Friends of Steele
Part 6

"Make sure Mildred brings you along on Saturday, okay, Daniel?" Hazel said as she started her car.
"That's entirely her decision," Daniel pointed out. "It was a pleasure meeting you, ladies," he said, bowing slightly toward the car where Hazel, Rose and Esther sat.

Rose sighed deeply. "Night, Mildred," she said, and the wish was echoed by the others. Mildred shook her head in Daniel's direction as she hefted her bowling bag and turned toward her own car.

"You're incorrigible," she told him.

"Really?" he responded, deftly taking the bag from her hand. "How so? I thought I was quite charming."

"You might have told us that you'd bowled before," she pointed out. "Instead of trying to hustle them. Was it really necessary to encourage them to bet against your bowling three strikes in a row?"

"I returned their money," Daniel pointed out. "And in the process gave them a very valuable lesson about making wagers with people they don't know."

"There's a very fine line there that I'm missing, I think," Mildred said, watching him place the bag in the back seat. Holding out her keys, she asked, "Would you like to drive?"

Daniel hesitated. "If you're certain-"

Her eyes narrowed as she retained the keys. "You DO have a drivers license, don't you?"

"Several, actually," he informed her smoothly, taking the keys from her and opening the passenger door.

Once behind the wheel, he placed the key into the ignition. "Where to?"

"Your hotel," she told him. "So we can talk. Your little scheme of distracting me with your bowling didn't work."

"I wasn't trying to distract you, Mildred," he assured her. "Besides, none of you ever ASKED me if I knew how to bowl- or allowed me to deny or confirm it. You all just assumed that I'd never been into a bowling alley in my life." He put the car into gear and accelerated smoothly. "I'm fully aware that we need to talk. I want to explain about Charlotte."

"Whoever you knew in your past is none of my business, Daniel," Mildred tried to tell him, but his glance made her pause. "All right. Tell me."

"There's not much TOO tell, if the truth be told. And since we're dealing in truth, well, she was in the life for several years. You've met Harry's friend Felicia, I believe?"

"I've never met her," Mildred said. "But Miss Holt's mentioned her on a few occasions."

"Hmm. I can imagine what she said, too. Well, Charlotte was MY Felicia. We worked together on several- jobs. Charlotte was very good at what she did."

"I'll bet," Mildred muttered, her gaze fixed on the streets as they drove.

Daniel shot her an amused glance. "She was an associate. Admittedly a very-close associate, but there was never anything real between us. We were business partners who kept each other from being alone in a very lonely business."

"And why did she decide to leave that-business?" Mildred asked, and he could tell that she did so against her will.

"One close call too many, I suppose," he said with a shrug. "Perhaps she got tired of always being on the run, never knowing where she might be tomorrow or the day after."

"Is that why you're talking about finding a place here in Los Angeles?" Mildred asked.

"One of the reasons," he said truthfully. "I'm ready to retire. To sit back and enjoy the fruits of my years of work."

"Fruits? You make it sound as if you've made money honestly."

"Not the original funds, perhaps, but the investments I've made with them are all quite legitimate, I can assure you."

Mildred narrowed her gaze in the dimly lit car, and he felt her examining his face. "Investments?"

"One thing I've always tried to teach Harry is to invest a little of the take for the future. Stocks, bonds, legitimate business ventures. I've a tidy little nest egg-"

"And what about the trust fund your brother set up for you?"

"Oh, I've never used it for myself," he told her, and saw her frown. Taking a hand from the wheel, he patted hers as it lay on the seat between them. "I'll explain," he promised. "But I think the reason should wait until we're at the hotel."


He picked up his messages from the desk, then escorted her to the elevator. "We can talk in my suite," he told her. "Unless you'd prefer we stay down here?"

"No, your room will be fine," she said, watching as he glanced at the message slips before placing them into his pocket. "Anything interesting?" she asked.

"Not really. Just a couple of messages from other old friends in the area who have discovered that I'm here. I'll call them tomorrow," he said as the lift stopped on his floor. He opened the gate and led her to his door. Putting the key into the lock, he opened it and stepped aside for her to enter first. "After you, my dear."

