a due South story.
You're not sure yet, but you think you like Chicago. Good pizza instead
of good crab. A lake instead of an ocean. It has new beer. It has
new bars. It has new people. You can be happy here, or at least try.
Lieutenant Welsh's hand is strong on your shoulder. He's another big
man; a little shorter than you because you're tall like trees are tall,
but he's built like granite. You wonder if the boss is always the biggest
man in the department. You think about dogs.
"I'm going to partner you with Kowalski," he says. "He's just come off
a sabbatical as well. Maybe you can compare notes."
"There comes a time in every man's life when he needs to stop and catch
some fish," you say, thinking of the creek that ran by your rented cabin.
Welsh laughs. "I only wish he had done something so ordinary. No, one
day I get this call out of the blue telling me that one of my best detectives
is going off to explore the Arctic Circle with a half-crazed Mountie,
and can I please arrange to give him some leave?"
You stop in front of an empty desk. "So what could I do?" he continues.
"I said yes. Because it was either agree or fire him, and he's a good
cop. A good cop who's late for work. Francesca!"
An attractive woman with a "civilian aide" badge looks up. "What?"
"Last I saw he was climbing a tree with the Mountie." She examines her
"An oak," she confirms.
"An oak tree. And was there a suspect at the top of this tree?"
"Not an American, sir, but I think maybe Fraser was going to arrest a
Canada goose." She's not smiling. A person should smile when she says
things like that.
Welsh's expression is somewhere between amusement and pain. He turns
to you. "You're not given to climbing trees, are you?"
"Not often, no," you reply, trying to remember if you've ever climbed
a tree in your life. Maybe when you were eight and adventurous.
"Good. This is your desk." He points to the empty desk. "This is Kowalski's."
He points to the nearest one. You'll be back to back. You like that;
it feels metaphorical. "Make yourself comfortable until he shows his
face. If you need anything, just ask Francesca."
He goes back into his office and the woman looks up again. She runs
her eyes over you in an assessing manner, then smiles more broadly.
"So can I get you anything?" she asks.
"Frannie! Do you have the ME's report?" Another detective paces along
the aisle, stopping between you and Francesca.
"Yeah, yeah, it's over here." She stands up and heads for another part
of the room.
The detective turns to you and points. "Don't flirt with my sister."
You hold up your hands. "I wasn't. I won't." He nods sharply and follows
You sit at your new desk and look at your partner's, which has a familiar
sort of organized anarchy. There are stacks of paper and file folders
everywhere, along with a rubber duck and a half dozen small wooden carvings.
You can't help yourself--you're a detective--you pick one up.
It's a sled dog. It looks like a wolf, but it has a curled tail and
it's in harness. The ears are tiny prickles under your thumb, the straps
of the harness are simple line suggestions. The spiral of the tail is
rough to the touch. It's exquisite.
As you sit there, rubbing your thumb over a small wooden sled dog, a
real sled dog trots up to you and gives you the eye. If you were superstitious
you'd be worried.
"Nice dog," you say, wondering how it got in. The dog grumbles and glares.
"Dief!" There's a scruffy-looking blond man stalking down the aisle.
"Dief! Look at me, ya mutt." He bends down and grabs the dog's muzzle
and turns it toward him. Amazingly, the dog doesn't bite. "Don't you
ignore me. Play nice. We're at work." The dog grumbles and walks over
to sit by Francesca.
The blond man straightens up and you notice the holster and badge under
his jacket. He looks at you. "Hi. I'm Ray Kowalski."
You stand up and hold out your hand. "Hi there, I'm--"
"The new guy, yeah, Welsh told me." He shakes your hand. He's not smiling,
but he doesn't seem hostile either.
His spiky hair speaks of youth, but the lines around his eyes and mouth
show his age: he's looking forty in the eye, just like you. He's wearing
a thigh-length leather jacket that looks new and hiking boots that look
old. The straps of his holster cross a plain grey shirt tucked into
clean, dark blue jeans.
"Kowalski!" It's Welsh again.
"Yessir!" Kowalski lifts his chin.
"I assume you were out catching criminals?
"Three bags full, sir."
Welsh's eyebrows raise. "Really. What for?"
"Yes sir. Littering bullets right into a wall."
"I see. Does this have anything to do with you and Fraser climbing an
oak tree this morning?"
