Thatcher was sleepy on the bus ride back to Vienna. Physically the day hadn’t been too exhausting, but certainly interesting: the long bus ride from Vienna into the Alps, the bergbahn trip up Mount Reisseck, a walk around the mountain summit with Fraser, arm in arm. Then all the conference delegates were taken down the bergbahn again and bussed to a quaint restaurant where lunch was provided.
The restaurant sat at the foot of a steep grey cliff. Thatcher and her deputy watched a little waterfall tumble down as they ate wiener schnitzel and potato salad. Their Austrian guide explained that the locals seldom ate french fries with schnitzel. Supposedly it made a lighter meal to have something not fried as side dish. Thatcher had beer with her lunch. Benton stuck to mineral water.
The day so far had been eventful emotionally: waking up in bed with Benton, quarreling with him, enduring the bus ride sitting beside him and feeling his silent hostility, finally apologizing each to the other on a mountain top.
They climbed onto the bus outside the restaurant and settled in for the drive back to Vienna. Most of the delegates dozed off under the combined influence of the mountain air, the heavy food and the beer. Margaret settled against Benton’s shoulder. There was no tension between them now. He put his arm around her and she snuggled, at almost perfect peace.
One issue remained, on that day, to be settled and Thatcher broached the subject as the bus jostled along.
“Just to make sure we never have a fight like that again, we’re going to have to agree what to call each other,” she said.
Fraser kissed the top of her head. “I’ve grown accustomed to calling you sir, sir.”
She let out a sleepy chuckle. “Call me ‘Margaret’.”
“Is that an order, sir?”
“Very funny. You – I’ll call you ‘Ben’.”
It was his turn to make a little laugh. “If you get your full name then I want equal treatment. I’m entitled to all my syllables.”
“That’s a silly name, you know.” She yawned and closed her eyes. Within minutes she was fast asleep. Fraser alternated his attention between two beautiful sights – the Austrian scenery out the window and the precious woman he held beside him.
The Ana Grand Hotel had its own shuttle transportation to the Vienna International Airport. It left them and a dozen other delegates off at the Departures gate early in the morning. As they walked into the airport through the sliding doors, Thatcher made a confession.
“Benton, I called the airline last night after we got back and changed our tickets. I’ve arranged for us to stop off for a day in Paris.”
His jaw dropped. Paris was notoriously expensive and there was the cost of the change of flight on top of it. The trip to Vienna was official, costing him nothing out of his own pocket. Still, if it were only a day . . .
“On me, Benton. I did it without your permission so I couldn’t ask you to pay. Our flight leaves in half an hour. We’ll be at Charles De Gaulle by mid-morning, then have all the rest of the day and all night. Flight out at ten tomorrow. Oh Benton, the City of Lights! I can’t wait to see it for the first time, and with you!”
The city couldn’t be brighter than her eyes at that moment. Fraser decided to put aside his pride and accept the plan for her sake. “Have you picked out our hotel in Paris already?”
She rolled her eyes and they both laughed at the absurdity of the question.
Both Mounties spoke French, so finding their way by train and subway (calling it by the correct term, Metro, made Thatcher feel like she was a kid in Montreal again) to the hotel was no problem. Fraser’s French attracted a little less attention than Thatcher’s. He had learned his from tapes in his grandparents’ library, recorded long ago in France, while Margaret had a decidedly Quebeçois accent. Still, she was understood by all and if they smirked a little at her pronunciation, that was their problem, she figured, not hers.
They checked into the hotel, dumped their luggage, then, armed with a tourist map, headed back to the Metro to start their day’s sight-seeing. For the next five hours they walked from famous building to famous building. Thatcher wanted to see all that she could in just one day. She kept them constantly on the move, consulting her tourist map as they went, but she did allow them to go inside the Louvre.
Fraser wished he could stay inside the palace for at least three weeks, just gazing at the works of art he had seen only in books before. Thatcher only allowed them time for a quick look at the areas on the way to and from the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo. These were the two masterworks on her list of mandatory things to see in Paris and she would not brook any deviation. Still she could not prevent him from standing rapt for many minutes in front of a wall of 16th century Italian paintings in the corridor that led to the Mona Lisa.
“I’ve studied these paintings. I’ve seen them in books but I never really understood what it is about them that compels people. I’ve known these paintings but I’ve never felt them.”
She touched his cheek and he nuzzled his face into her cupped hand for a few moments before she moved him on again.
It was four o’clock before Fraser finally confessed to wanting to see one particular attraction and admitted how important it was to him that he not leave Paris without experiencing it. They were at the base of the Arche de Triomphe, having just been up and down the circular stone staircase that led to the top. They had stayed a whole ten minutes to enjoy the view.
Thatcher asked him what it was he wanted to see, her nose in her map ready to locate it and plan the best route by foot or Metro.
