You may think that this is simply a black box, lying on a table.
But when you stand it up and open it, you will find that it is just a shell, and inside there is a glimpse of another world.
Welcome to Turtle's story, and Turtle's world.
Turtle had always fancied himself as an Arctic explorer.
Curled up in his hard-closed egg, his nest-mates a soft murmur of shiftings and scratchings beyond the Dark that surrounded him, he heard the long cold cries of the Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, sighing for the bare branches of aspen and birch they had left behind. He did not know what a birch was or why it would have dropped its leaves. He wasn’t sure why that meant the Sapsuckers had had to gather in huge flocks; or what the gales were that had whipped them into the air and sent them south at last. All he knew was that when they spoke, he thrilled at their words.
They spoke of snow.
The Rushy Blackbird who waded past one evening was grieving for a lake, not a forest. Picking her way across standing pools stained brown with tannin and dirtied black with mangrove mud, she spoke of clear waters that were the same deep blue as the sky. She sung an elegy for the shoreline, for the sharp acid muskeg soil, blooming bright with flowers under a sun that rarely set. Stunted shore pine and poplar were the trees she knew.
But she had been driven away. “By ice, by ice,” she mourned, “by cruel ice.”
The very sound of it made Turtle stir in his egg. Behind his closed eyes, flashes of sharp white crystal sparkled. When he slept again, in the Dark Dark when even the faint glow beyond his shell had dimmed to black, he dreamed of frost growing in mossy banks, more beautiful than the arctic cottonflowers it had routed.
Turtle woke, and stretched, and pecked at Darkness ~ and tumbled out into a world of bright sunshine.
All around him his nest-mates, who had shaken themselves free of their shells a smidgeon earlier, were tumbling for the warm waters. “Run, swim!” they squeaked. “Run away!”
Behind him loomed a brilliant pink sunset. The sunset blinked open an eye, and an curved bill hovered down. He squeaked too, took his first breath, and dived.
Sheltering with his siblings in a twist of mangrove roots, he watched the giant shadow pass by overhead. They waited, cautious; until their little lungs ran out of air (this newly discovered necessity), and they strove upward, disturbing a Yellow Rubber Duck with her two chicks as they broke the surface.
“Why, what are you all doing?” the duck said.
“The Evil Pink Flamingo! Has it gone, has it gone?”
“I wouldn’t know about that,” she said, gathering her chicks nervously under her wing. “Shouldn’t you be with your mother? What would she say if she knew you were here alone?”
“Mother? Mother?” they asked one another. “What’s that?”
But the Yellow Rubber Duck had already paddled away.
In the hours that followed, Turtle’s soft shell hardened; and in the days that followed, it grew; as did he. He was soon the largest of his siblings (or rather, those who survived, because the Evil Pink Flamingo took his tithe for all their care).
Turtle spent his time eating and learning. Soon he knew what there was to know about ducks, and alligators, and the big fat fish that swum slowly through the reeds. But he could never know enough about the cold and empty North, for all the questions he asked of the Migratory Folk who had come to winter with them.
“How foolish!” the frogs croaked as they clung to the stems of the mangroves to eavesdrop. Their tongues flickered out to catch wandering flies. “Why do you talk to them about Up There, when we are all Down Here?”
“Because I want to go,” Turtle explained calmly.
His remaining siblings snickered. One frog choked on his fly. “But you have no wings! Will you walk there? Your legs are very short - even I can jump further than you.”
“He could swim part of the way,” suggested a passing Stone Crab, who had wandered up the estuary from the beach some months ago. “Though I heard from a sea turtle that the water gets very cold as you go on. ”
“Brrrr,” shuddered a dragonfly, wings trembling. It came down to perch on a lily, safely distant from the frogs who were eyeing it with interest. “Stay here. Life short. No time for cold.”
