Had Turnbull been of a more observant nature, he would have noticed that the Inspector and Constable Fraser he picked up at the airport from their flight back from Paris were different from the pair he had dropped off there the week before.
He didn't notice that they walked just a little closer together as they came out of the gate with their luggage than when they had gone through the departure gate last week. Nor did he notice that they were chatting comfortably as they walked, turning to smile at each other often.
The most obvious thing he didn't notice was that they left Chicago in business attire - Margaret in a pant suit and Benton in his hated blue uniform - but returned each in jeans. Fraser, true to his preference for unadorned clothing, had on a black turtleneck that Margaret had bought for him in Paris. Margaret was wearing a white t-shirt which she had acquired in a tourist shop in Vienna.
Turnbull did, however, take note of the slogan on Margaret's t-shirt since said slogan was difficult to ignore. It said "No kangaroos in Austria". To reinforce the printed word there was a drawing of a kangaroo in profile inside a red circle with a line through it. Turnbull mouthed a polite "Welcome back, sir" to each of them in order of rank but his eyes were fixed on his commanding officer's chest. Margaret noted the direction of his gaze and became embarrassed. It brought to her mind the recent attentions that Benton had paid to that part of her anatomy and she concluded, erroneously, that Turnbull was studying her breasts.
Less than twenty-four hours ago, atop the Eiffel Tower, Margaret and Benton had been discussing how public or secret their new love should be once they got home. In that romantic atmosphere, high above the world and far from home, it had been easy for her to be bold and daring. She announced to Benton that she wanted to be out in the open about the new relationship between the two of them.
But now, back in Chicago, her resolve weakened. She had fully intended to actually take Benton's hand in Turnbull's view, but had chickened out at the last moment when she saw the tall constable waiting for them, wearing red serge and standing at attention.
Keep your eyes in your head, Constable!" she snapped, transferring her annoyance at her own cowardice to the hapless Turnbull.
Benton cleared his throat delicately. "The kangaroo, sir," he said in the most deferential tone he could manage and hoped she would be quick enough on the uptake to realise that he was going to back her up at maintaining the formality amongst all of them.
She did pick up on this, and felt a little less pressured because of it..."Oh, of course. I'm sorry Turnbull, I forgot I had that on."
Turnbull, still fearful, still couldn't help wondering about the significance of the statement but didn't dare ask.
Margaret realized she owed him an explanation. "They have these t-shirts all over Vienna, Turnbull. It's supposed to be a joke because people confuse Austria with Australia. The Canadian embassador was telling us his personal mail gets routed to Australia quite often."
Turnbull nodded a brief acknowledgement of this information, and the threesome moved off towards the exit.
"It's after four, sir, so I guess you want me to drive you directly home," Turnbull offered as they walked.
"Yes, that would be fine. Let's drop Constable Fraser off first; it's on the way."
Benton had been wondering if he and Margaret were going to spend their first night home together. He had his answer now. He was disappointed but decided she would want to just relax and sleep off the jet lag. There were things they would have to work out now that they were back. He was proud of his own wisdom at not being demonstrative in front of Turnbull, but waiting instead for Margaret to set the lead. She had been the one to insist that they come out to the world. Now she had decided to back off. For the time being he would wait and see how she wanted to play it.
Before going into his own apartment, Benton stopped off at Willie's to pick up Diefenbaker. The wolf and Willie were just about to head off for a walk and Willie offered to keep Dief for another night. Benton welcomed the offer as it meant would have all that much more uninterrupted sleep time. Although it was early evening Chicago-time, his internal clock told him he was in need of rest. He spent a few minutes petting his wolf friend and then walked along with them as far as his apartment building, telling them both highlights of the trip as they walked along, leaving out any mention of Margaret. Within a few minutes of getting through his own door he was in his longjohns and brushing his teeth in preparation for bed.
A knock on his door interrupted his ablutions. He froze, toothbrush against the inside of his cheek, and made a quick mental evaluation of the pros and cons of going to the door in his underwear (undignified) or taking the time to dress (risking that the caller would leave in the meantime). Perhaps sex with his commanding officer had diminished his shame or perhaps he was just curious, but his sense of modesty lost the discussion and he headed directly to the door.
He opened it to find - horrors, he'd made the wrong decision - a middle-aged woman he did not know. She seemed unconcerned with his state of undress. She herself was in cargo pants and a leather jacket.
"Yellow Cab. I'm here to pick up a Mr. Fraser. You him?"
Benton nodded. "Yes, but I didn't order a taxi.
The woman smiled. Actually it was more of a leer. "Somebody ordered it for you. Dispatcher said to tell you I'm taking you to . . ." here she took a scrap of paper from a jacket pocket and consulted it ". . . Margaret's place."
