Author’s Notes: A big thank you to all my betas on this one: Julad and Resonant and Te and Mia and above all Terri, who picks nits like no other and really held my hand a lot this time around. This story is for LauraKaye because I think she loved the idea most, (and it’s really kind of a nutty idea.) This story is also for Lee, who wrote me a while ago and mentioned that “finding fic with deaf people in, especially in fandom, is incredibly rare,” whereupon I realized that I was in a fandom with one of the few canonically deaf characters. I have no idea if I’ve done a good or bad job on that front, but I swear to you, Lee, and to any other deaf readers out there that I tried and that the attempt is sincerely well-meant.
Commentator’s Notes: Originally I wanted to comment on “Chicago’s Most Wanted,” but it was taken. So I thought I’d discuss “Juggling Act,” but it was taken too. Then I considered “Scrabble,” but just pondering the formatting issues made it necessary to lie down in a dim room with a cool cloth over my eyes. Finally, I picked this one over “Mangy Dog” (I had momentarily confused the two stories) because I find the psychology interesting. I’ve read other fics in which Dief = Fraser or Dief = Ray K, but in this one we get both comparisons and
or “Dief is to Fraser as Fraser is to Ray,” for those of you lucky enough to have dodged the SATs.
I love stories that start in media res. Two words in and we know that Diefenbaker and Fraser are in hot pursuit of a perpetrator or a suspect, which implies a case.
He should have known that those would be the last words he would ever say to Diefenbaker, would have known if he’d ever bothered to give the matter a moment’s thought. But he hadn’t, and now, as Dief bounded down the cracked concrete sidewalk after Raphaella La Scala, Fraser could only stare in horror at the burning building directly ahead of them, at the flames licking the windows.
Raphaella La Scala was heading straight for the fire, and Diefenbaker was right behind her.
“Dief! Wait!” Fraser pounded down the street after them, shouting, knowing that it did absolutely no earthly good to shout. “Dief--!”
It was only a matter of time before something like this happened. Dief would never abandon a chase. Dief would chase the blasted woman straight into the heart of hell, if necessary. Why hadn’t he ever taken the time to talk to Dief about what constituted “reasonable pursuit”?
What in your history would indicate that you know what constitutes reasonable pursuit, Constable?
Ahead of them, Raphaella La Scala took the brownstone’s curved concrete steps at a breakneck pace and disappeared into a cloud of gray smoke. A flash of white, a twitch of tail, and Diefenbaker was gone, vanished into the burning guts of the building.
Gasping for air, Fraser stopped short to evaluate the situation--it looked like the fire hadn’t entirely consumed the ground floor--when something came slamming into him from behind. He lurched forward from the impact, but somehow managed to keep his feet. Behind him, Ray flailed for balance and then steadied himself, his face flushed with the exertion of their cross-town sprint. So, we have Fraser chasing Dief, and being chased in turn by Ray. Dief : Fraser :: Fraser : Ray.
“Where--?” Ray looked around, panting. “Where did they--?” He suddenly seemed to really notice the burning building in front of them, and his eyes widened. “God, tell me they didn’t--?”
Fraser nodded grimly. “They did. Come on, we have to hurry--“
He had a momentary glimpse of Ray’s aghast expression before Ray literally dived for him. “No way!” Ray gasped, grabbing him tightly around the waist and chest and trying to dig his boot heels into the concrete. “You’re not goin’ in!”
It occurred to Fraser that the truth might not be expedient at this particular juncture. “No, of course not, Ray. I just want to get closer to--“ Wow, Fraser is a lousy liar.
“No-- way--“ Ray yanked hard on each syllable, tugging Fraser one stumbling step at a time away from the building. “You go in for-- fish-- I’ve seen it--“
Fraser struggled with him, but couldn’t seem to break free; instead, they stumbled together like awkward, exhausted dancers. ”Ray...”
“Shut up, Fraser!” Ray yelled into his face. “I don’t care!”
Before them, the building visibly shuddered--and then, with a sudden, ear-splitting groan, the second floor gave way. A cloud of dust and ashes exploded out of the rubble. Orange-yellow flames shot out from the upper windows.
Fraser barely had time to process this. Ray was dragging him violently across the street.
Three firetrucks pulled up, sirens wailing. One parked halfway on the sidewalk. Swarms of rubber-suited firemen snaked their hoses up the steps and pumped gallons of water inside.
Fraser stood across the street, arms crossed, and watched them work. Ray had made their presence known to the fire chief, and now he was sitting on a nearby stoop, smoking a cigarette and watching the building with narrowed eyes.
“I didn’t see him come out,” Fraser said finally, turning to look at Ray. “Did you see him come out?”
“No.” Ray’s voice sounded casual enough, but he didn’t meet Fraser’s eyes. “But that don’t mean nothing,” he added in a low voice. “There’s windows in the back. And Dief’s smart. I don’t need to tell you how smart Dief is.”
Fraser nodded slowly and turned his attention back to the fire. Ray also didn’t need to tell him that if Diefenbaker had gotten out, he would certainly have rejoined them by now.
Finally, the fire chief signaled to Ray with a wave of his clipboard, and Ray sighed and ground his cigarette out under his boot before standing up. Ray looked tired--old, even--an effect that was, Fraser realized, exacerbated by the gray ashes dusting his hair.
“Okay,” Ray muttered, brushing off his hands on his jeans. “Time to boogie. Hang on, wait here for me.” Fraser watched Ray lope across the street to confer with the firemen, a conversation punctuated by much pointing and gesticulating on Ray’s part.
Fraser rubbed his temple. Ray’s body language was clear as day. We were chasing a suspect. (Ray leaned over the clipboard, and Fraser knew he was spelling the name out for them: L-a S-c-a-l-a.) She ran into the building, (Ray stabbed his index finger toward the brownstone’s still-smoldering door,) followed by my partner’s wolf, Diefenbaker. (Ray jerked his head surreptitiously toward Fraser, but the fire chief gave the game away by giving him a prolonged and frank stare.)
