Clothes Make The Man

This story first appeared in the fanzine

"Hawk & Handsaw" Feb. 2004 and is still in print.

        Room Service

                                                  by Muriel Perun


Main fanfic page
by Muriel Perun

Inspector Thatcher wasn’t a bit pleased when Constable Fraser chose his friend Detective Vecchio as his partner in the joint undercover operation against mobster Claudio Milvia.  Fraser tried not to shift uncomfortably as he listened to her harsh words on the subject.  She had just paused to allow him the chance to dig himself in deeper.  He took it, as protocol demanded.

“You did leave it up to my judgement, Inspector.  And, as Lieutenant Welsh will tell you, Detective Vecchio is much more experienced in undercover work than I am.  He has some impressive successes to his credit.  And besides, Inspector, he speaks Italian.”

His superior clucked impatiently.  “As far as I’m concerned, many of his recent successes have been due to you.  The man does sloppy work.”

“We’ve helped each other, Inspector.  We seem to be especially well suited to working together.”

She trained her fierce, dark eyes on him.  “Why is that, Constable?  You’re nothing alike.”

“Perhaps that’s exactly why, sir.  We complement each other’s qualities.”

She mused for a moment, pacing.  As always, Fraser admired her energy, her proud bearing, the look of intelligence that lit her brown eyes.  “Well, I did give you carte blanche in this matter,” she said, “and Lieutenant Welsh has already approved the request.  It would be embarrassing to change our minds now.  I trust you will do your best to represent Canadian interests in this joint operation, Constable.  Dismissed.”

Although he would have liked to mention a few details, Fraser knew the look she had given him.  It meant “dismissed” even more than her words.

As he trotted down the stairs with his hat under his arm, he allowed himself to wonder why he had allowed his personal preference to prevail over what he knew would best please his commanding office.  He could have chosen Jack Huey, after all.  Jack was a fine officer and a good man.  Despite their sniping, Ray had trusted Jack to guard his back in many situations, just as Jack trusted Ray.  But this was a dangerous operation.  Fraser knew that Ray and he could read each other in ways that Jack and he could not.  And that was not the only reason. 

Fraser felt more comfortable with Ray.  They were friends.  Without Ray at his side he wouldn’t have as much confidence in his ability to do his best work in such an unfamiliar situation.

Not that they hadn’t had their differences.  When they’d gone to Canada together a few months before, although things hadn’t turned out the way they had planned, something had been settled between them.  They hadn’t talked after Victoria left, when Ray accidentally shot Fraser, or even after Irene Zuko’s death, but Fraser felt they understood each other.  In the media frenzy following the Bolt Brothers’ plot to blow up the courthouse, Fraser knew Ray’s pride had been hurt, although he’d never admit it.  Fraser wanted to make it up to him.  And he was touched by the way Ray had stood by him when he had lost his memory for a day and, to his surprise, had temporarily become a somewhat inconsiderate person. 

Ray was flattered and excited when Fraser had asked him to take part in the operation.  He would be prepared, Fraser knew.  They were both going to have to play the part of domestic help at Milvia’s mansion.  During their one or two month stay, they hoped to find out whether Milvia was behind several recent heists of smuggled antiquities that had disappeared from Cairo, Istanbul, and Agrigento and had ended up on the black market in Canada and the U.S.  Many more hadn’t been found at all. 

Milvia, with his fleet of barges carrying grain, ore, and containers full of manufactured goods back and forth across Lake Michigan, had been accused of smuggling between Canada and the U.S. before.  Worse yet, he’d been implicated in an international murder-for-hire ring that had resulted in the death of a Canadian cabinet minister, among others.  Unfortunately, no hard evidence had been uncovered to tie him incontrovertibly to that killing or any other.  The tip they had received implicating him in the smuggling case was from a usually reliable source.  But either he was innocent or his hiding places for contraband goods hadn’t been detected yet.  Authorities on both sides of the border hoped that if they could nail him on the antiquities charge, perhaps they would discover evidence to implicate him in the other crimes.  In any event, he was a dangerous man, and infiltrating his private world would be risky.

Not only did they have to spend time memorizing photographs of possibly stolen artifacts, they had to learn to be effective waiters.  Ray had found a friend who would spend a few days educating them in the finer arts of serving at table, opening wine, and serving drinks, not to mention the protocols of being a servant.  If Fraser had any doubts about Ray’s performance in this situation, they were centered around the fact that Ray hated to serve.  He tried—and failed—to visualize Ray wearing a waiter’s tux with a napkin over his arm, presenting a plate to a customer with a suitably respectful expression on his face.  To succeed as a servant on Milvia’s house staff, one had to meet exacting standards of skill and conduct. 

Fraser walked out the Consulate’s front door and turned into the brisk spring breeze.  As he placed his hat squarely on his head, he saw the green Riv pull up to the curb.

“Did she bite your head off?” Ray asked with a smirk as Fraser got in.

“No, Ray, she had some concerns, but she finally accepted my decision.”

Ray chuckled.  “Yeah, it would be too embarrassing to change her mind now after Welsh approved me.  It would make people think she didn’t supervise you well enough.”

Rather than discuss internal Consulate business, Fraser changed the subject.   

“You mean I have to pretend they’re right even when they’re not?  That’s bullshit, Nick.”  Ray was wound up, and Fraser could feel his tension radiating through the air between them.  Fraser looked at the roast chicken lying on a platter, framed by a long fork and a bright silver knife, and wondered if they’d ever learn to carve it.

Nick Pastillo sighed.  “Whatsa matter with you, Ray, you got concrete in your skull?  I told you a thousand times, even if the customer orders spumoni, and you know he ordered spumoni, and then he says he ordered torroni, that’s it.  You apologize and you serve him the torroni.”

“Apologize.”  Ray rolled all three syllables slowly around his mouth.  “I’d rather sock the guy in the jaw.”

“And then you lose your job, Ray, and you’re fucked.  That’s the end of your mission.”

“Yeah,” Ray admitted, “I know.  It just don’t seem fair.  Some of these rich guys—”

“It ain’t fair,” Nick agreed.  “Tell me about it.  You don’t know how many times I have a death wish for these guys.  When you bring some fat asshole his fifth martini and he tips you jack, you wanna kill the bastard.  But you don’t.”

“What about spilling the sixth martini down his crotch?” Ray asked hopefully.

Nick grinned and shook his head.  “Nope.”

Fraser, who had been sitting quietly all this time restraining himself from intervening, finally spoke.  “Ray, rich people like the Milvias expect to be served.”

“Yeah,” Ray said bitterly, “the Milvias and the Zukos.  All those jerks.  They got rich off the backs of their neighborhood and now they want to be served.”

“Ray, Milvia isn’t exactly a neighborhood mobster,” Fraser said.  “His network reaches all over the world, and his net worth—”

“Yeah, yeah, Fraser, I was in the same briefing, remember?  Milvia got his start on Chicago street corners, though—making book, hustling, and taking his own people for a ride.  He’s just a bigger Frankie Zuko, making like he’s protecting his own when everybody’s just scared to death of him.  I understand these people, Fraser.  I know how they live.  They always go back to their roots.  Family, neighborhood—all that is the center of their lives. That’s how those cafones pretend they’re just businessmen, just guys like us who worked their way up.  They’re bouncing grandchildren on their knee while they’re ordering a hit.  Those sons of bitches, I’d sooner knock their faces in than wait on them.”  Ray was pale, his fists clenched.  Fraser was glad Ray hadn’t yet taken hold of the carving knife.

“Perhaps this mission isn’t right for you, Ray,” he said experimentally.  “I could always ask Jack—”

“You’re not asking anyone.  I can do it, Fraser.  Come on, Nick.  Show us how to carve the damn chicken.  And what the fuck do you do with the little potatoes and the parsley?”

Fraser sighed. 

Day 1

Fraser watched house after house go by as the catering van made its way slowly down the quiet, tree-lined street.  Rather, he watched gate after gate go by, since most of the houses were set well back form the street with only a glimpse of the peak of a roof or a patch of wall to indicate their enormous size.  He and Ray had completed their month-long training with Nick and had managed to get jobs with the Frotti Catering Service, which provided Claudio Milvia with most of his domestic help.  After being sent out on a few minor jobs to test their competence, both had won places on Milvia’s staff.  They had pretended to meet on the job, so now they were colleagues, acquaintances rather than friends, but it would seem normal to the other people who had worked with them that they might be on cordial terms.

Ray had started work at the Milvias’ a week before Fraser when a waiter from the regular staff had suddenly quit.  He had insisted on being the one to go because of his skill in Italian.  Overheard conversations at the dining table were one of their best hopes for gaining some initial information. 

Fraser wondered how Ray was getting along.  He had no trouble imagining why the waiter had quit.  The conditions of this job were arduous, to say the least.  One worked three meals a day, starting when the first guest rose in the morning and only finishing when the last guest had retired.  Every waiter got two mornings or afternoons off per week, but they weren’t allowed to leave the estate.  If one went so far as to pass beyond the garden wall, one was summarily fired.  Ray and Fraser had both signed contracts for a month, renewable upon satisfactory performance for another month.  Because of the unexpected vacancy, Ray would get an extra week of contractual work.  After two months, staff was rotated out.  They could be rehired the following year for two months.  Some of them refused to continue after their first rotation, even after a satisfactory review.  Even the exceptional salary didn’t begin to make up for the frantic pace and the lack of freedom.  And Fraser had heard rumors of verbal and perhaps even physical abuse of the staff by various members of the Milvia family.  No one talked about it openly, but there were hints in whispered conversations, quiet bits of advice imparted in passing.  “Oh, man, don’t take that job.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

Even under normal circumstances, Fraser thought, it would be difficult for Ray to keep control of his temper.  If someone yelled at him, or worse, struck him, what would he do then?

After passing through a security gate, where every occupant of the van was asked for i.d. that was checked against a list of new hires, the truck pulled around to the back of the building’s east wing, which contained the large kitchens and sleeping area for the help.  With five other men he barely knew, Fraser climbed out, thanked the driver and entered the Milvia mansion through the servants’ entrance. 

It seemed strange to come in here empty-handed, but no personal articles were permitted in the servants’ quarters.  While here, one wore the standard European waiter’s uniform of black pants and a buttoned white shirt with black shoes and socks and a full-length white apron.  Even underwear was provided.  One’s own clothing was laundered and then stored until one left the estate.  A laundry building with several full-time employees was located near the edge of the grounds.  During his time in Chicago, Fraser had had no experience with people who lived in this kind of luxury, especially not people who had gained their wealth exclusively through crime.  Looking around at the huge house and lush gardens, he had trouble believing he was still in a suburb of Chicago.

As they entered the kitchen, all was bedlam.  Waiters were rushing back and forth with trays, carrying food to the large patio at the back of the house where a luncheon party was in progress.  Fraser didn’t see Ray anywhere.

A harried-looking Hispanic man in his thirties came up to greet them. 

“You’re the new guys from Frotti’s?  Great.  I’m Julio, the manager.  Tell me your names.  Mike, great to see you.  Fernando, Ben, Chuck, Jason.  Okay, I never forget a name.  Listen, go to the locker room, through that door, and get changed.  I need you out here.  Put your clothes in plastic bags with your names on them.  Put everything you’re wearing in there—underwear, even wallets and jewelry, too.  Nothing personal is allowed.”

“What about my wedding ring?” asked Fernando indignantly.

“It’ll be waiting for you when you leave the estate.  Hurry up!”  Julio turned to bark some orders at a pair of waiters who had stopped to talk.  Both gave him sullen looks. 

The locker room was the first room in a corridor lined with dormitory-style bedrooms that each slept four in bunk beds.  There were waiter’s clothes in every size hanging in a large closet.  The drawers full of underclothes and pajamas were labeled by size.  Toiletries were provided in large baskets by every sink.  Nothing had been overlooked. 

Fraser changed as fast as he could.  As he hurried back out into the noisy kitchen, Julio took him by the arm.  “Ben, you look like you have a steady hand,” he said.  “How are you at serving drinks?”

“Fairly competent,” said Fraser modestly.

“I mean, do you spill much?”


“Do you have a good memory?”

“Yes,” Fraser said, resisting his usual inclination to elaborate.

“Good.”  Fraser felt himself being pushed towards the outer door.  “Go to the bar and help Vecchio.  He’s fast, but he’s all by himself out there and I bet the orders are piling up.”

Fraser walked out into the sunlit garden, shaded by old sycamores in full leaf and decorated with flower beds full of purple and white lobelia mixed with pink petunias and accented with iceland poppies.  Behind the patio, a trellis draped thickly with purple lilac led to a large rose garden, which, although dimly seen, lent its strong, gorgeous perfume to the air.  For a moment Fraser was stunned with enchantment.   He realized he must have stopped to stare when an elbow dug painfully into his ribs.

“Get out there, lazy-ass,” said a gruff voice he hadn’t heard before.  “What are you staring at?”

“Nothing, sir,” Fraser said respectfully, turning to look at his assailant.

A short man in his late thirties with a neatly trimmed black beard and close-cropped black hair glared at him as he passed with a tray full of antipasti.  He looked strong, and his thick arms filled out the sleeves of his white shirt.  “I’m Lawrence, Julio’s assistant,” he said to Fraser’s confused look.  “You better listen to me, because if he’s not here, I make your life a living hell.”

“I was told to help Ray Vecchio serve drinks.”  The man gestured with his head to the side of the patio closest to the house, almost directly behind where Fraser was standing.  “Thank you kindly,” Fraser said, and was answered by a grunt of laughter.

Ray was standing at a table holding a large tray full of drinks.  As he distributed the glasses one by one, he chatted amicably with the diners, turning his tray so skillfully that it remained balanced.

Fraser made his way to the bar and introduced himself to Serge, the bartender, who never stopped mixing drinks while they spoke.  “Do you know the table numbering system?” he asked.

“Uh, no, not yet,” said Fraser, starting to feel apprehensive.  The sheer scale of this luncheon was astonishing, especially if it was to be repeated every day, at every meal.  No wonder waiters burned out fast.  It was like doing three weddings a day.

“Look to your left, the far corner with the woman in the orange dress and the big straw hat,” Serge said without looking.  “That’s table one.  Count to your right, then back along the next row, and then again.  That’s the first fifteen.  Got it?  I’ll tell Ray you’ve got that side.  They’re mostly just the people invited for lunch, not the house guests, but be careful anyway.”

Fraser took a loaded tray from the counter and started delivering to table fourteen, then twelve, then four and three.  With his empty tray he went back to the bar, wondering what the system was for the other side of the patio, where flowerbeds broke the rows of tables up into rough zigzags.  A light hand brushed his elbow.  “Good to see you, Benny,” Ray said, hoisting a tray to his shoulder and striding off into the maze.

Fraser took another tray, destined for table one.  The eight people at the table had mostly ordered drinks in wide glasses that were difficult to balance—three martinis, a marguerita, two cosmopolitans, and something Fraser didn’t recognize in a tall glass with mint.  Nick had taught him the names of all the fashionable and common mixed drinks, and Fraser was still amazed at the complexity around something so simple as getting alcohol into one’s bloodstream.  He knew that drinking with others was a social rite, but he didn’t completely understand it.  By process of elimination, Fraser identified the minty drink as a mojito.  At least that one smelled good.

As he went back to the bar, trying to stay out of the way of the waiters bringing out the antipasti, he noticed Ray standing at the central table, and Fraser knew immediately that he was talking to Claudio Milvia.  The man was deeply tanned, clean shaven, perfectly bald on top with a small amount of neatly trimmed graying hair around his temples and the back of his head.  He wore gold-rimmed, tinted sunglasses and a light yellow polo shirt with neatly pressed khaki pants.  He made a desultory hand gesture as he spoke to Ray, and the thick gold rings and heavy watch bracelet reflected light off his hand, so that he looked like a minor god making an edict.  Ray grinned and laughed appreciatively at whatever the host was saying.  And he was saying it at great length, while everyone within earshot listened in rapt attention.  Standing in a half crouch, Ray bobbed his head subserviently as he replied.  Fraser had never seen Ray do such a thing before.  The tableau before him was everything Fraser hadn’t been able to imagine.  Either Ray truly admired Mr. Milvia or he was good at this undercover work, better than Inspector Thatcher had imagined.  Fraser felt a surge of pride on his friend’s behalf.

