She reached onto a shelf and several cardboard boxes toppled to the floor. While she sighed in exasperation, he stooped to retrieve them.
"Choco-Blasters? Is this the Laura Holt I know? Health fiend extraordinnaire? The woman who once swore that nothing but all-natural, macrobiotic, low-fat food would ever pass her lips is now stocking...Choco-Blasters?"
She snatched the box from his hand and pushed it back onto the shelf. "There's a two-year- old in the house now, in case you'd forgotten."
He grinned at her, unrepentant, and she broke down laughing. "I still keep yogurt in the 'fridge for you purist types. Of course, if you'd rather stoop to your son's level, I'm sure he wouldn't mind sharing, as long as you don't scarf the whole box."
"No, that's fine. I'll have whatever you're having."
"I'm having scrambled eggs, toast and coffee, that is, if you'll get out of the way for a minute."
Elbowing him aside she put the can of coffee she'd been searching for on the counter, then reached in the silverware drawer and pulled out two forks, two spoons, a spatula and a whisk. He tucked the second box, graham crackers, onto the shelf it had fallen from and retreated to the table to watch.
He could recall a time when even something simple, like scrambled eggs, would have been beyond her. Laura Holt had been justifiably proud of her investigative skills, but her culinary finesse tended to come out of cans and boxes. Anything more complicated than boiling water tended to throw her into a state of near-panic. She had obviously grown and adapted in the years since he'd seen her last. She would never have attempted scrambled eggs before. At least not while he was watching.
But she had developed a certain ease in the kitchen, he noted, watching her whisk eggs in a bowl. What other new facets would he discover as time passed?
"So," she said casually, her back to him, "you're back then, right?"
"I said, you're back. I mean," she said, putting down the whisk and turning to face him, "you're not going anywhere, you're staying around, you're back in my life again. This wasn't just one night and out."
"Laura, come here."
"I have to do these eggs."
"No, Laura, come here. I mean it, now," he added and, leaning forward, caught at her elbow, drawing her close. Reluctantly, she sank into a chair across from him and let him take her hands in his. "I need to ask you something and I need you to be absolutely honest with me. It's important, far more important than you'll ever know, but you have to be honest with me. Because, right now, I can take it. I can say, o.k., I can accept whatever you want. But if I start to believe, to hope again, and it turns out that you didn't mean any of it, I don't know..."
"You don't know what?"
"I just need you to be honest with me. Totally honest, no matter what. Laura, do you really want me back in your life? Think carefully. This has nothing to do with Harry. I'm his father, I'll always be his father and I intend to be there for him, no matter what. This isn't about him. This is about you and me. Do you honestly want me back in your life again? I need to know."
"Yes. Yes, I want you back in my life. It's all I've wanted for the past three-and-a-half years. I don't know exactly where we kept going wrong, but when we were right, we were just about perfect. And I want that back. I want you back. I want us to be like we were."
"No," he interrupted, "not like we were. Never that again, Laura. I couldn't take it. Not the game-playing, and the hiding and the...the sheer stupidity of it all. Not like that ever again."
"No," she agreed in a small voice. "Not like that. But how, then? What do we do now?"
"Well," he said slowly, "for starters, no game-playing. If we see a problem, we call it. No more waiting 'till the other person notices and fixes whatever is wrong. No more silly control games on either of our parts. If there's a problem, we get it out in the open, quickly, before it turns into something worse. Agreed?"
"All right. Agreed. But where do we stand, then?"
"What do you mean?"
"Where are we? I guess I'm asking what I was asking before, only I don't know how to ask it. Are you back?"
He looked at her silently for a moment, doubt and confusion swimming in his eyes alongside lingering traces of pain and -- something else altogether. It was just a brief flicker, but it was enough. She could suddenly breath freely again. Even before he spoke, low and intense.
"Laura, I love you. I know I never said it out loud, but, Lord, I've been choking on it for the past four years. When I left you, it wasn't because I didn't love you. It was because I did. And time didn't help at all. I never stopped loving you. I tried, but I just couldn't do it, somehow. So if you want me, then, yes, I'm back and all the demons of hell won't be able to drive me off again."
