When the boards broke, Chicago detective Ray Vecchio fell through with a shout, mixed with a few colorful words as he tried desperately to grab onto something, but failed miserably. Thus he dropped to the bottom of the hole, fifteen feet below.
A shot rang out.
The man sat up like a bolt, despite his pain.
A shadow loomed overhead and the man scrambled out of the way, trying to avoid the furry gray mass that was falling in now. To the man's amazement, the wolf sprang back up on its feet and immediately began barking furiously at the opening above him.
"Dief! Dief!" The man couldn't get near the wolf because it was barking so violently, its entire body shook with wild fury. Despite the fact the wolf knew him well, enough to even dare steal his donuts every day, Ray was unsure of the wisdom approaching the dog now.
This one the man didn't dodge. As soon as he realized who it was, the detective raised his hands and awkwardly positioned himself to catch him. With a grunt, he did…almost, but then his legs lost the rest of the adrenaline induced tension and prompted him to drop to the ground again with the new visitor to this hellhole, Fraser, on top of him. Voices above were laughing and the detective shouted back every word he knew in the dictionary towards the opening above him. That was probably a mistake. Snow showered down as the men above kicked mounds of it through the hole. Ray crouched over, trying to cover his friend as best he could. The wolf was on his hind legs, attempting to climb up one of the walls, snapping at the men. His fangs bared, Dief looked enraged that he couldn't reach his targets.
"Diefenbaker." A quiet voice cut through the noise but it didn't stop the animal's tirade. Ray managed to pull himself out from under Fraser with a wince, waving at the canine for its attention. The deaf wolf calmed down when he saw the two men were stirring and went over to the speaker. Whining low, it shoved its muzzle at the person's gloved hand.
"Great," Ray muttered as he got himself into a sitting position in the cramped quarters. A sharp pain to his chest told him of a rib that was probably busted.
He caught Fraser struggling to sit up out of the corner of his eye. "Whoa, whoa! Where do you think you're going, Benny?"
"Hopefully out," the Mountie replied in a shaky voice as he pressed his back against a wall. He used its support to slide upwards to a standing position and brushed the snow off of his brown uniform, which to Ray's annoyance, was remarkably clean considering. Fraser looked up and shook his head at the impossible height.
"Unless you're telling me that Mounties can fly, Benny, there's no way in hell you're going to be able to climb out of here."
Ray caught the Mountie before he could fold in again. Cursing in Italian, Ray helped him back up to a sitting position. He tried to check Fraser for wounds, but his friend waved him off.
"Will be still out there hunting your Canadian animals for a while, Fraser, so relax, okay?" Ray looked at his friend critically, eyes going up and down. "I heard shots. Are you all right?"
"They were aiming for Diefenbaker," Fraser answered absently as he patted the wolf's head. The animal growled low as if commenting. "But he was too quick for them. They aimed for him, then for my head. They…missed." The Mountie shook his head as he stared at his long time four-legged companion. "Never should have used you as bait, my friend."
The wolf snorted, ears twitching as if the idea of blaming the Mountie was a ridiculous one. Ray agreed.
"Listen, Benny, we tracked them selling pelts down in Chicago all the way up to the boondocks…"
"Canada, Ray. Hardly the boon ducks." Benton reminded his friend, ever mindful of proper syntax. The detective rolled his eyes, exasperated.
"Boondocks, Benny, boondocks. And good old Canada's close enough for me." Ray glared at Fraser then at the hole. "You were so certain that we could track them up here in the middle of nowhere. What did we find in the day we were wandering around?"
"We found some clear tracks that were following a group of…"
"What did we find?" Ray repeated, crossing his arms.
"Precisely. Which was why having Dief here running around looking like a potential coat- sorry, Dief," Ray apologized to the grumbling wolf, "was a good idea. How were we suppose to know that they would be armed to the teeth with bazookas-"
"Long range rifles, Ray. Hardly any explosive charged weapon."
"Whatever," Ray continued on as if it was one of their usual exchanges, despite the fact that they were stuck in a cold hellhole in the middle of nowhere. "And that there weren't two as we thought, but three?"
"I'm a Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer, Ray." Fraser tried to stand up again. "I should have realized that one of the tracks were deeper, indicating that they were overlapping, stepping on each other's footprints and-"
"You're a red uniform wearing- don't get up yet! --Mountie, Fraser, not a mind reader," Ray grumbled as he tried to get Fraser to sit down. The Mountie looked up at the hole again and then at Diefenbaker with a strange look.
"What?" The detective's patience was getting thin, while his worry was growing. Fraser looked a little unsteady on his feet. "Sit down, Fraser."
"Remind you of a certain mine shaft. Diefenbaker?" Fraser enunciated slowly for the animal to read his lips and grinned wearily as the wolf woofed in agreement. "Think you could do it again like last time?"
