Bernice was popping the pork loin roast into the oven as Laura
made her harried appearance. She hastily opened several drawers
and banged them shut.
"Where's that knife, I'm gonna kill him!"
"Blood boiling already?" she checked her watch and wryly observed, "He's broken his previous record by thirty minutes."
Laura huffed exasperatedly and they both laughed. "Between Mr Steele and my mother, I don't know which is the worse Christmas Day option."
"You left him out there with Murphy? You left them alone together in your house? In a room full of glasses? No referee, no umpire, no arbitrator, no General Secretary of the United Nations to keep the peace?
"It's okay Bernice. I'm fully insured!" Laura winked and popped a carrot into her mouth.
Steele picked up the remote control and aimed it at the television.
"Oh no you don't! I'm watching this."
He glanced at the screen and derisively pointed out, "It's an advert for 'Eddy's Electrical Emporium' Murphy."
He folded his arms. "I don't care. I'm watching it. Leave it."
"Captivated by microwave ovens, fridges, vacuum cleaners and the like, eh?"
"Indeed. Well the Hoover Deluxe is on special offer, you've only got six days to buy it at that heavily discounted price! Can you even contain your excitement Murphy? Be careful, you'll get palpitations!"
"I know what you're doing and it won't work."
"What a bargain that one is! I'm not sure about the colour though, would it match your carpets or clash with them? It's not exactly a becoming shade of green, is it? Why do vacuum cleaners have to come in such unflattering colours? Is there some kind of secret mandate between the manufacturers? Are they having a laugh at our expense? Consumers have a right to know! Never mind the Middle East - Congress should be debating this vital issue! No wonder the bloody things are always hidden away in secret compartments of people's houses; they're too ashamed of the colour! Where do you keep your vacuum cleaner Murphy?
"The TV is staying on this channel so put a sock in it!"
"But how efficient is that Hoover Deluxe anyway? There's no point forking out all that money if the wretched thing doesn't do its job properly! So many things to consider when one buys a vacuum cleaner! How easy is it to push? Will the bag empty easily? Will the repair bill be exorbitant? Are the parts readily available? How does the -"
Murphy slapped his forehead. "I give up! Have it your own way. Just shut-the-hell up!"
"Whose stupid idea was this?" Bernice asked rhetorically.
They all stared at Steele who was sitting at the far end of the
couch next to Murphy, stuffing his face with crisps.
"What do you mean Miss Wolfe? All four of us together, sitting on the sofa, nice and snug-as-a-bug-in-a-rug, watching 'White Christmas' and getting into the spirit of the season? Why it almost takes me back to Christmases past in London!" He replaced the bowl on the table. "I'd better not eat any more crisps. Ruins the appetite."
"That's what potato chips are called in England Miss Holt."
"Thanks for the translation. And for deigning to leave us some Mr Steele!"
Bernice crossed her arms. "I hate Bing Crosby."
"Don't be ridiculous Miss Wolfe, nobody hates Bing Crosby. Christmas isn't Christmas without Bing Crosby!"
"Laura, it's your house, it's your television. Why is he controlling the remote? I've missed that 'Love Boat' special because he insisted we watch 'Miracle On 44th Street' and Murphy didn't get to see that show where Lucy had her baby! You know the one I mean?"
"Correction Miss Wolfe. It's 'Miracle On 34th Street.' Maureen O' Hara, John Payne. Twentieth Century Fox 1947."
"Whatever! The fact is we still missed the shows we wanted to watch because of you and we were here first!" Turning to Laura she carried on with her moaning, "Why are you letting him get away with this?"
"Well, it's the -" she began.
Steele interrupted. "Miss Wolfe, Miss Holt is merely extending courtesy by pandering to the whim of a guest. It's the norm in polite society."
"We're guests too." Murphy put in.
"Ah but I'm the bigger guest. I'm a guest not only in this house but also this city and this country! You should be falling over yourselves to accommodate me and make me feel welcome."
Laura feigned pity. "Oh Mr Steele, I've treated you so badly - shame on me! All I've given you is a new name and a new identity!"
"Plus a swanky apartment." Bernice pointed out.
Murphy joined in. "Not forgetting a job and a ready-made reputation."
"Expenses too!" Laura continued.
"And a very exorbitant wardrobe." Bernice stated, fingering Steele's silk shirt.
