Man-to-Man Zone Defense
“Is that you, Vecchio? Wait. How’d you get this number? My cell’s unlisted.”
“I got friends,” Ray said as he paced around Kowalski. “You gotta help me.”
“Oh, man. Can’t this wait until tomorrow?” Sandburg sounded breathless, like Ray had interrupted a date or something, which was too bad for the guy, because Ray had an emergency.
“Are you nuts? He’s been like this for at least the last two hours.” Ray slapped Kowalski’s face again. Nothing. “Maybe as long as five hours. I don’t know.”
“Shit. He zoned?”
“He’s not stoned! He’s a cop, for God’s sake, and a damn good one. There’s —”
“What?” Ray stopped pacing, and since he couldn’t glare at Sandburg, he glared at Kowalski, who continued to ignore him and probably the rest of the universe.
“Zoned. With a zee. Like zebra. Zoned.”
“What the hell are you talking about?” Ray started to seriously wonder about this so-called expert.
“Sometimes a sentinel will focus too much on input from one of their senses, and when it happens, they zone out.” Christ. What kind of person could actually get excited about this kind of shit,
Ray wondered, especially when they’re on a date
. Out loud, he said, “All I know is that Kowalski’s stiff as a board and not dead and not coming out of it the usual way.”
“What’s the usual way?”
“I slap him up the backside of his head and tell him to snap out of it.” Ray did it again, but no good. Kowalski wasn’t budging.
“Well. Yeah.” It wasn’t like Kowalski didn’t hit back most of the time.
“No. Just — no. No more hitting him to get him out of a zone.”
“But it works.” Mostly, it worked. Sometimes it took longer to work than others, and that was okay, because Ray would cheerfully smack Kowalski’s head any day of the week. Any day of the week except for today, though, because Kowalski wasn’t doing anything, and that was just creepy.
Sandburg sighed. “Is it working now?”
Ray offered a grudging, “No.”
“Then it doesn’t work.”
“Vecchio, it doesn’t work. Trust me on this, okay?”
“Fine.” Ray made a face at Kowalski. “So what does
“Do you have any idea what he might be focused on?”
“How the hell should I know?” Sandburg tried to say something, but Ray talked over him. “I had to go back to the station on account of that no-good bum of a purse snatcher Kowalski ran down this morning, and when I got back, he was standing in the middle of the living room, looking down at his hands.”
“Were his hands empty?”
“No. He was holding my cashmere scarf. My three-hundred-dollar cashmere scarf I don’t let anyone touch, and how he got it —” Actually, Ray had a pretty good idea who brought it over, and he added that to the list of things he had to yell at Frannie about.
“Cashmere. He was probably chasing down the feel of every last strand, which explains why hitting him didn’t work.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Don’t worry about it. All you need to do is engage one of his other senses. Which one does he react to more strongly than the others?”
Ray held the phone away from his ear, tempted so very much to throw the damn thing out the window. He clenched his jaw a couple of times and said, “At the risk of repeating myself, how the hell should I know?”
“Okay, man, just relax. You getting tense won’t help the situation.” Sandburg took a quick breath and kept talking before Ray could get a word in edgewise. “I want you to take a couple of deep breaths to relax yourself. In on the count of one, two, three, four, five, and hold for one, two, three, four, five.”
Unwillingly and against all odds, Ray found himself breathing exactly the way Sandburg told him to. He wanted to be pissed off that it worked, but Sandburg had calmed him down way too much for that. The best he could manage was irritation.
“Enough, already. What do I do to snap Kowalski out of it?”
“Is there anything he particularly likes?”
“Yeah. My neck.” That same neck suddenly burned with a blush that went straight up Ray’s face. On the list of things he’d never ever
wanted to tell another cop, mentioning Kowalski’s preference for Ray’s neck was number two. Confessing his completely insane reaction to Kowalski’s preference was number one.
