"So, you're absolutely sure you're all right?" Ray was still looking concerned, and Fraser was trying his hardest not to show his embarrassment.
"Don't worry, I'm fine now. It was just a little tap on the head..."
"Yeah, well... three hours ago you couldn't remember your own name."
"Really Ray, I'm fine." Fraser had decided that the best way to gloss over the whole shameful incident would be to pretend that it hadn't happened... or that if it had happened he couldn't remember it happening. He cringed at the thought of Inspector Thatcher's expression. What must she think of him?
Ray looked at him suspiciously. "Yeah... right, you're fine. Look, I'm glad you're feeling better, and you've got your memory back and everything, but take it easy."
"Yes Ray, I intend to."
"Sure..." his friend continued to look at him dubiously. "You know, I could just swing us back home, I reckon you should stay over at our place tonight, Ma won't mind putting out an extra plate..."
"Oh, no... thank you Ray, but honestly, I think I should just have a bit of peace and quiet." He actually did have a headache, but there was no way he was going to share that fact with Ray. "I'll see you tomorrow after my morning shift."
"I'm sure Thatcher won't expect you to come in..."
"Still, I think I'd sooner just return to work as normal." The sooner he did so the sooner he could start to live down his humiliating performance of earlier that day.
"Okay... well, if you need anything, you know where I am. Just bang on the front door and holler."
"Will do." Fraser smiled, and got out of the green Riviera as quickly as he could without seeming over eager. "Thank you for the lift Ray."
With another worried frown Ray pulled away. Fraser closed his eyes and sighed with relief, before wearily climbing the stairs to his apartment.
'Am I being punished,' he had asked, when he last saw it, only hours ago. At the time his mind had been shaken loose from who he was, from his carefully constructed outer shell. How had that happened, he wondered... how could he so suddenly have lost his persona, the self that protected his self from himself? He had forgotten, however briefly, everything.
Not just everything... everyone. Not only had he forgotten his best friend Ray, he had also forgotten, of all people, Diefenbaker.
Most folks wouldn't count Dief as 'people' of course, because Dief was a wolf, but that was just prejudice on their part. Dief was bound to be sulking though, and with good cause. When Fraser had seen him earlier he had frozen flat against the wall. For all his memory loss he still recognised 'wolf' when he saw one. Not cute, not fluffy, not a 'lovely little doggie,' or whatever the people of Chicago saw. No, Dief was a wolf, and he was not above tearing out a throat if he had to.
Not just any wolf though, Dief was his wolf, in the same way as he was Ray's Benny. Friends.
Yet he had forgotten both of them.
I couldn't help it, he tried to tell himself, but still felt ashamed. Whatever excuse he might make, Deifenbaker had every right to be upset with him. Fraser had, uncharacteristically, persuaded Ray to stop off at a donut shop on the way home, where he purchased some gooey treats for his lupine friend. Maybe he could bribe his way to forgiveness...
"Hello Dief," he said, as he opened the door to his apartment. Dief lay across Fraser's sleeping pallet, with a haughty expression on his face.
"I'm sorry about earlier... okay? Here, I bought you some pastries..."
Dief stretched, and languidly strolled across the floor as though he owned it. He stood for a moment staring at Fraser with what, to Fraser, appeared a very hurt expression. Then he sniffed the proffered peace offering. He tilted his head, gently took the pastry in his mouth, and stalked off to eat in the kitchen. Fraser sighed. No wonder Dief was testy. This city was bad for him. He was increasingly a dog, rather than a wolf. Mad Maggie, the bag lady who lived over the road, would frequently comment on how Dief was "nearly human," as though it were a good thing.
Maybe Dief and he needed a holiday.
Ma was telling off the children and Frannie was shouting at Tony for taking the last piece of lasagne. "You can't still be hungry you pig, it's your third slice and I hardly got any." Maria, who would probably have said the same thing if Frannie hadn't got there first, started to raise her voice. "Don't you talk to my husband like that..."
The soundtrack to dinner continued in the background. Ray couldn't taste his food. He was tired, not just from the events of today, but from the slow build up of anxiety and secrets over the past few weeks. At some point he was going to have to talk about... well, 'it'... to his family, to Fraser. But for now he could just keep hoping that nothing would come of it, that somehow he'd be let off the hook.
The more he tried not to think about 'it' the worse the feeling got. Telling Ma would be hard enough, but he knew he could do it. She was a strong woman. What was really getting to him was how he could break the news to Fraser.
Maybe I won't have to, he thought to himself, it's not set in stone. Please God, let it fall through...
Today had reminded him how fragile his friend could sometimes be. Behind the appearance of invincibility was someone who did have feelings, no matter how he hid them, who did get angry, frightened, sad. Ray remembered their experiences in the Northern woods, when Fraser had also hit his head. On that occasion he had first lost his vision, then the use of his legs. At the time Ray hadn't questioned the fact that Fraser had suffered a traumatic injury... but since then he had sometimes wondered. Yes, Fraser really had been helpless, really blind and lame, really did need his help. But sometimes he wondered if the injury had been more psychological than physical. After all, it wasn't long after Victoria, and his friend was still feeling vulnerable and weak. Perhaps...
Oh, stop thinking about it Ray. Fraser's fine, he always pulls through...
Ray couldn't help it though. He couldn't help wondering what would happen to Fraser if this thing that he wasn't thinking about came through.
Silence suddenly drew itself to his attention, and he looked up. Hostilities had ceased around the table, and everyone was looking at him.
"Raimondo? Are you not hungry?" Ray looked down at his plate and realised that he had barely touched his food.
"I'm sorry Ma," he lied. "I'm not feeling well." This, of course, was a mistake. She was leaning across the table, with the back of her hand across his forehead. "I don't feel a fever Raimondo."
"Leave it be Ma, I'm fine. Just tired."
"I don't know what you're complaining about," Frannie grumbled. "You're not the one who fell off a car."
"Why, what happened?" Ma was preparing to get herself into a major flap now. Ray knew all the symptoms, the heightening of the voice, the wringing of the hands, and braced himself for the deluge of questions and suggestions.
"Fraser was trying to catch a criminal, and he fell off a car, bumped his head. Had a bit of memory loss... he's okay now."
"Oh, that poor boy... what were you thinking? You should have brought him here..."
"I did offer," Ray said, trying to hide his irritation. "He said he just wanted to rest..."
"He could rest here..."
"No," Ray snapped. "He needs peace and quiet. And so do I."
With that he jerked to his feet and marched out of the room. There was only so much family concern a man could take.
In his dream the world was white. Beneath his paws, beneath the snow, the long dark creaked and groaned. The floe was an icebound giant, and he was running across the bones of it as the deep's slow breath swelled, in and out. And below the skin of the snow, below even the ice, even the shadow, water rushed, the bitter blood of winter, slow pulsing with the tides.
He ran, muzzle to the snow, following the scent of his companions, and all around him the blizzard was his home, and all around him the wolves were his kin.
Fraser sat up, sweating, his heart racing in his chest. He'd had one of those dreams again... He hadn't had one of those dreams since he first befriended Dief, or Dief befriended him, whichever way round it was.
Dief was lying across the foot of Fraser's sleeping pallet. He was yipping in his sleep, feet twitching. Fraser lay back down and pulled the sheets up to his chin. "Stop dreaming so loud Dief," he declared. "I don't give you dreams about standing sentry duty or picking up dry cleaning, stop giving me tundra dreams, it's confusing." Unsurprisingly Dief said nothing in reply.
Fraser grunted, rolled over, and fell back into a dreamless sleep.
The following morning he bit the bullet, and walked into work as though nothing had happened. All the way there Ray's advice played through his mind... "take it easy... Thatcher won't expect you to come in..." He shook his head. He had to do this. Even if he took the day off he wouldn't be able to relax... he would simply brood, and feel increasingly ridiculous.
Tucking his hat securely under his arm he marched through the consulate doors, and cheerfully greeted Turnbull, who, oddly, was on his hands and knees, with a pair of tweezers. He appeared to be plucking the carpet.
"Oh, Constable," Turnbull leapt to his feet. "I'm so glad to see you well..."
"Is there some reason that I shouldn't be?"
"Oh, don't you remember... ?"
"I'm fine. Had a bit of a glitch yesterday, today I'm fine."
"Oh, good... good. Just, we weren't expecting to see you today..."
"Why ever not?" Fraser fixed his colleague with an innocent gaze.
"Oh, of course... I'm sorry... I misunderstood..." Turnbull looked embarrassed, then with a sideways smile got back onto his knees and recommenced plucking the floor with his tweezers.
"May I ask what you're doing?" Fraser was truly puzzled.
"Oh... I noticed that the carpet isn't of a consistent colour. I'm removing those threads that are too dark or too pale..."
Fraser was a great stickler for detail, and had taken his share of mockery for it. He'd got used to that. However, even to him Turnbull appeared to be paying a little too much attention to detail.
"Is the Inspector happy with your current activities?"
"Oh, yes... she told me to..." Turnbull paused, and thought, recalling the exact words to memory. He brightened up as he retrieved them: "she told me to just shut up and get on with it."
"Oh... good." Fraser blinked, trying not to betray his bewilderment. "So long as that is all sorted..."
Thatcher looked suitably frosty when he entered her office.
"Constable. I'm surprised to see you in today. Do you consider yourself fit for duty?"
"Yes Sir. I apologise for yesterday, though I'm not sure I remember a great deal about it."
"I see. Are there any other gaps in your memory?"
Fraser paused. It suddenly flooded over him, the reason for her chilly behaviour. She thought he had forgotten the kiss... Yesterday she asked had he forgotten their 'contact'? At the time he answered that he couldn't remember, but today... Yes, he remembered. However, she didn't know that. Wouldn't that be easier all round, if he didn't remember the kiss?
She stared at him intently. "Well, Constable? Have you completely regained your memory?"
"Well, Sir, I'm not necessarily the best person to reassure you, but I think so... I certainly know enough to resume my duties. There are still a few spotty details of a personal nature, but..."
"Of a personal nature?"
"Yes Sir." Fraser stuck fast to his fib. "I'm afraid that some personal issues remain fuzzy. But I do remember my job."
Thatcher sighed. "I should have guessed as much. You're all duty Constable."
"Thank you Sir."
She gave him 'the look'. "You have sentry duty. I'll see you this afternoon, one pm, to discuss the ambassadorial visit."
"Yes Sir." Fraser had actually forgotten about 'the visit'. One of those endlessly boring events where everybody walked around pretending that beluga caviare tasted of anything other than fish's eggs. "That's tonight?"
"Yes." She gave him the look, again. "Is there anything I can help you with?"
"No Sir," he bobbed his head and took a step back. "Thank you Sir."
Thatcher watched him leave the room, and kept her teeth clenched. She realised that she should maybe, today of all days, cut him some slack. But she was still upset that he'd forgotten the kiss. It was petty, but still...
She'd ask Turnbull to keep an eye on him. Just in case he looked peaky or something... so that someone else could be the one to cut him some slack and she could save face.
The ambassadorial visit lived up to Fraser's low expectations. It was as beautiful on the outside and as hollow in the inside as a rotten acorn. The oak panelled room gleamed with ambient light, smelled of beeswax, candles and wealth. All around him politicians, business men, and the occasional actor were drifting around the room, finding their orbit, forming little cliques. Inspector Thatcher floated from group to group, he assumed to liaise, a vision of startling loveliness in a blue chiffon gown. The fabric flowed and clung to her legs in such a way that... Fraser made an effort and stopped looking. Uncomfortably he ran a finger along the inside of his collar. The uniform was itching again.
Yesterday he'd told Ray that the uniform itched. He'd never told anybody that before, he realised. He'd barely even acknowledged it to himself... to suggest that a symbol of the law was less than perfect was unthinkable, as though the uniform was not just a symbol, but somehow what it represented. He wondered did the Law itself sometimes 'itch', did others find it less than a perfect fit? He had tried to live within the constraints of Law's boundaries... but yes, he admitted, sometimes it itched. Sometimes he just wanted to cut and run, away from stuffy functions, sentry duty, paper work.
Stop moping, he told himself. It's not that bad, after all. The uniform only itched on very hot days, standing sentry for example, or on occasions like this one, when the room quickly became overheated by the press of bodies "mingling." Of course, he had a lower tolerance for heat than most people, having grown up in the Yukon and North West Territories. The room felt like a sauna to him, and he wished he could step outside into a snowy night. Just for a moment.
"Constable Fraser," Thatcher spoke from behind his left ear. He jumped. He'd been so caught up in his own thoughts that he'd stopped paying attention to the room. "What are you doing? You're my deputy liaison officer, so liaise."
"Yes Sir," Fraser blinked. "Is there anything you want me to talk about?"
"So long as it's not the mating calls of wild moose, or some great white North story then I'm sure you'll be fine." She put the flat of her hand against the small of his back and pushed. He stepped forward into the press of warm bodies, and smiled, hoping that the rabbit trapped in headlights look could be mistaken for an enthusiastic welcome.
Ray was waiting for his FBI contact at the apartment they'd provided for him. He pottered around the kitchen, trying to scrape enough ingredients together to make a decent meal. He knew he should do some shopping at some point, but to stock this kitchen would feel like he was admitting the situation, as though he were abandoning the noise of his family. Half way house, he thought, they've got me in limbo, half way between my real life and this undercover nonsense they're trying to push down my throat.
Hence the flat. Ray's house was home to too many people, it would be impossible for Ray to be trained under the family roof. So here Ray was, on a Friday night, staring at a nearly empty fridge, and wondering if he should give up trying to cook and just order in a pizza.
He had a pang when he thought of pizza. Pizza was his and Benny's thing. It wouldn't feel the same eating a pizza by himself.
Before he could make his mind up about his dinner arrangements the door to his apartment opened, and in walked two of the most obvious looking FBI agents he had ever seen. Both were well over six foot, wearing black sunglasses, black suits. Their shoes shone, and even their skin seemed polished.
"Yeah, let yourselves in, why don't you? I've got nothing better to do."
"Mr Vecchio." The blond guy was talking. "We left you with photos and footage of Mr Armando Langustini. Have you had a chance to do your homework?"
"Yeah yeah." Ray sighed, and gave up the idea of eating tonight. "I've been looking at all the mugshots. You're right, he does look like me."
"So, are you going to do it?"
"Give me a chance to think first. First of all, anyone who knows him is going to know I'm not him, there are always some subtle differences. I mean, I can't know everything about the man, someone could catch me out any time. And how am I going to do the voice?"
"There are ways and means." The red haired guy cut in. "The voice is not a serious problem, it's just slightly gruffer than yours. If the target didn't smoke then I'm sure you'd sound pretty identical to each other."
Ray pulled a face. "You're not going to get me to smoke."
The FBI guys remained silent. Ray sighed.
"Look," he conceded, "I'll watch the videos, I'll read up on the guy, but I'm not promising anything. I have a life here you know, I don't want to give it up. I've got family to support, I've got friends..." I've got Benny, he thought, but didn't say. "There are folks who rely on me."
"If you take on this assignment you will be directly benefiting not just your immediate family but the larger community, you will have a substantially increased income, which you can use to support your family, and you will have an expense account, no questions asked."
"Yeah, money isn't everything. I could wind up with a bullet through my head, and who will look after my family then?"
"If you were to die in the line of duty then rest assured, your family would be taken care of."
"That's a great comfort to me," Ray felt a sneer curling at the corner of his lip, and didn't bother to hide it.
"Detective Vecchio, there is nobody else who can do this job for us." The blond guy was speaking earnestly. "You have a knowledge of the Italian American community, you speak the language both figuratively and literally... and you could be this guy's twin. Where else can we find someone who looks so much like the guy who happens to be bilingual in English and idiomatic Italian? There is nobody else."
That was what really got him, where the knife really twisted in his gut. Why did this guy, this villain they wanted him to replace, why did he have to be so very much like him? If he had to have a twin out there in the world, some kind of a double, then what kind of sign was it that the guy was a crook? Maybe it was in the genes and Ray could just as easily have got mobbed up as joined the police force.
Well, Pa would have liked that.
He really didn't want to do this assignment...
The FBI guys were making themselves completely comfortable, setting up the video, for all the world as though they'd come around to watch the game.
"Detective Vecchio," the blond called, imperiously, "we have footage of the target, you'll want to see this."
He didn't, but he sat on the edge of the sofa and watched it anyway.
This isn't going away, he thought, miserably. I've got to tell them, Ma, Frannie, Benny...
On the television Ray's double was sitting at a bar in a strip joint, discussing 'business' with a mob boss. Ray's skin began to creep.
He wasn't quite sure how it started, but somehow Fraser found himself in the middle of a heated debate about Arctic Wolves. One moment he was being diplomatic, polite, doing credit to his nation and uniform... the next he was obstinately disagreeing with the CEO of some major mining corporation, stopping just short of telling the man what a fathead he was.
A little part of him, sequestered in the back of his mind where it couldn't do a thing to shut him up, was muttering 'oh dear', and pondering the ramifications of his current behaviour. This did not look good. Meanwhile, he was, not to put too fine a point on it, pontificating.
"Historically Arctic wolves are not a threat to the peoples inhabiting the land. They do not prey upon humans. The Inuit and the Wolf have coexisted for millennia in one of the world's harshest environments, and they simply have not been a threat to each other. I apologise sir, but you're talking nonsense."
Thatcher was looking across from the dignitaries she was currently buttering up, and it was obvious that she'd picked up on the change of tone from Fraser's end of the room. She politely disengaged herself from her group, and began to bear down on Fraser with narrowed eyes.
'Oh dear,' the little voice thought again. 'That's torn it...'
"Mr Craven," she addressed the CEO graciously, "I see Constable Fraser has been entertaining you?"
"Well," Craven approximated a smile, "it's certainly proving to be a lively debate."
"Indeed? May I ask what the topic of the debate is?"
Might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb, Fraser thought. "Mr Craven," he declared, "has been making inaccurate comments about the behaviour of Arctic wolves, and propagating some ill informed rumours, which, quite frankly, make no sense."
"I was merely reporting an incident among an Inuit tribe where several people have been killed by wolves."
"Fraser," Thatcher was shocked, "I know your fondness for the species, but surely you're not putting wolves above humans on the food chain?"
"Not at all Sir," Fraser was aware that it was far too late to smooth things over, "I merely pointed out that the reported 'wolf maulings' do not make sense when you consider the actual behaviour of Arctic wolves. There hasn't been such an incident in living memory. If a wolf were to maul a human being, and it would have to be very severely provoked, it simply would not leave the corpse in the state described by Mr Craven."
Thatcher tried to insert a comment, but Fraser continued unabated. "For a wolf to kill a man it would have to be starving, and quite frankly it would have dragged off and consumed most of the corpse. Also, it would be unlikely that a lone wolf would hunt in such a way. An old or an injured wolf might hunt the weak of a species like caribou, but would be more likely to subsist on fish, even mice..." Craven let out an incredulous laugh. Fraser pushed on. "But I can safely state that a wolf would not attack strong men in their prime, so near human habitations."
Thatcher again tried to interrupt, but Fraser was on a roll, and saw no reason to stop at this point. "These men were hunters, they were not an easy target. Added to this the fact that wolves hunt in packs, there would have been tracks from multiple wolves, not one wolf as Mr Craven reports. It makes no sense for a wild wolf to tear out a throat, then leave the victim exactly where he fell. Finally the likelihood of this sort of rare event occurring three times in the same small community is vanishingly small. It is my opinion that the unfortunate victims were murdered."
"Murdered!" For the first time Craven dropped his mask of condescension, revealing real anger. "How dare you suggest that there are murders going on in this community? You've never even been there..."
"I don't need to visit the crime scene to realise that somebody has something to hide, and is basically framing the wolves to cover up their own crimes."
"'Crime scene,' 'framing wolves'... Fraser, have you taken leave of your senses?" Thatcher inserted herself between the two angry men. Craven stepped back, folding his arms in front of his chest, bullishly sticking out his jaw, double chins and all, while Fraser stood in military fashion, arms behind his back, and dangerously calm. Thatcher glared directly into his eyes. "Constable Fraser, I want you to apologise to Mr Craven right this minute."
Fraser looked at her with a distant blue gaze. Far too late to be diplomatic, he thought. "No Sir," he said calmly. "I will not apologise for speaking the truth. The man is a jackass."
Thatcher's eyes widened in shock. Then her expression hardened, and she lowered her voice. "I will see you first thing tomorrow morning. For the time being, you are dismissed."
Fraser gave a fractional nod, turned on his heel and walked away.
As he left he could hear Thatcher attempting to repair the damage. "I'm terribly sorry, but he had a recent accident, a head injury. He came back to work too soon and..."
Fraser grimaced. So, that was how it was going to be, was it? That man could spread lies about an entire species, and cover up a crime... and everyone would think Fraser was the one with the problem?
He pushed through the swing doors, and let them slam behind him. He clenched and unclenched his fists, trying to get his heart rate back under control. Thatcher had a point, it wasn't like him to so dramatically lose his temper. It suddenly hit him forcibly and he winced. I actually called the man a jackass... what on earth had possessed him? Yes, he was correct that the wolf story made no sense, but why had he automatically assumed that this Craven was implicated in the crime? He was probably just repeating something he'd heard... Somebody somewhere was covering up murder though, of that he was in no doubt.
He stood outside the building, catching his breath, and looked up at the scudding clouds. What stars shone were faint, smudged behind a layer of city fumes. Even the sky is crushed by the city, he thought. He could see no horizon. It was as though he were under a smoked glass bowl, obscuring the heavens. Everything felt compressed, bearing down on him. He closed his eyes.
"Excuse me," a voice broke into his silence. "I heard what you said... I agree with you." He opened his eyes, and looked in the direction of the voice. He recognised the speaker at once, the daughter of an embassy aid. She was shivering in the night air, and he felt at once that she should not be standing out here in her ridiculous clothing and high heels.
"Thank you kindly," he said. "I think you should step back inside, it's cold out here."
"I know," she said. "I just wanted you to know someone believes you."
Fraser smiled. It was silly really, that the reassurances of one young stranger should make him feel better, but they did, at least a little. "You're very welcome." He glanced towards the door. On the other side of the window frame he could see the girl's mother seeking her daughter. "I think you'd better go inside now, or one or the other of us will get in trouble." The girl giggled like a conspirator. She was old enough to look like a woman, but still young enough to laugh like a child.
"Goodnight then," she said. "Hopefully neither of us will get grounded."
"Goodnight." He waited till he had seen her rejoin her mother, then released a tense breath and began the walk back to his apartment. The sky covered over entirely with clouds, and it began to drizzle, then to pour. Long before he was home he was soaking wet.
