Estelle Becker entered Remington's office and barely waited for him to close the door before asking, "Johnny's English, isn't he?"
"Yes, he is," Remington admitted.
"How long has he been in this country?"
Remington looked at Laura, then at his watch. "Oh, about- nineteen hours," he said. "Give or take a few minutes," he added with a nervous smile.
Estelle took a deep breath. "I suppose you do have the proper papers for him? Passport, birth certificate-"
"No," Laura said before Remington could dig the hole that he was standing in any deeper. "But Remington does have a notarized statement, signed by Johnny's mother, giving Remington full custody of her son."
"You do? May I see it, please?" Estelle asked, her hand extended toward him.
Slowly, Remington drew out envelope and handed it over, then sat down beside Laura on the sofa as Estelle sat in the chair to read. "I believe that letter will hold up in any court of law," Laura pointed out.
"You still needed other papers," Estelle said, folding the letter and handing it back to Remington. "Travel documents-"
"Estelle, as you can see from that letter, Johnny's life is in danger. His mother was killed trying to escape from a man who works for Ian Colverson, of the most powerful racketeers in London. If we had taken the time to go through channels- it would have been even more dangerous. His mother was certain that Colverson has connections inside Scotland Yard."
"Believe me, Estelle," Remington said quietly, "As soon as this is resolved, and Johnny is safe, we'll make all the proper applications to make him legal. At the moment, our first concern is for his safety."
"Do I have your word on that, Mr. Steele?" Estelle asked after studying his face for several agonizing moments.
Remington raised his hand. "My solemn oath," he promised.
"The boy has no other family?"
"Some cousins in London," Remington said. "And a grandfather who put Johnny and his mother out onto the street several years ago. No one who cares about him, about what happens to him."
"He's lucky that you do," Estelle told him. "All right. I'll - keep this under wraps," she agreed, and Remington and Laura sighed with relief. "But only until you can be sure that Johnny's safe."
"Thank you, Estelle," Laura said. "It's- important."
Estelle nodded, glancing at Remington. "I can see that for myself. I suppose we should get to the reason I'm here-"
"By all means," Remington agreed, eager to deal with the woman now that she'd shown herself willing to help them- even if it was only by her silence.
Estelle placed her briefcase onto the table and opened it. "I need both your signatures on these-," she put two papers in front of Laura and Remington. Remington scanned through his and took out his pen to sign it, while Laura took a more cautious approach, reading every word carefully. "And- I'd like to know what happened during Gladys Lynch's visit when you returned from your honeymoon."
Remington handed Laura the pen as he said, "There wasn't anything in the file about it?"
"Nothing. The only thing in there was the report about Keyes trying to frame you for his murder and being killed by bandits."
"They do say good things come to those who wait, eh?" Remington joked, meaning Keyes and his eventual death, then noted Laura's frown. "Sorry. Couldn't resist."
"I can't really say I blame you, Mr. Steele," Estelle sympathized. "Norman Keyes was a slime bucket. Just being the same room with him made my skin crawl."
"I know the feeling," Laura agreed.
"Well? What happened when Gladys took over the case?" Estelle asked again.
Remington was grateful when Laura took the initiative to answer the question. "Well, it was touch and go at first- until Gladys tasted one of Remington's gourmet delights. After that, she was putty in his hands."
Estelle's eyes widened. "You cook, Mr. Steele?"
Remington shrugged, giving her a smile of faux modesty. "A little," he said, wondering what Laura was up to now.
She placed a hand on his arm. "Don't be so modest, dearest, she insisted, then looked at Estelle again. "He's a wonderful cook. I've always said that if he had to leave the detective business, he could open his own restaurant."
"Really?" Estelle asked.
"Ché Steele," Remington said with little real enthusiasm. He had an idea where Laura was going- and it wasn't somewhere that he wanted to be this evening. The two of them needed to talk, to get some things straight between them. It was going to be difficult enough with Johnny underfoot. But if Laura succeeded in her attempt-
"I just had the most *wonderful* idea," Laura declared. "Why don't we have Estelle over for dinner this evening, Rem?"
"Oh, I wouldn't want to intrude," Estelle began, but Laura waved away the woman's objections.
"Not at all. Right, dear?" she asked Remington, taking his arm and giving him a smile that might appear to be pleading to Estelle, but Remington recognized it for what it was. Laura's "Agree with me or else" smile.
He smiled. "Oh, of course, darling. Of course. Always love arranging impromptu dinner parties. Why don't we invite Mildred as well?"
"Lovely idea," Laura agreed. "Besides, we *did* invite Miss Lynch to dinner. Having Estelle over is the very *least* we can do after she's been so helpful and understanding."
