And it turned out that Fraser wasn’t really going to come back to Chicago and neither was Kowalski… and Ray didn’t know exactly what to make of that, the skinny punk running around the arctic learning to lick stuff and wear fur and not give a damn about PETA and naked supermodels… and that left Ray in Chicago waiting for the paperwork to go through on the damn golden bullet and that somehow left Ray with the job of clearing out Fraser’s office/bedroom/hovel.
Thatcher had flown north like some migrating bird on the trail of some dark and wild creature, and Turnbull was apparently resting up somewhere in Toronto with a broken foot. He’d heard that from Frannie, apparently the physiotherapist was a country and western fan and Rennie was quite taken with her and her forthright manner. It might have been connected to Frannie suddenly taking up line dancing classes, and the screaming last night when his sister couldn’t fit into her sparkly low cut cowgirl outfit and told ma that she really should cook something low fat for a change and how was she too… at that point Ray had blocked it out, there were some things man was not meant to know and what exactly got said amongst the womanly huddle that conveyed Frannie to the bathroom was one of them.
Ray had the strange feeling they were keeping secrets.
At any rate, the new Inspector wanted to use Benny’s office as a storeroom again, as God and the architect intended and Benny’s replacement, a sensible shoe wearing dame called Anne whose liaising consisted of having the Comish on speed-dial, had got a proper office down the corridor complete with a couch like a shrink’s for any Canadian victims of wicked American crimes. Last week they’d been some thing involving a punk rocker and he’d been so traumatised that Anne had locked the door and when Ray had come to take details, he’d had to stand in the corridor and listen to something he hoped to hell was crying, or the punk smashing that fugly vase that had somehow survived Turnbull’s reign of ceramic terror.
So Ray was cleaning it out, like a good boy, keeping away from Welsh’s interim replacement, as he got himself sent on some kind of hush-hush thing that everyone reckoned consisted of getting Thatcher out of the mess she’d made with some dark spy type who looked a bit like David McCallum. Ray knew it probably didn’t, but that was what was going around in the station, fuelled by Frannie’s immense capacity for romantic fiction. She’d managed to get Huey to read Sword of Desire and now there was a steady covert trade in Mills and Boon and Harlequin going round the station and Ray was just glad he was out in a backroom in a really boring building hiding from the new CO, the rising surge of romance and Stella.
Stella was a woman in a million, deserved her own category, deserved everything and now Ray was beginning to get the faintest inkling of why Kowalski had gone so crazy to ask to be temporarily reassigned as an Italian. There was nothing wrong with Stella, she was perfect. It was the nagging feeling that something was wrong with him.
So, Ray had begged a couple of boxes off the guy on the front desk, who was busily looking through a catalogue for tapes of whalesong, and was now trying to split Benny’s stuff between useless stuff and stuff Benny might actually want out there in Freezerland. The black plastic staple remover was a simple decision, as was the jar full of gunk, it smelled even worse than usual and Benny sure enough had enough moose membranes out there and could probably step outside his door and bag one like he was getting a pint of milk or something. Ray found the condoms and really didn’t want to think about them or what Fraser had been teaching Kowalski to lick at all.
Then there was the Illinois Roadkill Cookbook.
That was even more stomach churning than the thought of a licking Kowalski, or at least a licking Stanley Kowalski, he had no objections to… huh… the other one.
Even Benny couldn’t be that crazy. Could he? While Ray didn’t doubt that Benny would eat pretty much anything small and furry and easily confused… which excepted the wolf because he seemed smart enough to confuse Benny… he thought Benny would draw the line at picking them off the road when they were all ripe and stinky… and flies and stuff. And there weren’t any roads up in Bennytopia anyway, just sledge rides of death and the Dempster “highway”, which in Ray’s opinion was just a big dirt track and he wanted a new Riv just so he could swear never to drive it anywhere near the place.
That still left the Illinois Roadkill Cookbook.
Which was weird; because if anyone could kill small furry critters that Ray only knew from Disney and those BBC documentaries they stuck on PBS whenever they run out of really boring educational shit that only Fraser and half a dozen creepy home-ed kids would watch anyway, it would be Fraser. Ray knew this, after the sled ride of death, sitting in a ventilated cabin in the frozen north, Benny had offered to fix supper, rummaged through Ray’s big bag of heavy artillery, hum’ed and ha’ed and downright scorned most of it, pulled out a rifle. And went and shot Thumper.
