The final notes of Handel's Hallelujah Chorus hung shimmering in the air like the last few sparkles of a fireworks finale before the audience rose to their feet in a thunderous ovation. A slender woman sitting almost precisely in the center of the audience sat perfectly still, her eyes closed, a smile of supreme contentment bringing out dimples on both sides of her mouth. Her softly curled hair swirled about her shoulders, pulled back from her face on either side to reveal sparkling teardrop earrings and a single diamond on a gold wire around her long neck; a low cut black dress clung to her modest bosom. She was dressed to the nines for the Los Angeles Orchestra's Christmas concert - one of her favorite events of the holiday season. Music ran deep in Laura's soul. As the last note ended and the applause obliterated even its echoes, Laura sighed and opened her eyes to find her friend and co-worker Bernice smiling at her with bemusement.
"Welcome back, Laura."
"Wasn't it lovely!?" Laura whispered softly. "I could have listened all night."
"It was very nice." A serious looking young man, his hair swept straight back from his fore head, brown eyes focused intently on Laura, reached down for her hand, to assist her to her feet. "Not really my favorite style of music, but certainly appropriate for the holidays. It's fortunate our law firm always has excellent tickets for these types of concerts."
"These were wonderful seats - we were able to hear each instrument in perfect dimension. Thank you so much." Laura smiled politely at her male companion, an attorney from the fifth floor of the Century Towers, several floors below where her own agency, Remington Steele Investigations was located. Bernice and her date, Bob, gathered their coats and stood restlessly on the other side of Laura and Jeff.
"Let's go! Christmas cheer at the Charles Park Plaza?" Bernice suggested.
"Sure - sounds great." Laura looked more tentative than her words suggested.
Bernice hooked her arm through Laura's. "Come on girl - let yourself have a little fun! The night's still young. We have to work on her Jeff. I can't get her out after hours very often this symphony concert was the perfect incentive. Let's see if we can't make a whole holiday celebration of it!"
"Thanks a lot, Bernice. You make me sound pathetic." Laura's chagrin reduced Bernice to barely contained laughter.
"Ho Ho Ho! Let's go." A grinning Bernice pulled Laura off toward the exit, their well dressed escorts following companionably behind.
It was only an hour and a half later when Bernice and Laura waved good bye to the young attorneys as they pulled away from the front door of Bernice's apartment building.
"Thank you so much - I had a wonderful time!" Laura sang out as the car peeled away.
"Yeah, he bought that Laura. Couldn't you have faked being interested just a little?"
"What are you talking about? I was very pleasant!" Laura protested.
"Right! Twice you called him Jason, and you yawned during his little story about the fat Santa getting stuck in the phone booth." Bernice chided.
"Sorry." Laura smiled sheepishly. "Can I help it if he looked like a 'Jason'? And it's been a long day - a girl can't help yawning when she's been working since seven o'clock in the morning."
"That's another issue we've got to address some day Laura. Why are you working ten hour days when there hasn't been a case to work on since the Baja island getaway - which by the way I'd like the inside story on!"
"The quiet gives me a chance to catch up on things before I head to Connecticut Tuesday. Paper work, reading you know, wrapping up all the loose ends."
"You're crazy Laura. But to each their own. Come on now - give. Was Skeeziks actually any help solving that Devil's Playground case? And how close did the two of you get to the truth - any declarations of undying devotion?" Bernice raised her eyebrows encouragingly at Laura. Let's have a glass of wine while you fill me in."
"Oh Bernice. I'm not sure I have enough energy tonight for that conversation." Laura was still struggling to sort out her feelings about her enigmatic 'Mr. Steele.' One minute she was tearing her hair out - MRYTLE for gosh sakes!? And the next he was so sincere, wanting to share some detail about his past in Dublin. Too bad the deaths of all their fellow Devil's Playground guests kept interrupting Mr. Steele's confidences. Truth or not, things were as confused now as they had ever been. Laura sighed and decided girl talk with Bernice was not going to help. "A glass of wine and I'll be asleep on your sofa. I'd better head home, it's after midnight already."
"You're a party animal Laura. Hey - next time it's your turn to come up with the guys and the outing. Mr. Steele and one of his 'mates'?" Bernice grinned maliciously.
"Sure - like that'll happen. I think all Mr. Steele's 'mates' are women. Thanks Bernice, really! I loved the symphony, and Jason, I mean Jeff was very nice. Dull, but nice." Laura couldn't resist a final dig at her date as she waved and then walked briskly to her car.
