PART FOUR

Slowly, Ray woke up, aware of softer sheets, the wrong kind of light, smell, taste… he opened his eyes abruptly.

Fraser wasn’t there.

Ray sat up and pulled the sheets more firmly around his naked body, even though he knew it was ridiculous. The house was empty, he could feel it. The sunlight was still and gentle, there was the dull echoing of a tap dripping, and no Fraser. No Fraser in the shower, in the kitchen making tea, tuning in the radio, talking to Dief, singing sea shanties or whatever. None of the sounds Ray had gotten used to.

Ray looked at the digital clock, flashing nine-oh-five, and swore. He was late for work.

As he dragged himself out of bed, there was a knock at the front door and Ray tripped as he tried to pull on his joggers, trying not to remember taking them off. He fell against the lamp on Fraser’s bedside table, and it crashed to the floor. Stumbling into the living room, Ray pulled the front door open, shivering as a cold wind blew inside. There were deep black-yellow clouds behind the mountains in the distance and that was never good.

Carla stood on the doorstep, ever-present camera bag slung over her shoulder, sunglasses and sunny smile in place.

“Morning,” she said breezily, pushing past Ray into the living room. She immediately tucked her sunglasses into her pocket and threw her bag down onto the sofa, rooting around for battery packs and pulling out the dreaded microphone.

Ray sighed. “Hey, mind if I, uh, get dressed?” he asked, scratching his stomach lazily. He wondered if she’d seen Fraser today, and if he could find out without being totally obvious.

Walking into his bedroom, he pulled out jeans and a sweater, quickly stripping.

“So, what’s happening in town?” he ultra-casually shouted through, pulling a t-shirt over his head.

“Not much,” answered Carla distractedly.

Ray grimaced. Fat lot of good she was. “How’s the film stuff going?”

“Fine,” she said cheerily. Ray rolled his eyes and sat on his bed to pull on his socks.

“Hey, there’s a note on the fridge from Fraser,” Carla called out suddenly. “Want me to read it to you?”

“What?” Ray jumped up, pulling on his jeans and falling through the door to the hallway.

Ray,” Carla read, “Sorry to leave so precipitously this morning, - ‘precipitously’? Is he serious?! - Sorry to leave so precipitously but Thompson stopped by to report some alleged trouble out past Shingal’s Cave and I thought it wise to investigate immediately—”

Ray dashed into the living room as she got to the last part of the letter.

On a more personal note, I feel that we should discuss what happened last night. I cannot say that it came as a shock after the incident in the car, but—” her voice had taken on a decidedly intrigued tone.

Ray snatched the note from her hand and stuffed it into his pocket, “Hey, thanks, I’ll read the rest later.”

Carla grinned at him and raised an eyebrow. “Last night?” He scowled, rubbing self-consciously at the slight beard-burn on his cheeks, and she shrugged and raised her hands in surrender. “Ok, fine. Let’s get you miked up.”

***

Ray wasn’t nervous. Really.

He wasn’t nervous through breakfast, he wasn’t nervous through driving to town, he wasn’t nervous through picking up supplies at the grocery store and he certainly wasn’t nervous while walking past the detachment.

It did seem pretty quiet in there. He wondered if he should go inside and ask how this morning had gone, what the skinny was with the whole Shingal’s Cave thing. Then he imagined trying to have a civilised conversation with Fraser, while a camera was pointed at them, and probably with Thompson standing over Fraser’s shoulder, and his stomach sort of folded in on itself.

Ok, so maybe not.

The wind was tearing up from the west angrily; bellowing through the eaves of the garage, making the corrugated iron roof creak. The clouds had been creeping steadily towards town all morning until it was no longer sunny and calm, but dark and louring, the buildings tinged yellow with the threat of storm.

At about half eleven a light snow began to fall and quickly escalated into a heavy, suffocating flurry. They had the lamps on in the garage, and Ray worked with difficulty through the dim light without his glasses, which he'd left on his bedside table.

The memory of Fraser – soft, hot-cheeked; his weight and his panting breaths brushing the hair around Ray’s ear – kept interrupting Ray. He kept breaking off in the middle of sentences, forgetting what he was doing, and twice Carla caught him standing in the middle of the garage with a distant look on his face.

“Ok,” she eventually said at just after two. “That’s it, we’re heading over to Fraser’s place.”

“What?” Ray said, grumpily. “Hey, I have work to do, you know. I can’t just step out whenever you feel like it.”

“C’mon, Ray, give us all a break.”

“Yeah,” called Mikey from his office. “Get the hell out of here until you can do your job.”