The dragonfly shone beautifully in the sunshine that glinted through the mangrove leaves. Yet Turtle could imagine icicles under an Arctic moon which would be more beautiful still. And, although he would never be unkind enough to say it, he knew his kind were much longer-lived than the dragonfly. “I think I shall go. But thank you for your concern.”
Late spring brought a steady stream of new arrivals, none of whom stayed for more than a week. They arrived with drooping wings and slumped on branches like withered fruit, exhausted by their crossing of the sea. But a few days of food and drink and they were restive again, hopping from foot to foot in short, abortive flight. They took wing not long after. Many were teenagers, as urgent for their first mating as they were to find The North, which they barely remembered from the year before. But the Blackpoll Warblers sang in joy of the black spruce to which they would soon return, and the swirl of colours in the magnetic tide that filled a frozen sky. Their conversation ran in awe of the mighty albatross who circled the Southern Oceans, and the icebergs touching the tip of Tierra del Fuego, the furthest they had gone. But their love was for the Arctic, and the wide forests still covered with snow. Turtle listened eagerly, until they flew.
Then he wept a few tears, quietly, where his siblings couldn’t see, because he was left behind. But soon he wiped them away.
He might not fly, but soon he would go. North, North, to the Arctic he would go.
Turtle went to New Jersey, instead.
It was a bit of a comedown, he thought, as he was taken out of a crate and put in a tank on display, in a dark, dusty corner of a dark, dusty store. But he had no doubt that the trapper who had caught him by a flipper and put him in a truck had then driven north, before handing him to another man, who had put him in another truck and rattled off north again. There was a new bite to the thin current of air filtering in which told him he was on the way to where he wanted to go.
He was bought three days later by Johnny, and brought back to the store three months after that by Johnny’s mother. Johnny had not proved himself all that interested in owning a turtle, especially one who had been overtaken by a sudden sleepiness, and crawled into his shell for an extended nap.
After that came Tracey, who was rather more meticulous about changing his bedding, but who was utterly unable to handle the concept of crickets; so for a while his diet was strictly vegetarian. David gave him a proper tank with bubbling jets of water, but then decided he would prefer to keep fish. Turtle was in a box under the television in Taylor’s house when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. He watched the grainy images on the screen and wondered how the humans around him could be so excited at the idea of exploring a grey distant rock, when there was a whole world to the north of them ~ a world of blue water and blue ice, of black trees and heather, pingos and drifts of snow yards deep ~ that they could have been exploring instead. He would have said as much, but only Taylor’s old cat, Greubles, would have understood him; and Greubles cared very little for the cold.
Pippa, Winston, Harvey - he lost track of their names. Some of them were kind, some neglectful; all handed him over to someone else after a while.
He ran away twice, though unsuccessfully each time. Once, he was abandoned, and fended for himself on bitter weeds from cracks in the sidewalk until he was picked up by Samantha, who took him to Detroit. Definitely not an improvement; but in the fall and the spring he could look out the window and see the shapes of familiar birds in the sky.
The years passed. He hibernated longer in the inland cold; was slower when he woke. Dreams of the Arctic became faded and thin.
He was dozing on the floor of yet another tank, this time in a small store in Bridgeport, Chicago; and was thinking seriously about the piece of carrot still left in his bowl when the store bell tinkled and a man walked in, cold air whipping around him. Mr Borkowski looked up from the tank he was cleaning out, that had been home until the week before to a monitor lizard named Cyrus. “Hey, Ray, long time. How you been keeping? How’s Stella?”
The man called Ray shuffled his feet. “Uh, not so good. I mean, she’s fine, she’s fine. But we ain’t - “ he put his hands together, clasped tight, “no more.”
Mr Borkowski’s rag slowed on the glass. “Sorry to hear that.”
“Yeah, sometimes it - The thing is, I was thinking, maybe I want a pet. You know, something easy, not a dog ‘cause I don’t got much luck with dogs, but maybe - “ All the time he was talking, Ray was moving, peering into the bird cages and sticking his fingers through the bars for the guinea pigs to nibble. Turtle wondered at his restlessness. Most of the adult humans Turtle had known were less active than their children, not more. “So there’s something to come home to,” he finished off.