Ray looked annoyed, and he grabbed the front of the chief’s jacket and yanked him around so that he wasn’t facing Fraser. Ray was still talking, and Fraser squinted to read his lips: ”...to Chicago on the trail of the killers of his...”
Fraser stared into the fire-scarred wreckage, still hoping for some sign of Diefenbaker. Raphaella La Scala, of course, hadn’t made it out either, but he couldn’t even pretend to be looking for her. As far as Fraser was concerned, she’d deserved whatever she got.
But Diefenbaker... goddammit. Fraser dropped his eyes, training them on the sidewalk before him, irritated at himself for his self-pity. But it did seem too...well, just too goddamned much. He didn’t think he could stand to lose Diefenbaker--Dief was all he had left. Diefenbaker, and his job, and perhaps a dufflebag’s worth of clothes, and--
Fraser looked up into Ray Kowalski’s pale, dusty face. And Ray, of course. This is the first instance of Fraser thinking Dief = Ray. Ray was searching his face intently, as if he were evaluating him--and then Ray raised a hand and brushed soot off Fraser’s shoulders, the front of his tunic.
“You’re filthy. Come on, I’ll take you home.”
Fraser wanted to say, ”Is that it, then? Is it over? Is he dead?” Instead, he pressed his lips together firmly, unable to ask the question.
Ray answered it anyway. “They don’t know, it’s too early to tell,” he said, looking away, looking uncomfortable. “They got to wait for things to cool out, then they’ll dig through the rubble, see what they see.”
Fraser nodded slowly. Ray gnawed at his lip for a moment, then touched Fraser’s arm.
“Come on,” Ray repeated quietly. “I’ll take you home.”
He let Ray take him back to the Consulate.
Part of him expected to see Diefenbaker sitting on the Consulate steps--perhaps a little singed or damp, but practically speaking, none the worse for wear. Dief wasn’t there, though, and he knew that the Consulate’s doors and windows were locked--and while Dief was a half-wolf of many talents, Fraser didn’t expect him to be able to materialize through glass or wood.
Everything seemed simultaneously normal and surreal. His key sliding into the lock. His own hand gripping the door’s brass handle. Perhaps it was shock. Ray’s boots thudded softly down the hallway’s hardwood floor, and he glimpsed the back of Ray’s leather jacket as he disappeared into the kitchen. A glass thunked in front of him on the hallway table--the good crystal, the set they brought out only for official guests. Fraser couldn’t remember sitting down at the desk, but here he was, sitting down and staring at the crystal tumbler of whiskey that Ray’d set out for him.
“Drink that,” Ray said.
It was probably the good whiskey, as well. Macallan, eighteen year, served neat. He seemed to remember that it was a gift from the Minister of Finance, thereby making the bottle official property of the Canadian Consulate. The inspector would have a fit.
“Just drink it,” Ray said.
“All right,” Fraser said, and picked up the glass.
Man, this is a very downbeat prologue for a magic-realism rom-com whodunnit.
Fraser heard the clatter of Inspector Thatcher’s heels on the floor of the hallway well before she came into view and assumed, from the depth and frequency of the sound, that she was wearing her three-inch, alligator slingbacks. Which meant, he further presumed to assume, that she had plans for the evening. Rather elaborate plans, he would have guessed had he been asked.
When he looked up, she was standing in his doorway wearing a little black dress that left very little to the imagination. Which was a pity, really, because Fraser had quite a lot of imagination, and he liked to give it a workout whenever he could. “All right, I’m off,” she announced, with a little demonstrative spin. “How do I look?”
Fraser quickly got to his feet. “You look, um. Very nice,” he told her, and that was the truth. She beamed at him, and really, she was a most attractive woman, particularly when she smiled like that. “But--“
The smile fell off her face. “But what?”
Fraser felt suddenly, sharply annoyed at himself; why could he never leave well enough alone? “Your shoes,” he confessed, feeling his face heat up. Inspector Thatcher looked down at her shoes, which were, in fact, high-heeled, open-toed slingbacks. “They--“
“You don’t like them?”
“No, sir. I mean, it isn’t a matter of liking, sir. Just that they--“
Inspector Thatcher’s smile was now--hmm. Patronizing, perhaps, was the word. “You’re going to tell me that they’re not practical,” she said.
“No, sir.” Fraser agreed. “I mean, yes, sir, that’s right: they aren’t terribly practical, I’m afraid. Especially considering--“
“Well,” Inspector Thatcher said gently, sweetly, and really, she didn’t have to work quite so hard to make him feel like a bumpkin. It wasn’t as if he didn’t know it already. It wasn’t as if the city of Chicago didn’t make sure he got that particular telegram every morning along with his newspaper. “Sometimes we women have to sacrifice practicality for style, Constable. Not all of us can wear mukaluks.”
The correction came unbidden to his lips. “You mean--“
“Whatever,” Inspector Thatcher snapped, and right then Fraser decided that there was no point in telling her about the forecasted snow. Besides, they were only predicting ten to fourteen inches, and a little snow like that hardly required mukluks. Passive-aggressive much, Fraser “Make sure you lock the door precisely at six,” she said, and clattered back down the hall to her office.
At five minutes to six, Fraser capped his pen and put it into the top drawer of his desk. He got up, reached for his peacoat, put on his hat and gloves--and he was halfway down the hallway to the door when he remembered that he didn’t have to walk Diefenbaker.
It had been nearly a week, but he still couldn’t seem to remember that Diefenbaker was gone for more than a few minutes at a time. It was as if his brain was in denial, experiencing some kind of selective amnesia. But you couldn’t break the habits of years in a single week. He had a routine: close the Consulate at six, take Diefenbaker for a long walk, buy something for them to eat on the way home. Cook, eat, wash up, do whatever nightly chores needed doing--shine his boots, oil his Sam Browne, iron his uniform. Then he’d read for a while, or perhaps listen to an hour or so of radio programming, if there was something good on. A cup of tea, a last turn around the block with Diefenbaker, and then to bed.
