I still have reservations in calling you by your Christian name, when in fact, I barely know you at all. Such familiarity does not rest well with me; however, I shall respect your decision. Your support at father’s funeral was much appreciated and a great comfort, as was finding your letter awaiting me as I arrived at the Consulate here in Chicago. It is reassuring to hear from a fellow countryman in these difficult times.
As you said, when you heard my proposal to head south, America is going to take some considerable adjustment. I have only been here a short time, and I suppose it is too early to draw conclusions about the behaviour of its denizens at this juncture. I hope that my confusion will, indeed, abate soon. For instance, in my limited experience, it strikes me somewhat that they are so free with the way they touch each other, and yet it seems devoid of meaning, or at least of meaning that I might ascertain. Brief acquaintances embrace me, and worse still, is the way some of the women touch me with their eyes, use sight as a means of an intimacy they neither can neither have nor hope to attain. Surely, the purpose of sight is to see, and yet they see so little, and sometimes I wonder if they can see me at all.
Forgive me for my maudlin ramblings, but I fear I am becoming hone-sick for the first time in my life, and I am both at turns bemused and baffled by the actions of our American counterparts. Forgive me also for the paltriness of this letter, but I must soon repair to the Twenty-seventh precinct house and enquire of a Detective Vecchio.
You wrote to me as a friend of my father’s, to ask of my welfare in my new posting and I give you philosophic nonsense. All is well, I have found an affordable habitation and, much to my distress, Diefenbaker (did my father tell you of him, my deaf wolf-hybrid and steadfast companion?) has swiftly attuned his hunting instincts to the pursuit of junk food, which he is attempting to avail my fellow workers here at the Consulate of as I write.
Your advice was, of course, considerate and doubtlessly as invaluable to me as it was to my father as both a friend and a commanding officer. The latter I can already appreciate as my new commanding officer has been so kind to offer me advice and I hope that one day this might grow into a friendship such as yours and my father’s. As to the former, your doubt as to the wisdom of coming to America may well prove to be well founded. However, I am not in need of funds; a man who is prudent needs not exploit the generosity of friends, however well it is meant.
Benton Fraser, Constable.
“But you know what I really don’t like about the Mafia, Benny? Why I really have no love for Cosa Nostra?” Ray felt that he’d given Benny all to many reasons already, that he must be boring the thermal socks off the guy, that he ought to give Benny a chance to reply and maybe make a comparison to the mating rituals of Musk Ox; but he didn’t. He didn’t want to let Benny say something, break his rhythm, stem his flow. And when it got down to it, remind him that he isn’t on his own out here.
Remind him that he has a partner in the battle against crime.
Remind him that he was never going to be alone now, that he had friends and family, and a great big band of brothers over at the Police Department (with the notable exception of that asshole Brandauer, but he’d kept ahead of him so far, it was like he was that guy in one of those old movies his mom liked, the Scarlet Pimpernel, always not where you were looking for him).
Remind him that he had no need to be angry no more, no need to fight tooth and claw for everything.
Remind him that slowly but surely the Mafiosi were going down, and the Feds would take tender loving care of them all.
Then it burned again, just as he remembered the Feds, the Feds who would cut anyone who would sell their grandmother a deal, the Feds who threw back small fish to get big ones, the Feds who were the biggest puppet masters of all. But they could still do what he couldn’t, bring Frankie Zukko’s world crashing down around his ears and take those fancy diamond studs of his and shove them were it hurt.
Made you think, didn’t it? Happy thoughts. A guy thinks enough happy thoughts and he can fly. Or do you need fairy dust to do that first?
Fairy dust, fairy dust, how was he meant to get fairy dust? He so wanted to fly, he so wanted to be out there, free from who he was and who he will be, free to just fly up and away and be like the Mafia boys.
“You see, Fraser, what I hate so much about the Mafia is that they’re so fricking untouchable. It’s like they’re flying up there, on wings made of the shit they give other people, regular folks, or maybe they’re made out of a mother’s tears, when she realises that her kid may never come home or a wife’s that her husband goes out and plays bagman and spends it all on booze and then spends all the booze on beating seven kinds of shit out of her.”
Funny enough, Benny doesn’t have an answer for that.
And Ray doesn’t even want to think, let alone tell him, how once he so very much wanted to be untouchable too.
Ray lounged back on the couch; the TV set blaring out incomprehensibly and the unheeded. Stealing a glance towards The Turtle, who could drink whenever he wanted, damn it. Was this what he come to? Jealous of a fricking amphibian who could become crunchy wolf-kibble next time The Mountie felt the need to steal his privacy, invade his space and fill it with all his happy-happy Mountie vibes?