Benton actually blushed. His sense of modesty was not as dulled as he had thought. "You'll have to wait while I dress," he muttered and closed the door, leaving the taxi driver in the corridor.
"You know, I thought I knew all the talent in this neighbourhood but I didn't know about you. I get customers asking me for action all the time. For a percentage I can throw some business your way. You do men, too?" she called in through the closed door.
Benton emerged quickly after having thrown on the outfit he had just taken off. "I'm not a professional," he said, icily.
The woman was immune to disapproving tones. "Too bad. You could make a fortune." She sighed heavily. "You're not letting Margaret get it for free, I hope," she said easily as she led the way down the corridor. "That'd be a terrible waste."
The driver subjected him to a recruiting pitch for the whole ride to Margaret's apartment. Finally they arrived and Benton dug into his pocket for some money to pay the fare.
"Christ, you really are an amateur," snickered the cabbie. "The lady took care of everything. Well, the transportation anyway. The rest is up to you, Jack. See ya around."
Benton stood in her apartment, in the middle of the living room, unsure of what he was supposed to do. He was beginning to feel cranky from lack of sleep and the cab driver's assumption that he was a gigolo (no matter how unwarranted that assumption was) didn't improve his mood.
Margaret was already in a nightdress. While it covered her from neck to ankles, it also clung to her curves when she moved, giving her an air that was modest and alluring at the same time. It stimulated Benton much more than a blatantly erotic get-up would have. He reached for her and began with a kiss, simple but intense.
She wriggled away. "Sleep. We both need it. Maybe something else afterwards, but we both need some sleep first." Keeping hold of his hand, she moved towards her bedroom. "I hope you brought a toothbrush and a uniform for tomorrow," she added.
Benton had a knapsack with him that contained the minimum he figured he'd need for sleeping over. He hefted it slightly to show her he had figured that much out. Within a few minutes he was back in his longjohns and the two of them were snuggled in her bed like sleepy children. Benton found he had little difficulty suppressing his lust, he was so sleepy.
"I hope you don't mind that I sent for you like that," she said, as she rubbed her cheek against the fabric covering his chest. "I didn't know what else to do. I couldn't let Turnbull bring you here."
Idly, he stroked her hair, but he was thinking about how embarrassing the ride over had been. "You can't let him see us arrive at work together either, did you think of that?"
She sat up suddenly. "I didn't! I can't believe I didn't think of that! Oh, Benton."
"Don't worry," he said, looking up at her from deep in a pillow, "you can let me out a few blocks from the Consulate and I'll wait around for a few minutes before coming in."
"I must really be jet-lagged. It's not like me to forget about the details like that. I like to think things through."
"Yes, you do," he said, taking hold of her arm and pulling back down to a lying position beside him. "You'll be your old analytic self after a good night's rest, Margaret."
They settled into a pattern. At the Consulate they were the Inspector and the Constable as they always were and even if Turnbull had been sharper than he was, he wouldn't have been able to detect that they were lovers. Within the walls of the workplace Margaret dropped the easy familiarity they had by the end of their trip. Benton followed her lead. After work he walked to his own apartment as he had before, changed his clothes, gathered whatever he and Diefenbaker would need for the night, and then waited out on the stoop of his building for Margaret to come by and pick them up. Mornings she would drop them off again so Benton could get into uniform and walk to work on his own.
Weekends were spent sometimes at her place and sometimes apart if either had errands to do that might bore the other. She never stayed over at his hovel.
Benton endured all this for three weeks before protesting.
"You've forgotten what you said in Paris. Completely," he told her one night as they sat in her living room - she sipping wine, he sipping tea and Dief lapping up a bowl of milk in the kitchen.
"I haven't forgotten." She took a fortifying gulp of her wine before going on. "I just realized that we have to be careful."
"For how long? Does it occur to you that I don't like to live like this? Does it occur to you that it's humiliating for me?"
"How can it be humiliating? Nobody knows."
He sighed heavily. She never encouraged him make any plans, but always seemed to change the subject when he spoke of what might happen in their future. But he didn't want to endure this limbo any longer.
He used that very word to try to make her understand how he felt. "Margaret, it's like we're in limbo. Do we have a future together or not? If we do, we should start acting like a couple."
"There are so many complications, Benton. How will we handle things at the office? What will we do if one of us is transferred? Where are we going to live a year from now? Five years from now? There are so many variables to work out. It's too complicated."
He put down his teacup and relieved her of her wineglass, putting it beside him on an end table where she couldn't reach it. Then he took hold of her hands and held them tightly.
"Are you ashamed of me?"
"What? God, no!"
"There's no regulation against our forming a relationship, as long as we're not demonstrative about it in the workplace."
