Love Above the Colorado Pines
Remington tramped across the front lawn of the castle, walking stick tucked under one arm, hands in the pockets of his trench coat, his head bent against the pervasive drizzle. A bearded collie ran ahead of him, bounding onto the front step and barking at the door until it was opened by a footman. The dog shot in followed a couple minutes later by his walking companion.
Terrible day for a walk, MLordship. Eamon OFlynn noted, removing Remingtons coat and taking his cap.
The butler shook the raindrops from the coat and cap like a terrier shaking a rat before placing them over his arm. Then he looked at Remington for further instructions, his mild blue eyes carefully devoid of all expression.
Eamon was everything a butler ought to be, but to Remingtons way of thinking, he needed to loosen up a bit. Get the starch out of his knickers. Be more like his great-uncle, Miklene, who, at age 84, had finally relinquished control of Ashford Castle to a younger generation. Theyd only been able to convince him to do so by promising the position to another OFlynn. Apparently Ashford Castle had never been without an OFlynn, and tradition must be upheld.
A few drops of rain never hurt anyone. Remington said cheerfully, automatically reaching up to straighten his tie. His hands met soft cashmere instead. He was continually forgetting that he wore sweaters in Ireland more than suits. Old habits died hard. Nothing like a good tramp across field and stream to clean out the cobwebs, eh?
Cobwebs, Milord? Eamon echoed, his expression puckering. I assure you there are no cobwebs at Ashford Castle.
Ah, thats right. There isnt. You do a splendid job of keeping the old place tidy. It was just an expression of... Remington began but gave up the explanation when he saw the butlers incomprehensive. Instead he asked, Is her Ladyship in?
I believe shes upstairs, Milord.
He should have known from the reaction of the dog, Remington mused as he entered the elevator theyd installed to save his knee further wear and tear and pushed the up button. Jack had entered, sprayed the footman with a good, hard shake and immediately bounded up the stairs to search of his favorite person. Not that Remington felt slighted in any way. Laura was his favorite person too so he understood perfectly the animals desire to be in her presence. She pulled both of them like a magnet.
He found his wife in the library, typing away at a laptop, her hair swept up in an untidy knot on top of her head. A pair of small, gold-framed glasses sat on her nose. Shed been forced to go to bifocals last year. She had contacts but she was more and more frequently wearing the glasses. Whether that was an acceptance of her continual march toward old age or a desire for convenience, Remington did not know. Nor was he going to ask. Some things were best left to lie like a dead body or a rattlesnake.
She looked up as he entered, a bright, welcoming smile on her face. How should I do away with Madame Lenard? Poison or gunshot?
He came over, dropped a lingering kiss on her upturned mouth before pausing to consider her question. Poison. He declared before walking across the room and settling himself in a chair before the fire. Less messy. Much easier to drag a body around if its not bleeding all over the place. Devilish difficult getting out bloodstains, you know. I had to have the Auburn re-upholstered.
But I dont want Madame Lenard dragged about. She pointed out.
Why not? It would add a touch of humor.
Im writing a mystery, not a comedy. Besides, she would never fit in Fernandos car. Shes much too fat.
Remington dropped the newspaper hed unfurled and looked at his wife, his expression pained. Did you say Fernando? Tell me thats not the name of your hero.
Come now, Laura, youve got to be kidding. Surely the woman who created a name like mine could come up with something more original.
Whats wrong with Fernando? Laura demanded. Its mysterious sounding and foreign.
He sounds like a cut rate gigolo.
As opposed to a cut rate con artist? When he answered her by burying his head in his paper with an indignant snort, she hurriedly made amends by asking his opinion. Remington loved to be consulted. So what would you suggest?
What about Wellington?
Laura grimaced. As in beef or Duke of?
Id rather be named after a historical figure or tenderloin wrapped in a light, flaky pastry than an ABBA song.
She sighed. Perhaps he was right. Fernando did sound more like a revolutionary than a detective. Ok, ok, Ill start thinking up a new name tomorrow, but for now, Ill just refer to him as F.W. Happy?
Not really, but youre the writer, not me.
Laura typed for a few minutes and then said, Youve been taking a lot of walks lately.
It keeps the knee limbered up, and someone has to exercise that dog of yours.
Hes not mine. Laura protested. Youre the one that said a castle wasnt a castle without a dog. I prefer cats.
Really, Laura, must you mention cats in front of him? Hes devoted to you and there you go advocating cats. Remington glanced at the dog lying beneath the desk, his shaggy head on Lauras feet. Cant say I blame him for preferring you to me. If I had a choice of a belly rub from you or from me, Id pick you every time.
Laura smiled, getting up from the computer and coming over to him. She snatched the newspaper from his hands and tossed it aside before settling herself on his lap. And if I had a choice between rubbing his belly or yours, Id pick yours every time. She let a hand slid down his chest until it came to rest on his stomach.
Glad to hear it. He murmured, reaching up and removing her glasses. Would you care to demonstrate your belly rubbing technique, Mrs. Steele?
I thought youd never ask.
Her hands had just dived beneath his sweater when her cell phone rang.
Oh, God, not again. Remington muttered.
He had never learned to like cell phones. They were the most interfering devices known to man, always ringing at the most inopportune times, and whenever hed succeed in eliminating one of them, Laura would just go out and buy another.
Laura dug the phone out of the pocket of her cardigan. Hello?
Hey, Mom, its Rick.
Rick? Laura echoed, a little surprised. What are you calling for?
Just checking to make sure you and dad are still flying into LA next week.
Ah, yes, we are. She confirmed. Everythings arranged. She paused for a moment and then said, Ive never known you to be so anxious for our arrival. Is something wrong?
Ah, no, no, he hastily assured her, everything is fine, just fine, couldnt be better. Hey, do you need a lift home? Id be happy to stop by the airport and pick you up. Wouldnt be any trouble.
Theres no need. Laura told him. We get in rather late. Well just take a taxi.
Then how about I take the two of you out to dinner the following evening?
Laura looked at Remington. He looked back at her, clearly puzzled by her troubled expression. Sure, that sounds fine.
Great! He said cheerfully. Too cheerfully, Laura thought. Ill make a reservation.
Rick, Laura persisted, are you sure nothings wrong?
I guess that would depend on your definition of wrong. Rick said cryptically before bustling on with uncharacteristic hurry. Well, Ive got to go, Mom. Say hi to Dad for me. Ill see you next Thursday.
Laura stared at her cell phone for several seconds before looking at Remington. That was the strangest call Ive ever had from Rick.
What was so strange about it? He asked, lifting a dark eyebrow. Our children call us all the time, especially Holly. I shudder at the very thought of that girls phone bill. Glad Rick is paying for it and not me.
He seemed anxious. Laura said, gnawing on her bottom lip. And Rick is never anxious. Hes always as steady as the Rock of Gibraltar. And when I asked if anything was wrong, he said it depended on ones definition. Now whats that supposed to mean?
It means exactly what he said. Remington said, unconcerned. It does depend on ones definition. For example, youre sure something is wrong, and Im not. Two definitions.
Laura shot him an exasperated look. Somethings wrong. I know it. Those hairs at the back of my neck are standing at attention.
Oh, really, let me see. He examined her neck closely, trailing his fingers along it and then massaging the muscles until he had elicited a little moan of pleasure from her. They seem just fine to me. The muscles are a bit tight, but the hairs are behaving themselves beautifully. But if youre worried, I can do a more thorough examination.
Remington. Laura protested, trying not to melt like butter in his lap. He always had been an excellent masseuse. She had never asked how hed acquired that particular skill. Be serious. Somethings wrong. Rick offered to take us out to dinner when we get back.
His hand went to his own neck. Now the hairs at the back of my neck are standing to attention. Our oldest son is a notorious cheapskate. I hope that doesnt mean well be going to Crab Heaven.
He mentioned a reservation, and I dont think Crab Heaven accepts those.
Thank God for small miracles.
Laura, he drawled, taking her face in his hands, stop worrying. What could possibly be wrong? Rick has been running the agency for a year now and there hasnt been a murder yet that he hasnt been able to handle. Marvin trained him well before leaving with Mindy to open up our first franchise in Phoenix. He considered that for a moment and said wistfully, If Mulch was still alive, hed be demanding a piece of the action. After all, it was his idea. Maybe we ought to donate a percentage of the earnings to his estate.
What estate? Laura demanded. Mulch never had two pennies to rub together.
Very well. Remington conceded. What about his favorite charity?
And what would that be? She asked, raising an eyebrow. Home for Unfulfilled Dreamers?
Youre being very uncooperative about this, Laura.
Im worried. I get that way when my familys in trouble.
You have no evidence of that.
I bet its Michael. She muttered, gnawing on her bottom lip again. I told you hed get himself into trouble one of these days.
He works at International Federal Film in Virginia. Remington said. What kind of trouble can film get him into?
Anything with international and federal in its name must be shady. Its probably a cover for some nefarious government agency. Like Control in Get Smart.
Remington sighed. Mrs. Steele, you worry too much about those kids of ours.
I cant help it. Im a mother. Its what mothers do. She picked up the phone and started to dial. Ill call Holly. Its always easier to get information out of her.
Oh, no, you dont. Remington said, snatching the phone out of her hands and throwing it across the room. It landed near Jacks head, causing the dog to jump up, sniff it and deciding it was not eatable, promptly lay down on it. Smart dog. Remington drawled before turning back to his wife. If something was wrong, Rick would have told you. Has he ever been hesitant about telling you bad news?
Then stop worrying. Well be in LA next week and you can interrogate him then. Ill even help you. Ive watched enough movies to know exactly how to shine the light in his face in guarantee complete and total confession. Now, he murmured, unbuttoning the cardigan, an eager grin lifting his lips, I believe we were discussing belly rubs, Mrs. Steele.
Looks as though our sons taste in dining has improved. Laura commented as they handed the Auburn over to a waiting valet. Even you must be pleased at his choice.
What was that, my love? Remington asked absently, his eyes following the Auburn as it went zipping around the corner of the restaurant. Didnt that fellow know vintage when he saw it? A car of such beauty, such style should be treated with care, not driven like a moonshiner trying to dodge the feds. He could still smell the burning rubber.
I said that Ricks choice of restaurants has improved. Laura repeated.
Remington glanced at the restaurant. Yes, he murmured, placing a hand under Lauras arm and guiding her up the steps, its a vast improvement over Crab Heaven although their valet parking is much to be desired.
The maitred greeted them, asked for the name of the reservation and then led them through a mazes of tables covered with white linen and crystal to where Rick was seated with another man of a similar age. Laura frowned, trying to remember. He looked oddly familiar. The brown hair with red-gold highlights, the dark eyes, the nose Murphy! The name came to her with a jolt. Remington too must have been thinking the same thing for she felt his body stiffen as they approached the table. Despite that fact that hed won all those years ago, he still could not talk of his old rival with anything but sarcastic derision.
Mom! Dad! Rick said, standing up to kiss his mothers cheek. You look great. Ireland must be agreeing with you. He studied his mother closely. You got your hair cut.
Laura felt Remington stiffen once again. He had not approved of her hair cut. Even though it was still shoulder length, he had not liked the layers. He would always prefer her to look as she had when they first met. But times changed and women aged and in to Lauras way of thinking, shorter hair looked better on older women. So shed gotten her hair cut. Remington had resigned himself after much cajoling on her part.
Just a trim. She said, seating herself. She glanced at the other man. Arent you going to introduce us, Rick?
Oh, yeah, Id forgotten. This is Mac Michaels. Hes Murphys son. You remember Murphy, dont you, Mom?
Of course, I remember Murphy. He was my partner before your father joined us.
I hope you dont mind Mac dining with us. Its purely work-related. Were on a stake out.
Remington unfurled his napkin with a snap. It was just like their son to mix business and pleasure. Just like his mother. No doubt the agency was paying for their meals, which if hed been feeling magnanimous he would have admitted was just like his father. But Remington was not feeling magnanimous or pleasant or even civil. He was feeling downright surly. To have Murphy Michaels son at their table was nearly as bad as having Murphy Michaels himself. He thought hed dispatched of that thorn in his side ages ago.
Laura could feel the tension radiating from her husband and hurried to make polite conversation. She smiled at Mac. How are your father and mother?
Just great. Mac answered. Dad turned the agency over to my brother, Matt, last year, and he and mom went on the Alaskan cruise hed always promised her.
Murphy always did have an unfortunate tendency to keep his nose to the grindstone. Remington murmured to no one in particular.
My father was a hard worker. Mac said, his tone icy. Obviously Murphy had instilled his own disapproval of Remington in his son.
I never implied he wasnt. Remington replied, taking a drink from the wineglass the waiter had filled upon their arrival. Tell me Mac. Why are you here instead of in Denver with your brother?
Laura delivered a well-aimed kick at Remingtons shin. He didnt flinch. Over the years hed learned how to weather her kicks and stomps with a smile.
Rick, sensing the tension, rushed into the conversation. Mac and I went to Stanford together. Remember, Dad?
He was that football player, wasnt he? Remington said in a tone that implied football players were only one step above axe murderers.
Ah, yeah, he was. Played wide receiver. Rick agreed. When Marvin and Mindy left, I wanted someone I could count on so I offered Mac a job. With Michael in D.C. and Holly still in college, I needed a partner.
The old Holt-Michaels partnership rides again, eh?
Laura could tell the conversation and evening were rapidly deteriorating and she still hadnt found out why Rick had called them in Ireland when he knew they were coming in the following week. She was going to have to take drastic measures. Shin kicking had apparently lost its ability to convey annoyance.
Oh, I think I lost an earring. Her fingers went to her left ear. Would you help me look for it, dear? She asked, sending Remington a look which clearly said it was a command, not a request.
Both disappeared under the table.
Do you know that white couch? She hissed.
Youre going to be sleeping on it for a week if you dont cut it out.
You got it.
They both re-emerged, bright smiles on their faces.
So, tell me, Rick, Remington said cheerfully, who exactly are we staking out this evening? Butcher, baker, candlestick maker?
See that man over there? No, no, dont turn around. He told them in a harried whisper when their heads began to swivel. Hes right behind you.
With a sigh, Laura knocked a fork from the table, providing another excuse for her and Remington to disappear under the table and get a look at the man behind them.
The black-haired man with the beard? Laura asked as they re-emerged.
Rick nodded, his eyes lighting up like his mothers used to whenever a case was discussed. His wife thinks hes trying to kill her. Shes loaded. We have reason to believe that hes going to be meeting with a hit man tonight. Weve got the table bugged, and Macs got the listening device in his ear right now.
Sounds like youve got everything under control. Laura declared, not at all interested in the hit man or listening device. There were more important things to discuss. Now, tell me, Rick, why did you call us last week? We were very disturbed.
Your mother was very disturbed. Remington hastily amended.
Rick blinked. Disturbed? Why? It was just a phone call.
She thinks somethings wrong. Remington said helpfully.
Oh. That. Rick muttered.
So there is something wrong. Laura said with a triumphant glance at her husband.
Remington rolled his eyes and reached for his wineglass. Youd think that after twenty plus years the bloodhounds nose would weaken or at least get faulty. Instead of sniffing out dead bodies, it now employed itself sniffing out family problems. For a moment he almost wished for one of those dead bodies. Laura didnt worry about them. She just solved the case and moved on. Family issues were much stickier.
I wouldnt say somethings wrong. Rick said slowly. It depends on how you look at it. Most parents would think its wonderful. Its just Mac and me who are concerned.
Hey, dont drag me into this. Mac interjected. Youre the one thats concern. I couldnt care less what your sister does. If she wants to throw herself away on a
Mom! Dad! A voice came from across the restaurant.
All heads turned. One didnt yell in a place like Chez Francois even if the voice was delightfully low and mellow like the sound of a cello. But Holly Steele didnt seem to care or notice. She stood in the doorway of the restaurant looking like the movie character shed been named after, dressed in a tight black dress and a huge hat that nearly obscured her pretty face. Laura blinked. What had happened to her daughter? Shed always been a fashion hound like her father but never a society girl.
Oh, geesh, Rick muttered, tugging irritably at his tie, howd she find us?
Rifling through your appointment book again. Mac answered in a voice that implied such a thing was a common occurrence. Shouldve locked it in your drawer.
Locks wont keep her out.
Oh, yeah, I forgot. Mac said with a sidelong glance at Remington. Youre the lock-picking, safe-cracking family.
Sleeping on the couch for a week alone was beginning to lose its sting. It might well be worth it if he could teach Murphys brat a well-deserved lesson in manners, Remington thought grimly, draining his wineglass. Like his father, he had a big mouth.
Look out. Here she comes. Rick said as though gale warnings needed to be posted.
Rick, why didnt you tell me mom and dad were going to be here? Holly demanded, appearing at their table. Her eyes went to Mac, running over him as though she couldnt decide rather he was a rat or a cockroach and said, You invited him, but not your own sister.
Surprise, surprise. Holly said tartly. Doesnt he ever do anything else?
Will Mademoiselle be joining your party? The waiter asked at Ricks elbow.
Yes, she will. Holly declared, grabbing a chair from a nearby table and crowding in between Mac and her father. Oh, Dad, its wonderful to see you. She smiled, leaning over to give Remington a peck on the cheek. Its been so dreary since you went to Ireland. Please say youre staying for a good, long while.
Holly! Laura said, her voice cutting like a knife through her daughters disgraceful toadying. Remington didnt need his ego stroked. It was sufficiently bloated as it was. Whats happened to you?
Hollys eyes went to her mother and she beamed like a spotlight. Im in love!
In love? Laura asked as though shed never heard of the word before.
Yes, and Im going to be married! Isnt that wonderful? She threw out a hand to stop a passing waiter. Bring us a bottle of your best champagne, will you?
The waiter looked at Rick who quickly shook his head. That wont be necessary.
Of course, its necessary. Holly declared. Its a celebration!
Remington glanced at his wife. He could tell she was about ready to explode. Any moment now questions would come pouring forth like a tidal wave, sweeping them all away in its intensity and fury. The situation needed to be diffused quickly. He reached out a hand and grasped hers as it lay in her lap, clenching a napkin. She glanced up, and he flashed his old smile. She fingers relaxed beneath his. Nothing was too difficult to handle as long as they did it together.
Holly, honey, he said, turning to his daughter, who is this delightful chap? Anyone we know? That hairy fellow from high school? Ricks old roommate?
Scott Trevelyan. I met him in Aspen.
What were you doing in Aspen? Laura asked. Youre supposed to be in college.
We do get breaks between semesters. Holly said with a roll of her eyes. A group of us got together and drove there over Christmas break. She smiled dreamily. There was a power outage, and Scotty and I were on the same lift, 40 feet in the air. The rest is history. It was love, sweet love above the snow-capped pine trees of Colorado.
Would you mind keeping it down? Mac interrupted. Im trying to listen here.
The mans alone. Holly snapped. What are you listening to? His champagne bubble?
I see youve been snooping in more places then Ricks day planner.
Holly shrugged. Well, if youre going to leave files lying around
Ah, Holly, Remington said, breaking into what had all the appearances of a first class snipping match between his daughter and Murphys son, when do we get to meet this ah Scotty.
Oh, tomorrow, if you like. She said cheerfully, accepting a menu from the waiter. Were going to the jewelers in the afternoon to pick out a ring, but I could bring him over afterwards. She paused as a thought struck her. Of course, I do have that appointment with the wedding planner, but Im sure I could
Wedding planner? Laura burst out. Isnt that a little premature? You still have a semester of school left.
Oh, Im quitting. Holly said with indifference. I dont need a degree. Scottys father is filthy rich. Besides, the wedding is scheduled for next month. I wouldnt have time to go to school. She glanced up at the hovering waiter. Ill take the Chicken Kiev, darling.
Laura grabbed the wineglass and down its contents in one swallow. Not finish school? Not get a degree? Not follow in her mothers footsteps? Heck, she wasnt even following in her fathers footsteps. Who had snuck in and switched Holly Steele with Holly Golightly? She knew Remington should have never named her after the heroine of Breakfast at Tiffanys. Itd been a bad omen. A very bad omen.
Remember when I told you that our wedding on the fishing trawler was the worst day of my life? Laura asked as she and Remington were getting ready for bed that evening. Well, I was wrong. This is the worst day of my life.
Remington studied his wife with concern. He knew the evening hadnt been easy for her, and he was once again amazed by the strength of this woman hed married. She had managed to control herself despite the fact that her only daughter had torn out her heart and stomped on it with a pair of stiletto heels. Not that the girl had done it deliberately. She truly had no idea what shed done to her mother. Thoughtless child, Remington thought as he came over to where Laura was half-heartedly brushing her hair.
Im sorry, Laura. He murmured, kneeling down beside her so he could look into her eyes. I know how much you wanted Holly to get her degree and join the agency. Shes your only daughter, and you wanted her to be like you. A rueful grin touched his mouth. Im afraid shes got too much of me in her.
Laura dropped the hairbrush and rose, pulling him to his feet. You shouldnt be kneeling. Itll aggravate your knee. She slid her arms around his waist and rested her head against his chest. That display tonight was neither you or me. That was something Ive never seen before. Shes always had your flair for the dramatic, but tonight she was reckless. It was like she wanted to make a cake of herself. Whats happened to her?
She claims its love.
Hmpf. Laura snorted, leaving his arms to pace around the bedroom, white nightgown swirling around her like a frothy cloud. Shes only twenty one years old. Shes had one steady boyfriend in high school, and a bevy of male friends in college. Shes known this Scotty person for less than a month. How could she possibly know enough about this guy to be in love with him? Its she waved her hand dismissively, hormones.
And a romantic experience on a ski lift. Remington added. Shes always been susceptible to romance.
Comes from watching too many movies.
Possibly. Remington agreed, remembering all those chick flicks Rick and Michael had complained about over the years. Perhaps he should have taken their side and insisted on more Westerns. But the fact of the matter is, Laura, theres nothing we can do about this this situation except bloody well grin and bear it. We dont want another Romeo and Juliet on our hands. Shed relish the role of star-crossed lover. When Laura continued to pace, Remington dropped on the bed and said wearily, Maybe hed not as bad as we think. Rick did say the fellow was attending college at USC.
Mac said he was a frat boy.
Yes, well, I think we can discredit anything that young man has to say on the matter.
Why? Because hes Murphys son?
Ill admit that Im not crazy about his parentage, Remington said, but my main reason for discrediting Mr. Michaels testimony is because he and Holly obviously dislike each other intensely. Anything he says will be tainted with bias.
Laura stopped pacing, her expression becoming thoughtful. Yes, their dislike for one another was unmistakable. The table nearly vibrated with it. She paused and then she glanced at Remington, her eyes holding a gleam, which caused him to groan inwardly. Hed seen that gleam before, and he wanted nothing to do with it. You dont suppose theres more to their relationship than meets the eye, do you?
If youre going to make reference our earlier relationship again, Im going to bed. Remington declared, getting up and pulling back the bed sheets. Not every problem between a man and woman results from sexual tension.
The thought of his daughter having the hots for Murphys son was nearly as bad as her purported love for the delightful Scotty. To his way of thinking both were equally appalling. Maurice Chevalier was an old fool to thank Heaven for little girls.
I wish Mildred had been there tonight. Shed know. Laura picked up her cell phone. I wonder
For a man with a bad knee, Remington was remarkably quick. He was across the bed and jerking the phone out of her hands in a matter of seconds.
How many of these things must I destroy before you stop calling everyone in sight? He demanded, stuffing the phone into the pocket of his pajama bottoms. Its nearly midnight. Let Mildred have the few hours of sleep granted an old lady.
Laura looked mutinous but finally conceded his point. Perhaps it was best not to call an eighty-one year old lady in the middle of the night. Ok, Ill call her tomorrow. Can I have my phone back now?
Remington seemed to consider this question and then said, If you want it, youll have to come and get it.
A slow grin spread across Lauras face. Itll be my pleasure, Mr. Steele.
An hour later after laughing had turned into sighing and sighing into gasps of delight Lauras voice drifted through the darkened room. We dont have much time, you know.
Much time for what? Remington asked sleepily against Lauras bare shoulder.
Weve got less than a month to convince Holly that Scotty is not the man for her.
Subtly, subtly. She assured him.
Do you know how to be subtle, Laura?
Of course. I subtly got her to agree to introduce us to his family, didnt I?
Ah, correct me if Im wrong, my love, but I think your exact words were introduce us or we wont pay for the wedding.
That was subtle. Laura told him. For me.
He sighed, moving off his wifes warm, damp body and onto his own pillow. Optimist though I am I dont see much hope in the endeavor. There simply isnt enough time. Things like that take careful planning, Laura.
Well, Laura said, curling herself up against his side, I guess theres only one thing left to do.
Hope for a dead body. They have a wonderful way of interrupting weddings.
Meet the Trevelyans
Laura wrinkled her nose. What was that horrible smell? Gym socks? No, neither she nor Remington went to the gym. Putrid mushrooms? Possibly. Remington often cooked with them, but they hadnt been in town long enough for him to stockpile any. She twisted her head to the side but still the smell remained, covering her face in damp, hot puffs. Finally, unable to stand it any longer, she opened her eyes and found herself staring into Jacks hairy face. He was standing beside the bed, looking at her with hopeful brown eyes.
She rolled over onto her back, giving Remington a nudge. Your dog wants you.
I know you want me, Laura. Remington mumbled into his pillow. But a man my age needs his rest. Give me a few more minutes, eh?
Getting no help from the dogs so-called master, she took the matter into her own hands. She leaned up on one elbow, giving the shaggy brute a shove. Go away, Jack. Its not time to go out. Go away.
A cool breeze met her bare shoulders and she shivered, remembering that her gown was somewhere across the room. She smiled, relishing the memories of how it got there but was interrupted in her pleasant contemplation by an insistent cold, wet nose.
She frowned, looking down at the dog whose chin had found its way onto the bed. How did he get in here anyway? She asked over her shoulder. I thought you put him in his crate last night. Dont tell me he can pick locks too?
Im afraid hes not that talented. A voice said from the doorway. I let him out.
With a squeak, Laura dived beneath the sheets. Michael was leaning against the doorway. She wondered how long hed been there and then turned scarlet. Certainly long enough to see her bare shoulders and hear his fathers comment. Mortified, she peeked over the edge of the sheet.
Michael! She hissed. Whered you come from?
He grinned, and she was struck by how much he resembled his father. It was like looking at Remington of thirty years ago. The same blue eyes, dark hair and finely chiseled features. Even the devilish smile was the same. The only difference was in hair style. Modern styles were shorter than theyd been in the 80s. That and he tended to dressed a bit more casually. Nevertheless the jeans and sweater were of the finest quality.
D.C. He replied cheerfully. I flew in last night and came straight over. Rather sleep in my own bed than a hotels. Hope you dont mind.
Well, Laura said stiffly, I wish you would have announced yourself. Your father and I werent expecting visitors. If we were, we would have been more suitably attired.
Michael laughed. Come now, mom, theres no need to turn all prim and proper on me. Im no longer five years old, you know. Dad gave us the birds and the bees talk ages ago. Nearly worried his tie and cuffs to death, but he did manage to get it out.
Go away, Michael. Remington ordered from beneath the sheets. Youre disturbing your mother, and shes been disturbed quite enough for one day.
Ok, ok. Michael said easily. Ill go start breakfast.
Shut the door and take that mangy mutt with you. Remington called out.
As soon as the door clicked shut, Laura leapt out of bed and went in search of the nightgown. She found it hanging from a horrible sculpture Gloria, their next door neighbor, had given them as a housewarming gift. Why hadnt they gotten rid of that thing, she wondered, hurriedly pulling the gown over her head before retrieving her robe and belting it tightly around her waist.
Its no good doing that now. Remington remarked, having pulled himself up against the pillows. Hes already seen the worse of it.
If you hadnt been so obstinate about that phone, none of this would have happened.
Oh really? He drawled, raising an eyebrow that was more gray than dark these days. I was under the impression that you rather liked our little game of hide and seek. Your enthusiasm was inspiring, my love.
Laura reached down, grabbed his pajama bottoms from the floor and tossed them at him. Oh, get dressed.
Why? He asked. Im just going to end up removing them again.
If you think, Im going to
For a shower. He added, a mischievous grin lifting his lips.
Laura turned on her heel and stalked into the connecting bath, slamming the door behind her, Remingtons low chuckle ringing in her ears. Cocky bugger, she thought, unconsciously borrowing terms from her husband, as she turned on the shower. Thats what comes from melting like butter whenever he touched her. He had an ego the size of Montana.
She was just soaping her hair when the shower door opened and Remington stepped inside. Hope you dont mind. He murmured, his hands going to her hair. Our son seemed anxious to eat, and wed save time if we showered together.
Laura opened her mouth to protest but the feel of his fingers massaging her scalp, working up a lather had the scold on her lips turning to a moan of pleasure. He had the most talented fingers. Probably came from all those years of picking locks.
I thought you didnt like my hair like this. She said.
Its growing on me. His hands continued moving for a few seconds and then he said, Wed get this shower done a lot faster if youd return the favor.
She picked up the soap.
Its about time you two came down. Michael complained as they entered the kitchen an hour or so later, squeaky clean and wearing conspiratorial grins. The sauce for the Crepe Suzette has nearly caramelized into a solid block and Ive had the devil of a time keeping Jack out of the Grand Marnier. You never told me you have a boozer for a dog.
Hes not a boozer. Laura said, taking a seat. Hes just inquisitive. He has a very sensitive nose.
Remington seated himself beside his wife and reached for the tea pot in eager anticipation. Michael made the best tea, just the way he liked it, not to sweet and not too weak. He was also an excellent chef, he mused as Michael placed a plate of crepes before him, drizzled with caramel sauce and sprinkled with raspberries. Unlike his older brother, Michael had been paying attention when hed rolled them out of bed on Saturday mornings so they could help make their mother breakfast in bed. Rick had been more skilled at pinching flowers from their neighbors flower bed to garnish the tray than food preparation.
What are you doing in town? Laura asked as they began cutting into the crepes.
There are these wonderful things called vacations. Michael quipped. Perhaps youve hear of them?
So youre here on vacation? She persisted.
You can smell a lie, cant you?
Laura glanced at Remington. Ive had years of experience.
Ok, youve got me. Michael said with a smile. Im here on business. Mr. Stetson asked me to pick up some film. Before Laura could question him further, he switched gears. So hows full retirement treating you? Keeping yourselves busy in Ireland?
Your mothers taken up mystery writing. Remington supplied.
Dad too boring for you?
Your father is never boring. Laura declared. But when hes harassing the hotel staff or tramping about the fields with Jack I do a little writing. Why not put my experience with murders to good use?
So you see, Michael, Remington interjected, smiling over his teacup, were still being followed around by dead bodies. Only these are fictional.
The men grinned at each other. It was well known among the members of the Steele household that Laura could not leave dead bodies lie, even in retirement. If she could not find real ones, she would invent them. Laura frowned, not appreciating the shared joke but quickly forgot her offense when Michael asked. So whats bothering you, Mom?
Who says Im bothered?
Dad said you were disturbed.
Im not disturbed. Im just concerned.
Your sister gave us a shock last night. Remington explained when Laura seemed unwilling to do so.
Oh. Michael said with a roll of his blue eyes. So youve heard about the ski lift. Quite a romantic tale, eh?
Are we the last ones to know? Laura demanded. You know, if someone had said something earlier, we might have been able to stop this this tragedy.
Come now, Mom, he may be a rich playboy, but hes hardly a tragedy.
Youve met him? She asked sharply.
Ah no, not personally Michael said, getting up to put his empty plate in the dishwasher. Im just going off what Rick and Mac have told me. There was a clatter of dishes and then, and working in D.C. Ive naturally heard about the family.
Why naturally? Laura asked. Whats so special about them?
Michael turned, leaning against the counter, arms crossed over his chest. You and Dad have been in Ireland too long. You havent heard of Trevelyan Chemicals? When Laura and Remington exchanged glances, he continued. Scotts father is Stephen Trevelyan. Hes called the Chemical King. He started out as a chemist but quickly became president of the biggest green energy research facility in the nation. Talk is theyre on the verge of developing a fuel cell that will revolutionize energy production. Naturally our government as well as others around the world is very interested in the outcome. He attempted to run for as U.S. representative a year or so ago but had to pull out. Too much baggage.
