Life here in Montreal is good, really good. I mean, I don’t have a job yet, but Ben does, so that’s okay. I’m learning French. It’s coming along faster than I figured, given my history with languages, and I practice every chance I get. Ben’s French isn’t like the Montreal people’s. His accent sucks, even I can hear that. But I talk with the bartenders and waiters and other guys at Ben’s male strip club, make them speak French with me, even though they wanna improve their English. I figure, hey, my English isn’t so good, they’re better off not learning from me!
But I don’t have a job yet. I got a work permit. Ben arranged for that with some guy who comes into the club sometimes, for a drink and … well, to meet other guys. He’s been a good friend, smoothing the way for me. Fact that I was a cop in Chicago before I came here, that don’t hurt none. I got a good background, nothing fishy there, so I got me a work permit. Just, no job.
Ben could get me a job stripping, like him. Or cleaning up around the club, or bouncer, or something. But I think that would be too much of a good thing, you know? As it is, Ben’s a stranger in Montreal. And I’m even more so. Like, I depend on him for everything. I don’t wanna be working where he works, too. That would be … well, not so good. Like Stella and me, working the same kind of job, law enforcement, didn’t help our marriage any. Don’t wanna screw things up with Ben, like I did with Stella.
Besides that, if you don’t consider that, like I try not to, or I’ll make myself crazy, we got a good life going here. I’m so crazy in love with Ben that being with him 24/7, the way I can be, since I’m not working, suits me down to the ground. And he loves having me around. I see him looking for me, his eyes searching, them eyes … whenever I come into the club at night. He’s got it bad, just like me. Maybe it is voodoo, like he calls it. Because even with Stella, I never felt like this, this way, about nobody. Maybe not voodoo. Maybe, magic….
Things have been going good for us and this latest gig Ben took to earn us some moolah has been the best of all.
I didn’t know he’d been offered it. He didn’t tell me, because of the way I took against the other gig – him stripping in the club. And dancing. But I got over that soon enough and helped him out with his routine, which he needed me to, because he’s like, ignorant, when it comes to modern dancing, and the latest music he likes is the Big Bands type. Which I like, too, don’t get me wrong, but it wouldn’t go over too big in the club, you know what I mean?
He’s a hit. No other way to put it. One hot number. When he strips and dances, even though it’s all I could do to make him learn a few moves, so he didn’t just stand there and take off his clothes and then look at me, helpless like, and do nothing.
Personally, for my money, he could just stand there and do nothing and he’d be a hit with me. I never seen a body like that and I don’t expect to see another, either. The other boys who strip – they’re mostly young, twenty, twenty-two, tops – they’re fine, too. Good looking, young - well, I said that already - thin and well-built. Good looking enough. But Ben, he’s something else.
When I look at him without his clothes on, I know what he was thinking, becoming a Mountie. He’s still fit, even after years of unhealthy living. Still hard and muscular. He says he’s running to fat, but I don’t see it. And his shoulders. Boy! Wow!
Anyhow, you get my meaning, right? He’s perfect. And the customers know it. It’s not just the body, it’s the mind. He throws out sex like he’s giving it away. He’s not. Not giving it away, to nobody but me. But on stage, when the music plays and he takes off his clothes and smiles, he makes like he’s free, to everybody. But not. Not free. Free, with a pricetag.
Hell, I don’t know what I mean. No, I know what I mean. But I don’t know how to say it. Like, like, it’ll cost you, but it’ll be worth it. Yeah. That’s it. High-priced, but worth it.
There’s that innocent thing he’s got going, too. Or had going. That’s pretty much slipped away, over the last couple months, what he calls “the puberty factor.” He’s got used to it – to having lots of sex and enjoying it. So, he’s not so innocent up there any more. But he’s still sweet as sugar and still reeling them in, whenever he dances. Strips. Whatever.
* * *
What really turns my crank is this new gig he’s got. He decided we needed more money and without so much as a by-your-leave, off he goes and accepts a gig in a drag club, “The Black Cat,” off on the dark side of Montreal. Darker than where the strip club lives. And I was ticked off he didn’t say nothing to me, ask my opinion, before he said he’d do it.
He explained that he knew I’d say he shouldn’t. Which is why he didn’t ask me. Now, is that a reason? We could have talked about it, at least.
