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Office Hours

by Linda Bindner

Jack glanced up from cleaning his gun to squint in the direction of the Corporal's desk. “Bennett, what the hell you doin' now?”

Clive finished shoving a stack of papers into a drawer far too small to hold that many papers. “Nothing that a good set of filing cabinets wouldn't cure.”

“Filing cabinets?” Jack reiterated, puzzled.

Clive gave a frustrated growl in Jack's general direction. “Shelves, Jack, in drawers, with files all lined up to...”

Jack scowled. “I know what filing cabinets are! But what do you need them for? You've already got more shelves than I've ever seen in one office.” He gestured to the glass fronted shelving unit sitting to the right of the Mountie's immaculate desk.

Clive glanced at the shelves Jack was indicating, his growl deepening. “Those belong to Fort MacCloud! I need some that are mine.”

Jack's puzzlement deepened. “What the hell for?”

Clive gave a resigned sigh. “Because some of us actually keep papers detailing the assorted criminals we catch.”

That explanation didn't help Jack one bit. “What for?” he repeated himself. “We've caught 'em. That's it - the end. They don't need any papers sayin' that we caught 'em.”

Clive issued another sigh. “Those papers also mention their names, what crimes they committed, who sentenced them, and what jail they were sent them to. That might be useful information someday.”

“Useful?” Jack echoed. “How?”

“Well,” Clive thoughtfully began, “imagine that you and Marie are taking a vacation in Niagara Falls, and...”

“Don't need to go to Niagara to see no falls - we got hundreds of 'em right here!”

Exasperation now marred Clive's features. “Just say that we don't.”

“But we do!”

“Jack! Don't be so difficult!”

“I ain't bein' diff...”

“You're at Niagara,” Clive forcefully interrupted.

“On vacation,” Jack helpfully reminded.

“Yes. There's a huge outbreak from a nearby prison. What's the first thing you do?”

“That's easy,” Jack said, dropping his feet from his desk to the floor with a thump. “I tell them I'm a US Marshal and volunteer to help round up them varmints.”

Clive did a good impression of being shocked. “You'd leave Marie all alone knowing that escaped criminals are in the area?”

Jack shrugged. “I'd give her a gun and tell her not to shoot herself, but anything else that moves... besides me... is fair game.” Then he grinned. “Besides, she would pro'bly volunteer her medical services right after I volunteer to...”

“My point,” Clive said, thoroughly exasperated now, “is that you could cable here to find out those escaped criminals' information just by having someone pull their files from the filing cabinet... if I ever get one, that is.” Clive rifled through the stack of papers sitting on the edge of his desk. “I requisitioned one months ago, but it still isn't here!”

Silence reigned for several moments as Clive read his papers, and Jack cleaned the gun he had arranged on his desk. At last he looked up and casually noted, “Ain't never been on no vacation afore. Don't see the need to start takin' 'em now.”

Clive's gaze remained on his papers, but he commented, “Don't you want to take Marie on a honeymoon?”

“A honeymoon?” Jack repeated in an incredulous voice. “You don't need to go nowhere for something' like that! You just have one right where you are!”

“But don't you think a trip to somewhere exotic might be nice for Marie? She could get away from things here for awhile.”

Jack reflected on that idea for a moment. “Bet she wouldn't mind gettin' away from that Gilbert fella.”

“Gilbert,” Clive reminded, pronouncing the name the way it would have been pronounced in France.

“Yeah, Gilbert - that's what I said.” Jack clicked parts of his gun together.

Clive rolled his eyes, but Jack's gaze was trained on his half dismantled weapon and didn't see him. “It wouldn't hurt to take Marie on a holiday.”

“What we gonna do with Lucy while we're gone?” Jack asked, critically eyeing his gun. “Take her with us? Or leave her here with you?”

“Why doesn't she stay with Willie Haddon's aunt and uncle?” Clive asked. “They have the room, and Willie isn't using it right now.”

That comment made Jack put down his gun in irritation. “Willie shared a room with his cousin.”

“So?” Clive studied one of his papers and absently said, “I'm sure Lucy wouldn't mind.”

“Huh! I bet Lucy would have a thing or two to say about stayin' with the sixteen year old male cousin of her best friend!” Jack announced.

Clive had to smile at the sense of drama in Jack's voice. “I don't know - it would be good for her education.” He laughed at the dumbfounded look on Jack's face. “I'm kidding, Craddock. You should see your face.”

Jack snorted. “Marie doesn't want her to grow up quite that fast! Neither do I!”

