Title: Honor and Glory
Series: Part two in Chances in Particular Men. (Follows What the Heart Sees.)
Rating: NC-17 for anguish, bad language, cruel thoughts, a terrible crime and just the hint of sexual suggestiveness.
Pairings: Fraser/Kowalski. Vecchio/female. Frannie/male. Turnbull/female. Fraser/Kowalski/female implied.
Spoilers: Victoria's Secret and various episodes from Season Three.
Disclaimer: Fraser, Kowalski, Vecchio, Stella, Frannie, Turnbull and the others belong to Alliance Communications and the great Pauls (both Haggis and Gross). Sonny Crockett and Rico Tubbs belong to the wonderfully talented Michael Mann and Michael Mann Productions. Blanco, her boyfriend, Gamazo, the young beat cop and Mullen, such as they are, belong to me. This is a dalliance set between the responsibilities of real life. It is not work. I am not getting paid.
Dedication: This story is dedicated to Cindy, VJ and Sophie. I would like to include here as well the actors, directors, writers and fans everywhere of "due South." Clair, thank you so much for your inspired suggestion for the title of the series. Seana, your kindness and insightful analysis gave me strength in a time of trouble and for that I am truly grateful. Jen, Sylvie and Corrinne, your generous advice and praise has been most appreciated and valued. Please never think otherwise. It's my wish also to offer up a treasure chest of thanks each to Frasrgrl, Cara, AuKestrel, Marilea and Magnes, my guide, example, betas and technical advisor. All of you truly are the angels on my shoulder.
Distribution: Our sites and the main due South archives only.
Feedback: Would be lovely, thank you.
Personal note: As spoken of in part one, certain actions and names may appear odd. All questions will be answered in part three, Lighting the Candle.
Summary: Post Call of the Wild. Second story in trilogy.
Dates Written: December 20 - 22, 2000. Copyright: January 4, 2001. First appeared on the RSY Archive in April, 2001.
"Listen, I-" Instead of Sergeant Tubbs, a very tan, very blond Stanley Kowalski, dressed for an Arctic winter, stares up at me. "What the hell are you doing here?"
"Welsh called. Where's Stella?" He tries to peer around the door. "Is she OK?"
"She's upstairs. The doctor gave her something to sleep." My eyes adjust to the dark as I look around and see no flash of red. "Is he...is Benny...?"
Sadness deepens the harsh grooves in his forehead. "Yeah. He's talkin' to the joker takin' notes in front of the house."
"Why are you really here?"
"I told ya. Welsh called us. We were worried about ya."
His concern floors me. After the way I treated them last year, I thought I'd never see him or Benny again. "But...it's March."
"What about your race?"
He shrugs his shoulders. "Oh, that. There's always next year." He drops his voice to a low whisper. "Make nice to Ben, OK? You can treat me like shit, that's cool; I'm cool with that. Just make nice to Ben and I won't touch him while we're here."
What? What's going on here? I glare at him for what seems like minutes; he holds it as long as he can before dropping his eyes. "Why you being so generous, Kowalski?"
"Cause he's a prince and I'm his friggin' slut," he hisses, his blue eyes nearly black with loathing. "I pushed for this thing between us. I wanted it. Wanted him." He presses his lips firmly together. I can hear in my own head his silent count to ten. He raises his eyes and his expression is pleading. Begging, almost. Yet when he finds his voice, it's insolent. Defiant. "So, if ya wanna hose him down, just change yer aim and send the stream to me. Maybe I deserve it for lettin' it happen in the first place."
Something very wrong is happening. Something I can't get around right now. "I can't promise you anything. But if you're serious, I'll try."
He looks thankful. Grateful even. Now I know I fell down the rabbit hole. "Try is good. I can live with try." His eyes change again and he stares at me suspiciously. "'Less yer gonna shoot us."
"No, not now. I'm too tired." I find myself thinking about that morning two months ago. A lifetime ago.