"And I do have to make a home visit, since Gladys didn't leave any report about the last one," Estelle noted. "What time shall I be there?" she asked Remington.
"Oh- seven?" he suggested.
"I'll be there," Estelle nodded, closing her brief case and standing up. "Oh, one more thing. Where is Johnny staying?"
"With us," Remington told the woman.
"But- you only have a one bedroom apartment," she recalled.
"Ah, yes. But Johnny's a very resourceful and adaptable young man," Remington assured her.
"I'm sure he is. I'll see you both at seven," Estelle said.
Laura rose, evading Remington's attempt to stop her and said, "I'll walk you to the door."
She turned from the door and found Remington standing in the center of the area, arms folded, watching her. "What?" she asked.
"Would you care to tell me how I'm supposed to make dinner for that woman when there's not a bloody thing to cook in that apartment?" he asked.
Laura placed a hand on his chest. "You were going to have to stop by the store on the way home anyway. You and Johnny can just leave early and take care of it."
"What about the clients?" he asked.
"I'm sure I can handle whoever is left-" she turned Mildred's appointment book around to look at it. "There's only one more anyway. Mrs. Glover. She thinks someone is stalking her prize winning poodle. I think I can handle that one. I'd hate to expose you to another canine case."
He did grab her arm this time as she moved past him. "Laura, we have to talk."
"Antony, for one thing. Why didn't you tell me that you'd seen him earlier in the day?"
Laura frowned. "How did you-?"
"So it's true. Johnny mentioned the Yank with curly brown hair and chin dimple while we were at lunch."
"Why? Because you interrogated him? Asked him whether I'd met anyone else-?"
"I was concerned," Remington told her. "You came back from taking Johnny shopping in such a strange mood-"
"That's ridiculous!" Laura insisted, pulling her arm away and continuing toward her office.
Remington grabbed her hand and gave it a gentle tug, detouring her into his office instead. "What are you-?"
"Its' further from the storeroom," he informed her, closing the door. "And Johnny's excellent hearing. He doesn't like it when people yell. Got an earful of it, I would imagine. I'm not particularly fond of it myself. In fact, I very seldom *ever* yelled before I met you."
"And that's *my* fault?" Laura asked, giving him a startled look.
"Yes. Because you're the most aggravating, exasperating female that I've never known in my entire life."
She started toward the connecting door that led to her office. "I've got things to do-"
"Laura, stop running. Please. We need to sort this out."
"There's nothing to sort out," she said, her hand on the doorknob.
"I think there is," he said, watching her. "It upsets you when people automatically assume that Johnny's my son, doesn't it?"
"No," Laura denied, then glanced at him and sighed, releasing the doorknob and standing there. "Not really. It's just- I could tell from the way Tony looked at Johnny that's what he was thinking. And the woman at the store this morning. She recognized my name from the announcement that Mother insisted on putting in the paper while we were in Mexico. She knew we'd just gotten married, and yet there I was, with a five year old little boy that looked just like you. She looked- sorry for me, I think. I just- couldn't handle it. I wanted to tell her, to explain that he might *not* be, and then I thought about how disappointed you'd be if he's not-"
Remington had crossed to stand behind her as she spoke, and now he placed his hands on her shoulders and pulled her back against him. "You were worried about me?"
With her head tucked under Remington's chin, she nodded. "Yes."
"Oh, Laura. Whatever happens with Johnny, I won't turn my back on him. I don't care if he's Colverson's son or anyone else's. He needs me. Just as I need you."
Laura took a deep breath and turned to look at him. "I'm not sure I'm ready to be a mother yet," she told him. "I'm not cut out for the carpools and bake sales and-"
"We'll handle it, hmm? Just as soon as Colverson's taken care of, we'll figure it out."
Laura nodded and returned his gentle kiss. "We really can't stay in the condo much longer. I think the lease mentions something about children being a no-no."
"I think you're right. We can have Mildred start contacting agencies tomorrow, okay? Maybe find someplace with a big yard for Johnny to run and play in? Maybe a pool?"
Laura smiled. "The big yard, yes. The pool, we'll discuss." She patted his chest again. "Take Johnny and get out of here. I've got work to do."
Remington stole another kiss. "We'll see you later, okay?"
"Okay. Oh, I might stop by the loft on my way home-"
"I have to check things over there. I haven't been there since before we left for London-"
"Just don't be late. I'd hate to be forced to entertain our guests without my lovely wife at my side."
She nodded and watched him leave the office as she went into hers. She heard him go into the storeroom to retrieve Johnny and invite Mildred to dinner, then moments later, her door opened. Laura looked up to find a pair of blue eyes peering at her. "Bye, Laura."
