ࡱ> Fatherhood by Bento!

All the girl could see of the world around her was the line of dogs stretching out in front of her sled.

Everything else had been swallowed up in the blizzard that raged all through the vast Arctic wilderness. Despite the many layers of clothing the girl had on, she could still feel the biting cold numbing her fingers, toes and face. She knew that it was only a matter of time before she would succumb to the blizzards icy call, and that she must find shelter soon, or die.

But no matter what, she wouldn't go back. She had promised herself when she had left early that morning that no matter what she encountered in the vast wilderness of the Northwest Territories, she would NEVER go back. The girl repeated this promise to herself as her numbed hands finally let go their grip on the front of her sled and she sank into unconsciousness in the cold, deep snow.

* * *

" So, is this the great wilderness adventure you promised me?" said Ray Kowalski sarcastically as he gestured to the blinding snowstorm outside.

" Of course not Ray," replied Benton Fraser calmly. " I never said that taking a vacation at my father's cabin in the Northwest Territories would be a "great wilderness adventure". I merely thought that you might like to spend some time in a less densely populated area than you are used to."

" Less densely populated! You mean deserted!" yelled Ray, " You convinced me to spend all my vacation time up here with the polar bears and the penguins, and I CAME thinking we'd spend all our time living by our wits and instincts, only to be stuck in this cabin with you for three days STRAIGHT!!!!"

" Oh Ray, the Northwest Territories are far from deserted and you are certainly not stuck up here with the penguins, as they live in the Antarctic. Even if they did live in the Arctic, they certainly wouldn't come this far south, as it is far too warm for them."

" What!? You call THIS warm!!!!! If it got as cold as this in Chicago, the city would shut down!!"

" Please calm down Ray. I believe you are suffering from cabin fever. I have observed all the warning signs; tension, sleeplessness, irritability..."

" I AM NOT IRRITABLE !!!!!!!! I am the picture of..."

" Shhhh," Fraser said suddenly. " Listen...can you hear that?"

" Hear what?" asked Ray, his argument forgotten.

" That howling outside," Fraser replied quietly. " Ohhh, that's just the wind."

" No Ray, I think it may be....," Fraser tilted his head to hear the noise once again, then with a curt " I'll be back in a minute," to Ray, he opened the door of the cabin and strode directly out into the blinding storm.

" Humph," snorted Ray. " Canadians."

* * *

Fraser was soon back, but he didn't come alone. In fact, he came with six huskies, a sled, and a young girl, who was slung over his shoulder.

" Where'd they come from?" exclaimed Ray as Fraser gently set the girl down on the spare cot in the corner. " As I would have explained before (if I had had the time) this girl and her dogs had collapsed just a few meters from the cabin door. I had to hurry as the dog that was barking was tiring quickly and in another couple of minutes it would have been too late."

" I can see that," said Ray, looking at the young girl's face, blue with the cold. " But the real question is who is this girl and why was she out in that god-awful storm?"

" I have no idea Ray, but you can ask her yourself in the morning. She should be fine by then. Luckily she hadn't been out there very long very long when I found her, so she doesn't have hypothermia. A good night's sleep in a warm bed with lots of blankets and she should be fine. I think that...what are you doing ?"

" Nothing," said Ray as he belted on his gun holster, which he had not been wearing for the

past few days. " Well you are obviously doing something Ray," said Fraser. "But the question is why?"

" Fraser, you're such an innocent." replied Ray a little enviously, as he had often secretly wished that he could blindly trust people as his partner did on an almost daily basis. " You have just brought a strange, possibly sick girl into this cabin, and you wonder why I decide to take protective maneuvers ?"

" Protective measures," corrected Fraser. " And why do you need to protect yourself against her? She looks like she wouldn't hurt a fly, and she can't be more than 13."

" Maneuvers, measures; whatever. Anyway, my point is that I've seen younger girls who looked sweeter than her do worse things than steal. Don't judge a book by it's jacket, as the old saying goes."

" Actually Ray, I think it is " Never judge a book by it's cover."


" Sorry Ray," said Fraser quietly, slowly backing away from his irate partner. " I think we should both go to bed now, and get a good night's rest."

" Ok Fraser. I haven't been sleeping well for the last few days anyway. Goodnight."

" Goodnight Ray."

A companionable silence fell over the small cabin as the two friends rolled themselves up in their sleeping bags and tried to go to sleep. After Fraser had blown out the oil lamp on the table, the only light came from the dampened fire in the fireplace and the only sound (besides the howling wind outside) was that of Diefenbaker making friends with the six huskies Fraser had brought in just a few minutes ago.

* * *

Ray Kowalski stretched and yawned as he slowly woke up. He always had to stretch in the morning so that he wouldn't get up with any sore muscles. It was even more important to stretch here, as the cot he was sleeping on was hardly down-filled. Before he opened his eyes, he sniffed the air and realized that Fraser was already up and making pancakes AGAIN. He never seemed to cook anything else, and after a steady three day diet of that and dried caribou, he was more than a little sick of pancakes.

Oh well, I guess eating pancakes beats starving thought Ray as he opened his eyes. The first thing he saw was the grinning face of a female husky, who, upon seeing Ray's eyes open, helpfully licked his ear to help him get out of bed.

" WAUGHHHHHH!!!!!!" yelped Ray as he leaped out of bed faster than he had in years.

" What is it Ray?" asked Fraser as he casually flipped a perfectly round pancake.

" That, that DOG licked my ear!" accused Ray, pointing a finger at the offending husky.

" Yes, she's very affectionate, isn't she. Did you sleep well?"