"Yeah, that's how come we could see the littering. How'd you know it
was an oak?"
"Little bird told me." Welsh folds his arms, looking satisfied.
"Aw, Frannie, I can't tell you anything." Francesca shrugs. She's petting
the dog. You're wondering how the dog fits in. Does it climb trees?
"So where's Fraser?" Welsh asks. "I haven't seen him much since you
two got back."
"He's downstairs explaining to the perps the error of their ways. I
figure they'll all confess just to get him to shut up." Kowalski finally
"Probably." Welsh turns to you. "I see you've met your new partner."
"Yeah." Kowalski shoots you a look. "So what is up for today?"
"Show your partner through your open cases. I'll have something more
for you later on." Welsh clasps your shoulder and Kowalski's, tilting
you both in toward each other. "I foresee the beginning of a beautiful
friendship. Now get to it."
You look at each other as Welsh turns and heads back to his office.
You wonder what Kowalski sees. You wore a decent suit and a quiet tie
for your first day on the job; your hair is longish but trimmed, your
beard is shaven, your glasses are on. You know Welsh briefed him on
you. Does he see the sharp cop or the quiet geek? The desperate queer
or the cool student of Zen? You don't know. His eyes don't tell you
"First things first," Kowalski says.
You nod. "Coffee."
He grins really and truly this time and ushers you to the break room.
The coffee is bitter, burnt and disgusting. It tastes like home. Kowalski
drops candy in his coffee with callused fingers. "So what's your story?
How'd you end up here?"
And that's the $64,000 question. You're still not sure. You've lost
track of yourself, your path, your life. You think it over and give
him part of the truth: "My former lieutenant was murdered. He was a
good man. I helped catch his killer--it was a team effort, but the final
capture was mine."
Kowalski winces and nods. "That's rough."
"After that... I couldn't be a cop there any more, but I also couldn't
just quit being a cop." And that's not the whole story, not even close,
but it'll do. It's something he can understand.
"Yeah, I get that."
You take a slug of coffee. "So how about you? Lieutenant Welsh said
you were traveling off in the Arctic?"
"Yeah." He grins with another startling display of teeth. "The deal
there, well, it's complicated. You met Vecchio yet? Bald guy with a
Francesca's brother. "Very protective of his sister?"
"That's the one. He went undercover in the mob a couple-few years back,
and I went undercover as him so that nobody would notice Vecchio was
missing." He makes place-switching gestures with paper sugar packets
on the table.
You blink. "But you don't look anything alike."
"Criminals aren't that bright." Which is a non sequitur but he says
it as if it explains everything, so you just accept it for now.
"Vecchio came back a bit ago so I was on the lam, see? Then Fraser and
I ended up in Canada on a case and we decided when that was done, what
the hell, we're neither of us getting any younger, let's head north and
have an adventure. So we had an adventure." He shrugs and smiles a
You're captivated by this idea. An adventure. Dropping everything to
run wild through the snow, just because you're still young enough to
do it. "An adventure," you say. "What kind of adventure?"
"Looking for the hand of Franklin."
"Ah-huh. Did you find it?"
"Nah. It wasn't the finding that was important, it was the looking."
He has that secret smile again, his mouth tucking up under his nose so
that the curve of his lip beneath his mouth holds back the words. He
has the look of a man who knows things; it's the same look your Zen instructor
"How long were you up there? And who's Fraser?"
"About a year and a half, spring to fall. And Fraser--you'll find out
about Fraser. He's a Mountie. He came to Chicago due to a real long
story that he'll probably tell you when he gets you cornered some time,
and he used to be my partner until the bosses said I had to have a real
partner who's a cop and not some deranged guy in red. Not that I have
anything against you, I'm just saying what's what, but me and Fraser
are tight. He and Vecchio are tight too. I got to be Fraser's buddy
when I was filling in for Vecchio and it stuck."
"Got it." You're the new guy in another relationship web. You're used
Kowalski's head perks up. "There he is now." He jumps up and heads
out the door; his body is turned toward you as he stands up, not away.
It's a good sign. It means he doesn't resent you.
