It wasn't so much that Fraser was there at four-thirty in what only Fraser could seriously call the morning, when even the worst of the street crazies had rolled off under their benches to snore. It was those damn eyes that were driving Ray Vecchio bugshit. The perfectly neat brown uniform, the unrumpled hair, the evidence of a recent and flawless shave, he could forgive those; but Fraser's eyes looked as clear as if he'd had a solid eight hours, then a good hot shower, followed by a long leisurely breakfast with nice strong coffee, and then a brisk walk, somewhere where the air smelled like snow.
And then Fraser was polite about it. He went through the whole good-morning-how-are-you-sorry-to-intrude bull. At length. On the porch. In the cold morning air -- air that smelled like it ran on four wheels and had come out of Detroit sometime before there were any rules about fuel emissions.
Ray tried to communicate his complete hatred for anyone so damnably awake in a single sleepy-eyed glare as he let the Mountie, the cardboard box the Mountie was carrying, and the Mountie's equally awake-looking wolf into his house. In case the glare hadn't taken (and, with Fraser, it never did) he stated, in his best pre-coffee snarl, "I hate you."
Fraser just gave him that stupid puzzled half-smile, like he was trying to decide whether or not this was some American expression of affection, but was also just a little bit worried Ray was serious. Or he might have been pondering some huge existential question, or he might have had heartburn -- with Fraser's face, who could tell?
"It's four thirty-nine in the morning. I finally finished the Kawalski report three hours ago. Tell me why I'm awake."
Fraser carried the cardboard box into the Vecchio family room and placed it on Ray's desk. "Here, I brought her with me."
Ray rubbed at his eyes and then dropped his hands into the pockets of his robe. Why fight it? "How'd you get here anyway?"
"A passing bakery van--"
At least it hadn't been 'a passing elephant' or 'a passing sleigh.' "Never mind. What's in the box?"
"Diefenbaker seems to have found her in the alley adjoining my building." Fraser gave Diefenbaker a hard look. "I told him, you see, that he couldn't have -- "
Fraser held the box out to him.
Ray peered inside. The contents of the box peered right back. "Oh. She's--"
Ray dropped into a chair. "Well, why'd you bring her here? What do I look like, a midwife?"
"I seem to be out of milk and tuna. I thought--"
Mooching Mountie. "Yeah, in the fridge."
Fraser put the box back down on the desk and went to raid the kitchen.
Ray closed his eyes and drowsed for a minute or two. When he opened them, he blearily saw movement on the desk. "Hey, she's out of the box. She's pacing around."
"Good." Fraser called from the kitchen.
"--she's ready to give birth. Ray?" Fraser appeared, carrying two bowls full of refreshment for the new mother.
Ray turned to look at him. "There's a kitten here, Fraser." he said, in case Fraser's ever so awake little eyes had missed it.
"That's is what one would expect from a pregnant female cat, Ray. There will probably be several more."
"It's all covered with slime, Fraser. It's really just generally pretty gross." Because who knew, sometimes even Mounties missed things. It was the obvious things that were easy to overlook.
"It's on the Kawalczyk report."
Fraser blinked. Twice. And took a step back. Milk sloshed up over the side of the bowl and dripped down his arm. "Ah."
Diefenbaker hid under a chair.
"I hate you."
The worst part was all the terribly awake Vecchios who came down the stairs over the next few hours and used the word 'cute.'
Jack's fantastic, what can I say? I mean, the guy comes home just stinking of bad guys and right away, I mean, before he even grooms himself, he changes my water and puts out extra food. It's the dry stuff, sure, but hey, I'm going to complain? He grooms same as me, which is good to see, I mean, not that I'm knocking the Ones who took care of me and the rest of the babies, but they were kinda . . . scruffy, y'know? Sure, I know I'm not exactly the Fancy Feast spokesmodel, but I keep myself groomed. I kinda think Jack likes me this way, a little funny-looking. I think he likes the way my feet are all different colors. Jack's lonely sometimes, y'know? I try to help -- we're a team.
Tengo grande familia, yeah? Mi favorito nino, Mario; I ride in the front pocket of his chaqueta all day. Diefenbaker, el lobo mas sympatico, vives arriba -- no problema. Mama dices: "Ninos! Es la ahora por comida." I come running. Yeah.
You have ever eaten feta cheese? There is a wolf lives next door to me, he doesn't like it -- stupid wolf, eats corn chips. I love feta cheese. Only one thing better -- climbing Mr. Fraser. He comes in to use the phone and I climb him, quick as hell. I'm good. Then my man, he scratches at my ears and purrs with me.
She tried the skim yesterday, bought a whole gallon. More fool Mackenzie -- I wouldn't touch the stuff. "That or water, kiddo, get used to it." she says. I laugh with my tail. She leaves me with water and I'll unravel her printer ribbon.
You can stop laughing. It's not like I actually bite. I just -- god, this is embarrassing -- I sometimes try to nurse in my sleep, bad habit. Okay. Stop laughing. No, she feeds me fine; I get to lick out the ice-cream cartons. She purrs to me: "Just like me. I want to be, close to you."