"Good bye, Johnny. I'll see you and Remington in a little while."
"'e says 'e's goin' to let me 'elp 'im with cookin'," Johnny informed her proudly.
"Good for you. Have fun."
He vanished again, leaving the door partially open. She'd noticed that he didn't like closed doors very much, that he tended to leave them open, even if only barely. There was probably some deep psychological meaning in that action, Laura decided, picking up a pen and opening the file that lay on her desk.
Laura was on the telephone in reception as Mildred left, waiting for Remington to pick up on the other end. "See you at seven," Mildred called, and Laura waved in acknowledgement, starting to frown as the ringing continued. Hanging up, she dialed again, thinking that she'd dialed wrong the first time.
"Hi," Tony said, and she looked up at the doors, waiting again.
At last she hung up. "Where are they?" she asked.
"Everyone," Laura said. "Fred's not answering the phone in the limo, Remington's not answering at the apartment." She picked up her purse from the desk.
"He's not here, then?" Tony asked.
"No. He and Johnny left over an hour ago. We invited Estelle Becker and Mildred to dinner this evening. I was going to stop by the loft on the way home, but I think I'd better put that off till tomorrow." She picked up the phone again.
"What are you doing?"
"Calling a cab-"
"I'll drive you," Tony offered, taking the phone and hanging it up.
"What are you doing here, anyway? I thought you were out looking for George."
"George? How did you find out his name?"
"Johnny recognized his description," Laura told him. "Any luck?" she asked as they got into the elevator?"
"I've got a few leads. That's why I'm here. I was checking in before starting to check them out. Colverson *is* here, though. Word on the street says he's really desperate to get the kid back."
"Did the word on the street say why?"
Laura tapped impatiently on the rail. "I forget how slow this damn thing moves when you're in a hurry."
"I'm sure they're okay," Tony said. "Steele probably just didn't hear the phone. Maybe he was in the shower."
"Would he answer the phone?"
She had to admit that he might not. "I just have a bad feeling," she said, running a hand across her neck beneath her hair. "Something's wrong," she declared as the elevator stopped and the doors opened.
"My car's over here," he told her, leading her into the dark garage and toward a faded brown Ford LTD. Opening the passenger door for her, he went around and got into the other side, then started the engine.
She knew something was seriously wrong when she had to use her key to get into the apartment. "Remington?" she called, going to the kitchen. "Johnny?"
Tony met her in the living room. "They're not in the bedroom," he told her.
"They haven't been here. They were going to buy some groceries and there aren't any."
"Try the limo again," Tony suggested.
Laura grabbed the telephone and dialed the number, waiting a long time before hanging up again. "Still nothing." Suddenly the telephone rang, and Laura jerked it from the cradle. "Hello?"
"Miss Holt- I mean, Mrs. Steele?"
"Fred! Thank goodness. Where are you?"
"At the grocery store. You know, the gourmet place that Mr. Steele always goes to?"
"Yes, yes, I know. Where is Mr. Steele, Fred?"
"I was hoping he was there," Fred answered.
Laura felt a cold chill roll up her spine. "What do you mean, Fred?"
"I was sitting in the limo waiting for him and Johnny and got out to stretch my legs. I couldn't have been gone for more than a few minutes, but the minute I got back into the car, - *bam!* The lights went out."
"You've been unconscious for over an hour, Fred?"
"Whoever hit me stuffed me in the trunk," he explained. I heard the phone ringing a couple of times- finally remembered an old trick Mr. Steele mentioned about kicking out the back seat-"
"I know the trick," Laura told him. "It saved our lives once."
"Anyway, I went into the store to look for Mr. Steele. They said he'd been there but had left. I was coming back and I heard the mobile phone ringing, but I couldn't get here to answer it. There are some groceries on the ground outside-"
"Stay there, Fred," Laura told him, deciding that the chauffer had just spoken more than he had in the six years that she'd known him. "I'll send Mildred over to get you and take you to the doctor to be checked out."
"I'm okay, Miss Holt," Fred insisted.
"You were knocked unconscious, Fred. You'll see a doctor. Stay there."
"Where are they, Mrs. Steele?"
"I don't know," she admitted in a firm tone. "But I'm going to find out." She hung up and dialed Mildred's number, catching the receptionist as she was just entering her house. Quickly explaining the situation, she asked Mildred to pick up Fred and make sure he got to the doctor and to call Estelle and postpone dinner for the evening.
Tony looked at her. "What are you going to do?"
"We're going to check out those leads you mentioned," she said, grabbing her purse to head out of the door.
