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Due South: The Reaching Out One: part 4A

See part 1A for notes, warnings, etc.  Second-to-last part! 

The Road Back Home Again

The new fallen snow was light and loose, hard going for the dogs, so they had to go slowly and stop early. Fraser found that he didn’t really mind--they had sufficient supplies, especially given how considerably they’d been supplementing with wild fish and game, and he felt--irrationally--as though extending their time on the trail would extend his time with Ray. In reality, of course, Ray’s vacation would end when it ended, and delaying the end of their journey would simply shorten the time they had left in Deline at the end of it.

 

Four days after the storm, they reached Fence Narrows. “I don’t see any fences,” Ray pointed out when they had made camp and Fraser told him what the place was called. “Not even those little graveyard ones. Nothing narrow, either.”

“People used to build fences here every year, when the caribou came through. The fences would block the way so that the caribou had to pass through narrow places where the hunters were waiting for them,” Fraser answered. “They would harvest all the caribou they would need for the spring and summer in a few days.”

“Oh.” That made sense. And it was less freaky than the giant-skull mountain. Ray poked at the fire with a stick. “So what’s next?”

“Ah, Hottah Lake. After Hottah Lake, the Dene would follow the river to Great Bear Lake--the same lake where Deline is--and then travel over land to Fort Norman to trade.”

“Uh-huh.” Ray sniffed and ran a hand over the top of his hat. “What about us? Where do we go from here?”

“We, ah, we call and arrange for a plane to meet us at Hottah Lake and take us back to Deline.”

“That’s kind of what I figured.” He dug in the packs. “What do you want to eat? How about the beef stroganoff?”

“That sounds fine.”

Ray put some snow over the fire to melt. “So, I’ve kinda lost track of the dates. How much time do we have left?”

“It’s the fourteenth.” Ray was going back to Chicago on the 20th, and Fraser was due to report back at the detachment on the 21st. “Five days.”

“That’s, you know. That ain’t peanuts.” Ray’s tone belied his words. They both knew the vacation was coming to an end.

“We can stay here, or up by Hottah Lake, for a few more days. We have enough supplies if we’re careful.”

“Nah. We should probably, you know. Go back. I mean, there’s no point just sitting out here in the wilderness not going anywhere.”

Fraser nodded.

“We can, you know, hang out at your place. That’ll be cool.” Ray sounded as though he were trying to convince himself.

“Yes. We can….” He tried, without success, to think of something they could do in Deline. Other than have sex, which he hoped was a given. “Go to Fort Franklin.”

“Yeah, cool.” Ray tore open the packet of dehydrated beef stroganoff and emptied it into the pot of boiling water.

“I’ll call in the morning to arrange the pickup for the day after tomorrow.” Early morning tended to be the best time to reach a bush pilot. He almost wished, however, that he wouldn’t be able to contact the pilot, or that the pilot would be unable to pick them up right away.

It wasn’t, he knew, that he wanted to sit next to Hottah Lake with Ray for a few days while they waited for a flight. If he did, he could simply say so, and Ray would humor him. The problem was that he didn’t want Ray to leave, and a rebellious, irrational part of his mind insisted that if they didn’t go back to Deline, Ray wouldn’t be able to leave.

Which was arrant nonsense--if it were really necessary, the plane could take him directly from Hottah Lakes to Yellowknife, where he’d connect to Calgary, Edmonton, and--eventually--back to Chicago. What he wanted to halt was the passage of time, and that was--obviously--impossible. But the new intimacy of their relationship--delightful as it was--would make losing Ray again even more painful.

“Great.” Ray swallowed hard and gave the beef stroganoff a stir. “We might as well eat.”

They ate in near silence, neither of them showing much appetite.

“My cooking that bad?” Ray asked, trying for humor.

“No. Excellent as always. Just…you know.”

Ray nodded. “Yeah.” He scraped the tines of his fork against the tin plate. “You know I, uh, I have to go back. It’s not like I want to.”

“I know.” He wasn’t sure which, honestly, was harder to take--being left behind by someone who wanted to stay but had no choice, or by someone who simply didn’t choose to be with him. He had more than sufficient experience of both.

However--and this was key--Ray would be back. Next year, and the year after that, and on until he retired and came to stay. “It’s only forty-nine weeks until next time.”

“Less,” Ray pointed out. “We did it a little late this year.”

“True. Make it forty-six weeks, then.”

“No time at all.”

“It’ll come around again before we know it. Spring’s coming up, and the tourist season. That always just flies by.” The amount of trouble tourists could get themselves into was mind-boggling.

“Baseball season,” Ray added. “And then it’s Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, bing bang boom. Then we’ll start really putting together the plan for next year.”

“I could come down for a day or two. Over Christmas, or…something.” He’d made two short visits back to Chicago since moving back north. It was a rather grueling trip, and not entirely worth it when he was using the vast majority of his leave for the Quest, but it could be done.