Mr Borkowski nodded. “Any pet is going to need a lot of time and attention,” he said, which was the beginning of a lecture Turtle had heard aimed at potential customers a number of times over the last few weeks. But Ray interrupted before he could get any further.
“I got lots of - What’s this?” He was pointing to a gerbil.
He only listened to a few sentences of what Mr Borkowski had to say about gerbils before moving on to the parrot who was sitting on a railing above the till; and from the parrot, to the fish-tank at the back. Whatever he had lots of, it certainly did not include attention.
Turtle, who had by now amassed a wide experience of the sorts of animals that were found in pet stores, was soon bored, and had gone back to contemplating his carrot when he suddenly found himself in the air, being held nose to nose and looking into eyes the pale blue of winter skies.
“Huh. A turtle.”
“I don’t know, Ray. This kind of turtle, well, you can keep it in a dry tank for a while, but they’re much happier in water - “
“With pumps and heaters and stuff, yeah. I had some fish once.” Ray still had not put him down, but was just standing, staring intently. “You can sell me all that?”
“I guess,” Mr Borkowski said. “We’ve got some starter tanks over here - “
“Something bigger,” Ray said. “He’s gonna need room to swim around. Ain’tcha, guy?”
Having been asked to contribute to the conversation, Turtle considered. He wasn’t quite sure that he wanted this unsettling, unconsidering man as his next owner. Perhaps a small test was in order. Stretching out his neck, he nipped Ray gently on the nose.
Instead of the anger or indignation Turtle had been expecting, Ray burst out in laughter.
“See? He’s got character. Him and me, we’ll get along like - “ and Ray made that curious gesture again, bringing his hands together, but this time enclosing Turtle between long, elegant fingers. “We’ll be good.”
So it was that Turtle went home with Ray, Cyrus’ old tank jammed onto the seat behind them. ‘Home’ was an apartment littered with open packing boxes, plates wrapped in paper on the counters and glasses in the sink. Ray ignored the rest of the mess, shifting a tower of boxes to clear a space for the tank. “It’s gonna take a coupla hours for the water to heat up,” he told Turtle, fiddling with the placement of the plastic topiary he had bought from Mr Borkowski. “You just take a stroll. Get to know the place.”
Which was an unexpected freedom, because Turtle had rarely been allowed to wander by his young owners, who had tended to think he didn't want to go anywhere, simply because he was slow in getting there.
But in his heart he was an explorer, in a methodical way; so he headed out across the carpet to the horizons beyond.
The floor was a little dusty, yet there were fascinating piles of papers to be clambered around, and corners to poke a beak into. Nothing Ray owned was new. Turtle liked the lived-in smells of old furniture and vinyl records, laundered clothes and bike oil. Already, he felt at home.
Every once in a while, he came back to supervise Ray, who was building a rock pile in one corner of the tank. He aimed a heat lamp at it, which, Turtle could see, would make a most superior basking spot, although the edge of the carpet where the evening sun came in through the window would be equally fine. Once the lamp was successfully in place, Ray put Turtle on the dining table to share a plate of Chinese takeaway. (Turtle got the bok choi, with the oyster sauce washed off.)
After dinner, Ray danced.
It was not the sort of energetic dancing Turtle would have expected of him. He placed Turtle in a wide pen constructed of packing boxes, and turned off the lights but left the curtains open. In the dim glow from the street, he swayed for an hour to music Turtle could not hear. Then he drifted to the couch and sat down.
"You getting cold over there?"
Gently he lifted Turtle up and cradled him against his chest, slouching into the cushions until he lay flat, while Turtle settled in comfortably on top of him. Ray was very warm, and the cotton of his t-shirt very soft. Turtle was rousing into wakefulness with the heat when Ray spoke again.