Laura pushed aside her confusion about Mr. Steele, and let her thoughts return to the concert. She hummed Vivaldi's Gloria as she drove down Wilshire, and turned toward the agency. She wanted to pick up a few files she'd been pondering earlier in the evening, to peruse Saturday. Once she'd located the case files, Laura headed home, driving down a side street dotted with empty store fronts, pawn shops and an occasional pub. A sudden loud 'thrub, thrub, thrub' jolted Laura from her pleasant musical reminiscing. Flat tire. And on top of that the cool evening had now produced a steady drizzle. Great. Though Laura was perfectly capable of changing a tire, she thought ruefully of her beautiful evening gown, strappy shoes, and faux fur dress coat. Hardly the appropriate garb for auto maintenance. Slowing the car to a crawl, Laura glanced around. The lights of an open bar shown just half a block down. She crept forward until she reached an open spot on the curb near the pub, and pulled in. If ever there was a night for the Auto Club, this was it. Laura stepped out, holding her small handbag over her head and sprinted lightly through the chilling rain to the bar door, and ducked in.
The smokey warmth of the bar enveloped Laura, along with music, loud, and much different than that she had enjoyed earlier, but not entirely unpleasant. There was an Irish tone and beat to the fiddle that crooned along with voices that harmonized comfortably if imperfectly. There was a congenial feel to the crowd of mostly men who were gathered together enjoying the music. Laura looked around for a payphone. Failing to find one she walked to the bar, and waited for the bartender to finish a conversation with a customer. As Laura waited a patron, who had clearly spent a good part of the evening enjoying the establishment's product, approached Laura with a leering glint in his eye.
"Hi ya gorgeous. Care for some comp'ny?" The man leaned in, his face inches from Laura's, who leaned back with distaste at the potency of the man's breath.
"Sorry, I just want to use a phone." Laura turned away from the inebriated man, focusing meaningfully on the bartender.
"Common, girl, give a guy a break!" The man grabbed Laura's wrist and tried to turn her toward him. "Ya' don't think you're too good for me do ya'?"
"Of course not, but ..." Laura struggled to free her arm from the insistent drunk. Her voice was steady and low, but her heart was beginning to race. "Let go of me!"
"Don' be shy. Come have a drink while you wait."
"No thank you!" Laura and her companion had finally attracted the attention of the bartender who turned toward them.
"Making new friends, Larry? How about a cup of coffee, eh?" he offered calmly.
"If the lady wants to join me ." Larry continued to peer speculatively at Laura, but allowed his grip on her wrist to drop.
"I believe the lady said no, mate." A familiar voice fell on Laura's ear, as a gentle hand drew Laura aside, stepping between her and her unwanted companion.
"Mr. Steele!" Laura was too surprised to compose a more complete response. Completely taken back, Laura's pulse rate began to race for altogether different reasons, the way it did each time this man smiled at her, flirted with her, and annoyed her, in the months since he had begun impersonating the fictitious Remington Steele.
"What brings you to this neck of the woods, Miss Holt? Bit far from home aren't you?"
"I could say the same about you. I was just picking up some files at the office, and had a flat tire."
"Hey, Mick, gonna introduce us to your friend?" Laura realized then that the music had stopped, and the crowd that had been singing had turned to watch the little drama by the bar.
"Oh, I dunno mates, I'm suspect Miss Holt has other plans for her evening." Steele had apparently been a member of the group singing along with the fiddler. Laura looked at them with curiosity for a few moments before turning her attention back to the unflappable Steele, as usual, disturbingly attractive, tonight in casual attire, dark cords and a rough knit sweater.
"Com'on. We could use a soprano!" A variety of cheerful voices echoed the sentiment. Laura looked uncertain.
"Another time maybe." Steele answered for Laura, then turned from his companions and looked her up and down appreciatively. "Do you always dress up for your Friday evening office hours? You might inspire me to volunteer for more paper work."
"MORE paper work?" Laura said with a smile. "Since when do you do ANY paperwork?"
"Yes, well, If not paper work, how can
I be of assistance this evening?"
"Practically speaking? I have a flat tire, and came in here to call the auto club. I had no idea you were a regular here." Laura realized she usually envisioned her elusive Mr. Steele in the company of the beautiful women he was either reported to be with or with whom he was photographed. Outside of worrying about his potential felonious activities, she had given little thought to any other people with whom he might spend his free time.
"Well, there's a nice group here - not up to your standards perhaps, but there's good music, and same crowd most nights."