"OK, then. He's comin' over. 'Member." We both watch Benny marching to an invisible drummer as he moves with purpose across the driveway. He's wearing his brown uniform and he reminds me of a strong, implacable tree. An oak, I think. Yeah, definitely an oak. Beside me, Kowalski's mouth turns wide and generous and his eyes soften. "He looks like a big maple tree that ya could put up a tree house in, don't he?" He whistles his appreciation. "Hey, Sergeant Preston, ya leave Duke on the tundra?"
I look as Benny's mouth twitches into a small cold smile. A very small cold smile. The rest of his face isn't that much warmer either. He barely glances over at me. Ouch. At least I know where I stand.
"Ray," he says, by way of greeting. Just that. Ray. He turns his attention back to Kowalski. "Apparently, whoever kidnapped the child managed to do so by wearing hospital scrubs during the time there was only one nurse scheduled in the newborn nursery."
"So it's an innie." Kowalski rubs his thumb across his brow.
Benny nods. "It would appear so." Removing his hat, he places his free hand inside the Stetson, and pulls out several bills. "The driver has given his word to take you to a clean hotel, wait until you check in and settle, then return here." He hands the cash to Kowalski. "This should cover his fare and gratuity."
"That's bullshit, Fraser." Two sets of blue eyes drill into me like lasers. "If you've come to help, the least I can do is offer a place to stay."
"Ray." At least he faces me this time. His eyes glint with conviction. "If Stan and I stay here, we stay as what and who we are."
"Yeah, well. Just don't make like bunnies in front of Stella and me."
"I see." He pats Kowalski on the upper arm. "I'll wait here until you get back from the hotel."
"Fraser!" He does this to me every fucking time. "Stella would want you both to stay. I...I want you here too."
"If you're certain that's what you really want." He turns back to Kowalski. "Why don't you get our luggage, then?" Kowalski nods, and heads back to the cab. "How is Mrs. Vecchio bearing up?"
"She's as well as she can be. They pumped her full of drugs. She'll probably sleep through tomorrow."
"Your wife is a woman of strong character. My suspicion is that her inner fortitude will give her comfort until we reach the conclusion of this." He turns briefly at the sound of Kowalski's booted footfalls crossing the lawn. "And the rest of your family?"
"Well, Ma's Ma. You know, salt of the earth. And Frannie, she's a real tiger."
He nods, agreeing. "Good, we'll need their strengths to combine with our own. If they could fly down, watch over-"
"-Already in motion." There's another nod. "They'll be here later tonight."
Kowalski puts down the duffle bag to search for change that he hands to Benny. "Yeah, I'm good to go. Unpack, change, cook some grub, watch after the Stella till Mrs. V. and Frannie show, make some calls, visit Jackson Memorial, have a look-see, take notes. Anythin' else?"
"Sergeant Preston's companion was named King."
"Jesus, Ben. Duke. King. Like anybody gives a damn. Yer a real freak, ya know that?" But Kowalski's eyes are laughing now. Like this is an old joke between them.
"So I've been told. But I'm not the only one, I think." The air around me crackles. I'm suddenly feeling way past uncomfortable because the naked need they abruptly display on their faces is more graphic then if they had dropped to all fours and gone after each other like dogs on the front lawn. As Kowalski picks up the bag, turns and makes his way past me into the house, all I can think of is Stella has never looked at me like that. Not now. Not in the last two months. Not before when we were still a family. And in love. When I manage to focus on Benny, he has his Super Mountie mask in place. The disguise he's mostly shown me. I guess he's shelving the anger he still feels so he can work with me. Good. Whatever it takes. I just want to bring my boy home and try to become a family again.
"I'll speak with the local constabulary, interview the hospital staff, make up a timetable and fashion a rendition of the crime scene." He reaches over, clasps my shoulder, and stares straight in my eyes. I realize he is very nearly holding me up. "Not to worry, Ray. We will return your son to you."