Ray drew in a huge breath to begin arguing about huskies and their affectionate nature, but suddenly he realized how futile it was to try to argue with a Mountie who could make perfect pancakes. " I slept pretty well," he said, feeling very defeated.

" That's good. I'm glad you are feeling better. Our little guest hasn't woken yet though." Fraser gestured towards the spare cot with his spatula.

The young girl was wrapped up in several heavy blankets and looked a good deal warmer than she had the night before. " Now, how would you like some pancakes?"

Ray ignored Fraser and instead stared at the girl. Last night he hadn't had much chance to look at her, but now that the room was properly lit, he stared at her. She was a tall, sturdy looking girl with long dark brown hair and a few freckles dotted over her nose. She was sleeping on her back with one arm flung over the side of the bed and the other crossed over her chest, rising and falling with the rhythm of her breathing.

But Ray didn't notice any of this; he saw instead the calm, serene, almost innocent way she slept. All children slept this way, but as Ray hadn't been around many children he had never noticed this before. As he watched her sleep, he began to think of having children of his own, and what they would be like. He knew it was silly and sentimental, but as he watched the slow even breathing of this girl, he swore to himself that he would protect her, no matter what. He didn't care that he knew nothing about this girl, all he thought was that this girl was still innocent and that innocence had to be protected at all costs. Once that innocence was lost, it could never be replaced and that was all...

" Ray? Ray?" Fraser gently shook Ray from the semi-trance that he was in. "Are you all right Ray?"

" I'm fine Fraser. Look! She's waking up!"

The girl's eyelids started to flutter as she slowly woke up. She felt so warm, so comfortable here. She idly wondered what her father was making for breakfast, when suddenly, she remembered. " Oh no!" she gasped as she suddenly sat bolt upright in the cot. She experienced that fleeting moment of utter confusion when one realizes one is not where one where expects to be.

It was only after that that she noticed the two strange men staring at her intently. " Ahh!" she yelped. " Who are you?" she asked in a frightened tone of voice.

" I am Benton Fraser of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and this is my partner Ray Vecchio of the Chicago Police Department." replied Fraser evenly. " You are in my cabin near Tuktoyaktuk in the Northwest Territories. I found you collapsed near my door last night and brought you and your dogs inside."

" My dogs!? Where!?" exclaimed the girl, her fear forgotten for the moment. " C'mere Liana!" The affectionate female husky whom Ray knew so well bounded up onto the cot and began to vigorously lick her face. "Why are you here?" she asked between licks.

" I first came to Chicago on the trail of my father's killer and for reasons that don't need exploring at this juncture, I have remained here as liaison to the Canadian Consulate." replied Fraser promptly.

" Huh?" said the girl, beginning to wonder about the sanity of these two strange men. " What Fraser means," said Ray as he delivered the Mountie a quick jab in the ribs, "Is that we normally live in Chicago and we are staying in Fraser's cabin for a few weeks as our holiday."

" Ahhhh. Well, my name is Beth, and I got caught in that awful storm when I was, uhh, out exercising my dogs. I live in Tuktoyaktuk."

" All right then." The girl was obviously lying, but Ray let that pass, and sent a warning look to Fraser to do the same. After all, he was sure Beth had a good reason for not wanting to tell them her real reason for being out in last night's storm. " And now that you're up, would you like some pancakes? "

* * *

After a filling breakfast of circular pancakes and VERY cold water, Fraser quickly explained to Beth that he and Ray had to go get some more firewood, and half-dragged Ray outside before he could protest.

" Why are we out here Fraser? It's cold out here, and you know very well that we have enough firewood to last us at least a week," complained Ray as he stood shivering just outside the door of the cabin.

" We are here for two perfectly good reasons, neither of which is firewood," said Fraser. " Firstly, I had to check the weather." The storm had broken overnight and the sky now held only a few clouds as a remnant of the fury of the night's storm. " And secondly, we have to talk about Beth. Last night you were worried about leaving her alone with anything more valuble than a pen, and now you are happily accepting her obviously made up story. We don't even know if Beth is her real name."

" Let's go find out what her real name is then!" said Ray, ignoring Fraser's unspoken question of what had caused Ray's sudden change of heart.

But finding out if Beth had indeed told the truth would prove to be harder than they had expected, as she was no longer there. Beth had made good of the time that Fraser and Ray had been outside and had escaped quietly with her dogs out the back door. A hurriedly scrawled note left on the table said simply Thank you, but I have to go now.

Also gone was Ray's wallet.

As Ray started to swear, Fraser looked at the note for a second, then went over to his desk in the corner and started rummaging through a file folder. This went on for several minutes before Ray exhausted his vocabulary of epithets and grew curious enough to ask what Fraser was looking for.

" I think I recognize Beth's writing from....here it is!" Fraser held up an old thank-you card and eagerly opened it up to look at the writing inside.

After a few moments, he handed it to Ray. " A few years ago, before I was stationed in Chicago, I was a bodyguard for a wealthy oil tycoon and his daughter. One day at a press conference, the girl wandered off and got lost in the museum where the press conference was being held. I was the one who found her, and to thank me she gave me that card. If you'll check, you will find the handwriting on both the cards is identical."

" So what you're telling me is that you think you know who this girl is because the handwriting from a thank-you note written years ago HAPPENS to look the handwriting of our sticky-fingered little sneak?" said Ray, the sarcasm dripping off him onto the floor.

" Yes Ray."

" Is this the ONLY piece of evidence you have?"