As all the tables received their first round of drinks, the antipasti—an arrangement of stuffed and fried calamari on a bed of arugula, with marinara sauce on the side—were served.  Before the entrees arrived, it was time to open red and white wine and serve it at each table.  Fraser was astonished at how much alcohol these people seemed to consume at luncheon.  They drank solidly through the main course—choice of veal saltimbocca or fish, accompanied by baby spring vegetables—and only when the after-dinner salads were tossed in a large wooden bowl at each table and served around did the wine gradually stop flowing.  Then there were dishes to clear and desserts to serve, then coffee, which the Milvias took in the Italian way—after dessert, in demitasse cups with a curl of lemon zest and a sugarcube on the side.

Even after the sated guests were wandering around the garden in small groups or lingering at their tables finishing the dregs of their wine or coffee, the waiters stood at the ready along the side of the garden, waiting for a summons.  Fraser finally had a chance for a better look at the rest of the Milvia family.  Claudio, as Fraser had observed before, exuded a quiet, intimidating authority.  His wife, a handsome, olive-skinned woman with hennaed hair piled high on her head in curls, was loaded down with jewels.  When she spoke to her husband, she smiled and looked deferential, but she turned a forbidding eye on the rest of the world.  She looked like a woman who enjoyed her position and guarded it jealously.  Fraser remembered that she was Milvia’s second wife, and was at least ten years younger than he.  Perhaps, having displaced one wife, she wanted to make sure the same thing didn’t happen to her. 

The children were teenagers.  The girls, one tall and slender and one shorter and less statuesque, sat quietly though lunch, their faces betraying little emotion.  The son, whose dark hair was long enough to graze his collar, seemed sullen, but he only spoke when spoken to.  Besides Claudio himself, the face that most drew Fraser’s eyes was that of another woman at the table.  She was younger than Milvia, who looked to be in his fifties, and was perhaps slightly younger than his wife—mid to late thirties.  But the contrast with Mrs. Milvia couldn’t have been greater.  Where Claudio’s wife looked very much the respected wife and mistress of the house, this woman, with her honey-gold hair and her smoldering glance, was a seductress.  Although she was dressed modestly and sat quietly through lunch, her dark eyes were always roving, sizing up the men at the other tables and even the waiters.  Fraser caught her staring at Ray when he turned away after giving the Milvias their coffees.  It gave Fraser a strange feeling to watch someone watching Ray as if she wanted to undress him, and an even stranger feeling when the knowing eyes scrutinized him.

Strangest of all was the fact that, when the meal was over, and the guests who weren’t staying had said their good-byes, this young woman was escorted back to the house by two strong-looking women who held her casually but carefully by the arms, one on each side.

The rest of the Milvias remained at the table, waiting for their patriarch to decide that the meal was over, but he seemed content to survey his domain from his comfortable seat, twirling a nearly empty wine glass between thumb and forefinger.  It was then that Fraser noticed the men on the periphery of the patio, their gray suits inconspicuous against the stone of the house, but more obvious against the greenery on the garden side.  There were four of them, all burly, sharp-eyed men in their twenties and thirties, impeccably dressed, each with a wire leading from his ear to his vest pocket and a bulge under his left lapel.  Bodyguards.  Fraser wondered how many more there were and where they stayed at night.

Finally, when Fraser had become aware that he was very hungry and that his feet were beginning to ache, Mr. Milvia beckoned Serge to him and said something in his ear.  Serge then signaled to Julio, and the waiters were allowed back inside to the staff dining room/lounge off the kitchen to eat and rest their weary bones before the clean-up started.  They sat at long tables and ate macaroni with tomato sauce and a side dish of cooked spinach—good, plentiful fare, but rough compared to the guests’ dainty meal.  Metal pitchers of iced tea and cold water sat on the long, wooden table, and the men helped themselves informally.

Julio filled his plate and left after giving the table a cheerful thumbs up.  Everyone seemed to relax then, as if their performance at each meal really meant a great deal.

Fraser ate quietly, listening to bits of conversation here and there.  He was seated at the opposite end of the table from his friend.  He hoped he’d have a chance to talk to Ray privately before the dinner rush began.  He had missed Ray during the week they’d been apart, and he’d worried, too, although he really hadn’t expected a message.  There was only one way to communicate with their Canadian and FBI handlers—to tie a white cloth to the flagpole on the roof.  That was a distress call, a call for help so serious that a chopper or a SWAT team would be sent in.  Otherwise, they were just to gather information and leave when the month was up, or two months, if need be.  Fraser imagined that if something serious went wrong, he and Ray would be unable to get to the roof anyway. 

A familiar voice attracted his attention.  “So, Ray,” Lawrence barked, “what were you talking to Mr. Milvia about?”  Lawrence had interrupted Ray’s conversation with Chuck, one of the other new waiters from Frotti’s, and was leaning rudely across Chuck’s plate to talk to Ray.

Ray looked at him impassively and finished chewing before he replied.  “Mr. Milvia was asking me about his stock portfolio,” he said without cracking a smile.  Ray and Lawrence stared at each other for a long moment before Ray hung his head and snorted with laughter.  “Gotcha,” he said, pointing at Lawrence’s face with his fork.  As the whole table erupted in guffaws, Lawrence’s face flushed angrily, and Fraser wondered if Ray really wanted to make such an apparently powerful enemy.

Lawrence hunched his shoulders and tucked his chin down like a bull about to charge.  “What were you talking about with Mr. Milvia?” he repeated doggedly.

“What the hell’s up with you, Larry?” Vecchio said carelessly, but Fraser could see that his muscles were tense and he was ready to spring.  “Mr. Milvia wasn’t just talking to me, he was telling a funny story to the whole table.  He asked me something about Italian families, just to make his point.  It was a paisano thing, you know?  Loosen up.”

“What was it?” Lawrence persisted.

“Nothing,” Ray said, annoyed.  “Ask anyone at the table.  Maybe you should ask Miss Milvia,” he added, with a sly look.  “I hear you know her pretty good.”

Lawrence stood, knocking over his chair.  Looking scared, Chuck stood quickly and backed away, leaving Ray exposed to Larry’s wrath.  Fraser had to use all his control to stop himself from leaping over the table and going to Ray’s defense.  It irked him to see this bulldog of a man looking down on Ray, who hadn’t even moved away from the table, but was looking up with a smug little smile.

Lawrence took Ray by the shirtfront and lifted him out of his chair.  Ray was barely supporting his weight, so that when Lawrence tried to release him he sank back down. 

“You coward,” Lawrence snarled.  “Stand up and fight me.”

“Come on, Larry, I ain’t gonna fight you.  It’s for your own sake, man.  One more fight and you’re outta here.  Ain’t that what Julio said?”  Some of the waiters had risen from the table and were milling uneasily around the combatants.

“Come on, Lawrence.  Ray’s right,” said a kitchen worker, a short, stocky man with a stained apron, his black curls caught in a hairnet.  He tugged cautiously at Lawrence’s arm, but was elbowed away.

“Fuck Julio,” Lawrence snarled, “and fuck you, Miguel.”  By this time Lawrence was shaking with frustrated rage as he tried over and over to make Ray stand so he could hit him. 

“You’re a moron, Larry,” Ray said quietly, grabbing the hands on his shirt and kicking hard at Lawrence’s shins.

With a sound like a growl or a roar, Lawrence let go of Ray with his right hand and drew back a fist to hit him in the face.  Twisting away, Ray rocked with the blow, which sent him sprawling against the three men standing behind, who caught him as he fell.  He regained his balance and rubbed the side of his mouth, checking his fingers for blood.  “I better put some ice on this,” he said coolly.

“Wait until I fuck up your face some more,” Lawrence said viciously.  “You’ve been asking for this, Vecchio.  “I’m gonna break your fucking head.”  He advanced on Ray, who backed up quickly.

“Lawrence!  Stop right there.  You stupid bastard.  You are so fired.”  It was strange to see Julio, a slight man a foot shorter than Lawrence, command such attention from everyone in the room.  “Get your shit packed up and go wait at the gate.” 

“But, Julio,” Lawrence began, “Vecchio started it.  He—”

“I don’t want to hear it!” Julio yelled, startling everyone.  “You’ve had your last chance.  You’re gone.” 

As he turned to go, defeated, Lawrence mumbled something that Fraser couldn’t hear.  “If I were you, I would hope no one tells Mr. Milvia you said that,” Julio said quietly.

Julio turned to Ray.  “Are you all right?”

“Yeah.  I’ll just get some ice.”

“You better,” said Julio.  “You don’t want Mr. Milvia to see bruises on your face at dinner.”  Ray nodded and moved towards the bank of freezers.  “And Ray?”

He paused expectantly.  “Yeah?”

“When you get the ice, come to my office.  I’m gonna need a new assistant.”

“Sure, Julio,” said Ray, grinning crookedly.

Fraser was stunned at what he had just witnessed.  Ray had taunted a man into attacking him so he would lose his job and Ray could take over.  He supposed it did put Ray in a better position to learn the household’s secrets, but it was so completely unethical, so cruel—

Ray walked past him, holding a plastic bag of ice to his jaw.  “Hey, Benny, how the hell are you?” he said in passing.

And he walked on by as if they’d hardly even met.  Astonished, Fraser watched him go. 

Day 8

Over the next week, Fraser learned a lot of things about working at the Milvias’, only he didn’t learn them from Ray. 

Fraser heard that, every summer, the Milvias had a continuous house party from June to August.  During that time, hundreds of people moved through the estate—relatives from all over the country and business associates from all over the world.  Claudio’s lavish entertaining style harked back to the heyday of the Mafia dons.  He impressed people with his wealth and power and indebted them to him with his hospitality.

Fraser learned that the young woman with the attendants whom he had seen at the lunch table was Claudio Milvia’s youngest sister.  Since early childhood, she had been prone to unpredictable actions, and had been hospitalized until her parents had died and her brother had decided to offer her a place in his home.  Usually she was given free run of the grounds, except when she exhibited destructive or suicidal behavior.  Fraser had the impression that she might be sexually active with some of the staff, although no one said that in so many words.

He also learned the reason for the bad blood between Ray and Lawrence.  From what Fraser heard, Lawrence had a habit of hazing new staff members, and when Ray had arrived, Lawrence had beaten him up as an example to the others.  He had been careful not to touch Ray’s face so that it wouldn’t be obvious what he had done.  Apparently, Ray hadn’t forgotten.

After a week, Fraser was used to the grueling schedule, to which his body adapted without much trouble.  The problem was that he didn’t seem to fit in any better than he had at first, even with the other workers from Frotti’s with whom he’d worked before.  He wasn’t sure how the other workers perceived him, but after a while they started seeming ill at ease when he was around, and people stopped telling him gossip.  Perhaps it was because he never responded with any gossip of his own and refused to say anything unkind about their employers.

It seemed as if he was simply treading water, doing a mindless job, shunned by his co-workers and hearing nothing of interest elsewhere.  He seemed to be universally admired by the ladies, except perhaps for Mrs. Milvia, who always regarded him with something like suspicion.  This meant that at the large luncheon and dinner parties, he never waited on the main tables where the most important guests sat.  Since Ray had become the Assistant Manager, he was acting as Mr. Milvia’s private waiter, supervising the serving of everything to their table, bringing out the special wines and, incidentally, discreetly searching the wine cellar for any trace of stolen goods.  Fraser wondered why Ray’s new position hadn’t made him unpopular.  If anything, it seemed that the other waiters respected him more than before.  Perhaps they were eager to stay on his good side and were grateful he didn’t treat them the way Lawrence had.

At normal meals, where only the family and the house guests were eating—a total of between 20 and 30 people—Fraser usually found himself pouring water or bussing tables, or even doing kitchen work.  As always, he tried to take pride in his work, but it seemed pointless to be here doing this.  In any case, the important conversations between Milvia and his associates wouldn’t take place at the dinner table, but behind closed doors, out of the way of the family and inquisitive waiters.  Fraser had never even seen Milvia’s study.  In fact, besides the servants’ wing, he had only seen the house’s several kitchens, and the main living and dining rooms.  What lay above the gilded staircase that swooped down into the living room, he had no idea.  Once he had tried to get past the locked door to the servants wing during the night, but the security was too good.  Without special equipment, there was no way he could fool the array of motion sensors and alarms, and that was just on the servants’ side.

There were three more weeks to go, and Fraser couldn’t see anything changing.  Ray had apparently found nothing either, and he refused to be cornered into having a private word with Fraser.  When Fraser tried, Ray simply shook his head and went on with what he was doing.  When they had lasted out their time, Fraser would call the operation off.  He was only sorry they couldn’t spend the time doing something more productive. 

Day 14

Evenings the waiters and kitchen staff often sat around at the long dining table and talked or played cards.  Sometimes Fraser stayed and played cards, too, but since he often won, he wasn’t very popular as a partner.  Strangely, although Ray usually won, too, he was as popular as ever, perhaps because he kept up a constant stream of banter while he played, most of it lies.  He told stories about his childhood in Atlantic City and a fictitious ex-wife who had robbed him blind.  Fraser knew for a fact that Ray had visited Atlantic City only once, on his honeymoon with Angie.  Night after night, Fraser worried that Ray would trip himself up with a contradiction or a forgotten “fact,” but he never did.

As in prison, much of the talk centered around what the men would like to be doing instead of their work.  In these conversations, drinking alcohol (strictly prohibited except for the traditional Friday night beer—one each) was second only to having sex.  Sports figured in, but would never displace the other two subjects.  Since Ray didn’t drink but did keep a firm lid on his private life in the normal course of things, his enthusiasm for these conversations puzzled Fraser no end.  It was one thing to play a part, but why pretend to be something you weren’t?  Why make the character you were playing so complex that it was a full-time job to keep others believing in it?  Why did Ray spend so much time creating an elaborate persona that had nothing to do with their assignment?

On the night of the fourteenth day, Fraser got his answer.

It was a Friday night.  The family ate lightly on Fridays, perhaps still inspired by a remembrance of the Roman Catholic dietary restrictions that had been lifted while the devout Mrs. Milvia was still a child.  They had fish filets and a vegetable with salad and no dessert.  On these nights, they dined and then retired early.  Sometimes Mr. Milvia met with business associates in his study upstairs later on, and on these occasions he called for sandwiches and coffee or drinks late in the evening.  Except for these minor demands, the staff was free to gossip, argue over what to watch on the sole T.V., play cards, and, of course, to drink their one beer per person allotment.

On this particular night, there was some grumbling about the “one beer” rule, and Fraser forbore to point out that the grumbler had drunk Fraser’s beer as well.  Ray appeared to drink his beer, but Fraser observed that he wandered around with it in and out of the other room, and that every time he returned the level was considerably lower.  Ray was pouring it down a drain somewhere, and Fraser was heartened to confirm he still knew his partner that well.

Ray skillfully changed the subject from alcohol deprivation to dirty jokes, which always made Fraser uncomfortable because they made him blush, and then the others laughed at him and made him the target of their humor.  Fraser knew that since ancient times, in group situations—especially in situations where a group felt oppressed—there was always a scapegoat chosen unanimously and without discussion by the group.  The persecution of this scapegoat allowed the group to act out its frustrations in a way that didn’t destroy the group, but that sometimes did result in the death of the scapegoat.  Fraser knew he was it.  It gave him small comfort to understand that he did play a role in this microcosm of society after all.

The jokes had become so outrageous during this session that Fraser actually considered retiring.  Going to bed wasn’t much of an escape, since he shared his room with three other men, none of them Ray and none of them particularly congenial.  One in particular, a kitchen worker named George—a pale redhead with a nascent potbelly—seemed to take special delight in making Fraser uncomfortable, both physically and psychologically.  In the past few weeks, he had placed unpleasant objects—notably his own soiled socks and undershorts—in Fraser’s bed and had purposely kept him awake when he tried to get to sleep early.  Fraser didn’t give George the satisfaction of seeing his temper, so he wasn’t sure why the torments continued.  George seemed to have a special talent for getting under Fraser’s skin, especially now, when he felt out of place and vulnerable, and Fraser was glad that the man had no access to dead otters.  He was as much of a bully as anyone Fraser had ever had the misfortune to encounter.  Strangely, he was meek and subservient with Ray, and yet Ray hardly seemed to notice the man.  

As Fraser weighed his dilemma, Julio entered with a worried look.  Since Julio enjoyed the privilege of a private room and most nights went to it early, his appearance in the kitchen after dinner meant that more work was needed.  He stopped in the doorway and looked around carefully.

“Ray,” he said, “and Fernando.”

Ray had been lounging on the well-worn sofa in the corner that faced the T.V., and now he stood and waited expectantly.  “You need something, Julio?”

“Mr. Milvia is having an unexpected business meeting with twelve guys.  I need you to go upstairs with me and serve coffee and champagne.  Miguel and Jason, make sandwiches and coffee for twelve.  Send it up on the dumbwaiter when it’s ready.  Ray, get a couple of champagne buckets and some ice.  Fernando, you get the trays ready and help with the sandwiches.  I need someone to go get a case of champagne from the cellar and put it on the dumbwaiter now.”  He looked around.  Most of the men were either sneaking off or looking sullen.  “George, you can do that.”

George stood from where he had been sitting aimlessly at the table.  “I need the keys.”  He held out his hand.

Julio appeared to think twice.  “Just the champagne,” he said firmly. 

George blinked.  “Of course, man.”

Now that all the assignments were made, a low buzz of activity started in the adjoining kitchen.  Fraser watched quietly as usual, wondering why he was never chosen for these assignments.  He had even volunteered a few times, and still Julio turned him down.  He didn’t think he was incompetent as a waiter, and no one had ever reprimanded him.

As he puzzled over this, the small meal came together.  Fraser noted that George seemed edgy until Julio went upstairs.  “Hey,” he announced suddenly, “look what I got.”

He was holding a bottle of scotch triumphantly.

“Shit, man, you’re crazy,” Ray said, shaking his head as he tied on a clean apron.  “You better finish it before Julio gets back.  There’s no place to hide it except the dumpster.”

Grinning madly, George found a package of little waxed cups and was lining them up on the table.  “Come on.  Everyone have a shot.”

All of the fifteen or twenty men in the room crowded around.  There weren’t enough cups, so everyone took a shot, then refilled his cup and passed it along to someone else.  “Hey, Mukluk,” George said, gesturing at Fraser with a cup.  Fraser hated that nickname, but he knew that protesting would only make the others call him by it as well. 

“No, thank you,” Fraser said politely.  He had no desire to partake of whiskey or stolen goods at the moment.  “Please give my share to someone else.”

Ray approached the table.  “Come on, Ben,” he said, “join us.”  Picking up a cup, he splashed a miniscule amount into it and tossed it down his throat.  “I wish I could have more,” he said, grinning, “but they’d smell it on me.  You guys have fun.” 

Relative silence reigned in the room again as everyone but Fraser drank.  When the bottle was empty, George went outside and hid it deep in the dumpster.

Fraser thought that would put an end to the matter, but he couldn’t have been more wrong. 

Once the evidence was gone, George approached him with a swagger.  “So, you wouldn’t drink with us, Mukluk?”

“I simply don’t drink,” Fraser said quietly.  “Why can’t you accept that?”

George laughed.  “Yeah, and maybe you think you’re better than the rest of us.  And maybe you’re planning to tell Julio about the bottle.”

Fraser suddenly understood.  Those who drank the liquor were bound by some sort of thieves bargain.  That was why Ray had drunk a symbolic amount and had tried to get him to drink.  He reproached himself for once again failing to understand and participate in the group dynamic.  The more inconspicuous Fraser tried to be, the more he stuck out.

“No,” he said, hating the too hearty tone he had adopted to cover his anxiety, “I wouldn’t do that.”

“I wonder,” George said, shrugging, “because last week someone told about the missing steaks, and I was just wondering if it was you.”

All eyes were on Fraser.  He wondered if he was about to be attacked.  “No,” he said, getting ready to spring out of his chair.  “It was not I.”

Unexpectedly, George laughed.  “Hey, you’re not a bad guy, are you, Fraser?  Just trying to get along like everyone else?”

“Yes,” Fraser agreed cautiously.

“Wait a second.  Julio and Ray won’t be back for a couple of hours.  Let’s make brownies.”

Fraser almost laughed to hear this domestic suggestion from George.  Perhaps he wasn’t such a bully after all.  It always paid to think well of people because you never knew…. 

The suggestion of brownies was greeted with more glee than Fraser would have expected from a group of grown men.  Perhaps their hostility toward himself was mainly due to their confinement here, to the hard work without much other stimulus and with no companionship but each other.  He had often heard the men complaining about the lack of women—maybe that lack skewed their social behavior, as it could for any group of male animals placed in close confinement without females.

George went out into the hall in the direction of their shared room and came back with a smile on his face that Fraser could only have called sly.  “I got the secret ingredient,” he announced, going into the kitchen and pulling out a baking pan with a clatter.

Miguel went over and stood next to George, peering inquisitively at the counter.  “Hash?” he asked. 

“No, brownies,” Fraser called out helpfully.  George cuffed Miguel sharply on the arm and whispered something to him.  Both men laughed.

The help was allowed to bake things like cookies and simple cakes for their own consumption, as they were permitted to eat certain leftovers.  All the things they were allowed to eat and use were placed in one refrigerator with a large sign on it.  From this, George took eggs, butter, and chocolate.  Fraser went into the kitchen and asked if he could help.

“No, thanks.”  George actually winked at him.  “You just go in the other room and wait.  They’ll be ready soon.”

So Fraser went back and played a few rounds of gin rummy with Jason, Miguel, and a young waiter named Tommy.  This time he was clever enough to let himself lose.  He’d had enough trouble for one night.  The others seemed very pleased, and were excited about the brownies.  Every few minutes, someone would ask George when they’d be done.  Although Fraser didn’t like sweets, he supposed he’d have to have one.

When they were ready, George placed the hot pan in the middle of the wooden table and cut the brownies up into small pieces with an enormous knife.  With a spatula, he skillfully dug a few out and put them on a plate, which he placed in front of Fraser.

“Here you go, Canada,” he said, making a flourish.  “Eat up.”

“Thank you kindly,” Fraser said, trying to smile sincerely.  “They do smell delicious.”  And, to tell the truth, they smelled wonderful, full of chocolate, but also deep and pungent with an earthy scent, unlike any confection he’d ever had before.  He wondered whether George had tricked him by putting in some noxious ingredient, but when he saw George cut himself a large square and set to eating it, his suspicions dissipated.  As soon as they were cool enough to eat, he put one in his mouth, not wanting to offend the baker. 

George watched him expectantly.  “Well?”

“Excellent,” Fraser said truthfully.

“Have another.”  George was handing them out all around, and he loaded a few more on Fraser’s plate. 

“Oh, no, I—”  At a sharp glance from George, Fraser just decided to accept the brownies.  Perhaps he could take a page from Ray’s book and dump them out later.

Tommy grinned as he bounced one in his hand that was too hot to eat.  “How strong are they?” he asked.

“Strong enough,” George said, inclining his head significantly towards Fraser.  Fraser wondered why he would be the final authority on how strong the brownies were, since he supposed that was what the gesture meant.

“They’re very chocolaty,” he said, eating a third piece, which was quite large.

“Yeah,” said George.  “You see?”

And then a strange thing happened.  As Fraser sat there, George, who had been sitting next to him a moment before, was gone, and the pan of brownies and the plate were gone.  Fraser heard a whooshing noise in his ears, as if he were moving at very high speed.

“I don’t drink,” he said suddenly, and he had no idea why it suddenly seemed so funny.  He threw back his head and laughed.  When the floor came up to meet the side of his face, he cried out like a child.  Faces looked down at him. 

“See?” George was saying smugly.  “They work.”  George’s face was upside down, and it looked terrible, monstrous, with bristling hairs sprouting from the nose and ears. 

“No,” said Fraser, covering his eyes.  There was laughter and some kind of commotion that he realized was footsteps, walking away, walking away.  He was alone.  With his eyes still closed, he spread his arms out and made a snow angel, up and down, up and down. The snow was hard on the back of his head, but the angel would protect him.  Then he remembered that she was a bad angel with black diamonds for eyes, and that she had gone away from him on a train while he was dying.  It was snowing again.  He began to shiver hard.  He wanted to go home. 

Opening his eyes, he rolled on his side and tried to stand, but he couldn’t.  Or maybe he was already up, and the floor had just tilted so that it was standing up next to him, touching a cool spot on his cheek.  There were words out there, floating around, and they were all about him, how he couldn’t—  How he was—  Something they thought of him, and it wasn’t nice.  He didn’t know where they were, but he thought maybe they were speaking down the chimney of the little house he was in.  It had a roof but it had no walls, just some columns.  He clung to one, and realized that the sea was tossing hard.  He was on a boat in the open sea.  He was alone.  Where was Ray?  He started to moan. 

“Shut him the fuck up, can’t you?” he heard someone say, and a face came down to him again, flew down like a puppet on a string, and he laughed at it until it went away.

“Forget it.  He’s crazy.  It’s your goddamned fault.  You and your stupid magic brownies.”

“Ray,” Fraser tried to say, but it came out a hollow sound like the north wind, and it frightened him.  Policemen couldn’t catch the north wind.  Ray and he were policemen, and he had to tell someone because he was tired of lying.  If he stopped lying maybe he wouldn’t have to be alone.

“Ray,” he cried, louder.

“Shut up!”

Something hit him hard in the ribs.  Oh, god, it was all happening again.  He could feel his life’s blood running out of his body through the bullet hole, and he was cold, so very cold.  The snowflakes were kissing his open eyes and night was falling faster now.  He wished Ray would come soon, before they took him away.  He closed his eyes and clung to the square tent pole with all his might.  Lying on his side, he wrapped his arms around it and raised his knees to his chest.  He heard his own voice spinning out the words to the poem like a thread in the darkening room.  “I saw this morning’s minion…”  When he opened his eyes, Ray was there. Ray’s scared face was there, looking down at him, and Fraser was so happy to see it he laughed. “…fall, gash gold-vermilion.”  Ray would stop his blood from staining the pure white snow.

“What the fuck is wrong with him?” Ray asked violently.

Nothing, he wanted to shout.  Ray!  But when he shouted it came out as a strangled cry.

Ray’s hands touched his face, and he sighed with relief.  “Fraser, it’s okay.  I’m gonna put you to bed.  You’ll be okay in the morning, you hear me?”

Only now that Ray was touching him could he let go of the tent pole and go out under the evening sky.  Now he could reach safe haven.  But he couldn’t let go of Ray.  Ray was his anchor and Fraser clung to him.  Words washed around him in chaotic swirls like a stormy sea.

“I can’t deal with him like this,” Ray said.  “How the hell am I gonna put him in bed when he’s got his arms wrapped around me?”

“Look, he seems to want to hang on to you,” said Julio.  “You’ll just have to wait till he comes down.”

Ray snorted.  “Great.  I’m not sitting here all night while he gives me a non-stop bear-hug.”

“There’s a couples room at the end of the hall—it’s got a queen-sized bed.  Just take him in there and stay with him, okay?  Keep him away from George.”

“Fuck George,” Ray said bitterly.  “Aren’t you gonna fire the bastard?”

“I’m short on kitchen staff,” Julio said helplessly.  “And if I fire him and the boss finds out why, we’ll all be in the street.”

Ray stood, dragging Fraser up with him.  “He fucking baked hashish brownies in your goddamn kitchen.  Believe me, that won’t be the last thing he’ll pull.  Fraser, try to walk like a human being, would you, goddamn it?” 

The walk through the snow—or maybe it was sand; he could never be sure—was endless, but at least Ray was there to guide him.  Ray’s strong arm gripped his waist, and his own arm hanging around Ray’s shoulders made him feel safe.  Ray walked forward so confidently, as if he knew exactly where to go.  And all the time the snow fell around them.

Ray must have known where he was going, for soon they reached a door, and Ray opened it.  It was a cabin, and maybe it was his father’s cabin, but that couldn’t be.  Bob Fraser’s cabin had been burned down by the angel, profaned by the money hidden under its floorboards.  This cabin must be Ray’s.  It was a surprise.  Ray hadn’t told him, and all the time he’d been building this refuge to save both their lives.

Ray eased him down on the bed.  “Okay, Benny.  Lie down and let me look at you.”

But when Ray tried to pull his hands away, a sharp wail cut through the air, and Fraser’s chest was filled with anguish.  “Ray,” he whispered, “don’t go away.”

“I’m staying right here, Benny,” Ray said soothingly.  “Just let me look at your eyes, okay?”  Ray’s hands were gentle on his face.  “Oh, man, what did those bastards do to you?  How many of those things did you eat?”

“What…things?” Fraser answered sluggishly.

“The brownies.”

Brownies.  They seemed so long ago, and so irrelevant to this strangeness.  “Don’t know.”

“Great.  Okay, now listen, Benny.  I have to take off your shoes and socks, okay?  And your pants and shirt, if we can manage it.  I’m putting you in bed, okay?  You can sleep this off and you’ll feel better in the morning.”  Keeping one hand on Fraser’s chest, Ray slipped off Fraser’s shoes and socks.  “Come on, Fraser.  Undo your pants and I’ll pull them off.”  Fraser fumbled with the zipper until Ray made an impatient sound.  Fraser felt his clumsy hands batted away by Ray’s deft ones.  His pants slid off, and then his shirt.  He reached for his undershirt. 

“You can leave that on, Benny,” Ray said, stopping his hand.  “Now lie down.”

When Ray tried to let go again, Fraser grabbed him and pulled him down on the bed. 

“Hey, Benny, I’ll get in bed, too, okay?  Just let me take off my shoes and pants, would you?”

Fraser let go, and by the rustling of cloth and the scent he could tell that Ray was nearby, but the emptiness started to creep in again.  Empty hands, empty heart.  Victoria had been a cold and empty house, and Meg Thatcher was the same.  Her lips were warm, but there was no one inside, nobody home.  She’d never let him in.  Oh, god.  The snow was falling, thickening the sky.

“Ray,” he cried, shivering again.

“Shhhh, it’s okay, Benny.  It’s okay.”  Ray’s warm body slid under the covers next to his, and Fraser embraced him eagerly.  “I’m gonna kill George, you know that?” Ray murmured in his ear.  Ray shifted, lying on his back with his arms around Fraser and Fraser’s head pillowed on his shoulder.  “Hey, let’s get some sleep, okay?” 

With his face against the soft cloth of Ray’s shirt, with Ray’s scent strong in his nostrils, Fraser felt himself drifting, rocking slowly on a calm sea.   

Had he slept?  Where was he?  Fraser woke with the sense that something was deeply wrong.  He reached out wildly in the dark.

“Ray,” he cried.  “Ray!”

A lamp clicked on.  Ray was there, and the light set off little sparks around him in Fraser’s vision.  The room started rocking again.  He closed his eyes and covered them with his hands.

“Take it easy, Benny, I’m here.  I just had to take a piss, you know?” 

Ray’s familiar voice made the rocking slow down again.  Fraser opened his eyes as Ray lifted the sheet and climbed back into bed.  Fraser clung to him gratefully.

“Do you feel any better yet, Benny?” Ray asked hopefully.  “It’s been about an hour.”

Fraser tightened his arms around Ray and laid his head in the center of Ray’s chest.  He was afraid that Ray might slip away again.  He needed Ray here, close to him, in his arms, to keep the cold away.  Ray’s hand stroked Fraser’s face gently.

“I’m sorry, Benny,” he said softly.  “It’s my fault.  I didn’t help you.  I didn’t know it would be so hard for you to fit in.  Usually it’s me who feels like a third wheel, but this time I just clicked.”

Fraser took Ray’s hand in his and moved it so that three of Ray’s fingers slipped into his mouth.  He sucked them greedily.  They tasted of Ray and, faintly, of coffee.

When he had been stranded in the snow with Victoria, desperately clinging to her, trying to preserve the spark of life, of warmth, within both of them, he had sucked her fingers to keep them warm, and they had been like icicles in his mouth.  Now Ray’s fingers were heating him up from the inside.  A fuse smoldered down his throat into his belly. 

“Benny, what are you doing, man?”  Ray tugged gently on his hand but Fraser wouldn’t let it go.  “Benny, come on.”

A deep, aching need rose in his loins.  A hot stone of desire weighed down his chest, pushing everything else out of the way.  Was it even inside him, or was it everywhere?  Didn’t Ray feel it, too?  Fraser lay back and pulled Ray on top of him, still sucking his fingers.

“Ah, Benny.”  Ray sounded surprised.  “Benny, you don’t really want to—”

I want to taste your skin.  I want your breath in my mouth.  I want to hold the length of your body against mine.  I want—

He couldn’t say any of that.  There were too many words, so many that they stopped his throat.

“Ray,” he said, as if he was saying it all.  He pushed up Ray’s shirt and Ray pulled it off.  He reached again for Ray’s hand, but Ray’s face came very close and Fraser felt Ray’s mouth on his forehead, his cheek, down the side of his neck.  He moaned and thrust upward with his hips.  “Ray, please.  Ray!”

“Slow down, Benny.  It’s okay.  I’ll take care of you,” Ray whispered.  Fraser felt Ray’s hands at his hips, easing down his underwear, and then he felt the length of Ray’s bare skin against his.  Ray’s chest, his legs pushing and moving, and his hardness.  That was strange, to feel another man’s erection against his own.  Ray’s whole body was hard and spare and angular against him.  Fraser remembered Victoria’s softness, the way he had seemed to sink into her, but her mind had been diamond-hard and unyielding, feeling nothing, reflecting back only his own desire…

There was a slick wetness between them, and Ray was sliding against him in a constant rhythm, Ray’s hand was between them, their mouths were joined.  Fraser felt suspended in this pleasure, content to let it continue as it would, to let it take him where it would. 

“Benny,” Ray whispered, stroking his hair, then kissing where his hand had been.  “I’ll take care of you, Benny.”  Their mouths came together again, and to Fraser Ray’s mouth seemed as mysterious as a cavern.  Ray let him in to explore it.  Ray kissed him with it as if he was starving.

When Ray started to moan, his lips parted from Fraser’s and stayed suspended there over Fraser’s open mouth.  Fraser drank in his breath, his cries, until Ray moved his face down against Fraser’s cheek and rubbed it there and moved his lips against Fraser’s ear, seeming to whisper inaudible words. 

“Oh, Benny,” he said louder, and his voice was shaking, “Are you close, Benny?  Are you?  I’m gonna take you there, Benny.”  Ray’s hand pulled up and down the length of Fraser’s erection.  “Right now, Benny,” he whispered.  “I—”  Fraser felt a deep pulse begin somewhere, like an earthquake far underground.  “Oh, god, Benny, I feel it.  I’ve got you.” 

Ray cried out with his open mouth against the skin of Fraser’s neck and shoulder, and the cry penetrated Fraser’s bones so that he started to tremble, and a great wave of sound hit him and rattled him and nearly shook his bones out of his flesh until he cried out in answer and Ray muffled it with his open mouth, which caught the cry, and so Ray’s voice came back to him. 

Day 15

Fraser woke from a dream he couldn’t remember with a picture of Meg Thatcher lingering in his mind.  Her mouth was as red and inviting as a ripe fruit, and the contours of her body were revealed only sketchily by the curves of her dress uniform.  There was light outside his eyelids and he felt detached and sleepy, unsure where he had been before this sleep.   He sighed and shifted his weight, trying to ease the aching need building in his body.  Warm lips brushed his face as a knowing hand pulled at his erection.  Some shadow impinged upon his memory and flitted away, leaving him in the moment with the insistent touch of this hand.  There was no teasing in the sure touch, and Fraser thrust into it instinctively.  The hand held on, stroking him slowly.  Fraser groaned.

A low chuckle answered him.  Fraser’s eyelids flew open.  Ray.  Ray with his hand on Fraser’s genitals, his lips on Fraser’s face.  Last night….

“Good morning, Benny,” Ray said, smiling.  “You feeling better?  I know I am.”

Everything came back to him in a rush and he understood what had happened to him. 

“There were drugs…in the brownies,” Fraser said, amazed.

“Yeah, Benny, that’s right.  You wouldn’t drink the whiskey, so they nailed you.”  Ray trailed his lips across Fraser’s forehead.

“Who would do something like that?” Fraser asked painfully.

“George,” Ray answered simply.  “You have to watch out for him now.  Julio can’t fire him.  I’ll watch your back, Benny.”

“That would be much appreciated, Ray,” Fraser said.  His perceptions had started out vague and hazy, but now they had sharpened a bit.  It was late morning—he could tell by the quality of the light.  And he and Ray were lying naked together in bed in a room he was sure he had never been in before.  Ray’s hands lay familiarly on his body, and although it felt good it was making him extremely uncomfortable.

“Don’t we have to serve breakfast, Ray?”

“Julio gave us the morning off.  He thought you might need some rest.”  Ray’s lips were busy again, kissing their way down the side of Fraser’s neck while his hand worked Fraser’s penis, infusing it with blood.  “I think maybe you need something else.”  His voice was suggestive, his movements even more so.

“Ray,” Fraser said nervously.  “Ray, please.”  When Ray redoubled his pace, Fraser realized he had been misunderstood.  “I mean, would you stop, please, Ray.”

Ray stopped and looked into Fraser’s eyes.  Fraser could feel him trembling with the effort of holding himself still.  Breaking eye contact, Ray sighed and then detached himself carefully from Fraser’s body.  “I’m sorry, Benny,” he said huskily, “I didn’t know it was just last night.  I—”  He paused uncomfortably.  “Look, Benny, if I went too far, I apologize.  I thought you wanted it, too, but maybe I—”  He trailed off.  “Would you please say something, Benny?”

Fraser stared at him open-mouthed.  Ray was waiting for his answer, and he didn’t know what to say.  He wasn’t sure how that had happened last night, but if he was honest with himself, he had to admit to being a willing participant.  “It’s quite all right, Ray,” he said as heartily as he could muster.  “You did nothing wrong.  I didn’t try to stop you.  You know, I wasn’t in my right mind.”

Fraser could tell from Ray’s faint wince that it had been the wrong thing to say.  “Yeah, well, I guess I should have known,” Ray said.  “You’d never do anything like that if you were in your right mind.”

Was there a trace of sarcasm in Ray’s voice?  Fraser decided there was, and therefore that no answer was required, because any possible answer would embarrass them both.

Apparently Ray decided that Fraser wasn’t going to say anything, because he walked towards the bathroom and stopped at the door.  “Do you mind if I take a shower first?” he asked with his hand on the doorknob. 

“Not at all, Ray,” Fraser said, trying to continue sounding hearty.  He had never seen Ray naked like this before, with his erection jutting straight out from his body.  It was large.  Much larger than his own.  He tried to avert his eyes, but somehow they kept drifting back to the very place he didn’t want to look.  Ray closed the door behind himself quietly.  The water started running right away.

Sitting up, Fraser looked at his surroundings.  It was a very small room, not much bigger than the bed.  The bed was a mess, with all the covers except the sheet on the floor.  A semen-caked undershirt had stuck to the sheets as it dried.  Fraser vaguely remembered Ray wiping his belly last night as he drifted off to sleep.  How kind of Ray to think of that. 

Rising, Fraser located his underwear and pulled it on.  He busied himself in tidying up the room, placing all their clothing in the laundry hamper and carefully making the bed.   He opened the closet and found the usual assortment of clothes in various sizes and laid things out for both of them.  When Ray came out, a large white towel wrapped around his waist, everything was in order.

“Will we be sleeping here again tonight, Ray?” Fraser asked.

“Not if I can help it,” Ray muttered.  “Take your shower, Fraser.”  Dropping his towel, he started dressing without looking at his friend.

“I’m sorry if I disappointed your—”

“Skip it,” Ray said curtly.  “It doesn’t matter.  I’m the one who owes you an apology.  I was just trying to help.”

“You did help,” Fraser said.  “No apology is required, Ray.”  The drugs had made him act as he had, that was all, and Ray had just responded to him.  It was no one’s fault, and in a few days they would forget it had ever happened.

“Yeah,” Ray answered moodily.  He reached for a pile of clothing.  “Listen, I think I found out something last night.  There was a little statue on Milvia’s desk.  It looked like that god—what’s his name?  Osiris?  I couldn’t be sure because I didn’t want Milvia to catch me looking at it, but it was the right size and everything.”

“Did you see any of the larger pieces?”

Ray shook his head.  “Nah, and anyway, I was serving the whole time.  I couldn’t really look around.  They didn’t talk business while they were eating.  A careful group.”

“Something might be coming in soon, though.  Perhaps that’s why there was a meeting—to negotiate.”

Ray shrugged.  “There could have been a hundred reasons to meet.  But we should keep an eye out for deliveries that don’t come FedEx.”  He finished tying his shoes.  “I’m going out there, Fraser.  I need some coffee.”

“Uh, Ray?”


“I want to thank you for helping me last night.  Eventually I would have come back to my senses, but I would have—”

“You would have spent the night under the table,” Ray finished for him.  “Yeah, it’s okay,” he said, shrugging again.  “Don’t mention it.”

He walked out, and Fraser felt an entirely unexpected sense of desolation.  He had been away from Ray for a week, and for the last two weeks he had felt that they were estranged.  But Ray was acting a part, and they were supposed to act as if they hardly knew each other.  Ray had certainly done well at that, Fraser thought, so well that Fraser had felt well and truly alone.  Their partnership had always been eminently satisfying the way it was—to Fraser, at any rate, and he thought to Ray as well.  Why had he reached out to Ray like that the night before?  Why had he been so needy?

Fraser went into the bathroom and turned on the shower.  He had performed a sexual act with Ray that he himself had instigated.  Would it have ill effects on their partnership?  He thought not.  Ray was an experienced man.  Fraser was sure that, in time, he would simply let it go. 

“Ah, come on, Julio,” Ray was saying earnestly as Fraser walked out into the kitchen.  “You gotta let me have my bunk back.  I don’t want to sleep with Fraser.”

Julio shook his head.  “Sorry, Ray.  I got some new guys coming in today for kitchen work and they need a place to sleep.”

“Put them in the double.”  Fraser walked right past Ray, who didn’t even spare him a glance.  Julio didn’t seem to notice him either.  Despite his recent thoughts, he began to feel alone again.

Julio laid a hand on Ray’s arm.  “Look, Ray, Ben’s a good waiter, and the ladies like him, but he’s nothing but a pain in the ass in the kitchen.  No one but you will work with him, did you ever notice that?”

“I guess,” Ray said grudgingly.  “I don’t get it.  He doesn’t bother anyone.  He pulls more than his weight.”

Julio laughed and patted Ray on the shoulder.  “Yeah, see?  He drives everyone else crazy with his bullshit and his phony manners.  He’s a straight arrow, and they’re always afraid he’s going to rat on them, that’s what I think.”

“I guess,” Ray said again. 

“Do me a favor, Ray.  I just need someone to stay with the guy who won’t try to kill him.”

“I don’t know about that,” Ray grumbled.  “He kept me up all night.”

“I hear you,” Julio said.  “I’ll cut you a little slack on hours, okay?”

“Okay,” Ray said, “but you owe me.”  Now Fraser felt like a bargaining chip.  Was Ray really this callous, or was he a much better actor than Fraser had given him credit for?

Julio smiled.  “You got it.  I’ll remember this when renewal time comes up, Ray, I promise.” 

Days 18-20

Since the night when Ray had seen the statue of Osiris, there had been a hint that it had been merchandise and not just a reproduction that Milvia happened to have in his study.  When Ray had served a midnight supper a few nights later, the little statue had no longer been there.  Had Milvia sold it to one of the guests?  Another suggestive object had surfaced, too.  One evening, at a private dinner for the family and a few close friends, Mrs. Milvia had worn a striking black silk dress with an exquisite necklace that Fraser was sure he had seen in the catalogue of objects they had studied: a massive lapis and gold pectoral, probably fashioned two-thousand years before for the tomb of an Egyptian princess.

No large deliveries came to the house, and Fraser wondered whether the objects were arriving in less noticeable ways.  Or perhaps Milvia had a stock of things and was selling them off slowly as clients appeared.  However he was doing it, Milvia was being clever and subtle enough to keep his activities inconspicuous even from those who served him every day.  Fraser wondered how they would ever be able to find enough evidence to justify a search of the estate.  Security in the house was too good—even if they had wanted to take the risk of searching the living quarters, they wouldn’t have been able to get inside.  He wondered again about the efficacy of the mission.  Should he stop it in ten days when their contract was up?  Would it be worth their while to stay?  Perhaps it would be more efficient to investigate Milvia’s business associates and see if any of them had purchased articles from him. 

Meanwhile, the lovely summer days went slowly by, and Fraser fell into the rhythm of working hard with his body, serving three meals a day, while his mind wandered.  During his rest periods, at hours when staff was allowed in certain parts of the gardens, he took long walks that kept him out of the lounge and minimized leisure-time contact with the rest of the staff.  This was a large estate, and the garden was so cleverly planned that one could walk quite close to the house and still feel alone in the world.  Fraser did feel isolated and strange in this place, but not as much as before.  He missed Dief, of course, who was staying with the Vecchios and probably getting fatter and lazier every day.  But at least every night Fraser got some brief time to talk to Ray while they lay in bed preparing for sleep.  It was better for the mission that they were communicating, because they could make plans or discuss some small clue one of them had observed.  It also made Fraser feel more secure to lie next to Ray every night. 

Since the incident with the brownies, the other staff had mainly left Fraser alone.  Several times, George had taunted Ray about sleeping with Fraser, but Ray had handled it in a way that Fraser found both intriguing and humiliating.

“Yeah,” Ray had said, “we’re screwing our brains out, George.  What’s the matter, you want some of that?  Just cook up some of your special brownies and he’ll do anything for you.”

Since he had known Ray, Fraser had spent hours puzzling over why the truth—no matter how humiliating—when told in a certain way, was bound to elicit disbelief.  Ray was a master of that art. 

In fact, Ray’s acting talents were more prodigious than Fraser had ever suspected.  In the ordinary course of things, Ray made his feelings, especially his displeasure, known in no uncertain terms.  Here, in contrast, Fraser never saw what he considered the “real” Ray except when they were alone together and Ray would indulge himself by complaining about the annoyances of the day before they went to bed.  Fraser supposed it helped him sleep.

Ray seemed to sleep soundly, but Fraser had been awakened by dreams once or twice every night.  They were strange, haunting dreams where Chicago and the tundra were somehow merged, and Meg Thatcher took on the siren allure of Victoria, with her dark eyes and luxurious hair. 

Every time he awoke, Fraser felt a sense of something lacking, of an unreachable desire.  His mind interpreted that as an effect of the confinement and uncertainty of his present situation, while his body reacted in an altogether different and unsettling way.  Sometimes he found himself awake at some ungodly hour, lying flat on his back with his hands at his sides and an erection so hard and painful he didn’t dare to touch it or to move against the sheet because he knew he would never be able to keep silent.  It was the result of and the punishment for thinking of Meg, of Victoria.  The kiss he had shared with the inspector was one of his most treasured memories, but it should never have occurred if he was going to profane it like this.  He would lie still until the hardness had passed and fall back into uneasy sleep.  Sometimes nature would take its course, and he would wake up with a slimy mess on his belly.  Other times he would pass the day with aching testicles, feeling it was as much as he deserved.  Above all, he knew he had to resist the temptation of reaching out for Ray.  They were friends, and both police officers.  It wouldn’t do for that to happen again.

But one night he must have groaned in his sleep, because he woke himself up and Ray, too, and before he knew what he was doing, he had grasped himself with both hands, and he couldn’t let go.