"I know that."
"Then, what's stopping us from going public?" Benton pressed her.
"You . . . you . . .want to move in? Openly?" Margaret stammered.
"You're focusing on the details! I'm talking about a commitment," Benton protested, "Are you ready to make a commitment to me? To our future together?"
Margaret seemed bewildered. "You can't ignore the details, Benton. You don't just decide to have a future or not in some kind of vacuum. We're not kids. We have our careers to consider. We have to give this careful thought and see if we can come up with a plan that would work."
He threw her hands away in exasperation. "I guess we don't think the same way."
He got up and walked over to the picture window that looked out over a park across the street. It was twilight and a mother was gathering a group of children, presumably about to take them home. Benton massaged his own earlobe absently in thought.
Pragmatic as he was concerning day-to-day actions of life, he had absorbed an idealized view of love from an early age. His mother had followed his father through the north and endured the trials of life in the bush for no apparent reason except that they were in love. His grandparents lived lives devoted to God and to learning, travelling far distances together with the minimum of comfort to pursue their callings. They set absurd, lofty goals and then used their practical skills to chase their dreams.
Margaret, he now could see, viewed things the other way around. She had to define what she could do before she would commit to wanting to do it. It was another mind-set. She wouldn't jump onto a moving train with no thought to the consequences. I never thought of myself as a romantic, Benton mused, looking out the window at the family preparing to go home. I don't think what I want is unreasonable. He turned back towards her where she sat on the couch.
"I'm not willing to go on like this," he said, looking straight at her.
She started to tremble. "You mean, you want to break up?"
He rushed to her, scooped her to standing position and squeezed her in his arms. Then he grabbed her chin with one and forced her face up towards his. "Is that what you want? To be free of me? Not have to think about how to hide me from everyone?"
She started to cry. "No, I need you."
He wasn't ready to give in to her tears yet. "No, you want me available and convenient. You want me without having to give up anything for me. Without having any extra work or any changes in your plans."
"That doesn't make sense!"
The word enraged him suddenly. Love never made sense. Victoria came back to him, the sight of her reaching for him from the train. The feeling of love had been excised by now but he hadn't forgotten what total loss of self felt like - the need to be with someone no matter what the cost. His love of Victoria was gone but he hadn't forgotten how she had seized him when he did love her, and made him ignore everything rational. He would have destroyed his life if Ray hadn't shot him. What did sense have to do with it? He wanted to throw himself at Margaret with the same abandon. And she was talking about sense.
Margaret had said "I need you," and for all her tears it sounded to him was as though he were just another element of some ongoing project she had planned.
"Sense!" he repeated, now shouting at her and she shrank away. "I'm a man and I love you. I'm not going to be moved around like a chess piece to fit some pattern."
"I don't understand. What do you want?"
"I want to know if you love me."
"Oh course I love you! How could you doubt it?"
"I doubt it because you won't say it."
Her tears had been easing up but they burst out again. "I just said it! What's the matter with you?"
He grabbed her by the arm and pulled her towards the open window. "You'll say it to me, but you won't say it to the world. If you love me, you'll say it to the world. Like this." Still grasping her arm he turned to the open window and shouted out of it "I love Meg Thatcher! Do you hear me, everybody?"
The family in the park were just getting into a car and one of the children heard him. The child turned to look. Benton raised his voice all the louder "You there, boy! I love this woman, see!" He shoved Margaret in front of himself so that she was framed in the window.
The child's mother now heard and pulled the boy quickly into the car. The family sped away.
Margaret whirled around to face him. "You've gone mad. You've gone totally and completely mad."
He shot her a look that was at once angry and helpless and stormed across the living room and out the front door. He slammed the door behind him.
Margaret remained stunned only for a moment, then went and opened the door to let Diefenbaker out to follow him.
When he left his apartment for work the next morning he found his knapsack outside his apartment door. His anger had cooled overnight and he knew he didn't want to lose her. Nor did he want to go on being shuffled around. Something would have to change.
For all his intelligence, Benton had very little imagination when it came to thinking about how a relationship should be. He knew one way only - total devotion. Margaret had to be persuaded.
Benton presented himself in Margaret's office standing at rigid attention, he said "Permission to speak freely, sir."
Margaret had trouble meeting his eyes. "Okay, go ahead," she said, looking at her desk.
"The current situation is untenable," he began.
"And I think I can resolve it, if you'll permit me."
Margaret was intrigued by this formality but also slightly reassured. It was something she could handle better than his bizarre outburst of last night. She relaxed a little, curious to see where this was going.
Benton maintained perfect posture as he walked around the desk to stand beside her. His back still ramrod straight he sank to the floor on one knee and took the closer of her two hands between his own. Then he smiled broadly.