He supposed he could just go through the motions. The walk in particular would do him good, and he should probably eat something. Except it all seemed so completely and utterly--
This is a textbook example of “show, don’t tell”—conveying Fraser’s grief and depression without using either word.
Fraser opened the front door just as the police car pulled up in front of the Consulate. Its revolving blue and white light was flashing, but the siren hadn’t been turned on.
The driver’s side door opened, discharging an officer he’d never seen before. Fraser tilted his head slightly to the side to read the fine print on the car’s door. 18th Precinct.
If Fraser were dealing with someone he knew, we wouldn’t get the upcoming comedy of errors.
Fraser stepped out onto the landing to greet the officer, who was now trudging dutifully up the steps. Above them, the sky had gone dark gray, and there was a cutting chill in the air. Snow was coming for sure.
“Can I help you, Officer?” Fraser asked.
The policeman stopped two steps below him, and squinted up suspiciously. “This the Canadian Consulate?”
Fraser tried very hard indeed not to look at the bronze plaque just to the right of him which read, clear as day, “Canadian Consulate.” Never mind the bright red maple leaf flag flying just above them. “Yes, sir, it is.” Hee.
“And you work here?”
“Yes, I do,” Fraser said, offering his hand. “Constable Benton Fraser, Royal Canadian Mounted Police, at your service.”
“Uh-huh. Okay.” The officer shook his hand, then heaved himself up the remaining two steps, so that he was standing on the landing with Fraser. “So, the thing is--“ The officer stopped, then looked Fraser up and down. “You were leaving, weren’t you?” Wow. It’s the second coming of Sherlock Holmes.
“No,” Fraser said, politely. “I just--I often wear my coat.” Oh, Fraser. Such a bad liar.
“All right,” the officer said. “Cause I could talk to somebody else,” he added.
“You’re perfectly welcome to talk to me, Officer Donaldson.”
“Yeah, okay. Thing is,” Officer Donaldson said, and then he stopped and frowned. “How did you know my name was--“
Fraser pointed with a gloved finger. “It’s embroidered on your coat.” If I were in Fraser’s boots (and God, do I want a pair of high brown Strathconas…sooo pretty…), I would be beating my head against that “Canadian Consulate” sign by now.
Donaldson glanced down, nodded, then looked back up again. “Right, yeah. So I got this guy in the car,” Officer Donaldson said, and jerked his head toward the car.
Fraser looked, and yes, it did in fact seem that there were two people sitting in the back seat of the police car. “All right?” Fraser said, just to show he was still following.
“My partner and me, we arrested this guy about an hour ago. He came running out of Dinatorre’s Bakery, over on Augusta--led us on quite a chase, let me tell you. He’s a big guy, but he runs like nobody’s business. We caught him trying to climb over a chain link fence, but his coat had gotten stuck.”
“Ah.” Fraser nodded sympathetically; he’d caught many a perpetrator that way himself. How often the criminal element underestimated the value of a streamlined figure. “Very well done.”
Strangely, the officer just looked uncomfortable. “Yeah. Well. We figured this guy had robbed the register from the way old man Dinatorre was screaming. Turns out he didn’t.”
Fraser’s felt his eyebrows shoot up. “Oh?”
“He stole a tray of pastries,” the officer admitted. “By the time we caught up with him, he’d eaten most of ‘em, which is really pretty disgusting, when you come to think of it.” Officer Donaldson made a face. “Cannoli cream everywhere.”
It seemed to Fraser that this was insult to injury as far as the poor fellow was concerned; not only was he starving, but he was being judged on his table manners besides. “He must have been pretty hungry,” Fraser suggested gently, and he was relieved to see Officer Donaldson wince in sympathy.
“Yeah,” Officer Donaldson agreed. “That’s what we figured. And it seemed kind of a shame to arrest a guy for something like that, but like I said, old man Dinatorre was howling bloody murder. Apparently, those pastries went for three bucks a pop.”
“Hmm,” Fraser said, because he really didn’t know what else to say. Sad as this story was, he wasn’t sure where he, or the nation of Canada, came into the business. Were the police looking for a donation of some kind? He thought he had a twenty dollar bill in his hat--or he supposed he could offer to provide the poor starving soul with a hot dinner.
“Anyway, so we cuff him and read him his rights, ask him if he understands,” Officer Donaldson said, “and that’s where it gets sticky. Cause it turns out he don’t understand, and when he talks, his voice is off, it’s all aaauulala. Like a record that’s playing too slow.”
The answer came to Fraser in a flash. “Is he deaf?” Aha! The alert reader sits up, ears pricked.
“Aren’t you smart?” Officer Donaldson snapped —for the record, the answer is yes, most of the time, though he can be a little slow in certain areas—, and then he sighed tiredly. “Yeah, he’s deaf. We figure that out maybe two minutes later when we finally uncuff him and he starts talking with his hands. Actually, you can make sense of how he talks if you listen close,” Donaldson admitted. “It’s distorted and fuzzy but you can pretty much follow everything. But he can’t hear, and so that kind of mucks up the whole ‘resisting arrest’ charge we were gonna add onto the larceny.”
“Oh?” Fraser asked.
“Yeah. Because we were shouting, ‘Stop! Police! Stop! Police!’ but--“ Gosh, what does this remind me of?
“But he didn’t hear you,” Fraser mused. “Or at least, that’s the argument any half-competent lawyer would make in front of a judge.”
“Right. So that leaves us with arresting a deaf guy for stealing a tray of pastries. Which I personally don’t feel so good about. So I’d rather not.”
“I understand perfectly,” Fraser said warmly, “and for what it’s worth, I think you’re doing the right thing.”