Ray was pining for a little distraction. The day held nothing for him but paperwork, which gave him far too much time to brood. By noon he felt like climbing the walls. The forms he'd filled in turned out to be surplus, left over from the previous year. He had suggested to Welsh that he scratch out the date on the forms and just write in the current year... but Welsh insisted that he type everything up again, starting from scratch, on the nearly identical sheets.
"What about the rain forest?"
"What about it?" Welsh glared. "If you did your paper work right the first time round then you'd save a whole glade."
Ray bit his tongue. If this job the FBI wanted him for came through, he thought, at least it wouldn't be boring, and he'd not have so much paper work. He pushed the thought away as unworthy. Besides, there would be no paper work if he got himself killed. Seemed a bit of an extreme way of avoiding desk work.
Eventually however he'd had enough. "Oh, to hell with it," he snapped, scrumpling up one more ruined sheet of typing and hurling it across the room. It bounced at the edge of the waste paper basket, and rolled around the rim before dropping in, for all the world like he'd made a shot in basketball. He'd had too much practice at this kind of thing... well, if they couldn't give him a decent typewriter then they could hardly blame him for screwing up on his form filling. Damned typos.
He stood, shrugged on his long coat, and buttoning himself got out of the room as quickly as he could, before Welsh could notice and chew him out some more.
So, he thought, as he stepped onto the pavement, and looked up, it's an umbrella day is it? Just like me to forget the umbrella then. He pulled his collar up high and walked out into the rain. It actually felt good. The riv was in the shop having its latest set of repairs done, so he was carless for the day. Nevertheless there was a swing in his step he turned away from the precinct, and made his way to the Canadian Consulate. He and Benny could grab a bite to eat, then hopefully find something more interesting than paper work to occupy their attention. Benny was like a magnet for the strange and interesting, at times literally sniffing out a crime. Even if they just ended up helping little old ladies across the road, it had to be better than remaining stuck in the precinct, feeling his own hair grow.
Constable Turnbull was manning the desk outside the dragon lady's den. Ray looked around. "Is Benny in his office?"
"Constable Fraser you twit, where is he?"
"Ah," Turnbull looked confused, but that was nothing new. Being Turnbull he spread the confusion. "Well, I don't know where he is, but I do know where he isn't."
"He's not here."
"He ran into a spot of bother..."
"Please tell me he's not at the hospital again," Ray groaned. "What's happened this time?"
"Oh, as far as I know the hospital is one of the places that he isn't."
"Well, do you mind at least telling me why he isn't here?"
"He was sent home. Though he may not have gone there. I can't confirm whether home is the place he is, or if it's another place he isn't."
Ray resisted the urge to lean over the desk, grab Turnbull by the lanyard, and throttle some sense out of him. "Why was he sent home?"
"Inspector Thatcher was... somewhat annoyed with him."
"Isn't she always? What was it this time?"
"Well," Turnbull lowered his voice, forcing Ray, despite his reservations, to lean closer to him, "it seems Constable Fraser picked some kind of a fight..."
"Shush!" Turnbull raised a finger, and leaned in close to Ray's ear again. "Not a physical fight... but he did get in some kind of a shouting match with Mr Craven."
"And who is Mr Craven when he's at home?"
"Why, he's the head of a very profitable mining company," Turnbull sounded bewildered. "Surely you've heard of him?"
"I'm not much into miners." Ray spoke distractedly. He couldn't remember Fraser ever picking a fight with anyone, neither physically nor intellectually. "You say he got in a shouting match?"
"Well, that's what people say."
"Yes, everyone who was there anyway." He sighed. "I wasn't there," he admitted wistfully, "I was in the kitchen overseeing the caterers."
Poor caterers, thought Ray, envisioning Turnbull's culinary ministrations.
"So... what happened?"
"Well, apparently he called Mr Craven a jackass..."
"A what?" This was worse than Ray thought. Although 'jackass' was fairly mild as insults went, for Fraser it was the equivalent of a profoundly filthy profanity.
"A jackass," Turnbull repeated, helpfully. "The Inspector sent him home, ofcourse. She had quite a job smoothing all the ruffled feathers..."
"And he didn't come into work today?"
"Oh, yes, he did... the Inspector was encouraging him to apologise to Mr Craven..."
Ray had a sinking feeling about this. "And... he didn't apologise?"
"No! That's what is so very surprising. Constable Fraser is normally a model of discipline and probity." Turnbull had a slightly misty look in his eyes. Only Turnbull could get turned on by "probity", whatever that was.
"So, if he didn't apologise, then he must have had a very good reason." Ray was thinking hard, trying to fit the pieces together. There had to be more to this than met the eye.
Turnbull snapped out of his reverie. "Yes, yes... I'm sure he has a good reason." He crinkled his brow thoughtfully. "It had something to do with his wolf I think... I couldn't hear through the door..." He blushed, suddenly aware that he had admitted to eavesdropping on his boss.
Ray ignored the infraction. "Well, I'll just ask her highness what went on then, shall I?"
"Oh no... don't do that..." Turnbull's voice went high with panic. It was too late. Ray was already through the door.
"Inspector," he grinned a toothy greeting in her general direction. She looked suitably startled. After a moment she remembered her remarkably ugly glasses, and whipped them off her nose.
"Detective Vecchio... what on earth do you think you're doing?"
"I'm just wondering how Benny is today. I understand you had words?"
"Constable Fraser is currently subject to internal disciplinary measures, which I have neither the need nor desire to discuss with an outsider."
"I'm his partner."
"That's lovely for you both I'm sure. Perhaps you could take your questions to the Constable, and see if you can talk some sense into him."
Ray looked hard at her, then deliberately let her see him put down his guard. "Look, I'm just worried..." he spread his hands in a conciliatory gesture, "is he okay?"
She paused, then responded to his gambit by relaxing a little. "I'm really sorry, but I don't know detective. His behaviour has been uncharacteristically brash and aggressive. I understand that sometimes head injuries can lead to changes in behaviour. I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt. Hopefully this a temporary glitch. Perhaps you can help him. I don't know that I can."
Ray bit his lip. The doctor had specifically said that Fraser didn't even have a concussion. The memory loss had made no sense at the time... now a character change? What was going on?
"I suppose he had a good reason to be brash and aggressive," he commented. "I mean, this is Fraser we're talking about. He'd have to be pretty provoked to start a fight."
Thatcher looked sour. "You'll have to be the judge of that. I've given up trying to make sense of it." She turned her attention back to the computer, and squinted at it, while recommencing her typing.
Ray stared, then commented, "you'll give yourself a headache without your glasses." She rewarded him with 'the look', and he lifted one shoulder in a shrug. "Whatever," he gave a brief wave. "I'll see myself out."
Fraser was lying on his bedroll, next to the marginally more indulgent sleeping pallet, upon which Diefenbaker luxuriated. There's something wrong with this arrangement, thought Ray. I mean, it's obvious who's top dog in this relationship... Fraser, at least most of the time, but I'm sure it should be the man sleeping on the bed, not the other way around.
"Frase," he said, letting himself into the apartment when there was no reply to his knocking. "You in there old buddy, old pal?"
The Scooby Do reference was wasted. There was a distinct lack of response, even though Fraser was lying supine, one knee raised bridge like against the door, and an arm flung across his eyes. His red serge jacket was hanging from the back of a chair, his braces had been loosened, and his white shirt was untucked from the waist. His hat lay upside down next to Dief.
"What happened?" Ray couldn't hide the concern in his voice. It was unlike Fraser to leave his place a mess.
"I'm suspended," Fraser replied.
"For telling the chief executive of Wolf Island Mining Company that he's an ignorant jackass."
Ray blinked. So it was true then. "And is he? An ignorant jackass I mean."
"Yes," Fraser retorted.
Ray blinked again. Fraser never replied with just a 'yes' or a 'no'... he always couched bare affirmatives and negatives with explanatory phrases of some sort or another. He wasn't sure if it was a Canadian thing, but it was certainly a Fraser 'polite' thing.
"In what way is he a jackass?"
Fraser sighed and sat up. "What do you know about Arctic Wolves?" He asked.
"You mean besides Diefenbaker?"
"Yes, besides Diefenbaker."
Ray looked at Fraser's wolf hybrid, and shrugged. "Not a lot, really. They're white, they're wolves, they live in the Arctic when they're not scrounging doughnuts in Chicago."
Fraser rose to his feet, and made his way to the kitchen. "Do you want some tea?"
Ray really did not want any tea, any more than he wanted a lecture about Arctic Wolves, but decided to be Canadian for a moment if it helped Fraser loosen up. "Okay, and then you tell me about the wolves."
By the time Fraser had told Ray all about the wolves, and yesterday's ambassadorial incident it was as obvious to Ray as it had been to Fraser that somewhere above the Arctic tree line something very odd was taking place. He sighed. He had been right, Fraser was a magnet for weird, and here was something far more interesting than paper work for them to get their teeth into. It wasn't exactly his jurisdiction, but...
"You're right," he said. "This isn't wolves, it's murder. And nobody's investigating." He swirled his tepid tea around his cup. "I suppose we'll have to do it."
Fraser looked sharply at his friend, to ensure that he wasn't being sarcastic. Seeing Ray's sincerity relief broke out on his face, he suddenly smiled. "Thank you kindly Ray," he said. "I was hoping you'd say something like that."
Ray sat at his desk until late in the evening, clearing as much of his paper work as humanly possible in long hand. Matters were made considerably easier by the presence of Fraser, who had taken over the typewriter, and was rapidly transcribing anything that needed to be in print. Apart from the occasional criticisms of Ray's grammar and handwriting the arrangement was working out well. "If I can get this done then I should have tomorrow clear to do some digging around. See if we can find some local angle, so that I can sell it to Welsh, at least in the short term."
"You really don't have to do this Ray..."
"You're the one doing me a favour Benny... seriously how do you type so fast?"
"I suppose all those Czerny etudes when I was growing up had something of a positive effect."
Ray opened his mouth to query exactly what a stairnee yetood was, (some kind of Inuit Yeti?) then decided he didn't want to know. By half past nine they were done. Ray stood, and rolled his head around while his neck cracked. Fraser flinched. "That sounds nasty Ray. Do you want me to massage it for you?"
"No!" Fraser was completely naïve when it came to certain matters, at least, Ray assumed it was naivety. But one thing he did know, if the guys in the station house ever saw Fraser massaging Ray neither one of them would ever live it down.
"As you will," Fraser shrugged, as if to say, 'your loss'. It probably was, come to think of it.
"Listen, Benny, it's late, why don't we just take Diefenbaker for a walk round the block and then back to my place. There's bound to be something edible in the fridge." Ray wasn't holding out much hope that Fraser would take him up on the offer. Benny had been out of sorts recently, even before the amnesia, almost as though he sensed that things were changing between himself and Ray.
Fraser thought for a moment, then surprised Ray, pleasantly, by agreeing. "Yes, if you have room for us that would be fine."
Ma was still up when they arrived, drenched and smelling of wet wolf. She broke out into a smile at their arrival. "Raimondo, you're home! Benton, come in, come in..." Towels were produced, and there was much stamping and shuffling while hair was dried, and feet were divested of shoes and boots. Fraser had changed into his scruffs earlier. Being off duty he didn't feel it appropriate to be seen in his uniform. Just as well... Dief rolled on his back wriggling joyfully, scattering mud in all directions, then bounding to his feet gave a tremendous shake which drenched everyone just as they were getting dry. Fraser knelt next to his ecstatic wolf, and rubbed him hard with the towel, ending up uncharacteristically dishevelled and covered in lupine hair.
The kitchen smelled of baking. Food was produced, and Ma oversaw their enjoyment of the meal, with obvious pleasure. Ray tolerated the maternal kisses on the head as he ate, being used to them. Fraser seemed more uncomfortable with it, but managed to keep smiling.
Later, as they were sitting in the living room, Fraser turned to Ray, with a serious expression on his face. "Ray, what's wrong?"
Ray flinched. "In what way," he asked, cautiously.
"Your Mother seemed surprised to see you... have you been staying elsewhere?"
Ray let out a breath. He'd been afraid of this. Fraser was nothing if not astute. "Yeah... yeah, Benny, I've got myself a small apartment." He laughed, trying to make a joke of it. "Not as small as yours, but you know... just a place to crash when I need to." He'd told that story to his family so often, that he needed a place of his own, that he almost believed it himself. It was a credible lie after all. In fact, it hadn't felt like a lie, until he told it to Fraser. The fact that the apartment was provided by the FBI as a place to be briefed, that was one truth too many. Ray didn't feel he had the strength to tell Benny yet. Ashamed, he looked at his feet.
Fraser continued to look at him, silently, radiating concern, obviously guessing there was more to the story. Then, mercifully, he looked away, aware that his gaze had become too intrusive, and Ray could breath again.
But that night sleep didn't come. The big secret hung over Ray, and he cursed himself that he hadn't yet made a clean choice, a decision between one thing and the other. Did he go with the FBI, and help bring down some of the worst criminals out there, or did he play safe, and stay with his family, with his friend? Love and duty contended with each other, with guilt on both sides... guilt at the thought of abandoning his loved ones, guilt at the thought of allowing the wicked to go free.
Caught between two futures Ray realised that he had no idea how to talk to his friend, how to tell him what was wrong. Painful though it was to admit, he found himself angry with Benny. The man shouldn't have become so much his brother. Somehow he had sunk so deeply into Ray's life that he couldn't imagine not seeing him around. How long would he be undercover? Would Benny still be in America when he got out? What if he came back and Fraser had returned to Canada? What if he came back and Fraser was so hurt by his absence that he couldn't bring himself to trust him again? Fraser didn't let people in, he was afraid of losing them, afraid of betrayal. If Ray went undercover, would that not be a betrayal? Would Fraser not feel that as a terrible loss?
In fact, having Benny for a friend wasn't like having a brother at all, not when he thought about it. It was much more complicated, messier, because they weren't in fact kin. You could explain to anyone why you loved your brother. Nobody thought twice about that. But here he was, loving Benny like blood, and really... what was the reason? It wasn't just that they were opposing parts of a twinned puzzle, the better halves of each other. There was something else. Benny was something more than a brother, something stranger than a friend. 'A little more than kin and less than kind' whispered Hamlet in his head.
Yeah, Ray... that sounds gay, he thought. No, it wasn't that either... not quite. Jonathan and David, he thought, from the Bible. Two warriors, best friends. He supposed that he would be Jonathan to Benny's David... after all, Jonathan was the one with the abusive father. He wondered if, like the Biblical characters, he and Benny would be separated for longer than either could bear, on the wrong side of some war that neither one of them had started. Jonathan died on his feet, fighting, far away from his friend, and his friend broke his heart over him.
Ray didn't want to break Fraser's heart. He didn't want his own heart to be broken.
The truth was, he didn't know what they were to each other. And he couldn't talk to Benny about it, and he couldn't tell him why he had started to live away from home.
"Go to sleep Ray," he muttered to himself, and rolled to face the wall.
Peace came in the grey morning, and he slept in past his alarm.
Fraser stripped to his boxers, draping his clothes carefully over the clothes' horse to maximise the chances of them being dry the following day. He sat on the edge of the bed, scrubbed his chin with his fist, and wondered what it was that was bothering him.
Well, something was bothering Ray, that much was obvious. Something big, that he didn't want to talk about. Benny knew better than to push. Everyone had secrets. Ray would tell him when and if he wanted to.
Sometimes people kept secrets even from themselves.
Benny thought of Ma Vecchio, and mothers, and closed his eyes and smiled. His own mother lived in his memory still, sometimes behind a darkness that he didn't want to penetrate, sometimes in a pool of light, smiling, kneeling on the ice, with her arms stretched wide to catch the skating child. Her love had been directed upon him, her only child, with such a fierce bright blaze that there were times it blinded him to remember.
Ma Vecchio's love was more expansive, less incendiary, more honey gold. She had all the love in the world, and she could bestow it upon all her children, all her kin, on the waifs and strays that they brought in through the door. Benny thought of himself as Ray's waif, pictured himself standing at the back porch, wringing his stetson in his hands saying, "is it all right if Ray comes out to play?"
He laughed at the image, and opened his eyes again to the darkness.
He knew already that sleep would be hard to come by. Some thought was itching between his ears, and he couldn't scratch it out yet. He bounced, experimentally on the edge of the guest bed. It was firm, but still too soft.
He shook the duvet loose, and spread it on the floor, took one pillow, and stretched out on his back, covering himself with a throw. He lay at attention, staring at the ceiling. Dief huffed, turned round and round, trying to get comfortable next to him, then succumbed to temptation and jumped up onto the mattress. Before long Fraser was comforted by the sound of wolfish dreams, as Diefenbaker grumbled in his sleep.
In the grey morning the room melts away, revealing eternal white, white so pure it is blue.
A figure comes to him, out of the snow. It is huge, a patch of shade and dazzle, blurred against a still brighter sky. It glides, like an ice floe, massive, too big for sight, and towers over him. He is dwarfed, he has become so small. He bends to it, makes obeisance, pressing his head to the snow, between his two front paws.
The thing speaks.
Fraser sat up with a cry, poker straight like a jack in the box, heart hammering, sweat on his brow.
One of those dreams had dreamt him again...
He got to his feet, and ran his hand over his face, raked his fingers through his hair, inadvertently ruffling it into wavy spikes. He looked at the light slanting through the window. No point trying to sleep again, morning had broken in.
He took a few deep breaths, and tried to ground himself.
Just as he was beginning to feel steady again there was a knock on the door, followed, before he could stop her, by Frannie, bearing a mug of coffee.
"Good morning Fraser," she smiled coquettishly, "I hope you slept well."
"Ah... thank you... uhm..." Fraser was acutely aware of his state of near undress, and blushing moved abruptly away, grabbing a pillow and holding it in front of his manly parts. First thing in the morning could be an embarrassing time for any man, whatever he'd been dreaming, and he found himself suddenly with a lot to hide.
Frannie grinned and stepped further into the room with the coffee cup, and Fraser stepped backwards and upwards onto the bed in an attempt to put distance between them. Diefenbaker woke with a yip, and Fraser tumbled over him, landing in a sitting position, still protecting himself with the pillow.
"Francesca!" Ma Vecchio was calling up the stairs, "Francesca, you leave that poor boy alone!"
Frannie pulled a face, looked regretful, then stepped back towards the door. "See you at breakfast Fraser," she smiled, and left the room.
"She's a fine young woman," a voice remarked out of nowhere.
Fraser grimaced, just what he needed... a witness to the whole sorry event. "Hello Dad," he acknowledged his father's ghost with resignation. "I'm sure she is very fine indeed, but she's my best friend's sister."
"She does seem a little fierce. Have you asked her to show you her teeth?"
Fraser looked up, still hugging the pillow, and saw his father, in his field uniform, laden down in sub Arctic furs and boots. "You know, when I was a child, I had a teddy bear, and I used to pretend he was you?"
"A teddy bear?"
"Because you were both so furry. Your beaver skin hat had flaps just like the teddy's ears. And the teddy was always there."
"Oh, are you trying to make me feel guilty?"
"No, of course not. I just remembered it, that's all." Fraser sighed, and began to get dressed. His father observed him silently for a while.
"Son," he said, "you don't seem entirely happy."
"Nobody's ever entirely happy."
"Oh, I disagree. In my life there were plenty of times when I was entirely happy. Your mother made me happy. So did you."
Fraser looked up and smiled at his father. "Really?" He thought about it. "The first Christmas I remember, you came home with a dog sleigh in the middle of the night. I remember I thought it might be Father Christmas when I heard the sleigh, but I looked out, and it was even better, because it was you."
For a moment his father stood there, as though about to speak. Then he brushed his eyes and was gone.
Fraser smiled painfully. He should have remembered. The best way to make a man uncomfortable was to talk about feelings.
He patted his leg to call Dief to him, then made his way downstairs to breakfast.
The first surprise of the day was that Detective Vecchio had not just made a dent in his paper work, but had actually completed it. Welsh frowned. Something was up.
The second surprise of the day was that Vecchio chose not to capitalise on his successful battle against paper work by demanding a plum assignment, but decided rather to phone in claiming sickness.
Humm... Welsh looked at the neatly typed reports, the lack of typographical errors, the slightly old fashioned syntax, and the frankly British spellings.
He smelled a rat, and it was wearing red serge.
Vecchio and the Mountie were up to something...
"Really?" Elaine was torn between irritation and pride, but chose to let the irritation show in her voice. "Of all the people you could ask, you just have to ask me? Do you really think I have nothing better to do than phone all over Canada chasing up some clue... but you're not sure what?"
"Elaine, you know you're better at this than anyone else."
Elaine sighed. That was the problem... when people treated her as the go to girl, the font of all knowledge it appealed to her vanity. So yes, she could be both irritated and proud that Vecchio should be asking her, in her free time, to research Wolf Island Mining Company. She had only herself to blame...
"All right, so you want me to find out about the company, any information on the board members, any organisations that it's associated with, sponsored by or sponsors?"
"Yes Elaine," Vecchio had the cheek to sound amused. "Thank you kindly, that would be wonderful."
"I'll make you pay for this."
"Anything Elaine, within reason."
Elaine smiled. She had a date on Friday night with someone that nobody at the precinct knew a thing about. She'd been planning a delicious menu with which to impress him, then realised that he was a vegetarian, and all she could think of was scrambled eggs or shop bought pizza... now she had a better idea.
"Do you think you could get your Ma to cook up a nice pasta fazool for Friday?"
Silence on the other end of the phone. "You got a man friend coming round?"
"Not at the moment."
"You know what I mean."
"Quite frankly that's none of your business detective," she said, giving the entire game away.
"Yeah," Ray sounded like he was smiling on the other end of the phone. "She'll probably throw in a few extras as well, you know what she's like."
"No meat," she insisted.
"You're going out with a vegetarian?" Ray sounded like he thought a Martian would be a more reasonable choice of date.
"What do you know about it?"
"Nothing, I just never figured you going for the sandal and beardy brigade."
"He's a lawyer," Elaine snapped.
"Hey, cool... you snagged yourself a lawyer. Good for you Elaine."
She shook her head. "Okay, fazool, and I'll chase up your Canadians for you. We got a deal?"
"We sure do. Hope you have a nice time Friday night."
"Keep that to yourself, I don't want it all over the station."
Silence on the other end of the phone, then a reluctant sigh. "Okay, I'm not an old woman Elaine, I'll not gossip about your love life."
That was something. Elaine knew Ray well enough to trust that he'd keep his word.
"Yeah, fine. Look, where do you want me to meet you when I've got some information?"
"You might as well come round to Fraser's place, if you can stand the neighbourhood."
"You two moving in together?"
"Don't be stupid, it's just a place to work that isn't crawling with kids."
A thought struck Elaine. "Why isn't this being handled through the Canadian Consulate?"
"Ah. Isn't it always?"
