I: Self Love/Self Hate/Self Denial
It takes him a while to realise it, but Ray Vecchio is totally hot. Donít get Ray wrong, pretending to be the guy sucks and will probably continue to suck; everyone still expecting him to wear Armani, the family dinners like chimpsí tea-parties, getting stuck with the sexless statue of a partner. But, there are, uh, compensations.
Yeah, Ray thinks as he leans back on the couch, his fingers cradling his balls. There is one heck of a silver lining in this, and heís but a poor boy from the Southside, and heíll take all the silver he can get. Beats working in a meat packing plant. His parents didnít get it, they thought he didnít want out, like he had a hole in his head or something, but when he did; out and out, onward and upward and all that jazz; he just didnít want to get out of his depth. Thatís what happened with Stella, come to think of it, he got out of his depth. And Ray canít swim.
Heís sure Vecchio can swim though, real sure, heís swimming upstream in his Armani and his silk boxers, like Italian salmon, Ray is sure Vecchio would wear silk under the Armani, and that makes him grow harder if that was possible, yeah, silk, slipping sliding girly but not, that or nothing at all, not girly at all. Vecchio can swim great.
Rayís not stupid, heís seen the pictures of the guy, heís not an oil painting like Fraser, or at least not one of those perfect paintings with guys wearing sheets and still managing to look noble, more like that painting of that British dictator-guy they showed on Discover once, a warts-and-all painting, and all the better for it, because Vecchio is real.
And Vecchio is not him. That was what sucked at first that he was told not to become Vecchio, not to even try. Heíd offered to dye his hair and he still had some Italian left from the Zuko gig, and boy, was that a screw-up, no evidence just a law suit filled against the department for harassment of an, huh, legitimate business man. He could cut it, heíd even wear a suit, even if the Armani would have sucked on him, not sharp enough, making him feel like a kid in a grown-upís clothes. And they said no. What did they understand? Did they not get that the gig had just got a thousand times harder. He did undercover because he wanted not to be, they were pushing him into whole new areas, yeah he wasnít Stanley Raymond Kowalski but he wasnít Vecchio either.
He was kind of stuck in-between like a beast with two heads. And one of those heads was lapping slowly at his balls whispering stuff, like ďTi amoĒ between strokes at once reverential and dirty. While those Italian fingers would be kneading his ass like pizza dough.
And Vecchio still had the Armani on, and he was as naked as the day he was born. And Vecchioís hair was like baby hair, all soft and delicate and fragile, and it was tickling at the insides of his legs, as Vecchio took him down deep into his throat, looking up at him with those big green eyes like he had all the candy in the world, he just had to learn to share.
And the hair was tickling and that made thinking hard, and then it made anything except coming hard, and then he was coming harder than he ever had before.
He came hard all over his damp tight fist.
And when the world came back into focus, he gave the photos, heíd, uh, borrowed from the folder locked away in the bowels of the PD a good look over, it wouldnít be greatness to bring them back with big obvious dollops of forensic evidence over them, would it?
This morning Armando Langoustini was playing golf.
This morning Armando Langoustini was playing golf in the desert, the sun bouncing brilliant off the club.
This morning Armando Langoustini was playing golf in the desert, the sun bouncing brilliant off the club as he brought it down against the head of the guy who had tried to roll him. Nobody rolled the Bookman for money, and nobody had already stopped moving, barely breathing between the sobs, a strange rasping sound in his throat, as the blood bubbled there. The Bookman was playing golf with nobody, and nobody was distinctly under par and about to lose big-time.
And the sun glittered on the shaft of the club as he brought it down once more, in a perfect swing, and was rewarded with a crack and a flash of grey and red flying off on the upswing. It was kind of pretty actually, but Nero was going to have a bitch getting it out of his clothes. Hell, burn them anyway. It wasnít as if he couldnít afford it and Armando knew all about police forensics.
Armando Langoustini likes playing golf with old friends.
This night, tonight, Ray Vecchio was kneeling on Armandoís bed.
This night, tonight, Ray Vecchio was kneeling on Armandoís bed, trying to balance as the too-soft mattress shifted beneath him.
This night, tonight, Ray Vecchio was kneeling on Armandoís bed, trying to balance as the too-soft mattress shifted beneath him, he could hear breathing behind him and the sound of leather being unfurled. Thank God for Langoustiniís little mid-life crisis, he thought; thank God for the fact Armando can get whatever he goddamn wants no questions asked in this town; thank God, that he really did mean anything.