The relief on Officer Donaldson’s face was palpable. “Okay, good. That’s really good,” he said, and then he reached into the depths of his navy blue parka to pull out a sheaf of paper and slid a pen from the leather loop on his belt. His breath was a puff of white in the twilight sky. “So if you’d just sign here...”
Fraser didn’t think he could have heard that correctly. “Sign? Why would I...?”
“You know--the paperwork,” Officer Donaldson explained. “Just so we can say that we delivered him to a responsible person. Not like we left him on the street or something.”
“I am a singularly responsible person,” Fraser agreed, beating his gloved hands together to defeat the cold and cinching the Understatement of the Year Award, “but I don’t see why I, of all people, should have been singled out for this particular responsibility.”
Officer Donaldson’s eyes opened wide. “Oh, didn’t I say?” He jerked a thumb over his shoulder at the car. “Guy says he lives here.”
Officer Donaldson stood by the side of the police cruiser and knocked on the glass. The window whirred down and Fraser bent to peer into the car’s back seat. Beside the nervous looking policewoman was a husky man in a sheepskin jacket.
Rather disconcertingly, the man’s face broke into a giant grin upon seeing him. “Ehhhya!” he said, looking really positively delighted.
“Er, hello,” Fraser said, enunciating very carefully indeed. Thankfully, it was something he was used to. “I don’t believe we’ve met?”
The man frowned at him, and for a moment Fraser thought he hadn’t understood. The man turned from staring at his face to staring at the policewoman’s face, then he stared back at Fraser again--and Fraser suddenly realized that the man was younger than he’d taken him for; that he was, in fact, probably only in his mid-thirties. His face was young, and his eyes were very, very young. It was the salt and pepper hair that deceived, Fraser decided; the man had obviously gone prematurely gray.
“Unomie,” the man said firmly; and then, with surprisingly graceful hands, he signed it quickly--a finger pointed at Fraser, a brush of the thumb past the temple, and the quick jerk of his thumb back toward himself. You know me.
“Do I?” Fraser asked politely.
“Yeah!” The man bobbed his head up and down enthusiastically, then thumped his chest hard. “Yeah! I’m Diefenbaker.”
Fraser felt a sudden, stabbing pain in his head, and pressed his fingertips above his right eyebrow, where a bird was apparently trying to peck its way out of his skull. He’d always vaguely suspected that it would come to this, ever since his dead father had told him about Uncle Tiberius in the back seat of Ray Vecchio’s Buick Riviera, having apparently forgotten how often he used to say to Fraser, “Oh, my boy, how you remind me of my Uncle Tiberius.” He’d been suspicious of cabbage from that point onward, and hadn’t been able to eat sauerkraut since. I’ve always loved due South’s colorful take on the stock figure of the crazy uncle.
Oh, but the more fool he for expecting some subtle sign, some warning signal like an early aversion to cole slaw. Um, didn’t you just say you were suffering from sauerkraut phobia, Fraser? But no--when madness comes, it comes not in single spies but in battalions--or in this case, in reincarnated pastry-stealing Canadian half-wolves delivered to your door by officers of the law.
“You all right?” somebody was asking him.
“Yeah. Sure,” Fraser said. “I feel fine.” Papers were being pressed into his gloved hand and he looked down at them. A Canadian passport with a picture of the man in front of him grinning--well, rather wolfishly--into the camera. Fraser’s head throbbed, and he forced himself to focus on the name: Dave Von Baker.
Fraser looked up in surprise. “You’re German?”
Dave Baker was staring at his mouth, and then he was nodding enthusiastically. “Shepherd,” he explained in the slightly thickened voice of the deaf. “On my mother’s side.”
“If you don’t mind,” Officer Donaldson said tactfully, “maybe you two can continue this little reunion inside? It’s getting dark and the snow’s starting...”
“But-- I--“ Fraser quickly looked down at the other papers in his hand. Name: Dave Von Baker. Address: Canadian Consulate. Impossible.
“If you’d just sign here...” Officer Donaldson coaxed, and Fraser abruptly decided that yes, of course he’d have to sign. After all, the man was his wolf and therefore his responsibility, and even if he wasn’t, Fraser was damned if he’d let a fellow-creature be arrested for stealing pastry. This chain of thought is so characteristic of Fraser: the world is crazy or I am, but either way this person needs my help. He pulled his right glove off with his teeth, reached for the pen, and signed Officer Donaldson’s incident report.
“Thanks a lot,” Officer Donaldson said, putting his report book away as he moved toward the driver’s side door. “You guys have a good one.”
Dief--Dave--whoever--leapt out of the car and hugged him tightly, knocking his hat to the ground. Fraser, his cold face mashed hard into the warm sheepskin, estimated that Dave was at least 6'4", maybe more. Which was pretty terrifying, really. Dave’s mittened hands were pawing at his hair, flattening it to his skull--a gesture of either affection or aggression, Fraser wasn’t sure which.
Okay, he thought. Either this really is Diefenbaker, or I’ve just adopted a huge deaf pastry thief. He strained backwards so that he could enunciate his words clearly. “Come inside,” Fraser said, jerking his head sideways at the Consulate. “You must be hungry--“
At the mention of food, Dave lifted him clear off the ground.
Fraser brought Dave inside and steered him straight to the kitchen, where he proceeded to heat some canned soup and make sandwiches. Dave went for the food as if he hadn’t eaten in days, which maybe he hadn’t.
Fraser began edging nervously toward the door. “Excuse me,” he said. “Pardon me,” but Dave was completely engrossed in eating and didn’t even look up. Fraser coughed, but that of course did no good. With Dief, sometimes he stamped on the floor so that Dief would feel the vibrations, but it seemed rude to do that to another human being.
