All the usual disclaimers. Just another
depraved fan living in a world of her own.
Summary: When Murphy is forced to ride home with our favorite person (yes, it's another one of THOSE stories), he ends up meeting some of Steele's old friends and as they get a bit more candid with each other, he gets to know Steele himself a bit better.
Set during the first season, sometime
after the one I did on "Steele Golden Afterthoughts".
Also, the character Tabby is from an AWESOME story by Sinead,
which can be found on the KrebsFiles RS Mailing List page. PLEASE
email me with feedback; the only reason I was brave enough to
write a second story is because I was encouraged by someone who
read the first. My email address is
Laura walked into the connecting office,
and Murphy looked up. "How was the luncheon?"
She sighed. "The usual. They kept wanting to speak with our illustrious Mr. Steele. I had to tell them he was called away on urgent business. Where is he, by they way?"
Murphy sneezed before replying. "About an hour ago he walked out of the office; he didn't say where and I don't want to know. Maybe we'll get lucky and he won't come back."
Laura rolled her eyes. "Murphy, I keep telling you, he provides a valuable service for the agency. Now if we can please " She stopped when Murphy burst into a fit of coughing. "Murphy, are you alright?"
He took a sip from the glass of water on the desk. "I don't know. I think I'm coming down with something. Felt kind of queasy all morning."
Laura looked concerned. "Well, listen, it's about 2:30, so if you want to leave early there's nothing else going on. I need to take the limo for the meeting to see Mrs. Williams about the case she wants us to take on, but you can borrow the Rabbit."
Just then the agency door opened and Mr. Steele strolled through. Laura felt the all-too-familiar sensation that he was the only thing in the room that needed her attention, but managed to shake it off when she realized Murphy was staring at her. She walked out to meet Mr. Steele. "Where have you been? I needed you for the luncheon ceremony. That's supposed to be your reason for being here, to act as the front man. You can't keep walking out on us like that."
He looked her in the eye, and she was forced to look away to keep from melting. "Laura, I sincerely apologize. I would have come, but personal business held me up."
"Like what, a button fell off your Italian suit?" interjected Murphy, who had wandered in to see where this went.
Steele looked disdainfully at Murphy. *Does the man ever bloody quit?*
"Actually, my dear Murphy, a friend of mine seems to have caught a bit of the flu. I went out to help her she could get a bit of a rest. I'm truly sorry if Americans consider that against business hour regulations, but I'm still acquainting myself with your very interesting customs."
Laura immediately felt guilty, but hid it. She couldn't seem to stop herself from asking instead, "Who was this *her* ?"
"An old friend of mine staying with another friend. My old chum Monroe is currently out of town, so she's using his apartment." *Of course, that doesn't answer what Laura really wanted to know about Kathleen but I won't tell her that Kathy and I are no more than friends, and that she has a daughter, even though the poor child's father isn't around *
"Oh well, that's nice of your friend Monroe. Is she going to be here long?"
"Why Miss Holt, you seem particularly interested in her; are you leading up to something?"
Laura sensed danger and hastily retreated. "Oh, no, no, I was simply wondering how long we could expect you to be wandering off while we deal with irritated clients." *There, get him on a front he can't argue.*
He picked up her hand and briefly touched his lips to it. Laura felt a bit dizzy, and Murphy glowered. "Don't worry, Miss Holt, next time she needs my help I promise to let either you or the industrious Miss Wolfe (the latter, seated at the reception desk, pretended to ignore the name) know first. Now, however, I've only come to get my coat; I need to pick up groceries for her and drop them off. If it's alright with you I'll be using the limo again. Well, good day!" He picked up his coat from the corner rack, but Laura stopped him from leaving.
"Wait, I need to use the limo to get to Mrs. Williams because I may end up transporting her to the airport if we don't get everything cleared up before her flight. You can take the Rabbit, and in fact, why don't you drop off Murphy too?"
Murphy started to protest, but Laura shushed him. "Come on Murph, you need to get home. You've been sneezing and coughing all day, and (putting a hand on his head) your forehead feels like LA in the middle of summer during a meltdown. No buts. Go."