“That’d be nice. We could…I dunno. Do stuff.” Ray shrugged. “And, you know, we’ll call and stuff.”

“Of course.”

They lapsed into silence, which was broken by a strange sound. Something like a bird call, if somehow the calls of a pileated woodpecker and a thrush were combined--

“Fraser, it’s the phone,” Ray told him.

“Oh. Very right.” Of course it was. He still wasn’t used to the idea of having satellite phone service this far from town.

The phone had migrated to the bottom of one of the packs, below the first aid kit and extra ammunition. It rang dozens of times before he was able to get it out and answer. “Fraser.”

It was O’Donnell, calling him about a missing person’s case back in town. Billy Ledreaux, 89 years old and quite sick, had gone out on the land and left his oxygen tank behind. O’Donnell didn’t ask him to come back early, but it was clear that she was feeling out of her depth.

He gave her some advice on organizing a search, while he considered what he’d do next. Billy had been suffering from shortness of breath and dizzy spells for several months--even though he hadn’t know what was wrong, he’d been too sick to go out fishing or hunting for months. Why had he gone now? Someone might know--maybe one of the other elders, or Billy’s teenage grandson. But O’Donnell would have a hard time getting anyone to confide in her, or even knowing how to ask.

He’d have to go back. If there was a chance his assistance with the search might make a difference between finding Billy alive or not--and there plainly was--there was no decision to make. He instructed O’Donnell to have a plane meet them at Hottah Lake, and hung up with a sigh.

Now for the hard part--he had to tell Ray that some of their precious remaining time would be spent on a rescue mission. Returning to the fireside, he said, “There’s been a slight change of plans.”

“I heard part of it,” Ray said. “I guess we’re heading back early?” His easy words were at odds with his expression of disappointment.

“A little early. I hope you don’t mind.” He sat down next to Ray.

Ray took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Doesn’t sound like we have much of a choice.”

Fraser was reminded, again, of why he loved this man. “No,” he agreed. “As much as I regret the timing, we can’t really expect Billy to wait until my vacation has ended to be found.”

Ray shrugged. “It’ll give us something to do other than mope, anyway. The missing person is an old guy?”

“Yes--old, and not in the best of health. He was diagnosed with lung cancer a few weeks ago. His children are urging him to go to Yellowknife for treatment, but the doctors have admitted that the required course of treatment is quite aggressive, and he might not survive it. He’s indicated that he doesn’t want to die in the city, so it’s been a source of…friction.”

“A family thing, huh? How sick is he?”

“As recently as last summer, he regularly went out on the land to hunt and fish--he used to frequently bring matters like poaching and illegal dumping to my attention--but he’s been staying close to home for the last few months.” Like a lot of the Dene elders, Billy Ledreaux had been as tough as old leather--they shrank, they slowed down, but they kept going. The last time Fraser recalled seeing him, sitting near the stove at the co-op, he’d looked more like a blown egg. Fragile. “I believe he’s quite ill now. He certainly has the skills and knowledge to live off the land in nearly any conditions, but perhaps not the physical capacity.”

“So why’d he go out now, if he knows he’s too sick? Is he--?” Ray circled an index finger next to his temple.

“No, mentally he’s still very alert--unless that’s changed in the last few weeks. But for the Dene, going out on the land can be more of a mental and spiritual quest than a simple camping trip. He may have felt that he needed to go out on the land in order to make a decision about whether to go to Yellowknife for treatment.”

“Mental and spiritual quest, huh? Kind of like us.”

Fraser shrugged. “I’m not sure that the Dene would characterize any activity undertaken by white people as ‘going out on the land.’ It requires a sense of connection to place that can only be acquired over a lifetime. But yes. In any case, if that’s what Billy Ledreaux has done, he’ll take all reasonable precautions for his safety, but he’ll be heading for a remote location, perhaps one that’s known only to him. On the other hand, if he’s attempting to demonstrate to his family--and perhaps to himself--that he’s still a capable hunter and not an invalid, he’ll go to hunting locations where he expects to be successful, which will make his movements slightly more predictable. On a third hand, well…he might be thinking that his family will evacuate him to Yellowknife when he becomes too sick to protest, and on some level he may have gone out onto the land to die. In that case, he will be very hard to find indeed.”

Ray shifted his weight. “So we ought to see if he talked to anyone before he went, about why he was going. His friends, maybe.”

“Yes. Yes, and the other elders will be unlikely to divulge such information to Constable O’Donnell. It would be considered a private matter, and she’s a stranger.”

“Will they tell you?”

“Maybe. After ten years here, I’m considered less of an outsider than she is, and it’s generally known that I respect the local traditions. If they believe he doesn’t want to be found, however, they’ll be of little help.”

“So if they stonewall you, that’s some kind of an answer right there.”

