Three Men in a Cabin

(Not to Mention the Dog!)

with apologies to Jerome K. Jerome

Author's Note: "Three Men in a Boat" (subtitled: "To Say Nothing of the Dog!") is, in my humble opinion, a classic of English humorous literature. Written by Jerome K. Jerome, it's about three friends and a fox terrier taking a trip on the River Thames in Victorian England. This story isn't quite in the same class as the book; nevertheless, I shamelessly adapted the title.

Standard disclaimers: Hawke & Co. (including Tet) don't belong to me, I just enjoy giving them a hard time every so often.

******************

It was late in the afternoon of a hot, sunny day and Stringfellow Hawke wanted to do nothing more once he got home than put his feet up on the porch with a cold beer in his hand. He and Dominic Santini had just finished a hot, wearying week at the beck and call of an overly creative, hyperactive director whose muse was just as hyperactive as he was and apparently changed her mind a lot. By the end of the shoot, neither man wanted anything more to do with directors, actors, film making, or Hollywood in general.

"I tell ya, String," proclaimed Dominic, at the controls of the Jet Ranger making its way north towards Hawke's cabin, "the next time that guy comes knocking at my door, I'm gonna tell him - "

"'Sure, where do I sign?'" supplied Hawke.

"No way! Not unless we get overtime for every "creativity break" or whatever the hell he called it. Creative vision, my foot! I don't wanna work for no more directors that have "creative vision". That guy couldn't create his way out of a phone booth."

Hawke let the older man rant on while he thought in a desultory fashion about his plans for the weekend. After this evening (swilling beer) and tonight (sleeping like the dead for about ten hours) he really had to get some things done. Things that he'd been putting off for too long, because he didn't even like to think about doing them. Things that a decent guy just didn't talk about. Things that he was ashamed just to be considering.

Dominic set them down with an irate bump on the dock at Hawke's cabin, apparently as a sort of emphatic period to his last sentence, which Hawke hadn't been listening to. Both men climbed out, Hawke looking with misgiving at the considerable amount of groceries heaped in the back seat. Two bags belonged to him, the rest were apparently what Dominic considered necessary for what was supposed to be just an overnight stay. Scratching his head, he said, "Just what is all this stuff, Dom?"

"Oh, just odds and ends," said Dom vaguely. "Frozen burgers. Tomato sauce for pizza. Grated parmesan, a chunk of mozzarella, a bottle of anchovies. Bet you don't have any anchovies. A pineapple, in case you felt like Hawaiian."

"But I'm cooking trout tonight."

"Coupla steaks, a few pounds of potatoes, ice cream, coupla six packs – "

"I've got plenty of beer already."

"You always run out."

"I wouldn't," Hawke pointed out, "if my friends didn't have thirsts like camels."

"Well, there ya go then," said Dominic inconsequentially. He hefted a box out of the helicopter. "Breakfast stuff. Pancake mix, bacon, sausages."

Hawke made a face. Personally he found the concept of sausages revolting, especially first thing in the morning. He caught a whiff of them as Dominic went past him with the box. Garlic. Even worse. "Yuck," he muttered.

"This from the guy who eats pickled jalapeños?" said Dom without pausing. "Don't worry. I'll cook ̓em myself and I won't ask you to eat ̓em."

"No, I'm just the one who'll have to smell ̓em for a whole week," grumbled Hawke as he picked up his own bags.

However, Tet, who had come out to welcome them, appeared to wholeheartedly approve of Dominic's menu selections. He cavorted in front of the laden Italian, whining in eagerness. "Tet! Get outta the way!" yelled both men in unison.

Too late. Tet pressed a few inches too closely and Dominic went sprawling, groceries rolling in every direction. Tet snatched up the pack of sausages in his jaws and hightailed it up the steps from the dock, vanishing at high speed into the trees.

"Dom! You okay?"

Hawke wasn't positive, but he guessed that what was coming out of Dominic's mouth in torrents wasn't anything he'd be likely to learn in conversational Italian classes. He shoved errant groceries out of the way – the box of pancake mix had broken open and spilled its contents over the lower steps – and bent to pull the other man to his feet.

"Ow! Ow! Oww!! My leg!"

"What's wrong with it?" demanded Hawke, starting to get seriously worried.

"It hurts!"

"Well, that narrows it down a lot, doesn't it?" said Hawke, rolling his eyes. "Can you be a bit more specific?"