“Let me take you there. I just know you’ll want to see it as much as I do. Nobody could be in Paris and dare miss it.”
He was so enthusiastic that she gave in and handed over the map into his eager hands. He studied the Metro connections, plotted their course and then took her hand and led her to the nearest Metro station. They rode along and changed routes once. From their general direction Thatcher began to suspect what their destination was. He took her out at the Alma Marceau stop on the Pont de Sevres line. They emerged at one end of a bridge across the Seine – the Pont de l’Alma.
Thatcher spied the Eiffel Tower across the bridge and some half mile away on their right. She smiled to herself. Her earlier map study had told her this wasn’t the closest Metro station to the famous landmark, but the view of it from here was nice. She marveled at Fraser’s map reading skills to have figured out this would be the case.
“I never would have thought you’d be such a tourist,” she teased him.
He took her arm and pulled her towards the bridge. “Hurry. I can’t wait to get there.”
“Whoa, we’ve been walking all day.”
“We’re not walking there, we’re going to run.” Fraser scooped her off her feet and slung her over his shoulder. He launched off across the bridge while Thatcher rode along, trying to press against his back to keep from bouncing.
(A middle-aged woman, small and dumpy, stood in the middle of the bridge. She watched them go by and smiled to herself at their youthful impetuousness. Ah, young love. She, too, had only one day to see Paris, being at a Toastmaster’s Conference. She also happened to be Canadian and her destination the same as Fraser’s, but that’s not important right now.)
Thatcher was surprised when Fraser turned left, not right, at the other end of bridge. He ran along the sidewalk a few hundred yards and set her down in front of a small round kiosk. She read the sign: “Les Egouts de Paris”.
“You’re taking me to the sewers?” she asked, still draped over his shoulder.
“The museum is built right into the actual sewers. This entrance is apparently right over the Bosquet sand trap.” Steadying her on his shoulder with one hand, he dug the other hand into his pocket and pulled out some of the EURO he had left over from Vienna. “This is such a special treat, I’m going to pay for it myself. Imagine there being no line up! Maybe because it’s a week day.”
He paid the amused ticket-taker and carried Thatcher down a flight of stairs into the tunnels beneath the city. At the bottom of the stairs a security guard insisted that Fraser put her down, explaining that the floors were slippery with wastewater. He didn’t want to fall and hurt Madame, did he? Madame herself agreed this was a sensible precaution. Fraser was disappointed. He’d been nursing the romantic notion of pretending to be Jean Valjean and carrying Thatcher through the sewers.
They emerged a precious hour later, Thatcher’s lip red from biting it with impatience as Fraser read every word on every display.
Fraser looked along the Seine towards the Eiffel Tower. “We ought to go there, too, I suppose,” he sighed. They walked off towards the Parc du Champ de Mars.
A ticket booth and elevator was built into each of the four columns that supported the tower. They were labeled according to the compass points.
“Shall we go up the North, South, East or West?” Thatcher teased.
“North.” Fraser said firmly and led the way.
They stood at the topmost level, looking out over the star-shaped layout of streets. Imposing white stone buildings: complexes, palaces, churches, could be seen in every direction. Margaret’s tourist map had tiny illustrations of the different buildings and she enjoyed picking them out and identifying them to Fraser.
She became aware that Fraser seemed to have lost the boyish enthusiasm he had been displaying all day and was again standing as he had been on Reisseck, motionless except for singing softly under his breath.
“I’ve learned some things about you on this trip,” Margaret stowed her map in her purse and got behind him, wrapped her arms around his waist. “You sing when you are sad. And you get sad when you stand on high places. Tell me what’s wrong.”
He only shrugged, but she didn’t let go of her grip.
“What were you singing? I couldn’t make it out.” She leaned her head against his shoulder.
“ ‘Free Man in Paris’,” he answered. “Joni Mitchell. I was thinking of those lyrics: ‘I was a free man in Paris. I felt unfettered and alive’.”
“And?” she prompted him.
“And I was thinking – tomorrow when we step off the plane in Chicago the fetters will wrap themselves back around each of us. We’ll be shackled, Margaret, to our roles: commander and subordinate. Turnbull will be standing waiting for us and we’ll walk towards him with a good meter of space between us.”
The day had been so wonderful for Thatcher, she hadn’t been thinking of going home. Now his words terrified her. “We can’t let that happen,” she whispered.
He turned around and took her in his arms. “Then what do you want to do?”
“Why can’t we do what’s obvious? Make a life together.”
“Openly? The Inspector and the Constable? For all to see?”
She cried and smiled at the same time. “I have news for you, Benton. We’re neither of us bad looking. From now on, we’ll let everybody see us together. Even back home. We’ll be doing the world a favour.”
They stood there wrapped around each other, at the top of the City of Lights, while tourists from all over the world proved the truth of her words by smiling at the two of them.
Happy Birthday from The Moo