And then tried to teach Ray to skin Thumper and told him about how his mom made him little rabbit-skin mitterns when he was knee high to a caribou and how he was so surprised to find one of them in his father’s box of stuff. It was like baby’s first carrion-outfit. It was sick.
And Ray couldn’t tell him so, because Benny was pinching the bridge of his nose and looking so close to crying, and of course, the guy’s dad had been freaking murdered by one of his own, guy he used to drink with and shit. And sometimes later Ray had wondered whether that was why Benny didn’t drink, but then, it seems Benny had been not drinking long before his father went off to meet the spirit in the sky… something Ray seriously wished his own waste of ectoplasm father would. And Ray was stuck for what to say… how do you make that kind of shit right? And settled for throwing an arm round him, trying to avoid the rabbit carcass still hanging from that tough Mountie hand and making little noises like ma trying to shush one of the brats of doom…
…and he’d totally made it worse for some unintelligible reason. But he had persuaded Benny that everything depended not on trying to blub his eyes out in a dignified and manly manner, but on teaching Ray what to do with a dead rabbit, and how the bowel really shouldn’t be punctured and shit.
So, the Illinois Roadkill Cookbook really wouldn’t be Benny’s bag at all.
So Ray opened it, and found it inscribed from some guy called Steve with “I heard you were going south, so I sent this to you…” written in the curly writing that Ray recognised as Canadians trying to be formal.
Steve must have been the guy who carried Benny through the woods after he got paralysed in that plane crash.
Ray didn’t know why, but he kept the book, didn’t put it in either box and just slipped it into his coat and there it nestled amongst the cashmere reeking blood and death and rot.
The week after, Kowalski came back, tougher than ever. Ray expected a fight that didn’t happen. Frannie told everyone it was the clam before the storm and seemed to spend even longer checking her email than she did filing her nails. Dewey started polishing his invisible cymbal. Welsh’s interim replacement was an asshole and it was like Kowalski was asleep or something because no threat to kick Lieutenant Johnson in the superior head was forthcoming.
In short, everyone was nervous.
And Kowalski just smiled and stuck a picture of his favourite sled-dog on his desk.
The week after that, Kowalski grabbed him by his wine-red with discrete green diamonds necktie and dragged him into the supply closet and wedged Frannie’s step ladder under the handle. Everyone assumed the step ladder was Frannie’s, most things that turned up mysteriously in the bullpen, yellow smilies, crystals, coffee machines and cacti turned out to be Frannie’s.
The ladder was pink and glittery, and Ray had his eyes on it, as Kowalski tried to eyeball him, pulling him close and almost choking him; and Ray would have choked, spluttered, struggled if this had happened two years ago. And Kowalski whispered with a voice that screamed of whiskey and speed and driving cars across deserts with no regard for the fuel needle, “Everyone thinks I’m fucked up, everyone thinks Ben fucked me up, or I fucked up Ben, but really? Everything’s just fucking peachy.”
And before Ray got together enough to escape or just quite being right against the wall with the metal shelves of paperclips and staples pressing against his side, Kowalski dropped to his knees. Out of Ray’s sight, because the whole world, as far as Ray was concerned consisted of pink sparkles and ribbon and the way they gleamed from the light coming under the door, as Kowalski’s hands opened his pants and Kowalski’s mouth opened wide.
The sled-dog was called Omoglato.
Ray wondered what it would look like as road kill.
And it turned out that Ray wasn’t so hot on Stella and the whole going down to Florida and running a sweat-stained bowling alley surrounded by little Vecchios and big Vecchios and more Vecchios than you could probably find back in the old country.
So, he just quit returning her calls. If Kowalski could be all cool, so could he, and clearly he just was, you know, skipping the step where Stella dumped him on his ass and walked all over him in her high heeled court shoes.
They’d hit something, driving through what felt like most of backwoods Illinois for no discernable purpose. It was small and might have been furry and left red berry like smears that slowly turned to rust on the chrome of Kowalski’s GTO as they all baked in the sun. One day, there would be a classic automobile with air con. It was too hot to talk and Ray wasn’t dumb enough to stick his head out the window like the wolf did.