He didn’t know why, he was the one with the vodka, The Turtle had none, the wolf had none, and he knew for sure that The Mountie had none, because he always stared at him funny when he suggested booze and anyway Mountie-man was as white as the snow up North, not all grey and skeevy like him, like the snow down here.
So he gulped down the vodka, like a nice little Polish boy, barely feeling the burn at the back of his throat (“Ray, alcohol clouds the mind and dulls the senses” Yeah, Benton-buddy, Benton-baby, ain’t it greatness?) and poured himself another. He didn’t really care when it splashed on the table, it would only give the Mountie a thrill if he licked it.
It wasn’t as if he couldn’t take it, couldn’t take the booze. Sure, Fraser had grown up in the Yukon Territories and had all that subcontracted fat, and maybe you attracted herds of flesh-eating llamas if you drank booze up there, but he grew up Pollack and so “sto lat!”
Ray liked booze some, he really did, he liked the way it made everything stop hurting, he liked the way it made everything stop kicking him in the head. And most of all, he liked the way it made everything distant and far away, like Fraser, who was pretty untouchable anyway, this made him go all the way over the horizon. So, like Stella, he would never really be there at all. Just a vague feeling at the back of his head for him to jerk off to, while the late news played in the background; or he could go to bed and take him with him. It was his choice.
Sometimes, he drank enough to make the whole room go white. And sometimes, when it wasn’t, he wondered what it would be like to stay there, in the white, all safe, like playing in the snow as a kid.
Except the snow in Chicago is never that white.
The Bookman leaned back in his chair and kicked his immaculately shod feet up on to the leather inlay on the desk. His butler would be appalled if he could see this, but he wasn’t here, this was strictly family business.
And here he was, Johnny the Blackjack, soon to become Johnny the Palooka, then Johnny The Dearly Departed. And boy, did he know it. A dark stain was forming on those taupe pants of his. The Bookman thought he’d ban taupe in future, how could his boys look threatening if they were wearing fucking taupe? He congratulated himself on a job well done, of course the little idiot should be terrified by his very presence, it was only right.
What wasn’t right, was that Johnny was seen hanging round with cops. And who was going to buy the “he married my third cousin Giulietta” routine. Not even a blind man, in bad light, high on coke wouldn’t buy that. Armando wouldn’t buy that high on coke, and sure, there were things that he would buy high on coke, like hookers and hours of kinky sex, or a guy to off his ex-wife.
And before you goddamn ask, it’s just a little professional aid, accounting is hard work, making numbers games work is hard work, making numbers work is hard enough. Just ask the Big Man, if you didn’t believe him. Just ask Mr Al Capone.
“Jorge, Freddie, take this piece of trash out and waste him,” the kid looked at him with big open eyes, big terrified open eyes. He still didn’t really understand how the world worked. Heck, he probably didn’t understand nothing about nothing. It was no big secret that the kid was simple, and you had to tell him real careful what to do. The kid was some type of fucking innocent, and now he was going to be a dead type of fucking innocent, and his momma was going to get a big bunch of flowers from the Bookman tomorrow. Not so much of a kid really, had stayed a Picciotto all his life, didn’t really have the brains to be anything else, or at least that’s what Armando thought until he saw that mask slip for one moment, saw that maybe there was half-a-brain in that head and a razor blade sewn into the lining of his pants.
They hung wrong. Wrong for Armani, even bad fake Armani like some guy used to tout in a holding cell back in Chicago, fishing for mooks. Sure, the kid might be an innocent, but it was a knowing innocence. He knew what he’d been doing, working with the cops, he just believed that he’d never end up paying for it. Because the good guy never got it, did he? Nobody ever heard nothing ‘bout a good guy who got dragged out into the Vegas desert and shot in the back of the head, still crying for his momma, his body left for the coyotes.
And for a moment Vecchio thought of Benny, wondered how he was doing with the new guy, whether his fractured innocence would survive, and then it was gone.
The last thing Vecchio did was say nothing as the kid was lead out the room, Armando reckoned that if the boy was smart, then he’d go straight to ground and spend the rest of his life selling vacuum cleaners door-to-door in Milwaukee, forever looking over his shoulder, and good luck to him.
“And Jorge, Freddie, don’t make a mess when you blow this palooka’s brains out, I’d hate to see my boys with their suits dirty.”
Because he was Armando fucking Langoustini and he was untouchable. Unless the boys found him out, he didn’t want to think about the place he’d get touched when they did.
Maybe this wasn’t going to work. He’d fuck up, Vecchio would get fucked, and the Mountie would be as unruffled as ever and could go back to stopping shoplifting amongst teenage delinquent moose or whatever he did with nobody in any direction for five hundred gazillion miles or so.