That evening saw Fraser, Ray and Elaine around the small table in Fraser's dining area, poring over a heap of photocopies and faxes.
"I can't believe how much stuff you got Elaine," Ray let his admiration show in his voice. She sat up a little straighter despite herself, unable to hide her pleasure in a job well done. "The only thing is..." Ray ruffled through a pile of papers... "what on earth does it all mean?"
There were only two chairs in the apartment, so Fraser was standing while the others sat. From this vantage he was trying to take in all the documents as an entity, rather than one at a time.
"Huh," he said, as though acknowledging an oddity. He looked briefly into the middle distance, then shook his head.
Ray knew the signs. "What 'huh'... what you see Fraser?"
"Nothing..." he began to walk distractedly around the table, keeping his eyes on the pages. "Huh..."
"Okay, what is it?" Ray stood up and blocked Fraser's path. "You've seen something, spit it out."
"Well... look at this..." Fraser began to organise the papers into piles, shuffled them around the table top, stood back to examine the effect, nudged a few more papers here and there, then stopped. He looked expectantly at Ray. "Do you see it?"
Ray stared down, and felt unpleasantly foolish. He was a good detective, he knew that... in some areas, street smarts for example, Fraser's superior. At times like this though Fraser could be the most annoying man in the world.
"Just because you see it doesn't mean that ordinary folks can see it."
There was a little noise as Elaine cleared her throat. Ray looked at her, and felt his irritation rise. "What, you see it?"
"Well, I don't know for sure that I see it, but I hadn't realised just how much financial aid this mining company's giving to hunting groups. I can't see why a mining company would need to sponsor big game hunters, or gun lobbies, or... furriers." Elaine had crinkled her brow, seeing the connection, but not understanding it.
"Oh..." Ray groaned as the penny dropped. "This might be to do with that weird story about Arctic wolves killing Inuits?"
"Yes Ray," Fraser didn't appear to have noticed that he'd offended his friend. "We know that someone is covering up murder by blaming it on the wolves, that the CEO of the mining corporation is spreading these false reports, and now we find that anti wolf organisations are being bankrolled by the same company."
"Well," Ray said, "we've definitely proved a connection... but what's the motive? Any of these groups could be responsible for the murderer. We have to figure out who stands to gain, and what they stand to gain..."
"Indeed..." Fraser was staring off into the distance. "And why are they framing the wolves?"
The apartment was silent in the aftermath of his guests' departure, and Fraser sat at the kitchen table, still gazing at the papers. Maps, public accounts, lists of stock holders, associates, supported charities...
The murders had occurred above the tree line, North of the circle, in a little place, home to what had, ten years ago, been no more than a thousand people, Amorak Island.
The population would have shrunk by now. All the Inuit communities were shrinking.
Amorak, the wolf. So, Fraser thought, the appellation "Wolf Island" was not connected to the more famous Wolfe Island, but to this barren rock, a distant island one could walk to over the ice. As far as he was aware, however, there was no mining in the area... The local community were among the vanishingly few that still clung to their traditional ways of life. He sighed, knuckling his eyeballs. Behind his lids coloured lights exploded and shone, and he watched them, thinking of the Northern Lights, and phosphorescence, winter herself dancing against the sky.
He had policed these communities. Strong people, fashioned by the weather, built to survive. But increasingly their society was breaking down, as the youth yearned for modern life. You couldn't blame them. Life was hard in the Arctic, and certainly matters were eased by innovations like snow mobiles, and more solid houses.
Yet... it was a hard thing to see a way of life break down. Food was increasingly imported by plane, weather permitting, at crippling prices, and those families who had forgotten the art of hunting suffered poverty, even malnutrition. Television induced a craving amongst the young for something "better", and many of them left home, finding too late that the world they had aspired to was colder, in its way, and more harsh than the land they had left behind. The suicide rate was climbing, as was addiction, in those communities which had tried to adapt to the modern world.
A woman's face flashed before him. With a stab of pain he saw himself standing at her door, clutching his beaver skin hat in his hand, his heart like a hammer in his chest. Their breath plumed in the air between them, and there were no tears as he told her that her son had taken his own life. The look on her face was too terrible for tears, worse even than her boy's blood frozen in the snow. His first suicide, the victim still a child, all of seventeen.
He laid his head on the table. A headache was blossoming between his temples.
"I'm tired, Dief," he spoke flatly. "Do you understand any of this?" He opened his eyes, head still pressed to the table, and looked across at his wolf for an answer. Dief stared back at him, with a solemn golden gaze.
Something was wrong. Fraser felt it in his guts, in his chest, in his aching head. What? What was it?
He was afraid to sleep.
It wasn't that the dreams had scared him... he was used to that. In fact, these dreams didn't scare him at all... This was something else.
He straightened, still looking over at Diefenbaker. The long languid wolf yawned, rolled on his side, amber eyes almost shining.
It wasn't that he was alone either. He wasn't alone. There was Dief.
Diefenbaker staring. Trying to tell him something.
"You know you've been dreaming too loud," Fraser commented. "I can't keep up with them, I'm human, it's not in my nature."
Sleep was out of the question. Fraser stood, straightened, paced.
Dief continued to stare.
Ray saw Elaine safely back home, then drove around aimlessly, trying to kill time before going back to...
Where? Where would he go? Home, or that rotten FBI apartment?
If he went home at this late hour he'd probably wake folk up, if he went to the apartment it would feel like accepting a bribe, like taking a step to 'yes, I'll definitely do it.'
Eventually he parked up, foolishly enough, in Fraser's neighbourhood. He looked up to see his friend's light was still on. A shadow kept flickering across the window... Benny must be walking up and down. He couldn't sleep either. Should he risk going up there? Maybe if he talked about it Benny would help him make the right decision.
Yeah, he knew what Benny would do in his place. He'd go and put himself in harm's way. He'd do the right thing, no matter how painful. But dammit, he wasn't Benny.
Ray shut his eyes, trying to make his mind up what to do, and suddenly it was morning. He sat up with a jerk, to discover crust in his eyes and a crick in his neck.
"Great," he groaned. He looked at the time. Could he feign illness again? He shook his head. He'd better go in, get some regular police work done, before Canada and wolves came calling again. Profoundly annoyed at himself for having slept in his clothes he started up the car and made his way, reluctantly, to work.
Thatcher was torn. On the one hand, Fraser had been rude, outright insubordinate, stubborn. On the other hand... he was so often right about these things. And there was still that matter of his head injury to consider... how much leeway should she give him?
He continued to stand in front of her, arms clasped together behind his back, as though on parade. He was in the brown uniform which she always associated with his first act of minor sedition. A smile flicked across her face for a moment, as she remembered his declaration, "I will not change my uniform." He might as well have said "I will never change." He was objectionable, obtuse, obstinate. She should be angry with him, but...
"So, you still refuse to apologise?"
"Yes Sir, I cannot apologise for telling the truth."
She fixed him with a stern look. "You realise that I will have to discipline you?"
"You realise that this will go on your record?"
She pursed her lips, and tapped her pen against the desk. Still trying to get the seriousness of the situation through to him she continued. "You realise that your personnel record is full of incidents that make you appear in a less than favourable light?"
"Yes Sir, I'm afraid that I do."
She shrugged. "Well, you will do what you always do, I suppose, stick to your principles even when they're most inconvenient." She looked up at him. "I'm going to have to suspend you, for a suitable period of time."
"You could at least appear upset about this Constable," she snapped.
"If you wish, Sir," he replied.
"Oh... never mind," she let out a breath. "See this as a chance to take an unofficial holiday, do something to de stress yourself."
"No..." she shook her head with exasperation. "Dee stress yourself, dee."
"Ah, thank you Sir."
"A month," she said, "actually, make that two. Hopefully by the time you're back this unpleasantness will be forgotten."
"Thank you Sir."
"So, what do you think you'll do?"
"Actually Sir, I thought I might return to Canada for a while."
"Good," she nodded. "Some R and R will do you good."
At the time she congratulated herself on having arrived at a solution which saved face for all involved, and gave Constable Fraser an opportunity to recover his sense and cool down. Later, of course, she was to curse herself for not having anticipated just how much trouble Fraser's R and R would create, both for him and the Consulate.
Unaware of what was to come she acknowledged his nod with an irritated flick of the hand, as though swatting a fly. "Dismissed," she declared, and returned to her paper work, barely noticing as Fraser left the room.
Ray was following a tip, and as a result was sitting with a Rookie outside a liquor store, waiting for some kids to try and rob it. One of their sisters had the sense to phone the station, and Ray picked up the case. "They'll have pretend guns," she'd said, "but I'm worried because Johnny might end up getting into worse things, I just want someone to stop him before he gets too bad."
Ray had been reassuring, and soothing... but now was wishing he'd got Fraser to accompany him rather than this poor, nervous kid he was stuck with.
Time crawled, and kept on crawling. He was just on the point of calling it a day and driving on when, moments before closing, he saw two teenagers nervously approaching the store, one of them carrying what appeared to be a shot gun, the other clumsily pulling down a balaclava.
It turned out to be a very easy arrest, the girl's brother Johnny seeming, if anything, to be relieved that they'd been stopped. The Rookie was beaming with pride, and despite the boredom in which he'd passed the day Ray was feeling pretty good as they arrived at the station house.
"There's a kid here to see you," Elaine said, "you know that kid you and Fraser arrested that time, Willie?"
"Yeah... he walks Diefenbaker for Fraser when he's at work? What's he doing here so late?"
"I think he's upset," Elaine said.
A coil of alarm twisted in Ray's gut. "Thanks Elaine," he said over his shoulder, as he made his way rapidly to his desk.
Willie was indeed very upset.
"Look what he gave me," he thrust a handful of notes into Ray's face. "He's paid me in advance for two months, even though he's taking Dief with him, and he won't tell me why he's going."
"Where's he going?" Ray remained standing, poised to run out the door if necessary.
"He's going to Canada," Willie said, his voice squeaking high with panic, "he says he has business out there."
"Canada?" Ray couldn't stop the anger from coming out. "He's going to Canada and he didn't even tell me?"
"He told me to tell you, he said he's been trying to get hold of you all day..."
"I was on the world's most boring stake out." Ray resisted the urge to kick something. "Canada... great."
"He said to give you this key to his apartment, and to say thank you to Elaine for helping with the case."
Ray sat heavily on the edge of his desk. So that was the way it was then, Fraser was running off into the Arctic Circle to clear the name of a bunch of wolves.
Crap. That meant he was running right into the dragon's den. If Fraser thought that murders were being covered up then he was almost certainly correct. Hell, Ray knew already he was correct. He could just see Fraser up there, trying to track down a murderer without any backup or local support.
He'll get himself killed, Ray thought, and cursed aloud. He couldn't let him do it alone.
"Thanks Willie," he laid a hand on the lad's shoulder and squeezed.
"You gonna be able to help him?"
"You can bet I'll try."
Fraser hadn't slept since the night he'd stayed at Ray's. He must have been driving for two hours when he realised he simply couldn't stay awake another moment.
He turned the wheel on the rental, and pulled alongside a gas station. Give it a minute, he thought, rest your eyes a little, then you can fill up, get a cup of coffee... Fraser was not a fan of coffee, but he realised he'd need some help to stay awake.
"I see you're asleep," he grumbled at Dief, who was lolling across the back seat.
"Don't take it out on the dog," came a voice from the passenger seat.
"He's a wolf Dad," Fraser looked across at the old ghost. "When did you get here?"
"Oh, I've been watching you for a while," his father said. "Someone needs to keep an eye on you."
Fraser grunted, and closed his eyes.
"You realise that you're being rather foolish?"
"In what way?"
"Running off like this. You're going to try and sort out this wolf problem all by yourself, aren't you?"
"Who else can I ask?"
"Well, your Yank friend for a start."
"Ray works for the Chicago PD, he can't just take off... besides, I'm heading due North, I don't know how Ray would cope beyond the Arctic Circle."
"He's handled himself pretty well as an outdoors man in the past. If it hadn't been for him you'd have both died in the woods after that plane crash."
Fraser opened his eyes and gave his father a rather irate look. "At the time you wanted me to ditch him."
"Well, yes... I'm sorry about that. I underestimated him."
"Humph." Fraser shut his eyes again, and pushed his seat back into a reclining position. "Besides, you know as well as I do, the Arctic's not the same as woodlands in the summer."
His father changed the subject. "Have you put on the hand brake?"
"Oh Dad, don't criticise my driving now..." Fraser pulled the Stetson over his eyes with an angry tug.
"Well, someone has to... you can be somewhat inconsistent behind the wheel."
"Shut up, I'm trying to have a nap."
The old ghost gave an angry snort, and absented himself. After a moment Fraser peeked from under the brim at the empty passenger seat. "Goodnight Dad," he said apologetically. He double checked the handbrake, rolled on his side.
A few moments later he was talking in his sleep.
Dief didn't hear it when people talked to him, not exactly. Some of the two legs spoke in his head at times, his man in particular, but also the man's friend, and the tonrar, the ghost.
His man was talking to him now, in that two leg way, words instead of shapes. Dief understood words, they played in his head as the shadow of sound, remembered from his youth, and that shadow, when he paid attention to it, painted shapes in his head, and smells, and tastes, and touch. He made an effort to understand his man, and his man, for his part, understood him.
But sometimes the man spoke differently, almost like an amorak, in a way that Dief couldn't explain, only understand.
Dief lay in that space between sleeping and waking, and his ear twitched at remembered sound. For so long he had lived beyond the edge of the world, in the land of the two legs. That wasn't a bad thing, there were compensations to living in this world of strange smells, where the streets were paved with bone, and so many of his kind had lost what made them male, what made them female. From all of that, his man protected him. He even indulged him, grudgingly allowing him the strange food of the two legs. He teased him like a pup, gave him warmth and friendship, played with him in what open spaces they could find. Ran with him, reminded him that he was wolf.
Living in the land of the two legs changed him all the same, just as it changed his man. But here, in this dream they were sharing, the man's speech was changing, deepening into wolf. His form flowed, shadowed and strange. The man shape in Dief's dream was bending, twisting into more familiar contours.
And then, the moment, the swiftness of change.
His man becomes a wolf, and the two of them flee together, fleeting through the whiteness of the true world.
Ray was packing hurriedly, stuffing what he could into a bag. What would he need? Winter clothing, maps, compass (now that he could read a compass) emergency food... he wasn't going to be caught with only Dief's peanuts for sustenance this time.
There wasn't time, he thought crossly, he didn't have time to pack properly. Benny just ran off half cocked into the wilderness... and here he was chasing behind him. Did he really think Ray wouldn't help?
Well, no choice for it... he'd have to buy the rest of what he needed when he'd caught up with Fraser, when he discovered what the hell his friend thought he was doing. He imagined the row they'd have, Fraser being polite and logical, him ranting and threatening to throw things at him. He bit back a laugh. Benny was the most annoying guy in the world, but also the best guy he knew. He wouldn't run off into the wilderness for just anyone.
Stuffing his passport and credit card into his wallet he turned and saw Ma standing in the doorway.
He had a dizzy moment, exactly as though he was falling, and put his hand out to brace himself against the wall. He could tell from her face that she knew. Not just that he was going after Fraser, but that, for a long time now, he had been preparing to go elsewhere...
"Ma," he looked to his feet, "I'm sorry."
"Just come home to me son," she said.
He stepped forward into her embrace, and rested his chin on her head. "Yeah Ma, don't worry, I'll always come back home."
And Bob Fraser sits invisibly beside his son, not commenting on his driving.
Dief watches man and ghost from the back seat, holds his own counsel and speaks to neither.
Fraser keeps his eyes on the road, pushing towards Canada, with America at his back.
The shock of it was that Fraser was acting like a fugitive. It was proving impossible to track him through normal means, and Ray was becoming, if possible, more concerned than ever. There was nobody harder to follow than a cop determined to fly under the radar.
He had finally hit the border, and so far there hadn't been a sign of Fraser. Showing his passport to the bored looking guard he slid from the US to Canada as though it wasn't a big thing, leaving one country for another. Perhaps it wasn't... the two countries were sisters, after all. He thought of showing Benny's picture, and asking if the guy had seen him, but the chance was vanishingly small, and he didn't want to get slowed down. He didn't know how far ahead of him Benny was by now, and he had the feeling that every moment counted.
The riv sped up smoothly, and Ray went as far over the speed limit as he could get away with. He was pretty sure Benny would be diligently sticking to the posted limits. He might smuggle a wolf into the country, but that was personal. The speed limit was a law as unchangeable as gravity in Fraser's universe.
Hope I don't overshoot him, Ray thought.
He guessed that Benny would have gone over the border in a rental car, with Dief covered by a blanket, in order to circumvent quarantine. That was originally an initiative of Ray's, when they went North on that holiday which went so dramatically wrong. They had passed the checkpoint, displayed passports, and said nothing about the sleeping wolf hidden on the back seat. Once far enough over the border they ditched the car at a pre-set point, and paid an excited young courier to return it to the rental company in the States.
Ray would stop off at that same point, on the off chance that Fraser had followed the same route... but he already guessed that his friend would be travelling by different paths.
At the time, he remembered, Fraser had been visibly torn between his desire to obey the law, and his reluctance to leave his wolf behind him. In the end friendship won out over the law, and Ray had seen it as a small victory – a sign that Fraser could bend when he had to, that he wasn't completely fettered by regulations.
He realised, of course, why Fraser had so many rules. Victoria had cracked that façade of his, and since then Ray had been much more aware of the dark places his friend kept hidden. He'd been piecing it together for a long time now. Benny was frightened of what lay beneath, and he kept himself frozen down precisely because he knew how badly things could go wrong if he once let go of himself.
This soul searching wasn't helping. Normally if he was tracking someone he would call on Fraser's expertise to keep on the trail. Which was stupid, and lazy, because he was a cop too. What would he have done before Fraser turned up? He laughed. Well, for a start he'd never have done anything this crazy, and that was the truth.
"Oh..." Ray smiled, and slapped the wheel of his riv triumphantly. It was obvious really, when you thought about it... he didn't have to know where Fraser had been, he knew already where he was going. Ray could stop trying to catch up with Fraser, and simply make his way to where he was going to be.
All he needed was to be able to get to Amarak Island. Fraser would turn up, beyond the shadow of a doubt, and Ray could give him the telling off that he needed, provide backup, and try to stop him from getting himself killed.
Ray let out his tension in a long sigh. He felt better. He had something like a plan.
Welsh stared at the note on his desk, and blinked several times, as though the thing might vanish. There was insubordination, and then there was rank stupidity.
Ray had simply gone, leaving a curt note stating that his absence was due to "personal reasons", and that he didn't know quite when he would be back, but would let the Lieutenant know as soon as he had more information.
This was quite simply outrageous, and Welsh was so far shocked as to lose the power of speech for several moments. What response could possibly be appropriate when confronted with such a curt and insolent missive? Did Vecchio even want a job when he got back?
While he was pondering his next move there came a knock on the door. "Enter," he bit off the word and glared up at the unfortunate who had chosen this moment to interrupt him.
The unfortunate turned out to be particularly unwelcome. Welsh had never seen him before, but he screamed FBI from the soles of his polished black shoes, right up to his crew cut.
"I'm here to talk to you about Detective Vecchio," the man said.
Did this have to do with Vecchio's disappearance? Welsh narrowed his eyes. "Really? I find that very interesting."
"Are you aware that your detective is missing in action?"
"Yes." Welsh gestured to the note, "I suppose you wouldn't have anything to do with that?"
"I am not at liberty to discuss FBI operations with you at the moment," the man said, "I had wondered if you might know something about it."
Welsh sighed. "I suppose you've thought to check with the Canadian Consulate?"
Fraser handed the keys of the car over to the driver he had hired, and smiled, acknowledging the excitement beaming in the young man's eyes. "Will this be your first trip to America," he asked, remembering the excitement of another young man, when he had been travelling with Ray. He tried, and failed, to ignore the pang when he thought of his friend.
"Yeah," the lad really was grinning fit to split his face. "Is it all right if I bring my girl with me?"
"Of course, just so long as the car gets back everything will be fine."
"Cool," the boy was dancing from foot to foot in his eagerness.
Fraser clapped him on his shoulder. "Have a great time."
Securing the services of a pilot was proving just as tricky as Ray remembered. The guy behind the counter seemed lazy to the point of indolence.
"Yeah," he spoke yawningly. "You'll have to wait a while for a flight connecting you. There's not that much traffic up that way. It'll be at least two flights, might take a week."
Ray managed to hold his temper, and his tongue, and rolling his shoulders walked back to the car park. For a moment he considered driving it, but realised that would be completely insane, even by his current standards. It would take him what, ten, eleven days maybe? And that was if he floored it all the way. Fraser could be long gone by then.
He looked up to heaven, and shrugged. "If you're listening, I could do with a miracle here."
Ah well, he'd go back to the counter, and try to mellow out and speak Canadian to the guy.
Fraser leaned back into his seat and examined his surroundings. It hadn't been hard to charter the necessary flight, once you knew which channels to go through. This particular biplane was loaded to the gills with all manner of supplies. There was barely room for the passengers, man and wolf. Everything from sugar, rice, grain alcohol, to engine parts and portable televisions was crammed in. There was even a small fridge. Fraser imagined the raised eyebrow that would have elicited if Ray was travelling with him, and the resulting conversation detailing Arctic extremes, including the surprising fact that during summer months food could actually spoil in the heat. He remembered Ray's reaction to the ever present "midgies" as his Grandmother called them, and pinched the bridge of his nose, feeling guilty, yet again, wondering how his friend was.
At least he was safer in Chicago. He wasn't going to be eaten alive by midges, or shot at by whoever was really behind these crimes.
Dief scrambled across the goods, and squeezed in close. With a whine he pressed his muzzle next to Fraser's cheek. Fraser turned, slightly, kissed his furry head, and Dief responded by sloppily licking him all over the face. Fraser smiled, patted him on the ruff. "It'll be all right," he told the wolf.
It was inexplicable really, but he had the feeling that this whole mystery with the wolves was somehow connected to Dief, that he owed it to him, somehow, to solve the crime. When he examined the thought, however, he realised just how crazy it was, and expanding on that revelation he could see how utterly unhinged his current behaviour was. That led to a whole different train of thoughts... he didn't like to address the fact that most "normal" people considered him a little crazy, still less the possibility that they might be right.
What if it was the wolves killing the Inuit after all? What if, as a result of environmental changes, ice melting, caribou populations depleting... what if the wolves were behaving out of character?
Well, in that case he'd have to apologise.
A thready laugh escaped from him as he tried to imagine the public climb down and apology. When he thought of it, that would be the straw that broke the camel's back, the final nail in his professional coffin. Who would ever employ him if he was known as the man who sided with psychotic killer wolves? Even the Inuit, sympathetic as they were to the natural world, would not forgive him that.