Clive laughed again. “Oh, Craddock! Lucy already knows about the birds and the bees!” He laughed again as Jack continued to gape. “Something tells me that you getting married is definitely going to improve your own education!”

Under the noise that Clive made shuffling all his papers together, Jack noted, “My education is already just fine.”

With an amused shake of his head, Clive remarked, “Oh Jack, you have two girls who have you wrapped around their little fingers!”

Jack's grin spilled across his face. “Why Bennett! You're jealous!”

“In your dreams, Jack. I might be jealous of all the time you get to spend with Marie, but the day I'm actually jealous of you, I'll hang up my uniform.”

Jack cackled. “Say whatever you want, Mountie. I got not one, but two girls, and I might be wrapped around their fingers, but those fingers are mighty fine!”

Clive rolled his eyes again. “So, before those fingers break, have you fixed a date for the wedding?”

Still smiling, Jack gleefully continued to clean his gun. “Marie once said that she'd marry me as soon as they put walls on the church. And as I ain't fixin' on havin' her end up like Anna...” Jack's voice halted as if he'd hit a wall, and he knowingly studied his partner. “Sorry, Bennett, I forgot who I was talkin' to. Didn't mean to bring up painful mem'ries.”

Clive issued a sad sigh. “You didn't. Don't worry about it.” Yet it was clear that what Jack had said did bring up painful memories.

Though Clive would insist that his partner was one of the most uncaring individuals in the West, Jack wasn't immune to the gutwrenching pain of incidents such as Clive had to live with every day. The Mountie may not have pulled the trigger that killed his wife of ten seconds, but Jack understood the knife of grief that Clive must experience every time Anna Dawson was even mentioned. Thus his voice was so soft it was almost tender when he inquired, “You still blaming yourself that she died?”

Clive stopped his paper rifling to stare unseeingly at the corner of the room. At last he blinked and slowly said, “Not so much anymore. I know that I didn't kill her... I mean, my brain knows.” He sadly rested his hands on his desk. “It's just my heart that hasn't accepted it yet.”

Uneasy, Jack kept his gaze on his weapon parts while he continued to broach what could possibly be a sore subject with Clive. “Uh... I been meaning to ask you...”

Clive tore his gaze from the wall, but his attention remained inward. “Yes?”

Jack's uneasiness increased. “Well... guess there isn't a good time to bring this up.”

Sounding tired, Clive ordered, “Just say it, Craddock.”

“OK, OK. You got any bright ideas about how to keep the same thing from happenin' to Marie? 'Cause I'm plumb outta good ideas myself.” Jack shrugged, uncomfortable, but determined. “I want to wrap Marie up in cotton to keep her safe, but she won't like that - she's one headstrong woman - so you got any ideas?”

Clive gave a sad smile, but at least it was a smile. “You don't want another Anna, is that it?”

Jack gruffly cleared his throat. “Not particularly.”

Clive fell into his desk chair. “Believe it or not, I've already been thinking about this.”

That surprised Jack. “You have?”

Clive grunted in sour amusement. “Jack, I'd laugh if this wasn't so tragic.”

Was Clive saying that it was tragic that Marie was marrying Jack? He hadn't realized the Mountie objected so strongly. “What you mean?”

“I mean that Marie is worth keeping safe, but I'm not sure that either of us can do much to actually do that safekeeping.”

Clive was talking in circles, and Jack was getting annoyed. “Meaning?”

“Meaning... to keep her safe, you could change your name,” Clive suggested.

“I thought of that,” Jack admitted, resuming his cleaning. “Figure it won't do no good. If someone wants to get me, changing my name won't really change much of anythin'.”

“How bout changing her name?” Clive next suggested.

Jack looked up. “The weddin's already makin' her change her name. Don't see how...”

“But that's it,” Clive interrupted, excitement now coloring his voice. “Don't change her name.”

Jack's busy fingers paused as he considered that idea. “Can you do that?”

Clive shrugged. “Why not? The point is, she can't be linked with you by any outsiders.”

Jack's face darkened. “Who says that I gotta worry just 'bout outsiders?”

Clive huffed in exasperation. “Jack! You know what I mean.”

Jack scratched his temple. “Yeah. That's an idea,” he conceded. “But I ain't sure how I feel 'bout her not sharin' my name.” He squinted again at Clive. “Ain't that a kinda basic marryin' thing?”

Clive shrugged again and casually said, “Do you want Marie to be safe... or be another Anna?”