" Well actually Ray, the oil tycoon's daughter was named Elizabeth Wight, and Beth is a common short form of that name. Also, as I was carrying her last night I noticed that she smelled like Erebos, which is a rare tundra flower that can be made into a perfume, but it is very expensive, so Beth must have come from a wealthy family. She didn't seem to be carrying much on her sled, but she had packed a few extra clothes in her backpack, suggesting that she left in a hurry for what she thought would be a longer trip than just to exercise her dogs. Elizabeth Wight also liked dogs, and had a female puppy named Liana."

" So I think we can safely assume that Beth is actually Elizabeth, and probably ran away from home after a fight with her father, as her mother died when she was five years old."

" Yes." said Ray, who at this point was slightly confused.

" We're agreed then. We go to Tuktoyaktuk." exclaimed Fraser.

" What? " said Ray, who was now VERY confused.

" Well Ray, if Elizabeth took your wallet, she obviously needed money for supplies, as she did not have any food on her sled. Therefore she will head to the nearest town (well, actually the ONLY town within 50 kilometers) which is Tuktoyaktuk."

" So we go to Tuktoyaktuk then!" said Ray, finally not confused.

" No."

" What!?!" Ray felt the beginnings of a headache coming on.

" Well Ray, I just realized that Beth, with six well-rested dogs and a new sled, will be able to get to Tuktoyaktuk much faster than us. All we have is one overweight wolf," Fraser gestured towards Diefenbaker, who was licking the bottom of the pancake frying pan, "and two worn pairs of snowshoes. Instead we should go to her father's house and try to find out why she ran away, and where she might go next." " Fine!" shouted Ray from the bathroom as he gulped down Aspirin like smarties.

* * *

The terrible storm of the night before was forgotten in the dazzling sunshine that glinted off the snow. Ray, Fraser, and Diefenbaker were swallowed up in the vastness of the unending Arctic tundra. It was bitterly cold, and nothing moved, as if in tribute to the beauty to this dangerous and strangely compelling land. That is, almost nothing moved.

" You mean, you expect ME to wear THOSE?!?" exclaimed Ray irritably.

He was referring to a pair of snow goggles held in Fraser's mitten-covered palm. Fraser already sported a pair of the homemade goggles, and so did Diefenbaker.

" Yes Ray, these are goggles to protect your eyes from the reflection of the sun off the snow."

" But they look like they came from World War I!! It's embarrassing enough to have to travel with a crazy Mountie who looks like a British flying Ace, I also have to travel with his WOLF!! And now you want ME to wear some!!"

" There isn't anyone but the polar bears here to see you, Ray, and I don't want a blind partner. Well, more so." Fraser gestured at Ray's glasses, which, due to the cold, were almost permanently fogged up.

" All right, all right, I'll wear the stupid things!" Ray said exasperatedly. "Anything to get us to this....what did you say Beth's father did?"

" He's an oil tycoon," replied Fraser as they began to walk across the tundra.

" Good. Oil burns well, doesn't it?" Ray asked as he blew on his numb hands.

Fraser's laughter seemed to echo and bounce back off the distant mountains.

* * *

The half-mile-long building which housed Wight Gold Oil Enterprises was gray and functional and seemed very out-of-place compared to the shifting snow and rolling hills all around it. It was built on the edge of the Beaufort Sea, and the factory attached to the edge of the building spewed foul black smoke. That, and the trail of broken ice leading from the building's seaport seemed to be the only signs of life.

" Why do I get the feeling that this building is a trespasser?" whispered Ray as he and Fraser stared up at the looming building.

" Because it is," replied Fraser "This land is rightfully owned by the elements, and all of us are trespassers."

After walking halfway around the building, they finally found the entrance to the administrative section of the building in the form of a couple of rather grandiose-looking doors manned by two very cold guards.

" Oh my God, it's a polar bear!" exclaimed one of the guards sardonically, pointing at Ray. Ray had had to borrow an old bear skin of Fraser's to use as a jacket after a customs official (who looked suspiciously like an inept handyman Ray had once seen on t.v.) confiscated all his luggage. This was a sore point for Ray (one of many) on this vacation. He could have sworn he had seen that official trying to duct tape his suitcase shut as he walked off.

" Do you want me to kick you in the head?" he growled menacingly at the guards.

" Oh look; it speaks!" jeered the other guard.

" Tuvik, Dabnis, stop that!" said Fraser sharply.

" Sorry sir!" they replied in unison, suddenly straitening at their posts.

" Now, I need to see the president of this company, Mr. Wight, immediately. You two little boys can keep playing if you want, or you can let us in. Which will it be?"

" We'll let you in, Sir!" they both replied, saluting as they opened the doors to the building.

Fraser smiled at them both, said something in Inuit, and then strode into the building, trailing a happy Diefenbaker and a dumbfounded Ray.

" I ran an English language course for some young Inuit one summer, and found it necessary to give them military training just to get them to listen to me. Needless to say, those two were in my class." Fraser said, answering Ray's unspoken question.

" But what did you say to them at the end?"

" Just that I thought their English seemed to have improved, but their salutes have gone way downhill."

" Why did I ask?" Ray demanded, rolling his eyes at the ceiling.

* * *

A few wrong turns and three flights of stairs later, the trio had arrived at the huge, ornate doors to Mr. Mark Wight's office. As he didn't have many visitors the oil tycoon had no secretary, just an intercom system outside his office.

As Fraser pressed the button to talk to him, Ray found himself becoming nervous, as he had never met an oil president before. Ray had never liked authority figures, and he could easily imagine this one; pompous, balding and obese with an ego big enough to trip over, why he probably even...

" Hello?" queried a disembodied voice over the intercom, interrupting Ray's thoughts.

" Hello Mr. Wight, this is Benton Fraser of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. My American partner Ray Vecchio and I are here to talk to you about the disappearance of your daughter, Elizabeth," said Fraser.

