Mildred was just coming from Laura's office when she heard Johnny's excited voice. "See what Laura got for me, Aunt Millie?" he asked, holding what looked like a plastic attaché case out to her.
As she opened the plastic latches, Mildred surveyed the new jeans, tee shirt and tennis shoes that the boy was wearing. Opening the case, Mildred made the appropriate sounds of awe, examining the crayons, colored pencils and drawing paper that it contained. "Ohh, looks like you really cleaned up, kiddo."
He pulled it back and held it against his chest as he took off for the storeroom again. "I'm going to go colour again," he told her.
Mildred laughed as she watched him go, then turned to where Laura was standing beside the desk, looking for something. "I thought you were just going after some new clothes?"
"We got new clothes," Laura said. "Fred took the rest on to the condo. Since Remington insists on keeping Johnny here, I thought he needed something to keep him busy. The last thing we need is for clients to think we've opened a day care center," she declared.
"Where else is there?" Mildred asked.
Laura put a hand to her forehead. "I don't know, Mildred. But this is a place of business. Not a kindergarten." She took a deep breath. "Where there any messages while I was gone?" she asked, indicating the blank spot on the desk where Mildred usually left message slips.
"Nada," Mildred told her, frowning slightly at Laura's brisk, businesslike tone. "You okay, honey? You seem a little- tense?"
"You try taking a five year old little boy shopping and convincing him to try on clothes while he's more interested in a toy display across the aisle," Laura said irritably.
"I've done it," Mildred told Laura. "It wasn't that bad, really. Bernard was pretty easy to handle, though. Of course, he hadn't been tossed from one relative to another like-"
"Where's Remington?" Laura asked, cutting Mildred off.
"Still with Mr. Templeton."
"I'd better go on in, then," Laura decided, and moved toward the door, tapping once before opening it and entering the office beyond.
"Ah, there you are, Laura," Remington said, rising from the sofa, as did the middle aged man wearing an expensively tailored suit and perfectly awful toupee. "Did things go well with Mr. Castlemain?" he asked. "I explained to Mr. Templeton that you were taking care of another client-"
"Things went splendidly," Laura assured Remington with a tight smile, her attention already focused on Eric Templeton. "I'd like to apologize for having kept you waiting, Mr. Templeton," she said.
"As Mr. Steele said, he explained everything. I understand. In fact, one of the reasons I came to Remington Steele Investigations is because of the excellent reputation the agency has for taking care of clients. I appreciate the hands on approach."
"Thank you," Laura told him, sitting down on the sofa. "Now, what can we do for you?"
Laura sent Remington and Johnny off to have lunch, with the understanding that they would bring her something back, since she still have a mountain of paperwork to catch up on because of their extended stay in Ireland and London. Plus, it had the added incentive of not having to try and evade Remington's questions about why she was suddenly somewhat less enthusiastic about Johnny being here than she had been earlier.
The problem was, she couldn't even explain it to herself, so how was she supposed to explain it to him?
She sent Mildred to lunch for the same reason, which left her alone to enjoy a few minutes of peace and quiet as she worked on some of the paperwork and preliminary things for the cases they'd taken that morning. The only noise she couldn't shut off was her own inner voice that kept asking the same questions that she knew Remington and Mildred wanted answers to.
Remington watched as Johnny put away a fourth taco, and looked under the table. "What?" Johnny asked, seeing his expression.
Remington grinned, noticing that Johnny tended to do the same thing he did- talk while eating. "Just wondering where you're putting all that food, that's all."
"Mum says-" he stopped. "Said I 'ad 'ollow legs."
"Possibly," Remington agreed, smiling as the waitress brought the Styrofoam box containing the tacos that he'd ordered for Laura. Thinking about her reminded him of her changed attitude after her shopping trip that morning. "Johnny, while you and Laura were out this morning, did anything- happen? Did someone say something, or did she see someone that upset her?"