But like always, Ben was right and I was wrong. This gig is better than the other one. First of all, he don’t need to strip. He just needs to dress up in girl’s clothes and lip-sync to old records. You know the kind. Judy Garland, Barbra Streisand, Marlene Dietrich, like that.
Funny thing is, he can sing. Real good. Oh, he’s no Johnny Cash or nothing. But he can sing. More than just carry a tune. Even plays the guitar. That’s a good thing at the “Cat,” because he sings in between, when he’s not lip-syncing to the stars, and the audience just eats that up.
He’s the only one of the guys who does that, you know. And he’s really good. When he sings a love song you really really believe him. His whole body sings. Well, okay, maybe I’m prejudiced, but I think he’s terrific and what with his voice and his body and his face – nobody looks as good in make-up as old starry eyes – I don’t get no arguments from anybody. In fact, the joint is packed every night Ben performs. It’s a sell-out, every time.
And Ben’s changing, slow but sure, from the guy I met way back then, into somebody else, somebody real different.
I’m trying to figure out just who.
* * *
“Ray, do I look alright?” Ben asks, turning in his make-up chair to look at me where I’m leaning against the counter on the other side of the room. See, right away, there’s a change. When I met him, he didn’t give a shit how he looked or what anybody thought of him.
“You look great, babe,” I tell him, and he does. His eyes do something to me. With the make-up it’s weird, I had a hard time getting used to it, but the eye shadow and stuff and the lipstick and rouge on his cheeks – well, it all brings out his eyes, than which there ain’t none better or prettier, so I got used to it.
Right now he’s wearing the red dress. He’s got three costumes. A red dress, which he looks great in. Reminds me, a little, of that photo I seen of him, that’s hidden away in his trunk. Him and another Mountie, dressed in red serge, both of them. The other guy’s older, his father, I’m guessing, but I didn’t ask. Didn’t tell Ben I seen the photo, either. Both of them standing there ramrod straight. The older guy staring right at the camera, Ben staring at the guy, with a little frown, and a little smile, both, on his face. Don’t know anybody else in the world who can do that – smile and frown at the same time. But it’s there, in this picture. You can see it, if you look.
So, anyhow, he looks great in red, in the photo. And he looks great in this red dress. It’s cut low, with phony boobs pushing the material out, not too big, in front. His neck is gorgeous. The dress is off the shoulder, so you get his broad shoulders, too, which should make him look ridiculous, because he’s got shoulders like a football player, but it doesn’t. Guess it’s the cream and strawberry skin that gets you past the wideness. Whatever. Whenever he puts on the red dress I just want to swipe his skin with my tongue like a cat.
The other dress, a blue one, I don’t like as much. It’s more formal, Ben says. Fits better with the song he lip-syncs to when he wears it. But there’s nothing like as much skin showing and – sue me – I like his skin.
Anyways, he sings three songs a night. Not three sets, just three songs. The first one around nine, the second one at eleven, and the last one is the last of the evening, at about three. After that, the bar’s still open for socializing and stuff, drinking, for another hour, but no more show.
Where was I?
Oh, yeah, I was saying how Ben has changed. That question - how he looks - is one thing. The other thing is this softness he’s got going now, a kind of openness he didn’t have when we met – just the opposite, really – that folks respond to pretty good.
That should be good, right? But I dunno. Lately, well, I think Ben’s noticed it, himself, how folks are responding to him. At first, he seemed real confused. Then, I think, he got a handle on it. As if he recognized it, knew it. And he was a little angry. A little worried, I guess you’d call it.
Now, he just seems to be ignoring it like crazy. Ignoring the folks who are coming on to him. No, that’s not what they’re doing. They’re not coming on to him. They’re just coming to him. At the old club, the boys he works with. Sometimes, their lovers. At this club, the queens, the waiters and busboys. Everybody who gets to know him, has started… coming to him.
* * *
“Miss Fraser? Can I talk to you for a minute, please?” That’s Miss Chloe at the door, a really really good female impersonator. She can’t sing the way Ben does, but she puts a helluva lot of feeling into her act, and she’s real popular. I say “she,” but of course, Chloe’s a man, like the rest of them. You gotta go with the flow, though, and they call each other “she,” so I do, too.
Ben’s eyes fly to the door. I’d think he was scared, if I didn’t know that nothing scares Ben.
“Come in, Carl,” Ben says, even as you please, as if he didn’t freak out for a second, and points to a chair. “Sit down. What can I do for you?” He’s always polite, but he don’t go with the flow, Ben don’t. He calls everyone by their true name. How he finds out what it is, I don’t know.
