I hear the shout in my dream - Benny! - and I suspect that is what awakens me. I look around quickly, disoriented for a moment until my eyes fix on my companions - Ray Kowalski and my half-wolf - Diefenbaker, and I know where I am.
I am in Canada, with my dear friend Ray Kowalski, and we are on an adventure, searching for the Hand of Franklin.
Yes, thats where I am. And where I want to be.
* * *
The day passes for me in an odd way. I have not quite shaken off the sound of Ray Vecchios voice calling my name in my dream. The shout that sounded as if he were frightened, alarmingly so. I have not seen nor spoken to my old friend and former partner in many months, although I have been informed that he is well, through letters which reach me from time to time from his sister, Francesca.
Ray Kowalski - my Ray, as I call him, although to address him thus, even in my thoughts, is absurd and without foundation in fact or reason - asks me more than once during the day whether Im all right, if something is wrong, whats the matter, what did I dream about, was it a nightmare, and so forth.
I am loathe to describe my dream to him because I know he envies and is jealous of my prior friendship and partnership with Ray Vecchio. There is awkwardness, embarrassment, and trouble attached to the entire situation, and has been from the first. I never speak about Ray Vecchio to my Ray, if I can avoid doing so. Ive taken for my motto concerning everything that happened to me in Chicago - from the moment I arrived until the day I left - let sleeping dogs lie, or perhaps, the less said, the better.
Ray Kowalski treats Chicago and everyone we know and worked with who lives there - including his ex-wife - as though they never existed. He, too, never speaks of them. Of his home, his family, his old job, or his friends.
So, in this one thing, we are very much alike, my Ray and me.
I would never have imagined we would share this particular trait - avoidance. Its my nature but surely not my Rays nature.
It is my fault.
But there is little or nothing I can do about it, so I try to forget Chicago, too.
Mostly, I am successful.
Or think I am.
This dream about Ray Vecchio, and his shout of his nickname for me - Benny! - shatters my misconception about forgetting Chicago.
Ray Kowalski is on the alert. On the prowl, now.
We can avoid the memory of Chicago no longer.
* * *
So, ya gonna tell me what the nightmare was about, Fraser? Or am I gonna hafta kick ya in the head? Ray asks in a jocular tone.
I wonder whether he is tired of his old ways of thinking and behaving. Certainly, he has said nothing like this to me in many months. Nor has he called me Fraser. He started to call me Ben when we began our adventure. I dont like the implications of him calling me Fraser, now.
I look at him across our fire. It is spring but the evenings are still very cool and the fire is necessary for warmth as well as cooking purposes. I dont remember everything about the dream the nightmare. Much of it is vague. But it was about Ray Vecchio. In it, he is in some sort of trouble. And he cries out for me, shouts my name.
Calls Fraser, ya mean? My Rays brow is wrinkled now. Already, he is angry, belligerent, and jealous.
I sigh. No. He shouts Benny - which is what he often called me, when he wasnt calling me Frasier. I smile ruefully.
So - so, ya think hes in trouble, he needs you? Ya wanna pack up and go ta him? Ill come wid.
My eyes widen. For a moment I am astonished. Then I grin. My Ray has leaped all the steps in between - gone from dream, through interpretation, to action. How like him that is.
You believe in prophetic dreams, Ray? I ask.
I know you do, Frase. He shrugs. Doesnt matter if I do or not. If you think Vecchio is in trouble, that he needs you, youre goin to him, no matter what I think or say. So - might as well cut ta the chase, right?
Slowly, I reply. I dont believe in prophetic dreams. But sometimes . I sigh. Sometimes, I think, when we dream we tell ourselves some truths we need to face, but cannot face in our waking lives. We tell ourselves in our dreams, what we must know. What we must do.
Same thing, isnt it? my Ray asks. Ray Kowalski being practical is a sight I havent witnessed since we arrived in Canada. I dont particularly like it.
Close enough, I agree, grateful that my Ray doesnt ask me what sorts of things this dream told me.
Will you accompany me back to the United States, Ray? He has already offered but I ask anyway. That is fair.
He grins. If youll have me.
I nod. My visage holds no trace of response to the irony I find in Rays words.
Were not gonna find the Hand of Franklin, anyway. Its plenty good enough that we tried, dontcha think?
