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With one last stroke of the sandpaper, I stepped back from the door and reached for the tack cloth. My shoulder and forearm ached, not unpleasantly, as I wiped away the dust to prepare for the final coat of varnish.
Diefenbaker snuffled from the corner by the rocking chair. "Did I?" I looked closely at the door. "Oh, right you are." I rubbed off the dust I had missed, humming with contentment. When the varnish was done, the door was done, and when the door was done, the cabin was done -- the culmination of a full season of satisfying labor turning a shelter into a home. I was inclined to savor these last steps slowly.
I levered the top off the can, and the biting scent of varnish filled the cabin. Outside, I heard running feet. I wasn't alarmed; in the early summer the woods were full of joggers and hikers, even this far out of town, enjoying the lengthening days and the mild weather in the all-too-brief gap between one winter and the next.
As I dipped my brush in the varnish, Dief lifted his head, then scrambled to his feet, whuffing happily about something. The footsteps were louder, and in the distance I could also hear a couple of motorcycles.
I painted one shining stroke of varnish and stepped back to admire its gloss on the clean-grained wood.
With a loud thump-bang, the door flew open so violently that one hinge was torn loose from the wood. It hit the wall hard enough to knock loose a chunk of plaster. I caught it automatically as it rebounded.
There on the threshold, panting and heavily armed, stood Ray Kowalski.
"Fraser! Buddy! Long time no see! Got a rifle?" Mayol and his friends were already roaring up the dirt track. I hadn't been able to hold them off, but at least Fraser wouldn't have to fight them all by himself.
"Four guys -- armed -- you got maybe three minutes. " He was still giving me this blank look, so I started looking around on a God-helps-those-who-help-themselves theory. "That a bed in that cabinet? Where's the latch? Any of these windows open? Hey, chowhound, I missed you too," I told Dief, ruffling his hair. "Go get ready to bite some ass."
I'd already found the latch that opened the fold-down bed. Now I started prowling around, trying to get an idea of our best defensive locations. There weren't a whole lot of hiding places in here -- no doors but the one I just bashed in, no big furniture, no cabinets. Jesus, Fraser, a little clutter would kill you?
Nice place, though. I was starting to get the hang of speaking Canadian. Six-Fathom Ford was a creek with a footbridge across it, and Dead Man's Pass was a path through a meadow full of flowers, and "my father's cabin" was a one-room luxury suite like that bed-and-breakfast I took Stella to on our honeymoon, only with less potpourri.
Then the Mountie training kicked in and Fraser got with the program. "Welcome, Ray," he said as he grabbed a rifle off a rack over the fireplace. "There's an ax by the door, and the knife block might serve as a blunt instrument." That was Fraser in a nutshell: a guy who knew what he had in his kitchen that you could bash somebody's head in with.
He looked good. He looked damn good. Better than the last time I saw him, giving me a nice safe handshake at the airport in Norman Wells -- or maybe it was just that three months apart was long enough to convince me that my memory must have been exaggerating. If I'd cut the expedition short and high-tailed it back to Chicago because I was hoping absence would make the heart, or something, grow less troublesome, it looked like I was outta luck.
"Thanks," I said, drawing my gun, "but I crossed the border in hot pursuit, plus I'm here to save your life, so I hope you're not gonna give me any crap about gun licenses."
"In that case, thank you kindly." Having assured myself that my rifle was loaded, I removed my duty pistol from its cabinet. Dief had already chosen a good location within a few steps from the door. "Who are they?
"Enrico Mayol and some buddies."
Enrico ... "The grocer?"
Ray sighed. "Yes, Fraser, the grocer. And the brother-in-law of Jimmy Cruz, who you dragged back to Canada so he could get put away for murder, remember? So Maria Cruz says to her brother, Go get the Mountie, and her brother --"
I heard footsteps on the gravel path. "Is here," I concluded.
