Retirements & Gray hairs
Remington surveyed his handiwork with extreme satisfaction. It had taken a tremendous amount of work to organize and plan such a highly sensitive and monumental event, especially when the event centered around an experienced private investigator, but Laura had deem him the only one with enough skill in the fine art of deception to pull it off, and he had not disappointed her. Mildred Krebs was going to have a retirement party fit for a queen.
Any sign of her yet, Holly? He called out to his daughter stationed at the window as look out.
Nothing yet, Dad! She called back, eyes returning to the cell phone in her hands. How she could serve as look out while texting to her friends, he couldnt begin a guess, but such was the modern teenager.
His eyes ran over the buffet table, noting the white linen, the crystal bowls, the china plates and silver warming trays. An enormous cake waited at the end, gleaming pristine white under the chandeliers. The only fly in his ointment was George Mulch who had just shoved a cracker into the clam dip. Use the spoon, Mulch. He ordered This isnt Louies bar, you know.
Mulch dutifully picked up the spoon, slathering his cracker. You know, Steele, I had a beauty of an idea about clams once. It had to do with chowder, but
But Remington wasnt listening. The memoirs of George Mulch did not interest him. His attention was fixed on the activity around him. He was gratified to see the bartender already busy at his post, pouring wine and mixing cocktails, and the orchestra warming up by playing a soft, jazzy rendition of Only You.
Perfect. Everything was going exactly as planned. For a brief moment unease gripped him as he remembered what had happened to most of his carefully laid plans. They usually ended with a dead body in the salad bowl. But not tonight, he assured himself. He had left those days behind him. Marriage had improved his odds considerably. Perhaps because he wasnt trying so hard to maneuver Laura into a clinch. Now she willingly obliged.
His eyes went in search of Marvin who was in charge of the lights. He found the man in conversation with Mindy Piper. He was surprised to see the two of them conversing in a civilized fashion. Most of their conversations could only be termed verbal warfare with insults flying through the office like shrapnel. It was hard to imagine Marvin, who had always been so eager to please, so polite squabbling with anyone, but there was something about Mindy that brought out the beast in him.
Ah, Marvin, He called out, youve got the lights covered, right?
Marvin jumped as though caught in some nefarious activity. He quickly put distance between himself and Mindy and then sang out, Ive got them, Chief. As soon as Holly sounds the alarm, the lights go out. As soon as Mildred steps across the threshold, they go on. Got it. You can count on me. Im your man.
Remington studied him for a moment or two, noting the reddened ears and overly enthusiastic reply, before looking at Mindy who had somehow gotten clear across the room in less than a minute. She was amazingly quick in those four inch heels, he mused dryly. Something was going on between those two. They looked like Rick and Michael when theyd dented the Auburns front fender with a cricket ball. He wondered whether Laura had noticed anything.
As though his thoughts had summoned her, Laura appeared at his elbow, looking elegant in a little black dress. So youve finally noticed that, have you?
She nodded toward Marvin and then Mindy. That.
Ive noticed something. He admitted. Im just not sure what.
She looked at him, brown eyes twinkling. Has it been so long, Mr. Steele, that you cant recognize sexual tension when you see it? We acted like that once.
Surely not, Laura. Remington said, straightening his tie and cuffs. His attitude clearly implied he was offended by such a comparison. We didnt jump about like naughty children. We were much more sophisticated, more subtle.
Uh-huh. She murmured into her wineglass. We didnt bother hiding it. We subtly let it hang out for everyone to see.
Really, Laura, you make it sound so crude.
She laughed. Crude or not, we suppressed it just like those two and it bubbled over into squabbling and constant bickering.
It wouldnt have bubbled if youd just taken my advice.
And fallen into your bed.
That sounds about right.
Well, you finally got your wish. I fell.
And besides for a few dead bodies here and there, our life has been remarkably peaceful ever since. He told her with a smugness that would have irritated if she hadnt known it to be true. Amazing what getting all that sexual frustration out will do for a couple. He glanced at subjects of the conversation and then at her, a dark brow rising. So what are we going to do about our bubblers?
Laura shrugged. Nothing. Well do what Mildred did ~ watch them bubble. There was a pause and then, Where is Mildred anyway?
Last time I saw her she was flinging staplers and picture frames into a cardboard box and muttering something about the ingratitude of bosses. Remington said. I thought she might fling that dreadful fica tree at me when I asked her to pop around to the Surfside Country Club to interview a head waiter.
I see the Duke of Deception hasnt lost his touch. Laura said admiringly. She had learned to value his talents over the past nineteen years. She thinks weve forgotten.
Remington grinned, clearly pleased with his wifes admiration. He clasped his hands behind in back and rocked on his heels. Ah, yes, the trap has been laid. All were waiting for is Mildreds legendary sense of duty to lead her into it.
There was a brief pause and then Laura murmured, her eyes on the wineglass in her hand. It wont be the same without her. Shes been with us nearly from the beginning. She raised her head and cast a glance around the country club. Look how far weve come. Who would have thought wed occupy the entire floor of the building and employ nearly 100 employees?
Remington put an arm around her shoulders, pulling her close to kiss her temple. To quote the old Virginia Slims slogan, Laura, youve come a long way, baby.
Weve come a long way, Mr. Steele. She corrected, smiling up at him.
And now were saying Bon Voyage to our most valuable associate. He said with something that sounded strangely like a sigh of sentimentality. Still, he continued, rebounding to his usual cheerfulness, I must say its about time she retired and put Chesterfield out of his misery. Going to Hawaii on their honeymoon, arent they?
Tahiti. Laura said.
Tahiti at their age? Remington asked. Shocking.
But wonderfully romantic.
Remington glanced down at her, his eyes running over her still trim figure and dark hair. Is that envy I hear in your voice, Mrs. Steele?
She considered his question and said, Perhaps. Its been a long time since weve run off to some exotic location except on business. I guess thats what parenthood does to people. Even with Annie, its hard to get away.
Laura, if youd said something Remington began. Surely shed known he would have had no objections to running away now and then. Hadnt he always been the one whod suggested it in the past? Hawaii, Aspen, San Francisco?
But she quickly changed the subject, saying brightly. Weve got quite a crowd tonight, dont we? But, of course, Im not surprised. You had the kids and me addressing enough envelopes to fill a small football stadium.
He wisely decided to let the subject dropped. Mildreds retirement party was no time to talk about it, and Laura was obviously not willing. Odd but that was Laura. Shed talk about it when she was ready, and he was sure that hed eventually hear about it. She tended to stew on things and then suddenly like a Jack-in-a-Box shed pull them out, scaring the daylights out of him.
Just getting you in practice for Hollys wedding. Remington said cheerfully.
Which is many years in the future, I hope. Laura replied, glancing at their fifteen and half year old daughter.
She was the spitting image of her father as was Michael, their second. Both were dark haired and blue-eyed and possessed a lethal charm, which worked on everyone but their parents. Charm did not work on a father well versed in the art himself and a mother who had developed immunity to it. Rick, the oldest, had taken after his mother with chestnut hair and brown eyes. He also possessed her no nonsense approach to life. He knew where he was going and how to get there. Michael, on the other hand, seemed happy to drift where life took him, much to Lauras unease, while his sister knew where she was going but it usually involved a clothing boutique on Rodeo Drive. She had inherited her fathers love of fashion.
Suddenly Hollys head jerked up, the long black ponytail bouncing. Shes here! Mildreds in the parking lot!
Places everyone! Remington called out. He sent a swift looked at the two young men by the door. Youve got the champagne, dont you, Rick, Michael?
Yeah, Dad! Right here! Rick said, waving the bottle at him.
Do you think its a good idea to let our underage sons be in charge of the champagne? Laura asked as they took their positions with the other guests.
Theyve got the non-alcoholic bottles, Remington told her, but dont tell them that. It might damage their psyches for years to come.
Mildred sat in her Honda Civic in the parking lot of the Surfside Country Club feeling very sorry for herself. Her box of personal belongings sat beside her looking very forlorn and insignificant. A few picture frames, her investigators license, a sweater for chilly days, a desk radio. Was this all she had to show for over twenty years at Remington Steele Investigations? The thought depressed her.
Shed given them over twenty years of her life and nobody had even remembered it was her last day. Nobody had said good work, Mildred or sorry to see you go, Mildred. When she had arrived that morning, the office was humming along as always, and it was remained humming until five oclock when everyone had mysteriously disappeared. Usually someone was working late, but not that evening. All were gone except for her and the boss, and hed had the nerve to poke his head into her office, smile cheerfully and ask her to do a bit of legwork before turning in for the night.
His disregard had been the deepest cut of all. If anyone should have remembered, it should have been him. Hadnt she loyally stuck by him all these years, covering for him when he was MIA or defending him when Laura had wanted to leave him in London? Perhaps she no longer idolized him as she had in the early days, but she had remained loyal. Didnt that count for anything?
Of course, he had his own family now. But she had liked to think herself a part of that family. He and Laura had always been her kids, and their kids had become her grandkids. They even called her Aunt Mildred, and she and Virg had often spent Christmas with them. Somewhere along the way the boss had learned to like Christmas, even going so far as to prepared traditional English dinners for them. She smiled, remembering those times. The plum puddings that Laura detested but still ate, the glittering tableware, the giggling children pulling Christmas crackers, and the coins baked into Christmas cakes. But then she sobered as she remembered where she was and why. Sent to do legwork on her last day.
And why was she here, she asked herself. She ought to say to hell with it, drive home and start packing for Tahiti. Why waste her time on an agency that didnt care? Because, she told herself with disgust, your inbred sense of duty wouldnt let you. Youre like a Labrador Retriever. If you dont retrieve, then youre no longer a retriever. If Mildred Krebs blew off an assignment, she was no longer Mildred Krebs.