After a slight pause, the massive doors into the office swung inward, and, to Ray's intense surprise, a lean, well-muscled man in his mid-forties rushed out and enveloped Fraser in an enthusiastic bear hug. As Ray's preconceptions shattered, the man said to Fraser, "So, you finally came back Benton! I've missed you. Where DID you go after that unfortunate caribou incident anyway?"

Fraser quickly explained how he had ended up in Chicago as a liaison officer while they drifted into Mr. Wight's office. He finished by saying, "..And this is my current partner, Ray Kow..Vecchio."

Mark Wight ignored Fraser's inadvertent slip of the tongue, and instead grasped Ray's hand and shook it heartily while saying, " Hi, I'm Mark Wight, and any friend of Benton's is a friend of mine, so you can call me Mark. Some people call me Marcy Mark, but I hate that, so could you just call me Mark? Hey, it's Dief!" He dropped to his knees to start wrestling with the happy wolf.

Ray decided that he definitely liked this happy-go-lucky president when, after a few minutes of play-fighting with Dief, he stood up to ask if they would like some hot coffee to warm them after their long trek. When both Ray and Fraser were seated in comfortable armchairs sipping mugs of steaming hot Java, Mark finally brought up the subject of why they were here.

" So what's this about the disappearance of my daughter?" " Well Mr. Wight, yesterday I..."

" Damn it Benton," interrupted Mark heatedly, " why won't you call me Mark? Just because you were my bodyguard doesn't mean we can't be friends, and friends DON'T say Mr."

" Mr....I mean Mark," said Ray in the awkward silence that followed, " It seems to me that you aren't that worried about the whereabouts of your daughter. Don't you care?" While Ray liked this man, his estimation of him would definitely plummet if the man didn't care where his own daughter was.

" Of course I care, Ray-can I call you Ray? It's just that I know exactly where my daughter is." As Mark spoke, he pressed a hidden button on the underside of his beautifully carved wooden desk. Behind him, a section of the wall flipped over to reveal the image of a sleeping girl in a luxurious canopy bed. " I don't know who you thought you saw, but my daughter Eliza (she prefers that nickname) has been here for the last two days. She's been home from boarding school for a week."

Ray and Fraser both stared dumbfounded at the recumbent form of the girl as the revelation slowly sunk in. It must be true thought Ray as he stared at the girl's long blonde hair. Whoever had been in the cabin this morning had had dark brown hair.

" Now that that's cleared up, tell me the rest of your story. It sounds interesting," Mark said as he leaned back in his chair, the video of his sleeping daughter still on behind him. Fraser once again resumed his story.

Ray listened for a while, but then tuned out and went back to trying to cope with the idea that the girl in the cabin really had been a stranger just looking to steal some money.

As he thought, he watched the screen in front of him. Eliza soon woke up, and, with no more than a cursory glance at her television screen (the set appeared to be two way) she walked out of the room. Ray guessed that the cameras had been programmed to turn on wherever she was as he watched her travel down a few halls, staring intently at a point off camera. She had reached a cavernous kitchen and begun making pancakes for herself when Ray finally tore himself away from watching the screen. That would be great to have on a stakeout he thought idly as he started listening to Fraser again.

" And those are my views on the Liberal Party's rise to power." Fraser concluded as Ray realized that he had been watching the screen a LOT longer than he had thought.

" Yes, I agree with your point on property taxes, that's why I have my company set up way out here in the boonies, " replied Mark. " Do you have any idea how much less it costs to buy land out here? It took them a while, but my competitors finally realized how much bigger my profit margin is. A couple of them are even talking of setting up their own companies here."

Surprisingly, Ray objected to that. He didn't like the idea of more companies out here, bringing their pollution, noise, and hulking factories to defile this wild land. Despite the harshness of the Arctic climate, he had grown to appreciate this barren land which was almost untouched by the far-reaching Hand of Man.

He shook himself out of the semi-trance he was in (again) and started listening to the conversation. He wondered idly whether there was something in Fraser's voice that caused people to go into a trance, but suddenly had a VERY strong compulsion not to think about that anymore.

" Well anyway Mr. Wight, we had better leave now. I wouldn't want to take up too much of your valuable time," said Fraser, standing up to leave.

" Goodbye Fraser, nice meeting you Ray. I hope to see you both again sometime. Maybe we can do lunch?" Mark said, also rising to shake the Ray's hand and slap Fraser on the back affectionately. "But I will offer you a ride home in my personal hovercraft, if you don't mind staying warm on the way home."

" Thank you VERY much Mark," Ray said quickly before some silly quirk of Fraser's made him decline the offer.

Mark pressed yet another hidden button on his desk, and within a few seconds a slightly breathless young women in a chauffeurs uniform came into the office. " This is Jane," said Mark by way of explanation. " She will take you back to your cabin in the hovercraft. Goodbye, and good hunting."

* * *

" Now THIS is the life," said Ray Kowalski as he stretched out in the back of the hovercraft, resting his legs on Diefenbaker and watching the terrain they had so laboriously covered a little while ago speed by them.

" Hmm," replied Fraser noncommittally, sitting very straight in his seat, contrasting to his partner.

" What now?" said Ray heatedly, as it seemed to him that Fraser was being a spoilsport.

" Oh, noth.." began Fraser, but caught Ray's slightly murderous look and started again, " I just don't like Mr. Wight, that's all."

" What!" shouted Ray, then, with a nervous glance at the driver of the hovercraft beyond the glass partition, said more quietly, " Mark's the nicest guy in the world! Why don't you like him? Does his smell offend you or something? Or does he wear the perfume of a rare tundra flower too?"