"A limo at his beck and call," Murphy rejoined.
"Indulged his chronic overspending of agency funds," Laura added. They all looked expectantly at Steele.
With a dismissive wave of his hand he countered, "Really! All three of you have overlooked my initial point because of this neurotic obsession with trifling details!"
"Oh, silly us." Laura exaggeratedly drawled out the words.
"What time are we eating? I'm ravenous!"
"You've just had three-quarters of a bowl of potato chips Mr Steele! And before that you ate most of the mushroom turnovers Bernice and I made plus the ham rolls too!" Laura was incredulous.
"Men! They eat like hogs and it never goes anywhere." Bernice scowled in disgust.
Steele rubbed his stomach. "Miss Holt, I'm not eating for me, I'm eating for you. I'm stockpiling vast stores of energy for us to burn out together later
tonight!" He raised and lowered his eyebrows suggestively.
"Oh God! Please, someone, stop it from talking!" Bernice cried in agony.
"Laura, just this once, let me hit -"
"Murph. You yourself admitted that letting Mr Steele watch movies seemed to keep him quiet."
"I know I did but -"
"Look guys, the way I see it, you have a choice: a whining Mr Steele talking all the way through anything he doesn't want to watch - and by the way Murph, how much of that football game did he let you see in peace? - or a quiet Mr Steele captivated by yet another movie?"
"Okay, okay! But after dinner, he gets no say over that television!" Murphy gestured towards the box.
"What time is dinner anyway?" Steele rubbed his hands in anticipation.
"It'll be fifteen minutes or so. Is that right Bernice?"
"Yep. Everything's under control Laura. We can eat soon."
"In that case, why don't you open the presents we bought you?" Murphy suggested.
"That's a great idea, come on Laura!" Bernice emphasised her plea with a nudge. "I can't wait for you to see what I got you. Come on, open your presents!"
Steele muttered testily, "You bought a gift for Laura? Class swot! I suppose you brought her an apple too?"
Murphy grinned in response. "Exchanging Christmas presents is the norm in polite society, remember? Don't tell me you came here empty-handed? Where's your present for Laura?"
"You're sitting next to it!" Steele beamed into the American's face.
"Oh, please!" he growled.
"I'm completely serious Murphy. Later on tonight when the moon is full and we're alone, Laura will unwrap me very slowly - layer by layer. And then she'll play with me - over and over again and again and -"
"Why do I have to sit next to him? I mean it Laura, I'm really gonna kill him this time!"
"What's he said or done now?"
"It's not worth repeating. Why don't you get your presents from me and Bernice?" he pointedly stressed their names.
"Okay." She got up and headed towards the tree.
"Didn't he bring one?" the secretary asked in amazement.
"Of course I did Miss Wolfe!"
"Well, where is it?"
"That's for me to know and you to find out."
"You're bluffing. You came here with just your two hands!"
Before Steele could answer, Laura returned with the gifts. "Whose shall I open first?"
Bernice waved her arm in the air. "Mine. You don't mind, do you Murphy?"
"Be my guest."
Laura placed his gift on the small table. Then she sniffed Bernice's, shook it and placed her ear on it.
"That's what I get for buying something for a private eye!"
"Sorry Bernice! Force of habit, I guess." She tore off the wrapping paper and ecstatically admired the silver-coloured box previously hidden by its covering.
"Good grief! I can unequivocally state that you are unlike any woman I have ever come across Laura. It's only a box!"
She directed a glare of irritation at Steele and peeked inside.
"This is getting silly. Miss Holt, if you don't open it I will!"
"No you won't!" Bernice responded vehemently.
Laura slowly lifted the top off and pushed back the mass of tissue paper. They all heard her gasp of pleasure. "Oh Bernice! They're beautiful, thank you so much!" She hugged and kissed her beaming secretary.
"What's beautiful?" both men enquired.
Laura held up the peignoir and matching bustier of lavender satin and old lace, "Oh Bernice." she said again.
"Like it?" her secretary's eyes twinkled.
Steele cleared his throat. "Why don't you, ah, try them on out here? Model your outfit for us Miss Holt and give us a twirl. Make sure they fit, eh?"
"You know for once Laura, he's right!"
"Thank you Murphy! We men must stick together!" Steele patted his rival's arm.
"Don't mention it."
"No-no, really. Thank you for your support. I feel as if we're finally bonding."