She was in his arms before the words were fully out of his mouth and it was some time before she ever got back to the eggs.
"But, sir, if you'd just--"
"That will be all, Detective." The Chief's voice was flat and brooked no further argument. Detective Jarvis sighed and let himself out of the office again, head hanging in sheer frustration. Budgets be damned. People were dying and he was arguing budgets with another bureaucrat. God, if he could just get one break. One ID from someone. One hint as to where the bodies came from, where they were dismembered, who was doing it. Anything at this point would be a help. The only thing he knew was where they were ending up. And that wasn't enough.
The services of a good forensic psychologist would be ideal. The FBI sometimes lent their people to local law enforcement, but his chief wouldn't let him call them in. Jurisdictional nonsense, he felt sure. The last time the FBI had gotten involved in a case in this area, the bust had gone to them and it was something that still rankled the Chief. He wasn't willing to let that happen again.
But while he was playing office politics, another woman was about to die. Jarvis felt sure of it and he was equally sure that, if he could just get the invisible ropes off his own hands, he'd be able to stop it.
He was considering investing in a small crystal ball of his own. Maybe take it out of his retirement fund. At this rate, he'd have a coronary long before he could retire anyway. Might as well put the money to some kind of good use, first.
Anything was better than waiting for the next dumpster to give
up its gory prize.
It was called The Cave. Not an imposing name, but it was new and sported more neon than Grace had seen in a long time. She looked dubiously through the open doorway from the safety of the street. It seemed o.k. Clean. Fairly well-lit. There was even a bouncer's station near the door. But for now, she was shoe shopping. It was her therapy of choice when she was down and, after last night, she was in need of an Imelda Marcos-style binge. Maybe later, when she was feeling a little more confident, she might drop in here and give it a look-see. It might be a good place to start fresh.
Reggie had made it quite clear that she needed to do just that. He thought their relationship was getting a bit too stale. And this after just three months. He said he wanted fresh air and some distance. She suspected he was just looking for a larger cup size. For now, she thought, some Italian leather sling-backs might be just the breath of fresh air she needed. And then, later, The Cave might be the place to try them on.
It wasn't much, but it was a plan.
They were doing the dishes together, he was washing and she was drying. It was cozy. It was fun. And it was the perfect time to bring up what was sure to be a sore subject.
"So," Laura said, taking a cup from him, "what have you been doing with yourself all these years? Keeping busy?"
"Um, sort of, I guess. And you?"
"Nice try, ace, but I asked first. What have you been up to?"
"You're worried." But he was smiling as he said it.
"Well, I did pay close attention to the international headlines. I never knew what was going to happen. And it was one more place to look for you."
"Then you were worried."
"Should I have been?"
"Actually," he said with a small laugh, "no. And it's those precious headlines of yours you should be thanking." "What are you talking about?"
"Well, when I left here, I had plans. Not exactly full-blown plans, but they developed nicely. Oh, Laura, you would have loved it."
"Well, maybe not. Although, if you like irony, you might have at least enjoyed that part of it."
"Really?" she said, keeping her voice level. "Tell me about it."
He draped his wet cloth over the spigot and let the water out of the sink before settling again at the table to watch her dry the last of the dishes and put them away.
"After I left here, I went to Chicago."
"Because I didn't know anybody there, and neither did you, that I was aware of. The best place to lose yourself is somewhere you can actually get lost in. Chicago seemed a good choice."
"Is that one of Daniel's famous 'rules'?"
"Actually, I believe I thought that one up. It might have been his, though. I can't really remember. But Daniel's rules do come into the story rather heavily."
"Sorry to interrupt," she said, placing that last of the silverware in the drawer.
"Not at all. Laura, do you remember Weasel?"
"Your friend who helped us with the counterfeit money that time? The one who lives in an old car in a junkyard?" She came and settled next to him at the table.
"That's the one. Well, he's good in a number of areas and he has friends all over."
"Yes, including Chicago. That helped me decide, you see. It was either Chicago or Detroit and, to be honest, I wasn't that hot on Detroit. So when Weasel turned up a friend in Chicago who could help me with a new passport and ID, I felt it was...serendipitous to say the least."
