“Once upon a time, in faraway Cathay, there lived a woman whose voice was like birdsong. And when she sang, her voice was like honey and lured in men like they were bees. But, this woman was a witch, her nails were long and lacquered black, for she did not work the whole long day. For she would catch the souls of the men in the form of doves in cages, and put their bodies out to work in the fields around her mansion. And while she sang, the birds never did. And sometimes, she would reach into one of the cages and catch them in her perfect never-sullied hands, and would hold them close to her mouth and whisper into their ears until they quieted, whisper in that same song-sweet voice, and then she would pull her head back, and before they could even notice her absence, so stupefied by her charm, she would bite their heads off, and the man would be hers forevermore.”
It had been Ray’s suggestion that they told each other stories, back on the Adventure, back on the ice. He’d been expecting some more Lou Skagnetti, but instead he got this; by the end of the Adventure, they’d been too cold too tired to talk. They communicated by telepathy, by gestures, by mind reading, by instinct, by logic. And Ray so hoped that Fraser hadn’t been reading his mind the way he did Dief’s. Fraser didn’t have to do anything to drive that sled, Dief just moved as if he knew what his master wanted. Ray had to work at it; Ray came back from the Adventure knowing a whole variety of new places you’d never have thought could bruise. Like the heart.
They’d stopped talking. Yessiree. But then, Fraser kept singing. Fraser kept singing anything, everything; sea shanties, old Petula Clark numbers, reggae (and where the fuck had he learnt that?) and Ray’s old punk records he’d played back in the apartment in an attempt to get Fraser’s Irish up. Once. Just once, mind you. And Fraser was word perfect, note perfect as you can get when singing stuff by the Stiff Little Fingers. And all sorts of stuff, and not a bit of country. Thinking about it, it was sort of keyed into Ray’s tastes.
Fraser had told him about that too. About how Ulysses Oddy Seuss travelled the wine-dark sea, which was the dumbest metaphor ever, ‘cause not even the Red Sea is actually red, or even rose (Ray has bad memories of Stella and horrible pink wine and horrible Stella people, and the bar he can just see through the window calling to him, calling about decent beer and hockey ‘stead of bearer bonds and fucking pink piss), and Ulysses, who got a president named after him proving not only Kowalski’s got given dumb names, tied himself to the mast to stop himself going to the killer women’s choir.
It probably sounded better the way Fraser told it, but then, it would also be longer and your ears would be freezing off by the time he finished, and he’d lean over and pull out those ever-ready ever-warm hands of his and put them over your ears and they’d sing.
And there are the stories Ray didn’t tell because, well, Fraser was doing enough story telling for two, and Ray didn’t have any proper stories anyway,
““Once upon a time, in distant Chicago, there was a boy called Stanley, who wanted to be a Raymond, or even better, a Ray. And he would go to dance class, and there would be a girl whose feet moved like they were on castors, all perfect and light. Every night, Stanley would dance in the basement of his house, with the ironing board poking into his back, so that he might dance with Her. He didn’t even know her name, until the day when the teacher paired them up. And it was Stella and he thought she would lead him up into the stars, and it wasn’t until long later that he realised that the stars were bakefoil cut-outs… and everything he had was hers, and he danced not for the stars but for Stella… and she decided to stop dancing and gave him new tasks… and yet, his heart cried out for the dance.”
And Ray started wearing his earmuffs more to keep away Fraser’s hands and the sound of singing. ‘Cause he already knew where the path would lead. And it was one he never wanted to take again, ‘cause the lady in the bed would be a wolf and eat him all up, and he knew the woodcutter would be a wolf too, and so would…
…the nice girl packing up his groceries in the 24-7 by the 2-7 and giving him a dazzling smile and glancing at his badge and saying, “Go keep the streets safe for us, detective,” with a wink that was at once a lure and an invitation. And it was an invite that was never going to happen ‘cause Ray was going to stick to the path as he walked through the woods; he wasn’t going to be like that knight in Fraser’s story who strayed from the path and into the Green Pavilion. Or was it a Pappilion, Ray’s not sure.
But he knows bad things happen to boys, who stray from the road. His mother told him that, but it never sunk in, ‘cause Ray needed experience to teach him, not admonitions.
Ray needed stories. And the only siren song he was going to listen to, is this one.
