The Man Who Wasn't There

Shay Sheridan

For the 2004 Due South Seekrit Santa challenge


The Christmas party was winding down. Over by the tree, someone was singing an eggnog-fueled rap version of "O Come, All Ye Faithful." Lt. Welsh had departed a half-hour ago, offering a ride to Inspector Thatcher, which caused wild speculation on Detective Vecchio's part. Turnbull turned at the sound of Vecchio's dirty chuckle; as always he found the detective vastly entertaining, and Ray was in rare form tonight, loose and funny and perfectly ridiculous in Constable Fraser's Stetson.

Detective Vecchio had been unusually kind this evening, handing off an unwanted gift to a very surprised and grateful Turnbull. He'd been staring at the toy gun longingly, and Ray's gesture took him aback. Perhaps he'd observed the present Turnbull received, the unremarkable scarf in dreary shades of brown, and had understood that it was a gift requiring very little, if any, thought on the part of the giver. But the toy gun! That was a fantasy, all right, a rather naughty one, loud and rude and completely inappropriate for a dedicated member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to possess. Turnbull loved it. He waved it randomly around the room (as he would never do with a real weapon), pulled the trigger. Held it. The racket drew every eye at the party.

He loved the noise it made, loved the looks in his direction, was thrilled with the knowledge that he was momentarily the center of attention. He treasured that gun as he had very few other gifts in his life. It was one of the few gifts he'd ever received that was given without obligation.

Turnbull thought he was probably one of the few who realized Detective Vecchio was actually rather kind. Constable Fraser knew, of course, but the others seemed to find Ray ill mannered and confrontational. Well, that was true as well, but Ray had other, better qualities most people didn't notice. Turnbull noticed. He sought out the other man to thank him once again, but couldn't catch Ray's attention. Instead he followed Ray's eyes to where they often strayed, to Constable Fraser.

Constable Fraser, despite the bruises from his earlier dustup, seemed relaxed and happy tonight. He always was happiest when Ray was near. Turnbull had noticed this almost from the first time he'd seen them together. He'd also observed that Fraser lit up for this Ray even more than he did the last one, but he harbored the hope that Constable Fraser still thought about the old Ray Vecchio from time to time. It would be sad if the original Detective Vecchio stopped being important to Constable Fraser just because he was out of sight. Turnbull thought about how he would feel, were he the original Ray Vecchio, how deeply it would hurt to be forgotten.

He considered the cluster of people around Constable Fraser. Benton Fraser was someone who was noticed all the time. It must be rather nice to have so many people constantly interested in you -- though, he amended, perhaps after a while it might become claustrophobic. Still, how marvelous must it be to have one friend, let alone two, two real friends like the two Ray Vecchios, friends who'd pay the sort of attention to you that Ray - or Ray - paid to Constable Fraser. Someone who'd look at you and see you.

There was loud crash that drew a momentary silence and then a smattering of applause. Detective Dewey had knocked the remnants of the fruitcake onto the floor, and was busy shoving it around the desks with a hockey stick, yelling "Score!" Dewey seemed to find this hilarious, though his partner, Detective Huey, was glaring daggers at him and calling him a jerk.

Detective Dewey was always being called a jerk, or an idiot, or a moron by someone in the squad room. He didn't seem to mind. Detective Dewey, with his perpetual aura of fish and bacon bits, was always telling terrible jokes, making politically incorrect comments and staring lasciviously at women's breasts. Every time Turnbull came to the police station, he found Detective Dewey in the middle of an argument or a shouting match or a fistfight, usually with Detective Vecchio.

Turnbull momentarily wondered if it mightn't be better to be disliked than ignored. No one might want to notice Detective Dewey, but they could hardly avoid doing so. But surely there was some other, less extreme way to get himself noticed! What if he were funny? He could learn a few jokes, couldn't he? Or perhaps if he dyed his hair blond, or cut it in an unusual style, like Ray - this Ray. If only he were smart, or good looking, like Constable Fraser. . .

Turnbull sighed. He knew, down deep, that he wasn't bad looking, though certainly not as handsome as Constable Fraser. Not that he was bragging about this, it was just a fact. He was in fact quite smart, too, though only about trivial matters; common sense often eluded him. As for his hair, it was regulation and must stay that way. And according to Detective Vecchio, he was funny already. But not on purpose. Never on purpose.

