No problem at all. Had he actually said, 'No problem at all'? Ray Vecchio slammed the receiver down on the phone and cursed.
"Frannie, do you have the file on the Wen Ma case?" he called.
"Still not your secretary," Frannie snapped from the desk adjacent to his, not turning around. She was scanning a database of booking photos on her computer.
"Just look on your desk, Frannie!"
"Don't tell me what to do, Ray!"
Ray stood up with an angry gesture and walked the two steps over, shuffling through the pile on Frannie's desk. Wen Ma's was at the top. "I don't suppose it's any use asking you to drop by the bank on West Wacker Drive and talk to his co-workers?"
"Ray, I've still got to compile the list of matches for the Elm and Dearborn burglar description, and after that I've got about fifteen witnesses to show it to. There's no way."
"Look, I've got to pick up Fraser from Wells Street Station at 2:30. He says he needs the car, which probably means he brought half of Canada back with him, 'cause anything less he'd just carry. It's already getting to 2pm."
"Can't Kowalski pick him up?"
"With what? Wake up, Frannie! We only have one car! Besides, he's picking up Ray-Ray at 2:30. We're supposed to meet for Ben & Jerry's down the street from the pre-school."
"Then call Fraser and tell him to get a bus! God! Just do your job, Ray!"
"He hasn't got a phone!"
Ray stopped. He had an idea. He looked across the semi-empty station, and caught sight of a familiar grey suit. "Hey, Huey!" he called. "Guess what, buddy? It's your lucky day!"
Ray Kowalski stared at the three-car pile-up with a sinking feeling.
His bus was stuck behind a traffic jam that was five cars ahead of them and about two hundred behind. The accident had taken place in the middle of an intersection. Just five cars, and they would've made it.
"Can't you take a way around?" he asked the driver, though he already knew the answer.
"Sorry," the driver grunted. "You'd be better off walking."
Walking. The pre-school was on the other side of the city and it was already 2pm. That morning, Ray-Ray had made him promise seven separate times that they'd be there on time to meet Fraser as soon as they could.
But, wait, no. It wasn't as bleak as that. All he had to do was traverse the jam on foot and see what public transport could do for him beyond.
If they didn't come up with flying cars in the next decade, Ray decided, mankind would be doomed.
The sweet old lady Fraser had swapped recipes and hunting stories with had fallen asleep some twenty minutes ago. Fraser had since settled into watching the urban landscapes change outside the train window.
It had been easy to settle back into the slow rhythm of the territories and a part of him already wanted to go back. Another part, the greater one, couldn't wait to be back in Chicago. It wasn't easy having your heart split up into two halves along the Arctic line.
At least, he thought, he'd brought something of his other home back this time. He looked up at the luggage shelf and the large item wedged there, almost half of it jutting off the shelf.
"Tell me again why I'm taking on your high-level fraud case," Huey said as he flipped through the Wen Ma file, sitting on the Riviera's passenger seat. "The one with political connections that could lead to one of the biggest corruption cases the city's seen since the '70s — the case you've been busting your ass on all year?"
"Don't look a gift horse in the mouth," Ray said as he steered the car around in heavy traffic. An accident downtown was creating knots of traffic jams across the city. It took effort and and an excellent traffic newscast not to get sucked into one. "It's all there. The evidence against Terence Jayasuriya had to be fabricated because of the consistent misspelling of his name in the forged signatures. I checked his previous work, the man does not misspell. When you put it in context, it all points to the bank manager as the mastermind."
"Wen Ma. Impressive political background, comes from a banking family. Republican. Retired from politics in 1993 after a gay scandal ruined his hopes for a senate seat. Sounds right up your alley, eh, Ray? You know this guy?"
"Funny man," Ray said. "Yeah, I know him from the national cocksuckers' association dinner. What do you think?"
Huey raised his eyebrows but turned back to the file, muttering something that sounded like 'touchy'. Ray decided to let it go this time. It was already 2:21.
Ray Kowalski jumped off the back of the back of the van, his eyes stinging slightly from the smoke. "Thanks, guys. Angus, Tony." He waved at the pair of Australian boys.
Ever since the 70s, he'd had a rule — only ever hitch rides with hippies. The Aussies looked more like lumberjacks crossed with Jonas brothers, but with that much pot stashed in the back, Ray figured they qualified. A small part of him — the part that won commendations — regretted the fact he'd just let probable drug dealers get away, but the more substantial part of him just appreciated hippies. Of all criminals, pot-smoking hippies littered the least and almost never held you at knife-point.
