"Okay," Laura said, getting back into Tony's car after talking to the desk clerk at the run down hotel, "according to him, George was here this afternoon with two locals, and they left together."
Tony nodded, watching as she pulled out her notepad to refer to it. "And both those guys have rooms in this hotel."
"If they live around here, then other people should know them, right? I think we should ask around, see if anyone knows where those two might take someone they wanted to talk to-" she stopped and looked over at Tony to see him reaching into his jacket pocket to pull out a pager. "I didn't know you had one of those."
"I got it this afternoon," he told her. "Figured since I was going to be out looking for George, if anyone needed to contact me, it would be easier."
"Anyone?" she asked.
"I've paid some guys to keep an eye out for George and Colverson in various places. Like the airport." He looked at the number. "And it's Charlie. Airport," he explained, seeing her curious look.
"Why the airport?" Laura asked.
"If Colverson and George leave LA, than it means they've finished what they came to do."
"Or given up," Laura pointed out.
"I'll go call and see what Charlie has," Tony said, pointing to a pay phone not far away.
Laura nodded and watched, then turned her attention to the notepad, trying to make some sense out of what she'd found out so far. Trouble was, none of it *made* any sense. She looked up to find Tony returning to the car, his expression grim.
"Well?" she asked when he got back in and just sat there, his hands on the steering wheel.
"Colverson and George caught a flight out ten minutes ago," he told her. "He said he followed them to the ticket counter and when the lady asked if they'd had a nice visit in LA, Colverson told her that it had been very successful."
Laura blinked, refusing to hear what he was saying. "It doesn't mean anything. Maybe they just decided to give it up," she said again.
"Laura-" he said, and sighed as she got out of the car and started down the sidewalk at a fast clip. Grabbing her arm, he said, "Look, you have to face facts. Colverson got what he wanted. They're gone."
"No!" Laura insisted. "I don't believe that. I won't believe it. I can't. I'd *know*, Tony," she said, putting a hand to her chest. "I'd know. In here. He's not dead. I have to find him. I have to find *both* of them!"
"You are the most stubborn-" he ground out, running a hand through is brown curls. "Okay. Where to, then?"
"The condo. Maybe they went back there and are looking for me. And I need to find out how Fred is."
"The office is closer," Tony suggested. "We can call the apartment from there. And then call the hospital to see if Mildred's still there with Fred."
Remington had been watching Ian as the battle between them raged. He tended to drop his left when he started to throw his right. His back was toward George, and he thought he'd seen the flash of the bigger man's knife in the late evening sun.
Getting out of this was going to take clever planning. He just hoped that Johnny had gotten away, and that he'd be able to find Laura. Thoughts of the two of them were the only think keeping Remington his feet. Another good hit in the head, and he'd be down.
He waited, dodging, feinting, for just the right moment- and when Ian's shoulder dropped, Remington took the opening and sent his right fist squarely into the other man's jaw, snapping his head around and sending him spinning into the dirt, where he lay, apparently unconscious.
Without losing a beat, Remington whirled on George, grabbing a two by four that lay within reach and swinging it at the man's head. Remington heard the sickening sound of bone breaking as George stood there for a moment, staring at him, and then fell face down in the dirt to lay still.
Retaining the length of wood, Remington moved in the direction in which Johnny and the other two men had gone. He moved cautiously, pausing at every sound, listening closely.
"Johnny?" he called in a soft voice, praying silently that he'd get a response.
There was a scraping sound to Remington's left and he turned, plank at the ready as a square of plywood fell from what looked to be a small crawlspace in the wall- and Johnny appeared. He was dusty and there looked like there might have been streaks on his face where he'd been crying, but he appeared otherwise unharmed.
Remington dropped the two by four and held out his arms as he fell heavily to his knees. "Oh, Johnny. Thank God you're okay," he sighed as the boy threw his arms around Remington's neck and buried his face into his neck.
He didn't feel the bruised, possibly broken ribs, or the abrasions on his face and hands- or the various other contusions. The only thing that mattered now, at this moment, was that Johnny was safe.
"Are you okay?" Johnny asked, looking at Remington with worried eyes.
"I've been better. But I'll be okay," he told the boy. "Where are the other two?" he asked, looking around.
"They took off. I 'eard 'em talkin' about 'ow George 'adn't said anything about killing us. Said they were just supposed to scare us and let us go."
"Didn't have the stomach for murder, I guess," Remington said. "Come on. I have to call the police from a pay phone and then we're going to find Laura." He started to get up, but Johnny's arms stopped him, and he met that blue gaze again.
"Are you my dad?" he asked.