Baggage? Laura echoed.
Three ex-wives. The current one is called Mrs. Trevelyan the IV. I believe she was his secretary before she got promoted to wife.
Remington pursed his lips, his eyes studying the ceiling. That would be four weddings. Hes tied with us. Setting his teacup down, he patted Lauras hand reassuringly. You see, Laura, love, its not as bad as you think. At least well have a topic of conversation for tonights soiree. Over cocktails we can ask him whether he prefers elopements to church weddings. Splendid. With eight weddings between the lot of us the youngsters should have no trouble getting down the aisle.
Laura groaned. What a disaster.
Michael laughed. You sound like Mac. Hes been a prophet of gloom and doom since Holly produced this guy. Hes even got Rick worried.
Thats odd. Laura said. Last night he claimed that he couldnt care less what Holly does.
Yeah, that sounds like Mac.
You think he does care?
The light in Lauras eyes caused Remington to reach for the teapot again. Hed need a lot of it to soothe his nerves. His wife seemed bound and determined to find some kind of romantic attachment between their daughter and Murphys son. Didnt she realize that combination was just as dreadful as the current one? No daughter of his was going to marry a son of Murphy Michaels.
All I know is theyve purported to hate each other ever since Rick brought Mac to L.A. Theyre like oil and water. No matter how hard you shake them, they refuse to mix. Holly says hes a bore and he Michael glanced apologetically at Remington, well, he says shes too much like you, Dad. I guess Murphys still sore at you.
Good. Remington said cheerfully. I worked very hard to cultivate that attitude. He was thorn in my side ever since I came to Remington Steele Investigations.
I believe thats what he said about you. Laura pointed out.
He was an unconscionable swine on more than one occasion.
Yes, I know. Morry told us.
It made my day to see Miss Webster come down the stairs in his bathrobe. Remington said with remembered satisfaction. I knew Id won the battle. The enemy had left the field.
I wasnt a prize to be fought over. Laura said crisply.
Of course not. Remington assured her. But men see these things differently, Laura, especially men of Murphys ilk.
Michael, recognizing a possible argument brewing, decided to make a hasty exit. Hey, he said, straightening up and heading toward the door, picking up keys and a jacket on the way, Id love to stay and hear all about your glory days, but Ive got to get going. Got to pick up that film, you know.
Do you really think hes here to pick up film? Laura asked thoughtfully when the outer door had banged shut behind their son. Must be very important film to travel all the way from D.C. to pick it up personally. Why not overnight it?
Why would he lie?
She was silent for a moment or two and then suddenly got up, I think Ill see what the computer can tell me about IFF. She glanced at the breakfast dishes. You can handle these, cant you?
Laura, Remington drawled, also getting to his feet. Jack, sensing the opportunity for a long awaited walk, jumped up from where he was laying beneath the table and came over, dancing about them on eager paws. Remington ignored him, taking his wife by the shoulders, leave it alone. Dont we have enough trouble as it is without looking for more? Just accept Michael at face value.
Laura sighed. I suppose youre right. Hollys our main concern.
Remington smiled, leaning over to kiss his wife. He was stopped by a cell phone. What are you doing?
Im calling Mildred. She said simply. She ought to be up and about by now.
Smile, Laura. Remington murmured as they walked to the front door of the Trevelyans mansion. If she dragged her feet any more, they wouldnt arrive until tomorrow morning, and that grimace would have done Lady Macbeth proud. Youve got to at least try not to look like something out of a Shakespearean tragedy. Leave that for the wedding.
He pressed the doorbell with his walking stick, and then proceeded to study their surroundings with interest. It was a rare occasion that they ever ventured into Beverly Hills. Fancy place theyve got here. He observed, noting the stone construction and diamond-paned windows. Makes our adobe look like a shack.
Ostentatious. Laura replied with a sniff.
Remington was saved from further comment by the door opening. A maid of about twenty stood in the doorway dressed in the traditional black and white outfit, her dark brown eyes, ringed with dark, luscious eyelashes, blinked at them questioningly. When an appreciative smile curved her husbands mouth, Laura felt like giving him a swift kick. Men! As long as a maid was wearing a short skirt, they didnt care what was beneath that ridiculous hat.
Yes? May I help you? She asked with a Spanish accent.
Mr. and Mrs. Remington Steele. Remington supplied. Were expected.
But before the maid could answer Hollys voice came bursting into the entrance way followed by the girl herself dressed in vivid red, her black hair swept up into a becoming swirl. Mom! Dad! She cried, crowding the maid out of the way and pulling them inside. You should have been here ages ago!
Laura glanced at her watch. You said eight oclock, and its only five minutes after.
But its seemed like ages! Holly insisted. She stripped Laura of her wrap, tossing it at the maid before linking her arms in theirs and urging them toward the back of the house. Dreadful how they dress her, isnt it? She murmured in Lauras ear before continuing in a louder voice, Scottys been dying to meet you. So has his family. Theyre ever so eager to meet the great Remington Steele and his remarkable wife.
With a statement like that Laura and Remington expected to be foisted on the family without further ado. Thrown to the lions so to speak. However, Holly drew them to a stop beside a bank of windows overlooking a pool and patio area. From their vantage point they could easily see the people gathered. There were eleven in all.
I thought youd like a little preview before I took you in to them. Holly said in a conspiratorial tone. Theres quite a few of them, arent there? But, of course, Im sure Rick and Mac have already given you a detailed report on them complete with height, weight and favorite hobbies. Theyre so thorough.
Actually Michael told us. Laura said.
Michael? Holly asked, a delighted smile lifting her vivid red lips. Why didnt you bring him along? Oh, I do adore Michael. Hes so accepting, not like Rick and Mac.
Im afraid he was busy tonight. Remington told her. A blonde, I believe he said. Takes after his Uncle Jamie in that respect.
If he wanted a blonde, Ive got plenty for him. Holly declared, sweeping an arm toward the crowd on the patio. See that one in the dark blue? Thats Claire. Scottys sister. And that one over there near the bar is Kimberly. Of course, shes more a honey brown. Shes Joans daughter by her first marriage. Joan is wife number three. Thats her over there, the one sitting in the lounger with the mint julep. Thats about it for blondes except for Victoria, but shes way too old for Michael. Holly shifted sideways as though searching out the elusive Victoria. Oh, there she is. In that sequined black thingy. Shes talking to Patricia, wife number two, the brunette in gold toile. A woman her age shouldnt wear toile. Wouldnt you agree, Dad?
When Remington didnt immediately answer, both Holly and Lauras eyes went to him. He was staring through the window, a slight frown on his face. His hands began to worry the silver handle of his walking stick.
Is there something wrong, Dad? Holly asked.
He glanced over at her. How is Victoria related to the family?
Shes wife number one. Scott and Claires mother.
Remingtons frown deepened as his daughter continued her commentary, pointing out Patricias sons, Ryan and Tyler. He vaguely heard her mention something about a business associate of Stephens named Lance something or other who was talking with the current Mrs. Trevelyan, but his mind simply wouldnt budge. It had gotten stuck on wife number one.
Forty odd years ago in Monte Carlo shed called herself Tory Templeton, and shed been particularly skilled in relieving old codgers of their valuables either by theft or bewitchment. Shed been a brunette then and had made the mistake of assuming that Daniel was a rich old codger.
Instead of relieving him of his valuables, hed relieved her of her dress, her underpants and anything else he could get his talented fingers on. He and Harry had left Monte Carlo with the contents of the hotel safe as well as the tidy little sum Miss Templeton had managed to collect from the current crop of old men.
Theyd had a good laugh over it and proceeded on to Zurich, never giving Miss Templeton another thought. Now here she was, the mother, Remington reminded himself with something close to revulsion, of the man his daughter was planning to marry. Damn Daniel and his sticky fingers. Fate was fickle, and it had obviously decided to pay them back for their deceit. Remingtons lips firmed into a hard line. Laura was right. This marriage must be stopped.
Laura had been watching her husband closely ever since hed asked Holly about Victoria. Something was bothering him. He always worried the handle of his walking stick to death, pulling the hidden stiletto in and out with an annoying little click, whenever his mind was rolling over a particularly worrisome problem. It had become an even better barometer of his mental state than his tie and cuffs had been in his younger days.
Her eyes went to the woman in question. Did he know her? Was she another one of those mysterious women from his past? She was certainly the type, Laura thought, noting the platinum hair, the red fingernails and perfectly made-up face. Age had faded her beauty, but she must have been quite ravishing at one time.
In the past such a thought would have tormented her, but after twenty plus years of marriage, she had no doubts of Remingtons commitment. Whatever this woman had been to him would not hinder their present. He wouldnt allow it.
And thats Scotty! Hollys voice broke into their revelries like a bucket of ice water in the face. Isnt he just adorable?
Both Remington and Laura followed the direction of her waving hand. A young man with straw-colored hair stood near the pool talking with an older man, presumably his father, Stephen Trevelyan. Both men were handsome, although the father was considerably more mature in appearance. Laura, her eyes running over the man, could well understand how hed managed to collect so many wives.
Hes very attractive. Laura allowed, referring more of the father than the son. I take it the man with him is his father.
Oh, yes, thats Stephen. Holly leaned toward her mother, murmuring in her ear. Looks like Robert Redford, doesnt he? Who would have thought a chemist could be so dreamy. I always imagine them in little white coat with Coke bottle glasses.
There is something Robert Redford-ish about him. Laura agreed.
Their admiration was interrupted by the loud click of a walking stick handle. Sorry to interrupt this meeting of the Stephen Trevelyan Admiration Society, Remington said crisply, but I could use a drink.
Oh! Of course! Why didnt you say something sooner? Holly asked, linking her arms with theirs once again. You must have a martini. Scotty makes lovely martinis. Always shaken, never stirred.
Its been a long time, Douglas. Victoria Trevelyan murmured, sidling up to Remington as he waited impatiently for the bartender to pour another glass of Chardonnay. It was Douglas, wasnt it? She paused significantly before saying, Of course, its Remington Steele now. Youve done well for yourself.
So have you. Remington noted, collecting his glass from the bartender and moving hastily away.
He had hoped she wouldnt follow but she did. Damn her, he thought, taking a large gulp from his glass. Hed had quite enough of Scottys family for one evening. For eternity as far as he was concerned. The whole pack seemed comprised of barracudas and sharks. The only one nominally pleasing to talk to was the current Mrs. Trevelyan who apparently had no idea that her days were numbered. She was rapidly approaching the magical year in which Stephen Trevelyan changed wives. Talk about a seven year itch.
And while he was on the subject of wives, Remington thought, glancing around the patio, hed not seen his in over twenty minutes. Shed been led away by that aging chemist with the toothy grin and boyish flop of hair. If Patricia Trevelyan had not had him backed up against the outdoor BBQ, he would have never allowed Laura out of his sight. Hed seen the look in Trevelyans eye when theyd been introduced. Hed been calculating how long it would take him to strip Laura of her little black dress. Pervert.
Do you think so? Victoria asked, interrupting his survey of the patio. Hed forgotten for a moment that she was hovering at his elbow. How well can an ex-wife do? After all, its dear, little Fiona that has all his money now. I got a nice settlement, but I have expensive tastes. Still, she said with a shrug, its better than rolling old men for their diamond cuff links and tie pins. Speaking of old men, what ever became of your friend? Colonel Frobisher, wasnt it?
He died over twenty years ago.
Pity. I would have liked to talk to him about a certain black sequined purse he lifted from my hotel room. Her dark eyes roamed across the pool area, coming to rest upon her son and Holly. Who would have ever thought my son would be marrying your daughter? Never crossed our minds when we were in Monte Carlo together.
We were not together. Remington pointed out. We just happened to be staying at the same hotel at which time my associate had an encounter with you.
You mean a romp in the bed, dont you?
If you prefer to call it that.
You know, she murmured, laying a red-tipped hand on his sleeve, I always regretted not focusing my attention on you instead of the Colonel. You were much more my age and less dangerous.
I assure you that the outcome would have been the same whether it was me or the Colonel. Remington told her coldly.
She took that slap better than he expected. Being a thief herself she would have known the risks. Either one stole or one was stolen from. Feelings didnt enter into the game. It was merely a battle of wits. Who could out con who. Too bad fate didnt take the same view. It seemed intent on making him pay for his fathers past crimes.
So tell me, she asked, removing her hand, How did a thief become a world famous detective? It must be an amazing story.
Probably about as amazing a story as how you became Mrs. Stephen Trevelyan.
She laughed. Nothing amazing about becoming pregnant. Fortunately in those days, Stephen actually cared whether his children were born out of wedlock or not. We met in Paris. He was there attending some kind of conference. He was poor in those days, just a brilliant guy with loads of potential. There was no reason whatsoever for me to waste my time on him, but I imagined myself in love with him and lost sight of the objective. He left when the conference was over and two months later I found myself pregnant. Through the hotel, I was able to track him down, and like the gentleman he was in those days, he married me. End of story. Now, she said briskly, tell me yours. There mustnt be any secrets between in-laws.
Remington was loath to tell this woman anything about his relationship with Laura. It was too personal, too precious to him to bandy it about to a woman of Victorias background. Ever since Shannon and the ensuing fallout, he had guarded his life with Laura closely, jealously even. Only Mildred and the children knew everything.
Theres not much to tell. He said with a shrug. We met and fell in love. Together we built Remington Steele Investigations.
And she didnt mind your profession.
I think so.
There was a silence as though she was rolling this bit of information around in her head and then she said brightly, sweeping away all talk of the past with one swoop of her verbal broom, So now were both respectable and our children are going to be married.
It would appear so.
She glanced at him. You dont sound pleased with the engagement.
Im not. He said bluntly.
A frown appeared between her finely plucked brows. Is there something wrong with my son?
Remingtons eyes went to the young man in question. No, he seems a fine young man. A bit too much like his father, he added silently, remembering how the boys eyes had run over Laura. Thered been more in that look than a son-in-law for his mother-in-law. Thered been naked male appreciation. If Holly married into this family, hed spend all this time beating father and son off with his walking stick. And besides, his Holly deserved better than that. She deserved a man who had eyes only for her.
Then whats the problem?
We had hoped she would finish college. He searched for more excuses. And, to tell you the truth, Victoria, theres this young man, a son of an old family friend
And this is my greenhouse. Stephen Trevelyan said, ushering Laura inside a large glass building.
Hed suggested a tour of the property, and Laura had agreed. The more she knew about Hollys prospective in-laws, the easier it would be to stop the wedding. These must be a hidden skeleton somewhere, a juicy morsel that would put Holly off.
Orchids are a hobby of mine. He continued.
Laura glanced around the long room, noting the lush greenery and delicate flowers with pleasure. It was like having your own tropical rainforest. She put her nose to a white blossom with a golden throat. It smelled like cinnamon.
Theyre beautiful, she said, wandering down the aisle, pausing here and there to sniff or touch the velvety petals, but Im surprised a chemist would enjoy such a hobby.
Stephen joined her as she stopped beside a large purple bloom. Im not much of a chemist anymore, Mrs. Steele. He paused and then said, My, that does sound formal. May I call you Laura?
The name sounded strange on his lips. She was used to hearing it in Remingtons voice. Of course, others called her Laura, but nobody said it quite like her husband. He made it more a caress than a name. Now this man had done the same thing, and it seemed wrong. Nevertheless she agreed.
Yes, of course.
He smiled. And you must call me Stephen.
Now where was I? He murmured, cocking his sandy head to one side. The pose gave him a boyish look and Laura wondered whether hed struck it deliberately. Something, feminine instinct perhaps, told her he had. He was a man well aware of his looks and used them to his benefit.
You were saying that you werent much of a chemist. She supplied.
Ah, how true, how true. He nodded in a wistful sort of way. Im afraid I spend most of my time in board rooms these days. I left the laboratory years ago.
Dont you miss it?
Do you miss detective work?
Then I will give you the same answer. Sometimes.
But not enough to return.
No. He agreed. I have other interests.
The way he was looking at her sent a shiver of unease down her spine, and she hastily moved away from him. There was no doubt in her mind that he was flirting with her, and it made her uncomfortable. First of all because she was a happily married woman and second of all because this man was going to be Hollys father-in-law. Such behavior would make family get-togethers extremely awkward.
Perhaps he was just one of those men who flirted with every woman who crossed their path. Yes, she assured herself, that was it. He didnt mean anything by it. It was just his nature to flirt. Hopefully he wouldnt do so in front of Remington or thered be hell to pay. Her husband never had mastered his tendency toward jealousy.
Will Scott be joining Trevelyan Chemicals when he graduates? Laura asked in an attempt to change the subject.
Stephen laughed. I doubt it.
Why do you say that?
We dont have much need for playboys at Trevelyan.
But he is majoring in something, isnt he? Laura asked sharply.
Oh, business or communications or something like that. Stephen said with a dismissive wave of one hand. He studied her for a moment, noting her sudden frown, and then said soothingly, I know what youre thinking, Laura. Youre wondering what will become of your daughter if her husband has no viable career. Theres no need to worry. Holly will be taken care of. I take care of all of them.
Laura continued to frown. She hadnt planned on her daughter having the indolent lifestyle of the rich and famous. When she and Remington had brought their baby girl home from the hospital, she had envisioned the girl growing up and following in her mothers footsteps. Not necessarily being a detective but at least engaging in a useful occupation even if it meant painting ugly pictures like Gloria, their neighbor.
If itll make you any happier, Laura, Stephen was saying, well find a position for him in Public Relations. Hes got the face for it.
No, no, dont bother on my account. Laura said hastily. Im sure youll take care of them like you said.
But youre still not happy about their marriage.
Is it that obvious?
You wear your feelings on your sleeve, my dear. Stephen murmured, once again sidling up to her.
He was so close that she could smell his cologne. It was spicy like the orchids. She took a step back, and he followed. She took another step back and came up against the table holding the orchids. His hand came out, and she stiffened, expecting him to touch her, but to her surprise, he picked up a pair of shears lying on the table behind her and snipped off a white blossom, which he held out to her.
When she didnt take it he said, Allow me, and tucked it behind her right ear. Then he stepped back to admire his handiwork. Yes, it looks much better on you than it did on its own stem. Orchids suit you, Laura. If your hair was just a tad darker, youd look like one of those native girls in a Gauguin painting.
Ah, thank you. Laura said. But dont you think we ought to get back to the others? Im sure my husband is wondering whats become of me.
The possessive sort, is he?
Very. She hoped that would be a word of warning to him.
Pity. He sighed, taking her elbow and guiding her toward the door. It would make things so much easier if he wasnt.
She wanted to ask him what he meant by that, but he was suddenly hustling her across the lawn. He left her on the edge of the patio without a word, and she stared after him, perplexed. What a strange man. One minute he was hotter than a geyser and the next he was as cool as a cucumber. She preferred the cucumber, but nonetheless, his behavior was baffling. Was this hot-cold thing what drew women to him like moths?
Mom, Holly said suddenly materializing at her side, youve been gone for nearly an hour. Dad was beginning to worry. You know how he gets when youre missing.
Where is he now?
Victoria cornered him again. Hollys eyes slid to where Remington was backed up against the BBQ pit. Do you think they know each other?
Im sure of it.
The walking stick?
Laura nodded. He always plays with it when somethings bothering him.
You dont suppose shes, Holly frowned as though the thought was distasteful to her, an old girlfriend, do you?
The thought had occurred to Laura, but shed dismissed it. There was no intimacy in his expression. I dont think so. But he definitely knows her.
If shes not a girlfriend then she must be
A crook. Laura finished.
You and Victoria seemed chummy this evening. Laura noted as she and Remington drove home that evening.
About as chummy as you and Stephen. Remington shot back.
He had not liked seeing his wife return with an orchid in her hair. As soon as theyd gotten in the car, hed plucked it from behind her ear and tossed it away as though it was a dirty Kleenex. Orchids did not suit her. She should always wear roses, his roses.
I barely know the man.
And I barely know Tory.
Tory? Laura asked, pouncing on the nickname. I thought her name was Vicki.
Forty some years ago she was known as Tory Templeton.
Another mysterious woman from your past?
Not mine. Daniels. Remington corrected. He slept with her and then stole the loot shed stolen from the hotel guests. It was the con conning the con.
That sounds like Daniel. Laura said with a laugh. She had long ago learned to appreciate her husbands father. Why settle for a pork chop when you can get the whole pig?
I dont think this is a laughing matter, Laura. Remington interrupted somewhat testily.
I wasnt laughing.
Then what was that? A hiccup?
Laura looked at him. Whats gotten into you?
Care to elaborate?
He was silent for a few moments, his eyes staring at the road ahead, his hands gripping the steering wheel. Finally he spoke. Im not disposed to be pleasant when my wife returns with a flower in her hair and my daughter is about to marry the son of a thief.
I explained the flower. She protested. He he just gave it to me. He grows them. What was I supposed to do? Throw it back in his face?
I would have.
It was just a flower.
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet. Romeo & Juliet, Act II, Scene II.
Whats that supposed to mean?
I dont know. I just threw it in for emphasis.
Laura rolled her eyes. Will it make you feel better if I promise not to be alone in his company again?
Ok. I promise. Happy?
No, but I suspect you can work on improving my mood when we get home.
Laura smiled in the darkness, knowing what improving his mood would entail. The white couch perhaps? He had a whole list of mood improvers, and she enjoyed each one. Just thinking about the evening ahead was making her heart pound. Would his sex appeal never wear off, she wondered, letting her eyes drift over him. Probably not. Hed still be making her toes curl at eighty.
With an effort she turned to her mind to his other concern. As for Holly, I dont mean to hurt your feelings, darling, but arent you the pot calling the kettle black?
He threw her a glance. I thought you were opposed to this marriage.
I am, she assured him, especially after I heard his career plans.
Hes intends to be a professional playboy.
Lovely. Remington muttered, turning the Auburn onto Totenham Drive. Mac Michaels is beginning to look better and better.
Glad youre seeing things my way.
I said beginning. Id just as soon she didnt marry either one of them. He told her as he maneuvered the car into the garage. But if I had to choose, Id take Michaels. At least I know what kind of swine his father is. Trevelyan, on the other hand, is a swine of unknown dimensions. His son is too. I saw the way his eyes were undressing you. My little girl deserves better than a bloke who has the hots for her mother.
Laura stared at him. What are you talking about? Scott Trevelyan was a perfect gentleman.
Where are your razor sharp observation skills, Mrs. Steele? He asked as they entered the house through the garage. All was dark except for a dim light burning on the foyer table. Or have you forgotten that youre a beautiful woman?
Maybe I have. She murmured, sliding her arms around his neck. Perhaps you ought to remind me, Mr. Steele.
His eyes darkened. Id be my pleasure.
The couch? She asked.
My thoughts exactly.
She leaned forward to kiss him then stopped, calling out. Michael?
No answer except for a bark from the mudroom.
Should we let Jack out?
Remington swung her into his arms. He can wait.
They were upstairs in bed when Michael finally let himself in the house. His movements were quiet and barely discernable, but Laura had developed bat-like hearing over the years. Shed had to in a household of trained thieves. She glanced at the clock. 1:54 AM. Leaving Remington to sleep, she got up, pulled on her robe and headed for the door. She met Michael with his foot on the bottom step of the stairs.
Mom, he said, obviously surprised, what are you doing up?
I couldnt sleep. She told him. I thought Id write for a while in the study. Would you like to join me for a cup of warm milk?
He made a face. I dont know how you can drink that stuff.
Your father made me drink it continuously when I was pregnant with each of you. I developed a taste for it. I could make you a hot cocoa instead.
No, thanks. I think Ill just go on up to bed. Its been a long night.
The blonde didnt meet expectations?
Hardly. She laughed like a bloody hyena. Gave me one hell of a headache.
Maybe youre dating the wrong type of girl.
Oh, I know I am, but what does it matter? Im not ready to settle down.
Will you ever be?
He shrugged. When I meet my Laura.
Thats what Dad always said. He told Rick and me that wed be ready when we met our Laura. I think he first mentioned it in that birds and bees speech.
Laura smiled. Your father is an incurable romantic.
Whos been madly in love with one woman for nearly thirty years. Id say he knows what hes talking about. Now, if youll excuse me, Mom, he said, starting up the stairs, I need a headache pill and some sleep.
Oh, Michael? She called.
He turned. Yes?
Did you get your film?
Film? His dark brows came down over his nose.
The film Mr. Stetson sent you to pick up.
His expression cleared, and he laughed slightly. Nervously, Laura thought. Oh, yeah, I got it.
So youll be leaving tomorrow?
Ah, no, Mr. Stetsons given me a few days off. I thought Id hang around here. Help out with all those wedding plans, eh? When she didnt answer, he turned and jogged lightly up the stairs.
Laura watched him go and then went into the study. She turned on the desk lamp, sat down in the big leather chair behind the desk and opened her laptop. Instead of pulling up her murder mystery, she went to the internet and typed in IFF.
She knew Remington had told her not to go looking for trouble, but she couldnt help herself. Once a bloodhound, always a bloodhound.
A Kiss is Just a Kiss
'Wasn't that dress beautiful, Mom?' Holly exclaimed as they left Gigi's Bridal Boutique on Rodeo Drive.
Laura gripped the armrest and tried not to grimace as Holly stomped on the accelerator. She suddenly knew how Remington had felt all those years ago when he'd hung on valiantly while she'd driven the Rabbit in and out of traffic. Holly's driving had not improved much since she'd destroyed the entire right side of Remington's AMG in a car chase with Lily Descoines. Fortunately she was no longer on their insurance or driving one of their cars.
'Yes, it was lovely.' Laura agreed. 'But are you sure you want a train that's nearly as long as Princess Di's.'
Laura's grimace turned to a frown. She was showing her age again. 'It's doesn't matter. The point is you'll need five little girls to carry that thing. Where are you going to get them?'
'What about Dan's twins?'
Holly thought for a moment and then said brightly. 'My friend Ashleigh has a niece. I'm sure she'd love to be in a wedding.'
'You're still two short.'
'Then we'll hire them.' Holly declared, cutting in front of a black pick-up truck. It blared its horn at her. Unperturbed she went on. 'That's what the Ex-Wife Society's recommended.'
Holly had taken to calling her future mother-in-laws 'the Ex-Wife Society', which was a fairly accurate description. There was something creepy about that group, Laura thought, clutching the armrest as Holly played ring around the roses with a semi-truck. How many ex-wives actually liked each other let alone spent time in each other's company? She supposed they had a common bond. They were all Stephen Trevelyan cast-offs, and according to them, there would soon be another one joining their ranks. Fiona's days were numbered.
'I don't know how much credit you want to give your future mother-in-laws.' Laura said. 'After all they have three failed marriages between them.'
'Oh, they may not know anything about marriage, but they know everything about weddings.' Holly assured her. 'Patricia owns a bakery. That's how Stephen met her. She made the cake for his wedding to Joan.'
'And how did he meet Joan?'
'She was the photographer at his wedding to Victoria.'
'Nice to see he's supporting the wedding industry.' Laura said dryly. 'I suppose he'll be marrying Gigi next.'
Holly laughed. 'He is a bit of a tomcat, isn't he? But who can blame him? He's dreamy.'
'You don't suppose Scott has picked up any of his father's traits, do you?' Laura asked, remembering what Remington had said about him.
'He might have.'
'And that doesn't bother you?'
Laura stared at her. 'Of course, it should. You don't want to start your own Ex-Wife Society, do you?'
'Not everyone can have a marriage like you and Dad.' Holly told her. 'We have to be realistic about these things.'
'Holly, what's happened to you?' Laura demanded, stunned. 'Six months ago you would have scratched another woman's eyes out for looking at your boyfriend let alone your husband. You inherited your father's tendency for jealousy, remember?'
'I've matured.' She replied blithely before saying with typical Holly enthusiasm. 'Hey, how about stopping by the office?'
'I want Rick's opinion on the invitations.'
'When did your brother become an expert on wedding invitations?' Laura asked. 'You'd be better off asking your father. He's got the eye for such things.'
'Oh, I'll get Dad's opinion later. Right now I simply must have Rick's.'
Stranger and stranger, Laura mused as Holly zipped from the far left lane to the exit ramp in one fell swoop. But she didn't argue. She rather liked the idea of seeing the office again after two years absence, and when Holly drew the car up in front of the towers with a horrendous screech of tire rubber, she knew she'd done the right thing. She only wished Remington was with her.
The office looked different yet wonderfully familiar. The walls had been repainted in shades of blue, but the original office layout remained the same, three doors and a reception desk. As they approached the glass doors, Laura noted that the walls were not the only thing that had changed. Gone were the dour expressions of Miss Trout and Miss Jones. In their place sat a young woman with dark brown hair and welcoming smile.
'Good afternoon, Mrs. Steele, Miss Steele.'
Laura looked at the girl. 'You know me?'
'Of course. There's a picture of you and your husband on the wall in Rick's office.' She said, motioning toward the office which had once housed Remington. 'Every office needs a picture of their founders. That's what Rick says. And may I say, Mrs. Steele, that you haven't changed much.'
'How kind of you to say so, Miss '
'I'm Miss Wolfe.' The young woman provided, offering Laura a neatly manicured hand. 'Miss Samantha Wolfe. Rick and Mac call me Sam.'
So Remington had finally gotten his Miss Wolfe, Laura mused, shaking the woman's hand. He had always advocated for a pretty face to greet people, and apparently Rick and Mac had taken his advice. Of course, those long legs might have something to do with it.
'Is Rick in?' Holly asked abruptly.
'Not at the moment, Miss Steele.'
'What about Mac?'
'Why, yes, he's '
Holly didn't wait for the girl to finish. She made a beeline for Laura's old office and flung open the door without knocking. From where Laura was standing she could see Mac glance up from his computer, scowl dreadfully and then return to the computer.
'What do you want?' He demanded.
'As communicative as always, I see.' Holly said, seating herself on his desk. 'You really are the Neanderthals my father said you were. But in your case you've regressed rather than improved. At least your father could do more than grunt.'
'Holly,' Laura interrupted, 'why don't we wait for Rick in his office? I'm sure Mac is busy.'
'He's always busy.' Holly muttered, using one finger to open a file lying on the desk. Mac immediately slapped it closed.
'That's confidential.' He snapped.
'I work here. Remember?'
'No you don't. You quit to go marry Moneybags. Remember?'
'I didn't quit.' Holly retorted, swinging a booted foot back and forth like a pendulum. 'I took a leave of absence.'
'Do you seriously expect us to believe that you'll be back after a taste of the high life?' He snorted. 'Besides, we've already have someone else in mind for your position.'
Holly opened her mouth to comment, but Laura beat her to it. 'Do you expect Rick back soon?'
Mac glanced at her, and his expression softened barely. 'Any minute.'
'Splendid.' Holly declared. 'We'll wait.'
'Perhaps we ought to wait in ' Laura began.
Holly ignored her. 'Would you like to take a look at my wedding invitations?'
'About as much as I'd like bamboo shoots shoved under my fingernails.'
'I'll see what I can do, but in the meantime ' She dug around in her enormous purse, removed a white card and slapped it down on the desk before him. 'Aren't they divine? Scotty helped me pick them out.'
'Splendid.' Mac said, mimicking Holly's voice.
'Did you get the invitation to my engagement party?'
'Are you coming?'
'I haven't decided.'
'You can bring Miss Foxe if you like.' She told him as though it would be a great sacrifice on her part.
'The bit of fluff at the front desk.'
'Her name is Miss Wolfe, and Sam's not a bit of fluff. She's an extremely competent secretary. She's working on a law degree.' He paused, lifting a rusty eyebrow at her. 'She actually finished college.'
Holly's lips tightened but she didn't take the bait. 'Bring her anyway.'
'Can't. Rick's already asked her.' He leaned back in his chair. 'Don't you think you'd be more comfortable in Rick's office?'
'I'm quite comfortable where I am.'
Laura was watching the exchange with interest, and she was somewhat disappointed when Rick suddenly appeared at her elbow. 'Mom! Holly! What are you doing here?'
'Holly wanted to show you the invitations to the wedding.' Laura supplied.
'Invitations?' He echoed.