Steele had also looked slightly objective, but one glance from Laura dissipated any opposition. "Er, yes, why not? I only need to make a few stops along the way, and I shall have you home in the blink of an eye." He headed out towards the elevator, and with one very resigned glance at Laura, Murphy followed.
"So what 'few stops' are these? I thought
I heard you say you only needed to bring her some groceries. You
weren't lying to us, were you?" He glanced at his companion
in the driver's seat.
"Of course not, old boy, I simply didn't think a few more menial tasks were worth mentioning. I assure you, I have no intentions other than to help my friend."
"How? Stealing some rare paintings and lending her the money?"
"On the contrary, I just need to fetch her groceries from the local market, drop off a few letters at the Postal Office, and run to my apartment to get something for her. Of course, if you'd prefer, I can turn around at the next available stop and bring you home first."
Murphy considered that for a moment. He told himself that of course if he had the opportunity to spend less time with the thieving con-artist, he ought to jump at it. For some reason, though, lately it had been harder to find things to hate about the man. He opted to stay, reasoning that this way he might meet the woman and see if there was anything between the two. He had no doubt Laura would be grilling him about it. With a sudden thought, he realized that maybe that was why Laura had been so insistent he go! A part of him was glad to help her straighten out her love life, but another part felt jealous that she cared so much about her mysterious blue-eyed stranger and felt so little in that department towards himself.
He realized that Steele was waiting in expectation for his answer.
What Murphy didn't know was that Steele had halfway expected him to want to meet the unknown woman anyway, and had already gone well on that route. "Yes, well, I guess I ought to stay in the car. It'd just be ridiculous to go back now; probably get stuck in traffic anyway."
"Good. Ah, here's the market. She doesn't need much, I'll just be a moment. Would you prefer to stay here or come in?"
"I'll come in. It's cold out here."
Steele looked at him sideways. "I usually don't consider sixty-seven degrees to be chilly, but then again I'm used to colder climates, I suppose. Does Los Angelos even get snow?"
"Nope. We wear short sleeves at Christmas. But I'm not feeling well, so it's probably just me. Either that, or my hunch was right and you're cold-blooded." He smirked as they entered the store.
Steele smiled. "No, no, only in comparison to you American hotblooded men. The rate of murders and assaults in this city alone is beyond comprehension."
It only took Murphy a minute to think of a comeback. "Well, maybe that's just your level of comprehension I think the rest of us are ok." He was startled when Steele laughed.
" Touché! You and Tabby would make a hilarious team." He chuckled to himself, lost in some memory.
Murphy had been expecting another comeback, and was completely lost. "Huh? Tabby? Wait what?"
Steele grinned. "Now whose comprehension is below average? Sorry, it's just that since I met you I've been trying to remember who you remind me of, and I just figured it out."
Murphy looked bemused, until he hit upon it. "Oh! Wait, is 'Tabby' from a movie?" For some reason, that made his partner laugh so hard his eyes began to water. Murphy just stared.
Still laughing, Steele wiped his eyes. "No, not this time. Just an old friend of mine. Who knows, maybe some day soon she'll leave the wonders of globetrotting and writing to come visit me, and then you two will meet up and drive me to the nearest loony bin. Bedlam, here I come!"
Murphy shook his head and decided not to bother anymore. Looking down, he saw that the little cart Steele was carrying was almost overflowing. "I thought you were just going to pick up a few necessities."
"Well, you know .I can't help it, I keep seeing stuff I know she'll like."
Murphy picked up something labeled in French. "Geez, she must be a really good cook if she knows what all this junk is."
Steele took it and placed it almost lovingly back in the cart, or rather, balanced it on top of the pile. "Actually, the best thing she can really do is reheat pizza or (he shuddered) put instant canned foods on the stove and try not to burn it. I usually cook for her when she's around."
They headed towards the checkout line. Murphy mulled over this new aspect revealed to him. "I didn't know you could cook."