Fraser didn't say anything, but his expression grew slightly pained as he reacted to Ray's none-too-subtle reminder of his mistake in thinking that Elizabeth had been their visitor from last night.

" Never mind Fraze," Ray said, ignoring his mistake. "Now, what were you going to say?"

" I don't have any reason not to like him," said Fraser, looking slightly puzzled. " I just have this feeling."

" You think his company ain't working over the counter?" Ray said, sliding into Chicago-speak.

" If you mean I think his company isn't doing things strictly by-the-book, yes, I do think he `ain't working over the counter'."

" Almighty then, let's give our good friend Marcy Mark a surprise visit tomorrow! I've never been a very good character judge anyway."

Heartened by his partner's faith in him, Fraser agreed to Ray's plan and relaxed to enjoy the rest of the ride home.

* * *

They arrived back at the cabin at dusk and Fraser made the three of them a dried caribou casserole, which Fraser enjoyed, Diefenbaker loved, and Ray regarded with great suspicion. They all settled in for the night, except this time without six huskies, a sled or a young girl.

Ray fell asleep almost instantly, but soon began to dream. His dreams were dark and distorted, often jumping from one subject to the next with no warning. But, as all dreams do, they seemed real. He dreamed of a huge snarling husky driving him towards an oil processing machine with razor-sharp teeth gnashing at him. He saw a young girl with hair that changed from blond to brown and back again flipping pancakes and saying " Why don't you understand?" Diefenbaker barked incessantly in the background and Fraser was nowhere to be found. Suddenly Ray found himself alone in the Arctic wilderness, wearing his bearskin coat. A blizzard more fierce than anything Ray had ever experienced before covered him like a blanket and he knew that he was all alone in the vast wilderness with no hope, except for a quick death....Then the young girl popped up in front of him with a plate of pancakes and said again, " Why don't you understand?" then disappeared. For a split second, Ray understood, and then he was blasted with another gust of wind so strong that it knocked him off his feet into the cold snow, blanketing him like...

Ray woke with a start to find himself on the floor all tangled up in his blankets. He slowly unwound himself, deeply disturbed by his dreams. He often dreamed, but this seemed so real, as if it really had happened. Too shaken to get back to sleep, he wrapped his blankets around him and went to the window. The stars shone at him with uncommon brightness (he was used to stars masked by pollution back in Chicago) and made the snow sparkle with a thousand tiny lights. Ray stared at the scene for a while, taking comfort in the fact that the stars were the same ones that shone down on Chicago. Glancing quickly at the lightly snoring form of Fraser and stepping over a twitching Diefenbaker, Ray went back to bed. Again he fell asleep instantly, but this time he didn't dream, and slept comfortably until morning.

* * *

After dressing in his formal Mountie uniform, Fraser continued with the long standing tradition by making made pancakes the next morning. This was not unusual, but the way Ray kept staring at his pancake as if it had two heads, was.

" What is wrong with your pancake, Ray?" Fraser asked.

" Oh nothing," said Ray, quickly stuffing the pancake in his mouth to prove his point. " Mrgph mumph mumble mumph."

" What?!?"

" I said, I had some bad dreams about pancakes last night."

" Bad dreams about pancakes??" said Fraser, imagining a huge pancake with a baseball bat chasing Ray.

" Yes, and I realized something during the dream, but now I can't remember what it is."

" I'm sure you'll think of it soon, Ray, but we'd better get started."

" Oh yeah, we don't want to be late surprising old Marcy with an inspection,...wait a minute, late....pancakes....FRASER WE HAVE TO GET TO THE OIL REFINERY RIGHT NOW!!!"

" Why?" asked Fraser


" I am not going anywhere until you explain why we have to get to the oil refinery so quickly."

" OK, WELL.."

" Also, please stop yelling Ray."

" OK, I WILL stop yelling but we have to hurry. The girl who you rescued IS Mark's daughter and Mark doesn't want us to know that," Ray spoke quickly, his words spilling over each other out in his haste to finish. " Remember when Mark showed us that picture of his daughter sleeping? You didn't see, but while you two were talking he left the picture on and I saw Elizabeth get up, look at me (the screen is two-way) and walk down a hall staring at a point I couldn't see. Then she got into a kitchen and started making pancakes."

" Hmm." said Fraser, who didn't understand at all.

" No, Fraser, she made PANCAKES. Do you remember at what time we were at the oil refinery?"

" From 2:35 pm. to 5:56 pm." Fraser replied promptly

" Fraser, I don't know about you Canadians, but MOST people do not wake up from a nap at 3pm. and make pancakes. Also, maybe her hair is a different color, but that girl is still named Elizabeth and she still has a husky named Liana. I think when we saw her with blond hair, we forgot all the other evidence you had. Hair can be dyed, and I think she was trying to send me a message...after all, why else would she make pancakes at 3 pm?"

" You might be right..." began Fraser, but was interrupted by a loud knock on the door.

" Can't you people go a day without sticking your nose where it doesn't belong?" asked Mark Wight, looking slightly annoyed as he opened the door and strode in. Neither Ray nor Fraser had time to react before six burly men hustled into the cabin and roughly shoved them into sacks.

* * *

Ray squinted against the sudden bright lights as the sack was pulled off his head, and before he could react, his gun holster was taken off. He was defenseless.

" Sorry about the rough treatment," said a once-again happy Mark Wight. " I just wanted to get a few things straight with you and I couldn't have you running off before I was finished explaining."

It was at this point that Ray noticed that he was securely tied to a chair in an unrecognizable room, and Fraser and Diefenbaker weren't with him. He was all alone.

