“R is for Red”

by Maxine Mayer, 12/1/99


“Hey, miss!”


I glance around quickly, wondering to whom the voice is calling. There aren’t any women on the street. It is dark, and this is a fairly disreputable neighborhood. Any women who are nearby most likely are prostitutes. And at this hour of the night, even they are scarce on the ground.


“Miss! I’m talkin’ ta you!”


Finally, I realize what has happened. The man is calling me.


I’m dressed in women’s garb. I am Ms. Fraser. He has mistaken me for a woman.


I turn and face the man who comes with the voice.


And am startled by his beauty, his incredible beauty.


I ask, “Can I help you in some way, sir?”


“I’m the one tryin’ ta help you,” he replies in an irritated tone. “Ya lost yer glove. Here!” He shoves one of my suede gloves into my hand and I hold it tightly, trying to still my heart.


“Thank you kindly. I didn’t notice I’d dropped it.”


“Well, ya did.”


The man seems as much at a loss for words as I am. He stares at me for a long moment and I return the look. Take in his lean body, long-fingered hands, blue eyes, golden hair styled in some kind of upswept experimental fashion. His clothes, carelessly chosen with no eye for fashion at all. Except for the expensive black leather jacket.


He looks… wonderful.


I realize I’m not looking at him with my Ms. Fraser softness.


And so does he.


“Yer not a woman!” he exclaims suddenly, and his dismay is evident in his voice.


“No, I’m not,” I reply quietly, but with my full throated voice.


He shakes his head, turns a little - away - scratches his head, runs his fingers through his hair. Looks at me again, with a little squint. Says, “Boy, did you have me fooled! Yer good. Yer really good.”


“Thank you.” I smile. It is a very good compliment and I’m happy to hear it. I didn’t fool him, but I nearly did. Better by far than actually fooling him might have been. Better than fooling my friend and partner, Ray Vecchio, who should have known who I was instantly, was….


“Ya know, this ain’ exactly a great part a town ta be hangin’ in, fer a cross-dresser,” he says.


“Yes, I know. But I’m not a cross-dresser.”


“It’s kinda dangerous -“


“I can take care of myself -“


“I can see dat, ya look real powerful. But get three guys ganged up on ya - well, the deck stacked like dat, ya could get hurt real bad.”


“Thank you kindly, but I’m sure I’ll be all right.”


“Lemme walk ya wherever ya goin’ - ya goin’ home? It’s late.”


I am startled. It is fairly unusual for an apparently straight man to be quite this accepting of an apparently deviant man. But to carry protectiveness this far is unprecedented.


“I’m not going home,” I tell him, whoever he is. Which I’d like to know but will not ask. “I’m searching for someone - a runaway. She has been known to frequent various establishments - bars - in this neighborhood.”


“Whaddaya mean, searchin’? She a relative? Or jus’ a friend?”


“Neither.” I am tempted to tell him who I am and why I’m here, dressed like a woman, but I don’t wish to involve him in my case - Ray Vecchio’s case. It is dangerous. Our work somehow always becomes dangerous…. I would not wish any harm to befall this chivalrous soul. There are so few men of honor, in these times. I wish never to harm one of them, or be the cause of harm coming to them.


“Lissen, lemme help ya. I’m a cop, a detective. I’m off duty now. I don’ work this precinct but I know Chicago like the back a my hand. Tell me about da girl yer after. Ya got a photo?”


“You are a police officer?” I’m taken aback. An officer and a gentleman. The combination is rare indeed.


“Detective Ray Kowalski, CPD, at yer service, m’am. Well - sir,” he says, flashing his badge. He grins and his whole face lights up. I am instantly drawn into his circle - a circle that magically seems to include only two people, this man and me. It is an incredible feeling.


I don’t recall ever feeling quite this way before.


He accepts me.


He is mistaken about the terms, but he accepts me. On any terms….


I am forced to wonder whether he would accept me if he knew who I really am. What I really am.


If his chivalry would extend so far as to accept an exiled mountie who is less suited to live in this world as himself than as an ersatz female.


“So, whaddaya say? Ya wan’ a little help findin’ yer runaway? Or not?”


I make up my mind. I will take this man, this police officer, Ray Kowalski - odd, that, the coincidence of first names - into my confidence. Let the chips fall where they may.