That no discernable purpose had a lot to do with Lieutenant Zachary L Johnson, Welsh’s “interim replacement” and it was the interim that was just about stopping the detectives from having in for him, and even that patience was wearing thin. Johnson wouldn’t recognise respect or decent leadership if they bit him on the ass, twice. His style was all “because I said so,” which was why they were driving ‘round without a clue to the clue they were meant to find unless really Johnson just wanted them out. And somebody would have to point out to the asshole that he was nobody’s ma or mom, or mother. And if Capt. O’Neill wouldn’t step up to the plate, then Ray would not be above suggesting to Ma that the bullpen would be just the place to find good souls willing to contribute towards whatever the church was collecting for this year.
Considering the accumulated knowledge of crimes weird, disgusting, and just plain complicated beyond the ken (and the Barbie) or ninety per ce of police officers, a wise man would have watched his step and earned his men’s respect. Not Johnson, he thought he was a big man, the daddy. Kowalski had said he’d known a guy like that in his boxing days and made little punching motions in the air as he’d talked. He’d come in one day, after yet another sucky causeless row with Stella, and found him hanging from his ankles where the heavy bag should have been. It was seriously tempting, but Kowalski still phoned it in. Left him up there though, the guy was big and there was no way Kowalski could get him down without dropping him on his fat head. Took three paramedics and a seriously pissed power-lifter to get him down and there was still talk about brain damage and loss of blood to the extremities. Kowalski wasn’t sure how those two quite fitted together, or how he’d ended up in a bar with the paramedics and the powerlifter after, but it was “greatness” apparently.
Ray had asked Kowalski later and it turned out it was greatness because of more than drink and that he hadn’t gone home to Stella that night.
Kowalski had also said that Johnson was a “bug fuck insane lego maniac”. Ray wasn’t sure what he meant, but he knew it meant that he should stick his hand over Kowalski’s mouth when Brandauer hit the bullpen and say that Kowalski had accidentally ingested some stuff they’d thought was sherbet when he went and did the Officer Friendly gig over at the local kindergarten and it had turned out half the kids were hopped up on speed and the other half were distinctly mellow.
Total bull, but it beat being roadkill for Brandauer to eat.
They’d been driving for a while longer, Kowalski muttering something hyperactive on off so many tangents that it would be of interest only to NASA and Ray tuning him out and trying to tune out the sorry waste of humanity sitting unseen in the backseat and screaming at him why he’d left that girl with the money and the gold coast smile. Strangely, pop didn’t turn up when Ray was wearing his coat, so he’d taken to wearing it more, finding excuses to be out of doors more, sometimes with Kowalski, in the park in the dark or in an alley and desperate and horny. Ray wasn’t quite sure how it had lead to that, but it wasn’t bad.
And then something else had gone “thwump” and it wasn’t roadkill and Kowalski had let the car coast slowly towards the edge of the road, letting it slow before he squeezed the breaks like an over-anxious father.
It was still hot, and now the automobile wasn’t going it was even hotter, and yet, when Ray had got out he’d grabbed the coat from the backseat, ignoring his old man trying to sit as far from the thing as possible and gibbering slightly. He’d shut up about Stella, about Vegas, about being a real man; this suited Ray fine. As far as he could tell, his dear old pop’s real man made his mother cry and spent all the money he could grab with both hands on bad horses and bad beer. And he stood there, looking at Kowalski’s fine ass as he bent over under the hood and made like a mechanic.
And then there was the sound of a motorbike, slowly coming to a halt, but the engine still running as the driver came up behind Ray.
“Detective Vecchio! And, oh my, is that Detective Kowalski under there?” Ray turned round and looked at Turnbull wearing head to foot black leather and looking for all the world like something out of the magazines on Kowalski’s nightstand, the ones he never put away even when Vecchio was over on a stakeout. He faintly heard Kowalski mumble something about baseball and catch his head on the hood of the car.
“I’d thought you’d broken your foot,” Ray said, surprising himself with the sound of his voice, accusing but not like an interrogation, more like the Bookman flexing a phone book in his ring covered hands.
“That’s what I told my father dear! He’s disowned me! Decided to turn all his attention onto my little brother, charming wee bastard that he is,” Turnbull sounded decidedly chipper, more so than you might expect, Kowalski had been reclaimed and he was still walking on eggshells like some fire walking yuppie freak.
The sun was glinting off the windscreen of the motorcycle sidecar like diamonds, or snow glare and Vecchio pulled his thoughts back from there very carefully, instead watching the gloss of the leather move as Turnbull flexed his perfect muscles and walked towards them, offering a lift to the nearest town.