" You did some nice detective work there Stanley," Mark said, pausing to make sure his use of Ray's real name wasn't missed. " I'm a bit of a detective myself, and even I would have missed that pancake clue. By the way, you were right, that was my daughter who came to your cabin. But for obvious reasons I had to keep it quiet; damn press would have been all over me. Which is why I did some background checks on you after that slip-of-tongue our good friend Benton had. Since you need to protect that other partner of Benton's, I'm sure you won't say anything, will you Stanley Kowalski?"

Ray at this point was too stunned to say anything, so Mark continued.

" Anyway, I've always been a sucker for gadgets, (that's why I've got that video system up) and I was interested in what you and Benny had to say, so I slapped a great little recording patch on his back before you left. You guys have some great conversations, but did you know Benton snores?"

Ray had recovered from disbelief enough to be livid with anger, and he managed to splutter out," Why are you telling me this?"

" Because I trust you, Stan. I don't trust many people, but with that extra little reminder of your double identity, I can trust you won't say a word. Unfortunately, Fraser didn't agree with my reasoning on that point, so I had to dispose of him."

" WHAT!?!?" cried Ray.

" Oh you're so silly, Stan. I didn't mean it THAT way. I just gave him and that wonderful wolf of his some sleeping gas. Not to say that I may need to REALLY dispose of him (and you) later. I think I may keep Dief though, I like him. And Fraser's uniform. I've always liked red."

" Monster!" spluttered Ray as he furiously tried to loosen his bonds.

" I'm not a monster, I just want what's best for my child. Don't you.., oh wait, you don't have any children do you?" Mark said in the same affable old-chum type tone he had been using all along. " My daughter is a good girl, but she has this problem with my work. I don't make a big deal of it, (those activists would never leave me alone) but I am actually in the whaling business. You see, about fifteen years ago, my oil company was falling apart because there wasn't enough profit in mining oil. I was too stubborn to just quit and leave, but it looked like I was going to have to."

"Then, I found a loophole in the local law. You see, some Inuit still hunt whales for their food, so although whale hunting is outlawed, each Inuit person gets a certain number of whales that they can hunt each year. So if I hired all of these Inuit on my staff, then they would be able to buy their own food and therefore wouldn't need their whale allowance. So with an innocent little line in their contracts, they can give me their whale allowance, and everybody's happy."

" Well, everyone except my daughter. You see, she's got this animal rights thing, and she keeps accusing me of killing a precious species,.. Hah! Anyway, I want you to go and tell her that what I'm doing is right. I didn't tell her about whaling when she was younger because I didn't want to upset her, but now that I tell her she doesn't thank me for it, she accuses me of being a heartless monster! That's gratitude for you!"

" I'll be monitoring your conversation with Beth, so don't think of planning some sort of daring escape," Mark finished, dashing Ray's hopes as he did. All Ray felt now was the depressing reality that whatever he did, or even thought, this man would always be one step ahead of him.

* * *

Ray was escorted out of Mark's little interrogation room by two burly men. He realized where he was when they took him out of the door into Mr. Wight's office (Ray refused to think of that MAN by his first name anymore) He was shoved out of the office (he dimly wondered why he hadn't seen the carvings of whale hunters on the office doors before) and down along hall to a locked door. One of the men took a key out of his pocket and unlocked the door, as the other one untied his ropes. Before he could do anything, he was pushed roughly through the doorway and the door was shut behind him.

" Ray!!!" screamed Beth, as she launched herself off her bed and gave Ray a crushing hug. Ray simply went very stiff, having never been hugged by a young girl before. He looked around at the room, which was obviously Beth's bedroom, complete with the telephone and posters of any normal teenage girl.

" I knew you'd come to save me!" said Beth as she finally let Ray go. " My Father has me locked in here like a prisoner."

" Why is your hair brown?" blurted out Ray, still unnerved by her enthusiastic welcome.

" It's always been....oh wait, my father made you think I wasn't me by changing my hair color, didn't he?" She went on as Ray dumbly nodded assent, " My father always has fun fiddling around with gadgets, and when he found out he could change the colors on his wonderful spying sets, he experimented with it for weeks." Her disgust with her father colored her tone with bitterness.

" So, how do we get out of this?" finished Beth, clearly believing that Ray could get them out of this mess.

Ray simply stayed silent, knowing that Beth's father was listening in, and figuring that anything he did would have to be totally spontaneous for Mr. Wight not to be able to counter it.

" Your father sent me here to try to convince you that his business is not as horrible as it seems." Ray said, staying neutral.

" He recruited YOU too?" Beth asked in a sad little voice. She didn't wait for an answer, but instead sighed and went on. "I suppose I should have known he would blackmail you, but surely you don't agree with him? No, don't answer that. I don't want to know."

Ray's mind raced as he decided to look as if he was complying with Beth's father's wishes while looking for something, anything, that would let him escape here. " Now Beth," he said, stalling. " Surely you can see that your father loves you, or else why would he go to all this trouble to try to convince you that he is a good person? He has obviously given you everything you could ever want, which he wouldn't do if he didn't love you. Are a few whales really worth all this trouble?"

" A FEW whales!" Beth spat out with such contempt in her eyes that Ray recoiled from her. " Though I doubt this will affect you, as you are obviously of the same mind as my Father, I want to show what He had installed for me to look at on my twelfth birthday." She went to the side of the huge mirror that covered one side of the wall and pressed yet another hidden button.

The reflective surface of the mirror disappeared, and was replaced by a transparent glass window. As Ray took a few steps forward, he looked down on one of the most gruesome sights he had ever seen. About 25 feet below him was what appeared to be the main killing floor for the whaling company.