She got out of her car, slammed the door with more force than necessary and marched up to the club. She was gratified to see that at age seventy-six she could still march, but that didnt do anything to improve her mood. The head waiter was in for one hell of a work over. Mildred, the IRS fraud agent, was back in command.
The outer door opened easily, but she paused in the tiled entranceway, squinting through the inner door. Everything was dark. She checked her watch and then the hours of business sign. Yep. They were open.
She jerked open the door and entered.
Anybody here? She called out.
Suddenly lights flared, champagne corks popped and a crowd of people roared in once voice SURPRISE! She would have collapsed if a hand hadnt caught her elbow, steadying her and urging her forward.
Come along, Mildred. Mr. Steele was saying, grinning down at her. Weve been waiting hours to wish you a happy retirement.
The next few hours were a blur as co-workers, business associates and ex-clients surrounded her, wishing her the best. First there was Laura hugging her and telling her how much shed be missed, followed by Rick, Michael, and Holly. Then Marvin was shaking her hand and thanking her for everything shed taught him, followed by Mindy Piper and other co-workers. Even Miss Trout, who had retired two years previously, was there, wishing her the best in her prim and proper way. And then finally the clients and other business associates such as George Mulch, Doug Veenhof and Detective Jarvis who was now a Captain. It was overwhelming, and she knew she was crying as her nephew and then Virg hugged and kissed her. How could she have ever thought theyd forgotten?
It wasnt until later, after everyone had eaten and was dancing, that Remington once again appeared beside her. Would you care to dance, Mildred? He asked, offering a hand.
Dance with the boss? Her? Nobody danced with the boss except Mrs. Steele. She cast a glance around the dance floor and found Laura dancing with Virg. She caught Mildreds eye, smiled and nodded encouragingly. Mildred placed her hand in Remingtons, and he led her onto the dance floor.
I hope you can forgive me for this last bit of deception, Mildred. Remington said with a smile.
Seeing as how Ive forgiven you for a worse deception, I think I can overlook this one. Mildred replied.
Remingtons smile faded, and he said gravely. Its not going to be the same around the office without you, Mildred. Not only will we not have your invaluable insight and assistance, but Ill be deprived of my most reliable ally.
Youll have Marvin. Mildred pointed out. Hes always been in your corner.
Ah, yes, Marvin, Remington murmured, glancing across the room where the man was once again in conversation with Mindy, Im afraid hes got his own set of troubles right now.
You mean Mindy.
You know about that too?
Im the one that pointed it out to Mrs. Steele.
Where have I been? Remington demanded, clearly annoyed with himself. Does everyone know about this affair damour except me?
Dont take it too hard, boss. Mildred soothed. Its only noticeable to someone thats had experience with such things.
Im assuming thats a reference to Laura and me.
You got it.
Yes, well, thats ancient history. He declared, looking slightly embarrassed.
He didnt really like to remember those cat and mouse days when frustration reigned and he didnt quite know where he stood in Lauras life. Hed always been expecting her to give him the old heave-ho, and shed always been expecting him to leave. Itd been a difficult situation, and Mildred had seen the worse of it. Shed also seen the best. Shed been with them through it all.
The point is, Mildred, were going to miss you. He paused. No, that wasnt what hed meant to say. Hed never felt comfortable with sentiment and even now after years of practice with Laura, the words came with difficulty. What Im trying to say is Im going to miss you.
Mildred smiled as though she knew how difficult itd been for him to say it. I think thats the nicest thing youve ever said to me, boss.
But despite my own personal feelings, Mildred, he continued, I think this retirement is a good thing for you. Youve lived too long for murders and embezzlements and sordid affairs. Its time for you to kick up your proverbial heels and have some fun. And, he stressed, its about time you married that professor of yours and put him out of his misery. Its scandalous how youve kept him dangling all these years.
When did you become an advocate for marriage?
Its hard not to be after getting married five times to the same woman. Remington said dryly. It sort of immunizes a fellow.
They danced in silence for a moment or two, the strains of Isnt it Romantic surrounding them and the other dancers, and then his voice came again, sounding wistful, You know, Mildred, I actually envy you. Youre getting out of the rat race, leaving it all behind for a new life, a life of leisure. When you wake up in the morning you can do whatever you feel like doing. No dead bodies, no cheating husbands, no cut rate con artists to interrupt. Ah, yes, thats the life. Just you and Chesterfield.
Mildred wondered how to answer. It was odd for the boss to get sentimental. Im sure youll be following my example in a few years.
Remington glanced at her, one brow raised. Can you honesty imagine Laura retiring?
She may surprise you. Mildred told him. Shes changed a lot in the last twenty years. Shes given more and more responsibility to her employees, especially when the kids were young. Mildred chuckled as she remembered a conversation shed had with Laura shortly after shed learned she was pregnant, I told her giving up the chase wouldnt be an issue once she held that first baby in her arms. And I was right.
But what happens when those babies are all grown up and gone? Remington asked pointedly. Rick leaves for college tomorrow, and Michael and Holly arent far behind him. Do you think Laura will be content with just me?
So that was the problem, Mildred mused, studying her soon to be ex-boss. He had changed over the years as they all had. His hair was not as dark as it had once been and there were fine lines around his eyes and mouth, but he was still a handsome man who shouldnt be worried about his ability to keep his wife satisfied. Yet he was obviously concerned about the future. He saw monumental changes coming, and he was beginning to wonder how Laura would handle those changes.
Shed be a fool if she wasnt, and Mrs. Steele isnt a fool. Mildred said with absolute confidence. Shed seen them through worse things than middle age and she was sure theyd make it through that as well.
Remington had opened his mouth to respond but a tap on his shoulder forestalled him. He turned and found Virgil Chesterfield and Laura standing beside them.
If you dont mind, Id like to dance with my fiancée. Virg said with a smile. And Im sure Laura would rather be in your arms. Ive trampled her feet long enough for one evening. He took Mildred into his arms. Millies used to my two left feet.
They danced away and Remington took his wife into his arms. He smiled down at her. How lovely she looked in that little black dress. It clung in all the right places, especially across the chest. One of the unexpected benefits of the three pregnancies was a permanently increased breast size, which to Lauras disgust thrilled Remington to no end. No matter what she did or how much she exercised, she could not return to her B cup bra.
What were you and Mildred talking about? Laura asked, interrupting his pleasant contemplation of C cup bras. You looked pretty serious there for a moment or two.
Retirement. He answered briefly before leaning forward and whispering in her ear. Do you think anyone would notice if the hosts left early? That little black dress is tempting me to remove it. You really ought to wear better behaved dresses, Laura.
She considered this and then said, We drove the Auburn, didnt we?
Are you suggesting what I think youre suggesting, Mrs. Steele?
I dont think theyll miss us for an hour or two.
He smiled, took her hand and led her off the dance floor.
Laura stared at herself in the bathroom mirror. Yes, there they were, as big as day, waving to her, taunting her like naughty children. She picked up her brush and re-arranged her hair to the other side. Three more gray strands uncovered themselves. As Remington would say, it was a bloody epidemic. Gray hairs must have sprouted overnight because she didnt remember seeing them yesterday as she prepared for Mildreds party.
Mom! Rick called from downstairs. Hurry up! Weve got the van packed!
Coming! Laura called back.
She turned to go and grimaced as unfamiliar aches and pains announced themselves. Obviously her body was protesting her rather vigorous activity in the Auburn last night. She had always kept herself in shape, exercising and stretching, but apparently not in enough places. Her hip was definitely sore. She rubbed it, frowning, as she gathered up her sweater and hurried downstairs, groaning inwardly with each step.
Remington was waiting at the bottom of the steps. He smiled as she joined him, a smile that lingered, telling her in no uncertain terms that he was remembering their tryst in the Auburn. Apparently he wasnt experiencing any ill effects. The thought annoyed her, but she quickly reminded herself that it had been her idea. It wasnt Remingtons fault that she was getting old. Was fifty one old, she wondered as she went around to the drivers side of the van. She was still mulling this question over when she opened the door and found Holly sitting in her seat.
Holly, what are you doing? She demanded. Get in the back.
Dad said I could drive.
Laura glanced across her daughter to Remington sitting in the passengers seat. Do you really think thats a good idea? She asked, her eyes silently telling him it wasnt. She just got her drivers permit three days ago.
Remington appeared to consider this and then said philosophically, Shes got to learn sometime, Laura, and weve got less to lose with the van.
Except our lives. Rick muttered from the back seat.
Remington Laura said warningly.
Of course, that Rabbit of yours would have been the ideal choice, he continued, its been on its last leg for ten years now, but we cant all fit, especially with Ricks boxes and bags.
My Rabbit is not on its last leg. Laura declared. It runs perfectly fine.
Laura, it should have been shot and put out of its misery five years ago. Remington said with brutal honesty. Weve replaced the engine twice, it leaks when it rains, and there are holes the size of saucers in the seats. Its over twenty years old.
The Auburns older.
But we dont drive it regularly. Besides, its a classic.
So is the Rabbit.
Remington sighed. Laura, Ive told you before....
Mom! Dad! Rick protested. Weve got to get a move on. Its a five hour drive.
Thus reprimanded, his parents dropped the subject but vowed in their hearts to renew it at a later date. It had been an ongoing battle between them for years. So far Laura had won the over all war, but Remington had won his share of skirmishes. In order for her to get the first engine replaced, she had had to agree to a mini-van to haul the kids around in. She had sulked for about a week until it became apparent to her that the van was an even better vehicle for trailing criminals then the Rabbit. Nobody suspected a soccer mom.
Laura hauled herself into the back seat. Wheres Michael?
He didnt want to go. Remington answered over his shoulder.
