Thanks: Many many thanks and much gratitude to Miriam, Lyra Sena and mergatrude for beta
Notes: For the Vecchio challenge on ds_flashfiction
See, it's like this. I got tired of waiting. You know? I mean, not that I'm counting my bridges before they've burned or anything, but I know Fraser likes me. There was even this time, once, when he offered to walk me home and he had this look on his face. Real sweet.
But I'd just had a big thing with my brother, so I said no and, well, the opportunity hasn't really come up again since then.
So, like I say, being subtle isn't getting me anywhere, so I think I'll try the straight forward approach. I'll just ask. Here I am, pulling thirty. I'm single, I got no kids and, hey, if you call being a Civilian Aide a career, I'll call you a taxi. I gotta do something.
So I follow him into the men's room one day. It's just a private place we can talk or something. It isn't like I'm going to see anything. I mean, I know there isn't anyone else in there, so I follow him in, and I ask him to ask me out to dinner, on a date.
For a moment I think: This is it! I got him! But you know what he says? He goes all red, and he's looking around like, What am I doing in here? even though it's the Police Department, so it's public property. And he coughs and sort of tilts his head like he's doing something painful to his neck, and he says, in this real gentle, sincere voice, "Francesca, I'm extremely flattered by your offer—or, perhaps I should say, your invitation for my offer—but I'm sorry to have to say—" and he's getting all flummoxed and awkward, and I know it's because he feels really complicated about me, because he's good friends with my brother, and that makes it difficult.
So I say, "What is it, Fraser?" and he says, "It's, ah, a matter of some privacy." And he looks at me all worried.
I say, "It's okay, Fraser. I can keep a secret." And I cross my heart and throw away the key, like a little girl. And he says, "I'm afraid that my affections are, ah, otherwise engaged." Oh my God, I'm so shocked, all I can say is "oh". I stare at him with my mouth hanging open, and for a moment I even wonder whether he's brushing me off, but he really does look sorry, so I believe him.
I say, "I'm so sorry to hear that, Fraser. Is it, you know, mutual?" and he goes even redder, and his voice gets even quieter, and he says, "I don't know yet." So I say, "Have you asked her?" but before he can answer, Detective Huey barges in and starts yelling at me for being in the men's room in the first place, so we never finish our conversation.
After that I start watching him. I mean, yeah sure, I always watched him before, but that was like cute butt watching. This is different. This is like research.
First off, I figure maybe it's someone he's met socially, but then I hear Ray saying, one day, "You got even less of a life than I do, Fraser" so I think maybe not. I mean, where would he meet someone? As far as I know, he doesn't do anything but work and sleep. So then I decide it's probably Inspector Thatcher at the Consulate.
But only a day later, Fraser shows Ray the birthday present he's bought the Inspector, and it's this weird ugly igloo plant thing, so that rules that out. Then I figure it has to be someone at the station.
So I watch him real careful, but he never even talks to any other women, not there in the station. So I can't help, you know. I only want to help.
So the next morning, Dewey's losing his temper with a suspect who refuses to speak except in Pig Latin, and I wait until Lieu's distracted with the situation, and then I tell Lieu that head office has requested a time in motion audit study of the officers. (I found the memo in the storeroom, but it's from 1987.) So, okay, he says yeah, whatever.
So I smile politely at Ray even though I should've known he'd kick up a dust, and I say, "The Lieutenant has requested that I come along with you today for an audit." By that time Lieu's gone to a meeting at the Mayor's Office about the PNC-73a procedure they want to introduce, so Ray doesn't have anyone else to yell at, so he yells at me. Honestly, he just about loses the tree. Fraser has to say his name like a hundred times before he stops shouting and pulling at his hair, but I stay with it for Fraser's sake. I have an interior motive. Because once I know who the other woman is, I can make sure she's good enough for him.
By the time he's calmed down, Ray looks like he's run sixteen blocks, and Fraser looks like my mom used to when Ray—my, uh, other brother Ray—used to be rude to my aunt. He doesn't like her because she wears too much Chanel and she always asks after Angie, his ex-wife, and because of that time with the Chevy and the Laundromat.
