Turnbull looked up from his work, startled. "Sarah!" He stood, and reached over his desk to hug the young woman who faced him, Stetson in hand.
"What are you doing in Toronto?" he asked. "The last time I heard from you, you were up in the Territories."
Sarah grinned. "It seems that they need information specialists more in Toronto than in Inuvik. I'm joining the new Computer Crimes task force."
"That's great, Sarah! You've been wanting to do that kind of work since Depot."
"Yeah, I'm excited about it. Are you busy now, or can you take a break? I haven't had lunch yet, and Maxie's is calling my name."
"I can leave." Turnbull tidied his desk, slipping the papers he'd been working on back into their files. "Come on, I'll buy you a sandwich to celebrate, and you can tell me all about your new job."
Maxie's was a short walk away, and they were soon ensconced in a comfortable booth.
"So, Ren," Sarah said, "are you going to apply for my old job?"
"Why would I do that?"
"To be near your precious Benton Fraser, of course."
Turnbull's face grew hot. "He isn't my anything, Sarah. I've never even spoken to the man."
"And because he matters so little to you, you pester me and any of your other friends who get postings within five hundred kilometers of him for all the Fraser news and gossip."
"I admire Constable Fraser," Turnbull said stiffly. "He is loyal, capable, and never fails to do his duty. Any officer would do well to emulate him."
Sarah sighed. "You know, Ren, the sad thing is I believe you. It wouldn't be so bad if you were just hot for his ass like everyone else."
Turnbull gaped at her.
"Oh, come on. You can't pull that innocent act with me. You know quite well that all the women and half the men in our class tried to bag him when he taught that seminar on wilderness tracking."
"Sarah, I would never--"
"I know, I know. You have this hero-worship thing going on. But Ren, he's so-- he's just strange. He talks to that wolf of his like it's a person. And he licks things he picks up off the ground!"
"Constable Fraser's methods may be unorthodox, but I think his record speaks for itself, Sarah. Perhaps if we all licked things there would be fewer criminals besmirching the face of Canada."
Sarah smiled, and shook her head. "I'm not saying Fraser's not a good Mountie, Ren. He's one of the best I've ever seen when he's working. But he isn't perfect. You'd understand what I mean if you ever worked with him."
"Well, that isn't likely," Turnbull said. "He'll never leave the Territories, and I don't see myself transferring more than a few hundred kilometers away from Toronto."
"Is your dad still pressuring you about coming to work for him?"
Turnbull nodded. "He still thinks that I'm going to tire of the RCMP, and he wants me to 'get a head start' so that I can take Rick's job when he takes over for Dad."
"I'm sorry, Ren. I just can't understand how anyone can know you and not see how happy you are in the RCMP. You've wanted this your entire life-- it's not going to go away."
"Dad just can't accept that his son isn't going to follow in his footsteps." Turnbull shook his head, as if to clear away unpleasant thoughts. "So, tell me about the Computer Crimes job."
For the rest of the meal they talked shop, and neither Benton Fraser nor Renfield Turnbull, Sr., was mentioned again.
A week later, Turnbull was at his desk filling out an arrest report when a young constable he barely knew nodded to him in passing and said, "Morning, Turnbull. Shame about Bob Fraser, wasn't it?"
He looked up, shocked. "What about Sergeant Fraser?"
"You didn't hear?" Constable King seemed almost eager to tell him. "He's dead. Killed in a hunting accident, though I hear his son thinks it was deliberate."
"He was murdered?"
"Only if you listen to his son. Everyone knows there's no chance of finding who did it, there were hundreds of hunters in the area. But Ben Fraser's convinced he's going to track the man down. He's asked to be transferred to Chicago, for God's sake--he thinks he'll find the killer there."
"If Constable Fraser says it was a murder, then it was a murder," said Turnbull, quietly. "And he will bring the murderer to justice."
"It's a wild goose chase," said King, walking away. "Even if he was murdered, Chicago isn't like Tuktoyuktuk. He can't take off with a dogsled and a bag of pemmican and track him through the snow."
A few weeks later, when Gerrard was indicted and scandal and controversy were swirling around Ben Fraser's square shoulders, Turnbull found King in the canteen drinking bad coffee, and smiled at him.
"Sergeant Fraser was murdered."
King dipped his head in acknowledgment. "So it would seem."
"I told you he would find the killer," Turnbull said, with quiet pride.
"You did, at that," King said with a grudging laugh, lifting his coffee cup in a mock toast.
"I'm sure Constable Fraser will be glad when all this has settled and he can return to the Territories," Turnbull said.
"If they let him go back."