“Okay, scent.” Sandburg was so matter-of-fact about it that Ray wondered, for the first time, what kind of shit that other sense guy — Ellison — put Sandburg through. “I want you to take your shirt off —”
“— and let him get a good whiff of you. I’m guessing you haven’t showered since this morning, even after chasing down your perp —”
“Don’t be disgusting!”
“— so he’ll be sure to get a snout-full of one hundred percent pure Vecchio.”
There was a thin undercurrent of amusement in Sandburg’s voice, which made Ray think Sandburg was probably punishing him.
“You’re getting even with me for interrupting your date, aren’t you?”
“No, actually I’m not. I’m telling you the truth. You need to distract him from his sense of touch, and since he likes the scent of you, that should do the trick.”
“I have to go, Vecchio. If he’s not out of it in fifteen minutes, give me another call. Otherwise, we’ll talk tomorrow.”
This time Ray did
throw the phone. It crashed against the wall and fell to the floor in pieces; Kowalski was probably going to blow a gasket since it was his phone, but Ray didn’t care. No way did he care if he was about to humiliate himself.
After closing the blinds, he stood in front of Kowalski and tried one last time to get his scarf back. No go. Kowalski had too tight a hold on it.
“Fucker,” Ray muttered. There wasn’t a twitch, so Ray sighed heavily and took off his jacket. He waved his arm in front of Kowalski for a minute, hoping the pit smell would get to him. When nothing happened, he yanked off his tie and unbuttoned his shirt.
Ray shuffled as close to Kowalski as he could get, then pulled Kowalski’s head forward enough that his nose hit Ray’s shoulder.
“Take a nice, deep sniff, Kowalski, then snap out of it, you hear?”
At first, Ray thought it was another bust, but after a few seconds, Kowalski leaned in a little closer.
“That’s right, Kowalski. Got your Grade A Vecchio stink, right here.”
Kowalski’s hands dropped a little lower, and Ray grabbed his scarf just before it fell to the ground. He was about to back away when Kowalski wrapped both arms around him and wouldn’t let go. Not only that, but the dickhead was licking
“Goddamn it, let go!”
“Don’t wanna,” Kowalski said, and then —
“You kissed me!”
Kowalski shook a little, which made sense, because he was laughing. At Ray. “Way to sound like an outraged virgin, Vecchio.”
Ray opened his mouth to explain to Kowalski that he was in no way, shape or form a virgin, but Kowalski beat him to the punch, only with lips. And tongue. And little nibbling bites that started at Ray’s lower lip then worked their way back to his ear.
Jesus. Stella once told him Kowalski could kiss like nobody’s business, but Ray had no idea she meant something like this. Shouldn’t a kiss pretty much stay at the mouth? Did it really need to stretch to, say, an ear? Or the neck? Because sure, it felt good, great even, but Ray was an old-fashioned guy when it came to kisses. Of course, before Kowalski started in on him, Ray would have also said he was strictly into women’s kisses, so maybe the jaw-ear-neck kind of kissing wasn’t that bad after all.
Kowalski bit down on Ray’s neck with the exact amount of pressure required for Ray’s left leg to start kicking like a dog’s, and Ray moaned, “Oh, fuck.”
“Thought you’d never ask.” Kowalski had Ray’s slacks undone and sliding down before Ray’s brain finally caught a clue.
“What the hell
are you doing?” Ray moved so abruptly that he broke free of Kowalski’s tentacles — no way were those things arms.
“Trying to get lucky. You mind?” He took a step forward, and Ray, in his haste to move backward, tripped over his slacks, which were bunched around his ankles. He went down hard and in more ways than one, he was disturbed to note.
“Yes, I do
mind,” Ray said, with as much dignity as he could muster, all things considered.
Kowalski waved his arms around as if to say Ray was a complete idiot, and okay, maybe he was — certainly his dick thought so — but despite all evidence to the contrary, he had principles. The first was you didn’t fuck around with your best friend’s girl or guy, whichever the case may be. The second was you didn’t sleep with a guy unless you were a woman or gay, and Ray was most definitely not a woman.