Steele looked amused. "Well, you know Laura would kill me if I dined at Che Rive for every meal. As it is, I do quite well by my cuisinary skills." He handed the woman at the counter a credit card issued in the name of the Agency. The two men headed back to the car.
"Now we're going to the Post Office?" asked Murphy.
"No, my apartment first. I have a letter there I need to drop off, and since we'll have to go to it anyway, I might as well get it. It's not far from here, though." *Strange.* he thought suddenly. *Murphy and I are really getting along quite well. The cold must have derailed his cognitive skills. Then again, this hasn't been as bad an experience as I thought.*
Murphy idly picked up a notepad by the phone
in Steele's apartment while the latter changed into jeans and
rummaged through a stack of papers by his nightstand. He was starting
to really feel queasy now, and he began to regret the snack he'd
had in the car on the way from the supermarket. There was also
the clichéd jackhammer going off in his head. "Listen,
Steele, do you have any Advil or Tylenol or something?" he
called into the other room.
Steele came out thumbing through some envelopes. "What was that?" he inquired. Too late. Murphy was running for the bathroom.
When he was finished, he turned around to find Steele standing there with a glass of water, which he held out to him. Murphy gratefully accepted it with some embarrassment and started to apologize, but Steele raised a hand to stop him. "Quite alright, in fact it may be that my friend and you have the same illness. Look, why don't we forego the Post Office and head straight to Monroe's home? Or I could just take you straight to your place."
Murphy flushed. "Um, no, I think I'm over it. C'mon, let's go to, uh, Monroe's."
Steele shrugged and walked into the kitchen, opening a cabinet and pulling a bottle of medicine down. "At least take some of this first."
Murphy looked at it. The label was way out of date, and he was used to pills. "Do you know how old that stuff is?"
"Well, you could wait till we get there, instead. I hate taking pills; avoid medicine whenever humanly possible."
Murphy glanced dubiously back at the bottle. "Yeah, I think I will wait, no offense." They walked out of the apartment to the elevator. "So, if you don't like medicine, what do you do when you get sick?"
"Mmn. I don't get sick very often. With the exception of accidents, of course. I'd rather have a cough than have to get up in the middle of the night and swallow pills, anyway."
Murphy shrugged. "Whatever floats your boat, I guess. Some people it's spiders, some it's pills."
Steele looked blankly at him. "I don't own a boat. Well, not at the moment, anyway. I once did rather fancy a catamaran in Monte Carlo "
Murphy took a minute to figure out what he was rambling about. When it hit him, he burst into a fit of laughing but started coughing again midway through. Steele cautiously started search his pocket for a handkerchief before remembering he was now wearing jeans. The elevator reached the ground floor, and the two men stepped out, Murphy still chuckling.
"Murphy, I see you're a bit overwrought by your illness I think maybe you ought to sit down for a bit Hmm?"
Murphy stopped chuckling long enough to answer, but kept a big grin on his face. "No, no, it's just - I mean - I didn't mean that literally."
"Mean what?" He looked wide-eyed at Murphy.
"About the - oh, never mind. I could have said it bakes your cookies."
"Bakes my - are we talking about cooking again?"
Murphy threatened to double over with laughter again. Trying to keep a straight face, he replied, "No, no, just forget about it."
"Americans. Mix up one's mind and then throw the battered remains out the window. No wonder your nation can't even produce a decent cup of tea."
"Coming from a person whose country doesn't even deliver pizza to your door and calls French fries 'chips' "
"Considering that my country was around for centuries before, and yours only came around about two-hundred-something years ago - dumping all that good tea into the harbour, I might add; I suppose that's where you get your 'taste' if you can lower your standards to call it that, you really have no argument."
"Oh yeah? Well for your information, there was a pretty darn good reason to leave! And you know what THAT was? You Brits are "
They continued their banter on the way to Monroe's home. The friendly argument only ended when Steele knocked on the door, and Murphy's headache, which had lightened up, was returning. They heard a voice and some sniffles coming from inside.
"Harry, is that you? I'm (cough) coming, hold on a min." A woman opened the door. She was a little shorter than Murphy, with black hair pulled back into a messy ponytail that made her look rather endearing.