Says he doesnt like colleges. Rick supplied. Says he finds them restrictive.
Well, hes got one year to get over that. Laura said, swinging the van door closed. He graduates high school in June and then whats he going to do?
Rick shrugged. You know Michael. Hes a free spirit.
Laura was about to give her opinion of free spirits when the van suddenly lurched forward. It immediately stopped again as its bumper collided with a reasonably soft object.
Sorry about the trash car, Dad. Holly said.
Its ok, honey. Remington replied. Your brother should have retrieved it from the end of the driveway yesterday.
Hey, thats Michaels job, not mine. Rick protested.
Did I say your name? Remington asked before turning back to Holly. Just take it slow.
Either Holly didnt understand the meaning of slow or she decided to do things her own way because having left the driveway with a squeal of tires, she floored the accelerator, bringing them to a maximum cruise speed of 60 mph before theyd even left Totenham Court Drive.
I dont think this was a good idea. Rick whispered to his mother as they jerked, screeched and careened their way toward Stanford University.
I know it wasnt, but what are sane people like us supposed to do with your father and Holly in possession of the front seat?
Pray? Rick suggested.
Now thats a good idea.
Remind me to never let Holly drive again. Remington muttered as he and Laura entered their hotel room. They had decided to spend the night in Palo Alto rather than make another five hour trip. He sank down on the side of the bed, flopping backwards. It was a nightmare. I swear I saw my life pass before my eyes at least nine times. If Id been a cat, I would have been dead.
Shes got to learn sometime. Laura reminded him, echoing his words.
You can teach her.
Uh-huh. Laura said, sinking down on the other side of the bed and flopping backwards so that their heads were nearly parallel. I distinctly remember you claiming sole responsibility for driving lessons when Rick got his permit. Besides, nothing could be more frightening than the way her eyes lit up when she saw all those college men.
Remington groaned, running his hands over his face. Dont remind me. She latched onto Ricks roommate like a barnacle to a ship. I thought for a moment we were going to have to load them in the van, take them down to the dock and have one of those industrial strength scrapers dislodge her. He turned his head so his eyes were on her. Rick is not allowed to bring that boy home under any circumstances. Delightful though the movie was, Im in no hurry to play the role of Stanley Banks in the Father of the Bride.
Holly doesnt really worry me. All girls her age are boy crazy. Laura said, staring up at the ceiling. Its Michael. Hes got a wild streak beneath that easygoing exterior. I wish youd never taught him how to pick a lock or crack a safe. I have visions of him walking along rooftops, slithering down cables and blowtorching display cases. Hes probably the reason for the gray hairs.
What gray hairs? Remington asked, rolling onto his side and propping his head up on one hand. I havent seen any gray hairs.
I found them this morning. She said with a grimace. Theres at least six or seven.
Remington laughed. Hardly an epidemic, my love. If you want to see gray, look at mine. Im beginning to look like the famous Paul Fabrini of the Classic Cuisine Cooking School except now its real.
Laura looked at him, lifting a hand to run her fingers through his dark hair. Silver strands were easily recognizable, especially along the temples. Gray hair is distinguished on a man. It just makes me look old.
You dont look old to me. You look beautiful.
I always said you were a treacherous liar.
Remington sat up, grabbed her shoulders and hauled her across the bed and into his lap. I never lied to you, Laura. At her raised eyebrow, he amended his statement. I might have stretched the truth at times or failed to tell you the full story, but I never lied outright. When I say youre beautiful to me, you can count on it being the truth. He lowered his head to kiss her but stopped at her wince. What? What is it?
My hips sore.
His eyes dropped to the anatomy in question. From the drive?
No, from the Auburn. Apparently Im not as flexible as I used to be.
Neither am I. Remington said with a smile. Would it help if I admitted that delightful as the Auburn was last night, I would prefer a bed in the future?
Laura smiled, adjusted her hip to a more comfortable position and pulled his head down for a kiss. Remington was just getting pleasantly warmed up when she abruptly broke off the kiss. Shades of the old days, he thought, slightly befuddled. It was amazing how quickly the woman could change gears. What was that she was saying? Something about Rick. He had just shoved one kid out the door with two more to go and she was already experiencing the empty nest syndrome. Would he never have her to himself again? Visions of Tahiti like sugarplum faeries floated through his head before he forced himself to concentrate on what Laura was saying.
Its hard to believe Ricks in college now. Laura sighed, once again staring up at the ceiling. Remington wondered if the secret of life was written up there.
There was no stopping it. Little tykes become big tykes over time. He reminded her.
I know, but it seems like just yesterday we were on that dreadful boat, trying to get to the castle before he was born. She smiled wistfully, and then said, Mildred was right, you know. She said I wouldnt mind giving up the chase when I held him in my arms.
And what about now? Remington asked, the unease hed felt when talking to Mildred returning. Does the chase hold the same charm?
I dont know. Laura declared before abruptly swinging her legs to the floor and getting up. Wed better get moving. Our dinner reservations are for seven. Id better go check on Holly. You know how long it takes her to get ready.
Remington watched Laura head for the connecting door with a frown. He had not liked her answer or her attitude. It foretold stormy waters ahead. Something was bothering her. The first indication had appeared last night when shed mentioned how its been a long time since they gone off to an exotic location. And now she was getting sentimental over gray hairs, a sore hip and a son going off to college. He thought of that Jack-in-the-Box and wondered how long it would be before the fellow popped out.
Come Away with Me
They said mirrors never lied, but Remington was having his doubts. He turned the mirror to another angle. Yes, he was graying, and there were a few lines around his eyes and mouth, but overall he just looked like a more mature image of his younger self. So what had changed? Why did Laura prefer legwork to spending time with him? At least in the old days, theyd do legwork together. Now she jumped in her Rabbit and went off without him. He turned the mirror again. Maybe it didnt have anything to do with his appearance. Maybe after twenty years she had become bored with him.
He considered this. There was no doubt that the domestication process was complete. It was hard to avoid when one had a successful business, a house, a wife and children. Jet-setting playboys didnt have such things, but she hadnt wanted a playboy. It had been his murky past and inability to make commitments that had kept her from advancing their relationship in the first place. Surely now she wasnt longing for the man he used to be. Of course, it would be just like a woman to change her mind halfway through a marriage.
What did I have that I dont have? What did she like that Ive lost track of? What did I do that I dont do the way I did before? Daisy Gambles complaint floated through his head, and for the first time, he felt kinship with the young heroine from On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, Paramount Pictures, 1970. He was a victim of time, obsolete in his prime. How depressing.
Mr. Steele? A voice came from the intercom.
Yes, Miss Jones? He said absently.
Theres a gentleman out here who hey, wait a minute you cant go in there
The door burst open, and Jamie Caulfield swept into the office, Miss Jones on his heels. Like her predecessor, Miss Trout, she was not happy about chasing stray guests around the office. She fairly crackled with disapproval.
Im sorry, Mr. Steele. She said with a sniff from her beak-like nose. I tried to stop him.
Its alright, Miss Jones. Remington said, turning back to his mirror. Hes quite harmless.
Harmless? Jamie exclaimed, placing hand over the breast of his Armani suit coat. You wound me to the heart, old man. Ill have you know that an Italian Contessa, three Interpol inspectors and the owners of Tiffanys London do not share your opinion. When Remington didnt answer but continued studying his reflection, Jamie sauntered over, leaned on the desk and said in a sing song voice, Mirror, mirror on the wall, whos the fairest of them all? His voice lowered. You are, Jamie boy.
Remington whirled around, slammed the mirror onto the desk and fixed an annoyed glare on the friend he'd picked up all those years ago in Ireland. Im not in the mood for your humor, mate. Why dont you take yourself off? There must be a bauble somewhere that would offer more amusement than me.
My, isnt Papa Bear, angry today? Jamie murmured, flinging himself into the chair in front of Remingtons desk. Get up on the wrong side of the bed this morning?
You could say that. Remington snapped.
Had to climb over that hellcat of yours, eh?
As a matter of fact, I didnt. Remington told him crossly. She wasnt there.
Jamies eyebrows disappeared into his dark hair. Oh, ho, took off on you, did she?
The fact that Jamies hair was just as dark as it had ever been did not improve Remingtons disposition. It would appear so. Shes been MIA every day for three weeks now. Im told by the staff that she comes in here at the crack of dawn and then heads out in that rattle trap of hers to do legwork.
Ah, Jamie said as understanding dawned, theres trouble in paradise. Thats why youre acting like a bear with a sore head. How long has this been going on?
Ever since Mildred retired.
Yes, Mildred. You remember her. You met her a few times when you blew in and out of L.A. I believe you called her the drill sergeant.
Oh, yes, the drill sergeant. Jamie nodded. She found that ruby bracelet on me and made me give it back. Youve surrounded yourself with a ghastly collection of goody-two shoes. A man cant make a proper living around here.
Remington sighed, leaning back in his chair. I knew Jack was getting ready to pop out of his box, but I didnt expect this.
Whos Jack, and whats he doing in a box? Jamie asked, bewildered. Then a thought struck him. Were not talking about another dead body, are we? Its scandalous how they follow you around.
Not a dead body. Just a Jack-in-the-Box.
Im sorry, old man, but youre starting to babble. Youd better start at the beginning.
But Remington wasnt listening. Instead he stood up, turning from one side to the other, displaying a trim physique in an exquisitely tailored suit. Tell me. Am I unattractive?
Well, Im not an expert on men, Jamie said, his tone hesitant as though he wasnt sure he wanted to become involved in such a conversation, but I should think most women would call you a good-looking fellow. A bit gray around the whiskers these days but still in your prime.
So why would Laura prefer legwork to spending time with me? Remington demanded, pouncing on Jamies observation like a cat on a mouse.