'Yes, invitations.' Holly declared, sliding off Mac's desk. She shoved the invitation under Rick's nose and then said, 'Aren't they divine? I thought you'd think so. Well, Mom, shouldn't we be going? Dad said something about having you home in time for dinner.'
Laura glanced at her watch. It was two o'clock. 'A little early for dinner, isn't it?'
'We wouldn't want to make Dad worry. You know how he fusses. Goodbye, big brother. Goodbye, MacKenzie. See you at the party.'
Her stress on Mac's full name brought a scowl of tremendous proportions, but Laura didn't have an opportunity to analyze his reaction further for Holly was pulling her out the door. Within minutes they had left the building and were once again zipping down the highway. This time, however, Holly didn't seem inclined to chatter, which suited Laura just fine. It gave her time to review what she'd just seen.
She was still reviewing when she entered the house, having been unceremoniously dumped in the driveway by her daughter. Jack came barreling down the hallway to greet her, a happy grin on his face.
'That you, Laura?' Remington called out.
'Yes, it's me.' She said, joining him in the theater room where he was watching an old movie, his feet propped up on the coffee table. He smiled up at her, a twinkle in his blue eyes.
'So, my love, has our blushing bride been properly outfitted?'
'She ordered a dress with a train a mile long. She wants us to hire little girls to carry it.'
'I'll rent her a sled and she can pull it herself.'
Laura laughed. 'You've become quite the Scrooge, haven't you? When you were younger, you would have insisted on all the trimmings.'
'When a marriage has a life expectancy of two years, one should economize.'
She sat down beside him and he gathered her to his side. She leaned against him for a moment or two, enjoying his presence before saying. 'We stopped at the office on the way home.'
'Is the old place still standing?'
'Oh, yes, and bubbling along as it always did. They have a new secretary. A Miss Wolfe.'
'Surprisingly she's not. Our son obviously prescribes to your method of choosing secretaries rather than Mildred's. This one is pretty, has long legs and is working on her law degree. They call her Sam.'
'All we need now is an Isla and a Louie and the entire cast of Casablanca will be working at Remington Steele Investigations.'
'But the strangest part of the whole stop was Holly.' Laura continued, gnawing her bottom lip. 'She said she wanted to stop by to get Rick's opinion on the wedding invitations and then spent the entire time needling Mac Michaels. When Rick finally showed up, she shoved the card under his nose and then took off. I'm beginning to think this whole wedding thing is one big ruse to make Mac Michaels jealous.'
'It had better not be.' Remington said, his expression turning dark. 'I'm not schilling out thousands of dollars for her to play the Duchess of Deception.'
'Maybe you ought to talk to her. She always opened up more with you.'
Remington sighed. 'I was afraid you were going to say that.'
'Let her drive the Auburn. That should loosen her vocal chords.'
'I'd rather have bamboo shoots shoved under my fingernails.'
'That's what Mac said.' Laura suddenly became aware of the movie playing on the television. It looked familiar, but of course, all Remington's movies looked familiar. He'd made her watch them over and over again. 'What are you watching?'
'Father's Little Dividend. Spencer Tracy, Elizabeth Taylor, MGM, 1951.'
Laura suddenly felt an overwhelming need to work on her mystery. She been so busy with Holly's wedding arrangements that she'd left Madame Lenard with a jeweled dagger in her back. Terrible way to leave someone. She jumped up and sprinted from the room, leaving Remington to his movie. Wasn't a wedding bad enough without adding grandchildren to the mix?
Laura studied the yellow and white tent with some apprehension and then glanced at the sky. Unfortunately it was dark, obscuring her view of any threatening cloud formations. She turned to Mildred who was nursing a gin and tonic. Laura had questioned the wisdom of serving mixed cocktails to an eighty-one year old woman, but Mildred had declared since Virg was driving, there was no reason she shouldn't have a drink if she wanted one.
'Do you think it'll rain, Mildred?'
'The weather guys were calling for it.'
'That's what I was afraid of.'
'Why? You've got a tent.'
'It's the tent that bothers me.' Laura admitted. 'I knew I should have insisted on renting the country club, but Remington was dead set on hiring Mulch's nephew. He's got this crazy idea that we owe Mulch because it was his idea to franchise.'
'Sounds like the boss.' Mildred replied. 'He always had a soft spot for ne'er-do-wells.'
'A soft spot that invariably leads to trouble.' Laura muttered into her wineglass. 'Oh, well, if the tent doesn't survive, we'll just have to grin and bear it like we always do. But I'd really hate for Holly's engagement party to turn into a three ring circus, especially with the Trevelyans here to witness it. I bet nothing embarrassing ever happens to them.'
'Stephen Trevelyan wouldn't allow it.' Mildred commented.
'He is a bit of the benevolent dictator, isn't he?'
'I was thinking more of a pasha with a harem.'
'Do you think all those ex-wives hang around for the money or because they're all still secretly in love with him?'
'Both, I'd imagine. He's got charm.'
'Yes,' Laura agreed dryly, 'I've experienced that charm.'
Mildred glanced at her, one silver brow lifting. 'Oh?'
'He backed me up against a table in his greenhouse and stuck an orchid in my hair.'
'I bet that went over real well with the boss.'
'It did. After muttering something about bloody chemists, he plucked it out and stomped on it. But enough about Stephen Trevelyan,' Laura said, changing the subject to what she really wanted to consult Mildred about, 'what do you think of Holly and Mac? Do you think there may be something there?'
Mildred peered over her glass at the two people in question. 'It's hard to say, hon. They've spent most of the evening on opposite sides of the tent. The electricity just isn't flowing. Now if you ask me about Rick, I'd say the boy's smitten.'
Laura glanced at her son. Yes, Rick was smitten alright, but that didn't worry her. First of all, Rick had a good head on his shoulders and wouldn't do anything rash, and second of all, Samantha Wolfe was exactly the type of girl a parent would want their son to bring home. Pretty but not beautiful, intelligent but not overbearing. Too bad it wasn't their engagement party they were hosting instead of Holly's. She wouldn't be worrying so much about the bloody tent if it were.
'Well, then let's approach the problem from another angle.' She suggested. 'What about Holly and Scott? She's been hanging on his arm all night. Do you think she's actually in love with him?'
'She acts like it.' Mildred said. 'But she and Michael take after the boss. They're capable of putting on one hell of a good show. As for your suspicion that she's orchestrated this whole wedding to make Michaels jealous ' Mildred shrugged. 'I'd say it sounds exactly like something the boss would do.'
'Which means he ought to be the one to deal with her.'
'You mean you haven't already ordered him to do so?'
'Oh, I ordered, but she's been conveniently unavailable. Too busy with wedding plans, she says. If you ask me, she just doesn't want dear, old Dad asking questions. He's always been able to ferret out and demolish all her carefully laid plans.'
'Well, look on the bright side.' Mildred told her. 'If her plans are anything like her father's, they're bound to blow up in her face.'
'You forget, Mildred.' Laura said grimly. 'She's got part of me in her.'
'A formidable combination.'
As though on cue a rumble of thunder sounded. If it hadn't been for the tent, Laura would have thought it eminently appropriate ending to their conversation. Sort of like one of those B-rate films Remington loved so much. The heroine finds a dead body, thunder rumbles ominously and everyone knows that horror is just around the corner.
'If you'll excuse me, Mildred, I think that's my cue to find Mr. Steele. He ought to be warned of the imminent demise of his tent.'
She found Remington in their kitchen in heated debate with one Francis Mulch a.k.a. Frank a.k.a Mulch the Younger. They must have been going at it for some time because both were beginning to show wear and tear, fissures so to speak. Remington's tie was askew as though he'd been tugging on it repeatedly, and Frank's hair was a mess, sticking out all over his head. Had he been attempting to pull it out, she wondered.
'What's going on in here?' Laura demanded.
Both men stopped in mid-argument and looked at her.
'Laura, my love,' Remington cried, hurrying over to her, 'what brings you in here? You ought to be mingling with the guests.'
'I came in to tell you that it sounds like rain '
'Splendid!' Remington declared, hustling her towards the door she'd just entered. 'We certainly could use some. Rain, that is. Dreadfully dry this year. Good of you to let me know. Now back out to our guests.'
She dug in her heels. 'I didn't come in to tell you just about the rain.'
'Then what did you come in for?'
'To tell you that I don't think that tent can handle one raindrop let alone a thunderstorm.'
'What do you mean?'
'It's got threads hanging out of the seams. It's bound a leak, and if water should happen to collect, we could have a tidal wave on our hands.'
Remington's brows came down and he whirled on Frank. 'You got me a cut rate tent as well?'
'You didn't say it needed to be waterproof.' Frank protested.
'Isn't that what a bloody tent is for?' Remington demanded. 'To keep rain out?'
'Not necessarily. There are all kinds of tents. Circus tents, pup tents, tents to keep the sun off, tents like Rudolph Valentino had in The Sheik '
'Paramount, 1921.' Remington automatically finished.
Laura had been glancing around the kitchen during this exchange, frowning. Something wasn't quite right. Where before it had been bustling with activity, it was now strangely quiet, empty expect for the two men. 'What happened to everybody?' She asked. 'Where are the waiters and the bartender?'
Remington swung his attention back to her and tried a half-hearted smile. 'I'm afraid we've got a slight labor dispute, Laura.'
Chills ran up her spine. 'How slight is slight?'
'They went on strike.'
'On strike?' She exclaimed. 'I didn't even know they were unionized.'
'They weren't.' Remington said. 'But apparently Mulch hasn't paid them for three weeks.'
'And they chose now to protest?'
'It seems that Frank promised them paychecks tonight, and when he didn't show up with them ' Remington shrugged, 'they left. I believe you'll find them on our front lawn, shouting proletariat slogans and shaking angry fists. We've got a regular Red October on our hands.'
Laura hurried over to a window looking out onto the front yard. Sure enough the bartender was leading the waiters in a chant of 'hell no, we won't go' and trampling a lovely path through their petunias. Never mind that the slogan pertained to the Vietnam War, not strikes. The only thing that mattered was they had a tent full of thirsty guests and no one to serve them.
Laura looked at Frank. 'Pay them.'
'I can't.' Frank cried, pulling at his hair again. 'I don't have the money. If I wrote them checks, they would bounce. I could go to prison for that, you know. Passing bad checks is a crime, and I've got my mother to take care of.'
'What happened to the money we paid you for your so-called services?'
Frank looked at Remington.
'Tell her, Frank.' Remington said, his voice grim.
'Well,' Mulch began, 'there was this horse, a beautiful horse, a three year old gelding, and my friend, Louie, said he was a dead cert and '
The man nodded miserably.
There was a long heavy silence broke only by the distant rumble of thunder. Then Laura said briskly, 'Well, Mulch, you're going to have to take their place.'
'I don't know anything about mixing drinks!'
'Apparently you don't know anything about event planning either.' Laura snapped, her hands curling into fists. 'So help me, Mulch, I'm going to '
She was interrupted by the sound of clattering bottles. Remington was taking inventory of the assembled bottles of liquor and wine, critically appraising one before setting it down and picking up another. Finally he grabbed a handful of glasses and began pouring out wine.
'What are you doing?' She asked.
'Playing the role of Stanley Banks.' He quipped, grabbing a drink mixer and splashing a healthy dose of gin inside, followed by a hint of vermouth. 'I'll mix and you and Mulch serve. See if you can round up Michael. He's always game for anything.' When Laura and Mulch just stared at him, he made a hurry-up motion with his hand. 'Get a move on. From the sound of that thunder, we have exactly thirty four minutes to get them drunk. If they're tanked, they won't notice a leaking tent.'
It was amazing what you could learn when you were serving drinks, Laura thought an hour later. No one seemed to notice you. They just grabbed for the drink and went on with their conversation. And Remington was right. Most hadn't even noticed the leaks, and those that did found it funny like children splashing through mud puddles after a rain.
Whatever kept them happy, she thought heading back to the kitchen for another round of martinis. But as she was approaching the pool, she stopped, listening. There were voices coming from the changing booth that Remington had had installed at the far end of the pool. It was dark and secluded in that area, the booth nestled within the boughs of low hanging tree branches.
There was laughter, a woman's, followed by the low murmur of a man's voice. What in the world were they doing in there? She blushed when the answer occurred to her. Then indignation set in. How dare they use the Steele changing booth for poolside hanky panky. She started toward the booth, intent on telling them to get lost, when the door opened and Stephen Trevelyan stepped out.
'I believe you left your bathing suit behind.' Laura said coolly.
He looked startled at first but quickly recovered, an easy smile coming to his lips. 'Laura, how pleasant to speak to you again. I was afraid I wouldn't get the opportunity. You've been rather busy this evening.' He eyed the tray she held clutched to her chest like a shield. 'Couldn't Steele afford waiters?'
'We believe in doing things ourselves.' She told him. 'The Steeles have a strong work ethic.'
'I admire your populist spirit.' Stephen said, coming towards her. 'But I still say it's damn shabby of Steele to put his wife to work serving drinks. Especially when she'd be better utilized doing something else.'
'Like having rendezvous in changing booths?'
'Excellent suggestion. Would you care to join me?'
'Wouldn't it be a bit tight in there?'
'I'm not opposed to close quarters if you're not.'
'But what about your friend? Wouldn't she find it somewhat confining?'
He lifted sandy brows. 'My friend? I'm afraid I don't know what you mean.'
Tired of the cat and mouse game, Laura asked bluntly. 'Who's in the booth, Stephen. I heard a woman's voice, and I'm pretty sure it's not Fiona since I just served her a martini.'
'Does it matter?'
'When you're carrying on with some trollop in our booth, yes, it matters.'
'You sound envious, my dear.' Stephen murmured, taking a step closer, his blue eyes fixed on her.
'Envious!' Laura squeaked. 'Hardly!'
But he wasn't listening. He was intent on crowding closer, backing her up against the side of the booth, well beneath the sheltering branches of the tree and well out of sight of the kitchen. Laura frowned as raindrops, disturbed by their movements under the leaves, showered down on them.
'When's the last time a man told you that you're beautiful?' Stephen asked in a voice meant for seduction.
'Last night.' Laura replied without hesitation. 'You're barking up the wrong tree if you think Remington neglects me. I assure you, Mr. Trevelyan, that when it comes to romance, you're an amateur in comparison to my husband. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'd like to take a look in that booth.'
She made a move to step around him, but his arms snaked out, pulling her up against him. Laura winced as the tray dug into her stomach. But that was the least of her worries. She forgot all about the tray when Trevelyan's mouth clamped down on hers.
It'd been a long time since anyone but Remington had kissed her, and she was momentarily stunned to find someone doing so. Her next reaction was much more aggressive. She stomped on Trevelyan's foot, grinding a heel into his instep. Unlike Remington who had built up calluses over the years and no longer flinched as such treatment, Stephen gasped and immediately released her.
'What was that for?' He demanded, massaging the offended appendage.
'Unlike you I don't kiss anyone but my husband.' Laura told him coldly. 'If our children are to have a chance at a happy marriage, I suggest you keep your hands, your lips and anything else connected to your body to yourself.'
She didn't wait for a response. Instead she turned on her heel and marched off toward the tent, her original mission of collecting more drinks momentarily abandoned. There was no way she could return to the kitchen in her present state of mind. Remington would instantly know something was up, and they'd had enough problems that evening without adding a brawl between father-in-laws to the mix. Still the prospect of seeing Remington plant a fist in the man's face was tempting, very tempting.
She was so busy contemplating such a glorious sight that she barreled straight into Michael as he was headed back to the kitchen for his own refill.
'Oh, Michael,' she gasped, dropping her tray, 'I didn't see you there.'
He reached down and picked up the tray for her.
'Are you ok, Mom?' He asked, his eyes searching her face.
'Yes, of course.' She said, accepting the tray. Once again she held it against her like a shield. 'What makes you think anything's wrong?'
'You and Dad had a fight over Mulch, didn't you?'
'No, of course not.' Laura denied. 'Last time I saw your father he was happily engaged in playing the role of Stanley Banks.'
'Then what put all that color in your cheeks?' Michael asked, cocking a dark brow. 'You look ready to spit nails.'
There was no use lying to him or denying anything was wrong. Michael could be as tenacious as she when it came to asking questions. He might look and act like Remington, but he had inherited her stubborn gene. She'd come up against it when he'd graduated from high school. She'd wanted him to go to college. He hadn't. To this day he had neither Bachelor of Arts nor Science.
'If you must know,' she said irritably, 'Stephen Trevelyan made a pass at me. It was most annoying. A man hasn't made a pass at me since that actor, Derek Vivyan.'
Michael chuckled. 'I guess you've still got it, Mom.'
'Well, I don't want it.' She said stoutly. 'If your father finds out, there'll be hell to pay. We've already got enough trouble without him challenging Trevelyan to a duel. And knowing your father, he'd win and how would it look for the bride's father to kill the groom's? Very bad etiquette.'
'In other words, you want me to keep my mouth shut.'
Remington watched Laura drop another crystal wineglass in the garage bin. What was wrong with her? He'd already rescued four others, and he didn't feel like spending his entire night sorting through the empty wines bottles and olive jars to make sure they returned all one hundred pieces to Mulch the following morning. He wasn't about to give that bugger any grounds for charging them more money.
'Is something wrong, Laura?' He asked, retrieving the glass from the bin.
He frowned when it came out covered in leftover guacamole. He started to put it in the sink but thought better of it when he caught Jack's hopeful expression. With a few swipes of a dog's tongue, it was clean enough to put in the dishwasher.
'No, nothing's wrong.' She said absently. 'Why do you ask?'
'You seem distracted.' He told her, rescuing yet another glass. No guacamole this time. Poor Jack.
'I'm just thinking.'
He didn't like the sound of that. Last time she thought about 'things', they'd had a rip-roaring fight, and he'd ended up in San Francisco by himself. She wasn't getting all weepy and sentimental over a wedding, was she?
'Laura ' he said, taking her by the arms and turning her to face him.
But he was interrupted by Holly and Michael who came bursting through the door, carrying trays loaded with glasses of every shape and size. They were laughing much as they had when they were children.
'What a party!' Holly exclaimed, placing the tray on the counter with a clatter. 'No one throws a party like the Steeles!'
Laura smiled at her. 'So you didn't mind the leaky tent, the strike on the front lawn or your mother and brother serving as waiters?'
'Of course not! It wouldn't be a Steele occasion without something crazy happening.' She came over and gave Laura and then Remington a hug. 'It's our signature.'
'You see, Laura, you were worrying about nothing.' Remington said as Holly left to gather more glasses.
'I wasn't worrying.' She denied.
'Something was bothering you.'
'Stephen made a pass at her.' Michael supplied helpfully.
'Michael!' Laura exclaimed, whirling on him. 'You promised not to say anything.'
'No, I didn't. I just confirmed what you wanted me to do. I didn't promise to do it. Besides,' he said, going over to the dishwasher and starting to load glasses, 'there's no chance of Dad challenging him to a duel. He's gone. Left hours ago. Shortly after he made the pass, I should think.'
Remington was having trouble following the conversation. He glanced from his wife to his son, his brows drawn together. 'What's this about a pass?'
'Trevelyan kissed her.'
'On the lips, I suppose.' Michael said with a shrug. 'You'll have to ask her. She was there. I wasn't.'
'Well, Laura?' Remington drawled, his eyes on her.
She looked mutinous but finally said. 'I was coming back for another round of drinks and noticed voices coming from the changing booth. I was about to tell whoever it was to take a hike when the door opened and Stephen stepped out. We exchanged words and then he backed me up against the booth and kissed me.'
'And what did you do?'
'It seems to me we've had this conversation before.'
'Don't prevaricate, Laura.' Remington said, his expression grim. 'What did you do?'
'I stomped on his foot and told him to keep his hands to himself.'
'I should have broken his nose when he gave you that bloody orchid.' He grabbed his jacket from a nearby chair and headed for the garage, his expression thunderous.
Laura caught his arm. 'Where are you going?'
'To have a talk with Trevelyan.'
'There's no need.' Laura said. 'He won't do it again.'
'You're right. He won't.' Remington agreed, shaking off her hand. 'Because I'm going to make sure he doesn't.'
The door to the garage banged behind him and within seconds the roar of the AMG filled the kitchen. There was a squeal of tires and then silence.
'There he goes again.' Laura muttered, hands on hips. 'You'd think after nearly thirty years he'd know better.' She glanced at Michael. 'Can you handle the clean up? I have to go after your father.'
'Uh-uh.' Michael said. 'I'm going with you.'
'Going where?' Holly asked, entering with another platter of glasses. She glanced from Laura to Michael, her finely shaped brows coming together in a frown. 'What happened? What did I miss?'
'Dad's on his way to maim, disfigure and quite possibly kill your future father-in-law.' Michael said, shrugging into his coat. 'Should be quite a show.'
'Because dear old Stephen made a pass at Mom.'
Holly went pale. She knew what her father was capable of. If they didn't stop him, he'd ruin everything. She hurried over and gathered up coat and purse. 'I'm coming with you. I can't have Dad ruining all my plans.'
'Plans?' Laura asked as they climbed into Michael's rental car. 'What kind of plans are you talking about, Holly?'
'Wedding plans, of course. What else?'
The Trevelyan mansion was strangely dark and quiet when they arrived. Not a good sign, Laura thought as she left the car and hurried up the stone steps. She was even further alarmed when she found the front door open and unguarded. Where was the maid she'd met the other night? Hell with the maid! Where was Remington?
His car was there, parked half on the driveway and half on the grass, a sure sign that he'd been furious when he'd gotten there. Under normal circumstances he would've never risked the AMG getting stuck on a moist, rain-sodden lawn. He couldn't have been more than ten minutes ahead of them yet he was nowhere to be seen. It would take forever to find him in such a large house.
She turned to Holly. 'Where would Stephen likely be?'
'He spends most of his time in the greenhouse or in his private sitting room.'
'I'll check the greenhouse.' Michael said, sprinting off across the lawn.
Holly and Laura entered the house. It was quiet and full of shadows. They stood just inside the door, not moving a muscle, barely daring to breath. There was a sinister quality about the mansion that hadn't been there the previous evening.
Finally Laura found her voice. 'Where's the sitting room?'
'What?' Holly asked as though she'd forgotten Laura was there.
'Where's Stephen's sitting room?'
Holly pointed at the staircase. 'Up there.'
Neither one made a move.
'Shouldn't we go up?' Holly finally asked, her voice barely above a whisper. There was a pause and then she looked at Laura. 'Of course, I understand if you'd rather not go. It's kind of spooky.'
'Spooky?' Laura said, forcing a laugh. 'Your dad and I have been in spookier places than this.'
Well, Holt, her inner voice jeered, you'd better start climbing or you'll lose all credibility with your daughter. She started up the curved, marble staircase. Holly, as though afraid to be left behind, hurried after her. They reached the top of the stairs and as if on cue lightning flashed, illuminating the hallway in an eerie silver light. Thunder followed, low and ominous. Another storm was approaching.
Laura swallowed. She was never one to believe in ghosts, but there was an oppressive feeling in the house that was almost palatable. It seemed to press in on them as they walked down the hallway. No, she amended, they weren't walking down the hallway. They were creeping as though they didn't want someone or something to hear them.
'That's it.' Holly whispered, motioning toward the last door on the right. 'That's his room.'
Laura stared at the doorknob. It was a large ornate crystal ball. She placed her hand on it. Thunder rumbled menacingly, and she pulled it back as though burnt.
'What is it?' Holly asked. 'Aren't you going in?'
'It might be locked.'
'Then pick it.'
'I don't have my pick set with me. Your father always does this part of the operation.'
Holly sighed and reached into her own purse. She pulled out a pick set, extracted a pick and started to shove it into the lock. To their surprise the door swung inward to reveal a dark room with a bank of windows. Lightning suddenly flashed, and they could clearly see the outline of a man kneeling, hovering over something on the floor. Laura winced as Holly's nails dug into her arm.
'Dracula. Bela Lugosi, Universal, 1931.' Holly hissed in her ear.
That's it, Laura thought. She'd had quite enough drama for one night. There was no such thing as Dracula, no such thing as ghosts and no such thing as sinister houses. She hit the light switch on the wall.
'It doesn't work, Laura.' Remington's voice sounded loud in the darkness. 'The electricity is out.'
She nearly jumped a mile.
'Remington?' She called out, squinting through the shadows. 'Is that you?'
'Who else would it be?' There was a smile in his voice, and in her mind's eye she could see his mouth kicking up at one side. 'Dracula?'
Laura groped her way through the gloom until she found her husband. She grasped his arm and pulled him to his feet. 'I've told you over and over again not to kneel unless absolutely necessary.'
'Don't fuss, Laura.'
'I never fuss. I'm expressing concern.'
'I am not.'
Their argument was interrupted by a stifled scream. Holly had removed a flashlight from her purse and was shining its light on the floor. 'It's Stephen.' Her eyes went to Remington. 'What did you do to him?'
'I didn't do a blasted thing to him.' Remington retorted, his tone testy. 'I came up here, and there he was. Gave me a nasty shock. You'd think after all these years I'd be used to tripping over the occasional dead body.'
'He's dead?' Holly asked incredulously. She obviously hadn't considered the possibility.
'As the proverbial door nail.' Remington confirmed. 'I was attempting to determine from what when you and your mother arrived.'
Just then the lights came on.
'Michael must have found the fuse box.' Laura said, looking up at the chandelier.
'Michael's here too?' Remington asked, scowling. 'Did the whole bloody family come out to see Dad put on a show?'
'Of course not, darling.' Laura murmured, reaching up to give him a quick kiss. Kisses always seemed to soothe him. 'Rick left with Miss Wolfe.'
'I'll have to express my gratitude to the young lady the next time I see her.' Sarcasm dripped from every word.
Obviously her kisses were not working their magic tonight. He was as surly as when he'd left their house. Finding his intended victim already dead probably hadn't done anything to improve his mood. Dead bodies had that effect to him.
Laura turned her attention to Stephen Trevelyan. Yes, he was definitely dead. There was a queer bluish tint to his skin that spoke of asphyxiation. Heart attack, she wondered, stooping down to examine him more closely. Perhaps. He was rather young for one, but it had happened to other men his age. Still she grimaced as her mind started down familiar paths. Why did she always assume murder whenever a dead body showed up?
'You'd better call an ambulance, Holly.' She said, standing up. 'And the police.'
'The police?' Holly echoed. 'Why?'
'Your mother thinks he's been murdered.' Remington supplied.
'Murdered!' Holly exclaimed. 'But he can't be!'
'Maybe he wasn't.' Laura said, wandering over to a black lacquer coffee table where an ice bucket and two champagne glasses sat. She studied the glasses. One was empty except for a small amount of residue at the bottom and the other a quarter of a glass full. 'We won't know for sure until an autopsy is done. It could be a heart attack.'
Remington joined her. 'But you're thinking poison, aren't you?'
'What makes you say that?' She asked, removing the handkerchief from his breast pocket and using it to pick up one of the glasses.
'Because my wife knows how I feel about my handkerchieves, and she wouldn't dare wrinkle my favorite blue one for anything less than murder.'
She held the glass up to the light. 'What would you say that is, Mr. Steele?'
'Lipstick. Passion peach, I'd say.'
'It looks like Stephen had a visitor tonight. A female visitor.' She set the glass on the table and went back over to the body, stooping down again. 'And he was kissing her. The same lipstick is on his lips.'
'Done in by a kiss.' Remington murmured. 'How appropriate. I couldn't have planned it better myself.'
Suddenly a noise from the doorway caught their attention. Michael had arrived. His dark hair was damp and his leather jacket sprinkled with raindrops. He must have just come out of the storm, which was currently beating itself against the windows.
'There was nothing in the greenhouse, but I did find the circuit breaker. It'd been turned off.' He stopped as his eyes fell on the body of Stephen Trevelyan. 'Dad, you didn't!'
Remington glared at him. 'Of course, I didn't. I'm a thief, damn it, not a bloody murderer. It's appalling at how quickly my offspring are willing to assume the worse of me.'
'Hey, it's nothing personal, Dad, but where mom's concerned, you've always been..' He stopped and then muttered. 'Oh, hell!'
'What?' Laura asked, glancing up at him from where she was still kneeling beside the body. 'What is it?'
'The safe is open.'
'This safe.' Michael said, storming across the room to where a brick of the fireplace was pushed to one side. It was so well camouflaged that even now it was difficult to tell where it was, but Michael obviously knew for he was rifling through the contents. He turned, hands on hips, his expression grim. 'The documents are gone.'
'What documents?' Laura was beginning to feel like a parrot, echoing everything her son said.
'The documents detailing the top secret fuel cell.'
Where was he, Laura wondered as she went from room and room searching for her missing husband. She'd tried the theater room first since it was his favorite room in the house but with no luck. Then she'd tried the garage, thinking he might have taken the Auburn out for a spin. Ditto. The Auburn was sitting in its assigned space looking like the grand old lady she was. Checking the study was useless. Remington never did anything studious if he could help it. Now she was in the kitchen but her nose found no evidence of baking duck or bubbling sauce. Darn it, she thought, tapping her foot impatiently on the tile, hadn't she told him at breakfast that Rick had the autopsy results?
She was about to try the study, despite its unpopularity, when her eyes landed on a suspicious object by the pool. It was a lounger, pointed toward the sun. That in itself wouldn't have alerted her. Rather it was Jack, sitting on his haunches staring at the lounger that had her opening the back door and marching forth like a general into battle.
The lounger held a long, lean body, stretched out comfortably, the face concealed by a newspaper. If the neatly pressed black jeans didn't alert her to the fact this was her husband, the Italian leather loathers did. She looked at Jack. He looked at her as if to say 'well, what are you going to do about it?'
She snatched the newspaper from Remington's face. 'What do you think you're doing?'
He squinted up at her. 'Napping. It's what retired people do.'
'I don't nap.'
'That's because you've never learned how to relax.' He told her. 'Now be a pet and put the newspaper back where you found it.'
'Have you forgotten that Rick has the autopsy report?'
'No, I haven't forgotten. You told me this morning over an excellent plate of Belgium waffles. Fortunately I have trained myself not to let such morbid details ruin my appetite.'
'If you heard me, then why are you out here napping?'
'Because I was under the impression that we were retired, and if we're retired, I don't see why an autopsy report should keep me from taking an afternoon nap.' He cocked his head to one side, staring up at her. 'We are retired, aren't we, Laura?'
'Technically, yes.' She agreed after a pause that had Remington's warning bells going off.
'Good. I was afraid for a moment that you'd forgotten.' He closed his eyes, settling himself more comfortably against the cushions. 'The paper, Laura.'
'Drat your paper!' She retorted, flinging it toward the pool. It floated for a second before sinking like a torpedoed battleship. Jack decided this was a good time to disappear. He crawled under the lounger.
Remington glanced at the pool where his paper had sunk and then at his wife. 'I see you've never learned to control your temper either. Now I shall have to pinch Gloria's.' He unfolded his frame from the lounger and stood up. 'Don't you feel any remorse at driving your husband back to thievery?'
'Not at all.' Laura declared. 'Once a thief, always a thief.'
'And once a bloodhound, always a bloodhound.'
'I'm glad we understand each other.'
Remington sighed. 'Laura, our son is perfectly capable of solving Stephen Trevelyan's murder. Not only is he half bloodhound himself but he has that brat of Murphy's to help him. There's no need for us to get involved.'
'Aren't you the least bit curious?'
He considered this, tilting his head to one side and pursing his lips. She waited expectantly. His expression brightened as though suddenly struck with inspiration, and he took her by the arms, smiling down at her. 'No.'
She felt like stamping her foot. If it'd done any good, she would have stamped on his foot. 'The man was our future in-law. Don't you feel any sense of obligation to find the man's murderer?'
'The man makes a pass at my wife, and I should want to find his murderer?' Remington asked incredulously. 'I'm afraid I'm not that magnanimous, Laura. I rather think the murderer did me and hundred other husbands a favor.'
She stared at him. 'That's a rather cold-hearted view, isn't it?'
He raised an eyebrow at her. 'Weren't you the one that said we had to hope for a dead body?'
'Well, it stopped the wedding, didn't it?'
'For the time being.' Remington agreed. 'But as soon as they boo-hoo over Stephen's grave, she'll be chomping at the bit to get down the aisle again. Our daughter is not easily thwarted. She's got too much of you in her.'