The room was quite charming, Mildred decided, looking around while Daniel poured them each a glass of something from the bar across the room. "This is nice," she said aloud, taking the glass and sitting on the sofa.

"It's the reason I like staying here," he explained. "Elliot's done quite well for himself, if I do say so."

"That's right. You said that the owner was an old friend," she recalled.

"One who got out early," he confirmed. "Started out working as a bell hop in a hotel in London- worked his way up through the ranks."

She watched as he paced the room. "We might as well discuss it, Daniel. Why haven't you used that trust fund? You could have given up the life years ago."

"By the time Winston died, Mildred, I was so entrenched in the life that I couldn't even THINK about doing anything else," he informed her quietly. "I thrived on the excitement, the adrenaline rush of my chosen profession. It's only been in recent years that I've given serious consideration to retiring. Why don't you tell me exactly what you've discovered through your research and I'll fill in the gaps," he suggested.

"Well, I found out that your brother married the year that your father died. And I found that copy of his will, setting up the trust fund for you- and holding the rest in a blind trust until such time as his son was found. You told me that he and his wife had no children, remember?"

"And that was the truth. Carole lost three children during the course of their marriage."

"I thought titles couldn't be passed to illegitimate sons."

"As long as the child bears the family name, he would be considered a legitimate heir," Daniel informed her. "I wasn't aware that the will was part of public record," he mused. "I'll have to speak to the solicitors about that little oversight. It's a wonder some unscrupulous person hasn't tried to take advantage."

"The way you and Mr. Steele used to do? The way you tried to take advantage of the Duke of Rutherford's estate?"

"That's different. This is my family we're discussing."

Mildred shook her head. "Did you know that your brother had a son before he died?"

Daniel refilled his glass before answering. "Yes. I knew the young woman he was involved with. She was a maid at the Manor during the year that I stayed with Winston." Mildred watched his face, seeing a trace of something she wasn't sure she believed was there. "She was fresh off the boat from Ireland, a lovely little thing, dark hair, huge blue eyes. Always smiling, with a kind word for everyone. And helpful- she'd do just about anything for someone if she could. My brother-" he paused, looking for the right words. "Winston might have been married, but he saw it as a duty. Nothing more. There was no love on either side. Winston couldn't end the marriage because of possible scandal- and his wife refused to consider that option. Carole enjoyed being Lady Marlowe. I had no idea that Winston had taken up with the young maid until I found her crying one morning, trying to drag her suitcase from the house. She told me that Carole had sacked her- on the spot. Then she told me why."

"Your sister in law had found out about the affair?"

"Oh, she could have handled an affair. It wasn't as if that were the first time she'd discovered that he had turned to someone else. She could handle that. It was the fact that the girl was carrying Winston's child that angered Carole. I went to Winston, asked him to keep the girl on, but he coldly informed me that he had no choice in the matter. That if he didn't send her away, Carole would make her life miserable."

"So he- just sent her away?"

"Oh, he gave her some money, of course, and told me to forget it, that such things were done all the time. But I was furious at his callousness with regard to his child. I suppose all of my anger at Father came out in that moment. I said some terrible things to him, called him every name I could think of. And believe me, living as I had for those few years after leaving Eton, I had learned several of those."

"That's why you left."

He nodded somberly. "I went to Ireland and found Harriet, and offered to marry her." Mildred's ears perked up at the name. Harriet? Daniel had said that the reason he called Mr. Steele Harry was that he reminded Daniel of someone. This young woman, perhaps? "At least the child would have the family name I told myself. And I'd be able to take care of him. To give him the love and attention that I had never known from my father- and that he would never have from his." He sighed, and sat down on the sofa as well. "I was already half in love with the Harriet. I'd never met anyone quite like her. She had a way of looking at things that I'd never considered before. Her family disapproved of her marrying an Englishman- never mind that I was a penniless Englishman, the disinherited black sheep of the family. But she was more afraid of her child not having a name than angering her family, so she said yes." His gaze fell to the nearly empty glass in his hands as he sat forward. "Within a month of our marriage, I ran into some old friends in a pub- they talked me into helping them with a robbery that should have gone off like clockwork. Instead, I found myself in prison for a year. When I got out, Harriet was gone. I managed to discover that she had died within days of giving birth to a son."

