When Ray stood, still clad in his cold-weather gear, in Fraser’s cabin doorway and groused that he had got himself out of his hospital bed while still in dreadful condition he was, as usual, intensifying his complaint for effect. Not that his cause of consternation wasn’t genuine. Here he had made an odyssey for the express purpose of telling his new friend who the bad guy was and the new friend, a.k.a., the Mountie, already had figured it out for himself.
Justification of cause notwithstanding, Ray was exaggerating his medical plaint for effect. He had, in fact, waited for medical permission to leave the hospital. Ma came and picked him up there. And so did Tony, Maria, their kids, Francesca, and a gaggle of aunts and uncles. Once this assemblage was all kissed and thanked and the entourage moving out to their fleet of cars, Ray asked what had happened to the Mountie.
Ray wasn’t thinking clearly enough yet to realize that his mother wouldn’t necessarily be privy to the plans and procedures of a foreign police force. In his still shaky state, it seemed to make sense that his mother would be the fount of all knowledge. As it happened, not only Ma but many other relatives had been witness to Gerrard’s ordering Fraser home in shame so Ray’s image of his mother as all-knowing was not tarnished.
The assemblage waited for Ma to set the tone and she snorted with derision and made a spitting sound, “He’s been sent home, and good riddance. He’s going to be brought up on charges, I heard that other officer say. Serves him right.” The proper ending of that sentence, ‘. . .for hurting my boy’ was not spoken aloud but it was clearly heard by all present.
Ray’s own analysis of the situation was slightly more friendly towards the Canadian. Upon returning to work he continued his investigation and tracked Drake’s calls to Gerrard. Having found the killers of the dead Mountie, there remained the problem of getting the news to Fraser without alerting anyone in the RCMP. Who knew how many Mounties were implicated or what reprisals might be made against Constable Fraser should it become known that the son of the dead Mountie was now in the know?
Careful inquiries by Ray to the consulate, pretending to just want to talk to Fraser personally, revealed that the Mountie’s home address was an isolated cabin (figures) without connection to the outside world (figures) save by dog sled (oh, that so figures). Did Detective Vecchio, a clerk asked, want to have a message sent up to Constable Fraser by official channels?
Ray politely declined the offer.
Not expecting much sympathy, Ray took the problem to Lt. Welsh. He waited for an occasion when his superior might be in a reasonably good mood, and seized a moment just after lunch when the lieutenant’s senses were temporarily dulled by the an overdose of salt, fat and nitrites, delivered into his system by a gigantic pastrami sandwich.
“So, Detective, I see you are on your feet again,” Welsh (who at that time, for reasons which don’t require exploring at this juncture, was going by the name “Walsh”) greeted him. It was a figurative greeting in that Ray had, at Welsh’s signal, dropped into a chair.
“I’m feeling much better sir.”
“How long are you supposed to wear that sling?”
“Another couple of weeks.”
Welsh nodded in sympathy and waited for Ray to get to some kind of point. When Ray didn’t, Welsh prompted him.”Tell me this isn’t about the Mountie.”
Ray ducked his head sheepishly, “Well, sir . .”
“What? His own people have sent him home. In disgrace, I might add. I had a call from a Sgt Gerrard,” Welsh told him, confirming Ray’s mother’s information, “The investigation’s closed.”
“Sir, I’ve done some digging . . .”
Welsh dropped his forehead onto his palm.
“Constable Fraser’s father was killed by a hit man and the hit was ordered by Fraser’s own people. I don’t know why, but I do know who.”
“Anybody we know?”
“Frankie Drake was the hit man and the guy that hired him was that Gerrard who called you. I think Constable
Fraser deserves to know.”
“Damn. You’re right. If you’re sure of this we have to tell the man.”
“So, by any chance did the Mountie leave you his home phone number? Seeing as how you got yourself blown up for him and all?”
Ray sighed. “He doesn’t have a home phone. He practically doesn’t have a home - just a shack in the wilderness. That’s what they told me at the consulate.”
“There has to be a way to get him a message somehow,” Welsh reasoned, “Couldn’t you write him a letter?”
“If his own people realize he’s onto them, they’ll probably come after him. We have to be careful.”
“Damn,” the lieutenant repeated, “Okay, leave it with me. I’ll try to figure something out.”
We may never know what bureaucratic creativity Welsh employed to find a budget line to absorb the cost of sending one of his detectives to the far north. To coin a phrase - that’s not important right now. What is important is that within short order Ray was on a plane.
Ray’s itinerary was as follows: Chicago to Toronto by one of any number of large airlines that make that run. From Toronto he had to go to Ottawa and the travel agent had found an inexpensive flight for him on a different airline for that short hop. In Ottawa he would be taken on yet a third airline - a regional carrier - north to Yellowknife.
Chicago to Toronto was essentially uneventful. Ray didn’t fly often so any large airport looked like any other to him and the only thing that attracted his attention as unusual as he deplaned in Toronto was the fact that everything was happening in French. But as he waited at his gate for his connecting flight to Ottawa, things began to get goofy.