He scanned the room, looking for someone willing to talk to him. Miss Vecchio had given up trying to seduce Constable Fraser, and had left with the desk sergeant and the woman from the property lockup, ostensibly to attend Midnight Mass, but more likely to commiserate. Constable Fraser and Ray had their coats on and were leaving together. Turnbull didn't know for a fact what was going on between them, but he was reasonably certain it had nothing to do with attending Mass. He wondered if the Constable would be back in the Consulate tonight. He thought not.

Detective Huey, having thrown up his hands in disgust at his partner, had hooked up with the attractive morgue assistant and was walking out the door with her, one hand at the small of her back. The man who pushed the broom at night, who spoke only Russian, was occupied under the mistletoe with the woman from maintenance, who spoke only Spanish. They seemed to have found a common tongue.

They seem to have found a common tongue. . . Astonished and delighted by his pun, Turnbull turned to share it, but found himself alone except for Detective Dewey, who was staring at his partner's retreating back looking quite bereft. The expression on Dewey's face was so painful, Turnbull had to look away. Oh dear. Did his own face wear such an expression of despondency? Suddenly the toy gun in his hands was a rather sad consolation prize, compared with a friend, a good friend, a partner, a lover, someone to leave with, someone who'd watch your back, someone who'd go home with you, comfort you. Need you.

Or at the very least, someone who'd glare at you and call you a jerk.

A wave of despair came over him. Sometimes, like now, Turnbull imagined he was turning into the Invisible Man. Sometime soon, he feared, he'd be right in the middle of a meeting or a party and no one would be able to see him, not his Stetson or his uniform or his big hands or his bigger feet. He'd be there, but not there. Sometimes he wondered if it had already happened.

Unable to bear the waning party a moment longer, he gathered his regulation wool coat and stepped out into the night. As the door started to close, he heard a muffled "Hey, Merry Christmas," but when he turned around no one appeared to be looking at him. The two under the mistletoe were still kissing. Detective Dewey was engrossed in a cup of punch. The farewell must have been meant for someone else.

The air was cold, but Turnbull didn't mind walking. He'd gone only half a block, however, when he stopped to consider where he was headed. There was nothing to go home to except a bed and some books and his art supplies. It was a comfortable enough place, for an apartment the size of a cardboard box, and the heat worked well enough, certainly for someone used to Newfoundland winters. In his fridge there was leftover (strictly non-alcoholic) eggnog. He'd prepared it himself the night before, and had sipped a cup of it, sitting in front of his tabletop Christmas tree, listening to carols on the radio. But the thought of doing that on Christmas eve, of sitting there alone, seeing the scrubby tree and the single stocking, empty but for the presents he'd bought himself and the brown scarf and the two Christmas cards, one from his sister and one from his insurance agent--

He took a deep breath and expelled it into the frosty air. Maybe he wouldn't go home after all.

He turned left instead of right, towards the Consulate. There was always something there that needed doing.

Sometimes when Constable Fraser was away Turnbull stayed in the Consulate overnight, wandering the corridors like a restless ghost, smiling at Her Majesty's portrait, telling himself someone needed to be in residence, though he actually knew his presence was unnecessary.

He was unnecessary. Entirely de trops. Inutile.

Useless.

Well, that wasn't true. Not precisely. He knew his value, limited as it was. Someone had to man the telephones at the Consulate. Someone had to dust.

Invisible. Useless.

I'm useless, I'm useless. Useless, useless, useless--

Oh dear. He'd gotten the tune of "O Come All Ye Faithful" stuck in his head.

Useless, oh Yoo-hoos-leh-hess, Yoo-hoos-less--

He didn't hear the car behind him until it skidded to a halt, wheels spinning on the icy street, and crashed into garbage cans directly behind him. The cacophony snapped him into action, heart thudding, mind racing, eyes whipping around to check the scene. Had someone been hurt? There was a mess on the sidewalk, but no pedestrians except himself. Was the driver injured? He ran to the driver's side and yanked the door open.

"'Lo, Turnbull. Merry Christmas."