Johnny considered the question while he took another bite of the taco in his hands. "Well, there was some geezer that stopped us in the car park as we were leavin'," he remembered.
"Did he threaten either of you?"
"No. Laura sent me to the car to wait while she talked to 'im."
"Can you tell me what he looked like? Was he English-"
"Nah. 'e was a Yank."
"What colour was his hair?"
Johnny thought again. "Brown. Kinda curly, like."
Remington took a shot in the dark, and put a finger to his chin. "Tell me, did this - geezer have a dimple about -here?"
Johnny nodded. "You know 'im?"
"Unfortunately," Remington sighed, frowning as he wondered if Antony Roselli's sudden reappearance were the reason for Laura's change in attitude. He dismissed it, not wanting to think that Roselli had that much control over Laura. "Was there anything else?"
More thinking and eating. "Well, there was a lady at the store counter. She recognized Laura's name when she paid for the togs and stuff. Gave me a strange look, and then looked at Laura. Asked if I was your nephew or cousin or -somethin'."
"And what did Laura say?"
"She didn't. She just grabbed the packages and walked out."
Remington sat back, sighing deeply. So that was it. The realization had finally set in that people were bound to think Johnny was his son- whether he was or not- and it bothered Laura for some unknown reason. "You ready?"
Johnny stuffed the rest of the last taco into his mouth, nodding. "Are you another cousin?" he asked.
"Would it bother you if we were related, Johnny?" Remington asked, watching the boy's reaction carefully.
Johnny's eyes met his. "No. I think it'd be okay, 'arry. Course, most of the cousins don't want me 'round for very long."
It always amazed Remington at how much older than five Johnny sounded and acted. Had he been that way? Probably. He knew that he couldn't really remember being a child, having carefree, worriless days to play in.
"You'll probably be like the rest, brushin' me off, too," Johnny commented quietly.
"Never," Remington promised. "You've got a place here as long as you want it. Tell you what, to avoid confusion, do you think you could remember to call me Remington instead of Harry? Most people here in LA know me by that one."
"Sure," Johnny said, and grinned. "Remington."
"Let's go take Laura her lunch, eh?" Remington said, handing Johnny the box to carry as they left the restaurant.
When she heard the door from the hallway open, Laura looked up expectantly, thinking that Remington and Johnny or Mildred had returned early- or that a client wanted her attention. But when there was no call from the reception area, Laura rose slowly from her desk and moved out of her office to find a large black man standing near Mildred's desk, looking around.
He had a bald head and was dressed in an expensive suit, she noted as she spoke. "Can I help you?" she asked pleasantly.
"Where is he?" he asked without preamble.
"Who?" Laura responded, knowing full well to whom he was referring to. Even with those three words, she heard the English accent mixed with Jamaican. His voice reminded her vaguely of Remington's friend Monroe.
"The boy. Mr. Colverson wants him back."
"I don't know anyone named Colverson," Laura pointed out, moving slowly toward the desk, realizing that she was closer to it than her office.
"You know Johnny, though. My boss asked me to give Steele a message."
"What kind of message?" Laura asked, and gasped slightly as she saw the flash of a switchblade as it appeared in his hand. Her eyes moved to the doors, and then away again when she saw Tony through the glass. "Why is getting Johnny back so important to Mr. Colverson?" Laura questioned, turning the man away from the door as she took three steps away from the desk.
He never got a chance to answer. Tony leapt on the man from behind, and found himself flying through the air, narrowly missing Laura, to land in a heap against the wall between Laura's office and Remington's. The large man moved quickly for someone of his bulk and was gone before Laura knew what had happened.
She whirled and went over to check on Tony, who was shaking his head, trying to clear it. "Why did you do that?!" she asked, frustrated at losing her chance to find out what was going on with Colverson and Johnny.
Tony lifted a hand to his the spot on his head that had intersected with the wall. "I was trying to help," he explained.
"By getting yourself killed? That guy was twice your size!"