"Woof." A pause and another "Woof."
"What? What?" Ray exclaimed, having no clue to why Fraser was taking off his RCMP insignia and giving it to Dief, whom was gently taking it into its mouth.
"Ray, I need to stand on your shoulders."
"I need the extra height before I can toss Dief up so he can climb over us to the top." The man explained patiently as he struggled to steady himself with a gloved hand against the cold walls.
"Are you nuts? You can barely stand, much less carry that mutt!" Ray shouted, ignoring the growling from the wolf. "I'll stand on your shoulders! I'm lighter. Dief can jump off my shoulders to the top."
"It wouldn't be a good idea, Ray," Fraser replied evenly. "I have to stand on your shoulders."
Ray looked at his friend questioningly, but the Canadian didn't give any more explanations. Vecchio shrugged and crouched down in front of one wall, bracing his hands on it for support. The detective grunted as he felt Fraser step on his shoulders with his boots, a bit grateful they weren't sharp heels. He then stood up shakily, cursing at the added weight as he went.
"Don't talk, Ray. Conserve your air for this task," Fraser's voice said weakly from above. "Come on, Dief. Just like before."
Cold paws clamored over Ray's parka with faint scratching sounds of nails over nylon fabric, climbed over his hooded head and into Fraser's arms. The Italian could hear his friend saying something to Dief so softly that he couldn't hear. He was busy concentrating on the strain of having to support the weight of Benny and the wolf.
"Hey, Fraser! You ain't no lightweight! Hurry it up with whatever you're doing!"
"Just a moment, please," The Mountie called out as he steadied himself. With a heave, he tossed Dief up in the air. The wolf twisted his body, landing on the edge of the hole. Fraser held his breath as he watched his wolf scrambling to climb over, using its strong hind legs to rake the walls for leverage. He sighed as he saw the animal climbed over, then sticking his head back to the opening.
"Good. Remember, okay? Mounties, not fisherman," Fraser called out. He thought he heard a reply, but the wind carried it away. He hoped the poachers weren't still around with their targets on Dief again.
"Hey, Fraser?" Ray's voice was tight with the strain. "He's up?"
"Y-yes." Benton felt the cold now. He also felt the heat in his shoulder that he was denying before. However, now that a plan was launched, he could concentrate on that now…
"Fraser!" Ray felt the boots slip and the man leaned back. He turned around quickly and tried to catch the fainting man, but was too late. With a thump that caused more snow to fall from top, Fraser landed awkwardly on his side without a sound. Ray rushed over and turned him over, cursing loudly as he finally saw what his friend was hiding from him before.
"Sorry I was so heavy, Ray," Fraser whispered weakly as his eyelids fluttered shut.
"Don't go to sleep on me here, Benny. Hang on-" That voice faded away as Fraser thought of another hole he was in, the same familiar darkness threatening to loom over and then waking up to find-
A wolf. Well, actually, it was a wolf pup.
Constable Benton Fraser, RCMP, after tracking poachers through the Yukon Territory, had found himself in a make shift bear trap. As he had fallen, he had mentally chided himself for not seeing the lack of tracks around the hidden trap. But then his head hit the bottom and all self-lecturing disappeared at that point.
The moist tongue that licked his cold cheek drew him back to the land of the conscious. He opened his eyes and saw a fuzzy white lump. Squinting, he realized it was a young wolf. It licked him eagerly until he got up to a sitting position.
"And what are you doing here?" Fraser asked with a small smile. He picked up the young wolf. He chuckled as it tried to lick him once more.
"I'm not dinner, fellow." The Mountie laughed. He sobered up though when he realized that the wolf pup probably fell in the trap that was meant for bears.
"You shouldn't be here." Getting to his feet, he picked up the wolf and looked up, gauging the distance. "Sorry about this." With that, Fraser pulled his arms down, then jerked them up, flinging the wolf up towards the opening. The pup yelped as it felt itself flying towards the opening. Landing on its feet at the edge, the pup skidded a bit. For a moment, Fraser feared that the young wolf might fall back. It didn't. Hind legs kicked frantically, it righted itself. With a high pitched yip, it reported that it was safe. Fraser grinned. At least the wolf got out.
A trickle of dirt, loosened from the pup's kicking, rained down on the Mountie. Fraser didn't have time to react when a small boulder, that was imbedded in that dirt, came down. It hit him on the head and he found himself falling a second time to the dirt.
How inconvenient, was his last thought as he sank into darkness once more.
It was so cold here.
"God dammit, Benny! Wake up!"
Is there an earthquake? Why am I shaking?
The combination of shouting, plus the frantic shaking by Ray, returned Fraser to his senses. The Mountie groaned slightly, suddenly realizing that he was on the ground, his head cushioned with Ray's detached hood from his parka.