Dead and moribund whale hulks were shunted off the boats and onto long conveyor belts which carried them to huge processing machines (Ray started as he realized that they looked exactly as the ones in his dream had) which mashed up the carcasses for the precious oil stored inside. Blood was splattered everywhere, and the workers separating the usable parts of the whale from the unusable often waded knee deep in entrails and blood. The scene was horrible, and Ray turned his head quickly away from the carnage.

" Well what do you think?" asked Beth in a biting tone of voice, but Ray didn't hear her, because all of his attention was turned on a sound so faint he had to strain to hear it. Through the almost sound-proof glass, Ray heard a faint bark. Almost after he had started moving, Ray also noticed a flash of red on the killing floor, red that was NOT a blood-red. With only those two small clues to guide him, Ray flung himself out of the window.

* * *

Later Ray would look back and wonder at the sheer thoughtlessness of diving out of a 25-foot-high glass window onto a cavernous room crawling with butchers armed with sharp meat cleavers. He had been acting on the adrenaline high that sometimes happens to people trapped under stressful circumstances.

But he didn't think of any of that at the time, all he knew was that Fraser and Dief were down there somewhere, and he had to save them. The glass shattered around him with a satisfying CRUNCH and he went though the window as Beth screamed shrilly. As he fell, he felt like he had finally done something to get himself out of Mr. Wight's clutches. For the first time since he had been captured, he felt great.

That feeling disappeared rather abruptly as he landed on the hard cement of the killing floor. Ray's police training snapped into play, and he landed on his feet and rolled to absorb the shock, just as he had been taught. The glass shards from the window cut him a little, but he didn't even feel it as he jumped to his feet and started running towards the flash of red that he had seen before, a red that could only come from the dyed serge of a Mountie's uniform. Diefenbaker also helped by barking incessantly. The tiny center of Ray's brain that was still operating on Reason instead of Adrenaline informed him that this was yet another similarity between reality and the dream he had had last night.

By this time the workers on the floor had finally realized what had happened (having gotten over the initial shock of seeing a man jump out of the bosses daughter's window) and were running towards him, shouting questions. Ray simply dodged around them and kept running. He faintly heard the alarm go off and knew that Mr. Wight had finally realized what he had done. Ray's moment of surprise was over.

More men and women began to run towards him, but this time they didn't ask questions. Having been informed over the intercom by their boss that this man was dangerous and possibly psychotic, now they were trying to overpower Ray and knock him out, if not kill him. Ray dodged those people that he could and knocked the others out. He began to yell, not as much from fear as to throw any attackers off balance.

After disposing of one man with a quick chop to his windpipe, Ray leaped over one of the conveyor belts with the remains of a whale on it and rounded a corner to get his first good look at his objective.

Fraser wasn't there. The reality hit him like a ton of bricks as he saw the whole scene in a glance; Diefenbaker barking hysterically and straining at the chain that held him; the two guards; and worst of all, the Mountie jacket hanging on a coat hanger. The empty Mountie jacket that had led him here, to this trap.

In a split second he had taken all this in and made his decision. With his mind still reeling with the fact that he had been tricked again, he slammed one of the guards into a wall and punched the other one out. Diefenbakers barking took on a joyful note as Ray unclipped his chain and let him loose.

The ferocious quality of Deif's snarling took the rest of the people aback, and Ray took advantage of that and dodged around them. He began looking again, refusing to believe that Fraser had been taken somewhere else.

Then he saw him. Ray felt relief and fear at the same moment as he spotted Fraser, trussed up like a chicken and unconscious, hanging some fifteen feet above the ground from a meat hook by the same chain that bound him. Ray ran quickly to the controls for the hooks and maneuvered Fraser gently to the ground and unhooked him from the meat hook. He was in the process of unbinding Fraser's chains when the mob caught up with him.

He whirled to face the group of angry people with the knowledge that whatever happened now, he had found Fraser. He wasn't alone any more.

* * *

" Leave them alone!" a strident voice called out from behind the crowd. The mob, still muttering angrily, backed away from Ray and Fraser.

" Wonderful performance Ray! I didn't think you had it in you!" cried Mark Wight as he pushed his way to the front of the crowd, followed by burly guards dragging both Beth and Diefenbaker. " Of course I didn't expect you to leap out of my daughter's window and go berserk on me, but still, it was very entertaining."

With a fierce cry, Beth broke loose of the guard's hold and ran over to stand defiantly next to Ray. " I knew you didn't agree with Him," she said in a hushed aside to Ray.

" Well, what will you do with us now, Mark?" said Fraser quietly as he slowly got up off the floor and finished taking off the chains that bound him.

" Now he calls me Mark," Mr. Wight said almost to himself. " Well Fraser, I don't know. I can't murder you two outright, because that would draw too much attention to me. But after all, this is the Arctic, and accidents do happen...A couple of foolhardy men dying of exposure at this time of year isn't uncommon."

Ray blanched, remembering his dream, which had rapidly become reality.

" And what are you going to do with me, Daddy dear?" asked Beth scornfully.

" I don't think you can kill me in cold blood, though you could probably kill almost everyone else that gets in your way. I'm even starting to wonder if mother's death was an accident. If she found out about the whaling, and threatened to tell at the wrong time..."

" NO!" thundered her father, showing anger for the first time. " Your mother knew all along what I was doing, and supported me in it. I would never have kept something like that from her. That's why I told you of my business, because I could have kept you in the dark if I wanted to. I didn't want to lie to you. I do love you, why can't you see that?"

" NOOO!" sobbed Beth as she sank to the floor. Apparently the thought that her mother had also been tricked by her father was what had kept her going during the last few weeks.

