise, the artifice, the unkindness of city life. I've started a new life, one without messy and difficult complications. Of course I'm fine!

But it's a lie. I hate it here. I'm depressed and lonely and have apparently chosen to fixate romantically on a completely unavailable (in all meaningful senses of the word) person. My position isolates me from an already isolated community. And we have a few satellite phones, the usage of which is very carefully tracked and guarded.

How can I be blessed to have received everything I thought I wanted and have it all be ashes?

And, as I wrote above, I have, I suppose I could call it "fallen" (again, in all meaningful senses of the word), for someone I can't have. I'm not sure if that choice is what informs my depression, or if my depression informed that choice. Call it sin or self-destruction...it's not healthy and it's not helping.

No, I'm not fine. I'm increasingly desperate and trapped. And lashing out at you, on your honeymoon no less.

Ben

 

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Benton Fraser to Ray Kowalski

Fort Conquest, August 29, 1999

Dear Ray,

I do like hearing about “boring bullshit,” although of course I don’t think it is either of those things. If it were, I wouldn’t want to hear about it! I suppose it is unrealistic of me to expect that letters can resemble the kinds of conversations we used to have that seemed to be about nothing but were really about everything. And unrealistic of me to expect you to want to write about the same kinds of things you like to talk about.

It’s just that I miss those conversations. Even the more contentious ones. Any letter from you is welcome. Highly anticipated, I would go so far as to say.

Lacking context for your conversation about friendship, I have to agree that people are not interchangeable, but you wrote that your smart lady friend said, “ask yourself what you're getting from it, that you're not getting from your other friends.” That suggests that she thinks of different friends providing for different emotional needs. While I agree with you that it’s not healthy to compare, and furthermore her comment suggests a certain…calculation of sorts is at work in her outlook, what the bean-counters might call a “cost-benefit analysis” approach to friendship, to me it rather suggests the opposite of considering people interchangeable. It’s a rather utility-based approach, especially if she thinks that if one friendship isn’t meeting your needs, you should drop that person in favour of someone who is, rather than simply accepting what that person is giving you, or even trying to find a way to further the relationship.

I have been thinking a lot about the nature of friendship. I haven’t had many truly close friends, and the opportunities in Fort Conquest are limited at best. That’s why I look forward to your letters so much, and to those I receive from Ray Vecchio. The two of you are my closest friends, and I think that would be true even if I were the sort of man who formed friendships easily. I sometimes wish that you and Ray Vecchio had been given more of a chance to get to know each other.  I believe I wrote to you that I’d mentioned to Ray Vecchio that you had specifically saved the day when it came to the questions about his heroin bust.  I thought he’d been briefed about what had happened while he was in Las Vegas, but it turned out he had not.  Once he learned of how you’d responded in that crisis, in fact, he specifically wanted me to thank you for having been him for so long and felt rather “rotten” that he hadn’t done so himself.

I am not sure exactly how to address your question about women without sounding like a bit of a cad. Hmm…this is something I just read about recently. Are you familiar with the song “American Woman” by the Guess Who? A lot of people interpreted that song as a veiled critique of US policy in Viet Nam, but the original inspiration for the song was that the group, who were from a suburban Ontario background, were somewhat overwhelmed by the enthusiastic attentions they received from American “groupies.” They were not used to being approached quite so blatantly. This is all by way of saying that when I first arrived in Chicago, and during my time there, I thought that American women showed much more romantic interest in me than Canadian women ever had. Now I wonder if perhaps American women were simply more upfront about what they wanted. So I suppose the answer is yes, I am aware that women (and even some men) try to “pick me up,” providing they are extremely aggressive about it, but I’m less inclined to notice more subtle approaches. I expect that’s a consequence of growing up in relative isolation, thus not gaining the native understanding of the nuances of dating and romance that more urban Canadians and Americans take for granted.

Are you having trouble gaining the attentions of a woman you are interested in? Perhaps this “smart lady” whose views on friendship tend to suggest a rather cold nature? When I first met you, your attentions to women were not what I would call subtle; perhaps you are over-correcting in the wrong direction? I fear I am not the best source for romantic advice, but I remember one particular conversation, toward the end of the Quest, when you spoke about how important it was for you to find someone you could have a deep emotional connection with before exploring further intimacy. I hope you are able to negotiate your way through the waters and find the safe haven you seek, whether it be with the “smart lady” (you certainly have a type!) or another.

And I will take advantage of my “free hit.” Are you bothered by Stella’s rather abrupt marriage to Ray Vecchio?

Best,

B. Fraser

 

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Ray Kowalski to Stella Vecchio

Chicago, IL, August 29, 1999

Dear Stella,

I wasn't trying to snow you, I mean about the guy thing. Not really. I just didn't want to get into it and also I didn't want  XXXX   it just seemed like it would make the conversation more complicated. Maybe I thought you'd be pissed at me, too, I don't know. Don't think so. Anyway, I'm glad you're not.

And no shit, the whole "not straight" thing might possibly be part of what's jamming the signal. I don't know if he's into guys, although you said I had good instincts about that and I have to say I don't think I do too bad calling it, and I think if he was really not into guys he wouldn't act like he does with me. You know what I mean? Maybe he's so straight he wouldn't ever think a guy might be interested in him, but he -- I don't know, there's sparks there. Between us.

Or there used to be. Now, I don't know. The last time  XXXXX  we talked I felt like he was freezing me out, but I don't know.

I just don't know anything.

Listen, Stella, remember your list? Leaving out cradle-robbing and whether he's straight, the other two things you said might be making things hard were raised by wolves and past abuse. (Jesus, you wouldn't think it would be so hard just to write that when you're thinking about someone you know.) So, here's the thing. Raised by wolves is kind of true, though I don't know if it's relevant. The other thing, I don't know about and it wouldn't have crossed my mind if you hadn't brought it up but now I can't get it out of my head. But how the hell can I ask a friend about that, especially out of the blue and not to mention how can I ask someone I got feelings for? But if it's something like that

Shit, I don't even want to think about this. Can't stop thinking about it though.

Probably I'm just making something out of nothing.

If this were a case -- but it's not, and I was never the one who was good at getting people to talk about this kind of stuff without freaking them out.

You got any advice on this one?

Listen, thanks for sticking by me. You're one of a kind, I swear to God.

Ray

 

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Ray Vecchio to Benton Fraser

Sarasota, FL, August 31, 1999

Jesus Christ, Benny.

What can I do to help?

Say the word and I'll jump on a plane and get my ass up there, although I don't know what good I can do besides be an ear you can bend. Or knock the block off whoever's hurting you, but I bet you wouldn't let me do that.

Benny, what the hell is going on? This person you've fallen for: is the problem that she's not interested? (Hard to believe.) Or that she's taken? (Which is a tough one.) Or are you afraid that there's something wrong with her, I mean like criminally or morally? Or is it someone you're afraid you'd be taking advantage of?

Listen, Benny, you don't have to stay there if it's killing you. Maybe you feel like you'd be running away or letting people down if you left, but trust me, if it makes you feel as bad as you sound, you're not going to do anyone any good by staying there. A cop who isn't thinking is dangerous -- remember you said that? And remember how fucking right you were? I let my feelings make me stupid, and it got Irene killed. You're smarter than that.

If you need to get out of there, my door is always open. I'll wire you plane fare if you need it.

Stop talking about sin and self-destruction, you're scaring the shit out of me. No, I don't mean stop talking about it, I mean stop talking yourself into thinking about it that way. There's no one in the world less sinful than you. It's not a sin to love someone, even the wrong person, even someone it would be wrong to do anything with. And as for self-destruction, I thought you were done with that. Don't let Victoria win. Or whoever else is fucking with you, turning you against yourself. Just don't.

Benny, do me a favor. Sit down and write up one of those lists with the pros and cons, you know? Everything you love about your posting, everything that you wanted, the stuff you were missing like hell when you were in Chicago. And then, what it is that's wrong with it. Could be you've really got a problem, but it could also be you're just blowing things out of proportion because you're feeling crummy. (And love can sure make a person miserable, I know that from experience!) If you lay it out, maybe that'll help you figure out what you need to do to fix things.

You're real good at fixing things, Benny. You'll pull through this, I promise you. And I'll be right behind you; anything you need from me, just ask. Don't forget you've got friends. I'd put my hand in the fire for you, you know that, and I don't think I'm the only one.

Hang in there, Benny.

Ray

 

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Stella Vecchio to Ray Kowalski

Sarasota, FL, September 2, 1999

Ray,

I figured that, inasmuch as you were shining me on, it was for the reasons you just wrote about, which are all perfectly understandable. I just was surprised, that’s all. And I still wonder if you Freudian slipped that all-important “him” in there or if you just said “Fuck it” as you so often do (that’s one of your charms, by the way, not a slam). And I understand that there’s a bunch of stuff you probably don’t want to get into with me about this, but remember what I wrote about how I knew you looked at other men but I was never even sure if you knew you looked? If you want to talk about that with me, I suppose we can (but put a big red star on the back of the envelope if you’re going to do that, because that’s a letter I want to open when I’m alone and also a letter I want to open after the sun has gone over the yardarm and I can also open a bottle of pinot noir). I’m not saying we need to talk about this in terms of “us” (although if you want to, I’ll do my best).

What I’m trying to say is, whether you knew it or not, you kept that part of yourself shut down tight. You say you’ve got sparks and I think your instincts are good about this. But…are his? If you think it’s possible (if not probable) that he’s so straight it wouldn’t occur to him that men might be attracted to him (which I think most men, no matter how straight, have at least considered the possibility that they’re attractive to gay men, and sometimes, as we know all too well, that manifests as a certain kind of paranoid panic and intolerance and worse, remember how hard we had to fight to get Miller convicted when he pulled that gay panic defense bullshit?). Where was I?

This is getting more complicated than that Garfield vs. Common Decency fraud case that made me miss the Springsteen concert.

I think what I’m getting at is that I doubt that, even if he is straight, it hasn’t occurred to him that men might find him attractive. What he may be missing is that you find him attractive. When I came up with that list? I wasn’t thinking that it might be because it didn’t occur to him that you're bisexual.

I honestly don’t know what to say about the possibility of an abusive background. That is so far beyond my area of competence I can’t even pretend to tell you how to proceed if that’s the case, even when it comes to asking. But it might not be the case. I thought of Carrie because I was trying to think why you were having trouble getting through to a woman. And Carrie was the most oblivious woman I could think of when it came to noticing she was getting male attention. Your cousin Stash never gave up though; you guys talk much? Maybe he’d be able to help you out there. I know he read a bunch of books when he found out about the priest. Clearly he found something that helped.

I can tell you that I understand that, once the possibility has occurred (and now I’m sorry I did that to you since I think it’s probably more likely that he didn’t catch that you, Ray Kowalski, were hitting on him) that someone you care about has been hurt that way, it really knots you up. Ray’s dad was by all accounts a perfectly awful human being, and quick with his fists, and even though he’s been dead for ten years and Ray turned out all right just the same, I still get a little knot in my stomach when I think about it. And that was pretty garden-variety stuff for his neighborhood.

I hope like hell your guy didn’t have to go through anything like that. Or worse.

I don’t have any clever suggestions on how to proceed from here in terms of finding out if he's interested in a way that allows you to maintain plausible deniability in order to maintain the friendship. I’ll write if any occur.

Stella

 

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Ray Kowalski to Benton Fraser

Chicago, IL, September 6, 1999

You don't know how funny you are, Fraser.