The guy was dark haired and tanned; Armando had offered the agency more if they could get him a Canadian with dark hair and ice-blue eyes, and they had; he claimed to be a ski instructor working his way home. Heíd tried to give his name, the first time; and Armando said, no, your name is Fraser; and that was the last time he tried to give his name.
Money and power buy you a lot in this town, but they never seem to buy you absolution. So Rayís making do with penance.
Itís not as if he can go into Church or anything.
They donít really go in for Churches here, just Wedding Chapels, and you canít ask Elvis to hear your confession.
And Ray doesnít want confession, anyway; he wants penance; he wants penance in white hot searing lines across his back; and the not-quite-Fraser, the agency did good on a match now if only he could get him to swear less, is getting ready to oblige, loosening his arm and the whip.
Ray Vecchio hates Armando Langoustini with all his heart, and is sure Benny would too.
He shouldnít be doing this. He has a satisfying hard work, duty, a calling higher than any other he can conceive; he should want for nothing, and that calling leads him onto the right path, which he should tread rejoicingly, rather than forever looking over his shoulder as he does now.
For what does it achieve to dwell upon the past, and ferment troubles in memories and intangible things that slip through his fingers like water? What slips through his fingers now is not like water; it is hard with his indolence and guilt.
He should not be yearning for what he cannot have, for what would cause pain to those he loves most. It would not do either of them good for him to indulge this urge, slake this thirst, give into this temptation so. Ray does not belong here; the land will steal from him his very vitality and make him cold and hard.
He does not believe in zoos, keeping creatures captive from their own environment, bringing them only strife and confusion. He does not want to make a pet of Ray, and watch his blond hair turn dark and his eyes lose that vital light, nor for him to slow, trapped by the confines of the cage that is his endless horizon.
Ray belongs in Chicago, whatever he might think upon the issue, Bentonís mind is made up. And perhaps in time, his Rays will realise what he already knows for a fact, they belong with each other, they compliment each other, they share the same habitat and their skills and tastes intermesh seamlessly. They should belong only to themselves, just as Diefenbaker belongs only to himself, and should do things only out of choice, not out of misplaced obligation.
He knows that love does not conquer all, it does not ďvicitĒ but it ďvincitĒ, it does not conquer but it binds you like a captive and steals away your eyes, your ears, your mind. It binds you in perfidy, turns you against yourself, against nature, against the welfare of your object.
He doesnít want to hurt Ray. He didnít want to hurt Ray. And he didnít want to hurt Victoria. But he still does.
He should not be doing this, holding himself thus, holding himself thus and thinking of Ray as his hand quickens with desperation. He has done this already today, in the dog-shed in secret silence, before Ray awoke in his bed embraced only by furs as it should be, before he set Ray on the aeroplane bound south also as it should be.
He should be hard and cold, just as the land is hard and cold; it should not be so difficult; he was once and can be again; and again his sole love will be this hard and cold land of terrible beauty.
II: Losing Self/Self Enlightenment/Finding Self
Fraser wonders when this all seemed to make sense, he thinks it was when he inadvertently inhaled the scent upon the photographs he helped Ray steal from their secure hiding place in the bowels of the police department. He had been able to steal this new strange Rayís permanent record, invaded his privacy so, surely this would make things even, quits, as the new Ray would say, moving to that invisible beat like a woman in an unburning flame trapped in an endless loop of celluloid? He wanted to please, please this new Ray so as to please himself (heíd told himself that it would help keep both Rays safe but he knew the lie even if they did not), but ended up only bringing himself torment, and tormented pleasure. When they stole them, for it was stealing, they smelled of paper and must, developer and red light; and now, now they smell of passion and salt and bitterness, but not so bitter as the choking in his heart. He can feel his heart stutter, just as his shameful lust begins dreaming new dreams, of Ray and Ray entwined like snakes, an apple for his downfall. Not as bitter as that, as the stuttering refusal and denial in his mind, and the bitter poison that Ray might prefer somebody heíd never met to him.
And never as bitter as the liquor burning into his throat, burning down into his heart, which should be burning this all away. And wonders when this all made sense, to sit down, night after night with the brothers Karamazov, Joe and Pete the fish, and not say anything, just slip into the edges of this despairing camaraderie. It might be something for what ails him; it was for Ray, back when he was still mourning for Stella.