"The very least." He ignored her dry tones and plunged on.
"But new papers take some time and, after I'd located the gentleman I was seeking and set him to work, I had some time to kill and some anger to burn off. That's when blind fortune struck again. You see, I'd decided to score and score big just once more before I left the States. I thought it was only fitting that I leave you with that to ponder."
"Oh you did?"
"Well, remember, I was angry, and you have to admit, I could at least feel I had just cause. So I looked around for a fitting prize, something that would catch your eye, tell you that it had been me and that I'd walked clean away, nothing you could do about it. One last spit in the eye, so to speak. And I found it. God, it was beautiful."
"Well, Laura, Chicago has many things to recommend it, including some wonderful convention centers. And during the time that I was in the Windy City, the main convention center was hosting their annual gem show. And the shining star at the heart of the gem show..."
"Yes. Royal Lavulite. The same bloody set that brought us together in the first place, on loan from the South African government once again. It was perfect. And, while security was tight, it wasn't as tight as it might have been. I mapped out a dozen different ways to the jewels, some riskier than others, but, oh Laura, I could've done it. Even now, I can still feel those stones sitting right in the palm of my hand." There was a certain yearning in his voice, but she ignored it.
"What stopped you?"
"Your precious headlines. Actually, Daniel's rule. You see, Daniel drummed it into me that, when planning a heist of this magnitude, actually of any magnitude, it always paid to plan for every contingency. The element of surprise is supposed to be on your side alone. So you plan it all out, then you think of all the little things that could go wrong and you plan for them. Right up to, and including, your eventual discovery and capture. And that's where I got stuck. Royally stuck."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, I could handle everything else, and I could even come up with a cover story to give to the police, but it was the headlines, Laura."
"Famed sleuth caught red-handed. Distraught associate has no explanation. That sort of thing."
"Oh, indeed. You see, I could get angry, I could even sustain some of that anger for a time, but if I'd been caught, it would have been your head in the noose right along with mine, your license suspended, your life ruined. And that, my love, I just couldn't bring myself to do, no matter how angry I tried to be."
"But that would mean..."
"That I was, as I said, royally stuck. I wasn't Remington Steele anymore and I obviously couldn't go back to the old life, either. There was always the possibility that I would be caught and you right along with me. You see, you made an honest man out of me after all."
"If only by default. But I'm sorry."
"For what? Pushing me onto the straight and narrow? Don't be, bound to happen someday, I suppose. Still, it did leave me at rather loose ends."
"What did you do?"
"Well, I sat and stewed for awhile. Then I considered my options. They were few and far between. In years past, I could've run to Daniel, hid out in his chalet while I licked my wounds. But Daniel wasn't there to run to anymore. And that got me thinking. I knew Daniel had a brother somewhere, he'd spoken of him from time to time. So I decided to look the old boy up. Impose on an old family tie, as it were. Well, actually I think I just wanted to be sure he knew Daniel was dead."
"And to find some family for yourself."
"How did you go about it?"
"Well, apparently I'd learned a bit more from you than I realized. And there was the fact that I knew Daniel's brother lived somewhere in Canada, that narrowed the search a bit. It actually wasn't too hard. I was surprised. I knew he taught at a university, so I checked in a few libraries, called a few directories, looked through several hundred batches of phone listings and, presto, in only four months I'd managed to do what it would have taken you an entire afternoon to accomplish, I came up with a phone number and an address."
"So you've been in Canada," she said with a small laugh.
"Oh yes. Once I'd made contact with Uncle David, he insisted on my staying with him. Since I had nowhere else to go, I accepted his offer. He's a nice old bird. Nothing at all like Daniel, though."
"Yes, David's a Chaucerian professor. Very quiet. Widowed. Lives alone with two Yorkshire terriers and a library that would be the envy of Eaton. Bookish sort. Likes tea at set times, drinks sherry in the evenings and the rowdiest he ever gets is the odd faculty cocktail party now and again."
"And he and Daniel were brothers?"
"Not just brothers, Laura, twins."