The sound of the 1971 Buick Riviera pulling up beside him as he walks the right path back to the precinct. It was Fraser, who got Ray to walk again, but he ain’t gonna go rambling like him, he ain’t going to stray from the path and,
“Once upon a time, there was a Mountie, who went out into the snow, even when the other Mounties, the only family he had, they having found him alone under a mulberry bush, told him not to. And out there, in the snow, he found the snow queen, and her voice was haughty and high and yet she entranced him with her song,
“I caught this morning morning's minion, king-
dom of daylight's dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his ridin”
And so she caught him, and made him hers in body and mind, and yet his soul rebelled and struggled, and his friends… he almost died for her, and it was then, they realised, his friends in the fair and distant city of Chicago, that she had not stolen his body and mind, but his soul, and now she had fled, he would never get it back. And with it, he was left a man of mind, not of soul, and all things were reason to him, and passion was an unilluminated mystery unto his mind.”
And Vecchio is pulling up beside him, his siren singing, and yet Ray can still hear his voice clear, “Hop in Stanley, and next time you volunteer for the donut run? Don’t. Every fucking time you do that, we get a break and I have to hunt you down from the shop du jour. And why the hell do you keep switching stores, anyway?”
He does it to avoid the siren song. But he never tells anyone. And the sound of light on top of the Riv drowns it out, the
And he can think again, and turns towards Vecchio and says, “Tryin’ to find some that ain’t stale, otherwise, not even Dewey will eat them, and the donut bandit is back in Freezerland.” And everything’s great, ‘cause there ain’t no siren song in here.
Nothing to tempt them from the right path, the one Fraser would call the Righteous Path Of Justice. Or something like that, anyways, they’ve got the call, and they follow the call through the woods. And on the other side of the woods, where the sun shines brighter and the rents are higher and the concierges look at them like they’re just one step up from prima donna sludge, you know, the stuff life sprung from; there, they find her, a princess.
And she’s crying, and she sure as fuck didn’t get those bruises from a pea under her mattress.
“Once upon a time, there was a boy called Raimundo, whose father hated him and mother loved him, and he met a Princess. His father was happy he met the Princess for her father the King of East Octavia was rich and powerful, his mother wept because the King of East Octavia was merciless and lawless and cruel and would break her son’s heart if there were any profit in it. And so his mother encouraged him to be squired in another barony, that of the 27, and yet, he met the Princess again, and still the bloom of love did flower between them. Yet, the Prince, her brother, out of excessive love for his sister did conspire for the now Knight Raimundo’s death, but the deadly arrow of his assassin did not strike the Knight but the Princess, for the assassin was distracted by the beautiful tone of her voice, as was the Knight, and the Prince and so…”
And the Princess of Edgebrook couldn’t stop crying. And it was nothing like
nothing like it at all and still Ray was troubled by it, and reached into his pocket and pulled out a handkerchief. Before you ask, Fraser gave it him and he used it to clean his glasses, which he wore more now, better to spot the wolves and the sirens, all of them wanting to eat him up. And one of them had tried to eat the Princess of Edgebrook up to. Or at least, she thought that was what the siren was going to do, and like all who hear
she wanted it to happen. Ray knows that the song can make you happy, even when the siren is cruel, and yet when his siren, Stella the girl from the stars, didn’t want him, it hurt because he kept hearing her song, and yet, she never found another as good as him. Hasn’t yet, anyway, the guy from the Bureau of Bureaux of Lies was out on Friday.
Ray still doesn’t know why this doesn’t please him, why he doesn’t feel anything. There was a time when this would make him happy, and yet, he can still hear her singing when she comes into the Bullpen, it just, sounds wrong.
For a moment, Ray wonders if Fraser could hear him singing back on the ice.
And then he gets back to this, to Princess Hannah of Edgebrook, living in the Tudor mansion of her parents, who are currently shooting ‘gators in the Everglades because golf doesn’t get the pulse pounding the same way, and the Princess tells us them of the girl from Louisiana,
“And red were her locks, redder than rubies, and redder than blood, for neither were the perfect red of her hair, and her legs were long and slim and ended in green boots and green hotpants. And she was at the banquet of the Princess’s friend, and she was beautiful and her body sang to the Princess from across the room, a sultry song to which her brazen limbs moved like a cat, wanting to be stroked”
And if Ray was the sort of person to get hot about lesbians, lipstick lesbians at that, who might still invite him to play; he wouldn’t be now, Hannah speaks of discretion and her parents, and how the girl from Louisiana was… it all fades out a little, Louisiana opened the window for boyfriend, boyfriend tied Hannah up, after she put her panties back on, Louisiana ran off with the silver… the nicest burglars ever, the bruises are from when Hannah tipped over the chair.