"No, really. Don't mention it. Ever. That I said you were right. And in public too!"
Laura carefully replaced both items in the box. "Now it's not that I don't appreciate your mutual interest, gentlemen, but there's no need for me to try them on. I can see that they'll both fit."
"Must you always be so practical Miss Holt!" Steele sighed ruefully.
"Now, what could this possibly be?" Laura picked up Murphy's gift and shook it.
"We're not going through that again are we Laura?"
"Now, now Mr Steele, no need to get testy!" She delicately peeled away the wrapping paper and whooped with delight.
"Is it the right one?" Murphy anxiously queried.
"It's 'Mistral' by Coco Chanel. My favourite perfume! Wow! What a Christmas this has turned out to be!" Leaning over Bernice, she pulled Murphy to her and gave him a kiss before cooing over the gifts again.
Her longstanding partner beamed his happiness. Nothing on earth pleased him more than pleasing Laura. Floating on a cloud, he spun around to Steele. The expression on his face said it all.
Lowering his voice, his opponent muttered, "I don't know what you're so happy about! That peck wasn't exactly earth shattering. Some of us prefer our kisses to register on the Richter scale. It obviously doesn't take much to stimulate you Murphy!"
"Yeah? Well that shade of green you're turning is clashing with your shirt!"
Steele humphed and focused on the television screen. Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye were belting out the drag reprise of 'Sisters. But for once, it didn't amuse him.
From her perch on the arm, Laura surveyed the rest of the sofa, resplendent but groaning under the weight of so many people on it. Her employees. Her friends. A warm feeling came over her; it travelled up to her eyes and lit them. She reflected on the day so far and concluded that it had been one of the best Christmases she'd ever had. Despite all the underlying tensions.
Murphy and Bernice - ecstatic that their gifts had been so
well received - ribbed each other and play-fought over whose present
was the best. She watched them for a moment but like the force
of magnetic poles, her attention was drawn to the far end of the
couch. She knew, with some sixth sense almost, that he was staring
at her. Slowly she turned, meeting his eyes. He smiled and she
smiled back. They gazed at each other for a few seconds, lost
in the moment. Then he raised and lowered his eyebrows and she
"Dinner's ready now!" Bernice announced.
"This meal turned out really well all things considered.
Thanks for your help Bernice. Actually, let me amend that to thanks
for cooking it all full stop! Cooking is not my forte. Hey, you
should see the turkey I bought Murph, it's huge. I got one big
enough to feed an army but - oh well! I had turkey for Thanksgiving
"What are you going to do with it Laura?"
"I don't know. Frances was going to help me cook it. Maybe I'll give it to a mission. I don't want it to go to waste. You know, I still can't believe you're all here spending Christmas with me!"
"And all because none of our plans worked out. Bernice, I gotta compliment you on your cooking. This is delicious."
"Murphy, there's an old saying that the way to a man's heart is through his stomach. You can't blame a girl for trying."
"Well, you'll sure make someone a really good wi -"
"Don't say it Murphy! Or it will never happen," she good-naturedly wagged a finger at him and he laughed.
"Pass the carrots and sweet potato bake please. The Redskins are looking good aren't they Laura?"
"Yeah - could you give me that bowl with the corn please Mr Steele? - what's happened to the 49ers Murph? I thought -"
"Please guys, no football talk at the table, you promised!"
Murphy grinned. "Sorry Bernice - pass the gravy please. And the green beans."
"You're very quiet Mr Steele, is something wrong?"
"Laura!" her partner exclaimed, "Don't encourage him to talk!"
"Huh? Well, it's Christmas Day and -"
"And?" Laura prodded, ignoring the groans from her other two employees.
"Pardon me if I seem a tad fussy, but the thought of eating pork fills me with sadness. It doesn't seem right somehow. It's practically sacrilegious for me!"
"Are you Jewish? A Muslim? A vegetarian?" Murphy asked.
"What I mean is, well, when I was in England, we celebrated Christmas with a splendid dinner of roast turkey. There'd be brussels sprouts and other seasonal vegetables, roast potatoes, roast parsnips, chipolatas wrapped in streaky bacon all followed by Christmas pudding - that's a rich, dark, heavy dessert of currants, sultanas, raisins, plums, and cherries. I must admit, I prefer it served with a delicious brandy butter sauce. Ah yes, the sweet memory of it all!"