I waited in silence for the noise to stop and the door to open. And then I took the first man out of the campaign with two shots, one to the gun and one to the thigh, and he lay on the threshold swearing in Spanish.
They wouldn't make that mistake again, though. Indeed, for a moment there was no sound at all, and then I heard the chatter of automatic fire and the front window shattered.
Still, if they wanted me, dead or alive, they would have to come in after me, which gave me some advantages --
As the thought occurred to me, the windows on both the north and south sides broke. Dief took up a position under the north window, I moved to the south one, and Ray backed into the blind area beside the door.
The first guy started shooting before he was all the way through the window, but he was shooting at people height, not at wolf height -- jeez, crooks these days, didn't they do any research at all? Dief's teeth in his gun hand totally took him by surprise, and he still had this "What the fuck?" look on his face when he went crash on the floor.
The automatic sailed out of his hand and hit the wall, shooting a nice arc of bullets right into Fraser's armchair, and I dove for it before anybody else could get it. I landed on a rag rug, and the rug and I went skidding across the floor and landed against the big cabinet that hid Fraser's bed.
In the meantime, I heard more noises behind me -- Fraser had found himself a dance partner. A shot, a stream of Spanish so blue it would curl your hair. Good. Got him.
Which left one more, and we didn't know where he was. But the guy lying in the doorway had shut up awful fast. I couldn't see around the cabinet, but maybe the last guy was coming through the door while all Fraser's attention was taken up by disarming his pal.
On a hunch, I reached up quietly, opened the latch, and gave the bed a shove.
Bang! The bed opened onto the fourth assailant's head, knocking him cleanly unconscious. Ray had once again come through at a critical moment.
He had a set of handcuffs and I had three (a redundancy he noted with a raised eyebrow), so it was a simple matter to restrain our wounded attackers. We used Ray's telephone to request assistance from Mickey Delacorte, the officer currently on duty at my detachment at Fort Courage, fifteen miles away by all-terrain vehicle.
It was only then that I noticed the state of the cabin.
Jesus, it looked like a bar brawl. The door was hanging from one hinge. All four windows were broken, and the floor was gritty with broken glass, bad enough that Dief wouldn't even come out of his corner. Flying bullets had shattered a framed map and chipped out the plaster between the logs in a couple places. There was blood on the walls, blood on the floor, blood on the rug, blood on the door.
I must have knocked the bed out of alignment or something, because it was hanging all crooked.
"If you'd have put in a closet like normal people," I said, "one of us would have had some cover."
"I didn't see the need for a closet," he said, and there was a weird tone to his voice that made me give him a hard look, but his eyes slid away from mine. I'd already noticed that all his clothes were hanging on pegs or neatly folded on shelves. There was a spatter of blood on one of his jackets, and probably a bullet hole in it, too.
"Nice place," I told him, picking up a kitchen chair. It came apart in my hands.
"Thank you," he said. "It isn't fancy, but it's home." He started picking up the biggest pieces of glass.
I squatted down to help him, and then his hand brushed my thigh and I couldn't breathe for a second and I went hot and cold all over. And we just sat there staring at each other.
It was still there, then. Even after our long separation, it was still there, the dangerous impulse that had prompted us to cut our adventure short and sent us hurrying away to our separate countries before we could risk our friendship pursuing something with no future.
He needed to leave, and quickly. In hot retreat, as it were.
I saw my own thoughts on his face as he stood up -- and just then the hum of Mickey's ATV came in loudly through the open windows. And not a moment too soon.
"You called for transport, Benton?"
"Four criminals, thank you, Mickey. And one American detective."
I shook Ray's hand outside, in full view of my colleague. His jaw was tight with determination. "Send me a postcard, hey?" And then he was gone.
I closed the shutters against the spring chill and used the rest of the evening to clean up as best I could. And then I spent a restless night in a broken bed in cold cabin which, I fancied, still smelled very faintly of Ray.