“It’s so very wonderful, I’m sure you’d agree. I was getting quite desperate. You know the expression “cheerleader’s mom”? Well, I’d be quite happy if my father’s plans merely had involved cheerleading, you know, the first cheerleaders, the Ivy League ones, were actually male… oh, dear, I’m channelling Constable Fraser too much aren’t I?” and then he flashed a smile that made Kowalski hiss something under his breath about bubbles and minty fresh gum, “I’d have thought the male gymnastics, the curling team, the embarrassing tattoo of a proud and noble animal, and joining the mounties would have done it, wouldn’t you? Not that I didn’t enjoy the whole mountie experience, the uniform was to die for, and the Inspector was so amazingly butch!”
Kowalski tipped his head to the side, the way he did when he was thinking deep thoughts or desperate for a cigarette or something between his lips, “Turnbull? You gay?”
“Why yes, a very astute observation, Ray,” Turnbull blossomed into a brilliant smile, the sort that got you picked up by the film studios back in the fifties and put through charm school like your life depended on it, which maybe it did. Ray stared at Turnbull, until he added, “that’s not to annoy my father, that’s motivation.”
They’d ended up in some small town called Ventura and the local mechanics had gone out with them to the GTO and sworn there was nothing they could do tonight, but their cousin worked at the local Bed and Breakfast place, and it was much better than the motel with the flashing neon and the fucking in the next room.
And yeah, it was, and somehow, Turnbull did all the talking and Ray let him, “My name’s Renfield Turnbull, I’m associated with the Canadian Consulate in Chicago and these fine gentlemen are Detectives Vecchio and Kowalski. We were on the road north of here and their vehicle broke down.”
It took Ray a minute to realise what the flurry of profuse apologies from the mousy haired lady behind the counter meant, and that they only had one room and they were sorry to inconvenience Turnbull and his detectives. By then, Turnbull had a key in his hand, and a promise of a late breakfast. By the time they’d started towards the room, following Turnbull like it was the most natural thing in the world, Ray swore that she’d be phoning all her friends about the beautiful diplomat in all that leather once they got the hell out of sight.
“A Turnbull is always at ease in any company, but you really shouldn’t play one at cards.” There was something wrong about that sincerely wry smile, something about the way it was connected to the dry words coming out of his mouth.
“Oh,” Turnbull said, as he opened the door into their room, “you gentlemen can call me Renny, particularly if tonight’s entertainment is what I think it is.”
“You sure it was gymnastics and not baseball?” Kowalski mutters, dazed and in some world of his own, that might have something to do with his growing erection straining at the too thin too old fabric of his jeans, not that Ray was noticing things like that.
Or things like the way the muscles across Renny’s shoulders rippled as he shrugged off his jacket and dropped it to the floor and braced himself against the bed like he was waiting to be frisked and was waiting for something else entirely, “So, which of you fine gentlemen wants to go first? Trust me, going second won’t ruin your enjoyment one little bit,” there was a wiggle of a leather clad ass made hard by horse riding and callisthenics, “I’m sure I can amuse you while you wait your turn.”
And then, Renny licked his lips like they were covered in candy and looked less innocent and more lascivious with every millimetre he covered.
Frannie kept getting the letters about Turnbull’s physical therapy. Ray didn’t care particularly much, as Frannie had quit the dance class to go swimming and by her shape, she probably needed it. A half remembered Benny-lecture swum past his ears on effective exercise and briefly turned into the one about proper preparation before vanishing again.
Stella turned up one night on his doorstep, and screamed at him until he shut the door and went out the back and through the broken panel in the Olivettis' fence the way he’d done ever since he was old enough to shave, and gone over to Turnbull’s shining gleaming apartment and told him to fuck him hard. He almost passed out to the sound of his balls slapping against Ray’s ass.
That night, he’d dreamed of roadkill. And how the ass is the last thing to go through the mind of the bug on your windshield.
Still that asshole Johnson was sitting in Welsh’s chair, what was keeping him so long, surely he hadn’t been kidnapped by terrorists too? That was the opinion in the bullpen and Ray had to admit he agreed. And the ducks were trying to compile a coded message to O’Neill to get her to kick Johnson’s big fat ass across the Mason-Dixie line. They just had to do it so Brandauer wouldn’t get it, if he were to swoop like a big fat sweating vampire with a grudge and bad glasses.
