1: Liqueur Chocolates
Ray used to go round to Stella’s new place, sometimes, always at night.
Okay, it was more than sometimes. He did it a lot. So much that the night porter knew him on sight, “I’m watching you,” he’d say, waving a finger at Ray. Not in a bad way, nothing like that, Ahmed was okay. Just watching, not watching for Ray to try steal the silver or anything.
Maybe, Ray thought, he’d built Ray up into something. The personal cop, here ready to fight crime; the knight in rusty armour here to woo the princess… but really? That’s Ray talking, not Ahmed. They never really talked much.
Which was okay, ‘cause when he came down fast ‘cause Stella had shut the freaking door in his face… and that was a good one when she shut the door in his face, at least she’d freaking seen him… unlike the times when she just pretended he was a man with a mission from God and pretended she wasn’t there, even though Ray knew she was ‘cause of Ahmed; or the times when Ray would get to the door, be about to knock and hear noises… any way, then he’d spend time at the desk eating the liqueur chocolates the people in the fancy apartments gave Ahmed, who didn’t drink.
And they’d be there at the desk, with Ahmed sitting there reading carefully the Herald Tribune with his little pocket dictionary tucked by the switchboard and Ray gorging his face on chocolates that tasted like something sweet and sticky Stella used to drink, back in the days when she didn’t care about the image she was projecting and a hell of a lot more about having something that didn’t taste much like booze.
Got you the same place, though. Ray remembered sorority parties, all posh, with punch strong enough to clean transmissions. Really, they’d been some left over and he’d taken it home and it cleaned great, but you couldn’t get rid of the smell of sticky apples and apricots. Stella had spent the night showing off her tough, beer drinking boyfriend with oil stains and a tattoo. The oil stains had been because she hadn’t told him about the party, just to come.
And most the time she never even told him to come; he’d just sneak in late, through a window if he had to, and knock on her door and sweep her off her feet. And she’d sort of melt against him.
This should have told him that this was nothing like when Stella was in college.
He’d be eating the chocolates and not talking and Ahmed would be reading and not talking, unless he found something which really wasn’t in the dictionary (he had to mime “fuck” to him once, and they’d laughed for a moment). Ray was not talking about Stella and Ahmed was not talking about his daughter, his little princess, her photo lodged inside the cover of the dictionary, and how she would go to law school and become a fair lady living in a beautiful apartment.
Until, it was Ahmed’s last day on the job. They hadn’t renewed his contract; Ray reckoned because some of the old money upstairs didn’t like a face like his or the way he didn’t always have the right words or the way he treated everyone like a friend, when they wanted to be a superior; it was probably that one. And Ahmed shock his hand in both of them, which Ray didn’t like ‘cause it made it all the harder to run, saying, “You are a great man, I tell my daughter so, you are a young man going places, and one day I will be able to turn round and say “I know him” and point you out in the paper.”
Ray felt sick. He was nothing like that, nothing like that at all. He hurried, kind of casual, into the car park before he let the tears run down his cheek. He was just a flatfoot cop with no real prospects and no real future, ‘cept another face to be.
And all that time he thought he’d been working it? Stella had been working him.
And Ray never went back.
2: Broken Mirrors
Ray had looked into the mirror thinking a new name would make all the difference.
It never did. He was still Ray if you looked closely enough, if you diced him up real small, you’d find he was made of Ray atoms. Or maybe, like that candy his Uncle Steve brought back from England, the stuff he broke his baby teeth on ‘cause ouch hard, you could slice him and he’d be all white and they’d be Ray written through him in big red letter. Actually, with his luck, the being sliced and diced notwithstanding, it would say Stanley Raymond Kowalski.
Every time Ray would look in the mirror and ask, “Who the fuck are you?” and that was always the answer he was dreading, ‘cause Stanley Kowalski was just another dumb Pollack with an even dumber name.
And then there was the Stella.
He always thought he could escape, achieve escape velocity and get out of her orbit, if only he found the right name, the right face. But he always came back to earth, came back to her, whether he really wanted to or not.
Heck, he’d always thought Stanley was a better name for a dog.