“Traitor!” Ray yelled to Mikey as Carla hustled him out of the door. “Jeez— ow! That’s one hell of a grip you’ve got there, Carla.”

“Shut up and hustle,” she said.

They fought their way along the street, snow catching their eyelashes and tucking itself into the necks of their coats. The wind threw itself at them, slapping them round the face with their collars, and pushing them towards the detachment. Even the weather was against him, Ray decided with a scowl.

When they finally made it to the door of the post, Ray was still grumbling. “Look, I don’t know what the big deal is, Carla. I see Frase every day. I’ll see him tonight! What the hell—”

He swung the door open and stepped into the hallway. As he shut the door his voice faded with the heavy silence that settled around them. “Frase?” Ray called tentatively, walking along the hallway towards the shadows at the back. “Uh… Thompson?”

There was still silence. No tapping of computer keys, no low hum of computers, no voices.  Nothing. Ray knocked on Fraser’s door and then opened it slowly, irrationally hoping that they were playing some ridiculous Mountie-humour practical joke and hiding behind the door.

Fraser’s office was empty. It was cold and bare, minus Fraser’s coat or teacup or any sign that Fraser had been there at all today. The wind rattled the window-pane suddenly, furiously, making them both jump.

Ray turned to face Carla. “Where are Susan and Steve today?”

“Uh… over at the Brookmeyer place. Karen’s gone into labour, Susan wanted me to cover you just in case anything happened…” she said. She sounded uncertain and kept her voice low.

“So they aren’t with Fraser?”

“No.”

“Did you see Fraser before you came to the house?”

“Uh, No.”

“Ok,” Ray said, exhaling. “Ok, mystery man, where the hell are you?” Ray walked over to the desk and sat down in Fraser’s chair. “Fraser’s note said Shingal’s cave, right? So that’s, what? A thirty minute drive?” Carla nodded, fiddling with the camera. “Ok, so he said just beyond, which maybe means forty minutes, max, right? That’s an hour twenty each way, twenty minutes going over the crime scene, moose trail, whatever, one hour forty altogether. That means that he should have been back here by eleven at the very latest. It’s now—” he checked his watch, “Two fifteen.”

“So maybe they got involved with something, you know, prime evidence, and got distracted.” Carla said, filming the empty office.

Ray shook his head once, sharply. “You don’t know Fraser, Fraser doesn’t get distracted. Concentration’s like his middle name.”

“Well, maybe they got caught in the weather and decided to wait it out.”

“Fraser wouldn’t. He knows it can always get worse - he’d come home if he could.” Ray sifted through the papers on Fraser’s desk. “We should go out there. See what we can find,” he said, looking out the window. Snow was piling heavily onto the slender window-ledge.

“In this weather?”

“This isn’t too bad,” he reassured her, but he didn’t sound convincing. Ray frowned, looking down at the mess of papers in front of him. He picked up a torn-open envelope. “If Fraser hasn’t been here all morning,” he said slowly, “then why has his mail been opened?”

Carla lowered the camera slightly. “Maybe Thompson came in and opened the post this morning.”

“Then why leave it scattered all over like this. Why not tidy it up like a good little Mountie?”

“Well, maybe he’s a naughty little Mountie.”

Ray grinned briefly. “Ok then, say it wasn’t Fraser or Thompson that opened this mail. Say it was someone else. Someone looking for something.” He looked up suddenly. “Maybe it was someone looking for evidence. Or looking to hide it. Fraser was expecting those photos of that Donen guy.” He started frantically sorting through the papers, ditching envelopes and flyers and platinum credit card offers until the desk had been swept clean. Carla carefully kept the camera trained on him.

“Nothing,” he said, frowning.

“But you wouldn’t just leave it out there,” Carla scoffed. “What is this, Murder She Wrote? Any good criminal hides the evidence.”

Ray scowled. “Yeah. Right. Or takes it with them. Or lures the only two policemen in town away from the evidence, kills them, and ditches the bodies in the worst snow storm we’ve seen for months.” He stood up, his face washed of all colour. “Shit, Carla. We have to find them.”

***

When they reached the cave, they ducked underneath the low hang of rock briefly, slight shelter from the storm.

“Fraser?” bellowed Ray, more to be heard over the storm than for projection.

“Shit,” said Carla from underneath her tightly-zipped-up hood. She looked like Kenny. “I can’t get this fucking rain cover on.” She was struggling to put a baby anorak over the camera, fitting its little arm over the microphone.

“Will you give that thing a rest!” Ray snapped.