Jamie watched silently as his friend paced in front of the windows surrounding his desk, his head bowed in thought, a frown pulling down his brows. Jamie nearly regretted his impulse to visit, but perhaps it was for the best. The man was obviously in need of wise counsel or at least a clear-thinking head. Perhaps he ought to suggest they pop around to a pub and have a pint. The application of a numbing agent had always worked for him when some filly was causing him trouble.
Suddenly Remington stopped, whirling around. You dont suppose this legwork has anything to do with another man, do you?
In Jamies opinion anything was possible with a woman, but he thought it best to keep his philosophy to himself. He remembered the time hed gone flying through the air to land with bone-crushing force against a wall when Steele had thought him responsible for his missing wife. He was not a man to trifle with where the hellcat was concerned. Best to nip that green-eyed monster in the bud right now.
Definitely not. He said stoutly.
Reassured, Remington resumed his seat. I just dont understand it. First she mentions at Mildreds party that we never run off to exotic locations any more and then the next day she starts in on gray hairs, sore hips and sons going off to college. And then wham! Overnight shes no longer Laura Steele; shes Laura Holt. Shes the woman that would never slow down long enough for me to catch her.
Maybe the relationships become stale. Jamie suggested, remembering something hed heard on a talk show once. Youve been married for nearly twenty years. Thats a long time, appallingly long if you ask me, but some people like it. After that many years, things can get a little dull. You fall into a rut, misplace the magic, that sort of thing. Maybe you need to spice things up a bit, add a little romance. Whens the last time you went out to dinner together?
When we dropped Rick off at Stanford.
Where you alone?
No, Holly was with us.
See, Jamie said as though hed discovered the cure for cancer, you need some time together, just the two of you. Why not sweep her off to a romantic weekend somewhere? I suggest San Francisco. Always a good place to rekindle a romance.
Remington considered the suggestion, his eyes narrowed in thought. A client gave me similar advice once. Derek Vivyan, the movie actor. He recommended lavishing her with flowers, champagne and a sensible diamond.
Sounds like a wise old bird to me.
He was. Remington confirmed. A drunk old
bird but wise. He reached for the intercom button. Miss
Yes, Mr. Steele?
Get me two first class plane tickets to San Francisco for this weekend, ah, leaving Thursday and returning on Sunday.
Yes, Mr. Steele.
That taken care of Remington turned his attention to Jamie. So what brings you to our fair city?
Jamies hand went to his heart once again. Again you wound me. Cant I just stop by for the simple pleasure of seeing my adopted family?
You never just stop by. Remington said with brutal honesty. Theres always an ulterior motive.
What a suspicious fellow youve become. It must come from years of walking the straight and narrow. When Remington continued to stare at him, his expression grim, Jamie flashed a smile. Well, if you must know, Im finally going to give it a try.
Give what a try?
Lifting the Royal Lavulite.
Remington sighed, leaning back in his chair. Those rocks are in town again? Why doesnt someone steal them so theyd stop popping up in my life with the regularly of a spinster aunt?
Ill see what I can do to. Jamie said graciously. Theyre scheduled to be on display at the Lilliputan Art Gallery next weekend. Until then you get to enjoy my titillating company. What do you say we pop around to the local pub and have a pint?
Remington glanced at his watch. Its a little early in the day, isnt it?
Its never too early for a pint, mate.
Laura sat staring at the case file on her desk. Another murder. Likely suspect a nephew who was to inherit. Routine stuff. When had murder become routine, she wondered, shifting in her chair and wincing as her hip came into contact with the armrest. It had started to improve until she began running here, there and everywhere. The more she ignored it, the more it refused to be ignored. Every time she struggled out of the Rabbit, it broadcast with irritating regularity that age had caught up with her. Which only made her push it harder.
Why? The question had an annoying habit of popping up whenever she sat down for a second or two. Why was she behaving like Laura Holt, the woman who had entered the investigative field with something to prove? She had proved it. Remington Steele Investigations was one of the most respected and famous investigative firms in the nation, no, the world. So why had she reverted back to the old days when she and Murphy were struggling for clients? Was it some weird attempt to lay hold of her lost youth?
She was staring at the file, puzzling over this question when the side door of her office was pushed open and Remington entered, re-pocketing his pick. She had known the lock wouldnt stop him, but she had hoped hed take the hint and stay on his side of the door. The determined, slightly indignant expression on his face told her that this was not going to be a pleasant conversation among spouses. He was not accustomed to being locked out of her office or her life.
Its nearly nine oclock, Laura. Remington said. We ought to go home.
You go on. She told him, burying her face in the file. Ill follow in a little bit.
You said that last night, he pointed out, and you didnt get in until after midnight.
You didnt have to wait up.
He walked further into the room, his eyes never leaving her. Im beginning to think youve got another man on the side.
Thats ridiculous. Laura declared, slapping the file closed and getting to her feet.
Yes, she stated, stabbing him with a fierce brown-eyed glare, it is.
Why was the door locked? He fired back, not the least intimidated by her glare. To give the boyfriend time to scramble out the window, eh? That scenario has a familiar ring to it, doesnt it? Like weve played it before.
If that were the case, hed be dead. Laura pointed out. Were several floors up.
That doesnt answer the question. Remington persisted. Why was the door locked?
I wanted some privacy.
What is this? Laura demanded, her temper flaring. Twenty questions?
With visible effort Remington controlled his anger. He turned aside for a moment, hands on hips, looking up at the ceiling and then turned back. Although his eyes were full of questions, he was calm and controlled. Laura, whats going on? Youve been acting strangely ever since Mildreds retirement.
She turned her back on him, opening a file cabinet drawer and shoving the file inside. I dont know what you mean.
Youve been working constantly. He said flatly. You spend all your time at the office or running around in that Rabbit. Even Holly and Michael have noticed. Ive been getting some very pointed questions that I cant answer because Im as much in the dark as they are. Laura, whats going on?
Weve been busy.
He sighed. I know as well as you do that Mildreds caseload decreased significantly in the last year. Any cases she was working on could easily be picked up by Mindy or one of the other investigators. Marvins manager now and I havent noticed him looking harassed except for he waved a hand, his particular problem.
Laura stared at the filing cabinet door, searching for an answer that would satisfy him. He was right. They werent busy enough for her to spend so much time at the office. She was actually taking work away from employees. Marvin had hinted as much just the other day, noting that hed had to send a couple of the senior employees of routine legwork because of the shortage of cases. She was being greedy, snapping up as many cases as she could. Why? The question echoed through her mind once again.
Laura Remington voice came again, closer this time.
She could feel his presence just behind her, smell his cologne, hear his breathing. Her body responded as it always did whenever he was near. Her pulse quickened. Even after all these years he still aroused her like no other man.
I just felt like joining the chase again.
He would accept that. Hed always known her incapable of resisting a good murder. Hadnt that been his constant complaint? Trouble was, she thought with something close to panic, that had changed. Somewhere along the way work had become uninteresting and routine, something she did rather than enjoyed.
Why? Remington asked.
She shrugged. The kids are nearly grown up, and Ive got time on my hands.
Remingtons hands suddenly touched her shoulders, pulling her back against him so that his mouth was against her ear. Come away with me, Laura.
Come away with you? She echoed, fighting the tingles that were running up and down her spine. She must remain clear-headed. To where?
She felt one of his hands leave her shoulder and root around in his breast pocket. Suddenly two plane tickets appeared before her eyes. San Francisco.
We we couldnt possibly.
At the risk of repeating myself, Remington said with a touch of his old humor, why not?
She grasped at the first excuse she could think of. The kids
Are old enough to look after themselves. Remington informed her. Not to mention we have an excellent housekeeper, which is paid a scandalously high salary to look after them. The Irish are extremely shrewd negotiators.
But I have an appointment with Lilith Anderson tomorrow.
Who is Lilith Anderson?
She owns the Lilliputan Art Gallery. She wants the agency to provide security for an exhibit planned for next weekend.
She specifically asked for us.
Remington felt his anger building once again, bubbling up like a volcano. His wife was throwing out every excuse in the book to avoid a weekend alone with him. Laura Holt had returned with a vengeance, holding him at arms length and saying no, no, no. He turned her to face him. Her eyes were dark and unreadable, which made him even angrier. She was shutting him out emotionally just as deliberately as she had shut him out physically by locking the office door.
Is there some reason you dont want to spend a weekend away with me, Laura? He demanded, his eyes to blazing like blue torches. I could understand your reluctance when we werent married. It took some imagination, but I could understand. You were afraid of letting go, being consumed by me, I think you called it, but Im your husband now. Have been for twenty bloody years. What is it? Have I suddenly become repulsive to you? Boring?
No! Laura denied. Of course not!
Then why wont you come away with me?
His voice was like a sword, slicing through the barrier that had kept all Lauras insecurities contained since Mildreds retirement party. They spilled out, nearly smothering her. Didnt he understand that she couldnt explain it to him because she didnt understand it herself? Why didnt he just leave her alone? Stop asking all these questions? Like a rat backed into a corner, she did what came naturally to desperate people. She lashed out.
Jerking herself from his hands, she stalked across the room, putting distance between them. I told you. She snapped. Im too busy to go away. Some of us around here actually work. His eyes flickered, but she plowed forward, delivering the coup de grâce. If youve nothing better to do, then by all means, run off to San Francisco. You wont be missed.
It was astonishing how quickly fire could turn to ice. She watched, dismay filling her heart, as her husband went from a fiery furnace to an ice sculpture. His expression became blank, every line of emotion melting away, and shutters, thick and opaque, came slamming down across his eyes.
Very well. He said, his voice cold as ice. Ill go.