True to his word, after unpacking and removing several layers of clothes, Kowalski throws together a better than expected meal of cheese-and-tomato omelets for the three of us. I haven't eaten since the day before yesterday and though the food is good, I'm chewing mechanically. By silent agreement, both Benny and I eat on the sofa in the living room, as neither of us want to enter the kitchen. After clearing away the dishes, Kowalski brings out steaming cups of coffee; first to us, then to the men both outside and in the house. Benny starts to collect the empty mugs in front of us but with a wave of his hand, Kowalski gathers them all and returns them to the kitchen. Once finished, he stands very close to the sofa near where Benny is sitting before pulling out his cell phone. In rapid succession, calls are made to Welsh, Buck Frobisher, and a Constable Mullen, who's obviously the lucky man chosen to care for Dief and Kowalski's team. He only talks to each a few minutes but expresses much, in tone as well as words. In some cold, detached part of my brain, I almost admire his empathy and willingness to take on the crap in the kitchen, because I know otherwise it wouldn't get done. Almost. Then reality kicks in and I just know better.
He's the cunt in their game of playing house. He's only doing what he knows.
I happen to glance up and find Kowalski staring down at me with that spooky radar he seems to have; his expression is sorrowful. His raised hand -- I don't know if he was going to punch me or pat my shoulder -- is pulled back. He turns his attention to Benny instead and his face molds into something more positive. "Hey." Benny briefly lightens up. "I'm gonna check on Stella for a little while. I'll go over to the hospital soon."
Benny nods, puts away his notepad and pen. "I'm leaving in a few minutes. I'll see you there."
"Later." With a nod to the other men in the room, he's gone, making his way to the stairs. A beat later, Benny rises and reaches for his hat. Once it's in place, his hands smooth over his uniform automatically. He's already talked at length to the primary; just him being here has given me a cold kind of comfort. And if I'm honest, I have to admit their presence cast a rough magic here tonight. Cops who were tired and taut become more alert, invigorated by their questions.
"I'll be going then. And Ray," he pauses, looking over at me.
"He will be found." With that he leaves. His utter and complete certainty is one of the few things in life I both fear and respect. I don't get it; never have, never will. It's very nearly religious. It speaks of sunlight streaming through church windows, of a love so pure you could live off it like food.
I gotta see Stella. I head over quickly to the stairs, taking two at a time. At my bedroom, I force the door open. There on the floor, by the side of the bed, sits Kowalski. He's gently holding Stella's hand, singing in a terrible, off-key voice some half-remembered disco ballad from the late seventies.
And Stella in her sleep is smiling.
Ma and Frannie just came from the airport a few minutes ago. I couldn't leave to pick them up in case the call came through from the perp, so one of the younger beat cops who's been used for grunt work the last couple days volunteered to get them and drop Kowalski off at the same time. She's good people; reminds me a little of Elaine, only tougher, more together.
When Ma and Frannie shuffled in, it was almost too painful to look at them. Ma looked twenty years older than she did at Christmas. And Frannie moved like she had been worked over with a hose. Still, Ma managed to climb the stairs to look after Stella and Sis disappeared into the kitchen to do I don't know what. What is most surprising is when the young cop who picked them up comes over and gently taps my shoulder. "They'll be okay once we get your boy back. Your friend insisted we pick them up first, and he held them both until they stopped crying. He told them they had to be strong for you and your wife. And that he would be strong for them. Like it was an unbroken chain, that's how he put it."
I look at her strangely. "He's not my friend. He did a favor for me once, so he felt he could take something away from me that was very important. Probably the most important thing in my life until now."
She glances around the room, as if to check if anyone can hear. "Are you sure this thing was yours to begin with? Maybe you only wanted it to be."
Something inside me snaps. I want to slap her then, scream in her face, when the truth of what she says hits me like a blow.
Maybe Benny was never mine. Because maybe it's impossible to turn a wolf into a lapdog no matter how hard you try. Because maybe you can only love it for what it really is.
And just maybe Kowalski understands all this, because he's a wolf too.
I don't remember much after that. Not for a while. Just that the world turned red and the people around me started to move in slow motion. Then stopped altogether. I stopped too and began to bleed into the red until there was nothing of me left. Nothing. They told me later, after I came to, I had been out for several minutes.
So they told me. I know better.
It was years.
It's after two and Benny and Kowalski haven't called in to report yet. Knowing Kowalski, he probably used his bad boy charm to convince Benny to call it a night and stop off in South Beach to find a room for sex and sleep. Like I really believed him when he said he'd keep his hands to himself.