Fraser nodded. “Or it may be an indication that they simply don’t know.”

“Well. I guess tomorrow’s going to be an early start and a long day.”

“Yes, the best thing we can do now is get some rest,” Fraser agreed. It was frustrating to know that a man was in danger and not be able to do anything more active to help, but he knew staying up worrying would only make him less effective tomorrow.

#

 

“Hup, hup, hup!” Fraser called to the dogs, encouraging them to jump into the hold of the bush plane that would take them back to Deline. He’d probably feel guilty if Ray mentioned it--a person’s life was in danger--but Fraser had cheered up considerably after hearing that he was needed back in town.

Ray was reminded of one of Fraser’s dad’s crazy sayings--not the one about tying your wallet to your underwear (which took on a slightly surreal air when he learned that Mounties tied their guns to their lanyards--he imagined Fraser’s dad walking around with all his valuables tied to various parts of his body and clothing)--but the one about how “duty is a passion.” Personally, he thought that duty made a piss-poor substitute for passion--and having an actual passion for a change had reminded him just what a lousy substitute it was--but there was no missing that Fraser cared a lot about his town and his job. An emergency was just the thing to make him feel better when he was missing Dief and Ray.

Once the dogs were loaded into their crates (stacked two high, three in the middle where there was room), they threw the rest of the gear on board and climbed in behind it. “How’s the search going?” Fraser asked the pilot.

He shrugged. “They started at sunup, had about thirty five, forty people go out. Pete’s flying a search pattern, but Chuckie’s stuck doing supply runs. I made some sweeps on my way here, but everyone agrees Billy probably went north or east. Didn’t see any sign of him, anyway.”

Fraser nodded and said, “Probably right, unless he went to Grizzly Mountain, which is rather far for a man of his years.”

“Yeah, that was one of the spots I checked. Ready to go?”

After the pilot started up the plane, it was too loud to talk without shouting. One of the dogs whined for twenty solid minutes, the high, anxious sound cutting over and under the roar of the engines. Probably Kit--she never like flying. She’d be fine as soon as they landed--she always was--but Ray was reminded of the anxious, keening sounds Fraser had made the night he called about Dief.

That had been a rough night. Fraser was suffering, and there was nothing Ray could do, hundreds of miles and four plane flights away. They were partners, and you didn’t leave your partner alone when he was in trouble.

This long distance thing just sucked. It had sucked when they were partners, and it was going to suck even more now that they were--what? Boyfriends, except a boyfriend sounded like something Frannie would have. What did they call it when you got your same-sex…whatever…on your health insurance, like being married? They had it for Chicago city employees now, it was in the paper….

Domestic partnership. Right. He thumped his head against the plexiglass window. So they were partners, and now they were partners still, again, more, but not the domestic part, because domestic meant you lived together, and they didn’t. Yet, anyway.

It had just about killed him when Stella went down to Urbana-Champaign for college, and that was only a couple of hours’ drive. He was older now, and slightly more patient…but he was also a hell of a lot more aware of what could go wrong when you spent 49 weeks a year away from the person in the world you cared most about. They both had dangerous lives.

And Fraser seemed vulnerable in a way he hadn’t been before. Physically, sure--Dief had been the best backup imaginable without opposable thumbs--but emotionally, too. Fraser was good at putting aside his feelings and moving on--maybe not an approach the therapy crowd would approve of, but it worked for him. Ray knew he was disappointed, for instance, when his relationship with his long-lost sister never got particularly close. Fraser had hoped for the kind of intimacy that came from years of memories of fighting in the backseat on long car trips, going to the same schools and having the same teachers, eating the same family dinners. Maggie was, basically, a stranger who shared half his DNA. Either one of them would give the other a kidney if they needed it, but they had trouble staying in touch.

Anyway, that had happened, and Fraser was sad about it, but he was basically fine.

Same way with difficult cases. There had been a few that hit Fraser hard. The suicide of a teenager he’d been trying to help had knocked him for a loop, and he had to deal with a lot of domestics--which were shitty enough when it was some scared woman you’d never see again, but worse when you had to bump into her around town and see the fresh bruises and know nothing had gotten any better. But Fraser was a rock--all that bad stuff swept over him like a glacier, and after it passed, he was still there.

But this thing with Dief…well, it had fucked him up bad. What had he said back at the diner, the day Ray got there? I have nothing I can afford to lose. Maybe it was like that wacky duet he had going on with Dief had been the solid center, the weight that let him be knocked down over and over and bounce back again every time, like one of those inflatable punching bags for kids.

He wasn’t bouncing back as fast as he used to himself, either. After a day on the job, he usually went back to his apartment and sat on the couch with a beer until it was time to go to bed. His new partner suggested they go out for a beer, he’d make up excuses not to go. Cases got hard, instead of digging in like a terrier and shaking until something fell out, he’d think why not just let this one go?