"Maybe I was trying to make a good impression," he told her as she helped him to his feet and over to the sofa.
"Getting thrown across a room is hardly an accepted interview technique," Laura pointed out, wincing as she looked at the knot on his head. "Bet that hurts."
"yeah," he agreed, "it does." Laura suddenly realized that she was standing too close to him, and stepped away, evading Tony's attempt to grab her hand. "Who was that guy?"
"I think he works for the man who's after Johnny," she explained.
"The little boy that was with me earlier. His mother was killed yesterday, and we think the man responsible might be after Johnny."
"That's what I was about to find out when you decided to try and be a hero."
"Next time I'll just let him do whatever it is you were afraid he was going to do."
"It was in your eyes when you looked at me," he told her. "You said the kids' mother was killed yesterday? You and Steele only got back last night-"
"She was killed in London right after she left Johnny in Remington's care," Laura explained.
Tony looked up at her. "Why'd she leave him with Steele?"
"They- knew each other- a - few years ago."
"About- five? Six, maybe?" Tony asked, then shook his head. "He looks an awful lot like Steele. Could he be-?
"There's a possibility," Laura admitted in a quiet voice. "But his mother had the same coloring, so that's not proof."
"Must be hard on you, having to get used to a bogus marriage and then being confronted with Steele's b-"
Laura turned to glare at Tony, stopping his next word. "Don't. Whatever mistakes Johnny's parents made, he isn't responsible for them."
Tony lifted his hands to ward off her attack. "Fine with me. Did you get a chance to discuss my needing a job with Steele?"
"No. Actually, our earlier meeting had slipped my mind. Clients and getting caught up and all- Look, Tony, I don't know if it's a good idea for you to be here-"
Tony rose from the sofa to move closer. "Laura, I know I said some crazy things in Ireland. But you made your choice. You say you love Steele and want to make a go of this marriage, I can live with that. I just want to be friends."
She shook her head, still uncertain. "You and he don't exactly get along. And we're still under Immigrations' watchful eye-"
"Bet he's glad that Estelle Becker's back on the case," Tony noted, and grinned. "I still have friends over there- But don't worry. They won't hear a thing from me other than your marriage is strictly legit. Maybe I could report in to you instead?" he suggested.
Laura looked at him, wondering if he was threatening blackmail again if he didn't get the job. "Tony-"
He put a hand on her shoulder. "I just want to help."
"Admirable sentiment, Antony," Remington said, causing Laura to turn around and then move away from Tony as she noticed that blue gaze on the physical connection between them. "I wasn't aware that my *wife* needed any assistance."
Laura noticed Johnny standing close to Remington, his own blue gaze just as accusing at that of her husband. He was holding a Styrofoam container in his small hands. Hoping to defuse some of the tension in the room, Laura smiled at the boy. "Did you enjoy lunch, Johnny?"
He nodded, and held out the carton. "This is for you."
She took it and opened it, examining the contents. "Hmm. Tacos. My favorite."
"That's what 'ar-" he glanced up at Remington, then continued. "What Remington said."
Laura looked at her husband as the boy changed the name, noticed the look of approval for the modification. "Thank you." She put the carton on Mildred's desk.
"I'm goin' to go draw," Johnny announced, and left the adults alone to return to his place in the storeroom.
Remington moved to lean against the corner of Mildred's desk. "I'm surprised to see you here, Antony. Last I heard, you were still in Dublin, trying to get things sorted out."
"Didn't take long," Tony told him.
"Tony's looking for a job," Laura explained.
"A job? I thought you had a job. Immigration, wasn't it? Or perhaps that teaching position in the Archeology Department at USC?"
"I've decided it's time to settle down somewhere," Tony said. "LA seemed as good a place as any."
"And it has the added attraction of your favorite pass time," Remington noted.
"Pass time?" Tony questioned.
"Watching a certain rare- and priceless bird."