"My leg's probably broken in six places and you want me to be specific?" roared Dominic. "And that damned flea-infested mutt of yours is chowing down on my sausages right this minute!"

"Not much I can do about that," pointed out Hawke. "Unless you can get up those steps by yourself while I go chase him."

"I've probably got a compound fracture of every bone from my waist down and you expect me to climb steps on my own?"

Gritting his teeth, Hawke got his arm around the other man's waist and hefted him upright. Slowly they shuffled their way towards the cabin, to the accompaniment of cries of pain and much cursing in mixed Italian and English. Hawke could only be thankful that he wasn't having to do this after Dominic had gotten himself outside of all that food.

They finally made it to the porch, where Dom subsided into a chair with a fresh wail. Hawke began to be glad that they'd brought so much food, because all this noise had probably scared off every fish for miles.

After a rest to regain his strength and breath, Dominic decided that rather than multiple fractures, he might – possibly – only have a sprained ankle. Certainly his right ankle was already swelling alarmingly. Hawke rushed into the cabin for aspirin and ice packs.

"What the hell is all that?" said Dominic in disbelief when Hawke emerged with the first aid supplies.

"I don't have any ice packs. This is the best I could do." Hawke knelt on the deck, placed the other man's bare foot in a large bowl, and held a couple of large frozen trout to the swollen ankle.

"Uh, String – most people use bags of frozen vegetables if they don't have ice."

"It's either this or a twenty-pound salmon," said Hawke grimly.

"Okay, okay. I just hope you don't have any bears around here when these things start to thaw out."

******************

An hour later, Hawke had cleaned up the spilled groceries (except for the pancake mix, which he intended to sweep up when he'd regained some energy), brought the rest of the food in, applied another pair of frozen fish to Dominic's ankle, and opened beers for them both. There was no sign of Tet. Hawke didn't expect to see his dog again for another few days.

The beer seemed to be a fairly efficient anaesthetic. By the time his third bottle was halfway gone, Dom had started to mellow out some, at least to the extent of not yelping every time he moved. Hawke gloomily contemplated the supper prospects. So much for a nice fresh fish dinner. Most of the other menu choices appeared to be carnivorous. Finally he fired up the grill and plunked a steak on it for Dom, and put a pot of water on the stove for spaghetti for himself.

"Is this it?" said Dominic when Hawke set his plate in his lap, poking at the large steak accompanied by a form of salad life that consisted of a few pieces of slightly wilted lettuce and a radish.

"It is unless you want to start peeling potatoes," answered Hawke, spaghetti trailing out of his mouth.

"I thought I taught you better hospitality than that," lamented Dominic.

Hawke plunked another bottle of beer down next to him. "This is as hospitable as I get. Take it or leave it."

Dom took another long swig, then started in on the steak. "And I thought I taught you better manners. Your old man would be plenty disappointed if he saw you now – and that reminds me, did I ever tell you about the time that him and I – "

*******************

Three hours later, Hawke succeeded in getting Dominic Santini inside the cabin and onto the couch, where he propped up his ankle on a cushion, put a plastic bag between the foot and the fabric, and applied more fish. Between exhaustion and beer, the older man was already asleep and snoring loudly by the time Hawke had cleaned up the supper things and headed for the stairs.

He grabbed a couple of extra pillows before he got into bed, hoping they would block out the noise. There was really nothing like the sylvan delights of a peaceful night in the wilderness.


As soundproofing, the pillows weren't exactly an unqualified success. Stringfellow Hawke trudged downstairs again the next morning, figuring he'd gotten about two hours' worth of sleep between the log-sawing going on down below and the dawn chorus. If he had to put up with this for a second night, the highest and best use the pillows might be would be to asphyxiate himself into unconsciousness.

Dominic Santini greeted him cheerily, loudly proclaiming that he'd enjoyed the best night's sleep he'd had in months, and asking what was for breakfast.

First things first. The impromptu icepacks had melted during the night and were starting to make their presence known in no uncertain terms. Hawke had hoped to be able to recycle them into his own breakfast to make up for the fish dinner he hadn't had the night before, but reluctantly came to the conclusion that the only use they had now was as landfill. Directing mental apologies to the fishing gods, he took them outside and buried them.

Then he cooked bacon and eggs for Dominic and poured himself a bowl of cereal.

Dominic ate with gusto, polishing off half a pound of bacon, three eggs and a good portion of Hawke's one and only loaf of bread, before winding down with a mug of coffee.