“Excuse me,” Fraser repeated, but Dave was clumsily smearing peanut butter and jelly onto slices of white bread. “I’ll just...” Fraser said, backing away, “...be right back,” he said, and then he fled down to his office and into the closet.
His father was sitting, whittling, by the fire. “Dad,” Fraser said hurriedly, “is Diefenbaker with you?”
His father lifted his head, peered over his glasses, and looked around the room. “I’m not seeing him, Son.”
Fraser sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. “No, Dad--“
“Though my eyes... They’re not what they were in the old days.”
“I mean--is he dead?” Fraser asked, attempting to clarify.
“In the old days, I could see for miles. I could shoot a butterfly off a tree branch.”
“Dad, I really need to know. It’s important.”
“Not that you’d want to. Beautiful creatures, butterflies. How would I know?” Both excellent points.
The unexpected return to topic brought Fraser up short. “What?”
“How would I know if he’s dead?” his father asked. “It’s not as if I have a directory.”
Fraser frowned at this. “I just thought you’d--“
“And even if I did have a directory,” his father mused, “it wouldn’t be up to date. I suppose they could send supplements...”
“I guess I just thought you would know.” Fraser slowly sat down in a chair on the other side of the fire. “And I really need to know before I say, or do, something embarrassing.”
“How can you not know?” his father asked.
Fraser looked up. “Hm?”
“How do you not know whether Diefenbaker’s dead?”
Fraser rubbed his fingers over his chin. “He chased a suspect into a burning building. I didn’t see him come out. He hasn’t come home.”
“Well.” His father considered this. “Sounds like he’s dead, Son.”
“Yeah,” Fraser said, somewhat testily. “I’d reached that conclusion, Dad, thanks.”
His father carefully put his knife and block of wood down on the side table. “So what changed your mind?” he asked, and really, that was the key question.
“There’s a man in the kitchen who...” Fraser wasn’t quite sure how to put this. “...who seems an awful lot like Diefenbaker.”
To his surprise, his father simply nodded. “You think he’s some kind of incarnation?”
For some reason, the question irked him. “Yes,” Fraser said, trying very hard indeed not to snap, and snapping anyway, “I think he’s he’s some kind of incarnation. But then again, I’m notoriously out of my mind, as most people who know me can tell you.”
His father picked up his whittling again. “You seem sane enough to me.”
Fraser sighed and leaned forward, letting his hands dangle between his knees. “Yeah, well, that isn’t terribly encouraging, Dad, thanks.”
His father shrugged. “Why don’t you just ask him?”
Fraser looked up. “Ask him what?”
“If he’s Diefenbaker. Why not just ask if he’s--“
Fraser was driven to his feet in blind outrage. “Because you can’t go asking your houseguests if they’re reincarnated animals, Dad!”
“Well, I don’t see why not,” his father objected. “It’s a simple enough question.”
“It’s a rude question.” Fraser paced back and forth in front of the fireplace. “It’s the rudest question I’ve ever heard.”
His father looked upon him with a kindly expression. “You need to get out more,” he said, and Fraser closed his eyes and sighed. “Talk to some people,” his father advised. “Live a little...”
“Well, thank you, Dad. This was spectacularly unhelpful.” In Bob’s defense (not that he needs defending; I can’t think of anyone less in need of defending), his advice wasn’t bad, it’s just that Fraser is unwilling to take it.
“Don’t mention it. It’s what I’m here for.”
By the time Fraser had gotten back to the kitchen, Dave appeared to have eaten everything in sight, including the entire can of soup (straight from the saucepan) and the greater part of a loaf of bread. “Feeling better?” Fraser asked nervously, watching Dave guzzle down his third glass of water. It was only after Dave put the glass down and showed him a broad smile that Fraser realized that Dave hadn’t been watching him, and therefore hadn’t “heard.”
“Feeling better?” Fraser repeated.
“Yeah,” Dave said, nodding vigorously. “Very much so, Captain.”
“Constable,” Fraser corrected. “And I’m glad to hear it.” Fraser came over to the table, pulled out a chair, and sat down; he and Dave were clearly going to have to have some sort of conversation about what was going on. “I think you and I should talk.”
“Yeah,” Dave agreed instantly, licking his lips in apparent anticipation. “Me too.”
Ah. They were on the same page, then. “Because I have to confess that I’m very confused.”
Dave’s response took him aback. “You’re confused? You’re--I mean, I-- I--“ and then Dave gave up on speech entirely and started signing furiously with his big, graceful hands. Fraser stared, trying to follow the verbs and nouns flying through the air. ”Look at. This. Awful--“ (What was that sign?) Body. ”This awful human body,” Dave Von Baker signed.
Fraser felt that bird pecking at his skull again. Peck. Peck. “I’m not sure what you--“
Dave ignored him. “Ithh’s crazy!” Dave said thickly, and then he was signing, ”What a d-r-a-g!
Okay,” he amended, with a very Dief-like tilt of his head, like he could smell some imminent objection in the air. ”I like the o-p-p-o-s-a-b-l-e t-h-u-m-b,” he signed, and when Fraser nodded to show he understood, Dave showed him an enthusiastic thumbs’ up. I find it hilarious that Dief gives the thumb a thumbs-up with a thumbs-up. ”But the rest of the human body?” he signed. ”You. Can. Keep. It.”
“You’re...” God, he really hoped that this wasn’t some kind of sanity test, because if so, he thought he was doing very poorly. “You’re saying you...er. Don’t normally have a human body?”
Dave snorted with disdain. ”You know I don’t,” he signed Random thought: How does one emphasize a word in sign language?, and then he added, thickly, “You’ve got to help me, Captain!”
Fraser raised his hands and tried to push his eyes into the back of his skull. When that didn’t work, he marshaled his will, dropped his hands, and glared across the table at Dief. “It’s Constable. Which you should know if you’re Diefenbaker!”
“I am Diefenbaker!” Diefenbaker growled. Note that despite his disavowal, Fraser has started thinking of “Dave” as Dief.