“My name is Constable Benton Fraser. I am a member of the Royal Canadian Police Force. I first came to Chicago for reasons which need not be explored at this juncture. And I stayed. At the moment, I am looking for a teenage runaway girl on behalf of the nun who is in charge of the girls’ school in which she is enrolled. My partner, a member of the Chicago Police Department, is also searching, unofficially. There is a need for… discretion. The police cannot be involved in any official capacity.”


“I’m all over dat! Otherwise, why’d you be frumpin’ around in dis neck a da woods on yer own, in dat get-up, lookin’ fer the kid. Show me the photo.”


I open my purse and hand Detective Kowalski the photo. “Apparently, she has been stealing from a cache of… loot which is hidden in her school or nearby, which she has found. The items appear to have belonged, originally, to various criminals and FBI agents long dead - from the era of Eliot Ness.”


“Really? Dat sounds like fun.” He pulls out a pair of glasses from an inside pocket, puts them on and studies the photo.


While he does so, I study him.


The glasses make him look like a different person. Without them he is handsome, dashing, appealing - in a rough, James Dean sort of way. Wearing the glasses, however, he looks like a different person. A… nerd, I believe the term is. Or a… geek. Someone you wouldn’t look at twice if you passed him on the street. Someone who might not be too “hip,” too “cool,” or too “macho” to be friends with an overly zealous and irritatingly knowledgeable mountie….


I wonder whether this man is more one than the other - more “cool” or more “nerd.”


I wonder why I’m thinking about him so intently.


But I am not really in the dark about my motivations….


I know little about friendship, less about partnership, less than zero about love.


But I seem to know enough about all three of these types of relationships to know which one I am contemplating now.


To be quite, quite sure that I have fallen in love with this man.


Love at first sight.


Oh, dear.


“I don’ think I ever seen this kid before,” Ray Kowalski tells me.


“That is not surprising. I believe she has an accomplice - possibly a boyfriend - with whom she stays when she runs away from school. I imagine her lover fences the stolen items and then the two of them go on a spending spree. When the money is gone, he sends her back to school so she can filch more loot. It is a cycle.”


“An’ they spend a lot of the loot on motel rooms, where they fuck like bunnies,” Detective Kowalski concludes with a grin. “So maybe lately she ain’ been aroun’ any of her old haunts, where she maybe first picked up this character. Her lover.”




“Bit of a problem, then.” He thinks for a moment. “Maybe, instead a showin’ the photo to barkeeps, ya should be showin’ it to motel managers, roomin’ house cleanin’ women, janitors, like dat.”


“I think you’re right. My partner and I have already covered a few shops where they might be willing to buy the things she’s stolen. But no one admits to having seen her.”


“Ya might have better luck with a lower class a viewers, if ya know what I mean.”


“Indeed. Certainly, antique dealers who are ‘bent’ are less likely to be forthcoming than a poor but honest motel receptionist.”


“Indubitably,” Detective Kowalski says with a grin. “Ya talk funny,” he adds. “I like it. It’s - cute.” Then he looks embarrassed. “Sorry, I didn’ mean nothin’ by it. I know yer in disguise -“


“Please, detective, I am not insulted.”


I am not insulted. In fact, it is extremely flattering and gratifying to meet someone who likes the way I talk - and by extension, the way I think. Gratifying and rare…. For this man to call my manner “cute” is a small price to pay for such an unexpected pleasure.


“Hey, lissen. It’s really late. What say we meet up tomorrow - I’m off duty tomorrow night. About eight, eight-thirty? Start fresh? Hit some a dem motels, talk ta some night clerks?”


I am devastated. I just met him and now he is going away. Leaving. Going away. Leaving…. Leaving me….


I cannot even reply.


“Fer now,” he goes on, “we can go get a cup a coffee, talk a little. Ya can tell me how ya got teamed up with a Chicago cop, an’ why ya hafta dress up like a woman to find this kid.”


I take a deep breath. I cannot believe the rapidity and violence of my mood swings. I am now elated, beyond belief happy. He is not leaving…. Not leaving me….


Carefully, I reply, “Yet another fine idea, Detective. I’d love some coffee. And to get off my feet. These shoes are instruments of torture. Thank you kindly.”


* * *


I get a call right when I’m on the way outta my precinct, off ta meet up wid the mountie. It’s him, tellin’ me the case is all wrapped up.