To answer your question about Stella and Vecchio: I got to admit I wasn't too happy when I heard the news, not at first, although on the other hand I wasn't as pissed off as I would have been if I'd heard about it before we went on the Quest. When Vecchio came back it seemed like he was just waltzing in and taking everything I had and leaving me Noweheresville. But I guess I was being dumb about that, anyway it didn't quite work out that way in the end. Hey, I even got to keep his job! I ain't pissed at him; not like it was his fault anyway. And Stella, well, I know you've heard me say this a lot and maybe you won't believe me but I really am over her. For better or worse (ha!). She'll always be the first person I really loved and she'll always be my wife, meaning my ex-wife but the thing is, that still means something (like the woman said in that movie about the guy who's trying to keep custody of his kid, you know, the one with Dustin Hoffman). But she ain't mine to hold onto and I finally figured out a different way to love her, you know?

In fact, we're getting to be friends again. Seems like being so far away helps with that, maybe. We been talking, well, sending letters I mean, and it's real good. She's the "smart lady" I was talking about in my other letter, which is what's so funny. Part of it, anyway. So no, I ain't hitting on her.

(I don't think she meant quite what you thought she meant from my description, either, but there's no point in arguing about that. I just don't want you thinking of her like that, cause she don't deserve it.)

You think I'm not subtle when I'm "trying to gain the attentions" of someone I'm interested in? You're right, I guess. I always kinda had two speeds, On and Off -- not just for that but in general and for that too I guess.

Come to think of it, you're like that yourself sometimes, ain't you? I mean, what you were saying about not being the sort of person who makes friends easily. Which at first didn't sound right to me because you like most people and most people like you. But maybe you don't like very many people -- I mean, to consider them friends like me or Vecchio? Or to want something even closer with them?

I remember that conversation you're talking about -- on the Quest, I mean, when I said that stuff about wanting to be close to someone and know them real well before "exploring further intimacy" (although I bet I didn't use those words). You said something like it was hard for you to imagine being that close to someone in the first place.

Can I ask you why that is?

Cause at the time I kind of thought you meant you didn't want to be close to anyone, but in your letter you sound like being friends with me & Vecchio, that means a lot to you. (Or maybe I'm reading you wrong. Or maybe I'm not remembering what you said before right, although I'll feel really dumb in that case.)

Either way, Fraser, and even if you don't want to answer the question, I just want you to know that having you for a friend has pretty much saved my life (and I don't mean from drowning or anything like that) and there's no damn cost-benefit analysis that's ever going to say it's not worth sticking it out.

Your friend (whether you like it or not),

Ray

 

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Benton Fraser to Ray Vecchio

Fort Conquest, September 7, 1999

I think the person whose block you’d be knocking off would be me, and I doubt you want to do that any more than I want you to.

I’m sorry I alarmed you. When I said “self-destructive” I did not mean that I am suicidal in any way. Rather that my mind keeps going in unproductive circles which, yes, could theoretically lead to dangerously low levels of performance.

The problem is not moral or criminal, but rather one of simple disinterest. I am not wanted, at least not for the purposes of an intimate, romantic relationship. In fact, and I never intended to spring this on you so abruptly, but I can’t prevaricate any longer, the man I care about seems to have found a woman who is worth pursuing. And he’s not manipulating me, or stringing me along. I’m doing that all by myself.

Does that change things, Ray? That I love, however pointlessly, another man? Somehow I doubt that it will. Your loyalty to me has withstood so much over time that it seems that this will not break it. You say it is not a sin to love the wrong person, “even someone it would be wrong to do anything with.” Would it be “wrong to do anything with” another man? If there were no other impediments, of course.

In any case, it’s academic. You’re right; I should concentrate on my work, and try to figure out why Fort Conquest is not the satisfying outlet I thought it would be. By doing that, perhaps I will discover what would be a better posting to seek. A larger population, certainly, but I think that the temptations of a truly large and anonymous city might be too much right now.

Ben

 

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Ray Vecchio to Benton Fraser

Sarasota, FL, September 14, 1999

Dear Benny,

Jesus, you never do anything the easy way, do you?

I don't know if you're looking for absolution or someone to tell you you're going to hell, but you know what? Not my job. I'm not a priest, Benny, I'm your friend. That means I watch your back and I help you do what you got to do.

Question isn't whether I think it's wrong. Question is, do you?

Question number two is: do you seriously think this guy isn't interested, or are you afraid of what happens if he is? If he's not interested, you don't have to decide what to do about any of this.

But like I said, you're not really a guy who goes for the easy way out, are you, Benny?

Anything you need, if I can do it, you got it. Just ask.

Ray

 

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Benton Fraser to Ray Kowalski

Fort Conquest, NT, September 18, 1999

Dear Ray,

I’ve been told I amuse, and frequently I do that on purpose, you know.

Although this time the joke is very much on me. I’m very glad to hear that you and Stella have arrived at some sort of rapprochement (I agree that distance probably aided in that). And it really is quite funny that I thought unknown “smart lady” was someone you were courting…I did read her correctly as your type! I was just off by over two decades.

I myself was a bit concerned about Stella and Ray Vecchio, as it was so abrupt and what little I know about Stella, I know from you and from her cold behavior toward you. Which I understood intellectually: she was trying to make a clean break with you but professional circumstances kept throwing her back in your orbit. Emotionally, however, when she hurt you, she hurt me. I suppose that is what I mean when I refer to you and Ray Vecchio as my closest friends. Certainly, I have my share of acquaintances and well-wishers, but there are very few people of whom I have ever been able to say, “To wound this person is to wound me” and who would say the same of me, beyond the very general sense that “every man’s death diminishes me.” Ray Vecchio recently wrote that he would put his hand in a fire for me, but I would never want him to do that, as it would burn me just as badly.

Which brings me to what you said about being my friend “whether [I] like it or not.” I do like it, Ray. Very much. You saved me, as well. If anyone had told me that I would return to a Chicago without Ray Vecchio, I would have questioned my ability to survive such a setback. But you were there, and I thrived and, as you know, found as close a friend in you as I have in Ray Vecchio. Perhaps closer still; I doubt Ray Vecchio would have undertaken the Quest with me, let alone been the one to suggest such an adventure.

Which in turn leads to our conversations on the ice. I have been chasing my own tail for several months now over the very question you pose: why do I find it so difficult to imagine having a level of emotional intimacy that would enhance and embrace physical intimacy as the natural extension of that emotional bond?

I don’t know how much you know about Victoria Metcalf; I expect only what was in the official report (Ray Vecchio told me that you and he did not stop to compare notes; perhaps you should have). She was the only woman I ever loved to that extent. The emotional intensity of our bond and its physical expression was intense and overwhelming. I would have done anything for her. I would have betrayed Ray Vecchio to be with her, betrayed him in a manner that would have destroyed his entire family.

Only extreme intervention prevented me from pursuing that course. At the time, I thought I would gain something greater in return. I now realize, however, that the intimacy was entirely one-sided. The intimacy she offered me was, in fact, manipulation: emotional, sexual, intellectual. Loving her was painful even before I learned the truth. Losing the illusion of that love was…devastating.

There were other people to whom I’d been close who later, well, betrayed is a strong word and I don’t want to cheapen it with overuse. People who grew up, grew apart from me, turned out not to be the people I thought they were. I suppose psychologists would trace some of my difficulties with emotional intimacy to my mother’s death, my father’s and grandparents’ emotional distance during my youth, and my own solitary nature. That I have the level of emotional intimacy that I have with Ray Vecchio, with you, is partly due to circumstances and partly due to both of you having disparate but equally generous natures. I simply cannot imagine achieving its like again (although if I am able to have it with you and with Ray Vecchio, I suppose I should be more optimistic that it would be possible for me to find it a third time over). And to achieve it in the context of a romantic relationship…that feels like too distant a goal, a reaching-out hand that can never be found.

And certainly not one I could ever achieve in Fort Conquest! I am strongly thinking about requesting a posting to a larger settlement for a number of reasons. And I'm not sure if I’ve even really answered your question. As I said, I’ve been struggling with this within my own mind; perhaps now you can see why I compared the exercise to chasing my own tail. Perhaps you have some perspective or insight that I have missed? I appreciate that you thought to ask the question; I’m not sure I would have initiated this discussion on my own, but simply writing the words and knowing that you will read them is oddly helpful.

How are your own romantic pursuits shaping up? Has the lady in question realized your interest, or are you still playing it cool? (I still think of her as the “smart lady” even though I now know the “smart lady” was in fact Stella because I know that whoever she is, she is a smart lady. Unless she turns you down for reasons other than previous social engagement, in which case she is, clearly, only pretending to have achieved any level of intelligence.)

And you are definitely “stuck” with me as your friend,

Ben

 

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Benton Fraser to Ray Vecchio

Fort Conquest, September 22, 1999

Dear Ray,

I honestly did not know what, if anything, I am “looking for” from you. I know you are neither equipped nor inclined to offer absolution, but I couldn’t not tell you, if you understand. It would have felt like lying.

He is not interested. At one time, I had entertained hopes in that direction, but it wasn’t meant to be, so as you say, the decision is not mine to make. If he were…the only thing I would be afraid of would be that I might disappoint him in some way. Might not be enough for him. The usual things one fears.

I would not be afraid that he would lead me astray from my better nature, or strip me of all that I value about myself. Rather the opposite. I suppose that answers the question you asked of me, but now I must know, no matter how irrelevant the question now is: would you respect me less, as a man, as a friend, if I had been able to embark on a homosexual relationship?

“For all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these ‘it might have been’.” Good Lord, Ray, I’ve been reduced to quoting Whittier (Housman would probably be more appropriate; certainly less bathetic). I find myself seeing the funny side of this; if my mind were writing this as a play, this is the point at which you would grasp me by the shoulders and say, “Get ahold of yourself, man, this is no time for Whittier!”

I have been giving the thought of requesting a new posting considerable thought. I realize that in Chicago I was an eccentric, and am rather resigned to that no matter where I find myself, but do you think I could “cut it” as a big city law enforcement officer without your (or Ray Kowalski’s) mitigating influence?

Ben

 

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Ray Kowalski to Stella Vecchio

Chicago, IL, September 27, 1999

Stella,

Sorry I didn’t write back sooner; I guess I was kind of waiting until I had something to “report.” I put a star on this envelope because say whatever you want, I know you, and you don't ask questions you don't want to hear the answers to.

Yeah, I looked at guys sometimes when we were together and yeah, I knew what I was doing. And no, of course I didn't go around advertising it; still don't. But see, the thing is, I was with you. Married, in love, done deal, end of story. So I could look at guys, girls, it didn't matter. I was just looking, didn't mean anything by it. I knew that, you knew that, the world could see that.

Took me a while to realize, afterwards, that that was something that had changed. Now I'm single, I can look all I want, but it means something. Even when I don't want it to.

Do I lock it down? I don't know. Half the time since we split, I spent pretending to be Vecchio, who is not bent, or if he is, he hides it real good. (Fuck, I probably shouldn't be talking like that about your husband to your face, but the whole Vecchio thing just hurts my head -- even now it's over it's still complicated. Anyway if Vecchio does swing both ways, it's none of my business, as long as he’s treating you right.  XXXXX  )

(Does he, though?  Go for guys?  Because if so, then  XXXX  Never mind, it’s stupid, and none of my business like I said.)

OK now I forgot what I was saying. And if you got more red-star questions you want me to answer, I don't mind, but you're going to have to actually ask them. I can't read your mind, not from this far away anyway.

