PART ONE: AS TURNBULL HEARS IT.
"It's good, Renny. What can I say? I admit I'm surprised. Who knew you had such talent?" Ray declared. He depressed the rewind button on the cassette player to listen to the song again.
I knew, thought Renfield Turnbull, or at least I hoped. Aloud, the shy man said only "Gee, thanks, Ray. I'm planning to send Tracy Jenkins a copy and ask her to suggest a music publisher."
Ray looked blankly at him.
"Canadian country singer. The one who stayed at the Consulate," Turnbull explained.
"Oh, yeah. When Benny sang on stage. And I missed it."
Turnbull had filled in Ray Vecchio on many of the goings-on that (um) went on while Ray was undercover. They spent time together when Ray got back from Florida. Each man's 'gay-dar' identified the other and they dated briefly. The sex was adequate but there was no spark of romance in the relationship.
After a few weeks they settled on being just friends.
Fraser stood between them. Each man
came to the separate conclusion that it was really Fraser they desired. The
impossibly cute Mountie was an impediment to them as lovers. Talking about
Fraser was a reminder to each of Ray and Turnbull that the man he was with was
only a substitute.
But as friends they had Fraser comfortably in common to share stories and affection. Kowalski figured only rarely in their talks. Ray and Turnbull were each privately annoyed that Fraser and Kowalski had gone off together but they never discussed it.
This evening they were at Turnbull's apartment. He had given up the cardboard box because it had no electricity and had found himself an apartment that was modest but not a hovel.
Ray listened to Turnbull's song again, this time tapping a foot and humming along. "This is as good as any of that junk you hear on the radio," Ray said, happily unaware of the implied put-down.
"You don't think I'll have a problem with Billy Joel?" Turnbull asked the question that had been plaguing him every since he had written this song. This was the first he had played song for and aired his question to a living soul.
"I said it's good, Renny. But to be honest I don't think Billy Joel has anything to worry about from you just yet."
"No, Ray. I mean do you think he'll sue me?"
At the first mention of Billy Joel, Ray was only mildly amused but now he was genuinely puzzled. "Sue you? Billy Joel?"
"The character in my song is called 'Paul'. The title is 'Not Like Paul'. "
"So what? You didn't call him Billy or Joel."
"Ray, do you know 'The Piano Man'."
"Yeah, he lives on Drury Lane," Ray quipped.
It was Turnbull's turn to be puzzled.
"Joke, Renny," Ray sang the old children's song:
Do you know the muffin man?
The muffin man? The muffin man?
Do you know the muffin man?
He lives on Drury Lane.
"Please, Ray. I'm serious."
"Okay, sure I know 'The Piano Man'. Everybody does."
Ray warbled again:
Play us a song, you're the piano man.
Play us a song tonight.
We're all in the mood for a melody
And you've got us feeling all right.
"There's no Paul, Joel or Billy," Ray concluded. "So I don't see your problem."
"Ray, the whole point of my song is that the protagonist, Paul, never followed his dreams and when he is old he regrets it."
"Yeah, I know that. The old dude in the song is called 'Paul' and you say you don't want to be like him. 'The Piano Man' is like that too. Lonely, unfulfilled people at a bar. But, isn't all country music about being sad and lonely?"
Turnbull's guitar was on a coffee table nearby. He never had it far from him when he was at home. He picked it up.
"Ray, my song was inspired by this verse in Billy Joel's song. It really had an effect on me and I just kept thinking about it. Finally I had to write 'Not Like Paul' and I hoped people wouldn't make the connection. This is the bit in 'The Piano Man' I'm talking about.
Turnbull sang softly, hesitantly, hardly recognizable as the lusty singer recorded on tape.
Now Paul is a real estate novelist
Who never had time for a wife.
And he's talking to Davy
Who's still in the navy
And probably will be for life.
"I don't remember that verse," Ray said.
"Usually the radio stations play a shortened version. You don't always hear that verse."
"Oh, so, your Paul is based on that Paul. He wants to be a writer but he doesn't follow his dream. He stays in real estate. As for not having a wife, if you ask me he lucked out there."