"Very likely," Remington told him. "Would that bother you?"
Johnny shook his head. "No. I think you'd be okay as a dad."
"I'll try," Remington promised, giving the boy another hug. "I'll try. Now let's go." Remington said, and rose slowly and stiffly to his feet, only to freeze on the spot as he heard Ian's angry voice.
"What a lovely picture," he sneered as he stood there, a gun pointed directly at Remington's chest. "You should have hit me harder, Irish. You're still not getting your weight into your punches."
"Give it up, Ian," Remington said, pushing Johnny behind him for protection. "It's over."
"Not quite," Ian said, taking aim. "Not until you're dead."
Suddenly Johnny rushed toward Ian, the discarded two by four in hand, held out like a sword- or a battering ram. The board first struck Ian's hand, sending the gun flying, and then hit him squarely in the chest, pushing him backward toward an opening in the floor that was at one time probably intended to have been a stairwell or elevator shaft that would lead to an underground garage.
Ian seemed to hang on the edge of the precipice for a moment, his arms flailing, and then he was gone, hitting the bottom with a quiet thud that echoed eerily in the ensuing silence.
Remington followed Johnny to the edge, then turned the boy away from the sight of his stepfather impaled on a jagged piece of iron rebar. Even in the dim light, Remington could see no sign of life in those open, dark eyes.
"Are you okay?" he asked the boy, watching him carefully.
"'E was goin' to kill you," Johnny said. "I couldn't let 'im do that."
"It's okay," Remington assured him. "It's okay. Let's go."
"Yeah. Let's go 'ome," Johnny agreed.
"That's exactly where we're going," Remington agreed. "Home."
Mildred was coming from the dining room, a mug of tea in her hand when Remington opened the door and let Johnny in. She nearly dropped the tea as her jaw fell. "Mr. Steele?" she asked, moving to touch him. "Johnny?" She touched the boy as well, and then started smothering each with hugs and kisses. "You're alive! Oh, I knew you were. I knew you couldn't be dead." She noticed the bruises on Remington's face. "What happened to you?"
"Colverson," Remington said, looking around the room. "Where's Laura?"
"She just called a minute ago. She and Tony are at the office, trying to track down what rental car agency that Colverson used while he was here- Let me get a wet rag for you to-"
"I'm fine, Mildred," Remington assured the woman. "I'm sure that Johnny would be more than willing to tell you everything that happened if you could find him something to eat," he said.
"Sure. I managed to salvage some of the stuff you left at the limo-."
Remington looked at Johnny, his hand on the doorknob. "I'll be back."
Johnny nodded. "Okay."
"Where are you going?" Mildred asked. "Should I call and let Mrs. Steele know-"
"No. And if Laura calls here, don't tell her that Johnny and I are okay."
"But- why not?" Mildred asked, confused.
"Because I'm trying to catch a certain Italian rat," Remington declared as the door closed behind him.
Mildred turned to look at Johnny. "Italian rat?" she questioned. "As in Tony Roselli?" Johnny nodded slowly. "Why that, that, that-" she stopped, realizing that Johnny was watching her. "That *slimeball*!" she finally finished, and put her hand on Johnny's shoulder. "Let's go find something to eat, kiddo. I bet you're starving."
Laura hung up the telephone and tossed the notepad aside, the last number on it crossed off. "Damn! Every rental agency in the city, and not *one* of them has a record of Ian Colverson renting a car while he was here! How the hell did he get around?" she asked, pacing the reception area.
"Cab, maybe?" Tony suggested.
Laura turned and looked at him, then grabbed the telephone book and opened it.
"What are you doing now?" he asked.
"Looking up cab companies. Surely *one* of their drivers will remember someone like George--" She gasped as Tony grabbed the book from her hands. "What-?"
"Laura, you're not going to call every cab company in Los Angeles. Let it go."
"I can't. He's not dead, Tony. I know it. Neither of them is dead. And even- even if they are, I'm *not* going to let Colverson get away with it."
"No one's saying that you have to," Tony agreed. "I just think you need to step back and take a deep breath. I'm not going anywhere, Laura," he promised. "I'll be right here- helping you get through this. We'll get Colverson. Just- relax," he said, putting his hands on her shoulders.
"I know. It's too soon. But I can wait. As long as it takes." He gave her a crooked smile. "I just want to be your friend. Someone you can lean on, who's shoulder that you can cry on when you get lonely."