So. Maybe you're right that guys in general and one guy in specific might not notice that I look at them. But I ain't been just looking, here. And I have it from his mouth that my come-ons are about as subtle as a freight train.

Other stuff I've figured out since I wrote you last:
1) He does know that guys in general are attracted to him
2) About the abusive past thing, I think it's at least a kind-of yes -- some nasty emotional shit, anyway
3) He likes me as a friend & that's really important to him
4) But he's shutting me down hard as far as anything more than friendship goes. Gentle, with lots of talk about friendship, but hard.

It ain't just that he thinks he'll never find love or don't deserve it or something. He's looking for someone he ain't met yet. I don't know what it is he wants, but obviously not me. Except as a friend, and believe me, I ain't knocking that.

I just  XXXX

Never mind, you don't need to listen to me crying in my beer, that's really beyond the call of duty and probably a little creepy too, huh?

Do you get good sunsets in Florida? Make sure you take Vecchio out to look at them sometimes.

Ray

PS: Tell Vecchio "you're welcome," and standing in for him was a lot crazier than I signed up for but it might have been the best thing that ever happened to me (except for you, babe).

 

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Ray Kowalski to Benton Fraser

Chicago, IL, September 29, 1999

I don't know why you're asking me for "perspective and insight." I'm not exactly the world expert on love. Or friendship either, really.  XXX   XXXXX   XXXXXX

It makes me sick to think about someone treating you like you say Victoria did. I don't know what to say. Except, just because you got burned once, don't mean you should never try again. You tell people that all the time, including me. Don't you believe your own line? Cause you're right. (You usually are.)

XXXX

XXXX

You'll find someone, Fraser. But you've got to look. Even if -- OK, see, this one I do have experience with, and maybe I'm totally off base, but when Stella left me I thought I could never love anyone again and the thing is, it wasn't true. You feel like it's once and forever and never again but love ain't like that. Which is a good thing, seriously. What I'm saying is that if you're carrying a torch for someone you know there's no way to have, then just like you kept telling me about Stella, you got to put that away in your heart and go out and find someone you can love who will love you back.

That's all I got, buddy.

I'm sorry.

Ray

 

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Ray Vecchio to Benton Fraser

Sarasota, FL, September 30, 1999

Benny,

When have you ever cared what anybody, including me, thinks of you?

I don't mean that in a bad way, but I mean it. You've always known exactly what was right and wrong and good behavior. You've always been sure, and you don't take shit from anyone, your boss or the President or goons with brass knuckles. Certainly not from me.

So how come all of a sudden you've got this burning need to know whether I'd respect you if you decided to date a guy?

This is the big moral question that's got Benton Fraser stumped?

I don't get it.

But all right, you didn't ask me to understand, you asked me to answer a question. So: "Would I respect you less as a man, as a friend, if you had been able to embark on a homosexual relationship?"

If you love the guy? If -- like you say -- he's someone who would help you be a better person? And (like you don't say, but I've got to assume) he's someone who would make you happy?

It's hard to see how saying Yes to that makes you dumb, or dirty.

I won't lie to you, Benny; it makes me uncomfortable, thinking of you with a guy. That's not about you, it's just not something I get. But there are a lot of things about you that I don't get, and some of them are a lot grosser. I don't respect you less because you lick garbage and never seem to mind rolling around in dumpsters and sewers and I don't even know what other disgusting stuff.

That's part of who you are.

I don't respect you less for Victoria, either.

I don't know why you need my approval for this, but Benny: you are who you are. You drive me nuts, but you're the best friend I've ever had. This doesn't change that.

As for moving to a city: you mean in Canada, right? An official Mountie posting and everything? I don't see how that wouldn't be easier than what you were doing in Chicago. Of course, a lot would depend on your boss, but that's true for anywhere you'd go, and it's pretty much life for everyone.

You missing the big city, Benny? There's got to be someone I can call who'd appreciate that like I do. I bet Kowalski would get a kick out of it. (I'm just teasing. You know that, right?)

Take it easy, Benny. Don't be too hard on yourself, OK? There's plenty of people out there lined up to do it, you don't need to help them.

Ray

 

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Stella Vecchio to Ray Kowalski

Sarasota, FL, October 4, 1999

Ray,

Thanks for remembering the star. I had to wait three days before I got up the courage to open it, but it really wasn’t that hard to read, at least not the part about me. And thanks for telling me what was going through your head when we were married. It doesn’t really make a lot of difference, does it? Not to us or what we were. But it does make a difference now because, as you say, it means something.

The reason I thought you might be locking it down, obvious professional and social concerns aside, is that maybe you’re locking it down so far that this man can’t see it. You say he’s shutting you down, but are you sure that’s what it is? And you’ve also written that he knows men find him attractive, but has he said anything about returning that attraction? Or the opposite: being repulsed or frightened by it? I used to think everyone was a little gay (you’re right about Ray, of course, he’s not even the smallest bit). Do you have any sense of how he feels about men in general? Is there any way you can ask?

And if he was abused that way as a child (learning that was the hardest part of reading your letter), he might…well, I’m not sure what that would mean. Certainly he would have trouble trusting. He might have some serious self-esteem problems. He might not believe that he deserves a relationship that includes friendship as well as sex. He might be inhibited about sex, or even afraid of it, and you, my friend, are actually very sexy when you don’t put your mind to it.

Did he confide in you in a way that you might be able to suggest counseling? Because I’m really out of my depth here. But I’m having trouble believing that you had sparks, that he thinks highly enough of you to confide in you to that degree, and that he’s also slamming that door in your face. Call it a funny inner feeling, tell me I’m still in my honeymoon stage, but I think you’re selling yourself short.

Stella

 

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Benton Fraser to Ray Kowalski

Fort Conquest, October 8, 1999

Dear Ray

Perhaps you don’t feel articulate about friendship, but I think you are an expert. And perhaps at love as well.

I actually did fall in love again, years later, but it didn’t work out as I’d hoped, so I will, indeed, put it away. Perhaps I will even try again, although I think it might be too soon. Certainly, it’s not going to happen in this Godforsaken town. If I have to break up one more beer brawl at For(es)t Lanes, I will introduce prohibition, single-handed, to this place. Not because it will stop anyone from getting drunk, but rather so that I can release my inner Eliot Ness and really clean up this town. Which will only be dirty because I introduced prohibition.

Did you ever convince your would-be lady friend of your interest in her? Or are you still trying to navigate the course between “Crystal Ballroom, martinis, me” and…whatever it was she was unable to recognize as flirtation?

Ben

 

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Benton Fraser to Ray Vecchio

Fort Conquest, October 11, 1999

Ray,

Perhaps I’ve come to realize that not caring what people think of me has not always served me well in the past. And I do value your good opinion, Ray, very much so. And it’s possible that, while this particular infatuation was ill-starred, I may yet love again. And next time it may be a woman or a man, now that I have imagined to allow for either possibility.

I did not mean to give you uncomfortable mental images, Ray, but I must confess that, I , too would go very far out of my way to avoid seeing you in flagrante delicto.

While I have not specifically told Ray Kowalski about my change in professional ambitions (although I did confess to a vague desire to create an atmosphere that would encourage crime in Fort Conquest simply so that I could then eradicate it, which I expect gave him some amusement), I suspect you are not the only Ray I know who would take delight in my apparent fall from country grace to city sin.

And, yes, I was thinking of Canada. My opportunities to be a true law enforcement officer in any other country would be severely limited. My time in Chicago was, I think, a matter of improbable stars aligning in a nigh-impossible manner. I am not sure, however, that citizens of such places as Vancouver or Toronto would be any more tolerant of my approach than those of Chicago. On the other hand, being my own man and, yes, not caring what others thought did bring about desirable results. You and I did a lot of good together, Ray.

I hesitate to mention this, but while I really did ask because your good opinion means the world to me, Ray, I also wondered if other people who are important to me might…think less of me if they knew of my…leanings. I did not mean to treat you as a test case, as it were, but in retrospect, I may have done just that. For that I apologize, and can only say in my own defense that only when I read your response did it occur to me that my motivations may have been cloudier than I realized.

Ben

 

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Ray Kowalski to Benton Fraser

Chicago, IL, October 18, 1999

Fraser, quit it.

There's no lady friend. You made her up.

Just let me alone. Go bust some Canadian heads.

 

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Ray Kowalski to Ray Vecchio

Chicago, IL, October 22, 1999

Vecchio,

I don't know when was the last time you heard from Fraser, but do me a favor and drop him a line, would you?  He's in a place right now where he'd probably appreciate hearing from a friend, you know? One that’s not me.

Thanks.

Ray Kowalski

 

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Ray Vecchio to Benton Fraser

Sarasota, FL, October 22, 1999

Dear Benny,

That's the spirit!  Love sure does suck sometimes, but you've got to be willing to get back on that horse and try again.  If you hang in there and keep your eyes open, I know you'll find the right woman -- person, sorry -- for you one of these days.  You're a great guy, Benny, and there's someone out there who's just waiting to find you and give you everything you deserve.

You sound like you're worrying about coming out of the closet to other people, now?  I don't really know what to say.  Not everyone is okay with that kind of thing, and you want to be real careful if you're thinking about telling your boss, say.  But if you're thinking about your friends, well, I'd like to say that nobody who really knows you and cares about you is going to give you the cold shoulder over this, but it's a hard thing, Benny.  I wish I could tell you it'll all be all right, but I can't promise you that.

Thanks for trusting me, though.  I hope I won't let you down.

As far as the whole working in a city thing goes, I don't know if it'll be easy, but I'm pretty sure that if you could make Chicago happen, you can make a place for yourself in Toronto or wherever else. You'll probably piss off your boss and freak out your partner and generally stir up trouble on a regular basis, but you know, I get the feeling you kind of like things that way.

It sounds like you're feeling at least a little better than you were -- I sure hope so.

Have a happy halloween, if they do that where you are.

Take care,

Ray

 

****

 

Benton Fraser to Ray Kowalski

Fort Conquest, October 25, 1999

Ray,

I'm sorry. I truly thought you were still pursuing someone romantically. I didn't mean to needle you about an unsuccessful courtship, and I certainly would never have mentioned my own woeful romantic past if I had....

I...I'm sorry.

Ben

 

****

 

Ray Vecchio to Benton Fraser

Sarasota, FL, October 26, 1999

Benny,

Is everything OK? I got this note from Kowalski that didn't really say anything except that maybe something was not OK with you.

Did you have some kind of fight with him?

Damn it, you probably told him what you told me and he flipped out on you. Is that it? Do I need to fly up to Chicago and sock him in the eye?

I'm not trying to pry into your business, it's just I worry about you. And apparently so does Kowalski, even if he's an asshole.

Ray

 

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Benton Fraser to Ray Vecchio

Fort Conquest, October 30, 1999

 

Thank you for your very kind words of support.  Your generosity of spirit shouldn't continue to amaze me after all these years, yet it does.

I have backup!  Of a sort.  Constable Pearson arrived a week ago last Tuesday (October 20th) and has so far proven capable.  Not that his skills have been put to the test to any great degree, but I have no reason to believe he will be incapable.  He's from Thunder Bay but used to spend his summers with his uncle, a ranger at Polar Bear Provincial Park, Ontario, and so is used to a greater degree of isolation than even Fort Conquest provides.  He's enthusiastic, but not of Turnbullian proportions.