“You look beautiful, Miss Fraser,” Chloe tells him, and it’s true.
“Ben. Call me Ben. Thank you kindly,” he replies. He’s totally focused, as if he was gonna grill a suspect, or something. Eyes on Chloe’s face, sympathetic expression on Ben’s face, waiting, like he’s anticipating with pleasure whatever Chloe’s gonna tell him. I know for sure that’s not true. He hates this. This … thing folks do. Coming to him…. Trusting him….
“I’ve got a problem… Ben.”
“Yes?” Patient, patient like the Sphinx. I couldn’t have done it better myself, in the old days, when I was on the force.
“It’s Harry.” Chloe is quiet for a moment, but Ben can out-wait anybody, so finally Chloe goes on. Harry is Chloe’s partner. Her lover. His lover. Whatever, just so’s you know. “He’s gotten into a bit of trouble, lately. I don’t know what to suggest to him. How to help.”
“What sort of trouble, Carl?” Ben asks. He knows, of course. Harry has a gambling problem, a real big problem. He’s been getting in over his head for years, just managing to scrape up the dough to pay off his debts in the nick of time, to avoid getting his legs broken by the goons he owes.
“Last weekend Harry went out of town to a high stakes game. Higher than usual. With some people he didn’t know. They were vouched for, and so was Harry, but now Harry owes them more than what he usually loses, and we can’t pay it off, not all of it. Not right away. And I’m scared.”
“You’re frightened because Harry is frightened,” Ben says. Chloe nods. “These people were vouched for by others who do know Harry?”
“Yes. Old friends. That’s why he thought it was okay to get into the game.”
“I think you should tell Harry to pay as much as he can, and promise the rest in whatever timeframe you both feel he could pay it off.”
“No, he did that already, he gave them what we had. Told them he’d pay the rest, that they could trust him. They didn’t want to listen, Miss Fraser, Ben, they told him he had to pay the rest by next week, or else.”
“Or else, what?” Sometimes I wonder about Ben. You telling me he doesn’t know, or else, what? Or else they’ll work Harry over until even Chloe won’t recognize him.
“Or else they’ll hurt him.” Chloe says it, then starts to cry. Ben gets up, goes over to the chair she’s in, kneels in front of her and takes her hands.
“Don’t cry. Your make-up will be ruined, Carl,” he says. Even Chloe has to grin at that, no matter how upset she is. “Ask Harry to come by my apartment later. I’ll talk to him. We’ll work things out.”
“How?” I cut in. “How you gonna work things out? We can’t help with money. What are you gonna do?” I’m pretty angry. I don’t like the idea of Ben or me getting mixed up with gamblers who don’t take no for an answer. It’s not smart. In fact, it’s really really dumb.
In fact, I don’t know what’s got into Ben. See, that’s what I mean. Soft, open, dumb. That’s what’s happening to Ben. He hates it that people like Chloe come to him, trust him. Because he can’t resist getting involved.
Up until now, I didn’t think it was so bad, folks coming to Ben. I thought it was kinda cute, that they liked him.
Now, I don’t feel that way anymore.
This is the first time “getting involved” might mean more than just giving advice.
I’m beginning to see why he hates it. Really really clearly.
“Harry and I will talk. Then we’ll talk to these people he owes money to, make them see reason. When they understand that Harry is acting in good faith, that they will receive their money, all of it, shortly, they’ll back off.”
“In what universe will they back off, Ben?” I ask him, angry.
“In this universe,” he snaps back at me, giving me a look that I read pretty good. The look says, don’t say anything now, you’ll upset Chloe. I take a deep breath and back off, for now.
Just, for now. Because there’s no way Ben and Harry are gonna take on some high stakes gamblers without me with them. And before we go, Ben’s gonna tell me what he’s planning. Oh, yeah. He’s gonna tell me. Out loud. Up close. The truth.
* * *
Ben’s on stage now, singing his last number of the evening. Wearing the third costume, which is so way off, for this place, “The Black Cat,” that I don’t know how they let him get away with it.
It was his idea, a crazy idea, and I told him so. But he didn’t listen and now I’m glad he didn’t, because he looks better in this outfit than in the other two.
To make a long story short, Ben’s dressed like a woman, yeah, but not one of those girly types. He’s dressed like a dyke, a lesbian. It’s weird.