Steele gave her a brief hug and nearly kissed her cheek, but she pulled away. "Uh-uh, I'm touched but sick. If I passed this on to you, you'd have to take a -dun duh dun!- PILL!" She finished with an exaggerated eye-roll and looked over at Murphy. "Hi, I'm Kathleen. If you haven't a clue what I was talking about, just forget it and I'm not a strange person." Steele laughed whole-heartedly at the last statement, and she glared at him. "Anyway, what's your name?"
Murphy could see he was going to like Kathleen. "I'm Murphy. I'm sick too, just here to see if we cancel out each other's health problems."
She grinned. "Maybe we can work together to get Harry here to cook for us poor invalids. What do you say, Harry?"
He had taken the bags of groceries into the kitchen already. "You'll have to come in here to talk, Kath, I'm cooking."
Murphy laughed. Kathleen led him to the sofa to sit down, and the crucial question hit him. "So, is that his name? Harry?"
"I have to admit, I'm not quite sure. 'Licia (she said with a bit of menace) always calls him Michael, and he goes by lots of other names too. Most of his closest friends call him Harry, though. With the exception of, say, Milo de Winter and some others."
" 'Fraid I haven't met any of his friends. He seems to have something against trusting us with the facts of his past."
She looked at him. "How much reason have you given him?" While Murphy pondered that, she looked up in surprise to hear a commotion in the kitchen. "Harry? What's going on in there?"
A female voice answered her question cheerfully. "He's burning his soup, that's what! The gourmet chef, defeated by a stove!"
"Am not! It's just a little overdone! I can't help being distracted by you suddenly popping in a window!"
Kathleen grinned and half-ran into the kitchen. Feeling slightly out of place, Murphy followed her.
"Tabitha! Great to see you!" She hugged her. "I'd give you a kiss, but-"
"I know, I know. I heard Harry was playing nursemaid, and since I was in California anyway on a story I thought I'd come surprise you, and find out if the rumors were true about him." She jerked a thumb in Steele's direction.
"What rumors?" questioned Harry.
"ONLY that the notorious con artist was working on the other side of the street now. Can't be true. Go on and tell me, what are you up to?"
"Here now, that's what I should be asking you! The last time you told me that you were just in town for a story, I ended up getting out of bed at three in the morning, driving ten miles to Sanchez's mansion, breaking in through the window and spending twenty minutes trying to get you out of that hanging harness. THEN, the cops came around because your partner had tripped the alarm, and we ended up hiding in a marsh for the rest of the night!"
"Oh, come on. It didn't happen like that! You must have gotten it out of a movie or something. Besides, I've gotten you out of .situations too, y'know. Now come on with that feast of yours; I'm hungry and it's the only thing you do better than me."
"Not true! What about ." The conversation turned to fond memories and playful jibes again. Murphy would've felt left out, but Steele was a great storyteller. Tabby was constantly adding things to the stories and demolishing his embellishments ("That's not what happened, Harry!" "Well, it should've then!"). Kathleen lent him some medicine, and they played cards until Harry was finished with dinner. Afterwards, they ended up back in the living room talking. By the time Steele and Murphy left, with promises to visit soon, it was 7:45.
Murphy opened the door to the passenger seat as Steele went around to the other side. "I must say, Murphy, I'm happy you got along so well with my friends. I wasn't sure exactly what I could expect."
"Hey, thanks for letting me meet them! I mean, you know some really cool people. I had a lot of fun tonight. It's funny; I still know practically nil about your past, but I know you and them a lot better. All that crazy stuff you guys did "
Steele smiled. "Well, don't put yourself down either. If there's one regret I've been having recently, it's that I never really knew how to commit to anything. You and Laura worked really hard to get where you are now."
He could see the excited light in Murphy's eyes. "Yeah, but you guys did so much cool stuff! I mean, P.I. work gets kind of predictable sometimes, but that was really neat. And Tabby - well - she's really something. I mean well "
Steele laughed. Murphy looked over at him. "What?"