“Prove it,” Fraser demanded.
“I can prove it!” If Dief still had a tail to thump, he would have been thumping it mightily; Fraser recognized the look all too well. ”I can! You bet I can! I’ve lived with you my whole damn life!” Dief signed, and then he clenched his hands into fists and said, threateningly, “What I don’t know about you. Ain’t worth knowing.”
A shiver traveled up Fraser’s spine as he saw, with sudden clarity, that this was true--the knowledge was positively glinting out of Diefenbaker’s eyes. For a moment, Fraser stopped worrying about his rapidly deteriorating sanity and started worrying about having Dief in human form, pissed off and communicative.
Somewhere online I came across a theory that Diefenbaker and dead!Bob could be considered personifications or projections of aspects of Fraser’s psyche: dead!Bob the superego, and Dief the id. In which case, Fraser’s apprehension is well founded—imagine if the part of you that’s all appetite and impulse, that wants to dance on tables and tell the boss to fuck off, were suddenly granted an independent existence.
“All right, all right,” Fraser said quickly, raising his hands placatingly. “Let’s accept for the moment that--“
Dief’s hands flew into motion. ”You never paid your library book fines before we left I-n-u-v-i-k, and I reminded you. Twice. You used to disobey orders from S-e-r-g-e-a-n-t G-o-r-d-o-n by saying you never got them. And you lied to Mrs. B-o-w-m-a-k-e-r when she invited us to--“
The words were out before he could stop them. “She wanted to set me up with Minnie!” Fraser still shuddered at the thought of having to spend an entire evening in the parlor alone with Minnie Bowmaker. “We were invited there under false pretenses!”
Dief narrowed his eyes. ”You told her you had a c-o-n-t-a-g-i-o-u-s skin c-o-n-d-i-t-i-o-n.”
“Well.” Fraser felt his non-contagious skin getting warm with embarrassment. “It was almost true. Nearly true.”
”It was a rash. You got it off C-h-e-s-t-e-r from when he had ticks.”
Fraser coughed. “I didn’t know that till later,” and at Dief’s look of skepticism, he added, somewhat defensively: “Well, it could have been a contagious skin condition--“
”More like M-i-n-n-i-e gave you h-i-v-e-s. Ugly lady, eh?” Dief added, grinning at him wolfishly.
This was so staggeringly close to the truth that Fraser had to gnaw on his lip to keep from smiling. “Dief!” he said reprovingly. “That’s a terrible thing to say!”
Diefenbaker pointed a finger at him. “Hahh! You called me Diefenbaker.” Flashback to a dock: “You called me Ray!”
Fraser looked away, trying to keep his expression neutral. “No, I didn’t.”
“Yes you did.”
“It was a mistake,” Fraser said, and looked away. Hmm, Fraser just looked away twice.
“You are one stubborn bastard,” Diefenbaker muttered thickly, and suddenly it didn’t matter to Fraser that he was probably going crazy, because it was really nice having Diefenbaker back. Nobody else knew him well enough to be this rude to him.
Well, except maybe Ray. For a second time, Dief = Ray.
“What the hell happened to you?” Fraser asked.
Dief sighed and slumped back in his chair and told him the whole crazy story. “That woman,” he began. “The one you made me chase. She’s a witch, Captain,” and it took Fraser nearly half an hour to understand that Diefenbaker meant that literally.
Dief described how he had just chased Raphaella La Scala into the burning building (“Yes, and we’ll have to have a little talk about that, now won’t we?” Fraser interjected, and again I say, “Pot…kettle,”) when she stopped and turned to face him, towering over him. Dief had pulled back on his haunches and growled up at her. But she’d seemed unafraid, despite the billowing gray smoke and the flames that were already starting to consume the staircase behind her.
“You,” La Scala said, pointing a long fingernail at him, “are a persistent little beast.”
Dief showed her his teeth and growled louder still, poised to jump. The smoke grew thicker. It burned Dief’s lungs.
Just as he was actually about to spring, La Scala twisted her wrist and made her hand into a claw-like cup. Thick smoke began to rise out of her cupped palm, and then it was if she was holding a bright light, like a lantern or a powerful torch. Dief began to bark furiously, determined not to give an inch of ground, but inside, his stomach was twisted into knots. (“I thought I’d piss myself,” Dief confided, and Fraser nodded sympathetically.)
La Scala raised the light up, up, as if she were offering it to the sky. With her other arm, she pointed at Dief. “Tell your master,” La Scala said darkly, “that he has maligned me. I am not the person he seeks for this crime. And as for you, little one... I know the perfect punishment.” And with that she drew back her arm and hurled the golden light at him. It exploded in his face--and the flash, which hit him with the jolt and buzz of an electrical shock, was the last thing he remembered.
“When I woke up...” Dief said slowly, like he was still dazed by the experience, “...I was like this.” He looked down at himself somberly.
“But how did you get out of the building?” Fraser asked,
“I don’t know,” Dief said, frowning.
“Well, where were you when you woke up?”
“I don’t know,” Dief said again, and now there was a frightened look in his eyes; Fraser couldn’t remember seeing Dief so scared since he’d gotten his leg caught in Forrester’s bear trap on the wrong side of Sutton’s Peak. “I don’t know where I was. Nowhere I’d been before, anyway.” Dief’s thickened voice dropped to a whisper and he licked his lips nervously. “S’awful, though. Horrible, ugly place. All twisted metal, like the oil rigs out by --“
Fraser blinked. “Oil rigs?” He slapped his hand down on the kitchen table. “You know, Dief, I’ll bet you dollars to donuts that--“
Dief winced and lowered his head. “Don’t tease me, Captain.”
“--she dropped you smack in the middle of Gary, Indiana. You think you were in Gary?”
Dief glowered at him. “How should I know?”