Jack thought of something else. “She might be safe... or safer... but her not havin' my name means that she has some other man's name. I don't rightly like that idea, neither.”

It was Clive who had to concede that Jack had a point this time. “Guess you're right.” Another silent moment went by. “What if she took Lucy's last name?”

“Lucy?”

“Marie Walker,” Clive said, trying it out. “Not bad. She could be taken as a Canadian or an American then. But she wouldn't automatically be linked to you... and that's the point.”

Jack pensively considered that idea. “Well, it's worth thinkin' on. I'll ask her.”

“Uh... Jack, that brings up another thing I want to talk about.”

Jack invited him to go on with a lift of his brows.

“I hear that you're avoiding her.”

Jack cleaned his gun with a gusto he rarely showed for cleaning, but otherwise played dumb. “Her who?”

Clive wasn't fooled with the show. “Marie, that's who.”

“Nope, not avoiding her,” Jack quickly informed. “Just been busy.”

Clive's forehead wrinkled in disbelief. “No one's too busy for his own fiancée.”

Abruptly, Jack stopped to stare in growing worry at the Mountie. “Why, she say somethin'?”

Clive glared. “Jack, I don't understand you. Yeah, she said something, and to me, and if you don't cut it out, I'm going to be the one marrying her, not you!”

That made Jack cut it out, and in a hurry. “She said that? Damn.”

“Is that all you can say?”

Jack suddenly heaved a sigh that said he'd rather confess than lose Marie. “I'm scared to talk to her.”

“Scared?” Clive acted like he didn't believe what he was hearing. “Nothing scares Jack Craddock, especially not Marie Dumont!”

Jack peeked at Clive through the corners of his eyes. “I'm afraid she'll change her mind if I give her half the chance.”

Clive snorted his opinion about this. “The way I look at it, you're giving her all the chance she needs, Jack!”

Jack winced.

“Take her out to lunch,” Clive suggested. “Show her off. Act like you're proud of her.”

“It won't be no act. I'm so proud of her, I could bust right here,” Jack protested.

“Yeah, but she doesn't know that!”

Jack almost winced a second time, emotional in spite of himself. He hated having to deal with emotions, and generally avoided emotional issues of any kind. Marie, however, symbolized one emotion that Jack welcomed. “Thought I was doin' her a favor. Guess not.”

Clive stood and crossed to Jack's desk. “Marie's one special lady... you've got a good thing here, Jack. If you mess it up, I'll shoot you myself.”

Jack adamantly retorted, “Been wantin' ta marry Marie fer years! I ain't gonna mess this up!”

Clive slowly returned to his desk. “Stop hiding from her,” he said one last time for good measure. “You've got her right now - enjoy it.”

Made sense. But Jack sure wasn't going to let Bennett know how grateful he was for those words of wisdom!

To cover the hesitation caused by thinking so much about that advice, Jack cleared his throat again before mentioning something else that was on his mind. “You goin' to stand up with me - kick me if I freeze?”

To Jack's gratification, Clive laughingly commented, “You aren't going to freeze.” He rustled his papers once more. “But yes, I'd be glad to stand up with you... but only if I get to kick you.”

“Right after I kick you,” Jack reminded, and snapped more pieces of his gun together in unconcern.

“Who's Marie chosen as her bridesmaid?”

Jack gave a pensive grunt. “Don't rightly know. Last I heard, she couldn't decide between Lucy and Sally Duffield.”

“Won't Lucy be better as a flower girl?”

“Huh! I wouldn't call Lucy a 'girl' if I was you. She might kick you afore I can stop her!”

Clive grinned. “Well, can't stop a woman if her mind's set on something.”

Jack snorted. “That's for sure!” He considered what Lucy could do to Clive in one minute or less, and shuddered at just the thought.

Jack felt less stressed after his discussion with Bennett. He glanced at the clock when his stomach growled, noting that it was already passed lunchtime. With an air of determination, Jack rose casually to his feet, abandoned his gun cleaning, and sauntered towards the door.

“Where are you going?” Clive called after him.

“I'm goin' ta see if Marie's free fer lunch.”

“Well... I'm glad that something I said penetrated that thick head of yours.”

“Think I'll see if Mrs. Radway's in town - she can keep ya company,” Jack teased. “I think you got a thing fer her.”

Instead of negating Jack's supposition, Clive merely warned, “Don't pick your teeth while you're at the table!”

Jack patiently turned back to sagely remark, “Pickin' teeth is fer after lunch - everyone knows that.”

Before Clive could retort, Jack was gone.

The End


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