So, anyway, they give in after about half an hour of bitching at me and Ray says, "But if there's any trouble she comes right back to the station", and I say, "Hello! Standing right here!" and Fraser says, "Of course, Ray."
Ray makes me sit in the back with Diefenbaker. "We got a job to do," he says, and I say, "Yeah, well, so do I", but he makes me anyway, even though Fraser offers to let me have his seat. In the end it's for the best because I can watch better from the back. But maybe he can tell I'm watching—I don't know—because his ears go pink.
Ray's going on and on about the gym and I mean, who really cares? But Fraser's so polite, he pretends to be interested, and then Ray says something about curlers, which makes Fraser laugh. I don't know why, because Fraser's hair is always the same. I mean, he'd look really strange with a style, you know?
Anyway, after hours of sports talk—I swear—I can't stand it anymore, so I ask Ray, "Tell me something, bro. Are you always this boring?", pretending that it's part of the audit, and Ray snaps at me that coming along was my idea, and Fraser apologizes to me, and Ray says, "Don't apologize for me, Fraser", and Fraser apologizes to him, and then they both go quiet, and Ray tells me, "We gotta go to the DAs to check up on the Mitchell case." I stare out the window and don't reply because I'm mad, so he gives this big exasperated sigh, and he glances at Fraser, and then looks at me in the rear view mirror and says, "I'm sorry, Frannie, okay?"
So I accept his apology. The whole time, though, I'm watching Fraser, trying to figure him out. He's different, out of the station. It's like he smiles more. So I guess we're going to run into his ladyfriend sometime soon. He has that, you know, that air you get when you like someone. Sort of hidden excitement. You know what I mean?
So I think, yeah, I'll see them together, and then I'll know if this thing is for real.
So we go to the DAs office, and Diefenbaker stays in the car because Fraser says otherwise he bothers people for snacks. And we go to see an Assistant State's Attorney. As soon as I see her, I think Bingo! I mean, she's real pretty and classy, just like Fraser should be with, and she's cool and distant with the guys while they ask her about Mitchell, so I think maybe she's jealous because I'm there and she thinks I'm competition for Fraser. And I feel like Shylock Holmes, solving a case, because it all makes sense.
But then after a couple of minutes I notice that Fraser isn't smiling anymore. In fact, he's hardly looking at her. He's staring at his hat in his hands, and just glancing up when he has a question to ask, and I think, huh, maybe not. And then I get this weird feeling that the two of them—I don't know how to describe it. It's like when my Cousin Vinnie came to Loretta's wedding last year, and he was making nice with Julio, but then Cousin Marlon came over, and Marlon's married to Vinnie's ex-wife, Constanza, so Vinnie and Marlon can't stand each other, even though they used to go bowling together every Tuesday.
Wow, it's weird. So I think, maybe they've had a fight and that's why Fraser said he doesn't know if it's mutual, and maybe I can smooth it over for them, because, you know, I'm just trying to be helpful, so I go right on in and introduce myself. And then Ray gets this funny look and says, "Frannie, have you met Stella? My ex-wife?"
Well, that settles it—it can't be the ASA, because Ray and Fraser are really good friends and no way would Fraser date Ray's ex. That would be like in this book I read, Heart of Flame, where Julianna's in love with her cousin's father, Marco, only she doesn't know he's her uncle, and when she finds out, she has to join a convent to repair her honor.
Anyway, we get back in the car, and Ray's saying that now they have Mitchell's next of kin's address, they should take me back to the station before they go there, in case it gets dangerous, and Fraser says, "It's his great aunt's address", and Ray says, "So?" And Fraser says, "She's a nun, Ray", and Ray says, "Those nuns get mean when they're cornered." Anyway, Fraser just stares at him and raises his eyebrows, and Ray throws up his hands and says, "Okay, okay. Jeez." So we set off for the convent.
On the way we drive past Strap'n'Heel, and there's a huge sign in the window. It says Stocktaking Sale: 50% off. So I scream.
Ray swerves the car—we're in heavy traffic, so that's not so good—and Fraser twists around in this seat and says, "What is it?" But I'm too excited, so I just say, "Oh my God! Stop the car!" Ray screeches to a stop, and Fraser gets out, and I climb over Diefenbaker and tumble out onto the pavement, and hurry into the shop.