Wasn't even a month later when I intercepted a cell phone call between a couple El Rukns talking about killing the Mountie. And the Royal Canadian Whatevers probably got a hundred thousand guys, but you know it couldn't be any Mountie but Fraser.
They didn't know where the cabin was, but they knew the nearest settlements, and they had a helicopter and infrared.
I looked up from the scanner. "Frannie --
"I know, I know," she said. "Give the turtle chow to the landlady and cancel your haircut appointment again?"
"You're a pal," I told her.
"Right, Ray," she said, rolling her eyes. "You'd better not forget to bring me some maple syrup this time."
When I went into Welsh's office, he glanced at his calendar. "Let me guess," he said. "Time to rescue the Constable again?"
I was re-reading "A Midsummer Night's Dream" when I heard a thunk on the roof. Dief leapt to his feet, tail wagging.
"You must be joking," I told him. There was another thunk on the ground outside, and we hurried out into the twilight to find Ray's spiky head emerging from a billowing parachute that looked like a new snowfall. I helped him get untangled while Dief nosed his hands and pockets.
"To what do I owe the pleasure of this visit?"
"Just came to tell you to duck and cover."
We called Fort Horrible Hardship for backup and then settled down to wait.
Wasn't so homey inside any more. Looked like Fraser'd just taken down the damaged stuff, the rugs and maps and everything, and closed the shutters instead of putting more glass in the windows.
There was a book open on the armchair, a teacup on the floor. Plaster was still missing from a couple places in the walls.
"How much time do we have?"
"Dunno. They're still triangulating -- I knew where you were but they didn't." I filled him in on as many details as I had, but what could we do? We were safer here than in the woods. Maybe his Mountie friends had ground-to-aircraft weapons, but we sure didn't.
He talked a little strategy with the wolf while I looked him over. He looked better than the place did, that was for sure. A bit of a tan, a little more color, not so tight around the mouth. Suited him, backcountry life did.
He looked up, eyes going confused and then soft. Like they'd looked for all those weeks in that tiny tent breathing each other's air and trying to remember why it was such a bad idea for the country mouse to go to bed with the city mouse. Why we couldn't have what we'd quit pretending we didn't want.
He swallowed. My mouth felt dry, too.
Then he tilted his head. A second later I heard chopper blades. And then shots started raining down on the roof.
We certainly couldn't leave the cover of the cabin. In fact, more cover was called for if we were to wait in safety until our backup arrived with enough firepower to engage them.
So I folded down the bed -- it still hung a bit off-center, as I'd been unable to fix the counterweight system to my satisfaction -- and all three of us crawled under it. I was grateful I'd swept the floor after dinner.
"How have you been, Ray?"
"Eh. You know." I heard a shot take out several roof shingles, but they weren't close enough to do real damage. Yet. "Different crowd, same story. Girl that took Huey's place is a redhead." He whistled eloquently. "Welsh says tell you hey."
"Send him my best wishes when you return." Another shot hit the chimney, and I heard bricks falling.
"Dief doing OK up here?"
Dief whined, and I smiled in spite of myself. "He'd like you to bring a raisin brioche from Bennison's the next time you come."
"Well, you try and be sure you only need rescuing on Sundays and Wednesdays, then." He raised his voice to be heard over the gunfire. "How about you, you doing OK all alone out here?"
The remains of the chimney hit the ground with a clatter, but I could hear the military vehicle arriving, and in a moment they were returning fire. The helicopter sounded as though it was damaged.
"I'm doing well," I said as we belly-crawled out to go help make arrests. "It's peaceful."
There was a big hole in the roof this time, and a couple bullet holes in the blanket on his bed.
When I'd arrived, there'd been one window pane left, but a falling brick had done for that. Fraser was pushing the broken glass together in a little pile with the side of his foot. "You, uh, want me to stay, help clean up?"
Well, it was a stupid question. Yes, he wanted me to stay. No, it wasn't a good idea. Been there, done that, Stella got to keep the T-shirt.
"I'll just let the cleaning staff take care of it."