Hearing himself think that scared the shit out of him, so he’d always dig back in and pursue it, but he didn’t feel driven. There was no zing. And a Kowalski without zing was like a Fraser without duty.

So he was leaving Fraser up here alone--which Fraser had basically told him he didn’t think he could hack--to go back to a life that basically kind of sucked.

Yup, that was about the size of it.

He decided to stop thinking and look at the scenery. Look, there was some snow! And trees! And…more snow!

When the plane landed, Fraser jumped out running. “I should get to the detachment as quickly as possible. You can hitch up the dogs and drive them to town.” There was the slightest hint of a question in his tone.

He knew the question wasn’t just--wasn’t even mostly--about whether he could drive the dogs by himself. They were going back from being two guys who gave each other mind-blowing orgasms and fell asleep tangled up like puppies to partners again, the cop kind of partners. Two guys with a job to do. And Fraser was maybe wondering if he was okay with that--which he totally was. Loving Fraser to sleep with him was new, but he’d loved Fraser to work with him for years. “Yeah, I can do that. I’ll meet you there.”

Fraser nodded, thumped his shoulder, and ran over to the RCMP truck.

Ray helped the pilot unload their gear, dumping some of it inside the airport building to pick up later. They’d left the dogs in harness when they loaded them into the plane, which made hitching considerably easier--all Ray had to do was remember which dog went where. That was a little trickier than it seemed, since the order of the team changed from year to year, and even slightly from day to day. The two wheel-dogs were easy to pick out, since they were heftier than the rest of the team, and he easily recognized the lead dogs, but the eight in the middle were kind of a jumble. He had to make a few guesses, but it would probably be fine--it wasn’t very far to town, and it was a straight shot.

After hitching up he had to take the crates inside, and then he was ready to go. Standing on the back of the sled, he shouted, “Hike!”

One of the wheel dogs turned to look back at him, and yawned.

“Hike!” He tried again.

The dogs shook themselves and started off. Slowly. The sled was making a strange noise, too, like the sled had a flat tire and he was riding on the rim. Which was impossible, since sleds didn’t have tires.

The pilot, who was walking around the plane doing a post-flight check, called out to him, “You might want to take the brake off!”

Oh. Yeah. “Thanks!” He smacked the back of his head with a gloved hand--Jeeze, distracted much?--and kicked at the lever to disengage the brake. “Hike!”

This time, the dogs set off. Shortly after the airport disappeared from sight behind him, the town buildings came into view up ahead. Once they got into town, the dogs slowed and started looking around, distracted by the cars, the houses, the people. Every few seconds he had to shout, “On by! On by! Hike!”

When they got to the detachment, he hopped off the sled and walked the dogs around back. He knew that if they were going right back out--which they probably were--it would be by snowmobile, so he took everybody out of harness and put down food and water. The dogs nosed their way around their runs, making sure everything was the way they’d left it, bolted down their food, and curled up to sleep.

He went back around to the front of the building and went inside. The detachment was busier than he’d ever seen it--two women and a guy, all strangers to him, were sitting around Connie’s desk, and Fraser was bent over a large map with Connie herself. He looked up when Ray entered. “Just a moment, and I’ll help you put the dogs up.”

“Already done,” Ray answered, knocking the snow off his boots and going over. “What are we looking at?”

Fraser went over the map with him. A big circle indicated the maximum distance Ledreaux could have covered, and a few little lines in highlighter showed the territory the search teams had covered--only a fraction of the area inside the circle--a very small fraction, not one of the good ones like 7/8ths. “Jeeze.”

Fraser nodded. “I think talking to Billy’s friends--and perhaps Jeremiah Ledreaux, was well--is the most productive use of our time. There’s already considerable manpower out in the field.”

That made sense. Adding two more guys to the ones that were looking for a needle in a haystack wasn’t going to have a big impact on the chances of finding it. Getting some inside info on which part of the haystack the needle liked best would help more.

Fraser added, “With the amount of tree cover here, the air search isn’t making much progress. We’re having some thermal imaging equipment brought in from Yellowknife, which will help considerably, but it won’t arrive until late afternoon.”

So they wouldn’t be able to use it much before tomorrow, by which point the old guy would have been out in the cold for two nights. Not good.

On the other hand, they’d just been out in the cold for two weeks, and this guy had lived here all his life. He could still be okay--it wasn’t like he was some confused old person who’d wandered away from the old age home in a bathrobe.

“Nearly everyone is at the Ledreaux home, so we’ll go there.” Fraser zipped up his parka and pulled on his gloves. “Connie, let me know if anything develops.”

“I will.”

They hopped in the truck and drove toward the lake. “Could you…Ray, could you try talking with Jeremiah--Billy’s grandson?” Fraser asked. “He has a certain…distrust of authority figures that might make him more willing to confide in someone with no official standing. I’ll be more effective with the old men, since they know me, but teenagers are sometimes more forthcoming with strangers.”

