DueSouth Seekrit Santa Story

 

Fourth Floor, Dawn


for china shop

by mazily




Fraser,

Reporting as ordered.


No signature, only the photograph of Wrigley Field on the back of the postcard and the belligerent tone as clues as to the writer's identity, typed in an impersonal 12 pt. Courier font. I place the note in the bottom drawer of my desk. Ray was as ill-suited for life this far north as I was for life in Chicago, and while he lasted far longer than I imagine even he expected, in the end there was nothing to do but to bid him farewell, to wait with him at the airfield, to shake his hand and wish him all the best. SoI smiled and I waved; I played the fool who did't understand the confused glances he kept sending my way.

"Write me when you are home," I said. (Had I turned and asked him instead to stay, to stay by my side and live in my home, I think he would only have said, "what took you so long, Frase? I was really starting to worry there." I didn't, of course. I will not say I wasn't tempted: I was, oh, how I wanted nothing more, but I am a man who knows his duty. I did mine.)

He is back in Chicago now, no doubt firmly ensconced in his old life. Perhaps his parents are visiting; perhaps he is on the phone to Sandor, ordering a large pineapple pizza. Next summer, he will no doubt attend baseball games and yell about black cats and goats when the Cubs fail to live up to his expectations. I wish him the best.I care for him far too deeply to subject him to a life that would eventually destroy him.

*

Dear Fraser,

lieu took me back- not no questions but close enough for curling, right? see, I did learn something up there in the Northern Areas, ha ha ha- and I'm back at my old desk & doing my old job. Frannie says hi. tell Dief I miss him.

Ray.


*

I often find myself faced with a stack of correspondence upon my return from patrol, which can be both a blessing and a curse. Postal delivery can be irregular here, and when combined with the fact that I'm often away for weeks at a time, well, it is often time-consuming to sift through the numerous letters and-

*

Hey Benny,

Stanley gave me your address, said you probably wouldn't mind something to interrupt the exiting life of snow, snow, and more snow. I'm back in Chicago, permanently I hope, watching over Ma and Frannie and the new bambino. Stella got the bowling alley in the divorce, and she sold it, made a killing. She's working in Miami now, DA's Office, not that you and she were ever really friendly or anything. But that's what she's doing, if you were wondering.

Ma still has Stanley over for dinner from time to time, worried that he's not eating enough. I tell her he's a grown man, but you know Ma.

Lt. Welsh has Stanley and I partnered as some sort of sadistic character test, so keep an eye on the obits. (Actually, and if you tell him this I will singlehandedly bring global warming to all of Canada, Kowalski's not a half-bad cop. Better than the guy I was partnered with before him. It's just a matter of completely ignoring everything that comes out of his mouth and turning a blind eye to the fashion disasters.)

Write back, you big freak. Tell me about your life. Any hot Mountie women you got your eye on? Any excitement in the far white north?

Ray.


*

-and I lie, if only to myself.

There are letters, yes, though by no means too many to read in an hour, two if I take a break for tea: only my sister and Ray (and now Ray Vecchio, as well, it would seem) write me, and it is not as if I am so out of touch with reality as to confuse an RCMP envelope for one with a Chicago return address. I sort the mail into two piles, and take care of the bills and other official notices first. I walk Diefenbaker, prepare supper, eat and wash the dishes.

Dief tilts his head, asking when, exactly, I became such an idiotic coward.

"No need to be insulting," I say, but he's correct. I am a coward. I do not want to know that I am no longer missed; neither do I want to feel guilt on the off chance I still am. I change into proper nighttime attire, bank the fire, and force myself to face the task at hand. Rip the band-aid off quickly, or so Ray would say, to get it over and done with.

I will write back. I do not know what I will say, or how, but "I will, Diefenbaker, and I'll be sure to ask Ray about that hot dog vendor for you."