"Hey, that wasn't too bad," he said encouragingly. "See, you can cook real food when you put your mind to it."

"Gee, thanks."

"Now, kid, I know I was planning to get back to town this morning, but I'm still not in any shape to fly. Think you could put up with me for another day?"

"Well, sure, Dom, but – it's just – well, um…"

Dom stared at him, beginning to frown in worry. "Well what? What's the matter?"

"Well, it's just that I've got – well, stuff to do." Hawke was blushing. In fact, he was all but wriggling in embarrassment.

"What kind of stuff?" said Dominic, mystified. Was Stringfellow Hawke, a man he had raised singlehandedly from the age of twelve, and thought he knew as well as a son, about to confess to a secret life of crime? Some hidden, shameful vice? How could anything so terrible be happening and Dominic Santini not notice anything? he thought remorsefully. Was String in some kind of dreadful danger?

"Come on, kid," he said gently. "Whatever it is, you can talk to me about it. I'll do everything I can to help you."

Hawke turned away, hanging his head, and mumbled something.

"What was that?" said Dominic. "I couldn't hear you."

Hawke spun around to face him, his face a fiery red right to the tips of his ears. "I said, I have to do the vacuuming."


Dominic gaped at him. "You have to do what?"

Defiantly, Hawke said, "I have to do the vacuuming. And the dusting. And the ironing." Recklessly, throwing all caution to the winds, he added, "And scrub the bathroom. And the windows – I have to wash the windows, too."

Dominic found he couldn't trust his mouth to work properly. He started to make choking noises, which he tried unsuccessfully to pass off as a coughing fit.

Hawke turned away and strode to the window. "I knew you'd laugh at me," he said darkly.

Dominic managed to get control of himself. "String, come over here."

Reluctantly Hawke complied.

"Now I'm going to let you in on a little secret," said Dom solemnly. Leaning forward, he said in a confidential whisper, "I do vacuuming too."

Hawke stared at him. "You do? But you always had a cleaning lady…"

"Not for a long time, I haven't. Not since you and St. John got out from under my feet and stopped turning my place into a pigsty on a regular basis. String, you listen to me, and you listen good. Real men do housework. Just because you pick up a duster from time to time doesn't make you any less macho, and running over the place with a vacuum once in a while doesn't make a big difference to your testosterone level. Besides, who else is gonna do it? You can hardly get Molly Maid to come all the way out here."

"Well," said Hawke bashfully, "I try to get some of my girlfriends to do it, sometimes, if I think they won't mind."

Dominic smacked himself on the forehead. "Now I know why none of 'em stick around very long. What, you think the afterglow is gonna get your furniture polished?"

Hawke shuffled his feet and looked sheepish. While it was a bonus if any of the girls who frequented the cabin were actually willing to do a little cleaning, it was also a good way to hasten the end of an unpromising relationship. Overall, it made sure that none of them stayed around long enough for the two of them to start getting bored with each other, since domesticity wasn't one of the virtues that he went looking for in a girlfriend. Most of them were pretty goodnatured about it, evincing disbelief rather than hostility when he gave them The Smile and asked if they would mind doing his laundry. He could only remember one girl who had called him a male chauvinist pig.

"And just to prove that I mean what I say," Dominic was saying, "I'll dry those breakfast dishes for you."

Hawke smiled in relief. "Thanks, Dom."

"Any time, kid."


Hawke washed the dishes and Dominic dried. Then the older man suggested that rather than getting in Hawke's way while he tackled his domestic chores, he'd just go and sit on the end of the dock and keep his ankle submerged in the cold water. Hawke helped him back down the steps - making a mental note to come back and sweep up the pancake mix that was still lying around – and left him there with Hawke's spare fishing rod and a promise to come back and check on him in a while to make sure he had everything he needed.

He left the cabin door open. For the next hour or so Dom could hear the sound of energetic vacuuming. Then that stopped, and every so often Dom could see the younger man flitting past the doorway brandishing a duster. Once he even heard him singing.

At that point Dom realized that Stringfellow Hawke's secret shame wasn't the fact that he did housework. It was that he actually liked it. Maybe it was some sort of strange form of relaxation after shooting people and blowing things up?