“Sure,” Ray said. He was glad Fraser didn’t expect him to stand around with his dick in his hand while Fraser worked.

That conversation took them the whole way to the Ledreaux place--nothing was very far from anything else in Deline. The Ledreaux house was a trailer with a couple of extra rooms built on--a lot of houses in Deline were like that. Fraser knocked and went right in. Nobody seemed surprised to see Fraser--it was a police kind of knock.

An older lady came up to him and said something in the local lingo. Fraser answered the same way--he’d picked up some of the language, naturally. “Ray, Louise might know where to find Jeremiah.” He tilted his head toward a woman about their age, standing at the sink washing dishes.

When he spoke to her, she turned quickly, wiping her eyes with the corner of the dishtowel. “Do you want something to eat? There are sandwiches.” Without waiting for an answer, she went to the refrigerator and took out a plate of sandwiches.

Ray wasn’t particularly hungry, but it occurred to him that bringing food might be a good way to break the ice with the kid. He took a couple sandwiches in a paper towel and asked where he could find Jeremiah.

“He’s in the garage. Here, take him some of these. He hasn’t eaten.” She gave him more sandwiches.

“Thanks.”

It was only a few yards to the garage, but his hands almost froze--he couldn’t put his gloves on, since he had his hands full of sandwiches. Inside the garage it was a little warmer, and a lot noisier. Jeremiah had the stereo blasting and was under the hood of a pickup that looked older than he was. When Ray let the door bang shut behind him, he looked up for a second, then back down at the engine.

“Hi. I’m Ray Kowalski.”

“I know who you are. The one who goes out on the land with Sergeant Fraser.”

Ray thought about telling him Fraser said white guys didn’t go out on the land, but didn’t. Maybe Fraser was some kind of an exception. “Yeah.”

Ray put the sandwiches down on the bumper. “Your--I guess she’s your aunt--asked me to bring you these. Sandwiches. I’m not sure what kind they are, but they’re not bad.”

The kid rubbed his hand against his jeans and took one. “Caribou bologna,” he said after taking a bite. “We put it up last spring.”

Ray nodded. “You’re gapping plugs?”

“Yeah.”

He picked up a plug and the gap gauge, and when the kid didn’t tell him to fuck off, figured he was halfway in. “Looks like you’re running kind of rich.”

“Yeah. I’ve been playing with the timing, but I’m still getting black exhaust.”

“You have a fuel pressure test kit?”

“No.”

“How about a tire gauge?”

Jeremiah got one, and Ray showed him how to check fuel pressure with a tire gauge, a length of spare tubing, and some hose clamps.

After they’d worked for a while, he said, “You worried about your granddad?”

“He can take care of himself.”

“Yeah. Okay, start ‘er up, let’s see what we’ve got.” There was a small chance that the improvised fuel-pressure tester would melt or explode, so he figured putting the kid safely inside the truck cab was the responsible thing to do.

Fortunately, it didn’t take long to get a reading. “Okay, shut her off. Pressure’s a little high,” he said as Jeremiah got out of the cab. “I guess putting in a new carburetor isn’t something you want to do if you can avoid it.”

“Yeah.”

“Let’s try flushing out the return fuel line.”

They got started on that, and after a while Jeremiah said, “Etseh’s fine. Everybody should just leave him alone. He can make his own decision.”

Ray nodded and handed him a wrench. “Your Gran’s worried, though.”

“She doesn’t know about man’s things.”

“Hm.” A few minutes later, Ray said, “He’s out doing guy stuff? Like what, hunting?”

“I’m not telling you where he is. Even if I knew, I mean. You just want to drag him back so they--the women--can make him go to Yellowknife.”

Ray was pretty sure he did know, or at least had some idea. “Nah. Fraser just wants to check on him. If he’s fine, he’ll say ‘sorry for bothering you’ and leave ‘im alone. Maybe your gran and aunts won’t like it if he does, but Fraser doesn’t care about that.”

“He’s fine,” Jeremiah said. “Why wouldn’t he be?”

“I heard he was pretty sick.”

“He feels okay now. Sick people can get better.”

Not people with lung cancer, Ray thought. “He felt okay yesterday. What about today?”

The kid shrugged. “I’m sure he’s still fine.”

“Did he take his oxygen tank with him?” Ray asked, even though he knew the answer.

“He doesn’t need it. There’s oxygen everywhere.”

Ray drummed his fingers against the side of the truck. “You know what happens to an engine if the throttle plate isn’t letting enough oxygen in?”

Jeremiah gave him a look that said I’ve seen subtle, and subtle you ain’t, buddy. “Hand me that hose clamp.”

Ray handed it to him.