It's so crowded, it's like Grand Canyon Station. There are women everywhere, waving pumps and sandals, looking for somewhere to try them on. The noise is deafening.
This tall blonde who looks like my cousin Mario—the one who uses Viagra and carves ice sculptures for a living—but in a dress, grips my shoulder so she can take off her slingbacks without sitting down, but then I catch a glimpse of green and, I dive across the shop to get to it. Emerald ankle boots with diamante studs. I know if I buy these boots I can have everything I'd ever wanted. I can make Fraser forget the other woman. These are magical boots.
I've just got my hands on them when there's a cough in my ear and I realize the shop has gone quiet and hushed—which is like a miracle because these women are crazed.
I look around and Fraser's standing behind me, real close because it's so crowded. I lean back against him a little bit, and I say, "Oh, Fraser. Were you looking for me?"
Everyone in the whole shop has shoes in their hands and their mouth gaping open, staring at him. I don't think any of them even blink.
I look down at the boots—50% off—and I look up at Fraser. He says, "Please come back to the car, Francesca. We have to apprehend Mitchell this morning, before he gets word of our pursuit."
"I gotta get these," I say, holding up the boots, and Fraser nods, still looking real uncomfortable, and says, "I'll, ah, wait for you outside."
So I race up to the counter, and the talking and yelling starts up again. And then a little brunette with a pair of maroon pumps in her fist starts screaming at Cherie, the shop assistant, at the top of her lungs. "I want these in size 5," she yells. "Why don't you ever have my size?!" She's sobbing, she's so angry, and she hurls the pumps at the girls behind the counter and keeps shouting. "Everyone's always going on about this place like it's the Holy Grail but you never have my freaking size!" And I step in because the shop assistants are down behind the counter, and the other shoppers are starting to say "Yeah!" and "Oh god, I know just what she means", and any second now there's going to be a mutiny. Plus Ray and Fraser are waiting for me, and Ray is gonna be so mad if I don't hurry up.
So I go up to Maroon Pump Lady and I smile and say, "Hi there. I work for the Chicago Police Department. Can I help?" I'm real careful not to imitate an officer, though, because Lieu warned me about that last time. The lady points at the counter and says, "Arrest them!"
I tell her I'm not a cop, and that's when she tries to grab the boots right out of my hands. I need these boots, so I tug as hard as I can, and she lets go and they fly out of my hands too and go hurtling through the air like a watermelon. The left one lands on the cash register, which rings and crashes open, and the right boot goes thud on Fraser's forehead, where he's standing by the door, and knocks him out cold. He falls down right in the middle of the moccasin display.
I shout at Maroon Lady for making me hurt Fraser, and she shouts at me about being a size 5, and all the other shoppers stand around, cheering and shaking their shoes. Then Ray turns up, crazy as a hatter, and breaks us up. He shouts at me and he shakes Fraser awake, and then he bullies us both outside.
Before I go, I grab both boots, and dig around in my purse. I throw three twenties at Cherie. "I'll be back for my change," I yell, and then we're outside and it's over.
"Oh my God, can you believe that?" I say to Ray, but he's busy fussing over Fraser making sure he's okay, which, well, Fraser has a big lump on his forehead, and he looks sort of dazed. He keeps staring at Ray and saying, "I'm quite all right, Ray."
So we all pile into the car, and I'm clutching my new boots and thinking what happened and what's going on with Fraser. "I give up," I say. "Who is she?"
Ray glares at me in the rear view mirror. "Who's who?" he says. "Give the guy a break. You just knocked him out with your shoes."
"They're suede," I say. "They have diamantes. They go with my favorite dress." But Ray says, "So what?"
I ignore him, because he's being rude. I say to Fraser, "Who is she, Fraser?" and Fraser blinks slowly a couple of times and says, "I'm not certain to whom you're referring."
Ray starts making a big deal out of some poster in the window of a café nearby, because it's like a clue where Mitchell is: something about a single fathers' macramé club, but I'm busy finding out the truth. I'm on a mission. So I say to Fraser, "The woman you're in love with. You said—" and Fraser frowns and looks confused, and then he blushes. A really deep, cerise blush, with hints of primrose. Which is when Ray finally pays attention. "What?" he says. "What woman?"