He'd asked them to park around the corner, and decided to wait a moment in the blast of summer wind, if only to get the smell off, then checked his watch — 2:31pm — and walked around the corner towards the preschool.
"I do understand," said Fraser apologetically. "I did request a space in the storage van but I was told they were full—"
"That's no goddamn excuse to bring a moose skull into the passenger van," the conductor growled. "How did you even get this thing in?"
"I assure you, if you just tilt it to the left, it should be possible to manoeuvre it around the corner, as long as you don't get snagged on the— oh dear…"
The conductor pushed and shoved at the skull, but it seemed firmly stuck. She rattled it.
"Ma'am, you'll notice that one of the antlers has caught on the bathroom door handle."
The conductor threw the skull on the floor, but it hung in the air between the door and the opposite wall. "I give up. You get this thing out right now or I'm getting the emergency axe. We're two minutes behind schedule because of this sh— predicament. Sir!" She spat the last word out like a curse. Fraser worried briefly about her blood pressure and raised his hands in supplication.
"Please allow me, Ma'am."
He picked up the skull, unhooked the antler from the bathroom door, tilted it to the left, and manoeuvred it delicately out of the train.
"Thank you kindly for your assistance, Ma'am, and my apologies once more." He nodded, picked up his duffel bag, and moved on.
2:40, and Ray Vecchio couldn't see Fraser anywhere. He'd only been five minutes late.
"You can't have missed him," he was telling a gangly station agent, who was giving him a blank stare. "Tall, good-looking, forty-five years old but looks ten years younger, probably wearing a bright red Mountie uniform."
Something seemed to twig in the station agent's mind. "A Mountie?"
"Yes! Have you seen him? He was on the 2:30 train."
"He wasn't wearing any uniform." The station agent frowned.
"He would at least be wearing the hat."
"He was wearing the hat, yeah," said the station agent.
"Great. We're getting there," Ray said patiently. "Where did he go?"
"Told him he couldn't stay in here with that thing, not in the crowds. Big thing like that, it'd poke people's eyes out."
"The moose skull."
"The… moose… skull."
Ray sighed. "Okay. Right. Giant moose skull. That's Fraser all right. Which direction did he go?"
Rayanne Fraser stared at her Chunky Monkey bowl reproachfully. "I wanted the big one," she insisted.
"Honey, we've had this talk before," Ray Kowalski said. "You say you want the big one, you have about half as much of it as it would take to make one small one, and then complain it's too cold because you don't want to say you couldn't eat a big one. Didn't think I'd caught on yet, huh?"
"Where's Daddy and Ray? They said they'd be here."
"'Where are Daddy and Ray,' not 'Where is Daddy and Ray.' They're on their way."
Ray-Ray started the ritual of separating the peanuts from the ice cream and the chocolate monkeys, momentarily distracted. Ray checked his watch. 3:02pm.
"Ray, the road," Fraser said, but kissed Ray Vecchio again quickly. An antler was poking out of a rolled down backseat window, which meant they were already uncomfortably close to being in violation of traffic regulations without a driver who was making out instead of keeping his eyes on the road.
"Any time now, honey."
"You said that ten minutes ago!"
"More like six. Check your watch."
"My watch says ten."
"You can't read the time, can you?"
"Can too! It's already 7pm."
"No it isn't."
"Don't lie, baby." Ray peered out the ice cream bar window at the street, scanning the road for a flash of the familiar shade of green. It was starting to drizzle. He'd just flipped open his cellphone when he saw them. His face broke out in a grin.
"Ray," said Fraser, his voice conveying a touch of disappointment, "you know how I feel about the tourist industry's reliance on non-recyclable materials. Besides, this is a part of Ontario history, and so it's part of her history, too." "Are you saying this skull is sacred to the Inuit or something?"
"No, Ray," Fraser said. "I wouldn't have taken it if it had been." "Save it for the bedtime story," Ray said and kissed him on the cheek. "It's late and it's my night to cook." He headed across the living room to the embedded kitchen.
"All right there?" Fraser called softly to Kowalski, who was crooning something and rocking the tired Ray-Ray in his arms. He looked up and flashed him that smile. "All right."
Fraser sat next to him and settled his head against his bony shoulder. He let the crooning and the clanking of pans in the kitchen lull him. The long hours on the train and in the traffic began to fall away. It was good to be home.