"Yes," he said, smiling at the memory. "Gave me quite a start when he first opened the door to me. I couldn't speak for several moments. Fortunately, Daniel had filled him in on me and he knew who I was, so that sort of broke the ice. And I guess he was used to explaining the resemblance to people. Of course, once I got to know him, the only resemblance remaining was physical. Otherwise, he's nothing at all like Daniel. I got quite used to him after awhile. Nice old chap."
"So that's where you've been all this time. But what did you do? You weren't teaching college?"
"Good Lord, Laura, no. I wouldn't have lasted a minute. But I had to do something, obviously. David lived on a modest, though adequate pension. He was officially retired, although he still taught a few courses now and again. He was comfortable, but he hardly had enough to support a ne'er-do-well nephew as well. I rather hated to impose, but, then again, what was I to do? I made a stab at the want ads, of course, even interviewed for a couple of factory jobs. Night work, that sort of thing."
"Frankly, I can't see you working in a factory."
"Neither can I. Thank God none of them hired me."
"Then what did you do?"
"Took David up on an offer he'd made. Went back to school."
"No, really. I had nothing else to do and the scholarship David dug up included a living stipend, so I could help out with the household expenses."
"So you've got a real degree, then."
"Laura, you cut me to the quick. I've always had a real degree. I read Art History at Cambridge years ago. Daniel's idea. I was terrified the whole time I was there. I didn't actually want to be there at all, but Daniel had set the whole thing up and then ended up doing prison time, so he felt better that I was at school. Because he'd gone to all that trouble, I felt obligated to see the silly thing through. I hated every moment, but I got through by rushing it a bit. Went three years for undergraduate and another year and a half in grad school and ended up with a fairly useless masters degree and a burning desire never to see the inside of a classroom again. Then I fell into David's nefarious clutches and ended up with a bloody Ph.D."
"You have a doctorate?!?"
"Yes, dammit, a legitimate one as well. In my own name, such as it is, I'm officially Dr. Harrison Chalmers. Of course it came with strings attached. That's what really brought me back to you, in a way."
"Well, like many scholarships these days, mine was funded by a large medical corporation and the premise of the scholarship was that, once you graduated, you agreed to work for them until the cost of your education was paid off. That was all fine and good at first. I started off in Canada. But then they decided I'd be more useful here, at their facility in California. Los Angeles, specifically. Of course I fought it like mad, but in the end, I had to come."
"I'm glad you did."
"So am I," he said, grinning sheepishly.
"So that's why we could never find you. We were looking for plain old Harry Chalmers. We never looked for a Dr. Harrison Chalmers."
"Oh, you wouldn't have found me that way, either. I only used that name in Canada, where I felt safer about it. Once I hit the States, I went back to my passport name."
"Cathcart. Dr. Harrison Cathcart."
"Oh my God! You mean--"
"Precisely. I didn't just stumble across Harry. You brought him right to me."
"But you--, I mean--, a psychologist? I don't get it. I thought you majored in Art History."
"Only through graduate school, Laura. When David checked, there were only two scholarships available, psychology and world economics. I hadn't a fig's interest in world economics, and psychology was all that was left."
"But how in the world did you end up working with children?"
"Oh, that was Daniel's rule again, and a bit of headline-hiding as well. You see, I started out in general psychology and then drifted toward specializing in abnormal psychology. I was actually quite good at it. Sort of close to home and all that, I suppose. Then one day in class, the professor was telling us all about this famous case he'd been involved with and how it ended up in court, where it dragged on for years and I suddenly realized that, if I did well and was successful, I was likely going to end up testifying in court someday. And there were those bloody headlines again. I mean, someone was sure to spot me. Hell, I couldn't walk into a pub without someone spotting me. It was all that damned publicity for the agency. I should have kept a lower profile when I worked for you, Laura."
"Then where does Daniel's rule fit into the picture?"
"Well, I obviously couldn't specialize in abnormal psychology and I had to specialize in something and I wanted something that I could hold to. I mean, I was finally beginning to realize at that stage that I just wasn't getting over you. I still missed you terribly. It played havoc with me some days. I couldn't concentrate on anything. Terrible handicap for a psychologist. I needed something to get me past that hump as well. That's where Daniel's rule came in."