So he had looked into the mirror and tried the new name on for size, took a few false goes, work out the clichés and get with the guy he saw in the horrible blurry wedding video ( a cousin? Were they all cousins? How many cousins does a man need? Ray’s Polish, ‘cept he’s not now, and he knows that it is getting ridiculous) and the bad suits and the pasta his mom had fed him last night, the pasta he’d just known she’d been crying into.
“Hey, boys, you all know who I am, it’s me, Ray Vecchio.”
And a little flourish with the trench that wasn’t yet there.
And the trench that wasn’t there must have caught the old stand up mirror that Stella never liked much, he knew because he had it, and he had to jump backwards fast or get hit by a load of wood and glass travelling fatally fast.
And Ray looks down to his feet for a moment, and then ducks his head up, “Aw, boys. Now that just ain’t nice.”
3: Call Me Ray
The air in the club was thick with sweat and smoke, the chemical kind no real smokes allowed in this place, and there was a beat going that was beginning to synch in with Ray’s heart. Ray was working it, going with it, ‘cause here? Here was somewhere Ray wasn’t supposed to be.
And one minute he was walking along the railing on the balcony above the dance floor, making big with his coat, knowing nobody would remember his face. No, what they’d remember about the crazy son of a mother was that he was, you know, crazy. Not that he looked a bit like Johnny Milano or half a dozen other Chicago scumbags and low lifes.
And yeah, he was milking it. Sure, you couldn’t do this drunk, not for long, and that was what was keeping the bouncers away.
Everyone at the bar was watching the crazy fuck dance around on the little wooden banister that was probably a dozen different statute violations in one handy big-piece-of-wood shaped package.
And the coat was an act of genius, he couldn’t fail to see it.
And he was right, he was there, bald head shining in the lights, next to some punk-look muscle that answered to Hugh and swore a lot. Leather coat, looks cheap like Ray’s, but not, probably cost an arm and a leg and not Volpe’s arm or leg either, Ray thinks that Hugh might work for Volpe in, say, Procurement, that’s what it would say in the Volpe’s returns. Andreas likes to look legit, even if he’s not.
The music playing know is a break from all the beat stuff, Karma Chameleon, proving that Andreas’ karma is running out. That or he secretly likes wearing feather boas, this Ray doubts, he knows everything about Volpe.
And then, Volpe’s at his feet, as if the intervening space had no meaning. “Some people would call that a death wish, he said, and nodded, towards out back, “I think I’ve forgotten your name.” Smooth son of a bitch, Volpe, bit like Ray, really. ‘Cept for the fine details; like he’s a cop, and Volpe’s a perp and everything is very right and wrong here.
“Call me Ray,” he told Volpe, grinning like somebody high on life, and under that, grinning like a wolf all teeth and hunger.
4: The Milk Knows
In Canada, even the milk mocked Ray.
He'd gone into (much bigger than he expected) Inuvik and they'd been there, in the supermarket, staring at him. They were accusing him. They knew.
HOMO HOMO HOMO HOMO
HOMO HOMO HOMO HOMO
The milk knew. About the gayness thing, about the “hot for Fraser” thing, for the fact that the sheer ball freezing cold out there, searching for the Hand, had been the only thing stopping him from jumping Fraser, and, uh… pressing his suit. Of course, Fraser would know a dozen ways of ironing things, without an iron, in the frikking arctic; but wouldn’t get why Ray would want to press his snow suit and even less how Ray thought this would be achieved by almost smothering him, and had he put something sharp in his pocket, it was really digging into his right leg? And that would be It. He tried, Fraser was clueless (no surprise there, unless the milk told him) and worse than that, he had hurt Fraser’s bad leg… and there’d be nothing for it, but to wander into the snow with his gun and give the nice doggies something to eat.
And the milk knows this, and then, what if the checkout girl knows and the typing lady at Fraser’s new detachment, from which he’s going to be very detached because the RCMP gift-gave him a hall pass to run around in the snow as far away from civilisation as he wants.
And Ray decides to quit thinking like this, it’s not as if the milk knows or anything, ‘cause it’s milk and milk’s not really known for having a kick ass intellect. It’s probably just Canadian for something; like, huh, Homologated, so it was, like, Goat milk and instantly cool. And if he has some it would be Goat by association.