"And what happened to her son?" Mildred asked. She was certain she knew the answer, and yet couldn't quite believe it could possibly be true.

"He was placed out for adoption," Daniel told her. "After I was sent to prison, her family practically disowned her. She wound up in a convent that specialized in helping young women with no husband and a child on the way. I looked all over Ireland for him- but there wasn't a trace of the boy. I kept looking when I could, when finances allowed. Actually, I was starting to do better again, get back into the grove, as it were. Then, about eleven years later, Winston tracked me down and sent for me. He was near death, looked so much older than I remembered him being. We talked, he told me that he knew what had happened in Ireland, and begged me to keep looking for his son. Since Carole had been unable to have children, Winston had no legitimate heir to pass the estate to. He thanked me for having married Harriet, for giving his son the family name so that he could legally leave the estate to him when he was found. I had no idea that he'd set up that bloody trust for me until the solicitors contacted me after the funeral. They said it was to help defray expenses in my search for Winston's heir." He finished his drink. "My nephew."

"But you didn't use it?"

"It's in the bank, invested. But I never wanted the money. My father made it perfectly clear that I was to have no part in the estate. The only time I dipped into the funds was after I found Harry."

"He's- your nephew, isn't he?" Mildred asked. "Winston and Harriet's son."

"I'm almost certain of it. And according to the birth certificate Winston's people located, he's MY son, not Winston's."

"Why didn't you ever tell him?" Mildred wondered. "Why let him go into the life?"

"He was already IN the life when I met him Mildred," Daniel reminded her. "A talented pickpocket and budding confidence man." He smiled. "He reminded me of myself at that age more than Winston. The lad could turn anyone to do anything. He was so much like his mother. Even to not being able to say no to a friend in need. I used the trust money to clean him up, to find us a suitable place to stay. I was going to tell him the truth, but the time just never seemed right, somehow." He sighed deeply. "You know, I scoured all of Ireland to no avail, looking for him. For years, I found myself looking at young boys of the right age, trying to find him. I certainly never expected to chase down a young pickpocket in Brixton and see Harriet's eyes staring back at me."

"Are you going to tell him, Daniel?" she asked softly.

"I don't know if I can."

"He wants to find his family," Mildred pointed out.

"But he has a family. You, Laura. And myself."

"His REAL family, then. To know where he came from. His real name."

"Oh, he says that now. But I remember a time when his only reason for wanting to find his father was to turn his back on him, the way he believed his father had done to him. He had such a hatred for his absent father that- I found myself lacking in courage when I considered telling him what I knew. So I chose the best path I knew to keep him close. I became his mentor and friend."

"He's not that angry young man anymore, Daniel," Mildred insisted, placing her hand over Daniel's. "I believe he genuinely WANTS to know who he is, where he came from. I used to think it was just because it was so important to Miss Holt. But recently I've come to understand that it's for him, too."

"And if you're wrong? If he reacts as I've always feared he would and turns his back on his inheritance- and on me?"

"That's the problem, isn't it? You're afraid of losing him. Of being cut totally out of his life-Oh, Daniel, that's not going to happen. Trust me. Hey, isn't this what you've been preparing him for ever since you two met? To claim his true inheritance? Not for a con, but for real this time?" She wasn't convincing him. She could see that. So she decided that the best way to proceed was to try to con the con man. "If you don't, Daniel, I will," she threatened.

Daniel turned to look at her, fear evident on his face. "You wouldn't."

"Try me," she said. "If you don't tell him by tomorrow night, I'll do it myself." She was shaking inside, knowing that if he decided to call her bluff, she'd never be able to follow through on her threat. Hearing the truth from someone else would only drive that wedge between them that Daniel feared. Daniel had to be the one to tell him. She rose from the sofa and picked up her jacket. "I'll see you tomorrow," she told him. He didn't respond to her words.

As she closed the door, her last sight of Daniel was of him sitting there on the sofa, his head in his hands…

To Be Continued...

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Original content ©2000 by Nancy Eddy