You follow, coffee in hand. Kowalski is making a beeline for a handsome
man in a plaid shirt and a big hat who's standing and chatting with the
Lieutenant by his office. Vecchio is standing over his sister at her
desk, and they both look up as the dog bursts from beneath their feet
and heads for the man as well. Fraser. For a moment, everyone in sight
is focused on Fraser: you, Kowalski, Welsh, Vecchio, Francesca, the dog;
and then the man himself glances up and sees Kowalski. He smiles a smile
that's as sweet as stolen chocolate in the short years before you learned
guilt and shame, and his attention is wholly given to Kowalski as he
And you know. You *know*. Kowalski has one too, the perfect partner,
larger than life. Someone you had to work at, someone you had to *earn*;
someone who made you want to be a better person. Someone you fell in
love with like Wile E. Coyote falling off a cliff with an anvil strapped
to his feet: a glorious freefall followed by a sickening squish.
Someone that you loved with everything you had, everything you didn't
have, everything you never thought you had.
Someone you could build a life around if he let you. Yours didn't let
you. He drew the line just shy of obsession and you suppose one day
you'll be grateful, because your perfect partner is not only straight
and Catholic and married but a father of the loveliest little babies
you've ever seen.
Kowalski is a lucky son of a bitch. Because when he looks at his man,
his man looks back. Smiling the sweetest smile you've ever seen.
You're surprisingly okay with this vision of everything you can't have.
Some guys are born to get what they want and some aren't. You aren't.
You're born to be disappointed. But it's okay, you do your breathing,
you are calm like an ocean breeze as you watch your new partner and his
real partner smile at each other.
You're on the outside again.
You want a cigarette. All your addictions are flaring to life, bing
bing bing like neon lights. You want to wrap your tongue around it and
suck the poison straight into your lungs--
You summon a quotation, any quotation, something to take your mind off
things: A Hindu story tells of a fish who asked of another fish: "I
have always heard about the sea, but what is it? Where is it?" The
other fish replied: "You live, move and have your being in the sea. The
sea is within you and without you, and you are made of sea, and you will
end in sea. The sea surrounds you as your own being."
That didn't help.
Well, maybe that helped.
Kowalski and Vecchio are arguing, something about the philosophical role
of police work in the modern world. It has the sound of a fight that's
just about fighting. Francesca has Fraser backed up against Welsh's
office wall and Fraser is glancing from her to the detectives behind
her. She's elbowing her brother as their gestures collide. Kowalski
is doing a pretty good impression of a brick wall.
Welsh is flanked by two men, one hard-edged and black and one softer
and white. "Detective!" he calls to you. "These are Detectives Huey
and Dewey." They nod in greeting. "Now if you'll excuse me..." He
stalks over to Vecchio and Kowalski. "Settle this now. Right now."
They both look at him and nod, then lean in together, each bringing up
his right hand.
Huey looks at you. "I think Kowalski spent too much time being Vecchio.
They're like two magnets polarized north. You can't bring them together."
Not north, you think. South. Vecchio has his own ties to the Mountie.
"Huh?" Dewey looks at Huey. "They just hate each other. Easy. It's
because Vecchio's doing Kowalski's ex and Kowalski has a thing for Vecchio's
sister, so they *gotta* hate each other."
"And you call yourself a detective." Huey pulls Dewey aside and mutters
in his ear. You think about eavesdropping but decide against it. An
extraordinary look crosses over Dewey's face.
"Way." Huey nods sagely.
Vecchio and Kowalski shake their fists three times; Kowalski shoots out
two fingers in a V, while Vecchio's fist remains clenched. "Rock pulverizes
scissors," Vecchio says.
Kowalski steps back and fakes a quick succession of punches at Vecchio.
"Two out of three," he says, bouncing on his toes.
"Sure, whatever you say. You're still going to lose." They lean back
in toward each other and start shaking their fists. Francesca pushes
past them to answer her phone and they turn away so that you can't see
their hands. Fraser is talking to Welsh again.
Dewey looks meditative. "Well, what is the purpose of police work anyway?
I mean, how can you know if something is right or wrong if you don't
actually know what it is?"
"The idea behind police work is that people are basically animals and
can't be trusted. That's all you need to know." Huey folds his arms.
Another quote comes to you. "'People think it is hard to see the essential
human nature, but in reality it is neither difficult nor easy. Nothing
at all can adhere to this essential nature. It is a matter of responding
to right and wrong while remaining detached from right and wrong, living
in the midst of passions yet being detached from passions, seeing without
seeing, hearing without hearing, acting without acting, seeking without
They're all looking at you. "Zen," you say.