“Well, there must have been signs--“ Fraser began, but Dief let out a loud sigh, folded his arms on the tabletop, and put his head down on top of them. Dief can speak English, but can’t read it. Which is reasonable; there are, unfortunately, many born-human people in the same boat. “All right, all right, never mind,” Fraser said, but it was already too late; Dief was no longer listening. “Dief?” Fraser said, first poking him, then shaking his arm vigorously.
Finally Dief lifted his head and scowled at him. “I’m sorry,” Fraser said. “Please continue.”
Dief sat up, sat back, and started signing, as if he were no longer willing to go through the effort of speaking. ”I woke up somewhere horrible. I woke up in this terrible body.”
“You keep saying that,” Fraser said, “but the human body is extremely well designed. Clearly our trip to that Leonardo Da Vinci exhibition taught you very little indeed.”
Dief made a face, his nose crinkling in almost comic distaste. ”Terrible. Human. Body,” Dief insisted, signing the words decisively. ”No coat, and two legs put you off-balance, never mind how you’re forced to expose your--“
Fraser felt his eyebrows shoot into his hairline. I wonder what word Dief used?
”--to everyone, which is really not smart, if you ask me,” Dief concluded.
“Point,” Fraser admitted.
”So I couldn’t find my way home and I was so hungry and-- I’m so glad to be home, Captain,” Dief said fervently, bursting into speech. “I have never been so glad to be home in my entire life. So!” Dief added, clapping his huge hands together and sitting up straight in his chair. “What do we do now, eh?” I love the “eh?” at the end; Dief may be half-German on his mother’s side, but at the end of the day he’s as Canadian as Fraser.
Fraser was taken aback by the question. Dief was waiting for his answer with complete and utter confidence, as if he would most certainly know exactly what to do when a witch turned you into a human being and forced you to expose your genitals to predators. Fraser’s recaps are some of the funniest lines in the story. But at the moment, Fraser just wanted to bask in the fact that he seemed to be handling this situation really well--by which he meant that he wasn’t weeping or rolling in cabbage leaves.
So he stroked his chin, stalling for time, trying to look as if he were just putting the final touches on some incredibly brilliant plan. Dief stared at him with hopeful eyes and Fraser realized that there was no way he could let Diefenbaker down. He’d really have to think of something.
“Well,” Fraser said slowly, hoping that some inspiration would strike. Dief leaned forward, staring at his mouth, hanging on his every word. Fraser swallowed hard, his brain empty, his mouth dry--and then he clapped his hands together, as if this was in itself a sign of decisive action. “Let’s go for a walk, shall we? And perhaps, to celebrate your heroic return, we’ll stop somewhere for pizza.”
The snow was falling thick and fast outside, and there were several inches on the ground already. Everyone seemed to have taken this as their cue to stay indoors, which suited Fraser just fine--it left the streets quiet, the snow pristine and untouched.
Not for long, though, because Dief, apparently amused at his inability to coordinate his new and gangly arms and legs, began to skid and slide through the snow, playing like he used to when he was a puppy. Awww… Also, I find it interesting that Fraser apparently considered young Dief a puppy rather than a cub, since for most of the story he’s pretty consistent about referring to Diefenbaker as a wolf. And then suddenly Dief gave a cry of joy and just took off through the snow, and Fraser, not wanting to lose him in the storm, followed at a run, sucking the cold, clean air into his lungs as he pounded down the sidewalk.
The chase ended, unsurprisingly, outside of Papa Vitelli’s pizzeria, where Fraser found Dief plastered against its plate glass window, staring hungrily at the steaming hot pies on the metal shelf inside. Fraser grabbed Dief’s arm, mouthed “Be good,” and then held the door open for him. And Dief was good, Dief was very good, shifting from foot to foot with barely contained excitement as Fraser ordered and paid for a large pie--but Fraser realized with diamond-sharp clarity that Dief wasn’t going to be able to restrain himself until they could bring the pizza back to the Consulate. So he nodded for Dief to seat himself at one of the small, faux marble tables at the far side of the pizzeria.
Thank goodness the place was empty. Dief ate like an animal.
“You’re going to be sick,” Fraser cautioned, but Dief ate six pieces of pizza without the slightest hesitation and licked his fingers afterward. His mouth was smeared with tomato sauce. Fraser handed him a wad of paper napkins, but when Dief stared down at them as if they were some exotic form of dessert, Fraser snatched them back and swiped Dief’s mouth clean as if he were a toddler.
Dief gingerly touched his now-clean lips and chin with his fingertips. “Strange, eh?” he said, and Fraser was forced to agree.
They made their way back to the Consulate at a much slower place, largely due to Dief’s post-prandial languor. That’s a good, Fraserish phrase, “post-prandial langour.” The snow was still falling heavily, and Fraser tried to make good use of this momentary interlude to come up with an actual plan to help Dief get his natural body back. The cold was stimulating, and Fraser beat his gloved hands together briskly--but he still couldn’t seem to think of anything. He wondered if perhaps he ought to consult a priest, or maybe a shaman--
Beside him, Dief suddenly put on a burst of speed, and Fraser looked up and saw that there was a taxi ahead, pulled up in front of the Consulate, its tail lights bathing the snow in red light. Beside it, a small figure in a dark coat was bent over, flailing for balance--Inspector Thatcher, Fraser saw after a second, trying to negotiate a foot of snow in those damned alligator heels. As he watched, Diefenbaker ran to her and simply plucked her up off the ground, swinging her legs over his massive forearm. She shrieked as he carried her carefully through the Consulate’s wrought iron gates and up the snowy steps to the door.
Fraser hurried after them. Dief was standing on the landing, looking bemused as the Inspector flailed at him with her purse. “Let me go! Put me down! You beast!” Thatcher just echoed Raphaella La Scala. Whether half-wolf, Dief’s an animal with the ladies. Inspector Thatcher turned her head and saw Fraser coming up the steps. “Fraser, thank God!”