“Sure, great, greatness,” I tell him, hiding my disappointment best I can. “So, ya don’ need my help any more, right?”


“No. I appreciate your offer, however, detective. It was extremely… generous. Thank you kindly.”


“Yeah, well. So, I guess that’s it. Uh, yer done wid da case -“ I repeat myself like an idiot.


“It ended very satisfactorily, for all concerned, I’m happy to say. Except for the criminals, of course.”


“You, you - ya know - found the kid, the girl? She was, like, all right?”


“Oh, yes. Moreover, I think I made a friend during the course of my investigation - the student I told you about - despite my deception. It is very… gratifying.”


“Well, that’s great. So, uh, Constable -“




I try to pull myself together an’ say something sensible before he hangs up. “How about dinner?”




He sounds like he never heard of food before. “Dinner - like, eatin’ and drinkin’ and stuff. Ya got plans fer the evenin’?”


“Yes. No. No, I don’t. I’d be… I’d like that very much, detective.”


“You can call me Ray,” I tell him.


“Of course. Ray.”


He sounds uncomfortable when he says it an’ my memory jogs an’ I curse myself. His partner’s name is Ray. No wonder he don’ wanna call me that.


“You can call me Stan, if ya want. I go by Ray, but Stan’s my first name.”


“No, I’ll call you Ray. You prefer it, don’t you?”


“Yeah, I do.”


“Well, then…. Shall we meet in the coffee shop downtown? Where we went last night?”


“That’d be cool. Half-hour?” Then I think I’m rushing him. “Or, an hour, mebbe? Whatever works fer you, if ya like, gotta fill out some papers or somethin’.”

“I’ll be there in… an hour. I’m at the Consulate. I must go back to my apartment and… freshen up.”


“Ya still in drag?”


“No, but I’m still….” I hear him sigh, and suddenly I know what the problem is. He’s still inta bein’ a woman. I been undercover often enough, I know how that feels. “I want to shower,” he tells me, finally. “And walk my… wolf.”


“Yer what?”


“My wolf. Well, half-wolf, really -“


I run my fingers through my hair and turn in place, managing to get the telephone cord wrapped around me. So I turn back the other way. “Okay. An hour. Same place. Take yer time. I’ll wait fer ya.”


I hear the smile in his voice when he says, “I’m glad to hear that - Ray.”


* * *


I look inside the coffee shop and see that the mountie isn’t there yet, so I wait outside for him. I don’t think I wanna have dinner with him here. Maybe at Sun Chow’s, which is my favorite Chinese restaurant. Or Vittorio’s, where the lasagne is better than any place else in Chicago.


Anyways, someplace quiet, wid booths, where we can sit across from each other an’ talk as long as we want.


I’ve got little butterfly things in my stomach. Probably won’t be able to eat much.


Why the butterflies? Cause I ain’ seen this guy outta women’s clothes and ta tell the truth, I’m having a lotta trouble picturing it.


I seen a lotta men in drag who were smaller and skinnier and fragiler and way better made to be women. But I never set eyes on a better lookin’ one.


Never seen one with eyes like the mountie’s. Blue and gray and dark and bright and like pools to drown in. Never seen skin like that before, neither, like cream and strawberries. Never seen a perfect nose, and a throat like that. Guy ain’ got an Adam’s apple.


But it’s the voice that got ta me. That trick wid his voice - soft, when he’s bein’ a woman, strong when he’s talkin’ in his own man’s voice.


Not ta talk about what he says.


Everything he told me last night in this coffee shop. About his life before, in Canada, in the wilds, in the snow. How he came ta get stuck here in Chicago.


How he met Ray Vecchio.


Lots and lots about Vecchio - how kind he is, how tolerant, how protective, how generous, how honest. Like - seems to me the lady doth protest too much.


Not a lady. A guy.


All right, all right.


So, maybe Vecchio ain’ a saint. This guy ain’ no saint, neither. Sarcastic like nobody’s business and biting and full of looking-down-at-people stuff, and don’ even notice he’s doin’ it, when he’s right inta tellin’ a story.


And kinda scary. Somethin’ real scary about him.


Not Vecchio, this guy.


Okay, so I’m callin’ him “this guy” one too many times. Remindin’ myself, convincin’ myself. That he’s a guy, not a woman.


Like that’s a whole big bunch better, right? That he’s a guy?