"You should wear the hood to conserve heat, Ray," Fraser said weakly as he tried to move his head to get the hood. Cold hands slapped his away. "The head loses the most heat-"
"You lied to me! Why the hell didn't you tell me that you were shot?" Ray's eyes were dark with worry. He was still trying to get over the shock of finding a profusely bleeding wound on his friend's shoulder. "Christ, you gave me a goddamn heart attack, Benny!"
Fraser smiled to reassure his friend, but saw it wasn't working. "I didn't lie to you. They were aiming for my head…and they…missed. I just failed to mention that the bullet did find another mark."
"Failed to mention…." Ray glared at Fraser. "And when were you thinking of mentioning it? When you dropped dead from massive loss of blood?"
Very upset, Fraser assessed with a wince as he tried to sit up. Not good. Not good at all. "Ray, calm down-"
"Calm down?" The Italian was bellowing higher than the winds above them. "Calm down?"
Oh dear. Fraser could tell his friend was out of his mind with worry. "I'm keeping calm to lower my heart rate so the bleeding will slow down-"
"Lowering your heart rate?" Ray was standing up now, his arms waving wildly. "What? You want to stop your heart rate now?"
"Ray, that's silly. No one can do that-" Fraser saw that it was pointless and sighed. It didn't help that his shoulder was killing him with each movement he made.
The detective saw his friend's discomfort and calmed down a bit. Grumbling to himself about his temper, he crouched down by Fraser again. He helped Fraser sit up and peeled back the unbuttoned uniform to check again. He grunted, not liking what he saw.
"Still bleeding, Fraser."
"Bullet went clean through, Ray." Fraser said as he probed his own wound with a grimace.
"Will you stop doing that? Next thing you'll probably do is start licking it."
"Well, the saliva would disinfect the wound. Many animals-" Ray rolled his eyes at the start of Fraser's tale.
"Fraser. Benny. Never mind." Ray pulled out a handkerchief and pressed down on the wound, wishing he had something to bandage both sides. The front looked okay. It was a neat, if it could be called as that, hole where the bullet had entered. However, the ragged edges on the back where it had exited worried the detective. Ray cast another concerned glance at Fraser, who was biting his lip to stop himself from crying out in pain.
"Besides…ow…I wouldn't…ow, ow, ow…be able to reach efficiently enough to lick my wounds, Ray."
Rolling his eyes upward and naming at least three saints he knew of, Ray took off his parka, shivering at the cold.
"What are you doing?"
Ray then proceeded to take off his two sweaters.
"Ray! Are you crazy? It's cold!"
"Look who's talking crazy," Ray muttered, remembering the wild stunts Fraser had pulled in Chicago since he had come to know. He stopped removing clothing when he reached his shirt. Taking that off, he set it carefully folded on his lap so it wouldn't get dirty. Then he quickly pulled his layers back on again. Even though it was only for a few minutes, Ray was feeling every breath of Arctic wind on his skin. By the time he pulled his parka back on, he was shivering.
"Ah damn!" Ray growled as he tried to warm up again.
"What are you doing?" The Mountie looked at his friend with a bit of confusion.
"Bandages, Benny," Ray told him as he proceeded to rip the cotton fabric of his shirt to strips.
Ray looked at his friend with concern, hearing the dazed tone in the voice. Fraser was looking at him with mild puzzlement, eyebrows furrowing as he tried to recall why Ray needed bandages.
"Are you hurt, Ray?"
Shaking his head, Ray was dismayed at the rapidly failing condition of his friend. "You are."
"Yes, Benny, you are." Ray shuffled over and peeled back the uniform again, pointing to the blood under his white tunic. "See that? That's blood. Blood is bad. That's why you're feeling like shit right now, my friend."
"You can say that again," Ray muttered as he wrapped the strips around the pressed handkerchief.
"Oh…ow…dear." Fraser slid sideways, but Ray caught him again.
"Now I ain't no doctor, Fraser-"
"It's 'am not', Ray."
"Not 'ain't'. That's not proper grammar. It should be 'am no-'"
"Will you shut up and let me finish?" Ray snapped at his friend in exasperation. "Now I AM NO doctor, but I should think that you would need to stay awake."
"A very good idea, Ray," Fraser agreed as he struggled to keep his eyes from closing. "To prevent me from going into shock."
"Yeah," the detective murmured as he slipped two fingers under Fraser's glove to check the pulse. He cursed softly and tugged the Mountie's coat tighter around him to keep the heat in. "Why is no case ever easy with you, Benny?"
"I'm sorry, Ray."
"Will you stop apologizing to me for Christ's sake? And keep your eyes open! Look at me!"