*

Benny,

Stanley says you're ignoring him, too, so not to take the lack of response personally. I'd like to think you're just on patrol, hunting down poachers or trained seal assassins or whatever it is you do out there in the middle of nowhere, but I worry that it's just you being you. Look, I get why you'd think you don't have the right, or that you shouldn't impose, or whatever's going through your stubborn mountie head, but just stop thinking that and just write back already so we can stop worrying that you're dead in an ice crevasse somewhere or were eaten by a bear (Stanley's idea, not mine).

Frannie sends her love, as well as little Johnny's.

Ray.


*

Fraser,

This is not buddies. I know I'm not the best penpal, but the least you could do is write back, let a guy know you're still alive. Write, send smoke signals, hell, call, even. I know you have phones up there now so no excuses and I know you at least know the station number even if you didn't want to call me at home (which is my old number, which you should also know so there).

Ray.


*

Were I half the man I ought to be, I would call and inquire after them, confirm that they're no longer under the misapprehension that I am ignoring them. Instead, I write notes on napkins, scraps of paper, anything I lay my hands on; I tell them of my days, my work, my life. My happiness. I send perhaps half of what I write, stuffed into bi-weekly packages.

*

Hey Fraser,

Did I ever tell you about Ignore that.

So Vecchio and I've been working together- he says he already told you so sorry for not mentioning it, but I figured you already know- and it's not all that bad, right, we're getting along. Which is weird enough. Okay, maybe not by your standards, but still weird, right? So yeah. That's what's going. Vecchio and me, we're working together, getting drinks sometimes after a bad day, stuff like that. It's good. I'm good and so's Vecchio, Ray, whatever. We're good.

How're you? Tell Dief I say hi and I miss him, inappropriate licking and all.

Ray.


*

Time passes, and we continue to exchange news often months out of date. "Diefenbaker has fallen in love," I write, and I know they won't read my letter until long after the pups have been born. "I have met someone," I write, and I hold the letters in my bag until I know, until I am sure, that they will not arrive long after everything's fallen apart.

"Her name is Sarah," I don't write. "She lives in town, works as a veterinarian, likes jazz and classic rock and spy novels. We spend as much time together as is possible, given our respective schedules."

Instead: "I am doing well, as is Diefenbaker. While I do not miss Chicago myself, I do catch him gazingly longingly at the photograph of doughnuts and pizza you sent, Ray, and I ask that you stop teasing him so. I leave for patrol tomorrow, but you will no doubt not receive this until I am long returned home."

It may not be "buddies," exactly, but it's the best I can manage.

"I've never pretended to be infallible," I say. Dief snorts. I tell myself that I will write again, in more complete detail, when I've returned from patrol.

*

Benny,

You're worrying Stanley, so whatever it is that's crawled up your ass, get over it.

Ray.


*

"You're a wolf," I say, "and you really ought to learn to act like one."

Dief barks. He still doesn't quite understand why Ray Kowalski had to return to Chicago, though explaining it in terms of junk food has helped.

"No, I am not avoiding them. I'm just," only I don't know what to say. I am avoiding this, them, and I keep a careful watch on my stew.

*

Frase,

Did Vecchio say something to piss you off? he didn't mean it if he did.

Ray

Benny- seriously, let us know you're okay, buddy. -RV


*

I reorganize the contents of my desk. Let Diefenbaker outside, tidy the cabin, change my linens, let Dief back inside. Were my father still haunting me, he'd accuse me of stalling, but I can't quite help myself. Once my surroundings are comfortable and I've run out of busy work, I sit at the kitchen table with a cup of tea. My palms sweat, and I dial a telephone number I can't forget.

"27th Precinct," answers an unfamiliar voice. Francesca must still be on maternity leave, or perhaps she has a new job. For all I know, she's merely out on a personal day, and it strikes me anew how little I know of the lives of my friends in Chicago. I promise myself that I will strive to be a better correspondent, a better friend, in the future.

"Detective Kowalski or Vecchio, please," I say, and there's a click. I wait. There's a spot of ink on the table, and I pick at it.

*fin.

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