Welsh's cousin's cabin in the Apostle Islands could only be reached by seaplane or by boat. Cousin Frank's plane, a four-seater, was kept at the tiny airfield in nearby Bayfield for anybody in the family to use to get there and back, assuming they had a pilot's license. Welsh did, and thought it would be nice to invite the Canadians along for a week out there with him. He knew Fraser would jump at a chance to spend some time in the wilderness. Welsh wanted to do something nice for Fraser, in appreciation for the Mountie's having solved a fair number of cases. Fraser did this without needing to be paid, which was a great help.
One Mountie was more or less the same as another in Welsh's mind. Nor did Fraser, by his behaviour or appearance, go in any way to contradict the stereotype. Welsh figured Inspector Thatcher shared the same personality and preferences as her deputy and invited her along as well. That she might be a city mouse, born and raised in Toronto, didn't cross his mind.
The Inspector's motivation for making the trip had to do with getting to know Fraser a little better out of uniform. That was the way she phrased it in her own mind, aware, with an inward snicker, of the double entendre. What she was not aware of was just how much more of him she would get to know before the expedition was over.
Which only leaves now to explain why Ray was there. It was the simplest of everybody's reasons. Anywhere Fraser went, he went.
Ray didn't like the idea of flying in a small plane again, after what had happened the last time. He'd have preferred to go by boat. But Welsh persuaded him that the odds of his ever being in a second plane crash while traveling with Fraser were just too great to even consider. No way that could happen twice in anyone's life-time, to crashland in a small aircraft in the company of a Mountie. Welsh was wrong. He hadn't taken into account that this time there were two Mounties, so the odds changed.
It was dark inside the wrecked plane, even though it was daylight outside. Debris covered what was left of the windows. Welsh figured the two main priorities were to get light on the subject and ascertain everybody's status.
"Okay, let's get a role call here. I don't think I'm hurt. Inspector?"
"I've got stuff on my legs. Heavy. I can't move them."
"I don't know."
"Alright, I'll be there in a minute, as soon as I can see where you are. Vecchio?"
"Broken arm, sir"
"That we can cope with. Constable?"
There was no answer.
"Constable?" A little more loudly this time.
Still no answer.
Thatcher barked out, "Fraser! Report your condition! That's an order!"
By now Welsh had dislodged enough debris to make the previous darkness into a workable gloom. Thatcher was as she described herself, pinned from the knees down. Ray sat nursing his arm. Fraser was revealed slumped in his seat, not moving. Welsh moved towards him and slipped, falling into some wet, sticky substance. He brought his hand to his face to identify what he didn't really need to see to figure out.
"Blood all over. Christ! Either of you two bleeding?"
Both of the others answered no.
"Got to be Fraser then. Vecchio, you stay put. I'll check him out." Ray and Thatcher strained to see what was going on as Welsh approached Fraser and looked him over.
"Not good. Something sliced open his belly. Bleeding like a stuck pig. Vecchio, help me get him outside."
"No, wait!" Thatcher called out. "Get me loose first!"
If there had been enough light, Ray and Welsh would have exchanged a look.
"This isn't exactly the right time for chivalry, Inspector," said Welsh. "No ladies first today."
"I've had three years of medical school, damn it! Get me loose!"
They were on her in a second, Welsh working with two arms and Ray with his one good one.
"Medical school?" Ray inquired as he worked.
"It's a long story."
"Some other time, then."
Luck was with them in that the radio was workable.
Welsh settled Fraser on the grass, with Thatcher on the ground beside him. Next, Ray's arm had to be set. Only then did he turn his attention to the radio. They all three now had nearly as much of Fraser's blood on them, from either carrying him or examining him, as Fraser did himself.
Ray crouched on the ground beside the two Mounties. Fraser had regained consciousness, twisting in pain as Thatcher prodded around his insides. Welsh started talking into the radio, but Ray was too distracted to make out everything he said.
"You mean ALL the helicopters are out?"
Cursing and arguing followed.
"What do you mean, four hours? I got a man here that won't last four hours." A long pause followed.
"Okay, I'll put her on."
Welsh brought the radio equipment over to the group on the grass. He met Thatcher's eyes, questioning, and the answer he saw there made the accompanying grim shake of her head unnecessary. Ray bit his lip hard so hard it would have hurt, had he been able to pay it any attention.