Do I like what they're doing? Hell, no. Do I agree with it? Not on your life. But Benny loves me like a brother, otherwise he wouldn't be here, and Kowalski, despite being a complete screw-up, still worships Stella as if she was the second coming.
You can't throw love like that away and expect it to smell like roses. And when it does, it's more than special.
It's almost a miracle.
If I can get through this and hold my son in my arms, I hope I can teach him differently than the way Pop and Vegas taught me.
That would be the real miracle.
I can feel parts off my body beginning to shut down and it's difficult to think anymore. I'll just rest for a little while, and as I start to slip into sleep, helping hands guide me and lay me down. I know I'm sprawled out on the sofa dreaming, but I can't fight it any longer. I'll nap for only a few more minutes. Besides, the afternoon sun feels so warm, even embracing, and the water licks my toes like a lover. I look down the long stretch of beach. Except for me, it's deserted. Suddenly, all its beauty seems hollow and empty. That's when I see Benny in his dress reds making his way straight to me. I feel happier immediately, more vibrant and alive than I have in long time. Stella arrives a minute later, draped in a long, flowing blue gown as the colors of the sky and sand shimmer and beckon in the space surrounding her.
Both halves of my heart are here with me. I feel complete. Whole.
There's the sound of motion coming from the water. We all turn to watch a blond swimmer rise out of the bay. It's Kowalski. He smiles seductively, claiming them both. They smile back and turn away, leaving me alone. For him.
In front of me, Benny and Stella are fighting over Kowalski, who has moved somehow and is now standing between them. Benny is being as only Benny can be -- polite, yet stubborn to the point of arrogance. Meanwhile, Stella uses every nasty weapon in her considerable arsenal. Kowalski just stands there, placating each with a touch or a look. But instead of calming them, it only serves to enrage Benny and Stella even more. Then slaps become caresses and shouts murmurs as they become more amorous.
Soon the three of them are moving as one, finding their own private rhythm.
I want to put a stop to this but can't. Somehow I'm up to my knees in sand, sinking deeper by the minute and when I open my mouth, no words come out.
I've been thrown away like week-old trash. Replaced completely and totally.
Large parts of me hate them. I want them dead; no, in pain and then dead.
But there's a small part that needs to understand.
And a still smaller part that just doesn't know what to do.
I'm up to my armpits in sand now, when I hear my cell phone ringing. It's in my pocket. If I try as hard as I can, I might be able to reach it. That's when out of the corner of my eye I see a small, thin, dark-haired little boy with sad green eyes sitting on the other side of me. Behind him Irene Zuko, pale yet luminous, puts the finishing touches on a sand castle while next to her Louis Gardino smiles and waves to me, before bending to help Irene with her work.
The boy points to me. "Poppa, your wake up call," he says with conviction. "Poppa, answer the phone." He reaches over, begins shaking my shoulder.
The hand shaking me becomes more insistent. "Mr. Vecchio, wake up." I force my eyes to open. "The phone, sir." I take the receiver and glance at my watch the same time. It's 3:21 AM.
"Yeah, this is Vecchio. Speak to me."
"Mr. Vecchio." The masculine voice is a deep, honey-sweet drawl with a hint of steel beneath. "This is Lieutenant Crockett. Has anyone spoken to you, sir?"
"No, I just managed to fall asleep." It's bad news. My son is dead.
"I have both good and bad news for you." He waits a beat, giving me a chance to fully wake up and prepare myself. "Your son was found fifteen minutes ago. He's being-"
"-My son is alive?"
"Yes, sir. He's in the ER at South Miami, being checked out by a pediatrician. The results are promising, sir. It seems the woman who snatched your son took very good care of him."
My son is alive. "Thank God."
"Yes, sir. Thanks to some fine detective work from your friends, we were able to discover that she had been taking medication for depression, and that she was off her meds for some time." He gives a short laugh, but there is no humor in it. "She worked in records; that's how she was able to hide the paper trail of her medical history."
So Benny and Kowalski did manage to help. I feel hot and cold, all at the same time. "Are they there now? I would like to thank them."