Without another word, he left her office. She heard his soft tread across the reception area, the whoosh of the swinging door and then silence. He was gone. For good or just for San Francisco? As though hed left some of his coldness behind, Laura shivered, wrapping her arms around herself. They hadnt had an argument of that magnitude since the Sensitivity Spa, and like that time, she had a terrible feeling that shed hurt him in a way she didnt quite understand or intend.
Damn! Picking up the lamp on her desk, she flung it against the door. It sounded incredibly loud in the silence of the office. Returning to her chair, she sank into it, her body doubled over as if in pain. Slowly at first and then more quickly tears came, and she cried like she hadnt cried since her house had been blown up. Only this time Remington wasnt there to comfort her, and that made her cry even harder. What a mess shed made of everything.
I apologize that Mr. Steele couldnt be here. Laura said, taking a seat in Lilith Andersons office. Im afraid he was called away to San Francisco on urgent business. But, she said brightly, turning to Mindy, Ive brought one of our most experienced investigators with me. Lilith Anderson, Mindy Piper.
The two women nodded to each other and then Lilith turned her attention to Laura. Thats quite all right, Mrs. Steele. It was really you that I had in mind when I contacted Remington Steele Investigations. I know your husband is an excellent detective in his own right, but Id like you to personally oversee the security for the Royal Lavulite. She laughed. I guess I just feel more comfortable working with women. Theyre so much more observant than men, dont you think?
But Laura didnt hear her. She was still stuck on a previous sentence. Excuse me, Miss Anderson, did you say the Royal Lavulite?
The woman nodded. Thats correct, Mrs. Steele. Ive arranged for the jewels to be on display at my gallery. Since they were the inspiration for my current collection, it seemed appropriate somehow.
Laura studied the woman. She didnt look anything like an artist, especially one that specialized in pottery, but there was no denying that her name and her gallery were famous in Los Angeles as well as New York City. Looking to be in her late 30s, Lilith Anderson was too severe in appearance and dress to be called pretty or even attractive. There was a mannish quality about her that had grated across Lauras sensibilities as soon as theyd met. The deep voice, the overly firm handshake, the blunt speech had instantly irritated, but a client was a client. One didnt have to like them in order to work for them.
And you want us to provide security for the jewels.
Yes. Lilith agreed. Im sure youre aware how valuable these jewels are. Ive been warned by the owners as well as the FBI, LAPD and Interpol that there are people willing to go to great risk to steal them. They have advised me to get the best security available, and you, Mrs. Steele, are the best.
I thank you for your confidence in Remington Steele Investigations, and I assure you, Miss Anderson, that Im fully aware of the jewels value and notoriety. Weve provided security for them twice and each time someone has attempted to steal them.
So youll take the case? Lilith asked, her question more a demand than a request.
Laura was about to answer to the affirmative but stopped. Had Remington been there, she was certain he would have declined. Like the painting of the nudes, he seemed to have an aversion to involving himself with the Royal Lavulite these days. Whether they reminded him of his former life or he had simply developed a superstition about them, there was no doubt in her mind that he would decline the case.
Im afraid Ill have to decline. She heard herself saying. She sensed Mindys eyes on her but she kept hers fixed on Lilith Anderson who seemed momentarily stunned, her face flushed and her mouth opened as though to draw in a quick breath.
Finally the woman said, I assure you, Mrs. Steele, Im prepared to pay handsomely for your services.
Im sure you are, Miss Anderson. Laura said with a polite smile. But when I agreed to meet with you, I wasnt aware that the jewels in question were the Royal Lavulite.
And that makes a difference?
Itll make a difference to Mr. Steele. If he were here, Im sure he would decline.
How very odd. Lilith murmured, her dark eyes on Laura. I was under the impression that you made your own decisions. Besides, I specifically requested you, not him.
With valiant effort, Laura controlled her annoyance at such a cheap shot and attempted a less controversial excuse. Protecting the Royal Lavulite will require more time and effort than Im able to give at the moment. Had they been any other jewels I might have been able to work them in, but currently my caseload does not allow for the attention required by these highly valuable jewels.
I could do it. Mindy suddenly interjected.
Laura groaned inwardly. Thats what happens when you bring an eager beaver along. They totally demolished carefully crafted retreats.
Something that looked a great deal like irritation flickered across Lilith Andersons face, but then she smiled, There you are, Mrs. Steele. If your associate is willing, why not accept? Of course, I would prefer you to have complete supervisory control, but Im sure Ms. Piper will do an excellent job. Im willing to accept the substitution if you will promise to attend the reception when the jewels will be unveiled. And, of course, bring Mr. Steele along as well. Im sure hell find it interesting.
An uneasy feeling stirred within Laura. She had the vague feeling that a trap was being laid, but for what purpose? Miss Anderson was a highly respected artist, and she had a legitimate reason for contacting them. She wanted the Royal Lavulite protected. Personal dislikes shouldnt interfere with business decisions. Neither she nor Remington would be involved, which ought to soothe any concerns he might have when he learned of the assignment. If he ever returned, Laura reminded herself. That dark thought provided the final catalyst and she heard herself agreeing.
Very well, Miss Anderson. She said. Well accept the assignment, but Ms. Piper will be in charge of arranging transportation and security.
Understood. Lilith said, getting to her feet and holding out a hand. But you will attend the reception, wont you?
Wed be delighted. Ive heard your work is exceptional.
What are you still doing here? Mindy asked as she passed Lauras office on her way out. Its seven oclock on a Friday evening. I know I dont have a life outside of work, but you do. You ought to be home.
Im finishing up paperwork. Laura replied. Ill leave shortly.
Laura, can I ask you a question? Mindys voice was closer and when Laura glanced up she found her niece sitting in the chair in front of her desk.
Laura hurriedly dropped her eyes to the forms in front of her and began scribbling. You heard what I told Lilith Anderson. Hes in San Francisco.
But hes not up there on urgent business, is he? Mindy persisted.
No, Laura allowed, he went away for some fun and relaxation. Thats the type of man your uncle is. He enjoys leisure.
In the six years Ive worked here, Ive never seen him go anywhere without you.
Well, theres a first for everything.
There was a silence broken only by Lauras pen scratching across the paper. She could feel Mindys eyes on her, probing, calculating. Why had she ever encouraged the girl to become a detective? She was using the same skills she used to track down criminals to analyze her aunt, and it was unnerving. Frances had been right. She could have been a dental hygienist. Then shed only be probing her teeth.
Laura, whats going on?
What do you mean?
Mindy sighed, leaning back in her chair and crossing her legs as though expecting to be there a while. You know exactly what I mean. Youve been acting strangely ever since Mildreds party. Youve been working long hours and going off by yourself. You never do legwork without Remington. That was the rule you two always stuck by. Now hes gone off to San Francisco, and youre squirreled away in this office. Plus, she added, your lamp is missing, and if my eyes arent deceiving me, theres a piece of it under your desk.
Laura rolled her chair back, bending over to search under the desk. When she re-emerged empty-handed, Mindy was smiling like the cat that got the canary. I see youve learned a thing or two about deception from your uncle. Laura muttered. Theres not one piece of the lamp under there.
No, Mindy agreed, but your reaction proved what Id expected. So tell me. Wheres the lamp and what happened?
Laura calculated her options. They didnt look good. Mindy wouldnt stop until she got answers. She might as well fess up and save both of them the trouble. Taking a deep breath, she said, Remington and I had a disagreement last night.
You didnt clobber him with the lamp, did you?
No, I clobbered the door with it.
Good choice. Mindy said. Go on.
He wanted me to go to San Francisco with him, and I refused.
Thats it? Mindy asked, incredulous. That was enough to kill a lamp over?
I also suggested that he go by himself. Laura added, her eyes dropping to her fingers, which were worrying the pen between them. I told him he wouldnt be missed.
There was a silence and then Mindy said sadly, Oh, Laura, what a terrible thing to say. No wonder he took off.
Laura jumped up, beginning to pace. I know, Mindy, I know. I feel terrible about it. I always end up saying things I dont mean when Im cornered.
He was asking me all kinds of questions. Demanding to know what was going on, and I couldnt answer him. She stopped pacing and faced Mindy, her expression troubled, almost panicked. I cant answer him any more than I can answer you because I dont understand it myself. But I think it has something to do with getting older.
Were all getting older. Mindy pointed out.
Yes, but I never realized it before. Laura said. Life was so busy, so full of family and fun, but now with Mildred gone and Rick off to college and these blasted gray hairs, Ive suddenly realized Im no longer young. Im middle aged. Heck, Im on the other side of middle age. So I threw myself into my work. I think I had this crazy idea that I could recapture my youth, but it didnt work. She picked up a nearby file and threw it on the desk and then another and another. Those are three murders, and they bore me stiff. Murders like these used to make me salivate. Now its just work. What am I doing to do? My kids are grown up, work has lost its allure and Im sprouting gray hairs as fast as a Chia pet.
The last thing Laura expected as what she got. Mindy laughed. She laughed so hard and so long that tears ran down her cheeks.
I dont think this is a laughing matter. Laura snapped.
Im Im sorry, Laura, Mindy managed between giggles, Im not laughing at you. Im laughing at life and what fools we humans are.
I dont understand you.
Age. Mindy blurted out. Everybodys all tied up in knots over age, and it doesnt matter a hill of beans to the people who love you. Tell me, Laura, why does getting old matter to you?
I I dont know. Laura admitted, frowning. I suppose there are a lot of reasons that I havent even considered yet, but if I had to answer right now Id probably say that Im afraid that someday Remingtons going to wake up and wonder who this wrinkled, gray-haired old lady beside him is.