It didn't bear thinking about.
And besides... he was right. He just knew it.
He had to be.
Turnbull sat at his desk, and affected a look of complete innocence. The FBI guys, two of them, loomed to the full extent of their joint authority, and glared down at him.
"I'm sorry gentlemen, but I really have no idea where Constable Fraser might have gone, and have even less idea where Detective Vecchio might be."
This was, in fact, an outright lie. Turnbull justified it, however, by remembering that if he hadn't been listening to gossip then he would never have put two and two together and come up with "Arctic Wolves" as an answer. After all, he didn't exactly know it for a fact... he was just extremely confident in his guess. And quite frankly, who did these guys think they were? While they were in the Consulate they were technically on Canadian soil. They should treat the nation with a little more respect.
The red headed guy leaned over the desk, with a look that was completely devoid of any expression at all.
"If I find out that you're keeping something from us..."
Turnbull looked back at him, and delivered another outright lie in his most irritatingly fatuous voice. "Be sure that I'll tell you if anything comes to light." He smiled blandly. "Is there anything else I can help you with? Tea?"
The FBI guys gave each other a look of complete bewilderment, and Turnbull bit his cheek to stop a real smile from developing. It was too much fun winding them up... but he had to make sure they never realised it. Turnbull raised his eyebrows, and continued his act.
"If you prefer herbal we stock a good range... rose hip, perhaps?"
The FBI guys just gawped at him, as though he'd fallen from the sky. Turnbull nearly shook with the urge to laugh.
This really was far too much fun...
So, he'd managed to finagle an earlier flight. At least he wouldn't be waiting a week for a plane. However, he did have to spend another night stuck in a car park, sleeping in the riv.
The tension was getting to Ray. He hadn't intended to be stranded in Toronto waiting on a connecting flight to the ass end of nowhere, there to be picked up by another plane to an even more remote frozen hole in hell. He knew that Fraser had the same logistics to contend with, but he was also certain that Fraser knew his way around the system better than he did. It was weird, here he was in a country that spoke the same language, with a very similar accent even... and he was as lost as any alien. Now he knew how Benny felt in Chicago. Yeah, he should cut the guy some slack... if he ever got him home in one piece.
At about three o'clock in the morning he woke with a start to the realisation that he had been so focussed on finding Fraser that he'd completely forgotten who might be looking for him. Welsh, he knew, would have his hide when he got back... possibly even his job, though he thought he could talk his way out of that one at least. The Lieutenant wasn't as harsh as he thought he was.
No, it wasn't the Chicago PD that he had to worry about, it was the FBI. They'd invested a hell of a lot in this operation they wanted him for... they wouldn't be best pleased with his going AWOL.
Shit, he thought. He should have done as Fraser did, hired an undistinguished vehicle for the trip. If the FBI were looking for him then the riv was a little obvious.
Groaning he stretched himself out, then slid from the passenger's seat to the driver's side. "Sorry baby," he told the car as she came to life, "I'm gonna have to hide you out somewhere." Storing her in a multi story car park some distance from the airport was probably marginally safer than leaving her out in the open. At least in a multi story nobody could spot her from above. Maybe he was being paranoid, but better to err on the side of caution.
By the time he'd parked her up safely and paid up for a fortnight, he had just over half an hour to catch his flight. He grumbled every step of his run, thanking God that, at least, he'd checked his bags in already, so wasn't as burdened down as he could have been.
Even running he nearly missed the flight. Yeah, great, he thought, if the FBI turn up with my mugshot everyone who works here will recognise me as the goofy American with too many bags...
It was only after they had been in the air for an hour that he began to calm down. Whatever happened was going to happen. Either the FBI would pick up on his trail, or they wouldn't. Either he'd get to Benny in time, or he wouldn't.
Benny... he stared out the window at the patchy scenery flitting below the clouds. Why was it that he could not shake the idea that his friend was in danger?
Dief stretched, dipping on his front legs, bottom in the air, tail standing to attention like a curly flag. Then he bounded, letting out a yip, turned round, and grabbed the hem of Fraser's leather jacket gently between his teeth. Play bow, play yip, play nip. It was obvious what he wanted. Fraser smiled. Dief tugged, urgently, tail waving from side to side, dancing on his paws. Fraser knew how Dief felt. This place... it wasn't Chicago. It felt something like home.
There was a while to wait before the connecting flight arrived. Fraser dropped his bag, threw dignity to the wind, and played with Dief as though there was no difference between a man and a wolf.
When the pilot arrived, she stood for a long while watching. Maggie had seen a lot over her decades of flight experience, but this was something for the books. The mad guy seemed harmless enough though, she thought. He rolled on the tarmac, tussling over a branch with what looked like an honest to goodness wolf, getting muddy and covered in slush. She could swear that he was whining and growling, making generally doggy noises. Well, the wolf seemed to understand him.
Eventually she coughed, and man and beast stopped what they were doing, looking up at her with mutually embarrassed expressions.
"Ah, yes..." the man jumped to his feet, dropping the branch, and looking rather chastened.
She raised an eyebrow. He had gone straight from little boy silly to military attention in an instant. A soldier then, she thought. She should have guessed from his Spartan belongings. Nobody but a soldier would pack that light. "Boarding's in five minutes. Is that all your stuff?" She pointed to the bag with bedroll attached.
"Yes Ma'am," he replied, further confirming her suspicion that he was a soldier.
"Okay then," she looked at the wolf. "I'd appreciate it if you and your dog would sit still during the flight, we're in a tin bucket, we'll be bounced around enough as it is."
The man nodded, grabbed his bag, called his wolf to heel, and made his way sharply to the plane.
She watched him with a narrow gaze. A strange one, she thought. She'd remember him.
Ray is moving over the vast white expanse, and in his dream it makes sense. He can track a ghost across sheer ice, and he is chasing a long shadow.
He rose out of sleep for a moment, and blinked uncomfortably, rolling to a slightly less uncomfortable position before falling back into the dream.
He's moving across the barren expanse as though he was born to it, looking down at his furred and booted feet, at the snow shoes, like tennis rackets beneath. He's huffing, his breath expands in his sight as beautiful rolls of light and colour. He's heard of this light, the Northern Dance, but he's never seen it before. In the dream, however, it seems familiar, right. He looks to the sky, and sees a curtain of greens, blues, slivered with streaks and ribbons of red, of silvery pale gold.
To his right is an old man, dressed in red serge. This companion has no plume of breath colouring the space between them. He walks in his high browns across the skin of the snow, and leaves no footprint. The Mountie smiles at him. He looks strangely familiar.
"Aren't you cold," Ray asks, "it must be minus forty."
"It doesn't bother me," the old man says, "I'm just along for the ride."
Ray nods, acknowledging the weirdness of dreams, and carries on walking. Ahead of them a craggy mass looms from the frozen lake. White with snow, black with rock, clefts split in cliff walls.
"You know what's funny about this?" The old man pauses for an answer. Ray remains silent, not for lack of manners but because he is unsure what to say. "What's funny about this," the old man continues, "is that it's not winter any more. Sure, it's cold, and full of snow, but the northern lights are at their height, the cubs are being born, the midgies are just coming out. They won't swarm yet, but they'll drive you mad just the same."
"It looks like winter to me," Ray says, forgetting that he's dreaming.
The old man nods. "That probably means something. It did last time."
Ray looks at his companion again. "Do I know you?"
"Perhaps. We're both here for the same reason."
"You want to help Benny?"
The old man traps him with a focussed gaze. "Yes," he says, urgently. "I need him not to make the mistakes I did."
Ray felt something like recognition trying to force its way into his consciousness, but before he realised who he was talking to, or what they were talking about he was awake. He sat, uncomfortably, scrubbing his face with his hands, and the dream dissolved like breath feathering toward heaven on a cold night. He tried to keep the old man in his memory, to figure out what they had been talking about... It was too late. All that was left was a feeling of disquiet, and a curious sense of loss, as though an old friend had just walked out of the room.
"Well Dief," Fraser looked down at his companion. "Not much further now. If we march hard we should be there for breakfast tomorrow."
Dief looked up at him and whined.
"Now, you can't take that tone, she went out of her way to take us this far."
Dief yipped dismissively, and started sniffing the ice.
It was still cold enough that it held, no rottenness had set in yet. The plane had landed on the lake, divesting itself of its passengers, before taking off again on the last leg of the pilot's journey. Fraser had caught the look she gave them as she set off... it was obvious she thought him completely crazed.
Well, there were worse things to be.
"Okay Dief," Fraser said, buttoning his outer layer up and pulling on his gloves. "It's not as cold as it could be, but there's still a nip in the air, so let's get going." The snow had been pocked with rain drops, then frozen again. Herring snow, he thought, turning the Inuit expression in his mind like a comfortable marble. It looked like fish scales, told you how the weather was going to turn in the next few days. Thaw, as far as it ever thawed up here, followed by the groaning and the cracking of the ice. A week from now they could never have landed on the lake.
Well, regardless of the weather, he hoped by tomorrow to be interviewing witnesses, gathering some actual evidence, getting some police work done.
That is if all went well. God willing, as his Grandmother might have said.
Dief ran on ahead in his eagerness to move, pausing occasionally to let him catch up, then yipping and bounding forth again.
Fraser drew his hood up and trudged like a stoic through the snow.
At first she thought it was a wolf that she saw. She froze with panic, literally unable to cry out, to run away. Then she saw the man shadowing the wolf, and began to calm down. The thing looked like a wolf, but it kept returning to the man's heel. A dog then.
As relief flooded through her she realised that she'd been crying. Her tears were already cold against her cheeks. The game that she had been playing seemed suddenly insignificant, the little house she had built for her dollies with the snow.
She turned and ran to her Momma, arms stretched upwards, hiccuping with sobs. Momma lifted her, swung her to her hip, patted the tears from her face. "What's wrong sweetness?" Then, following the pointed finger, Momma startled, and began to jog home, feet made heavy by the drift.
She tucked her head into Momma's snug warm coat, bouncing to her mother's footfall. Momma made her feel safe again. She was a big girl and walked everywhere, but being a baby again was good. Momma would look after her.
After all, it might be a dog, it might not, but all the children had been told what a wolf could do, what it had done three times already. Every strange dog was to be treated as a wolf. And as for the wolves, no mercy.
Momma started to call out a warning as soon as they came into the centre of the little community they called a town. The men came out, with shot guns, and marched, grimly, in the direction of the strange dog, and whatever fool of a man was wandering alongside him. The women gathered the children together, herded them into the church... the largest congregation that building had ever known, and formed a ring around them, prepared, if necessary, to protect them with their own bodies.
Nobody thought that anyone was over reacting. By this stage they knew themselves to be under siege. They just hadn't figured out yet from whom.
Fraser lifted his eyes to the horizon, and saw the first signs of trouble. There was a long line of men approaching from over the horizon. A larger delegation than he was used to. He had expected some interest when he arrived. When he had patrolled these distances in the past he was always sure of a welcome when he arrived. Not necessarily a friendly welcome, but some kind of acknowledgement that a strange white guy had appeared, a Mountie no less. Some of the people respected that, more of them distrusted it, as much as they distrusted the white skin. You couldn't blame them, given the weight of history. If Gerrard had reaffirmed one unwelcome thing for him it was that there was corruption on the force, even among Mounties.
He smiled behind his high raised collar at Ray's teasing voice in his head. "Really? Corrupt Mounties? How very unCanadian!"
He narrowed his gaze. Was the man in the lead levelling a shot gun over his arm?
In an instinctive flash he flung himself over Dief, pushing him down into the snow beneath the weight of his body. A bullet whizzed over his head, so close that he could smell the burn as it singed along his hood.
Dief groaned beneath him, tried to pull himself out, but Fraser cast off his gloves, dug his fingers into the deep fur of Dief's ruff, communicating urgency through touch. He could feel the old scar, the wound from Victoria's bullet, a seam in Dief's skin.
Shaking. They were both shaking.
"What the hell you got there," a voice came across the cold distance, "you should keep your damned 'dog' on a leash."
Out here? Who kept their dog on a leash out here? Unless it was a sleigh dog.
The penny dropped. These men saw Dief, unfettered, saw a wolf, and assumed he was the enemy.
He knew Dief couldn't hear him, but he spoke anyway, face pressed close to the muzzle. "Be very very good, and very very careful. I'll cover you."
The men continued their grim approach in silence. They came to a halt in a ragged circle around him, and Fraser cautiously raised himself into a hunkered crouch, still leaning protectively over Dief, who was maintaining his utterly flattened posture.
The oldest man, obviously in charge, stepped into the circle. His companions closed ranks around him. "What you think you doing," the elder spoke, "bringing a wolf into this community?"
Fraser identified Diefenbaker most often by his wolf heritage, but this time it seemed politic, and not exactly a lie, to insist upon his friend's canine, rather than lupine blood.
"He's not a wolf, he's a husky."
It was one truth, after all.
The tribal elder stepped nearer, appraised Dief, with an expressionless face, then nodded. "He's got some wolf in him though." Fraser looked back, quite as expressionless, and said nothing. The elder turned his attention from dog to man. There was something visceral and ancient in this, Fraser on his hands and knees before the head of the tribe. He knew better than to resent it though. Showing respect to the right person was the best way to sue for acceptance in the community, both for himself and for Dief. Surrounded by all those guns he had no room for pride.
The old man laughed, a sharp snap on the cold air, and summed up his impression of the man at his feet. "Looks like you're half wolf yourself."
He turned then, breaking up his rifle, and the tension went out of the exchange. The other men visibly relaxed, also disarming, putting Fraser in mind of a unit standing down. He took a breath and got to his feet, stepping sideways to keep Dief between his legs. Dief looked up at him for confirmation, then stood, whining a little, still shivering. Fraser bent to pick up his gloves, tucked them into his pocket, dug his fingers possessively and protectively into the dog's hair (remember he's a dog, don't tell them he's anything else.)
"I suppose you're here to see us," the old man said. "You here about the development?"
"I'm here about the crimes."
"Crimes?" The men stiffened again, and stared at him aggressively. "Mountie are you?"
"Yes," Fraser felt their animosity crawling up and down his spine.
"You people have already been out here. What you want to come back for? It was the wolves."
Fraser paused. This was delicate. "Perhaps."
"Perhaps?" The old man narrowed his eyes. "What else could it be?"
One more stop, and he would be there.
"I hate snow," Ray grumbled, "I hate biplanes, and I hate peeing in bottles because nobody in Canada ever thought to put a john on a plane. What, they have bladders of steel up here?" He'd just gone, but he was sure he'd have to go again as soon as they were in the air. It was a psychological thing he knew, but it didn't make it any less annoying.
He marched across the tarmac, hands tucked under his pits. It wasn't that he didn't have gloves, it was just that he couldn't figure out where he'd packed them, and to open a suitcase at this juncture seemed unwise... he could just picture an explosion of clothing as the pressure within was released, as though his wardrobe had suddenly developed the bends.
The pilot was a woman in her late fifties, grey and stocky, but her cheek bones were high, and her eyes still beautiful. She gazed at him speculatively as he clambered over the goods and junk crammed into her plane. He thought for a moment that she was going to tell him he had packed too much.
"You know, you're the second person I've brought up to Amarak this week. I don't deliver anything but goods for a year, then two passengers all at once."
Ray's heart leapt. She raised an eyebrow, catching his expression. Ray fumbled in his breast pocket. "When?"
"Two days ago."
"Is this the guy?"
She bent her head over the picture, and nodded. "Yeah," she laughed. "I won't forget him. Mad as a hatter."
"Talking to himself?" Ray couldn't stop smiling, it was such a relief.
"Rolling on the ground and talking to his wolf. More worrisome thing was that the wolf talked back."
You could never tell with Canucks if they were joking or not. Ray decided to let that one go, and made himself as comfortable as he could. A weight was off his chest. Despite the brightness he managed to doze off shortly after lift off, and this time he did not dream.
Fraser sat in the village hall, Dief tucked behind his legs, and spread out the evidence gathered thus far, explaining the connections he had made.
The elder, who introduced himself by his English name of Peter, leaned on his elbows over the council table, examining each piece of paper, wordlessly passing each document on to the next man, who passed it onto the next.
Finally Fraser ran out of things to say, and simply waited for the men gathered around the table to respond.
Peter sat back, scratched his chin, then spoke in Inuktitut. "Seems the law man has a point."
A younger man, with a strong resemblance to Peter, responded, "you sure he's not one of those animal rights people?" He said the words 'animal rights' in English. The men looked across at Fraser to observe his response. Fraser, following their example, gazed, mask like, back.
"Not so Pakak," the grandfather replied, "for such a man would not survive this country. He has the mark of the North on him."
Fraser cleared his throat. He supposed he should get it out of the way sooner rather than later, or these men would be angry with him for eavesdropping. He should tell them that he understood.
"I need to say that I understand you." His accent was a little off, and he was constrained by the fact that he had completely forgotten how to form the subjunctive, so spoke in stilted tones, but he was instantly understood. Pakak got to his feet and glared at him, as though Fraser's speaking Inuktitut was a dirty trick. Peter, however, leaned back in his chair and laughed.
"I knew you were part wolf."
"Do you trust what I have showed you?" Fraser spoke carefully, "do you see what I see?"
Peter looked around the room, assessing the other men's expressions. "A vote," he said. "Who here believes the Mountie? Step forth."
Silence, then a shuffle as men scraped back chairs, got to their feet, and stepped forwards or back.
A count was not needed. A majority of the men had stepped back, rejecting Fraser's evidence.
Peter sighed, and spoke in English. "The tribe does not accept your evidence son. I'm sorry."
"But surely, your people have lived on the land for so long, you know the wolf, the wolf knows you. You must realise that this..." he gestured at the documents, "this does not make sense."
A middle aged man spoke up. "We do not need you to tell us how we live, Kabluunak. This is not a Disney cartoon. Nature is hard, and fierce."
"But not illogical. Everything is true to its own nature. Everything has a season."
"And this is the season of the wolf. Mind your own business, Mountie. You and your 'dog'," he snorted on the word, "are not needed here."
"Besides," Pakak broke in, "the Wolf Company you are so suspicious of, they are the only ones who have offered us any help. They help us with guns, and medicine, and they are offering to pay us relocation costs, somewhere further from the wolves."
"Really?" Fraser's eyebrows went up, and he rubbed his face thoughtfully. "And you're really thinking of leaving your land?"
The members of the tribe looked at each other, then looked away. A feeling of defeat was settling on the room.
"Understand that we don't wish to do this," Peter said, "but we have lost three strong men, the women and children are afraid, and the youth have been bleeding away for years, this place is so hard. We are half what we were when Pakak here was a child. We have been made a very generous offer."
"That's none of your business," the middle aged man snapped.
"Of course not, I simply wondered why it is worthwhile for this mining company to relocate you all, what do they stand to gain? Big business isn't famous for its altruism."
Peter stood, and grimaced as a knee joint popped. "Who knows what they stand to gain?"
"I mean to find out."
"We don't have to let this Mountie sniff around," one of the men spoke, "we know it was the wolf."
"Can I at least look at the crime scenes?"
"There is nothing left," Peter said.
"No marks in the snow?"
"No." The old man looked thoughtful. "The community officer from the company helped us to set up memorials."
"On all three sites?"
"Yes... nothing flashy, just plaques. But the process of putting up these memorials did result in snow being swept. To be honest, when the Mounties turned up there was little left for them to look at."
"May I look at it, all the same?"
Peter nodded, speculatively. "Yes, I would be interested to see what you find."
The pilot's expression was a mixture of sympathy and mirth.
"You'll never be able to cart all that lot across the snow."
Ray shook his head, privately embarrassed by his inability to pack lightly for Canadian extremes. "I can't leave it."
She sighed. "Look," she said, "I shouldn't do this, but it's been sitting in the back of the plane unclaimed for God knows how long. You take it."
"A sleigh? Thank you." Ray felt a mixture of relief that he was being helped, and irritation that he was being condescended to. It was a small thing, obviously not a dog sleigh, but still useful in a pinch.
"You'll have to pull it yourself though, and it will slow you down."
Ray paused for a moment, considering. He had to balance the importance of speed over the fact that, if he didn't bring his stuff with him he would probably freeze to death. On reflection, he thought, he'd go for safety, since he'd be no help to Benny if he wound up dead.
"Okay, thanks," he said. "How do I strap this thing up?"
"Here," she took charge, stacking his belongings with a brisk efficiency. Maybe it was a Canadian talent, maybe it was years of flying around in an airborne tin of sardines, but she was almost as sharp about it as Fraser would have been.
"Thanks..." his sense of shame redoubled, and he resisted the urge to grumble. It wasn't her fault that he was incompetent at this out doorsy stuff. She was a life saver after all.
"Okay, you need to get off the ice as quickly as possible. It will hold another day or so, but this is not the place to set up camp. You should be off this in an hour, even dragging this behind you. You're lucky the weather's held... also, if you look thataway, (she squinted and pointed) you should see your friend's tracks. Stick with them and they'll lead you to the island."
"Yeah, that I got," he replied, a little sourness creeping into his tone. Fraser hadn't been trying to cover his tracks, and it was obvious where he'd been. "I am a cop you know. I might pack like a teenage girl, but I know a trail when I see one."
"All right." She looked at him, concerned again. "If you get into any trouble when you're on firm ground, make a camp, and keep some light going. A fire when you can. There's no real wood up here, just scrub and stuff, so ration yourself. Do you have a torch and some long life batteries?" Ray nodded his affirmative. "I'll be back in a week then," she continued, "I'll fly over at night to see the light, if there is one. I'll not be landing here, but if necessary I can find you. You got enough food till then?"
"Yeah, yeah I do, thank you."
"And you know the snow is the cleanest water?"
Rub in what an idiot I am, why don't you, he thought but didn't say. Instead he smiled. "Yes, I know that."
"When you get to Wolf Island, if you are lucky enough to run into people, remember they have a radio, you can contact the outside world that way and arrange transport home." She leaned against her aircraft, and paused for a moment. "You mind if I ask you something?"
"This guy you're after, how big a crime did he commit?"
"Oh God no," Ray laughed. "It's not like that. He's a Mountie."
"So why is a Chicago cop after him?"
It was Ray's turn to pause. "It's complicated."
"Okay." She sighed, and nodded. "Well, I'm going now. Hopefully I'll see you and your friend in one piece."
The community as a whole had never seen anything quite like Fraser's examination of the crime scenes. Some of the men, the hunters, recognised Fraser's technique, of course, but to see a white man, a Mountie at that, tracking like an Inuit was somewhat unnerving.