Ray shook his friend firmly. Green eyes stared back wearily, hooded underneath shadowed lids. "Unless you can see with your eyes closed, you're not."
Fraser mumbled something and tried to sit up straighter. He cried out in spite of himself at the pain. Fuzzily, he felt an arm go around his shoulders, pulling him in closer. A coat opened up a little to cover him as well.
"Ray, you'll get cold," Fraser weakly protested.
"I'll get cold with it open or closed," the Italian said gruffly. "Tell anyone I gave you a hug and I'll feed Dief jelly donuts until he's too fat to even wag his tail."
Silent laughter vibrated against the detective's shoulder.
"You were saying like before?" Ray spoke up suddenly.
"To Dief. You were saying it reminded you of a mine shaft?"
"No, this pit."
"Well, it's not really a pit, Ray. I mean a pit would be a hastily built-"
"Oh, sorry. Ah yes, the mineshaft. Yes, that's when I first met Diefenbaker."
"You met him in a mineshaft?" Ray shifted slightly to look at his friend in disbelief. "Are you for real?"
"Quite." The Mountie had a small smile as he remembered. "He gave me quite a headache."
"A headache? Because he was a fuss?"
"No…because he knocked me unconscious twice."
"Really." Fraser laughed softly as he remembered. "Despite that, we created quite an unusual bond."
"I wouldn't mind hearing about it, Benny," Ray said as he looked up at the high opening.
"Yes, you would. You never like to hear my stories." The Mountie was referring to the endless Inuit stories he used to pull out for every situation he thought it could relate to.
"No, really," Ray said seriously as he gave his friend another shake to wake him up. "I really do, Benny."
Fraser smiled, partly because he knew what Ray was trying to do and partly because of the memory. "Well, it started when I was tracking some poachers-"
When Fraser woke up a second time, his first thought was that the snow had fallen during his lapse. Snow coated his body with a thin layer that was already beginning to frost over his clothes. Quick swipes at it didn't rid him of it fast enough.
"Not good," the Mountie muttered as he looked up. He winced as he felt the lump on his head.
"I can sled over the Pass, climb to the top of Crow's Nest with only a stick, and leap down fifty foot cliffs, but toss a rock on my head and I'm out." The Mountie shook his head in disgust, but when the walls began to spin again, he decided that it was a bad idea. "Berate yourself later, Benton. You have poachers to catch." Although how he was going to climb back up was a different story- the walls were smooth, planks covered over dirt. Attempting to climb them could just mean bring down the rest of the rocks over him. Being buried alive didn't sound appealing.
Fraser looked up and found, to his surprise, that the wolf was looking over the edge. The scrawny pup whined as it looked down at its savior.
"I don't suppose you have any rope, do you?" Fraser asked with a smile, getting another whine as a reply. He could almost hear an apology from the wolf. He shook his head; a bit glad the walls weren't spinning anymore and laughed.
"Here I am, stuck in a bear trap, having a conversation with an adolescent wolf," Fraser chuckled, his predicament momentarily forgotten. "What would Dad say?" He could hear his Mountie father scolding him about lying around when there were criminals to catch.
Another whine. Fraser looked up and saw the wolf leaning closer to the edge.
"No, don't do that! You'll fall back in!" Fraser admonished. The wolf paid no attention as it scrambled closer. As dirt tumbled down, the wolf paused, self-preservation kicking in and it tried to step back. But the damage was already done. Dirt loosened from underneath the wolf's paws, rained down on Fraser's head. The Mountie covered his head, closing his eyes to prevent any of it going in. When he felt the last of the dirt hit him, he moved his arms away from his head, prepared to look up when he saw another shadow loom over him.
A wooden plank from the one of the walls rushed down and crashed onto his head. The hard wood made contact with his skull and darkness came knocking again. It dragged him down to the realm of the unconsciousness for a third time.
Well, this would be a story to tell the villagers, he thought as his head met the ground once more. He wondered, if he should ever got out, how long would it be before he could look back at this and laugh, because it didn't seem particularly funny right now….
Ray clamped his mouth tightly with a gloved hand, trying to contain his laughter. However when he made the mistake of looking over at Fraser and saw the annoyance in the Mountie's eyes, it broke the dam.
Hunched over in laughter, Ray shook his head, powdery snow drifting down from his shoulders. "I can't…I can't believe it! You mean Dief knocked you out?"
"Twice." Fraser felt a smile breaking out of his own face anyway as he thought about it. "Well, now that I think about it, it was a bit funny…"
"It's hilarious!" Ray wiped a tear out of the corner of his eye. "Man, it's like a Three Stooges skit."
"Never mind." Ray still chuckled, remembering how annoyed Fraser sounded as he described how he was knocked out…again.
"I didn't think it was that funny, Ray," Fraser protested weakly. "It really hurt. I had to get stitches for the last one."