Laura decided she'd heard enough. "Can the testosterone, please. *Both* of you." Remington glanced in her direction, then fixed his gaze on Tony once more. "Tony needs a job, we need some help to get caught up- and even if he doesn't work on the main cases, he can keep an eye out for Colverson."
"Colverson?" Tony asked. "As in- Ian Colverson? Is *that* who's after the kid?"
"We think so," Laura said. "You've heard of him?"
"I've spent a little time in London, remember? Colverson's one of the bad boys. Protection, prostitution, drugs, bookmaking, you name it, he's got his finger in the pie."
"A fair assessment," Remington agreed. "But- how did you know that we're looking for him?" he asked the other man.
"I told him," Laura admitted. "After he saved me from getting my throat cut by the same knife that probably took out your pickpocket friend in London."
That got Remington's attention, and he turned to look at her with concern. "What? When did this happen?"
"About five minutes before you and Johnny came in. Some big black guy came in here and said he had a message for you from his boss- Colverson."
"Are you okay?" Remington asked, moving to stand at her side.
"Thanks to Tony, yes."
Remington looked at Tony again. "It seems I'm forever thanking you for saving my wife's life, Antony," he noted wryly.
Tony shrugged. "Just happened to be in the right place at the right time, I guess."
"Seem to make a habit of that, don't you?" The staring contest began again, and Laura lifted her eyes toward the ceiling in frustration.
"So, do I have the job?" Tony asked. Seeing Remington start to speak, Tony said quickly. "You and Laura aren't going to get anywhere near Colverson if he's in LA looking for the kid. But he doesn't know me. And I doubt his enforcer will recognize me, since he was too busy throwing me across the room to see my face before he took off."
As much as Remington would have preferred to simply toss the other man out of the office and tell him to never show his dimpled chin there again, he had to admit that Tony was right. Colverson would be watching for himself or Laura. He looked at Laura. "I think we might give it a try- for the duration, at least. If Laura's agreeable."
Tony frowned, looking confused. "I thought this was your agency."
Remington chuckled and slipped a hand around Laura's shoulders, pulling her against him. "Ah, Antony, haven't you heard the old saw, that what's mine is hers and what's hers is hers? I wouldn't dream of not consulting my partner in matters of such import."
"Well, I guess I'll get started then," Tony decided. "Shouldn't be too hard to track that guy down."
"Do be careful, Antony," Remington said. "I'd hate for Colverson to do any permanent damage."
"You don't worry about me, Steele. I can handle myself," Tony assured him, pushing the door open and smiling at Mildred, shocked expression. "Hi, Mildred. See ya round."
Mildred stayed in the door, holding it open, as she watched him walk away, then turned to enter, asking, "What's *he* doing here?"
Remington moved off the desk. "I'll let Laura answer that question, Mildred," he said. "I'll be with Johnny."
"Your next client should be here any minute," Mildred called after him, and he lifted a hand to silently acknowledge her words, continuing toward the storeroom. Mildred turned to Laura. "Okay, so what's the Italian Stallion doing hanging around?"
"He's working here," Laura explained, her hand falling on the white Styrofoam container that Johnny had brought in. "I think I'll try to eat before the client arrives."
"Working here?!" Mildred asked, following Laura into her office.
Tony left the elevator in the parking garage and headed toward his car- only to find himself pushed against the wall by George. "Hey!" Tony grunted, as his already aching head hit the wall.
"I was beginning to think you'd sold Mr. Colverson and me down the river."
"We're in this together, George," Tony assured him. "Let me go."
George released him, his dark eyes narrowed dangerously. "Well?"
"They bought it. Just like I said they would. Steele wasn't about to turn me away after I saved Laura's life again."
"I could have taken the kid when he came in, you know. If it wasn't for that driver of his, I might have done it."