Laura decided to ignore that comment. 'I don't think so. I think she's secretly relieved.'
'Still dreaming of Michaels as a son-in-law, Mrs. Steele?'
'If it should happen, I wouldn't be disappointed.'
'I would. Devastated, in fact.'
'Imagine how Murphy would feel.'
'Ah, yes,' Remington murmured, a faraway light in his eyes as though he was indeed imagining just such an occurrence. 'It might be worth it just to send Murphy over the proverbial deep end.'
'It might be the first time the two of you have ever agreed upon anything.'
'Not the first time.' Remington corrected, remembering how he and Murphy had joined forces to save Laura from that murderous attorney, Creighton Phillips. He'd had to swallow a lot of pride to approach Murphy with the idea, but Laura had been worth it to both of them.
'Well, you'll never get the opportunity to savor Murphy's reaction, if we don't solve this murder.' Laura said briskly, grabbing his arm and pulling him toward the door. 'Come on. Rick is expecting us. Don't you want to see the office again?'
'Then humor me.'
'It looks as though I must.'
A half hour later, Laura pulled her AMG convertible up in front of the Steele office building with much less tire squealing then Holly. There was only a slight whiff of burning rubber, Remington thought as he unfolded himself from the passenger's seat. He stood for a moment on the sidewalk, surveying the land like a returning king before turning to let Jack out of the back seat.
'Did you have to bring Jack along?' Laura asked, joining him on the sidewalk.
'Would Nick and Nora leave Asta behind?'
'Asta, he is not, and I'm pretty sure dogs aren't allowed in the building.' Laura said as they followed Jack into the lobby.
'If someone wants to make an issue over it, I'll pretend I'm blind.'
No one made an issue over it, but they did get a few odd glances in the elevator, especially when Jack greeted everyone getting on with an inquisitive wet nose. He was attempting to put that nose under a woman's skirt when the doors opened on their floor and they hurriedly got off.
'Can't you control him?' Laura hissed.
'You were the one that said he had a sensitive nose.'
It was a relief to Laura when they pushed open the glass doors of Remington Steele Investigations and found the smiling face of Miss Wolfe. Quite an improvement over Miss Jones, Miss Trout and even Mildred, Remington thought, eying the young woman appreciatively. Jack, too, must have found her a pleasant surprise for he made a beeline for her skirt.
'Mrs. Steele, Mr. Steele.' Sam exclaimed, slightly flustered as she and Jack played ring around the desk. 'Rick's waiting for you. Please go in.' They were nearly at the door of Remington's old office when she suddenly called out. 'Oh, and Holly's here. Just a word of warning. It's a bit tense in there.'
'Holly's here?' Laura asked, surprised.
'Oh, yes, she showed up bright and early this morning. Demanded to be made part of the case since it was her father-in-law that died.'
'I bet that went over well.'
'Oh, it did. I think she and Mac have just left their corners to start round 6.'
With a send off like that Laura and Remington entered the office cautiously, poking their heads around the corner of the door before finally entering. Mac and Holly had indeed left their corners. They were circling each other warily as Rick sat behind the desk Remington had once occupied, his hand over his face in an attitude of extreme weariness.
'I'm telling you he was murdered.' Holly declared.
'There's no evidence.' Mac insisted.
'And there's no evidence that he wasn't.' She shot back.
'Look, why don't you go home and comfort moneybags and leave this to the professionals.'
'Professionals?' Holly laughed. 'The only professional I see around here in Rick. You, on the other hand, are a Neanderthal. I'm surprised you're even bothering to argue with me. Men of your ilk are more comfortable dragging women around by their hair.'
'Don't tempt me, sweetheart.'
'Just try it, bub.' Holly dared. 'You put one hand on me, and you won't be able to stand for a week. I've got a black belt, you know.'
Mac ran an insolent eye over her. 'Yes, I can see that. Alligator, isn't it? Matches the shoes beautifully.'
It was then that Rick happened to look up and see his parents. He leapt up and hurried around the desk. 'Mom, Dad, thank God, you're here. As you can see the autopsy report has become a matter of some debate. We'd love to have your insight. Wouldn't we, guys?'
'Absolutely.' Holly agreed, rushing over and grasping Laura's arm. 'You tell him, Mom.' She urged, dragging Laura forward. 'Tell him Stephen was murdered.'
'I can't tell him anything until I see the report for myself.' Laura said in her no nonsense voice. 'Now why don't we all sit down and discuss this like adults.'
'Excellent suggestion, Laura.' Remington concurred, stretching himself out on the white couch's replacement.
It wasn't nearly as comfortable, nor did it hold such delightful memories, but any port in a storm. He removed Gloria's newspaper from his pocket and draped it over his face. Maybe if he pretended to be asleep, they'd leave him alone. After all, he was retired. Something his wife kept forgetting. Nevertheless, his ears remained attentive, despite his best efforts to turn them off.
Laura settled herself in the chair across the desk while Holly and Mac moved to separate corners. 'Well, Rick, how did Stephen die?'
'In other words, he died from a severe allergic reaction.' Mac provided.
'That doesn't sound like murder.' Laura said.
'Exactly.' Mac agreed.
'Tell her what it was a reaction to.' Holly urged from her corner.
'Bee venom.' Rick said. 'It appears that Stephen Trevelyan was highly allergic to bee stings.'
'Which still means it was an accidental death, not murder.' Mac interjected, sending Holly a smoldering glance.
'How the hell did a bee get into his private sitting room?' Holly demanded.
'It happens.' Mac said. 'He liked to grow orchids. Bees like flowers. He might have gotten it out there.'
'Then he should have died out there.' Laura pointed out. 'Allergic reactions occur within a few minutes of being exposed to the allergen. Was there a mark on his body that would indicate a sting?'
Rick flipped open the file in front of him. 'There were no unusual marks. No cuts, no scrapes, no needle pricks, no stings.'
'Told you.' Holly said, sending Mac a smug smile.
'So the question is,' Laura said, looking at Rick over her steepled fingers, 'how was the bee venom administered if not from an actual bee.'
'Logically the venom would have to be collected and made into a serum, which would then be administered through something he ate or drank.' Rick replied.
'Yeah, but the only thing he ingested within the last hour or two of his death was the wine.' Mac pointed out, not about to let Holly have the last word. 'The police had it analyzed. It was clean. Good ole California red.'
'If he wasn't stung or injected, and he didn't ingest it,' Laura said, 'then how was he exposed to it?'
The answer hung in the air like a cheap perfume, bothersome yet unavoidable. Rick looked at Mac, Mac looked at the toe of his shoe, and Laura looked at Rick. Holly stood at the window and looked at the people milling about on the street below. Everybody was so busy looking at something that they were somewhat startled when Remington's voice broken the silence.
Laura's head swung in his direction. She frowned when she saw him looking very much as he had in the lounger. Where's he get that paper? He couldn't possibly have had time to swipe Gloria's. 'What did you say?'
'I said 'Poison Ivy'.'
'It was bee venom, not poison ivy.' Laura said crisply. 'If you'd join the conversation instead of lounging about on couches, you would have heard that.'
'Batman & Robin, George Clooney, Chris O'Donnell, Warner Bros., 1997.' Remington said, unperturbed by her scold. 'Poison Ivy, played by Uma Thurman, lures Robin into her lair and administers a poisoned kiss. Unlike Trevelyan, Robin happened to have a latex lip guard and survived the encounter. You would think a man of Trevelyan's, shall we say, personal habits would keep a pair handy.'
He did it again, Laura thought. Just when you thought he was completely useless, he'd come up with the answer.
Laura's gaze swung back to Rick. 'Did anyone analyze the lipstick?'
Rick had gone from a slouched position to one of attention, sitting bolt upright on the edge of his chair. His eyes sparkled with the Holt fire. 'No, they didn't. I'll call Detective Diaz and get him on it right away.'
He reached for the phone, but Mac's voice interrupted him. 'Do you seriously think a person could be poisoned with lipstick? It's a bit far-fetched, isn't it? This isn't a movie or a comic book. This is real life.'
'It's worth a shot.' Rick said, dialing.
'How could you poison someone with lipstick and not be harmed yourself?' Mac persisted. 'Oh, sure, Poison Ivy was immune to poison, but this is a real person we're talking about here.' He shot a disdainful glance at Remington. 'I suppose whoever it was wore a latex lip guard.'
'It was bee venom.' Laura pointed out. 'Not everyone is allergic to it. With some people only a trace amount of the allergen is needed to set off a severe allergic reaction. An ingenious way to kill someone actually. It would appear to be an accident. However, this murderer forgot to provide a corresponding sting.'
'Mac's just getting nervous because now his girlfriend is at the top of the suspect list.' Holly said from her side of the room.
'Girlfriend?' Laura echoed.
'Cut it out, Holly.' Rick said, having finished his phone call. 'All the women have moved to the top of the suspect list. Kimberley is no guiltier than the rest.'
'Even less so.' Mac added. 'She's Joan's daughter by another marriage. What would she have to gain?'
'That's what professionals like you are supposed to find out.' Holly replied.
'Who are the suspects?' Laura asked in an attempt to get the conversation back on facts.
Rick leaned back in his chair and started counting them off. 'Well, there are the wives, of course, Victoria, Patricia, Joan and Fiona. Then there's Claire, but I think we can put her at the bottom of the list since it's unlikely that she'd be kissing her father. The Trevelyan clan are a strange bunch but not that strange. We've already mentioned Kimberley. I suppose the maid, Carmen, is a possible suspect, but she's currently missing, has been since the night of the murder. Those are the obvious suspects. But with Stephen's reputation, who knows how many other women could be involved.'
'What about the men?' Laura asked.
Rick laughed. 'They're rather unlikely if the lipstick killed him, don't you think, Mom?'
'Well, if you want to include everyone, we'd be looking at Scott, the two younger sons, and Lance Everett.'
'And if you count all the cuckolded husbands within a 50 mile radius,' Remington added from the couch, 'you could be looking at suspects in the range of a hundred or more. Better get the whole office on it, my lad. You might have them all interviewed by Christmas.' He removed his paper and leaned up on one elbow. 'How do you feel about a Christmas wedding, Holly? I'm sure your mother would love it. So festive, you know.'
Laura was wondering why she'd wanted him to be a part of the conversation. He caused less trouble when he was pretending to sleep.
'A Christmas wedding would be simply divine. You know how I love snow. We could have the wedding in Aspen where Scotty and I met. Wouldn't that be romantic?' Holly sighed dreamily, her eyes shifting towards Mac, before adding hastily. 'But we must find Stephen's murderer first. It wouldn't be right for me to be happy in the face of such tragedy.'
'Spoken like a true Steele.' Laura murmured under her breath. All they needed were the violins.
'Then we'd better get busy.' Mac said, getting to his feet. 'We wouldn't want Scotty to wait any longer than necessary for his bride. I'll question Kimberley and her mother. I'm having dinner with them tonight.' He sent Rick and Laura a mocking glance. 'Should I frisk them for their lipstick between the salad and main course?'
'It wouldn't hurt.' Laura said coolly. 'Look for passionate peach.'
'You're not allergic to bees, are you, Mackenzie?' Holly called from her corner.
Mac's brows pulled down over his slightly crooked nose. 'No. Why?'
'I'm sure we all know how you'll go about collecting the sample, and we wouldn't want another fatality on our hands.'
'You've got nothing to wrong about.' Mac said sweetly. 'And just so there's no doubt to Kimberley's innocence, I'll bring back an extra large sample. Would you like me to come over to your apartment so you can remove it personally? I wouldn't want to be accused of tampering with the evidence.'
'Sorry,' she shot back, 'I'll be busy. I have my own questioning to do, and Scotty hates to be interrupted.'
'I guess that leaves the rest to us.' Rick said, looking at Laura. 'We ought to have them all done by what did Dad say Christmas, wasn't it?'
'Oh, really, Rick,' Holly interrupted impatiently, 'there's an easier way to do this.'
'I'm all ears, squirt.' Rick said. 'Tell me how it's done.'
Holly scowled at the nickname but answered anyway. 'The funeral is tomorrow afternoon, and afterwards they're all going back to the mansion. As the bride's in-laws, you'll be expected to attend. We can pump them for information then.'
'At a funeral?' Laura asked dubiously. Bold though she was even her sense of decorum balked at such a suggestion. 'Isn't that a bit crass?'
'Not if you do it correctly.' Holly said. 'The best interviewing is done without the suspect's knowledge. Sort of like Miss Marple.'
Mac rolled his eyes. 'First movies, now pulp fiction.'
'She has a point.' Rick said. 'They're more likely to let something slip in casual conversation. They'll be on their guard if we start questioning as investigators.'
'Oh, all right.' Mac said, throwing up his hands and heading for his office. 'Have fun at the funeral.'
A few minutes later Holly departed for a late lunch with Scott, leaving Rick alone with his parents. That young man breathed a sigh of relief. Finally. Sanity. Sometimes he didn't know if he was running a detective agency or a sparring facility. He was seriously questioning his decision to bring Mac into the firm. They hadn't had a moment's peace since Holly laid eyes on him.
'Is it like that all the time?' Laura asked, reading his mind.
'Yes.' Rick said grimly. 'If Holly wasn't my sister, I'd fire her so we'd get a little peace and quiet around here. We don't need a PR person anyway. Dad put a face on the company years ago. There's no longer any need to waste time sitting on committees or cutting ceremonial ribbons. It's just busy work.'
'Have you tried giving her a case to work on?'
Rick looked at his mother as though she'd suggested he commit hara-kiri. As far as he was concerned giving his sister a case was just about equivalent to plunging a knife into his belly. 'She doesn't know the first thing about detective work.'
'Neither did your father but he learned.'
'I haven't got time to teach her.'
'Maybe Mac could '
'No. Absolutely not.' Rick declared. 'We solve murders. We don't commit them.'
'Look, Mom, I appreciate your desire to help, but it's really unnecessary. As soon as Holly marries Scott, my problem will be solved. She'll leave the agency, and I can finally get back to running a detective agency rather than playing referee.' When Laura looked ready to argue, he quickly changed the subject. 'Have you spoken to Michael?'
Laura would have liked to challenge at least two of his assumptions but decided to let it go. He'd find out soon enough that his problem was not likely to disappear any time soon.
'Not yet.' She replied. 'He's been leaving early and coming in late.'
'Those missing documents must be wrapped up in this murder somehow.' Rick said.
'Not necessarily.' Remington replied, suddenly joining the conversation. Sometime during their exchange about Holly, he'd left the couch and was now standing behind Laura's chair. 'Thieves don't normally kill in order to do their work. Much too messy. Easier to slip in and slip out.'
'So you think it's two separate crimes?' Rick asked.
'Do you want my professional opinion?' At Rick's nod, Remington continued. 'Yes, I think they're two separate crimes. Why kill Trevelyan if all you want are the documents? A thief would only resort to killing if Trevelyan happened upon them as they were lifting the documents, and they'd use something fast and quick like a gun or a knife. They wouldn't sit around swilling wine before administering the fatal kiss. No, I think the thief simply recognized an opportunity when they saw it. It's very possible the thief may know who the killer is or they may have seen something useful but not know it. If I were you, I'd start looking for the thief. Otherwise, they might be the next victim.'
'I think I'll leave that part of the case to Michael.' Rick said, getting up to see his parents out of the office. 'That is what he's doing, isn't it?'
'I don't know.' Laura admitted. 'But I intend to find out.'
'And how exactly are you going to do that?' Remington asked a few minutes later as they were driving home, Jack's head hanging between them like a shaggy rug.
'I'll ask him.' Laura said.
'And if that doesn't work?'
'We'll follow him.'
'We're partners, aren't we?'
'Since the moment our eyes met.'
'Do you think you can tail our son, Mr. Steele?'
'The day I can't tail our son is the day I turn in my picks.'
What Mothers Don't Need to Know
'Another date?' Remington called out as Michael passed by the study later that evening.
Michael paused. It was odd to see his father in the study and even odder to see him dressed in a smoking jacket with a book on one knee. He looked as though he was about to host the Masterpiece Theater.
'Ah, yeah, another date.' Michael said, somewhat distractedly. 'Where'd you get the smoking jacket?'
'Oh, this?' Remington asked, glancing down at the paisley jacket with maroon trim. 'Your mother got it for me, said it would make me look like Cary Grant in The Bachelor and the Bobbysoxer. What do you think? Is it me?'
'It's you, all right.' Michael agreed with a grin. 'Suits your persona perfectly.' He glanced toward the desk where a laptop sat open. 'Where's Mom?'
'Right here.' Laura said, coming up behind him.
Michael jumped. When had his mother started walking as silently as his father? He turned to confront her and then gaped. She was wearing a bright red and yellow kimono. 'Who are you? Madame Butterfly?'
Laura ignored him. 'We met with Rick this afternoon.'
'Oh?' Michael said, raising a dark brow. 'And how is big brother?'
'He had the results of the Trevelyan autopsy.' When Michael didn't bite, she continued. 'Stephen was murdered.'
Michael blinked. 'I didn't know the stuff was lethal.'
'It is if you're allergic to it.' Laura paused and then said casually. 'Your father thinks that whoever stole the documents might have seen something, might even know who the murderer is.'
'Sounds plausible' Michael agreed before asking just as casually as his mother. 'Has Rick had any luck finding the chap?'
'He was under the impression that you might be following up on that.'
'Me?' Michael said with a laugh. 'I'm not in the detective business. I'm in film, remember?'
'You seemed pretty interested in those missing documents the other night.' Laura noted.
'Who wouldn't be?' Michael countered. 'Find the right buyer and you could make a bloody fortune.'
'Ah, how much would we talking?' Remington asked from his chair beneath the reading lamp. Although he'd been on the straight and narrow for over three decades, the lure of ill-gotten profit still teased his imagination.
'Certain governments would pay millions.'
'Millions for a fuel cell.' Remington murmured. 'I see Daniel and I were in the wrong line of merchandize. Corporate espionage would have been much more profitable. Better return on the investment.'
Laura sent him a withering glare before turning back to Michael. Such comments were not helpful. 'So you're not looking for the person who stole the documents?'
'Hey, I'm on vacation. All I'm looking for is a good time.' He glanced at his watch. 'Which I won't get if I don't get a move on. The lady is the impatient sort.'
'Redhead?' Remington asked.
Remington let his eyes rest on Laura's dark hair. 'Guilty as charged.'
'Don't wait up.' Michael called as he headed for the door. 'I have high expectations for this one.'
As soon as it closed behind him, Remington was out of the chair and stripping off the smoking jacket. Beneath he wore dark jeans and turtleneck. He pulled a dark cap from his back pocket and settled it low over his iron gray hair. Gone where the days when his hair was dark enough to blend into the shadows. Now it needed help.
'Come on.' He said, heading for the door. 'There's no time to loose. He drives like a bloody banshee.'
'He wasn't very forthcoming.' Laura said, struggling out of the kimono. She was halfway across the yard before she was able to toss it aside. It landed on the mailbox. Looked like the mailman would be getting surprise in the morning. Of course, it wouldn't be the first time. The Steele house was known for its peculiarities.
'Did you expect otherwise?' Remington asked, sliding under the wheel of the nondescript economy car they'd rented for the occasion. Their own cars were too flashy, too recognizable for tailing a suspect let alone their own son.
'No.' Laura admitted. 'He acted just like I expected him to. He always was the secretive sort. A trait he inherited from you.'
'And I suppose you were always an open book?'
'I had nothing to hide.'
'You never did tell me how you got the nickname 'binky'.'
'Didn't I?' She asked. 'Huh. I thought I had.' And the before he could reply, she said quickly, 'Step on it. You're losing him.'
Remington had intended to take the conversation back to the origins of 'binky' but found tailing his son more challenging than he'd expected. First of all, the boy drove fast. Remington was amazed that a Toyota Corolla could exceed speeds of 80 mph and not shake like their own rental was doing. Secondly, he was smooth, swerving in and out of traffic with the finesse of a race car driver, never slamming on the brakes, always maintaining a constant speed. He'd be lethal in a Lamborghini.
They shadowed him for several miles before he swooped across three lanes of traffic, taking an exit. Remington was forced to follow, holding his breath as he cut in front of a semi-truck. Perhaps he should have let Laura drive. She had more experience in erratic driving. Nonetheless, they managed to catch up with Michael just as he turned into the parking lot of a Chinese restaurant.
'Maybe he does have a date.' Remington said as they watched Michael exit the car and jog lightly up the steps of The Forbidden City. He disappeared behind large, poppy red doors. Once closed the doors revealed the twisted form of a Chinese dragon.
'Date, my foot.' Laura muttered, throwing up the car door and climbing out. 'He's been on a 'date' every night since he's been here, and I refuse to believe my son is a sex maniac.'
'And a cat burglar is a better option?'
The restaurant was dark and mysterious, the tables lit by glowing red lanterns. Waiters in black Mao jackets slipped silently through the shadows, their faces pleasantly expressionless. The smell of sandalwood was strong, so strong that one couldn't smell the food being prepared in the kitchen. The incense came at regular intervals, puffing out from the mouths of two Fu lions stationed on either side of the steps leading down into the dining area. In the middle of the restaurant a waterfall cascaded into a pool lit by underwater red and gold lights.
A large potted palm sat near the entrance of the dining room, just to the left of the right lion, and provided excellent cover for Remington and Laura to survey the assembled guests.
'There he is.' Laura hissed. 'Over in the corner. There's a woman with him.' She paused and then said slowly, almost worriedly. 'The back of her head seems awfully familiar.'
'Laura, I'm worried about us.' Remington said, impatiently pushing aside a large leaf. 'We've never resorted to spying on our son. Not even when he was sixteen and dating that girl with all the piercings.'
'This is corporate espionage.' Laura said as if that made what they were doing ok.
Remington studied the couple across the room. 'Yes, I can see that. She looks like a regular Mata Hari. Do you suppose she keeps the gun in her stocking or wedged within her cleavage?'
Laura glared up at him. 'Would you be serious?'
'I thought I was. It's serious business spying on one's son.'
'It's not spy ' Laura's voice abruptly stopped.
Remington glanced down at her. She was peering through the palm branches, her expression stricken. 'What? What is it?'
'That woman.' Laura squeaked. 'It's it's Sam!'
He took a closer look. 'Why so it is. Small world, isn't it? Imagine both of our sons dating the same woman. What are the odds, eh?'
'There's no evidence that this is a date.' Laura pointed out. 'They could be business associates.'
Remington watched as Michael raised Sam's hand to his mouth and kissed it. 'When did a kiss on the hand become a standard greeting among business associates?'
Laura groaned inwardly. Michael looked exactly as his father had years ago when he'd kissed her hand as they were preparing to part after their first meeting. That smoldering look was unmistakable. And Sam? She had a disturbing resemblance to Laura, a little breathless looking as her eyes met his.
Perhaps Remington was right. Spying on their son had been a bad idea. She'd gone in the hopes of finding corporate espionage and found a lovers' triangle instead. There were some things a mother just didn't need to know.
Remington yawned and glanced at the clock on the mantle. It was nearly two in the morning. They should have been in bed hours ago. He glanced at Laura. She was sitting bolt upright in the chair he'd occupied earlier that evening, watching the door like a hawk. Didn't she know that a watched door never opened? Oh, sure, he knew the original phrase had something to do with a boiling pot, but at two in the morning, who cared?
'Laura, it's almost two in the morning. We ought to be in bed.'
'I'm not going to bed until I find out exactly what we witnessed tonight. There has to be a reasonable explanation.'
'He's not sixteen any longer.' Remington pointed out. 'He doesn't have to answer to his mother. His love life is his own affair.'
'He's dating Rick's girlfriend.'
'Rick's secretary.' Remington corrected. 'We've only seen them outside the office in each other's company once. One date hardly makes her his girlfriend.'
'Rick looked quite smitten with her at Holly's party. Even Mildred thought so.' She frowned. 'And I liked her. She seemed so genuine.'
'That's what's really bothering you, isn't it?' Remington asked. 'You liked Miss Wolfe and now you've got to face the fact that either she's a corporate Mata Hari or Lana Turner in The Postman Doesn't Ring Twice, pitting one man against another.'
'Of course, it bothers me.' Laura said with an impatient wave of her hand. 'But that's minor compared to the bigger issue.'
'Both of our sons are dating the same woman. How can I concentrate on a murder with that banging around in my head?'
'Laura Holt wouldn't have had a problem. Murders always came first with her.'
'I've been Laura Steele longer than I was Laura Holt, and things change.' She looked at him, eyebrow cocked. 'Weren't you the one that always wanted me to put pleasure before business?'
'This is hardly what I had in mind.'
'Nevertheless, I'm a mother now, and I've got to '
'I'm not meddling.'
'Then what do you call it?'
At that moment the door opened, and Michael appeared in the entranceway, which was in direct view of the study. He turned to start up the stairs and then stopped, foot on the bottom rung, as his sixth sense told him he was not alone. Sending a quick glance to his left, he was surprised to find his parents sitting in the study.
Hadn't he left them in that same position earlier that evening? Had they sat there all night? No, he decided, gone were the smoking jacket and kimono. Actually, the kimono was on the mailbox. He shook his head. His parents were still living wild.
He leaned against the door jam, offering a smile. 'Mom, Dad, what are you doing up? From the looks of the mailbox I would have thought you'd be in bed by now.'
'Actually I was just on my way.' Remington said, getting up.
He had no desire to be a part of the promised fireworks. Michael might look and even act like him, but he was all Laura when it came to having his independence questioned. He guarded it as jealousy as Laura had ever guarded hers.
'We were waiting for you.' Laura said before Remington could make good his escape. It looked as though she was determined to take him down with her. Ah, well, as she pointed out, they were partners, weren't they? If one insisted on plowing into the side of a destroyer in the vain hope of achieving victory, the other was obligated to follow.
'Me?' Michael echoed. 'Why?'
'Because we want to know what you were doing at The Forbidden City with Miss Wolfe.'
There was a short silence as Michael processed her words. Then he frowned, his dark brows dropping over his nose. 'You followed me?' His eyes went from Laura to Remington, taking in their dark attire. 'When did I become one of your suspects?'
'When you were given the opportunity to fess up, and you chose not to.' Laura said like a cop reading Miranda rights. 'I know you're after those documents.'
'And what if I am?' Michael demanded. 'It's free country the last time I looked. A man's entitled to make a profit. Right, Dad?'
'I might have said something like that.' Remington admitted. 'During one of my weaker moments, of course.'
'I followed you in hopes of finding out what you knew about those documents.' Laura continued. 'Just imagine my surprise when I found you kissing Samantha Wolfe's hand. Are you aware that your brother's in love with her or don't you care?'
'I wouldn't go as far as that, Laura.' Remington interrupted. 'Love's a rather strong adjective to be using at this juncture. I think something along with lines of ' he thought for a moment, pursing his lips, ' infatuation would be more applicable.'
Laura's gaze swung to her husband. 'He's in love.'
'Ok, ok.' Remington said hastily. 'He's in love.' Then under his breath, he added. 'You always were better at jumping to conclusion than I was.'
'What did you say?' Laura demanded.
'Nothing, absolutely nothing.' Remington said. 'Of no consequence, I assure you. Just harmless observations.'
'Might I remind you, Mr. Steele, that you were pretty good at jumping to your own conclusions?' Laura said sweetly. 'Or don't you remember the time you swiped a name tag and pretended to be a dentist in order to question Donald about our so-called relationship?'
'Hey,' Michael interrupted, 'who's on trial here? Me or Dad?'
Remington sighed and shook his head. The boy clearly didn't understand the conception of covering fire. Now if Daniel had done something like that for him, he would have been dully appreciative and gotten the hell out of there.
'No one's on trial.' Laura stated, her attention swinging back to Michael. 'I merely want to know what you were doing in that restaurant kissing Sam's hand.'
Michael stared at her, his expression first incredulous and then grim as the full magnitude of the situation dawned on him. His parents had been spying on him. Spying on him! This was what he expected in one of his father's screwball comedies, not in real life, his life. He wanted to laugh but couldn't.
'I can't believe this.' He exclaimed, his blue eyes steely. 'I can't believe you were spying on me. You trusted me as a kid, but now that I'm an adult, you're following me around like I'm a criminal or something. Incredible.'
'Well, are you?' Laura asked.
'Am I what?'
If possible, his eyes became even harder. 'No, Mom, I'm not a criminal, but don't take a sigh of relief just yet because I'm about to tell you a deep, dark secret.'
'Michael ' Laura began. She'd forgotten how volatile he could be. It took a lot to stir him up, but when it did, he was like a Molotov cocktail.
'You want the truth, Mom? Well, here it is. I'm a secret agent. That's right. I'm 007, Agent 86 and the Saint all rolled into one. Hell, why not throw the Man from U.N.C.L.E. into the mix as well? After all, you always related better to TV than the silver screen.' He looked at her, judging the reaction he was getting, before moving in for the coup de grace. 'How's that for a deep, dark secret? Your fictitious boss and Dad's former career in the jewel industry is nothing compared to me. I am truly the Steele with the license to kill.'
There was a long, heavy silence as son and mother stared at each other, both flushed with anger. Remington stood between them, feeling like a referee between two sumo wrestlers. One false move and he'd be squashed. Yet he had to do something.
'Michael,' Remington said, his voice sounding loud in the silence, 'it was wrong of us to follow you. As you pointed out, you're not one of our suspects. You're our son. You're also a grown man, capable of handling his own life. We respect that. However, we don't respect dishonesty.' He sighed, shoving his hands into his pant's pockets. 'I know honesty wasn't always my strong suit. My early life was spent spinning lies and dodging consequences, but I learned that those things can hurt the people you love.' He sent a quick glance at Laura before continuing. 'You and your brother and sister have kept my secret all these years. Never once did any of you slip. You all proved worthy of our trust. You'll find that your mother and I just as trustworthy. I think that's what your mother is trying to say.'
Another long silence prevailed before Michael finally sighed, the anger draining out of him. 'Dad, you're amazing. You really are.'
'Ah, I wouldn't go that far.' Remington said, trying not to preen.
'He's right.' Laura said, coming over and taking Remington's arm in hers. 'You are amazing. You're nearly as skillful at diffusing bombs as you are at picking locks.' She looked at Michael. 'I'm sorry, Michael. You're life is your own, and I shouldn't meddle.'
A grin broke across Michael's face. 'That's alright, Mom. I know you can't help yourself. It runs in the family. Look at Aunt Frances.'
Laura swallowed the protest that immediately came to her lips. Being compared to Frances did not soothe her. Surely she wasn't that bad. But Michael was still talking, drawing her attention away from her indignation.
'The funny thing is, Dad, I did tell you the truth. I am a secret agent. IFF is a government agency, a mysterious stepchild the CIA. I ran into Mr. Stetson a few years ago. Somehow I got mixed up in one of his cases. To make a long story short, he ended up recruiting me, thought I had potential, seems those skills you taught me compliments a career in espionage beautifully. As for why I'm here, well, a few months ago we became aware that a hostile foreign government was interested in obtaining the specifications for Trevelyan's new fuel cell. Nothing new there. Lots of people, friends and enemies, would like to get their hands on them. It probably wouldn't have gone anywhere if someone at Trevelyan Chemical wasn't as equally interested in selling. We shared the intelligence we'd gathered with Stephen and he agreed to cooperate. We placed one of our own men on the inside. That agent's name was Jason Wolfe. A month ago he went missing. I was sent here to find him. I just never thought I'd have the task of finding him and the documents.'
'Where does Sam come into this?' Laura asked. 'I'm assuming that Jason is related to her somehow.'
'Her brother.' Michael admitted. 'They both work for us, he as a field agent, she in our legal department. She insisted on being involved with the case. To my surprise, Mr. Stetson agreed, said civilians can be more useful than us pros expect. So I got her a job at Steele Investigations.'
'Does Rick know?'
Michael shook his head. 'He just thinks she's a damn good secretary. It gives her a cover while we work on finding Jason.'
'And have you made any progress?'
'Some. With Stephen's blessing, I took over Jason's position at Trevelyan. That's what I've been doing during the day, playing the part of chemistry geek.' He removed a pair of horn-rimmed glasses from his pocket, settling them on his nose. 'I do a pretty good job of it, don't you think?'