There is nothing quite so pleasing (or rare) as a human who lives on a regular schedule. We've formed quite an efficient partnership. Admittedly, she worries constantly that I'm suddenly going to drop dead or run away or spontaneously develop fleas; I can only assume she's had trouble in the past, probably with a dog. But you know how these humans are. If you'll excuse me, I need a bath, and then we're having cream
I keep my own council. Maybe I dream of my babies. Maybe I liked the big house where I birthed them. Maybe I like it here. Not that it matters; all places are one to me. I should go -- Harding'll be getting out the cold cuts soon.
"I didn't know cats could have so many."
"Up to a dozen in a litter, so I've heard."
"At least we're just down to you, runt." The last kitten pounced clumsily at Ray's finger and fell on its back, paws flailing. The children of the Vecchio house had insisted on naming him Blue, undeterred by the fact that his eyes finally lost their azure and became that orange/green that is the cat equivalent of hazel.
"Are you sure Mrs. Bannacek will be willing to take him in, Ray?"
"She always does."
Ray knocked twice when they reached the door with the filigree 'AB' set into it. An old lady answered, and peered suspiciously at them. "Ray?"
"That's right, Mrs. B. How you doin'."
"Not bad." She nodded and peered very frankly at Fraser over Ray's shoulder.
"This is my friend Fraser, Mrs. B."
She nodded briskly. "The Mountie, yes." She waved them through the door and then hurried ahead of them to clear a stack of wildlife magazines off the seat of a sagging forest green couch. "So glad to meet you. I've heard so much." She hurried around the room consolidating stacks of magazines from various places into an uncertain tower on the coffee table. "So?" She asked, when she was satisfied with the pile and had dropped into a chair.
The kitten had been riding in the roomy pocket of Ray's jacket. As he lifted it out, it yawned enormously.
Mrs. Bannacek smiled and took the kitten into her wrinkled brown hands. "At least he's not soaking wet and bleeding."
"He hasn't had a bad moment his whole life." Ray said dismissively, but he was inexplicably blushing.
Mrs. Bannacek peered at the kitten's belly and ruffled its fur. "Go make us coffee, Ray. It's all where it should be." Ray shrugged at Fraser and walked out of the front room.
Mrs. Bannacek stroked the kitten and looked at Fraser. "Had his shots?"
Fraser sat down on the couch. "Yes, I'm terribly sorry to have incon -- "
"No trouble, you know. I have seven others."
Fraser looked around. Not a sign of a cat. What he at first thought might be one turned out to be a sort of fluffy grey pillow leaning against the leg of Mrs. Bannacek's chair.
"All napping now. Except Diana here." She prodded the pillow gently with her foot and it decided to be a cat after all. It blinked sleepily at Fraser, then stretched, walked two or three steps, and curled up to sleep again. "Must have known Ray was coming." She idly scratched at Diana's ears.
Ray reappeared with a tray of steaming mugs. "You're almost out of coffee, Mrs. B." He put the tray on the coffee table beside the magazines.
She shrugged. "More in the pantry."
Ray sat beside Fraser on the couch, watching Mrs. Bannacek examining the kitten. The furry lump that was Diana immediately walked over to his feet, moving stiffly, and tried a few abortive little jumps toward his lap. Almost without looking, he gathered her up and settled her on the cushion beside him. She began purring.
"Long time no see." Ray muttered.
"She misses you." Mrs. Bannacek announced, checking over the kitten's ears.
"She's nineteen, Mrs. B. She doesn't know me from a bag of Purina." Ray scratched Diana under the chin for a moment, then picked up his mug. "Hurry up and drink your coffee, Fraser. We gotta split."
The kitten wrapped all four paws around Mrs. Bannacek's hand and made ridiculously ferocious faces.
The boys were cutting off my tail with a pair of scissors when he showed up. I guess that's just what babies do, play hunting games, but when you're the prey, you can't be expected to like it much.
He was scared so bad he could hardly breathe. When they went to hit him . . . I ran away, alright? I ran away. I was a baby, what was I going to do?
He tracked me down again that afternoon. It was pouring and miserable and I was bleeding all over the place. He scooped me up and let me claw his arm all the way to Anna's house.
"I don't want to hear one more word out of you. They've all gone to good homes, and you certainly couldn't take care of one."
"Oh yes, you say that now. But the first little accident, and it suddenly becomes my problem. Or you'd get bored, and it would become my job to feed it. We went through this with the cub in Inuvik, if you'll remember."
"You're natural enemies, for goodness sake."
"Yes, that's quite true. You did follow the letter of my instructions. I suppose, if you're going to be difficult . . . fine then. You are not to bring kittens home. Not even if they follow you home. Not even if you follow them home. Not even if they walk beside you, on either side. Not even if they ride on your back. Not even if you get someone else to bring them in for you. And not even if they haven't been born yet. Does that cover everything? Good."
"And Diefenbaker -- no rabbit kittens either."
For Celeste and Gozer