Six Degrees brings back a number of minor characters from earlier Long Division books.  Among them is Archie Harris, a wolf who played a small role in Book 3.  I began writing a simple story to reconnect Archie with an old college friend.  I didn’t realize at the time that his tale would turn into a much more complex one of abuse and emancipation.

Strength in Numbers

August 1951


“I’m ready to go.”

“Already?  I thought it would take you all morning to pack.”

“I don’t have a whole lot of stuff.”

“Okay.  I’m on my way.”

Isaac pulled the car up in front of the apartment that Archie had been sharing with Michael.  His friend stood outside with two shopping bags full of personal belongings at his feet.  The younger wolf looked very much as he did the first time Isaac set eyes on him.  Then, the bags were filled with groceries as Archie waited at the bus stop near the supermarket.  That was back in January on a cold and gloomy day.  Fittingly, the sun shone brightly this morning.

Archie opened the passenger side door, and picked up his bags.  “Do you want to put these in the trunk?”

Isaac shook his head.  “No room.  Just put them on the back seat.”

Archie did as he was told, then climbed into the car.  He looked around nervously.

“Don’t worry,” said Isaac.  “He’s at work.  We’ll be long gone before he realizes you’ve left.  He can’t stop us.  He can’t hurt you anymore.”

“I know.  It’s still…  I’m just scared.”  Archie sat with his hands in his lap, wringing them together.

“Don’t be,” Isaac assured his friend as he pressed his footpaw to the accelerator.  “I’m here with you, and I always will be.”

Archie changed the subject.  “I have two hundred dollars.  Do you think that’s enough?  I could have brought more, but I didn’t want to empty out Michael’s bank account.”

“After all he’s done to you over the years, I think Michael owes you a lot more than two hundred dollars.”  Isaac reached over to pat the back of Archie’s paws.  “But we don’t want him to accuse you of stealing his life’s savings either.  Two hundred will help a lot.”

“I’m still worried he’ll come after me.”

“He won’t.  There’s no way he can know where we’re going.”  Isaac grinned.  “That is unless you left him a goodbye note with our forwarding address.”

“Ha!  We don’t have a forwarding address.”  Archie rolled the car window down and stuck his nose out for a deep breath of air.  When he finally leaned back into the seat, the canine felt more relaxed.  “You know, I’ve lived in Portland all my life and this is the first time I’ve ever crossed the border.”

“Welcome to Canada, and enjoy your stay,” said the weasel as he waved the wolves on ahead.

Archie looked back over his shoulder and let out a deep breath.

“See?  You had nothing to worry about,” Isaac said.

“I was sure they were going to find some reason to turn us around, that they’d find something wrong with my ID.”  Archie slipped the paper card back into his wallet, then returned his billfold to his hip pocket.  “I can barely believe I have a license again.”  It had been a year since Archie’s old driver’s license expired and three since he’d last driven a car routinely.  He recalled the day that Michael screamed at him, accusing him of the scratches on the fender and the broken headlamp, damage that the volatile tabby had caused himself while out drunk the previous night.  Michael never let him drive the car again.

Isaac brought his friend back to the present.  “Hey, you’re a fine driver.  In fact, I thought we might trade places when we stop for gas.”

“I’d be too afraid of wrecking your car.”

“You didn’t wreck it when you borrowed it to take your driving test.”

“No, but I was terrified the whole time.”

“I’m not Michael,” Isaac matter-of-factly reminded his friend.

Archie whispered, “I know.  You’ve said so before.  I’m sorry.”

Isaac sighed.  “I didn’t mean to say it that way.”  He reached over to put a hand on Archie’s shoulder.  “What I mean is, it’s just a car and not even a very good one.  It’s got dents and it will get more.  You are way more important to me than this machine could ever be.”

The two rode on in silence for a while.  Isaac knew that his companion bore a lot more damage than this vehicle did.  Little of it physically showed through the younger wolf’s thick, grey fur.  The worst was deeper, caused by five years of mental abuse inflicted by Archie’s former boyfriend.  He sought for a way to lighten the mood.  “You know, I’m kind of disappointed,” he said.

“In what?”  Archie tilted his head quizzically.

“Back there at the border,”  Isaac jerked a thumb over his shoulder.  “I expected a beaver or a moose to welcome us to Canada.”

Archie laughed.  “Or maybe a polar bear.”

“Yeah!  Really?  A weasel?”  Isaac felt relieved.  The change in subject had its desired effect.  The previously somber mood was evaporating.

“We’re going to have to learn a new national anthem, you know,” Archie grinned.

“Oh!  Canada!” Isaac belted out, “Bum, bum, bum, bum, bum, bumm!”

“You have a lovely singing voice,” said Archie, “but shouldn’t that be God Save the King?”

Isaac glanced over at his passenger.  “I don’t know,” he said with a tilt of his head.  “Should it?”

The wolves checked into a small motel on the outskirts of Vancouver.  Seated in a small diner just across the street, Archie splashed ketchup over the thick slab of meat loaf on his plate. “What time is it?” he asked the canine sitting on the opposite side of the table.

“I’ve got four-thirty,” Isaac replied.  “Where’s your wristwatch?  Did you forget it?”  He bit into his hamburger.

“I left it on purpose,” said Archie.  “Michael gave it to me.  It kept lousy time.  I don’t think we could have even pawned it.”  The younger wolf turned his grey eyes to look out of the diner’s window.  “He should be home by now.  He knows I’m gone.”

Isaac set his burger down on the plate in front of him and dabbed at his muzzle with a napkin.  “He’ll never know what he lost.  He didn’t value you any more than that cheap watch.  Try not to think about him.”

“I know,” Archie sighed.  “It’s hard, though.  You can’t spend five years with somebody and forget them just like…”  He snapped his fingers.  “I loved him.  I used to think that he loved me back… when he wasn’t drinking…”

“Now you know better.”

The two males climbed into a bed together for the very first time.  Isaac pulled the blanket over them.  He had offered to sleep in the motel room’s other bed, but Archie insisted that it would be alright.  Even so, the older wolf felt his companion jerk reflexively when he curled his arm around Archie’s torso.  The canines lay on their sides, nestled together like a pair of spoons.  “It’s okay,” Isaac whispered.  “You’re safe with me.”

“I know.  Thank you for bringing me here.”  Archie wept quiet tears of relief.  “Thank you for everything.”