Warming to his theme, Steele continued. "Early in the morning, we'd eat a huge fried breakfast and rush to the Christmas tree to open our presents. Only a pine tree would do, it had to be a real one. None of this artificial tree rubbish! We'd throw snowballs at each other then lounge around until dinner
time. When we eventually adjourned to the dining room, the table would be beautifully decorated, all topped off with Christmas crackers. We'd pull them and wear the silly hats inside - y'know Murphy, I thought your jokes were bad but Christmas crackers beat you hands down! They are the source of some of the worst jokes you'll ever hear on this planet. We'd wait for the Queen's speech which was broadcast at four o' clock so that there were -"
Laura interrupted. "You know, back when I was at Havenhurst, a colleague told me that her English-born boyfriend insisted they get up at seven in the morning every Christmas Day. He wanted to watch the Queen's speech live and they had to get up that early because it goes out at three o' clock in the afternoon in England. Always has done. Not four o' clock."
Three pairs of eyes fixed themselves on Steele, each wondering how he'd get out of being caught spinning yet another yarn, embellishing yet another story of his mysterious past.
He hesitated briefly before exclaiming, "Three o' clock, four o' clock! What's sixty minutes to a loyal subject of Her Majesty? It's the patriotism of the individual that counts! Swearing allegiance to crown and country! Upholding our glorious traditions - pass the carrots and gravy please Miss Holt - pledging to be steadfast and true! Keeping the flag flying, helping .. "
"I can't move!" Murphy groaned, patting his stomach.
"No one forced you to have that third slice of apple pie!" Laura admonished playfully.
"And he had ice-cream with it too!" Bernice pointed at Steele. "He had two helpings. Where do they put it all, it's so unfair! Why is it that men can eat anything they like? With me, it's a moment on the lips and a lifetime on the hips, there's no justice in this world."
Murphy zapped through the channels. "Great! More 'Lucy,' finally, I get to watch something."
"Bernice, you stay put. You've already done more than enough. Mr Steele will help me with the washing up. My dishwasher's died on me." She got off the sofa and stretched her limbs.
"What? Remington Steele doesn't wash up Laura! It's bad for the image. What if the press got hold of pictures?"
"Pick up those bowls and come on! You've had it easy all day today."
Steele stood his ground. "What about Murphy? He's had it just as easy!"
"He's getting his allotted time with the TV! I'm not asking you again!"
"Alright, alright! But please note, I'm doing this under heavy duress."
"Noted, Mr Steele."
"Thank you Miss Holt."
He bent down and packed the bowls onto the tray ignoring the smug look on Murphy's face, then he followed Laura into the kitchen.
"Wow! Isn't it amazing how much dirty dishes you accumulate when you're having a good time." She turned to Steele and saw that he was sliding the door across.
"What are you doing?" she asked, placing her hands on her hips.
"Just getting a little privacy for us."
She crossed her arms. "Why?" Her voice hardened with suspicion.
"Look, ah, Miss Holt-Laura. We haven't known each other all that long really-not very long at all in fact. To be honest, I didn't want you to think-well -"
"Is there something on your mind Mr Steele?" Where had all that brazen confidence disappeared to? All of a sudden, he seemed uncertain. Was that embarrassment too?
"I didn't come here empty-handed Laura."
"You bought me a present?"
"Okay. Well, where is it?"
"You're looking at it."
"Mr Steele, I'm getting tired of all your innuendo and your -"
"Tsk! Tsk! Tsk! Shame on you Miss Holt! Get your mind out of the gutter! The kitchen's no place for it. Now if we were naked in your bedroom -"
"Mr Steele, please!"
"All joking aside, you really are looking at your present Laura. You're just not looking in the right place. Look lower."
"Oh come now Miss Holt, you're making me blush!" He couldn't hide his amusement. "What I mean is, don't look in my eyes or my face. Look lower. Lower, Miss Holt."
"Can't you just stop your teasing and give it to me please?"
"You really do have a way with words!"
Laura slapped her thighs, "I give up."
She saw him reach behind his neck and fiddle for a few seconds. When he brought his arms back down, he'd also removed the silver locket. Reaching for her hand, he placed it in hers. She stared down at it. Dumbstruck.
"Well, it isn't for me."
"But - isn't this yours?" She was completely shocked.