“If they find him and bring him back, Mom and Etsi and everyone’ll say it proves he needs to go to Yellowknife so the doctors can take care of him. He can take care of himself,” Jeremiah said, keeping his eyes on the work he was doing.

“They can’t make him go, unless a judge says he’s mentally incompetent. Which we know he isn’t. Fraser won’t let him be forced into something he doesn’t want.”

“You don’t know my aunts.”

“Can they put out a hit on him? Have a bunch of armed goons beat the crap out of him in an alley?” Ray asked rhetorically. “Have you ever heard the story about Fraser, the busboy, and the mob boss?”

Jeremiah huffed. “No.”

“It happened when he was in Chicago--well, obviously. I guess you don’t have mob bosses up here.”

“Not many.”

So Ray told him about the Warfield thing, and what had happened when Fraser just wouldn’t back down. Ray hoped it didn’t occur to Jeremiah to ask just what would happen if Fraser agreed that Ledeaux would be better off in Yellowknife. “He figures your grandfather might need help. It turns out he doesn’t, like I said, he’ll leave him alone if that’s what he wants.”

“That is what he wants.”

“It might not be what he needs.” Ray wiped his hands on a rag. “He doesn’t want to die down in Yellowknife, right?”

“Right.”

“Why d’you figure that is?”

“Because this is his home. He belongs here.”

“Yeah. Here. Where his family is, right?”

Jeremiah nodded.

“Not all by himself down in Yellowknife. Or all by himself out on the land. Right?”

The kid fussed around putting tools away. It was almost inaudible when he finally said, “Right.”

#

“Fraser.” Ray put a hand on his shoulder and gave a little squeeze, but his tone was businesslike.

He nodded to the elder he was interviewing and looked over his shoulder at Ray. “Yes?”

“Need you to take a statement.”

Ray was practically bouncing with eagerness to be on their way as Fraser thanked the old men and said his good byes, but he knew that the minute necessary to satisfy courtesy would be worthwhile. Outside, Jeremiah Ledreaux was waiting by an old burn barrel. “He figures he knows where the old guy is. But listen, if he’s right, don’t let on to his mom and aunts that he knew and didn’t say,” Ray explained.

Fraser nodded. “Understood. I’ll take you to the detachment, and you can show us on the map.”

Jeremiah shook his head. “I don’t know it on the map. I can show you the way.”

Fraser caught Ray’s eye and tilted his head to one side. “Just a minute,” Ray said, and they moved a few steps away. “Yeah, I know, you think maybe he just wants to take us out and lead us around for a few hours so we can’t find the old guy, right?”

“It does seem possible.”

“He’s being straight with us. I convinced him we’re on the same side.”

Fraser hesitated. They’d established, years ago, that they couldn’t work together if they didn’t trust each other. He still trusted Ray--more than ever. “All right. Let’s go.”

“You’re not even going to fight me about going along?”

“No. We’ll have to find another snowmobile, though.”

After a brief period of unavoidable delay, they set out with two snowmobiles and enough gear to make a rudimentary camp if necessary, plus a bag of medical equipment pressed on them by the health station nurses.

Speeding along on the snowmobile, with Ray clinging to his back, was jarring but exhilarating. Even going at a cautious pace, the snow machine was about three times faster than a dogsled going full-out, and it was rather difficult to keep Jeremiah to a cautious pace. He often sped on ahead, only stopping to allow Fraser and Ray to catch up when they were almost out of sight.

After several hours, they passed through an area of soft snow, where a single set of snowmobile tracks were plainly visible. Jeremiah stopped next to them. “Look. I knew he’d come this way. We’re on the right track.”

“Good,” Fraser said, looking at the tracks. They wove back and forth even though there were no obstacles, and in many places the tracks left by the wide rear runners were deeper on one side than the other, suggesting that Ledreaux had been driving erratically.

Fraser met Ray’s eyes and then looked down at the tracks. Ray studied them for a moment, then nodded. He knew the significance of what he was seeing.

Jeremiah, however, seemed oblivious to the evidence. Fraser decided, after a moment, not to draw his attention to it. If the boy’s grandfather was in distress, he’d know soon enough. He reported back to the detachment that they’d found signs of Ledreaux’s trail, and they kept going.

After a few hundred metres, the snow firmed up and the tracks disappeared. Several kilometers further on, Fraser noticed a hole in the snow that looked as though something large had fallen and thrashed around. Quite likely a man on a snowmobile, although from the size of the crater, Fraser couldn’t absolutely rule out a moose. Jeremiah stopped by it for a moment, then continued without comment.

Over the next twenty kilometers or so, they saw evidence of several more falls. Fraser was relieved to see a bright red tent up ahead. They hadn’t traveled as far as Jeremiah had indicated they would have to, so it looked like Ledreaux had stopped before reaching his destination. But he’d been well enough to set up the tent, which was a very good sign. This time, when Jeremiah sped up, Fraser kept pace with him.