"We'll do okay, you and me, yeah? We'll get by." There was an odd catch to his voice.
Turtle crawled up his chest and licked, surprised to find his face wet with slowly falling tears.
Months later, Turtle was surprised to notice his own contentment.
He liked his tank, with its burbling water and the little gaps under the rock pile where he could dive and root among the pebbles at the bottom. He liked roaming the wilderness of Ray's apartment, where new things were always finding their way to the floor for him to discover and ponder over, from tire irons to a pine cone from the park nearby. He liked the chicken Ray fed him on occasion; and the turtle sticks, and the crinkly red lettuce and the bright green carrot tops. He liked Mrs Awkright from across the hall, who came in and fed him whenever Ray was late home in the evenings, as he was from time to time. He liked to chew on Ray's shoes, and to sit on Ray's chest on the couch, and to watch nature documentaries when Ray had fallen asleep and left the remote control within reach.
Most of all, he liked Ray, who was brusque and impatient, but always spent time with him; whose house was untidy, but who always kept Turtle's tank scrupulously clean.
Perhaps Turtle would never go North. But he could be happy here.
The day things changed was the day Ray brought Fraser home.
Fraser was remarkable for three reasons. The first was that he was bright red. Even Turtle, who was partial to tomatoes and pomegranates, thought his coat was somewhat conspicuous. The second was that Ray had brought him home. Ray never brought anyone home. But the third thing was the most important: a wolf had followed him through the door.
If Turtle had had hair, it would have stood up all over his body. A wolf! He craned his neck as far out of his shell as possible to see.
He couldn't fathom why a wolf was in an apartment in Chicago, but a wolf it indubitably was. The wolf was white, with a streak of warm brown down his back and over the crest of his head. His eyes were a light brown, too. Altogether a handsome animal, and a powerful one: his jaws and shoulders were marked with strong muscle. Turtle had no fear of dogs. He'd quickly learned to withdraw into his shell when a snout poked his way, and even the largest of them had managed nothing more than to nose him onto his back and carry him for a few feet in their mouths before they got bored. But a wolf...
Yet Turtle couldn't resist. He had to talk to him.
" - es su casa," Ray was saying, waving Fraser to the armchair. "Lemme get you a drink. Milk? Dief, mi sofa no es su sofa - take your furry hide back off of there."
"Diefenbaker," Fraser said in a stern voice that nevertheless had a tone of resignation to it, as if such impolite behaviour was only to be expected of his companion. "Get. Down."
The wolf grumbled but complied, heading under the dining table where he began to lick up some choice crumbs Turtle had been saving for a later time.
"Well, you got your choice of curds, or whey, or curds and whey," Ray said from the kitchen, turning the milk carton upside down over the sink. A clot of white fell out, liberally sprinkled with mould. "Or there's beer."
"Water will do fine, Ray." Fraser had already cleared a space on Ray's coffee table, and was spreading out papers in neat stacks. Turtle waited until the two humans had their heads bent over them to clear his throat.
"Excuse me." A snout appeared from under the table. "I know we haven't been formally introduced, but I'm Turtle. How do you do?"
He wasn't sure this was quite the way one was supposed to talk to wolves, but it seemed to do the trick. The wolf came out and peered up at Turtle's tank. "Turtle? What kind of a name is that, eh?"
"It's the one I have," Turtle said a little indignantly. Just because it had two syllables and not four was no reason for the wolf to make fun of it. But any wounded feelings were quickly overridden by his urgent need to know. “Are you - are you an Arctic wolf? From the proper North, I mean to say?"
Diefenbaker laughed low in his throat, which sounded suspiciously like a growl. "I am, I am. I've run with the caribou and the elk, and brought them down with one bite to the heels," here he showed his teeth, "and I've hunted moose in snow so deep - "
"Pure hyperbole," Fraser interrupted from his seat, without looking up. "Do you even remember what a moose looks like? It's certainly not round with a hole in the middle and covered with confectioner's sugar, which is what your last two hunting expeditions yielded."