Leather pants, black, skin tight, and a white t-shirt with short sleeves. Black half-boots. That’s it. Make-up on his eyes, no lipstick. No nail polish. No jewelry. Well, just a diamond stud in one ear, that I gave him. He only ever takes that out when he’s performing in the dresses, with showgirl earrings on.
He’s dressed like a boy, and you’d think he’d look like a man wearing make-up, but he doesn’t. He looks like a woman dressed like a boy, who’s a man inside, who loves women. Ben is one class act. I never seen nothing like this, anywhere. Except maybe in that movie he dragged me to, the depressing one, “Boys Don’t Cry.” Which was a great flick, no question, but I was sick for days after I seen it, it was such a bummer.
Ben’s got his freaking “breasts” bound with an ace bandage, under that t-shirt!
He’s got his hair slicked back with some kind of gel. Mousse or something.
He’s got a pair of sunglasses hanging off the neck of the t-shirt. And a pack of cigarettes in his sleeve, toughguy style.
And there’s no question about it. His head is on straight for what he’s doing. He’s into it, totally. He’s a young woman who’s a man inside, who loves women.
Sings like it, too, his voice all breathy and throaty, a hit song from today, not yesterday. And he’s not lip-syncing. He’s really singing.
Spotlight’s on Ben, straddling a chair. Piano behind him, not a bad pianist. Smoke from his cigarette winding around him, going up, clouding the air up, over his head. Dreamy expression on his face. Sometimes, not dreamy, intense. Changes.
You can just about taste the longing and the loneliness and the fear and the hurt, and a sliver of joy, not a lot, just looking at him. When he sings, it kills me. You know, that my Ben even knows what it’s like, to hurt like that. I can’t stand it, that he knows.
The audience laps it up.
* * *
Maybe that’s when they began coming to him, trusting him, everybody. The first time he put on that costume – if you can call a pair of leather pants and a t-shirt a costume – and sang without a record to lip-sync to. Open and trusting, himself, up on stage. Yeah. Yeah, that’s when.
* * *
We’re back at our place and there’s not much time before Harry will be here, too, probably dragging Chloe with him – no pun intended – so I better talk fast, get Ben to talk, fast, or there’ll be no time.
I don’t wanna queer his act, so I won’t call him on this when other folks are around. But I wanna know what he thinks he’s up to, with this so-called plan of his to get Harry out of trouble.
“You ready yet, Ben?” I ask, when I notice that he hasn’t changed his clothes, just washed his face and his hair, which is still damp and hanging in waves like a halo around his head. Yeah, I know, his hair is black. So, not a halo, a circle. Okay? Okay.
“I’m ready. Are you, Ray?” he asks, a little edge to his voice, the way there used to be in the old days, and I’m happy to hear it, and not.
“What’s the plan? You think you can make those guys understand, where Harry couldn’t?”
Sighing, and with a little shake of his head, Ben tells me, “It’s what I do, Ray.” I stare at him, and he tells me, “It’s not easy. It takes a lot out of me. But. It’s what I do, used to do, when I was…. Before,” he finishes, like that’s an explanation.
“Before? When, before?” What he did, before? Takes a lot out of him? Like a profiler, maybe, getting into a fucked-up criminal’s head, like that? That’s how it sounds to me. Takes a lot out of him. I really really don’t like the sound of that.
“When I was a Mountie, Ray. Before I quit the force. Before my father died.” Then, another sigh. “Before.”
By the time I’ve taken this in, figured out what he’s talking about, and started to think about what I should tell him, to put him off this whole Harry thing, he’s walked over to his cot, slumped down on it, his elbows on his knees, his head in his hands, and started to cry.
I bite my tongue, rush to him, kneel in front of him, take his head in my hands. I look at his face. His eyes are closed. Tears are running down his face. He’s so unhappy I wanna kill somebody – Chloe or Harry or maybe me, for letting him do this thing that’s got him all open and miserable.
Except that I’m worried that maybe the thing he did that got him all open and miserable wasn’t dancing at a strip joint, or singing at a drag club.
That the thing he did that got him like this was getting hooked up with me.
I’m real worried that’s the problem with Ben. So I don’t know what to say.
* * *
“Ray,” he murmurs, his arms going around me, pulling me to him, his eyes opening. His mouth covers mine before I can blink, and he’s kissing me, desperate like, like this is the only chance he’ll get.