We are preparing for winter; I spent the last weekend before Pearson's arrival preparing the cabin.  It was my first time there since just before I assumed my Fort Conquest post officially.  Somehow nearly a half-year slipped by before I got around to visiting. And, yes, part of preparing for winter is Halloween. 

It's social and allows for a certain amount of fattening up.  We have laid in a store of promotional pamphlets to give children when they knock on our door tomorrow night.

And candy.  We haven't become so practical that we've also become foolish or cruel!

Ben

 

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Ray Kowalski to Stella Vecchio

Chicago, IL, November 2, 1999

Stella,

I think I fucked up. But I can't tell. Or I can't tell how badly.

And I can't tell you the details. But there's no one else I can talk to.

So, I lost my temper and  XXX   blew up at him. He kept pushing me with this bullshit about finding some nice woman to go live happily ever after with -- me, I mean, not him -- cause he's in love with someone else. He hasn't said who, but I have this awful feeling I can guess, and it's a fucking mess. (Marriage, friendship, whole complicated tangle.) I mean, I'm sure he was doing it as part of the whole I-love-you-as-a-friend-and-I-want-you-to-be-happy thing but it just felt like twisting the fucking knife, you know? So I snapped and told him off. Which was a shitty thing to do, you don't got to tell me that, I know that. Especially when he was feeling bad about this other person to start with.

But so then he apologizes and says he really thought I was finding some nice woman blah blah blah. So now I don't know what to think. I mean, maybe he really did think that, convenient for him, Ray can go off and be happy and I don't have to worry about him pining over me. But now I'm thinking, if I read him wrong on that, maybe I'm jumping to a wrong conclusion about who he's in love with, too. (The part about him being in love with someone he can't have is real, he told me that straight-up. But the who was deduction.)

Thing is, I can't ask, cause if I'm right he'll either hate me for mentioning it or ask me for advice and I'm just about the worst possible person to ask on this one. But I kind of need to know, because he already did ask me for advice and I tried to steer him right, but if I'm wrong about the whole situation then I was talking even more out of my ass than usual.

And I acted like an asshole and he didn't deserve that from me except how the hell did he think I was going to feel, him asking me for advice about going out and finding the new love of his life?

I suck. You don't have to say it. And I need to apologize and you don't have to say that either.

I just wish I could stop hurting sometime.

Sometimes I get why you left me. I'd leave me, too.

Ray

 

****

 

Benton Fraser to Ray Vecchio

Fort Conquest, NT, November 3, 1999

Dear Ray,

My last communication from Ray Kowalski was rather terse and angry. I had made an assumption about his personal life that was apparently erroneous, and inadvertently wounded him deeply.

I told him about some of my romantic struggles, but did not get into the same level of detail as I did with you (that is to say, I did not tell him explicitly that my recent difficulties were complicated by the fact that my romantic interest was directed at a man rather than a woman). He was so angry about his own troubles on that front, and my well-meant but perhaps ill-advised attempts to support his endeavors, that he simply let that part of our correspondence slide.

I'm not sure if it qualifies as a fight if one party is aggrieved and the other simply mystified.

Ben

 

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Stella Vecchio to Ray Kowalski

Sarasota, FL, November 5, 1999

Oh, Ray,

What the hell happened? When did he fall in love with someone? If you can guess who, does that mean you at least have a gender to go on? You’ve got to give me something to work with here, Ray. Are you just not telling me, or is the information so firmly entrenched in your mind that you’ve forgotten I have no idea what’s going on?

I’d like to be all lawyerly at you, but if you really have fucked up as badly as you seem to think (and I know you can fuck up bigtime, but I also know you sometimes exaggerate the degree to which you’ve fucked up, so I honestly don’t know which is the case here) then you’re maybe going to lose his friendship regardless.

Maybe you could, I don’t know, offer advice anyway without being specific about who it is you think he loves? Because if you really love him, Ray, then you want him to be happy, right? And if he’d be unhappy without you as a friend, then you have to ask yourself which hurts you more: making him unhappy by not being as good a friend as you can be, or just walking away.

Yeah, it sucks advising someone on their love life when you’re in love with them (what, you think I enjoyed hearing about that puta from college, when we were “just friends” and you were spending all your time at the track?). But if he’s in love with someone who’s unattainable for whatever reason, he needs you.

Just be very careful. If you end up consoling him over an impossible love, he may fixate on you as a rebound. That could be an even bigger mess, and if you’re as gone on him as you seem to be, you might be tempted to settle for that. And you’re a Champion, not a consolation prize.

But it sounds like it’s already a pretty big mess. And you’re hurting, and I hate that. Would it hurt even more to walk away? It sounds like you think you hurt him just as bad as he hurt you, although in different ways.

Stella

 

****

 

Ray Kowalski to Benton Fraser

Chicago, IL, November 8, 1999

Fraser,

I'm sorry. I shouldn't have lost it at you like that. Especially not after you told me all that stuff about your past. I know how hard that must have been for you and then I went and kicked you in the teeth.

It's just, you hit me where it hurts.

But I guess you thought you were being kind. Just, don't, OK? I got the message. It ain't your job to make up a happy ending for me.

Anyway, I'm sorry. I don't know what else to say.

Except, no, I do. I don't want to be another person who betrays you, Fraser. Maybe it's already too late, in which case sorry don't even begin to cover it. But you already knew I got a bad temper and sometimes I say stupid shit, so I hope that I haven't blown it so bad that you can't forgive me.

Your friend (if you'll have me)

Ray

 

****

 

Ray Vecchio to Benton Fraser

Sarasota, FL, November 9, 1999

Benny, I can't tell if you're OK or if you've decided you don't want to talk to me any more. Maybe Kowalski was just talking out of his ass. I sent you a letter the other day which obviously you didn't get before you wrote me, so maybe if you answer that one I'll have a better idea of what the hell is going on up there in Fort Whatsis and in your mysterious Mountie head.

Take care of yourself.

Ray

 

****

 

Ray Vecchio to Benton Fraser

Sarasota, FL, November 12, 1999

Dear Benny,

Well, OK, now I got your other letter and I’m maybe a little less confused. I guess I'm glad to hear that Kowalski's not quite so much of an asshole as I was thinking, or at least that -- well, OK, I have no idea what's going on, but I'm glad it wasn't what I thought.

Is there anything I can do to help? I'm happy to listen; don't know what else I can offer.

Although if you want, I could ask Stella. I know she and Kowalski have been writing to each other a bunch -- she doesn't tell me what he says, of course, but she has dropped a couple of hints that she's been giving him advice about some kind of personal situation. I know, you'll probably say it's snooping, and I won't unless you ask me to, but sometimes a little intelligence-gathering is just what the doctor ordered.

How's the new recruit working out? Fallen into any ice cracks yet?

Ray

 

****

 

Benton Fraser to Ray Vecchio

Fort Conquest, November 16, 1999

Dear Ray,

By now you will have received my response to your last letter, I would imagine. I have nothing more to report on the Kowalski front, as it were (why am I comparing my personal life to a battlefield?). His last letter was so angry...but he has always been quick to anger and relatively good at letting that anger go. Well, not letting it go so much as re-directing it at himself.

Perhaps we are approaching this from the wrong perspective. Perhaps the fact that he wrote to you is a deeper indication of his own distress than of mine. But I'm not sure what you could do to alleviate that, as you never had a chance to become friends and other impediments have prevented the probability that you will.

Ben

 

****

 

Benton Fraser to Ray Kowalski

Fort Conquest, November 17, 1999

Dear Ray,

I felt much more puzzled than betrayed.

And, I must confess, I do not feel less puzzled now. I suppose I have been known to manufacture relationships out of whole cloth, but I thought you had found someone and were trying to pursue her with romantic intentions but were having difficulty making her see that. When you asked if I was aware of the various attempts people sometimes make toward me in that direction (although I believe their intentions are more carnal and impermanent than not), I wondered if perhaps she did not recognize your interest for what it was.

But now you tell me there was no such person...is that a metaphor? Did she never exist at all, and was simply the product of my imagination? (And I don't want to "make up a happy ending" for you but rather facilitate such an outcome, as best I can.) Or perhaps she existed but proved to be so far from what you thought her to be that she never truly existed as you thought she did?

If it's the latter, I'm sorry that my comments prodded at the wound. I have some experience with people who reveal themselves to be so removed from one's initial impression that they might as well not have been there in the first place.

It's difficult, when a friend is angry at you at several weeks' remove. An argument like this (usually) would have been resolved over the course of a few days back when I lived in Chicago. With so long between communications, feelings have time to fester. I am somewhat used to that delay, but not everyone is.

And of course I'm still your friend, Ray. Clearly, whatever the reason, these last few months have been very difficult for us both, but I did not realize just how difficult of a time you were having. Perhaps that was why I was so eager to believe you were making progress toward having a life outside of your work.

Ben

 

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Benton Fraser to Ray Vecchio

Fort Conquest, NT, November 22, 1999

I fear we have crossing mail! I did receive a letter from Ray Kowalski, which was meant by way of apology for his earlier, angrier letter, but was rather short on explanations. I gather he felt I was meddling in a situation that either never existed, or ceased to exist long before my interfering attempts to help did.

Pearson is wildly competent. He is less experienced with the winter conditions here than would be ideal, but his upbringing assured that he has the most important qualities for learning the lay of the land quickly: adaptability and refusal to underestimate the dangerous forces which surround us. Rather like you successfully negotiating your time undercover, although our "dangerous forces" are not actively malevolent.

I have to admit that I am relieved. Not that I expected I would get a complete incompetent, but Fort Conquest could not have been at the top of anyone's list of desired postings. But Pearson's abilities and mental aptitude for the isolation of Fort Conquest make me feel better about my own (still only partly formed) desire to leave for brighter lights.

Ben

 

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Ray Kowalski to Benton Fraser

Chicago, IL, November 24, 1999

Fraser,

Thank you, thank God, I've been going absolutely fucking nuts over here. I was pretty sure you were going to hate my guts. I'm glad you don't.

OK, so. I guess we've been talking past each other, and I know some of that was my fault. I want to try and straighten things out, but I don't know how to do that except by asking some questions I really didn't want to ask you.

But first off, to answer your question: no, there never was a "smart lady." I mean, there was Stella, but we straightened out that confusion. But I was never chasing after a woman; that's just something you made up, I guess out of different pieces of things I said.

I'll explain more, but first, I've got to ask:

1) Are you carrying a torch for Vecchio?

Assuming you're still speaking to me after that one, my other question is:

2) Why were you pushing so hard on me to get together with the Mystery Woman? Honestly?

And again, I'm sorry. I'm sorry I yelled at you and left you hanging all this time, and I'm sorry I got us into this stupid mess in the first place. And I'm sorry that love hasn't worked out for you on top of the other shitty stuff you've been through.

But I don't think I'm sorry we're talking about this. (I may change my mind about that in a couple of weeks, depending how this goes.)

Your friend,

Ray

 

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Ray Kowalski to Stella Vecchio

Chicago, IL, November 24, 1999

Stella,

I didn't write before because there wasn't anything to say. Now I finally got some news -- not sure what it means but at least he don't hate my guts, which is already better than I was expecting. I'm going to start a conversation that maybe we shouldn't be having or maybe we should have had a long time ago.

I'll let you know how it goes.

But I just wanted to say, thanks for having my back on this. You've kept me from going even more nuts the last few months. And you know that I've got your back if you ever need anything, right?