"Poor Mountie." Ray was still smiling, though. "So what did you do next?"
"Well, I was unconscious, Ray."
"I mean, after that." Ray paused as he saw the discomfort in Fraser's stance. He shifted slightly and took Fraser's wrist to check his pulse. He relaxed when he felt a steady beat underneath his fingers. He pulled his hand away. Out of the corner of his eye, Ray caught an amused look from Fraser.
"I thought you said you weren't a doctor, Ray."
"I at least know how a pulse should be," Ray shot back with no anger in the words.
"And how is mine?"
"Pretty good." Ray shrugged. "But that doesn't mean we can stay here forever." He looked up at the opening with an irritated look. "What in the world are you having Dief do?"
"He's fetching help."
"No kidding?" Ray looked at his friend dumbfounded. "Wolves can do that?"
"Not really, but Dief can." Fraser laughed weakly. "He's done it before, Ray."
"Yeah, I've seen it before." Ray nodded his head. "You've got him trained pretty well."
"Actually, I never taught him that. He seemed to know that since the beginning."
Fraser wondered if he had become some animal's meal. The persistent licking reminded him of a polar bear, smacking its massive jaws after a fresh kill. He felt as if something had snacked on him.
Groaning, Fraser feebly waved a hand at the unseen beast and hoped that would be enough to deter it from making him into a meal. The whimper that came in response caused him to open his eyes in a flash. When his vision stopped giving him double slides of everything, Fraser saw the white wolf. It sat on the ground, head tilted to the side as it studied Fraser. Tongue out again, it licked the Mountie, all the while whining for him to get up.
"Okay, okay," Fraser muttered weakly. He leaned back against the planks, his hands clawing for cracks to pull up against. It seemed to take forever, but finally, he was sitting up again. He placed a hand to the back of his head. When he pulled his hand away, it was stained with his blood.
The wolf whined at the sight, his head down to the ground as if it regretted its hasty decision before.
"I'm okay," the man told it as he looked up at the opening. "You jumped down?"
Fraser smiled. He almost understood that. "Well, I appreciate the gesture, but all you've done was get yourself trapped again."
"Woof." The wolf snuffed as if telling the Mountie that he knew that.
"Well, then. What do we do now?" Getting up on legs that felt like water, Fraser took another look at the opening. He wondered if he could use the planks as footholds, but the planks were loosely nailed over dirt walls, barely holding back the earth. They wouldn't be able to hold his weight.
Suddenly, the wolf pricked up its ears and began barking frantically. It practically stood up against the wall, barking at some unseen thing above them.
"Someone there?" The wolf whined for a second, then barked again. "Help, perhaps?"
The wolf practically jumped on him, barking with urgency as if it could sense whomever it was up there was leaving.
"Okay! Okay!" Fraser placed his hands up to protect himself. The canine was pretty close to tackling him in its excitement. It calmed down and yipped, snout nuzzling Fraser's hand.
"Oh, you want me to throw you up there again?" The Mountie looked at the wolf in mock sternness. "After you just got back down? Can't you make up your mind?"
The wolf barked twice as if telling him to hurry up.
Rolling his eyes, Fraser picked up the wolf with a grunt. "Don't get too use to this. I don't go around tossing canine animals up in the air."
The wolf just growled impatiently, wiggling around in Fraser's arms, telling him to hurry up.
"Hopeless. You don't listen," Fraser muttered. He heaved up and the wolf was up in the air again. As if used to it now, the wolf pup twisted until it landed safely on the edge of the hole. It barked back, reporting that it was on top. It took off for a direction where it sensed people.
"Wait!" Fraser called out, realizing that whoever it was out there might just see a wolf barreling towards them. He feared they might shoot out of fear before the wolf could convey that it needed help.
"Wait! Come back!" Fraser called out again. Suddenly, he felt a little foolish. "Come back? Really, as if it could understand-"
Surprised, Fraser looked up again. Sure enough, the wolf had returned, head bowed low to the opening, growling low as if it were annoyed that Fraser had called it back. Not even questioning how the wolf knew to return, Fraser took off his insignia and tossed it up. The wolf barked once and caught it gently in its mouth.
"Show this to them." The Mountie wondered if it understood after all or was that a coincidence. "That way they'll understand."
"Woof." The wolf sounded like it agreed.
"Good luck!" The man called out, but the wolf was already gone again.
Fraser sat down wearily, wishing there was something more to look at than a blank white snowy sky or the drab dingy wooden planks. He looked at the planks, rather than strain his neck to look at the sky. He watched the planks, lined up row by row, cracks going the opposite direction, dirt trickling down between those cracks-
Wait a minute.
The Mountie sat up straighter. He leaned closer and peered at the planks in front of him. The planks looked damp, bulging in some spots, pregnant with dirt that was trying to get free. The trap was going to cave in.