Turnbull blinked in surprise. "Merry Christmas, Detective Dewey."

Dewey squinted at him through unfocused eyes. "C'mon. I'll give you a ride."

What a terrible idea, Turnbull thought, regarding the toppled cans. "You shouldn't drink and drive, Detective. Someone might've been hurt." Despite his best intentions, the words came out like a lecture.

Dewey giggled, and then burped. His breath fortunately did not smell of either fish or bacon bits. He stuck his hands out in front of him. "Lock me up."

"No, Detective. I don't have jurisdiction in Chicago. In any case, I don't carry handcuffs."

"Pity." Dewey dropped his hands.

"Are you injured?"

"Don't think so."

Turnbull looked at the front grille. "Your car seems undamaged. Perhaps I should drive you home."

"Okay, sure." Dewey smiled beatifically. His eyes rolled up and he fell onto the pavement at Turnbull's feet.

It went against his nature to leave the scene of an accident, even a minor one, so Turnbull scribbled a note with his name and telephone number on the pad he always carried and affixed it to a trash can before hauling Dewey into the car and taking the wheel. The moment he hit the passenger seat, Dewey's head fell back and he began to snore.

Well, here was an unexpected wrinkle. He had no idea where the detective lived. It really was a quandary, one that momentarily stymied him. He could go through Dewey's pockets in search of his address, but that would mean waking him, or he could rummage through the glove compartment, but somehow that seemed awfully intrusive.

He drove to the Consulate.

Turnbull knew where the key was hidden for the front door of the Consulate. He knew because the Inspector made him hide it, changing the location obsessively every week so that no one might creep into the Consulate without her express permission. So it was no hardship to prop up Detective Dewey against the door and delve into the bushes flanking the steps. Yes, there it was, buried right between the zinnias and the base of the fledgling maple tree. He turned the key and pushed the door open.

He always felt a little bit guilty when he visited the Consulate late at night, as if he were trespassing. It was, after all, technically Constable Fraser's residence. But he managed to assuage most of his guilt by reminding himself that the Consulate was a little Canadian outpost in the midst of a dangerous American city, and might be the last bastion of defense for Her Majesty if war ever did break out again between the United States and Canada. Surely if Constable Fraser could not be there, there should be someone manning the battlements.

Useless, oh yoo-hoos-leh-hess--

Dewey leaned heavily on him as they crossed the parquet. Turnbull sat him in a chair against the wall in the front parlor while he went to snap on a light. Dewey promptly slid off the chair onto the floor. "Oopsy daisy," he giggled from the parquet.

"Oh, dear." Turnbull hastened to help him rise. If the folding chairs in the front room wouldn't suffice, there was always--

--the big leather couch in the Inspector's office, not that he'd ever been allowed to sit on it. However, Constable Fraser had let Detective Vecchio sleep on it once. In theory, therefore, one of Detective Vecchio's associates should also be welcome. In theory.

"Sit here, Detective." Turnbull half-dragged his limp bundle to the couch.

Dewey slithered about and clasped his arms around Turnbull's neck. "Know what, Turnbull?"

"No, Detective Dewey."

Dewey grinned, but refused to let go. "You're beautiful. You're a beautiful man, Turnbull."

"Thank you, Detective Dewey." He deposited his burden on the couch, lifted his legs and wrestled him out of his jacket.

"Mm, yeah, baby," Dewey sighed as Turnbull unbuckled his belt. He still hadn't dropped his arms from Turnbull's neck. "That's the way, baby, take 'em off for me."

"No, I'm not, I mean, I'm just making you comfortable," Turnbull stammered, blushing, but suddenly Dewey's hands were tangled in his hair, and Dewey seemed far more alert than he had been. With strength surprising for one so wiry, the detective managed to pull Turnbull down onto the couch on top of him.

"You don't hate me, Turnbull, do you?" Dewey growled.

"Well, uh, no, of course I don't hate you." He could have pulled away, used his bulk and superior strength to free himself, but somehow it didn't seem a very polite thing to do. One of Dewey's hands moved to burrow into his tunic. It tickled him, making him squirm. Dewey's face told him he appreciated the squirming, so he tried to hold still. "I'm terribly sorry, Detective, I don't mean to--"

"People hate me, Turnbull. Why do people hate me?" The man's other hand was snaking down his side, reaching for his bottom. Dewey squeezed. Turnbull jumped.

