Partners

Debra Fran Baker

dfbaker@panix.com


"I'm not him."

"Excuse me, Ray?" I looked at my partner. He took his eyes away from the telescope and rubbed them. He'd been silent for hours.

"I'm not him, Frayze. I'm not your partner for real."

"I don't understand. Has something happened in that apartment?"

"Nothing happened and nothing's gonna happen because they know we're here. Didn't I say that before we even got things set up?"

"Yet you have spent most of the time since we 'set up' watching out that window."

"I could be wrong. And I'd rather be wrong now and catch 'em."

"You are wrong, you know."

"About the drug dealers in there?" He narrowed his eyes.

"That's not important now."

"Not important? These guys are moving dope across the Great Lakes from my country to yours and they're not important?"

"Of course they're important, Ray."

"You just said..." He went back to the telescope. I walked with him, nearly tripping over Dief, who looked at me as if to say, "get on with it, idiot" and moved to a safer corner of the room. I didn't have time to deal with his impertinence. Something was wrong with Ray.

"I meant it. Why did you say what you said?"

"Because it's true. I'm not Vecchio. I mean, I'm nothing like the man. I tried a little, but I can't do it. I'm only using his name. And his partner." He looked at me quickly and then turned his attention back to the telescope.

I rubbed my eyebrow. Everything he had said was quite true, but none of it was important. Except for the last item.

"I'm not his partner, Ray. He is...was...my best friend. He and I spent more off duty hours together than we did apart, aside from actually sleeping. He tried to teach me about the city, although I fear I never learned his lessons. I believe he would have died for me. I believed at one point that I would do the same for him."

"How is that not a partner, Fraser?" He spoke to the telescope. I could detect a catch in his voice. It felt like a knife in my heart.

"We worked together only because...things happened. We were treated as partners, but he never called me that. Friend, brother...even potential brother-in-law...but never partner."

"He wanted you to marry Frannie?" I heard something in his voice. He still refused to look at me.

"Oddly, no. He seemed...concerned at the idea. I, of course, had no interest in marrying Francesca, although I'm certain she'd make a fine wife."

"Oh." He hesitated. "Why 'of course'?"

"Because I'm not in love with her. I've...I thought I was in love with a woman once. I was wrong."

"How do you know?"

"Love strengthens. It heals. What I had with...with that woman only made me hurt. Even when we were together, even when we made love, it hurt. I did things...I lost myself. I didn't know what love was. Then." I held my breath. Was I saying too much?

"You do now?" He looked at me briefly. What was that look in his eyes? I dared not hope.

I nodded. "There was a time I thought I knew what partnership was, too. I've learned...I was wrong about that, as well."

"What...what is a partnership?"

"It goes both ways. It is something between two people who consider themselves equals, balanced in skills, in knowledge. I learned that...in a boat on the Great Lakes." His lips had been cold with shock and the long immersion. He had been warm pressing against my back in the tiny submersible. His heartbeat had been loud in my ears. It was loud now. O