"They don't do windows, you know that."
He gave me a look, then looked away fast, hiding a smile and something else too. "I'll be fine," he said.
Something was wrong. I couldn't move. Dark. Familiar scent, sharp, chemical -- barbecues? It was a struggle even to breathe --
Hands, shaking me. Ray's voice, cutting through the fog in my brain: "Fraser! Benton! Goddammit! Wake up and run like hell!"
It wasn't dark, because the midsummer light was coming around the tarp on the roof. I went to grab him and my hand went right through a hole in the bedding.
Finally, finally, he was struggling awake. I wondered where Eberle had put the drugs -- his food? his water bucket?
The outer walls were already catching fire. "Get up! Get out!" I found Dief -- unconscious but breathing -- and shouldered him, half-dragging the groggy Mountie after us.
"Creek," Fraser mumbled, staggering left. "Over here." We ran, best we could, across the wide clearing and through a little strip of woods with the fire casting our shadows in front of us, then splashed through ankle-deep water and collapsed on the other side.
The grogginess was beginning to recede, and I realized I had been drugged just as Dief came awake with a whine. I knelt and looked at his eyes, smelled his breath, as he struggled to his feet. "Just a sedative," I told him. "Go drink some water. Vomit if you can." He stumbled off into the red half-light.
"Who --" It took me a moment to find my voice. "Who set the fire?
"Don't worry," Ray said darkly. "I got him. Jesus christ, I can't leave you alone for a minute, Fraser." His voice was harsh, but his hands on my face were gentle. "Every nutcase in Chicago wants you dead."
I leaned into his touch and began to shake. The fire was extraordinarily loud. I wondered, with dreamlike lucidity, whether perhaps I was in shock.
"Oh, jeez." Ray took off his jacket and wrapped me in it, and I realized I was dressed only in boxers and a T-shirt. The jacket was warm. I felt Ray's telephone in the pocket and removed it.
"If you don't mind," I asked. He looked confused. "The fire department here is made up of volunteers. I'd like to spare them a trip, if I can, and I don't think the cabin will be salvageable."
After I made the phone call, we sat shoulder to shoulder, with Dief's damp muzzle against my foot, and watched the cabin burn down.
He was still shaking some -- nerves, chill, drugs, all of it -- and after a minute something blew up in the fire and I said the hell with it and scooted over closer, till we were touching. He didn't look at me, but he leaned in, and after another minute I put my arm around him.
"It was a nice place," I said.
"I'm just thankful that you got us out alive," he said.
"This time," I said.
I was starting to wonder if maybe I left something out when I did the math on the Fraser Problem. All the minuses were still there -- the gay thing, and the cop thing, and the thing where I get cranky if I'm more than 30 miles from a deep-dish pizza, and the thing where I never really saw him happy until I saw him out in the middle of the Canadian nowhere. Yep, all there.
But stuff like this, I hadn't factored in. Him all alone up here like a big red target for every maniac in North America.
And the fact that I missed the hell out of him every single day. That was another thing.
When the roof caught, the smell became very foul indeed. It brought back strong memories of my first case with my second Ray. I wondered if he remembered.
It had seemed so simple back at Douglas Pass, where we had, by implicit agreement, backed away from the brink of an untenable relationship. But freeing Ray to return to his true home, to pursue his calling, to marry and have children -- this had turned out to be more difficult than I had anticipated. How could he possibly have a normal life when he was constantly coming here to rescue me?
Obviously, further sacrifice was called for.
"I could --" His arm tightened around me, and I cleared my throat. "I could move to a city." He turned his head, but I continued looking at the burning cabin. "Whitehorse is said to be --"
"I don't want you to do that, Fraser." His hand squeezed my shoulder.
"I could ... hire a bodyguard, perhaps."
"I don't want you to do that." I looked at him. He looked almost angry.
"I could advertise for a roommate," I said rather weakly, never looking away from the furious intensity of his eyes.
"Don't want you to do that."