"Oh! I'm sure people don't hate--"

"--Sure they do. But you like me, don'tcha? Just a little?"

The uncertainty in Dewey's voice was rather unsettling, in a completely different way than his fervid groping. Turnbull thought about how Dewey's face had looked at the party, and he felt a little pang of something. . .pity? And that, that thing he felt was Dewey's hand delving inside his suddenly very restricting trousers -- oh, how good that felt, to have someone touching him there, how very, very, very--

Wrong! "Please. Please don't do that, Detective Dewey!" His own broad hand clamped over Dewey's stringy wrist and pulled the delightful -- er, offending, hand out of his fly. There was a moment of tension in which he willed himself to hold the other man's gaze. It was hard work, but finally Dewey's eyes fell away.

"Christ." Dewey went limp, his hands dropping to the couch. "Fuck. Fuck."

Turnbull sat up, adjusting his tunic over his inappropriate erection.

"I'm doing this wrong." Dewey's voice was muffled by the leather of the couch. "I always get it wrong."

Turnbull stilled. "I beg your. . ."

"I always fuck up everything." Dewey ran a hand over his face and left it covering his eyes. "I'm sorry, okay? Really sorry."

"You really don't have to apol--"

Dewey's other hand balled up and hit his own thigh, hard. "I mean, why the hell would a guy like you want someone like me pawing him!" Thwack! The fist came down again. "I screwed up, like I always do!"

Turnbull opened his mouth, though better of it, and closed it again.

"Shit, I don't even know if you're gay," Dewey went on in a pinched voice. "Though you seem gay, but for all I know it's that Canadian thing, and I have no fucking gaydar, and here I go and fuck it up royally, so go ahead, punch me if you want. Go ahead, do it, do it! You probably only screw chicks, and you--"

"No," Turnbull heard himself say, "I don't."

Dewey's hand came away from his face. He turned his head. "Don't what?"

"I don't scr--er, sleep with ch--with girls." Turnbull said faintly, feeling distinctly warm. His mouth seemed to be out of his control. "I did. I have. Two. Um. Girls."

Dewey perked up. "What, at once?"

"Good heavens, no!" Turnbull blushed beet red. "That would be awful. I meant, before."

"Before what?"

"Good grief, Detective," Turnbull said, completely mortified. "Before I, you know, knew."

Dewey's forehead wrinkled. "Knew what?"

"Detective," Turnbull sighed, now quite frustrated. "I'd really rather not have to punch you, if you don't mind."

Dewey peered at him intently. "You sure about that?"

"Completely." He cleared his throat, which felt quite dry. "And I am." He swallowed. "Gay, I mean. Also completely."

"Yeah, I got that." Dewey pulled himself upright and settled next to him. "Does Fraser know? The Inspector?"

Turnbull blinked at him in surprise. "Certainly."

"Well, yeah. Dumb question, I guess. Duh. You don't look like you know how to tell a fib."

"I've lied," he protested, and dropped his voice. "To my parents."

"That's gotta suck."

"Completely," Turnbull agreed.

"So." Dewey poked him in the ribs. "Whaddya know -- I was right."

"Yes." Turnbull tugged at his tunic, which was already perfectly straight. Perfectly straight. He swallowed a giggle, but it erupted through his nose.

Dewey narrowed his eyes. "What's so funny?"

The giggle was erupting again, which hinted at incipient hysterics. "Perfectly straight," he gasped. "My tunic is perfectly straight." The giggle became a snort. Unable to stop, he snorted again and gave in to uncontrollable laughter..

Dewey looked baffled for a moment, and then the coin dropped. "Yeah." He snickered, and then started to laugh, too. "Perfectly straight. Just like us."

"Just like us."

"Just like us -- not."

Turnbull sputtered at that and they collapsed back against the couch. "Oh, dear!" He wiped his eyes.

"You got that in one, Turnbull." Dewey blotted his own eyes with his sleeve. "Turnbull-- So you, what's your name? I mean, your first name."

