Grace had just placed an order for new sticky notepads. Canary yellow. Ugh. But Miss Krebs was adamant about them. Grace really wanted to switch to lime green or pale blue, or any other color, but like Ms. Krebs flowered notebooks, the canary-yellow sticky notes were an office staple, and Grace was stuck with them.
She supposed it could be worse. Less boring, perhaps, but worse. Behind her, the office door opened, and suddenly boring was the last thing she could think about. She almost stood up at her desk, but held herself in place at the last moment. Standing would have seemed silly.
"Mr. Steele! I wasnt expecting you." She blinked. "And Harry? Are you here to see your Mom?"
The toddler grinned up at her, with his arms full of stuffed monkey. "Yeah! Me an Joji came to play at my Daddys desk. An see my Mommy."
The tall man standing next to him smiled warmly down at her. "Its lovely to finally meet you in person, Grace. Im sorry it couldnt have been sooner. You should hear Mildred singing your praises. And, believe me, from Mildred thats better than a medal of honor. But tell me, is Laura free? Or is she in with a client?"
Grace gulped and got control of herself, finally. "No, Im afraid theyre both in Miss Holts office with a client. I mean Mrs. Steeles office." She felt the flush creeping up her cheekbones. But he laughed.
"Dont worry about it, Grace. Miss Holt will always be Miss Holt. She is decidedly her own woman, and I wouldnt have her any other way. But if my office is unoccupied, perhaps I could set Harry up in there with some paper and his crayons? He hefted a small backpack with a picture of a spaceman on the front, and Grace fished out some blank pages from the ream stashed in the bottom drawer of her desk. "Should I buzz Miss Holt and tell her youre here?" she asked, while handing them over.
He shook his head. "No, Grace, Miss Holt can handle this fine without me. Ill be in with Harry, though." He started towards his office, and then stopped. "Unless, of course, theres any fresh coffee available?"
Grace smiled. "I just put a pot on. Should I bring you a cup? And maybe a glass of milk for Harry?"
"Thank you, Grace, that would be kind. Bit of cream and two sugars for me. And yes to the milk for Harry." He nodded at her with a smile and then steered his son through the door shed never seen him pass through before.
Grace had just stood up and started toward the small kitchenette-cum-file room where the coffee maker stood waiting when the shouting started from Miss Holts office.
The door slammed open and Howard Spaith almost knocked her down as he stormed out. "I should sue! Incompetent imbeciles! I should have known better! Waste of time, waste of money! Blithering idiots!"
Miss Holt, of course, followed him out, still perfectly calm and reasonable, though Grace could hear that slight edge in her voice. "Im sorry you feel that way, Mr. Spaith. The Remington Steele Agency always tries to satisfy the client. But if theres nothing more we can do, well be happy to provide you with a final bill and"
"Come now, Miss Holt," the voice from across the room was calm and level, and caught the client by complete surprise, judging from the look on his florid face, "I cant see how we can be happy to present this man with a bill he has no intention of paying. Just as I cant see how he can expect this agency, or any other, to successfully complete a case for which he has withheld critical information from us. Isnt that right, Mr. Spaith?"
The large, florid man paused, not quite halfway across the office and faced him, sputtering. "I have no idea what you mean by this impertinence! I have never"
"Im sure you havent, Mr. Spaith," he said smoothly. "Im sure you have never intended to pay us if you didnt get exactly what you wanted, just as Im equally sure that you have never told us exactly what it is that you wanted to begin with. Without full information, we can hardly be expected to satisfy you. However, if Im not mistaken, the contract you signed explains that payment will be due for due and diligent services rendered. While that wont be the full amount we contracted for, we do expect to be compensated for our time and effort on your behalf." He smiled. "It will be much easier for you in the long run, believe me."
"This is outrageous!" Spaith snarled. "Youve had over a week and youre no closer to finding my wife than you were when I walked in here!"
He nodded calmly. "Thats true. But then, its not really your wife you wanted us to find. I suspect youre looking for something she took with her when she left. And until you tell us what that is, we dont stand a chance of finding her." He leaned back a bit and looked consideringly at Spaith. From over the clients shoulder, Laura could see the movement was simply calculated for effect. But she stayed still.
"What I think is that you dont trust us," he went on. "The thing with sending someone to dig up garbage is that they might find more than the garbage you asked them to find. They might find garbage you dont want them to have. Let me see if I can make this clear. If you have murdered someone, you have every reason to fear us. On that score, we never look the other way."
"However, I dont think youve murdered anyone." He smiled, but Spaith didnt seem to relax. "You may have broken a few rules here and there. Perhaps this involves something that might damage your reputation or your business in some way if it became public knowledge. Mr. Spaith, the Remington Steele Agency doesnt care about destroying your reputation or damaging your business, even if there is some sort of wrongdoing involved. So long as no lives are being endangered, our only concern is the welfare of our client. And, until you walk out that door, at any rate, you are our client. And we are not out to hurt you. But we cant help you if you dont tell us what is really going on."