There is a much longer pause than before. "Do you remember, sir, I told you there was both good news and bad news?"
"Yeah, but-" Please, not Benny. "What happened?"
"It appears that the Mountie, Corporal Fraser is it?"
"Convinced Ric -- Sergeant Tubbs -- that for the good of international relations, as well as the best interests between the RCMP and the Miami Police Department, that it would behoove him to take them along as observers." That is so Benny. "Sergeant Tubbs compared it to being run over by a velvet steamroller."
"Tell your man not to kick himself. Benny does that to everybody."
"I thought as much, but thank you. It seems they picked up the warrant and then went directly to the suspect's apartment. Once there, Sergeant Tubbs made his way to the front door while his partner, Detective Gamazo, circled around the back. For reasons that aren't clear yet, Corporal Fraser and Mr. Kowalski followed Detective Gamazo."
"Well, while Tubbs interviewed the suspect at her front door, her boyfriend went out the back, where he met up with Gamazo and your friends. Shots were exchanged, slightly wounding Corporal Fraser, Detective Gamazo and the boyfriend. However, they managed to subdue him when Mr. Kowalski unexpectedly proceeded to jump on his back and do bodily damage."
"Bodily damage?" There is a strange, almost strangled sound that comes from the other end of the line.
"It would appear that he bit off most of the suspect's nose before being pulled off by Corporal Fraser."
Way to go. "And Stanley?"
"Mr. Kowalski is uninjured, sir. He was upset with the wounds sustained by his, uh," I have to smile at this; the sound of a good old southern boy being forced to be politically correct, "partner. It seems he threatened both suspects, the officers at the scene and various doctors in the ER." His voice carries the assuring tone of his unspoken approval. "He's a live wire."
"You're being kind. He's crazy and relentless as a pit bull on dust." We both start laughing so hard I swear I can see stars. Then the tears come and I find myself wiping my face. "I'll be over in a few minutes to pick up my son," I manage to get out.
"Sir, let us bring him to you. Why don't you spend some time with your wife and family? I understand your mother and sister just arrived from Chicago. You've been through hell the last few days." He lets me savor his suggestion, taste the truth of it. "I'll bring your son and friends home to you personally as soon as the doctors release them."
"All right then. Thank you. Thank you kindly."
"You're welcome, Mr. Vecchio. Glad we could help."
In the last couple hours since my son was returned to me, I've kissed my family a thousand times over; plus the entire task force, Lieutenant Crockett, and a handful of reporters. I even nodded to Benny and Kowalski. Smiled too; thanked them and told them they did a good job.
I didn't see much of them after that. There were way too many people, talking, taking notes and photos of Crockett and his men. I got glimpses though of Benny sitting quietly in that high-backed chair, while Kowalski, fresh blood drying on his sweater and pants, sprawled on the footstool he had pushed up against Benny's legs. At one point, I saw Benny closing his eyes to the crowd and his pain; simultaneously Kowalski blinked open his own lids, warily scanning the room. As if they could somehow eavesdrop on each other's thoughts.
They disappeared upstairs a few minutes later. The reporters stayed for over an hour longer, begging for more quotes and pictures. By that time most of the cops were gone. Crockett lagged behind, answering the last of the questions like a seasoned pro, but also, I think, to wind down while Tubbs and his younger partner mostly followed Frannie from room to room, flirting and making small talk. I finally wobble sleepily over to the kitchen. "You want coffee?"
Crockett looks up. "What kind?"
"Cappuccino." He stands and follows me into the kitchen, telling me how, by asking the right questions, Benny and Kowalski discovered that one Maria Blanco, who worked in Medical Records, had lost her only child last year and couldn't have another. And how that baby had been a green-eyed, brown-haired little boy, the very image of his mother.
"They're quite the pair, aren't they?" I feel like cringing because I know what's coming. But he's smiling. Widely. "I mean, we're in the ER, Corporal Fraser is getting his arm stitched up, when out of the blue, Kowalski slugs him. Right in the mouth. He says, 'that's for getting shot.' When I look over at him, he's in tears. I had my suspicions already based on what Tubbs told me earlier about the Mountie."