"The sound is Irish, if I'm not mistaken. Does this crowd have anything to do with the Dublin connection you kept trying to tell me about while we were on the Devil's Playground?"
Steele smiled. "No, not really. Dublin's close to London you know, just a boat ride away. Now, about your car. Maybe I can help."
"You!? Change a tire?"
"I'm sure I could if I chose to. However, I think there might be a better way. Give me your keys - the Rabbit's just outside?" Steele returned to his group of friends, who had now resumed singing, and spoke to one man, giving him Laura's keys, and then slipping something else into his hand; clapping his hand on the back of another man, and putting something in his breast pocket. Steele then turned back to Laura. "Give my friends a moment and you'll be on your way. Miss Holt, please tell me that beautiful outfit of yours had a better destination this evening than the office."
"Some friends of Bernice' had symphony seats for this evening's performance. It was wonderful." Laura glowed as she recalled the evening's concert.
"Is it Handel, Bach, Tchaikovsky, and Vivaldi that put that sparkle in your eyes, or Bernice's charming friends?" Steele taunted.
"The music Mr. Steele, though Bernice's friends were very nice. You seem awfully familiar with the symphony's repertoire."
"I enjoyed the concert as well. Went last weekend. Superb."
"Did you take one of your lady friends? A 'Myrtle' perhaps?" Laura felt an unreasonable stab of jealousy.
"Miss Holt, may I remind you that many of my social engagements are tied to and result in publicity for the agency. I mean, this is the role you've asked me to play - the figurehead for Remington Steele Investigations." Steele's jaw was set, and his eyes narrowed, irritated by Laura's remark. "I would happily take you if "
"No, no, of course not. How you spend your evenings is no business of mine, I mean, perhaps you are undertaking official business, and not...." Laura appeared increasingly confused. "It's terribly late Mr. Steele. I've sorry to have intruded on your evening. If your friends are able to fix my tire, I'll be on my way."
"Come have a seat while we wait." Steele offered, his anger dissolving in the face of Laura's discomfort. He pulled out a chair for her, at a table not too far from his companions. "Did I hear that you're off to spend the holiday out east? Is that where you grew up - snow, hot chocolate, sleigh rides?
"My mother lives there - and some other family. I'm a native Californian. Christmas means palm trees and warm weather to me - with plenty of Christmas decorations, beautiful music, and old fashioned Christmas carols thrown in." Laura's face softened as she spoke of the holiday. "This is about my favorite time of year. We're going to have a Christmas party at the office Monday. You remember, don't you? Exchange little white elephant gifts."
"White elephants, eh?" Steele smiled at Laura. "They're so difficult to wrap."
The convivial group of musicians had begun a particularly lively melody, and Laura glanced over, dimples playing across her cheeks, one finger tapping lightly to the beat. She didn't recognize the tune, but it was festive, and invited a response. Steele began singing the song softly, never taking his eyes off Laura's face. The song was a sad tale of love, though since Steele sang part of it in Irish, some of the meaning escaped Laura. She was entranced. It was becoming increasingly clear why this man so fascinated her. The question in Laura's mind was why he had hung around LA these past three months - what did he see in her, or their business relationship that kept him around?
When the song ended, Laura and Steele turned to see the entire group of musicians grinning at them. "Hey Mick, bring your girl over and join us." one of them suggested encouragingly.
Steele stood and drew Laura forward. "Miss Holt is actually my employer."
"Go on! You should be paying her to let you stick around!" One of the men guffawed.
Laura too laughed. "There are days when I think that might be true, but I'm beginning to realize that your 'Mick' is a man of many talents."
At that moment the men Steele had commissioned returned, smiling and shaking the rain and the chill off. They handed Laura's keys back to her. "Here you go Miss. All set."
"Thank you gentlemen!" Steele stood, offering his hand to Laura. "May I see you home Miss Holt?"
Laura warmly shook hands with each of her rescuers before turning back to Steele. "No, I'll be fine now. I appreciate your help. I've already taken too much of your evening. Thank you so much."
As they reached the door to the pub, Laura paused to look up at Steele. "You certainly make life interesting Mr. Steele - tonight was no exception. I enjoyed the music."
"Until Monday then, Miss Holt?"
Laura skirted puddles to reach her car, stopping before she climbed into the Rabbit to glance back at the pub. Steele stood in the doorway watching her. He raised his hand. Laura smiled. A new song was now running through her mind. An Irish melody. Christmas was a season of wonderful music and magical possibilities.