by Maxine Mayer, 12/1/99
I glance around quickly, wondering to whom the voice is calling. There arent 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! Im talkin ta you!
Finally, I realize what has happened. The man is calling me.
Im dressed in womens 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?
Im 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 didnt notice Id 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 Im 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, Im 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 Im happy to hear it. I didnt 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 Im not a cross-dresser.
Its 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 Im sure Ill be all right.
Lemme walk ya wherever ya goin - ya goin home? Its 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.
Im not going home, I tell him, whoever he is. Which Id like to know but will not ask. Im 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 Im here, dressed like a woman, but I dont wish to involve him in my case - Ray Vecchios 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. Im a cop, a detective. Im 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? Im taken aback. An officer and a gentleman. The combination is rare indeed.
Detective Ray Kowalski, CPD, at yer service, mam. 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 dont 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.
Im all over dat! Otherwise, whyd 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 wouldnt 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 Im 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.
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 youre right. My partner and I have already covered a few shops where they might be willing to buy the things shes 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. Its - 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. Its really late. What say we meet up tomorrow - Im 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. Id love some coffee. And to get off my feet. These shoes are instruments of torture. Thank you kindly.
* * *
I get a call right when Im on the way outta my precinct, off ta meet up wid the mountie. Its 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 thats it. Uh, yer done wid da case - I repeat myself like an idiot.
It ended very satisfactorily, for all concerned, Im 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, thats 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 dont. Id be Id 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 partners name is Ray. No wonder he don wanna call me that.
You can call me Stan, if ya want. I go by Ray, but Stans my first name.
No, Ill call you Ray. You prefer it, dont you?
Yeah, I do.
Well, then . Shall we meet in the coffee shop downtown? Where we went last night?
Thatd be cool.
Half-hour? Then I think Im rushing him. Or, an hour, mebbe? Whatever
works fer you, if ya like, gotta fill out some papers or somethin.
Ill be there in an hour. Im at the Consulate. I must go back to my apartment and freshen up.
Ya still in drag?
No, but Im still . I hear him sigh, and suddenly I know what the problem is. Hes 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.
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. Ill wait fer ya.
I hear the smile in his voice when he says, Im glad to hear that - Ray.
* * *
I look inside the coffee shop and see that the mountie isnt there yet, so I wait outside for him. I dont think I wanna have dinner with him here. Maybe at Sun Chows, which is my favorite Chinese restaurant. Or Vittorios, 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.
Ive got little butterfly things in my stomach. Probably wont be able to eat much.
Why the butterflies? Cause I ain seen this guy outta womens clothes and ta tell the truth, Im 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 mounties. 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 Adams apple.
But its the voice that got ta me. That trick wid his voice - soft, when hes bein a woman, strong when hes talkin in his own mans 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 nobodys business and biting and full of looking-down-at-people stuff, and don even notice hes doin it, when hes right inta tellin a story.
And kinda scary. Somethin real scary about him.
Not Vecchio, this guy.
Okay, so Im callin him this guy one too many times. Remindin myself, convincin myself. That hes a guy, not a woman.
Like thats a whole big bunch better, right? That hes a guy?
Get real, Kowalski.
Worse. Thats 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 bears. 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.
Whats that about?
Im off duty. Hes off duty.
Im in civvies. Hes wearing protective colorin?
Not in this mans army.
Hes harder. Harder.
Like a fuckin laser, that head a his.
And the tiltin at windmills part - Don Quixote ain got nothin on Red - thats what I call him when I stop callin him Constable - Red.
Hes already protectin himself, before he even gets inta trouble wid me? Wearin his uniform. Shit. Before hes got anything to protect himself against?
So, whatll 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. Hes afraid a everything.
Okay, maybe somebody hurt him. Maybe hes got a right to be afraid.
But not on my watch. Thats 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 cant even say he looks disappointed. Hes 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. Cant. 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, Im 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 sos I cant figure him an Red together.
What we got here is apples an oranges, in the morals and ethics department. Mounties the saint, Vecchio is definitely the sinner, in that duet.
Wouldn put it past Vecchio to make fun a Reds 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 Vecchios 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 cant let it rest. Vecchio ain good enough for the big guy. He jus aint. I know that - how?
Because I follow Vecchio around fer weeks, on my days off. Not when theyre together, when Vecchios 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 Im undercover, sos 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 hes 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 hes plain fuckin lonely, outta his element. Well. Well, then, Im his man.
Yeah. Im his 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 Reds friend, a good partner .
The rumors that the mounties 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 hes got his memory back.
By then, Im so confused by how great Vecchio treated Red when he was down an out, Im 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 hes 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.
Im so far down, it looks like up ta me.
Yeah, looks like up ta me - until I hear what cop Im goin undercover as.
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, its 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.
* * *
Its 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 Im 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.
Its 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 weve known each other forever.
I feel as if I know him. But I dont .
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.
Doesnt 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 lifes 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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