His lips were parted, his cheeks slightly flushed. The instinctive caution which usually prevented me from looking at him seemed to be failing me. There was ash in his hair. My eyes went back to his mouth.
"Yeah," he rasped. "I want you to do that."
So I did.
He didn't waste any time, just shoved me down on the ground while his tongue took a fast tour of my mouth and then covered the same ground slower. "Ray," he breathed every time he came up for air, all soft and amazed like something you'd say in church. "Ray." Kiss. "Ray." Kiss. "Ray."
I got my hands up under my jacket and his T-shirt -- probably cold, but he didn't stop me. He gasped and lay down on top of me, pushing us even closer together, and when I moved my hands the other way, under his shorts, he gasped and humped against my hip a couple of times, like he was right on the edge, just like that. Just like I was.
"Let me," he mumbled harshly against my mouth, "let me suck you, I want to --"
"Here you're gonna --" I didn't even get to finish the question, because he was scrambling down my body, and I propped myself up so I could see him. He didn't bother to unfasten my slacks, just grabbed both waistbands and hauled at them till he got a couple of inches of cock out into the open air, and then he closed his eyes and sucked it in with an audible slurp. Up and down and up and down, and it was only a couple seconds before my eyes rolled back in my head and I made a noise they probably heard in Fort Despair and gave it up into his warm mouth.
"Ray," he signed to my belly button, "oh --" and I hauled him up for a sweet-salty kiss. I got one hand down the front of his shorts and one hand down the back, and jacked him hard about six times before he gave me a bite on the neck and spilled into my hand.
We lay there panting for a couple minutes, and then I had a thought. "Shit," I said, and he went all stiff in my arms.
"No," I said, fast, hauling up his face till he had to look at me, "no, no, Fraser, no, I'm not one fucking bit sorry and you better not be either." He relaxed some and gave me this weak little smile. "It's just that I made you spunk up your shorts and then I remembered they're all you got."
He got a really weird look on his face. Maybe that wasn't the best way to put it.
"Here," Ray said, taking off his trousers. "You wear my shorts and then we'll both be more or less covered."
I squatted to see if my own boxers were salvageable, and immediately encountered a clammy wet spot. I stood quickly, wiping my fingers on my shirt, and accepted his underwear. They were a little snug, and I felt extraordinarily silly in them.
"Never mind," Ray said. "Getcha some more in town."
The fire was making so much noise that we saw Mickey's ATV before we heard it, and we hurried out of the woods, waving our arms so that he would see us and not worry.
"Benton, you gotta be the only person on the planet who calls the fire department when he doesn't want a fire put out," Delacorte called. "Did you call Ste. Claire and tell 'em not to send an ambulance too?"
"I've also taken the liberty of arranging for Catholic Charities not to provide clothing," Fraser said, gesturing at my shorts. I hoped Mickey wasn't going to notice how tight they were. They were almost indecent. "As you can see, I'm well supplied in that respect."
Heading into town, Mickey glanced in the mirror at Fraser and Dief in the back seat. "Detective," he said, "there anybody else you know of who wants Benton dead?'
"He was in Chicago four years. Seventy-four convictions in the states, sixteen extradited and convicted up here." I'd been impressed as hell when I looked that up. "About a dozen already tried to kill him, either here or there, so --"
"You're forgetting my record before going south," Fraser put in. "And my father's."
Dief made a whuffing noise. "Yes," Fraser said thoughtfully, "but one advantage of canines with grudges is that they don't have access to motor vehicles."
It was the height of the summer season, and Melanie and Marek should have been completely booked. When Mickey drove us to a vacant guest cottage, I immediately suspected them of evicting a paying guest for my sake, but there was nothing to be done about it. I did need shelter, and selfish though it might be, I didn't want to sleep in a holding cell. Or worse yet, on Mickey's couch.
It was still several hours before the shops would open, so we pulled together a breakfast from the cottage's well-stocked kitchen, Ray slipping Diefenbaker so much bacon that he crawled under the table and slept as though he planned to stay for a week.
