The call came in while they were at the kids' afternoon hockey game. Fraser was across the ice with Diefenbaker, standing between two groups of crazy-obsessed parents, motioning for a coach to continue speaking. Ray fidgeted on the cold metal seat: if they weren't going to play, he'd rather just grab Fraser and go back to bed.
Ray answered his cell phone on the first ring—it was doing temporary double-duty as Fraser's, which had disappeared down an ice crevasse the previous week. "I got a lost tourist, Ray," Libby from the Main Street B&B told him.
"Fantastic," Ray said. "Wait, you mean someone wandered in, or someone took off and didn't come back yet?"
"The second. Remember the group from California when you two dropped by yesterday—the weird guy who kept taking all the pictures of snow? His friends can't find him. They checked all over town."
"Oh, crap." Ray looked across the rink. Fraser was standing with his arms crossed, nodding patiently, and making everybody hear out the other side's concerns in that supremely annoying way he had. "Anyone know which direction he headed?"
"Probably went to take more pictures of snow, the idiot. I told him we had weather coming in. Told everybody."
"Yeah," Ray agreed. "Okay, I'll tell Fraser. Tell the friends to stay put—we'll take care of it."
He hung up and wolf-whistled, pointing first at Fraser and then at the doors to the parking lot. When Fraser and Dief met him there, Ray said, "Libby called. A guest wandered off, nobody knows where."
Fraser glanced back at the group arguing on the ice. "Oh dear."
"Remember the flake with the camera from yesterday?"
Fraser opened his mouth, then bit back whatever he was about to say and rubbed his eyebrow.
"Yeah, I knew when I saw that guy something would go wrong with him." Fraser started to frown like he was about to say, That's hardly polite, Ray, so Ray beat him to the punch. "Look, Fraser, tell me one thing. Tell me I was never that—I mean, I know I was green when we were chasing Muldoon, but—"
Fraser's eyes crinkled. "No, Ray, you were never that green. However, I'm afraid tracking this gentlemen this late in the day without a clear starting point…" Fraser sighed. "I'll get a search party together."
Ray nodded, fingers tapping on the door's steel bar. "Yeah, you probably…yeah, do that."
"You have a hunch?" Fraser asked, eyebrows lifting hopefully.
"Kinda? I don't know. I want to check the river. I don't know why—it's just a thing."
"Snow, ice, ice water, ice crystals along the bank, river frozen solid, snow on the ice, a nice view..." Fraser trailed off. "It would seem possible."
Ray scowled. "Don't make my hunches sound all logical like that, Fraser."
"Of course, Ray." Fraser snapped his heels together. "My apologies."
Ray rolled his eyes. "Freak."
Fraser's lips quirked.
"I'm taking the Jeep," Ray warned.
"Understood." Fraser's eyes flicked down to Diefenbaker.
"And Dief," he added.
"Thank you." Fraser said, smiling, and Ray shot him a grin before following the wolf out the door.
The river had been frozen solid for months and wasn't in any danger of thawing yet, so Ray wasn't worried about having to fish this guy's dead body out. He was more worried the guy had found a moose or polar bear to piss off with his camera flash, and there wouldn't be anything left but a bloody mess in the snow. At least he couldn't have gotten too far on foot.
He drove to City Park first and then realized he didn't know what name he was supposed to be shouting, so he called Libby to find out. "Byron Eddings," she said. "Maybe he thinks he's a poet."
"Let's hope he's not a popsicle," Ray said and hung up. A light snow was falling again, dusting his coat and hat. He climbed up on the Jeep's front bumper to get a better view and shouted the missing guy's name a few times to no avail. There were too many tracks in the snow to be of any use. Dief peed on the leg of a snow-covered park bench, which Ray took to mean they should keep moving.
Still, something about the river felt right, so they got back in the Jeep and turned up the river road, which was pretty much the same as going off-road this time of year. A little less than a mile upstream, there was a place where the forest came down to the water and the road hitched left, away from the bank. Ray stopped the Jeep, laid on the horn, and climbed out. "Byron!" he shouted, hiking down. Dief bounded ahead.
Out in the middle of the frozen water, he saw something red—a parka—a guy wearing a red parka, lying flat on the ice. "Byron Eddings? Come on, time to go!" Ray shouted, wondering if he was dead. The guy lifted his head and pointed at himself. Okay, so, not dead; that was good. Ray gestured for him to hurry the hell up just as Dief slid up to him and started snuffling his crotch. "Dief, stop that!" he yelled. "Byron, come on!" Now that Ray had a live body, he was getting pissed because it was freezing out here—and who in the hell laid down on bare ice anyhow?
The guy got up and made his way up the bank with Dief his heels. "I'm Byron," he said, casting a nervous glance at the wolf.
"Ray Kowalski. A bunch of people are out looking for you and we got a storm due tonight," Ray said. "Let's go."
As they reached the Jeep, Byron turned his face to the graying sky, naked wonder lighting his face. "Does it ever stop snowing?"
Ray snorted. "Yeah, that's what we call summer here. Dief, backseat this time." The other thing was winter days were damned short, and they only had an hour or so of light left. He and Fraser had enough wood chopped, but they needed to bring more in and see to the dogs before the weather hit.
He called Libby on the way, and Fraser and the others were on their way back by the time Ray and Byron got there. Ray manhandled Byron inside, deposited him among his noisy herd of friends, and took the mug of stew Libby handed him with thanks. "You're an angel," he said. "This is great."
She smiled genially as Fraser arrived, wrapping his arm around Ray's shoulder and squeezing tight.
"I'm fine," Ray said. And he was. He was glad that'd been so easy, since it could've gone the other way, too. "Just do me a favor and give him the stupid-people lecture? The scary one?"
Fraser thumped his back and went to the parlor to conduct his official inquiry. From where Ray was sitting at the bar, he could see Byron visibly shrink into the couch. He looked to be clutching his teacup for dear life.
At home, they did their chores by twilight: lugging firewood, seeing to the dogs, and making sure they were ready if they got snowed in. Afterwards, they showered while the hot water heater still had power; Ray took his time because he could.
Fraser cooked an early supper, again using the modern appliances while they had power, since Fraser hated running a generator if they didn't have to. Ray stood on the porch watching it snow and waiting for Dief to decide where he wanted to be. The sound of barking from the barn finally proved the greater temptation, so Ray went in and set the table.
After dinner, Ray lit the woodstove in the living room; and Fraser turned out all the lamps and lit a lantern, turning the shade down low. Ray pulled Fraser down to the couch with a gentle tug and a warm, claiming kiss. "Hot chocolate later?"
"Mmm," Fraser said with an answering kiss, and sprawled comfortably beside him.
Ray hit the remote, and together they settled in with the howling wind and Hockey Night's pre-game show.