"Not really. 'Wife' could be understood in a larger sense. He never took the time to develop a true loving relationship."
"What about Davy? Why didn't you use him? It's the same theme."
"There aren't many good rhymes for 'Davy'. Navy. Gravy. Wavy. 'Paul' is so much easier. Tall, stall, enthrall, call, pall, forestall, crawl."
"I get the idea, Renny. But I think you're too small potatoes for Billy Joel or his lawyers to worry about. Anyway, if you manage to get some producers interested, they'll know if you have a problem or not. Just try to sell it and let the professionals worry about the legal stuff."
Ray's advice appealed to Turnbull and as things turned out the Mountie was glad he had listened to it. Tracy Jenkins remembered Turnbull from her adventures in Chicago, which surprised the modest Mountie. He didn't think anyone could have noticed him with Constable Fraser around. She plugged the song to her own producer. It made a splash in the Canadian country music scene. Soon Turnbull found himself with money coming in and a CD in the works.
The record company's lawyers were confident that the name 'Paul' was in the public domain and no lawsuit from Billy Joel would succeed. Nonetheless Turnbull continued to fret. Even when the single crossed over from the country audience to mainstream and began to be bought in the States, he still worried. There was something irrational about it, Turnbull himself realized, but he found himself obsessed with the fear of being sued by Billy Joel.
By day he could barely focus on his liaison office work. He now had Constable Fraser's old job as Deputy Liaison Officer. The new Chief Liaison Officer Kaskae was undemanding and freely granted Turnbull as much time off as he needed to attend recording sessions in Toronto. Still, Turnbull worried. He feared even looking at his mail or answering his messages, terrified that Billy Joel's lawyers were after him. No reassurances from his friends or his publishers helped.
Ray worried for the Mountie's nerves.
Bad news, of a sort, did arrive from his producers one day, but not what Turnbull was expecting. It was after a recording session that one of the executives sat him down and explained that they had concerns about the CD. Turnbull's voice didn't seem to have the range and power to put across the variety of songs he had written for the new venture.
Turnbull was terrified. Would they refuse to release his CD? No, not at this stage. The company had faith that he would sell reasonably well, after the runaway success of 'Not Like Paul', but perhaps a backup singer would give the CD a little more 'oomph'. Did Turnbull know anyone he would care to invite in on the project? The next recording session wouldn't be for two months, so he had time to think it over.
This news reduced the already nervous Turnbull to a wreck. Back home in Chicago he spent time with Ray again, hoping for good advice.
"I told you to quit worrying about Billy Joel, but you're still worrying. Nobody can help you with that. But the singing problem - that's one I can help you with."
Seeing Turnbull's look of alarm Ray hastily added, "No, not me. Fraser."
"Oh, I couldn't impose on Staff Sergeant Fraser." His former colleague had been rapidly promoted after the success of the Holloway Muldoon affair.
"Impose? He'll get a pile of money and the pleasure of helping you out. He won't care about the money but I'm sure he'll get a charge out of helping."
It was then that Ray made a second suggestion, which would also change both his and Turnbull's lives, although neither man knew it at the time.
"Renny, why don't you get away somewhere? Far enough so Billy Joel can't get at you,"
The joke fell flat, so Ray clarified. "I mean, take a vacation. Go to some completely new environment. It'll clear your head. Isn't there someplace you've always wanted to go but didn't have the time or money?"
Without hesitation Turnbull blurted out "New Zealand. It's my dream holiday: mountains, glaciers, beaches, fjords, rainforests, fertile plains. All the scenery we have in Canada but condensed into a much tighter geographic area. And Middle Earth. But, Ray, do you really think I should?"
"Best thing for you. Git before Billy Joel wipes you out."
Turnbull's eyes went wide with alarm.
"Joke! What's with Canadians?"
A week later Renfield Turnbull was on a mountain top overlooking Queenstown, on the southern island of New Zealand. He was alone, after first asking Ray to come along. But the detective declined and Turnbull was just as glad.