"It's Renfield. Renfield J. Turnbull. The J is for--"

"Yeah, okay. Mind if I just call you Turnbull?"

"Not at all, Detective."

"Detective schmective. Call me Tommy."

"Oh!. . .well, all right. Tom. Tommy. Er, Tommy?"

"Yeah?"

"Does Lieutenant Welsh know? Does Detective Huey?"

"Know what?" Dewey chuckled, still caught up in hilarity. "Perfectly straight. Heh. You're funny, Turnbull."

"Do they know about you. That you're. . .you know. Not perfectly straight?"

Dewey rolled his eyes. "That I'm queer? Nah. I just figured it out myself."

"Good heavens!" Turnbull sat bolt upright. "Just now?"

Dewey snorted. "Duh, no. Come on, I may be slow, but I ain't that slow. Last coupla years." He smirked. "What, you thought I took one look at your ass and turned gay?"

Turnbull dropped his eyes to his lap and knotted his hands together. "Certainly not, Detective Dewey, I would never imagine that my--"

"--Relax, relax. I'm just joking." Dewey nudged his shoulder. "Though it's a great ass, Turnbull, in case you wondered. That's why I wanted to get my hands on it." He waggled his eyebrows. "Still do."

"Well, ah. . ." There really wasn't much to say to that. "Er. . .thank you?"

"You're welcome. And it's Tommy, remember?"

Turnbull nodded, his heart fluttering wildly. It was hard to keep control of himself, what with Dewey warmly pressed against his side, leering at him, winking one brown eye at him, his face so close. They were rather nice eyes, Turnbull noted, deep amber brown, like the former regulation R.C.M.P. uniform. And now that they weren't unfocused with drink, his eyes--

--Wait. Wait. Why weren't Dewey's eyes unfocused with drink?

"Um, Tommy?"

"Yeah?" Dewey stayed plastered to his side, breathing on him. Breathing breath that had only the merest hint of alcohol in it.

"Um, pardon me, but I thought you were inebriated."

"Ineb--oh, drunk." Dewey nodded. "Yeah, I do a good drunk, don't I?"

Turnbull disentangled himself and stood up, now quite perplexed. "But why would you pretend to be drunk?"

"You can do what you want if you're drunk." Dewey shrugged. "Say what you want to say, and people think, 'Oh, he's just drunk.' You get away with lotsa crap. Besides--" His smile faded. "People expect me to be drunk."

"Well that's, that's awful," Turnbull blurted. He felt terribly confused. "But. . .people don't know what you're like, then, if you act like something you're not. They can't tell who you really are."

"That's the idea."

"I don't understand," Turnbull persisted. "Lieutenant Welsh and the others don't like what you do when you pretend to be drunk. That's why they think you're--" Oh, dear, this way lay peril. "Uh, that you're, well, perhaps a bit abrasive."

"'Abrasive?' They think I'm a shithead. And you know what? That's fine with me." Suddenly angry, Dewey pushed off from the sofa. "You think they'd like me when I'm sober? You got some kinda cockamamie idea they want to know who I really am? Guess again! If they don't care a fucking thing about me now, trust me -- they won't give a shit for the real me. Well, I don't care. Let 'em hate me for being an asshole." He crossed to the window, his back to the room, and lowered his forehead to rest against the glass. "You don't get it, Turnbull. All I ever did was try to be a good cop, try to do my job. All I ever wanted was somebody to. . . " Dewey's voice wavered. "Fuck, I don't get it either. They all got somebody who. . .why am I the only one who never. . ." His fist flew out and banged on the window frame. "Ah shit! Even my partner doesn't like me."

"I'm sure that's not true. Detective Huey pays lots of attention to you."

"Shyeah. Tells me to shut up."

There really wasn't anyway to answer that. Dewey was growing quite upset, which in turn was upsetting him. "Tom, I wouldn't presume to tell you what to do, but--"

"Then don't!" Dewey snapped back. "You don't know what it's like, Turnbull, to have nobody give a rat's ass for you."

"I know."

"Bullshit."

"I do know, Tommy."

"What do you know? Don't you get it? Let them think I'm a jerk. As long as they don't notice I'm a loser!"

"I'm invisible."