Love,

Ray

 

****

 

Stella Vecchio to Ray Kowalski

Sarasota, FL, December 1, 1999

Dear Ray,

Thanksgiving was crazy here; Vecchios to the left, right, north, south, up and down. I finally dragged Ray out of the house and followed up on your suggestion that I make him look at the sunset. We went down to Port Charlotte for a couple of quiet hours...naturally, the place was lousy with other couples doing exactly the same thing!

I'm glad you're finally ready to start the conversation; I hope he is, too. Don't be afraid to write if you just need to vent. Keeping in mind that, unless reminded not to, I will offer pointless suggestions on a scarcity of information because that's just how I get things done!

Good luck!

Stella

 

****

Ray Vecchio to Benton Fraser

Sarasota, Florida, December 3, 1999

Dear Benny,

Guess what? It's December and I'm walking around outside without a coat. Why the hell didn't I move to Florida years ago? How many feet of snow are you buried under up in the frozen North?

Glad to hear your new guy is turning out so well. Rookies are always kind of a roll of the dice. Sounds like you got lucky!

And I guess you're still thinking about transferring. You got any farther than thinking, yet? Any particular destination in mind?

Tell Kowalski if he doesn't stop messing with you and behave like a grown-up human being, I will swing by the 27th when I'm in Chicago for Christmas and personally clean his clock. It's good to hear he's at least making some sort of effort to be less of an asshole.

(Although, will you be offended if I mention that you aren't always the most generous guy in the world, either, when it comes to explanations? A little Christmas spirit both ways might help grease the old wheels.)

Speaking of Christmas spirit, anything I can send you from the States? (I know it's early to be thinking about it, but it won't be by the time I get your next letter. Maybe I should send you a frigging cell phone, except I bet you wouldn't get reception up there and you have to pay to run those things, it's a total scam.)

Take care, Benny. Say Hi to Dief for me (if he even remembers who I am!).

Ray

 

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Ray Kowalski to Stella Vecchio

Chicago, IL, December 5, 1999

Dear Stella,

Happy Thanksgiving (late) and while I'm at it Merry Christmas early in case I'm lame and forget later.  Houseful of Vecchios for the holidays, huh?  Are your ears still working?

Not a lot to report about The Conversation (I know you're curious, that's really what this is all about!).  I asked some tough questions that XXX  he hasn't really answered yet -- just to make the whole thing crazier, we're kind of having this conversation in bits and pieces instead of just sitting down and having it, which is dumb but the way it is.  I don't know whether just coming out and asking stuff directly is a good plan or not: he plays a lot of stuff close to the vest and maybe it'll piss him off if I poke at him too hard, but on the other hand, sometimes when you ask him a straight question, he gives you a straight answer, or at least something that sounds like one.  So I don't know.  I guess if he does get pissed off, that's fair enough since I already pretty much threw a tantrum at him and he's still speaking to me after that.  Anyway, we'll see.

I just hope this whole thing wasn't a horrible idea.  Talking to him, I mean.  I know hope is supposed to be this great healing positive thing that keeps people going through dark times, but most of the time I think that's a load of crap -- hope is a fucking killer.  It's just another name for fear.  You know what a wreck I was waiting to find out if they were going to pass me, at the Academy?  This is the same damn thing all over again.  It's my whole fucking life on the line, in slow motion.  Facing bullets is easy; there's no time to get scared.

On the other hand, they did give me the damn badge.  And you let me give you the ring, too.  And I don't really want to spend the rest of my life kicking myself, either.

 

Here's looking at ya.

Ray

 

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Stella Vecchio to Ray Kowalski

Sarasota, FL, December 9, 1999

Ray,

My ears are working, but my mind is boggling. I need a flowchart to keep track of all the Vecchio Drama.

It sounds like your life is getting a little dramatic, too.  I don't think hope is a killer, or another word for fear.  It's more like they're the opposite sides of the same coin, and you're waiting out a very long toss.  Or making a series of experimental tosses before you know what the final outcome will be.  Some times the coin's going to come down on hope, sometimes on fear.  But you're thinking about other times it worked out for you: you passed the Academy and you've got a good career.  I said yes, and that worked out pretty well for a pretty long time.  So try to keep those thoughts in mind, okay?

'Cause you sound pretty down about the whole thing.  I don't know about having the conversation in fits and starts; if that's your read on how it has to happen, then that's how it has to be.  But it doesn't sound like it's doing you much good.

We'll be in Chicago for Christmas, and I know Ma Vecchio's planning to ask you to Midnight Mass and the meal afterward.  If you don't want to deal with that, I can do my best to help you with whatever cover story you cook up.  But you might want to take her up on the invitation; luxuriate in other people's problems for awhile!

Take care of yourself and don't talk yourself into letting the fear kill the hope.

Stella

 

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Benton Fraser to Ray Kowalski

Fort Conquest, NT, December 10, 1999

Dear Ray,

Your latest letter finds me appalled. With myself, I hasten to add, that I could have miscommunicated so badly. Ray Vecchio and I were never involved beyond our admittedly quite close but definitely platonic friendship. I daresay Ray Vecchio is the straightest man I’ve ever met. It would never even occur to him to entertain any such notions.

As to the other, well, I want you to be happy, Ray. On the ice, you seemed uncertain about your vocation for police work, and spoke longingly of having a deep and abiding connection, not as a replacement for what you had with Stella, but as the next chapter in your life, I suppose one could call it. I thought you wanted to be happy with your work, and to have a successful romantic relationship. Since you seem to have the former, I wanted you to have the latter as well. So I manufactured a relationship for you so that, in my mind, you could achieve all your goals.

Why aren’t you working toward that goal, Ray? You’ve told me that I deserve happiness, and that having loved before I should put away past, unsuccessful relationships and concentrate on the possibility that I may love again, but you do not seem to be allowing yourself the same chances for happiness. I am constrained by my isolated locale, but I would think that your opportunities in Chicago are as vast as mine are limited.

And at least I am working to increase my opportunities. My current assistant, Constable Pearson, is so able and adept that I may be able to request a transfer to a larger community within a few months, where social opportunities will be exponentially greater than those offered by For(es)t Lanes.

I don’t want you to think anyone’s been going behind your back, but a few weeks ago Ray Vecchio said that you had written to him of your concern for me. I realize that reaching out to Ray Vecchio is an extraordinary step for you. I did not realize I had given you that much cause for concern, and wondered if, perhaps, you were reaching out to him for another reason. Since I spent so many months labouring under the delusion that…well, no need to explain what the delusion was, but now I wonder if I was so eager to see you happy, and so wrapped up in my own worries, that I may have missed a deeper problem on your end. I suppose I that had so blinded myself with my own need for your life to be everything that mine is not that I did not realize the underlying similarities in our situations.

This time of year can be especially wearisome for all peace officers, and can increase depression. So be careful, Ray.

Ben

 

****

 

Benton Fraser to Ray Vecchio

Fort Conquest, December 11, 1999

Dear Ray,

I’m glad you’re enjoying Florida’s climate. I find the cold as bracing as ever, and in that regard Fort Conquest does not disappoint!

I am indeed lucky to have Constable Pearson. He is fitting into Fort Conquest’s social life with much more gusto than I thought possible. In fact, for a man of Pearson’s age, Fort Conquest has a much more active social life than I realized. He may well carve out a career for himself right here, and be happy with it.

I have not progressed past thinking, as I am still trying to determine what kind of town (or even city!) I might want to serve. My general brief of “larger and less isolated than Fort Conquest” leaves me with a rather dizzying array of possibilities!

Yes, I realize that I could be better at personal communication. I just had to make haste to clear up a misunderstanding, and now I’m wondering if I was sufficiently clear and detailed in doing so. I shall see.

And Ray Kowalski is not “messing with” me and is behaving in an adult fashion. His clock may not be perfectly cleaned, but I’m not sure that you’re the person to assist with that particular project.

Please send my warmest regards to everyone in Chicago. I’m sending a package to the 27th; I’m afraid my gift giving was less than original (as you can tell by the enclosed present). I simply cleaned out a local woodworker of her sculpture and jewelry and called it a day. Well, that’s not entirely true. The enclosed abstract sculpture did make me think of you; to me it looks rather like an empty coat. Which is not suggest that you are an empty suit! I chose it upon receipt of your last letter, as it made me think of you, in Florida, coatless and happy. I imagine that Stella is feeling similarly unfettered from both heavy winter gear and power suits.

While I have not even begun to narrow down a shortlist of communities I might want to serve, I think that perhaps I should expand my language horizons. Perhaps you could ask your Spanish-speaking friends for recommendations and send me some Spanish-language novels or videos? New World Spanish definitely preferred!

Ben

 

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Ray Kowalski to Benton Fraser

Chicago, IL, December 14, 1999

[Package containing a score to the opera The Magic Flute. The enclosed card reads:]

Merry Christmas, Fraser. I hope this gets to you in time. I hear you're in for a lot of snow later this week.

Thank you for the music, the songs I'm singing
Thanks for all the joy they're bringing
Who can live without it, I ask in all honesty?
What would life be?
Without a song or a dance what are we?
So I say thank you for the music
For giving it to me

Yours,

Ray

 

****

 

Benton Fraser to Ray Kowalski

December 14, 1999

[Package containing a faded plug-in promotional sign for Canada Dry, with the slogan "GET A MOVE ON!" above the logo. The enclosed card reads:]

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, Ray!

I realize that it might be a bit "not-the-done-thing" to give a used item as a present, but I've been seeing it at For(es)t Lanes since I got here and it always makes me think of you: always in motion, even when you are still. Dancing, boxing, walking...always so elegant. Like Fred Astaire. Always wanting to get a move on, always wanting others to join you.

Ben

 

****

 

Chicago, IL, December 15

Dear Stella,

I don't think I'm down about the whole maybe-romance thing, really, it's just the not knowing is killing me dead.  But thanks for the encouragement.

And I'd never duck out on Ma Vecchio, even if there is church involved.  So I guess I'll see you at Christmas, and ain't that really freaking weird?

Looking forward to it, though.

Ray

 

****

 

Ray Kowalski to Benton Fraser

Chicago, IL, December 20, 1999

Dear Fraser,

What I can't figure out is, are you seriously not aware that you completely failed to answer at least one, maybe both of my questions?

I didn't ask if Vecchio was hot for you. I didn't ask if you'd dated him. I didn't ask if he was queer. I asked if you're in love with him.

You don't got to answer (though I wish you would) but at least come out and tell me you don't want to answer! Do that and I'll let it go.

As for question #2: yeah, all right, you want me to be happy. That's real nice of you, Fraser. That's what I get for asking the wrong question, I guess.

And as for your question: who says I ain't working towards the goal of being happy, or even happy with someone? Just cause I don't have a Mystery Woman in my sights don't mean I'm sitting on my hands, here, Mr. Logic.

I wrote Vecchio because I was worried about you, moron. I know I'm the one that started the fight, but you were feeling bad already and talking about how you're stuck in that small town which probably means you don't got anyone to talk to, and for all I knew you were never going to talk to me again. Vecchio's your friend; I thought he'd look out for you. What "other reason" would I have for "reaching out" to Vecchio? I don't even know the guy.

I ain't mad at you, Fraser. I just read this over and it kind of sounds mad, but that ain't it. Just, you're kind of bullshitting here, aren't you? I know I put you on the spot, and if you don't want to talk about this, that's fine, just say so. I'm not doing so good at figuring out what you're saying when you're not saying it.