"Thanks, Tony," Laura said, resting her head on his shoulder for just a second, only to cry out as someone grasped the back of Tony's shirt and turned him around. She stood watching in surprise as Remington sent Tony into the wall with a vicious right to the jaw. "Rem!" she cried out, moving to give him a hug. "You're okay! Ohh-" his soft grunt of pain made her step back. "Or maybe not. What happened?" she asked as he placed an arm across her shoulders. "Is Johnny-?"
"Johnny's fine," Remington assured her. He nodded to where Tony was getting to his feet, rubbing his jaw. "As to what happened, maybe you should ask your friend here," he told her.
"He was working with Colverson," Remington told her. "Thought it would be as good a way as any to get me out of your life and leave his way into it open."
Laura moved away from Remington toward Tony, backing him into the wall again. "You- louse!" she said, pushing him against the wall. "You didn't have anyone at the airport, did you? I bet you set that pager off yourself, didn't you?" He shrugged, looking genuinely frightened. "And I *fell* for it! Damn!" She raised her left fist. "If I were a man, I'd-" She paused, considering. "Hell!" she said, and landed a blow on the other side of his chin, then winced as she turned back to Remington. "Ouch." She shook her hand. "You're right. That *does* hurt."
Remington glanced at his bruised knuckles. "I didn't feel much of anything. A bit numb, I think." His blue gaze moved to Tony. "If I were you, Antony, I'd get out of town before George wakes up and starts talking to the police. He just might connect you with Colverson."
"Where is Colverson?" Laura asked.
"He's dead. Johnny killed him to save my life."
"Is he really okay?"
He nodded. "Yes. He's with Mildred at the apartment, probably regaling her with the evening's adventure over a bowl of noodle soup."
"Laura, for what it's worth, I-" Tony began, but she lifted her hand to stop him.
"Don't bother, Tony. I don't need to hear how the only reason you tried to help Ian Colverson kill Remington and Johnny was because you *care* about me."
Tony's hand fell to his side and he turned toward the door, only to stop as Remington, his arm across Laura's shoulders once more, spoke.
"Antony, don't show your face around here again. Stay away from Laura, Johnny, and Mildred. Because if you set one foot near to anyone I hold near and dear, I'll kill you. And that's a promise."
Tony didn't acknowledge the words, just continued out of the office.
Laura felt Remington sag slightly, leaning on her. "Are you sure you're okay?" she asked.
"I'll be fine with a little of your TLC," he told her, a hand to his painful ribs.
Laura grabbed her purse and helped him out of the office, stopping only long enough to lock the doors behind them, and then downstairs, where she hailed a taxi. Once Remington was leaning against the door and they were heading for home, he told her what had happened. "I still don't know where Fred got to. I hope he's all right."
"He is," Laura said. "He went to stretch his legs while you and Johnny were in the store. When he got back into the limo, someone hit him and put him into the trunk."
"Oh good Lord. How did he get out?"
She smiled. "He kicked out the back seat."
"Ahh. Good man, Fred. Where is he now?"
"Mildred took him to the emergency room. The doctor wanted to keep him overnight for observation since Fred didn't have anyone at home to keep an eye on him." She looked sad. "You know, I've never really thought about where Fred goes when he's not driving the limo."
"He's got a rather nice apartment, actually," Remington told her. "Likes to watch Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin movies, and enjoys a day at the track every now and then."
Laura looked at him with surprise as he spoke, then shook her head. "And that's your influence, no doubt. The part about the track, anyway."
"Possibly," he said with a half grin that ended in a wince of pain. "But he's become quite good at handicapping. Says it helps fill in the hours while he's waiting for us to call. I'm glad he'd all right."
"I'm glad you and Johnny are both all right," Laura told him, leaning into him gingerly. "Why is it that everytime I want to hold you, I'm afraid I might hurt you?"
He lifted is arm and pulled her close, ignoring the pain it cause. "Better?" he asked.
She nodded. "Did Johnny really kill Colverson?" she asked.
"Yes. I don't think he meant to. I doubt he even noticed that hole in the floor behind Ian- all he knew was that Ian was about to shoot me, and he had to stop it."
"He's a good boy," Laura mused. "I still think we should make sure-"
"Ian told us that he's not Johnny's father, Laura."
"He had the test done a few weeks ago. So, unless Trina was seeing a third man during that time that neither of us knew about- the odds are better than even that he's my son."
"Does he know that?"
"He does. And he's okay with it."
Tony carefully climbed the fire escape, keeping watchful eye on the third floor window. It was open, the curtains billowing softly in the night breeze. As he reached the narrow landing, he peered through to see a pair of pajamas lying on the bed, waiting. He was about to enter the window, but quickly drew back as he heard Mildred's voice.
"You're sure you can put your pajamas on by yourself?"
"I think so," was Johnny's response.