I kiss him back, of course. I’m not crazy. Desperate Ben is the best. And I let him do whatever he wants, let it wait, my questions, our talking about things. Let him pull himself and me over onto the cot, and take my shirt off, and my belt. Unbutton my jeans. Touch me, gently, always gently, at first, as if he’s afraid I’ll break. I mutter and moan and croak out his name, but he’s not talking. He’s moving down my body like some snake, wriggling and writhing around, and then he’s got me in his hand, and in his mouth, and he’s sucking me like there’s no tomorrow, real desperate, real good, it feels, and I’m holding his head, winding my fingers into his hair, even longer now than it was when we met, and focusing real good on him on me. His tongue is big, broad, I dunno, just – big. Like he’s got a double-sized tongue or something. It’s everywhere. On my cock, then up the side of my cock, underneath, then on my balls, I dunno, not a straight line. Tastes my balls, behind my balls, my hole, loves that, I love it, too. Then, back to my cock, one hand holding it, the other on my hip, I think. Yeah, that’s it, my hip, but close to my ass, squeezes his hand between my hip and my ass, somehow, I dunno how. Mouth slurping my cock like it’s the best thing he ever tasted. I know his mouth is the best thing I ever felt, anywhere…. Except for his cock, which is the other best thing I ever felt, anywhere. Okay, a tie. It’s a tie between his mouth and his prick. Don’t gotta decide, never. Don’t gotta choose….
My eyes are closed and I’m fluttering and humping his mouth and squeezing his head and probably tearing out his hair and I come really hard and he swallows it all and we’re done for now. I collapse.
* * *
No, I don’t forget what I wanted to ask him, what’s worrying me, frightening me, but there’s no time, now, and that’s what Ben wanted to happen, for us to run out of time to talk, and he’s right, we did.
But I don’t forget.
Harry and Chloe are at the door and Ben talks with them for a few minutes, then we go out to meet those high stakes gamblers, all four of us. Take a cab to a hotel not too far from where we live, a nice place, from the look of it.
And I watch while Ben does it all. All the talking. All the thinking. All the explaining. All the convincing.
And convince them Ben does. All three of them. A scrawny guy, who looks to be a go-fer. A brawny guy who looks to be a bodyguard. And a flashy guy with diamond rings and oily skin and white teeth and a real expensive suit, who looks to be the card sharp, and turns out he is.
This Ben, I’ve never seen before. Never.
This Ben is the “old” Ben, from long before I met him. This is what he did, “before,” like he told me.
Oozes sincerity. Smacks you upside the head with innocence. Squirrels into your guts with his trust in your better nature. Bamboozles you into thinking you can trust him, even if you wouldn’t trust Harry or Chloe as far as you could throw them.
It’s over in ten minutes, the time it takes to say hello, introduce us all around, for Ben to say his piece, and for the flashy guy to smile and agree to everything Ben says.
I never seen nothing like it, not in all my years on the force. Doesn’t even need anybody to set them up, he just sets them up himself, and knocks them down.
I hustle us out of there as fast as I can, before the flashy guy changes his mind. Slip Harry a twenty to take Chloe home in a different cab. Hail a cab for Ben and me and get us home pretty fast.
You remember the old Lucille Ball Show? How Ricky’s always saying to Lucy, “Lucy, you got a lot of ‘splaining to do?”
That’s just what I’m thinking. Ben’s got a lot of explaining to do.
* * *
“So that’s it, huh, Ben? What you done before, when you was a Mountie?” I say, pretty nasty, pretty angry, I dunno why, exactly, just, angry.
Maybe because I never seen this side of him before, and I feel like he was hiding it. Cheating on me. I dunno.
“Yes. I’m sorry, Ray.” And he looks it, really sorry, and I melt.
We’re back at our place so I go into the kitchen and get us a couple beers, which I figure he’ll drink one tonight, because he’s all strung out and upset and when he’s like that, he’ll take a drink.
I’m right. He swigs the beer like it was water and holds the empty bottle in his hands as if he’s gotta hold onto something, for security, or maybe so he’ll know what to do with his hands. He’s sitting at our kitchen table, which is in the living room. I sit, too.
“Why you sorry? You did good, didn’t you? Helped Harry and Chloe. Just like you planned.”
“I didn’t want to do it. It was forced upon me,” he mutters, eyes on the empty beer bottle.
“How? Who forced you?”