“Sorry, buddy, I’m way more scared of Susan than I am of you,” Carla replied.

“Fraser!” Ray started pacing, “Shit, fuck, what the hell would Fraser do now? C’mon dumbass, think. You’re in the middle of nowhere, storms a-blowing, you’ve got one mad camera operator, a gun and no glasses.”

Ray stepped out of the cave and was nearly blown over by the force of the wind, blinded by the snow gusting into his face. He staggered over to the closest tree, desperately looking round for any sign that Fraser had even been here today.

Leaning against the tree, he looked carefully around, trying to focus. He scanned the branches of the trees, the snowy ground, the rock-face, urgently trying to remember all the shit Fraser had taught him on the adventure.

But it was no use. He could tell you how to camouflage yourself, which plants were poisonous, hell, even what type of cover to use to construct a shelter, but he couldn’t do that magical tracking thing Fraser was always doing.

Briefly, Ray considered tasting something randomly off the ground to see if he could get any, uh, vibes off it or whatever it was Fraser did. Then it occurred to him that when Fraser had been here, it wouldn’t have been snowing. He could try digging… but where the hell was he supposed to start?

He sighed and leant his head back against the tree in defeat. Shit. Just when Fraser probably needed him most, he could do nothing to help. He was worse than useless. He was, well, Turnbull, he thought in disgust.

He lifted his head, absently swiping at the dampness the tree had left on his scalp. His hand came away red. What the fuck? He turned round and touched the dark, glossy bark again. But it wasn’t glossy, he realised. It was wet. With blood.

Ray almost gagged, and put his other hand to his mouth to still the impulse. All he could think was That might be Fraser’s blood there. Fraser’s blood. Oh God.

“Ok,” he said quietly. “Ok. That’s ok, it’s not necessarily Fraser’s. And even if it is, a little bit of blood doesn’t mean that he’s, you know, not all right. So we just need to figure out which direction—”

“Ray!” he suddenly heard Carla shout, and he looked up. She wasn’t in the mouth of the cave any longer. He pulled out his gun and carefully approached the opening in the rock-face, gun held at the ready.

But Carla was just standing towards the back of the cave, looking down at Donen’s pile of clothing. Then, as Ray drew near, he realised that it wasn’t clothes he could see. It was Dief.

“Shit,” he gasped out, and broke into a run, kneeling down on the hard ground. There was blood everywhere, it looked like he’d been cracked on the head. There was, however, a pulse, and Ray breathed a little easier when he realised Dief was probably just unconscious. He seemed to be breathing steadily too.

“Something seriously bad has happened. We have to find Fraser, and get them both to the hospital. Er, and vet.” he said, looking up at Carla.

“No kidding,” she said. “Wait, Fraser’s hurt? Where is he?”  

“I don’t know, but there’s blood on the tree out there.”

“Not Dief’s?”

“No,” Ray shook his head. “Human-height.” He took off his coat and tucked it around Dief, feeling the wind slice through his relatively thin shirt.

“What now?” Carla asked.

Ray, shivering, thought about the smear of blood out on the tree. “We follow the yellow brick road,” he said. Then groaned at how… gay that had sounded.

He stood up and walked to the mouth of the cave, then made a mad dash to the relative shelter of the tree. Carla dashed out of the cave after him, still struggling with the little coat, shouting, “Hey, wait up!”

Ray looked around for any more blood, then finally saw a spot at the base of a tree deeper into the woods. Thank God for the snow, he thought.

“C’mon,” he said, running in the direction the second smear seemed to indicate they’d gone in. Okay, so he was relying pretty heavily on his instincts, but what else could he do?

Ray led them deeper and deeper into the forest, higher up into the hills, where there was more snow cover, but fewer paths that humans could use. He knew there was a tourist nature trail thing around here somewhere, but had no idea where. If they could meet up with that it would make the going easier, but might lead them away from wherever Fraser and Thompson had been taken.

Ray kept finding spots of blood, and his fingers had gone numb from the cold. Out of breath and shivering, he paused, absently rubbing his hands against his wet shirtsleeves, trying to get some friction. He looked around carefully.

“Jeez,” Carla said as she breathlessly caught up, leaning against a tree for support. “I had no idea this would turn into the Blair Witch.” She held the camera up, “Twenty minutes of running through trees does not make good TV.”

Ray ignored her and knelt down, digging into the snow again. More blood. He pulled his hand away quickly, not wanting to touch it.

They must be getting closer, the blood was easier to spot each time. He had started to suspect that Fraser was leaving him a trail to follow on purpose: it was dotted on branches; leaves; anywhere there was snow, but that was sheltered enough from the storm so it wouldn’t be covered over. Heh, just call him Hansel and Gretel. Or whichever was the guy, anyway.