Mindy grinned. Oh, Laura, havent you noticed that Remingtons aging too? Youre complaining about gray hairs that nobody can see. Look at Remington. Hes got a whole head full of them. If anyone should be worrying about getting old, it should be him, but hes not. It seems to me that hes worrying about your marriage. Why else would he suggest a romantic weekend away? He loves you, Laura, and thats all that matters. Love doesnt depend on whether you look young or not. She suddenly sobered, her expression turning bitter. Thats what Ive been telling Marvin for months now, but hes just like you. Hung up on age.
On age? Why?
Hes fifteen years older than me. Mindy explained. He feels I shouldnt waste myself on a middle-aged man like him. I should be dating men by own age.
How silly. Laura said.
Exactly. The look she gave Laura was reminisced of Mildred. So tell me again, Laura, why are you here while Remingtons in San Francisco? It seems to me that youre being pretty silly yourself.
There was a pause as Mindys words sank in and then Laura started clearing her desk, opening her top drawer and shoving everything inside. She closed it with a snap and then looked up, hands on hips, her mind obviously made up. Will you drive me to the airport, Min?
Id be glad to.
Remington sat at a table at Martys Restaurant staring at the four drinks lined up in front of his plate of Veal Piccata. The two martinis were compliments of a blonde across the room and a brunette at the bar, the Bloody Mary came via a redhead near the dance floor and the white wine from an ash blonde whereabouts unknown. He was appalled at their boldness and revolted by their attempt to proposition a man old enough to be their father. Rather than stirring his interest, they had only succeeded in making him think of his wife. Laura should have been there to protect him from such children.
If it hadnt been for pride, he would have been at home enjoying his own gourmet meal surrounded by his wife and children, not stuck in a city that was not fulfilling its promise. Well, he amended, savagely cutting into his veal, at least hed have his children around him. As for his wife, who knew where shed be. Probably gallivanting about in that deplorable Rabbit. At the airport he had almost lost his nerve, had almost turned back, but then you wont be missed hissed in his ear and hed gotten on the plane. And hes regretted it ever since.
Excuse me, sir, the waiter was at his elbow again, a glass of champagne on a silver tray, a glass of Dom Perignon with compliments of the lady
Blimey, Remington thought, his temper flaring, didnt they ever stop?
Take it back to the lady and tell her Im married. Remington growled. Happily married, and please emphasis the happily part.
The waiter disappeared but returned a few seconds later, his expression distressed. Im terribly sorry, sir, but the lady insists. She said to tell you it was compliments of Mrs. Steele.
Remingtons head snapped up, his eyes frantically searching the restaurant. A little too frantically, he thought. No doubt his eagerness was causing him to overlook the obvious. He was nearly at the point of demanding that the waiter retrieve the lady when he saw her. She was seated across the dance floor, dressed in a sleek black gown, her dark hair swept upwards, diamonds hed given her at her neck and ears. She smiled tentatively.
His first impulse was to get up and hurry over to her, but then he remembered her words and he remained fixed to his chair. He wasnt going to run over to her like a St. Bernard, wagging his tail and looking up at her with adoring eyes. If she wanted him, she could come get him.
He watched her smile falter. It looked as though he was going to have to give her some encouragement. He took the glass from the waiters tray, lifted it towards her and took a sip, his eyes never leaving her. His gesture seemed to bolster her courage for she got up and started across the dance floor, but halfway to him, she stopped, her eyes dropping and her fingers beginning to worry the small, black purse she carried. Suddenly she turned back.
Remington was out of his seat and across the dance floor, catching her arm before shed had the opportunity to take more than a step or two. She turned, her eyes wide and questioning.
I believe their playing our song, Mrs. Steele. He paused, listening to the strains of As Time Goes By. Will you dance with me?
Remington She began, her eyes dropping.
He put a finger under her chin, forcing it up. Ive met you halfway, Laura. Dont turn back now.
Silently she moved into his arms. He pulled her close and smiled as he felt her body tremble slightly. She did still care about him. Maybe she had even missed him. It must have taken quite a bit of courage for her to make the trip with the memory of their argument still fresh in her mind. But Laura had always been a woman of spirit. That was one of the things hed always loved about her.
He was enjoying the feel of her in his arms, the music and other dancers surrounding them, enclosing them in a private world of mere sensation when she lifted her head. Im sorry. She said simply. I didnt mean what I said. You have been missed terribly.
And Ive missed you. He told her solemnly. Would you care to join me for dinner, Mrs. Steele?
She nodded and he led her back to his table. She eyed the line up of drinks.
Youve got quite a collection there. She noted dryly.
Yes, dont I? He agreed, resuming his seat. But I only accepted one. He lifted the glass of champagne shed sent over and took another sip.
The waiter appeared out of nowhere as all good waiters do, and Remington said. Be so good to bring out another plate of Veal Piccata not to heavy on the lemon butter and a bottle of Dom Perignon 1976, if you have it. When the man departed, he turned back to Laura. I ordered that for us the first time we came here, remember? Hopefully this time well be able to eat it. He lifted an eyebrow at her. You did come here because of my invitation, didnt you? There arent any dead bodies lurking about, waiting to interrupt?
She smiled. No dead bodies, and if one does appear I shall leave it lie. Theyve lost their appeal.
Congratulations. Remington said. Theres hope for you yet, my dear.
After dinner they wandered along Fishermans Wharf, as Remington had suggested all those years ago. Pleasant and romantic though it was there was a tension building between them, like a gathering thunderstorm, full of static electricity and power, coming closer and closer. It finally burst when they went back to Remingtons hotel room.
I did have the honeymoon suite reserved, he was saying as he closed the door behind them, but having arrived alone, heart-shaped beds, mirror ceilings and roses had lost their allure, not that heart-shaped beds ever did excite me, so I
He got no further for Laura had launched herself at him, stopping his ramble with her mouth on his. Her lips were hungry and demanding and he instantly responded, returning her caress with fervor. Hands shoved his jacket from his shoulders and down his arms, and then fingers were tugging at his tie, pulling it lose. Once finished, they went to the buttons on his shirt. He had barely unhooked his cuff links before the shirt was tugged off.
Her hands immediately went to his zipper.
Laura, he breathed, slow down, baby. Theres no need to
His words caught in his throat as she began doing incredible things to his body. Ah, what the hell, he thought, thrusting his hands into her hair and sending hair pins flying. This frantic, desperate side of Laura was a new one, but who was he to complain? Besides, he was just as desperate for her as she was for him.
Laura, he rasped a few minutes later when his hands pushed up the skirt of the black gown. He was surprised to find bare thighs and buttocks. You not wearing any any undergarments.
He watched as a slow, sensuous smile spread across her face. Are you disappointed?
Disappointed? Hardly. It was one of the most arousing things shed ever done. On the contrary, he murmured, his mouth hovering above hers, I find it quite stimulating.
I hoped you might.
The tension was gone; the storm had passed. Sweet peace reigned. Moonlight, soft and muted, fell across the rumpled bed. Remington felt his eyes closing as sleep beckoned, but then they popped open again as he remembered the jewelers box tucked within his suitcase. He scrambled out of bed, eliciting a grumble from Laura who was herself sinking into sleep. Within seconds, he was back, pushing a velvet box into her hands.
She had seen many jewelers boxes from him over the years, but this one held a single diamond dangling from a delicate gold chain. The stone winked in the moonlight.
A sensible diamond. She murmured.
To replace the one you had to hock when we were dead.
She was silent for a moment, staring down at the necklace and then she looked at him, her eyes touching his silvered hair, the fine lines around his eyes, softened by the shadows before locking her eyes with his. Remington, I owe you an explanation for the past few weeks and especially for my behavior last night.
He shook his head. I shouldnt have pushed. Youve never reacted well to naked male aggression.
Dont make excuses for me. She told him. You wouldnt have acted that way if I had confided in you. My only excuse is that I couldnt confide something I didnt understand myself. I still dont understand it fully. I just know that Mildreds retirement, Rick going off to college and those gray hairs unnerved me. I suddenly realized Im getting old. When he opened his mouth to respond, she quickly put her hand across his mouth. I know what youre going to say. Youre going to say that youre getting old too, but unlike you, Im having a little harder time accepting it. I tried to ignore it by throwing myself into work. Maybe I was trying to recapture my youth, going back to time before there were houses and kids and gray hairs, but it didnt work. All I discovered was work had lost its appeal. The harder I worked, the less I wanted to. I didnt understand it. I still dont. But I should have told you what was bothering me. I could have saved us a lot of misunderstandings and hurt if Id only told you.
Remington reached out a hand, touching her cheek with his fingers, I understand if you need time to sort things out, Laura. And Ill give you that time just like you gave me time to sort out my past. All I ask is that you dont shut me out, not from your office or your life. Lets grow old together, not apart.
And retire to a tropical island? She asked, her mood lightening.
I was thinking Ireland myself. I make such a good lord of the manor, dont you think?
Undoubtedly, she agreed, putting her arms around his neck, but weve got a few more years left before we can tramp about the Irish countryside in tweeds and wellingtons. Weve got to stay long enough for Rick to assume our empire.
Remington sighed, sinking into the bed and taking Laura with him. The sacrifices parents make for their children.
Laura paused for a moment as a thought struck her. She really didnt want to bring business into a moment like this, but he ought to know. She lay quietly for a moment or two, pressed against his side before saying, Mindy and I met with Lilith Anderson while you were gone.
Who is Lilith Anderson? He was beginning to sound sleepy.
She owns the Lilliputan Art Gallery. Hed heard that name before. He wracked his memory banks while Laura continued. When she contacted me, she said she wanted us to provide security for some jewels she was going to have on display at the reception introducing her new collection. Shes into pottery.
She stopped, and Remington was immediately alert. Laura rarely paused in her dissertations on work. If there was one thing she spoke freely about it was work. Is there something significant about these jewels or am I just imaging your reluctance to, as Mildred would say, spill the beans?