He shrugs. “No one. Really, no one, I suppose. I can’t resist. I could, for a long time. After my father died. And then, suddenly, I couldn’t anymore. I’m sorry, Ray,” he says again, looking at me this time, real quick, then he looks down again.
“How come you can’t resist no more?” I ask, but I figure I know the answer.
“I’m not the same as I was when I first came to Montreal. I’ve changed again.” He doesn’t say nothing for a minute but I wait him out. “I’m not like I was before, but apparently, this –“ and he takes a deep breath – “this part of me persists. You’d think I’d have lost the knack, after so long, and with all I’ve done over these last couple years, but –“ He grins, kinda shy, and I grin back.
“So, maybe, maybe it’s kinda like, the real you. This thing you do, that you done before, and you’re doing again. The, the heart of you?” I’m feeling my way, here, like I was interrogating a suspect but wasn’t sure if he was guilty or not. But it feels right, you know.
“Perhaps.” Ben isn’t crazy about my explanation, I can hear it in his voice. And the fact that he gives me a one-word answer.
“You got another theory?” I say, angry again. Getting him to tell me what’s on his mind has always been like pulling teeth. But it always surprises me. Every time, I’m surprised, like some jerk who never learns his lesson. Why can’t he just say it, just once? Tell me what he’s thinking flat out, without all the dancing around it, without making me beg.
“It’s not that. I have no other theory. You’re right, of course. I simply don’t like it.”
“What don’t you like about it?”
“I don’t want to be this way. I don’t want people to turn to me when they’re in trouble, I don’t want to help them –“
“But you can help them, you’re real good at it –“
“Yes, yes, I am. But that part of my life is finished. I don’t want to do it any more. It’s too hard. It hurts too much. I can’t do it any more –“
He’s practically in tears but I interrupt anyway, tell him some home truths. “But you can do it. Again. Whether you like it or not. It’s not always up to us, what we do. We are who we are. And we gotta do what we gotta do, accordingly.”
He stares at me, and he looks unhappy, which I hate when he looks like that. But I don’t take back what I’ve said. I follow the one-punch with the two-punch, because I know that’ll get him going in another direction, which is what he’s gotta do, think in another direction.
“Anyway,” I say, “it’s my fault. You were doing fine, before you hooked up with me. Nobody trusted you, nobody came to you for nothing, before we got together.” I say it like I’m upset, like maybe the next words outta my mouth are gonna be that I maybe should leave and then things with him would go back to normal.
“Ray, please, don’t say it, don’t even think it!” Bingo! He’s frantic, already, real fast. Thinks I’ll leave, because he’s unhappy with his life. Never do it, me. Never could. Just, that’s not who I am. But I can threaten with the best of them.
“You’re unhappy. You were fine when we met. Now you’re miserable. You add it up, Ben. Two plus two, what’s that come out to? Four? Yeah, four.”
“It doesn’t come out to four!” He stands and comes around to my side of the table, pulls me up, holds me tight, by my biceps, so tight it hurts. “You mustn’t think that way. It’s not your fault if you’ve made me happy, and now I’ve cast off the façade I wore for years before we met! I’ve always known there’d be a price to pay for this joy! A price higher than any I could conceive! I’ve been waiting to learn what it is, Ray, and now I have! That’s all! I’ve found out the price for having you! For loving you! It is in no way too high, Ray! On the contrary, it’s nothing, compared to what I’d be willing to pay. I’d pay any price, for you!”
“Ben –“ I can’t even talk, really, I’m so choked up. I mean, I know he loves me, but like that? So much? It’s too much, I can’t even take it in! But I want to, I want him to love me this much.
“Ray,” he says, all quiet and serious, “let me tell you about my life before. When I was … a Mountie.” He can’t even get the word out, it’s so bad for him, whatever that life was like. But he squeezes it out and I nod that I’ll listen. He lets go of my arms then, and leaves me standing where I am, and he walks over to the window and just stands there without saying anything for a while, just looking out the window where there’s nothing to see. I wait. I don’t dare say anything because it might spook him and he’ll shut up. That’s the last thing I want.
Finally, he begins to talk, real low so I can hardly hear him, so I walk over and stand behind him by the window. I hook a finger into his waistband, just so’s he knows I’m there, that I’m with him, ready to listen to whatever he’s got to say, and he turns to me, smiles, and then looks back out the window.