He still turns in his reports; his work is more than sufficient; he deserves warmth when he comes in from the field, whatever Diefenbaker says, whatever his father would say. Sometimes he wishes his father was not gone so, that he might just explain, but he does not think that he would understand. Even as, when he looks in the mirror to shave, he begins to see his father; so long ago, after mother was no longer there, after mother died, after mother was murdered. And he sees the same light, or absence of light, in his eyes.
And his hand has stopped slipping lower and lower as he thinks of Ray, and Ray, and sometimes even Victoria; he just ignores the way it starts shaking as it reaches for the bottle.
Ray Vecchio had been considering taking up golf.
Ray Vecchio had been considering taking up golf, it was what he needed, fresh air and a healthy outlet.
Ray Vecchio had been considering taking up golf, it was what he needed, fresh air and a healthy outlet, and damn Langoustini to hell, because he wasnít even going to think about it. He was going to wear dapper little shoes with spikes on, and have class, and work on that swing. Because there was only so much being swung at that he could take anymore.
No, he wanted more, more hiss and crack, joyful pain blooming across his back like exquisite flowers, blood red flowers, matching those growing in front of his blind-folded eyes, luminously dark in the velvet darkness.
He wanted pain, and got serenity, or so he thought.
One of the cuts across his back had opened when heíd been chasing a perp; it didnít hurt, just a sudden warmth across his back; and Kowalski, coming up behind, those smokerís lungs of his doing him no good, while heíd got all that good muscle tone from Fraser, no from Tee Jay, the potty mouthed possibly ski-instructor, who only resembled the Fraser in his head. The Fraser, who hates, which he never does; you could split his head open, and he would love you for it, he would forgive you for it. Heíd have been so much better at this shit, better than him, better than Armando, whoíd lost his temper after Tee Jay had refused to hold him down and fuck him.
And Tee Jay had ended up in the desert, but unlike Moses, heíd never be getting out.
Unlike Vecchio, who is so getting out; because Kowalski doesnít need this, Ma sure as fuck donít need this, doesnít need Vecchio dragged into an emergency room by his over-concerned partner, heíd never thought he meet somebody even more over-solicitous as Benny but he had; where it would transpire that it was not the perp, the malfeasant, the mark that did it; but one of the talented young men of Madame Vespaís in Boystown.
So he has to get out, get out and get more, get more or go cold turkey. And the turkey has it. He just has to get away, get away to somewhere nobody would ever look for him.
Fucking Buttfuck Canada.
Vecchio had bought a ticket for Florida on his credit card, thinking like everyone was a moron, and his hundred million cousins were still looking under rocks for him out there, and were going to cause a massive shortage on after-sun afterwards.
Stanley Raymond Kowalski is no moron, heís kinda pissed that Vecchio thought so. And yeah, he knows Madame Vespaís Psychic Consultancy ainít kosher. Known for oh-so-long. Known for oh-oh-oh-do-that-again-long. Knows what Madame Vespa pushes is better than cheesecake, better that the things you can do with potato chips, better than crack. Just donít ask how he knows, because a gentleman never reveals a ladyís secrets.
And that goes for Vecchio too, he just looks better the part than Ray Kowalski, bad boy bad ass bad cop extraordinaire. Difference being Ray never stays still long, just keeps moving, new addictions, new sensations; heíd found a dozen things better than crack, and Vecchio was the one he wanted to hang onto.
And heh, he knew his stuff, Ďcause heíd just beat Vecchio here. Borrowing those dogs at Fort McWhatsit was greatness, no; it was genius, because heíd got to the bottom of the hill just before that wannabe-taxi disgorged a very cold Vecchio into the slush.
And now they were fighting, because Vecchio didnít find it greatness.
And then a dark figure was looking over them.
It took him a minute to recognise the wild man of the woods. Fuck, Ben, what have you been doing to yourself?
III: The Absence of Self/The Reality of Self/Angels Falling Slowly To Heaven
The Absence of Self
He sees Benny rush towards him and envelop him in one of those huge Mountie-man hugs, all the better, truer for being so rarely given; he holds Vecchio close and whispers into his ear.
He sees Benny rush towards him and envelop him in one of those huge Mountie-man hugs, all the better, truer for being so rarely given; he holds Vecchio close and whispers into his ear. He whispers dark and dangerous things and how he, the new Ray, wouldnít be able to cope with them, would not know how to fight them.