Its the Royal Lavulite.
Bloody hell. He muttered as the memory hed been searching for popped front and center into his brain.
I declined, knowing how you feel about those particular jewels, but Mindy was with me, and being the eager beaver she is, accepted responsibility for securing the jewels. Shell have full responsibility for transportation and security. We wont be involved at all. Laura hurriedly assured him, sensing his agitation. We only have to attend the reception.
Although I would prefer to never see those delightful jewels again, its not the Lavulite thats bothering me. He told her.
Then what is it?
Jamies in town.
Damn! Laura swore.
I see youre reading my mind.
In the Twinkling of an Eye
Morning, morning, morning! Remington caroled out as he and Laura entered the office Monday morning.
Miss Jones glanced up, raised her eyebrows in greeting and returned to her computer. Other employees were more expressive, offering smiles and cheerful hellos as their boss and his wife promenaded through the office. Promenade was the only way to describe Remingtons weekly review of the troops, and Laura, with his hand under her elbow, had no choice but to go along for the ride. According to Remington, these Monday minglings promoted morale, and she could not easily disagree. Their employees seemed to adore and revere him. Mildreds, all of them, men and women alike.
Having made their rounds, they retired to their respective offices, Laura to the left and Remington to the right.
Two things immediately stopped Laura in her tracks as she opened her door. First a man in overhauls with Happy Harrys Lock Service across the back was in the process of removing the lock between her and Remingtons office and the second was the amount of lilies covering every inch of available space. Without a word, she turned around, marched a couple of feet to Remingtons outer door and threw it open.
He was already seated behind his desk, feet up, newspaper unfurled.
Laura, my love, he said with a welcoming grin, I understand your eagerness to be with me, I feel the same about you, but weve only been parted for, he checked his watch, two minutes. Think of the employees. Discretion is the better part of valor, you know.
Ignoring him she walked over to the door between their offices and jerked it open. Happy Harry fell across the threshold.
What is that? She demanded.
Remington gazed across the room at the man. From the back of his overhauls I would say hes an employee of Happy Harrys Lock Service. Excellent firm, Laura. I know the owner. He was one of the best picks in the neighborhood until he got religion and turned to the straight and narrow.
Im aware of his profession. She said with as much patience as she could manage. But what is he doing here?
Removing a lock.
She walked over to him, stopped in front of his desk, hands on hips. I thought we had this settled Friday night. I believe I agreed not to lock you out of my office.
Yes, you did. Remington agreed readily. But Id already made the appointment with Happy Harrys for bright and early Monday morning. I had hoped hed have finished by now. I must talk to Harry about the efficiency of his employees.
Hey, buddy, the man said, having picked himself off the floor, that dragon at the front door wouldnt let me in until shed called the office and verified my credentials. I kicked my heels in the lobby for half an hour.
Yes, Remington said, nodding sympathetically, that sounds like our Miss Jones. She tends to be a stickler for security. Comes from working with the CIA during her informative years. Please continue.
The man, vindicated, returned to the door.
Now just a minute. Laura protested. Its my door, and I ought to have some say in the matter.
Correction, my dear. Remington said. Its half your door. The other half is mine.
My half has the lock. She pointed out. And I dont see any need for it to be removed.
Perceiving a rebellion brewing, Remington got up, came around the desk and took her by the shoulders. Come now, Laura, arent you being overly sensitive about this? Hes removing my lock also.
Her expression remained mutinous. I like to think I have some privacy.
You do. He assured her. Hes not removing the outer lock, just this one between our offices. When she continued to look unconvinced, he sighed and said, Quite frankly, Laura, I dont know why you had to move back into your own office once Marvin was moved into the new section. We had an excellent arrangement in my office.
Too excellent. Laura noted. We never got any work done. As I remember it we spent far too much time on that couch of yours.
Remington grinned wolfishly. The locks did come in handy then, didnt they?
Laura sighed. Unrepentant as ever. He was incorrigible. Maybe she was making too big an issue over the lock. Its not as if it would stop him. It hadnt Thursday evening, and in the end, it had caused unnecessary hurt and misunderstanding. Perhaps it was best to remove the temptation. But, she thought with renewed indignation, there was still the issue of the lilies. He must learn to stop charging flowers to the companys account.
Ok, youve explained the lock, but how do you explain the lilies?
Lilies? He asked blankly. What lilies?
She took his sleeve, maneuvered him past Happy Harry and into her office. She swept her arm across the expanse of the room. The lilies.
Really, Laura. He said indignantly. Am I the kind of man who would send a woman funeral flowers?
She considered this. No, he wouldnt. It would be roses or nothing with Remington. Then if you didnt, who did? She wondered aloud. Going around her desk, she buzzed Miss Jones. Miss Jones, where did all these flowers come from?
There was a long silence and then Miss Jones asked, What flowers, Mrs. Steele?
There are about seventeen vases of lilies in my office, Miss Jones. Laura said. How did they get here?
I I dont know. The secretarys distress was obvious. She never stuttered. The door was locked when I came in this morning, and Ive not left my desk since arriving.
I can attest to that. The locksmith muttered.
Shall I check around the office? Miss Jones asked. See if anyone knows anything?
Please do. Laura said, releasing the intercom button and turning to Remington who was examining the lilies vase by vase. Is there any card?
No. He said, pulling out his handkerchief and wiping pollen from his hands. Looks like youve attracted another secret admirer. Lets hope this one is less deadly.
But what secret admirer would send lilies? Laura asked, puzzled.
A deranged one? Remington quipped, stuffing his handkerchief back in his pocket.
Theres something oddly familiar about this. She murmured, fingering a velvety white petal. Something long ago Her fingers stopped their caress as memory rushed in. She hit the buzzer. Marvin?
Welcome back, Mrs. Steele. Marvins cheerful voice boomed into the room. Did you and Mr. Steele have a good time in San Francisco?
Exceptional time, Marvin. Remington answered for her. I would suggest you try it yourself. Gather up the lady love and whisk her off for a romantic weekend, eh? Ill give you the name of a delightful little restaurant
Marvin, Laura broke in, have one of the researchers come to my office.
Was it really necessary to cut me off like that, Laura? Remington asked, his tone peevish. I was merely trying to
I know what you were trying to do. She interrupted. And it shows an admirable concern for your employees, but this problem cant be solved by romance.
Oh, really? Remington asked as though it had never occurred to him that romance wasnt a cure all. It sounds as if you know what the problem is.
I do. She replied. Marvin has an issue with age. Fifteen years to be exact.
Good lord. It does sound terribly old when you say it like that.
There was a tap on the door and at Lauras come in a woman entered carrying a notepad and wearing small, black-rimmed glasses. She was short, plump and was dressed completely in black, which contrasted sharply with her white blonde hair.
Im Miss Black. I managed the Research Department. She said. Mr. Slottman said you needed a researcher.
Ah, yes, Laura said, eying the woman and wondering how their agency always seemed to hire people that resembled their names, you neednt have come yourself. One of the junior assistants would have done.
Theyre all busy working on other cases, Mrs. Steele. The woman said briskly. How can I help you?
I need you to do research on a man named Major Percy Descoine. He was returned to prison over twenty years ago, 1984 to be exact, but he may be out on parole. I should think him in his mid-60s so its quite possible that hed alive, but check the death records just in case. Either way I want to know what happened to him.
The woman scratched across her pad. Is that all, Mrs. Steele?
No. Laura said, her head bent as she paced in what little room she had between lilies, locksmith, husband and researcher. There was a daughter. I dont know her real name. We referred to her as Minor Descoine, but her mothers name was Lily Martin. You ought to be able to find a birth certificate through the parents names. I want to know what became of her as well. That will be all, Miss Black. Please let me know as soon as you find out anything.
Yes, Mrs. Steele.
The woman turned and left the office.
So, Remington said, pushing a vase out of the way to sit on the edge of Lauras desk, you think our old friend Descoine is back.
Possibly. Laura agreed. Hes the only one thats ever gave me a lily. He was carrying a bouquet of them when we visited Spellmans office that time he tried to frame you for murder. Pretended to be that old man. A sudden thought struck her and she buzzed Miss Jones again. Miss Jones, find out who cleans our office at night, will you? And give me a list of employees that have keys to the office.
Right away, Mrs. Steele.
And, Miss Jones
Have someone remove these lilies.
The Lilliputan Art Gallery was one of those modern structures with clean lines and very little ornamentation. Functional. Thats what they liked to call it, Remington mused as he prowled along bamboo floors divided by walls constructed of black lacquered frames lined with silk. He stopped, studied a rather obscene sculpture made of glazed purple clay and moved on. Dreadful excuse for art. As hed told Laura before, he preferred the Masters. Ceramics as far as he was concerned belonged in pre-school, not an art gallery.
Enjoying yourself? Laura asked, sidling up to his elbow.
About as much as having pieces of this dreadful bamboo floor shoved under my fingernails. He muttered, grabbing a glass of wine off the tray of a passing waiter. Otherwise, Im having a perfectly splendid time. He took a large gulp from his glass and grimaced. Japanese?
Im not sure. Laura said, looking down at her own glass. Whatever it is, its terrible. Have you taken a look at the Royal Lavulite?
No. The answer was short and sweet.
Not the slightest interest in seeing the jewels that brought us together?
Apart from that event, which you did not view as warmly as you do now, those particular rocks have been nothing but trouble. He said flatly. The last time we had them the Rabbit rolled down an embankment, ruining a perfectly good picnic, and you went swimming with sea snakes. He paused and then said. I was wrong. There was one good thing that came out of that episode. The Rabbit was totaled.
Youre not going to start on that again, are you?