But there was so much blood. Ray hoped desperately that it wasn’t Fraser who was bleeding, and scrambled to his feet, not allowing himself to feel breathless or tired or the stitch in his side.

“I’ll just wait here then!” called Carla as he took off, then swore and followed him, hiking the camera up onto her shoulder.

Eventually, they lost the trail.

Gasping for breath, Carla and Ray collapsed against a tree, the snow whirling around them, slanting through the foliage and turning them around. Ray had no idea which direction they had come from, and had no idea how he was going to find his way back to the cave to help Dief. After he found Fraser. Which was going to be any minute now.

He was starting to feel sicker and sicker, and the half-nervous, half-satisfied feeling from last night had gone completely.

Ray forced himself to stand up straight, clutching his side and heaving for breath.

“We’re lost,” said Carla.

“We’re not,” growled Ray. “We just need to go… that way.” He chose a direction at random and set off.

The sky was turning inky and dim; even through the storm clouds Ray could tell it would be dark soon. He had no idea how long they’d been running around these woods. He prayed for just a little bit of luck.

Then, as Ray stumbled through the snow, over a little stone ridge he saw a small clearing ahead, and beyond that an ominous crevice in the rock.

Everything clicked into place, and he realised where he was suddenly – they must have rejoined the tourist trail somewhere along the way. Fraser had once, in a fit of hearty vigour, tried to make Ray go hiking. Ray had gone along until they’d reached this point, drawing the line at crossing a bridge that looked as though it would be safer to try and make the big scary jump.

Ray scrubbed his eyes with his cold wet hands, and through the swirling snow he saw two red figures. Huffing out a breath of relief he started sharply down the little slope of trees towards the clearing, and Carla followed slowly, working the camera like always.

The figures became clearer as Ray ran, strongly aware that Donen could be anywhere nearby. At any minute he expected a maniac brandishing a gun – and possibly naked as well, who knew? – to step out from the shadows. He needed to get Fraser home, quickly.

His stomach tightened as the snow flurries cleared momentarily, and Ray realised that Fraser and Thompson were already half-way along that old decaying rope-bridge. It also looked like Fraser was leaning on Thompson.

Why the hell were they going away from town when one of them was injured, ray wondered. Unless there was cover nearby. But they’d walked away from the cave, which was also cover—

Ray stepped out of the protection of the trees and walked towards the bridge, carefully scanning the area behind him. He couldn’t see anyone suspicious looking – he couldn’t see anyone at all except Carla, lurking by a tree, camera, trained on him. He motioned to her to stay there.

Ray tried to think the way Fraser would, about tracks and stuff. He was pretty sure that he could only make out two sets of footprints. Maybe Donen had attacked at the cave, and they’d been forced to flee into the woods. He rolled his eyes: “flee” – what a Fraser word.

He made it to the rope bridge and looked up to see how far across Fraser and Thompson were. He tried to think what Fraser would do now. He considered pulling out his gun – ok, Fraser wouldn’t do that ‘cause if Fraser were him then, like him, Fraser wouldn’t have a permit for this gun, so he put it away and, just in case Donen did jump out at him, took out a small knife that Fraser had given him for chopping wood or… something.

Ray stepped cautiously onto the bridge and it swayed slightly, causing Ray to clutch at the thick post deeply embedded in the ground. The movement made Thompson turn around, and he spotted Ray and paused, glancing at Fraser. Thompson whispered something to Fraser and seemed to prop him against the side of the bridge. Ray frowned – that wasn’t safe, for God’s sake. Fraser looked like he was out of it, lifting one hand to his head fuzzily.

Ray almost ran over to him, but Thompson was walking carefully along the bridge, gripping its sides and blocking the way.

“Mr. Kowalski, thank God,” said Thompson, and Ray relaxed slightly. Thompson looked pale and worried as he approached. “We were chasing Donen but he appears to have eluded us, and the Inspector is injured.” Ray could hear his footsteps on the wooden planks as he drew closer. “I’m afraid that I’m a little turned around.” He looked up at the sky, a whirling mass of snow.

“Well, don’t worry,” said Ray, frowning slightly; who the hell let these morons into the RCMP. “You need to go back that—” he turned to gesture in the right direction, and as he did Thompson pulled back his left arm and punched him, snatching the knife out of his hand with the other.

“Thanks,” Thompson said, as Ray sprawled back into the snow. “But I got a plan.”

 

Part Five