Hawke came bustling out with mid-morning coffee and they drank on the dock. Dominic hadn't caught any fish – his ability to cast properly was a bit inhibited by the fact that there was a helicopter sitting right behind him – but he was enjoying the peace and quiet anyway. He listened in stunned silence as the normally reticent Hawke grew eloquent on the relative merits of using baking soda and vinegar versus a commercial bathroom cleaner. Then Hawke went back to scrub the tub, or whatever he was doing, and Dominic was left alone until he reappeared with sandwiches at lunchtime. The bread was fresh and warm. Dom looked questioningly at Hawke.

"Just out of the oven," said Hawke, with his customary economy of words but an expression of shy pride on his face. "I like making bread. It's therapeutic."

"Yeah, yeah, I've heard that," agreed Dominic, wondering what other revelations might be forthcoming from the man who could fly unscathed through a B-52 bomb run, or destroy a Russian submarine, without missing a beat. He was glad that Hawke had found such a useful hobby, and it was always a good idea for anyone to have a second career to fall back on, but this was getting to be positively surreal.

After lunch the sky clouded over and it began to rain. Neither Dominic nor Hawke was happy. Dominic had to come and sit inside, and Hawke fussed because he couldn't hang out the curtains he'd just finished washing. Instead he put up an ironing board and started in on a stack of laundry fresh from the laundromat in Van Nuys.

"They'll do that for you at those places," Dom pointed out.

Hawke's jaw set stubbornly. "I like ironing."

When the ironing was done he sewed on a couple of missing shirt buttons, then watered the fern hanging in the front window. Then he collected all the brass and copper knickknacks in the cabin and sat down at the breakfast bar to start polishing. When everything metal that could possibly hold a shine was shining, he got out a bottle of lemon oil and started in on the dining table.

Dominic's ankle swelled up again in the absence of cold water and frozen fish. The pain made him cranky and the sight of Hawke channeling his inner June Cleaver was beginning to drive him crazy. Hawke was getting fed up with with the older man staring at him as if he'd grown a second head. By suppertime, as the rain continued to pour down, they were well and truly getting on each other's nerves.

Dominic made a wisecrack about getting Hawke a frilly apron. In retaliation, Hawke burned the burgers in the frying pan. Dominic spilled beer on the freshly polished table. Hawke accidentally-on-purpose stumbled over Dominic's bad foot. By ten o'clock they were reduced to glowering at each other. Hawke marched upstairs with a parting shot about sawmills.

******************

It was still raining the next morning. Hawke had had his housekeeping fix and after breakfast he considered getting away from the cabin altogether and going fishing, but realized he really couldn't leave his guest on his own, so instead he indulged in his normal rainy-day pastime of playing melancholy music on his cello. After half an hour of that Dominic suddenly burst out at the top of his lungs with something that sounded vaguely like bits from Puccini. Hawke scowled. "Will you keep your voice down? You'll scare the eagle."

"Unless that bird's stone deaf, all those Gloomy Tunes have probably driven it away completely," retorted Dominic. "If you've gotta play that thing, why can't you play something a bit more upbeat?"

"I don't do requests. And I sure as hell don't do opera. Or whatever it is that you're trying to sing."

"No, you only do funeral dirges."

Defiantly, Hawke continued playing, each piece more mournful than the one before. Dominic thought he could practically see tears being wrung out of the cello. Somewhere off in the trees, he could hear Tet howling. Dominic felt like doing the same.

Eventually Hawke put the cello away and decided to check over his gun collection. Dom, eager to show there were no hard feelings after the cello concert, limped over and gave him advice on the care and feeding of rifles and shotguns, interspersed with nostalgic anecdotes about the times he and Hawke's father had gone hunting together. Flinging his arms wide to demonstrate the improbable size of a grizzly they'd once encountered, he knocked over the tin of gun oil onto the pristine floor.

"Oh God, String, I'm sorry – here, let me help you clean it up… "

"No! No, you just stay put, Dom. I can manage." By now Hawke was giving serious consideration to crawling under the furniture and staying there until Dominic's fund of stories finally dried up.

"Well, at least let me get you something to mop that up with – here, use this." He limped into the kitchen and handed Hawke a freshly laundered dishtowel. Hawke looked at it, then silently used it to wipe up the mess.

Dom stretched out a hand to help him up. Hawke had almost made it upright when one foot slipped on a patch of oil he'd missed and he went crashing back to the floor, landing squarely on top of Dom's injured foot. The resulting bellow of pain fairly shook the rafters.

"Oh God, Dom, I'm sorry. Are you okay?"