"Im sure your wife is missing and you want her found. I am not convinced that you want her back, however. I think you are more concerned with something she has, or possibly just something she knows. And, so long as finding her wont cause any grave injury to her, I dont see why we cant help you. But only if you tell us what it is that you are really looking for." He paused and simply looked at Spaith for a moment, until the larger man began to squirm. "Could we go back into the office and start again, do you think?"
The silence stretched for a moment and then the mans shoulders sank as if the air had been let out of him. He turned and brushed past Laura on his way back into her office.
"Grace?" he said to the receptionist, "Could you get Harry his milk, if you would? Ill take my coffee in Lauras office, I think." And then, taking Miss Holts arm, he led her into the office and closed the door behind them. Grace stared at its blank surface for a moment before heading for the kitchenette to get the little boys milk. One thing she had to say for her job, she never knew what to expect. She only knew it would never fail to be interesting.
It was almost an hour later before they saw the bulk of their client moving down the hall away from their door. Mildred sighed with relief.
"Thank God thats over. I need a cup of coffee! Anyone else?"
"Yes, please," Laura muttered fervently. He smiled, standing next to her.
"Id forgotten how exhausting The Care and Training of Clients can be," he said mildly. "I think that might be one part of this whole thing I did not miss at all." He saw Graces somewhat shocked expression, and bent closer to Lauras ear. "Exactly how much does our Grace know about the workings of this agency?" he asked her in a low murmur.
She smiled up at him. "About as much as Mildred did when she first joined us. Though I hope Grace is likely to fawn a bit less."
"I share your hope, I really do," he said, returning her smile full force. "Grace, I hope our son wasnt too much trouble."
The young woman shook herself a bit. "Oh, he was fine. Hes been coloring and playing with the paperclips I gave him. Dont worry, theyre the plastic covered, colored ones. He wont hurt himself with those."
"Im sure he wont," he told her. "Thank you for watching out for him. That took much longer than I expected." All four heads in the room swiveled again as the outer door to the office swung open again. "Detective Jarvis! To what do we owe this visit?"
The detective held up a manila envelope. "Just wanted to bring you this stuff." He looked around the room. "Harrys not here today, is he?"
Laura frowned. "Yes, he is, but hes in his fathers office, coloring. You can talk, but keep your voice down if its something you dont want him to hear."
Jarvis nodded. "No problem. Its just that Mrs. Rose was definitely fired and charges have been filed. It should be quite awhile before anything gets as far as a courtroom, but I thought youd want to know. Also, about that Denver pedophile you asked me to look into, its possible just possible, mind you that he was arrested in Texas last weekend." He pulled a paper out of the folder and handed it to Laura. "The DNA on those pants that were turned in was a bit too degraded for any certainty, but local detectives in Texas definitely have a strong case for pedophilia in their own jurisdiction. So it might be the same guy, or it might not. I just thought Id pass it along for what its worth." He put the page back in the folder and handed the whole thing to Laura, but addressed his next words to the man next to her. "I wouldnt get too excited, though. Its doubtful that they can firmly connect this guy to your patient."
He was nodding when the door to his office swung open and his small son dashed out, waving a slightly torn sheet of typing paper. "Daddy! Look, I made for you!" The little boy stopped short and stared up at the newest arrival. "Hi, tecive Jarvis! I made a pitcher for my Daddy! Wanna see?"
Jarvis dropped into a crouch. "Of course I do!" He took the slightly torn sheet of paper from the toddler and held it up to give it a full, critical appraisal. "I think that looks pretty good! You think your Dads gonna like it?"
"Uh-huh!" The youngsters tone was confident. "On accounta I made! An that makes it special!"
Jarvis nodded thoughtfully. "Yep, that would do it. Youd better give it to him then, dont you think?" He handed the paper carefully back and stepped back again. The little boy turned and gleefully held out the paper to his father, who took it with grave courtesy.
"Thank you, Harry. Lets see here " He broke into a delighted smile. "Oh, yes! This is wonderful! I love this. Is all the blue some kind of water?"
His son jumped up and down with excitement. "Yeah! Thats the water in th bowl! An th orange is the fishy! See? Its the fishy from my school! We just got him today!"
"Ah." His father nodded. "Thats a perfect picture then! I think thats a keeper. But where should we put it? I think this one belongs on the refrigerator, dont you? Where you can see it every morning when you have your breakfast?"
The child nodded happily. "Yeah! That would be good!" He pulled the paper out of his fathers hands and shoved it, now torn a bit more, toward his mother. "Look, Mommy! See the fishy?"
Jarvis rose to his feet as the excited toddler began squealing the delights of his picture to his mother. "I think my work here is done," he said cheerfully, handing the envelope over. "Ill get back to you if I have any more information. Should I look for you at the usual stand, or will you be here now?"