As they neared the tent, Ledreaux came out of the tent and stood in front of it, leaning on a walking stick--or, to be accurate, a figure to heavily wrapped in parka, hat, and scarf to be recognizable came out of the tent. But it was very probably Ledreaux--Jeremiah seemed to recognize the tent, among other evidence.

“Etseh!” Jeremiah called over the sound of the snowmobile engines. The figure raised a hand in greeting.

When they reached the tent and Fraser cut the snowmobile engine, Jeremiah was talking to Billy in the local dialect. Fraser, while far from fluent, was able to gather that Jeremiah was telling Billy about the village-wide search for his whereabouts. Jeremiah broke into English to tell Fraser, “But you can see he’s fine. We didn’t need to find him, right, Etseh?”

Billy looked at his grandson and then at Fraser. “I think that it’s time for me to go home,” he said slowly, stopping between words to breathe with a reedy, rasping sound.

Fraser nodded. “Yes. Ray, could you get the--”

“Right here.” Ray had already pulled the oxygen cylinder out of the medical kit. He helped Billy put the mask onto his face, while Jeremiah watched, looking sad and confused.

Fraser walked over to him, feeling that he ought to say something comforting yet profound, but all he could manage was a manly thump on the shoulder. It was almost a blessing that his own father had died in the line of duty, rather than growing old and weak. Dad would certainly have preferred a little more time, but then, he’d managed to get more time anyway, and without the inconvenience of an aging physical body. “Let’s, ah, pack up his gear,” he said to Jeremiah.

They struck Billy’s camp, taking down the tent and lashing the gear to the wooden sledge hitched to the back of his snowmobile. When they finished, Billy moved slowly over to them, and handed Jeremiah the keys to his machine. “You drive my snow machine home,” he said.

Jeremiah tried to push the keys back into his hand. “It’s your machine.”

“I’m an old man. A sick man. I’ll ride behind you.”

“Uh--” He looked over his shoulder at the rented snowmobile.

“Ray’ll drive that one,” Fraser volunteered. Ray nodded agreement.

Jeremiah nodded slowly, and took the keys.

#

 

The ride back to town went a little slower than the trip out. That was okay with Ray--he wasn’t too bad with a snowmobile, but he wasn’t great, either. It was sort of like riding a motorcycle, but there were a few small but important differences that kept screwing him up. They had to stop a couple of times to give the old guy more oxygen, too, but he did seem to be doing okay.

When they pulled up in front of the Ledreaux house, members of the family spilled out, everyone talking at once in a mixture of English and Dene. The enthusiasm and general chaos reminded Ray of the Vecchio household. The way he and Fraser were absorbed into the chaos heightened the comparison.

As soon as the women had Billy wrapped in blankets and settled in an easy chair by the woodstove, with a cup of tea and his oxygen tank, Mary Ledreaux informed them that they’d be staying for dinner.

Other than wanting to get Fraser alone, Ray didn’t mind much--he hadn’t eaten anything since the sandwiches when he and Jeremiah were fixing the truck, and it looked like the Ledreaux women had been cooking since Fraser had called to tell them they were bringing Billy back. Platters and bowls of everything from Kraft macaroni and cheese to caribou sausage and glistening chunks of raw fat were brought out from the kitchen and put on every flat surface. Louise fixed a plate for Billy, and then insisted that they serve themselves next. Ray took helpings of everything he recognized and a few things he didn’t, but that didn’t look particularly gross. The buffalo-style ptarmigan wings turned out to be really good.

The occasion got pretty festive, pretty fast. Ray knew the Ledreaux had feared for the worst, so even though he still had terminal cancer, getting Billy back alive felt like a reprieve. Like most of the Dene, the Ledreaux didn’t drink, but there was a lot of talking and laughing, and more people seemed to be streaming into the tiny house every minute. Somehow, a toddler ended up sitting between him and Fraser on the plaid couch, eating off of their plates.

After an hour or two, the friends and neighbors started to drift out of the house, leaving just the members of the Ledreaux family. Mary and Louise urged him and Fraser to stay too, but they managed to escape after accepting a large package of dried goose and duck meat, “For next time you go out on the land.”

Fraser’s cabin was cold and dark, and felt like it had been standing empty for much longer than two weeks. Ray went around turning on all the lights--twice, since the first time, Fraser followed him turning them off--and put on some music.

Once Fraser caught on that he was trying to make the place seem lived-in, he did his part, putting the kettle on and building a fire in the woodstove. Ray accepted a cup of tea--even though the Ledreaux had crammed so much food into him that he felt like he might explode--and they settled on the couch. It felt downright weird not to be sitting on a stump in the evening. “Been a long time since we worked on a case together.”

Fraser nodded. “Yes. It was….”