Turnbull's long, agile legs would have easily carried him up Bob's Peak (as the mountain was called) but he indulged in a cable car ride to the top instead. A couple of days of steady rain had made the mountain track mucky and unpleasant, and, besides, he was on vacation. Queenstown may have served some other purpose in the past but today the town only seemed to exist to suck up tourist cash for all manner of adventures: skiing, snow boarding, jet boating, horseback riding, hiking, helicopter tours. Behind him on the mountain were a luge ride and a bungee jumping station. The town called itself 'The Adventure Capital of New Zealand'.
Turnbull had already indulged, on his first day in Queenstown, in a 4-wheel-drive trip to see 'Lord of The Rings' locations. His fellow tourists dubbed him 'Strider' because of his long shanks and tendency to keep to himself. When he told them he was Mountie, they were delighted, thinking of Mounties as some sort of Ranger. Turnbull mused that Staff Sergeant Fraser was more in keeping with this image than himself. The thought of Fraser saddened him briefly, reminding him that he still had a problem to work out.
This day was sunny, after two days of rain, and Turnbull took advantage of the clear sky to climb this mountain and enjoy the view. From the mountain top Turnbull could look down over Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu. Queenstown nestled in the crook of the elbow of lake. Just beyond was the steep, spiked Remarkables Mountain Range, still capped with remnants of winter snow.
Between the town and the Remarkables was a conical hill, yellow with dried grass. Turnbull's guidebook told him the hill was a public park called "Deer Park Heights" on which an impressive list of scenes from the movie version of 'Lord of the Rings' had been filmed. The hill was not readily visible from the town, but looking down on it, from this higher vantage point, Turnbull could clearly picture the people of Edoras trudging towards Helm's Deep, hear Gimli's lecture about Dwarf women, feel again the catch in his throat when Aragon tumbled from a cliff.
At a high viewpoint on Bob's Peak, Turnbull found a bench and dropped onto it to enjoy the scenery, Billy Joel and the incomplete CD temporarily pushed from his mind by the overwhelming natural beauty.
Coming up a path from the main gondola building towards Turnbull, an old man came trudging. Huffing and puffing, the old man was obviously not in shape for even the slight slope from the building to this higher lookout point. Every few steps he stopped to catch his breath. Turnbull's bench was right in his path and, as the Mountie expected, the old man sat down beside him. The elderly man was dressed in a fur hat, long overcoat and scarf, well prepared for the windy mountain top. He plopped himself down beside Turnbull, breathing a heavy 'oy'.
There's an old man sitting next to me, thought Turnbull. I can't get away from Billy Joel, not even by traveling half way around the world. At least the man wasn't carrying a tonic and gin. He did have a small satchel slung over his shoulder. From this satchel he extracted a camera and, getting to his feet with a grunt, took several pictures before sitting back down beside Turnbull.
"Beautiful, isn't it?" the man said, with a slight Yiddish lilt to his voice. Turnbull wondered why the man was alone up here. Was he a widower? Was he lonely? Turnbull started to feel depression creep over him as the lyrics run through his head:
There's an old man sitting next to me
Making love to his tonic and gin.
He says "'Son, can you play me a memory?
I'm not really sure how it goes,
But it's sad and it's sweet and I knew it complete
When I wore a younger man's clothes."
But the old man sitting next to Turnbull was not pathetic. He was smiling broadly as he twisted his head all around, taking in the scenery. His comment to Turnbull was apparently not rhetorical, because he repeated "Did you ever see such lovely scenery?"
It would have been unthinkable to Turnbull to be rude, but he was not in the mood to talk. Most especially he did not want to interact with this old man who had, by simply walking along and sharing a bench, plunged Turnbull deep into the worries he was trying to escape.
"Yes, it's very nice," the Mountie said, with as little expression as he could manage.
"Canadian. That's nice. I'm from Cleveland."
Even sitting down, the old man's head was a good foot closer to the ground than Turnbull's. We must look comical, sitting side by side, Turnbull supposed. The old man may have wanted company but his very presence upset the younger man.
Turnbull turned and looked at his unwanted companion. The happy face was flushed with the exertion of walking uphill. The eyes sparkled amid the surrounding creases and bumps. His lips were cracked dry from breathing in cold mountain air. His clothes were of good quality, not new but far from shabby. In short, there was nothing at all pathetic about this pleasant fellow, try as Turnbull might to turn him into the sad old man of Billy Joel's song.
The old man didn't want to leave Turnbull alone. "What do you do up in Canada, son?" he asked, making Turnbull jump at the appellation 'son'.
"I'm a Mountie," Turnbull said briefly, and it is only after he had said these words that he realized he might just as honestly have said 'I'm a singer'.
"A Mountie? Well, well," the old man muttered, "I'm in ball bearings. Or I was until my son took over the business. You alone here? Taking a trip all by yourself? If you don't mind my asking, you're not here with your wife? Your girlfriend?" He lowered his voice confidentially, "Your boyfriend maybe?"
"I'm alone," Turnbull stated, hoping the old man would shut up and go away.
"So that's why you're up here without even a jacket. You must be freezing. My wife, God rest her, always made sure I dressed right. She got me this coat. Me, I think the style is too young for me but Rifka insisted. That was my Rifka, always dressing me up in a younger man's clothes. I guess she didn't want to admit she was married to an old man." He cackled to himself at his little jest.
Turnbull turned to stare at the man, unable to believe what he was hearing. He was greatly relieved to see that the little old man seemed to have had enough of his company. He hauled himself to his feet with a groan and toddled off back down the path. "Nice talking to you, son," he called back.
Turnbull watched him go. Things weren't always what you expect. He'd been afraid of an old man, fearing he would evoke the sad images in Billy Joel's song and by extension the lonely theme of his own song. But no, there was nothing of sadness or regret even though the man was apparently a widower, left to travel on his own.
Turnbull didn't want to see any more people for a time, particularly not this man who had caused such a jumble in his thoughts. Further up the path a marked trail led into a pine forest, and he headed in that direction. A small signpost said that the trail was a twenty-minute loop. Turnbull ambled along, noting the tiny pines that were growing along an edge between the forest and the open lookout point. He entered the forest. Mountain scenery was slowly obscured as he made his way deeper into the wooded area, thinking how environmentally healthy it was that someone was planting these seedlings. Some reforestation project must be taking place, he imagined. He strolled along, enjoying the cool, moist air under the forest cover, protected from the mountain winds. He could be in any pleasant, familiar, relaxing pine forest, since the mountain views were now hidden by the trees.
Along the path he saw another sign, this one much larger with many paragraphs of text. He stopped to read it. According to this sign, the mountain pines were a transplanted species not native to New Zealand. They were choking out the native red beech trees. Methods attempted to eradicate the pines were described in detail, but despite anyone's best efforts, the pines were capable of completely destroying any given patch of original vegetation within thirty years. The sign's message concluded with a plea to visitors to rip out seedling pines as they walked by.
Again, things were not as they seemed at first. Old men tramping about were neither lonely nor sad. Lovely, fragrant pines were a menace. Turnbull thought about his own situation long and hard as he finished the loop path back to the gondola station. He had made an assumption about Billy Joel and ignored everyone's good counsel. He had made an assumption about Staff Sergeant Fraser's reaction to an offer of a musical partnership. Given today's experiences, there was a good chance that assumption was also wrong.
Would he ever be able to have Benton Fraser as a lover? Probably not while Ray Vecchio was available. If Turnbull were able to persuade Fraser to come back to Chicago, he'd probably have to settle for having him as a musical partner only. It was better than nothing. Who knows � working together might lead to doing other things together. Strange things were happening these days.
Back at his hotel, he saw there was a computer set up, where he could buy internet time. He logged onto his email and started tapping out a message to Staff Sergeant Fraser.
PART TWO: AS VECCHIO HEARS IT
All alone in a tropical paradise. It sounds poetic, like it should be in a song or a movie. Ray made a mental note to suggest the idea to Turnbull to write a song about it when they both got back from their separate vacations.
Ray had been touched by Turnbull's offer to take Ray along with him to New Zealand. It was tempting, but traveling with Turnbull would, Ray decided, be a strain on their relationship. It would be far too tempting to sleep with each other again and that would only lead to later complications. For Ray, Turnbull was only a substitute Mountie. It would be unfair to Turnbull to take the relationship back to the physical, Ray decided.