* * *
Although Im offered lodging at the Consulate, and also with the Vecchios, when we arrive back in Chicago, I settle without any discussion into Ray Kowalskis apartment, where I plan to stay with him. He offers me his bed and the privacy of his bedroom, says he will take the couch for himself to sleep on, and I agree. He keeps later hours than me, watches television or listens to music late into the night, when hes at home. The arrangement is practical. I have no quarrel with it.
Ray Vecchio is back in Chicago, too. He and Stella Kowalski parted company after a few months together in Florida. When I talk to Ray Vecchio he complains about the money the two of them lost when their bowling alley venture folded. He doesnt sound as upset about this development as I imagined he would be. I decide that he must have more money than I hitherto suspected, if a business loss of this magnitude doesnt bother him.
He is not troubled by his break-up with Stella Kowalski, either. This doesnt surprise me at all. Ray Vecchio has sustained no long term relationship since his divorce many years ago. I believe he will die a swinging bachelor, romantic though he is. Or perhaps, because he is a romantic.
When we talk - Ray Vecchio and me - I find no hint of a problem from his side, or any situation which would make him cry out for me the way he did in my dream.
I conclude that, as I suspected, my dream was something I was telling myself, not a prophetic revelation about Ray Vecchio at all.
What it means, what my unconscious is trying to make conscious, I cannot imagine. That I am trying hard to realize something, I am certain.
It remains obscure as the days pass. I try not to worry.
* * *
How long ya thinkin a stayin here, Fraser? my Ray asks me. We have been back in this city for seven full days. Since neither of us is working, a week seems like a very long time.
I take another forkful of the Chinese take-out dish and eat it. Then another.
I swallow and put down the paper plate on the coffee table in front of Rays sofa.
You were right about the dream.
Yeah? It was prophetic or somethin, or was it tellin you somethin from inside your own head?
You were right that I needed to follow through on it. But I still have no clue what it means. I look at him. I am troubled. I ask, Do you - would you consider staying here with me another few weeks, maybe longer, until I understand?
Hey, this is Chicago! I live here, mostly. At least, I live here when you do, Fraser! Sure, Ill stay - long as you need. But maybe -
Maybe the dream was just tellin ya it was time to come back here fer good. Like, that it was time ta leave the wilds a Canada and come home.
The wilds of Canada are home, to me, Ray, I object.
Yeah. Yeah. Ray shakes his head, runs his fingers through his hair.
What is it, Ray? I ask.
Maybe. Maybe Canada used ta be home ta ya. Maybe it aint home no more. Maybe, home is is where Ray Vecchio is, fer you, now.
I frown. That isnt true, Ray. You must know that.
I don know nothin a da sort, Fraser, he tells me angrily.
Where you are, is home to me, I say firmly. Finally.
He looks up, shocked. What?
You heard me, Ray.
I heard ya, I jus don know what that means.
It means what it says. That I am at home - happy, content, in the right place - when I am with you. When he doesnt say anything I add, As you are, with me.
Why ya dreamin about Vecchio, den? he asks.
That is what I would like to know, myself. If you are willing to stay here for a while longer, with me, maybe we can unravel the mystery. I smile reassuringly. Please.
Thank you, Ray.
Yer welcome, Fraser.
* * *
And still we dont speak of implications, ramifications, meaning - anything beyond the facts.
And still, he no longer calls me Ben .
At least, now, we have acknowledged the facts, on both sides.
For him, I am home. For me, he is home.
What they mean, neither of us wants to find out, at this point, here.
Neither of us wished to uncover meaning in the snow, in the wilds of Canada, either.
We didnt want to be alone together when we acknowledged what home means to us now. We were afraid to be alone together when we understood that.
Well, now we know. We know the facts.
I am not an impatient man. Unlike Ray Kowalski, I am a very patient man.
At the moment, however, I am about to die of waiting, as my Ray would say .
I want to know the meaning.
I want to know it *now*.
* * *
Time passes. Spring becomes Summer.
Ray Kowalski asks me whether he should ask Lieutenant Welsh for his old job back - will we be here long enough for him to bother. I tell him he should.
Welsh finds a place for my Ray, as he did for Ray Vecchio, in his division. He doesnt team the two men together. Harding Welsh is not a fool. Nevertheless, my partners adjust to each other, gradually. I learn this from Francesca, who tells me that her brother and Ray Kowalski have become friends.
I did not hear this from my Ray. The black-out when it comes to talking about Ray Vecchio is still in force between us.