He shook his head ruefully. "Im afraid it wont be here, not for awhile yet. But call on me whenever you need, Detective. Really. Anytime, anywhere." He held out his hand and Jarvis took it with a smile, then waved goodbye to Laura, who returned the wave over an excited little head. They watched as the door closed behind him.
While Harry presented his fishy to an appreciative Mildred, Laura stepped over to his father. "What were you and Jarvis discussing there at the end?"
He shook his head slightly. "He just wanted to know where to look for me if he needed me again. At my office, or yours."
Her sigh was noticeable. "I wish it could be here," she said softly, and then looked startled as a wide smile split his face.
"Its not as bad as that, Laura. I talked to John today, and the end is in sight! Getting the rest of this loan paid off in full should only take another five months or so!"
"Five months!" Her tone of dismay made him wince. "That long?"
"Oh Laura, how can you say that? I actually thought it might take another two years!"
"You did?" She blinked in pure astonishment. "I was hoping for much sooner. As in immediately."
He laughed. "Well, you always were an optimist." He wrapped his arms around her. "And here I am, looking forward to the day you and I can be together full time. Mind you, I did have to promise John that Id be available to him if there were anything he really needed me for. I owe him that much."
She pulled away from him, a look of dismay spreading across her face. "No! You cant! That would mean you might not be here when we need you most!"
He dropped his arms and stood, looking down at her. She was shocked to see actual tears in his eyes.
"Oh, Laura, think. I really wasnt here when you needed me the most, was I? And Ill never be able to forgive myself for that. But John? I owe John more than you could know. I owe John my life. In fact, if it werent for John, we wouldnt have any hope of a future. Dont you see? I have to be there for him. Because he was there for me when it counted the most."
He stood for a moment, fingering his beard. Shed never seen him doing that and it puzzled her.
"Laura," he said at last, "do you remember when I told you Id grown this beard of mine for a bit of headline hiding?" She nodded, almost afraid to speak. "Well, I never told you what headline I was hiding from. I still dont really want to, but I suppose you have the right to know."
She swallowed, hard. "I thought you were afraid of being arrested for stealing the lavulite."
"No, I avoided the lavulite because of that headline. I grew the beard to avoid an entirely different headline. If you think it would have been difficult to explain the Famous Detective Steals Rare Gem headline, what would you have done after one that read Famous Detective Commits Suicide?"
She stared at him, speechless and finally, he shook his head.
"Oh, Laura, I thought leaving you would hurt, but that Id manage. Id always managed, no matter how much I lost. But this loss? This was too much. It took awhile. Long after Id given up on the Lavulite, and after Id found Uncle David. When the reality of never seeing you again had finally sunk in. It was Uncle Davids fault, actually."
"He came home one day and found me in the kitchen, nursing a beer, with a three day growth on my chin and said hed hardly recognized me. He thought I was a burglar. He was joking, of course. But I thought about it, seriously. And then grew the face fuzz as our young son calls it. And afterward, Id occasionally go out to a pub or a restaurant, just to see if anyone noticed me at all."
He chuckled briefly. "But someone always did. So I waited. Until, I thought, the public memory of Remington Steele could finally fade away. Until no one knew who I was. And then, hopefully, no one would be able to make a clear identification, afterward, you see. So youd never be faced with the headlines, or the questions."
He lifted his chin and straightened his shoulders then. "And I was still waiting when they sent me to Los Angeles, to work for John. And it was worse here, of course. But John was brighter than anyone Id worked with back in Canada. He saw it all. And without making a fuss about it, he began taking care of me, for want of a better term. We never actually discussed it. Not in so many words. But he had a habit of popping up when I was at my worst, when the thoughts in my head wouldnt let me be. And then hed insist that we go out for a drink or something like that. And wed be in a bar or at a sporting match of some sort, and good old John would bring up Remington Steele and his famous agency, with whoever was nearby. And somehow, every single time, he got a response. People who knew of the agency, or possibly recognized me, or thought they did. I became my own cousin a time or two, Im afraid. But he made his point. Clearly."
"Sometimes," he said softly, "he didnt take me anywhere. He just asked me about you. And how I thought you were doing, on your own. Whether it was a problem for you, professionally, not having me around. Was my absence costing you in some way? Just pointing out that it was already bad for you and that it could be so much worse."
"John understood, you see, that the only thing keeping me alive was you. Not hurting you. I used to resent him using that against me, but he got me every time. But if he hadnt, Laura, I wouldnt have all this now. I wouldnt have Harry, or Mildred or the agency. Or you. I owe John so much more than I can ever repay. So if he needs anything from me, ever, he will have it. Do you understand?"
She nodded, wordlessly, and kissed him, just as their small son rushed up to wrap his arms around their legs. And, for a few magical moments, everything seemed to stand perfectly still.