"It's nothing," says Fraser. "It's a misunderstanding."
"Nothing?" I say. "So you lied to me?" And Ray says, "Fraser doesn't lie."
Well, Fraser looks annoyed, and he says, "I can, if the occasion calls for—" but then he gives in and says, "All right, actually, no, I can't. You know, the Inuit have—" And then Ray interrupts him. "So who's this woman, Frase?" Ray asks.
I say, "Is it the Assistant State's Attorney?" and Ray and Fraser both look round at me and say No, at exactly the same time. And then they look at each other, and then Ray pulls over and parks. He's gone all serious. "Who's the woman, Fraser?" he says, and Fraser stares straight ahead out the windshield and says, "There is no woman." And he starts telling a story about Dief.
Ray looks at me and asks me what Fraser said. Fraser stops talking and says, "Ray", but Ray's got the bite between his teeth. He says, "Yeah, we're ganging up on you, Frase. Deal with it. Jeez, I can't believe you told Frannie and not me." And then he stops dead, and he looks at Fraser and Fraser looks at him, and they're both like statues.
"Frannie," says Ray, not even looking at me this time. "What did he say?" and I try to remember the exact words. I say, "He said his affections are otherwise engaged, and he's not sure whether it's mutual."
"And there's no woman, huh?" says Ray. He sits there looking at Fraser, like he's figuring something out, and then his voice goes real soft and he says, "Were you gonna tell me about this?"
Fraser licks his lips and says, "Not as such. No."
And there's another really long pause, which is when I notice that the boots are a hundred and ninety with fifty percent off, so I still owe Cherie another thirty-five bucks. Fraser glances at me, and then looks at Ray again and smiles a little bit just at the corner of his mouth, and says, "Ray", and then Ray shakes his head, like he's zoned out and is pulling himself together, and he says, "Frannie, we gotta take you back to the station." And he pulls out into the traffic and drives really fast, before I can object.
I look at them both, and say, "Okay, so who's the other woman? What's going on?" And Ray says, "Drop it, Frannie. Fraser and me, we gotta go get Mitchell, we got things to do." And I say, "What about the audit?" and Ray says, "We'll fill you in later, okay? All the news that's fit to print."
And they dump me at the station, and drive off with their tires screeching and the engine growling, like they can't wait to get out of there.
So I'm standing by the road, eating their dirt and clutching my dream boots, and for a moment I don't know what to do. I mean, I know what I have to do. I have to drag myself back into the precinct and file the cases for the last month, and try not to stand on anybody's loafers while I'm doing it. And then I have to go home, and help Maria with the kids, and Ma with the dinner, and wash my hair. But as I'm watching Ray's taillights disappear around the corner, just for a moment, I'm lost at sea.
And then—then I have this amazing revelation. It's huge. It's like a big flash of blinding white light. Suddenly everything falls into place, and I know exactly what I have to do. I even start looking around because I have to tell someone, but there's no one nearby except for a couple of guys with shaved heads and tattoos who look like they just made bail. They're kind of scary, but I tell them anyway, because if I don't tell someone, I'm going to burst.
I run up to them, and I say, "I'm going to set up an Italian Shoe Import Business!"
They say, "What?" and "Are you talkin' to me?" but they seem pretty harmless, and we're on the steps of a police station, so I explain.
"Trust me," I say. "There is no one—I guarantee not one single woman in Chicago is better qualified than me to buy and import beautiful shoes." And I wave my boots in their faces to prove it. "I'm going to get them in all sizes, too," I say, "because no matter what's going wrong in a woman's life, the perfect shoes always make her feel better."
They nod, and one of them says, "Yeah, I can see that." The other guy, Germaine, gets my phone number so he can get his girlfriend to call me. He says she works at Marshall Field's and can introduce me to the purchasing manager. And maybe they're yanking my crank, and maybe they're not, but it doesn't matter. I mean, come on. These guys just got out on bail. What do they know?
So yeah, I may not have a good head for hats, and when it comes to guys, well, let's just says I'm lucky at cards and leave it at that, okay? But when it comes to shoes? Oh, when it comes to shoes, I tell you, I am the Pope's pajamas.