Margaret twisted and stretched her way into consciousness, slowly becoming aware of where she was, how she was, and with whom: in bed in her hotel room in Vienna, naked under a sheet, with Fraser.
Sleepily, she oriented. Last night: a fairy tale ball in a Viennese palace. She and Fraser had waltzed until the wee hours. Then she had invited him into her hotel room. He had been reluctant, pointing out that it wouldn't be seemly. She'd had to order him into her room. Once inside, he had taken control and a wild night ensued. Only after they were both exhausted from a dance of another kind had they fallen asleep in each others' arms.
Now sunlight came through the window that looked out over the streets of Vienna. All around her were the faint, stale odours of the various residues from last night's love-making. She eased herself up on her elbows and looked at Fraser to see if he was awake. He was, and he just looked at her, his expression blank. She put out a finger and traced his eyelids, the curve of his nose, around his mouth and down his chin. He just lay there, letting it happen, but saying or showing nothing about how he felt. After a few minutes of letting her enjoy his face, he consulted his watch, which was all he was wearing.
"They are only serving breakfast until ten. We'd better get moving." His tone yielded no clue as to his attitude on this oh-so-significant morning after.
Fraser got out of bed and starting looking through the jumble of their clothes on a chair. Margaret watched him and reflected on the different kinds of vibes a man could give off while undressed. He wasn't nude/sexy, nor embarrassed/naked, only picking up his boxers as innocently as an unclothed toddler and stepping into them as though putting on a pair of socks.
Margaret stretched again, languidly. "Then, I guess I'd better get dressed, too, Constable."
The last three syllables slipped out by force of habit. She didn't even realize she had addressed him by rank until she saw his reaction. Still in nothing but his underwear, he stiffened to a posture of rigid attention.
"Yes, sir," he snapped, cold and obviously hurt, "and I would suggest you hurry, sir, We have that bus tour beginning soon. I'll be out of here shortly."
As good as his word, he was quickly covered with the dress uniform he had worn last night, gloves and all. He went to the door and paused there. "Am I dismissed, sir?"
Stunned by the swiftness of it, she nodded and he slipped away.
Damn, damn, damn. After such a perfect night with him, how could she have said that? She hadn't thought about it at all. A simple habit of speech gone horribly wrong. She needed a shower but didn't really want one. Having kicked poor Fraser away, however unintentionally, she wanted to let his essence linger on her a little longer.
He was already at breakfast when she came into the hotel dining room. He glanced at her over his bowl of something, but said nothing and showed no sign that he cared whether she joined him or not. She sat down two tables away, positioned so that she would not have to go by his table to get to the breakfast buffet. Even so, she stayed seated until he left the dining room. The tour bus was set to leave in a few minutes, so she only had time wolf down a quick pastry and a glass of grapefruit juice. Even this light food sat uneasily on her stomach.
She realized, climbing onto the tour bus, that sitting apart from him would be too obvious. They were the two RCMP representatives (after several days of the conference everybody else knew that); it would look strange if they didn't sit together. Fraser was already seated, up front of course, beside a window.
The bus filled up with more delegates, police officers from many countries. Once they were settled and counted, the guide introduced himself – a representative from the Austrian Bundespolizei. He lectured them as the bus pulled away from the hotel and headed through the streets of downtown Vienna towards the highway. The destination was Reisseck, where they would be shown a hydro-electric power station built high in the Austrian Alps. The conference organizers apparently felt this was a more business-like way to spend the day than the usual tourist cable-car trip.
The first ten miles of so outside of Vienna were the industrial areas and satellite communities of any city. Then, as they headed south, the hills got hillier and greener and began to grow little villages in the spaces between them. They were tidy villages, made up of tidy houses and churches. Any house near enough to the highway to be seen clearly was immaculate and had flower boxes at the windows, and the houses in the distance were no doubt the same.
They headed still farther south, and the hills became higher and sharper. Their tops were now rock, and not forest. Every twenty miles or so there was a castle perched high – sometimes a ruin, sometimes complete. As the scenery became more spectacular, Margaret couldn’t keep up the embarrassed silence between them. She just had to blurt out, from time to time, "Oh, Fraser, look!"