“Benny?” Ray said sleepily.  “You okay?”

“Yes, Ray.”  But he wasn’t okay.  His voice was a sob, and his hands were squeezing his erection as if they could strangle it.

“Benny?”  The lamp clicked on and Fraser closed his eyes against the light as he felt Ray pull back the covers.  There was a moment of silence.  “Well, well,” Ray said finally.  “It looks like you got horny again, Benny.” 

“Yes,” was all that Fraser could trust his voice to say.

“I always use to wonder if you got horny, and if you lay in bed and beat off like any other guy.”  Ray sounded amused.  Fraser felt himself blush hard.

“I’m human,” he said.  “But I don’t…do that very often.”

“Aw, I know you’re human, Benny.  You just seem so perfect sometimes, like you never need anybody.”  Ray paused, and his voice got cautious.  “So, what are we talking about here?  You want some help with that?”

Fraser wanted to resist, he really did, but he felt himself melting towards Ray’s heat.  “Ray,” he began, but his throat was dry.

Ray sat up and looked at him.  “Last time we did this, we got too involved.  Too much mushy stuff.  None of that this time, okay?  This is just us getting our rocks off.”

Fraser was puzzled.  “Mushy stuff?”

“Kissing,” Ray said, stroking Fraser’s thigh.  “I’m not kissing you this time.”

He pulled Fraser’s hands off his erection and replaced them with his own.  Fraser gasped and squirmed under him.  He felt humiliated to be this needy, to allow Ray to master him by giving him this pleasure he couldn’t resist.  If Inspector Thatcher knew, she would scorn him.  He was so weak.  This was shameful. 

And yet he allowed Ray’s hands to move up and down on him while Ray watched his face and smiled at him in an infuriatingly knowing manner.

“I got something I think you’ll like, Benny,” he whispered, and before Fraser’s distracted mind had fully comprehended those words, Ray had taken Fraser into his mouth.

It was such an unexpected sensation that Fraser’s shoulders rose off the bed.  Letting Fraser’s erection slide from his mouth, Ray smiled at him again.  “You like that, Benny?  You like it when I suck your cock?”

What could he say?  “No” would have been a blatant lie, and “yes” was at once so obvious and so abject that Fraser couldn’t bring himself to say anything at all.

Ray chuckled and rose to all fours.  Kneeling there, he took Fraser into his mouth and moved his head up and down.  Fraser wondered at Ray’s expertise at this act.  Ray knew exactly what he was doing with his mouth and his tongue, playing Fraser’s body, dragging out his pleasure until Fraser was biting his lip so he wouldn’t wake the household with his cries.  It crossed his befuddled mind that Ray was the one kneeling to him, servicing him, so why did Ray radiate self-confidence and joy while Fraser felt so guilty, so humiliated?

His body at least knew how to respond to Ray’s efforts.  In fact, Fraser felt as if his whole physical self was under Ray’s thrall.  Ray worried him like a bone, swallowing around him to create intense sensations that dragged him down into the darkest part of himself, the part he didn’t like to face.  In his own way, he was an animal.  His instincts, his physical responses, were as profound as Dief’s, perhaps even stronger at intervals for being so effectively repressed the rest of the time. 

But Ray seemed completely in the moment.  His face was almost serene in his intent focus on his task.  His body moved with grace and assurance, and Fraser cried out to him, hanging on the edge of pleasure, wanting to escape this torment of self-reproach.


Taking the desperate cry as a sign that Fraser was begging for relief, Ray gave it to him.

It almost hurt.  His pleasure soared in a dizzying flight against the grain of his mind.  His body convulsed, panting in relief, but his soul was wrenched apart.  Fall, gash gold-vermilion.  Fraser pulled a pillow against his own mouth and screamed.

Ray was there with soothing hands on his shoulders, against his face.

“Wow, Benny, did you pass out?  Are you okay?”  Ray’s face looked flushed and happy.  Fraser smiled up at Ray, who was straddling him.  For the moment, the demons were at bay. 

“I…I’m fine, Ray.  That was quite…intense.”

“Glad to hear it, Benny.  So”—Ray seemed ill at ease—“do you feel well enough to help me out with this?”  He rubbed himself a little, and Fraser was once again struck by the size of Ray’s erection.  An uncomfortable feeling arose within his chest.

“Ray, I don’t think I could…that is, I….”  He trailed off, embarrassed.

Ray chuckled.  “I wouldn’t ask you to do what I just did.  I know I’m a mouthful.  Just hold it like this.”  Kneeling over Fraser’s chest, he directed Fraser’s hands to grip him, one behind the other, and started sliding through them.  “Hold steady and I’ll do the work, okay?”

It was the least Fraser could do after what Ray had just done for him, but the physical euphoria was starting to fade, and shame was starting to set in again.  He held his hands just as Ray wanted them and watched him slide through again and again.

Ray was thin, almost painfully so, and Fraser knew he was self-conscious about his appearance, but there was a sort of beauty about Ray in the lamplight, his naked body working towards release, his olive skin covered with a sheen of sweat that shone in the soft light.  Ray was in his hands, trusting him, depending on him for pleasure.  Victoria hadn’t depended on him for anything.  She had been the one on top, taking and giving pleasure.  Meg would be like her, but it wasn’t right that he and Meg should be together.  She was his superior.  His job was to please her.  If she could refrain from acting on her feelings for him, then the least he could do was restrain himself.  If she saw him like this he knew what she would think.  She would never respect him again.  Fraser let go with both hands.

Ray faltered and almost fell.  He opened his eyes.  “Benny, Christ, I’m close.  What are you doing?” 

“It isn’t right,” Fraser blurted awkwardly.  “We shouldn’t….”  He trailed off, seeing the shock and hurt in Ray’s eyes change to disappointment and then contempt.

Closing his eyes, Ray took his own erection in hand and pumped it until his features loosened and his jaw went slack.  As Ray groaned, Fraser watched shining strands of ejaculate shoot across his own chest.  Ray jerked at himself one last time and let go, then hung his head, breathing hard.  When Ray looked directly into Fraser’s eyes, Fraser almost had to turn away. 

“I’ll get you a towel,” Ray said quietly. 

Climbing out of bed he went into the bathroom.  Fraser’s chest was wet with Ray’s semen.  As he looked at the viscous stuff, it occurred to him that his own semen should have been there, too, but it wasn’t.  Ray must have swallowed it.  Without thinking, Fraser dipped his finger into Ray’s ejaculate and licked it.  It had a heady taste, all salt and musk, not entirely pleasant, but he swallowed the drop and dipped his finger again.  Ray’s essence, that’s what it was—the distilled taste of his manhood, his sexuality.  It tasted intimate and forbidden—it was forbidden, and Fraser wanted nothing more than to drink it all down.

Ray came back with a damp washcloth and wiped Fraser’s chest in slow circles, with a gentle touch Fraser didn’t expect. 

“I’m sorry, Ray.  I…we…we shouldn’t do that again.  It only happened the first time because of the drugs, and this time I don’t know…I don’t understand why….”

“Sure, Fraser,” Ray said, throwing the washcloth into the hamper a little harder than was necessary.  “We shouldn’t do it until the next time you get horny, right?  When I volunteered for this assignment I knew I’d be a servant, but I didn’t know I’d get to be your sex slave, too.”

He got in bed with his back to Fraser and turned off the light.

“I’m sorry, Ray,” Fraser said again to the darkness.

“Not as sorry as I am, Benny,” came Ray’s bitter voice. 

Days 21-26

More guests arrived at the mansion for a week-long party around the Fourth of July.  The pool, hidden from the house by a screen of vegetation, became a focus of  so many activities that a full-time lifeguard was hired and a temporary food station was set up next to the bar for making snacks.  Fraser found himself working the pool during the hottest shift of the day—from just after lunch to the cocktail hour, which most of the guests spent at the pool.  Not only did he have to take orders for food and drink from people sitting at the tables around the pool, but he had to watch out for summons from people in the water who enjoyed their drinks at the side of the pool.  It was hard work and took all his attention.

Meanwhile, Ray was working three meals, taking on more supervisory duties because Julio had to oversee the transport and handling of food between the main house and the pool.  Sometimes there were still people in and around the pool at midnight, still wanting one more coffee or one more drink from a waiter who was dead on his feet.  When Ray and Fraser finally got to bed at night, they were too exhausted to talk.  During the day they were too busy to even think about their mission.  Fraser decided that he would end the mission at the end of the next week when the question of renewal came up.  This was getting them nowhere. 

Day 27

It was the second week of July.  The guests had drifted away, family by family, and only the inner circle of the Milvias remained, with a few relatives who had come for a more intimate visit.  The lifeguard left, as did the extra bar staff.  The waiters and cooks gave a collective sigh of relief, enjoying the slower pace, but they were still tired.  Even George seemed subdued, hardly having the energy to call Fraser a faggot or try to tangle his foot in Ray’s as he went by with a tray.

The next day, Julio would tell everyone whether they were to be renewed for a second month’s stint at the estate, and Fraser knew that, whatever happened, he and Ray would decline.  He hadn’t told Ray of his decision yet, and he asked himself why.  The answer was that he thought Ray might be reluctant to leave before the mission had born fruit.  The detective had thrown himself wholeheartedly into this undercover assignment and would be disappointed to admit that it had been a waste of time, but Fraser was in charge, and it was time for him to take action.  He would tell Ray tonight. 

“Ray,” he said, as his friend came out of the bathroom, bringing the pleasant smell of steam and soap with him, “I’ve decided to abort the mission.”  The tiny lamp gave the only light, and Ray’s face was partly in shadow.

Ray stopped a step from the bed, still wearing a towel around his waist.  “Why, Benny?  If we have another month we’ll catch him.  Now that things have quieted down—”

“We’ve found out nothing,” Fraser said with a touch of irritation.  “We’ve seen two objects that might have been part of the cache, but we don’t know where they went, and we have no proof they were stolen goods.”

Ray dropped the towel and pulled on a pair of the generic white briefs provided for the help.  Fraser couldn’t stop himself from taking a quick glance at Ray’s nakedness.  Ray rubbed his head with the towel and tossed it back into the bathroom.  “Come on, Fraser.  There aren’t any other leads.  Milvia is a tough nut—that’s why we’re here.  We’re the last resort.  If they can get him for smuggling, someone might work up the courage to finger him for murder.”

“Ray, it’s useless,” Fraser said stubbornly.  “You know quite well that—”

“How can you say it’s useless?”  Ray showed both hands, palms up.  “We’ve seen a couple of things.  We just have to be patient, is all.”

“Remember, Ray, the final decision about this mission rests with me.”  When he saw Ray’s face, Fraser realized he had said exactly the wrong thing. 

“Oho, pulling rank, are we?  Well, I have news for you, Fraser.  When Julio gives me my new contract, I’m taking it.  Hell, I’m making good money here.”  He grabbed an undershirt and put it on, then stood with his arms folded looking for Fraser’s reaction.

Fraser had expected an argument, but not this outright defiance.  “Don’t be so stubborn, Ray,” Fraser said angrily.  He really had no stomach for fighting with Ray, but he had to make his friend see reason.  He didn’t want Inspector Thatcher to have been right about the inadvisability of choosing Ray for this assignment.  They used to communicate so well.  This was beginning to remind Fraser of the sad incident with Irene Zuko.  That time it was his contempt for Frankie that had prevented Ray from seeing the truth.  What was eating at Ray this time?  

Ray shrugged and broke eye contact.  “We have another day,” he said simply, and sat on the bed.  “Can’t we decide tomorrow?  Maybe something will come up.”

Although Fraser was frustrated to hear Ray say “we” again, he decided to compromise.  “Agreed,” he said.  “But will you abide by my decision?”

“I don’t know yet,” Ray said without looking at him.  He crossed his legs and examined one foot, then groaned as he rubbed each foot in turn.  “And they call cops flatfeet.  What about waiters?  My feet will never be the same after this assignment.” 

“Let’s see what happens in the morning,” Fraser said grudgingly.  “Maybe they won’t even ask us to stay.”  Was Ray so sure of his superiority in undercover work that he thought he should be in charge of the mission?  Surely that wasn’t so.

Ray laughed as he slipped into bed.  “They’re gonna ask me, for sure.  Speak for yourself, flatfoot.” 

Day 28

Ray was right.  The next day, Julio took each of them aside separately and handed them a contract for another month. 

“You’re a good waiter,” Julio said earnestly to Fraser.  “I’d assign you to more of the late night stuff so you could get some of the tips, but I’ve been asked not to.”

“By whom?” Fraser asked, surprised, wondering for a paranoid second if it was Ray.

Julio lowered his voice.  “By Mrs. Milvia,” he said confidentially.  “She’s afraid that—well, I don’t know if you’ve noticed Mr. Milvia’s sister.”

“I have,” Fraser said cautiously.

“Well, sometimes she gets too attracted to really good-looking guys.  So Mrs. Milvia thought it would be better if you never went to the private quarters.”

“Understood,” said Fraser, relieved.  “She sounds like a wise woman.”

Julio laughed and patted Fraser on the back.  “I’m glad you’re taking it so well, man.  You wouldn’t believe how many guys bug me about not getting to go upstairs.”

A little while later, Fraser saw Ray give his signed contract to Julio.  Ray walked past and gave him a defiant look.  With a sigh, Fraser signed his contract and put it on the pile.

When Fraser thought back on it later, he wondered how long it took for Ray to regret his rash action.  His guess was about 24 hours. 

Day 29

The next day, the lunch party was especially large and they drank even more than usual because one of the visiting cousins had a birthday, so it was almost dinnertime when the staff finally ate.  They were clearing up from the staff lunch when Fraser saw Julio go up to Ray and pull him aside.  Julio seemed agitated, and, from Ray’s changing expression, whatever Julio had to say made Ray agitated, too.  Fraser’s first guess was that the contract extension had somehow been rescinded, but when Ray slammed down his tray, took off his apron and walked purposefully into the garden, Fraser realized it must be something else. 

He was wondering whether to follow or to pretend that he hadn’t seen anything, when Julio approached him.

“Hey, Ben, you and Vecchio are pals, right?”

“Yes, of course,” Fraser said staunchly.

“You think he’ll blow his top if he’s gotta do something he don’t want to do?”

Fraser felt a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach.  “Possibly,” he answered.

Julio shook his head.  “Damn, I’m gonna hate to lose him.”

“What will he be asked to do?” Fraser asked carefully.

Julio gestured towards the garden.  “You know,” he said.  “Miss Milvia.  She’s out again.”

“I’m sorry,” Fraser said, trying not to show the urgency he felt.  “I don’t quite understand what you mean.”

Julio rolled his eyes.  “She makes guys…you know.”

“No, I don’t know.  Is Ray all right?”

Julio laughed.  “Well, I never heard of anyone dying of it, but with her you never know.”

“I want to make sure he’s all right,” Fraser said.  He could feel adrenaline rising in his blood.

“Well, follow him, then,” Julio said, throwing up his hands in frustration, “but make sure she doesn’t see you or you’ll be next.”

“You don’t need me here?”

“No, go ahead.”  Julio waved him off.  Fraser lost no time in removing his apron and walking briskly down the path he had seen Ray follow. 

It seemed strange to be using his tracking skills in a suburban garden, but there were several forks in the path, and Fraser had to crouch down and inspect the spongy decomposed granite path for signs of Ray’s distinctive step. 

The sound of Ray’s voice raised in anger warned Fraser to slow down and walk cautiously.  Where the trail doubled back upon itself, Fraser peered through the branches and saw Ray and Miss Milvia deep in conversation.  As Fraser watched, Ray took a step back away from her.  Fraser was too far away to hear their words, and he only caught the occasional word by lip-reading.

“If you don’t…have you fired,” he read on her lips.  Her gestures were stiff and agitated.  She pulled back one hand as though she might slap Ray’s face, but she only gestured towards the stone bench sitting next to them.  To Fraser’s surprise, Ray sat at the end and lay down on it.