But the idea of traveling far away to someplace he had always wanted to see stuck with Ray, and he started making travel plans of his own. It was time that he, too, took a vacation, a nice long expensive trip somewhere exotic.
He took a sip from his tropical cocktail: all kinds of pretty coloured liqueurs poured over a pile of ice in a tall glass with slices of fruit hanging over the edge, finished off with a tiny paper umbrella. Not his usual poison, but here at a beach resort it was what seemed appropriate to drink. And, as the special of the day, it was two bucks cheaper than a respectable shot of scotch. Not Glendorlan scotch, though, Ray thought, momentarily reminded of Benny's quest for that brand years ago.
Ray took another sip and glanced around at his fellow beach-loungers, then past them to the scenery. White sand spread all around him; beyond him was the turquoise sea. The waves didn't break on the shore, but at a point some fifty feet out to sea, where the coral reef formed a natural breakwater. So odd to see waves that didn't come all the way to the shoreline. Beyond the sand, tropical plants, tall palms with giant fronds towered over the resort grounds. Other bushes and trees were arranged among the paths. On tiny signs stuck in the ground in front of each variety were labels telling each plant's name in English and in Latin. Scientific Latin, not the Church Latin of Ray's childhood.
I bet Benny would know all these names. In his mind, Ray heard the Mountie recite his way across the resort and his own voice chiding him for showing off. On this Fiji island of Viti Levu Ray has been driven past lush, wild vegetation growing wild in the hot damp climate, but in this resort Mother Nature is made to behave in a sedate manner, as though She were just another native woman on the staff in a flowery dress and bare feet. Here in the resort the lawns were mowed and the water lilies grew in enclosed, circular rock pools. Native men were employed to climb the palms to trim away the coconuts lest one of the coconuts should fall on the head of a guest.
A native waiter strolled by with a tray full of drinks. The trim young man was wearing a tight tee-shirt bearing the name of the resort. On his dressing table, Ray had a hotel brochure saying that it is forbidden for staff to be entertained by guests. He thought back on that brochure, smiling to himself. They had plenty of young men on staff that Ray can fantasize about entertaining. But, rules aside, he knew he was a middle-aged, ex-cop in a silly hat to protect his bald head from the sun and a budget for this South Seas location that surely wouldn't cover the kind of services about which he was thinking. Idly he wondered how much a quickie with one of these gleaming, muscular, young, black men would set him back.
He heard Fraser's voice again in his head: That's probably not a good idea, Ray.
The breeze on the beach was getting stronger and clouds were gathering. Who knew it would rain so much in Fiji? The travel agent didn't warn him about that. Just as well, I'm pretty burned already, Ray thought, looking at his own arms and legs with a detective's practiced eyed, trying to gauge just how much pain he's going to be in later.
He consulted his watch. Another half hour until they open the lunch buffet. Meals were included in his daily rate, so he was eating more than he should. Oh well, he had Bromo Seltzer in his hut. Instead of one large building with many rooms, this resort had rows of huts, brightly painted with paths winding among them. Neat stone paths, smooth to bare feet. Paths kept free of leaves and debris by armies of native gardeners - sweeping, always sweeping, flexing their dark, muscular, bare arms,
Fraser's fair, white arms used to be as taut and muscular as these, but they were a little bit softer now than they were ten years ago. Well, aren't we all softer than we once were, Ray thought, considering his own protruding bit of middle-aged belly.
Sometimes for his vacations Ray goes up to Canada to see Fraser. Sometimes Fraser comes down to see him. It would have been nice to have Fraser here with him on this beach but the Mountie couldn't afford it and Ray certainly couldn't afford to pay his way.
Here, half a world away from where they belong, Ray might have had the guts to make a move on Fraser. In all these years he hadn't dared risk their friendship by suggesting they take it to another level.
A hot youngster went by Ray's lounge chair. He wasn't a waiter or a gardener but one of those staff members who organize the poolside games. His tee-shirt says 'Activities'. Ray shifts a little, suddenly uncomfortable in his wet bathing trunks against a plastic cushion.
