Ray knew he was mostly dead weight on this trip.
Not that he wasn't fit—hey, he was plenty fit. He boxed. He could run down your average felon and get him cuffed while that clown Dewey was still puffing along in the rear. Okay, maybe he wasn't faster than Fraser and he sure as hell wasn't faster than Dief, but Fraser was a freak and Dief was a wolf. Half-wolf, whatever. Plus, Dief had four legs.
Anyhow, Ray was no slouch, but he was city fit, not Arctic fit, so he mostly rode on the sled. He did a stint on the skis each day, but after an embarrassingly short time his legs started screaming at him and he had to let Fraser manhandle him off the skis and onto the sled again. The sled was fine, but eventually he got cold, with the sitting still, even huddled under furs. The skiing warmed him up, but only for a while. Ray felt kind of bad for the dogs, having to haul his ass as well as their supplies, but at least he was skinny. Fraser seemed to think it was fine that he mostly rode and he wouldn't let Ray ski for too long anyway, saying he mustn't overdo it and risk pulling a muscle.
So basically, Ray figured he was there for entertainment. Trouble was, it was hard to hold up your end of a conversation when your teeth were chattering, so he tried to get as much mileage as possible from the window of warmer time after he'd worn himself out on the skis, and before sitting hunkered down on the sled cooled him down too much.
Fraser was a lot less chatty out here, but then he was skiing, and even Fraser didn't have too much energy left over after that. It should've been great—a chance to get a goddamn word in edgewise for a change and shoot his mouth off about all sorts of shit, but Ray had gotten used to the to and fro between them and he missed Fraser's snippy comebacks. Grunts, which was mostly what he got when Fraser was head down in an icy wind, weren't much to go on. Still, he figured talking was his job on the expedition, so he gave it his best, even if most of his questions were just blowing in the wind.
"It ain't really a hand, right, Fraser?" Fraser didn't even grace that with a grunt. "I mean, like, we don't got a shitshow of finding one dead old guy's frozen hand in all this ice an' snow, so I figure it ain't a literary hand. So, I'm guessing, something hand-like. In the Beaufort Sea. They got corals like that—hand corals. Saw it on a nature show Turtle likes. I'm thinking your average coral wouldn't do so well up here, though. Unless they got, like, Arctic corals. Kind of like icicles except underwater. And not made of ice. So not really all that much like icicles, I guess."
That got a grunt out of Fraser, but Ray was still learning to interpret Fraser's grunts so he wasn't sure if it was a grunt of vague agreement, a thoughtful 'you may have a point there, Ray' kind of grunt, or a disgusted grunt. Could even have been wind. The food sure gave Ray indigestion sometimes, but Fraser was generally made of sterner stuff when it came to putting weird crap in his mouth.
"Or, like, what with Franklin sailing on one of them old-time boats, ships or whatever, I guess it could mean a ship's hand. But that don't make sense 'cause Franklin was the boss, right? So they'd all be his hands, and why'd we be looking' for just one of them? Unless . . ." Ray bit his lip at a sudden thought. "Unless the guy was special to Franklin, like, his special deck-hand, or somethin'." He shot a quick look at Fraser's form, bowed with effort, doggedly sliding one ski after the other. "This ain't some crazy old sailor love story, is it? Like Romeo an' Juliet 'cept in the Arctic? Franklin and his Hand, and maybe the Hand wandered off into the snow and got froze to death and Franklin died of pining even before he woulda died of starvation?"
Fraser grunted again and this time it sounded distinctly pained, but did that mean he was feeling sad for Franklin's tragical lost love or weirded out by Ray yammering on about long-since popsicled explorers and sailors gettin' it on together, or even disgusted by the whole mano a mano thing. Damn. Just because Ray had the hots for Fraser he shouldn't've let his goddamn mouth run off like that, with all the dumb wish-fulfillment bullshit about two guys together, in the Arctic, on a quest. Despite the cold, Ray felt a prickle of fear-sweat along his spine.
He was a one-trick pony for now, though, so there was nothing to do except keep on talking and hope to distract Fraser from his blunder. "But then, how're we gonna find one guy, out in the frozen wastes, right? If Franklin couldn't find him, I'm guessin' we ain't gonna have a snowball's chance in hell. So maybe the hand's not a person. Maybe it's a . . . a thing like a hand. Hand-shaped, maybe. Um, like a rock . . . or how does the damn song go? Pointing to the Beaufort Sea or something? Maybe it's one of those sign-posts with a pointy-fingered hand carved at the end and 'Beaufort Sea 500 miles' on it. Maybe Franklin made it, or had his crew make it, to point where the Northwest Passage was supposed to be. Even if they didn't make it."
Fraser muttered something at that, maybe "reaching" or "stretching"; Ray couldn't quite catch it, what with the wind. And, yeah, he had a point, it was a helluva reach, but that wasn't why Ray was doing this shit. He was the entertainment on this trip and he was determined to keep his end up.
It was kind of a downer, really, thinking about old Franklin and his expedition. Two big ships like that, and they still got lost. Vanished in the ice, like that airplane that went down in the Andes with a football team in it—what was the book called? Alive, that was it, and old Buck Frobisher was a nutjob, 'cause it definitely happened in South America, not here in the Arctic. He'd read it with horrified fascination one time when he was on a boring stakeout, how the survivors had to eat their dead teammates. Man, he'd been crazy, letting Fraser drag him all the way up here, just the two of them. They didn't have a ship, not even a canoe. No back-up plan, just the dogs, and Ray really didn't want to have to eat the dogs, which were kind of nice, even if they were no-nonsense working dogs.