"Why wouldn't they?" Turnbull looked at him in surprise. "It would seem counterproductive to keep an officer who is known to excel in wilderness postings doing consular work in Chicago, of all places."
King snorted. "Productivity and common sense have a way of going out the window when the brass is pissed at someone. If Fraser wasn't prepared to take the consequences he should have left the whole thing alone."
"Surely you aren't saying that the RCMP would have preferred not to know about Gerrard's dishonesty," Turnbull said.
King sighed. "All I'm saying is, this whole thing is a PR nightmare, and Fraser isn't helping with his black-and-white attitude. I just have a feeling they're going to want him as far out of sight as possible until things have blown over."
Turnbull thought about that for a moment. "I can't help hoping you're wrong," he said.
King's mouth quirked. "Yeah," he said quietly. "Neither can I."
Months passed, and Gerrard's trial was fast becoming a memory, but there were no signs of Benton Fraser's return to Canada. Popular opinion held that he'd be lucky to be granted either transfer or promotion in the near future; the repercussions of Gerrard's exposure were still being felt at high levels, and there were plenty of punishments that could be visited upon an officer without violation of regulations or whistleblower laws.
Turnbull, in the meantime, earned his first commendation, for an intricate piece of analysis that helped to break a smuggling ring. His superior officer gave him the certificate on Friday; that Sunday, as was his habit, he went to his parents' house for Sunday dinner. His mother met him at the door.
she said. "Good, we were waiting for you. Sit down, everyone else
He hung his jacket on the coat tree and followed her into the dining room. He took his seat to his mother's right, the same seat he'd occupied since he was five and still needed help cutting his meat. The loose slat in the back of the chair creaked, just as it always did.
"Renfield," said his father, nodding.
They bowed their heads as their father said a short prayer, the same one he had always said, the same one, Turnbull knew, that his grandfather had always said. Probably, Turnbull thought, it had been passed down with the Turnbull name from father to son. Rick, he thought, would probably say it.
They raised their heads again at his "amen" and began to eat their salads. His father and Rick started talking about an upcoming presentation at work, and his mother was apparently resuming a previous conversation with his sister, Rebecca. Turnbull tuned them out and concentrated on his salad. His mum had put extra tomatoes on it, and no mushrooms. He didn't actually hate mushrooms anymore, and hadn't for some years, but it was, he told himself, the thought that counted.
"...and so I said, 'nonsense, Renfield can do it...'"
"What?" He turned to his mother in surprise. "What can I do?"
"I told Sarah Cartwright you'd escort her daughter Meredith to the Historical Society anniversary banquet next month."
Turnbull blinked at her. "Why?"
"Honestly, Renfield, weren't you listening at all? Her mother is worried about her. She spends all her time working and never does anything social. Sarah is afraid she's becoming a hermit. She wants her to meet people."
"So you told her I'd date her daughter? Mum, we've talked about this."
"It won't hurt you to just take her to the dinner. You might find that you get along quite well! She's supposed to be very intelligent. Sarah says she's had scholarships and things. And she's shown me pictures; she's a lovely girl."
"I'm sure she is, Mum, but that's not the point--"
"I don't know what you have against her, Renfield. She comes from a very good family--"
"Shut up, Mum, and let him talk," Rebecca interrupted, her voice cutting cleanly through her mother's. Harriet Turnbull stopped talking with an injured sniff, and fixed Turnbull with an expectant look. "Well?"
Turnbull sighed. "Mum, remember about five years ago when we all went out to dinner, and I told you afterwards that I'm gay?"
"Of course I do, Renfield, I'm not going senile," she said, crossly. "What of it?"
He blinked at her in disbelief. Beside him, Rebecca was laughing helplessly into her napkin. He kicked her in the shin.
"What do you mean, 'what of it'?" he said. "I'm gay. I don't want to date women. Any women, no matter how good their families are."
"You always said you didn't like strawberries," his mother said. "And then I made you try some and you said they were lovely." She gestured emphatically with a forkful of carrot.
"Yeah, Mum," said Rebecca scornfully, "and then he swelled up and went all blotchy, and you had to take him to the hospital because he was having trouble breathing."
"Don't overextend the metaphor," said her mother, haughtily, and Turnbull couldn't hold back a laugh.
The meal dragged on. His mother extolled the virtues of Meredith Cartwright all throughout the roast and well into the cheesecake. After dinner, while she and Rebecca washed up, he was prevented from helping them by his father, who sat him firmly in his study and talked vaguely and at great length about becoming a man and putting away childish things. Turnbull took this to mean that it was past time he forgot this Mountie nonsense and became a stockbroker like he was supposed to, and while he was at it he might as well placate his mother by acquiring a suitable wife with which to continue the Turnbull line.
