No Good Deed

Benton did not know why, exactly, Inspector Thatcher needed these particular sweets, from this particular shop, but he had decided that obedience was the better part of valor on a night like this, when the Consulate was lit up and dignitaries and other notables were dancing and mixing. ("Schmoozing," said Ray Vecchio in his head, a bit contemptously.) Diefenbaker was off charming a local bitch, and that left Benton on his own for the night.

He was passing a dignified old ballroom when he caught sight of the woman walking--she was walking almost entirely in the road, and her light dress and blond hair did not seem to stop most of the drivers from nearly hitting her. He pulled up beside her--so slowly and cautiously that at least three Chicago drivers honked at him in irritation--and rolled down the window.

"Miss," he said, "miss, I'm quite sure it would be safer if you used the pedestrian walkway."

"Oh," she said. "May I have a ride?"

Benton opened his mouth--that was not the answer he had expected--but another driver leaned on their horn and he decided she didn't look particularly dangerous. "I'll take you as far as I can, miss," he said, and she stepped airily over to the door and climbed into the backseat. Benton made a mental note to clean the vehicle later--not as an aspersion on the young lady's character, but the Inspector would not be happy to hear he had picked up a pedestrian in the Consulate's automobile, as though it belonged to him.

"Well," he said, a bit too hearty. "Well. I am going to a small little shop for some particular favors required by my commanding officer, but I'll take you as close to your desitination as I can. Where might that be?"

She gave him an address, and he mentally pegged it as some eight miles down this same road. "I'm trying to get home," she said. The area didn't sound residential, but he'd lived in Chicago long enough to know that apartments and garretts were squirrelled all over the city in places he would have never thought to look.

"I think we can manage that," he said, as the drivers around them stopped honking quite so often, though he knew none of them particularly liked the speed limit. He introduced himself and asked, "Were you out at a party?"

"I was dancing," she said, and then she fell very quiet for a period of several blocks, which shaded into several miles. Benton decided that, much like himself, she likely did not particularly appreciate it when strangers decided to pry. Instead he consulted his nearly-complete map of Chicago in his head, and decided the shop Inspector Thatcher needed was not too far away from the young woman's door.

"Well," he said, "I think we're coming up on your desitination soon, miss, if you would care to keep an eye out for it."

"I won't miss it," she said.

"I mention it because I might," he said, but she didn't say any more, and when he glanced at her in the rearview mirror, she was facing the window. "Which side of the street is it on?"

She didn't respond, ignoring him as completely as--well, if he were honest, as Inspector Thatcher when she wanted to dismiss him. Benton swallowed his irritation and watched the road. The businesses and buildings were growing sparser and the pools of darkness between the streetlights were growing wider. Chicago was never truly dark--not to Benton, at least--but he was having trouble seeing addresses, and rather wished the young lady would tell him where to drop her off. They were passing some sort of large, fenced-in park when he glanced at the rearview mirror again, and nearly ran off the road.

She had vanished. He knew the door had not opened, and the cars on the road were honking, but that was due to him nearly crashing a Consular vehicle in his shock, and he wrestled the car back into the flow of traffic before daring to look again. But he was right--she had gone, and the car door was still firmly closed.

"Don't let it worry you, son," his father said, incidentally nearly causing Benton's second almost-crash of the night. He glared at his father and found a space on the street to park; he was quite tired of all this.

"Dad, in future, I would deeply appreciate it if you did not decide to--to materialize while I am driving a Consular vehicle," he said. He leaned his head on the steering wheel. "But I am glad to see you."

"Like I said, don't let it worry you. That one's a bit stuck in a loop, so I hear."

Benton sat up again and smoothed his fingers through his hair. "You can't hear anything, you're dead," he said.

"Oh, you hear things," his father said, amused. "Ask your yank friend about it tomorrow, you're hardly the first one she's given a bit of a fright to."

Benton opened his mouth to say I wasn't frightened, but swallowed it when he realized his father had disappeared as easily as he had come. Benton pinched the bridge of his nose and gusted out a sigh.

Then he squared his shoulders, checked his mirrors, and pulled back out into traffic once it was safe. He did not fancy explaining to the Inspector why he was late, and indulging himself would simply make her more annoyed. As it was he was probably going to be pulling guard duty for the rest of the week.

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