He sees Benny rush towards him and envelop him in one of those huge Mountie-man hugs, all the better, truer for being so rarely given; he holds Vecchio close and whispers into his ear. He whispers dark and dangerous things and how he, the new Ray, wouldnít be able to cope with them, would not know how to fight them. He whispers dark and dangerous and dirty things into Rayís ear, and tells him how he is going to do them, how Ray deserves them to be done to him.
He sees Benny.
He sees Benny then.
He sees Benny cry out, scream, plead with the voice of an angel turned all rough and hoarse. He sees Benny scream as Kowalski pours his whiskey out of the cabin window, an amber stream burning into the snow.
Armando is laughing.
Armando is laughing so hard as Benny falls hard upon the pavement of reality, as the bones of his soul crack. And heís laughing at Ray watching, helpless.
Armando isnít laughing, not at all, because Armandoís buried in some unmarked grave far away from Vegas. And he isnít laughing at Ray watching, helpless, appalled, reviled.
And he isnít laughing as Ray runs out, into the snow, having fallen back into reality and found it not to his pleasing.
Benny isnít the only one lying there on that pavement, bleeding, bleeding everything good about himself out onto the bare concrete, making stains that will never get out. Ray is lying there too, clutching his side, though the woundís in his head, clutching on tight as his world explodes.
And it isnít Gardino there in the flames, itís Benny, screaming out with the reaching out hand. And the Riveraís still burning, crackling, he can hear the sound that means the tankís going to blow anytime now.
And Ray just runs headlong, clutching his side, terrified, as the flames claim Benny and the ruins of his life.
The Reality of Self
Ray doesnít even look at the trail of puffed up snow that Vecchio is leaving in his wake, as he runs and falls, and runs and falls, and he will be a sure case for frostbite once he gets into town. Yeah, but, then Vecchio likes pain; Ray knows that; but it remains to be seen, or not, whether Vecchio still likes pain when itís for real.
Ray hopes not.
But heís not here to help Vecchio. He thought he was, but heís not.
He thought they were buddies, partners, friends; but there was nothing with the sharing. Vecchio is still a great cop, just about, but he turns off at the end of the day. No drinks with the duck boys, no tea party with Welsh, trying to introduce the weird concept of sobriety amongst those who protect and serve the fair city of Chicago, but, on reflection, doing it to exorcise his own ghosts.
Thatís what Vecchio needs, an exorcist to get the ghost of Armando out of his head, or whoever else heís been blaming all the time.
Blaming rather than acknowledging. Splitting himself in two so he can look in the mirror.
Vecchio doesnít need somebody to hold his hand and tell him itís okay.
Or at least, Ray doesnít think so. He just needs a dose of reality.
He needs to find himself in the mess, in the ruins of what was once his life, and he needs to take himself by the hand and lead himself out into the light.
Vecchio isnít really the problem.
Ray wonders why he can hear distant singing. It takes him a moment to recognise the voice; itís not in a recording studio, or a concert hall, itís just on its own; and he wonders if that voice still sounds the same or whether itís been made hoarse with whiskey and rye.
Itís like that ďgameĒ his dance teacher used to do, the one where two groups had to sing different songs at once. It was meant to improve their lungs and their rhythm. This isnít it, this is discord, and Fraserís never had a Chevy and Ray doesnít even know what the fuck a levy is.
So he zones that out, and listens to the voice of the angel.
Holy fuck, why did he never pick up how much feeling there is in this?
How do you explain to somebody that theyíre not a fallen angel, that they might actually be for long in this world, that itís so very wrong to think that you donít deserve anybody, that nobody could ever want you? How do you even understand what their world is like?
The wise man said, that every journey begins with a single step. Ray knows that, heís watched too many kung-fu movies.
And so, he just reaches out his hand and touches so very gently, the face of an angel who never really fell very far at all.
Angels Falling Slowly To Heaven
To say he doesnít understand this is an understatement; itís bafflement, itís confusion, itís a chaos that he could lose himself in if heís not careful. He doesnít understand why Ray ran, perhaps he was ashamed of how far his friend had fallen, perhaps heíd realised what Fraser already knew, that he is a poor excuse for a human being, flawed at the heart, with everything radiating from broken and twisted.