"Which rule are we talking about?"
"Well, Daniel always said that, if you're going to run a game on someone, make sure it's someone who deserves to get hurt. Someone who's done others dirty and deserves to be taken down a peg or two. And, if you can help a few people along the way, fine, just don't neglect to help yourself as well. Except in one particular instance -- if a child is involved, no matter what, that child comes first. You never hurt a child and you never allow a child to be hurt. That was an absolute. And since I'd been dragged through the dirt and stepped on more than my fair share of times as a child, I thought that was a fine rule to have. I suppose, in his years of searching for me, Daniel must have become aware of some of what I went through. Maybe that's why he made the rule. It doesn't really matter, though. What matters is that he drummed that rule clear into my soul. I could no more hurt a child than I could voluntarily cut off my right arm without anesthetic. So it was perfect."
"Yes. So long as there was a child at stake, I could concentrate through anything. And almost any case involving a child that might end up in court was highly unlikely to bring me into direct contact with anyone from the past who might recognize me as Remington Steele."
"And it might have worked, except you got transferred here. But your need to hide explains something else I'd wondered about."
"The face fuzz."
He stroked his chin with amusement. "You don't like the beard? And here I thought it made me look distinguished."
"I'll get used to it, I suppose. But that's why you grew it, isn't it? Camouflage?"
"And how did you get around the name problem?"
"Well, I knew I couldn't use Chalmers, you'd have spotted that in a heartbeat. But, after I met with my new boss, John Needham, the chap you met the other day, I realized he might be willing to go along. So I told him. Everything."
"You're joking! You told a perfect stranger things that could get my license revoked?!? Are you crazy???"
"Well, technically, I suppose I am. But that's the beauty of it, Laura. It was like telling a priest. You see, in order to do this sort of job, the psychologist needs a psychologist. And, for all intents and purposes, John is mine. So it falls under doctor-patient privilege. He can't be forced to tell. And, even if it was attempted, I seriously doubt John would say a word. He's not like that. I actually like him, which is more than I can say for my immediate supervisor in Canada. God, I hated that man. The only good thing about being transferred was that it got me away from him before I was sent up for justifiable homicide. Anyway, to make a long story short, John agreed to use my passport name in the office, and my 'real' name on correspondence back to the home office in Canada. So it worked out beautifully."
"Until I showed up with Harry in tow."
"Well, that wasn't a total disaster, Laura. It brought me here."
"So it did."
"And I turned Harry over to John as soon as I knew who he was. I mean, I never even met him face-to-face."
She smiled sweetly at him. "Oh, good, then you have something to look forward to today."
"You're really going to make me go through with this, aren't you?" he said, suddenly wary again.
"Damn right. And it's high time you got a move on, Dad."
"Laura, I've been thinking--"
"No more stalling! I'm not letting you off the hook."
"No, I don't mean that, but, would you mind if I sort of...ruined his dinner?"
"Well, as I said, I've been thinking that it might be a good icebreaker if I took him out for a treat, like ice cream. You know, something to smooth over the rough spots."
"Actually, that sounds like a great idea. One spoiled lunch won't kill him. And it's a special occasion, after all."
"He likes ice cream then?"
"What are you talking about? He's a kid. What kind of child psychologist are you? Take the kid for ice cream. He'll love it."
"Great. Then, do you know if that little place we used to go to is still open? The corner one over by the museum?"
"DiFali's? Yes, I think it is. Oh, he'll go out of his little mind in there. That's a great idea."
"Good, then it's settled. I'll take him out for ice cream."
"And introduce yourself."
"Yes, that too. You know, Laura, you really have a way of dampening a man's appetite for ice cream."
"I know," she said, patting his shoulder. "It's a gift."
He was walking. He always did this after a move, to get used to his new surroundings, his new hunting grounds. There were a few likely prospects, but nothing really called out to him. Then he saw the sign.
Not too prepossessing, but not too shabby, either. Working class, but not dirt-under-the- fingernails working class. He could see her in a place like this. Maybe he would see her here. Maybe tonight.
It was worth checking out.
He hurried back home to finish unpacking. And to plan.