The Goat’s still in Chicago, Ray misses it like he’d miss his foot, he thinks.
‘Cept that’s dumb. Nothing like the milk declaring Ray’s homosexuality, nuh-uh.
So really, the milk’s a good totem or something. So he grabs a bag of milk, and hopes Fraser has a jug or something, ‘cause milk in a bag, that’s the sort of freaky that the Canadians seem to specialise in.
And the bag slips or something and he’s got milk everywhere. The splash back is incredible, he thinks it’s wet his pants through.
And Ray runs to the airport with no bags and no plans. And sneakers squelching with milk.
5: Some Strange Mountie
Ray dreamed there was a mountie looking down on him as he slept.
He was rather surprised to find there was a mountie looking down on him as he woke.
He pulled his boot gun from where it wasn’t under his pillow and then, because he had mountie on the brain, threw it at him. It sailed straight through.
Rather like the mountie, that was unexpected. Ray would scream, except he’s too tired and his brain isn’t talking to his body too good. Very unlike the mountie, “I give it to you two on a plate and you still manage to mess it up, and this time it isn’t even Benton making the mess. Which is quite the surprise, mark my words, that boy can make a mess out of anything, one moment he has a straightforward case, next moment it’s jumping off aeroplanes and nuclear submarines. It was never like this with Buck…”
And then, suddenly Ray isn’t listening to these words, but some others, heard out there on the ice, searching for submarines and terrorists and cabbages and kings. And, maybe Ray’s a little out of it, the sky keeps wheeling about and he barely even notices how the sled is shaking up his insides because it feels like he has no insides left to shake, and he doesn’t think any of this is real.
It’s just a dream, and in a while he’ll wake up and go kick some perps’ heads and try and goad Fraser into bitching about the Ice Queen they call the Dragon Lady. And there’s this voice, old and urgent and Canadian whispering in his ear, “You want an adventure. To go find this hand of Franklin…” the voice pauses to think about diction, “…thing. And it will be an adventure. You and me, Benton Buddy, against all this, against the Great Cold North. And it will be fun… and you can pull your weight, really, even though you don’t have all the subcutaneous fat, but a couple of,” another odd pause, “walrus burgers and some polar bear liver will solve all that, right? And you’re going to smile, and everything’s going to be fine, and I’m just going to go over this again and then it’s over to you, son.”
And then Ray’s back in his bed again, free from the traps of memory. It’s clear that the matchmaking mountie ghost, and Ray has suspicions about whose ghost, but then he has a suspicious mind, hasn’t noticed Ray’s brief tour of the North West Territories. And it seems Ray hasn’t missed the really important bit.
“Go, son, before he has no heart to break,” the Mountie says surprisingly softly, all anger gone for a moment.
“And, Yank? Benton drinks gold top not homogenised if he can bloody help it. Boy goes on about being health conscious and goes around eating lichen even when there are other things to eat and then he puts that in his arteries…” but the Ghost Mountie of Christmas Past or whatever he’s called is just talking to the space where Ray was, he’s gone, goneroonie, put this in a box and mark it as a second chance.
Epilogue: The Sixth Epiphany of Stanley Raymond Kowalski
Ray wasn’t quite sure what it was.
It could have been when Fraser turned out to know Marlene Dietrich after all. Ray had set out from Inuvik with a dogsled and team, on the trail of the hand of Fraser, and hopefully the rest of him as well. Ray had found him besides Fortitude Pass, which was kind of unsurprising; it was where Fraser’s heart had got stomped good the first time around.
And Fraser had looked up from repairing his runner, not something you wanted to be doing in conditions like this, and said, “Ray, it wasn’t a gun in your pocket after all was it?” And broke into a hesistant smile, like a butterfly hatching from its chrysalis all wet, and wobbly, and uncertain.
It could have been that, or when Ray realised he wanted to tackle Fraser to the ground and hold him there and tell him he would never leave him again holding him until Fraser realised it was true.
But it wasn’t.
It was the moment Ray realised that he fit against the snow-cold sky, like a hand in a glove, or like two lovers; it was the moment he realised that this was where he belonged.
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