"I'm glad you didn't. Cause Steele wouldn't have let you get very far with that kid. The only way to do this is to take he and the kid at the same time and nobody the wiser." He took George's arm. "Let's get out of here before someone sees us together, and I'll tell you what we're going to do . . ."
Remington frowned when he pushed the partially open door wider and looked inside. Johnny wasn't at the table that Mildred had cleared for him to work on. "Johnny?" he called softly.
"'ere," the boy's voice replied, sounding muffled slightly.
Following the voice, Remington found him in a corner, his art kit across his thin legs as a makeshift desk, colouring feverishly on a piece of paper. Kneeling, Remington asked, "What are you doing hiding down here?"
"I ain't 'idin'," Johnny objected. "Just didn't feel like sitting in a chair, that's all."
Remington nodded, looking toward the door, and could hear Laura and Mildred talking, even though they were now in Laura's office. The voices were muffled, but they were there. "You overheard us talking out there, didn't you?"
"I thought you might yell. Don't like yellin'."
"Of course you don't. Bet you've heard a lot of it, haven't you?"
Johnny nodded, but kept colouring.
"And it's easier to hide and pretend it's not happening than to come out and confront it." How many times had he done the same thing? Taken off to avoid conflict? Hidden in some stairwell or behind a piece of furniture so not to become embroiled in an argument? It had only been finding Laura, learning from her how to stand and fight that had changed him. "Look at me, Johnny." When Johnny kept colouring, Remington spoke in a firmer tone. "Johnny, I said look at me." Still the crayon moved across the page. Remington placed a hand on Johnny's arm to stop him and the boy lifted his gaze. "You can't hide forever, lad. Once you start, it's hard to stop. Take it from someone who's been there, mate. Come on back to the table. No reason to stay on the floor."
"'ho is 'e, anyway?" Johnny asked, rising from the floor and moving toward the table.
"*He*," Remington said, emphasizing the "h" deliberately, "is Antony Roselli. And he's going to be working here for a little while, trying to help us help you."
Johnny nodded, and turned his attention back to the paper. "I didn't like 'im. And I don't think 'e liked me very much, either."
Remington didn't respond to Johnny's words. His attention was on the drawing that Johnny had nearly finished. "What're you drawing?"
"That's George. I 'eard the lot of you talkin' about 'im."
Picking up the paper, Remington studied the childlike representation of a black man in a gray suit with no hair. "You know him?"
"'E works for my step-dad. Does errands and stuff. Kills people. Mum said 'e was mean cause 'e liked bein' mean." He looked up at Remington. "Did 'e kill my mum?"
"No. Your mother was hit by a lorry in the street. I don't know for sure that this George was-" he had a flash of memory, of running into a large black man as he went toward the lorry. "-anywhere in the area," Remington finished, disliking tell the boy a lie. "May I have this?" he asked.
"I made it for you," Johnny told him. "So you'd 'ave somethin' to go by."
There was a tap on the door and Mildred peeked into the room. "Mrs. Hopewood is here, Chief."
"On my way, Mildred," he said, giving Johnny's dark hair an affectionate ruffle as he left the room.
He joined Laura en route to his office and held out the drawing. "What's this?" she asked.
"George. Colverson's enforcer. Apparently Johnny overheard us talking about your close encounter."
Laura glanced toward the storeroom door. "He's got good ears."
"He's a very remarkable little boy, Laura," Remington told her. "Let's not keep Mrs. Hopewood and her collection of rare Chinese artifacts waiting, eh?"
Johnny laughed with delight as the computer made a series of beeps. He was sitting on Mildred's lap, punching various keys on the keyboard. When he had shown signs of being bored with drawing, she had brought him out here for an impromptu lesson in the finer points of computers. The kid was a natural, too. Had picked it up with no problem.
Mildred was so caught up in Johnny's computer lesson, though, that she didn't hear the door open until Estelle Becker spoke. "Hi, Mildred."
"Oh, Estelle," Mildred said, sliding Johnny from her lap before turning around. "Why don't you go back in and color some more, kiddo?" His face fell, revealing his disappointment. "We'll work on this some more later, okay?"