"Oh my." He looked up at the opening, decided he had better chance a climb, and not wait for the wolf. Fraser got up, pocketed his gloves, and flexed his fingers to get the circulation going. Then he reached up for the first plank.
It was then when he heard the rifle shot.
Fraser jerked out of his reverie, startled, at first thinking that the rifle shot that echoed above was only from memory. But then Ray stood up, alarmed.
"Shit! I think that was the poachers!" The detective cursed as he jumped up, half hoping that he would be able to somehow peer over, which of course was impossible.
"They were carrying long range rifles," the Mountie said softly, remembering.
"You don't think Dief-"
The Mountie was silent. Ray scolded himself mentally for voicing out a worry that had obviously occurred to Fraser before he had sent Dief for help. He looked up at the opening, shook his fist at it as he muttered hotly under his breath, then sat back down next to his friend. He studied Fraser for a moment, not liking how pale he had begun to look.
"He's okay, Benny," the detective said, forcing a bit of cheerfulness in his voice. "Come on, that wolf chased down pizza delivery cars without stopping. What's two poachers to him?"
"Three poachers, Ray," Fraser corrected his friend. He winced as his shoulder protested any movement he tried to make.
"Three poachers. . .who are probably far away from us and this place they threw us in." Ray saw his friend look back up again. "He's okay, Benny."
"Of course, Ray," the man automatically replied.
Sighing, Ray tried something else. "You were telling me about Dief getting help?"
"Huh? Oh." Fraser gave the opening one last glance before continuing. "You see, I needed to leave that trap because the planks were not going to last much longer and because that shot sounded so nearby…"
Fraser froze there. His ears rung with the sharp crack of the shot. It had sounded close. That was not good. He looked around again, eyes glued to those cracks that appeared to have grown larger and swallowed. He most certainly should not remain here.
"Let's hope I'm not too heavy for you," Fraser murmured to the planks. He gingerly tried to step up on one. It held. The Mountie let out a breath he didn't realize he was holding and moved to place his other foot on top of it.
The Mountie fell back to the ground with a grunt. The plank snapped under the full weight. Luckily, it was near ground level so any dirt that spilled out was negligible. The man looked at the other planks critically.
Fraser had to take the chance.
"Hang on, my friend. I'm coming." The man began once more to step up on another plank. This time, it held under his weight. Fraser spared a brief smile and then went on to the next step. Then the next step…
The fall this time, was a few feet and brutal to Fraser's back. The man bit back a groan as he got up again, feeling the shocks coursing through his hipbone and spine. He grimaced as he tried to stand up. It was a good thing, because the broken pieces of the plank came tumbling down and he barely had enough time to avoid them.
"No, thank you," Fraser told the wooden pieces on the ground. "I've already had my lumps." He heard another sound and looked up, stiffening as he saw the dirt freed from behind the now broken plank that began to spill. It rained down on top of him, pouring dirt and rocks relentlessly. The man stumbled back, slipping on the loose debris and fell back down. He could feel the dirt slowly covering him…
"You were being buried alive!" Ray exclaimed, interrupting Fraser's monologue. "So did you make it out?"
"Well obviously, Ray. Otherwise you should be worried because you would be talking to a ghost right now. . . although it is not as uncommon as you might think. I-"
"Fraser." The detective looked at him exasperated. "I know that. But how did you get out?"
Dirt, as it turned out, can be very heavy. It flowed out of the gap like a gush of water, forcing the Mountie to bring up his hands to shield his eyes. His arms were pounded with sharp rocks and the flow pushed at him cruelly. Fraser fell back down underneath the crushing weight. He heard another crack and knew another plank had cracked under the vibrations and it added to his burden. Literally.
Fraser could feel the dirt covering his legs, his torso now immobile. His face was barely above the mounds, but that would soon be buried as dirt kept coming in. He could feel his nose being covered now and soon he wouldn't be able to breathe-
"Hey! There is someone there!" a voice called out, astonished. "Hurry up, will you?"
The man was barely conscious enough to realize that someone had jumped down the shaft and was furiously digging around to find his hand. The dirt was slowing its downpour, but it had done the damage. Fraser couldn't see that snowy sky anymore. He couldn't hear the voice anxiously calling out to his comrades. He couldn't even move his chest to breathe air that was kept from him.
"I found his hand!" Frantic warm hands grabbed his and pulled.
The first thing he felt was the air on his face. His lungs eagerly heaved in and out as they filled with precious oxygen. He gasped, doubling over as he took in air and felt his limbs move again.
"Hey, are you alright?" A hand was on his back. The Mountie looked up and nodded gratefully. He saw a large man towering over him, almost blocking the three faces peering down from the opening. They were bundled up in fur lined parkas, faces tanned from staying out in the Arctic sun too long.