Oblivious to their presence he walked around each site, crouching, sniffing, lying flat to get his head as close as possible to the evidence. The first time he sniffed and licked the floor there was an incredulous muttering, and the observers stood back, nervously. The man was an unknown, dangerous. Despite the danger, however, the audience grew. It seemed like every member of the tribe was watching. They were divided amongst themselves as to whether the man was a shaman or an imbecile. The parents, in particular, kept an eye on the movements of his wolf (nobody was fooled for a moment, there was no way that thing was a dog) while the children whispered amongst themselves that maybe the white man was a wolf walker, an Amarak. People had been telling the stories forever, and even those children who had grown out of credulity began to consider that they might really be true.
Eventually Fraser sat back on his heels, with a sigh. Looking up he noticed, as if for the first time, that he was surrounded by a wall of staring silhouettes, looming against the impossibly blue sky.
He blinked at the sight, cleared his throat, and began in Inuktitut. "It is good that the thaw has not come. The scent lingered."
"And what did you smell, Amarak?" Peter was smiling.
"It is what I don't smell. I don't smell wolf."
"It's been nearly two weeks," Pakak snapped in English. "And you couldn't have smelled wolf then either. Nobody's nose is that good."
Fraser looked up at the young man. "For breakfast you had fish," he said mildly, "you covered it in tomato ketchup. You had coffee at some time today, I don't know when. You smoke... not today, yesterday I think. You roll your own. And..." he stopped. He realised that the young man might not want his whiskey habit to be revealed, though in a community this size it was likely that people already knew. "And, I think that's enough, isn't it?"
"Anyone could guess I ate fish for breakfast."
"Sculpin and cod," Fraser clarified, then wrinkled his forehead trying to identify something else... something he should remember from childhood. His face cleared. "And kuanniq. Though that may have been last night, with the pork and potatoes."
The group surrounding him shuffled and muttered. Fraser got to his feet, and imperceptibly they moved back.
Peter turned to the tribe, and spoke, in Inuktitut. "This man has shown us proof of what he says. If my word has weight amongst you, then give him the help he needs."
"What about the wolf," one of the mothers pointed at Dief, loathing and fear on her face.
"He will be with me," Fraser replied, stiffly, in Inuktitut, "he will obey me, and will not do any harm."
Peter stepped towards Fraser, and put his arm around his back, pulled him into a sideways squeeze. It was a symbolic gesture, rather than one of affection. In English again he declared, "the Mountie and his wolf will stay with me tonight. Tomorrow we shall call the council, the whole council. And then we shall see."
Pakak stood in the doorway, and watched the Mountie sleeping. The man had pulled a face at the food, and for a moment Pakak thought that he would taste the drug, even though he had been assured that it was so tasteless "not even a wolf would notice." But after a pause in which he sniffed the meat suspiciously the man continued to eat. His wolf sat at his side, and ate from his hands, and before long both man and animal were drowsing. Grandfather thought it was the result of trekking through the snow. Pakak and his friends shared a glance, knowing differently. Now the two intruders slept like logs.
Even so, Pakak was nervous when he stepped into the room. His hands were sweating, and the drink hadn't helped to quell the painful thumping in his chest, though the warm scald of it was a relief.
Carefully, very carefully, he approached the sleeping mat, where the two were lying. It surprised him to see that the Mountie hadn't chosen the bed. The man groaned, and grumbled in his sleep. He was sweating. Was that a bad sign? Pakak didn't know. He should have paid attention to Grandmother, while she was still with them. His knowledge of roots and traditional medicines was spotty. He had always preferred the television, dreams of America. And now that his pride in his heritage was finally awakened, it seemed almost too late.
Who was this Kabluunak to march into his tribe, tell them how to set things right? When he was finished stirring it up here he would go back to his comfortable home, with his comfortable wife, and comfortable car, his two white children, and play house with a wolf for a pet. Well, perhaps the man would feel differently if his wolf mauled his children one day. Pakak smiled at the thought, then felt his face twist in disappointment at his own bitterness. He could not be angry with the man's children. None of this was their fault.
He crouched next to the unconscious bodies, and signalled his friends to come into the room. Quietly they began to remove the man's clothes.
The muscles in his legs felt as though they were burning, and his arms felt as though they were being pulled out at the socket. At some point the sheer drudgery of marching across a snowy lake had blurred into a nowhere and nowhen that utterly confounded him. It was taking much longer than the hour that the pilot had suggested.
He focussed on the looming shape of the island ahead of him, and kept on marching, the passage of time marked only by the rhythmic huff of his breath, stamp of his feet, beat of his heart. This felt familiar somehow. Occasionally there was a flash of red walking beside him, but when he looked there was nobody there.
Finally he reached firm land. At first he didn't realise it, but a gradual incline turned into a definite hill, and even in his exhausted state he knew that lakes didn't go upwards.
"Thank God," he managed to gasp out, before unshackling himself from the sleigh. He collapsed beside it, and for a long time did nothing but breath.
Eventually his heart rate went back to normal, and the air stopped burning in his lungs. His sweat was cooling on his forehead. He looked around him, assessing whether this was a good place to strike camp or not. Rocks jutted from the snow behind him, providing something of a windbreak. The ground on which he was sitting didn't seem too rough.
This would do as well as anything, he thought. He rose stiffly to his feet, and started rummaging through his bags. Finally, he thought, I've got some use for them. Sure, Benny could survive without this stuff, but by the time Ray had his little tent up, and was tucked into his sleeping bag inside, nursing a cup of hot water in his hands, he felt nearly human.
He was going to have to give that pilot a kiss if he saw her again. That little sleigh could have saved his life.
It wasn't until he rolled out his sleeping mat that Fraser realised. There had been something indefinable about the meat, but everyone else was eating it, and he simply assumed that it wasn't the best meat on the planet. He didn't want to offend anyone, and so he ignored the 'something' that was odd, and ate what he was offered... with gusto, as it happened, since he was very very hungry. It dawned on him now that Pakak had been looking at him with a bitter smile, but at the time he'd simply assumed the lad was resentful of his Grandfather's hospitality.
At first he thought he was tired, natural enough, under the circumstances, but when he felt his knees give way beneath him he realised something more sinister was going on. Dief was already lying across the foot of his sleeping mat, eyes open, but obviously asleep, without a twitch in him.
Fraser's vision blurred and doubled. He blinked, trying to focus, and felt panic clawing at his throat. He tried to push himself back up to his feet, managing to kneel for a moment. He swayed. A weight was descending on him, glacially slow and heavy. He fell on his face, striking his head against the wall with a crack. Struggling he rolled onto his back, feebly lifting his arms, as though to push away the darkness. It continued to press in upon him. He couldn't see or hear anything any more. He couldn't feel his own skin. He opened his mouth, and tried to cry for help, but the darkness poured in, and before he knew it he was gone.
Ray opened his eyes, and for one bizarre moment had no idea where he was. Light shone red through the walls of the tent, and he was warm. The last vestiges of sleep dissolved, and he sat up. This cosy red cocoon did not sit with his perception of Arctic wilderness.
He was changing his socks (who knew that anything could smell as bad as yesterday's woollens) when he heard something moving about outside. Cautiously he pulled on his boots (no point going out to face danger if you were going to lose your feet to frost bite.) Whatever was out there, it was circling his tent. Polar bears, he thought, alarm rising, or maybe Fraser's wolves... Suddenly he wasn't so sure of their innocence. He reached, carefully, for his gun.
Then he heard singing. A man, in some language he didn't know.
He smiled. An actual genuine human being, all the way out here. He couldn't be that far from the Inuit village Fraser was heading for.
Eagerly he unzipped his tent, and crawled out into the snow.
The singing had stopped. Ray looked up, and felt his jaw drop.
He'd last seen this man in Chicago, pointing a gun at his friend.
The Inuit smiled. "Hello American."
He was first aware of the sound of raised voices in the next room. Slowly Fraser opened his eyes, then shut them against the blade of light. His head ached like a broken tooth.
Dief was whimpering, licking his face. It stung. There was a swelling on his forehead, some kind of cut. He'd banged himself. He remembered his head bouncing on the wall.
That wasn't what had put him out though. He struggled with memory. What was it?
He recognised the voices, Peter and Pakak. Anger between them. Something to do with him and Dief. He stopped listening. He was too tired to follow the conversation in Inuktitut. Slowly he worked his tongue in his mouth, finding it dry and so sharply gritty that it felt like he'd chewed glass. He stank of sweat, as though he'd been running a fever in the night.
Now or never, he thought, and pushed himself into a sitting position.
The floor tilted sickeningly, and bile burned in the back of his throat.
He slowly reopened his eyes. The world was white, then gradually resolved to a brightness he could just about bear. His eyes stung so much that he felt tears on his face. Hurriedly he brushed them away. His fingers felt large, fuzzy and numb.
Dief whined, barked. The door opened. Fraser squinted, but could not raise his head. All he saw were the man's mukluks.
"Fraser," Peter spoke in English, addressing him by name. He sounded concerned. "Did they harm you?"
Fraser opened his mouth experimentally, tried to talk. He croaked instead. Cross, he tried again. "I don't know," he rasped, "but I think it's fair to say there was something in my food."
The old man sat down on the floor, and placed an arm behind Fraser's back, steadying him. "Here, drink." He held a mug of what looked like water to his mouth. Seeing Fraser flinch he lifted the drink to his own lips, took a slow and deliberate swallow.
"Thank you." Fraser's eyes closed as he drank. He always forgot the pure pleasure of water for true thirst. He gasped at its coldness, and felt stronger. Quenched, he thought, what a beautiful word. "Thank you kindly," he whispered, "I needed that." He glanced across at Diefenbaker. "My dog?"
"I have seen to your wolf," Peter assured him. "He threw up, then drank a river, and ate. He will be fine." The old man got to his feet stiffly. "Can you stand yet?" He held out his hand.
"I can try." Cautiously, he did just that. First to his knees, and remained stable, braced on one fist, a push, then slowly to his feet, taking the offered arm. Finally he stood, swaying just a little. The world steadied around him.
Something was still wrong.
He looked down at what he was wearing, and realised.
Someone had dressed him in the night, in traditional Inuit garments. Every stitch of clothing that he wore was on inside out.
It sat like a lump in his throat, heat behind his eyes. Ridiculous, utterly ridiculous for a grown man to want to cry. He felt helpless again, a child on the outside of everything. All he ever wanted to do was help. He didn't expect anything of them, not that they like him, nor even that they trust him... but this? He hadn't expected anything like this.
He bit his lip, and looked away, trying to hide his shame.
"I'm sorry," Peter said, gently, apologetically.
He tried to make a joke of it. "I see I died in the night. When is the funeral?"
"It was someone's idea of a threat," Peter said. "You obviously know our customs..."
"Yes, the clothing of the dead is worn inside out. Somebody is trying to tell me something." He didn't add the obvious, that the someone was Pakak. He could smell the lingering aroma of whiskey in the room, and the lad's brand of tobacco. Of course, it might be anybody's brand of tobacco, he couldn't imagine the local shop had much variety in stock.
He looked at the floor, and made himself dispassionate. There were a few footprints around where he had lain. Three men. Pakak's tread he recognised. Pakak and two friends. He sighed.
"If you don't mind," he asked Peter, "I obviously need to change before I can be seen in public."
"Of course. Is there anything you need? I would offer you breakfast but the drug hasn't completely worn off yet."
Fraser shook his head, the mere thought of food tying him up with nausea.
"No, thank you. Water, and a towel, if I may." He wrinkled his nose at his own smell. "And I'd be grateful of some more water to drink when I'm dressed."
"You can use the bathroom to clean up."
"Thank you kindly, but I'd sooner stay in here until I am presentable." He didn't want to compound the old man's feelings of guilt, but he was simply too ashamed to be seen by anyone else just yet.
"All right." The old man looked at him, and Fraser caught his expression. Genuine shock and grief for what his grandson had done to his guest.
"It's all right," Fraser lied gently in Inuktitut. "They did not do me any hurt."
The old man nodded, almost as though he believed him, and gave him the room.
"You're telling me," Ray said incredulously, "that you're here to help Fraser?"
"Well," Eric was sitting in a comfortable squat, "I didn't know that it was Benton I was being called for, but I am here to help Amarak."
"You mean the village?"
"Not solely the village, no," the man looked amused. "The wolf."
Ray stared at his companion. The man was eating some kind of an energy bar. He could smell the mint from here. "So, you're telling me that Fraser's a wolf now?"
"No more than I'm a raven." Eric smiled, then shook his head. "No, not specifically Fraser. I was called because there is something wrong with the land. I am here to help the actual wolves."
"I see... and you just expect me to believe that you walked hundreds and hundreds of miles across the snow because you had a vision?"
"Did you walk, American? What do you think I am, a savage? I came by plane and snow mobile."
"You have a snow mobile?"
"Not now. I had to rent one. I left it away back at the last outpost. They wouldn't let me take it past the circle."
"Even so, you travelled all this way because you had a dream about a wolf?"
"Why did you travel all this way, American? What called you here?"
An explanation failed to present itself. After a bewildered silence Ray shook his head. "I can't say."
Eric chuckled. "So, we are the same, you and I."
"We're not the same. How can I trust you?" Ray started up again, "last time we met, you had a gun to Fraser, you threatened to shoot him."
"I did not shoot him."
"But you would have."
"But I did not."
"And now you want to help him?"
"He is a friend of my people, he did us a great service."
"What, he got your masks back for the museum, that's a great service now is it?"
Eric finally laughed outright. "He did not tell you?" He rocked back on his heels, and slapped his leg. "Of course he didn't tell you. And you never guessed."
"Oh." The flat little noise escaped from Ray before he could stop it. "He let you switch the masks. The museum got the fakes."
"Now you understand." Eric stopped laughing, and looked at Ray. "And it saddens you," he added, surprised. "You feel... let down?" Ray looked away. "You feel betrayed, because he did not trust you."
"Okay bozo, stop with your mind reading act," Ray snapped and lurched to his feet. "What I think and what I feel are none of your business. You gonna help me or what?"
Eric stood easily. "If you'll take it. We've both been called on the same path, it seems we'll have to travel together for a while."
Angrily Ray started packing his belongings back into bags, and strapped them to the sleigh. If the guy says one word about my luggage I'll kill him, he thought.
Eric said nothing. Instead he held out his energy bar to Ray. Ray looked at it, and raised an eyebrow. Eric gave an irritated grunt. "Do you want some mint cake or what?"
"Thanks," Ray took the proffered bar.
Yeah, Canadians, Ray thought sardonically. Even the robbers and gunmen are polite.
The meeting of the tribal council was chaos. Fraser sat silently in one corner of the room, watching the men shouting, interrupting each other, shaking fists, leaping from their seats and leaning over the table to yell in each other's faces. He realised that so far his journey had led him to complete failure at every turn. He had never before attended a tribal meeting which so spectacularly failed to follow the strict protocols of a hundred generations. Peter tried to maintain order, but in the face of so much vitriol the old man looked as though he were drowning.
This, Fraser thought, was symbolic of the tribe itself under pressure, the tribe itself breaking down. "Where is the shaman," he asked at one point, hoping that some spiritual input would help restore order. An argument promptly arose as to which of two men and a woman were the true successors after the death of Peter's wife, the last acknowledged shaman of the tribe.
After that Fraser gave up. He just observed, and said nothing.
Finally he stood. The noise level was so high that at first nobody noticed as he and Dief made their way out of the room. As he opened the door, however, the cold air blasted in, and everyone stopped, and stared.
"Where are you going, Kabluunak," a bitter voice spoke up. "You've come here, you've set us all at each other's throats... what next for you?"
There was some laughter and jeering, which died off in the face of the man's grim winter gaze.
"I'm going to talk to the wolves," he said. "I'll get more sense from them."
By nightfall Ray was sick of midges (someone had told him that they wouldn't swarm yet, but that they would drive him mad) and he was sick of his companion's silences. Sure the man was annoying, and patronising, but people were meant to communicate, to talk to each other. He'd have had a better conversation if he'd had Dief with him.
He wondered how Dief was doing. Probably having a whale of a time.
He wondered how Benny was doing. Probably up to his neck in it, as usual.
Eric offered to pull the sleigh a while, and gratefully Ray handed him the ropes. "How much further," he asked again, feeling uncomfortably like a kid on the back seat of a car saying, "are we nearly there yet?"
"Not much longer," Eric said. "We'll stop tonight, no point travelling in the dark, we could break a bone, and then were will we be? After that, just an hour. We'll arrive in time for your breakfast."
"As long as it's not pemmican or Kendal Mint Cake," he muttered.
Eric smiled that infuriating smile, and carried on walking.
Peter and Pakak stood shoulder to shoulder, watching with the rest of the council, as the Mountie and his wolf walked away from the village. Pakak was feeling increasingly guilty. The mad man was heading along the narrow ribbon of land that pointed toward, but did not quite connect to the Northern mainland. If the ice held then he would keep on walking. If not, who knew how he intended to make it across? Perhaps someone had left a kayak there. Right now Pakak could not remember.
What had he done? It seemed the man really believed what he was saying. Last night, when he had spoken with his friends, they had convinced themselves that this chap was sent by a rival company to undermine the resettlement deal that was being offered by the Wolf mining people. But if that was so, then why was he walking straight into wolf territory?
The Mountie must be genuine. Pakak felt a surge of guilt, thinking of the trick they had played on him the night before. The worst moment was when they had him naked, and saw his old wounds. They'd almost stopped then. They'd never seen someone so vulnerable, his head bleeding, a lump the size of a baby's fist forming just above his eye. But it was the sight of his leg, all those scars, and that silver twist of a puncture wound on his back... it made them feel ashamed. What they were doing seemed an indignity too many.
Whiskey helped. Pakak had drowned his conscience, and started to turn the borrowed clothing inside out. The sooner they covered the scars the sooner they could forget them.
He had never done anything so bad before. As the day continued he had grown increasingly sober, and now the guilt worried at him, like a dog. He didn't like the feeling.
"You have to live with that," his Grandfather said, breaking into his silence as though he had been thinking out loud. "Guilt is a terrible thing, but it's even worse if you don't admit when you've done wrong."
"Can't we stop him?"
"We can't stop him. He has to follow where he's called."
"What if they... what if they attack him?"
"The wolves?" The old man shook his head. "No, he's safe enough. Wolves never eat their own."
Night falls, and Ray and Eric strike up camp. There is an argument about sleeping arrangements, Eric wants to sleep outside in the warmer of the sleeping bags. Ray wants him to behave like a normal human being and sleep in the tent where, he imagines, it's safer. In the end Ray lets Eric get on with it, sleeps in the tent, soundly. Eric sleeps outside, lightly but comfortably, and perfectly safe.
Fraser and Dief walk North through the dark, pushing towards the mainland. Fraser can feel the slight change in the ice beneath him and quickens his pace. The rottenness has set in, and soon the ice will break.
Ray woke to the smell of 'hallelujah, it's a true miracle', honest to goodness actual coffee. The meat frying on the pan came as a distant second to the promise of a caffeine fix. He poked his head out through the slit in the tent, and inhaled.
"That looks really good." He frowned. "I thought we were having breakfast at the village."
"I decided to hunt us up some real food. You slept in, American," Eric said.
"You know, you could just call me Ray."
Eric gave him a wry glance. The man's seemingly constant state of amusement wasn't as irritating this morning, not with proper coffee to look forward to, and breakfast on the pan. "Have some coffee Ray."
"Oh how I missed this," Ray closed his eyes, fingers wrapped around the coffee cup, and raised his face to heaven, prayerfully.
"How long's it been?"
"Since a proper cup of coffee? Four days and half a continent."
"Next time you should remember to pack the essentials."
Ray looked across at the deadpan face, and broke into a laugh. He started on breakfast. The meat was delicious. "What did you catch?"
"You don't want to know."
He paused part way through a munch, thought about it, and shrugged, kept on chewing. "Can't be worse than a hot dog." He looked up, suddenly concerned. "I mean, it's not actually a dog or anything?"
Eric laughed. "Not canine, no."
"All right." He licked his fingers. "I suppose we should get going."
"I suppose we should."
The two men made quick work of breaking camp, and Ray took the ropes to the sleigh, ready to go. Eric had done more than his share the day before, and besides, the man who cooked that breakfast deserved a break. "Eight in the morning," Ray said, impressed with himself.
Eric sighed. "Yes, we wasted half the day."
Ray glanced at the man, and decided he didn't know how to take that... whether it was a Canadian joke, or if the guy was serious.
Still, they went at a brisk pace. Before long they saw their first habitation. To Ray's surprise it was not an igloo, but a cross between a hut and a cabin. There was even an aerial sticking out of the roof. Yeah, right, he thought, you honestly expected them all to be living in igloos? Keep that one to yourself, you don't want them to think you're a completely ignorant Yank.
A woman stood at the door to the abode with a baby strapped to her back, and a toddler clinging to her skirts. Eric raised an arm and called out to her. She called back, gestured with her arm as though directing traffic (keep on coming) and turned her back, walking ahead of them on what was now obviously a road.
"We follow her," Eric said, superfluously.
"I got that."
"Let me do the talking."
"I got that too."
Eric cast a curious glance at him. He seemed to be sizing him up. "You'll do," he conceded, and carried on walking.
The village was still abuzz with gossip about the crazy white guy, when another crazy white guy came over the horizon. This one was accompanied however by an Inuit, and there wasn't a wolf in sight. For some bizarre reason the Kabluunak was dragging a sleigh behind him. One of the children started a rumour that the white guy was Santa Claus. Even though nobody believed in Santa Claus there was a mad dash for the sleigh, and before long the two strangers were laden down with excitable children. The white guy tried his best to protect the contents of his luggage, but it wasn't until Peter waded into the scene that anything like order was re-established. The children ran off, with trophies of socks and underwear waving from their hands. The white guy just looked dumbfounded.
The Inuit removed his hood, and smiled. At this point recognition set in. "Chulyin," Peter said, "what brings you back here? It has been a very long time."
"I'm following the call of Amarak," Eric replied, in the cadence of story. "Amarak has called another here before me, and this man also." The rhythm of ritual broke for a moment, and he chanced a smile, glancing at his companion. "Strange though Amarak's choice may seem."
Peter looked at the white man. He did indeed seem a very odd choice for a shaman. And he also looked completely baffled. Safe to assume then that unlike the Mountie this man did not speak Inuktitut.
Out of consideration for the stranger, therefore, Peter replied in English.
"We have had another traveller before you. He also followed the call of the wolf."
"Is he here?" The white guy sounded urgent.
"He left," Peter said.
"What the..." the man turned, kicked the snow, and proceeded to curse with an invective so creative and colourful that within minutes he was the admiration and role model of every boy in hearing distance. Peter raised his eyebrows, and glanced at Chulyin. In Inuktitut he asked, "are you sure this man is following the wolf?"
"He's following something."
"Hey, earth to Canadians," the white guy ceased his scatological prose poem, and waved his hand between their faces. "I need subtitles here."