"No. Mine's at home. Do you like it? It's Victorian and real silver. I had it engraved with your initials and it opens like this, see? And you can put two pictures in it and -"
"Oh! This is terrible!"
Offended, he blustered, "I agonised for days over what to get you! I had an old mate look all over London, I instructed him to find something special, something unique, something not easily available over here, I tried -"
"No. You've got it all wrong. What I mean is, well, I gave everyone hefty bonuses but I didn't go out and buy presents. I didn't get you anything."
Wind knocked out of his sails, he stared at the clock on her wall and shrugged his shoulders. "I beg to differ Laura."
She ogled it in wonder. "It's beautiful."
"Like its owner," he earnestly pronounced.
"But why didn't you give it to me earlier when -"
He hesitated. "I wanted to give it to you privately. Alone. That's why I wore it. It was the best way of ensuring that I - well, you know -"
An awful thought dawned on her. "You didn't - it's not - I mean, you haven't -"
Affronted he chided, "Now Laura! Do you really think I'd give you a stolen present?"
"I'm sorry. Forget what I just said, alright? Can I wear it now?"
"Do you think anyone will notice that I'm not wearing it anymore?"
"Probably not but I'll hide it underneath my shirt. Just to be sure."
He paused. "Okay."
Laura handed it back to him. "I'll need your help."
Slowly he walked behind her and waited as she lifted her hair. Steele encircled her with his arms. She flinched as his hands touched her skin. He noticed it and resisted the urge to bend his head to her nape and caress her. Laura lowered her hair and he spread it around her shoulders: he loved doing that. There was something so genteel yet so intimate about that one act. He never tired of doing it. Even if they were in the middle of a heated quarrel, if they were screaming blue murder at each other, he'd rush to rearrange her hair if she caught it in her clothing.
Stepping away with alacrity she turned around. "Well?"
His eyes raked over her, lingering on certain parts of her anatomy.
"You're supposed to be giving me your opinion on the locket Mr Steele! Look higher."
A few seconds passed.
"Higher!" She gestured with her hand, "Higher!"
He eventually announced, "Actually it looked better on me!"
She threw a dishcloth at him. "You dry!"
"Levity Laura. Just indulging in a little levity! Where's your sense of humour?"
They stood together over the sink in companionable silence, grinning at each other. She handed over the crockery and he very carefully wiped them.
"Slow down Miss Holt, you're washing quicker than I can dry!"
"I've never seen anyone dry plates as slowly as you. Get a move on Mr Steele or we'll be here all night!"
"Promise?" he bantered playfully.
Laura flicked him with water. "Concentrate on the job in hand."
He took a glass from her. "Y'know, it's amazing how well we work together. Teamwork, eh, Miss Holt? You wash, I dry. At the office, you do the work, I take the bows -"
Her brow furrowed. "Are you going somewhere with this?"
"Just musing. Speculating on compatibility. Harmony. Unity. Especially unity."
She pointed, "The dishes go in there, Mr Steele."
He began packing away the crockery, cutlery and glasses. "Not to worry Laura, I'm just as eager as you are to complete this task expediently. Judy Garland awaits."
"Channel five. 'Meet Me In St Louis.' Judy Garland, Margaret O'Brien, MGM. 1944. Yet more cinematic magic. Quintessential Christmas viewing."
"You're taking me to the movies again!" she groaned.
"For the record, I'd like to state that I'll take you anywhere just name the
location. The cinema, a party, your bed, this floor -"
"You know, you really are pushing it. Not just with me, but with Murphy too."
"Oh come now Laura, we can handle Murphy."
"We? Where did this 'we' come from? You're the one who'll be encroaching on Murph's TV time, you deal with the consequences by yourself!"
"Tsk! Tsk! Tsk! After all I've done for you Laura -"
"After all you've done for me?" she repeated in stupefaction.
"- to ensure that Remington Steele is seen as a paragon of crime-solving, you abandon me in my hour of need!"
"Oh! You - " she threw a sponge and it connected. Unfortunately, it was wetter than she realised.
Steele looked down. Then raised his head. Her hands were over her mouth. Was she trying not to laugh?
"Oh dear! I'm so sorry." she spoke into her gloved hands.
"No-no-no! Don't distress yourself, this little, wet square on my silk shirt is most becoming."
"I didn't know how wet - I'm wearing rubber gloves and I couldn't tell," she cringed and removed them.