"Fraser, no kvetching at the wolf when we're trying to work here. What's he going on about, anyway?"
"My apologies, Ray, it wasn't important. What is important is that Mr O'Toole couldn't have been in the kitchen with the harpoon at 9.45pm, because according to Mrs Hepburn's statement on page 97 - "
Turtle tuned them back out. Whispering low enough that he was sure only the wolf could hear, he asked, "He can understand us?"
Dief cocked his head. "Only me. I think. Who knows what goes on in the brain of a human."
They both sighed in agreement. Except with Dief, it sounded more like panting.
"Fraser. Your wolf is standing there drooling over my turtle." This time it was Ray who had broken off, and was eyeing Dief watchfully.
"I doubt he has any intentions of a malign nature, Ray."
"Mal - What?"
"Evil, injurious," Fraser supplied helpfully.
Ray got up and put himself between Dief and the tank. "I didn't say he was gonna injure him. I said he was thinking about dinner and looking at my turtle, which is not two things he should be doing at one and the same time."
Fraser raised an eyebrow. "Now it's you who are maligning him - as in, to defame, to slander."
"The only person who's slandering anyone around here is that Burton guy, speaking of which, we should be making tracks to pick him up."
"Right you are, Ray." Fraser picked up his hat from the table. "Time to go. Dief. Dief. Dief."
And they were out the door, leaving only a tingle in the air, as if of oncoming snow.
Despite Ray's assertion to the contrary ("The turtle and the wolf are natural enemies, Fraser. Grrr. They fight,") Turtle and Diefenbaker soon built up a firm friendship.
Dief spent much of his time lying beneath Turtle's tank, answering his breathless questions with tales of nights spent baying at a winter moon, of the dangers of fishing on thin ice, and the pleasures of a she-wolf in heat. If Turtle suspected that Dief's stories held a grain less truth than Fraser's (which he listened to with more attention than Ray himself was wont to give them), he was hardly going to say so.
He was a little less sure of Fraser, to begin with. Experiments showed that, although Fraser often understood wolf, he couldn't seem to talk turtle; which was something of a relief. Turtle didn't approve of the fact that, since Fraser and Dief had turned up in their lives, Ray came home with bruises and cuts more often than before; and once, a graze from a passing bullet, that made him swear as he gingerly applied ointment to the wound. But then Turtle noticed that Fraser usually turned up with matching injuries, and was always solicitous of Ray's discomfort.
More importantly, Ray was growing happier. The whiskey in the kitchen was traded in for beer. He sung in the shower. The slow waltzes in the dark turned into tap-dances round Fraser, Fraser still where Ray was always in movement.
Besides, Fraser brought Turtle eggplant and watercress. That concluded the matter: Fraser was a good man.
When Ray was finally convinced Dief had no plans for a chelonious dinner, Turtle was allowed out of his tank to stray around the room while Fraser and the wolf visited, which was increasingly the case of an evening. He would wander, listening to the conversation; and if Ray and Fraser were encamped in front of the television, he would curl up beside Dief, whose thick white fur was preferable to any heat lamp.
Dozing to the murmur of Dief describing flocks of geese taking to the skies, and the glory of skating across an ice-bound pond, all the old urges awakened in him.
He wanted to go North. He wanted to Explore.
At first he was reluctant to mention this to his new friend, for fear that Diefenbaker would laugh. He couldn't help but notice Diefenbaker's irreverent streak. But late one evening, when Fraser sat reading and Ray snoozed on the couch, the only lights the one over Fraser's shoulder and the chili peppers across the kitchen hatch, he confided his long-held secret.
Dief didn't laugh. Instead he laid his head down on his paws and sighed. "There are many nights when I long to go home."