Remington kept his hand on Johnny's shoulder, lending strength in the light contact. The boy was frightened, and to tell the truth, so was Remington. They had come out of the store and discovered that Fred was nowhere to be found- the limo locked up tighter than a drum. Another car had pulled up beside them, and George opened the door and gotten out, accompanied by a couple of local toughs. "Mr. Colverson wants to see you, Mr. Steele," the Jamaican had said, opening the back door of the rented Buick. "Hello, Johnny."
Johnny had moved closer to Remington to avoid the man's large hand, only to be yanked away by one of the men. Before Remington could stop him, George had pushed Remington against the side of the car and patted him down roughly. "I'm not armed," he'd told the man.
"Don't mind if I make sure of that, do you?" George had replied. He then pushed Remington into the car, and Johnny was released to follow. George got in with them. The other two got into the front seat.
George's switchblade had appeared, gleaming dangerously in the late afternoon sun. The sight of the weapon sent Johnny as close as he could get to Remington during the drive to an apparently abandoned construction site, where Ian Colverson had been waiting for their arrival.
"It's good to see you, son," Ian told the boy once he and Remington got out of the car.
Johnny stood there, looking up at his step father with hatred and fear mingled in his young face. "Ain't your son," he declared. "Don't want to be."
Colverson nodded a silent acknowledgement of the boy's words, then lifted his dark gaze to meet another blue pair of eyes. "It's been awhile, Johnny," he said deliberately.
Remington felt Johnny look up at him, but refused to meet the boy's confused gaze. "Ian."
"We've both come up in the world, haven't we? Tailored suits, Italian shoes. Chauffer driven limousines. All the finer things in life. Who would have thought we'd be so alike?"
"I don't think we're alike at all, Ian," Remington told him. "I still don't like people who take advantage of those less fortunate, less able to defend themselves."
"Big talk for a man in your position." Colverson waved his hand to indicate George and the other two men.
"Let the boy go, Ian."
"I wish I could. But he knows too much. He has an irritating habit of hiding in places where he shouldn't. And of overhearing conversations that a little boy shouldn't be privy to."
"He overheard me tell George to get rid of a slight- problem. A- businessman who was trying to organize some of his fellows against paying protection money. Couldn't have that."
"You'd kill him, even knowing that he might be-"
"Oh, but he's not," Colverson said with an ugly smile. "Trina played me for a fool for too long, letting me think I was his father. But a few weeks ago, I tired of her games. I had a blood test done. When I got the results, I confronted her and she admitted that she'd been with someone else. Didn't take much to find out who that someone else was," Colverson said, his dark eyes narrowing dangerously. "Looks like I'll have the final say after all, Irish."
"Don't be too sure of that, Ian. I'm not the same lad that you used to chase all over Brixton trying to prove how big you were. I've learned a thing or two since then. And my partner is probably already looking for me. If I'm good, she's twenty times better. She'll find you."
"Your wife? She's been taken care of."
Remington went still. "What do you mean? If you've harmed Laura-"
Ian Colverson's dry laugh echoed through the empty shell of a building. "She'll be fine. And I'm sure she'll recover from her loss quickly with her friend there to see her through such a dark time."
"Roselli," Remington realized.
"You know, Tony hates you almost as much as I do. He came to *me* and offered to help. Figured it would leave the field clear for him to step in and pick up the pieces. So I wouldn't worry about your wife, Irish. I'm sure she'll be well taken care of."
Remington lunged for Ian, pushing Johnny past the man, and yelling, "Run, Johnny!" as he threw a vicious right at Ian's gloating face.
He found his arms pinned painfully behind his back by George as Ian told the other two, "Find the boy. And bring him back. If he escapes, you're both dead men." The men took off in the direction in which Johnny had vanished. "You'll never learn, will you, Irish? You can't beat me."
"As long as Johnny gets away, that's all that matters," Remington said, and his head snapped around as Ian threw a punch that landed squarely on his jaw. He felt blood inside of his mouth.
He managed a grim smile. "You used to throw a better punch, Ian. And you didn't used to need someone to hold onto me. Sure, and now, big, bad Ian Colverson isn't afraid that a scrawny little whelp of an Irish lad could beat him, is he?" Remington taunted, deliberately falling back into the accent of his youth.
Ian threw a second punch, this one into Remington's stomach that knocked the wind out of him. Stepping back, he calmly removed his jacket and laid it carefully over a stack of rebar, then raised his fists. "Let him go, George."
"I said, let him go."
Ian had always been easy to goad. Some things never changed, Remington thought to himself as he lifted his own fists . . .
To Be Continued ---