Hell, he knew what he would be doing if there wasn’t a soul in five hundred million zillion miles, and it sure wouldn’t be practising his elk call, or preventing environmental vandalism (‘cause sure those penguins can cause a lot of damage when they get their hands on aerosol paint, like freaking the polar bears, because they’re, like, not meant to be there). See, Ray’s not stupid; Benton-buddy doesn’t want to be here at all.
Suits him fine. He doesn’t want to be here at all either.
Since when did it suddenly get so fucking lonely undercover?
Maybe since he wanted to fuck.
I mean, he accepted that Stella was not going to ditch highly-paid-asshole-of-the week, and blammo permanent hard-on! It was like he was fourteen or something, except, when he was fourteen it was all about the Stella, when he was thirteen it was all about the Stella, and when he was twelve it was all about Tonka toys. To say, he’d gone from kid to committed probably said something very disturbing about him and very Freudian about Stella in particular. He so wished he’d never encountered Freud before he’d dropped out of College for the Academy.
What were you expecting, smart-ass? Fraser is about as likely to talk about Freud and shagging your mother as a nun. Actually, less likely, if Sister Mary Francine was any example. He’d spent a very instructive ten minutes in her study when they’d been investigating the angel dust racket round St Anselm’s High, and had found some really interesting things, things which weren’t even the angel dust, which he’d found as well, thus making the quickest bust in the history of bust-age. The Ueberbust, even. Fraser had been going on about Nietzsche for some reason, probably because he didn’t talk about shagging your mother, or any one else’s mother for that matter.
Actually, Fraser never talked about his mom at all. Even if she were dead, wouldn’t he have something to say about it? Not that he’d go out and ask Fraser, for all he knew she was still sending him long johns from the frozen north, or maybe she’s stopped talking to him when he became a Mountie.
Like his dad, but kinda worse, because Fraser’s folks went in for Mountie-ing, or at least Fraser Snr did. That was weird too, he never really heard anything about him either, except for the “here on the trail of the killers of my father and the maker’s of the world’s worst chocolate” spiel. Hell, Fraser could say that and people wouldn’t even raise an eyebrow, it was like a magic light turner offer on people, or a remote control turning off their brains. Or maybe, it was a hypodermic- hypnotic trigger designed to make people spill the solution to today’s bizzarro crime fast so he could, Ray didn’t know, go home and play fucking Clue with the wolf.
And Ray didn’t know because Fraser was untouchable.
Fraser was unreachable.
And Vecchio was straight, or he was taking up curling.
And he wanted to fuck. He wanted to fuck a Mountie so bad.
Maybe he should smile at Turnbull more, but then, how desperate would that be? And, anyway, Vecchio’s a heterosexual Italian stallion with horrible clothes. And he’s not.
When did it become so fucking fucking lonely undercover? When he started wanting to fuck, that’s when.
The first time Vecchio saw them together, Fraser and the skinny Pollack, he thought he was imagining it, he thought he was, you know, projecting, as Frannie would put it. Except he’s never ever telling Frannie this. He’s never telling Frannie anything again, how could he?
Then he looked again, once he’d calmed down and they were joined at the hip. Sure, they were partners. And then Fraser laughed and the whole world fell apart. Shattered into little itty-bitty bits, and Vecchio doesn’t care.
Fraser’s laughing and smiling at faux-Ray, ersatz Ray, wannabe Ray. He never did that with him. He might smile at his jokes, but not laugh like that, except that time when Fraser got hit on the head and turned into the potty-mouthed Canadian lumberjack from hell, and then it was because he didn’t fucking believe him. He’d have even slept with lumberjack guy, because that would have been his only chance, Ray thought, if only he’d asked. He’d have been rough, and maybe it would have hurt, but Ray would have done it. And lied to Fraser when he got back to the head office as it were. That strange rash, Benny? Probably fleas from the wolf, get some flea-powder. You’re sore, Benny? Maybe you’re eating too much fibre. Those love-bites, Benny? They’re not love-bites; you got attacked by a rogue vacuum-cleaner salesman.
And Benny’s laughing with fake-boy. And smiling the smile he so wants.
And Benny and Kowalski are fucking, he knows that now, knows what they’re doing, that they’re more together than he and Benny ever were. And where does that leave him? Where the fucking hell does that leave him? He’d have carved out his heart for Benny, he’d have sold his soul to the devil for Benny, he’d have run off to Canada to indulge in regular sex and permanent frostbite for Benny.
He’s untouchable, nobody wanted to touch him.
He’s untouchable, he had blood on his hands, pints of it.
He’s untouchable, he’d even wasted some of the guys himself.
He’s untouchable, what kind of freak was he anyway?
He’s untouchable, what kind of freak was he, thinking that the grass was always greener and blind to his own backyard?