Fraser put down his book. "I know, boy," he said softly. He reached out a hand to scratch behind Dief's ears. "I do, too."
Then he ran one light finger over Turtle's shell and looked at Ray, whose legs were hanging over the arm of the couch as he slept. His face softened. "But we have good friends here. That's important, don't you think?"
The next evening, when Fraser told Dief it was time to go walk, Dief barked and sat down.
Ray, who had been pulling on his overcoat, stopped with one arm through a sleeve. "What's up with furface?"
Fraser knelt, the leather of his boots creaking quietly. "He says..."
"He says he won't come unless Turtle comes too." A pause. "Now you're just being silly, Diefenbaker. You can't spend the whole night with your legs crossed." Fraser had taken to sleeping on Ray's couch when neither he nor Ray could be bothered with the trip back to the Consulate.
"I don't get it." Ray shrugged his way into the rest of his coat. "He thinks Turtle oughta come walkies with us?"
Fraser sat back on his heels, while Dief yipped a few more words. "I do believe so, Ray."
"Huh." Ray considered for a swift moment. "Guess it can't hurt." Dief woofed and surged forward to lick Ray's hand. "Okay, okay. You love me. Ain't no reason to slobber me to death."
So they went down the stairs in a procession, Dief in front, Ray holding Turtle next, and Fraser behind. The night outside was still and cold. But Turtle scampered forward when his claws touched the ground.
It was a slow walk through this magical world that Turtle had barely known existed. The colours were muted, yellow lights cast by the streetlamps bleaching Fraser's tunic to grey. When they came to an intersection, Ray scooped Turtle up and carried him across. A patch of grass near the curb was wet with dew, sweet in Turtle's mouth. He chewed, contemplating the nature of happiness and the joy of new things.
Dief got impatient and surged ahead, but soon was back to frolic around Turtle, pointing out the best places to sniff, and explaining what each scent meant while the men talked in low voices.
Until fall turned into winter, they walked together every evening from then on.
When Turtle woke that spring, the world was a different place.
Ray wore a bright, bushy beard. His hair touched his shoulders and was bleached almost to white, while his skin was a honey brown. "Never thought snow could give you a tan, heh?" he told Mrs Awkright, pressing money into her hand. Turtle understood from their conversation that she had kept him in a box in the warmest corner of her apartment for the last few months.
Ray's own place looked neglected. It was clean - apparently Mrs Awkright had come and dusted it regularly - but there was little of Ray's usual clutter around the place, except a sack of clothes slung by the table. As soon as he was lively enough to walk, Turtle wandered over to investigate. It smelt of sweat and smoke, Dief and Fraser and Ray; but there was also the smell of other dogs, and something else, a deep undefinable note that made Turtle quiver inside.
At first, Fraser and Diefenbaker did not appear. But there were endless telephone conversations, Ray restlessly thrumming his fingers on the lip of Turtle's tank as he waited for the operator to connect him.
Then, after Ray had found the time to shave the beard and cut his hair, Fraser came back with Dief in tow.
Immediately Dief bounded up to the tank and barked until Ray put Turtle down on the floor. In amongst the licking and prancing and general excitement, Turtle didn't notice how oddly Ray and Fraser were behaving. It was only some hours later, when Diefenbaker had worn himself out telling Turtle all the marvellous things they had done ("I parachuted! We found the finger of Franklin!"), and was curled up asleep on the rug, that Turtle really had time to take stock.
Fraser and Ray were sitting on opposite ends of the sofa. Not only was this strange enough - they usually slumped together somewhere in the middle - but Fraser was sitting stiff as the tentpoles Dief had been describing, and Ray was fidgetting unconscionably. They weren't talking, either.
Turtle huddled closer to Dief's sleeping body. Something was very wrong.
"Look, Fraser - " Ray began, just as Fraser said, "Ray, I have to - "
The silence that followed was worse yet; until Ray jumped up and came to stand by the window, his back to Fraser.