Welsh knelt beside Thatcher and whispered directly into her ear, so that Fraser would not hear. "It's at least four hours before they can send a helicopter out. I told them he can't wait that long. They're getting a doctor on the line. He's going to talk you."
They were four on the grass now, in a circle around Fraser: Welsh, Thatcher, Ray and the radio with a voice coming over it. A woman's voice. Beside Margaret was their emergency medical equipment from the plane.
"Right," the voice was saying, "Who's the guy with the medical training? Identify yourself."
"Why would you assume it's a guy?" Thatcher snapped, "You're a woman doctor yourself."
"Oh great, politics. I take it you're the guy, then?"
"Yes, I'm the guy."
"Okay, tell you what," said the radio, "First we sew up this dude, then we talk woman's equality. What's your name?"
"No, your first name."
"Hi, I'm Jane. What's our patient's name?"
"No, his first name."
"Benton. Is this necessary?"
"Look Margaret, if we're going to work together, we have to be introduced. Can Benton hear me right now?"
Fraser groaned affirmative.
"What difference does it make?" Thatcher wailed.
"We're all going to have a job to do here, sweets. Even Benton. I need to know who I've got available. Now, who's got the broken arm?"
"Please to meet you. Who else is there?"
"My name's Harding. And Margaret's ankle is either sprained or broken, if you need to know."
"I do need to know. That tells me she can't walk around. Now here's how it's going to work. Margaret, you're the surgeon. You tell me what you're seeing and I'll tell you what to do about it. Right?"
"Now, Harding, you're not hurt?"
"Then you assist. Anything Margaret says to do, you do it. She's the head, you're the arms and legs. And ten extra fingers if she needs. Clear?"
"Ray, you there?"
"Yeah. What do I do?"
"You got the most important job. You talk to Benton, you hold his hand, you tell him he's going to be okay. And you're the monitor, you watch his breathing. You don't take your eyes off him for a second."
It was the best possible job for Ray. "I hear you." He took hold of Fraser's hand and focused on his friend's face. "I'm here, Benny. You look at me. You look right at me." Fraser grunted, turned his head and met his partner's eyes. The pain in Fraser's face seared Ray, but Ray smiled anyway. He knew his job.
The radio voice continued. "Last of all you, Benton. You don't get off without working. Listen up. This is going to hurt. A lot. I know you're already in pain, but this is going to be worse. So be brave. Keep your eyes on Ray. Actually the best thing you could do is pass out. If you feel yourself losing consciousness, don't fight it. Got me?"
Fraser three broken syllables, from their rhythm, were probably 'understood'.
"Okay people, let's get to work."
In the hospital in Bayfield, Fraser was whisked off to surgery, while the nurses insisted the other three shower his blood off themselves. The red-brown stains on their skin and clothes almost felt like a uniform, binding them together. Then clean clothes were dug out of their bags, X-rays were taken, casts applied where needed, hot food forced in,
Ray, Thatcher and Welsh submitted to all of this, and then sat down together in the surgical waiting room to wait. Enough hours passed that it became night. The well-meaning nursing staff tried to persuade them to sleep, promising to awaken them when there was news. They refused to sleep and refused to be separated.
Finally, a woman in hospital scrubs came out of the operating room, consulted with a nurse, and headed towards them. Her face told them all they needed to know. She was smiling. Margaret crumpled, in tears, against Ray's shoulder. Fortunately, it was on his undamaged side. Ray was none too steady himself and nearly toppled. Welsh steadied them and was the first to speak.
"So, he's going to make it?"
"He's going to make it. You guys are quite the team. I'm Jane, by the way. You must be Margaret."
Thatcher dislodged from Ray's shoulder, wiped her eyes and extended her hand to Jane. Jane ignored the hand and hugged her instead. "What, no politics?" She teased gently and Thatcher only shook her head.
"Thought not." Jane then looked to see which of the men had his arm in a sling.
"You would be Ray."
"That I would."
Jane slapped his back. "Good job, Ray. And you're Harding?"
Welsh nodded but stepped backwards. He could do without the physical greeting and he had managed so far not to let anyone see how sore he was.
"Can we see him?" Ray asked.
Jane laughed. "Haven't you seen enough of him for one day? Get some sleep. Doctor's orders." She nodded a final greeting to them and walked off.
"She's got a point," Welsh observed. "We've seen a side of Fraser today we don't usually get to see."
"Yeah," Ray agreed, "the inside."