He looked around. "I need something to pat it dry."
"I've got a better idea." She moved towards him and gestured, "Take it off."
Stunned he choked out, "What?"
"Take off your shirt. I can put it in the dryer. It'll be dry in no time."
"Oh. Oh Great. Typical. You finally get me undressed and we're in the wrong room!"
Running a finger over the wet patch, she held his gaze and lasciviously murmured, "Are we?"
The sound of the door sliding open killed the mood. Laura recollected herself and speedily backed away.
"Hey partner! Got any more potato chips? We need some munchies out there!"
"I've got a couple of bags in that cabinet next to you. Mr Steele's had an accident with his shirt. I'll just get him a spare one."
Both men watched her retreating figure before Steele vented his frustration.
"Murphy, when it comes to a knack for ill-timing, you've got it down to a science!"
"Don't tell me I foiled your little scheme to get Laura alone again. Did I make my entrance at the wrong time?"
"Completely the wrong time!"
"In that case, it was the right time." he grinned.
Steele smoothed his chest. "I feel human again! Amazing the effect clothing has on a man. Wearing that plaid shirt gave me an overwhelming urge to drink domestic beer, eat meatloaf, scratch my stomach and burp loudly!"
He clapped his hands, "Everyone, please, allow me to make a suggestion."
"If it involves the words 'leaving', 'one-way ticket' and 'forever,' I'm all ears!"
"Yes, but you hide it so well Murphy!"
"I'm gonna hit him Laura!"
"Seriously, here's my suggestion. Why don't we play Charades? Now, I'm not very good at it but -"
"Aren't you tired of playing charades by now?"
"Come now Murphy, it'll be fun! I'll go first."
"You're just saying that to get my hopes up."
Bernice crossed her arms. "Did we say yes Laura? I don't remember agreeing to this."
"Miss Wolfe, this game will hone your skills! Think of the benefits. You'll be able to signal to your inamorato-of-the-week that you're not that kind of girl!"
"I'm sure it's a phrase you're familiar with." she flicked her hair.
"Mr Steele, really I don't think you -"
"Laura, if you all don't enjoy it - we'll do something else. Okay?"
Steele shot up off the sofa and placed a finger over his mouth in
contemplation. "Got it!" he exclaimed. "Ready? Here we go."
"FILM!" They all shouted.
He placed his hands in his pockets. "I haven't done anything yet."
"FILM!" They shouted again.
"Yes. Well. You're all right. Lucky guess. It is indeed a film. However, to casually categorise it that way is a vast understatement of the immense power of this piece of cinematic art. It's a -"
"I knew this was a bad idea!" Murphy moaned.
"Isn't the person miming supposed to do so in total silence?"
"Forgive me Miss Wolfe. Mere contemplation of my chosen subject sweeps me away! Ready?" He held up a finger.
"One word." They confirmed. "Three syllables. First syllable."
Steele mimicked frantic scratching.
" 'The Seven Year Itch.' " Murphy drawled.
He stopped. "Now how can it possibly be that when I indicated that the film in question has only one word?"
"Nope Murphy. It's definitely 'Monkey Business.' He was pretending to be a chimp!"
"Bernice, we're both wrong. It's 'Planet of the Apes' for sure."
"Fine. If you won't play properly, we won't play at all. Culture is wasted on you two. It was 'Rashomon.' Toshiro Mifune. Machiko Kyo. Daiei, 1950 directed by that absolute genius, Akira Kurosawa." He slumped back on the sofa as everyone broke into laughter.
"Who's for coffee?" Laura asked, wiping the tears from her eyes.
"Good idea partner. Is there any of that apple pie left?"
"Murphy! God, it's so unfair."
"You could eat more of it too Bernice. Stop worrying about your figure. Women!"
"Laura, do you realise that we've been here for over eight hours?"
"Time's flown by Bernice."
"Actually, I've gotta admit, it's been kinda fun."
"It's not over yet."
The secretary grinned. "Not by a long shot Laura! I'll go and powder my nose."
" 'Hey-hey-hey Ralphy boy!' It's 'The Honeymooners' guys. Great!"
"Murph, I've never heard your Norton impression before, that's pretty good. I'll leave you and Kramden and get us the coffee. And the pie. Mr Steele, will you help me please?"
They walked into the kitchen. Laura filled the kettle as Steele
reached for the cups.