Dewey closed his mouth with a snap. Slowly the anger faded from his face, leaving only bleakness. "Yeah, well, maybe you got an idea, then. Nobody wants to know a loser."

"I would," Turnbull said quietly. "Except you're not one."

Dewey stared at him. "Yeah, well, shows what you know."

"I know that you're not a loser. I know you think you are. I know that you really do care what they think of you. And I know you pretended to be drunk so you could try to. . . well, you know what, with me." Turnbull took a deep breath and tried to ignore the thudding of his heart. "It's just that I'd hoped. . . I hoped you liked me, at least a little."

"Of course I like you!" Dewey said with impatience. "Why else would I--" He sighed and scrubbed a hand over his face. "Look, Turnbull, forget it, okay? I'm sorry. You're a nice guy. I shoulda known not to try that with you. You're too classy for that."

"Classy?"

"--I'm gonna go, before I act dumb again. I -- I shouldn't have tried that shit with you, grabbing you like that, trying to get you to get it on with me, even if I do like you a lot."

"I'm classy? And you like me. . . a lot?"

Dewey grabbed his jacket and started towards the door.

"Wait," Turnbull said.

"What for?" Dewey said miserably. "Do us both a favor, Turnbull. Forget this ever happened."

"I'm sorry, Tommy." Turnbull squared himself. "I don't think I can."

Dewey rolled his eyes heavenward. "Christ! I apologized! What else do you want me to do?"

"Could you," Turnbull said slowly, "Just be you for a little bit?"

"What?"

"Who you really are. With me."

"No." Dewey shook his head.

"Why not?"

"Because I. . ." The brown eyes fell. "I just. . . don't know how."

There was such a plaintive note in his voice that Turnbull felt something wrench inside his chest. He cleared his throat. Now or never. "Perhaps you might. . .with practice."

"What kind of practice?"

"Well, for starters, if you wanted to, um, you know what, with me, you might just ask."

"Yeah?" Dewey looked up, his face disbelieving. "You mean, if I wanna have sex with you, I could just . . .ask?"

"Yes."

"That's what you mean?"

"Yes, Tommy."

"Really?"

"Really."

"Well, hot damn." Dewey stepped closer and lowered his eyelids provocatively. Turnbull felt a pleasant tingle. "So. You wanna? Have sex?"

"I'm afraid I don't really know you well enough for that," Turnbull said apologetically. "We haven't so much as had a cup of tea together."

"Yeah, that's what I thought." Dewey's mouth tightened. "I'm such a fucking idiot. Listen, Turnbull, I appreciate you not punching my lights out, and telling me I'm not a loser, but I know the truth. See ya." Once more he turned towards the door.

Turnbull's hand shot out and fastened on Dewey's sleeve. "No, don't!"

"Why?" Dewey stopped. His eyes searched Turnbull's.

Turnbull's heart pounded against his ribs. Now or never now or never now or never -- "There's. . . there's tea in the kitchen. Three kinds."

"What, you mean now?"

"Yes."

"You wanna have a cup of tea with me? Now?"

"Yes."

"But. . ." Dewey scrunched up his face, clearly confused. "Why?"

"Because I like you," Turnbull said softly. "And because you see me."

"Of course I see you. You're hard to miss." Dewey smiled. It was a nice smile, not lewd or leering or silly or sarcastic. Just a simple smile.

"Thank you." He felt absurdly pleased. "I see you, too, Tommy. I know who you are."

"Yeah," Dewey murmured, his smile quivering around the edges. "I think maybe you do." He blinked a few times. It seemed to Turnbull the detective's eyes were unusually shiny, but out of politeness he didn't say anything about it, and forced himself not to offer his handkerchief. Besides, his own eyes were a little misty as well.

"Please stay," he said. "I don't want to be alone on Christmas Eve."

Dewey's eyes crinkled. "Me either."

"Well, good then." Turnbull was unable to stop the grin from spreading across his face. "Let's go have that cup of tea."

"Sure, okay," Dewey agreed affably. "First tea. And then we can have sex?"

"Good heavens, Detective!" Turnbull said, trying to sound stern, but it was difficult, because his heart was suddenly suffused with joy. "Perhaps we might start with mistletoe."


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