With nothing else to do, we looked around the place. "See, Fraser," Ray called from the bedroom, "this is a proper cabin. Closets."
"But no weapons," I reminded him. I didn't suppose anyone would be foolish enough to attack me here; I could look out the living room window and see the station.
"You're worrying. Quit it." Ray's voice came from much closer behind me than I expected.
"I'm attempting to decide what I should do now," I said.
He moved to stand beside me by the window. "Way I see it, there's two choices," he said. "Build it in close, like this, where there's neighbors to keep an eye out, which is handy but annoying --"
Jeannie Black chose that moment to spot us in the window and wave. I waved back.
"Or else build it really out in the back of the beyond, so the nutcases can't find it."
He reached around me and pulled the curtains shut. "Gonna need a security system either way, and I got an idea how we can get some rumors started in Chicago to throw the weirdos off ." He still smelled faintly of smoke. I did, too. "And I hate to screw up your wilderness experience and all, but, Fraser, I gotta have indoor plumbing."
For a moment I stared stupidly at Melanie's muslin curtains, and then I turned to stare stupidly at Ray.
"You idiot," he said fondly, putting his hand on my face. "Don't you get it? Obviously if I want to not keep getting dragged up here, the way to do it is just don't leave."
He was still gaping at me, but I knew I had maybe a minute tops before he started reeling off the Top Ten Reasons Why We Can't Have What We Really Want. So I just got him by the front of that stinky T-shirt and shut him up the best way I knew how.
We'd done fast and desperate once already, and that hadn't been enough. So after a couple minutes of serious kissing I pulled off and hauled him into the bedroom.
The bed was a big foamy monstrosity, like Godzilla's wedding dress, and I flailed away at it for a couple minutes before I found the opening in all that netting. Then there were all those pillows to throw on the floor, and I had to haul down a lace spread and a satin spread and a comforter before I finally hit sheets.
I turned around and found Fraser almost smiling. "I once asked Dief to find a shoe in a box of unsorted Salvation Army donations," he said, but I hauled my shirt off and he stopped in mid-story and stripped like a good Mountie.
Once we got on the bed, I could see the idea of the lace and netting -- it was like we were cut off from everything but each other. In all that white, his eyes looked so dark.
"If you're thinking about arguing with me, save your breath," I said, lying down beside him.
One side of his mouth pulled up. "I was thinking," he said, "of asking you to kiss me."
"Oh," I said stupidly, "oh, OK, good idea," and then I shut up and took his advice, like I always do eventually.
I thought he was bulkier than he'd been in Chicago, and he was definitely tanner. "If you been out chopping wood with no shirt on," I said against his ribs, "then it's no wonder your place was such a popular tourist spot."
He gave a little huff of laughter, and then flopped us over and started dropping wet kisses all over me -- my collarbone and the hollow under my shoulder, the inside of my elbow, my jaw, the corner of my mouth -- and all of a sudden it hit me that he wasn't just hitting spots at random. These were places he'd thought about, places he'd already imagined putting his mouth on, and god, that just killed me.
"Me too," I whispered, "I been thinking about it, too, Fraser. When we were back in Chicago I was thinking about it. First day I met you I was thinking about it --"
And about that time his mouth came down on my cock, good as the first time -- better -- and for a long time I couldn't talk any more. Or not in words, anyway.
When I got my breath back, I grabbed his face and licked his mouth and said, "I wanna do that to you," and he said in a kind of strangled voice, "You'd better hurry, then," but I'd already figured that out, and I had my mouth on him before he finished the sentence.
I could still taste him from before, which was hot as hell, and I chased the taste all over the place before I settled in for the main event. So quiet -- he was so quiet. Just breathing hard, letting out a soft groan sometimes, while his hands clutched the flowered sheets and his head tossed above me. One of these days, I swore to myself. One of these days, up in the deep woods, Benton Fraser, I'm gonna make you scream your head off.