“When we met, when you found out I’d been a Mountie, you asked me why I resigned. The reasons I gave you were true enough, as far as they went, but they were not the whole truth. I left for another reason, not simply because my father died and I’d joined the Mounties for the wrong reasons, not because I didn’t like the work, or the odds, or the fact that what I did on the force was like a drop in the ocean, lost in a raging tide.
“I left because it hurt too much, to do what I did. And when
my father died, there was no one left to be disappointed if I stopped doing
I ask, real low, “Like what, Ben? What hurt so much?”
He shrugs. “The kind of thing I did tonight. That sort of thing. Allowing people in. Permitting them to … get to me, with their troubles, their woes. Doing for them what they could not do for themselves. Being … their courage, being their brother, their champion, their knight in shining armor. Helping them, often when they did not wish to be helped. Saving them.” He stops for a minute, and I think he’s finished. Then he says, “Loving them, Ray.”
And he turns around and looks at me with those eyes, and I gotta fight real hard to hold the look, not look away, because the pain is too much, and the truth. It’s so simple, I was a jerk not to see it. He left the Mounties because he couldn’t take loving people. It hurt too much. And now he’s back to it, loving people, and that’s why they’re coming to him, trusting him, and it’s my fault, because the first one he loved was me.
I nod. Hold on, don’t look away.
Don’t say nothing, either. What is there to say?
“Do you understand, Ray?” he asks, real serious again.
“Yeah, I think so,” I mumble, hoping he don’t ask me to put into words what I understand.
“I’m glad,” he tells me. “It’s a gift, you know, to be able to love. You gave me that. I’d lost it, and you gave it back to me, Ray. I’m very grateful.”
“You don’t sound like you’re grateful.”
“But I am. Very much so.” He looks at me like he can’t figure out how I missed it, that he’s grateful.
“Sounds to me as if you didn’t like it then, and you don’t like it now. But you’re stuck with it. And it’s my fault. Two, two, four,” I say, sad. But it’s true.
“You’re mistaken, Ray. I said it hurt, not that I didn’t like it. It hurts now, but as you put it, it’s the real me, the heart of me. Insofar as I can like myself, I like this part best.”
“It’s not your fault, it’s the gift you’ve given me,” he says, repeating himself. “I can bear it, now, you know. Much better than before.”
“Because I’m not alone. I have you.” I don’t answer him. I can’t. I’ll start to bawl like a kid if I try to say anything.
He smiles. “I have you. I’m not alone. The pain is not all I have, now. I have love, your love. And loving you. That’s the difference.”
Finally, I bring myself out of it and make a wisecrack. “So, you wanna go back and be a Mountie again?” I ask him, grinning.
“Not hardly, Ray.” He’s grinning now, too. “I don’t need to be a Mountie to be a Mountie, you know,” he adds, and I figure I get his meaning, pretty plain speaking, he is, when he wants to be. He explains, anyway, probably not a bad idea. “The important work I did as a Mountie, I can still do. Anyone can. I can still maintain the right. I can continue to fight for justice. I can resist personal corruption, in the midst of the corruption that surrounds us all. I can help those who need my assistance, offer my strength of body and heart and mind to my friends.”
“Yeah, I guess you can do all that without being a Mountie,” I agree. I’m kinda overwhelmed by what he’s saying but it all sounds right, sounds good. He’s not talking cop-lingo, nothing about taking down the bad guys, putting away criminals, nothing dangerous like that. It’s strange, but it don’t turn me off. Fact is, it kinda turns me on.
“As do you,” he says, slipping that in while my mind is wandering, so I almost miss it.
“You are no longer a police officer, Ray, but I see you living the spirit of your calling every day. You are friendly with everyone. You don’t let a scuffle get out of hand, turn into a brawl. You mediate between people all the time. Encourage your friends to do the right thing. Accept their failings, bolster their good qualities. Point them in the right direction, when they’re making decisions. You’re always there for everyone you know, Ray. Always. Just as you are for me.”
“You’re unhinged, Ben,” I tell him, because in no way am I like that. I’m just a guy, I don’t do any of that.
“You’ve set me an example of how to be, Ray. It is difficult for me to live up to that high standard. I don’t easily roll with the punches, as you do. But I’m grateful for your faith in me, and your support, in everything I do. Thank you kindly.”
Now I’m really sunk. If I open my mouth to say anything, just, anything, I really will start to cry. There’s only one way out of this without talking, and that’s the way I take, faster than you can say Jimmy Crack Corn.