As soon as he was settled on his back with both feet still on the ground, Miss Milvia started to undo his pants.  Concerned, Fraser dared to move closer.  Plants blocked his view for a few seconds, and by the time he could see again, she was squatting down next to the bench pumping Ray’s erection.  Ray was watching her with a look of fury on his face.

“Look,” Ray said, his voice rising, and Fraser could tell he was trying not to panic, “if you want me to make it with you, you gotta give me some space.  Let’s go in the poolhouse or something, or lie on the grass.  I’d be glad to give you what you want, you know?  Come on, lady, not like this.”

“Be quiet,” she said, focusing on her task.  “Lie still.  Don’t move.  And don’t come.”

“I might not have a lot of control over that,” Ray said reasonably, “especially if I can’t move.”

“Shut up.”  She ripped open a small foil packet and unrolled a condom over him.  “It’s tight,” she said with satisfaction.  “You’ve got the biggest cock of anyone who’s been here in a while.” 

“How exactly do you know that?” Ray asked contemptuously.

She shrugged.  “I have my ways.” 

When the condom was unrolled, she hiked up her skirt and straddled his body, lowering herself onto him.  Ray turned his head away and closed his eyes. 

“Goddamn it,” he muttered.  “You bitch.”

She smiled at the epithet.  “Shut up,” she said again.  As she moved on him, she reached around behind and took his balls into her hand.  When she squeezed, he gasped and his body jerked in pain.  “If you come, I’ll castrate you,” she said silkily.

“That’s a good deterrent,” he snapped, and then jerked again.  “If you keep doing that I’ll lose my erection,” he said angrily, “and you won’t get what you want out of me.”

She didn’t answer this time, just kept moving on him with a self-absorbed, voluptuous, and quite insane look on her beautiful face.  It gave Fraser chills to look at her.  He didn’t know what he could do to help Ray, except maybe interrupt them, and, considering how crazy she was, that might be a mistake.  Rather than stand here and do nothing, he decided to take the chance.

He walked out into the path.  “Uh, excuse me, Miss,” he began awkwardly. 

Her eyes shot open.  “Get out of here,” she said evenly.

“Uh, Ray is needed in the kitchen.”

She shuddered briefly and started to move again.  “Obviously he’s needed more here,” she said.

“Fraser, go away,” Ray said, as a flush rose to his cheekbones.  Fraser hesitated.  “Get lost!” he shouted.

As Fraser retreated down the path, Miss Milvia closed her eyes and cried out, moving violently over Ray’s body.  She rose and stepped gracefully over the bench, smoothing down her skirt.

“I’m done with you,” she said.  “Get back to work.”

Ray sat up, looking dazed.  “But I didn’t—”

“Get back to work,” she said.  “I want to see you go.” She looked down at him and laughed.   “You got Lawrence fired, I heard all about it.  That’s why you’re taking his place.”

Ray stood and tore the condom off his erection before trying several times to close his pants.  “Bitch,” he said again, walking awkwardly towards Fraser.

“Meet me here tomorrow,” she called after him.  “Right after lunch.”

Ray stopped next to Fraser and hung his head for a moment.  “What the hell did you think you were doing, Benny?”

“Why was she doing that to you?” Fraser asked helplessly. Looking at his friend, he felt sick.  His heart was pounding with anger. “Why were you letting her do that?”

“Look, Benny, she’s nuts.  Julio told me I had to meet her out here and I thought she was just gonna ask me for sex, but she—”

“Ray,” Fraser said, forcing his voice to stay low, “this is an undercover assignment.  You know as well as I do that it is unethical to engage in sexual relations with a contact during an official operation.”

“And that’s why you made it with Victoria, huh, Benny?” Ray asked caustically.

The hurt took Fraser’s breath away, and he felt himself flush red.  “That was—I really didn’t—” he sputtered.  Why was he denying it?  No matter how hurtful, what Ray had said was true.  He took a deep breath.  “Don’t you think I know it was wrong, Ray?” he asked, turning away.

Ray took his arm and Fraser shrugged him off.

“I’m sorry, Benny.  I had no right to say that.  Look, you heard the stories about Miss Milvia, right?”  Fraser shook his head.  “She’s crazy.  They let her out on the grounds to do stuff like that where they can control her, because when she was on her own she got into a hell of a lot of trouble.  Lawrence used to be her man.  I didn’t know she did it like this, though.  I thought she, you know, let a guy fuck her.  I thought I could handle it, but that was really sick.”

“Agreed,” Fraser said.  “We have to stop her.”

“How the hell can we stop her?  I need to stay in this job another month.  She said she’d have me fired if I didn’t do it.” 

“Are you saying that you’re going to come back tomorrow and do it again?” Fraser asked incredulously.

Ray looked at him and hung his head.  “By the way, Benny, it was bad enough to be humiliated, but to have my friend standing there watching me be humiliated—well, let’s just say it added a special little touch.”

“I’m sorry, Ray,” Fraser said.  The aftermath of his adrenaline reaction made him feel a bit shaky.  “I was just trying to—”

“I can’t believe you stood there and watched the whole thing.  Jesus.”  Ray set off quickly along the path back to the house.

As he watched Ray go, Fraser realized that his friend had never answered his question.  Fraser trailed along behind him to the house. 

By the time Fraser got to their room, Ray was in the shower, where he stayed much longer than usual, and Fraser thought he understood why.  He hoped that perhaps they could talk about what had happened and make some plan to prevent it from happening again.  But when Ray came out of the bathroom he immediately got dressed.

“Where are you going, Ray?” Fraser asked from the bed where he was holding a magazine he hadn’t even glanced at.

Ray gestured towards the door.  “The Milvias went out.  They won’t be back for dinner, and George scored a couple of bottles of whiskey.  I thought I’d sit around with the guys and celebrate our contract extension.”

“Understood,” Fraser said stiffly. 

Ray seemed about to say something, but closed his mouth.  “See you later,” he said finally, going out the door.  Fraser noted with some distress that Ray hadn’t asked him to come along. 

Still as a statue, Fraser lay in the dark with his hands at his sides.  Ray had been gone for hours.  Fraser had dozed off a few times, but he hadn’t really slept.  It was strange how used to Ray’s presence in the bed he had become—Ray’s warmth, the small noises he made when he slept, the occasional, accidental touch of a hand against a knee or a shoulder.  Fraser wondered when Ray’s physical presence had started becoming necessary to him.  It must have been long before this assignment, because he could remember the feeling of missing Ray, of waking up during the night in his apartment and wishing Ray was there.  Every thought that went through his head called out for an answering thought from Ray.  And now it seemed that Fraser’s body had started to crave the solid fact of Ray by his side, and, more than that, Ray’s touch.

Fraser could feel his skin heating up, his heartbeat increasing, as he thought about his partner.  He didn’t want to feel those things.  They weren’t right.  He and Ray, as partners, had an understanding that passed words, but it shouldn’t have passed into the realm of desire.

Systematically he set out to turn his thoughts from Ray to Inspector Thatcher, but with her image came the ice and snow, and Victoria’s melancholy face filled his mind.  No, not Victoria—she was a criminal.  Meg was an officer of the law.  She would never consort with a subordinate, of course.  The kiss—the contact—between then had been an aberration, a momentary lapse caused by the danger they had faced.  It was completely understandable that her control—and his own—had faltered, considering that they could have died at any second.  It had proven one thing—that the inspector was attracted to him—but he knew it would never happen again.  There was no such excuse for his contact with Ray.

Ray called her the Dragon Lady, but she was no dragon.  Her manner could be tart on occasion, but Fraser’s own lapses had deserved severe treatment.  She didn’t breathe fire—her touch could freeze you solid.  But Ray had warmed him right down to his living bones….

Fraser sat bolt upright.  What on earth was he thinking?  The picture exploding in his mind had nothing to do with Thatcher.  Ray, stark naked, with Fraser’s cock—the word Miss Milvia had used—in his mouth.  Ray, looking at him in shocked disappointment as Fraser took his hands away….

It was a matter of will, Fraser thought, swinging his feet down to the floor.  He had to will himself away from these thoughts of Ray.  It was just a learned physical response, that’s all.  With a bit of discipline, he could erase them from his mind.  Lying down, he set out to construct a picture of Meg Thatcher—beautiful, disciplined, chaste…. 

Day 30

Ray didn’t return until after 3:00, when the sky was barely starting to glow but the birds still slept.  When he opened the door he let in a puff of sweaty, boozy air that carried with it the raucous sound of male laughter.  That sort of atmosphere had always been foreign to Fraser.  It reminded him of the many times he’d refused a drink at a gathering of fellow officers.  His father’s funeral, for instance.  But it was good to feel Ray’s presence in the room, to know that in a few moments his skin would be mere inches from Fraser’s.

Ray spent a few minutes in the bathroom and when he came out into the darkened room Fraser heard him breathing as he undressed. 

“Fraser?” Ray asked softly.  Fraser didn’t answer.  He was still trying to concentrate, to hold the image of Meg he had so painstakingly constructed.

The mattress dipped gently as Ray got into bed.  He lay still for a moment, and then the mattress jerked as he turned on his side.

Fraser felt waves of energy and heat radiate off Ray, and the statuesque image of Meg seemed to melt from his mind.  He found that he was too distracted to recreate her image, so he set himself the task of enumerating her qualities.  She was his ideal woman—intelligent and commanding, yet feminine.  Chaste, yet sexual.  Beautiful, yet disciplined.  Ambitious, yet…yet….

Fraser felt Ray shift again and the mattress bounced sharply.  Ray was getting up.

“Ray,” he whispered, not wanting him to go.

“Sorry, Benny.  Did I wake you up?”  Fraser could barely see Ray turn as he sat on the edge of the bed.

“No, I was awake.”  Although he had been feigning sleep, Fraser couldn’t lie to a direct question.  “Where are you going?”

“I can’t sleep.  I’m just real restless tonight.”

Fraser could smell alcohol on him.  “Are you drunk?”

“Nah, I had a couple of shots, you know?  Just enough to give me a buzz.  I thought I’d go in the bathroom, take some aspirin or something.  I don’t want to keep you awake.”  His voice sounded nervous and somehow forced.

Fraser smelled the testosterone musk mixed in with Ray’s scent.  Ray was aroused.  Fraser reflected that it was not surprising considering what Ray had been through that day—some men reacted to stress with arousal, and Ray was certainly under a lot of pressure.  It made Fraser nervous, but it also excited him.  His heart rate increased and he began to get an erection.

“Ray,” he said, but he couldn’t go on.  No.  He couldn’t do this again.  But he could, if he would.  If he called Ray to him, wouldn’t he come?  With a few words, couldn’t he have Ray’s bare skin pressed up against his own?  He shivered.  Ray would want him…wouldn’t he? 

From where he was sitting on the side of the bed, Ray turned back to face Fraser.  “What is it, Benny?”

“Ray, I—”  His voice sounded breathless and needy even to his own ears.

Ray groaned.  “Oh, no, man, not again.  How stupid do you think I am?”  He rose from the bed.


“Yeah, Benny?”  Ray paused, turning towards him.

“I…I thought we could talk over what happened today,” Fraser said, not really sure of his ground.  He felt that he was babbling, saying whatever came to mind just to keep Ray with him.  “I thought maybe I could help you.”

“There ain’t much to say, Benny,” Ray said.  “The crazy bitch used me and she’s gonna try it again tomorrow.  Julio offered me a bonus not to quit or complain about it.  That’s about all.”

What could Fraser say in reply?  He wanted to help Ray, but he wasn’t good at saying what he wanted to say, at sorting through all the possibilities of expression, the connotations and unseen implications of every word, the little darts and daggers that could go straight to someone’s heart.  Ray exhaled impatiently and turned away. 

“Don’t go,” Fraser said weakly.

“Why not?” Ray asked almost belligerently.  “What do you want from me, Benny?”

I want to—  The possibilities marched through Fraser’s mind.  Touch you, hold you, kiss you….  He couldn’t ask for any of this—he shouldn’t even want it.  He was weak, depraved.  “You,” he said so softly he wasn’t sure Ray would hear it.  But Ray did.  The bed lurched as Ray knelt swiftly to face him. 

“You want me?” he asked incredulously.  “You sure?  I’m just asking because you thought you wanted me a couple other times, and it didn’t work out so good, did it?”  Ray’s heat was so close that Fraser reached for Ray’s lips with his mouth but Ray twisted his head away.  “I knew you’d do this to me, Benny,” Ray said softly.  “Got horny again, didn’t you?”

“I sensed your arousal.”  More than anything, Fraser wanted to touch Ray, but he couldn’t seem to raise a hand.

Ray chuckled—a tense, bitter sound.  “Yeah, I was going in the bathroom to take care of it, but since you’re around—”  He shifted closer, and on his breath Fraser detected the sharp tang of mint toothpaste over the bass notes of alcohol.  “If you’re gonna use me, I might as well use you.”  Ray’s voice was hard.  “You like to taste new things, right, Fraser?  Well, then, why don’t you taste this?”  Fraser felt Ray’s hand around his wrist, jerking his hand forward until it rested on Ray’s wet, sleek length.  Sleek.  Hard and hot.  Ray’s living flesh.  Fraser wanted to taste it, had wanted to all along.  The night when he had let Ray down he’d been tempted, so tempted.  Ray’s scent was overwhelming his senses, pulling him in.  Ray’s voice was angry and his touch was rough.  Fraser wanted to make him feel better.

“Ray, I—”

“No use talking, Fraser.  Just do it or don’t do it.”

Sinking down towards Ray’s heat, Fraser did it. 

“Oh, sweet Jesus,” Ray muttered as Fraser’s mouth found him.  He fell back flat on the bed and bucked up his hips.  Fraser followed him, straddling his legs.

It was difficult performing oral sex.  There was actually a skill to be learned here, Fraser realized with surprise.  Of course, Ray’s organ was so large that Fraser could only get part of it into his mouth, and even that necessitated unhinging his jaw in a somewhat uncomfortable manner.  But the taste was so astonishingly primal that it went to Fraser’s head like a drug.  He wanted this, wanted Ray’s scent in his mouth, up his nose, on his skin. 

Just because you can have something in your life, doesn’t make it right.  A line from one of his father’s diaries jumped into his head.  Fraser imagined what he would say the next time they met.  “If I were alive, I’d die again to think that my son is…is…I can’t even say it.  It’s too disgusting.  And with that American detective.”  Fraser almost expected to see his father standing there when he opened his eyes.  But he didn’t need his father to judge him.  He knew he shouldn’t give in to these feelings with Ray or Victoria or Meg or anyone.  To be a Mountie meant keeping your emotions, your cravings, firmly under control.  He was fraternizing with a fellow officer while on duty, giving in to his compulsion to perform the crudest of acts.  His conduct was a complete disgrace.

Soon, the sweet feeling of Ray responding under his hands was overwhelmed by fear and shame.  He drew back, letting Ray’s cock bounce wetly against his belly.

In one motion Ray sat up and grabbed him by the hair.  His eyes looked wild and desperate in the washed-out light of early dawn.  “No, Fraser, you’re not doing that again.  You’re not fucking doing that, do you hear me?”  He wrestled Fraser down and pinned him unresisting to the mattress.  “What the hell’s wrong with you?”

“I don’t know.”  As he said it, Fraser realized it was true.  There was something wrong with him.  “I can’t help it,” he said weakly.

“Then don’t do anything.  Just lie there.  But don’t ask me to let go of you again.  Please don’t do that.”  Ray’s voice was thick with emotion.  “God, Benny, I want you so bad.  You know what would make me feel really good right now?”  The intimacy of Ray’s voice was making Fraser hard again.  He blushed to think that Ray could feel it jammed against his thigh.  “I want to fuck you, Benny, that’s what.  I bet you want it too.  That’s what this is all about, isn’t it, Benny?  You want me to take charge.” 

“I—”  There weren’t any words for what he wanted.  There were words, but none of them said what he wanted.  He made a sound of frustration that seemed to echo around the hollow in his chest.

“I thought so,” Ray said softly.  Fraser had never seen what he read now in his partner’s eyes, a look of such desperation and longing that Fraser could hardly stand to see it.