"Okay," he said, and ran around the desk, passing Estelle, who watched him go with a curious look.
"Who is that?"
"Oh, that's Johnny," Mildred told her. "You're early."
"I know. But I was in the area, and thought I'd stop by and we could talk until the Steeles could see me." She turned to the storeroom door again. "He looks like-"
"He's a good kid. What have you been up to?" Mildred asked.
"Nothing much. Trying to catch up on my cases after all that mess with Gladys. I still don't know what all that was about. I am in one day and was told that Gladys would take them over, especially the Steele-Holt marriage, and that I was to take my vacation."
"Strange," Mildred said.
"What's really strange is that when Gladys left, she didn't even leave any notes about the interview she had with the Steeles when they returned from Mexico."
"That is strange. Have you talked to her?"
"I called Encino. She keeps saying she's busy, and that she put the report in the file, suggested I talk to someone named Roselli. But no one in the office seems to know who that is."
"Odd," Mildred agreed, making a mental note to keep Tony away from Estelle at all cost.
The door to Remington's office opened, and that gentleman appeared, his arm comfortingly around the shoulders of an elderly man, Laura just behind them. "Don't worry about a thing, Mr. Harris. The Remington Steele Agency will find every one of your old unit in time for the reunion you're planning."
"I hope so, Mr. Steele," Harris said in a shaky voice. "There aren't a lot of us left anymore."
Laura smiled, and detoured to the desk to shake Estelle's hand. "Miss Becker. How wonderful to see you again."
"Yes indeed," Remington agreed, joining them. "It's nice to see such a familiar and friendly face. How are you doing, Miss Becker?"
"Still trying to get caught up," Estelle told them.
Mildred rushed in. "Estelle was just telling me that Gladys' Lynch's report had gone missing," she explained. "And that Gladys suggested she find someone named Roselli to answer her questions."
"Roselli?" Remington repeated, looking at Laura. "Do you remember anyone connected with Immigration with that name, dearest?" he asked.
"The name doesn't ring a bell," Laura assured him, enduring the endearment with a tight smile. "And it's such an unusual name, I'm sure it would."
Remington looked at Mildred. "Is everything under control out here, Mildred?"
"No problems, Chief," Mildred assured him, hoping her look would warn him off the subject.
"Between giving computer lessons to little boys?" Estelle asked.
Remington and Laura looked at Mildred. "Computer lessons?"
"He was bored," Mildred explained. "I thought it would keep him busy."
"I wasn't aware that you were running a day care center," Estelle commented with a smile, but Laura's smile faded slightly at the words, and Mildred took a deep breath.
"He's a client," Laura said.
"A client?" Estelle asked.
"His mother was killed in an accident, and we think that the man who caused it might be after Johnny," Remington added. "We're taking care of him in the meantime- since he doesn't' have anyone else."
"Have you called social services, then?" Estelle wondered. "If he doesn't have a guardian-"
"He does," Remington said. "His mother left him in my care."
Estelle looked suspicious. "Mr. Steele, where exactly did this accident take place?"
"Los Angeles," Laura answered quickly, and took Estelle's arm. "Why don't we-"
She came to stop as Johnny ran from the storeroom, waving a piece of paper in front of him. "See what I made, Remington?" he asked, his English accent damning in its clarity.
Remington dropped to his haunches, taking the paper to examine it. "Lovely," he declared of the drawing of Mildred's computer- complete with Mildred sitting in front of it. "Mildred- would you mind?" he asked.
"Sure, Chief," she said, coming across the room to turn Johnny back toward the storeroom. "Let's go draw another picture, okay?"
Remington slowly rose to his feet to face Estelle. "Why don't we go into my office and have a little chat, umm?"
"I think that's a very good idea, Mr. Steele," Estelle agreed, her expression serious.
To Be Continued---