"Thank you kindly," Fraser managed to get his mouth working.
"Constable F-fraser, Royal Canadian M-mounted Police."
"Well, Constable, lucky for you we decided to check it out."
"How did you-"
"That pet of yours." The man thumbed upwards toward a white face and pink tongue that was hanging out of it. "It came right at us. Scared us to death. We thought it was attacking our catch. Joe here-" One of the concerned faces piped out a greeting at the name. "Shot at it, but it ducked so fast. Damnedest thing I ever saw. Joe fired another shot, but then it leaps on to my chest and drops this on my lap."
Fraser opened his palm and accepted the insignia with a smile. "He's not my pet, actually."
"Oh?" The man looked back at the wolf.
"Found him here in this bear trap," Fraser started to explain but then he coughed. The man, alerted to the Mountie's discomfort, held up a hand.
"Stories can wait, sir. Hey Clark! Hand me that rod, will you?"
"Yeah." Bill looked puzzled as to why Fraser appeared so surprised. "For fish."
"Fish?" The Mountie began to understand. "Ah! Fishermen!"
"Yep. Don't worry, though. We hadn't exceed the limit." The men above them laughed as they handed a rod down. "Use this as a rope to help get up."
"Coming, coming," Fraser called back.
"So impatient," the Mountie commented. The fisherman, helping him up, raised an eyebrow.
"If you say so, Mister. I don't understand wolf language."
"Well neither do I, but apparently our little adventure together has helped me create a rapport with-"
"Coming!" the Mountie shot back- a little embarrassed with the wolf's rude manners.
Moments later, Fraser was shaking hands with the men who helped him.
"You're sure you don't want us to drop you off at the nearby village?"
"No, but thank you for the offer." Fraser readjusted his Stetson, retrieved from the trap. "I have men to capture while the trail is still good."
"Okay, if you're sure." Bill shook hands with Fraser again and hopped back on his motor sled.
"Woof!" the wolf grumbled.
"Well you could go with them if you like, but I have poachers to catch," Fraser scolded the wolf lightly. Bill laughed at the sight.
"You're sure he isn't your pet?" With that, the men left the two.
"Pet indeed," Fraser muttered, smiling as he waved farewell. "You're a wild animal."
The wolf growled.
"Well, I didn't mean it that way. I mean wild as in wilderness animal compared to a domesticated…oh why am I talking to you anyway?" Fraser threw up his hands, exasperated. "You are a wolf."
"Woof." The wolf barked again. Fraser could have sworn it was trying to tell him something.
"Woof, woof!" The wolf pup pawed the snow, revealing a fish underneath. Gently, it lifted it up with its teeth and showed it to Fraser.
"Where did you get that?" The Mountie was too astonished to even realize that the animal was offering a gift. "That was from Bill, wasn't it? You can't take that!"
The wolf growled teeth firmly on the fish.
"Don't even think of using that kind of language with me! That…you're…that's called stealing!"
The wolf turned its head and barked softly once.
"No, you are giving it back."
"Yes you are! If not, I'm going to have to arrest you."
The wolf barked at Fraser as if it didn't believe him. The Mountie placed his hands on his hips as he glared at the wolf.
"Oh? You don't think I would do it? I am a Mountie. Go back and return it. Go on."
The wolf stayed where he was, stubbornly gripping the dead fish. Fraser sighed.
"I don't have time to argue with you." Fraser smiled a bit. "I should thank you for saving my life, even though you gave me quite a lump."
Raising an eyebrow, Fraser noticed that the wolf pup hadn't left yet. "What's the matter, fella? Shouldn't you be heading home with your stolen loot?"
The animal whined, head down to the ground now. Fraser, alarmed, thought the wolf was injured. He bent down and gingerly fingered the fur-covered body, finding nothing. The wolf nuzzled his hand once more.
"What? You want to come with me?" Fraser was surprised. "I'm not a den mother wolf."
The animal whined again.
Fraser was really beginning to think he could understand the wolf. He studied the wolf for a long moment, then at the slowly descending sun. He sighed, knowing time was short if he was to track his men.
"Come on. You can follow me while I track him, at least. I could use the company."
The wolf happily got up on its feet. Fraser could have sworn it looked smug, but surely he must have been mistaken.
"Are you going to return that fish?"
"Hopeless. Absolutely hopeless. You just don't listen." With that, Fraser left the area with his new shadow.
"You really were going to arrest Dief?" Ray asked dubiously at the end of the story.
"I should have," Fraser muttered.
"But you didn't?"
"No, but I did scold him very severely." The man laughed softly as he remembered. "Father nearly had a fit when he heard from the others about my…wolf. Said it wouldn't stick around long enough. Diefenbaker was a wolf, after all."