Ray is looking at Vecchio, checking for signs of
And there aren’t any, Vecchio’s just nodding and smiling like she’s his grandma or something. And Ray can get behind that, Vecchio’s a nice guy once you get to know him, realise that the grumbling isn’t meant and everything. Vecchio’s something and everything. And Ray lets Vecchio do the talking, because he can’t believe how unromantic Hannah’s story was, nothing like the one in his head, all sort of clinical with no passion.
And he hopes Hannah never goes to Freezerland for her vacation, ‘cause he can think of one other person like that. And then he wonders what stole Hannah’s passion, instinct, soul; and then he notices the way she’s looking at him, desperate, hungry.
It’s the absence of song that gets him. Fraser would say flummoxed, but then, that’s Fraser, singing away in Freezerland, with nobody to hear. Maybe he prefers it that way, everything is knowledge there, knowledge keeps you warm at night there, knowledge keeps you safe, and there is no passion there to confuse knowledge. Nothing is expected, or predictable, but everything is knowable, there is no mystery. Ray never realised how much that scared him, how much the absence of song scared him, because with it is the absence of mystery, the absence of romance.And now they are travelling through the woods again, and it was not a good day, because they caught no wolves, the Princess didn’t want to press charges, they never do,
“The Princess of East Octavia, Irene the Fair, lay there bleeding in her beloved arms, and the last thing she said, with the song of love, not the song of sirens, was that the Knight was not to pursue her brother, the Prince, but rather let grief be Punishment, and her absence Justice”
…and of course, mommy and daddy don’t want to know that daughter dearest entertains another type of crocodile entirely, is another type of alligator entirely. All appetite and little discretion, a junk food crocodile.
Boys like Ray, they prefer richer fare, they prefer not to be eaten without getting sustenance in return, they want give with the take, they want red ships and green ships and in all things, partnership.
And Ray looks at Vecchio and realises that he can hear his song, and it isn’t the
it’s the song of somebody who has escaped the siren, escaped passion and seeking something else, and that song, Ray realises, is the counterpoint of his own, and what he hears, the harmony is something else, it’s love.
Ray and Fraser only cancelled each other out, left the ice plains in silence only broken by a lone voice singing songs of broken love, and of empty love, and of love trapped beneath the waves…
and if Ray was a sailor’s wife, which he isn’t, he wouldn’t want a song about how a drowned sailor would still come home to her, it would be like salty zombie movies
and they are sung by somebody, who no longer understands love at all, and finds safe harbour in its absence, on land far from the wine-dark sea and the island of the sirens. And yet, his story has just turned back on itself, gone back to the start, fallen down all the snakes there are…
and Ray just knows that Fraser won’t be climbing any more ladders, ‘cept maybe Jacob’s after he gets eaten by a polar bear or something. And Ray doesn’t really realise that he’s crying, there in the Riv, next to Vecchio, looking out at the woods and not really seeing no more.
And he couldn’t clean his glasses if he wanted to, ‘cause Hannah’s got his handkerchief. So he takes them off, and he can’t see the wolves no more, but he can see Vecchio, and he’s got this look on his face.
It isn’t Vecchio’s official concerned look, the one he uses on witnesses and other people, this is the concerned look he used to save for his Princess, this is the concerned look that asks, am I going to lose you, have you cracked and are they going to send you to the funny farm and I hope Benny gave you escapology lessons.
And Ray tries to smile, and it’s only a small smile and his mouth’s full of tears, but it’s a smile and it speaks nothing of
and everything of trying to reassure somebody, who has slowly yet suddenly become the most important person in the world.
And Ray cannot see the wolves and the sirens without his glasses, but he can see Vecchio.
And maybe that means that they’re out of the woods and in the fair and faraway land of Happily Ever After…
…well, maybe, not yet, but soon, “want to come to mine for a pizza?”
…and, well, Ray would admit that it’s not the most romantic beginning to a story, but then, he’s got somebody to walk through the woods with him and keep the wolves away, but most of all…
This isn’t a story. There is no plan, no script, and no real Happily Ever After, but Ray is willing to bet on an Evermore.