He'd want Fraser to eat him, if the worst happened, Ray thought. He'd been raised a good Polish Catholic boy, but if someone was already dead it wasn't a sin to eat them; it was a sin to let yourself die when you could've saved yourself. The Church'd even come out and said that, after the Andes plane crash. Would Fraser do it, though? And if it was the other way around—which Ray figured was pretty goddamn unlikely 'cause if anyone was gonna get deep-frozen out here he reckoned it'd be him, not Constable Survival-of-the-Fittest—would he be able to eat Fraser? The thought gave him the chills, and he shivered. Best not to think about eating Fraser or being eaten by him. That way lay . . . well, not madness, exactly, but Ray'd spent altogether too many fevered nights in his bed imagining just that, but under altogether warmer and more pleasant circumstances.
Shit, he wasn't holding up his end of the deal, day-dreaming about stuff he wasn't supposed to want. Stuff Fraser had shown no signs of wanting, for all they were buddies, and Fraser clearly enjoyed his company. Which he wasn't being so great at providing, right now.
"Or it could be the shape of the land, y'know, that looks like a hand?" Ray suggested, a little desperately. "Like a river spreading out in five channels where it hits the Beaufort Sea. Is there a Franklin River up here, Fraser?" That got a pretty negative sort of grunt, so maybe not. "Hmm, okay. Well, maybe the land sticks out in five fingers and they named it after Franklin, or the sea sticks down into the land in—whatcha call 'em? Fords? Bjorks?" A slightly more considering grunt now, from Fraser, and he even slowed up a little, then whistled the dogs to a halt. "Why we stopping? Was it something I said?"
Fraser cast him a glance, and unwrapped the scarf from around his lower face. He was smiling though, so whew. "No, Ray, although I welcome the opportunity to discuss some of your more . . . interesting theories. It's time we made camp for the night, that's all. There's no shelter out here so it'll take a little longer than usual. We’ll need to build a wind-barrier for the tent. A snow wall."
It did take a while, but Ray got warmed up again doing what Fraser told him—packing snow along one wall of the tent, although how Fraser knew the wind was gonna come from that direction was anyone's guess. Finally, they were inside, and Ray was pretty toasty, what with the exercise of pitching camp and the shelter of the tent, curled up in his sleeping bag with a hot meal inside him.
"So, Ray," Fraser said, stretched out beside him. "The Hand of Franklin." He had his journal out to make the day's entry—Fraser wrote in his journal every night like clockwork, just like old Franklin probably had, not that anyone'd found either him or his diary. Fraser riffled through the pages and found a blank one near the end, scribbled on it for a while, then ripped it carefully out and passed it to Ray.
"Hey, you shouldn't've messed up your book," Ray said, taking it. "Um, I'm gonna need my eye-glasses." They were in his pack, but the packs were over behind Fraser, by the tent wall they'd reinforced.
"Oh, of course, Ray. One moment." Fraser found his pack and went to pass it across. Typical, Ray thought, amused. Respecting Ray's privacy or, more likely, not wanting to risk touching his undershorts by mistake.
He waved the pack off. " 's okay. They're in the little side-pocket. Yeah, that one." Fraser rummaged, then handed over the glasses.
Ray slid them on and examined the page, filled with Fraser's neat writing. It was the lyrics to the song he'd been trying to remember.
Ah, for just one time I would take the Northwest Passage,
To find the hand of Franklin reaching for the Beaufort Sea;
Tracing one warm line through a land so wide and savage,
And make a Northwest Passage to the sea.
"Huh," Ray said, reading the chorus. " 'Reaching for the Beaufort Sea', I got that wrong. Oh, you corrected me. Thought you meant it was a reach. Y'know—far-fetched."
"Well, that, too, Ray," Fraser said, smiling. "There's no Franklin River, I'm afraid—not up here. And no promontories or fjords that are called 'the Hand of Franklin'. It's a nice idea, though. If we found something suitable, we could name it."
"Yeah?" Ray grinned at him. "That'd be cool." He turned back to the page again and read the rest of the song. "There's a lot more here than I realized. I didn't know all these verses, just that bit of the chorus. All these dudes: Kelso, Mackenzie, Thompson. They all try to find the Northwest Passage, too?"
"No, Ray. They were explorers, yes, but not this far north, in the main. Wait, I have something . . .." He turned to his own pack and felt about in it, extracting a folded-up sheaf of papers. "Here it is. Buck pressed this on me for a little light reading if chance allowed, but I think you're better placed for that, and it'll answer your questions." He handed the bundle to Ray. "It's from various books and magazines—articles or chapters about the explorers in the song, and more. About the exploration of the far North." His eyes twinkled a little. "I haven't had a chance to read it all yet, so perhaps you can tell me about them, as we travel."
Ray gave Fraser a look. For sure Fraser already knew this stuff—he'd have been the kind of kid who paid attention in history class, unlike Ray who'd just as often played hooky so's to hang out and wait for Stella or poke around used car lots. Ray figured, though, that his plan to be the light relief part of their double-act was no secret. On this trip, anyway, where he was so far out of his depth and Fraser was in his element. Fraser had something of the schoolteacher in him, and he'd most likely enjoy Ray reading aloud to him and adding his own commentary.
"Yeah," he said finally, smiling. "I can do that."