They were in the bathroom, Tony realized, continuing to listen as Mildred appeared. "Okay. I'll go make that hot chocolate I promised."
As soon as the door closed behind her, Johnny came from the bathroom, a towel wrapped around him. He quickly pulled on the pajamas, which Tony noticed had cars on them, his back to the window.
Tony slipped into the room and came up behind the boy, grabbing him and putting a hand across Johnny's mouth so that he couldn't' cry out. "Don't struggle, kid," Tony warned. "All it'll take for me to break your neck is one little move." Johnny's eyes were filled with a mixture of fear and hatred. "Come on." He pulled Johnny back toward the window. And out onto the fire escape.
Mildred was heading toward the kitchen when the front door opened to admit Remington and Laura. "Hi. I was just getting Johnny some hot chocolate. You want some?" she offered.
"Sounds perfect, Mildred," Laura sighed. "After today, I could use some chocolate."
"Where is Johnny?" Remington asked, looking around.
"In the bedroom. He just had a bath and decided he could put his new pajamas on by himself. Independent little cuss."
"Like his father," Laura commented, turning to brush a stray strand of hair out of Remington's face.
He captured her hand and brought it to his lips. "I'll go check on him."
"We'll *both* go," Laura said. "That way, you can take a shower and clean up so that I can administer some of that TLC we were discussing."
Mildred chuckled softly. "I'll make the hot chocolate," she decided as they moved toward the bedroom.
"Johnny?" Laura called when they found the bedroom empty.
Remington looked into the bath. "He's not in there," he told her.
A sound from the fire escape caused them to exchange a worried glance before moving in that direction. "Johnny?" Remington called. "Are you up there?"
"He's up here, Steele," Tony called back. "And so am I."
"I thought I smelled a rat," Remington said, and lifted a leg over the window frame, fighting back the pain of his ribs.
Laura followed him to the roof, but there was again no sign of Tony or Johnny. "Where are you, Tony?" Laura called.
"Over here!" Tony replied.
"No!" Johnny yelled.
Laura and Remington came around the air conditioning unit and stopped upon seeing what Johnny had been objecting to. He and Tony were standing on the narrow ledge that ran around the edge of the roof.
"Don't move, Johnny," Remington warned.
"Tony, let him go," Laura begged. "What can you possibly hope to gain by doing this?" she asked.
"You," Tony answered, keeping his hand on Johnny's shoulder. "Steele wants the kid, then he'll give you up."
"You're insane, Antony," Remington accused.
"No. I'm in love. With Laura. We belong together. If it wasn't for you, she'd know that. You can't have them both, Steele. Make your choice. Your son- or Laura?"
"You can't ask me to make that kind of choice."
"He can ask me," Laura said into the suddenly still night air, and Remington turned to look at her, surprised, as she took a step closer to Tony and Johnny, raising her hand. "Let Johnny go, Tony, and I'll go with you."
"Laura, you can't-" Remington objected, reaching out his hand in an attempt to stop her. She shook off his hold, keeping her eyes locked on Tony.
"I'll go with you- if you let Johnny go."
"You're lying," Tony told her.
"No. You're right. I just didn't realize how much you really cared. Remington doesn't need me anymore. He's got Johnny." Her eyes flickered toward the little boy. "I'm not ready to be a mother yet, anyway." She saw Johnny's expression darken further at her words. "Kids tie you down. I've got too many things that I want to do yet. We can do them together, Tony," she said, her hand still outstretched toward him. "Just let Johnny go with Remington and you and I will go away together. If you kill Johnny, we'll never be together. I could never forgive you for that."
Tony's hand slid from Johnny's shoulder. "Go on, kid." He put a hand in the center of Johnny's back and pushed him toward the roof, where Remington was waiting.
Tony grabbed Laura's outstretched hand as if afraid she would change her mind now that Johnny was safe, and Remington, his arm around Johnny, watched in horror as she stepped up right next to the ledge. "Come down, Tony. We'll go wherever you want-"
He pulled on her hand. "You come up here," he told her.
"No, Laura," Remington objected, sensing that Tony's mind had totally snapped. His obsession with her had taken over.
But Laura ignored his plea, and stepped onto the ledge at Tony's side. "I should have thought of this before," Tony said, touching her face. "He'll never let us alone, never let us be happy. You know that."
"He can't stop us," Laura replied. "Come on."
Tony shook his head. "There's only one way, Laura." He turned and looked over his shoulder, putting his arm around her. "We can be together forever."
Remington knew what he was planning and released Johnny, yelling, "NO!!!!!!" as Tony stepped backward, off of the ledge, Laura's hand in his, pulling her with him.