Ray

PS: Wait wait wait hang on just a fucking minute! WHAT DELUSION have you been laboring under??? You can't just say that and then not say what you're saying. No way.

PPS: Oh, unless you mean the Smart Lady delusion. I think that's what I thought you meant, the first time I read it. In which case, yeah, covered that. But I'm not going to assume that's what you meant because I just can't tell anymore.

 

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Benton Fraser to Ray Kowalski

Fort Conquest, December 27, 1999

Dear Ray,

Thank you so much for the score. "The Magic Flute" is such a lovely opera, and of course I can use the score to put any voice in any role I wish! I've already spent entirely too much time playing with it.

And the ABBA quote made me laugh while still appreciating the underlying message. I hope that is not the ABBA song you associate with near-death experiences!

With fondest wishes,

Ben

 

****

 

Benton Fraser to Ray Kowalski

Fort Conquest, NT, December 30, 1999

Ray,

I trust you had a pleasant Christmas, and by now you must be gearing up for the millennial celebrations (I have given up pointing out that the new millennium doesn’t really start until 2001; we all have to put two new numbers at the start of a four digit year and that in itself seems like a novelty worth celebrating).

I did not realize I was being evasive about the nature of my relationship with Ray Vecchio. I suppose I am over protective of him and his reputation, and wanted to make sure you understood that Stella is not in inadvertent emotional danger from being married to a man who would rather be with other men. Although there are bisexuals who are happily married to people of the opposite sex, of course.

Oh, dear. I’m making rather a mess of this. I am not in love with Ray Vecchio. I have never been in love with Ray Vecchio, and barring some sort of world-shattering event that would overshadow my romantic concerns, I will never be in love with Ray Vecchio. I love him, but as a friend. I am not even sure why you would think I entertained romantic hopes in that direction. In fact….

Well, before I protest too much and thus undermine my refutation of your supposition, I should simply move on to your other concerns. I thought perhaps you had written to Ray Vecchio in part because of unfounded concern about my well-being (really, Ray, you can’t write to me that I’m “stuck” with you as a friend and then expect that, a mere month later, a single curt letter will make me call that into question), but perhaps because you yourself needed a friend. The kind of friend who is better equipped to understand your life and who has a phone line that is not a satellite model that is zealously guarded and the usage of which is tracked. (Yes, I am the one doing the guarding, but not the tracking, and it really is only for the direst of emergencies.)

The kind of friend I hope to be when I move to a more densely populated region. Yes, that’s “when” and not “if.” Constable Pearson is coming along nicely and once I have decided on the size and nature of community I’m better equipped to serve, I will be sending a transfer request to “the mother ship.”

I made an assumption, unwarranted apparently, based on the short letter you sent (“There’s no lady friend. You made her up.”) that suggested to me that there wasn’t even anyone on the horizon. Now I’m afraid to make any further assumptions, and will simply say that I hope whatever you’re doing to further your pursuit of happiness is successful.

Ben

PS: The delusion was that you were pursuing someone, the “smart lady,” but now it seems perhaps I was not deluded after all? I am now a bit reluctant to make further inquiries as you have said this is something of a sore point for you. –BF

 

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Stella Vecchio to Ray Kowalski

Sarasota, FL, January 4, X 2000

Dear Ray,

It was good to see you at Christmas, and I think everyone appreciated all the babysitting time you logged.  It's probably a good thing we didn't get a chance to sit down to have a private conversation; I'm picturing three dozen Vecchio gossips putting two and two together and coming up with "I never did trust that Stella woman!"

You still seemed pretty jumpy, though, and I want to make sure you're okay.  How's the Conversation progressing?  Are you still waiting out the coin toss?

Stella

 

****

 

Ray Vecchio to Benton Fraser

Sarasota, FL, January 4, XXXX 2000

Happy New Year, Benny!

I sent you a package, way too late to get to you by Christmas, but hopefully you'll see it before Easter.  I wasn't sure exactly what kind of Spanish books and tapes you wanted, so I just picked out this and that. I hope they're the right kind of thing.

I hope you got to have some fun over the holidays -- I know Fort Whoever isn't the world's most happening place, but even Canadians celebrate Christmas and New Years, right?

We just got back from Chicago, and can I just say that blue skies and palm trees beat dirty slush and freezing wind, hands-down? Also, I love my family, but I'm starting to think that moving someplace where I only see them a few times a year might have been one of the smarter things I ever did.

You'll be happy to know that I did not in fact punch out Kowalski for you, although I did see him. My Ma took a shine to him back when he was being me, and somehow she got word that his folks live out of town and he wasn't going to visit them for the holidays (I don't know why, so don't ask me, ask him). Anyway, Ma invited him to Midnight Mass and Christmas breakfast and the whole nine yards, so there he was, cleaned up and looking almost like a respectable adult. Frannie's daughter, Esmerelda, also took a shine to Kowalski, which surprised the hell out of me because she'd done nothing but scream from the time we walked in the door until he showed up three days later. I don't know if he slipped her a mickey or what, but she was good as gold as long as he was carrying her around. I got to tell you, I almost missed the guy when he went home. Frannie twisted his arm into babysitting on New Year's Eve, not just for Essie (don't even get me started on Frannie and why she picked that name!), but for Maria's kids too, so we could all go out on the town. I think they ran him kind of ragged, but he swore he didn't mind. (Is he secretly as much of a freak as you are?)

You and him ever work out your misunderstanding about whatever it was?

Keep me posted on where you're thinking about heading next. And, you know, anything else you need to talk about.

Stella says to send her greetings, so there you go.

Ray

 

****

Benton Fraser to Ray Vecchio

Fort Conquest, NT, January 6, 2000

Thank you so much for the package! You sent me enough to leer y mirar to keep me occupied por diez meses. You certainly did not need to send me a gift subscription to La Tempestad to make up for the package not being here exactly on time for Christmas (it arrived just within the twelve days, after all). But I am glad you did; I had a chance to look at a copy on a newsstand in Chicago and it looked like a promising new venture in arts publication. I eagerly aguardo my first issue.

With warmest wishes,

Ben

 

****

 

Ray Kowalski to Benton Fraser

Chicago, IL, January 10, XXXX 2000

Happy Millennium to you, too. Did you at least get a glass of champagne to welcome in the new year?

(I spent new years eve baby-sitting Frannie's daughter and Maria&Tony's kids, so the parents could go out on the town. Couldn't figure out if that made me feel young, or old.)

Thanks for setting me straight about Vecchio (your feelings about him, I mean). I feel like a chump and you probably think I'm off my nut, but for a while there I was thinking you were asking my advice about how to deal with being hopelessly in love with the guy who just married my ex-wife (whose happiness is very important to me) and I just didn't know how to deal with that.

Speaking of people going off their nut, you've come up with some pretty wacky ideas in your time, but if you think I'd want to ditch you to cozy up to Vecchio even in a purely platonic friendship kind of way, it's time to get your oil checked. Yeah, it'd be nice if you'd get a phone, but it sounds like you're working on that, huh?

All right, that's enough about Vecchio.

Except, no, I should probably say that that's why I said all that stuff about how if you're in love with someone you can't have, it don't mean you can't love someone else later. I mean, not that I didn't mean it, but I thought I was encouraging you to not do anything dumb -- well, you can probably guess what I was thinking, some of it anyway.

And also, I said I don't have a grudge against Vecchio and I meant that, but I guess he's still kind of a sore spot for me sometimes. Maybe especially when it comes to you. (Sorry about that. Ain't fair to you. Ain't your fault either.)

So, where does that leave us? With me still owing you more of an explanation, I think.

No, you know what? Fuck it. I can't take another three months of this conversation, I'll die of old age if the heart attack don't get me first. And if your Christmas present was anything to go by, you'd like me to get a move on. So here's the thing.

I figured the reason you were so stuck on seeing me all fixed up with the Mystery Woman was you didn't want me chasing your tail and figured if I had a girlfriend that would make it easier for us to keep being buddies and you wouldn't have to worry about me feeling bad.

And maybe that's true or maybe I was out in left field on that one too. I can't tell from what you said in your letter before this one (that you want me to be happy). So that's what I was fishing for when I asked you before.

You don't got to worry about me. I know I'm a basket case sometimes, but really. Don't. You do what makes you happy. Just, maybe it would be easier, being as how we've gotten all snarled up in trying to be careful of each other's feelings, if you'd tell me which it is. OK?

I want you to be happy too, you know,  XXXX  Ben.

Ray

PS: I was laughing when I sent you the ABBA quote cause I thought you wouldn't recognize it even though you ain't no teenager. Guess the joke's on me. Well, here's another for you:

You and I can share the silence
Finding comfort together
The way old friends do
And after fights and words of violence
We make up with each other
The way old friends do
Times of joy and times of sorrow
We will always see it through
Oh I don't care what comes tomorrow
We can face it together
The way old friends do

RK

 

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Ray Kowalski to Stella Vecchio

Chicago, IL, January 10, XXXX 2000

Dear Stella,

Yeah, it was real good, seeing you at Christmas -- weird, but good, and not as weird as I thought it was going to be, either.  I got to admit, I was kind of making sure we didn't have a chance to talk alone, not cause I don't want to talk to you, but it just seemed like that might be a little too weird and maybe not in the good way, and also, like you say, it would've made the Vecchios gossip and man, that would just not have been worth it. Also, if Vecchio caught us with our heads together, he might have had to take me out back and have a few words about hustling his wife, and us beating the crap out of each other wouldn't really have been in line with the whole Christmas spirit.

I wasn't really in the mood to talk anyway.  Or at least, didn't have anything useful to say, and XXX don't take offense but there's some stuff I really shouldn't talk about with you and you're way too good at figuring stuff out and if I'd opened my mouth to you I probably would've said something we both would've regretted.

But anyway, thanks for writing -- I held off answering this for a couple of days because I thought I might have some news to report soon, and it turns out I was right, and it also turns out that the big thing I was tying myself in knots worrying about was just me jumping to a wrong conclusion, which is really really a good thing for a lot of reasons, so no matter what else happens at least I know nobody else is going to get hurt here, which is a big freaking load off my mind let me tell you.

The thing is, he ain't in love with who I thought at all.  Which maybe means

No, I can't even write it, I'll jinx it.

Ray

PS: Listen, would you tell Vecchio I said "thank you" -- he'll know what for.  I would've said so in person at Christmas but I kind of wasn't in a mood where I could talk to him, which I hope he didn't take wrong.  He's a good guy and I got nothing against him.  And anytime he feels like seeing some real pool playing, I'll happily take on him and Tony both.

PPS: Frannie says Essie cut a tooth the other day, so you see, I did too know what I was talking about.  It's all about letting them gnaw on your finger.  Learned that from my mom.

 

****

 

Benton Fraser to Ray Vecchio

Fort Conquest, January 13, 2000

Dear Ray,

And a belated Happy New Year to you!

As I mentioned in my note, the package really was just the ticket: I was looking for the kinds of things that would allow me to better understand idiomatic Spanish. Grammars and dictionaries are useful, and I have several good ones, but movies and novels are much more useful in their own way.

My correspondence with Ray Kowalski, I must confess, grows ever more confusing. In one letter he berates me for taking an interest in his personal life, and then turns around and gives me cryptic non-specific hints about that same personal life. If I weren’t saving up all my “fudge points” to swing my transfer (and I will submit a list of requested postings no later than March 1), I would be tempted to visit him in Chicago simply to have a face-to-face conversation to finally sort this out once and for all, because now more than ever it seems as though we are each having our own written conversation with only the most peripheral of understanding of the other’s position.

