Slouching Toward Domesticity
The last three, four days had been — okay, not hell. Not even close to hell. Turned out that when Kowalski was allowed to sleep through the night, he was a lot like his old hyper self. Of course, he wasn’t much fun to live with that first day, especially with the cleaning binge he made them go on as soon as he got home, but now that the place was clean enough for surgery, Kowalski was fine. Mostly.
He’d be finer still if he’d let Ray go home instead of keeping him here like a fucking security blanket, but Ray wasn’t kicking too much about that. Freak though he was, Kowalski was an adult, and Ray had almost forgotten what it was like to live someplace with no kids. It was nice, this lack of yelling. High-pitched yelling, anyway. He and Kowalski still got into it like they always did.
“Goddamn it! The milk is maybe thirty seconds past its sell-by date,” Ray yelled. “You used to drink milk until right before it turned into refrigerator cheese, so what the hell’s wrong with this?”
“I don’t — just —” Kowalski turned green and rushed for the bathroom. The sound of him bring up breakfast was nearly enough to make Ray gag, and it was definitely enough to convince him that Kowalski was serious about the milk being off.
He took a tentative sniff. Nothing. He poured a little into a glass and swirled it around some — Kowalski heaved again and swore — and then Ray took a taste. Nothing. It was fine.
Ray yelled, “There’s not a goddamn thing wrong with this milk.”
“Like hell it is. I just tasted —”
“Fuck!” And there went Kowalski for a hat trick. Ray gave up.
“All right, already. It’s gone.” He tilted the carton over the sink. “I know you can hear me pouring perfectly good milk down the drain, so it’s okay to stop puking.”
He heard a choked off sound, then a very distinct, “Fuck you. Fuck you and fuck the Riv you rode in on. Fuck you, fuck the Riv and fuck your goddamn grocery store for sending over bad milk.”
It took everything Ray had not to go in and teach Kowalski a lesson or two about respecting a man’s car. And anyway, from the sound of the pipes, Kowalski was taking a shower — his second of the day — which meant it was a good time to call Terese.
Her cell phone rang a couple of times, only it wasn’t Terese who picked up, it was Frannie. She snarled, “Why are you calling?”
Ray slid his voice into innocence as best he could and asked, “What? A guy can’t call his niece?”
“You promised,” she hissed. Ray promised Frannie lots of things, and he wasn’t sure exactly what had her panties in a wad at the moment. “You promised in front of God and Ma you wouldn’t make her research for you anymore.”
“I promised I wouldn’t ask for her help on cases anymore.” He spoke quickly, to keep her from getting a word in edgewise. “This isn’t a case. It’s Kowalski.”
“Oh.” As he’d hoped, it took the wind right out of her sails. God only knew why, but Frannie actually liked Kowalski. “Well you can’t talk to her.”
Jesus. “Why not?”
“I cannot believe I’m related to such a moron,” she said. “What time is it?”
“It’s, uh, it’s nine. Five after nine.”
“Uh huh.” She was still talking to him like he was the village idiot. “And the day, Ray? What day is it?”
“How the hell should I know? Hold on.” With all the Kowalski-related excitement of the last few weeks, Ray had lost track of the days. He went to the door and glanced out in the hallway. Score. One of Kowalski’s neighbors actually had newspaper delivery. He snagged the paper and went back into Kowalski’s apartment. “Thursday. It’s the eleventh. You got a point to this?”
She took a deep breath. “The eleventh of what
“October. Geez, would you just —” Ray blinked. Nine o’clock on a Thursday morning in October. “You couldn’t have just said she’s in school?”
“She’s seven years old. Where else would she be? Moron.”
“Fine. I’m an idiot.” He ignored her overly dramatic agreement and continued, “She was looking stuff up for me last night. Would you see if she found anything?”
“For the love of —”
“Kowalski.” Ray waited a beat. “Come on, Frannie. Kowalski needs help.”
“She’s only seven. You think she can find something the doctors can’t?” Yeah, Frannie had a point. For any other seven-year-old kid. Not for Terese.
“Yeah, I think she can. That kid makes the Internet sing like a bird. You know it and I know it.”
“Look at it this way,” he said, pressing his advantage. “I’m encouraging her to use her powers for good, not evil.”
“I hate you.” While Ray waited for Frannie’s pride, conscience and mother’s instinct to get on the same page, Kowalski came out of the bathroom. He was wearing a pair of pajama bottoms that Frannie had sewn for him, and every time Ray saw them, his blood pressure hit the roof. Frannie, in her desire to be helpful, had taken Ray’s pristine, 400-count Egyptian cotton sheets to use for the fabric.
“Yeah, yeah,” he said, scowling at Kowalski. For his part, Kowalski wandered closer and put that goddamn pathetic expression on his face, the one that positively begged Ray to let Kowalski get just a little closer, because for some reason, he felt better around Ray. Nope. Wasn’t gonna happen. Not this time. Ray glared harder, then looked away. “I’ll wait, Frannie.”
“Fine,” she said, meaning it was anything but.
He heard her put the phone down then made the mistake of looking at Kowalski again. If anything, the bastard looked even more pathetic than he did when Ray pulled him out of that cell nine days earlier. Ray clenched his teeth, tried like hell to ignore Kowalski, then gave a short, sharp nod. Two seconds later, Kowalski was behind Ray, his arms wrapped around him, his forehead touching the back of Ray’s neck.
“How long you gonna keep this up?” Ray asked.
“It’s gonna be a problem, chasing bad guys, if you don’t let go of me.”
“Whatever.” Kowalski shifted around and —
“The fuck?” Ray tried to step away, but Kowalski wouldn’t let go. “You’re sniffing me? You’re sniffing
“You think I like this? Trust me, I don’t.” Kowalski took another sniff and licked
Ray’s ear right around the time Frannie got back on the phone, meaning Ray couldn’t have the cow he so richly deserved.
“I can’t believe this,” Frannie said.
“You and me both,” Ray said, trying to escape the double threat of Kowalski’s nose and tongue. He was worse than the wolf used to be.
“She’s seven years old, and already her handwriting is better than yours.”
“Okay, okay. Hold your asses.”
“Horses,” Ray said immediately, because his ass was way too close to Kowalski just then, and he didn’t want her giving Kowalski any more
“Asses, horses. It’s all the same. Okay, she’s got a couple of notes. One says something about sentence — no. Sentinels. And the other’s a name. Blair Sandburg in Cascade, Washington.”
“Thank you!” Ray didn’t think he’d ever been more grateful to anyone in his life than he was at that moment.
“There’s no number.”
“Not a problem. I’ll get Marcy to look it up for me. Gotta go.”
He hung up before she could start in on him again, then twisted around as much as he could. Kowalski had gone solid on him at some point in the last couple of minutes, and Ray knew from bitter experience that Kowalski would stay that way until Ray did something to get him moving again.
Ray freed up his arm then thwacked Kowalski on the back of the head. “Let go, would you?”
“Huh?” Kowalski blinked a few times. “What?”
“Let go,” Ray said, with a hell of a lot more patience than he was feeling.
“Oh. Yeah.” Kowalski took a step back and reached up to scratch his left armpit. “I’m, uh, I’m gonna get dressed.”
“Yeah. You do that.” Ray stayed put, and when the bedroom door closed, he muttered, “Fucking Kowalski.”
“I heard that, Vecchio!”