'Activities' was a word Fraser used to describe gay sex. He first used the term when he and Ray met for a weekend together in Winnipeg where Fraser was stationed after returning from that ridiculous trip in the wilderness with Kowalski. It was about a year later, when Kowalski had moved in with his parents and Ray was back from Florida. It had taken Ray that year to come to terms with the real reason he had run off with Stella. He had wanted to punish Kowalski � get even with that blond waste of skin � for stealing Fraser's affection while Ray was undercover.
On that weekend in Winnipeg Ray admitted this to Fraser, without letting slip just what kind of affection he had in mind. Fraser, on that same weekend, admitted that Kowalski had, while out in the wilderness, 'declared himself'. That's how Fraser put it, bless him. And in those northern wilds, Kowalski (oh, Benny was so cutely shame-faced to admit it) induced the Mountie to take part in 'activities' that Fraser had never tried before. Fraser's blushing left Ray practically choking with jealousy.
Still, Ray refrained, year after year, from inviting Benny to take part in 'activities' himself. Ray felt his reasoning for this restraint was sound. Fraser confessed that he was ambivalent, bordering on ashamed of what he and Kowalski had done. It was reason enough for Ray to refrain from 'declaring himself'' to Fraser.
The wind was getting insistent now, bending the palm trunks and causing the fronds to stand out sideways. Behind Ray, at the swimming pool, the young man in the 'Activities' shirt switched on a boom box and started shouting for people to join in his exercise class. Ray drained the rest of his fruity drink and left the glass on a plastic table beside his lounge chair. He rose slowly, trying to prevent his skin from sticking to the chair, padded across the white sand, along a wooden boardwalk, past the bar and into the resort's main restaurant. Here the music was quieter. A native duo were playing guitars and singing soft melodies, alternating between island tunes and soft rock oldies. The lyrics of the songs in English sounded just a little stilted, pronounced correctly but not quite naturally. Ray suspected the duo had learned the songs phonetically.
It was close enough to lunchtime for him to hang around and wait until the buffet table opened. Many other tourists were doing the same, standing about and eyeing the buffet table from across the room, watching waitresses deposit lunch items and then head off empty handed for more.
The duo started singing, of all things, 'The Piano Man'. Ray groaned aloud, causing the heads of the fellow tourists closest to him to turn. He'd managed to forget about Turnbull and his absurd obsession with Billy Joel for the whole morning, but here now were the lyrics Ray had heard more often than he ever needed to:
It's nine o'clock on a Saturday.
The regular crowd shuffles in.
There's an old man sitting next to me
Making love to his tonic and gin.
As much as he wanted to tune out the song, the odd inflection of the duo's voices somehow caused Ray to hear the lyrics with fresh ears. Here am I, shuffling in to wait for lunch. Am I an old man? No, just middle-aged. Didn't I nurse that damned cocktail just a little longer than a young man might?
He said "Son, can you play me a memory?
I'm not really sure how it goes.
This part of the song had always irritated Ray. It never did ring true. The songs of your youth stayed with you over the years. Ray could remember all the lyrics of the ridiculous camp songs of his childhood. As he could remember the songs he danced to and courted women to during his teen years and his youth. Years of his life wasted on girls and women.
But it's sad and it's sweet and I knew it complete
When I wore a younger man's clothes.
Amazing how many stray thoughts could fly through your brain at the speed of a song lyric. Younger man's clothes. The bright shirts and huge crucifix he used to wear when he first met Fraser. The shirts have long since gone into the Church mission box. The crucifix hangs on a nail on the wall over his bed. He doesn't wear it anymore, too old to pull it off now, but he doesn't want his old trademark too far from him.
Benny's given up wearing 'younger man's clothes' too, only wearing the red serge on the most formal of occasions. He's a sedate staff sergeant in Edmonton, studying police sciences by distance education, soon to finish his degree.
The chorus of the song plays and Ray wonders whether the local singer will do the longer or shorter version. Is Ray doomed to hear about Turnbull's Paul even on the other side of the globe?