Fraser now took matters into his own hands. Standing up slowly, for the chain he had been bound in had bruised him, he faced not Mark, but the crowd of workers who were standing openmouthed at the scene before them.

He said quietly to them, " I know many of you, even taught some how to speak and read the English language that were on the contracts you signed for this man. I now apologize for teaching you, because my teaching did not include how to read contracts and their clauses. I thought that because of this remote location, you would never encounter two-faced contracts that mean one thing and say another. But I was wrong."

By now many more than just the meat packing workers were gathered around, having been summoned by the alarm that their boss had pulled.

Fraser projected his voice a little louder so as to be heard by all and said,

" The one thing I must know before your boss condemns me to an icy death, is how many of you did not know of the true nature of this oil plant?"

At first no one spoke, afraid of the consequences of going against their now fiercely scowling boss. But then from the back came a shout of, " Me, I didn't know!" and the guard from the front door, Dabnis, muscled his way to the front, followed closely by his partner Tuvik. They pushed past everyone to stand by Fraser.

As Ray watched in amazement, more and more of the employees (the main body of them Inuit) shouted their assent and went to stand by their Mountie friend. Some of them even went so far as to loudly denounce whale hunting in front of their now livid boss. Ray realized that the only people who had known of the true nature of the company were a few of the executives, and of course the meat packers. Relief flooded in on him as he watched Mr. Wight's support crumble out from beneath him.

Other sensations reached his brain as well, ones that weren't so pleasant. He finally noticed the glass cuts on his face and arms, as well as a slew of other bruises and painful cuts. His right arm throbbed with an unending pain. The last thing he heard before he passed out was Beth, who had recovered from her sobbing, saying, " I'm dreadfully sorry Dad, but it seems that my not liking your business isn't `just a phase' after all."

* * *

" Mail Call!" yelled Detective Thomas Dewey as he passed out letters and packages to the employees of the Chicago Police Station. Detective Ray Kowalski left off trying to write a report with his left hand (his right arm was too tender to write with) and stood up quickly, ignoring the pain his almost-healed cuts and bruises gave him.

" Anything in there for me?" he asked Dewey hopefully.

" Yeah Ray, there's something in here from Canada, some weird place called Tukti.., Tuaktic.., no, that's not it.., TicTac...oh never mind!"

Dewey threw the letter at Ray as Ray said fluently, " Tuktoyaktuk."

" You've spent too much time with Canadians." muttered Dewey, but Ray didn't hear him, as he was already striding towards the Lieutenant's office.

Ray stuck his head in the office, and said, " Hey Fraze, we got a letter from Beth!" Then, almost as an afterthought, " Sorry sir, but this is important."

" It had better be," said Lieutenant Welsh. " I would like to finish this talk with you later, Benton."

" Certainly," replied Fraser, " I have always found discussions on police political structures fascinating."

Ray shuddered. The two walked out of the Lieutenant's office as Ray tried (unsuccessfully) to open the letter with one hand. He finally gave up and handed the letter to Fraser. Diefenbaker appeared from underneath Ray's desk as Fraser started to read.

Dear Ray, Fraser, and Dief, it began.

How are you guys? I'm fine, and I like living at my aunt's a lot better than living with my Father. I want to thank you again for sticking around long enough for me to get set up living with Aunt Patty in Tuktoyaktuk. You really didn't have to, not after that fight you put up to get Father's employee's to see what he was doing to those poor whales. That reminds me! I've joined the Junior Greenpeace League at my school.

I hope you'll be out of your sling soon Ray, and that your black eye disappears, Fraser. It just doesn't look right to see a Mountie with a shiner.

Dad is starting up a new company (a real OIL mining company) though I doubt he'll do well with it. Not many of the local people trust him any more. He keeps trying to get me to live with him again, and though I visit him a lot, I always decline his offers. He still maintains that he did nothing wrong. I wish he could have served a prison sentence. Maybe that would have showed him that he was wrong. But according to the law, he wasn't ACTUALLY doing anything illegal. Hah!

I do love Dad, because he loves me, but I don't trust him any more. A year ago I wouldn't have thought you could love someone without trusting them, but so much has happened since then. I'm glad you guys came along when you did. I love you guys so much, and I DO trust you!

Fraser blushed slightly at the praise, and Ray covered his embarrassment by fiddling with a paperweight on his desk. Dief just yipped for Fraser to continue.

All the Inuit like you too, even though they'll never say anything. They're too reserved. The only person who speaks out is Dr. Intut, who told me to tell you, Ray, that he thinks `you're the bravest American he's ever seen, considering you're the only one he's ever seen.' That's high praise, coming from him.

" Chicken-waving old fool." muttered Ray. Fraser knew that it was just a bluff, as Ray genuinely liked the old spiritual medicine doctor who had nursed Ray through the day-and-a-half when he had been delirious from his injuries.

I hope you can all come up again next time you have a vacation, or maybe I can come down there. I have to go do homework now, I'll write again soon. Give Diefenbaker a bag of Doritos for me.

Your Friend, Elizabeth Wight

The two friends looked at the letter for a moment, remembering the adventure that had brought them both together, and brought one young girl into their lives. It had happened just a few months ago, but it felt like years. Fraser had started to fold the letter back up, when he noticed an extra note on the back of the paper.

PS it said. I almost forgot to mention it, but Liana had puppies!

She has puppies all the time, so it's not unusual. The only strange thing is the puppies themselves. You see, they're half-wolf!

Ray could never figure out afterwards how, as the partners stared at him, Diefenbaker managed to look both ashamed and proud at the same time.


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