He'd heard the speech before, many times, and he nodded solemnly at the appropriate intervals and said "I'll certainly think on it, Dad," until someone called on his father's cellular phone and he was able to slip into the backyard. Rebecca found him there and settled onto the back steps beside him.
"Don't, Becca," he said. "You'll muss your dress."
She snorted, and nudged him companionably with an elbow. "It washes."
He grinned a little, and leaned back on his elbows, soaking in the sun that shone red through his closed eyelids. He could feel his sister mimicking his posture, and they sat together for a time in silence.
"Dad gave me the speech again," he said at last.
"'When I was a child, I spake as a child'?" Rebecca asked. "That's the second time this month. He's escalating."
"Apparently I'm getting a little old to take up stockbroking."
Rebecca made an angry noise. "Honestly, Rennie, I wish you'd tell him off," she said. "Both of them. It's infuriating, the way they act. They never listen to anything you say."
"It wouldn't do any good, Becca. It would just prove to them that I'm still not mature enough to make my own decisions." He sighed. "Besides, they really do mean well. They only want me to be happy."
"Maybe. But eventually they'll have to learn that you're perfectly happy now, the way you are." She sat up. "You are, aren't you? I know we don't get to talk as much as we used to now I took the new job, but I like to think I'd know if you weren't."
"I'm happy, Becca," he said. "The RCMP is the right place for me." He grinned. "I got a commendation last week."
"Rennie! You did? That's wonderful, why didn't you tell me?"
"I was going to make an announcement at dinner, but things got a little sidetracked."
She hugged him fiercely. "I'm so proud of you, Rennie. Tell me all about it."
He launched into his story of the smuggling ring, and she listened with a fascination that was utterly gratifying. That was one of the things that made her such a good lawyer, he thought; when you talked to her she listened to you as though your words were the most important she'd ever heard. As he finished his tale, she hugged him again, squeezing until it almost hurt.
"Rennie," she said, quietly, "I'm sorry about the way things went today."
"What?" He stared at her, disbelieving. "It's hardly your fault, Becca."
She sighed. "I've tried to talk to them, but they just don't listen."
He nodded. "I know the feeling," he said. "I'd just always hoped that they'd come around if I were just patient with them."
"I'm not saying they won't," said Rebecca, "but they need a bit of a jolt, I think. Something that will bring it home to them that you're all grown up."
He took a deep breath. "Actually, it's funny you should say that."
She looked at him sharply. "Ren?" she asked. "What's going on?"
"I'm thinking about requesting a transfer out of Toronto."
Rebecca was silent for a moment, chewing on her bottom lip. "Oh."
"It's not a perfect solution, I know," he said, "but I just feel like I've gone as far as I can here for now. It's nothing personal--"
"Rennie." She laid a hand on his forearm. "I understand. I do. It's just kind of a shock." She smiled at him, though her eyes were wistful. "I guess I still think of you the way you used to be."
"You mean when you dressed me and the dog in matching hats and made us play tea party?"
She laughed. "God, I thought you'd forgotten that."
"Mum has pictures."
She shook her head. "Of course she does. Three pages in the album of the dog tea party and one wallet-sized photo of my law school graduatation."
"Well, you were a lot cuter at the tea--ow!" he rubbed his arm where she'd smacked him. "That hurt."
"Serves you right." She sighed, and leaned against his shoulder. "I'm really going to miss you."
He squeezed her in a one-armed hug. "I'll miss you, too. But I feel like now is the time to do something different with my life."
"I think you're right," she said. "Only, Rennie, please don't go some godforsaken place like Baffin Island or Inuvik. I want to see you occasionally."
Turnbull grinned. "I'll make sure it's a proper city, with an airport."
"Good," she said decidedly.
"With any luck, I'll find something right away and won't have to go to that banquet."
Rebecca laughed. "Don't worry about it, even if you do end up going," she said. "Meredith Cartwright's a lesbian; I met her sister at PFLAG."
Turnbull went home that night with his customary bag of leftovers, a stomach sore with laughing, and a new resolve not to tolerate the status quo any longer. When he got to work the next morning, there was a note from Sarah in his email. He opened it, curious.
Turnbull was silent for a moment, reading the brief note again. Then, mouth set in a stubborn line, he pulled a Request For Transfer form out of the filing cabinet and began to fill it out, making sure each of the three copies was clear and legible.
each copy, pressing the pen down so hard that he almost tore the paper.
"Const. Renfield Turnbull." For the first time in his life,
he left off the "Jr." at the end.