"Don't remind me." The detective shivered as he remembered the huge, furry creature leaping onto his lap the first time they met. It was yawning and Ray had an uncomfortable first hand look at its massive jaw and teeth in 3D Imax vision.
"Funny thing," Fraser mused, "he stayed after all these years. I don't think I ever truly thanked him for getting help that day or for pulling me out of the Sound."
The Mountie's voice had dropped to a whisper as if he had regretted not doing so. Ray had a sinking feeling that Fraser had thought the worst had happened to his wolf. He was just glad there wasn't another shot heard.
"Hey down there!" A ruddy face man peered over the opening. "Well, what do you know?"
"Hey! Down here!" Ray waved his arms frantically. "We have a man hurt down here!"
"Hang on." The face disappeared for a moment. Ray looked down at his friend worriedly. The Mountie barely had his eyes opened.
"We're getting out of here, buddy." The detective gave a thumbs up. His friend smiled weakly.
"Did you see if Diefenbaker…if he was with him?"
Ray's smile faded. No, he didn't. "Uh, I think I heard a bark or something." The detective hedged. Fraser looked at him suspiciously. "Sorry, Benny. No, I didn't see Dief with him."
A rope dropped down and Ray grabbed it quickly, looping it around Fraser. Helping him stand up, Ray hoisted him up a bit and watched anxiously as he was pulled up slowly. After a few minutes, the rope dropped down again and Ray was soon back up above ground again. Their rescuer introduced himself as Tom and the two men shook hands.
"Good riddance!" Ray bellowed back down on the hole. As an after thought, the detective kicked snow down the pit until he felt satisfied, clapping his hands together to get rid of the frost on his gloves. Remembering, he looked around frantically. No sign of a wolf lurking about the snow. Ray's smile faded.
"How…how did you find us?" Fraser was asking faintly as the man fastened him securely on the sled. The two-seater had a cart with skis attached to the back, so Ray climbed on top of it, gingerly avoiding the boxes piled on top of it.
"Well," the man rubbed his chin in thought, "it was the weirdest thing. I was driving by here to head to town to deliver supplies, you see and this wolf runs right towards me-"
"Dief?" The Mountie asked anxiously.
"His wolf." Ray explained impatiently. "You were saying?"
"Huh? Oh yeah. Well, it kept chasing me so I was driving away to avoid it when I saw these tracks. I was thinking that it was weird to see so many tracks and decided to follow them. After that, I turned around and the wolf was gone. I thought nothing of it and kept following those tracks until it lead me here."
Fraser's face fell. Dief wasn't with the man and the man had no weapon with him. That meant-
"Dief! Hey, Benny! That's Dief! And…a whole bunch of Eskimos!" Ray looked dumbfounded as he saw a group of Indians coming towards them. Three men were being dragged, tied with rope. The wolf was behind them, barking every so often.
"They're not Eskimos, Ray. They're-"
"Woof!" Dief bounded quickly towards Fraser and Ray.
"Where were you?" The Mountie scolded. The wolf just barked as he jumped up to him. Ray glared at three tied men.
"Well, Benny. There are your poachers." The detective looked warily at the Indians.
"Your wolf here led us to the poachers," one man explained as he handed Ray their rifles. "We do not like men who trespass on our grounds, killing our animals." He shoved their prisoners none too gently towards Ray.
"Um…thanks." Ray managed to say as the men left without waiting for a response. He looked back at Dief. "So that's where you've been. Playing Mountie, are we?"
Ray turned to Tom. "The town you were mentioning before. They got a jail there."
"It's a town, Ray. Of course they would have some sort of-"
"Never mind, Fraser." The detective glared at the poachers. "We'll lock them up there until someone picks us up. More importantly, we need to get you to doctor."
"Should be there in twenty minutes." Tom revved up his sled. Ray, seated in the back, pointed one of the confiscated rifles towards the captured men.
"Mush," Ray said with a smug smirk. The men obediently walked along the slow moving sled. Fraser, relieved that Dief had returned, drifted off to sleep with the wolf contently curled up on his lap. After a few moments, the wolf sniffed inquisitively at Fraser. Satisfied that his friend was okay, Dief jumped lightly across the cart to Ray. The detective looked doubtfully at the animal.
The wolf pushed its snout through the boxes.
"Hey! That's not yours! Quit that!"
Gently in its teeth, Dief pulled out a chocolate bar. Ray looked stunned.
"Where did you find that? Is that how you find help? Sniffing what they got? I don't believe this. Put that back! That isn't yours!"
"Oh yeah? Wait until I tell Fraser. I can bust you right now, too!"
"What? What did you just say? It sounded like- I can't believe I'm arguing with a wolf! Put that back!"
The wolf growled.