I kiss him, really really hard. His mouth opens real fast, his tongue’s in my mouth doing doubletime, faster than when he talks, slogging around my tongue, feeling up my teeth, he’s sucking on my saliva like he’s thirsty or something, and I’ve got him shut up, and hard, too, from the feel of him against my crotch.
I press my advantage, I’m not lazy. Strip him down and drag him to the mattress and push him down and strip myself and cover him with my body and rub against him real good. He likes my example? Finds it hard to live up to? I’ll give him an example he’s gonna work his butt off - no pun intended - living up to!
I pull off his mouth, which is not easy, no way easy to do, the way he’s got his tongue wrapped in mine, and start in on the rest of him. Up, not down, first his eyes, gotta give those stars a workout, first, before anything.
Then, the rest of him, neck and nipples, and his mouth is free so he’s chewing my hair and groaning and moaning and muttering my name, Ray, Ray, Ray, like he does, at least three times at a go, then again, and I’m working his nipples like a pro, hands and mouth, holding his thighs closed with mine, so I don’t slip off him and start humping the mattress. I got his body to hump, why’d I wanna hump the mattress?
I’m so hard I’m itching, and his nipples aren’t enough. I slide up again, slurp his neck, then grab hold of his mouth with mine again, he always tastes so good, even the beer don’t hide that sweet breath. I dunno, it’s a miracle, right? Yeah, a miracle.
Finally, I’m itching too much to hold back any longer. I dive for his cock and take the whole enchilada into my mouth, one fell swoop, down you go, and it’s delicious, and he’s bucking and moaning and I’m smiling around his cock like a madman. He’s happy now, he’s happy now, no more moody Mountie, you better believe it!
We do the other thing lots - the hard stuff - plenty, both ways, but first we always do this. Him to me, me to him, the sucking thing. The hard stuff gets too intense, so we don’t do it as often. For him, it’s so serious, I wonder sometimes if he’s gonna die, it gets to him so deep. When he’s fucking me, I think sometimes he’ll have a heart attack. But when I’m fucking him, that’s the biggie, for him. He still faints, sometimes, before, just thinking about it, working up the guts to ask for it, not that I make him ask, but, you know, he thinks he’s gotta ask, and he gets all crazy when he does, because he loves it like nothing else.
So this time, tonight, I figure we won’t get around to doing that, either of us, after this big a deal, this shit that went down, and what he told me, and all.
We’ll stick with romance. A kiss and a cuddle, that’s plenty.
“Ray –“ He sighs again, and I get my mind back into the gutter, from the stars, where it’s usually at when I’m doing him any which way, and eat him up, real good, until he comes screaming, and I figure he’s okay, for a while.
Live up to that example, Ben! I think to myself, and chuckle. I move up the bed and grab him and hold him the way he likes, his head on my chest, and kiss his hair.
“Ray –“ he says again, but I shush him.
“Go to sleep, Ben. We can talk some more tomorrow.”
“No buts, just do it.”
“Very well.” And he’s quiet for a minute, one, two, and there he goes again. “You do understand, about tonight, Ray, don’t you?”
“Yeah, I get it, Ben, I get it.”
“I cannot promise that it won’t happen again. Now that Pandora’s box is open again, it won’t be possible to stop.”
“You mean, you’re gonna help another sister, sometime soon?” I ask, keeping the smile out of my voice.
“Yes, Ray, that’s exactly what I mean.” Then, real scared, like I might say something he won’t be able to answer, he asks, “Will it be all right with you? I know it can be dangerous. I know I’ve been fortunate, thus far, not to be … killed, doing these things.”
“I know. It’s all right.”
“Yeah, I’m sure. I been trying to get to the heart of you since day one. Now I got there, I ain’t complaining.”
“Thank you, Ray.”
* * *
We sleep until noon. I wake up first, slip out of bed, hit the john, take a shower, start breakfast. Ben’s still sleeping. Being a Mountie, even without the uniform, sure takes something out of a guy, that’s pretty clear.
But it’s not gonna take everything out of him, not on my watch, I think, turning the bacon. I take a sip of coffee.
I’ll talk to that guy who helped me get my work permit. See what I gotta do to get a gun permit, real soon. Maybe if I take that job as a bouncer…. I’ll see. Whatever it takes.
Because, no way is Ben Fraser gonna do anything like he did last night, without backup.
* * * * * * * * *