Kowalski flings out his arms. Both fists are clenched into rocks. "Ha!
Ha! I win!"
"Chance, Kowalski, pure chance." Vecchio leans back on the desk. Francesca
swats at him.
Welsh cracks a smile. "You're going to fit right in, Detective," he
says to you, and heads back to his office. Vecchio heads to his own
desk--his phone is ringing as well. Huey and Dewey are doing--something--it
involves a boom-tish rim shot and apart from that you really can't tell.
"Dief, what on earth have you gotten into?" Fraser exclaims, and kneels
on the floor, taking his dog's paw. There's ink all over it and a tidy
trail of footprints through the desks. Fraser takes out a handkerchief--surely
that won't be enough to get ink off the dog's paw? But it's coming off.
He's lecturing the dog quietly.
"You keep all that in your head?" Kowalski asks as he crosses back toward
you. You realize he means the quote and nod. "I can't even remember
my mom's telephone number," he says, looking distressed.
Fraser looks up from the dog's paw. It's nearly clean. "Your memory
always comes through when it's needed, Ray."
"Yeah maybe. Yeah okay." Kowalski shakes his head and heads back to
his desk. He looks down and looks worried. "Hey, you seen a little
wooden dog anywhere?"
Suddenly you remember--when you picked up the sled dog before, you stuck
it in your pocket absent-mindedly. "I'm sorry!" you say, fishing it
out. "I was looking at them earlier, I must have kept it without thinking."
"Hey, no problem. I just had to make sure Dief didn't eat it. He was
"Yeah. That's my team leader Mohammed Ali. Dief thought it was insulting
that there were two teams."
"Dief the dog thought it was insulting?"
"He's very sensitive. And he's a wolf; you call him a dog, he won't
Well, that explains why he was giving you those dirty looks earlier....
You hold out the little wooden dog.
"Keep it," Kowalski says.
You tilt your head. "Keep it?"
"Yeah. You like it, right?" He shrugs, looking down. There's a smile
tugging at the corner of his mouth.
"Thank you," you say. You're trying desperately to keep a straight face,
to fight back the emotion that is seeping through this strenuous day.
The truth is that this is the nicest thing anyone's done for you in months.
You're having trouble remembering the last purely *nice* thing that someone's
done to you, in fact. "Where did you get them? They're nice, really
"I made them." Kowalski shows teeth in a little grin and reaches around
to pull a hunting knife from the back of his belt. "With my hands, but
mostly my knife."
You think about that. Kowalski sitting by a fire in the vast jagged
Arctic plain, dogs all around, bundled up with a knife and a piece of
wood in his hands, carving a portrait of his lead dog, who's named for
an American boxer. "That's great," you say, lacking any better words.
"That's really cool."
He looks down at his desk. "Coffee. Coffee. Where's my coffee. Ah,
let me go find my joe and then we can look over those case files." He
spins and heads back to the break room, his pace quick.
You sit down at your desk, feeling the little dog in your pocket. Adventure.
He's given you a piece of his adventure.
The wooden dog is caught mid-stride, running endlessly. Does a dog have
a Buddha nature?
You notice that Fraser is standing near you folding an inky spot into
a handkerchief. "Good morning," he says, doffing his hat and offering
his hand. You stand and shake it. "We haven't been properly introduced.
I'm Constable Benton Fraser of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. I
first came to Chicago on the trail of my father's killers, and for reasons
too numerous to mention, remained here attached as a liaison with the
Canadian Consulate." He smiles a little. "I returned to Chicago on
the trail of my best friend, Stanley Raymond Kowalski, when he became
homesick. It has been my privilege to work with Detectives Vecchio and
Kowalski for several years, and I hope that you find your partnership
with Detective Kowalski as rewarding as I have."
You stand stunned for a moment. "Good morning," you say finally. "I'm
Detective Tim Bayliss, formerly of the Fells Point, Baltimore Homicide
Division. I came to Chicago in search of a change of scene, and I think
I've found it." You smile at that, just a little, and he smiles back.
He and Kowalski still smell of snow.
the first quote is from Dutreix's
site of art & poetry.
the second quote is from aioko.net.
the third koan is quite common.
they are used without permission.
all comments, positive or negative or in between, are very welcome.