"Permission to marry you, sir," he announced.
He didn't get the reaction he expected. She jerked her hand away and for that instant it almost looked as though she would slap him.
"How dare you?" she shot back at him, her face reddening in anger. "You think marriage is something for you to just . . . to just . . . bestow? Something that YOU decide to do?"
Benton was at a loss.
"This is a decision we have to make together, Benton! We'd have to discuss it. Where are we going to live? HOW are we going to live? We have to come to a joint decision. God! I can't believe you could be this . . . this . . . paternal! How dare you patronize me like this?"
Benton got to his feet and stood looking at her, confused, for a few beats before heading towards the door.
"I didn't dismiss you!" she shouted after him as he went out into the corridor.
Benton waited for Turnbull to go home first that afternoon, staying behind to see an opportunity would arise for him and Margaret to talk alone after hours. He wasn't at all surprised that she came into his tiny office about five minutes after Turnbull left. He was glad he had resisted the urge to seek her out first, having finally gotten it through his head that Margaret was happier when she was the one directing events. He still didn't know why the action he had considered so romantic had been taken by Margaret so differently than he had intended. He concluded, sometime mid-afternoon, that he was over-thinking the whole situation. Having accepted that fact, he settled into his customary waiting mode.
She stood in front of his desk this time. He rose out of habit and she waved him down again. "I over-reacted, didn't I?" she said.
He only leaned back. Better to say nothing than risk the wrong thing, but it took great concentration to stay silent. He knew exactly what he wanted to say. It was something she had to hear, whether she liked it or not.
"You didn't deserve that. I know you didn't mean to be patronizing," Margaret said and he knew how hard it was for her to admit being wrong.
He had to speak now. Never mind if it were wise or unwise or how she would react. There was something obvious that she wasn't getting and he HAD to try to get her see it.
"Margaret. Did it occur to you that I just love you. That's all. And people who love each other should spend their lives together. It's not all that complicated. People do it every day."
It was as though he had offered her a mathematical puzzle to solve. Her mental effort to wrap her mind around this was visible in her wrinkled brow and contracted eyes.
"Do you think we could actually make it work?" she asked him finally.
Defeat. Not only was she not on the same page as he was, she hadn't even opened the same book. "No," he said to her sadly. "Not as long as you see it that way - as project to be undertaken, an exercise to be carried out and reported upon afterwards. As long as you're thinking like that, no, it wouldn't work. I was wrong to suggest it."
Benton got to his feet. "I should be getting home."
She startled him by changing her mood suddenly and blurting out in distress, "I can't help how I think!"
While taking his Stetson off his hat stand and settling it on his head, he said. "It's not about how you think, Margaret, it's about how you feel. If you love me enough to be my partner for life, have children with me, and grandchildren, and then get old and sick and die, then come and propose. The details will come after." He left her standing there.
She called after him, "Is this the only way you know how to end a conversation? Marching off? Walking away? You're a coward, do you here me?"
Margaret didn't speak to him except for work matters for three days after that. Benton was adamant. He'd had his say. He wanted a firm commitment from her first, not a negotiated arrangement. This was the paradox, he realised. On day to day matters he was willing to be compliant, even submissive if that was what she liked him to be. But on the definition of love his heart had been hard-coded and write-protected long ago. The source code wasn't going to change.
On the third afternoon, just as Benton was shutting down his computer and putting his files away before going home, he looked up to see her standing over his desk.
"You're an arrogant bastard," she said.
"I've been told that before."
"I shouldn't give in to you. It's not reasonable."
"If you see it as giving in, then you still don't get it."
"Who the hell are you to say what people have to get and not get?"
"Who am I to say? Margaret, I'm the one offering to give you everything, my whole life, nothing held back. So, yes, I'm the one to say I'm ready to do that and I'm expecting you to say the same. I see that as perfectly fair."
"All or nothing?"
He got up from his chair and came around to where she stood. He planted himself so close that she had to crane her neck upwards to meet his eyes. "I never saw a woman work so hard to make a simple thing complicated. Do you love me?"
"Yes. Oh, Benton, yes."
"Then propose to me."
She still hesitated. "But what if. . ."
He cut her words short by putting his mouth over hers and kissing her hard. Then he lifted his mouth away just enough to allow her to speak but close enough that she could still feel his breath against her face. "Wrong. Try it again," he whispered.
He's totally unreasonable. His attitude is archaic. People can't live like that, she agonized. I can't just forget about everything and throw myself at him.
Then, without thinking about it, on pure instinct, she threw herself at him. "Will you marry me?" she whispered back and he pressed his mouth back against hers in response.
She took that as a yes.