Peter looked at him, measuring him up. The man was very rude. "You're American, I take it?"
"Yeah, what gave it away? Look, what do you mean he's gone? Where else is there to go? And when did he go? And..."
"Slow down," Eric put a reassuring hand on his shoulder. "One question at a time." When he saw that Ray had paused to breath he looked back to Peter. "Our friend, when did he leave?"
"Yesterday. He went North, over the ice."
"North?" Ray threw his arms up in frustration. "How much more North is there? If he keeps this up he'll head over the top of the earth and wind up going South to the Equator."
Peter ignored the exaggerated commentary. The man was clearly frightened for his friend. "He went North, to hold council with the wolves."
"What?" Ray thought, for a moment, that he had totally misheard. But what the old man had said was so freakishly unusual that there was no way he could have imagined it. "What the hell does that mean?"
"To hold council?" Eric was either deadpan or totally serious. "Why so?"
"He claimed they would speak more sense than we do." Peter sighed. "He's not wrong."
"Look, would somebody mind telling me what the hell's going on here? And then can we go find Fraser?"
Peter nodded towards some of the younger men. "Carry their gear to my place, store it under the cabin with the dogs for now." He placed a hand on both Eric and Ray's arms, and drew them towards his house. "We've got a lot to talk about."
Away from the constrictions of the village and the tribe, Dief threw off his fear, and fled in wide looping spirals, running around Fraser, joyfully bounding and bouncing in the snow. Fraser smiled to see him run, and felt some of the weight of the last few days melt off him. Since they had got off the lake he had been slowing down considerably. His whole body wanted to relax. He wished he could be like Dief, just forget to be serious, for a while at least.
His head still ached, and he was still feeling sick.
Above them a plane whined, and Fraser stopped, squinting up. He put his hands over his face closing one eye, and peered through the crack of his fingers, to tighten the focus for a moment. He should have bought snow goggles, he thought. Perhaps he could fashion some out of something in his bag.
If he had time to stop, that was. If he had the energy.
It was a new plane, he thought, not at all like the tin can that he had flown up in. Probably in private hands. Who here could afford a new plane, he wondered. He frowned. He didn't like it. They must have an airstrip somewhere. That thing would be too heavy to risk landing on the lake, particularly at this time of year.
It most likely belonged to the mining company. He couldn't think who else would have business with a brand new plane in this part of the world.
He blinked, removing his hands from his face, and looked back ahead of him.
Wolf territory. Dief had stopped playing, and was sniffing anxiously as they entered the domain of the nearest family. Fraser recommenced walking, head down. "Don't worry Dief," Fraser spoke calmly to his wolf, who was sticking close to him again. "Just mind your manners and everything will be okay."
Dief paused, sniffed, pricking up his ears despite his deafness, and whined. Fraser stopped, turned his head, listening. He lifted his hands to his ears, and cupped them, like satellite receivers.
There. He could hear them. The wolves were talking to each other. They had been seen. Fraser dropped his hands and stroked Diefenbaker's head. A delegation would be coming out soon.
He could only hope it would go better with the wolves than it had with the humans.
Part way through Peter's recitation of the events of the past couple of days the door burst open, and a young man clattered in.
"Pakak," his grandfather said, "I hope this is important?"
"Yes. A plane has landed on the East side, men are coming over by canoe."
The young man spoke urgently. Ray had already noticed him several times, looking at him as though he felt bad about something, then looking away when he was caught staring. He had the feeling, from certain gaps in Peter's story, that there was something they hadn't told him, but he couldn't quite put his finger on it yet. Fraser could make some odd decisions, seemingly at the drop of a hat, but Ray couldn't imagine him just walking out of a council meeting as abruptly as described unless something else had happened. He got the impression, from what was being said, or rather not said, that Fraser had been upset about something.
He couldn't afford to get into it with these people though. The most important thing was that he find out exactly what the hell was going on so that he could follow Fraser, and be some actual help. This sense of urgency was not being communicated to his hosts however, and he was beginning to feel very frustrated.
Peter was rubbing his chin. "These will be people from the mining company," he explained to Eric and Ray. "They've made us a certain offer... we had been going to accept it, but now we're not so sure."
"In my experience," Ray said, "those kinds of people, rich people, don't make offers unless they stand to gain more than they lose."
"Your friend said something similar," Peter acknowledged.
"Mind if we sit in on this meeting with the miners?" Eric asked, smilingly.
"That's fine. But Ray..." Peter looked at him warningly, "sit in the back, and keep quiet. Just pay attention to what they say, don't let them notice you. You're one of them, you might pick up on something we don't."
"I'm one of them?" Ray crinkled his brow, puzzled. "What do you mean I'm one of them?"
"I don't mean that you're like them, I mean you're white," Peter said bluntly. "You work in a city, you know how city people think, how they talk. You're used to the lies they tell."
Well, Ray couldn't deny that, although he did feel offended.
"I'll sit in the back and try to look Inuit," he said, raising a laugh from Eric. "But I hope this doesn't take too long, because Eric and me, we need to get going after Fraser."
"Don't worry," Peter grinned at him suddenly. "They never take a really good look at us. They just come, tell us what they want to do, then head off again. Leave us some guns and ammo, or good hooch, penicillin if we're lucky, that kind of thing. If you just pull up some furs they'll never know you're there, and they should be gone within a couple of hours."
Ray reigned in his frustration, and hoped the old man was right. They were losing daylight hours, and he had the feeling that if they didn't speed things up he might end up losing Fraser.
He finally admitted it to himself. He was still feeling weak from being drugged, and although he had been able to drink he couldn't eat. Perhaps if he had thrown up, as Dief had... too late now anyway. His belly was cramped and empty, and all he could taste was bile.
He stopped suddenly, and dropped his bag. "Sorry Dief," he said, "I've got to sit down. Been walking all night."
He sat heavily, using his bag as a cushion. He tipped his head towards the sky, and let the sideways slanting light soak in. He'd grown up in such lights as this, had never thought of near horizontal light as odd. It was at a steeper slant now though, it was summer when the effect really hit you. Yet today the air itself was so pure it shone.
He missed that light. All of it. The midnight sun, and the stars of winter.
He could sit here forever.
Silly, silly, silly. He was indulging himself. He had to get up, get moving.
His head dropped. Sleep, he thought. Maybe just for a moment...
"Wake up son."
With a start he jerked back to full consciousness. "Dad?"
He had clearly heard his father's voice, but he was nowhere to be seen. He looked up at the sky. Maybe half an hour had passed.
Dief was sitting beside his bag, looking at him quizzically. He returned the wolf's gaze, and gestured his apology.
Wearily he got back to his feet, and trudged on.
Ray did as advised, and sat in the back of the village hall, buried in what looked for all the world like a hairy parka. The suits came in, three of them, their smiles oozing condescension, and Ray took offence all over again that anyone would think he had anything in common with them, simply because they were white. They reminded him of the FBI, or Internal Affairs, people with power, who knew it, and held it to them as a weapon. When they started talking the impression deepened. It took all he had not to jump to his feet and accuse them of being in love with the sound of their own voices.
"... so we have bought the paper work, if your council have decided to sign it? Then we can start with the business of moving you folks somewhere safer."
Peter sat back in his chair, and looked around at the rest of the council. Something had changed in the group, even within the last few hours, as though the arrival of first Fraser, then Ray and Eric had caused a shift. Imperceptibly heads turned in quiet shakes. No, no, no. Ray smiled. He was proud of these guys.
Peter appraised the glances he received, then spoke in Inuktitut. One man after another spoke up. Eric was grinning.
Finally Peter cleared his throat, and spoke to the visitors in English.
"We will not be signing," he said, bluntly. "We have changed our minds."
The look on the suits' faces was priceless. The tall skinny one flapped his mouth like a drowning fish, before spluttering out, "but you'd already said that you would accept..."
"That was before we had a chance to talk things over amongst ourselves. We are not satisfied with recent events, and are making our own enquiries."
"What sort of enquiries?"
Pakak, even though one of the youngest there, broke protocol and spoke. "We have sent an emissary to enquire of the wolves."
Ray was getting used to these guys' facial expressions by now, and realised that, although the lad shouldn't have said anything, the council were repressing smiles. Again, the reaction of the delegation from the mining company was worth the price of entry alone. Totally and utterly pole-axed, the lot of them. If he wasn't so concerned for Benny he would have been laughing himself.
But he was concerned for Benny, now even more so, because the bad guys – and he had no doubt but that they were bad guys – had just been told that someone was out there in the snow, checking the wolves out. He got to his feet and edged out of the room, leaving the white men angry and spluttering, and the Inuit standing firm.
Pakak saw the Kabluunak leaving the council chamber, and realised at once what he had done. The satisfaction he had felt a moment earlier, heaping confusion on those men, disappeared, replaced by dread. As if he had not done enough to the Mountie, now he had given him away to the enemy.
He left, excusing himself, although nobody particularly noticed his departure in the excitement which followed his utterance.
"Mister," he called out, trying to remember the guy's name. "Ray?"
The man turned towards him, arms folded belligerently across his chest. Pakak felt his heart sinking. The guy looked like he knew...
"Ray," he forced himself to continue, "I'm sorry."
"For what? Making those guys look like bozos? That's fine, they deserve it. For blowing Fraser's cover and putting him in the line of fire? Yeah, that you need to apologise for."
"I really am sorry, I wasn't thinking..."
Tension left the man's body as he relented. "It's not your fault," he said, adding, as though he had only now realised it, "you're just a kid."
Pakak bridled at that, but bit his tongue. He didn't have much to be proud of these days. He had to make this right...
"Ray," he said, using the man's name again, and feeling odd about it. "Ray," he said again, and took a sharp breath. He felt like he was going to fall. "It's my fault he went off like he did. I mean, someone needed to go off, but he shouldn't have gone off alone. And he wouldn't have gone off alone if I hadn't... if I hadn't..." He felt his face suddenly go hot, and tears came to his eyes.
"What?" The man sounded dangerous again. "If you hadn't what?"
"See," Pakak blurted out, "one of the dead guys, that was my uncle. My Dad's dead, my Mum ran off, and my uncle... he was like, he was like..." Oh crap, he thought, I'm crying. "I'm sorry, it's no excuse. I shouldn't have, I really shouldn't have..."
The man called Ray stepped towards him, and Pakak flinched. An indefinable expression, regret perhaps, flitted behind the man's eyes. "I'm not gonna hit you son," he said quietly, putting an arm around him. "Just tell me what happened?"
Head buried on the man's chest, eyes closed tight, Pakak told.
Ray was packing light this time. For a start, he wasn't going to bother chasing down his spare socks... he'd probably never see them again. At least one of them was already flying as a flag on a child's snow castle. He'd keep the bloody mukluks on, and let his feet stink till he got Benny back safe and sound.
They wouldn't mind him borrowing this parka either. It was warmer than what he had bought at the climbing shop.
Pemmican, Kendal mint cake, chemical warming pads, first aid kit... thank God he'd got a fairly comprehensive first aid kit.
Pakak was helping him choose the best gear, and Ray was accepting his advice without arguing. The boy wanted to make it right, and he knew this environment better than Ray did.
"You'll want a rifle," he said, "and ammo."
"Can I come with you?"
Ray looked at him thoughtfully. Without the attitude the boy looked younger. How old was he anyway, seventeen? Part of him thought, the kid wants to redeem himself, part of him thought, piss off you little bastard, like Benny's gonna want to see you after what you did?
He put both mercy and vengeance aside, and came to an impartial decision. "Your Grandfather would never forgive me if I got you into trouble. He needs you. You don't have to do this out of guilt."
"I do," the boy's lip was trembling. Ray felt that frustrating pull between sympathy and a desire to give the boy a slap. He hated that urge in himself, and reigned it in.
"Well, you shouldn't be asking me," Ray said. "Your Grandfather is the tribal elder, and besides that, he's your family. Ask him."
"He won't let me go."
"Then you don't go."
"You hate me..."
"I don't hate you." There it was again, the desire to forgive the little shit. Poor kid. "I don't hate you," he repeated, "but you stay."
"You can't go by yourself."
"He doesn't have to." Eric stepped up to them. "I was always going along for the ride."
Ray felt a distinct surge of relief. Thank God... he would have tried to do it alone, but this way he had a much better chance.
"I see you finally learned to pack light," Eric was smiling his perennial smile.
"Some things focus the mind," Ray replied. "Besides, I had help." He nodded to Pakak, who looked pathetically relieved to have been of some use.
Eric looked at the sky, and sniffed.
"We'll need a kayak," he told the boy. "I doubt the ice has held."
"Okay," Pakak bounced in his eagerness. "I'll run on ahead, I know where we stored ours for winter."
"Good." Eric looked at Ray, his customary amusement wiped away for once by a grim expression. "It's past time we moved on."
"Craven's going to have our hides for this." Despite the dark Brown was pacing outside the prefab, sucking on his cigarette with anxious drags. It tired Mullen out just to look at him.
"Calm down," he said, "we can fix this."
"How, how do you propose we fix this?"
"There's always a way."
"No, we can't. Not that. I don't want to do that again."
"We should keep our options open." Mullen scratched his beard, pondering. "I wonder what made them suddenly change their minds?"
"Who knows what bloody Eskimos think of anything?"
"They don't like to be called Eskimos," Simmons finally spoke, somewhat pedantically.
"Who cares what they want to be called," Brown snapped. "That's not the point."
"What is the point then?" Simmons sounded querulous, his voice rising too.
"Look, you guys, shut the fuck up." Mullen's voice was cross, but low. "You know how sound carries out here, and you never know who's listening."
Silence fell, and the men glared at each other.
Finally Mullen spoke again. "In the morning we go up, fly over the land to the North, and see if we can spot this Eskimo diplomat they've sent to talk to the wolves." He shook his head, still trying to wrap his head around that one. "If he's a threat, we can deal with him."
Brown stood, leaning against the air plane, sucking on his cigarette. His sullen face lit and faded as the light from his cigarette glowed and dimmed. "Yeah, all right," he conceded.
"And you?" Mullen glared at Simmons.
"Yeah, whatever, it doesn't bother me. I'm going to bed." With that he swung open the door, and stomped through to the sleeping quarters. Well, at least there was none of that namby pamby soul searching from Simmons, Mullen thought. He would hold it together, whatever else.
"I'll take first shift," Brown said. "I can't sleep anyway."
"Okay. Give me a shout in a couple of hours."
Brown nodded, dropped his cigarette to the snow with a wet sizzle. As Mullen stepped into the prefab hut he heard the strike of a match as Brown lit up again.
No discipline, he thought contemptuously, as he laid out his bedding.
Simmons was already asleep, or pretending to be, next to the wood burning stove.
Mullen grunted, and buried himself as deep in the sleeping bag as he possibly could. He needed some sleep at least before morning.
Tomorrow they would start damage control. It was going to be a busy day.
Fraser woke slowly. He lay with his head on his arm, completely cosy in the hollow he had dug the previous night in the snow. Dief lay along side him, and their body heat filled the little den with comfort, and a shared mannish wolf smell that reminded Fraser of learning to handle a team of dogs.
"Good morning," he smiled at Dief. Dief opened his eyes, and thumped his tail.
"I don't suppose you know what time it is?"
Dief lolled his tongue out and panted through his doggy grin.
"No, I didn't think you would." Fraser unpeeled himself from his sleeping gear, and sat up. "Well, I think we slept in, it feels later than it should be... give me a minute to get straight, then we'll look at the sky and..."
Fraser stopped talking. Standing above him was a huge male wolf. His ruff was so thick that it looked almost like a mane. He was white, flecked with gold, honey eyed. At over four foot long from nose to tail, he was the largest wolf that Fraser had ever seen. Next to him, Dief looked like a pup.
There was a long silence as man and wolf observed each other. Fraser carefully eased back, lowered his posture, and sank into a deep obeisance, arms outstretched, head flattened to the snow. Beside him Dief had also backed off, dipped into an exaggerated play bow. The snow melted around Fraser's forehead as he waited. After a time he felt the giant muzzle nudging against him, warm breath around his head, his neck, his rear. He was aware of himself being circled, and sniffed.
Finally the wolf finished his interrogation with a bark, sounding incongruously like an ordinary dog. Fraser heard Dief move. Cautiously, he opened his eyes, lifted his head slightly. Dief and the giant wolf were sitting opposite each other, Dief's tail pounding the snow. The wolf chief appeared to be looking at him with amused benevolence. That meant, he supposed, that their presence had been accepted.
Fraser sat back on his heels, and wiped the wetness off his head with the back of his arm.
"Thank you," he said to the wolf. "Can we come further?"
He knew the wolf didn't speak English, but equally he knew that he would understand.
The wolf turned, and started to run ahead. He stopped, looked over his shoulder, and yipped. Dief bounded after him.
So, they had been invited in. Fraser felt his shoulders slump with relief. Gathering his few items of kit he started walking again, this time sure of his direction, since he was following the wolf.
"That went well," his father was walking beside him, gazing thoughtfully at the wolf chief. "Who taught you to do that son? It wasn't me."
Fraser shrugged. "I don't know. It just comes naturally I guess."
The ghost pursed his lips, as though he disagreed, but was too polite to say anything.
"Where have you been, anyway?" Fraser felt unreasonably irritated with his father. It was an odd thing, now that he thought about it. When the man had been alive he'd never have dared to express his feelings as openly as he did now... he would never have told his father if he felt cross, or tired, rejected or betrayed.
Since he died though, it seemed that Fraser couldn't help himself. Every conversation left him exposed.
"Where was I? Well, I was tracking you son."
"I thought you were attached to me or something. Why would you need to track me?"
"Well, you went off in such a snit..."
"I was not in a snit!"
"You were too. You went off in such a mood, and when I tried to find you, well, you'd put up these walls. You don't know what it's like, trying to get through to you when you're like that. I had to pal up with your Yank friend till we caught your trail."
"Ray?" Fraser felt his heart lift, then drop. "Ray's here?"
"Well, not here exactly, but not far behind."
"What's he doing here?"
"He's following you, what do you think he's doing? He was worried about you son."
Fraser blinked, then squinted, pretending it was snow dazzle. Ray had followed him? He was incredibly touched. And alarmed... Ray wouldn't be safe out here.
Of course, perhaps this was just wishful thinking brought on by loneliness... It dawned on him again with painful clarity that he could not be a hundred percent certain that his father was real.
But, now that he thought of it, Ray had once already ditched everything and come running through the snow to save him. When he first went on the trail of his father's killer, Ray had turned up, out of nowhere, when he should have been in his sick bed, a strange alien intrusion on Fraser's world. A foreign unknown, determined to help.
Fraser looked over his shoulder, as though he might see Ray bouncing cheerfully through the snow, in colourful shop bought winter clothing.
No, his father couldn't be telling the truth, he was imagining this. After everything that had happened, after being cast out by the consulate, drugged, dressed for his own funeral, completely rejected by the tribe he had come to help, still weak and nauseous... well, it was no wonder he wished Ray was there. And no wonder he was seeing his father now, imagining a human presence, someone he loved, someone he could talk to.
He was the master of self deception. He had to get over this, this quirk in his nature. Basically, apart from Dief and the wolf up ahead, Fraser was wandering alone on the frozen top of the world.
"Oh, no son, don't do this," his father spoke to him sharply. "I only just got here..."
Fraser shook his head, miserable. "I'm sorry Dad," he said, even though in his heart he was certain that he was speaking to the air.
The old man stepped up, right in front of him, crossed his path. "You stop this right now," he said. "All these walls you build aren't doing you any good you know. You don't need to be by yourself all the time."
Fraser shut his eyes against the alarm on his father's face. It was so vivid. Not real, not real, he told himself.
He stepped forward, to where his father wasn't, and stepped through. When he opened his eyes the ghost was gone.
He should have been glad, he thought, that he was thinking clearly, seeing the world as it really was. But he he wasn't glad, not at all. He felt even more lost and dejected than ever.
Thank God Eric and the other guys knew what they were doing... Ray sat at the back of the boat, watching the Inuit carefully steering their way through the blocks of ice. He couldn't believe that only two days ago he had walked across the lake. The whole place looked utterly alien to him. There was something about the light that made him squirrelly, and the ice itself made him think of meteorites, as though a chunk of frozen moon had fallen to earth, and exploded all over the landscape.
That's not in fact accurate. The moon's not white close up, Benny's imagined voice lectured, that's an optical illusion caused by...
Oh shut up Ray, he told himself. Now he was imagining Benny in his head, he didn't need that. He needed to catch up with the real Benny.
Finally they reached the other shore, and somehow he managed to disembark without landing in the water. He shouldered his bag, and looked back at the two men who remained in the boat.
"Will you be all right," one of them asked him.
"Yeah, I'll be fine."
"If he runs out of food he can always eat me," Eric quipped.
"See?" Ray flicked his head over his shoulder towards his travelling companion. "He has a plan. Yeah, I'll be all right."
"Okay." The men settled themselves into the boat, and pushed it back into the chunky waters.
"Thanks," Ray lifted a hand. They already had their backs turned. Ray felt a moment of dislocation.
He really was at the ass end of nowhere, wasn't he?
"Come on," Eric said. "I can see his track already. Let's go."
They flew in a grid pattern, but as it happened it wasn't necessary. They spotted the man within the first twenty minutes. Brown flew in a little lower to get a better look.
"We spotted this guy yesterday," he said, "at least, I think it's the same guy. Hard to tell, they wear so many layers."
"Wouldn't you if you lived here?"
"Well, I think it's the same guy, he's got the same dog with him."
Mullen grunted. "He's a long way from home, it would be a few days before somebody missed him."
"I don't know," Brown sounded querulous. "I don't like it."
"Neither will he," Mullen laughed, "but I can't see what else we can do about it. I mean, look where he's heading?"
"Right up to wolf's lair," Brown said. "Right up to the..." Suddenly he jerked, knocking the steering slightly off. The angle of flight twitched for a moment.
"Keep your eyes on the road," Mullen snarled.
"I am, did you see it?"
Mullen looked, and saw it. "That's not a wolf, that's a bloody horse."
Brown was pale and thin lipped.
"Don't worry," Mullen sneered, "it's not like he can jump up and grab you from the air. We're perfectly safe."
"Yeah, I know... it's just, it looks like he's waiting for the man..." he gulped. "You know, do you think them Eskimos were joking, when they said he was seeking council with the...?" He swallowed. He couldn't bring himself to say it.
"The wolves? Who knows." Mullen was dismissive. "They're savages, that's all. They believe lots of strange things."
"I'd have thought they'd be scared of the wolves now, I would be."
"Well, if the man wants to be eaten by a pack of hungry wolves, that's his problem, not mine. Honestly? He's fitting right in with our plans. If their witch doctor or whatever the hell he is gets eaten by a wolf then these people might wake up and see reason."