I hope my venting is not too annoying, but the situation has me a bit unsettled at a time when am I already feeling quite unsettled on a number of fronts (and I am again comparing my personal life to a military campaign; this cannot be healthy).

Ben

 

****

 

Stella Vecchio to Ray Kowalski

Sarasota, FL, January 15, 2000

Ray,

It was definitely good-weird seeing you again, but I think you’re right that if we’d actually sat down and had a private chat, it would’ve been bad-weird. Especially if it had resulted in a fist-fight on the lawn. From what I understand, that would’ve been a little too much like the old days for Ray and his family.

But, yeah, definitely weird all around.  Especially since I saw you at my new in-laws’ house and went to my parents’ house with a new in-law for them…if I think about it too much, my brain will start to hurt.

Incidentally, Mom and Dad send their regards. They were a lot fonder of you than I think you ever realized. Mom even made noises about having you over for dinner some time, but Dad clutched his fork in that kind of stabby way that he does, you remember, and Mom changed the subject. The way she does. I don’t think Dad was upset at the idea of seeing you; more like having your daughter’s ex-husband over to visit just isn’t The Done Thing.  Then Ray said something about how he'd be honored to have a beer with you sometime, he was sorry we couldn't this time and everything got smoothed over.

And speaking of hanging out with Ray (he wasn't kidding about getting together, just didn't think it was the right time just yet): don’t get too complacent about your pool skills. We have tables at the bowling alley and one at home, and I’ve been teaching Ray a few tricks. He’s getting good.

I’m glad that the guy’s not in love with someone unsuitable or unavailable or whatever the problem was. And I’m keeping my fingers crossed that it means…well, I don’t want to jinx it for you either, so that’s all I’m going to say on the subject. For now.

Just…don’t jinx it for yourself in other ways, okay? It seems like you’ve gotten past the self-sabotage stage and now would be a terrible time to regress.

Stella

 

****

 

Ray Kowalski to Stella Vecchio

Chicago, IL, January 19, XXXX 2000

Stell,

I may be dumb but I ain't stupid.  I ain't doing nothing here but waiting to see how the dice fall -- which is making me just about crawl out of my fucking skin, but I ain't going to shoot myself in the foot this time.  And I'm making sure nobody else shoots me in the head, either, because this is really not the time for me to check out.  (Don't worry, nothing more dangerous than usual, in fact probably less worse than usual, but things got a little exciting for about 10 minutes the other day.  Only 10 minutes I been able to focus on what I was doing all fucking week.)

It'll be OK, though -- I mean, even if it's not OK it'll be OK.

I'll let you know when there's something to know (if ever, ha).

Thanks for listening, dollface.


Ray

 

****

 

Benton Fraser to Ray Kowalski

Fort Conquest, January 19, 2000

Dear Ray,

I suppose I could tell you that at least one person had to be sober in Fort Conquest on New Year’s and I volunteered for the duty. I could tell you more about Ray Vecchio and why I thought he might be able to help you in ways that I can’t seem to. I could write about Vecchio family madness.

But all I can fixate on is that you seem to believe that I was promoting your happiness in romance because you were, and forgive me if I’m not interpreting the phrase “chasing your tail” correctly, convinced I was trying to deflect you from concentrating your romantic attentions on…me?

I cannot have the right of it. I must be mistaken. Why on Earth would I think that you were interested in me for anything other than friendship? Since you expressed concern rather than disgust over the possibility that I might harbour feelings of a deeper nature for Ray Vecchio, I hope you will not be overly angry or repelled when I tell you that, at one time, I thought you and I might have that kind of chemistry. But even I know that ship sailed long ago, and I missed any chance I might have had to see if that chemistry might be the basis of a more lasting bond. Beyond that of the friendship we share, of course. That will hopefully persist.

Ben

 

****

 

Ray Vecchio to Benton Fraser

Sarasota, FL, January 21, 2000

Dear Benny,

I don't know what to tell you about Kowalski, not that you asked me a question or anything. You haven't really given me anything to go on.

If he got mad at you for asking about his personal life, that could just be because you asked in the wrong way, or hit a nerve. Or maybe the guy only wants to talk about certain parts of his personal life. Maybe there's some stuff he wants to keep private. That shouldn't surprise you -- we all have stuff we keep private, you sure as hell do.

But if he's being so twitchy about it, why are you bugging him?

OK, I just went and dug out all your old letters and re-read them, and my professional opinion as a retired detective is that there's something going on between the two of you, and it didn't start in October when you pissed him off. You've been fretting about him since he left Canada. Very first letter you wrote me, you were upset that you hadn't heard from him.

So this is the point where, if I were still a detective, I'd start wondering what the hell happened when Kowalski was in Canada with you?

Now, I got no horse in this race, except I'd like to help you out, but I don't really know what your problem is or if you're having one. So if this theory isn't helpful to you, no need to play the game for my sake.

But maybe the reason you're confused is you're not looking at the big picture.

Just a suggestion.

Ray

 

****

 

Benton Fraser to Ray Vecchio

Fort Conquest, NT, January 29, 2000

Dear Ray,

You’re right. I’m in love with Ray Kowalski. I’m sorry, I know you don’t like him, and you don’t like to think of me being in love with another man, much less one you know, but I love him and I’ve been trying so hard to get over him and I just can’t.

And last week he sent me a letter saying that he thinks I’m encouraging him to find happiness with someone else because I’m trying to tell him to stay away from me. At least, I think that’s what he said. So I guess he realized that I felt more deeply about him than he knew, but I don’t know if that bothers him or disgusts him or angers him or….

I just don’t know. I thought we had missed our chance to be more than friends, and I’m afraid to allow myself to hope that the chance was merely delayed, not canceled.

We spent months on the ice, until it melted. We confided in each other, spoke about our hopes and our dreams. I kept expecting him to say he wanted more from me, or even, in my wilder flights of fancy, to seize the moment and just kiss me. But he didn’t. And when the ice melted, he went back to Chicago. He left word at the RCMP detachment in Norman Wells that he was safely home. Pathetically, I still have the pink “while you were out” slip with the message on it.

I have no idea what happens next, except that I hope that this revelation doesn’t diminish your friendship for me.

Ben

 

****

 

Ray Kowalski to Benton Fraser

Chicago, IL, January 29, XXXX 2000

I don't know, Fraser. Why would you think such a thing?

Not that I can fucking tell whether you're telling me you did or you didn't.

(In case you've lost track of what we're talking about here after twenty years of commercial break, the subject is you thinking I was chasing your tail and what you might or might not have done about it if you did think that. And yes, you are correctly interpreting what that phrase means, and I don't believe for one second that you actually weren't sure, thesaurous-mouth.)

But

I

XXXXX

No, damn it, you said you felt it too. The spark between us. You knew, Fraser. You felt it, and you shut me down. Kindly.

XXXX

No, fuck this. Words of one fucking syllable. No fucking around with metaphors.

I am in love with you.

I don't know if you wanted me to say it or if that's the last thing you wanted, but too fucking bad, buddy.

There it is.

Ray

 

****

 

Benton Fraser to Ray Kowalski

[Delivered via Five Day Express]

Fort Conquest, NT, February 7, 2000

You are what? In love with me? Since when? Since we spent three Goddamned months on the ice together, being as emotionally intimate as two people can be and you never once indicated that you wanted anything more physical? Since you hinted that you wanted to stay in Canada but then, as soon as the ice melted, hared off to the nearest airport? Since you left a Goddamned message at Norman Wells? A pink “while-you-were-out” slip written in some stranger’s block print, for the love of God. Or maybe just since I had to badger you into writing to me?

I’m sorry. A declaration of love should be a joyous event, but I am so fucking mad at you, Ray Kowalski. Furious.

You total idiot, you were the person I loved but couldn’t have because you were the person who never hinted that he might want men at all, or me in particular. You were the person whose torch I was supposed to extinguish and lock deep inside my heart. You were the person I needed to get over so I could find happiness with someone else.

And you added up all our conversations and "sparks" and came up with “Benton-Buddy’s in love with Vecchio.” Jesus wept.

Ben

PS: Because you can’t seem to understand what I’m writing when you’re reading it, try to wrap your mind around this: I love you and I’m in love with you, and that’s probably why I’m so angry with you right now. But I will get over being angry with you. Now that I know that my feelings are returned, I will never get over being in love with you. I won’t do it. I refuse. I am not pushing that down any more. Ben

 

****

 

Ray Vecchio to Benton Fraser

Sarasota, FL, February 10, 2000

Dear Benny,

Well, I don’t know what I was expecting you to say, but “I’m in love with Kowalski” wasn’t exactly it.  Don't know what I said to make you thinkthought so. Although, thinking about everything you've written since July, I guess I shouldn't be surprised.

I don't really know the guy. If you say he's worth knowing and Stella says he's worth knowing, then I'm guessing there's something to like, there. But at least I know he's a good guy, and a good cop. Asshole or not.

Benny, I know you don't have much experience with -- I was going to say "with women," sorry -- with romance, but let me tell you something. No one thinks "gee, this guy must be trying to let me down easy" unless they're interested in the guy.

And another thing: where I come from, which is where Kowalski comes from, the guy's supposed to make the first move. I have no idea how that's supposed to work with two guys, and unless Kowalski's been seriously working the field since he got divorced, I bet he doesn't have a clue either.

Cut the guy a break, Benny.

Ray

 

****

 

Ray Kowalski to Stella Vecchio

Chicago, IL, February 12, XXXX 2000

Holy fuck, Stella.

You were right, like you usually are.

You officially have the right to say "I told you so" until we both die of old age.

I'm a moron. But I'm a moron in love with someone who actually loves me back, so I guess I can live with that.

Although apparently right now he wants to kill me. But he says he'll get over that. (He'd better, cause I already know I can't take him in a fair fight and probably not an unfair one either. Man packs a hell of a wallup.)

He fucking loves me, Stella.

Ray

PS: I put a red star on the envelope even though it ain't anything about you and me, or about me and being bisexual, because I really really don't want you to read this in front of Vecchio.

 

****

 

Ray Kowalski to Benton Fraser

[A bouquet of a dozen roses delivered to the RCMP detachment in Ft. Conquest, NT. Ordered February 12, delivered February 14, 2000. The enclosed card reads:]

Dear Ben,

Be mad as long as you want. I'll wait.

 

Do you remember the first time, and all of your sweet sweet talk
Ain't heard it a lot since then love
Now look at that guy, he's making me cry
He leaves everybody and he only says goodbye
But if I would have to choose I wouldn't let you go
Just give it some more time and you will see our love will grow
Darling I know

We gotta have patience
Love isn't just a sensation
Some of the time it gets rough
Love isn't easy but it sure is hard enough
(Sweet sweet, our love is bitter-sweet)
Giving love is a reason for living
But a few things can be tough
Love isn't easy but it sure is hard enough
(Sweet sweet, our love is bitter-sweet)

From the first moment I saw you I've treated you like a queen
I've given you lots of presents
Now listen to that, just look at that cat
You'd think he was an angel but he's talking through his hat
But if I would have to choose I wouldn't let you go
Just give it some more time and you will see our love will grow
Darling I know

We gotta have patience
Love isn't just a sensation
Some of the time it gets rough
Love isn't easy but it sure is hard enough
(Sweet sweet, our love is bitter-sweet)
Giving
(Sweet sweet, our love is bitter-sweet)
Love is a reason for living
(Sweet sweet, our love is bitter-sweet)
But a few things can be tough
Love isn't easy but it sure is hard enough
(Sweet sweet, our love is bitter-sweet)

PS: If you tell me you recognize this one, I’m never buying your raised-by-wolves act again.