Get real, Kowalski.


Worse. That’s what it is. Not better. Not better.


Yer fallin’ for a fuckin’ guy, Ray, my good friend!


And all the problems in the world ya been havin’ with Stella ain’ gonna be helped by that turn a events, are they?


No. I didn’ think so. Thank you.


* * *


Well, the eyes are still there. And the skin. And the voice. And the smart sassy talk.


Top of a whole lotta other things, like great black hair an’ shoulders broad as a bear’s. An’ big strong hands. An’ a walk - a walk ya can trust. Solid.


All the good things are still there, and then some.


But - not.


It ain’ gonna work between us. I can see dat already. The minute he shows up dressed in his fuckin’ uniform, to go out ta dinner wid me.


What’s that about?


I’m off duty. He’s off duty.


I’m in civvies. He’s wearing protective colorin’?





Not in this man’s army.


He’s harder. Harder.


Like a fuckin’ laser, that head a his.




And the tiltin’ at windmills part - Don Quixote ain’ got nothin’ on Red - that’s what I call him when I stop callin’ him Constable - Red.


He’s already protectin’ himself, before he even gets inta trouble wid me? Wearin’ his uniform. Shit. Before he’s got anything to protect himself against?


So, what’ll he be like after we go a few rounds, have a few fights, hassles?


The girl was good. She was… open. She was… likin’ me. Not afraid a me. Not afraid a anything.


This guy, this Fraser guy. Red. He’s afraid a everything.


Okay, maybe somebody hurt him. Maybe he’s got a right to be afraid.


But not on my watch. That’s not fer me.


I got troubles a my own. So - thanks but no thanks.


I make short work a dinner, the evening, even drivin’ him back ta his apartment. When he asks me up fer a cup a tea I say no, tell him I gotta work tomorrow, which ain’ a lie, but ain’ the whole truth. I don’ go on duty until four tomorrow afternoon.


I can’t even say he looks disappointed. He’s so… covered in that protective stuff - not jus’ the uniform, neither - nothin’ gets in, nothin’ gets out.


Don’ need that. Got plenty a that, with Stella.


* * *


I don’ forget him, though. Can’t. Nope, that would be too easy.


I got a lotta ways ta check up on his partner, this Vecchio guy, Saint Vecchio. He ain’ too hard ta find out about. Kinda notorious, Saint Vecchio is, I’m not surprised ta find.


Big mouth, small time cop. Bendin’ the law, ta make busts. No problem wid a little extortion, a little entrapment. Nothin’ that sticks. Couple beefs from some snitches that he beat up on them. Nothin’ serious, sounds like, but ugly enough so’s I can’t figure him an’ Red together.


What we got here is apples an’ oranges, in the morals and ethics department. Mountie’s the saint, Vecchio is definitely the sinner, in that duet.


Wouldn’ put it past Vecchio to make fun a Red’s scruples, ethics, dunno, ideals, whatever. From what I hear about the kinda macho bullshit cop he is, I got a lot of trouble picturin’ Vecchio backin’ up the mountie with any kinda solid muscle, still less, with feeling.


Okay, so maybe Vecchio’s arrest record picked up after he teamed up with Red. Maybe he saw the light, got religion, like Red seems to think.


Maybe pigs fly.


I don’ like it. I didn’ want him, myself, after I got ta know him - if ya call talkin’ ta a guy fer an hour or two in a Chinese restaurant knowin’ somebody.


But I can’t let it rest. Vecchio ain’ good enough for the big guy. He jus’ ain’t. I know that - how?


Because I follow Vecchio around fer weeks, on my days off. Not when they’re together, when Vecchio’s off on his own. And I see how he acts with his snitches, with perps, with suspects, with victims.


I don’ like what I see.


An’ when I follow the two of them together - workin’ the tail like I do when I’m undercover, so’s they don’ twig ta me - I can hear Vecchio bitchin’ an’ moanin’ every time Red opens his mouth.


If the mountie needs a partner so bad, if he’s got no authority here in Chicago, ta carry a gun or make arrests or even investigate bad guys, like he tol’ me. Or if he maybe jus’ wants somebody ta pal around with because he’s plain fuckin’ lonely, outta his element. Well. Well, then, I’m his man.


Yeah. I’m his man.


Red’s man.


What the fuck is up with that?