For Fraser's part, he responded politely each time, "Very nice, sir," but never looked at her, only out the window. There was only a few inches of space between them, and as she leaned towards the window she couldn't help touching her arm against his every now and again. He leaned slightly away from her each time and kept his gaze out the window.
Eventually there were no more hills, but the true mountain peaks of the Alps. The bus wound up and down narrow switchback roads. Through the window were picture postcard views, distracting Margaret for a time from her feeling of ill-ease and drawing her into the mountain world all around. The only thing Fraser said was "Aaaah" as they rounded one particularly steep cliff overlooking a river.
The bus turned off the main road into a mountain village and parked in a large parking lot. There were no other buses there; it wasn't a well-known tourist attraction. All the delegates piled out into the parking lot, where they stood around and listened to the guide's explanations.
They were about to ride up to the top of Mount Reisseck on a "bergbahn" or mountain train. The vehicle itself descended as he spoke and they saw it was different from the usual scenic cable car. A narrow track went straight up the mountain and on it rode what looked like a tiny red trolleybus. A long cable pulled the bergbahn up, or lowered it down the side of the mountain. The guide explained that these cars were actually built to transport workers and material during the construction of the dam and power station and was later put to use for tourists when not needed for real work.
There was no place to sit inside. They all stood holding onto railings, as large winches pulled them upward. They changed three times to different little cars that took them higher and higher. They went past first the houses on the side of the mountain, then some mountain meadows with goats, then higher still past the tree line until they were on barren rock. Below them the village and river grew smaller and smaller while more and more of the surrounding mountains came into view. They rose level with the mountains around and then even higher until they were looking down on all other mountains in view. Cameras clicked and flashed furiously out the small utilitarian windows of the bergbahn.
When they were at last on the top, they were on grey rock with paths leading off in several directions: some up towards the dam and power station, some off into the mountain peaks for hiking, one towards a small hotel and snack bar. From the snack bar loud music was blaring: American oldies. Fraser flinched as he stepped out of the bergbahn and hunched his shoulders against the sheer wrongess of the music's intrusion into this place. His face pained, he wandered off down one of the hiking paths, alone. Many boulders lined gravel paths. From any place she cared to stand, Margaret could see out over the surrounding jagged peaks. On one side there was a lake, invisible from below.
Margaret watched Fraser walk along. From the snack bar, a Neil Diamond song could be heard starting up. Fraser paused by a rock and raised one foot onto it, leaning forward against the boulder. He jammed his hands into his pockets. His mouth started moving.
Margaret moved closer. Fraser was singing along with the song, absently, not noticing if anyone were around or listening.
"I am, I said
To no one there
And no one heard at all
Not even the chair."
She inched closer.
"I'm New York City born and raised
These days I'm lost between two shores."
This was a Fraser she had never seen before, in jeans and flannel shirt, leaning one foot against a boulder and singing out to an audience of mountains. It occurred to her that she knew him no better when they had awakened this morning, than she had yesterday, for all the passion they had shared the night before.
What a strange and contradictory thing physical love was, she mused. She had held a piece of Fraser in her own body and taken the very stuff of life from him into herself. But the act brought them no closer together. It was here and now that he was sharing himself with her.
"I'm not a man who likes to swear
But I never cared for the sound of being alone."
I don't care for it either, Fraser, she thought, and came towards him. She stood right beside him and gathered all her strength of will. If she had the courage to invite him for sex last night, could she push through all his hostility and offer him affection now? Looking at his face she was not really surprised to see a tear slipping slowly down his cheek.
She was reluctant to intrude on this private moment, but if she didn't speak she'd lose her resolve. "Fraser, about this morning . . . " she began.
He put his arm around her shoulder without so much as turning around.
"I'm sorry," he said, briefly. "I was just so afraid that you didn't really . . . that it was only just . . . I guess I had to be the first to be rude, rather than risk . . . I don't know." His arm tightened around her.
She slipped her arm around his waist. They looked out over mountains together.