Ray remembered something about his ma, before he grabbed Kowalski’s t-shirt, the brown one with Rawhide written across it and that wasn’t totally disgusting and dragged him to the stationery closet. The shirt ripped on the way, but Kowalski didn’t even notice and only started bitching later, after Vecchio had fucked him.
And then he’d punched him, hard and said all these things that Ray thought were just Stella, were just women, were just girly. And clearly they weren’t.
When Kowalski had stormed off into the night, or day, or the bar nearest to the 2-7; Ray grabbed the lube off the floor and thrust it into the pocket of his coat, the cashmere Armani that had cost him an arm and a leg that weren’t his, thank god, and found…
The Illinois Roadkill Cookbook.
And opened it again, and read the note, and realised that there was something very bad about this book. It had an aura, something he’d always been very sceptical of, until now. It was Benny who believed in that sort of stuff, which was weird considering he was the brain box on the team, as it were.
Maybe Benny was right all along.
Maybe he was roadkill, freaky occult roadkill.
Maybe the back of Benny’s closet had secret magic powers that nullified the sheer evil contained within the covers. Put that way it sounded kind of stupid, but then so did, “somehow amazingly, I have totally blown off the most beautiful and wonderful woman, started fucking my best friend’s ex and the son of some Canadian politician, have totally ignored my loud and attention grabbing family and my father’s ghost has started leaving me alone. And yeah, my sister is being weird, and bear in mind, this is Francesca we’re talking about, capiche?”
Ray held a bonfire next week, just after the church jumble and rummage sale ma was feeding people at. He’d considered donating the book, but then, decided that if it really was bad mojo and messing with his head like that, it really shouldn’t end up at a church fair.
So, it had spent the week in the basement under the washer.
And already, everything was beginning to seem a little unreal, even though he could see Turnbull and Kowalski laughing on the other side of the fire, talking about arctic exploration and Michelangelo. And Welsh was being feted by everyone by his stunning putting of the usurper to his throne in his place. Strangely enough, this transpired to be IA, Johnson had forged his transfer credentials and was actually a short order chef from Idaho, who watched too much Columbo on the idiot box.
And that was the moment when Frannie decided to announce both her pregnancy and her undying love for Turnbull and her admiration for his struggle against foot disease and how he could have been crippled for life…
…and everything was normal as he took Turnbull aside after the party and told him that an apology was more than in order and if he didn’t let his sister down gently, he’d come back to his apartment with a baseball and he should stop looking so excited because he wouldn’t be doing it like that.
And pop cheered him on.
Benton Fraser looked across his desk at the young man leaning against it, arms splayed in what was clearly intended as a gesture of dominance. He decided against a familiar address too much time had passed and too much water had flowed under the hypothetical bridge, that and there was too much blood, both bad and good, between them.
If Fraser had been the sort to believe such things, he’d say there was some sort of dangerous attraction in the air, but he didn’t. While there were many things he did believe in, miracles, voodoun, the actions of the Trickster upon this earth, and if ever there was something brought about by his strange and mischievous designs it was this, the idea of such chemistry was not one of them. The incident with Victoria had merely been an error of judgement compounded by lust and desperation for something he thought he’d never have.
“Well, Mr Queens, why do I have…” he didn’t have a chance to get that far in his social lie.
“Steve, damn it, Benton!” the man interrupted and there was a look in his eyes that Fraser recognised from trappers that had been alone too long, and young men with guns spewing somebody else’s crackpot philosophy in supermarkets a world away, so he just waited.
“Where’s my fucking book?” he launched himself forward into what would be considered Fraser’s personal space, were it not that he had always endeavoured not to be selfish. His teeth were stained and his breath somewhat rank with the smell of ketosis.
“What book?” Fraser did his best to look placid and blank and thought for a moment of a young woman in tops too tight to be practicable.
“The one I sent you in Chicago, you fucking cock-sucking pricktease,” Fraser failed to explain the logical fallacy in that statement, Steve was clearly quite distressed and he wasn’t sure whether it was at him or at the book, strange as it might sound. They’d parted amicably at the end of a golden summer years ago, or so Benton thought.
“It never came back north with me, now tell me, why did you want it?” and he got an answer that was so full of dark magic and vehement wishes for a bloody revenge to destroy those that are unfaithful by their own actions that it could only be the ravings of a man out in the snow too long.