Im tempted to call Ray Kowalski on it but I resist. Let sleeping dogs lie, remains my motto. Or perhaps, the less said, the better.
* * *
Due to illness in his family Constable Vickers is called away to his home in Winnipeg. Constable Turnbull makes it his business to alert me about this and I visit the Consulate and speak to the current Acting Inspector, a man I dont know except by reputation, John Courtney. His reputation is good.
When he agrees to ask R.C.M.P. headquarters to re-assign me permanently to the Chicago Consulate, as a replacement for Constable Vickers, I am delighted.
In the meantime, I am again an Acting Liaison Officer and my duties are what they once were. However, John Courtney requires none of the perks that Meg Thatcher expected me to provide. Inspector Courtney fetches his own dry cleaning. And he neither torments, teases nor tempts me in any way.
Life is good.
* * *
Or it would be good, if I could only figure out what Ray Vecchios shout in my dream, his shout, Benny! meant. Means.
Or what it means that Ray Kowalski and I are home to each other.
I am not a conventional thinker, nor is my Ray.
But clearly, we are more traditional in our thinking than not.
Because neither of us is willing to entertain the notion which follows from these simple facts. The notion that we are in love with one another.
Neither of us.
As long as we dont entertain that notion, then the subsequent notion - the one we fear - need not be entertained.
The notion that romantic love ordinarily implies sexual love, as well.
We are neither of us willing to entertain these notions.
But we cannot avoid avoiding them.
Oh, yes. We are in Chicago now for no other reason than that we did not and do not wish to be alone together to unravel this mystery.
Oh, yes, indeed.
* * *
Through it all, it is clear that we are not embarrassed about this.
We accept without question our bond.
Both of us.
It is amazingly easy to avoid talking about anything more because my Ray and I are in complete agreement about that, as we are about so many many things.
Neither of us wants to talk about it. So we dont.
* * *
On a hot Summer day my Ray and I attend a Chicago P.D. picnic with members of Lieutenant Welshs department. Several former members of the department are there as well. Elaine, Huey and Dewey. Others whom I have never met. It is a lovely day and the group is in very good spirits. Shy as he is, even my Ray seems to be happy and carefree this afternoon.
We picnic on the lake shore about an hours drive from Chicago proper. It is extremely hot. I wear a pair of newly purchased shorts under my jeans. When a softball game is begun I strip off my jeans and t-shirt and put my sneakers back on. It is too warm to play wearing so many clothes.
My Ray finds an extra baseball cap somewhere and brings it to me. Don want ya to get sunstroke, Frase, he tells me with a laugh. And put your t-shirt back on. Ya don wanna be burned to a crisp, do ya? Then he joins Ray Vecchio and others on his team who have congregated across the grass several meters away.
How ya doin, Constable? Lieutenant Welsh asks. He is on my team. But we are standing a short distance from the rest of our fellow ball players, out of earshot of anyone who knows us.
Im very well, Lieutenant, I reply. It is good to be home.
Home? Welshs eyebrows go up. Thought you really missed the snow and the cold up in Canada.
I thought I did, as well.
So, youre glad to be back. How about your friend Kowalski? Hows he seem to you?
How do you mean, sir? I ask, consternation putting a frown on my brow.
Dont get me wrong, Constable. Hes doin real
good down at the station. Even getting along with Vecchio - which I didnt
think would ever happen. Two of them seem to be friends, now.
Im very happy to hear that, sir.
Yeah, well. When the time is right, I may even partner them up.
Im I am surprised to learn that, Lieutenant.
Yeah, well, I wouldnt dream a doin it if you were still comin around, liaising with one or the other a them. But since you arent -
Are you suggesting -
Im not suggesting anything, Constable. Theyre doin fine. Not as good as before - neither of them - but good enough, fer two dumb flatfoots who dont have enough smarts between them to rub together and build a fire.
I lift an eyebrow. Ray Vecchio and Ray Kowalski are both intelligent men, and excellent police officers, Lieutenant.
Yeah, sure they are. Hang on ta your dreams, Constable, long as you need to. Far be it from me to screw around with a mans dreams.
I turn my eyes away from the play in progress - neither Ray Kowalski
nor Ray Vecchio is on the field at the moment. What are you telling me, Lieutenant
Im not telling you anything, Constable. But if you were to notice that Ray Vecchio is dying of loneliness and Ray Kowalski is dying of love, well - I wouldnt arrest you.