'Wonderful.' Laura agreed. 'You look just like Jerry Lewis in the Nutty Professor.'
'Not that bad, I hope.' He said, returning the glasses to his pocket. 'Well, anyway, it's a good cover for nosing around. Problem is I haven't found much. Trevelyan employees are notoriously tight-lipped, but I did manage to find out that Jason dined at The Forbidden City the night he disappeared. Seems a co-worker and her husband saw him going in as they were coming out. So Sam and I decided to snoop around the City, see if we can get the staff to talk. We figured the least conspicuous way of doing so was to pose as a couple on a date.'
'Superb performance.' Remington noted dryly. 'That hand kissing looked very authentic. It certainly convinced your mother.' He winced as fingernails dug into his arm but continued on valiantly. 'Did it convince the staff?'
'It might have if it wasn't for the rumors.'
'Rumors?' Laura echoed.
'There was this rumor going around that they were being watched.' His eyes slid from Laura to Remington. 'I guess it wasn't a rumor after all, eh?'
Laura had the grace to blush. 'We were only there for about ten minutes. They must be a nervous bunch to let a little peeking around potted palms bother them.'
'They are. Very nervous.' Michael confirmed. 'Which makes me wonder what else goes on there besides dining. Sam's going to check them out on the Steele computers tomorrow. Knowing who owns the place might shed some light on the case.' He straightened up. 'Now, if you don't mind, I'll go on up to bed. I have to be at Trevelyan's early in the morning. Day jobs are for the birds.'
'Quite a letdown, eh, Laura?' Remington asked when they were alone again. 'Here you were expecting the average, run of the mill sex maniac and you got James Bond.'
'I wasn't completely off.' Laura replied, turning off the reading lamp and plunging them into moonlit darkness. 'Bond was a bit of a sex maniac. He slept with three or four different women per movie. Not exactly a poster child for safe sex.'
'John Robie is looking better and better, eh?'
She came over and put her arms around his neck. 'What can I say? I have a weakness for cat burglars.' She leaned up and brushed her lips against his. 'You really were pretty amazing tonight, Mr. Steele. It could have gotten ugly if you hadn't step in and saved the day. I'd forgotten how volatile he can be. He's so easygoing that one forgets he's as stubborn as a mule.'
Remington thought it wise not to comment. He didn't want to get into a discussion about whose side of the family that particular trait came from.
'Seeing as how you've gotten your reasonable explanation, is there any reason why we shouldn't be in bed?' He asked.
'Splendid.' Remington said, urging her up the stairs. 'These late nights are devilish hard on a bloke.' Once settled beneath the covers, Remington's voice came again, tentative almost. 'Laura, I'm worried.'
'Don't be. We had a legitimate reason for spying ' Laura began.
'No, not that.' Remington interrupted.
She frowned. 'What then?'
'When we first met I could dance the night away, often did. Now I nod off before Bogart can say 'Here's looking at you, kid.' Do you think I'm getting old?'
Laura smiled into the darkness. He'd never be old to her. 'No, Mr. Steele, you're not getting old. You're just retired.'
There was a pause and then he said. 'Laura?'
'I'm wide awake.'
'So am I.'
'If I remember correctly, and of course, my memory is faulty these days due to my advanced years, but it seems to me that I never had any trouble falling asleep after we '
'Made mad, passionate love?' She finished.
'Something like that.'
Laura sat up, reaching for the hem of her nightgown. It came off in an efficient sweep and went flying into the darkness, probably to rest of Gloria's statute. It had always been an excellent clothes horse.
'What are you doing?' Remington asked as she draped herself across his body.
'Curing your insomnia.'
'That's what I love about you, Laura.' Remington murmured, his hands sliding up her bare back. 'You're so considerate.
Like Old Times
They looked like a gathering of well-dressed vultures, Remington decided as he stood on the edges of Trevelyan patio, soaking up the California sunshine and nursing a glass of club soda. Dreadful stuff but whoever had catered the Trevelyan after-funeral gathering must have thought alcohol in bad taste. The only beverages filling the bar were club soda, Perrier water and iced tea. He grimaced. There ought to be a law against icing tea. It was nearly as sacrilegious as serving that green variety.
His eyes drifted around the patio, touching on each guest before moving on. It was sedate affair with a lot of sniffling into handkerchiefs and quiet murmurs. Not a bit like the wakes he'd attended in Ireland. Now the Irish, they knew how to give someone a proper send off. None of these long faces and hollow-eyed stares. Of course, he might have looked upon things a bit more sympathetically if any of those gathered actually mourned Stephen Trevelyan. Which brought him back to his original conclusion ~ vultures, every one of them.
He jumped. Club soda splashed to the patio bricks, narrowly missing his Italian leather shoes. Where the bloody hell had Tory come from? He'd thought Rick had her pinned near the buffet table.
'Tory,' he said, turning with a pained smile, 'lovely day for a funeral, eh? Bright sunshine. No standing beneath dripping umbrellas while the vicar says that part about the dust. Ah, yes, delightful day.'
'Um, yes, quite.' Tory agreed. 'Douglas '
'And that black veil. Brilliant touch. Just like Queen Victoria over her dearest Albert. Ah, yes, now that woman knew how to mourn.' He sighed, giving his own imitation of the grieving Queen. 'But I'm glad to see that you've mastered the art of playing the widow to perfection. Bravo! Only an Englishwoman could pull it off properly.'
'Not really a widow.' Tory said somewhat bitterly. 'I'm three wives removed.'
'But still in the will, eh?'
Tory's bleached eyebrows pulled down over her nose. 'I'm I'm really not sure. The will isn't read until tomorrow afternoon, and Stephen never spoke about his arrangements. I suppose there may be a small stipend, seeing as how I'm the mother of his oldest children. He always was a generous man, even after our divorce. But all that changed when I asked him for '
Remington's attention, which had been wandering the patio in search of Laura, suddenly did a U-turn. 'Asked him for what?'
'Oh, it was nothing.' Tory hastily assured him. 'Just a little financial hiccup. I often get them. There's not much of a market for reformed thieves, is there? I took a course in horticulture, but that didn't work out. And all those flowers attracted bees, and Stephen was so deathly allergic to them. Then I tried fashion design, but I'm much better at wearing clothes then designing them.' She paused, one brightly painted fingernail tapping her cheek thoughtfully. 'You know, the only thing I had any luck with was the dogs.'
'The dogs?' Remington prompted.
'Yes, the dogs. Greyhounds.' She provided. 'I'm quite good at picking the winners, but lately ' once again she trailed off, her expression troubled. Remington was about to question her further on 'the dogs', when she suddenly looked up at him. 'Douglas, I really must speak with you.'
'I thought that was what you were doing.'
'I mean alone.'
'I don't see why '
'You're a detective, aren't you?' She demanded.
'I was.' He admitted. 'But I'm retired.'
'Oh, that doesn't matter.' She told him. 'All I need is a little advice. Could I come over to your house later this evening? Say around ten?'
Remington's eyes went to Laura. She was standing near the infamous BBQ pit, looking incredibly sexy in black. Obviously he was not the only one that thought so. Scott Trevelyan was having a hard time keeping his eyes in his head as he and Holly talked with her. Dreadful fellow. His hands itched for his walking stick. Playing with the hidden stiletto had such a soothing effect.
'I don't think that would be a good idea, Tory.' Remington began. 'I'm not often alone in the evenings.'
Victoria followed his gaze and then laughed. It was a laugh that grated across his nerves. 'Oh, you mean the wife? Keeps you on a short lead, huh?'
Remington bristled. He didn't like to hear Laura spoken of so disparagingly, especially by the likes of Tory Templeton. 'She doesn't need a lead, Victoria. I'm not the roaming kind.'
'You've changed. The man I knew in Monte Carlo was quite the rover. Never in one place for more than a couple nights, wasn't it?'
'That man was Douglas Quintain. I'm Remington Steele. With a new name comes a new life.'
She eyed him for a second or two and then decided to change tactics. She placed a hand on his arm and leaned toward him in what she must have thought an appealing manner. Remington felt himself leaning in the opposite direction. 'I'm sorry, Douglas. I didn't mean to annoy you. It's just that this is so terribly important. I simply must speak with you.'
'Tory,' Remington said impatiently, 'I can't imagine what could be so important that you can't speak of it now.'
'It's ' she paused, looked behind them, and then whispered, ' about the documents.'
That got his attention. 'I can't do ten o'clock. It'll have to be closer to eight.'
'Oh, Douglas, darling,' Tory cried, putting her hands on either side of his face, 'I knew I could count on you. I'll be there at eight.'
'What is Victoria doing to Dad?' Holly demanded, scowling. She and Laura were alone, Scott having left them a few minutes ago to fetch a glass of club soda.
'Kissing him.' Laura replied.
Holly's blue eyes swung to her. 'And you don't mind?'
'I trust your father completely.' Laura said, taking a sip of her iced tea. 'I wish I could say the same about Victoria.'
'So it does bother you.'
'Then why don't you go over there and break it up.'
'Because your father is a grown man, fully capable of handling the mysterious women from his past. At least this one is out in the open and not stuffed into a closet.' She cast a glance at the couple. 'Besides, he doesn't seem to be enjoying it.'
'No.' Holly agreed. 'He looks about ready to hiss and spit.'
'I'm sure it's nothing.' Laura continued. Who was she trying to convince? Herself or Holly? 'Victoria's had a great loss. She needs comforting.'
Holly looked skeptical. 'I haven't seen a tear all day.'
'They haven't been married for over ten years.' Laura pointed out. 'I wouldn't expect the first of four wives to be overcome with grief.' She glanced around the patio. 'Actually the only Trevelyan that seems even remotely upset is Fiona. Lance Everett has been holding her up all afternoon. I haven't had an opportunity to question either one of them. What about you? Did you find out anything from Patricia?'
Holly shrugged. 'She wears Twinkle Me Pink lipstick, and has a solid alibi. She and her sons were stuck in traffic about the time the fatal kiss took place. She described the accident on Highway 5 pretty accurately, right down to the make and color of the cars involved.'
'She could have gotten that from the newspaper.' Laura noted before asking. 'And what about Scott? Where was he?'
'Scott didn't kill Stephen.'
'Are you sure?'
'Mom,' Holly said impatiently, 'Stephen was killed by a poisoned kiss. Surely you don't think Scott kissed his father.'
'No,' Laura agreed, 'but there's still the stolen documents. You were with us. He was driving home alone.'
'He didn't steal the documents.'
'How do you know?'
'Because he's too stupid to steal them.' Holly declared.
The statement hung in the air between them. Laura didn't know quite what to say. She had suspected Holly of not loving her fiancé, but to have such a low opinion of his intelligence was eye-opening. Did she truly intend to marry a man whom she held in such low regard? And if not, when was she planning on ending this ridiculous charade?
Holly must have suspected her thoughts for she suddenly turned contrite. 'I'm sorry, Mom. I shouldn't have said that. I was just frustrated.'
'Is that what you really think of him?' Laura asked.
'Of course not.' Holly said quickly. 'He's just intellectually incapable of planning a theft. He doesn't have the mind for it. I ought to know.'
'It wouldn't take much planning.' Laura pointed out. 'All he would need is opportunity and the combination to the safe.' Her eyes went to Victoria who had moved away from Remington and was now talking with Patricia. 'He's Victoria's son. If she's a thief as we suspect, then what's stopping her from passing along the skills just as your father did with you and your brothers?'
Holly stared across the patio, blue eyes steely. 'I don't know what Dad ever saw in her. She has a dreadful taste in clothes. That veil is ridiculous. Who does she think she is? Queen Victoria?'
'According to him, it was your grandfather that saw something in her.'
'And you believe him?'
'Of course.' Laura said. 'We've come a long way since those early days when I was suspicious of everything he said and did.'
There was a long pause and then Holly suddenly asked. 'Did you and Dad ever fight in those early days?'
'Frequently but Mildred puts it down as sexual tension.' Laura glanced at her daughter, eyes probing. 'Why do you ask?'
'Oh, no reason.' Holly said with a shrug. 'It's just that Scott and I never fight.'
'And you and Mac do.'
Holly's head whipped around. 'Why bring Mac Michaels into this? He had nothing to do with me and Scotty.'
Laura didn't answer. Instead she said. 'He looks a lot like his father.'
Irritation was instantly replaced by interest. Laura had never spoken much to her children about her former partner, and Holly, having inherited her mother's curiosity, wasn't going to let the opportunity slip away. She'd always wondered about Murphy Michaels and where he fit into her parents' past.
'Was there ever anything between you and Murphy, Mom?'
Laura shook her head, her mouth turning up in a rueful smile. 'No, not really. I suppose Murphy thought himself in love with me at one time, but by the time I noticed, your father was on the scene.'
'So if it hadn't been for dad, the two of you might have made it a permanent partnership?'
'Oh, I don't know. Murph was a good friend and partner, but there were no fireworks, at least not for me. Your father, on the other hand, set off a 4th of July grand finale. Murphy recognized the writing on the wall long before I did and left for Denver. Sherrie went with him. It would be nice to see him again.' She stopped, sending Holly a wary glance. 'But don't tell your father that. He'd pout for a week.'
'Maybe you will see him again.'
'Do you know something I don't?'
'Just a feeling.' Holly murmured before suddenly saying with renewed Golightly sparkle. 'Well, darling, I really must get mingling again. There's still Lance to corner.' She paused, one finger against her cheek, unconsciously imitating her father. 'Now that's one squirrely guy if ever I saw one. He hangs around the edges of the Trevelyan family like a groupie at a rock concert. Oh, here comes Scotty. What a darling! He found me a glass of white wine.'
Laura watched her daughter go with something close to exasperated amusement. One minute she could be as sharp as a tack and the next flittering around like a butterfly. She refused to believe that her daughter had a split personality so the question was which Holly was real and which one was an act?
Remington glanced at his watch. It was thirty minutes until eight. Time to send Laura on a mission. In other words, time to get her out of the house so he could keep his appointment with Tory. He frowned. It sounded as though he was having a secret liaison behind Laura's back. Well, aren't you, his conscious demanded.
No, he assured himself. It was not a liaison, not in the traditional sense. It was perfectly innocent. How could it be anything but with Frank Mulch in the kitchen, collecting his glassware? It was a shame he hadn't had time to pack the glasses away for Mulch, but ah, well, these things happened. By his estimates, Mulch would have to spend at least an hour packing. Plenty of time to act as chaperone.
'Holly's right.' Laura was saying as they sat beside the pool, having a glass of wine as the last light of day slowly faded behind the pine trees. 'Lance Everett is a strange duck. I couldn't run him to ground. Neither could Holly or Rick. He spent his entire time glued to Fiona's side, keeping her upright apparently. I would swear the woman was either drugged or drunk.'
'But that didn't stop you from ferreting out the information you wanted.'
'You bet it didn't.' Laura agreed. 'There's more than one way to skin a cat. I just asked the Ex-Wife Society. According to Joan, he and Stephen were old friends, went to college together, both majored in chemistry. But Lance apparently wasn't as brilliant as Stephen. That was Patricia's contribution.' She gnawed her lower lip thoughtfully. 'But Victoria seemed to imply that there was a falling out between them around the time Stephen made his first real contribution to the chemical industry. Whatever it was must have blown over because Lance came to work for Stephen and has been a part of 'the family' ever since. They seem to look upon him as a crazy uncle in the attic.'
Remington cocked his head to one side. 'What was that?'
'What was what?'
'I think I heard the telephone.'
Laura frowned. 'I didn't hear anything.'
'That's because Gloria's playing Wagner again. When Brünnhilde hits the high notes it temporary numbs the cochlear nerve. Amazing discovery. I was just reading about it the other day in The American Medical Journal. Fortunately my nerves are older than yours, and they don't respond as quickly, allowing me to hear other noises.' Remington told her, jumping off his lounger and heading for the door. 'I'll just pop inside and answer it.'
Laura's frown deepened but he was gone before she could comment. What a bunch of hogwash! Whoever heard of Wagner numbing cochlear nerves? And what's this nonsense about his nerves being older? She drained her wineglass and waited for his return.
She didn't have long to wait. He was back within a couple of minutes.
'That was Frances.' He said, settling himself in his lounger once again.
'What did she want?' Laura prompted when he didn't continue.
Remington frowned into his wineglass. 'Frankly, Laura, I'm not sure. You see, it was rather difficult to hear with all that hysterical crying.'
'Crying!' Laura exclaimed, vaulting upright.
'I'm sure there's nothing to worry about.' He assured her. 'I think it has something to do with Donald and that new golf instructor he'd been working with. You know how your sister tends to jump to conclusions, especially where leggy blondes are concerned.'
'Oh, hell,' Laura muttered, getting up. 'I'd better call her before she ends up in our guest bedroom.'
'It won't do any good.'
'She'll never hear the phone ringing with all that wailing.'
'Then I'd better drive over there.'
'I'm sure it can wait until tomorrow.' Remington said, following her into the kitchen where Mulch was meticulously packing wineglasses. He hastily buried his head in a box at Laura's appearance. They'd not been on speaking terms since Holly's party.
'Frances is like a forest fire.' Laura said, collecting car keys, purse and jacket. 'Best to put it out while it's still small. Otherwise, it'll become a raging inferno.' She threw a glance at Mulch. 'How long is he going to be here?'
Remington glanced at the two packed boxes and the amount of glassware on the counter. Mulch was slower than he'd expected. Excellent. There'd be no question of his innocence. 'An hour or two.'
'Make sure you get a receipt.' She called over her shoulder as she headed for the garage. 'I don't want him charging for any missing glasses.'
'I'm an honest businessman.' Mulch stated once the roar of the convertible had faded away.
'Don't mind, Laura.' Remington said, giving Mulch a slap on the back. 'She's naturally suspicious. Comes from being a detective.' He headed for the door and then turned back. 'But leave a receipt all the same, eh?'
'Nice place you've got here.' Tory Trevelyan noted as Remington opened the door to her ten minutes later. 'Kind of small but quaint. Of course, I was expecting the great Remington Steele to live in a penthouse apartment.'
'What happened to it?'
She sashayed inside, her white fur coat swirling about her ankles like angry poodles. 'There's a van out front.'
'Belongs to the event planner for Holly's engagement party.' Remington explained. 'He's in the kitchen collecting some items he left behind. He won't disturb us.'
'I thought we were going to be alone.' She said, her expression sullen.
'When you said alone, I thought you were referring to Laura.' He said easily, taking her arm and ushering her down the hallway. 'Surely you don't object to Mulch. He's as harmless as a fly. His one passion in life is taking care of his mother and betting on dead certs. I can assure you that he has no interest in top secret documents.'
'Douglas, I '
'You want proof?' He asked. 'Then let's go ask him.'
He hustled her back up the hallway and into the kitchen.
'Mulch, please tell the lady that you have no interest in documents.'
Frank glanced up from a box. 'What kind of documents?'
'Just your standard, run of the mill top secret ones.'
'Are they worth anything?'
Mulch shook his head. 'Money like would make me all prudent-like and then goodbye to happiness. Nah, I'm not interested in your documents, not if they're worth that much.'
'There you go, Tory. Straight for the horse's mouth. Mulch prefers the happiness of poverty.'
Before Tory could reply, he was ushering her back down the hallway and into the theater room, which was lit up like a Christmas tree. In an attempt to avoid any appearance of intimacy, Remington had turned on every light in the room. Blinded, Tory groped her way to the first seat available, the white couch. Just as she was about to sit down, Remington stopped her, taking her arm and urging her into an armchair.
'Family heirloom.' He said cheerfully. 'Only Laura and I use that couch.'
She stared at him. 'I'm beginning to worry about you, Douglas.'
'So glad to hear it. I was worrying about me just last night.'
Tory glanced around the room expectantly. 'Aren't you going to offer me a drink?'
'I only serve drinks to guests.'
'What am I?' She asked indignantly. 'Chopped liver?'
'You're a woman who has,' he glanced at his watch, calculating the time it would take Laura to drive to Frances' and back, 'exactly twenty one minutes to get to the reason for her visit.'
'Oh, very well,' she muttered, shrugging out of her fur coat, 'but I'm not at all impressed with your manners. You've become a terrific bore, Douglas.'
If the attire beneath her coat was supposed to arouse him, it didn't. He found nothing appealing about the cleavage exposed by a dress cut clear to her naval. A woman her age ought to have better taste.
'Thank you. I work very hard at it.' He told her coolly. 'Now, tell me what you know about these documents.'
'I didn't steal them.'
'Fabulous. Is that all?'
'But I tried to.'
'Ah, now we're getting somewhere. I'm assuming that the fact that you tried has some bearing on this case?'
She nodded, platinum curls bouncing. 'I tried to steal them the night Stephen was murdered. You see, Douglas, I like betting on the dogs. I'm really very good at it, but we all have dry spells and I racked up quite a debt with the owner of the track. I went to Stephen, but he refused to pay. He was always so generous in the past, but this time he became furious with me and said I was too old to continue being so irresponsible. He flat out refused so I had no choice but to fall back on my old profession. But petty jewelry wasn't enough to pay off the Hungarian so I decided to steal the documents. They would bring enough cash to take care of me and my children for years to come. Unfortunately I chose the wrong time to make the attempt.'
'An attempt?' Remington prompted. 'You mean you didn't succeed?'
'I drove to the mansion that night, thinking the coast would be clear. Everyone was at Holly's party. It would be a piece of cake. In and out. When I got there, the house was completely dark. I figured the storm had put out the electricity but that didn't bother me. I didn't want lights anyway. I went to the safe, opened it and nothing. The documents weren't there. At that point I got spooked. I don't know if it was a noise or premonition, but whatever it was, I ran and fell over something on the floor.' She put a hand to her face as though to steady herself and then continued. 'I took out my flashlight, and there was Stephen. Dead. As I was getting to my feet, I found this.'
She held out her hand. Lying upon the palm was a small blue jewel. Remington took it from her, examining it closely. Because it was so small he couldn't determine if it was real or not, but judging from its shape and size, he guessed it had once been part of a larger piece of jewelry. A ring? A brooch? A necklace? The possibilities were endless. And who had dropped it? The murderer, the thief, Stephen?
'It could have been on the floor for some time.' Remington noted.
'It could also be the piece of evidence that could convict the murderer.' Victoria pointed out. 'That's why I felt I had to speak to you.' She leaned forward in her chair, her expression urgent. 'Douglas, I'm scared. What if she or he knows I have it? They might kill me to get it. That's how it always happens in murder mysteries. The person with the evidence gets bumped off.'
'Calm yourself, Tory.' He said. 'Nobody knows you were at the mansion that night.'
'But how do I know that?' She exclaimed. 'My car was in the driveway. The murderer could have still been on the premises.'
'If they'd still been on the premises, we would have had a double funeral today.' Remington told her. 'I'll show this to Laura and '
'Laura?' Tory exclaimed 'I thought you were the detective.'
'I am, but Laura is invaluable in these kinds of cases, simply invaluable.' He got up and went over to urge Victoria to her feet. 'Now why don't you go home, take a couple aspirin and we'll call you in the morning.'
'But, Douglas,' Victoria protested, sliding her arms around his neck, 'my life is in jeopardy! Don't you think I ought to stay here for the night or maybe you could sleep over at my place?'
Remington tugged at her arms. Just as soon as he pried off one arm, the other would wrap itself around him. Bloody hell, it was like fighting off the giant squid in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, he thought, scrambling backwards in an effort to avoid her tentacles. Wrong move. His legs hit the edge of the white couch, and he fell, landing on his back with Victoria on top on him.
It shouldn't have been any surprise, considering his track record that at that very moment the front door burst open and Laura's voice could be heard saying, 'Frances didn't call me! She and Donald were cooing like '
He winced before turning toward the theater door with a hopeful smile. 'Laura, dearest, this isn't what it looks like.'
'You mean you're not lying on the white couch with one of those mysterious women from your past?' Laura asked sweetly. 'Gee, I must see Dr. Adams about getting a new prescription because I could swear that's what it looks like to me.'
Remington shoved Tory aside and scrambled to his feet. 'Laura, let me explain.'
'How can you explain sending me on a wild goose chase so you could meet with your your paramour?' Laura demanded, temper flaring. 'And on the white couch too? Have you no shame?'
She whirled, charging down the hallway like a runaway locomotive. Remington hurried after her. 'Laura, listen to me. It's perfectly innocent. I swear. Mulch is here.' He said quickly, desperately. 'If I wanted to have a romantic rendezvous with a woman, would I have Mulch in the kitchen? Eh? Would I?'
'There's no one in the kitchen.' She stated.
'Of course, there is.' Remington insisted, managing to snare her arm before she reached the stairs. 'Come on. I'll show you. He's right ' he stopped as they reached the kitchen. It was dark and deserted. No boxes, no wineglasses, no Mulch. Not even a blasted receipt! 'Why that bloody bugger...' Remington muttered and then turned to Laura, 'I swear he was right here ten minutes ago. Ask Victoria.'
'As if I'd believe her.' Laura snorted, shaking off his hand.
As if on cue, Victoria's head appeared around the door of the theater room. 'Dougie, darling, what about that drink? I'm parched.'
'Seems your girlfriend is thirsty.' Laura said, starting up the stairs. 'Your manners are appalling, Mr. Steele. Usually drinks come before the fun.'
'See, Douglas, even your wife thinks you're a bore.' Victoria chided.
But Remington didn't hear her. All his attention was on Laura. It's been a long time since he'd landed in a mess like this one. So much for pursuing a case. He should have stayed retired.
'Laura,' he protested, following her up the stairs, 'damn it, will you slow down? You know I can't take steps this fast.'
She ignored him and even had the nerve to sprint the last few steps to the bedroom. She was pulling blankets out of the cedar chest when he finally caught up with her.
'Would you just let me explain?' He demanded.
'And to think I told Holly that I could trust you.' She muttered, slamming the chest shut. 'I should have known you were up to something. Cochlear nerve, my foot.'
'It's not what you think. If you'll just calm down, and let me ' his voice was ended abruptly by a blanket hitting him in the face.
'I suppose you're going to tell me that this has something to do with the case.' She continued, ripping back the bedspread.
'As a matter of fact, it is about the case. Victoria said she wanted to discuss the missing documents so I '
'Come now, Mr. Steele, surely you can be more original than that.' Laura scoffed, picking up his pillow and flinging it at him. He ducked just in time. It sailed over his head, landing in the hallway. 'At the very least I expected a tale concerning stolen crown jewels or something equally fantastic. Kryptonite perhaps? Corporate espionage is rather unimaginative, don't you think?
'It's unimaginative because it's the truth.' Remington snapped.
Of all the unreasonable females! Not letting a chap get a word in edgewise and then when he finally did twisting it into something completely wrong. He opened his mouth to vent his anger but before he could, he was being forced backwards across the threshold and into the hallway where his pillow waited. He stared at Laura over his armful of blanket. She stared back, her eyes full of something he hadn't seen in years. Mistrust. It felt like she had just plunged a knife into his stomach.
'The couch is all yours, Mr. Steele. I wouldn't sit on it now if you had it disinfected.'
The door went slamming shut, followed by the click of a lock. He was just wondering whether he ought to try his pick when the sound of a chair being shoved under the doorknob stopped him. Mrs. Steele had learned her lesson and was taking no chances.
Laura rolled over in the bed for about the twentieth time that night. The clock stared at her. Eight minutes after midnight. The house was quiet, and she wondered briefly where Michael was. She hadn't seen him since the night before. Then her thoughts returned to what was causing her insomnia ~ Remington. She wondered if he was enjoying the couch. If it was anything like her enjoyment of the bed, he must be black and blue by now.
Creep, she thought, delivering a well-placed punch to the pillow. Here she'd been telling Holly how trustworthy he was and he pulls something like this. He must have been plotting it since that afternoon on the patio. It was just like old times. Expect this bimbo wasn't in the closet; she was on their white couch.
She flipped over, placing her back to the clock. Not that she really believed he had any interest in that woman. He'd been faithful from the very beginning. She really didn't doubt him on that score despite her ranting and raving. No, she decided, what had made her livid was the sneaking around behind her back, the lying to get her out of the way. Again the phrase 'just like old times' danced across her mind like a mad leprechaun. Only this time they weren't running across a beach chased by Incredible Hulks because he'd stolen a dagger and not told her.
So what are you complaining about, her inner voice asked. This is small potatoes compared to that and some of the other pickles he'd gotten them into because of his incessant plotting. Yes, he'd made up a fishy story about Frances but weren't you intending to keep Stephen's pass a secret until Michael blabbed? Both were deceptions in their own way. So, the voice demanded again, what are you doing up here while he's down there?
It took another ten minutes of mental harassment before she finally got up and pulled on her robe. Then she crept down the stairs. The door of the theater room was open, but Remington was not on the white couch. It gleamed an eerie gray in the moonlight. For a brief moment she nearly marched right back upstairs, thinking he'd gone home with Victoria, but a quick glance around the room assured her that he hadn't. There was a Remington size lump on the black, leather couch.
She went over and sat down on the coffee table. As she reached out to touch his shoulder, she stopped, startled to find his eyes on her. They looked at her solemnly, and she winced a little at the hurt she saw in them. Darn it! She was the one who'd been lied to. He had no business looking at her so reproachfully. He must have learned that technique from Jack.
'You're not on the white couch.' She said.
'It wasn't the same without you.'
Turn the screws a little tighter, why don't you, she thought, before saying. 'I'm ready to listen to your explanation if you're willing to give it.'
For a moment she thought he was going to let her stew in her own juices, but finally he said. 'Victoria wanted to talk about the documents, and she insisted that we be alone. So in the interest of solving this case, which we now find ourselves embroiled in, I agreed. It's what you would have done, isn't it?'
'Yes, it's want I would have done.' She admitted before adding hastily. 'But I wouldn't have made up some crazy story to get you out of the house. Frances was not happy about being disturbed. Seems I interrupted her and Donald in the hot tub. It was,' Laura felt a blush rising to her cheeks, 'rather embarrassing.'
'Having it off were they?'
'Don't be vulgar, Mr. Steele.'
'Can't 'elp it, sweets. It's Johnny Todd, it is. 'E takes over when I'm down on me luck.'
'Hardly down on your luck.'
'What do you call being banished to this bloody couch?' He demanded, his expression once again reproachful. 'It's devilishly hard on these old bones of mine. My knee had a dreadful ache in it.'
'You weren't complaining the other night.'
'Ah, but I had someone to share in my suffering.'
'Oh, is that what you call it? Suffering?' She asked, raising an eyebrow at him.
'Usually when there's a terrific amount of moaning and '
'I was there, Mr. Steele. You don't have to give me a play by play.'
'What if I demonstrated instead?'
Laura considered this. 'That might be acceptable. In fact, I would say it's highly recommended.'
'Lovely.' He breathed, reaching for her. 'It was getting damn cold on this couch.'
Some thirty or forty minutes later, she'd lost track of the time, moaning did that to a person, Laura murmured against Remington's shoulder. 'So what was this 'for your eyes only' information Victoria had to share?'
Keeping Laura pressed against his chest Remington reached over the side of the coach and retrieved his pants. She watched as he rooted around in the pockets, muttering a few times, and then finally tossing them aside. He then took her hand, opened it and placed something on the palm.
She frowned as she closed her hand around the item. It was hard and small and had a tendency to want to slip between her fingers. Finally she managed get it between two fingers, holding it up to the dim light filtering through the windows.
'A jewel?' She asked. 'Kind of small, isn't it?'
'It's a stone from some larger piece of jewelry. Could have come from anything. A ring, a brooch, a necklace.' Remington said. 'Victoria claims that she found it near Stephen's body.'
Laura's eyes swung to her husband. 'She was there that night?'
'She went there to steal the documents, seems she's short on funds, had a bit of bad luck with the dogs. She and Mulch would be perfect for each other.' He paused as though contemplating such a partnership before continuing. 'According to her, the safe was already empty. She got spooked, made a run for it and fell over Stephen. As she was getting up, she found the stone. That's her story anyway.'
'You don't believe her?'
'I always tend to question the truthfulness of thieves, especially ones I don't know very well.'
'But if she is telling the truth, this stone could lead us to the killer.' Laura said, excitement rising in her voice. 'I've got to show this to Rick.'