He shelved the gay question for later.
“Don’t tell me you weren’t into that, because your dick there is telling a whole different story.” Kowalski leaned over and grabbed one of Ray’s hands to haul him upright again.
“Fine. I liked it. But it isn’t happening again.” Ray reached down to pull up his slacks and would have upended himself again if Kowalski hadn’t steadied him.
“Hello?” Ray knocked on Kowalski’s head a couple of times. “Does the name Benton Fraser mean anything to you?”
Kowalski rolled his eyes. “You telling me you got a thing for Fraser?”
“He’s your boyfriend
for pete’s sake. How can you cheat on him like this?” Ray landed on the floor again, because Kowalski was suddenly laughing too hard to keep Ray steady.
Ray scootched away slowly, untangling his slacks and legs so he could get dressed again. Kowalski didn’t try to stop him. He just kept looking at Ray and laughing even harder. It was starting to get to the point where Ray was feeling a little insulted by the time Kowalski started calming down.
“Thanks, Vecchio,” he said on the tail-end of a giggle. “I can’t remember the last time I had a laugh that good.”
“I’m so happy I could help.” He stood up and fastened his slacks. Though Ray was offended, he decided he was a better man and said, “I won’t be telling Benny about this when he comes back.”
“Geez, I wish you would. He’ll probably need a good laugh by then.” He flopped on the couch and wiped the tears off his face as he took a long look at Ray. “Okay, clearly, Fraser never gave you the low-down on him and me.”
“What low-down? You live together. That’s all I need to know.” When they’d come back to Chicago, the first thing they did was move in. The way they’d mooned over each other before the Muldoon and Bolt bust went down, Ray figured those two were a done deal. Since they were a done deal, there was no need to ask about it. Or talk about it. Or even think about it. Ever.
“Yeah. We live together in a two-bedroom apartment, which, hello? You’ve been staying in Fraser’s room for the last week, remember?” Kowalski leaned forward and rested his elbows on his knees. “Read my lips: him and me are not involved.”
“But — you —”
Kowalski shook his head. “The sad thing is you actually think you’re a good detective. Listen carefully — yeah, Fraser and I gave it a shot up north. It didn’t work. You want to know why?”
Ray shrugged, totally bewildered, because he would have sworn
that for the last eight years, Kowalski and Benny had been going at it like rabbits on Viagra.
“All that tension between us fell flat when we finally got down to it.” Kowalski stood up and walked toward Ray. “Maybe if we’d kissed a few times down here, we would have figured it out sooner, but we didn’t.”
“The way you looked at each other when we took him to O’Hare —”
“God, you’re a moron. I’ve known the guy nine years, and he’s my best friend. He won’t be back for a year, and we’re gonna miss each other. That’s all.” Kowalski pinned Ray in place with a fierce glare. “I love him, and I’d die for him, but no way am I taking him to bed again, because there’s no spark once we’re there.”
Ray swallowed hard, because Kowalski was close and getting closer.
“You and me, on the other hand —” Kowalski was maybe a foot away. “You and me are different. We got the tension, and lately, we got spark when we touch.” Kowalski gave Ray a look that was pure sex, and then he ran his fingers down Ray’s face. “Feel that spark?”
Yeah. Ray felt that spark. Felt it from the top of his head down to his toes, and couldn’t figure out why that touch to his cheek went straight to his dick. Kowalski was close, so damn close. Another breath would bring him into kissing range, which, as Ray had established earlier, was a good thing.
It was a really good thing, and it was one that would have to wait, since Ray’s brain kicked in again at that very moment with a huge veto. The next thing Ray knew, he was breathing hard, because he’d just run the six blocks from Kowalski’s apartment to the parking garage he used.
Inside the elevator, he mumbled, “I’m fucked. Completely, and totally fucked.” His phone rang a few seconds later. “Yeah?”
“Not yet you aren’t,” Kowalski said. “And by the way, asshole, you owe me a new phone.”