"Sorry about your game. It was just a bit of fun."
He humphed and searched for the sugar.
Laura crossed her arms. "Where's your sense of humour Mr Steele?"
"Y'know, I didn't mention this before but when Miss Wolfe gave you a gift, she received a hug and a kiss in return. Murphy gave you a present and you gave him a kiss too - are you following the pattern so far Miss Holt? I gave you a silver locket and got a wet sponge on my chest!"
She laughed. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry! It's kinda funny when you put it that way."
"Nothing on earth is as funny as that plaid shirt you gave me to wear. Your ex-boyfriend is a blot on the fashion landscape. White belts! Plaid shirts! Tsk! Tsk! Tsk!"
"What's your point Mr Steele?"
He reached into a pocket and pulled out an item, very much the worse for wear.
"What is that?" Laura quizzed.
"Looking at it now, I think your question needs rephrasing to 'what was it?' It was that sprig of mistletoe. From the office, remember?"
He waved it in the air as he walked over. "Shame to waste it Laura."
"The kettle's boiling."
She smiled. "Thank you for my locket."
"Thank you for - inviting me here today. Of course you had to tarnish it by asking Murphy and Miss Wolfe also. Do you realise that we could have been here alone today?" He ruefully shook his head. "My chronic disappointment will only be tempered by a kiss from you."
She laughed. "The coffee, Mr Steele."
"The kiss, Miss Holt."
"You're incorrigible. What am I going to do with you?"
"I've got a few suggestions!"
"I shudder to think what they could be!"
He waved the sprig in her face. "Stop changing the subject."
He briefly touched her nose with the mistletoe. "You know what subject."
"That tickled." She rubbed her face.
"So, I learn something else about you." He surveyed her body. "Where else are you ticklish?"
"Places you haven't seen."
"I live in hope Miss Holt. I live in hope."
"It, err, It's been a good day today."
"It hasn't been bad."
"Bernice's cooking puts mine to shame."
"Really? Well, not to worry, I'm not interested in you for your cooking skills. Or lack of them."
"I didn't think you were interested."
"Stop changing the subject and shame on you! Tsk! Tsk! Tsk! Fishing for compliments? Even I'm above that Laura."
"I'm not fishing for compliments!"
"Then I'll pay you one. You look extremely fetching wearing that locket. It suits you."
Steele stepped forward and very slowly, deliberately, lifted his hand to her face, brushing back the thick curtain of hair that fell forwards over her shoulders. Laura stared at him, transfixed. Very delicately, very gently, he moved his hand across her cheek. Then he bent his head.
The joining of their mouths, the warmth of his lips brought a strange kind of release for her. But it didn't last. Instead, it built into a new demand, more insistent. It was a fleeting kiss, no more than a couple of seconds: Steele reluctantly pulled away just as she was ready to give in to her urge to deepen it.
"The coffee, Mr Steele."
"And the pie too. Don't forget."
"Oh yes. Murphy wanted some, didn't he?" Laura packed the tray with the jug of coffee and the cups.
"Could you carry this please? I'll bring the pie."
"Who'd have thought that Miss Wolfe would possess such hidden talents!" Steele said as he picked at the pastry crust.
She tapped his hand. "Leave that and come on."
He lifted the tray, "Laura."
"What shall we do after we've had coffee?"
"Well, Bernice and Murphy wanted to watch the -"
"No. I was talking about us. Fancy sharing a nice, hot bath? I'd love to try and find those sensitive, ticklish areas of yours and -"
She rolled her eyes heavenwards. "You know, there's an old saying, very apt for so much about you and your relentless flirting Mr Steele: barking dogs don't bite!"
"Biting? Is that what you're into? Well I could test which parts of you are more receptive to a teasing nip and then . "
"Why did we do this?" Bernice groaned as she placed
her plate on the small table in front of the sofa.
"Because Christmas is all about over-indulging Miss Wolfe. We've had too much food, too much wine, too much snacks - "
"Too much of you too!" Murphy put in.
"Very funny!" Steele retorted.
"Isn't it weird having nothing to do? I can't believe I've spent a whole day not
meeting clients, not piecing clues together, not having a suspect to - "
"Don't talk shop now Miss Holt. You were doing so well."
"You just don't understand the merits of a healthy work ethic Mr Steele."