* * *
I am so shocked by Lieutenant Welshs remarks that I cannot speak. I swallow repeatedly.
I am frightened.
I dress quickly and leave the park. Automatically, I take my bearings and begin to walk in the direction of Chicago proper, toward my home. I do not stop to tell Ray Kowalski either that I am leaving, or why.
Dying of loneliness.
Dying of love.
* * *
When I resumed my work at the Consulate, and Ray Kowalski went back to police work, it never occurred to me to resume my old ways of involvement with his cases. And certainly, it was beyond the boundaries of reason for anyone to expect me to involve myself with Ray Vecchios cases.
Certainly, I was bored with my duties at the Consulate but that was not unexpected. I knew I would be bored. There is no action, for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Chicago. The action Id seen here before was almost entirely due to my involvement with the Chicago P.D. With Ray Vecchio and Ray Kowalskis cases. Not Consulate action.
Ray Vecchio is an old and dear friend but my situation with Ray Kowalski makes it impossible for me to see Vecchio now. And however friendly the two men seem to Francesca or even Lieutenant Welsh, I know that they are not friends - not true friends - when it comes to me.
And if they are partnered together on the police force - as Welsh told me he plans to arrange, if possible - I will be less welcome to work with them than if they are assigned cases separately, as is the situation currently.
* * *
Ray Vecchio is dying of loneliness.
Ray Kowalski is dying of love.
* * *
I ignore the second remark Welsh made, concentrate on the first. My relationship with Ray Kowalski is not a subject I could or should consider on my own. What we think about each other, how we feel about each other, must be shared - or must not be considered at all.
* * *
Ray Vecchio has few friends.
From what he told me over the years, I know that his youth was not a happy one. His father was an unfortunate influence with whom Ray Vecchio never got along.
His old friends from the neighborhood lived in fear of, or opposition to, or alliance with, the mobsters in their midst.
Ray Vecchio became a police officer, a lifelong continuation of his youthful struggle against the forces of evil in his home neighborhood.
Ray Vecchio has few friends.
I was one of the few.
For him, I never truly returned .
Dying of loneliness .
* * *
We must talk, Ray, I tell Ray Kowalski that night at dinner in our favorite Chinese restaurant.
What about, Frase? he asks, looking away from his plate to glance at me.
About Ray Vecchio.
It is suddenly so quiet that I fear I have gone deaf.
Yeah, sure, okay, my Ray finally replies. Here?
Id prefer that, yes, Ray.
I understand now, why I dreamed about Ray Vecchio.
Yeah. Go on.
His cry, which seemed to me to be a cry of fear, was something different. I pause, less because I am unsure of how to proceed than because I am reluctant to proceed.
Go on, Fraser, my Ray prods roughly.
Before I talk about that, however, we must talk about us.
What about us?
I cannot tell whether my Ray is frightened as well as angry. I press on. To do what I must do for Ray Vecchio, you and I, we - we must acknowledge what we mean to each other.
Were friends. That good enough? Now, what about Vecchio?
That is not good enough, Ray.
Why not? It suits me fine.
But it doesnt suit our situation. What life is calling upon us to do.
What life is callin upon you ta do, ya mean, my Ray scoffs.
Please dont make this more difficult than it is, Ray.
What, ya want me ta make it easy fer you to say good bye? Well, I wont.
Shocked, I stare at him. Finally, I tell him, I could never say good bye to you, Ray. I love you. I believe that you love me, as well. I - I know, now, that it is time for us to face that, and everything that goes along with it.
He squints at me. Everything that goes along wid it? Like what, Frase?
Like. Like sex, Ray. I say on a sigh.
Dont even go there, Fraser.
Yes, Ray. Why not?
If you dont know, I cant explain it ta ya! he hisses.
Please dont be selfish, Ray.
What are you talking about?
If we dont accept our love for each other to the full extent of it, we cannot do what needs to be done for Ray Vecchio.
What the hell does he have ta do wid it? I am not getting this, Fraser!
I cannot renew my friendship with Ray Vecchio if you and I do not move beyond our own friendship to a to an expression of our love.
My Ray runs his fingers through his hair. An expression of our love. Whats dat mean, Frase? Sex, that means sex? Am I right?
Yes, Ray, I reply quietly.
Yer willin ta sleep wid me, so you can renew yer friendship with that creep?
Well, thats it, right? You wouldnt have said anything, done anything, if not fer him! He needs you, so right away yer ready to turn our life upside down, so you can help him! Fuckin creep!