People who are Canadians and who happen to have ever flown on Best Yet airlines know what to expect. Ray didn’t belong to either of these classes of people. He found his gate and checked the departures screen to see if this Toronto-Ottawa flight was still on time. There was an hour’s delay so Ray decided to snoop around the airport and see if there was anything interesting.
Having French on all the signs and in the air (as airport announcements) was pretty exotic, Ray decided. He prowled the corridors noting which fast food chain names were familiar to him and which weren’t. He stopped in at a duty-free outlet. That’s when he truly knew he wasn’t in Kansas anymore. There was maple syrup in the duty free shop. And maple candy. And maple cookies. The whole blasted place was full of maple. Ray experienced a sugar-high just browsing.
He headed back to the gate in time to hear an announcement. A disembodied airline voice spoke in a tone just a little jauntier than Ray was expecting. “Ladies and gentlemen, our plane has just pulled up to the gate. We’ll get you folks loaded just as soon as we let some of the passengers off.”
Some? Not all? Ray mused.
Another voice now spoke in French and Ray figured the same information was being conveyed in that language. Afterwards the English voice spoke again.
“While we’re waiting, would everyone please take off your coats.”
Being in a foreign country and unsure of the customs, Ray obeyed. He stood up, shrugged himself out of his trench coat and waited for further instructions. Around him people started to snicker.
“Good” said the voice again, “Now everybody get your boarding passes out of your pockets and have them ready so you don’t waste our time at the gate.”
Ray cringed a little and sat down again.
The calling of the flight for boarding seemed pretty normal but as Ray came up to the gate to show his boarding pass he saw that all the airline staff were clad in loose-fitting track suits. So were the people who greeted him at the doorway to the aircraft. Ray glanced towards the cockpit as he came into the plane hoping to see someone near the front of the plane wearing any kind of a uniform, but that area was not visible to him. Don’t be silly, Ray, he chided himself. Who cares what they wear?
The casually clad people made the usual round of the airplane making sure everyone was buckled up. Ray began to relax at this normality. He relaxed further when one of the flight crew took up a position in the front of the plane and began the opening spiel.
It was a smaller aircraft with no display monitors. Instead a female attendant of indeterminate age stood in front of them and held a sample seat belt aloft, showing how to buckle and unbuckle it. And then, from behind the attendant’s head, bubbles appeared.
Bubbles continued floating behind and around the woman as she continued her talk and pointed out the emergency exits. None of the Canadians were alarmed, they only laughed with appreciation.
The bubbles dissipated as the woman got to the part about putting on an oxygen mask. She brandished a detached mask and then settled it onto her face.
From somewhere near the front of the plane, came a loud, appreciative wolf-whistle. The woman smiled and carried on with the ending of her presentation.
Ray wondered if a French version would follow. Sure enough, the woman announced “We will now tell you all the same junk in the language of love.”
By now it was nightfall in southern Ontario. The usual travel noises of people chatting and babies fussing filled the plane until a voice announced.
“In order to make your flight attendants appear more attractive we will now dim the lights. If there is anything we can do to make your flight more comfortable, please grab somebody wearing polyester pants.”
You can make me feel comfortable by acting serious. We’re up in the air and my life is in your guys’ hands, Ray thought. But he didn’t go to the trouble of flagging down anybody in polyester pants to make the complaint aloud.
The flight was too short for the distribution of anything more than beverages and Ray was half-expecting to get his cola served to him in a dribble glass, but that didn’t happen.
The plane landed and as they slowed along the ground the usual announcement came to remain seated with seatbelts fastened until the plane came to a complete stop and the seatbelt light was turned off.
Travellers seldom heed this warning and, as they usually do, people got up and started pulling their bags out from under and above them while the plane was still rolling.
A disembodied male voice came over the p.a. system saying “No, no, no.”
Ray was relieved to finally get off that plane. The much smaller Ottawa airport fortunately had no surprises until Ray stopped off at a concession booth to pick up some gum and saw Fraser in dress reds standing there, posing proudly and prettily and grinning at the world.
“Fraser!” Ray declared, astonished. How could the Mountie have known Ray was coming?
But the Mountie didn’t move. Ray got over his astonishment and focussed more carefully. It was a full-sized cardboard cut-out standing guard beside a display of RCMP knickknacks, gewgaws, t-shirts and stuffed moose in Stetsons. He peered at the cardboard face. No, not exactly Fraser. The same height, the same build. the same fair-skin, brown hair and boyish mug. Almost a dead ringer for Ray’s Mountie but not quite. Ray wandered off without bothering to buy any gum as he had intended.
Ray found the gate for Hairpin Airlines, his carrier to the far north, in a secluded corner of the airport and was afraid of the antics that he might encounter. Fortunately for Ray’s nerves the plane, while very much smaller, was manned by much more serious people.
Once in Whitehorse Ray had no real plan how to proceed. He hoped the notoriety of the Frasers, father and son, coupled with his own detective skills would be sufficient to allow him to pinpoint Fraser’s ridiculously remote residence. It was and they were. ‘Nuff said.