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The Disappointment

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The way to a man's heart is through his stomach, as Renfield's mother used to say. Admittedly, she said it to his older sister and not to Renfield himself, but surely that doesn't make it any less true. Wise proverbs, like well-polished shoes and a friendly smile, are good for all occasions.

And yet the truth of the ages seems to fail when it comes to Constable Fraser. Renfield's no longer sure that Constable Fraser even has a stomach. Well, of course the constable has a stomach, but it's a darn hard-hearted one. It digests, but it doesn't appreciate. Renfield's beautiful Beef Wellington, with wild mushrooms and homemade puff pastry, served on the anniversary of the great victory at Waterloo, no less, earned him only a "Delicious, thank you kindly." Constable Fraser did the dishes afterwards (stubbornly and insistently alone) but he left before Renfield could mention the celebratory fireworks that he'd readied in the consulate's backyard.

And it's not a matter of cuisine, either. Shrimp tempura, groundnut stew, risotto Milanese, curried goat--the constable accepts them all with that same depressing politeness.

Or, worse, doesn't accept them. Lately, whenever Renfield offers to stay at the consulate and cook, Constable Fraser has plans with the new Detective Vecchio. Plans that take him out of the consulate immediately after work and don't bring him back until long past the time Renfield could reasonably wait. Plans that involve dinner, if culinary crimes like pizza and hamburgers can be graced with the name. "Think of your arteries!" Renfield has tried to plead. Unavailingly, alas. Poor Constable Fraser is bound to become fat, sluggish, unfit for the sacred duties of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and it'll all be the fault of that man. That eater of junk food, that scoffer at curling, that American. What kind of friend would risk Constable Fraser's health with daily overdoses of saturated fat?

Also, Renfield is fairly sure Detective Vecchio dyes his hair.

If Constable Fraser does have a heart attack, Renfield will be right there to nurse him back to health. But there's only so much comfort he can derive from picturing the constable surrounded by beeping machines, their wires leading to electrodes on his broad, manly chest. Detective Vecchio would probably be right there too, sneaking him in greasy pizza and French fries while Renfield waited unacknowledged in the corridor, his exquisite, healthful consommes untouched and growing cold.

All in all, it's the sort of thing that can lead a man to despair. "Buck up," Renfield has told himself. "Despair is not in the vocabulary of any true servant of Her Majesty the Queen." Did the troops despair at Agincourt? At the Somme? Did Captain Scott despair, writing in his diary until the cold took him? Did Sir John Franklin despair?

(Now, Franklin would have known how to appreciate a good Beef Wellington.)

And so Renfield is prepared to keep trying for the next ten or twenty years, or however long it takes. But one day a terrible thing happens.

"Turnbull," the constable says, emerging from his office on that fateful afternoon, "Do you know if there's been any, er, pest-control activity in the consulate lately?"

"I keep the consulate very clean, sir. A dutiful housekeeper needs no exterminator." With a subtlety worthy of Ashenden the secret agent, Renfield scrutinizes the constable's figure for signs of obesity. None yet, but he's sure it won't be long.

"Well, there's a . . . that is, I wouldn't like to cast aspersions on your cleaning, Turnbull, but there's a . . . an odor."

"Odor?" What a strange word for it. "That would be the Muenster, sir."

"Muenster? Cheese?"

"Yes, sir. It's coming to room temperature in the kitchen. I was planning to have it for an afternoon snack--I've brought some lovely raisin-and-walnut bread to go with it." Renfield had to cross the city to find a cheese shop that carried authentic Muenster, and it cost a fearsome amount (drat these exchange rates) but the gourmet experience of real, living cheese is worth any price. "You'd be welcome to join me, sir." He smiles his friendliest smile and shifts a little so the constable will notice the fine gleam of his boots.

"That's very thoughtful of you, Turnbull." Constable Fraser runs a hand through his hair, leaving it tousled in an unregulation yet somehow heartbreaking fashion. "But I'm afraid I . . . well, I don't much care for cheese."

Confused, Renfield repeats, "You don't like cheese?" How is that possible? A man could as easily dislike sunsets or the national anthem.

"Well, you see-"

Whatever explanation the constable might have offered is interrupted by the arrival of Inspector Thatcher from her long lunch with the Greek cultural attache. She takes two steps into the consulate, stops, and says, "Dear lord, what is that stench? Turnbull, you'd better check the basement for dead rats."

And without batting an eye, without the slightest sign of incipient treachery, Constable Fraser says, "I don't believe there's a rat, sir. We appear to have isolated the source of the odor. Specifically, it would be Constable Turnbull's Muenster cheese."

With a terrible look on her face, a look that promises long hours of sentry duty and the denial of paperclip privileges, Inspector Thatcher says, "I can see that we're going to have to revisit the grocery policy, Constable Turnbull."

Renfield has failed in his duty, displeased his superior officer, but he can hardly concentrate on that, because in this tragic moment he's fallen out of love with Constable Fraser. A man's love can survive many things--neglect, hopelessness, even the beloved's unexplained preference for a loud American--but betrayal is fatal to it. Weeping inwardly (but only inwardly, because he won't bring shame to the uniform of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police), Renfield says, "I'm sorry, sir. I'll remove the cheese from the kitchen immediately."

A few minutes later, eating his cheese and bread on the roof of the consulate, Renfield reflects that it was all probably doomed anyway. What can a man who dislikes a slightly smelly cheese know about love?

Surely there are people in Chicago who aren't so shallow. That pretty Miss Vecchio, for instance. She's Italian, and the Italians have been masters of the art of cheesemaking for centuries.

Perhaps she'd enjoy a nice Caprese salad of tomatoes and fresh mozzarella, followed by veal parmesan . . .