Now Paul is a real estate novelist
In his pensive mood, even these words that he was thoroughly sick of hearing Turnbull talk about, took on meanings Ray hadn't before considered. Real estate novelist. So much regret in those three words. This imaginary Paul, if he were a really good writer, he could have given up real estate. Did he even try? Or was he just not good enough or lucky enough to ever be published? Or maybe he was published but didn't give up his 'day-job'? Or was it another meaning: did he write about real estate but nobody found it very interesting? Worst of all, was it only a yearning without action � Paul drifting through unfulfilled years with his novel unfinished?
Who never had time for a wife.
I've had time for two wives, but none for a real partner. There's one person � one man � I want to finish out my life with and I'll never have him. The fear was real, he told himself. Fraser allows Kowalski to visit him from time to time but never is wholly comfortable with the 'activities'. From their heart to heart talks, Ray knows Fraser had come to terms in a philosophical way with his homosexuality but has never slept with any man but Kowalski. Having announced that he was free of women, Fraser claimed to be celibate except for the odd night with Kowalski, which he always regretted afterwards.
And he's talking to Davy who's still in the navy
And probably will be for life.
Fraser is Davy. He'll always be a Mountie. The only home and family he'll ever allow himself is the RCMP, even though Ray yearned to offer him a better home, a loving partnership. Ray himself has veered off his original career track a couple of times now and didn't regret it in the slightest. First there was the bowling alley that he managed to run and then sell without losing money. Then back for five years to the Chicago Police Department before breaking out on his own as a private investigator. The move has brought him marginally more money and a great deal more self confidence and freedom.
With Benny as a partner - in the business, anyway - God knows how much more money he could make! There's nothing and no one the Mountie can't track. What a team they would be. It was a life Ray dreamed of often, himself and Benny as partners both in the office and in the bedroom. They'd never tire of each other, Ray was sure. He may never suggest the idea to Benny. I'm a coward. No, I'm just practical. I couldn't live if Benny started treating me as he treats Kowalski, doling out only little bits of visiting time.
Okay, enough. I'm out of here. I'll come back and eat later. Ray clopped off in his plastic flip-flop sandals towards his own hut. There he changed out of his still damp bathing suit and into shorts and a polo shirt. He couldn't shake his feeling of malaise, even in this tropical paradise.
Ray wasted about half an hour lying on his bed, hands behind his neck, trying not to think. He failed miserably. In this mood, only one person was going to make him feel better. He knew there a desk with an internet station in the lobby, for the use of guests as long as they kept it to fifteen minutes.
Once settled on the computer, a strange calm fell over Ray as though he were about to face execution and no longer cared about the events of the world. No more misery. He would tell Fraser all that he had been holding back: I love you. I want to blend with you in every way. Our bodies. Our minds. Even our working skills. You belong here with me.
PART THREE: AS FRASER HEARS IT
Staff Sergeant Benton Fraser came home from his day at the office and flipped through his mail. Here was a letter from Athabasca University. His marks, no doubt. He opened the envelope to see that he had achieved straight A's in the last of the three courses he needed for his degree. It was hardly a surprise.
Being granted the rank of an officer would be no more than a formality, his commander had assured him.
He knew he ought to feel elated, but something was missing. He missed Ray. He usually got an email from Ray every few days. From time to time they talked over a microphone or used a webcam to see and hear each other but Fraser didn't usually find these gimmicks satisfying. They only provided little bits of Ray, garbled and warped. Might as well check his email anyway, in case there was something of interest was there.
Odd. He wasn't expecting anything from either Ray or Turnbull while they were both on their extended vacations, but sure enough, there was a one message from each.
Turnbull's message was the one he chose to open first, to get it out of the way in case it turned out to be more whining about Billy Joel. Fraser's eyes went wide when he read the invitation to come down to Chicago and perform with Turnbull on the upcoming CD. Not sure what to think, he sat immobile for a moment, then opened Ray's email.
Upon reading Ray's message, Fraser could not remain seated. He jumped up and started pacing the room, his mind a jumble. Ray wanted him as a lover. And as a business partner. Ray, too, pleaded with him to return to Chicago. It was too shocking for Fraser to process at first.
Lyrics to 'The Piano Man' came to him, as they had to Turnbull and Ray.
And he's talking to Davy who's still in the navy
And probably will be for life.
I'm getting out of the Navy, he told himself. It's time.