"What did he say?" I work the espresso machine carefully. Last time I managed to burn myself with the steam. That's not going to happen again.
"You know. Drop-dead gorgeous. A body the Crazy Horse Saloon would pay top dollar for."
"What did he do then?"
"Corporal Fraser?" I nod. "He got this really odd look on his face; for a minute there I thought he was gonna take a swing at his buddy." Benny lost control like that? "Then he turned into a snowman."
"Yeah, well he does that a lot." I make an offer to sweeten his coffee with some rum, but he shakes his head. "Does it bother you?" I ask casually, handing him the cup.
He brings the cup to his mouth, tastes the cappuccino, smiles, then drinks deeply. "What? The fact that they're queer?"
"I've read a little about you, Vecchio. I know you were a good cop. And I know by that question, you're a good Catholic. I'm right, aren't I?"
"I try to be."
"All right. Because you were a good cop and are a good Catholic, I'm going to make this easy for you. Okay?"
I swallow. "Shoot."
"They're queer. They poke each other. And there's something else about them...something wild...I don't know what. But I don't think they fuck around. And even more than that, they seem to really care for each other -- more than some marriages I've been witness to." He takes a deep breath. "Mostly, they're damn good cops. So get over it. The sooner the better."
"But nothing. Get over it or cut them loose. Those are your choices." He stands up, finishing the last of the coffee. "Thanks for this. I really am glad we could help. You have a nice life here. Good family, good friends." He looks around the room. "You don't know how lucky you are," he adds softly. Offering his hand, we shake vigorously.
"Thanks again. I'll see you around."
"Yeah, but not on a case next time, okay?" He walks toward the direction of the living room. "Rico, Manuel, let's go. We're history." With nods and smiles all around, they're out the door and suddenly the house is as quiet as Dadeland Mall on New Year's Day.
I look at my watch. Breakfast time. Or it will be soon. After extracting a promise from Ma and Sis to head over to the fruit stand in Kendall for more coffee and comfort food, I'm left alone holding my son in the living room. My son. I look down at his small red face and all I can think of is that I made a wish that I want to see come true. For me. For my boy. For Benny. I find myself climbing the stairs.
I head toward the nursery. I'm about to knock when, through the door, I can hear their voices clearly.
"OK, Ben. My turn. I get to do you now, so give."
"Ray, I'm perfectly capable of taking care of myself in this manner. I recall doing it for years before I met you."
"This ain't a pity fuck. I'm gettin' somethin' out of this too." A pause. "'Less I gotta force ya."
At that, I push open the door, careful not to wake the baby. Standing in the middle of the room is Benny, nearly completely dressed in his uniform. In front of him stands Kowalski, bare-assed as the day he was born, helping Benny clothe himself by easing the tunic over the injured arm with infinite gentleness. I find myself staring, mesmerized by the play of leather and silver jewelry against the gold of his skin.
"Jesus, Vecchio," he grumbles, as he loops the sling over Benny's neck and secures the arm it carries tenderly. "If ya just told me ya wanted to see me naked, we could have worked somethin' out." His eyes, wet with unshed tears manage to look tragic. "Everybody knows what a whore I am."
I feel my face burning. That's five times I know of -- five times in the last twelve hours he's thought about other people, putting them first. Maybe it's not the sex at all -- that could be just the gravy.
"Stan, will you get dressed, please."
Benny's blue eyes turn fathomless; it's like looking into the deepest end of the sea. "Do it now."
"Sure, OK. Sorry." He turns his back to us as he kneels in front of the duffle bag and starts to rummage through it. After a few seconds, he pulls out a pair of briefs, smelling them first before rising then slipping them on. He turns around again, half cocky, half unsure.
"I...I should have knocked first." Benny tilts his head at me, his serious face a question mark. "I just came to ask you both to join us for breakfast." I find I can't look at them -- either one of them. Letting my gaze wander around the room, I see two chairs pushed together with the baby's blanket over them. A pile of discarded clothing, smeared with blood, is on the floor. And under the window, several feet away, lies Benny's bedroll, extended and rumpled. Shocked, I glance up at Kowalski. He kept his word. He knows what I'm thinking and suddenly he's grinning like a fox. "You think you can be ready soon?"