* * *


But before I know it, before I have a chance to make my move, somethin’ happens that knocks all my plans out of the water.


The mountie loses his memory.


An’ Vecchio follows him around, leads him around, like a fuckin’ wet nurse. Like he loves him, like he really is Red’s friend, a good partner….


The rumors that the mountie’s lost it fly fast and furious through all the precincts, reachin’ me without me havin’ to go lookin’ to find out anything.


Also, the rumors that he’s got his memory back.


By then, I’m so confused by how great Vecchio treated Red when he was down an’ out, I’m not sure what I should do.


A couple weeks later when I finally make up my mind to get in touch with Red anyway, try fer friends, if not partners, an’ I call him at the Consulate, I find out he’s gone back ta Canada, on vacation, all by himself.


An’ incidentally, like some fuckin’ karma chi thing, my divorce papers finally come through, makin’ me feel like shit on a stick all over again.


An’ incidentally, Detective Raymond Vecchio ups an’ leaves Chicago while the mountie is out a town.


An’ incidentally, my lieutenant asks me to go undercover again. As a cop in a different precinct. Which I am so miserable about the Stella and my divorce, sounds like a good thing.


I’m so far down, it looks like up ta me.


Yeah, looks like up ta me - until I hear what cop I’m goin’ undercover as.


Saint Vecchio.


Irony. Ya gotta love it.


* * *


An’ lotsa it ta go around.


Cause Red don’ remember me.


Of all the things he forgot when he got hit on the head an’ lost his memory, the one thing he don’ remember when it all comes back ta him is me, Detective Raymond Kowalski.


This is a good thing.


Yeah, it’s got its downside, too. He don’ remember likin’ me.


But the upside more than outweighs that.


He don’ remember me droppin’ him like a hot potato, either.


Ain’ no cloud widout a silver linin’ is what I always say.


I don’ remind him.


And I remember not ta call him Red. Jus’ Fraser.


* * *


It’s a lucky day fer me when Saint Vecchio left. Because once Fraser gets into it - inta me - I got the whole ball a wax back. “Open Fraser.” Like da woman. Like when he was a woman….


Don’ know why he shut off like dat, back then. But I don’ look a gift horse in the mouth. My mum didn’ raise no stupid Pollacks. Nope, I lap up all the sweet cream and strawberries like a thirsty cat. Got the sweet girl back, along with the guy - a double dose of everything Fraser is - an’ I’m as happy about that as a pig in shit.


He looks ta be pretty happy, too….


* * *


I walk into the bullpen once more and see him at his desk, at last.


I call his name.


He turns and smiles at me.


It’s not Ray. Not Ray Vecchio.




He is so beautiful. I am stunned by his beauty.


The man holds me against his chest, welcomes me home, as if we’ve known each other forever.


I feel as if I know him. But I don’t….


This one thing I do know: this man is not Ray Vecchio.


Unfortunately, that fact does not stop me from falling in love with him. With a man. With a detective. With a stranger.


Doesn’t stop me for a moment.


And he needs me. Desperately.


He has suffered a painful loss. Very recently. His wife left him, divorced him.


He is bewildered and made miserable by the loss. Something I understand very well.


I sense enormous strength, great resources, a good, chivalrous and idealistic heart, in Ray Kowalski.


But all this is lost to him, right now. He cannot believe in himself. Trust himself.


So I believe in him, trust him, on his behalf.


For once, from the start, with him I wear no mask, put up no defenses against this wounded soldier in life’s battles.


The rewards are enormous.


The sweetness, acceptance and companionship, the devotion and support he offers in return, turn my world upside down.


I am given… everything, in return.


Finally, I am given a… connection to someone - a true, lasting connection - in return.


I am given great love, in return.


* * *


Even unto death, more than thirty years later, in what Ray calls “the wilds” of Canada.


At the end, his voice a whispered shadow of its former force and beauty, Ray asks me whether I remember the time I went undercover as a woman, in a girls’ school.


So long ago, but I remember….


I remember everything, at last.


I remember… him.


Officer and gentleman to the end, he whispers one last true thing to me, my knight in shining armor.


“Forgive me, Red….”


“Ssh… nothing to forgive.”


“I loved you then, Ms. Fraser, an’ I love you now.”


“And I you, Ray. Always.”


* * * * * * * *

End Story - “R is for Red” - 1/1

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