Once again, I was pleasantly surprised at the turnout for my funeral.
Of course I wasn't able to be there in person, but Ray was thoughtful enough to get a neighbor to videotape it for me. And Ray himself stepped out of the church before the service began and called me at Mickey's to report on the proceedings.
"I think every Canadian in Chicago is here, Fraser," he muttered into the phone. In the background I could hear the organist playing Bach. "I never heard so many Beg Your Pardons in my life. And all your old neighbors are here -- aw, jeez, there's the pretzel guy's widow, hope she doesn't see me -- Hey! It's Tony! Wonder who's making the pizzas for him?"
Of course all my relations and close friends had been told the truth, but most of those attending were expected to believe the minister when he explained that I had been killed while rescuing a small child from being trampled by a herd of stampeding caribou. When I pointed out to Ray that the story was preposterous and profoundly implausible, he simply answered, "Perfect."
And if looking foolish in death was the price of freedom, I was more than willing to pay it.
I gotta say that a Mountie funeral is impressive as hell. Even the people who knew it was a fake were all looking kind of stunned, especially when the bagpipes started in.
Frannie bawled her eyes out, of course. Thatcher, who flew in from parts unknown with six really good-looking bodyguards, kept pushing up her dark sunglasses to dab at her eyes with a black handkerchief. Turnbull cried even though he knew it would be on that night's election coverage. Even Welsh shed a tear or two.
Me, I kept my head down, because my mission for the afternoon was to keep from laughing. I had Stella and Vecchio crowding me on one side and Maggie and Frobisher pushing at me from the other side, all moving in any time they thought I needed to hide my face from the crowd.
When they gave the urn to Frobisher to take back to Canada, I almost lost it. Stella was on top of things, though, and she gave me a big hug so I could hide my face against her shoulder, and when I still couldn't stop snickering, she hauled me back into the choir room till I got control of myself.
Whatever rumors that started, they couldn't be any weirder than the truth.
I had just put dinner in the oven when Diefenbaker nosed the screen door open and bounded in, closely followed by Ray. "Done," he cried triumphantly.
"All of them?"
"All twenty-fucking-four of them," he said, "and all of them hidden so nice that no hiker will ever notice them."
"Would you like to do the honors, then?"
He grinned at me, then opened the door of what I stubbornly insisted on thinking of as a very small spare room, rather than a very large walk-in closet. It was dominated by a very large television, and Ray turned this on with a flourish, then flipped a bank of levers on a wall panel.
Four rows of six images appeared, each one showing ... well, trees, mostly. A river. A cliffside. The outer perimeter of my -- of our property.
"We got infrared beams, we got motion detectors, we got everything," he said. "Flip this one and the alarm with the flashing lights will go off here, where either we see it or Dief does. Flip this and it goes off at the station down in Fort I-Wanna-Go-Home. Ain't nobody getting in here without giving us plenty of warning." He gave me a toothy grin over his shoulders. "And you know what that means, don't you?"
"It means we can continue our lives without undue concern for our personal safety?"
"It means you're gonna get naked on the lawn."
I had to smile at the idea of a state-of-the-art security system installed solely for the sake of a secure venue for outdoor lovemaking. "Strictly speaking, Ray, we don't have a lawn."
"Strictly speaking, Fraser, about fifteen square miles of the Northwest Territories are our lawn, and we don't even gotta mow it. So take your pick." He nodded at the monitor. "You got your pine forest and your oak forest. You got your little field with flowers. You got your dry creek and your shallow creek and your deserted river pool and ..."
He trailed off, because I was looking not at him but at the monitor. Or, more specifically, at the row of input-output jacks below the screen.
I put on as innocent a face as I could manage. "Just wondering," I told him, "whether this could be connected to a video recorder. And of course we would want audio input as well."
And thus I began our new life with the almost unprecedented pleasure of rendering Ray entirely speechless.
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February 3, 2002