"You gotta go. I get that," Ray said in a low, urgent voice; and Fraser closed his eyes as if pained, and said, "I can't."
"Huh?" Ray swivelled round. "Fraser, they were offering you any post you want! You telling me they changed their minds?"
Already Fraser was shaking his head, before Turtle could fully take in Ray's meaning. "No, Ray. It's not them, it's me. I don't think I can - It's not possible - " He broke off and took a deep breath. "Would you find it so easy to leave our partnership behind, Ray?"
"Easy? The fuck no," Ray said grimly. "But you ain't gonna find it any easier to stay put in a dead-end job in a place you hate - " He put up his hand. "Let me finish. In a place you hate, and I know you do, Benton Fraser, 'cause I've seen you out on that ice, and I know. I didn't know before we went. But now I do and you can't lie to me, and you can't stay here. Not if I have to shove you on a damned plane myself." He spun back to the window. His head lowered; Turtle saw him wipe his hand across his face.
"Ray." Fraser got to his feet. "Ray." His tone had none of the badgering there usually was when he repeated Ray's name. Instead, he was almost tender. "Ray."
"Yeah?" The sound that followed was definitely a sniff.
"You could - "
"There ain't nothing I can - "
Fraser curled his hand round the exposed nape of Ray's neck, where the hair had all been shorn close. Ray was instantly silent.
"You could come back with me, Ray," Fraser said quietly. And, when Ray did not react, he let his hand drop, but went on. "I'm not expecting you to - That is, I know our association has been one of friendship, and you may not have thought of anything else - I mean, anything of a more - "
And at that point he petered out; but Ray had already turned and was staring at him. "Of a more..." He waved his hand to prompt Fraser on, eyes never leaving Fraser's face.
Fraser swallowed hard. "Anything a more...physical nature," he got out. "I fully understand that you might only wish to continue our - "
"Physical?" Ray interrupted. "You mean, like," and the hand gesture that followed was unmistakable to Turtle. Apparently human anatomy didn't differ all that much from the chelonian variety.
Fraser watched his fingers move the way a turtle might watch a water snake: with fascinated terror. "Ah - yes, Ray. But not if you - "
And then Ray was thrusting himself at Fraser, those same hands pushing into Fraser's hair; and the pair of them were pressing their mouths frantically together. Turtle had the grace to look away. The kissing wasn't as expressive as turtle shell-butting, but that wasn't to say they wanted an audience.
Some time later, after they had stumbled into Ray's bedroom, Dief opened one eye. "About time," he growled, and shut it again.
Once again Ray's apartment was littered with boxes, but these were being filled instead of emptied. In all the commotion, what with the arrangements for Ray's sudden retirement and Fraser's new posting ("Moose Jaw is a booming metropolis, Ray - some 35,000 people, complete with postal service. I don't think you'll need to take six fan belts for your car."), Turtle's silence was easy to miss.
A few days before, when Fraser and Diefenbaker were not in the room, Ray had picked him up and taken him to the couch, settling down in their old position, face to face. "You don't need to worry," Ray said to him. "Mrs Awkright, she's gonna take good care of you. She says she always wanted a turtle. And I'm gonna leave her with a big check in case - you know - in case of the v-word." He stroked his hand down Turtle's shell, with something of the tenderness he showed when touching Fraser. "I'm gonna miss you," he said sadly. "We been good pals, ain't we? I wish...but it wouldn't be fair."
It was a long time after Ray had put him back in his tank that the truth finally sank in. He was to be left behind.
All Turtle's dreams were destroyed.
"Ray," Fraser said. "There's something wrong with Turtle." He'd been waving a succulent slice of cactus under Turtle's nose for the last quarter of an hour. He picked Turtle up and held him in the sunshine. "He doesn't seem to be eating."