He knows he does not fit the picture-patterns he was given so very long ago. He is neither as just or dedicated as his father, nor as fair and loving as his mother, he lacks the faith which should be his. He hasnít been to Church for years, he knows thereís something wrong there, that he neither understands nor believes.
Heís learnt everything wrong, but in some small way he can please. He has his duty, he is quite good at it. Surely, that should be enough?
He doesnít understand the hand still glove-warm stroking his wind chapped cheek, or the look within his friendís eye. Why has he not gone to help Ray?
He doesnít understand this at all.
He doesnít understand.
And then another hand cups his face, a finger brushes against his cheek and takes away the tears. He doesnít understand the tears, he didnít know he was crying, another failure of control.
A failure of the control he needs to continue, to be as he should, to perform his duty.
To be as those he admires.
But who really does he admire? Not his mother, long gone, a remote phantasm of half-remembered songs and a brief delirious visitation. That and a brief sharpness of the breaking of bone and flesh at terrible speed and the slow fall to earth, and he can still hear wailing and he knows it is his own. Not his father, who sacrificed himself to duty and had no more than a shack full of broken memories to show for it, who refused to talk to his true friend for so many years, and then let his false friend steal his life away. And what is his grandmotherís Kirk if he does not believe, for her it could move mountains and send her far across the sea; but what makes him do that? Heís done it, crossed seas and travelled mountains until they seem broken ruins, and why?
Would it hurt so much to reach out?
Because he didnít really come half across the ice for Muldoon, he did it for the green ship to his red ship. He didnít go looking for the reaching out hand because of the fame, the glory, but because his friend asked him to.
Friendship has strangely become the entire summation of his world.
So would it hurt so much to reach out, to touch?
And his hand reaches out, and he hesitates, like Eve reaching for the apple.
And his hand reaches out, not like a wizened dead thing reaching out for an impossible dream, caught in the amber of reality, caught in the ice of geography, caught in the snares of mortality.
And his hand traverses the space of universes only to find that skin feels like his skin, a little different, perhaps, but still the same, still like the skin he knows.
Itís such a gentle touch, and he never expected to see the sunlight in Rayís smile.
It dazzles him. Itís like a sort of brief heaven. And everything that was him dissolves into the light.
Coda: Self Enlightenment
Ray looks at himself in the mirror, and smoothes down the legs of his trousers, leaning forward, hoping that no kid to try play leapfrog on his ass; not bad, not what he would have chosen once, but not bad at all. New haircut, new suit, and a new face looking at himself in the mirror. Or rather looking at all the light rays that bounce of him, his new haircut, his new suit, and hit the mirror and return back to him.
He looks at himself in the mirror and sees nobody that he knew before.
He saw how far Benny fell because of him. Heíd left him alone without thinking of the consequences; heíd left ma alone without thinking of the consequences, and now she wonít stop talking about the nuevo Raymondo and how he always helped wash after supper; heíd left Frannie alone without thinking of the consequences, and now found he had a police cadet on maternity leave. So, he was getting a lot of experience with baby-showers and obstetrics; he was going to get dishwasherís hands if he didnít keep up with the handcream; and he was finally taking a lantern and exploring the dark places for himself.
For himself. Of himself. Because he no longer had Benny to do it for him, or Benny to excuse him, or Benny to hold him in some strange state of grace.
Some strange state of grace, like a saint out of a picture book. Crying out in ecstasy, but the real pain was not his, only of his own making.
And he steps back from the mirror, resolved to acceptance of his flaws and not to hide away in the darkness, but to hide the darkness away, trap it, and guard over it. He wondered if that was how Benny felt, after Rayís bullet almost ripped through his spine, after heíd fallen hard to the earth of reality, but Benny had tried to pull it alone and couldnít.
Ray could pull it alone, and he can, and he is, pulling as far as he can.
And he steps back, straight into a dame with a pile of boxes; he should only be able to see her tastefully highlighted hair over the top of them, but he sees more, because theyíve fallen to her feet, and he picks them up, eyes to the ground. Heíd learnt that little trick in a tide of pain, only here it isnít a game, here it is real.
And as he looks into her eyes, he knows so is she, and he smiles, and offers to carry them to her car.
And she smiles and it is stellar, like stars, and it is as if he might be looking upon another fallen angel, or at least a sorely harassed one, and what better than to protect her from the pain of the world?