What makes you think I even wanna fuck you? Freak!
I love you. You love me. Dont do this.
Ill do whatever I fuckin feel like doin, freak!
Do you love me, Ray?
Who wants ta know? Ray Vecchios best friend?
I want to know. Ray Kowalskis best friend.
You dont know whether you love me?
I dunno about the other stuff, the sex. He sounds as miserable as Ive ever heard him.
Look at me, Ray, please.
He looks at me. There are tears in his eyes, and fear so great that even I grow frightened although I will not stop, not for anything, not now. Never again.
Do you find me attractive? I ask, echoing his question to me so long ago.
Ya mean, and he grins, as a woman?
You know what I mean, Ray. I keep my face schooled in a stern expression. I must not let him make a joke of this. Whatever we decide, we must come away from this discussion with a decision.
Yer beautiful, Fraser. You know dat.
That wasnt the question, Ray.
Yeah, youre attractive.
Neither was that the question.
I forget the question.
I asked whether you find me attractive.
Like in, do I want to sleep with you, attractive?
How about you?
I already answered that question, Ray, a long time ago. Now, it is your turn.
Would you give me the respect to answer me with a full sentence, Ray?
Yeah, I find you attractive enough to sleep wid, if I gotta, he has the nerve to reply, and then to grin.
I ignore the jibe and ask one more question. And do you love me enough to sleep with me?
What if I say no? Do I lose what we got now?
Yes. True enough. The line has been crossed. If he steps back now, I will be left on the other side, and he will be alone. And so will I.
Then - okay. When I dont respond he adds, I love ya enough to sleep wid you. More than enough. Another pause. Ben.
* * *
Every emotion that I have been holding in check during this conversation comes to life, overwhelming me. I am dizzy and nauseous and my insides seem to be churning like a very rough sea.
Fraser? Ben? You sick?
I nod. Take a short breath. I - get me to the rest room,
Yeah, come on.
* * *
Ray Kowalski takes charge after our talk. Never have I needed that more.
I am trembling, terrified, my bones feel like jelly in my skin.
I know nothing about sex with a man. Nor does my Ray. But hes not afraid, not now.
I dont know why not, but he isnt and I am very happy that he isnt.
He makes it so easy, so natural I never dreamed sex could be so easy, so natural. So happy.
From the first kiss, easy, natural, happy.
I am very grateful to him, and I tell him so.
* * *
The smile on Ray Vecchios face when I join him for breakfast in his favorite coffee shop is breathtaking. He is very happy to see me.
Benny! he cries, half-rising in his seat, and gesturing to me to sit down across from him. What are you doin in the old neighborhood? Thought you live farther uptown, with Ray.
I take off my Stetson and place it carefully at the far side of the booth and join Ray. I came to see you, Ray. To have breakfast with you.
Thats great, Benny! I missed you! Tell me all about up north, your adventures in Canada with the little twerp! But first, lets get ya some breakfast! Waitress!
I smile. Twerp, Ray? Thats no way to refer to your
friend, is it?
Hey, hes a twerp! I like ta call a spade, a spade.
But hes our twerp, isnt he, Ray?
Theres a stillness from Ray Vecchio that I can feel from the top of my head to the soles of my boots. He cocks his head, squints at me. Then he smiles. Our twerp, Benny?
You and Kowalski?
I cannot tell by his expression what Ray Vecchio is thinking. But I repeat, Yes, Ray.
Kinda sudden, isnt it, Benny?
Not really, no.
But you werent doin it, before, were ya?
No, Ray, we werent.
So - like - outta the blue, you and him start doin it?
Not exactly, no.
So, like - its none a my business, long as youre happy, Frasier.
I am happy, Ray. I smile.
Ray Vecchio smiles.
Our smiles broaden until we are laughing, laughing like madmen.
Finally, when our laughter dies away and Ray Vecchio wipes the tears of laughter from his eyes, he asks, with a small shake of his head, What does he call ya, Frasier?
Freak, I reply without hesitation.
Yeah, well . Ray Vecchio laughs some more. So, like, he doesnt call ya Benny, does he?
No, he doesnt call me Benny, Ray.
So, I can still call ya Benny, then, right?
Id be honored, Ray.
Va bene, Benny, Ray Vecchio tells me, tears threatening to mar his smile. Congratulations!
Thank you kindly, Ray.
* * * * * * * * *