"Do you think the wolves will eat him? Craven had a run in with some embassy guy, a Mountie, when he was visiting America. Some kind of an expert apparently. He stirred up some doubts about whether the wolves were responsible or not."
"Look, it doesn't matter what some tree hugging diplomat says, everyone in the real world knows wolves are dangerous. So, we'll have to make it look like an accident."
"How are we going to get to him?"
"Oh, don't make difficulties where there aren't any. We'll send Simmons on a snow mobile. He'll love it."
And of course, he was right. On their return he gave Simmons his orders. Simmons eagerly suited up.
"Always ready to oblige, heh Simmons?" Mullen smiled.
"You know it. How do you want it done?"
"I leave that to your discretion."
Simmons smiled, put on his helmet, and fired up the snow mobile. Mullen stepped back, and lifted his hand in a wave. Simmons sketched a semi military salute, and sped away.
Mullen watched him go. He supposed he should feel sorry for the poor old shaman in the snow. But really, what did these people expect? The world moved on. There was no more room for magic any more, no time for talking with wolves. If they moved these people then they'd have to let go of their tribal nonsense, live in the real world. When you looked at it that way, they were doing them a favour.
Mullen had been telling himself lies for years, and believed every word.
Earlier the plane had returned, flying rather low. Fraser squinted up, then carried on trudging. There was nothing he could do about the plane, after all.
The ground had been gradually ascending for some time, and he was definitely climbing now. It couldn't be much further. He had eaten several mouthfuls of snow for thirst's sake, and felt so far recovered that he was actually hungry. Perhaps when he stopped he could break open his supplies, see what he could share with the wolf and his family. He wondered if, like Dief, they would prove to have a sweet tooth. The thought made him smile. Sadly he hadn't packed any doughnuts. The experiment would have to wait for another time.
He was so intent on the scramble upwards that he didn't at first hear the hiss of treads over snow, and the low rumble of a small engine. When the noise finally got through to his brain he stopped. Snow mobile? He was sure none of the tribe had a snow mobile.
"Hey," a voice called out, "I'm lost here, can you help me?"
This seemed odd to Fraser, but all things were possible. Of course, he could be hallucinating again...
Don't start thinking about that now, he told himself. Just go down and see what you can do to help.
He raised a hand to signal his understanding, and began to slide back down the scree and snow. Part way down he shunted his pack off his shoulders so that he could continue his descent unimpeded. As he paused to gather his strength the other man removed his helmet, and smiled.
Fraser's heart froze in an instant, as he saw exactly what was beyond that smile.
The wolf chief heard a shot, and paused. The little deaf wolf had turned, running heedless down the slope towards his man. The wolf waited for a long moment. He knew that sound, the hole it made in the world when it brought wolf kin down. Perhaps the deaf wolf didn't know that smell, that the hot little stone hurled through the air by the two legs could bite, could burn, could kill.
No. He sensed that the little wolf knew exactly what that was, and he ran towards it anyway. The wolf chief changed his direction, and followed the path of the little white wolf with a new respect.
Loyalty was everything. To the little wolf the man was kin. This made the man his kin also, and besides, they were both guests in his domain.
The other two leg was a monster. He brought death with him. The wolf chief paused for a second in his descent, lifted his muzzle and howled out a warning. Other voices took it up on all sides, and it echoed, travelling the distances, bouncing off the rocks, caught up over the horizon. Warning delivered he continued to speed down the slope.
The monster two leg smelled suddenly of fear, and turned on his metal glider, sped away. Snarling the wolf chief chased him, until he was sure that he was not coming back.
He turned then, and began a low, urgent lope to where the other wolf's man was lying in the snow.
The little white wolf whined, and snuffled, pawing at his friend's face. The wolf chief stood over them both, dropped his head, licked the little wolf sympathetically. Then, with determination, he grasped the man by the clothing, and started to drag him. The little wolf skipped up and down, anxiously, then joined him, grabbing the man by the other shoulder, and helping to haul him up the slope.
They could hear it on the island. Pakak was gutting fish, throwing the innards to the dogs, when there was a clap in the air, and wolves started to bay. Every dog in the village joined in, and every man, woman and child stopped what they were doing, and stared to the North.
Pakak's fingers were trembling, slippery with the insides of fresh caught fish. He looked at his hands, red with blood, and shook.
Eric and Ray both heard it at the same time. A shot, one shot, ringing out over the landscape. More birds than you would have expected startling to the air.
"What the hell..." Ray's voice was tight and panicked.
A moment later the panic was worse. All around them they could hear wolves beginning to howl.
"Jesus Christ," Ray wasn't sure which of them had spoken, if it was a curse or a prayer. He shared a frightened look with Eric.
Then they began to run.
It's not the bullet, it's the fall that does it.
The world is blue, and he realises, vaguely, that he is staring at the sky. His leg is burning, but it doesn't hurt. Nothing ever hurts at the time. Later, he knows, he will feel it. Now there is only blue.
Dief's face swims into view, whining, urgent. He licks him, nudges him with his nose, pats at him with his paws.
He should say something to Dief, tell him not to worry. He feels the obscure need to apologise for something...
Words don't come. The world is too blue.
Somewhere he hears a wolf howling, a splendid basso profundo, then the rest of the choir join in. They are singing danger. They are singing fear.
I'm sorry, he wants to tell them, I brought it with me... But he can't sing like they do. The world is swallowed by the sky, and the wolves are singing the blues. The great white wolf bares his teeth and drags him up the hill.
Ray was so driven that he didn't even think to be surprised that he was keeping up with Eric. There was no trouble following Fraser's footprints and those of Dief. At one point Eric stopped, grabbed Ray by the arm and pointed. "They slept here," Eric said, pointing to a coffin shaped slot in the snow, with a protective wall built up on one side. He pointed again. "The wolf stood there."
Ray stared. The size of those prints...words failed him.
They started to run again. The sun was high, and they sweated in their furs from the effort, while their breath frosted on their clothes. They kept pushing between the extremes of heat and cold, snow crunching up to their knees at times, sometimes slipping on ice frozen beneath, always getting up again, always ploughing forwards.
At the foot of the hill they stopped.
Ray went down on his knees in the snow.
"Oh Jesus," and this time it was a prayer. "Oh Jesus, Jesus Christ."
Blood frozen as hard as ice. A trample of wolf's prints. A wide trail, where a body had been dragged away, blood tracking up the hill.
Eric knelt beside him, put an arm around him. He only cried for a moment. Fraser deserved better than stupid tears, when there was any chance, any chance at all...
When he had stopped Eric spoke.
"I don't think he's dead, the blood spatter is wrong for that."
Ray nodded, dully. He should have realised that. But what about those tracks? Those big, Hound of the Baskerville's tracks? Something had come, something had dragged him off...
Where was Fraser's... Fraser's...
He was not going to think it. He absolutely was not going to think 'where was Fraser's body?'
Simmons made it back in one piece, and celebrated his survival by pouring himself a very large drink.
"It's a bit early in the day, isn't it," Brown said smugly.
"If you'd just been what I'd been through you'd hit the sauce yourself."
"What happened?" Mullen glared at the other two men. They were always sniping at each other about something. "Did you deal with our problem?"
"Yeah," Simmons laughed, shakily, "and I damned near ended up a wolf's lunch myself."
"Did you deal with the native problem?"
"Yeah... and then some. I meant to shoot him, then put the body somewhere the wolves could have a good go at mauling him, but they beat me to it."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, I only got one bullet off, and the man went down... I think I only winged him. But I dunno what it was, maybe the smell of blood? Next thing I know there's this huge... and I mean really damned big... this huge wolf pounding down the hill. He takes after me, and I go flying out of there on the snow mobile, and when I finally got a chance to stop and catch my breath, well... the bloody thing was dragging the guy up the hill to feed the family." Simmons prided himself on being a pragmatic man, but he'd never seen anything like that before. He was still shaking, despite the booze. "I used the zoom on the camera. We should have some really spectacular photos of that thing dragging the guy back... if that doesn't work to scare these Eskimos away nothing will. And it will be great publicity too, should really help our case to extirpate this area of the wolves altogether."
"What happens if someone finds the body with a bullet in it?"
"If there's anything left of the guy once the wolves are through with him I'd be surprised. Even if they find a bullet, they won't be able to match ballistics to any weapon, ours are off record. And besides, worst case scenario, people will just think it was a hunter's bullet gone astray, or that someone was trying to save the man, aimed at the wolf and missed."
Mullen chewed it over in his mind. "Well," he said, "it sounds like it went well. When can you have the photos ready?"
"Soon as you like. I can set up now."
"Good." Mullen looked forward to showing these pictures to the idiot Inuit over on the island. That would shake up their smug attitude. Bring a bit of realism into their lives.
Brown was standing next to the plane, rubbing his hands together compulsively. Neither Mullen nor Simmons noticed as their colleague scrubbed his hands, and scrubbed his hands.
Fraser opened his eyes, and at first saw nothing at all. He blinked against the darkness, then gradually made out that he was in a cave, flat on his back, surrounded by warm bodies.
Ah, he thought. Wolves.
He supposed he should be feeling somewhat alarmed, but for reasons he did not choose to explore at this juncture, he felt comforted.
His leg, however, was burning.
It was also raised.
He pushed himself up slightly, and looked down the length of his body. A large female wolf had inserted herself under his leg, propping the wounded limb up, for all the world as though she knew to elevate the injury.
"Thank you kindly," Fraser said, then let his head fall back down again. The kindness of strangers, he thought, really strange strangers, he added in Ray's voice. He broke into a thready giggle. The wolves around him shifted. He could feel their attention focussing on him. He pulled himself together. Now was not a good time to get hysterical.
"Are you feeling better son?" Fraser turned his head, and saw his father squatting in the corner, between Diefenbaker and the young pups. One of the pups seemed desperate to gain his father's attention, rolling on his back, displaying his fat little belly, bouncing up and down, feinting to the left and the right. His father ignored the pup, staring instead at his son. Fraser knew how the pup felt.
This was weird, he thought. Understatement... he laughed again. What was left of his objectivity ran around in circles, trying to make sense of things. Really, really weird. He was in a wolf's den with his father's ghost, the matriarch of the pack playing nurse maid, and all of that seemed somehow to be normal.
He knew that even by his standards this should not seem normal. He felt light headed, so spaced out and giddy as to be utterly relaxed.
"Hey Dad." His voice was hollow in his ears, and even to himself he sounded as though he'd been given an anaesthetic. "Hey Dief..." He let his head drop again, and stared at the roof to the cave. There was something wrong with his eyes, he thought, it looked as though the cave was glittering.
"You're talking to me again are you?"
"Yeah," Fraser closed his eyes, and floated. "Yeah, I'm sorry Dad, it's not your fault I'm not real. I mean, it's not my fault you're not real."
"Do you have any idea what you're talking about son?"
"No," Fraser was falling asleep again. "No, I don't suppose I do."
Ray and Eric followed the bloody track up the slope, grimly. Part way up they came upon Fraser's abandoned pack, and wordlessly Eric slung it over his back. Ray was stone cold angry. It was better than the alternative, collapse. He didn't care what Fraser said about these wolves. If they'd hurt his friend he'd blow their heads off, that was it.
Above them there came a bark, and Ray pulled out his gun, braced himself against the incline.
Eric put his hand out, tapped him on the knuckles. "Put down the gun."
"No," Ray was beyond fury. "If one of those things so much as hurt a hair on his head..."
"It's Diefenbaker," Eric said, "he tells me that Fraser is fine."
"He tells you?"
"Listen up, you will hear it yourself."
Diefenbaker let out a whine so characteristic that Ray nearly dropped the gun in alarm. That really was Dief standing silhouetted against the sky. His heart stuttered. He'd nearly shot him... Fraser would never forgive him.
"You got Fraser up there?" He called up to Dief, thinking, stupidly, 'Timmy's down the well.' Dief yipped an affirmative, and with a flick of his head gestured at the men to keep on coming.
"That's... sick." Mullen stared at the photos of the man being dragged off by the wolves. One of them was huge, probably the big male they had seen yesterday from the plain. The other was smaller, more compact. They had the man by the shoulders, and were dragging him between them. There was a satisfying trail of blood, which made the pictures even more dramatic. "We need to release these to the press..."
"Let's see if we can get the locals to find the body first. Wolves chuck out the bones when they're finished don't they? We could have before and after shots. If that doesn't shut up the Peta types I don't know what will."
"I'd like to see those animal righters explain away this one."
There was a wet strangled noise behind them, and Mullen and Simmons turned to see Brown pale and sweaty, with his hand to his mouth. "I'm going to be sick," he muttered. He turned, matching words to deed, and the smell of it hit the room.
"Awh, you're disgusting," Simmons said, "you clean that up, it's your mess."
Mullens laughed. "You're the one who lectures us on temperance, if I didn't know better I'd say you have a hangover."
Brown put his hand to his mouth, and lurched.
"Not again," Simmons swung the door open, and pushed his colleague out of it. As Brown started to vomit in the snow Simmons shared a look of contempt with Mullen. "You know, if we didn't need a pilot I'd feed him to the wolves?"
"Yeah," Mullen spread his arms out regretfully. "What you gonna do about it? Guy's got a weak stomach."
"Well, if that's a typical reaction I think we can say we've solved the wolf problem. And we should get the natives right back where we want them."
Mullen smiled, and tilted his glass at Mullen. "A good day's work then?"
"Yeah," Simmons smiled smugly. "A very good day's work."
At the mouth to the wolves' cave both Eric and Ray paused. Dief stood, yipping, and the men looked at each other.
"What do we do now?"
Eric looked unsure. "I suppose we go in."
"You suppose? No Inuit wisdom?"
Eric snapped. "I'm Raven, not Wolf. I've never done this before."
"Well, I'm Yank, not Wolf, and I've not done it before either."
Eric looked helpless.
"Lie flat boy," a voice said.
Ray blinked, and looked about him. "Hello?" Who was that? "Is there anybody there?"
"What?" Eric looked at him with his brow drawn. "You hear something?"
"Get flat on your face, right now son. Think of it like knocking on the door."
Great, Ray thought, I'm stood outside a wolf's lair, and now I'm hearing things.
"Are you stupid or deaf? GET DOWN!"
Ray dropped to his hands and knees, still looking around to see who was talking. From inside the cave he could hear movement. His heart hammered in his throat. Slightly behind him Eric also dropped, following suit.
"Head on the floor, that's right. Now, don't move till I tell you."
Who the hell are you, he wondered, but didn't say. Then, with an 'oh crap,' his mouth went dry, seeing the huge paws padding out towards him. I'm going to be eaten by a wolf, he thought, so loudly that Eric could probably hear him... if he wasn't thinking the same thing himself.
"You're doing fine son," the strange voice spoke reassuringly. "Just don't move."
The thing was prodding him, sniffing him... he must just stink of fear. He could smell it himself, who knew what the wolf was thinking.
Kibbles, probably, knowing his luck.
The thing barked. "You can sit up now," the voice said.
"Thanks," Ray whispered, and sat up.
Eric took a little longer to straighten himself. He looked across at Ray, a reluctant admiration creeping across his face. "How did you know to do that?"
"I didn't," Ray looked puzzled. "Someone told me what to do."
Eric nodded. "I heard nobody." He didn't say it in a challenging tone, he accepted Ray's words. He was simply observing that the voice came only for Ray. "Do you know who it was who spoke?"
Ray paused. He felt as though he should have recognised the voice. "I... I don't know. It might have been a friend, I'm not sure."
"So, what do we do now?"
Ray stared at the mouth of the cave, into which the giant wolf had returned. He swallowed, and rubbed his sweaty hands against the furs of his coat. "Only one thing for it."
I can't believe I'm doing this...
He got back to his hands and knees, and crawled in.
"So, you're going now?" Pakak tried not to let his resentment show as Tatkret took her place with the hunting party. She nodded briefly, not meeting his eyes. Perfect, he thought, she heard what we did. She'll never look at me now. At the best of times it would have irked him to be passed over for a girl, particularly this girl, illogical though that was. The fact that it was his fault nobody trusted him any more just made it worse. That and the thought that Tatkret would never smile at him again.
Somebody had to go, of course. It should have been him. After the howling of the wolves a meeting had been called, and it was agreed. They would send a hunting party, to track down the three visitors, Chulyin, the Amarak and the man who was his brother. And the decision had settled on four hunters, three men, and...
She wasn't a girl, she was a woman. He had hoped she would be his woman, but there was no chance for that now. She would never smile his way again.
He fumbled his fingers together, and couldn't think of anything to say.
"Ready?" The men were already in the boat. Tatkret looked up from the snow, gave him the briefest of glances, utterly unreadable, and stepped off dry land.
Above them, as the boat set off into the lumpen lake, a plane whirred. Pakak looked upwards as he made his way back to the village. Not Maggie's little biplane, which sometimes flew in supplies. That was the aeroplane of those liars, Wolf Mining Company. The enemy. Pakak curled up his fist and scowled.
Simmons heard it first.
He dropped the playing cards on the table between himself and Mullen, exposing his hand, then made a run for the door.
"Hey! Hey! Brown you piece of garbage... "
Mullen stood, alarmed, and followed his colleague out of the door.
The plane was moving.
"Hey!" He joined in with Simmons, jumping up and down angrily, waving at the pilot. If Brown noticed them he gave no sign.
Mullen gave up shouting and began to run towards the plane, but he was too late.
The plane was taking off.
I cannot believe I'm doing this, Ray thought to himself as he crawled into the den. I really truly can't believe I'm doing this. What am I, insane?
The place smelled, well, of dog. It was surprisingly warm, and where the light reached there was a dull glitter, like motes of dust, flecking the walls, the roof, the floor.
"Benny?" No reply, but Dief barked. He moved toward the sound, and tried not to think of the wolfish noises he heard around him. Breathing, doggy grumbling, the wet crunch of something being gnawed. Claws clattering as something... no scratch that, someone, walked around. His hand brushed against someone's fur, and he startled. "Sorry," he said, and felt like an imbecile. Whoever heard of a polite wolf? Even a Canadian one?
Oh, thank God, thank God, that was Benny's voice.
"Yeah Benny, it's me. How bad are you hurt?"
"Worse than I thought, I'm hallucinating."
"What, what do you see?"
"Well, you for a start. You're in Chicago."
For a disconcerting moment Ray seriously considered the possibility that Benny was right. Because where he was right now was so damned improbable... Wow, he shook his head, coming to his senses. He was seriously losing it...
"I'm here you idiot, just tell me where it hurts."
"My leg," Benny sounded really stoned. "I think I scrambled my noggin."
"You remember who you are, don't you?"
Unfortunately? Ray decided to ignore that for the time being.
"The floor's sticky Benny, looked like you were losing blood on the way up... has the bleeding stopped yet?"
"It's slowed down. Nerriungnerk has been keeping it elevated."
"There's another person in here?"
"There's twelve other persons in here, besides the two of us. There are Dief, and the pups, and..."
"You mean the wolves? Benny, you're tripping. When I say person I mean humans."
"No need to be rude Ray. They have just let you into their home."
Ray found himself laughing, and realised that he couldn't stop. This was such a bizarrely Fraser type of conversation.
"So who's this Nerry... nerry whatever?" He wiped the tears off his face with the back of his hand, still laughing.
"Ah, I'm sorry. You'd better call her Hope."
"Hope?" His voice went high with humour, and his face was aching, he was smiling so hard. In the face of all reason, he'd found Benny, and Benny was alive, and lecturing him about the importance of courtesy when meeting a wolf. God, he loved that man. "You're telling me the wolf's called Hope, and she's elevating your leg?"
"Yes Ray. She's been very considerate, but I imagine she's tiring of her duties by now."
"Okay..." Finally he was breathing more steadily, and the giggles had stopped. "Well, could you tell Hope that I need to get a look at your wound, and I can't see in the dark. So, could nobody bite my head off if I turn on a flashlight?"
"They won't bite your head off Ray. Might I suggest you turn the torch on inside your coat, then bring it out gradually so that the light doesn't shock them."
"I'll assume you know what you're talking about. They're your friends after all."
To Ray's relief the ruse worked. Within a few moments the inside of the den was bright enough to see by. Don't get freaked out by the wolves, Ray told himself, looking around the chamber. They're just like bigger versions of Dief, that's all. Well, apart from...
Up close he looked more like a lion than a dog. The torch slipped in Ray's grasp for a moment, causing wolf shadows to dance crazily around the chamber. Breathe...
The wolf gazed at him, his mild eyes bellying his obvious size and strength. It would appear that Ray had just met the master of the house.
Okay... Okay... Breathe.
Still shaking he crawled the rest of the way to Fraser. That was one hell of a lump on his head, and not surprisingly his friend looked pale, but there was still a Benny smile. Ray nearly kissed him.
"So," Ray said, trying to make a joke, "what do I call the wolf king over there? Aslan?"
"That's a good name for him Ray, thank you kindly. I'm sure he'll be flattered."
Ray took another good look round the den, the cop in him checking for points of entry and exit, any obvious threats...
Only one entry and exit, the cave mouth. Threats, three adult wolves, including the giant. Non threats, Dief, and a heap of wriggling puppies.
They weren't getting out of here unless the wolves allowed it.
"Hey," Ray suddenly realised someone was missing. "Eric, get in here already!"
A voice came from outside the cave. "I'm not sure that's wise."
"No, it's not, but they've not eaten me or Fraser, and you're some kind of shaman or something, so you'll be all right."
There was an edge of irritation rather than fear as Eric answered. "Don't you know anything? Wolves don't like Raven. They seem happy enough letting me sit at the gate, but it would just insult them if I came in."
"Whatever... but I expect you to help me get Fraser home."
"That's fine, but I'm still not going in."
Who'd a thunk it, Ray shook his head. Fools rush in where Ravens fear to tread.
"Shit, crap, hell, fu..."
"Shut up already! We need to think."
"The bastard took the plane! How the hell are we gonna get home?"
"That's not the real problem, we can get home all right, just it will take us longer. All we have to do is radio for help and hang on a few days."
"Yeah..." Simmons seemed like he was beginning to calm down, though he was still pacing up and down like a madman. "You're right, he left us the radio."
"No, the real problem is this... why did the bastard leave? What do you think he's gonna say when he gets home?"
"You think he might tell people what we've been doing?"
"I don't know. I didn't think he had the guts for it, I mean he'll go down for his part in it if it comes out. But maybe he's got more guts than we thought... after all, I didn't expect him to steal the plane either."
"I hope he crashes." Simmons thumped the wall.
"Well, if wishes were horses we'd be home already, with nice fat pay cheques for our part in this. But they aren't, so we don't."
"So what the hell are we gonna do?"