She made a movement as though to get up. Remington's arm clamped around her like a vice. 'Tomorrow.' He said in a voice that told Laura he wasn't going to accept any arguments on the matter. 'Tonight you're staying right where you are.'
'Feeling amorous again, Mr. Steele?'
'Feeling like a good night's sleep.' He corrected. 'Shall we retire to the Queen Mary?'
'It would be more comfortable than this couch.' Laura admitted.
But Remington didn't get the instant gratification he was hoping for when his head hit the pillow. Instead his wife's voice came out of the darkness, dragging him back to consciousness. 'Michael hasn't come in yet.'
'Blimey, Laura, we're not going to start that again, are we?' Remington growled into his pillow. 'The boy isn't sixteen any longer. He's probably tucked between some sweet young thing's bed sheets.'
Remington chose not to comment. He had his own ideas on that subject, ideas that Laura probably wouldn't like or agree with. Instead he said. 'The point is he can take care of himself. He's got a license to kill, remember?'
'And that's supposed to comfort me?'
'It's the best I can do. Now close those beautiful brown eyes and go to sleep. If he's not back by tomorrow, then you can release the hounds.'
'So good of you to give your permission, Mr. Steele.' She muttered, rolling over and pulling the sheets up to her ears.
She waited for a reply but received nothing but silence. Remington was asleep.
Dawn was just beginning to creep across the sky when Laura backed the convertible onto Totenham Court Road, spun the wheel to the left and then eased down on the accelerator. She did not take off with her usual enthusiasm, aware that any roaring engine or screeching tires might wake the husband she left sleeping upstairs. Hopefully, she'd be back before he woke up. She had no desire to hear another lecture on meddling.
Not that this was meddling, she assured herself as she merged into the early morning traffic. It was merely concern, the same concern she would have felt if Mildred hadn't shown up when she should have. It had nothing to do with Michael being her son. One agent had already disappeared. There was reason to be concerned when a second one failed to follow normal operating procedures.
Oh, sure, there was always the possibility that he was with some 'sweet thing' as Remington had suggested, but Laura didn't think so. Michael was on a case, and when a Holt was on a case, they didn't take any detours. Everything else took a back seat. No, she decided, wherever Michael was it had to do with the case, and if it had to do with the case, he could be in need of back-up.
Technically, what she was about to do should have been done by Sam. She was his partner, but how much did a civilian know about backing someone up? Sam certainly looked competent enough but so had Remington. Looks could be deceiving. What was that Stetson guy thinking to send a greenhorn to do a pro's job? Heck, Laura thought as she took the exit she'd taken so many times before, there was every possibility that Sam could be missing too. If she didn't do a little snooping now, then it might be too late later.
The office buildings were still dark when she pulled the convertible up in front of them. A few lights glowed here and there, testifying to one or two hardy souls, but for the most part, they sat deserted, waiting for the return of their tenants. She left the car and jogged lightly across the sidewalk and into the building. There was no time to waste. Within an hour people would start arriving.
The glass doors of Remington Steele Investigations were as dark and silent as the building itself. Nobody was in yet. Even the larger section that housed the majority of the employees showed no life. Laura pulled out her pick and went to work opening the doors. They opened easily although maybe not quite as easily as they did for Remington. Once inside she re-locked the doors. No need to invite someone in.
She stood for a moment debating where best to do her dirty work. All the offices had computer access. Gone were the days when Mildred's computer was the sole gateway to knowledge. In the end she headed for Rick's office, having balked at the idea of rooting around in Mac or Sam's personal space. Besides, if anyone should come in, it would be easier to explain her presence in Rick's office than anyone else's.
Seating herself behind the desk, she turned on the computer and waited for it to go through its boot-up process. As it ground way, her eyes drifted around the office, noting how different the place looked. For one time there were files on the desk and an in-basket overflowing with papers. She opened a drawer. Office supplies. How novel.
A blue box on the computer screen drew her attention, and she frowned. Enter her security code? Oh hell. She'd forgotten about that. It's been one of Mrs. Jones' innovations. She wracked her brain for the code she hadn't used for over five years and then holding her breath, typed it in. To her relief the blue box disappeared, and she was free to let her fingers do the walking through the vast resources available to Steele Investigations.
A noise interrupted her as she was scrolling. She glanced up and winced. It was eight o'clock exactly. She'd been at it for two hours, and now the first employee had arrived. From the sounds coming from the outer office, it was Sam. She hurriedly turned off the computer and got up. She had the information she'd wanted on The Forbidden City. Now it was time to confront Sam and see what she knew of Michael's whereabouts.
'Good morning, Sam.' She said from the doorway.
Samantha jumped, whirling around, her hand on her chest as though to still a pounding heart. 'Mrs. Steele!' She exclaimed. 'What are you doing here? Rick didn't say anything about you coming in this morning.'
'He couldn't have.' Laura told her, coming forward. 'He didn't know.'
'Then how '
'I picked the lock.'
'Yes, of course.' Sam said with a rueful smile. 'I'd forgotten that you know how to do that.'
'When do you expect Rick and Mac in?'
'Not until ten. They're meeting a client. Something to do with a dead butler.'
'Mr. Steele will be sorry to have missed that one.' Laura murmured dryly as she seated herself on the edge of Sam's desk. She looked at the girl, taking in her elegantly tailored suit and smooth, dark hair. There was a sharp intelligence about the girl that reminded Laura of herself at that age, and she smiled. 'Let's talk.'
'Talk?' Sam echoed. 'About what?'
Instant wariness came into Sam's dark eyes. 'I don't know what you mean. I barely know your youngest son.'
'I saw you together at The Forbidden City.'
'Oh, H-E-double hockey sticks.' Sam muttered, a blush creeping over her cheeks. 'I suppose you're wondering what kind of hussy your sons are mixed up with. I don't blame you. It looks just terrible. Any mother would be concerned if she thought she saw what you saw. But you didn't see what you saw.' She paused, frowning, obviously unused to tripping over her words. 'I mean it's not what you think.'
Laura put a hand on Sam's arm before the girl could explode into another tumble of words. 'It's ok. Really. I understand.'
'Understand?' Sam exclaimed. 'How can you understand? I'm dating both of your sons. You must be livid.'
'Honestly, Samantha, I'm not.' Laura assured her. 'I didn't come here to confront you about your relationships with my sons.'
Sam's brows pulled down on her nose. 'You didn't? Then what's this all about? Why were you snooping around the office this morning?'
'Snooping.' Laura said with a laugh. 'Remington would have enjoyed that one.' When Sam didn't share in her amusement, Laura switched to her business voice. 'I'm here because Michael didn't come home last night.'
'He didn't spend the night with me if that's what you're thinking.'
Laura sighed. Maybe she ought to start at the beginning. 'Look, Samantha, I know why you're here. You're not a secretary. You're part of IFF's legal department, and you're here to find your brother who disappeared about a month ago while investigating corporate espionage at Trevelyan Chemical. Now, can we talk?'
'Who told you?'
'That doesn't sound like him.' Sam said suspiciously. 'At the agency he's known as 'the vault'. Whatever goes in never comes out. Oh, sure, he talks, has even charmed Miss Grunion, our office dragon, but he never talks about himself. We didn't even know he had a family until a month ago. I guess we all just figured he'd been born in a test tube and raised by a robotic nanny, sort of like Rosie on the Jetsons.'
'Believe me, it wasn't easy getting it out of him.' Laura said dryly. 'But as a mother I have my ways.'
Sam didn't need to know that it was actually Remington and not her who had finally cracked Michael's vault. It looked as though Remington was as skilled in cracking human vaults as he was at mechanical ones. Even after all these years his talents still amazed her.
'What else do you know?' Sam asked, her expression still wary.
'I know that The Forbidden City is owned by a man named Charles Chou, a wealthy Chinese-American businessman who is suspected of having ties with the Chinese government. He has his fingers in many pies, but his wealth was made through Chou Communications, a company involved in satellite technology. It is suspected that he passed some sensitive cryptographic technology to a general in the Chinese Army a few years ago. He bought the City two years ago and a Chinese Opera House, called the Little Flower, a year ago. There is speculation that more than dining and singing go on at both locations, but nothing's been proven. He has a mansion in the San Bernardino Mountains as well as condos in Burbank and Sacramento.'
'You've been busy this morning.' Sam noted.
'I needed to know what I'm up against.' She looked at Sam. 'Was Michael aware of this?'
Sam nodded. 'I passed on the information to him yesterday.'
'At lunch. We met at a little sushi bar close to Trevelyan's.'
'Did he give any indication of his plans for last night?'
This time Sam shook her head. 'No, nothing. I asked whether or not he wanted to try the City again, and he said no, wooing the staff was taking longer than we had. He said he'd think out our next move and let me know. So I went back to work, and since I hadn't heard from him, I went out to dinner with Rick. I didn't think anything of it. I figured Michael was just doing his own thing. He's like that. Most of our agents are.' She frowned, her expression turning anxious. 'Do you think what happened to Jason might have happened to him?'
'I don't know.' Laura said, grabbing her purse and heading for the door. 'But I'm going to find out.'
Sam hurried after her, catching up with her at the door. 'Where are you going?'
'To have a look around the City.' Laura said. 'It's the last place your brother was seen. Chances are that's where Michael went last night. Sounds like a good starting place to me.'
'I'm coming with you.' Sam declared, retrieving her own purse from the bottom drawer of the desk. 'I'm his partner, after all.'
'What about the front desk?'
'I'll have Sundance cover for me.' Sam said, reaching for the intercom button. 'She often does.'
'Sundance?' Laura echoed.
'Her father's an American Indian and her mother a flower child. Strangely enough, the name suits her.'
It certainly did, Laura mused five minutes later as a young woman with long, black hair, falling nearly to her waist, took Sam's seat behind the desk. She had the proud, noble features of an Indian warrior mixed with the flamboyant style of a 1960s hippie. Her tie-dye t-shirt, beads and bell-bottoms were quite a change from the usual attire gracing the front desk. Looks like Remington Steele Investigations had modernized.
'Ready?' Sam asked as she turned from giving Sundance her instructions.
'Ready.' Laura agreed.
A few minutes later they were in the convertible, headed for The Forbidden City.
Remington woke to the smell of burning toast. Or was it coffee? He sniffed experimentally. Toast, definitely toast. Laura must be trying her hand at cooking again. He threw back the covers and got up. There was not a minute to waste if the kitchen and his stomach were to be preserved.
Laura's brief foray into cooking when she'd been pregnant with Rick hadn't lasted long. Once she'd learned the intricacies of macaroni & cheese and strudel, she'd declared herself satisfied and left the cooking to him, an arrangement that suited them both fine. What had caused her to tinker with the toaster now?
He kept his shower to a minimum and within fifteen minutes, was jogging lightly down the stairs. The smell of burning toast got stronger, nearly overpowering, but he pasted on a smile and plunged into the kitchen with a cheery 'Good morning, darling.'
Holly turned from where she was prying toast from the toaster with a spatula. He was relieved to see that she'd taken the precaution to unplug it. 'My, aren't we affectionate this morning?' She said with a wide grin. 'Last night must have agreed with you.'
'It did.' He said cheerfully. 'Never slept better.'
'Quite a review for someone who spent the night on the couch.' When dumbfounded silence met her remark, she added. 'I saw the blanket and pillow. I knew that kiss would get you in trouble.'
'The one Victoria gave you.'
'Did she kiss me?' He wondered aloud and then frowned. 'Yes, I suppose she did. Dreadful woman. I don't know what your grandfather saw it her.' He paused and then said irritably. 'Actually I know exactly what he saw in her. Too bad I was left to reap the rewards of his labor.' Before Holly could ask him what that labor was he changed the subject. 'What are you doing here?'
'Mom and I have an appointment with the dressmaker.'
'I thought the wedding was on hold.'
'It is.' Holly said, turning back to the toaster. 'But it won't do any harm to have the final fitting. Every woman needs a wedding dress even if she doesn't have a wedding.'
'The subtleties of that statement mystify me.' Remington muttered before asking with considerable displeasure. 'There is going to be a wedding, isn't there?'
Holly smiled mysteriously. 'Oh, yes, there'll be a wedding alright. You needn't worry that those finder fees you collected over the years will go to waste.'
'Glad to hear it. I'd hate to think all my blood, toil, tears and sweat was for naught.' His eyes went to the table. 'I see you've been busy this morning.'
'I thought I'd be dear and make breakfast.' Holly said. 'Have a seat. It's almost done.'
Remington's hand went to his stomach as though he was already anticipating the coming revolt. 'Ah, I think I'll go check on your mother. She's probably out walking Jack. A bit of fresh air will, ah, invigorate the appetite.'
Holly glanced up from wrestling a chunk of charred bread from between the heating elements. 'She's not upstairs?'
But Remington had already made his escape, opening the front door and stepping out onto the front porch. He leaned against the door for a moment or two, sucking in fresh air. The acrid smell of toast was still strong in his nostrils, and he instantly began plotting how best to eat Holly's food without actually eating it. To help jolt his deceptive genius into gear, he set off at a brisk pace.
Fifteen minutes later he returned with a plan firmly mapped out in his mind. However, his accomplice, one bearded collie who was known for eating anything, dead or alive, was not out walking like he had assumed. He'd found neither Laura nor Jack. He was just closing the door when Holly appeared in the doorway of the kitchen.
'Jack was in the theater room.' She told him. 'He was just about to eat this.'
She held out her hand. Remington extended his and was surprised to see her drop the blue stone into it. When he hadn't found Laura out walking, he'd assumed she'd taken the stone and gone to see Rick. He had assumed wrong. It wasn't Stephen's murder that had her out and about so early in the morning. There was only one option left.
'So if Mom's not out walking Jack, where is she?' Holly asked as he re-entered the kitchen.
'If I had to hazard a guess, I'd say she's snooping around The Forbidden City right about now.'
'The Forbidden City?' Holly echoed, wrinkling her nose. 'Isn't that a restaurant in Chinatown? What's she doing there? Little early for Chinese, isn't it?'
'It's a long story.' Remington said grimly, reaching for his keys and leather jacket. 'Look, Holly, do you mind if I skip on breakfast? I've got something I've got to do.'
'Where are you going?'
'To do a little snooping of my own.' He headed for the garage.
'If you're worried about her, why don't you just call her cell?' Holly asked, hurrying after him.
'You know how I feel about cell phones.' Remington said, sliding beneath the wheel of the Auburn. 'Besides, I've learned over the years that your mother can take care of herself.'
Holly stared at him, wide-eyed with wonder. It was unusual for her father not to ride to her mother's rescue even if she didn't need rescuing. 'Then where are you going?'
'To solve Stephen's murder.'
There was a long pause as that statement processed through Holly's mind. Dad solve a case without Mom? This was something she had to see, and besides, maybe he could give her some pointers on how to get 'the professionals' to take the 'non-professionals' seriously.
She straightened up from where she was hanging on the Auburn's door, a broad grin spreading across her face. 'Mind if I ride along?'
'As long as you don't expect me to stop at the dressmaker's on the way.'
'To hell with the dressmaker!' Holly exclaimed, jumping into the passenger's seat.
The Auburn purred to life. Remington put the car in gear and was about to back out of the garage when Jack stopped him. The dog was sitting beside the Auburn, staring up at them hopefully.
'No, you can't come.' Remington told him.
Jack tried a smile.
'I said no.'
The smile turned to a look of sad-eyed reproach.
'Oh, bloody hell.' Remington muttered. He'd used the same expression on Laura last night. Hoisted on his own petard. 'Get in.'
With an ecstatic bark, Jack bounded into the back seat and the Auburn left the garage with a roar.
'I'll have the Almond Chicken.' Laura said, shutting her menu with a snap.
The waiter nodded and then looked at Samantha. His expression was placid. Just like the lake, Laura thought. Not a breeze stirred his waters. They were all like that. She'd never seen such a collection of poker-faces in her life. How in the world had Michael ever perceived nervousness in this bunch?
'You here the other night, yes?' The waiter suddenly asked.
His voice was low and urgent although his expressionless remained blank.
Samantha's head, which had been bent over the menu, snapped up. 'Why, yes, I was. Two nights ago.'
'You here with young man, dark hair, very handsome, kissed your hand, yes?'
'Yes.' Sam confirmed once again. 'How did you know? You weren't our waiter.'
'I see much.' The waiter said cryptically before saying in a louder voice. 'You ready to order? Egg roll very good today. Freshly rolled.'
Samantha's eyes fell back to the menu. 'I'll take the Moo Goo Gai Pan.'
'Good choice.' The waiter said, turning to go. 'But egg roll better. I get your order in right away. Bring tea, yes?'
Laura was about to say 'no', but he was already gone, melting into the shadows. Even at lunch time the City lived in a murky half light, a twilight world of red dragons, Fu lions and paper lanterns. It might be mysterious in the evening, but Laura found it decidedly sinister during the day. What were they trying to hide?
She turned to Sam. 'That was rather odd, don't you think?'
'Yes, it was.' Sam agreed. 'I had the distinct impression he wanted me to order the egg roll for some reason. You don't suppose there was a secret message stuffed inside, do you?'
'As a private investigator I've found that nothing's impossible. You should have ordered the egg roll.' Laura let her gaze drift around the room. 'There aren't many exits or entrances. I wonder how he 'sees much'.'
'What a creepy comment.' Sam said, rubbing her arms as though suddenly chilled. 'Makes me think of those movies where the bad guy is watching the hero and heroine through the eyes of some painting.'
'You might have hit the nail on the head.' Laura said, her eyes stopping on a painting of a Chinese dragon. Its sinister eyes were black slits. Would anyone notice in this gloom if those slits became human? 'I wonder if he knows what happened to Michael and was trying to give us a hint.'
'If he did, why would he want to tell us?' Sam asked. 'All these fellows seem a part of whatever the City is up to. They look like a loyal bunch.'
'All it takes is one Benedict Arnold.'
'Or in this case Wang Jingwei.'
Laura's head whipped around. She'd been craning it for a look into the kitchen. 'Who's Wang Jingwei?'
'He's a famous Chinese traitor. He collaborated with the Japanese during WWII.' When Laura continued to stare at her, she quickly explained. 'I have a minor in Chinese. It's a fascinating culture and language. We lived there when I was a child. My father was a junior diplomat at the embassy.'
'Your brother was there as well?
'Of course. He was four years older than me. Actually, we were all there. Jason, me and our little sister, Danielle. She just started at George Washington University this year.'
Laura wanted to explore the subject of Sam's time in China further but was interrupted by the arrival of their tea. To her disappointment it was delivered by a different waiter. She had hoped to question the chatty one further. He must have known that and sent a replacement. Shrewd devil.
Her disappointment took a nose dive into dismay when the waiter poured out the tea. It was the green kind. She liked green tea just about as much as Remington. Sam, on the other hand, immediately lifted the cup to her lips. Must have acquired a taste for it in China, Laura thought, staring glumly into the weak-looking liquid.
'So what's our plan of action?' Sam asked over her teacup.
Laura shrugged. 'I'm not sure. We've already checked the premier of the building and found nothing suspicious. The only thing out there were the garage bins.'
'And we checked those.' Sam reminded her. 'You know, when I volunteered for this assignment, I didn't know it meant I'd be rooting through trash.'
'It's a good hiding place for a dead body.' Laura explained. 'It had to be checked.' She tried a sip of her tea, grimaced and said. 'I think our best bet is the waiter. We'll question him when he brings out our food.'
'I'm afraid that won't work.'
'Because,' Sam said, her eyes on something behind Laura's shoulder, 'here comes our lunch, and it's being carried out by Dr. Fu Manchu.'
Laura understood the meaning of her reference when yet another waiter, this one sporting a Fu Manchu mustache, placed their entrees on the table in front of them. He was quick and efficient and disappointedly silent. Within seconds, he was ready to depart.
'I didn't order this.' Sam said, staring at a delicate blue and white plate with an egg roll on it.
'I was with your order.' The waiter said, his expression serene.
'But I didn't order it.' Sam insisted.
'You want me to take it back?'
'No.' Laura interrupted, grabbing the plate. 'It's mine. I ordered it.'
The waiter inclined his head and left.
'You didn't order that.' Sam hissed.
'I know.' Laura hissed back. 'But don't you think it's odd that the first guy was pushing an egg roll and now we've got one?'
'You don't sincerely think '
'It's not going back until it's been dissected.'
Twenty minutes later Laura was pushing away her plate with a disappointed frown. The Almond Chicken had met its full potential, but the egg roll hadn't. The only thing rolled up in its crisp jacket was minced shrimp and Chinese cabbage. It had been a silly idea, ridiculous even, but she was used to preposterous things happening. If people could poison parrots with TV dinners, albeit accidentally, they could send messages in egg rolls, couldn't they?
She was still stewing over the meaning of the egg roll (it had to have some meaning, didn't it?) when their original waiter appeared with their check and a small, brown paper bag, which he placed on the table in front of Sam.
'Don't forget fortune cookie.'
Sam smiled and shoved the bag back across the table. 'I don't like cookies.'
'Very good fortune inside.' He said. 'Bring you happiness.'
Before she could protest further he was gone, and Laura was getting up, heading off to pay the bill. Sam had no choice but to follow. She debated about leaving the bag behind but decided to take it with her anyway. Maybe someone at the office liked fortune cookies.
'Dad, how did you get them to take you seriously?'
Remington shot his daughter a curious look. 'To whom are you referring?'
'Mom and Murphy.' Holly said, her eyes on the road before them. 'How did you get them to let you do more than sit on committees, give speeches and kiss babies.'
'I never kissed babies.'
'You know what I mean.'
He smiled. 'Being the face of Remington Steele is palling on you, eh?'
'And?' He prompted when she didn't continue.
'And nobody takes you seriously. They think just because you've got a face, you have no brain to go with it.' She sat frowning for a second or two before saying. 'Why is it ok for Rick to be a Steele but not me?'
'Who thinks it's not ok?' Remington asked, changing lanes.
The exit to the Trevelyan mansion would be coming up soon. He mustn't let Holly's chatter distract him. Nevertheless, her words intrigued him. Was he finally going to get to the bottom of this so-called engagement? Laura would be pleased, and when Laura was pleased, she had a delightful way of expressing her pleasure. He was so busy contemplating what form that pleasure would take that he nearly missed Holly's reply.
He tried not to frown. He hated it when Laura and Mildred were right. 'And his opinion matters to you?'
'He's so smug.' She said, her frown becoming a scowl. 'He's insufferable.'
They drove for a minute or two with just the sound of the wind and traffic rushing past them, and then suddenly she turned in her seat so that she was looking straight at him. 'You're Rick's father, aren't you?'
'That's what your mother tells me.' Remington said. 'And I've no reason to doubt her.'
'So why does Mac hold you being my father against me and not Rick? It doesn't make sense.'
'No, it doesn't.' He agreed. 'Are you sure that's what he's holding against you?'
'What do you mean?'
Remington guided the Auburn onto the exit before answering. 'It wouldn't happen to be your behavior, would it?'
'My behavior? I've been perfectly civil. He's the one that's been unspeakably rude.'
'Civility never won anyone's heart.' Remington told her.
'I don't want his heart. I just want to be respected.'
'Respect is earned.'
'Exactly.' She said, pouncing on his words like a cat on a mouse. 'So how did you earn Mom and Murphy's respect?'
Remington's mouth kicked up at one side. 'I wasn't interested in Murphy's respect. As far as I was concerned he was an unfortunate obstacle. Like the briar patch the separated Prince Phillip from Sleeping Beauty. As for your mother,' his smile deepened as the memories flooded in, 'it took persistence, ingenuity and as much romance as I could muster.'
'Doesn't sound too difficult.'
'You don't know your mother.'
'At least she wasn't openly hostile towards you.'
'Michaels wouldn't be either if you stopped antagonizing him.' Holly opened her mouth to protest, but Remington continued on ruthlessly. 'Don't bother denying it. I've seen you in action, pet, and I must say I'm surprised at you. Where's all the legendary Steele charm? If you want the chap then use the velvet glove. Honey catches more flies than vinegar.'
'I told you, Dad. I don't '
'Want his heart. I know.' He turned the car into the looping driveway in front of the Trevelyan mansion. 'Nevertheless, playing the role of Holly Golightly and arranging this bloody charade of a wedding isn't going to make Michaels respect you. He's going to think you a silly twit. Take it from me, sweetheart, deception will only get you in trouble so if you're not serious about marrying this Scotty fellow, I'd find a quiet way to call it off before it's too late. You might think you've got everything under control right now, but I guarantee it'll blow up in your face. It always does. It's part of being a Steele.'
'What makes you think this is all a charade?'
The Auburn rolled to a stop in front of the mansion. Remington set the brake and turned to look at his daughter. His heart squeezed. So young and such a wondrous mixture of himself and Laura. It would be hard handing her over to a Michaels.
'My dear girl, do you really think you can fool the Duke of Deception?'
She looked at him and then sighed. 'I never could.'
'Then take my advice and start acting like the girl we raised you to be. If Michaels doesn't like the real Holly Steele, then he doesn't deserve you. If you ask me, no man does.' He gave her nose a playful tap with his knuckle before flinging open the door of the Auburn. 'Now, let's start your investigative training.'
'Where do we start?' Holly asked, following him up the steps.
Remington tried the doorknob. 'You start by picking the lock.'
'Piece of cake.'
She removed her pick and within seconds they were inside. The foyer was dark and cool and had a musty, closed up sort of smell. Obviously Fiona was no longer living there. Excellent. It made their job much easier. They wouldn't have to dodge wives or servants. He started up the staircase, wincing a little as his knee protested.
He stopped at the top, looking this way and that. 'Where's Fiona's room?'
'Second door to the left.' Holly supplied.
She followed him into the room and watched as he began opening dresser and vanity drawers. Although Fiona was staying elsewhere, her belongings remained. The closets were stuffed full of clothes and the dressers were packed with lingerie.
Remington's search was quick and efficient and left no evidence of tampering. When he ran across a locked drawer in the dresser by the bed, he pulled out his pick and went to work. A smile curved his lips. An ebony jewel case with a gold and scarlet design was resting atop a pile of silk scarves. He took it out.
'What are you looking for?' Holly asked.
'The piece of jewelry that this came off of.' Remington said, showing her the blue stone.
'Oh, that's easy.' She said. 'It's from a ring.'
Remington paused in unlocking the case. 'How do you know?'
'I've seen it.'
His heart sank. So much for his theory. The stone belonged to the victim, not the murderer. 'So you're telling me that this stone belongs to Stephen.'
'No,' Holly corrected, 'I'm just telling you that I've seen that stone or one like it on a ring that Stephen occasionally wears.'
'Show me this ring.'
She went over to a door and opened it. It led into a sitting room, which in turn opened into another bedroom, a decidedly masculine bedroom. Going over to a bedside table, she pulled open the top drawer and removed a red velvet case. She handed it to Remington.
'It's Stephen's class ring from college.' She told him as he pried open the lid. 'Actually, it's a ring from his fraternity. Lance has one just like it. It's a rather ugly thing, but Stephen was proud of it.'
Remington examined the ring nestled within the red velvet. It had a thick band of gold with a large garnet set in the middle surrounded by a circlet of smaller blue stones. There was some letters, probably the name of the fraternity etched into the metal. 'These are all intact.'
'Then the stone isn't Stephen's.' Holly concluded.
'But it's a perfect match to the other stones on this ring.' Remington noted. His eyes went to Holly. 'You said Lance has one just like it.'
She nodded. 'They were in the same fraternity.'
'Come on.' Remington said, snapping the box closed and shoving it into his pocket. 'We have another stop to make.'
'We're going to see Lance, aren't we?' Holly asked, following him down the stairs.
'You're catching on real quick. You'll be running rings around Rick and Michaels before you know it.' Remington told her as they stepped onto the front porch, closing the door behind them. He started down the steps and then stopped, scowling. 'Where's that blasted dog? He's supposed to be in the car.'
Holly cocked her head to one side. 'Isn't that his barking?'
'Yes, it is.' Remington agreed grimly. 'And it's loud enough to wake the dead.'
'I think it's coming from the greenhouse.'
They started off across the lawn. As they approached the large, sprawling building, the barking became louder and more insistent. Turning the corner, they found Jack standing in front of the door of the greenhouse, ears up and tail at attention.
'Jack! Stop it!' Remington ordered. 'Time to go!'
Jack ignored him. He began pawing at the door.
'He wants in for some reason.' Holly said.
Remington grabbed the dog's collar, pulling him away. Jack was having none of it. He resisted, digging in his paws.
'Why not let him in and see what he wants.' Holly suggested.
'We haven't got time to humor a dog.' Remington growled. 'He's got plenty of squirrels at home. He doesn't need the Beverly Hill variety.'
But Holly had already opened the door. Jack bolted inside, leaving Remington and Holly to follow.
'I know that some orchids are said to smell like rotting flesh,' Holly said as they wandered down the aisle of flowers, 'but this is ridiculous! Ugh! Find Jack and let's get out of here! I think I'm going to be sick.'
Remington came to an abrupt halt. Jack was sniffing and pawing frantically at large wooden chest, the kind used for storing garden equipment. 'I've seen a scene like this before.' He murmured. 'The Thin Man. William Powell, Myrna Loy, MGM, 1934.'
'Take out that dreadful cell phone of yours and call the police.'
Holly stared at him. 'Why?'
'Because there's something in that chest that neither one of us wants to see.'
'Some things never change, eh, Dad?' Rick asked as they watched the ambulance workers lifted the sheet-draped gurney into the back of their vehicle. 'You have an unerring knack for tripping over dead bodies.'
'A knack I could do without.' Remington stated. 'Any idea who is it?'
Rick shrugged. 'We'll have to wait until the coroner runs DNA tests, but it's most likely the missing maid, Carmen Sanchez. The cor ,' he stopped, sending a glance at his sister, 'I mean the body was wearing a maid uniform.'
'You were going to say corpse, weren't you?' Holly demanded. 'It's not a dirty word, Rick, and even if it were, I'm not some Victorian virgin that needs protecting from the big, bad world. I'm a 21st century woman.'
'Ok, fine.' Rick snapped. 'The corpse was wearing a maid uniform. Happy? Would you like all the gory details on how she was killed too?'
'Love to.' Holly snapped back. 'Ready when you are, Colombo.'
'She was strangled with that silly, little white apron they wear.'
'How appropriate.' Holly snorted even though her cheeks paled even more. 'I knew that outfit was a stupid idea.'
Remington decided now as a good time to step into the fray. He remembered all the times he had had to separate them as children. If there'd been an argument going on, it had always been Rick and Holly.
'Any clues as to who did it?' He asked.
Rick shook his head. 'Nothing. The police think she was murdered elsewhere and dumped in here. With the servants let go, at least temporarily, nobody was around to find her body. From the level of decomposition, they're placing her time of death on or shortly after the night of Stephen's murder. Whoever killed Stephen most likely killed her.'
Remington's hand went to the velvet case. 'I might have an idea or two on that.'
'On who killed Stephen.'
'You've got a lead?' Rick asked, one dark brow rising.
'One was foisted upon me last night. Shall we go back to the office and discuss it?'
'Sure. Let's go. Mac ought to be back by now.'
The drive to the office was quite different from the one to the mansion. This time Holly was not inclined to talk, and Remington was happy to leave it that way. It gave him time to think about why a maid would be murdered. The most obvious reason was because she'd seen something.
But he didn't think so. She'd been in uniform, which meant she'd been on duty that night and would have opened the door to the murderer. Would a murderer kill if they knew the maid could identify them? No, they'd wait unless unless the maid and the murderer were in it together. So instead of being killed for something she saw, she'd been killed for something she knew.
He was still rolling this theory around in his head as he followed Rick through the glass doors of Remington Steele Investigations.
'Sam's not back yet?' Rick asked as they entered.
A girl with atrocious taste in clothing glanced at them over an issue of Sierra Magazine. 'She arrived about an hour ago. She and Mrs. Steele are in your office with Mac.'
Leaving Jack with the girl, the rest of them filed into the big, corner office. Mac looked up as they entered. He was sitting on the edge of the desk, talking with Laura and Sam who occupied the chairs. His eyes immediately went to Holly.