"Ya want us to eat with ya?" He's not going to make this easy.
"That's what I said, Stanley!" I find my voice rising. I can't help it. He's as impossible as Benny. "Mother of God, you act like you were raised in a trailer park or something."
Kowalski's face changes as the grin is replaced by a toothy smile while Benny's eyes begin to twinkle. What? The light blue eyes start laughing too. "I was."
"Well, there you go. Between you being born in a barn," I nod at Benny, "and you," I nod over to Kowalski, "being raised in a trailer park, it's no wonder the two of you found each other. Now finish getting some clothes on, okay? I don't want my boy getting ideas." I turn back to the door and make a move to open it when Kowalski glides over and does it for me. We take a long look at each other. 'Thanks', he mouths, turning his head so Benny can't see. I'm about to make my way down the hall when I hear a small, little boy's voice.
"Can I see him? I won't touch him or nothin'. I just wanna see him up close." I know what he's thinking. This baby should have been mine. I shift my weight to let him get a good look. For about ten seconds. Then I pull my son back. Thinking he might be bitter, I look into his eyes again.
And find a grateful man. I feel like such a sack of shit. "You...you want to hold him, Stanley?"
"Oh, no. No. Stella wouldn't want that. Him bein' yers and all. But thanks." He moves back over to Benny. "Thanks a lot."
I nod and leave them behind, kicking the door shut with my foot. Walking to our bedroom entrance, I push open the door with my elbow and step over the threshold. Here we are. Together again. That is if she'll still have me.
"Stella, wake up. There's somebody here who wants to see you."
Five minutes later, I walk out of the bedroom empty-handed. Stella woke up all right. In every way possible. In exchange for half the bowling alley, the house and the Riv, she'll give me a permanent separation and all the lies that go with it, rather than a divorce. Plus joint custody of our son. All things considered, it's a good business deal all the way around.
And half a loaf is better than none.
I think I'll go sit outside in the sun for a while. I feel like I'm coming down with a cold.
A few minutes later I hear a commotion. Something loud. I stand up from the patio chair and walk slowly over to the glass door and peer in to see Stanley bouncing down the stairs like a kid. He waits at the bottom rung, hands holding each newel, looking up.
Benny follows him a minute later with a slower, surer gait. He towers over Kowalski who stands holding his ground on the final step. "Move," he smiles. Stanley shakes his head.
"Ya gotta pay the toll."
"Pay me." With a low, throaty growl, Benny wraps his good arm around Kowalski's waist like a belt and lifts him high until they are eye-level. Stanley bends forward, snakes his legs about Benny's hips and locks them into place by pressing his calves together. He then twists his arms across Benny's shoulders. They stare into each other's faces so intensely as to block everything else around them. "I'm sorry I popped ya last night. But nobody fucks with you but me. You know that."
"I know. And I want to apologize as well. I've acted unconscionably." That's it? That constitutes a dogfight for Crockett? What does he think Benny is?
And I realize what he thinks. The same as me until now. A life-sized tin soldier.
Benny takes the last step down, continues to carry Kowalski to the kitchen. "How can I make it up to you?"
Stanley lights up. Even from where I stand, the rapture on his face is unmistakable. "Just fly with me, Wendy. Just fly."
"I can do that."
"Then we're cool." They reach the kitchen door. Kowalski arches his back against it while Benny gives him a warning shake of his shoulders that would make Miss Manners proud. Stanley grumbles his displeasure. But he listens. "All right. OK. But next time it's just us, yer mine." He slides down off of Benny and as his feet reach the floor, he brings his hand up to touch Benny's mouth. To seal the promise. As they disappear into the kitchen, I wonder what they'll do once they realize they're alone.
Because I know now what this wildness between them is. Know it, recognize it, and remember what it was like between Irene and me. When we were young and in love the first time. And life had so many possibilities. And how I've never come close to feeling that way again.
I think when Ma and Frannie come home, I'll take them out for breakfast. And let Stella clean up the kitchen once she comes downstairs.
That's worth the other half of the bowling alley any day.