Mullen looked at Simmons and scowled. Truth was, he couldn't think of anything. "Maybe he just ran away because he's scared."
"Yeah, yeah... that's it. He won't tell." Simmons continued to pace, trying and failing to calm himself down.
Mullen didn't pace. He leaned his chin on his fist, and thought, grimly.
He had to come up with a plan...
There had to be something. They needed to cover their tracks. There was always something... There had to be a way.
Ray felt gently along Fraser's leg, stopping when he came to a treacly thickness. Blood. Carefully he took his knife, and propping the torch under his chin started to cut the caribou hide of Fraser's pants, exposing the area just above the patient's knee. Thank God he'd taken the first aid kit...
"Hey, it's not that bad." Relief flooded through Ray. He had been expecting much worse. "The bullet just went clear through... tore some, probably when you were being dragged up. It'll need stitches though, or you'll just start bleeding again as soon as we move you, and you've lost enough blood already."
"Or I could just lie here."
"I don't think that's an option Fraser, I mean your hosts have been very accommodating, but you're not a wolf."
"No, I suppose I'm not."
"Awh Jeez, Hope... don't do that!" The wolf had turned her head, and started to lick the wound. "Now I know where you get it from."
"It's okay Ray," Fraser pulled a face against the sting. "Wolves have a high concentration of acid in their spittle, as do dogs. Some cultures consider canine spit to be a disinfectant."
"Well, I consider it to be disgusting, you're gonna get germs."
"Perhaps, but not from Hope."
"Look, you're gonna have to get this wound properly cleaned at some point."
"I imagine so. But in the meantime, Hope's doing the best she can."
"Yeah, well..." Ray laughed, high pitched and anxious, " good girl Hope."
"She thanks you kindly."
"Aren't you even a little freaked out by this?"
"No, not really. I've concluded that I've completely lost my mind, and it's rather a liberating experience."
"Right, that makes sense... Okay, Frase... brace yourself, I'm gonna have to start stitching."
For all that he respected Hope's intentions, Ray slopped iodine liberally over the leg, wincing in sympathy as he cleaned the wound. "Okay... here we go Frase, I'll be as quick as I can."
Fraser only realised he was biting his tongue when the taste of metal filled his mouth. He took a sharp breath, and relaxed his jaw, as far as he was able.
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry..." Ray's head was crooked sideways as he held the torch steady between his chin and shoulder.
"There's no need to apologise Ray, it's quite all right, it doesn't hurt that much."
"I thought you didn't lie?"
Fraser said nothing.
"Okay, you're all bindle stitched up," Ray said, "now I'm just going to bind the wound as tight as we can, and then, if your friends here don't mind, we're gonna get you out of here, and carry you back to the island."
"I don't think that I'll be able to walk through the snow without it tearing again."
"We're not complete idiots, we bought stuff with us that we can make into a sling. It won't be a bed at the Hilton, but you should be comfortable enough."
"Thank you Ray. You seem to have thought of everything."
"And you're to stay in the sling, whatever happens. We're gonna strap you to it, so just accept it, okay? I don't want all my beautiful embroidery to go to waste, you understand?
"Okay... so tell your wolf friends that we're coming out of here, okay?"
There was a tired pause from Fraser, then he started talking in tongues.
Ray paused, uncomfortably, then had to ask it. "They don't actually speak Inuktitut do they?"
"No, Ray. They're wolves. They don't use human languages."
"So why talk to them in Inuktitut?"
"It just seems the thing to do under these circumstances."
"You do know that you're completely certifiable, don't you?"
"Yes Ray, I'm aware of that fact."
Ray sighed, and gave his friend a brief pat on the head before starting to bind up his wound. Eventually he was as satisfied as he was going to get.
"Oy, you, Raven boy," he called to the outside world. "Get the stretcher ready, we're coming out."
"Finally," Eric called back. "I was beginning to think you'd been eaten or something."
"Nah, they're not that hungry. Skinny Italian Americans are really bad for your diet, a minute on the lips, a lifetime on the hips."
Eric laughed, "Probably high in fibre though."
Ray popped the torch into his mouth, slid one hand underneath Fraser, the other across his back, and slung him over his shoulder. Fraser grunted, and Hope growled. Hey, he thought, I'm doing the best I can Hope, don't bite my head off. And when exactly had he become so flippant about being growled at by a wolf?
"Dief," Fraser called, "say goodbye to our friends, we're going now."
Dief bounced, bowed to Aslan, sniffed noses with Hope, and ignored the elderly male lazing by the wall. The pups yipped and scrabbled after him. Hope casually batted them, sending them bouncing and scurrying over themselves. As she rolled over and displayed her belly to them Ray found himself smiling around the torch. The pups excitedly turned their attention from Dief to the promise of lunch, and started climbing over each other in their eagerness to get to the milk counter first.
Ma Hope, he thought fondly, keeping the troops in order.
As he stepped out of the den he realised a strange thing. He was actually sorry that he would never see these wolves again.
Tatkret was the youngest, with the sharpest eyes, and she was the first to see their quarry. She didn't speak, she hissed, and pointed.
Her uncle, Agloolik, stopped in his tracks, and stared, then started to laugh. "They're coming our way... two men walking, one man down, but alive... and the wolf." He turned and grinned openly at the little troop. "They actually survived."
It didn't seem so hard now for them to run. Tatkret was laughing as she ran.
Eric was at the head of the stretcher, following Dief. He looked at the little wolf, and raised an eyebrow. "Do you know what they're singing about," he asked in Inuktitut. The wolf looked over his shoulder with a cheerfully lolling tongue. "Ah, of course, you're deaf." He rolled his eyes. If Benny and his mad friend didn't stop singing he was going to envy the wolf his disability.
Ahead of them he saw a hunting party. He recognised the leader of the group, and called out a cheerful 'halloo.'
Nothing like as cheerful as the voices behind him.
"I can't get offa my horse cause some dirty dawg put glue in my saddle..."
The boat was relatively spacious, they couldn't all fit in it, so Ray and Fraser went first with Eric and Agloolik. Fraser had faded in and out of sleep for the last few miles, but was a healthy colour, and breathing peacefully. He lay with his head across Ray's lap, and before Ray knew it he was sleeping too, curled protectively around his friend, nestled in the crook of the moose hide boat.
Once they arrived at the island, however, sleep became impossible. Ray woke with a start to the unexpected noise, and sat up, pulling a face as his aching back complained. Fraser was blinking, puzzled at the sky. The first to arrive at the scene were the children, running and jumping down the slope to the shore, reminding Ray for all the world of happy wolfish pups scrambling towards their mother.
They were being cheered... shouts of acclamation. As Eric and Agloolik lifted the stretcher out of the boat they were surrounded by a milling group of smiling Inuit, reaching out and grabbing Fraser's hand, touching his face, patting his hair, talking unintelligibly, but all obviously delighted to see them.
Fraser's bewilderment seemed to be growing by the second. He looked at Ray with alarm in his eyes, and Ray jumped out of the boat and pushed his way through the joyful tribe members, trying to stop his friend from being swamped.
"Move it along, move it along you guys, let the man breathe." His inner policeman attempted to clear the scene, with less than complete success. People moved back, but only marginally, and he found himself suddenly bewildered by quite how many people were hugging him... and what the hell, was that woman kissing him? This didn't happen to him, beautiful women didn't jump out of left field and kiss him for no reason... He was so shocked he didn't even kiss her back. The right side of his face was burning where her lips had touched, and he was now as confused as Fraser looked.
Into the noise came a commanding voice addressing them in Inuit, and people stepped back enough that the small group of intrepid survivors could progress to the village. Peter stepped forward, taking Ray by the upper arm and leading him on. "Well done," he said in English, grinning as though his face would split. "Well done, very well done."
Pakak stood apart from the celebration, his heart hurting. Even before they landed he knew the hunting party had succeeded. Chulyin was standing at the prow of the ship and had triumph written all over him. Pakak had wanted to greet them, wanted to be swept away in the rush of celebration, but the shame at what he'd done oozed all over him, spoiling everything.
When he realised that somebody had to ferry the boat across to pick up the rest of the party he was the only volunteer... everybody else wanted to join in the fun in the village. So he stepped into the boat, and made his solitary way across the cold, and turned his back on all that joy.
He didn't think that he would ever be happy again.
Mullen packed light. He didn't intend that they spend much time on the island, but by God he was going to make it count. He had the night to prepare in, come morning they would be ferried across that dangerous water, and then... well, then they'd all see. That idiot Brown might have taken the photographs, might have taken their ammo, but he had left the negatives. One last thing to do, before he radioed the village for a boat.
Hands stinking from the chemical bath, he examined each photo in minute detail. He'd had to develop them in black and white, but it only served to make the images more damning. Part of the man's face was visible in several of them, eyes wide open, pools of stark darkness. The great white wolf clearly had him by the throat, and the smaller wolf was tearing on his shoulder. Laying the photos out progressively it was obvious that they were dragging the carcass to their lair. He smiled. The grizzly trail drizzling across the snow looked all the more bloody for being jet black, not red.
I could get a Pulitzer for this, he thought... then remembered the prize was only available to Americans. Whatever... these pictures would end up on the front page of newspapers all over the world.
He picked four of them, in chronological order. The huge wolf rushing towards the fallen body while the little wolf stood bare toothed over it, another image, a confusion of lupine head and claw, the man's face obscured, and then the final two photos, him staring into the distance as he was dragged away.
Blown up as large as he could get them, crystal sharp, if these things didn't scare the bloody Eskimos back into panic, then nothing would.
"We had a message," Peter said, "our friends from Wolf Mining Company are requesting transport to address the council tomorrow. They say they have new information which we need to see."
"Yeah?" Ray curled his lip in a sneer. "Manufactured evidence. The bastards shot Fraser, bet you any money they killed your friends."
"Yes... we have realised that. But..." Peter smiled, "why not let them come over anyway? It should make it easier to arrest them."
Ray laughed. "Yeah... of course. It's not like they're going to run away is it?"
"And there will be a whole tribe sitting between them and escape. I say we let them come, let them drop their guard, and then..."
"And then we just sit on them till the Mounties get here."
Ray sat back in the creaking chair, hands curled around a mug of hot something that had been thrust into his hands by the lady who'd kissed him. She was in the kitchen now, chopping and stirring. The tribe was planning on celebrating tonight, and he had no idea what that entailed... but he was looking forward to it. And knowing that those guys from Wolf Mining were walking into an ambush tomorrow just added to the general festiveness of the conversation.
He turned, and asked Fraser, "so, what do you think?"
Fraser had made it out of the stretcher as far as the sofa, where he lay listening, contributing little to the conversation, but obviously happy to be there. He didn't respond to Ray's question.
"Hey, Benny... you awake?"
No, closer inspection revealed that Fraser was out cold again. Well, he seemed comfortable enough. Ray sighed regretfully. "Awh, buddy... you're gonna miss the party." Fraser pulled a face and mumbled in his sleep.
He is a wolf again, running across the white, with a human shadow racing at his feet. He comes again to the spirit, the great Amarak. His shadow drops to his knees, and his wolf self dips in a bow. Amarak, more massive and older than mountains, sterner and stronger than ice, declines his head towards him, and sniffs. His breath is warm, and his eyes are golden, and each tooth is bigger than a man.
The little manwolf waits, and is observed, and feels the weight of that great gaze shift.
When he finally dares to look up his heart gladdens at the sight. There is love in those giant sun flecked eyes.
Fraser woke up gradually. In the distance he heard drums, voices twining in the dark. Laughter, and footfalls made soft by distance. Dancing and song. He shifted to make himself more comfortable, and saw the boy sitting on the floor.
Pakak was staring at him, with a hunted expression on his face.
"Hey there." Fraser rubbed his eyes groggily, and pulled himself up into a sitting position. His injured leg groaned, but already it was feeling better. He looked at the young man and frowned. "I thought you'd be at the celebration?"
"You're the guest of honour, you should be there."
Fraser smiled regretfully. "I don't feel much like dancing," he said, tapping his leg.
"Why? You didn't shoot me."
"Yeah but I... but I..." the boy pulled a face. "I did the other thing... the funeral thing."
"Ah," Fraser paused, wondering how to fix this. "You know, you don't have to keep apologising. We all do things we regret."
"I bet you never did anything like that."
"Well, there was an incident with a boomerang, a can of gas and a gold mine..." he paused. There was something he should remember... No, it was gone. He continued. "And it was so bad I ran away from home. I thought I could never show my face again." It wasn't quite the same kind of offence, he had in fact been trying to help people, but it was all he could think of to say to the boy. "Anyway... it doesn't matter. The point is, I did go home, and face up to the music, and things did get better. You know son, they always do."
"If you say so." Pakak sniffed. "I don't think I'd have done it if I hadn't been drunk."
Ah, Fraser thought again. That.
How could he explain 'that' to the boy?
"Some people," he said carefully, "some people do everything to excess. They can't help it. If you're going to do good, you'll do the very best you can, if you're going to go bad you'll go right off at the deep end. There's a line to be walked, and it's very hard. And if you're somebody who does everything to extremes, then alcohol, well, it's fuel to the fire. Perhaps you're one of those people who needs to walk the line."
He sounded like a country and western song, but it seemed to work. Pakak pondered for a moment, and nodded. Fraser smiled.
"You know, I think you should go and join them. I can hear the music from here, it sounds like they're having a good time. It would be a shame for you to miss it. If you like, do it as a present for me."
"Okay," the boy said doubtfully.
"Besides, Tatkret was talking about you to her Uncle when we were on our way home. She was worried about you, thought you seemed a bit sad. I think she'd be glad to see you."
"Really?" The boy's glance darted upwards, hopefully.
"Go on. The music's sounding good. Go and face it, it will better than you think."
Pakak stood up, smiling now. Abruptly he crossed the room, bent over the sofa and hugged Fraser. "Thank you," he muttered in his ear. Then he swung out of the room at a run.
"Nicely done, son."
"Oh, hi Dad. How long have you been there?"
"Long enough to know that I did teach you something."
"What was that Dad?"
"That facing the music makes you a man."
"Yes," Fraser grinned fondly at the old ghost. "Yes, you did teach me that."
"Good boy. Now, get some sleep. Busy day tomorrow."
Fraser nodded, and shut his eyes. "Goodnight Dad."
The following day was indeed busy. Morning started with a full council, and even little children were there, sitting round the walls, sucking thumbs, drumming heels, shuffling on their bottoms to race across the floor. Their mothers hushed them, drew them back, cuddled and giggled with them, but for all the repressed activity there was an expectant hush as the tribe waited to find out exactly what had happened with the wolves.
Ray had been up all night, telling them his side of events, dancing like a maniac in an honest to goodness igloo. A week later, he was told, and it would have started to collapse in the spring thaw. And who knew those things could be so big... not to mention warm and sweaty inside? He'd had a very important spiritual experience with Akna, our lady of the kiss, but was now finally coming down from the excitement. He was getting a headache. How on earth did you get a hangover when you hadn't had a drink?
Eric spoke first. Everyone knew Ray's story, but when it came his turn he told it again. Finally all eyes turned to Fraser. He shifted on his chair, and thoughtfully rubbed his finger along his forehead before clearing his throat and beginning, in Inuktitut.
Ray had heard the whole story in fragments as they travelled back from the wolves' den, but nevertheless he found himself trying to listen along to the tale as Fraser weaved it now. He recognised the moment when Fraser was shot, because the audience started to shout and shake fists at an imaginary enemy, and he knew when the wolves came to the rescue, because a cheer rang around the room, and the children bounced up and down, some of them running on hands and knees pretending to be wolves. He knew the point at which he and Eric arrived, because people started thumping them on the back, and pumping their hands up and down. The moment when he crawled into the wolves' den was met by children miming the action, creeping four legged under the council table, before being shooed out by their amused elders. At one point Fraser pointed to his leg, his fingers miming a stitching motion. He shot a warm glance across at Ray, and again all eyes turned to him, smilingly. By the time the story was concluded Ray, who never previously thought of himself as a modest guy, found that his face was burning. Fraser had evidently really got into it, and told the story well. He wished that, like the children, he could hide under the table. He covered his face, and peered out between his fingers. Fraser looked across at him, with a surprisingly wicked grin, and winked.
"What the hell is that racket?" Mullen always tried to make nice with the Eskimos, but recent events had tried his patience. His true character was coming out, and he was self absorbed enough at this particular moment that he didn't even notice the looks that his guides were giving each other.
"I don't know," Simmons had decided to tag along, but was more sullen than usual, given the depth of his hangover. He had thrown up over the side of the boat, and Mullen had a flash of hallucinatory malice in which he imagined shoving the irritating bastard over. In fact, if it hadn't been for the witnesses he might have done just that.
"Do you know what all the noise is about," he asked the men walking on either side of him.
"The council is meeting," one of them replied. "The whole tribe is represented."
"Good, good..." Mullen gave a brief nod, encouraged. The more of these savages who saw the photos, the better.
Looking back on it later, he realised that he should have noticed that the group of men guiding them was unusually large, that they were armed, and that he and Simmons were surrounded on all sides, almost like prisoners...
He should have realised it, but he didn't.
He was still planning on how best to dramatise his presentation, how to milk their fear and maximise his advantage when they stepped into the council chamber.
If the place had been full of excitement and noise during the telling of the tale, it erupted into chaos when the men from the mining company walked in. For a moment they stood with blank expressions, not understanding... then Fraser stood up. Horror dawned on both their faces as they realised they'd been trapped.
"I am placing you under arrest for the murders of Ipiktok, Deniigi and Kakrayok, of the Amarak tribe, and the attempted murder of Constable Benton Fraser, of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police."
Nobody had ever stood and cheered when Ray made an arrest before. The noise was so loud that nothing could be heard for several minutes, during which time Fraser limped around the table to face the prisoners. Over the hubbub he began to read them the Canadian rights, and Ray realised that the lack of handcuffs was no problem... these guys couldn't get off the island by themselves, and they certainly weren't going to be running around the village, given how people felt about them. There was a moment when, despite the combined efforts of Ray, Fraser and Peter, it looked as though natural justice would prevail, but fortunately the photographs were discovered, and were passed from hand to hand providing a timely distraction. Matters calmed down sufficiently that the villains... "malfeasants" as Fraser called them, could be safely taken into more permanent custody.
Mullen spluttered and blustered for a while, trying to insist that the photos proved the wolves were violent predators. However, even he found it difficult to maintain this particular lie with the 'victim' of the wolf attack standing safe and sound before him, and telling quite a different story. He then demanded his "intellectual property," the pictures back, but Fraser coolly requested that the council keep them as evidence against the arrival of the RCMP.
In the aftermath of the arrest Ray discovered that he had been given a new name. Isitoq. He worried for a moment that it meant something like "he who is bald," or "he of the flat feet who dances like a clown." When he learned that it was the name of the god of justice he was speechless, for all of a minute. "Justice," he blurted, "ask anyone at the two seven, I'm a cranky cop with an attitude problem..." But people just smiled.
More good news followed. In the excitement of the council meeting nobody had thought to man the radio. When the radio was cranked up to ask for the assistance of the RCMP they were informed that the police were already on their way. Apparently Brown, the runaway pilot, had turned himself in, and made a full confession.
"It worked out well, didn't it?" Ray was sitting next to Benny on the steps outside Peter's cabin, with the dogs snuffling beneath the deck, watching the police arrive. The plane circled, then began its descent on the far shore, again to a ragged cheer from the children. You'd think their throats would be sore by now...
"Yes, it worked out very well." Benny suddenly stiffened, and sat upright.
"Your leg bothering you?" Ray looked at the injured limb, concerned.
"No... I just realised. We have motive."
Benny smiled, and put his hand in the pocket of his furs. "It completely slipped my mind in all the excitement. I found it in the wolves' den."
"Is that a..." the thing glistened and shone in the sun. It should have looked like ice, but the light shone through it differently. It was rough, its surface crinkled... but if it was polished, if it was cut...
"Wow," Ray stared. "That's a diamond."
"Benny, you're the only guy I know who could find a diamond, and then forget about it because it was so insignificant."
"Thank you Ray, that's very kind of you."
Ray laughed, and nudged his friend. "Hey, I just realised something too."
"What's that Ray?"
"They finally shot you in the other leg."
And all was well, and all was well, and all manner of things were well.
Pakak and Tatkret were walking hand in hand, smiling that young love smile.
The malfeasants were taken, much to their relief, into the safer custody of the RCMP.
The children had a new game, and took it in turns to be Fraser, Ray, or the wolves.
Eric accepted an honoury place as a tribal elder, even though Amarak wasn't his tribe.
The council contacted a lawyer to help them thrash out a land claim treaty, so that nobody would try to muscle them out of their homes again.
The elders took the diamond from Fraser, thanked him, and said it was between them and the wolves.
And finally, Fraser was bundled off by medical staff. Ray came over all Italian and didn't care what anyone thought as he pulled his friend into a long hug and kissed him on the cheek. Dief stood on his hind legs and gave his own doggy kisses as best he could to anyone who would take them, while the medics grumbled about the inadvisability of having him on the plane. Fraser withstood Ray's embrace valiantly, gave his best smile, and his best hug, rather stiff and formal, then bent his forehead so that it touched Ray's. "See you soon Ray," he said gently. The next moment he was walking backwards reluctantly, as the insistent medics steered him away.
Just as Fraser was being helped up the steps into the plane it hit Ray... he still hadn't told him about the FBI thing. He simply hadn't remembered.
"Fraser," he shouted, and started to run across the snow, "Fraser!"
Fraser paused at the door to the plane. "What Ray?"
"When you come back, if I'm there... I'll meet you, okay? I'll meet you at the train station..."
"Okay, thanks Ray..."
"But if I'm not there..."
The wind was getting up, and the engines were running, and the two medics were giving him filthy looks.
"If I'm not there..." his voice choked. He couldn't say it. How could he say all that needed to be said in less than a minute?
"Benny, just remember," he called out, "I'm your friend."
"I know Ray," Fraser was smiling.
"Always your friend, remember that."
"I'll remember. Friends."
The larger of the two medics put his arm around Fraser and pulled him inside.
Ray watched the plane shrink to a dot, and vanish.
Fraser's fingers were curled up to the window, tips touching it, his face pressed up to it, looking through the glass. Dief was snuggled with his head on his lap, and everything... everything was all right.
His father had said it, 'you don't need to be by yourself all the time.'
He looked down at his friend, and smiled. There he was, the man who had chased him from Chicago to the Arctic circle, who had climbed into a den of wolves for him.
He flattened his hands against the glass, as though he could reach through and touch him still, say thank you somehow, somehow explain it all, unpack his heart. If he could only find the words then Ray would understand.
The plane kept rising, and he kept watching. And now he could no longer see where Ray was standing in the snow, where he was waving, still waving. Swallowed up by distance and fallen out of sight.