Remington's wrist grasped Laura's, and he heard her cry out as her own weight and Tony's pulled her arms. "Don't let go, Laura!" Remington begged. "I've got you!"
Laura felt Tony's fingers slipping from hers. "Laura!" he yelled, and then he was gone, dropping to the ground below, where he lay still.
"I've got you, Laura," Remington said again, and reached over with both hands. "Give me your other hand." Her gaze was locked on the ground- and Tony. "Laura! Look at me!" he ordered, louder this time, hoping to break through the shock. She finally lifted her gaze upward. "Give me your other hand so I can pull you up." Her other hand slowly clasped around his wrist. "There's a luv. That's it," he said, grunting at the protest of his ribs as he lay against the ledge. Slowly he pulled her up and back onto the roof, holding her in his arms. She was shaking, and he quickly removed his torn, mud and dirt stained jacket to place it over her shoulders. "Are you okay?"
"My arms feel like they've been pulled out of their sockets," she said, but nodded. "But I'll be all right." She looked at where Johnny was standing, eyeing her suspiciously. "Let's go downstairs."
Remington held out a hand to Johnny. "Com'on, lad. You'll catch your death up here in this night air."
Mildred was just leaving the bedroom when they came through the window. "There you are," she said. "What happened?" she asked, seeing Laura's pale face.
"Antony's dead," Remington explained, sitting Laura on the bed. "I'll call the police." She nodded.
"Dead?" Mildred questioned.
"He got in here and kidnapped Johnny, intending to trade him for Laura."
"Get the hot chocolate, please, Mildred," Remington said, dialing the telephone.
"Hot chocolate coming right up," Mildred said. "You want to help?" she asked Johnny, and he started to follow her.
But Laura spoke. "No. I want Johnny- here." The boy stopped and turned to look at her, his expression still wary, as Mildred left the room.
Remington informed the police that Tony was dead, and promised to meet them downstairs when they arrived, then hung up to survey his wife and his son standing there, looking at each other.
Finally, Laura held out her hand, and Remington knew that the movement was painful, but she managed to keep most of it hidden. "Come here, Johnny," she said in a quiet voice.
"Don't know as I want to," he answered. "You said-"
"What I said out there was meant to convince Tony to let you go. I didn't mean any of it."
Remington closed his eyes in silent thanks. For one moment up there on that roof, he'd been afraid that she really meant to leave with Antony. Now, he realized that it had all been an act and nothing more. An act that had almost gotten her killed.
"You didn't?" Johnny questioned.
"What about all those things you said you 'ad to do?"
"I can still do all those things. And help take care of you, as well." She patted the bed beside her. "Come here. Please?" she asked when he still hesitated.
Finally Johnny moved to sit stiffly beside her, maintaining his distance. "I'm 'ere," he said, apparently still not convinced - and not quite ready to forgive her for the things she'd said on the roof.
"This isn't going to be easy for any of us, Johnny. You getting used to a new country, a new family. Me, getting used to being a mother, when I haven't even gotten used to being a wife yet. It's going to mean making a *lot* of adjustments. Things won't ever be the same as it was before. But I think we'll find our way-" she smiled at Remington as he sat down on the other side of Johnny. "-together." Her hand touched Remingtn's bruised cheek. "The three of us."
"Then- you don't mind my being 'ere?" Johnny asked.
"Oh, no. I think that this is exactly where you're supposed to be." She smiled at him. "Can I have a hug?" she asked.
Johnny threw his arms around her, and Remington leaned closer, giving Laura a kiss, putting his arms around them both- and then winced.
"You still need some TLC," Laura murmured.
"So do you," he pointed out, kissing her aching shoulder through her blouse.
"Later," she promised with another kiss as Johnny squirmed in protest at being squeezed between them.
"'Ey! I can't breathe!"
Laura and Remington parted, both laughing softly, only Remington's laugh ended with a wry expression of frustration. It was finally beginning to dawn on him that Laura was right- things weren't going to be the same ever again. He had the feeling that Mildred's occassionally interruptions were going to be something he looked back on rather fondly. Having a young boy underfoot, finding time alone with Laura was going to devilishly difficult. If not impossible . . .
Mildred entered the room with a tray. "Okay, who's up for hot chocolate?" she asked.
"Me!" Johnny called out, taking one of the cups from the tray.
"Mildred, tomorrow morning, I want you to start calling real estate agencies about a house," Remington said, sipping the warm drink.
"With a big back yard for Johnny to run in," Laura said.
"And a pool," Remington added, and gave Laura a smile.
(Or is it? <wink!>)