He’s untouchable, he sold his soul to the devil.
And then the devil took him back to earth to show him what he’s done.
Everything was stripped away now. Clothing, masks, lies. They didn’t have to be anything here, or anyone, save what they are now. All they had to be now was the truth, no more lies, or fears, nor dreams of duty; just the unadulterated truth of their being. Perhaps his companions didn’t think of it in such poetic high-flown terms, despite the fact that he could see a desperate poetry in Ray’s soul, a poetry of energy and anger. A poetry that revealed itself through his movement, a most of all through his touch.
His touch. Ben knew it was his touch, even though he could not see. Who would have thought this, one mask to keep him prisoner, another to set him free? In actuality, a blindfold, not a mask in the strictest sense, but it covered the face. A part of his mind, not caught up in this, not caught up in this beautiful moment of being, a part that somehow the mask failed to release from oppression, was talking about the role of masks in shamanistic rites, and how they are perceived as externalisations of the soul in many cultures. Ben did not listen. Fraser always spouted nonsense.
Ben knew it was his touch, ghosting around
And if for a moment, like this one, he is tempted to think too much, then he is brought sweetly, deliciously, succulently back not to earth, but to heaven, if he may be so dramatic. Brought back to earth, by the mouth on his mouth, slow and tasting ever so slightly of tomato sauce and capers. Ray’s mouth.
Ray’s mouth on his mouth, while Ray’s mouth is slowly and surely teasing his balls, teasing him to hardness in the darkness. Tongue-teasing him and slowly dipping further and further on each pass, at once so close and yet so far, as Ray sucks any breath he tries to hold straight out of his mouth and hordes it in his heart. The Greeks used the same word for breath as they did for soul. Ray is sucking out his soul, that he might abandon himself to this, this decadence. But Ben doesn’t worry, he knows he’ll get it back later.
He’s safe here, safe to be himself. No more masks. No more lies. No more obfuscation. Security in darkness. An Elysian mystery.
No mystery in this, the way he feels electricity run down his limbs, pulling, jerking against the ties that bind him into freedom. The future can be seen through a glass darkly, and Ben can’t see at all, he has no interest in the future, merely the inescapable, indeterminable, infinite now. The truth of his existence crystallises around him.
All he has to do is be, all he has to do is feel, all he has to do is be touched, let himself be touched, move into a material, tangible world from the ghostly half-world of duty and ideals. Duty and ideals are not making him burn like ice between his legs, they don’t make his breath half-start half-stop, trying desperately to extend the moment forever.
Don’t breathe, make this moment your eternity. Do breathe, make this moment go on forever.
A world of taste and smell and touch. No deceiving rational-reactionary sight here to fetter him. Who would have thought that touch could be such a revelation?
The blindfold rubbed against his nose strangely, catching at his skin, reaching upwards to tease at his eyebrows, as Ray went in for a particularly impassioned kiss just as Ray sunk his tongue into him with no warning. Perfect synchrony or serendipity? Ben doesn’t care. Ray and Ray are wonderful, marching to the same beat, singing the same harmony, pulling him apart to find out what lay inside the shell again and again.
Ray and Ray don’t understand this, how he can tell them apart, they’re always genuinely surprised that he knows. And even when they are out there, in the untouching unfeeling world, they are still Ray to him. He thinks they will never understand how he does it, when they are Vecchio and Kowalski to each other, and he won’t understand that either, no distinction of names between the outside and inside, work and play, fiction and reality. He doesn’t really have the words to say how simple it is, how they are like day and night, different as black and white, and yet, part of that same great cosmological spectrum.
And suddenly, there was nothing, nothing save cool air on his skin, and Ben almost fancied that he was falling. The mattress below him shifted and buckled, like a faltering magic carpet. And then…
And then it becomes clear, as a hasty mouth violent with loving energy descends upon his, and a slender long-fingered hand begins to write circles around his nipple. “O o o o,” says the finger-pen as if repeating some school-musty handwriting exercise, and “O o o o,” Ben almost says, save that his every sound is snatched by that inquisitive questing mouth. And at the same time, something hard and slick, and so very much not Ray’s laving tongue, presses with gentle firmness and Ben sucks desperately on Ray’s tongue, as if it is his snow anchor.
One moment of pressure and a fire of blissful warmness, and then, Ben is complete, full, all the broken pieces taken away and replaced with this sudden strange bliss.
And then Ray begins to move, and everything begins to fall apart.
He’s always been afraid of things falling apart.
He’s always built fences and structures to stop things falling apart.
But now they’re gone, and things are falling apart to reveal new and infinite vistas beyond.
And the world goes as white as snow in the most untouched of valleys.
And there’s a hand, resting gently on his chest, as his freed mouth begins to laugh.
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