“Good evening, Inspector,” Fraser said nervously, taking his hat off and clutching it tightly by the brim. “I must apologize for the rather--aggressive chivalry of my friend, here.”
Thatcher blinked at him for a second, then glanced nervously at Dief, who showed her a broad, toothy smile which unfortunately had the effect of making him look like really happy, slightly-hysterical serial killer. Thatcher turned back to Fraser and squeaked, “Your friend?”
“Er, yes, sir.” Fraser thought he was getting his bearings now. “May I present, er-- Mr. David Baker, my, um, former partner. We used to work together up North. I think he was merely trying to compensate for your weather-inappropriate footwear.” That right there is the closest Fraser will get to saying I told you so.
“Ah.” Inspector Thatcher turned to inspect Diefenbaker again with a more critical eye. “I see. Well, hello, there.”
Dief smiled again, and this time Inspector Thatcher didn’t seem to find him so menacing. Fraser quickly got his key out of his hat and unlocked the Consulate door. Dief stepped into the hallway and set the Inspector down gently. She skittered away from him, smoothing her hips obsessively as if she wasn’t sure her skirt was properly in place. “Um. Thank you, Mr. Baker. That was very kind.”
Dief opened his mouth to reply and Fraser quickly came forward and said, “You’re very welcome, sir.”
Inspector Thatcher wheeled on him. “Can’t you friend talk for himself?” she asked sharply.
“No,” Fraser said, ignoring Dief’s look of surprise. “No, I’m afraid he can’t. He had a terrible accident where his vocal cords were severed by a...walrus.” He coughed. “Which is unusual, as I’m sure you know, because the walrus is generally a--“ Omigod, such a bad liar.
Inspector Thatcher, thank God, was already ignoring him. “Oh, that’s terrible,” she said, showing Diefenbaker a face softened with sympathy. “I’m so sorry.”
Dief managed to muster a look of mute, brave suffering.
Inspector Thatcher reached out and gently squeezed Dief’s arm in an “I-Feel-Your-Pain” sort of way. At least, that’s how Fraser decided to think of it; any alternative being, well, unthinkable. “Mr. Baker,” she said, showing the kindness that she kept in reserve for strangers, “we’re delighted to have you as our guest here at the Consulate. If you need anything, you just ask Constable Fraser.”
Dief nodded vigorously and then shot Fraser a sly, narrow look of triumph.
Fraser sighed. “Sir, I believe your taxicab is waiting. Is there something I could assist you with?”
“Oh!” Inspector Thatcher quickly strode to her office closet. She kicked off her heels, slid her stockinged feet into a pair of green wellingtons and then crossed to her desk, squeaking slightly. “I came back for my palm pilot. I thought I had it and--ah!” She picked up the black plastic square and clutched it briefly, but sincerely, to her chest before dropping it into her handbag and snapping the bag decisively shut. I can’t decide if Thatcher’s sincere clutching of the Palm Pilot is acting, and the doodad was just an excuse to go to her office and swap her shoes for boots, or if she really did need it (for her elaborate plans?) and decided to change into more practical footwear. “Right, Constable,” she said, dismissing Fraser with a glance as she came back around the desk, squeak-squeak, squeak-squeak, “have a good weekend. Mr. Baker,” she said, stopping in front of Dief and craning her neck to look up at him, “I trust that we will meet again.”
Affectionately, Dief dropped a huge hand on top of Inspector Thatcher’s head and patted her well-coiffed hair. Fraser felt a small shock of horror. Well, people probably do that do Dief all the time. The Inspector ducked away from Dief’s hand and nervously backed away toward the door. “Well--good night!” she said nervously, and quickly squeaked away.
It was strange how easily Dief re-integrated himself into their nightly routine--all right, so he walked on two legs, took up more space and badly needed a haircut, but he was still Diefenbaker, and therefore easy to be around. It was Friday night, which for Fraser usually meant cleaning his boots and listening to a concert on the radio. I don’t tend my shoes as often as Fraser does, but I do find the ritual of cleaning and polishing them soothing. Fraser changed out of his uniform, pulled his box of brushes and oils down from the closet shelf, and flipped on the radio--WDSE, Chicago Public Radio, a Vaughn Williams: “Dona nobis pacem.” When Fraser turned around, Dief was sitting on the floor with his back against Fraser’s cot, long legs bent at the knees. He was wearing a dreamy expression--one that Fraser recognized as signaling equal parts contentment and exhaustion.
Fraser sat down on his cot, balanced his left boot on his knee, and set to work. Sure enough, by the time he’d finished that first boot, Dief’s head was lolling against the cot, and by the time he’d done with the second one, Dief was snoring softly, his head pressed against the side of Fraser’s leg. Fraser found this physical contact oddly reassuring, and he knew that Dief needed reassurance as well--Dief generally only sought physical contact with him when he was anxious, when he’d been stalked or encountered a predator or otherwise come into contact with something that threatened his status in the pack. Tentatively, Fraser touched Dief’s hair, which was softer than his coat normally was. Dief snuffled, and Fraser quickly snatched his hand back. Awwww.
Finally, the Vaughn Williams drew to its triumphant conclusion, and Fraser nudged Dief’s shoulder. “Dief,” he hissed pointlessly. “Diefenbaker!” but Dief kept sleeping. Finally Fraser sighed and shook Diefenbaker in earnest.
Dief opened his red-rimmed eyes and stared at him in bleary confusion.
“Bed,” Fraser said, intentionally over-enunciating the word for emphasis, and Dief nodded tiredly. Fraser stood up, winced a little; his leg had fallen asleep. “Being that you seem to have earned Inspector Thatcher’s good will,” he said, “I suggest that you sleep in the--“
But Diefenbaker was no longer looking at him, and therefore no longer hearing him. Instead, Dief curled up on the floor at the foot of Fraser’s cot and went right to sleep.