“Fun,” Ray filled in.

“I’d hesitate to characterize what could easily have ended in tragedy as--”

Ray gave him a playful punch in the shoulder.

“Yes, it was fun.” Fraser cleared his throat. “I’ll have to go in to the detachment tomorrow to make a start on the paperwork, which will not be fun. Ottawa is not going to be happy to pay for the services of four Auxiliary Constables and a search plane when we eventually found the missing person by asking the last person to see him where he was.”

“I guess you’ll just have to put that you’d never have found the guy without my amazing persuasive skills.”

“We very well might not have, unless he came back on his own. How did you convince him? I take it violence wasn’t involved?”

“Oh, very funny. Helped him gap the plugs and flush the fuel line on his truck, told him a caribou story. Say, what do you think’s gonna happen with the old guy?” He felt a little guilty about convincing Jeremiah to talk by telling him Fraser wouldn’t let his grandfather be sent to the city, when he hadn’t actually asked Fraser’s opinion on the issue.

Fraser shook his head. “The residents here have to make difficult choices between remaining in the community and getting access to state-of-the-art medical care. It’s one of the drawbacks of living in a remote community.”

“Do you think he should stay?”

“It’s his decision. But in his condition, realistically, even the best care isn’t going to give him much more time. If the health center here can give him oxygen treatments and pain management--which they probably can--staying here will provide a better quality of life.”

“Yeah, that’s what I figured. I mean, his people are here. You gotta--nobody wants to spend the last part of their life alone, without anybody that cares about ‘em.” Ray stopped. Maybe not just the last part, either. And you didn’t always know when the last part was gonna be, either. “Anyway, I told the kid if his grandfather wants to stay, you’ll back him up.”

Fraser nodded. “It’s a private matter, though. I don’t have any particular influence on the decision.”

“Yeah, but you can do that thing you do.”

“True. I’ll go and talk to the family in a day or two.” He sipped his tea. “I hope you can find some way to occupy yourself tomorrow. It’s unfortunate that I have to work while you’re here--but it does give me two more days of leave that I can use later.”

Ray nodded. It sucked, but they’d have the evening together, anyway. And if it meant Fraser could make it down for Christmas or whatever, it would be worth it. “Yeah, I’ll--I don’t know. Do somethin’.” He shrugged. “When’s the last time you changed the oil in your truck?”

“You don’t have to do that, Ray.”

“I know I don’t have to.”

“…Understood.”

 

On to the last part.

 

Comments

( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
love_jackianto
Apr. 20th, 2008 08:36 am (UTC)
Great chapter, I'd quote my favourite part, but that would be the whole thing. I really like the characterizations.
alex51324
Apr. 21st, 2008 09:02 am (UTC)
Thanks! This section is kind of the slowest in terms of relationship development, but it pays off in the next part!
chaoskir
Apr. 20th, 2008 09:50 am (UTC)
Great!! I love the way in which they both work together and I'm still thinking Ray should take one of those offered jobs. He is working with Fraser and as -for example- a fireman he can also work together with Fraser and they could live together. Who knows what will be in ten years? In ten years both or one of them can be death. And why waiting? They both are grown up. And if there would be a job in chicago Fraser could take them. But well we all know in Deline are jobs offered. So Ray, take one of them! Please!!!
Oh Alex, thank you for the soon and wonderful update. I love your exciting way of writing. It was a pleasure to read that soon an update.
alex51324
Apr. 21st, 2008 09:03 am (UTC)
The last part is up, so you can see what Ray decided. I think you'll be pleased!

BTW, remember when I told you to buy the Webkinz and you couldn't get it to work? I just heard that they're selling them in several European countries now--I forget if Germany was one, but I think so--so maybe he'll work now.
grey853
Apr. 20th, 2008 10:22 am (UTC)
Great job. I love when they work cases and Ray shows his stuff, shows that he's no slouch on the job no matter where he is.

alex51324
Apr. 21st, 2008 09:05 am (UTC)
Thanks! Yes, that's the main thing in this section--Ray solved the case! As you'll see in the next section, that has a major payoff in terms of his future plans.
keerawa
Jul. 28th, 2008 11:17 pm (UTC)
Ray went around turning on all the lights--twice, since the first time, Fraser followed him turning them off--and put on some music. Great detail.

I like what you are showing about the choices people make in these tiny towns. School or home? Medical care or family? And the idea of Fraser being RICH compared to 90% of the people there, and "injecting money into the local economy" makes me look at some of his oddball behavior in Chicago in an entirely different light.

Oh, and Ray using his car know-how to get the kid to open up, and then using the Warfield story to bring it home? Excellent.

Edited at 2008-07-28 11:18 pm (UTC)
plotbunniofdoom
Mar. 1st, 2009 05:06 am (UTC)
Great chapter! I almost don't want this story to end.
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )