Christina’s request: Married couple, Benton and Margaret Fraser, host Canada Day and the 4th of July with family and friends at Benton’s father's cabin. It's also Benton's birthday and Margaret gives him a very special present.
Christina, the cabin burned down at the beginning of Victoria’s Secret, so we had to have Benny build another one, okay? But that makes it more special because he built it for his OWN family.
Fraser was in a hurry to get his cooking done before his wife and all their guests came home. He tossed a couple more pieces of wood into the stove, and then grasped hold of the lid of the cast iron pot without remembering to use an oven mitt. He yelped and jumped, waking the infant that until then had been sleeping peacefully in the canvas baby-carrier strapped to Fraser’s back.
Little Robert whimpered slightly.
“Just wait a minute, I’m burned here!” Fraser turned to the sink and used his undamaged left hand to operate the pump handle, causing jerks of cold water to flow over reddening skin.
Diefenbaker, snoozing in the July sunshine outside, couldn’t actually hear Fraser’s yell, but he sensed his pack mate was in trouble and started scratching at the cabin door. Poor Fraser had to take his hand out from the soothing water to be able to get to the door and let the wolf in.
Robert increased the volume of his whimpering slightly when he saw he had another audience member. Diefenbaker listened and then addressed a series of barks to Fraser.
“I can’t do anything about it now, I’m wounded.”
“Woof, rrrr, groof,” was Dief’s reply.
“Don’t get technical on me. A burn is a kind of a wound. You could help, you know, instead of just standing there being critical.”
“Just take care of Robert while I put some ointment on this.”
Nursing his hurt palm, Fraser gingerly loosened the straps that held Robert in place. He lifted the child from his carrier and set him on a lamb’s wool blanket in the corner of the cabin. Diefenbaker curled up beside the child. Robert increased the intensity to his protest to crying. Meanwhile Fraser opened the door of the medicine cabinet he had built into the thick log walls of the cabin and took out an earthenware pot covered with cheesecloth. He was just about to rub some of the contents into his palm when the pot of venison stew, having been left unattended on the stove, boiled over spilling its contents over the stove and onto the plank floor.
Fraser dove for the pot and grabbed it with his good hand, again forgetting the potholder in his haste. Man and meat went flying; boiling broth rained down. Fortunately Robert and Diefenbaker were out of range of the scalding liquid. As for Fraser, he just stood there in the middle of the cabin, holding his two throbbing hands away from his body and looking helplessly at the pile of stew that was now seeping through the planks of the wooden floor.
Diefenbaker looked up and grunted a question.
“You may as well. I can’t very well serve it now, can I? But would you mind just waiting until I go get something else to cook. Stay with Robert until I get back.”
So saying, Fraser managed to maneuver the cabin door open with his elbows. He was careful enough to leave the door open so that he could get back in without using his hands. Fortunately the meat hanging from the tree just outside the cabin door was sufficiently cured for him to be able to use it for a substitute dinner tonight. Wincing, he detached the meat and got it balanced between his forearms so that he could carry it into the cabin without using his hands. He pushed the door shut after him with his rear end.
Once Fraser was safely back in the cabin, Diefenbaker pounced on the spilled venison. Robert continued to cry, but now he inserted the occasional howl.
“Your mother will be here any minute now,” Fraser looked from baby to stove to wolf and back to baby. “You can nurse when she gets home. I can’t warm you up a bottle right now.” He held his hands up for the baby to see the problem. “As it is, you’re the only one who is going to get any dinner unless I can find a way to . . .”
The chime of an incoming email interrupted him. Fraser’s shoulders sagged and he trudged to the other side of the cabin, slumping into the chair by the computer. His hands moved automatically towards the keyboard, but hovered there, throbbing. There was no way he could use his fingers now.
“Robert? Dief? I don’t suppose either of you could . . .?” Fraser sighed. Neither wolf nor infant would be able to operate the mouse and keyboard. He leaned back in the wooden chair, closed his eyes, and wondered what to do next.
Robert was mostly howling now.
“I told you, you’ll have to wait. It’s not like you’re going to starve waiting for your mother to get home.”
From his corner, Robert left off howling and started screaming. Diefenbaker continued eating. Fraser just sat there at the computer, slumped in his chair, feeling defeated.
This was the charming domestic scene that greeted Inspector Margaret Fraser and their Chicago guests when they arrived a moment later. Fraser opened his eyes when he heard them all coming in, but was too disheartened to actually sit up straight. He just breathed a dejected “Oh dear”.
Inspector Fraser soon had the situation well in hand. First she picked up the child and assured him dinner would be served in a few moments. Then she ordered Diefenbaker away from the spill and bestowed a handful of rags upon Detective Kowalski, assigning him to cleanup detail. Lt. Welsh she ordered to take over as medic and set him about treating Fraser’s hands with the still unused wild cucumber ointment. After sizing up the dinner situation, she gave the keys to the 4 by 4 to Detective Vecchio and sent him back down the dirt road to Yellowknife to obtain some takeout Chinese food. Only when everything seemed under control did Margaret and Robert retire to a curtained off part of the cabin to nurse.
After dinner, they all sat around a rough wooden table and drank beer. All but Robert, Dief and Fraser, that is. (The Frasers kept their beverages cold in a stream that flowed behind the cabin.) Fraser did keep his hands wrapped around a full beer can so that the cold metal could ease his still throbbing palms and fingers.
“Now, Robert, you got to help me understand this,” Ray Vecchio addressed the baby sitting in his lap with the most serious of tones. “You’re living in a log cabin, your dad does his cooking on a wood stove, he still has no phone, but he has a computer.”
“He has a cell phone now” Margaret assured everyone, “He just doesn’t like to use it.”
“But he DOES use a computer,” Welsh pointed out.
“And, um, he’s sitting right here in the flesh while you’re talking about him in the third person,” Fraser pointed out.
They all laughed.
“You, Fraser, are a phenomenon. A phenomenon,” Kowalski
repeated, jabbing his finger in the air vaguely in his friend’s direction.
“People like to talk about strange things, it’s like, human nature.”
“I’d have to take exception to your calling the father of my son a strange thing,” Margaret quipped. She rose and kissed the top of Fraser’s head, “If I didn’t agree with you.”
Fraser was definitely not amused now. “I agreed to keep house while you worked on the condition that you let me keep it in my own way.”
To Fraser’s discomfiture, everyone laughed again.
“Well if you came all the way from Chicago just to insult me . . .” Fraser protested to the assemblage.
Welsh intervened. “Keep your shirt on, Constable. The boys are just jealous. You’ve got everything a man could want up here. Good air, good home, good work, good family.”
“Lousy Chinese food,” Vecchio griped.
“So, let’s have a toast here.” With these words, Welsh stood up and raised his beer can. “To Canada, whose birthday we are celebrating today.” Everyone except Dief and Robert waved their beer cans at this and all but Fraser took a swig.
Welsh sat down and Kowalski took over. “And to the good old U. S. of A., whose birthday we will celebrate three days from now, if Fraser can put with us that long.” The ritual was repeated.
It was Vecchio’s turn. “And last but not least, to our host, the lord of his little castle here, as long as his lady lets him be that.” There were chuckles all around and this time Fraser decided not to take offence. Ray meant well and the jest pleased his wife, so he let it go.
Ray shoved his can in Fraser’s direction. “To Benny, whose birthday we celebrate tomorrow. He’s got it all, except he still hasn’t got indoor plumbing.”
Fraser woke up the next morning vaguely aware that he was not the first to rise. Margaret still lay asleep in their big feather bed with Robert beside her, so he could nurse at any time during the night without her having to get up. Various snores filled the small cabin from the guests all still asleep in their cots. Fraser could detect Diefenbaker, Kowalski and Welsh as they slept, but didn't hear Ray Vecchio. Indeed, Ray’s assigned cot was empty.
Fraser’s hands were still sore, but he was able to get the door open without too much pain to find Vecchio standing outside the cabin and looking out towards the east where the sunrise would have been, had they been far enough south for there to be night. He came up beside his first Chicago friend and they stood together silently for a time, looking out over the hills that surrounded the cabin and listening to a stream as it trickled along.
“Happy birthday, Benny,” Vecchio said, simply.
Fraser nodded his thanks.
“I used to think it was kind of symbolic, you know, your birthday being between your country’s day and mine. It’s like a way of saying you belong in both places. But seeing you here, I realized. You never belonged in Chicago. I know it’s kind of awful to say, but if you had to go anywhere on the trail of the killers of your father, I’m glad you came to me so’s I could get to know you. But, you belong here.”
“Yes, I believe I do. And I am happy. You know, I never thought I’d live to see the day I’d say that. I’m actually happy.”
After breakfast, Fraser distributed fishing gear to all three Chicago guests and asked Diefenbaker to lead them to a place where the stream was wider and good for fishing. He explained that he wanted them all out of his and Margaret’s hair while the two prepared a special lunch for them all. As it turned out Margaret had to do the cooking, so that Fraser could protect his hands.
“Ray says you got me a special present,” Fraser said while he and Robert watched her peel potatoes.
“Yes I did. And you don’t get to see it until I say so.”
“You’re a tyrant.”
“No, Benton. I just like to run a tight ship.”
“You can have any kind of ship you want. As long as you keep me as first mate. I’ll be grateful to you forever for giving up the city and staying here with me. Remember what you said up in King’s Landing? That you’d hate living up north more than anything?”
“I’m allowed to be wrong just once.”
“So you don’t think you’re going to fire me again any time soon?”
“No, Benton. I can’t fire you. You’ve got a lifetime contract now.”
Vecchio, true to character and half in jest, made a point of complaining about the food all through lunch. His teasing and Robert’s antics kept everyone amused until it Margaret announced it was time for presents.
One by one, his friends handed Benton a package to open. From Vecchio there was a huge tin of his mother’s cookies. Kowalski had stopped off in Yellowknife before meeting Margaret and acquired brand new snowshoes. As for Welsh, he too had done his shopping in Yellowknife. When the Inspector got off work and was ready to drive them from the airport to their cabin, he asked if the Frasers had a CD player. Margaret confirmed that their computer had such a device built in. So she drove them to a music store where Welsh scooped up a couple of the most classical sounding titles he could find.
“Now you can use that computer for something more than email, Constable.” Welsh said as Fraser opened the gift.
“Thank you kindly, Lieutenant, but I already use it for something much more important than email or music. I use it to store my father’s journals.”
The Inspector corroborated this. “He sits at that keyboard every night, transcribing his father’s journals.”
“He’ll have to take a bit of a break with those hands,” Kowalski reminded them.
“Do you mind, Ray? I’m trying to make a presentation here.” Margaret reached into her jeans pocket and pulled out nothing more unusual than an envelope. “I’ll guess I’ll have to read this to you.”
“No, let me. My hands feel a little better now.” He carefully took the envelope out of her hands. “It’s addressed to you, Margaret, not to me. And it is already opened. I don’t understand.” Fraser ran his eye over the single page he extracted from the envelope. Then tears came to his eyes. He put the envelope and page down on the table around which they all sat and reached for his wife’s hand. He closed his own hand around hers, slowly, carefully, only wincing a little at the pressure against his still-tender skin. Then he looked around to all their friends and told them.
“She copied three chapters worth of Dad’s journal and sent it to a publisher as a book proposal. And they bought it. Robert Fraser’s going to live again.” Then he looked at his child. “I mean, he’s going to live again in still another way.”
Baby Robert, sitting in Kowalski’s lap, looked up at that moment. He gurgled a request for clarification to his father but Fraser’s attention was no longer on him. Robert found that most strange. Usually he was the absolute center of his father’s world. So he asked Diefenbaker what was going on instead. Dief wasn’t sure, but he could tell it was something good.