"And you will never appreciate that we all need to relax once in a while!"
"Once in a while is one thing but you've made it an art form!" She sniffed.
"Guys -" Murphy knew they'd ignore him but he felt he should at least make a token gesture.
"Oh, so we're back to that again are we Miss Holt? Well, I refuse to spend my days quaking in my shoes and feeling guilty just because I don't spend every waking hour working, or thinking about work, or dreaming about work! Unlike some people I could mention."
"Guys - " He nudged Bernice and she shrugged her shoulders.
Laura crossed her arms. "Are you referring to me by any chance?"
"Recognised the description did you?"
"Maybe it would do you good to remember that if it wasn't for my work ethic, you'd probably be in jail by now!"
"And if it wasn't for my generous nature, helping you to pull off this little façade, your books wouldn't have that healthy financial glow they've taken on of late!"
"Hah! I managed very well before you bombarded your way into my life and assumed Remington Steele's identity!"
"Guys - " Murphy said again before leaning forward and pulling Bernice with him.
"Oh really? Tell me Miss Holt, whose face is it regularly adorning the newspapers, eh? Who had dinner with Gary Hart last week and - "
"Bernice, think they'd notice if we took the television in the kitchen?"
"I don't think they'd notice if Burt Reynolds walked in here naked with his toupee on fire! But I can't move. I'm too stuffed."
" - Because business and pleasure don't mix! Just like you to bring that into it Mr Steele, you can't - "
"In a way, this is actually very interesting don'cha think Murphy? Now we know that it's not just the office: they'll argue anytime, anyplace, anywhere!"
"Why don't they just kill each other and get it over with?"
"That's too quick, takes all the fun out of it! They're happier slowly tormenting each other. In the meantime, we're becoming real experts at getting out of the firing line."
" - An aversion to sitting on committees? Not all committees, just the ones that
cure insomnia! Miss Holt, you have to be the most stubborn - "
"All things considered, they did really well to spend over eight hours in a confined space without a fight. It had to happen sometime, Christmas Day or no Christmas Day! After all, there is such a thing as the law of averages."
"Yeah, you're right Bernice. Still, it's been a good day and boy, can you cook! I've never eaten so much before in my life."
"- And don't think I'll ever steal another painting with you again! That was a one-off Mr Steele! And it wouldn't have been necessary if that woman - "
"Here's the really strange thing. I had a good day too. When you said he was miming 'The Seven Year Itch' I nearly lost it!"
"Yeah? Well Bernice, what killed it for me was when you said he was pretending to be a chimp!" They broke into hysterical laughter.
"- And how dare you agree to that interview without informing me! Believing in your own publicity again are we? You are not Remington Steele! I invented him and - what's up with those two?" Laura asked, perplexed.
"Probably amused by some other clothing item of your ex-boyfriend's. Judging by the look of them, I'd say - flared trousers!"
"Laura, the man brought it on himself!"
"Can we change the subject please?" she asked fingering her locket.
"Fine. So, where else are you ticklish?" he raised and lowered his eyebrows and she groaned.
Suddenly, realisation dawned. "Oh! So you've finally stopped!" all four cried simultaneously. They looked at each other and laughed again.
"Well, I think this calls for a celebration!" Steele cried.
"You mean, more drink? I don't think -"
"No-no-no Murphy! What goes better with a good mood than a warm, cosy viewing of 'Meet Me In St Louis', eh? It only started twenty minutes ago so we haven't missed much. You'll all love this. It's a triumph of Americana. And as for the musical production numbers, well, Judy Garland sings some absolute classics: 'The Trolley Song', 'Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas' and isn't that so apt considering the date today and - "
"This time, I really am gonna kill him!"
"I'm first Murphy!" Bernice put in grumpily.
Laura smiled as they all settled back on the sofa to watch the film. Every so often she put her hand on her shirt, feeling for the locket underneath. Now, how would she get a photo of him to place in it without arousing suspicion?
"Merry Christmas guys. Thanks for coming round."
"No problem partner. Merry Christmas."
"Happy Holidays Laura. I'm so glad you asked me here. But that son-of-a-bitch isn't getting off lightly! Do you think I should cut up his suits?"
"Merry Christmas Miss Holt." Steele glanced at her as he said it, warmed from seeing her hand over his gift.
He rubbed his hands. "So, what are we all doing together on New Years Eve, eh?"