Ray undressed him brusquely, staring as if he couldn’t get his fill of Fraser’s nakedness.  It made Fraser uncomfortable, and it made him hard to be the object of such desire.  He knew he was going to lie there and let Ray do whatever he wanted.

He wanted Ray to kiss him, but he couldn’t ask, so he lay still, panting as he watched Ray bite his chest and twist his nipples.  Ray dipped his tongue into Fraser’s navel, drawing a wet line back up Fraser’s chest to the hollow of his throat.  Ray’s tongue licked up to his chin, and then Ray’s lips were kissing his face all over, leaving sweet, wet prints that lingered after his mouth had moved on.  Ray’s eyes were closed, but he moved surely over Fraser’s body by touch, skimming over Fraser’s skin with his hands, his lips, even his face, which left a brief tingle from the sandpaper of his unshaven cheeks.  Ray’s eyes opened suddenly, looking full into Fraser’s face, and his lips quirked into a smile.  Fraser didn’t know what he looked like lying there aching with lust and shame, unable to ask for or to prevent anything.  He felt invisible, ghostly, as if he didn’t exist except when he was captured in the beacon of Ray’s gaze.

And then, giving him plenty of time to react, Ray moved slowly down and knelt between Fraser’s thighs to stroke and lick his penis—no, his cock.  Fraser thought the word with a voluptuous thrill.  When it was put away and forgotten it was his penis, but when it was hard, throbbing in Ray’s skillful hands, it was his cock.

Keeping one hand on Fraser’s erection, Ray sucked on a finger and put it at Fraser’s opening, pushing it slowly inside.  “I bet you never felt this before, Benny, did you?”

“No,” Fraser said, concentrating on the strange feeling of Ray entering him.  It wasn’t really pleasant, and he didn’t understand….  Deep inside, Ray touched something and Fraser jumped, crying out.

“That’s it,” Ray said, laughing affectionately.  “I think I found your soul, Benny.  This must be it right here.  That’s what I’m gonna fuck, Benny.  I’m gonna fuck you down to your soul.  Maybe I can get your attention, get you to see—”

He broke off to take Fraser’s cock into his mouth while he pushed hard into his ass with one finger.  Fraser couldn’t stop his cries, his movements.  He turned his face against the pillow to stifle his broken voice.  His hands were slipping over Ray’s shorn skull to his shoulders, trying to grab him, to find something to hold on to.  He was helpless in Ray’s hands, and this was what he wanted, these were the feelings, the sights, the words he wanted….

Ray stopped what he was doing, and Fraser rose off the bed to follow his mouth. 

“Don’t worry, I’m not gonna leave you like this,” Ray said in a breathless, throaty voice.  “I need something slippery so I can get in there.”

“In the bedside table,” Fraser said, not recognizing his own desperate voice.  “In the drawer, I saw—”

Ray pulled it open and it crashed to the floor.  Objects left over from previous occupants scattered in all directions—a few coins, a comb, a bottle of aspirin, and, at the bottom, a plastic jar of lotion.

Silently, Ray grabbed it and coated his cock with the creamy stuff.  He pushed into Fraser with his fingers, desperately massaging the tight passageway.  Each finger felt more enormous to Fraser than the last, and when at last Ray put his cock at the opening and pushed, it hurt.

It was good that it hurt, Fraser thought, because he had hurt Ray.  He had let Ray down and now he would let Ray do what he wanted.

“Is it okay, Benny?” Ray asked.  “Does it hurt?”  Ray’s face was lit with the first flush of dawn filtering through the closed shades, and to Fraser he looked powerful, magnificent.

“It’s all right,” he choked.  He wished he could be immobilized against the bed, unable to struggle or protest, and that Ray would just go ahead and hurt him. 

Ray’s expression changed and he withdrew.  “It hurts, Benny.  I can tell.”

His fingers went in again, one at a time, until it felt to Fraser as if his whole hand, his arm, must be in there, although Fraser knew it wasn’t.  Again Ray tried to enter him and Fraser sucked in his breath hard against the spasm of pain.  Ray pushed Fraser’s knees up to his chest and spread his legs apart painfully wide, but every millimeter that Ray pushed in hurt him more.

“Relax, Benny,” Ray said desperately, and Fraser knew he was tight, his muscles clamping down like a vise against Ray’s incursion.  Ray was forced to withdraw, and he rested his sweaty head against Fraser’s chest.  “Oh, god,” he said softly, still breathing hard.  “I’m sorry.  After all this time....”

“What time?” Fraser asked, puzzled.

“You must have known I wanted you,” Ray said bitterly, “and you finally want me, and I can’t fucking get inside you.”

“You wanted to….  I never thought….”  Even as Fraser babbled with shock he realized how blind he’d been.  There were so many signs he’d been stumbling over them, and he never saw one.

Ray sat back to look at him, and his face was so sad, so filled with naked pain, that Fraser made a low sound of sympathy.  “Almost since I met you, Benny, I’ve always wanted you.  But, shit, you were way above me.  I felt grateful that you noticed me.  When you told me I was your best friend, I—”  He paused to rub a hand over his face.  “God, I’m pathetic,” he said.

Fraser stared into Ray’s eyes, transfixed.  All this time, Ray had hidden his feelings, and then Fraser had triggered something with his drug-induced desire.  But hadn’t the desire been there all the time?  Hadn’t the drug simply removed the barriers Fraser had set up around his feelings?  He knew it was true, and the knowledge frightened him.  He needed to stop this once and for all, to put the feelings back where they had slumbered for so long.  He opened his mouth to say his thought when Ray suddenly broke eye contact.

With a swift movement, Ray took Fraser’s cock into his mouth and sucked it hard, almost brutally, so that Fraser gasped and moved with him, clawing at his shoulders.  Ray’s fingers pushed inside him again, touching that place, making him weak.  This act was so painfully intimate that Fraser almost couldn’t bear it, and yet he wanted it to happen just as it was.  Once again he wished that his hands were immobilized, that he couldn’t do anything to stop or to encourage this delicious, this shameful pleasure.  He wrapped his legs around Ray’s shoulders and gave himself up to it completely, so that soon he was aware of nothing but Ray, Ray and himself, and the rhythm of the pleasure pulsing in his cock that seemed to lift him up towards happiness. 

But suddenly the sensations ceased.  Letting go of him, Ray moved up Fraser’s body, pushing his legs back as he went.  There was a strange, wild expression on his face. 

“I want you,” Ray said softly.  His lips were swollen, his eyes a bit glazed.  “Don’t be afraid of it, Benny.”  He put his cock at Fraser’s opening and pushed hard.  With a jolt of surprise, Fraser felt himself start to open, and with a few thrusts Ray was in him.

At first Fraser couldn’t breathe for the pain, but Ray moved, and the deep pleasure began to strike through him.  The fullness became a feeling he craved deep in his belly, and he knew he would want it again.  It was too late for him to turn away from this, from Ray.  He wrapped his legs tightly around Ray’s shoulders.  He was lost.

Ray moved steadily, his eyes half-closed, studying Fraser’s face with a searching look. Ray looked like a man who was realizing his deepest desire, his face suffused with passion, his mouth loose and sensual.  Ray’s face moved close and then they were kissing deeply, as they hadn’t kissed since that first night.  The feel of Ray’s lips and tongue, the taste of Fraser’s own arousal in Ray’s mouth, made something clench in Fraser’s chest, something like fear and desire, or maybe the two together.  He closed his eyes and gave himself up. 

They moved together as the pleasure slowly built, each seeming to know where the other needed him.  Fraser held Ray’s head in his hands as they kissed, and when they broke apart to take a breath, Ray smiled at him so intimately it struck a physical chord within him.  Fraser felt that he was trapped in a strange, never-ending dream where his body was no longer his own.  Somehow it was tied to Ray’s desire like a marionette on strings.  The thrusts of Ray’s hips, Ray’s continual penetration of this most vulnerable place, made him move and gasp and caress Ray’s face, and do all these things he knew he shouldn’t do, and yet here he was doing them.  His hands grabbed Ray’s shoulders; his fingers dug into Ray’s back.  And Ray knew nothing of Fraser’s troubled mind, of the part of him that was screaming that this should stop while the rest of him shuddered with pleasure, shuddered and groaned and convulsed violently against Ray’s belly, and felt Ray’s breath in his mouth as he moaned Fraser’s name and pressed hard into him, coming. 

Ray’s lips brushed Fraser’s cheek as he lowered his head to the pillow.  “Benny,” he said tenderly, “that was—”

His orgasm was barely over when Fraser felt a whirlwind of panic rising in his chest.  “I would appreciate it if you would move off me, please, Ray,” Fraser said, and his own voice sounded urgent and shrill.

Ray looked at him in alarm.  “Sure, Benny,” he said, moving off to one side.  “Are you all right?”

Fraser sat up and put his head in his hands.  His belly was covered with his own semen, and he could feel the traces of Ray’s recent presence in and on his body: his ass felt bruised, his lips swollen.  Fraser wanted to talk to Ray, but he didn’t know what to say.  His body seemed alive with aftershocks from what Ray had just done to him.  That this exquisite and depraved pleasure matched exactly the desire Fraser hadn’t been able to put into words was a revelation and a terrible shock.  He needed to tell Ray his confusion, his surprise, his fear.

“It was all wrong,” he said into his hands.  “All of it.”  The panic swirled into his stomach.  His head felt cold, as if the blood had suddenly drained out of it, and he thought he might be sick.

When Ray touched his hand, he struck back hard.

“Ow!  Hey, Benny,” Ray said, rubbing his wrist.  “What the hell’s up with you?  What do you mean it was wrong?  Nothing was ever so right.”

“I….” Fraser felt his words trail off into confusion.  The shame of it.  The betrayal.  His dream of Meg was in ruins.  He had reduced her to a rag doll, a figurehead.  Everything he’d ever believed about himself had been destroyed.  As Ray watched him in disbelief, he bolted into the bathroom and locked the door.  Sitting under the cool shower, he felt the shattering certainty that nothing would ever be the same.  He cranked the cold water up until he was shivering and his skin was all gooseflesh.  He would freeze this passion, this perversion.  He would freeze himself to death before he would give into it again.

When Fraser came out, Ray was facedown on the bed, fast asleep, the sheet pulled up to his waist.  He looked worn out, with his pale face and sagging mouth.  His back was bruised and scored where Fraser’s hands had gripped him, urging him on.  Dressing quietly, Fraser sat in the chair by the window and waited for the bell to summon them to breakfast. 

Ray had slept only an hour when the bell rang to call them to the kitchen for another work day.

Ray looked exhausted all morning, with dark circles under his eyes.  The late night drinking session was sufficient excuse, and no one bothered to question Fraser’s paleness even though he hadn’t been there.

It was chaos during breakfast because a couple of the regular waiters had been too drunk to rise on time.  Ray was in a fury, snapping at everyone and even threatening George with exposure if he ever stole another bottle of liquor from the house stock. 

Remembering that Miss Milvia had told Ray to meet her after lunch, Fraser became more and more apprehensive as the lunch hour approached.  He and Ray were still partners, and it bothered him that Ray’s relationship with Miss Milvia was unethical and might endanger the outcome of the operation.  That, of course, was his sole interest in the matter.

The lunch service came and went, and the waiters sat down to their meal of pasta and salad.  Ray lingered at the table, smoothing his fingers through the condensation on a glass of iced tea, looking moody and lost in his own thoughts.  He hadn’t bothered to say anything to Fraser when he had risen this morning, just as he hadn’t sat with him at lunch.  Fraser wondered if he was apprehensive about Miss Milvia.  He knew without a doubt that Ray was angry about last night.  The passing thought that Ray might not want to touch him anymore was distinctly upsetting.  Not that it mattered anyway, Fraser told himself, since Fraser had already resolved never to enter into sexual congress with Ray again.

Finally, Julio tapped Ray’s shoulder and they went into the kitchen to talk.  Ray shook his head vehemently, gesturing with his hands.  Fraser’s heart leapt.  Ray was refusing to go.  But Julio kept at him, and Ray, conceding, removed his apron, shoving it into Julio’s hands, and stalked off towards the garden.

Afraid to follow, Fraser helped clean up and then slipped away to their room to wait.  The knot of panic lingering in his chest wouldn’t let him forget for a moment what he had done.  He couldn’t stop his mind from grinding away at the same old problem.  He and Ray had made love.  Ray had actually been inside him, and he’d enjoyed it.  But he shouldn’t enjoy it, and he didn’t know why he had.  All these years, he had formed an image of himself that hadn’t really been tested—except by Victoria, and now by Ray.  He had failed both tests.  The only way he had managed to maintain the fiction of his identity was by abstaining from everything sensual he ever wanted to do, by turning down everyone he had ever wanted, with two devastating exceptions.

Sex was a distraction, a hindrance to clear perceptions.  Fraser had always tried to channel his natural sexuality into constructive channels.  Sigmund Freud had called this “sublimation”—making one’s sex drive work in constructive ways, rather than wallowing in the messy, unpredictable and quite addictive sex act.  Like many men, Ray embraced sensuality, and his life illustrated its consequences—emotional turmoil caused by failed relationships, wasted time looking for a sex partner, damaged self-esteem.  Fraser liked to think that abstinence from sensual distractions—drinking and gluttony as well as sex—had helped him to keep a clear mind.  Through long habit, his body and mind were trained to work in concert, to strive towards the high standards of the RCMP.  This experience with Ray had humbled him.  Now he knew that he craved sex as much as anyone, and that, like anyone, he was weak.

Meg was different.  She had been his salvation because she had enough control for both of them.  Their one contact had raised her like a shining beacon in his life, something to aspire to, an unattainable star.  That was what he needed to inspire him—an ideal to reach for, not this crude carnality of two bodies struggling for release. 

Ray had been gone for an hour.  The longer he was gone, the tighter the knot in Fraser’s chest squeezed itself down until it sat there like a stone, interfering with his breathing.  He didn’t want to think about what Ray must be doing, didn’t want to imagine him lying on that bench, or, worse yet, straining over Miss Milvia, pushing into her while her legs wrapped around him….

There was a scrabbling noise in the hall and the door burst open.  Ray, supported by two of Milvia’s loyal bodyguards, was shoved into the room.  He fell to his knees as Fraser rose, alarmed.  Blood dripped from Ray’s nose onto the rough carpeting.

“Stay here,” one of the burly men said to Ray’s back.  “The boss said he’ll deal with you later, and if you ain’t here, we’ll find you, and it’ll be worse, believe me.”  He looked Fraser over.  “This ain’t got nothing to do with you,” he added.  The door shut behind them as Ray staggered to his feet.  Fraser took his arm to steady him and help him to the bed.  He handed Ray a towel that had been left lying on the chair.

“What happened, Ray?” he asked.  “Did Mr. Milvia find out you met with his daughter?”

Ray tried to laugh.  “I met with her, all right.  I turned her down, and she went for me, and I smacked her stupid face for her.”

Fraser let out the breath he’d been holding, not sure why the knot in his chest was loosening.  “That’s good news, Ray,” he said, relieved.  Suddenly things almost seemed normal, as if their catastrophic lovemaking had never occurred.

“Yeah, well, not entirely.”  Ray titled his head back and pinched the bridge of his nose.  “They took me down the basement and worked me over good.  They only left me alive so that Milvia can kill me when he has time tonight.  But that’s not important right now.  We have to set the signal, Benny.”

“Certainly, Ray.  Perhaps you can hide somewhere on the grounds until—”

“You don’t understand, Fraser,” he said impatiently.  “I saw it.  It’s all there, boxes of it.”  Ray choked on blood and held the towel to his face to spit.  “I can’t get up to the roof.  You have to do it.  Climb the gutter or something.  If the Feds come tonight, we can nail the bastard.”

“The artifacts,” Fraser said stupidly.  “But we searched the basement.”  In his preoccupation with Ray he had almost forgotten his mission, something that had never happened to him before.  Why hadn’t he looked for Ray instead of sitting alone in his room thinking obsessive thoughts? 