 

****

 

Benton Fraser to Ray Kowalski

[Two dozen roses delivered to the 27th District Station. Ordered and delivered on February 14, 2000. The enclosed card reads:]

Ray,

I will get over it much faster if you would just, for the love of all that you hold dear, stop quoting ABBA lyrics at me. I eagerly await your next letter which will hopefully be more explanatory and less...whatever this is.

Ben

PS: ABBA is merely an educated guess.

 

****

 

Ray Kowalski to Benton Fraser

February 15, XXXX 2000

Ben,

The word you're looking for is "apologetic." Or maybe "hopeful."

OK, you want a love letter? Well, you're in luck, buddy, because it turns out that this is maybe the one thing on earth I can do better than you. All those years of marriage were good for something.

But you wanted an explanation, too. Fair enough, although I don't think the blame is all on my side on this one. But I'm willing to be a gentleman about it.

You ask me how long I've been in love with you, which is a good question that I don't actually know the answer to. I think I stopped being able to pretend it was anything else outside Vecchio's hospital room, when I asked you if we were still partners, and you said "If you'll have me." I was so fucking scared and miserable, I was sure I'd lost you, and when you said it was still you and me, that you still wanted me, it just about fucking broke me into pieces.

But that's not when it started, that's just when I first put a name to it.

Then you invited me on the Quest, and I couldn't tell if that was a nice way of saying goodbye or a marriage proposal or just Fraser thinking that a three-month dogsled expedition is something everyone should do once before they die.

And you say my flirtation techniques normally have all the subtlety of a bulldozer in a china shop, but you've only seen me chasing after women I don't know. Or Stella, who I know too well. I've never tried to start something with a guy before, and if I had, it wouldn't have mattered, because you're not a normal guy. You throw off come-ons like water off greased metal, and not just that, but you hate come-ons. And I didn't want to pick you up or just, I don't know, get into your pants for a little meaningless fun. I wanted your heart, Ben, and I had no idea how to get through to it.

You already had mine, and I think (now) that I don't have to explain to you how scary that feels.

So I dropped hints, I threw out lines, I opened doors. I was trying to be subtle, but this is me, how the hell was I supposed to know I was actually being subtle?

I think I'm not the only one of us who's got that particular problem.

Yes, I hinted that I was looking for a close emotional relationship. You told me you weren't sure you were capable of one.

I hinted that maybe I didn't need to go back to my life in Chicago, maybe I could build a new one in Canada. I was hoping you'd understand that I wasn't staying for the snow and the mountains. I was hoping you'd invite me in.

Maybe you did, and I missed it. I admit I can be dumb a lot of the time.

That last night before we got back to town, you got in your sleeping bag first and I rattled around pretending I had shit to do so I didn't have to turn out the light. You had your back to me and your eyes closed. Did you know I was looking at you? I was so close to just saying "fuck it" and leaning over and kissing you. But I didn't want my last memory of the Quest to be you socking me in the face again.

Yeah, I can be a big coward sometimes.

I've been missing you since the minute I got on that fucking plane.

I get that I hurt you, I've been hurting you for a long while. That rips me up inside, cause it's the last thing I'd ever want to do.

But there's a part of me that can't help dancing, because it means you love and want and need me as much as I love and want and need you, and that's a miracle I never hoped for.

I hope this is what you were looking for. It's what I've got.

And everything I've got is yours, Ben.

Love,

Ray

 

****

 

Stella Vecchio to Ray Kowalski

Sarasota, FL, February 16, 2000

Ray,

It's Constable Fraser, isn't it?

I can't see it, frankly, but I'm glad he loves you back.

I won't tell Ray, but there's been a lot of mail coming to this house from Canada, so I suspect I won't have to.

In your corner, Ray. Always.

Stella

 

****

 

Benton Fraser to Ray Kowalski

Fort Conquest, NT, February 17, 2000

Ray,

Thank you for the flowers; I trust you got mine in response? We need to speak more practically than through grand gestures and song lyrics alone. I literally cannot leave Fort Conquest right now. I need that transfer to go through and can't do anything to jeopardize it (using the satellite phone to send you flowers was the absolute limit on what I could do).

I am submitting a list of cities I would like to transfer to. They are, in no order at this point:

Fort Erie, Ontario (Greater Area)
Windsor, Ontario (Greater Area)
Chatham-Kent, Ontario (Greater Area)
White Rock, British Columbia (Greater Area)
Victoria, British Columbia (Greater Area)

If you consult an atlas, you will see that they are all fairly close to American cities. If you think you might be, at some point, willing to relocate to be near me (and I realize how rashly premature I am being), please let me know if you think you might have an order of preference among Buffalo, Detroit, Bellingham (Washington) or Port Angeles (Washington) and I will prioritize my list accordingly.

Ben

 

****

 

Ray Kowalski to Stella Vecchio

Chicago, IL, February 21 XXXX 2000

Yes, damn it, it's Fraser.

How the hell did you get to be so smart?

You don't have to see it, sweetness. No one ever understood what you saw in me, either.

Ray

 

****

 

Benton Fraser to Ray Kowalski

Fort Conquest, NT, February 22, 2000

Dear Ray,

When I asked when you fell in love with me, it was an angry rhetorical device. But thank you for responding to it as if it were a genuine inquiry. As you wrote about your feelings for me, I have no idea when I fell in love with you, but I do know when I admitted it to myself. It was the night we went to Beth Botrelle's home, after she'd been released. While Dief and I waited, I thought about how hurt you must have been feeling, and I knew you were going to come out to the car distraught. And I thought, "Just shut up and let the man you love deal with his pain in his own way," although every instinct was screaming at me to try to find a way to spare you the pain you felt. I'd never thought of you as "the man I love" as opposed to "the friend I love" before, but it didn't shock or surprise me. Loving you was, by then, a simple fact of life.

I invited you on the Quest because you seemed to want adventure and a change of pace. And I wanted to get to know you on the ice, wanted to know if you liked it out there. And I'd hoped that you might, spurred by being in a different environment, be inspired to...well, do exactly what you thought of doing but didn't.

I thought you were expressing a discontent with Chicago and police life, not an active desire for Canada. For me. For obvious reasons, I could hardly make romantic overtures to you while we were on the ice, and when we were back on safer ground, you had already gotten on a plane.

I just didn't understand what you wanted from me. Now I know why you wanted to know if I know about people trying to pick me up: you were trying to figure out if I realized you had been making passes. But I told you the truth: mostly that sort of attention is lost on me unless it is so blatant as to be unpleasant. Certainly if you had tried that when we first met, I would've been put off.

I used to go out on the town with colleagues, and they'd tease me about how oblivious I was to all the women (and, depending on the town and the colleagues, men) who had flirted with me without my even realizing it.

But that's in the past. I'd rather think about the future, Ray. A future in which I will hold your heart as carefully and tenderly as I can.

Love,

Ben

 

****

 

Benton Fraser to Ray Vecchio

Fort Conquest, NT, February 23, 2000

Dear Ray,

I must apologize for not responding immediately to your very helpful letter of February 10th. After months of correspondence, which, as it turned out, included some substantial miscommunications, Ray Kowalski and I have declared ourselves to one another.

Yes, he returns my love. I was taken aback to learn of this, and my reaction was very strong and rather surprising. I know you don’t want to hear much in the way of details, so I will simply write that simply learning of his love for me was not enough to resolve the…situation is the best word I can think of to describe what was happening. There were a lot of strong words and grand gestures (it was completely coincidental that we ended up exchanging flowers on Valentine’s Day; I feel sure that had this come at a later time, we would have done the same on March 31st or April 10th).

Now, however, we have created a meaningful correspondence that I have reason to hope will lead us to a future together.

Unfortunately, your advice to “cut the guy a break” came just a little too late in the course of events, but I will definitely be mindful of it in the future!

Thank you again for all the letters and kindness you have shown me since I took my posting here. I have been so moody. One week I was depressed and the next hopeful. Once I learned of Ray’s love for me, I was worse still as my mood changed from moment to moment: angry, anxious, happy and every emotion in between. I was even downright giddy at times; I wanted to write “Ray Kowalski loves Benton Fraser” all over my desk. Perhaps I should not be apologizing for not having written to you but instead encouraging your gratitude that I did not!

I’m working on finalizing my transfer list. I have decided to seek a posting as close to the US border as possible, in the hopes that, should Ray Kowalski be inclined to leave Chicago so we can have a geographically closer relationship, he can find work as in law enforcement in an corresponding American city.

For the first time in many months, I can honestly close a letter by writing:

In great hope for the future,

Ben

 

****

 

Ray Vecchio to Benton Fraser

Sarasota, FL, March 1, 2000

Dear Benny,

Congratulations, and what the hell took you so long to tell me the good news? According to Stella, she’s known about you and Kowalski for weeks! He tells his ex before you get around to telling your best friend?

Tell Kowalski if he breaks your heart I'll break all his fingers.

I'm happy for you, Benny. Honest to God.

This, you deserve.

Ray

 

****

 

Ray Kowalski to Benton Fraser

Chicago, IL, March 1, X 2000

Ben,

I know better than to try to fight you when you've got a Plan. If you think this is the best shot we've got at making a life together, and both being employed at jobs that don't suck, I'm in.

But I don't know jack about Buffalo Detroit Bellingham or Port Angeles (I haven’t even heard of those last two). I'm sure there's reasons I might care about one over the other, but not that I can tell you without doing some serious research.

(Jesus, I send you love songs, you send me homework. Have I told you lately that you're a freak?)

I'll look into it. But I'm also going to look into how soon I can schedule myself some vacation days and a plane ticket to Fort Conquest (which by the way is a really dumb name for a fort, let alone naming your town after it). Because I am done with trying to talk to you with a 20-day wait between every other sentence. It's a stupid way to try to plan our future, that's for sure.

So look for one more letter for me, telling you when my flight gets in. I trust you to be there waiting for me.

Love (always),

Ray

 

****

 

Benton Fraser to Ray Kowalski

[Telegram to Ray Kowalski at the 27th District Station, Chicago, IL]

March 8, 2000

Understood.

 

****

 

From: lester.pearson@rcmp-grc.ca
To: benton.fraser@rcmp-grc.ca

Netsilik, NT, July 3, 2004

Dear Sergeant Fraser,

I don't know if you've heard about it, but St. John Beavertoe has finally prevailed and Fort Conquest is no more! Naming it Netsilik was a bit incongruous, since the Netsilik live 2,000 kilometers northeast of here, but we took what we could get. Yes, I consider myself part of the town now.

I know your time here wasn't the happiest, but I do remember how kind you were to a young Constable. I learned so much from you, and I was a bit adrift when you left so abruptly. But I understood why. Ray's quite a guy.

I'm not just writing to you about the name change. I have a friend, from the Depot, and we've been writing back and forth for years. Now that Netsilik has Internet access, we've really been writing back and forth a lot. I think maybe she likes me as more than a friend, and I know I like her as more than a friend, and you kind of have a lot of experience at that? I guess?

Any advice you can give me would be greatly appreciated!

Best regards,

L. Pearson

PS: The town may be Netsilik now, but St. John says that his establishment will always be For(es)t Lanes. He still has Ray's picture up from that time he bowled 300. --L.P.