"Just imagining the thought of you two together. I admit when I mentioned her earlier, I didn't realize you two would meet so soon. And it's sometimes strange for me to discover that men are actually attracted to HER. I suppose growing up with her molded my viewpoint too much."
Murphy was silent for a moment, remembering he'd originally intended to be checking out if Steele was fooling around with some woman, so he could tell Laura. "So, you've never been attracted to her, then?"
"Not on your life. I'd rather have hot needles stuck under my nails than go out with her! We used to each have an entire collection of things to say to people who thought we were together. A mutual contest, of sorts, to see who could come up with the most insulting way to put it." He grinned. "I've never with Kathy, either. Believe it or not, I do know several women with which I have friendly, platonic relationships."
Murphy smiled. "I guess it's kind of like a sister thing. My friend Robert in college had a gorgeous sister a year younger than him, and it always freaked him out that we all thought she was hot. But tell me, who's Lizzie?"
"When you and Tab were talking about whatever you did in South America, Kathleen and I were talking and she said something about 'Lizzie' staying with you and then with someone named 'Cor' while she was in Africa. I didn't get a chance to ask her about it, though."
Steele looked pensive for a moment, and Murphy wondered if he'd said the wrong thing. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have worried about it. Anyway - "
"No, it's quite alright. Ah - well, about seven, nearly eight years ago, Kathy and I were in Italy visiting some friends. At the time, she was heavily involved with a jerk named Andrew Langston. At least, he wasn't really a jerk until the end. Just a nice, quiet man who liked every thing in its place. The rest of us never really thought he was her type at all - she was always so lighthearted and careless, he was a full-blown tosser, and they just weren't a good match. Anyway, they ended up having a colossal argument over a night that Kathleen had gotten drunk and then went and had sex with him without taking her pill. She seemed to be fine, but he just couldn't stand it anymore - it was the last straw for him, that this irresponsible woman could forget her protection just like that. She pleaded that it would never happen again, but he left anyway. Then - well, the worst came true. Nine months later I became an adopted uncle."
Murphy was fascinated, disgusted by this Andrew, and vaguely reminded of Wilson Jeffries. "Then that's who Lizzie is?"
Steele nodded. "A delightful black-haired little pixie-girl with a spirit to rival the sun, moon and stars."
"But, did you ever contact Andrew?"
"Yes, a friend of mine managed to unearth him in a small American town in the Midwest. He refused to hear of it; he wanted nothing to do with Kathy or the child. And I swear, if the bugger ever shows himself with any of us again, he'll be po faced as well at a wet prat. But" - he smiled - "I won't bore you with any more stories tonight, because we've reached your house."
Murphy got out and walked up to the door. As he turned the key, he faced Steele again. "Hey seriously, thanks for trusting me with all that. I had a good time. Good night, I guess."
Steele smiled again and waved. "Good night, Murphy." He drove off as Murphy entered his home. The phone was ringing, and he rushed to the kitchen to get it. "Hello?"
"Murphy! Where on God's green earth have you been?! I've been calling you for hours now! You were supposed to get dropped off, and then he'd return my car. I need it! What happened?" Laura was between fuming and anxiety.
"Oh, god Laura, I'm sorry, I didn't realize you would be waiting."
"That doesn't explain where you and he were!"
"We were just well, he stopped to visit Kathleen - that was the woman - and we ended up all eating together, and talking, and it just got late. Did you know what a great cook he is? And he's done all this really cool stuff, too! I mean - not that I like him now or anything, but he's not so bad when you get to know him."
Laura sighed. "Alright, I know you're sick, Murphy, so maybe you can talk more rationally later. It's Saturday, so you can sleep late. As long as he's bringing me my car I'm fine. I'll see you later, ok? I have to finish these files."
Murphy shook his head. *I wish you'd learn to relax, Laura. It's eight o'clock on a Friday night, for heaven's sake.* He said his goodnight and hung up.
Throwing off his pants and crawling gratefully into bed, the thought of Tabitha sprang unbidden to his mind. He smiled into the darkness. *And just maybe, it wouldn't be so bad to drive home with Steele from now on.*