"Am I okay, he says – NO! I AM NOT OKAY! No, don't touch it – DON'T TOUCH IT!!!"

For the next half hour Hawke rushed around finding more pain relief. He brought more aspirin and got Dom settled back on the couch with his foot up, to the accompaniment of repeated bellows of "!#$%!!!" from the injured man. Then he started excavating in the depths of his freezer, finally disinterring a couple more trout, entombed in the layers of frost attached to the back of the freezer like the remnants of something from the last ice age. (He made a mental note to defrost the freezer next weekend – or maybe he should buy a whole new frost-free fridge? Sears had appliances on sale till the end of the month.) He applied the trout and the chipped ice to the ankle – which as far as he could tell wasn't actually broken, or at least didn't have any bones sticking out – then brought over a tumbler of Scotch with just a token dribble of water. Then he sat and looked mournfully at the older man.

He felt guilty as hell. Even if Dom's ankle wasn't broken, it was obviously incredibly painful, and it was all his fault. Sure, he wouldn't have slipped on the oil if Dom hadn't knocked it over, but Dom wouldn't have been there at all if Hawke's dog hadn't gotten under his feet in the first place.

"Aw, don't worry about it, kid," said Dominic, seeing Hawke's stricken face. "It's not your fault. Besides, it doesn't hurt nearly as much as the time I broke my leg while your dad and me… " And he was off, carried away on another flood of reminiscences.

This time Hawke felt obligated to sit still and listen, and nod and grin in what he hoped were the right places. He found it helped to have a large tumbler of Scotch himself. As the day wore on and the level in the bottle got lower, the tales got more and more outrageous, then, to Hawke's horror, started turning maudlin. At length the Italian, almost weeping, said, "You know what would really have made your dad happy, String? To know that you'd found a nice girl and had settled down to raise a family. Yeah, a whole bunch of little bambini. You'd name one after me, wouldn't you, String?"

"Sure, Dom," mumbled Hawke. "Ah – I think I'd better make us some lunch."

"You make sure she's a real good cook, this girl. And pretty. 'Course, I know you'd pick a pretty girl, but she needs to be really nice, too. She's gotta treat you right. An' you've gotta treat her right. You're gonna be spending the rest of your lives together, you an' this nice girl an' all those kids… Dom Junior, an' all the others … maybe you could name one of the girls after Airwolf … "

"How the hell do I name a kid after Airwolf?" said Hawke blankly.

"Aira, or Wolfina, or something like that. How 'bout just plain Lady?"

"That sounds like a dog's name. I'm not calling any kid of mine Lady." Mentally Hawke smacked himself on the forehead. He'd been hoping to sidetrack Dominic from this totally embarrassing scenario, and instead he was getting sucked into it.

"Oh kid, it'll just be great, won't it?" Leaning forward Dom waved the glass of Scotch, now fortunately empty, in another expansive gesture, and started to slide off the couch. Hawke grabbed him and pushed him back with an effort. Dominic wrapped his arms around him in a crushing grip and sobbed on his shoulder. "Promise me you'll do it, String. Promise me you'll get married an' have at least four kids. More. Have six kids. Hell, have eight. I'll help with the babysitting. I'll help with the college education. I'll set up a trust fund first thing in th' morning. Do it for me. Do it for your old man."

"There's a helicopter coming," said Hawke. Leaving Dominic sitting there sniffing into the fresh Scotch which Hawke hastily poured – this time putting a lot more water in it – he went outside, where he could see one of the white helicopters belonging to the Firm hovering over the dock. There was just enough room for it to land next to the Jet Ranger. A door opened and a familiar white-suited figure carrying a briefcase got out. The helicopter took off again. Hawke was surprised that Marella or one of Archangel's other staff members hadn't disembarked as well, if for nothing else than to hold up a white umbrella to make sure the boss stayed dry, but Michael had apparently decided to come alone this time.

He scurried across the dock in the pouring rain and started to rush up the steps. He'd only managed to make it to the second one when the smooth soles of his dress shoes made contact with the spilled pancake mix, which Hawke still hadn't remembered to clean up. In the rain it had been transformed into a slippery, glutinous mess.

Hawke's mouth opened to shout a warning. Too late. Archangel went flying briefcase over glasses, crash landing on the dock with a scream of pain.

Hawke hurried towards him. "Michael, are you okay?"

"OW! MY ANKLE!!"

Hawke sighed. "I just hope you brought your own ice packs."