Marian’s request was for something short and funny.




Ray and Fraser were sitting in the forward section of the topmost deck of the coastal steamer, where they could watch the scenery through floor to ceiling windows.

It was usually crowded as tourist competed for the armchairs closest to the windows.


Fraser preferred to stay outside and feel the wind and rain (it rained often in Norway), and to have more space around him, prompting Ray to complain that Fraser just didn’t know when to come in out of the rain. So, to keep his friend company, Fraser stayed in the observation lounge with him most of the time. Right now it happened to be afternoon, a couple of hours before dinner, and the two friends had managed to snag some choice seats and were sitting watching the western coast of Norway slip by.


Fraser, of course, kept jumping up to offer his seat to other passengers until Ray threatened him with physical violence if he didn’t stay put.


“I appreciate your taking me on this trip, Ray,” Fraser said, “As much as I disapprove of stereotypes, it does seem to me that Italians are a very generous people as a rule.”


Ray smiled, enjoying this somewhat more imaginative way of differentiating between himself and his alter ego. He was getting a little tired of references to his hair colour, car model or, even worse, having to use the name “Benny” so everyone would know who he was.


“My pleasure, Benny, as long as you sit where I put you,” he tossed off, and then winced.

He’d said “Benny” after all, rendering the whole previous paragraph unnecessary.


“But you know, Ray,” Fraser continued, “I never really understood how you got the money to pay for this cruise of the Norwegian fjords.”


“You shouldn’t question how I get places. Didn’t I show up right at your cabin door in the pilot?”


“True enough,” Fraser allowed, “But even so . . .”


“Look, Benny, when you’ve got four birthdays in the same month you have to cut corners in the plausibility department sometimes.”


“That’s just silly, Ray. Nobody has four birthdays in one month.”


Ray let that pass.


Traveling with Fraser had its own special trade-off of advantages and disadvantages. The Mountie seemed to speak just about every human language. Ray, in a fanciful moment, once imagined that should extraterrestrials ever land, Fraser would probably start chattering happily with them in Vulcan or Klingon or whatever. And embarrass anyone he happened to be with, no doubt.


Here in Norway, Fraser had easily maneuvered the two of them through the Bergen airport, to the city and thence to the docks of the coastal steamer (on which they were now, um, steaming) in fluent Norwegian. Everybody who dealt with the public, Ray noticed, spoke some English anyway, but Fraser was having so much fun twisting his mouth around the tight Nordic vowel sounds that Ray kept that observation to himself.


One good thing, since they were on vacation and not on a case, Fraser hadn’t tasted anything except substances specifically designated as food or drink. This was a particular relief for Ray when they had been sightseeing in Bergen, during the free afternoon before the ship sailed. Fraser had insisted on seeing the Leprosy Museum. Ray didn’t really think that Fraser could contract the disease by licking any of the displays. Still, it would have been embarrassing.


Ray turned his attention back to the scenery. “I’ve never told you this, Fraser, but I’ve always wanted to see the fjords. For years I’ve been pining to take a trip like this.”


“You’ve been pining for the fjords?” Fraser clarified the Monty Python reference.




“Well I can certainly understand that. It is amazing. We’re already further north than Inuvik and look how green everything is! Grassy meadows and trees here by the shore with snowy peaks on the grey mountains just beyond. At the same latitude back home everything by comparison is just – well, bleak.”


Ray rolled his eyes, waiting for Fraser to explain for the umpteenth time about the Gulf Stream. But instead, Fraser fell silent.


“What? Aren’t you going to tell me about the Gulf Stream again?” Ray felt cheated.


“No, Ray. I’ve already told you umpteen times. You should have got it by now. The Gulf Stream passes the coast of Norway causing warmer temperatures than would be expected at this latitude. Even at North Cape, the northernmost point of land in Europe, there is no permafrost. And here, not too far south of the Arctic Circle, the average temperature in winter is actually above freezing.”


“Um, I thought you weren’t going to tell me again.”


“Sorry, it’s involuntary.”


Fraser consulted a guidebook that he had been toting around. “Just to our port side we’re about to pass the Fugloy bird sanctuary.”


Just beside where Ray and Fraser were sitting, a baby started fussing and whimpering. Ray turned to look. The baby’s mother was holding her child against her shoulder, trying to shush it. She gave Ray a sheepish look. Ray turned back to Fraser.


“They got penguins in that bird place?”


“Ray, Ray, Ray. Penguins are in the southern polar region. Remember when I took you last year to Ushuaia? Here in the north Atlantic they have gannets, sea eagles, kittywakes, guillemots – both common and Brunnich’s . . .”


“Thank goodness. Wouldn’t want to be stuck with just common guillemots,” Ray muttered.


Fraser ignored this. The baby behind them, however, went from fussing to actual crying, though probably not because of any seabird considerations.


“ . . . and, of course, puffins.”


The baby’s crying became louder. Ray and a few of other passengers turned to give the mother definite looks, but she only shrugged at all of them. “Some people will do anything to keep a good window seat,” Ray groused.


The baby’s crying got louder and louder.


“Fraser, why don’t you do that puffing thing to get the baby to shut up?”


“Puffing thing?”


“Yeah, remember when we had Jamie in the car, you did that puffing face?”


“Puffin face. By some bizarre co-incidence the same kind of puffin we were talking about. Did you know they can dive ten meters into the sea for food?”


“Really? How do they know when to stop?”


“I beg your pardon.”


“How do the puffins know when it’s ten meters?”


It was Fraser’s turn to be exasperated.


The baby’s crying turned into a definite howl, but again probably for reasons unrelated to anything the policemen had been saying.


“Come on, Benny. Do your face thing.”


Fraser hesitated. “I’d rather not, Ray. There are the five P’s to consider.”


“Fraser! Make yourself useful! Puff!”


Fraser hated to say no to his generous friend, so he stood up and went over to stand right in front of the mother and child. The mother didn’t seem to mind, the view of Fraser being perhaps the only thing remotely more scenic than the landscape.


“Please turn the child around to face me, ma’am.”


The lady did that. Fraser bent low to bring his face close to the child’s. He paused to turn a pleading look to Ray.


“Do I really have to do this? We’re so close to the puffins.”


“Yeah, right off our port side. So what? Go for it!”


Fraser sighed reluctantly. Ray was so good to him, how could he decline? So he expanded his cheeks, puffing them up the same way as he had for Jamie. He stayed like that for several minutes. Then his eyes also went very wide – in panic.


Ray and the mother watched in horror as Fraser’s face got rounder and rounder. His eyes shrank and became circles, bright red with black pupils. Around the red eyes, blue triangles formed. His cheeks, now huge, turned white. Small yellow ovals formed on either side of his mouth. The change in his mouth was the most bizarre of all. It expanded into a bird’s beak striped in yellow, blue and red.


Even more passengers began to notice and come around to watch.


“Benny, do you always have to be the center of attention everywhere you go?” Ray grumbled.


Meanwhile Fraser’s body was turning into that of a bird with a white belly and black wings and back. His feet became bright orange and webbed.


“I’m turning into a puffin!” Fraser wailed.


“Great. This ship must be powered by Infinite Improbability Drive,” Ray referenced Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy in his annoyance.


‘No, Ray,” the six-foot bird squawked, “It’s the 5 P’s! Puffin Proximity Poses Peculiar Perils!”


“Benny, I can’t take you ANYWHERE!”


Happy Birthday

The Moo

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