It took a while, but the Moo finally figured out that Buckaroo would like for her birthday to see some interaction between Renny and Benny – but completely platonic. Once that was established the Moo could see only one obvious plotline. Your mileage may vary.
Ray's idea was that he and Fraser take a week's holiday together, all the better to bond into a 'duet'. Fraser didn’t mind, although the concept seemed a little artificial. He and his previous Ray's one trip together had been for more or less therapeutic purposes – to purge their respective demons in the Canadian wilds and repair the rips in their friendship made by Victoria.
Ray's idea of a good time, by contrast, required lots of sun and lots of dancing. Ray before him could hold his own on the dance floor when called upon to do so, but it wasn't one of his areas of abiding interest. Fraser was much more accomplished, but he didn't derive the same artistic pleasure from the act as the new Ray did.
Ray chose a resort in a sun-spot: one of those all-inclusive packages that could be any resort in any sun-spot. The friends ended up less than thrilled with the place upon arrival. The dance floor was postage stamp size, most of the other patrons were couples, leaving Ray few ladies with whom to dance, and the beach was covered in slime. Ray was ready to call it quits and go home, but the resort's owner was equally unimpressed by Ray's status as a detective and Fraser's being a Mountie. He declined to give them a refund. He changed his mind the next morning when Fraser politely presented him the results of his and Ray's snooping in the office during the wee hours. The owner happily refunded their whole week's payments, leaving a disappointed Ray no occasion to threaten to kick him in the head.
This is all to explain why Fraser arrived home at the Consulate several days earlier than planned. It was between midnight and one when Ray dropped him off. He let himself into the Consulate to the smell of cognac (VSOP, but being tired he couldn't place the brand). Light was coming from a seldom-used office and Fraser picked up the sound of somebody keyboarding quickly and expertly on a laptop.
Fraser followed the sight, sound and smell to the office whence they came. Pausing, silently in the doorway, he saw the lank back of Turnbull, hunched over the computer, his long fingers dancing lightly over the keys with considerable dexterity. Fraser knew Turnbull to be a 'hunt-and-peck' typist, unable to remember where the keys were from one day to the next.
Fraser watched Turnbull pause in his typing, and reach out his right hand for a snifter of brandy, bring it to his face for an appreciative sip and then replace the glass. But instead of going back to his writing, Turnbull sat up straight, still facing away from Fraser, and said, "You were supposed to be gone all week." His voice was pitched a good octave lower than usual.
Turnbull then turned his chair around to face his colleague. Fraser took in more details: Turnbull's satin smoking jacket, flannel pajama bottoms and bedroom slippers.
"I was planning to work late on the novel and then crash here. The cardboard box gets stuffy sometimes."
Turnbull went over to a credenza, took out the cognac bottle (Courvoisier, Fraser noted) and another snifter. He poured out the correct amount of drink and approached Fraser, holding out the glass. "I know you don't usually indulge, but this is the good stuff."
Fraser accepted the glass and pulled up another chair to face Turnbull's. They both settled in.
"I only indulge when it is the good stuff." Fraser took first a sniff and then a sip. "How did you fool me?"
Turnbull correctly interpreted this as an honest seeking of information, not a rhetorical question, nor a self-castigation.
"How do you fool any intelligent man? Only one sure-fire method."
"Flattery. All that calling me 'sir'. I'm an idiot."
They both sipped on their cognac.
"For what it's worth," Turnbull said, "I do respect you enormously. Everybody at the Institute does. Ask anybody. They'll all say Jeff Bernholtz is the best field man around."
"As Benton Fraser would say, 'Thank you kindly,' Sorry, but I don't recognize you."
"A pleasure." They shook hands.
"I've heard your name around," continued Jeff Bernholtz, "But I thought you specialized in Western Europe."
"Just thought I'd take a break," said Dave Pickering. "I've been meaning to tell you I like the name, 'Benton Fraser'.
"My son thought it up. Precocious little bugger."
"You got any other kids?"
"No, just the one. I don't get home much," Bernholtz sighed. "You?"
"Neil and I are trying to adopt, but they put you through so much hassle . . . "
"That would be Neil Katz in Administration, right?"
"Right. Hell, I thought everybody in the Institute knew about me and Neil."
"Well, I'm not in the office much either. As you say, a field man. You miss out on the gossip."
"Why don't I get us a snack?" Pickering offered. Bernholtz enjoyed his cognac while Pickering went off into the kitchen. He returned shortly with a tray. On it was an assortment of patés and cheeses, with biscuits and thinly sliced rye. This he set down on the credenza, declaring "Wait just a minute, I almost forgot. I was saving something in case you ever found me out."
This time he came back and handed a plate, fork and napkin right onto Bernholtz's lap. The plate contained greyish-white lumps, resembling dumplings in size, shape and consistency, but smelling of fish. They were arranged around a tiny bowl of grated horse-radish in the centre of the plate.
"Gefilte fish!" declared Bernholtz, happily. "It's been years! Dave, you're a brick!" He slathered horseradish onto a couple of pieces of fish and fell to.
"Strange." remarked Pickering, "Carrstairs bet me a hundred bucks you'd catch onto me within a month."
"Carrstairs is a bitch."
"Thinks highly of you, though."
"She's just warm for my form," Bernholtz winked as he downed a piece of fish and both men laughed.
"Speaking of which, I'm surprised you don't give the Dragon Lady a tumble."
"It's tempting, I admit. But I've been holding off. Lorraine knows I have to fornicate in the line of duty from time to time, but I like to keep it to a minimum. It's hard sometimes."
"Yeah," agreed Pickering, "That's why I play Turnbull as a gawky goon. Less stress. I tried 'hunk' once. It was fun for a while but it upset Neil, so I've been going for sexless twit recently. You'd have trouble pulling that off though."
They spent a few more minutes munching.
"You know, now you've got me worried," said Bernholtz. "What if Margaret's also from the Institute? If you could fool me . . . "
"Have no fear," Pickering responded, "She's bona fide RCMP. I checked."
"Then at least one of us is."
Bernholtz finished his last bit of fish, downed the cognac remaining in his glass and let out a large, long yawn. "I'm beat. But I hate to turn in. God knows when I'll ever have a real conversation again. So, Dave, do I get an advance look at the novel?"
Pickering smiled. "Of course not, but . . . tell you what. When it's published I'll have Turnbull give Fraser a copy for a present."
"Looking forward to it. What's it about?"
"You," said Pickering.
"Get out of town!"
"No, really. Do-gooder Mountie first comes to Chicago on the trail of his father's killer. Partners up with a wise-ass Chicago cop. I'm leaving out the part where the Institute realizes you two are getting too close for comfort and has the FBI send him off before he can get wise to you."
Bernholtz was suddenly distressed. "HQ never told me that! What the hell! Ray never would have caught on. I'm going to cause a stink and get him back."
"I already tried that on your behalf. Couldn't tell you about it of course. Took it all the way to the top but it was no go. Vecchio won't be hurt. They'll bring him back safe and sound in a couple of years."
"Well, that's something, anyway. Christ! You'd think they would at least consult me first! They never give us field guys credit for knowing anything. I need another drink."
Bernholtz poured himself another cognac and tossed it off quickly. Then he yawned and stretched once more.
"I really do have to call it a night. Thanks for the fish, Dave."
"My pleasure, Jeff. Sleep well."
Jeff Bernholtz went off to bed and Dave Pickering went back to his novel.