'You look like something the cat dragged in.' He said, frowning.
Holly opened her mouth to send back a zinger and then stopped, her eyes going to Remington. Then she turned back to Mac, offering a rueful smile. 'I'm not surprised. I feel like something the cat dragged in.'
Mac stood up, coming forward to take her arm. She leaned against him, letting her head brush his shoulder. 'Come sit down on the couch. I'll get you a bottle of water.'
Laura watched in amazement as Mac hurried out of the room, a man on a mission. Her eyes swung to Remington. He flashed her an angelic smile. Mr. Steele had been busy this morning.
'What are you doing here?' She asked him. 'I thought I left you at home in bed.'
Remington glanced at his watch. 'It's two in the afternoon, Laura. I only stay in bed this late if my delightful wife is there to amuse me.'
Hot color surged into Laura's face. The devil. Her eyes went to Rick. He was struggling not to laugh. Even Sam's lips were twitching.
'What's going on?' She asked with as much dignity as she could muster. 'Sundance said you got a call from Detective Diaz.'
'Dad found another dead body.'
'Now, Rick, let's give the credit where it's due.' Remington interrupted. 'It was Jack's sensitive nose that found the young lady. Quite a sleuth, that dog.'
Laura ignored him. 'Who was it?'
'Carmen Sanchez, the maid. She's been missing since the night of the murder.'
'Where was she?'
'In Stephen's greenhouse, stuffed into one of those utility chests they use for gardening. Strangled.'
'With her own apron.' Holly added from the couch where Mac was pressing a bottle into her hands. He sat down beside her and then watched as she took a few sips.
'And your father found her?'
Laura's eyes finally went back to Remington. 'What were you doing at the mansion?'
'The same thing you were doing at The Forbidden City.' Remington said cheerfully. 'Snooping.'
The color that had receded slightly returned. 'Michael's still missing.'
'So you released the hound. Did she find anything?'
'No.' Laura said shortly. 'Just an empty egg roll.'
Rick had watched this exchange with a perplexed frown on his face. 'What's The Forbidden City and what does it have to do with Michael? I thought he was here on vacation.'
'We can't tell you.' Laura replied. 'Let's just say that he's not here on vacation.'
'So he is after the documents.'
'Among other things.'
Rick ran a hand through his hair. 'I feel like I'm talking to the Riddler.'
'Leave Michael to us.' Laura said. 'Just tell me what happened this afternoon.'
'You're asking the wrong person.' Rick said. 'Dad was there. I just came in at the end.'
Laura's eyes swung back to Remington. 'Ok. Talk. And I don't want to hear any nonsense about snooping. Why did you go to the mansion this morning?'
'To retrieve this.' Remington said, tossing the ring case at her.
It landed in her lap. She picked it up and opened it. 'You went looking for the owner of the blue stone.' She murmured before glancing up at him, her expression quizzical. 'But this ring isn't missing any stones.'
'That ring belonged to Stephen.' Remington told her. 'However, according to our daughter, Lance Everett has one just like it. We were on our way to work the chap over when Jack took us on a detour.'
Rick was really looking confused now. His eyes went from Remington to Laura. 'Blue stone?' He echoed. 'What's a blue stone got to do with anything?'
Remington reached into his pocket once again and pulled out the item in question, which he placed on the desk in front of Rick. 'Victoria Trevelyan found this beside Stephen's body. She ah surrendered it to me last night.'
'That's tampering with evidence.' Rick declared, glancing up at him.
'So?' Remington asked, shrugging. 'Your mother and I have done it more times than you want to know about.'
Rick dropped his head into his head and stared at the little blue gem. 'So let me get this straight. You think that whoever dropped this rock is the murderer?'
'If the stone belongs to Everett, then no, not the murderer.' Remington corrected, warming to the topic. He loved playing Nick Charles. 'Stephen was killed with a poisoned kiss. Unless Everett wears lipstick in the delightful shade of Passion Peach and he and Trevelyan were quite a bit closer than we think, then he couldn't be the murderer. But there's evidence that he might have been there that night and may know something. Got me?'
'Sure, I got you.' Rick said, staring up at him. 'You're saying I'd better get my bum in gear and go see what Everett knows before he ends up in a gardening bin.'
'I couldn't have said it better myself.'
Rick got up, pulling on his jacket. He looked at the assembled group. 'Who's providing back-up?'
'We've still got Michael to sort out.' Laura said.
'Mac?' Rick called.
'Huh? What?' Mac said, looking up from monitoring Holly's recovery. She was looking much less green around the gills now that she'd down half the bottle of water. 'What'd you say?'
'I'm going to interview Everett. You coming with me?'
It was obvious that Mac didn't want to go and was looking for an excuse. Finally he settled for the unoriginal. 'I've got all that paperwork on the Johnson case to complete. Got to have it filed by tomorrow. Sorry.'
'I guess I'll have to grab one of the junior investigators.'
When nobody offered a better option, he left, shaking his head and muttering about unreliable staff.
As soon as the door was closed behind him, Remington turned to Laura. 'Now that I've divulged the details of my morning snoop, what about yours?'
'There's really nothing to tell.' Laura said somewhat sullenly. Her husband had stepped into the jackpot, making her adventure look like Cracker Jack prize. He always did have a knack for placing himself where all the action was. 'Sam and I had lunch at The Forbidden City and found nothing. I had my hopes set on a waiter, but all he wanted to do was push his lousy egg rolls.'
'And fortune cookies.' Sam chimed in.
Laura's gaze swung to her. 'Fortune cookies?'
Sam nodded. 'He insisted I take the fortune cookie even though I told him I didn't like them. He claimed there was a very good fortune inside and that it would bring happiness.'
'Where was I?' Laura asked, scowling.
'Right across from me.' Sam told her. 'But I think you were too busy mulling over the empty egg roll and didn't hear him.'
'Where is this cookie?'
'I gave it to Sundance.'
Laura jumped up and hurried to the door. She swung it open just in time to see Sundance placed the fortune cookie into Jack's waiting mouth.
'No!' Laura cried, leaping toward the dog.
Jack, thinking it a game, danced out of her reach.
'Get that dog!' Laura yelled. 'And whatever you do, don't let him eat that cookie!'
Thus began a game of ring around the office as six people tried to corner one dog. Finally it was Mac, throwing one of his old football tackles that brought him down. Jack was instantly swarmed.
While the others held the dog, Laura pried the cookie out of his mouth. It was soggy, but the paper inside was still intact. She immediately broke the cookie, tossing the halves to Jack while keeping the paper for herself. Jack, offended by the treatment he'd gotten, sniffed the cookie and then turned his back, stalking out of the room with his nose in the air. Humans!
Laura turned her attention to the slip of paper. On one side was the traditional Chinese fortune, but on the other was a handwritten message, which read: what you look for was taken to the Little Flower.
She looked up at the five faces surrounding her. 'How do you feel about Chinese Opera?'
Remington settled himself in the velvet-lined seat with a sigh of satisfaction. Now this was more like it. If one had to be involved in a case, then one should at least enjoy the perks provided. He unfurled his program. What was on the agenda tonight? Farewell, my Concubine. Remington's brows shot upward. This should be interesting.
He glanced at Laura seated beside him. Had she noticed the opera scheduled for their viewing pleasure? Probably not. She didn't even have a program. Besides, she was too busy casing the joint to notice something so prosaic. Her attention was focused on one thing ~ finding Michael. If she happened to find the documents and Jason Wolfe in the process so much the better.
'It's a very good opera.' Sam said, leaning toward him in a conspiratorial fashion. 'Don't let the title put you off.'
Remington's brows disappeared into his iron gray hair. Him? Be put off by a racy title? Obviously this girl didn't know who she was talking to. 'I assure you, Miss Wolfe, I'm not the least bit 'put off' by the title. On the contrary, it intrigues me. Reminds me of the time Laura and I spent an entire night at an x-rated movie theater. Those were the days, eh, Laura?'
'What?' Laura asked, glancing over at him.
'I said 'those were the days'.'
'If you say so.'
She turned back to the theater and Remington turned back to Miss Wolfe. For the life of him he couldn't figure out why they'd brought the girl along. He knew it had something to do with her being Michael's partner, but since Laura was in charge of tonight's little adventure, did it really matter?
Having learned the futility of questioning his wife's decisions, especially in the realm of detective work, he made the best of it. Just keep the gooseberry entertained, Steele. After all, some day she might be your daughter-in-law.
'You seem to know a great deal about it this ' he glanced at his program, 'concubine, Miss Wolfe. Is Chinese opera a hobby of yours?'
'I played the concubine in our college production.'
Remington did what he always did when momentarily rattled; he smiled. 'Really. That must have been quite an experience.'
'It was. The audience wept when I cut my throat with the sword.'
Sam opened her mouth to comment but was cut off by the sudden and dramatic appearance of Holly. She swept down the aisle and into the empty seat behind them like a gale force wind. 'Mom! Dad! Funny I should find you here! I didn't know you liked Chinese opera!'
'Holly!' Laura gasped, turning around in her seat to stare at the girl. 'What are you doing here? I distinctly remember telling you that your help would not be needed.'
'Oh, I'm not here to help.' Holly assured her. 'I'm here to watch this darling little opera.' She flung open her program. 'Farewell, my Concubine. Sounds riveting, doesn't it? Sure beats Citizen Kane, eh, Dad?'
'No comparison.' Remington agreed.
'Holly ' Laura drawled warningly.
'Mind if I join you?' A voice said from behind them.
Holly glanced up with a smile. 'Of course not. Have a seat. There's plenty of room.'
Mac Michaels dropped into the seat beside Holly, stretching his long legs out in front of him. 'Quite a crowd they've got here.' He commented, glancing around. 'Didn't know Chinese opera was so popular. Where do you suppose they'd hide a guy in a place like this?'
'If we could get backstage ' Holly began.
'Hold it right there.' Laura interrupted. 'You're not a part of this operation, remember?'
'We're not a part of your operation.' Holly agreed. 'But there's nothing stopping Mac and me from having our own operation, is there?'
Laura eyed them. 'I didn't realize the two of you were partners. I've always gotten the impression that you couldn't stand each other.'
'What makes you think we're partners?' Holly asked. 'We just happened to show up at the same place at the same time.'
'I only came to give you a message from Rick.' Mac added.
'Well?' Laura prompted.
'He struck out with Everett. The man was out.'
'Does that mean we should be expecting Rick shortly?'
Mac shook his head. 'Nah. He's staked out in front of Everett's apartment.'
'Good place for him.' Remington muttered. 'It's getting a little crowded in here.'
'So,' Holly said brightly, 'as I saying, if we could get backstage ' she stopped abruptly, an expression of surprise on her face.
'What is it?' Laura asked.
'It's Fiona. She's sitting in the balcony.'
All eyes swung in that direction. Sure enough Stephen's widow was sitting in the balcony, her red head gleaming under the lights. As they watched, Lance Everett appeared, slipping into the seat beside Fiona. Then the lights dimmed. The opera was beginning.
'He's got some nerve.' Laura hissed.
'It doesn't take a lot of nerve to attend an opera.' Remington pointed out.
'It is when you're a murder suspect.'
'He doesn't know we suspect him of murder.'
'And with the murdered man's wife too! Of all the '
A loud 'shhhhh!' cut across Laura's rant, and she fell instantly silent. Nonetheless, the outrage continued to pour out of her, and Remington could tell by the tilt of her head that her eyes were on the box, not the stage. When the curtain fell for intermission, he was not surprised that she was one of the first people up.
'I'm going to the powder room.' She told him. 'Keep an eye on Everett.'
'What about Michael?'
A couple minutes later, Sam stood up, easing past his knees. 'I think I'll go to the powder room.'
Within minutes of Sam's departure Holly sprang up like a Jack-in-a-Box. 'I might as well join them.'
Mac leaned forward, resting his arms on the back of the seat Sam had just vacated. 'I'm getting a bad feeling about this, Steele. How about you?'
'Bad doesn't begin to describe it.' Remington sighed, stuffing the program into the breast pocket of his tux and standing up. 'If they're going to have a powwow in the powder room, we might as well have a chat with Everett. Would do you say, Michaels?'
'Right behind you.'
Laura stood at the entrance of the powder room and surveyed the crop of women sitting in black lacquer chairs in front of large, gilded mirrors, touching up their make-up. Many were of Asian decent, which made the task of spotting Fiona Trevelyan easier. Her bright redhead looked like a cardinal among a flock of blackbirds.
'Mrs. Trevelyan,' Laura said, sidling up to her, 'I've been meaning to talk with you and convey our condolences. Your husband's death was a shock to us all. I assure you that we're doing everything possible to find his murderer.'
Fiona paused in the middle of re-applying blush. She looked at Laura, her expression perplexed. 'Murderer?'
'But Stephen wasn't murdered. He died of a heart attack.'
'I hate to disagree with you, Mrs. Trevelyan, but we have evidence to the contrary.' Laura said slowly and patiently.
It was like speaking to a child, she thought, studying Fiona's wide blue eyes and china doll mouth. She frowned, her eyes on those lips. What shade of lipstick was she wearing? Not red or pink. Some orangey color that didn't clash with her hair. Coral or peach, perhaps?
'But that's ridiculous.' Fiona said with a small laugh. 'I was there when he died. No one murdered Stephen. He just died.'
'Did you tell the police that?' Laura demanded.
'No, Lance advised against it.' She frowned. 'You see, I have these spells, and that night is so hazy. Like a dream.'
'What do you remember?'
'I I don't know.'
Fiona sat for a moment or two, her face screwed up into a perplexed frown, then she said somewhat hesitantly. 'Stephen and I were sharing a glass of wine. We often did before going to bed. I I gave him a kiss and got up to go to my room when ' She stopped and then shook her head. 'That's all I can remember. I must have passed out of something because when I woke up I was in my bedroom and Lance was there. He said Stephen had had a heart attack and that I should go wait in his car while he called the ambulance.'
'You didn't think it odd that Lance Everett was at the house?'
'No, he's been there quite a bit.' She dropped her head as a blush spread across her cheeks. 'You see, Lance and I were close before I met Stephen. Oh, I don't mean we were lovers or anything. It hadn't gone that far, but it might have if it hadn't been for Stephen.' She paused, a faraway look coming into her eyes. 'Stephen was Stephen. How could I resist him? Of course, that's what all the ex-wives say, and despite what they've told you, I did know that he was wandering again. Lance tried to convince me to leave Stephen before I became just another one of his castoffs, but I couldn't.' She glanced at Laura, her expression earnest. 'I mean, you just don't leave Stephen. You know what I mean, Mrs. Steele?'
'No, but I can imagine. He did have a certain aura.'
'Like Svengali.' Fiona said, reaching for her bag and removing a tube of lipstick. 'I tried to explain that to Lance, but,' she shrugged, 'he didn't seem understand. He just kept saying how Stephen had taken everything away from him.'
'Fame, fortune and me, I guess.' She laughed a little, removing the cap of the lipstick. 'He claims that Stephen's fame and fortune should have been his, that is was his chemical formula and not Stephen's that put Trevelyan Chemical on the map. Oh, I don't know whether it's true or not. You'd have to ask the other ex-wives. All I know is that Lance has been a dear since Stephen's death. He's hardly left my side, and he is such a comfort when those spells come on. I was having a bit of one the day of the funeral.'
Laura watched as she leaned forward to apply the lipstick. It was an orangey color.
'Do you wear that shade of lipstick all the time?'
'Oh, yes, it's my favorite color. Anything else clashes with my hair.'
'Would you mind if I look at it?'
'No, not at all.'
Fiona passed her the tube. Laura turned it upside down and read the label. Positively Peach. Mr. Steele needed to study up on his lipstick shades, she thought, eying the lipstick itself. For someone who never wore anything else, one would expect more wear and tear. This was nearly a new stick.
Laura glanced at her. 'A new stick?'
Fiona nodded. 'I opened a new one the night of Scott's engagement party.'
'What a coincidence.' Laura murmured, handing it back to her.
'It was sheer incompetency.' Fiona corrected, putting the stick back into her purse. 'That ridiculous maid misplaced the purse that held my current one. We looked for it everywhere but no luck. Fortunately, I'd sent Carmen into town a couple days before to pick up a new supply or I would have had to go without.'
Laura wondered if she ought to tell Fiona that Carmen had been found dead in a gardener's tool chest. No, she'd probably have a spell. Whatever that was. Of course, she was beginning to formulate a possible cause for those spells.
Fiona stood up. 'It's been nice talking to you, Mrs. Steele. Of course, I'm still rather surprised that you think Stephen was murdered, but you are a detective. I suppose detectives are naturally suspicious. Now, if you'll excuse me, I think the opera is about to resume. I can hear the ruans.'
'Oh, Mrs. Trevelyan,' Laura called out, stopping the woman at the powder room door.
'Are you allergic to bees?'
'No. Why do you ask?'
'Just curious. You live near a greenhouse, and bee stings can be deadly for those allergic to them.'
'Ah, yes, so I've heard.'
Laura watched her go, a thoughtful expression on her face. The conversation had been most illuminating. The only question in her mind that needed answering was whether or not Fiona Trevelyan knew she has poisoned her husband. She seemed too transparent to attempt such a thing, but Laura had known other murderesses that had displayed that same childlike naivety. In her favor, however, was Carmen. Her involvement with the lipstick and subsequent death spoke volumes.
Lance Everett really needed to be interviewed, and there was no time like the present. Grabbing her purse, Laura headed for the door.
Sam was just re-entering the auditorium when a hand grabbed her arm, pulling her into a shadowy corner. She opened her mouth to tell the person to let go when a loud 'shhhh' stopped her. She looked up. Holly Steele was staring at her with impatient blue eyes.
'Holly, what '
'Shhhh!' The girl hissed again. 'Don't talk. Just come with me. I need back up.'
Sam resisted the tug on her arm. 'I don't '
'You want to find Michael, don't you?'
'Yes.' Sam agreed, her tone wary. How much did this girl know?
'I thought you did.' Holly said in a knowing fashion. 'Mom wouldn't have let you in on it if there wasn't something going on between you and Michael. She's dreadfully territorial, you know. Only lets Dad in on her snoops.'
'Holly, I don't think '
'Of course, I don't blame you.' Holly went on. 'Rick's a great brother, but he's a cardigan. As practical as they come. But Michael, well, he's a tux. Just like Dad.' She peered into Sam's face. 'You understand?'
'Actually, you've got it all wrong.'
'Do I?' There was an implication in her voice that needled Sam. Who did this girl think she was? She opened her mouth to set the record straight, but Holly beat her to it. 'Hold the protests 'til later. Right now we've got work to do.'
Sam looked around her, realizing for the first time that they'd been moving during the exchange. Holly had dragged her through doors and corridors and now they stood in a room packed full of brightly colored costumes.
'Here!' Holly said, shoving a green and yellow robe at her. 'Put it on. If anyone asks, you're the concubine, and I'm,' she surveyed the costumes before removing a huge hat with orange balls fanning out around it like a halo, 'someone is an incredibly ugly hat.'
'You'll need this.' Sam said, handing her a white and black mask. 'A Jing is played by a man, but you'll do. You've got the personality for it. Forceful.'
Holly fingered the long black beard attached to the bottom edge. 'Looks hot.'
'It is.' Sam said. 'Be glad you've not performing in it.'
Thus equipped the two women left the costume wardrobe and walked along the corridor, exchanging nods with everyone they passed. The theater personnel didn't seem as all surprised to see them. They blended in perfectly, their loud costumes matching those of the other people crowding the backstage area.
'Where exactly are we going?' Sam asked from the side of her mouth.
'To find Michael.'
'Do you know where he is?'
'No, but something will show up.' Holly told her. 'It always did for Mom and Dad.'
'We're not your parents.'
'Don't worry. The Steele luck is an inherited trait.'
'That's certainly reassuring.'
For a non-methodical person Holly proved to be very methodical in her search. Each room they came to was thoroughly explored, and if the door happened to be locked, out came the pick and within seconds they were inside. That method worked fine until they came to the dressing rooms. Fortunately most of the actors and actresses were already on stage. However, they did run across one actress in the middle of changing robes. A shriek had them scrambling back into the hallway.
Finally they stopped at a door marked 'manager'. Keeping her front facing the hallway, Holly reached behind and wiggled the doorknob. Locked. As was their unspoken arrangement Sam took up position in front of the lock while Holly worked her magic. The door opened, and they slipped inside.
The room was pitch-black and had a stale, unaired smell. Holly reached for the light. It flickered on, revealing the figure of a man hanging by his hands from a hook in the corner of the room. His dark head was bent forward, chin resting against his chest.
'Michael!' Sam gasped, hurrying forward.
The head lifted. One eye was swollen shut but the other looked at her in amazement. 'Sam?' He croaked. 'What are you doing here?'
'Rescuing you.' Holly answered, joining Sam in front of her brother. She had pushed the mask to the top of her head, causing the beard to frame her face like black seaweed. 'I thought James Bond always had a nifty, little gadget for just such an occasion. Where's yours? Left it home with your exploding socks?'
The eye glared at her. 'No, in my Batmobile.'
'You got one of those?' Holly asked, blinking artless blue eyes at him. 'Cool!'
'Just get me down.' Michael growled. 'Those goons could come back any minute.'
Grabbing a nearby chair, Holly climbed on top of it and surveyed the problem. 'That's one hell of a knot you've got there. I'll have to cut you down.' She reached for her pick set and removed a small Swiss knife.
A couple minutes later Michael went tumbling to the floor. Sam grabbed his shoulders to pull him upright but quickly released him when he let out a howl.
'It's the circulation.' He told her gruffly. 'Haven't had any in those arms for hours.'
She knelt down beside him and started rubbing his arms.
'How'd you get here?' She asked.
'In someone's trunk probably.' He muttered, wincing as her hands kneaded his right bicep. 'I was in the men's restroom at the City, having a look at the ventilation system to see if it could be used as a way around the place, when that incense they pump out of those Fu lions started pouring in. There must have been more than incense in it because I went out like a light.'
'Poisoned gas.' Holly murmured. 'Just like in Diamonds Are Forever.'
'When I woke up I was here with two goons pounding the hell out of me.' He glanced up at Sam. 'How'd you find me?'
'Mom found a message in a fortune cookie.' Holly provided, taking hold of his other arm and rubbing vigorously. Unlike Sam his growls and hisses did not bother her in the least.
'So she sent you to rescue me?' Michael said incredulously.
'No, she came herself, but she got side-tracked by Fiona.'
'Why were the ah goons pounding on you?' Sam asked.
'They thought I might know where the documents are. Obviously we're not the only ones still looking for them.'
'You're exactly right, Mr. Steele.' A voice said from the doorway. Lance Everett stood just inside the door, flanked by two men the size of sumo wrestlers. 'There are many of us interested in the whereabouts of those particular documents. Since you were unable or unwilling to shed some light on the subject, perhaps one of those two ladies will do the honors.'
Michael glared across the room. 'They don't know anything, Everett.'
'No?' Everett asked, his eyes going from Holly to Sam. 'Is that true, Miss Wolfe?'
Sam stiffened. 'I I don't know what you mean.'
'Come now, Miss Wolfe, you know who stole those documents, don't you?'
'I'm afraid I really don't know what you mean, Mr. Everett.'
'Then maybe this will jog your memory.' He reached into his breast pocket and pulled out a small green object, which he held out for Sam to see. 'Remember this, Miss Wolfe?'
Sam paled and reached for the object. It was a jade cricket. She had given it to Jason as a birthday present, a reminder of their time in China. He'd carried it ever since as a good luck charm.
'I see that you do.' Everett continued. 'Now how about telling me where your brother hid those documents.'
'Where is he?' She demanded. 'What have you done with him?'
'I haven't done anything with him.' Lance told her. 'This item was given to me by Mr. Chou. He's the one that you'll need to ask that question of. All I want to know is where he hid the documents.'
'Is this true, Sam?' Michael asked, his one good eye on her. 'Did Jason steal the documents?'
'No.' Sam said quietly. 'No one stole them.'
'But you know where they are?'
She nodded. 'Yes.'
'Why didn't you tell me?'
'I I couldn't. I made a promise.'
'Sam ' Michael reached out a hand, touching the sleeve of her robe.
Sam swallowed hard. There was something in his eyes, something that squeezed at her heart. She hadn't wanted to keep it from him, but she had promised.
'Promises are meant to be broken, Miss Wolfe.' Lance declared, cutting across their conversation. 'Chou is getting impatient, and so am I.' He nodded to one of his henchmen. 'Maybe you need to be persuaded.'
Sam scrambled to her feet. 'I'll take you to them if you'll let the Steeles go.'
Everett seemed to consider this, his head tilted to one side. 'You're not exactly in the position to bargain, Miss Wolfe. I hold all the cards. A few good punches to either of these two might make you talk, but I'm afraid I don't have time for violence. The other half of your party is closing in. I suspect the truth is hitting them right about now.' He took her arm and hustled her toward the door. Then he glanced at his wrestlers. 'Take care of those two. And remember they're Steeles.'
'Where have you been?' Laura hissed as Remington and Mac slid into the seats beside her. The curtain had just gone up. 'I thought I told you to keep an eye on Everett.'
'And we did.' Remington assured her. 'Even went to have a chat with the fellow, but by the time we waded through the drink bar ~ my God, Laura, L.A. is full of a bunch of lushes ~ the bird had flown the coop.'
'Flown the coop?' Laura echoed. 'You mean he's gone?'
'Do you see him in the balcony?'
She squinted through the dim lighting. Only Fiona's red head was visible. Lance Everett had, indeed, flown the coop.
Her eyes swung back to the men. 'Then what are you doing here? You ought to be chasing the guy. He's a murderer.'
'Correct me if I'm wrong, Laura, but didn't we agree that the murderer had to be a woman?'
'It was a woman.' Laura said.
Remington put a hand to his hand. 'I feel a headache coming on. A real pip of one.'
'The bee venom was in Fiona's lipstick.'
'Then Fiona killed Stephen.'
'What kind of answer is that?' Remington demanded, ignoring the 'shhhh's from behind them. 'Either she did or she didn't. Which one is it?'
Remington stood up.
'Where are you going?' Laura asked, staring up at him.
'To see if they have any of that Chinese wine left. I'm going to need it.'
Laura grabbed his arm, pulling him down into the seat. 'I know it sounds crazy, but the more I think about it, the more it makes sense. Technically Fiona killed her husband with a poisoned kiss, but it's my belief that she didn't know her kiss would kill him. I think someone deliberately gave her a tube of lipstick laced with bee venom, knowing that she and Stephen often shared a drink together before going to bed.'
'And you think Everett gave her the lipstick?' Mac asked, entering the conversation for the first time.
'No, not Everett. Carmen.'
'At the direction of Everett.'
Laura nodded. 'And when the girl had fulfilled her purpose, he killed her and dumped her body in the greenhouse.'
'And the motive?'
'Righting past wrongs.'
'Then why are we sitting here?' Mac asked, jumping up. 'We've got a murderer to catch.'
Laura rose and then looked around. 'Where are Holly and Sam?'
'They claimed a desperate need to visit the powder room shortly after you left.' Remington answered, taking her arm as they followed Mac up the aisle. 'Didn't you see them?'
'They weren't in the powder room.'
'Backstage.' Mac muttered over his shoulder. 'She wanted to go backstage.'
They drew some odd looks when they entered the stage area, but Mac pulled out a police badge and flashed it as they made their way through the labyrinths of corridors and rooms.
'Is that legal?' Remington whispered to Laura.
'No, but if a Michaels gets arrested, what do you care?'
They found Michael and Holly, tied back to back, hanging from a hook in the manager's office.
'What happened?' Laura asked, rushing forward.
'Everett took Sam to retrieve the documents.' Michael said. 'Apparently she knows where they are.' He scowled. 'I can't believe it. I can't believe I didn't pick up on it.'
'Don't take it too hard, son.' Remington said as he and Mac tugged at the ropes. 'Women are masters of deception.'
'That's rich!' Laura said with a derisive laugh. 'Coming for the Duke himself!'
'There's no call to be insulting, Laura.'
Michael and Holly crashed to the floor.
'Ow!' Holly cried. 'Was that really necessary?'
'You're the one that wanted to play detective.' Mac said, helping her up. He sucked in his breath when she landed against his chest. Why hadn't he noticed before that Holly Steele smelled of gardenia blossoms?
'Play detective?' She said with the arch of one black brow. 'I found him, didn't I?'
'The question is how are we going to find Sam and Everett?' Laura pointed out.
'I've got it covered.' Michael said, reaching into his jacket and pulling out his cell phone.
'He's got a GPS system on that thing.' Holly exclaimed, looking over his shoulder.
'I slipped a tracking device on Sam before she left.' He looked at his sister, the famous Steele smile lifting his bruised lips. 'I guess I'm not such a bad James Bond after all, eh?'
Stephen's Last Laugh
'Are you sure that thing is working properly?' Holly demanded as Mac turned the car onto Totenham Court Drive. 'This is Mom and Dad's street.'
'And the tracking device has stopped at their house.' Michael said grimly, glancing out the back window at the car following them. 'Mom's going to raise holy cane over this one.'
His prediction was very nearly accurate. As soon as their vehicles had rolled to a stop in the Steeles' driveway, Laura exploded from the Auburn, hurrying up to Michael.
'What are we doing here?' She demanded. 'This is our house.'
'I know.' Michael told her. 'But this is where the tracking device led us.' He glanced at the black sedan parked along the curb. 'And it appears to be correct.'
'But why did Sam bring Everett here?' Laura persisted. 'We don't have the documents.'
'You don't suppose Dad's been doing a little safe-cracking, do you?' Holly asked, sidling up beside them. 'He was in the room by himself before we arrived.'
'Holly!' Laura exclaimed hotly. 'What a thing to say about your father! He hasn't stolen anything for years.' She paused and then added. 'Well, at least nothing that's not related to a case.'
'Your defense is heart-warming, my love.' Remington murmured, joining them. He looked at Holly, his expression unreadable in the shadows. 'My safe-cracking days are over. If the documents are here, then they arrived by other means than myself.'
Holly's eyes dropped. 'I'm sorry, Dad. I just said the first thing that came to mind. I should have known better.'
'Yes, you should have.' Remington agreed before turning to Laura. 'Shall we go and welcome our guests?'
They took the flagstone path leading to the front porch. When they found the door securely locked, they took the path leading to the pool enclosure and nearly tripped over Gloria Wainwright. She was crouched in the bushes near the gate, her thin frame wrapped in a scarlet kimono, a fluffy gray cat tucked under one arm. She glanced up at their arrival.
'Oh, Mrs. Steele, Mr. Steele,' she whispered in obvious relief, 'thank goodness you're home. I've kept an eye on them, but I'll be darn if I know what they're up to.'
'Who?' Laura asked.
'The trespassers.' Gloria said in a loud whisper. 'I was putting Cosmo out when I saw them. A man and a woman, sneaking around the side of the house.'
Laura peered toward the pool, trying to see what Gloria saw. The water glowed an eerie blue from the underwater lights. 'Where are they?'
'Over by that shack Mr. Steele put up a few years ago.'
'It's a changing booth.' Remington corrected.
'What do you suppose they could be doing in there?' Gloria asked, her eyes round as saucers. 'Kind of an odd place to go if you wanted to rob a place. You don't suppose they're fifth columnists, do you?'
'The changing booth.' Laura breathed as images of her encounter with Stephen drifted through her memory. 'Of course, the changing booth.'
'What's so special about the booth?' Michael asked, his eyes on his mother. He could tell by her expression that she was on to something.
'Stephen was coming out of the booth the night of Holly's party. I was on my way back to the kitchen for another round of drinks when I heard voices, a man's and a woman's. Sam must have been the woman.'
'Are you implying that Sam and Stephen were,' Michael searched for a word, his expression one of distaste, 'involved?'
Remington, who had been listening to the exchange with only half an ear, suddenly came to attention. Michael's reaction intrigued him.
'I don't know.' Laura said. 'But it would appear that something went on in that booth. Otherwise, why would Sam bring Everett here?'
'Maybe she's leading him on a wild goose chase.' Holly suggested.
'Then why pick our changing booth?' Laura countered. 'No, she brought him to the documents.' She opened the gate and stepped through. 'Come on. It's time to bring this case to a close. Got your gun, Mac?'