"Yeah. I noticed today. Was gonna take him into the ve- " he glanced down at Diefenbaker, "the v-man tomorrow if he still ain't eating then. But it's probably all the packing - " Ray waved his hand at the chaos round his feet. "Gotta be unsettling for the poor guy. And he's maybe kinda worried. Although I told him Mrs Awkright would be looking after him. She's real keen on the idea."
Fraser frowned. "You're not bringing him with us?"
"Don't be a dope, Fraser," Ray said testily. "Turtles weren't meant for the cold."
Dief looked from Ray to Turtle, who lay listlessly in Fraser's hand. He whined. "Don't you start," Ray said, rounding on him. "He can't live where you do. Just 'cause he's your friend has nothing to do with it. He's - he's a topical animal. You gotta respect that."
"I think you mean tropical, Ray." Carefully Fraser lowered Turtle back onto his rock, and began to clear away the uneaten leaves.
"Yeah. That." Ray hugged his arms around himself. "Tropical."
"So what does that mean, 'hmmmm'?"
"Nothing, Ray." Fraser stood up smartly and gathered his coat. "I'll see you in a few hours, shall I? There's a topic I just need to read up on. Come along, Dief."
"Wait, Frase, where you going? I thought we were gonna do that last tuneup on the Goat..." Their voices faded from the room.
Left alone, Turtle resolutely kept his eyes closed. He had decided to go back to sleep. And, even if it was coming into summer, he didn't intend to wake for some time.
"...You coulda asked me along. I'da come with." Ray's voice penetrated Turtle's deepening slumber, rousing him again. Reluctantly he opened one eye. By the door, Ray was wiping his hands on a rag already covered in motor oil.
"You're not that fond of libraries, Ray," Fraser said, putting a stack of books on the table. "Besides, you had the Goat to see to." Beside him, Diefenbaker was practically capering. "Yes, yes, you may tell him, but let me tell Ray first."
Again Turtle was lifted out of his tank, and this time it was Fraser he was held nose to nose with. Fraser's eyes were darker than Ray's, a deep blue like the lake in the Rushy Blackbird's stories.
"If I'm not mistaken, Turtle is a member of the species Chrysemys picta, subspecies belli; or, a western Painted Turtle to you and me." He flipped Turtle over on his carapace, cradling him gently. Nevertheless it was a most undignified position, and only pride kept Turtle still.
With one finger Fraser traced around the large splotch of red colour on Turtle's underside. "See here? This patch is common amongst Western Painteds - you'll find a picture on page 107 of that book," he gestured with his chin, "Turtles of the United States, which matches it exactly."
"Give, Fraser," Ray said, almost angrily. "What does that mean?"
Fraser put Turtle on the ground beside Dief. "It means, Ray, that Turtle's species is native to a wide strip of southern Canada, from British Columbia to the Great Lakes. An area that, I am happy to say, easily includes Moose Jaw."
Ray rubbed a greasy hand through his hair in bewilderment. "There's turtles in Canada?"
"Some eight native freshwater species," Fraser confirmed, "although Chrysemys picta belli originally spread north from the Prairies. In fact, they can be found over much of the United States, since they are popular pets and often escape into the wild. I did wonder when I first saw Turtle's size - the Western Painteds are the largest of the Painted Turtles." He tapped his nose. "That helped clue me in. I also took the liberty to do some further research while I was there. This article," he opened a slimmer volume from the stack on the table, "published by the Journal of Herpetology, covers the cold tolerance of Western Painted hatchlings. By following some of the recommendations they list, I'm sure we can make Turtle tolerably happy in his new home." Fraser snapped the book closed and beamed - positively beamed - at Ray.
"So..." Ray's voice was tentative, hopeful.
"Yes, Ray. We can take Turtle with us when we go."
In the general rejoicing that followed, Dief leant down to whisper in Turtle's ear. "We can line your nest with the combings of my fur. You'll be warm enough then."
Turtle's heart swelled and he nearly hopped with eagerness.
His Great Adventure was about to begin.