“Nah, we searched the wine cellar.  There’s another room,” Ray said, trying again to pinch off the bleeding.  “It’s disguised as a broom closet, but it’s a whole big room, soundproofed and everything.  Believe me, I thought I was gonna die down there.”  He blotted his nose gently.  “We gotta get out of here, Fraser.”

Fraser moved toward the door.  “I’ll set the signal,” he said mechanically.  He still wasn’t thinking straight, and he knew it.

“Wait, hang on,” Ray said urgently.  “We need a plan.  How are you gonna do it?  You need to be fast, but you can’t get caught, Benny, or we’re both dead.”

Fraser didn’t know, but what he did know was that he couldn’t stand to watch Ray bleed any longer.  “I’ll get you some ice,” he said quietly.

“Get two bags,” Ray said.  “My ribs are pretty bad, too.”

When Fraser returned with the ice, Ray had removed his bloody shirt and thrown it into a corner.  His chest was covered with contusions and cuts that made Fraser wince in sympathy.  He remembered how angry Ray had been when Frankie’s men had beaten him up.  Now he understood the rage and frustration that his partner had felt to see his wounds.  Bringing Milvia down had suddenly become a personal matter.  Fraser’s stomach clenched with anxiety.  Emotion wouldn’t help him here.  He needed to detach himself from what had happened to Ray and return to acting in the best interests of the mission.  It was insanity to think of setting the signal now.  They had to wait.

Ray wrapped one ice bag in the towel and held it against his face.  “You have to find a way to get up on the roof without being seen,” he said in a muffled voice.  “I don’t know if Milvia’s planning to kill me before or after dinner.”

“Probably after he’s had his espresso,” Fraser mused.

Ray looked at him around the towel.  “Are you being funny, Fraser?  Because this is no time to develop a sense of humor.  If you don’t set the signal soon I’ll probably be dead by dessert.”

“If I go now, I’ll get caught, Ray,” Fraser said reasonably.  “I doubt Milvia will come after you with guests in the house.  He’ll wait until everyone has left the estate.”

“Ow!”  Ray pulled the ice bag off and looked at it angrily.  “When the hell is this going to stop bleeding?”  He rearranged it and put it back against his nose and eye.  “Look, Benny, you don’t know these guys.  Having family in the house is the best alibi he’s got.  ‘Some stiff who used to work for me was found in the lake?  Yeah, he quit this morning and left the grounds.  Funny thing, when he was killed I was home entertaining forty-seven cousins, and they can all testify on my behalf.’  We can’t take the chance, Benny.”

“We have to,” Fraser said stubbornly.  “If I get caught, the mission fails.”

“And if I die and the artifacts are recovered, that’s a success?  The Dragon Lady pins a medal on your chest while they’re burying me?  Great.  That’s a great plan.”  Ray stood and threw the wet towel down on the bed.  His nose had stopped bleeding, but it was swollen and discolored on the right, and his eye was starting to blacken.  “Listen, Fraser, I don’t think I want you to do my eulogy any more.”

“Why not, Ray?  Not that you’re going to die.”

Ray picked up the other ice bag and groaned as he placed it directly against his bruised ribs.  “Because you got me killed, Fraser.  That’s a pretty good reason.”

“Ray, you’re not dead yet,” Fraser pointed out.

“It’s only a matter of time,” Ray said darkly, sitting down again with a grimace.  It obviously hurt him to breathe.  “Benny, you have to do this for me.  Set the signal now.  Look, you can take a walk like you always do, right?  And you can climb up on the east side where all the trees are, like we talked about.  You’re fast.  No one is gonna see you.” 

The bell rang in the kitchen, calling the waiters to work.  They looked at each other for a long moment.  “You’ll be all right, Ray,” Fraser said confidently, willing Ray to believe in him.

“What if I’m not, Benny?” Ray said quietly.  “You’re gonna leave me here like a sitting duck.  Don’t do it, Benny.  Please.”

Ray sat before him, covered with bruises, his thin shoulders sagging with pain and discouragement.  His face showed anger, hurt and disappointment.  Fraser felt his iron control start to crack.  Ray, his partner, was asking Fraser for something he couldn’t do.  His friend was begging him.  This man who had been his lover.  This man who, body and mind, knew him so intimately…

A whirlwind of doubt swept though Fraser, leaving him breathless.  “Ray.  Ray, don’t ask me to….  I can’t….”

“You can’t what?”

He took a deep breath.  “I can’t jeopardize the mission.”

Ray’s eyes narrowed as his mouth tightened into a line.  “What’s this about, Fraser?  We made it last night and you regret it, so now I have to die?  Is that what’s going on?”

“No,” he tried to say, but his throat was dry, so that when he opened his mouth no sound came out.  The second bell rang.  Heart pounding, he turned and walked out the door, pulling it shut behind him. 

Throughout dinner, Fraser kept watch on Mr. Milvia, who seemed less than convivial tonight, waving people away from his table and talking only to his lieutenant.  Ms. Milvia was nowhere in evidence, but Mrs. Milvia seemed to take up the conversational slack for both of them, acting the gracious hostess while her husband transacted his business.

Fraser’s plan was to slip away towards the end of dinner and climb the east wing, which was shaded by tall trees and would be partly in darkness while the sun set on the other side of the house.  The most exposed and dangerous moment would come when he had to climb the central part of the house to the flat roof where the flagpole was located.  He hoped that most of the security people would have their attention directed towards the outside, rather than at the house itself.  What worried him most of all was what might happen to Ray once dinner had ended. 

Just as the last round of coffee was served, Fraser began to look for an opening to leave.  He started to walk back to the kitchen, hoping to go out unobserved by the side door.  When he glanced back, Milvia had risen and was conferring with two bodyguards.  Fraser stopped, uncertain.  The bodyguards walked towards him, passing through the kitchen door and heading for the dormitory.  From the shadow of the doorway, Fraser watched Milvia, who said something to his wife and then entered the house by the family entrance.  Quickly, Fraser hurried down the hall in time to see the two men pull Ray through the door of their room.  His face was looking worse now but he was wearing a clean shirt.  He moved with difficulty, leaning on the bodyguards as they hurried him along.

Fraser took a step forward to block their path.  He thought he might be able to fight off both men, even without Ray’s help.  The problem was that then he wouldn’t be able to set the signal.  Ray’s eyes widened in alarm and he shook his head.  Fraser stepped out of the way and let them go by.  He followed at a distance and saw them go through the basement entrance and down the stairs.  You needed a key for that door.  Sprinting across the kitchen, he caught the door with his foot just before it slammed.  He couldn’t leave Ray to be murdered.  There had to be a way to save Ray and complete the mission, but if there wasn’t, if he had to choose—

He could almost hear his father’s voice.  “You’re a Mountie, son.  Don’t disgrace the uniform.  The mission is the most important thing.”

No, Dad, he thought.  Ray is more important.  And he shut his mind to any more doubts as he crept down the stairs.

Below him he heard echoing footsteps and the sound of a door opening and closing.  Voices sounded, as of two men talking at once.  With the echoes he couldn’t tell how close they were.  He descended quickly, hoping the noise would conceal the sound of his feet on the stairs.  A few steps from the bottom he heard a voice and stopped dead, flattening himself against the wall.  It was Milvia.

“So, Raimondo, my men told me you hit my sister.  I don’t stand for that in my house.  You’d already be dead except that I wanted you to hear it from me.  When someone treats my sister with disrespect, he doesn’t live to see another day.  I tell you this because even though you worked for me, I thought you were a man who understood these things, a paisano.  I see now that I was wrong.”  Fraser’s body jerked as he heard the sharp smack of flesh against flesh.  Ray cried out in pain.  “Take him out of here,” Milvia said.  “I don’t want him found for a week.”

“Mr. Milvia,” Ray said, and Fraser could hear the pain and desperation in his voice, “what I did, I did out of respect for you.”

There was a silence that made Fraser shiver. 

“Out of respect, you strike my sister?  Out of respect for me?”  Milvia laughed. 

“If my sister did what she tried to do,” Ray said, his voice shaking, “I’d kill her with my own hands.”  Another pause.  Fraser held his breath.  “All the help knows.  I know I’m a dead man, but I don’t want to be the one to tell you.  I know you won’t believe me.  Ask your men.  They know.”

Milvia’s voice was quieter when it came.  “What did she do?”

“Everyone is afraid to tell you, Mr. Milvia.”  The unfamiliar voice must have belonged to one of the guards.  “Make him tell you.”

“I’m asking you.”  The low voice held a menace that Fraser felt even without seeing the man’s face.

“Mr. Milvia, sometimes she wanders around the grounds and she—  I think if they don’t let her do it she gets wild.  The trouble started after that guy Lawrence left.  She liked him.”  The man was babbling, his voice rising in fear.

There was another slap and a grunt that wasn’t Ray’s.  “One of you tell me what my sister did,” Milvia said, louder now.

“She asked me for sex,” Ray said unsteadily.  “I swear to god, Mr. Milvia.  I couldn’t do it.  She came after me and I slapped her face.  If she was my sister—”

“She isn’t your sister.”

There was silence while Fraser wondered what to do.  Ray was creating a diversion, so maybe he should go set the signal.  But he had to make sure that Ray was really safe.

“I need guys I can trust around me,” Milvia said.  “Go back to your room and sleep it off.  I’m gonna check your story.  Tomorrow either you’ll be dead or we’ll have a talk about a better job for you.  I haven’t decided which one.”

Fraser couldn’t wait to hear any more.  He raced up the stairs and closed the door silently behind him.  A few minutes later, Ray came out alone, walking slowly as he tried to keep himself upright.  His nose was oozing blood again.  Seeing Fraser, he nodded once sharply and then turned his back.  As Fraser watched, Ray found a plastic bag and filled it with ice. 

“What are you waiting for, Fraser?” Ray said without looking at him, his voice low and harsh.

“Ray, I—”  He didn’t know what he was waiting for, but he was having trouble walking away from Ray.  Ray had almost died, and Fraser couldn’t have done a thing about it.  His heart pounded, and his gut clenched with shame.

“Go, dammit,” Ray said thickly.  “Don’t you get it?  We’re about a minute from blowing this thing.” 

The last golden rays of the sunset were streaming through the kitchen door.  Fraser walked through it and then turned down the path that led to the east wing.

It was nearly dark by the time he started to climb, and he had to move slowly so as not to miss his footing.  When he reached the flagpole he realized he had forgotten to bring something white with him, so he stripped off his shirt and ran it up to the top where it flopped in the light breeze that had risen with the sunset.  He wondered how long it would take to get a response.  Feeling conspicuous without a shirt, he climbed down carefully, planning to hide in the garden until the teams arrived.  By the time he reached the ground, they were there.

Although Ray looked ghastly, he seemed have regained at least part of his usual energy.  He directed the teams to the cache of artifacts and identified Mr. Milvia.  Fraser presided over the estate’s staff, helping to confine them in the kitchen so that the raid could proceed efficiently. 

“You’re a cop?” George kept asking incredulously.  “You’re a fucking cop?”

“Don’t worry, George, he’s after bigger fish than you and your brownies,” Ray said in passing.  “Fraser, come here for a second.”  Ray pulled him aside where no one could hear.  “Put on a shirt, Benny, would you?” he said with irritation.  “You want everybody to know our business?” 

Looking down at himself, Fraser saw the marks of Ray’s mouth on his chest.  He had meant to replace his shirt right when the raid began, but had been distracted by his duties.  Now, looking down at his nakedness, which bore the proof of his abdication of control, he was mortified.  He got a shirt from the locker room and put it on quickly.

It was midnight by the time the arrests had been made and the contraband moved out into trucks.  A police van took them back to the 27th precinct where Ray had left his car.  Fraser refused the offer of a lift to the consulate, preferring to ride with Ray.  After all the anxiety of this day he wanted to share a brief moment with his friend. 

“Ray,” Fraser said as they climbed into the Riv, “I have to get Dief.  Can you stop at your mother’s house?”

“Get him tomorrow,” Ray snapped.  “It’s the middle of the fucking night and I don’t want to deal with Ma seeing my face like this tonight, okay?  I feel like hell and I have to get some sleep.”

“Understood,” Fraser said.  It was all right.  The Vecchios thought they would have Dief for another three weeks anyway.

It was true, Ray didn’t look well.  The bruises around his eye and cheekbone were quite livid, and his nose was swollen.  He also looked exhausted.  Fraser wondered if the assignment had taken such a heavy toll on himself.  He tried to look in the rear-view mirror, but Ray glanced at him sharply.

“What the hell are you doing, Fraser?”

“Nothing.”  He didn’t feel like explaining.  A second later he realized that Ray might have thought he was leaning over to initiate physical contact.  He opened his mouth to clarify the situation and shut it again.  Ray’s face was closed, his eyes dull and angry.  Fraser had only seen him like this a few times.  He decided to remain silent.

Ray pulled up in front of Fraser’s apartment building and stopped.  “Good night, Fraser,” he said wearily.  The engine idled in the silence.

“Would you like to come up, Ray?” Fraser asked suddenly.  “I have some canned food, or we could order something.”

Ray laughed.  “You’re kidding, right?  You want me to come up?  You want to climb on this whole merry-go-round thing again?”

“Merry-go-round?” Fraser asked uncertainly.

 “Yeah, it goes around and around.”  Ray made a circle with his finger.  “You jump me, I make you come, you push me away.  You want it, you don’t want it, you tell me it’s wrong.  I don’t know what the hell it means, but I know I’m so dizzy I gotta get off.  I can’t take any more, Benny.”  He looked Fraser right in the eyes, and Fraser forced himself to look back.  “You used me just as much as that girl did,” Ray said harshly.  “I’m done.”

A cold numbness spread through Fraser’s chest.  He was losing Ray.  Ray was slipping away from him, little by little, inexorably.  “Does that mean you don’t want…you don’t want to be partners, Ray?”

Ray hung his head and sighed.  “Ask me an easy one, Benny.  I’m so goddamned tired right now I don’t know what I think.  I guess we’re still partners, Benny.  We’re just not gonna be anything more.”  He rubbed his face with both hands, wincing when he touched the damaged side.  “Good night, Benny.”

Fraser opened the car door.  “Good night, Ray,” he said awkwardly.  “You did exemplary work on this assignment,” he added stiffly.  “I’m sure Inspector Thatcher will be very—”

“Inspector Thatcher can go fuck herself,” Ray said brusquely, “and the only exemplary work I did on this assignment was to get my ass kicked in the right place so I could find the loot.  Oh, and I was a pretty damn good waiter.  Fraser, would you get the hell out of my car?”

Fraser got out quickly and closed the door, laying his hand on the roof.  The car sped out from under it with a faint squeal of tires.  Fraser stood there watching it disappear.  He knew what he had to do.

It was his own fault.  He had taken a perfectly good partnership and damaged it, perhaps irrevocably.  Just because he couldn’t sort out his own feelings, he had dealt unfairly with Ray’s.  He had made Ray expose and act on his hidden attachment, and that had been wrong.  Ray was hurt now.  It was time for Fraser to go home for a while.

He had about a month’s vacation accumulated.  He was sure the inspector would allow him to take it if he volunteered to chase a fugitive or perform some other such chore deep in the Canadian wilderness that no one else was willing to undertake.  While he was there he and Ray would both have time to put their houses in order, as the saying went.  When he returned, everything would be as it had been before.  They would be partners, friends—two men together doing a difficult job well and efficiently.

And while Fraser was home, he would make Ray a present, something for his thirty-fifth birthday that would at once be a token of Fraser’s esteem and an apology.  If he wrote a request letter now, he knew he had a good chance of obtaining an eagle feather.  It would symbolize the qualities he admired most in Ray: his courage, his loyalty, his dedication to the truth—to the spirit rather than the letter of the law.  If Fraser said these things to Ray, Ray would scoff at him, but the eagle feather would say them for him.  And he would weave it into a dreamcatcher, a symbol of the protection he would offer his partner if he could.  It would mean that Fraser would never hurt Ray again.

Tomorrow he would ask for his leave, which would probably be granted within the week.  Perhaps Ray would drive him to the airport.  And, surely—it went without saying—when his trip was over, Ray would be there to pick him up.

The End


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