'Right here.' Mac said, pulling a handgun from his jacket.
When did carrying a gun become standard procedure at the agency, Remington wondered as they walked quietly across the patio tiles. He could have used a gun now and then in the old days.
As they approached, Everett's voice became audible. 'Where are they?' He demanded. 'I thought you said they were here.'
'They are.' Sam replied, sounding harassed. 'Or at least they were.'
'Don't lie to me, Miss Wolfe.' Everett gritted. 'I want those documents, and if you don't hand them over, you'll never see your brother again. One call to Chou is all it takes.'
'I don't have them.' Sam declared hotly. 'They were here, but now they're gone. I swear to you ' she stopped, her voice abruptly cut off.
'Who's there?' He called out, his eyes searching the pool behind them.
Holly had stepped on one of Jack's squeaky toys.
'Darn that dog.' She muttered.
Silence reigned for a long minute or two before Michael stepped into the dim light created by the pool. 'The game's up, Everett.'
'Oh, I don't think so.' Lance said, stepping into the light himself. He was holding Sam against him, a gun pointed at her head. 'You see, I've got a hostage, and something tells me that you don't want to see her pretty brains blown out all over this lovely Sicilian tile.'
'She's expendable.' Michael said coolly. 'She knows that.'
Sam's eyes went to him, large and frightened. His heart squeezed, but he kept his expression unmoved. Why had Stetson saddled him with this woman?
'Killing her won't get you what you want.' He continued. 'You still haven't got the documents. And that's what all this is about, isn't it?'
'It's much more than that.' Laura said, joining Michael in the light. 'It's about revenge, settling old scores, getting what should have been yours. That's why you killed Stephen.'
'I didn't kill him.' Everett denied.
'Not directly, no.' Laura agreed. 'But you arranged for his death.'
'You give me far too much credit. I'm just a lowly chemist, not a James Bond mastermind.'
'And as a chemist it would be easy for you to lace a tube of lipstick with bee venom.' Laura replied. 'You knew Stephen was deathly allergic to bees, and you knew that Fiona Trevelyan only wore a certain color of lipstick. Being a regular visitor at the mansion you had no difficulty becoming friendly, or should we say intimate, with the maid, Carmen. You convinced her to switch tubes of lipstick, and when she had served her purpose, you killed her and dumped her body in the greenhouse.'
Everett laughed. 'You have quite an imagination, Mrs. Steele. Why would I want Stephen dead? I'm not in his will. I gain nothing from his death.'
'Revenge. With Stephen dead, you would become the de facto head of Trevelyan Chemical, the company that you always believed should have been yours. The Trevelyan family would not protest your promotion because none of them knows how to run it. They would naturally look to you for guidance, especially Fiona. By the way, how long have you been drugging her?' Laura asked. 'Six months? A year? Long enough to establish the fact that she's prone to 'spells'.'
'You're out of your mind.' Everett exclaimed. 'I didn't drug Fiona. Why would I do something like that?'
'To provide her an alibi when she killed her own husband. Also it made her much more malleable and less likely to reveal that you were at the mansion the night Stephen died.'
'You have no proof of that.'
'We have Fiona's testimony.'
'A very untrustworthy source.'
'Possibly,' Laura concurred, 'but we have more concrete evidence. Were you wearing your fraternity ring that night, Mr. Everett? If you were, I'd check to see if any stones are missing.'
There was a silence as Laura's voice faded into the night air. No one moved. Mac held his gun trained on Everett, and Everett continued to hold his against Sam's temple. It was a standoff. But a crack was appearing, Laura assured herself. Everett was beginning to sweat, and his eyes darted from side to side as though searching for a means of escape.
'You're wrong.' He suddenly said. 'I don't want Stephen's company. It's broke. He knew it as well as I did. The fuel cell was his last ditch effort to save the place. He staked the whole future of Trevelyan Chemical on it. That's why it's so important, why he let the feds in. He couldn't risk having it stolen.'
'So you arranged to steal it.' Michael said, taking up the questioning. 'You'd destroy Stephen's company and make a fortune doing it. If that was the plan, why kill him?'
'Because he wanted Fiona.' Holly suddenly said. 'And she wouldn't leave Stephen. None of the ex-wives would leave Stephen.'
She shot her father a triumphant grin, clearly pleased with herself. But he wasn't looking at her. His eyes were on Cosmo as the cat twisted itself around his legs.
'Damn Stephen!' Lance spat, his expression one of fury. 'It was my formula, mine. While he was sleeping with everything in a skirt, I was in the lab, working non-stop, losing sleep, not eating. It was my brilliance that made Trevelyan Chemical famous, but he took all the credit. He gave me a job at Trevelyan, and I took it because I was nothing without the great Stephen Trevelyan. He enjoyed lording it over me, doling out the favors like a king to his subject. He had everything, but he wasn't happy with that. No, he had to take the one thing I had. He took Fiona. Just like King David with Uriah's wife, he took my little ewe lamb.'
He swallowed hard. The gun pressed against Sam's temple wavered as he struggled to control the emotions sweeping over him.
Remington waited, watching the man with narrowed eyes. It had to be timed just right. There was no margin for error. Everett was crying now, tears running down his cheeks. As soon as he removed the gun from Miss Wolfe's temple
The hand with the gun lifted, brushing at the tears, giving Remington his opportunity. He grabbed Cosmo and flung the cat at Everett's head.
The scene dissolved into pure noise. Angry feline yowls were followed by a splash and the sound of rushing bodies as Remington, Mac and Michael did their best imitation of the Four Horsemen of Notre Dame. Yet despite their efforts Everett, like a fumbled football, squirted free. He scrambled to his feet and took off around the side of the house, the men in hot pursuit. The roar of engines and the squeal of tires gave evidence that no case ended without a good car chase.
'Gloria!' Laura yelled. 'Stop that shrieking and help us get Sam out of the pool!'
Both she and Holly had jumped in after the young woman and now held her limp body between them. Sam had obviously hit her head on the way in. Gloria, momentarily silenced, came to their assistance, dragging the girl to dry ground as Laura and Holly heaved themselves onto the lip of the pool.
'What a night!' Holly breathed. 'I think I'm going to like this detective business. It's more exciting than getting stuck on a ski lift.'
'Does that mean the wedding's off?' Laura asked.
Four women and a disgruntled cat were seated in the Steele theater room when the men returned. Distressed barks from the mudroom announced that Jack was well aware that a cat had invaded his territory, but Laura ignored him as she went to greet the men at the door.
'Well?' She asked, looking from one to the other. 'Did you get him?'
Remington stared at her. 'What happened to you?'
'What do you mean?'
'You look like a bloody quilt.'
Laura glanced down at the patchwork robe she was wearing. 'It's Gloria's. We ran out of robes. Three of us ended up in the pool.'
'Thank heavens.' Remington said. 'For a moment there I had visions of that robe actually belonging to us.'
She was not in the mood for wisecracks. She turned to Michael. 'So what happened? Did you catch Everett?'
'We caught him.' Michael said grimly. 'He couldn't go far once his car went over the cliff.'
'You mean he's dead?'
'I don't know how he could have survived a 50 foot drop, but we didn't hang around to find out. We left confirmation to the police. Rick will get the report in the morning.' He ran a weary hand through his hair before glancing up at Laura. 'Speaking of big brother, did anyone call him? I'd hate for him to sit outside Everett's condo all night.'
Laura winced. She'd forgotten all about him. 'I'm afraid not. We've been kind of busy. Sam needed some attention.'
'Why?' Michael asked, his voice suddenly sharp. 'Was she hurt?'
'It's just a bump on the head. She must have done it as she was diving into the pool. Probably hit a chair or something.'
'Are you sure?' Michael persisted. 'Head wounds can be dangerous, you know.'
'Well, if you don't believe me, go look for yourself.' Laura retorted, hands on hips, clearly exasperated. 'She's in the theater room drinking one of Gloria's hot toddies. Watch out for that cat. He's in a mean mood.'
Michael didn't wait for further details. He was striding down the hallway, a man on a mission.
'That's what comes from having a female partner.' Mac muttered, taking off after him. 'Makes a man all anxious and jittery and before you know it, he's not good for anything but burping babies and putting out the trash. God help us.'
Laura frowned. 'Am I missing something here?'
'I wouldn't worry about it, Laura.' Remington said, sliding his arms around her waist. 'I hear bloodhounds start losing their sense of smell shortly after entering their sixth decade. It's a common occurrence in old age.'
'Old age!' Laura squawked. 'Why you '
'Excoriate me later, darling.' Remington murmured, leaning down to brush his lips against her forehead and then each cheek before zeroing in on her lips. 'Upon further reflection, I've come to the conclusion that I like you in patchwork. Makes you look like a sexy grandma.'
Laura's squeak of outrage was quickly muffled by a pair of persistent lips. Sexy grandma, she mused. She'd show him just how sexy a grandma she could be. She took his face between her hands and deepened the kiss, backing him up against the wall in her urgency.
'Oh, excuse me!' Gloria exclaimed. 'I I didn't realize. I just popped out to get more toddies.'
Remington and Laura, panting a little from their encounter, looked at her. She was looking everywhere but at them.
'Don't let it bother you.' Holly said cheerfully, suddenly appearing at the doorway. 'They do that all the time. We just ignore it.' She looked at her parents. 'Are you going to join us or spend all night smooching in the hallway? Geesh, you're worse than teenagers.'
'I'll help Gloria with the toddies.' Laura said, feeling a blush rising in her cheeks.
Remington let her go and made his way to the theater room. It was crowded and seating was limited. Still his favorite spot on the black couch was available and he made a beeline for it only to come up short when he found it already occupied by Cosmo. The cat stared at him, almost daring him to push him off. So, he decided, man and cat were now enemies, eh? Blimey, what a poor sport. He headed for the loveseat.
A few minutes later he forgot his annoyance. Laura was seated beside him and he had just taken a sip from the mug she'd pressed into his hand. He savored the warm, whiskey-laced smoothness. Ah excellent. With pleasures such as these, a man could forget a disagreeable cat.
Suddenly Michael's voice broke the silence. 'I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but this case is far from over. We may have found Stephen's murderer, but what about those documents? Without them, Trevelyan's goes under, and there's the possibly of a hostile foreign government getting their hands on them.' He looked at Sam. 'Why did you think they were in the changing booth?'
Sam, who'd been staring into her mug, glanced up. 'Because I left them there the night of Holly's party. I thought it'd be a good hiding spot, nobody would check a changing booth, but apparently I was wrong.'
'Do you mind me asking how you got them in the first place?'
'Stephen gave them to me.'
Remington watched with interest as Michael's jaw tightened and he said somewhat stiffly. 'I didn't know the two of you were on such friendly terms.'
'We weren't.' Sam replied with simple honesty. 'The first and only time I'd met him was when we went to see him upon our arrival in L.A.'
'Then why would he give you, of all people, highly sensitive, top secret documents?'
She hesitated and then said. 'I don't suppose it matters now if I tell you.' There was a pause as though she was reviewing once again whether or not it was right to tell and then began. 'He came up to me at the party and asked that I meet him at the pool. Knowing his reputation, I thought he wanted to try something, but he looked so anxious, so unlike the confident man we'd met in his office that I went. When he suggested we get into the booth for a private discussion I nearly socked him in the nose, but against my better judgment, I got in. Once inside he pulled a small manila envelope from under his shirt and insisted I take it. He told me that he felt sure someone was going to try to steal them and that he'd removed them as a precaution. I tried to give them back, but he refused and abruptly left the booth. When I heard him talking with Mrs. Steele, I hid them under the bench and slipped back to the party. I intended to go back for them but later decided that they were better off where they were.'
'And they were gone?' Michael persisted. 'You weren't just trying to fake Everett out?'
'They were gone.'
Michael rubbed his eyes. 'So the question remains ~ who the bloody hell has those documents? Who could have possibly known they were there?'
As this question hung in the air, Remington got up and walked over to the case holding his collection of DVDs. He studied the selection for a moment or two, one finger against his cheek, both reaching out and removing one.
'This is not time to watch a movie.' Laura told him.
'It's always a good time to watch a movie.' He replied. 'They hold such delightful surprises.'
He opened the DVD case and removed a small manila envelope, which he then dropped into Michael's lap.
'Open it and find out.'
Michael turned over the envelope and released the clasp. A sheath of papers spilled out. He glanced through them before looking up, incredulous. 'These are the design for the fuel cell. How did you '
'So I was right!' Holly piped in from her seat on the white couch. 'Dad did have them!'
'I had them, but I didn't find them.' Remington corrected. 'That honor goes to Jack. I only happened to rescue them before he buried them in Gloria's flower bed.'
'Jack?' Holly exclaimed. 'How did Jack get into the changing booth? It's got a latch and everything!'
'He's a Steele.' Mac said from beside her. 'And all Steeles know how to break and enter.'
'Normally that comment coming from a Michaels would annoy me.' Remington noted with an air of noble forbearance. 'But essentially you're correct. Jack is a first class cat burglar.' He glanced at Cosmo. 'No insult intended.'
'And so you decided to hold onto Jack's discovery for safe keeping.' Laura said dryly. 'Were you ever going to tell anyone or where you just going to let us run all over town looking for something you already had?'
'I did what Philip Marlow or Sam Spade would have done.' He told her. 'I flushed out the crook. As long as I had the documents, he or she didn't. They'd have to come looking for them someday, and then we'd have them.'
'Brilliant detective work, Nicky.' Laura mocked.
'Thank you, Mommy.'
There was a short silence and then Mac got up with a sigh. 'Well, now that that's cleared up, I'd better get to the office and start the paperwork.'
'At this hour?' Holly exclaimed. 'It's nearly one in the morning!'
Mac looked down at her and was surprised at how attractive she looked, wrapped in a fluffy, white robe and seated on the white couch as though she'd been born there. Suddenly his mother's words came to mind. Don't be like your father, Macky. Take time to stop and smell the roses. Or in this case the gardenias. He dropped back down on the couch.
'Well, I guess it can wait.'
When Holly flashed a brilliant smile, Mac felt like he'd been hit by a sunbeam. When was the last time Holly Steele had smiled at him? Had she ever?
He was interrupted in his musings by Michael Steele. He was talking again. Did the man ever shut up? He was as bad as his father. Always rabbiting on about something. At least Rick only spoke when he had something important to say. Rick! He'd forgotten about Rick. He reached for his cell phone.
'Your case may be over, but mine's still open.' Michael was saying. 'I was sent here to find Jason.' He looked at Sam who was once again staring into her mug. 'And I will find him, Sam. I promise.'
She glanced up and smiled. 'I'm afraid Mr. Stetson has other work for you. He called this morning. He wants you back in D.C. Monday morning.'
'That won't stop me. I can still look for Jason while working on other cases.'
'I know.' She said simply.
From across the room, Mac's voice rang out. 'Rick? Hey, man, it's over. Yeah, it was Everett. I'll fill you in tomorrow. For now let's just say Stephen got the last laugh.'
'I didn't think they'd ever leave.' Laura muttered, removing the patchwork robe. She flung it into the shadows. 'Those kids are like energizer rabbits. They just keep going and going and going.'
'It was our delightful neighbor who refused to vacate the premises.' Remington reminded her. He didn't bother flinging his clothes. He just let them drop where he stood and crawled under the sheets. 'Now I know why Robert Frost advocated fences. They keep their mouths shut.'
'If it hadn't been for Jack, she might still be talking.' Laura noted. 'I'm still puzzled at how he managed to get out of the mudroom.'
Remington squinted up at the ceiling, arms behind his head. 'Ah, yes, that is a mystery, isn't it? That dog's talents appear to be limitless.'
'You wouldn't have had anything to do with it, would you?'
Remington looked shocked. 'Really, Laura, am I the kind of host that would sic his dog upon a guest?'
She looked at him. 'Yes.'
A grin broke across his face. 'It's scandalous how well you know me.'
He reached for her and she tumbled into his arms.
'I've been meaning to ask you.' Laura murmured a few minutes later, tracing a lazy finger along the scar he'd gotten on their last official case. 'What kind of spell have you placed upon our daughter? She's actually treating Mac like a human being.'
'You wanted me to talk to her, didn't you?'
'That's all you did? Talk?'
'On occasion I'm known to be very persuasive.'
She rose up on one elbow to look down at him. 'Seriously. How'd you do it?'
'Magic pixie dust?' He suggested. When she frowned, he said. 'Doesn't it really matter? You got what you wanted. Despite the damage it'll do to the Steele bloodline, we're well on our way to acquiring a Michaels for a son-in-law.'
'Not quite.' Laura said. 'There's still a lot of work to be done. He's only beginning to thaw.'
'I suspect our daughter will do what all good thieves do when faced with a stubborn jewel case. She'll use the blowtorch.'
'Like father like daughter?'
'It stands to reason, doesn't it? I taught her everything she knows.'
Laura gave up and returned to her previous position upon his shoulder. She sighed as his fingers dived into her hair, stroking her scalp in a most tantalizing manner. They lay silently together for a long while before she spoke again. Her voice was relaxed and dreamy. Such talented fingers. 'You were wrong, you know.'
'Wrong about what?' He murmured, half asleep himself.
'You said the thief and the murderer were two different people.'
'And so they were.'
She shook her head. 'No. Everett was both thief and murderer.'
'I hate to contradict you, my beautiful lady sleuth, but you're wrong.' Remington said, sounding more alert. 'Everett murdered Stephen, but he didn't steal the documents. Stephen stole them.'
'How can a man steal his own documents?'
'Then who stole the documents?'
Laura sighed. 'I'm not going to win this argument, am I?'
'I'm prepared to defend my professional integrity all night if necessary.'
'I have a better idea.'
'Let's finish what we started in the hallway before we were so rudely interrupted.'
There was a pause and then Remington's arms closed around her. 'That, Mrs. Steele, is something I won't argue about.'
All's Well that End's Well?
For the third time in what seemed like far too few days Remington was once again standing on the patio of the Trevelyan mansion with a wineglass in his hand. Would he ever be able to detach himself from this particular family? They were like a bad case of athlete's foot ~ difficult to eradicate. Still he had Laura's word that this would be their final obligation. After tonight he'd never had to socialize with another Trevelyan ever again. Ah, bliss.
He raised his wineglass and then frowned as his eyes fell on the sight of Rick and Sam seated at a table, their heads close together. They looked like a courting couple. His frown deepened. Laura would be pleased. He only wished he could say the same about himself. The thought of Rick and Sam together caused a curl of unease deep within his gut.
If only he didn't suspect what he suspected. Then he might be able to join Laura in whole-hearted approval. But as things were his eyes went to Michael. He was standing on the edge of the patio, staring off toward the greenhouse, a forgotten glass of wine in his hand. Remington sauntered over to him.
'Thinking of D.C.?'
Michael jumped a little. He'd obviously been in deep thought. 'What?'
'I asked whether you were thinking of D.C.' Remington repeated. 'You leave tomorrow.'
'Yeah, sure.' Michael said. 'I'm always thinking of the next case.'
'But the current one still bothers you, eh?'
There was a long pause and then Michael sighed. 'Yeah, it bothers me. I was sent to find a missing agent, and he's still missing. As far as I'm concerned, the case is still open. No matter what Stetson says. I'm going to find Jason, Dad. One way or another, I'm going to find him.'
'Because of Miss Wolfe?'
'I promised her.'
Remington took a sip of his wine before saying. 'You haven't been completely honest with us, have you?'
'Of course, I have.' Michael declared, clearly surprised by the question. 'I've told you what I do for a living. What else is there to tell?'
'How about telling me how you feel about Miss Wolfe?'
Michael suddenly looked cagey. 'She's a great kid.'
'Hardly a kid.' Remington pointed out. 'She's the same age as you.'
'She seems younger.'
'Your mother tells me that she's staying on at RSI.'
Michael shrugged. 'She prefers detective work to espionage. I don't blame her.' His eyes dropped to the glass of wine in his hand. 'Besides, Rick asked her to stay. They'll make a great couple, those two. He's exactly what she needs.'
'Even though you're in love with her?'
It was a shot across the bow, and Remington waited patiently for the fallout. Normally he preferred to be more subtle, but Michael was too much like him. He'd dance and dodge around the subject forever if permitted.
There was a brief silence and then Michael laughed. 'That's ridiculous! You know me, Dad. No moss grows on this rolling stone.'
'Yes, Michael,' Remington agreed quietly, 'I do know you.'
That one sentence seemed to deflate all of Michael's bravado. He sighed. 'Hell, Dad, I don't know what I feel for her. It's all kind of muddled. Is it love? I don't know. I've never been in love before.' He paused and then suddenly looked at his father, his expression grim. 'But there's one thing I do know.'
'And what's that?'
'No matter what my feelings she's better off with Rick.'
'Of course. He's domesticated. I'm not.'
'Neither was I.'
Michael frowned. 'But Mom wants it this way.'
'Your mother doesn't always get what she wants.'
'No? It sure looked that way to me over the years.'
'Then you haven't been looking very carefully.' Remington told him. 'Your mother wants what's best for her children. If she could see what I see, she'd be over here asking you the same questions.'
'So why can't she see what you see?'
'Her nose isn't working properly at the moment. Too many scents to follow.'
'Then let's leave it that way.'
'If you think it's best.'
Remington would have liked to press the subject but decided not to. He'd gotten what he'd wanted. There'd be no more guessing. His suspicions had been confirmed. When Michael had kissed Samantha's hand at the Forbidden City, there'd been a spark. He had felt that same spark years before. It had happened the night he'd kissed Laura's hand, and it had changed the whole course of his future.
But unlike him Michael seemed unwilling to pursue it. He was content to let his brother have the prize. Ah, well, Remington thought, perhaps it was for the best. If everyone was happy with the situation, who was he to object?
Now if he could only make his gut feeling believe it.
Laura left the bathroom with its marble tiles and Egyptian towels and deliberately turned in the opposite direction of the patio. She was in no hurry to return. The Trevelyans had always been a tedious bunch, but now that there was no Stephen to give them direction, they were like a ship with no rudder, drifting aimlessly.
If it hadn't been for Holly's engagement and the expectation that an announcement would be made that evening of its demise, she would have left hours ago. Why Holly had not yet delivered the eagerly awaited proclamation, she didn't know, but if she left before the deed was done, there was a good possibly that she'd wake up tomorrow morning trapped in the same ridiculous charade.
She turned a corner and nearly tripped over Scott Trevelyan. He was loitering in the hallway as though waiting for someone. She made to go around him, but he stepped into her path.
'Mrs. Steele,' he said, flashing a smile that probably set legions of young hearts beating wildly, 'I've been meaning to talk to you.'
'Oh?' Laura asked, raising an eyebrow. 'What about?'
'I wanted to thank you for finding my father's murderer.'
'There's no need to thank us.' Laura assured him. 'It's what we do.'
Scott caught her hand in his. 'Nevertheless, it was greatly appreciated.'
'You're welcome. Now, if you'll excuse me,' Laura gave her hand an experimental tug. He held on as tightly as a barnacle to a ship's bottom, 'I really need to get back to the patio. My husband will be looking for me.'
'He can wait.' Scott told her. 'I want to show you something.'
'It's a surprise.'
Laura frowned. She was in no mood for childish games. 'I really don't think '
'I'm sure my father would have wanted you to see it. Please, Mrs. Steele,' he urged, looking at her with earnest blue eyes, 'You won't regret it.'
She tamped down on a fizzle of irritation. 'This won't take long, will it?'
'Just a second or two. I promise.'
She allowed him to draw her into the room behind him. It was the library. Books lined the walls and a leather couch with matching armchairs was grouped around a heavy wood fireplace. Unlike other libraries she'd seen, there was nothing dark or oppressive about it. Sunlight streamed in through tall, diamond-paned windows.
'Nice room.' She said, looking about appreciatively.
'See. I knew you'd like it.'
Laura wandered over to a bookcase and peered at the leather-bound volumes, reading the titles under her breath. 'Real Alchemy The Book of Alchemy The Great Alchemical Work. I didn't know your father was interested in Alchemy.'
'He had a lot interests.'
Laura jumped. His voice was close, too close, nearly at her ear. She kept her back to him, hoping he'd take the hint and move away. Instead his arm snaked out, touching the spine of one thick volume, effectively blocking any movement she might want to make to the right.
'He especially liked this one. The Sorcerer's Stone.'
'Is this what you wanted to show me?' She asked stiffly. 'A book?'
'You have beautiful hair.' He murmured. 'It looks like milk chocolate and smells like Delices de Cartier?'
Laura stiffened as his hand touched her hair.
'No.' She declared, turning so that they were eye to eye. 'It's called shampoo, and you're one second is up. I'm going back to the BBQ.'
'What's your hurry?' He asked, caging her between his arms.
'Are you making a pass at me?'
'What do you think?'
'I think you'd better remember that you're engaged to my daughter.'
'Holly won't mind. Ours is an open relationship.'
'How enlightened.' Laura muttered before stabbing him with a fierce, brown stare. 'I'll have you know that I'm old enough to be your mother.'
'Hey, I dig older women.'
'So help me if you put one finger on me, I'll punch you right in the nose.'
'I'll risk it.'
He leaned forward, intending to kiss her and got a mouthful of book instead. Laura had dived under his arm and was making a mad dash for the door. She would have liked to exit in a more dignified manner but thought it best to get while the getting was good. Unfortunately, luck was not with her. She tripped over a crease in the rug and fell headlong across the couch. Before she could right herself Scott's weight landed on top of her.
'You've got more arms than an octopus!' She sputtered.
'The old ones are always more frisky.' He told her.
'Oh!' Laura exclaimed, outraged.
It seemed like they wrestled for hours before a voice thundered across the room.
'What is bloody hell is going on in here?'
Laura's head whipped to the side. Remington was standing in the doorway, his expression murderous. Behind him stood Holly and Mac.
'Don't ask questions!' Laura panted, batting away Scott's groping hands. 'Just get this bloody twit off me!'
'My pleasure.' Remington growled, storming forward.
He was stopped by Mac's arm. 'Allow me.'
'She's my wife.'
'He's Holly's fiancé.'
'I don't care who he is!' Laura yelled. 'Just get him off of me!'
Both Remington and Mac lunged forward, but Remington, having a head start, got there first. He grabbed the young man's collar, jerking him upright. 'On your feet, laddie.'
Scott had just gained his feet when a well-placed fist sent him sprawling to the floor. He lay for a second or two, blinking up at the man standing over him. 'Let this be a lesson to you.' Remington gritted. 'Never kiss anything older than yourself, especially if she's got a jealous husband. Understand?'
But before Scott could answer, he was being pulled to his feet once again. Mac had him by the throat of his shirt, shaking him like a rat. 'The engagement is over, Trevelyan.' He declared, pulling the young man close so he could glare menacingly into his face. 'Holly wouldn't marry a rat like you even if you came with a million moneybags.'
Once again Scott went sprawling. This time blood spurted from his nose, running down his chin and onto his shirt.
'You broke my nose, you bastard.' Scott cried.
'Good.' Mac growled. 'It'll improve your looks.'
He turned to go and then stopped at the sight of Holly in the doorway. She was smiling at him, beaming really.
'That's the nicest thing anyone's ever done for me, Mackenzie Michaels.'
'I thought you didn't like Neanderthals.' He said gruffly.
'I've had a change of heart. I think they're wonderful.'
There was a pause and then Mac said. 'You like baseball?'
'I've got a couple tickets to the Dodgers' game tomorrow night. Want to go?'
'Are you asking me on a date?' Holly asked.
Mac shoved his hands into his pockets. 'Yeah, I guess I am.'
'Then I accept.'
Remington and Laura watched as Mac and Holly left arm in arm.
'Looks like your wish is well on its way to coming true.' Remington commented as he helped Laura off the couch. 'Good thing you taught her baseball.'
'She would have gone even if he'd had tickets to the badminton championships.' Laura declared, linking her arms with his. 'Shall we go home, Mr. Steele?'
Remington glanced at Scott who was wiping at his nose with the sleeve of his shirt. 'What about him?'
'Let him bleed.' Laura retorted. 'This case is closed.'
The sky was the color of Royal Lavuite, washed clean by a night of thunderstorms, and a cool breeze, heavy with the scent of wild freesia, rustled the trees. All in all it was a glorious morning, Remington thought as he stretched himself out on the lounger beside the pool. He unfurled his paper, glanced at the front page before flipping to the culture section. Satisfied that he'd seen all there was to see, he leaned back, positioning the paper at just the right angle. Ah, retirement!
He had just reached that drowsy state between sleep and wakefulness when the paper was abruptly snatched away.
'Laura,' he drawled warningly, 'I'm not the least bit interested in viewing autopsy reports. I'm retired.'
When a sniffle met his statement, he frowned. Laura seldom cried, and when she did, it was not over autopsy reports. Curious he opened one eye. Holly was standing over him, one hand holding the paper, the other holding a tissue to her nose. Her eyes were red-rimmed. Hay fever, he wondered. Had she finally inherited her mother's malady?
'There's a bottle of antihistamines in the bathroom cabinet.' He told her helpfully.
'I don't need antihistamines!' Holly wailed. 'I need a lawyer!'
That got his attention. Both eyes popped open.
'A lawyer!' Remington exclaimed, sitting up. 'Don't tell me you've had an accident in that car of yours? Holly, I've told you over and over again that you drive too fast. I know it's a Holt weakness, but ' He stopped as a piece of paper was shoved into his face. 'What's this?'
Remington cast a furtive glance around the patio and then pulled a small pair of gold-framed reading glasses from his breast pocket.
'When did you start wearing glasses?' Holly asked, momentarily forgetting her distress.
'I don't.' Remington told her, scanning the sheet of paper, which turned out to be a letter from Duncan, Albright & Wilson, Attorneys at Law, Beverly Hills.
'Wear glasses.' He glanced at her over the rims. 'At least as far as your mother's concerned. Got me, pet?'
'Yeah, I got you.'
'Good.' His eyes went back to the letter. 'Mr. Albright says that you're in breach of contract. When did you enter into a contract?'
'He means the engagement.'
'But that's over and done with.'
'Not as far as Scott's concerned. He's threatening to sue, says I made the engagement under false pretenses and caused him and his family severe mental anguish. Oh, Dad,' she sighed, plopping down on the lounger beside him, 'it's happening just like you said it would. It's blowing up in my face.'
'Now don't jump to conclusions.' Remington soothed. 'It's only been what? Two weeks since Michaels punched him in the nose? This is just sour grapes. As soon as he cools down he'll drop it.'
'That's in there too.'
'The part about the nose. He's suing for medical expenses. I guess he had to see a plastic surgeon.' She scrubbed her nose with the tissue, making it even redder than it already was. 'What am I going to do, Dad? This is the biggest mess I've ever been in.'
'We're going to deal with it like reasonable adults. We'll get an attorney, Mulch probably knows one, and '
'I can't do that!' Holly exclaimed. 'If I get an attorney, then Mom will find out.'
'So she already thinks I'm two fries short of a Happy Meal for coming up this whole charade. Just imagine what she'll think if she finds out that I'm being sued over it. And if Rick finds out it's back to kissing babies and saving whales. He's only just allowed me to work on a case. No,' Holly said, shaking her head, 'I've got to handle this one on my own.'
'Isn't that how you got into this situation?' Remington asked. 'By handling things yourself?'
But Holly wasn't listening to him. 'What I really need is a pro, a real expert.' Her eyes slid to Remington. 'What I need is the Duke of Deception.'
'No.' He said. 'Your mother would kill me.'
'She'll never know.'
'Just this once, Dad.' She pleaded. 'Then I'll go straight. I promise.'
Remington felt himself weakening. He never could resist those big, blue eyes. He sighed, removing the glasses and tucking them into his pocket. 'Give me a day or two.'
Holly brightened. 'Dad, you're the top!'
The top, Remington mused after she'd gone. How could he argue with a statement like that? He sighed, stretching out on his lounger once again. Jack, who'd wander in from patrolling Gloria's flower bed, sat down beside him.
'Well, Jack, old boy, what do you think I ought to do?'
The dog considered this question and then flopped over onto his side, closing his eyes.
'Excellent suggestion.' Remington said, replacing the newspaper. 'When in doubt, power nap.'