When the opportunity arises He murmured suggestively.
Have you been able to get a hold of Jamie? Laura asked, changing the subject. She didnt want to hear his arguments for replacing the Rabbit. She could recite them in her sleep.
Funny thing about Jamie, Remington said, he doesnt leave forwarding addresses. Hell find us when he wants to.
Well, thats certainly reassuring. Laura muttered, hazarding a drink from her own wineglass. If he tries for the Lavulite, well have to stop him.
And youre ok with that?
Remington shrugged. He knows the risks. Ive warned him about sticky fingers when hes visiting. If hes as good a thief as I think he is, hell know whos providing security and keep the promise he made.
Then well just have to rely on his professionalism. She took Remingtons arm, urging him in the direction of the main hall. Come on. Lets go check on the Lavulite. Mindy will be expecting it. You dont want to disappoint her, do you?
Together they left the side corridor and entered the main reception area where the vast majority of guests were gathered, talking, drinking and viewing various pieces of ceramic art. At the center, highlighted by lights from above, was a display case with a lacquered black base and clear, glass cover.
Mindy was standing nearby, on guard but trying not to look like it. She was in conversation with a rather wild-looking man in ragged black jeans and a Mao jacket. One of those artistic types, Remington thought, downing the rest of the wine in an effort to fortify himself as they joined the couple.
Laura, Mindy called out brightly, come meet Neo. Hes just come back from China and has had the most incredible adventure on a Chinese junk.
Leaving the ladies to that delightful tale, Remington ventured over to the display case. He circled it before stopping, hands in pockets, to stare down at the gems that had so influenced his life. They were deep purple and beautifully translucent, each gem mounted on individual clear, glass pedestals. It was hard to believe that hed crossed continents for these bits of purple stone, followed by a couple of killers. Thank God hed run into Laura or he might still be crossing continents for them.
Beautiful, arent they? Laura murmured at his side, having escaped Mindy and her Sinophile.
Not as beautiful as you. He murmured back, his eyes going to his wife.
And at moment, with their eyes on each other, the art gallery went dark. Every light instantly snuffed out. There was a low murmur as people began to panic, shuffling about uneasily. Remington and Laura remained rooted beside the display case, their senses on alert. Laura felt a presence on her other side, which she suspected was Mindy. She could smell her nieces perfume. Obviously they all had the same thought. Protect the jewels. Stand between the case and any would be thieves.
It seemed like forever but in reality it was only a few seconds before the lights snapped back on.
Dont worry everyone! Lilith Andersons voice called out across the room. It was just a brief electrical outage. Please continue to enjoy yourself.
But the three people grouped around the display in a somewhat lop-sided triangle could no longer enjoy themselves. The Royal Lavulite was gone, disappeared in a twinkling of an eye.
Lilith Anderson is a first class witch. Laura declared, entering Remingtons office and tossing her purse on the couch. Completely unreasonable.
I could think of another name for her. Mindy muttered, following on her aunts heels.
She looked harassed, Marvin thought from his seat in front of Remingtons desk. Her dark hair was disheveled as though shed been running her hands through it in frustration. Unbeknownst to him, the untidy look had come from riding shotgun in Lauras Rabbit with the top down, but had Mindy known his thoughts or the way his heart squeezed for her, she would have been happy to leave him with his misconception.
Shes threatening to sue the agency for the value of the Royal Lavulite. Laura continued, pacing beside Remingtons desk. Shes already gone to the papers and blabbed her side of the story. Sang like a canary to everyone that would listen. Its all over the papers. Million Dollar Jewels Snatched While Steele Watches. Were going to take a big hit on this one if we dont find those darn rocks.
Back and forth she went like a bloody pendulum, Remington mused. He could understand her irritation. Her agency was at stake. But everyone was blowing this whole thing out of proportion. The stones were missing, yes, but he would bet his reputation as a thief that theyd not been stolen in the tradition sense. No thief, no matter how good, could have performed a magic trick like that. Thered just been way too little time.
Have you found Jamie? She demanded, whirling on him.
Remington shook his head. Jamies not who youre looking for.
How can you be so sure?
Because I know a few things about jewel heists, Laura. He cast a glance at Marvin and Mindy, wondering how much to reveal. Neither of them knew about his past profession. Only Mildred had known the truth. They take time and skill. Stealth is the key. This was performed in broad daylight with everyone looking. It was more a magic trick than a theft.
Magic trick. Laura said thoughtfully, rolling the word over in her head. Then she went over to Remingtons intercom and buzzed the research department. Their secretary answered. Ask Miss Black to come to Mr. Steeles office immediately and tell her to bring her information on the Descoines.
Im afraid shes out at the moment, Mrs. Steele. The girl answered. Trip to the courthouse, she said. But Ill let her know you want to see her as soon as she comes in.
Drat. Laura muttered.
Whos the Descoines? Mindy asked, perplexed.
Theyre a father-daughter team of pseudo magicians/make-up artists that let the chief and Mrs. Steele on a wild goose chase that almost ended in their demise by poisoned envelopes. Marvin explained. I wasnt here at the time, but Ive reviewed the case. He looked at Laura, his eyes no longer hidden by spectacles. Hed switched to contacts a few years ago. Do you really think theyre involved in some way?
I dont know. Laura admitted. But that delivery of lilies had a familiar ring to it, and as Mr. Steele pointed out, the Royal Lavulite disappeared right in front of our eyes. Sort of like the assistant in the box, wouldnt you say? I think theyre worth checking out. Marvin, have someone interview that cleaning agency that Miss Jones came up with. See if they have any new employees that might have had access to our office. Mindy, start interviewing people at the reception. That Neo guy might be a good place to start. He was near the display case most of the night.
No problem. Mindy said, getting up and starting for the door. I have a date with him tonight, but Ill start on these other guests right now.
There was a brief silence after her departure and then Marvin said, Whos Neo?
Dont ask. Remington advised. Its not a pretty picture. It was appalling actually.
Hes a man she met at the reception. Laura explained. One of those artistic types, had some sort of strange adventure on a Chinese junk, dabbles in pop art, I think. A Chinese Andy Warhol. Dont you think you ought to...?
Uh, yes, Marvin said, getting to his feet. Ill Ill get someone on that cleaning crew right away.
Nothing like another man to get the mans attention. Laura noted once the door had been closed behind him.
Talking from experience, Laura? Remingtons voice was heavy with disapproval. Havent you learned your lesson about encouraging jealousy?
Im not encouraging anything. I merely answered Marvins question.
And enjoyed the results.
What a wet blanket youve become, Mr. Steele. She said, seating herself on his desk. Youre just upset because you know my approach will work better than yours. A little jealousy will work faster than romance, especially if the man in question is not inclined to romance.
Youre playing with fire, Laura. Remington warned. Best to take your original advice and just let them bubble all over the place.
I would have if Mindy hadnt sounded so frustrated the other night. She slid off the desk and started for her office.
So Aunt Laura rides to the rescue. He said grimly. The last time you rode to the rescue you ended up on a fishing trawler with the Duke of Deception.
Laura stopped at her door. Complaining, Mr. Steele?
Certainly not. Im merely pointing out the pitfalls associated with jealousy.
If I remember correctly, you were not above using that particular ploy yourself.
You have a memory like an elephant.
A trait I share with you, Mr. Steele. Now why dont you put that brain to better use and find that reprobate Jamie Caulfield.
Demise of a Rabbit
There was a tap on the door.
Come in. Laura called out.
Miss Black entered. You wanted to see me, Mrs. Steele?
Laura removed the glasses she now wore for reading and leaned back in her chair. Shed wanted to see Miss Black for the past two days, but each time she buzzed the research department their secretary had informed her that Miss Black was out. For a manager, the woman spent an inordinate amount of time at the courthouse.
Legwork was for subordinates, not managers. Hadnt Remington been telling her that for years? But she hadnt listened to him until her pregnancy with Holly. Unlike the boys, the morning sickness had lasted longer and been more severe, forcing her to rely more heavily upon her employees. Once having learnt the benefits of delegation, she had never turned back much to Remingtons satisfaction. Did Miss Black need to learn that same lesson or was she gone so often for some other reason?
Youve been a very difficult woman to track down, Miss Black. Laura said, waving the woman to the seat in front of her desk. Ive been trying to get the Descoine information from you for two days now.
Managing a research department is busy work, Mrs. Steele.
Then you should have taken my original advice and given the assignment to one of the staff researchers.
Ill keep that in mind. The woman said, offering an apologetic smile.
Laura accepted the unspoken apology and got down to business, What have you found out about the Descoines?
Miss Black flipped open a manila folder, put on the glasses she wore around her neck and recited, Major Percy Descoine was released from prison approximately five years ago due to poor health. He was suffering from a slow-growing brain tumor, and since he was nearly up for parole, the prison officials and Judge Peter Kendall decided he was no longer a threat to society and released him. His mental and physical health continued to decline until he died nearly a year ago today. Hes buried at the Woodlawn Cemetery in San Monica.
And the daughter? Laura prompted when Miss Black paused.
The daughter, Lily Descoine, looked after him until his death and then three days after his burial committed suicide at the same acid bath as her mother. She produced a newspaper clipping, which she pushed across the desk to Laura. As you can see it was a bit of a sensation. Laura scanned the article as Miss Black continued. She is buried beside her father. A very close knit family, I would say.
A deranged family, Laura amended, setting the article aside.
Will there be anything else, Mrs. Steele? She said, her expression one of polite inquiry.
No, Miss Black, you may leave.
As soon as the woman had left the office, Laura turned to the computer on her desk, a modern invention that Remington continued to abhor. Nonetheless, Marvin had insisted that everyone have a personal computer, even Remington. While his collected dust and occasionally served as a coat rack, Laura used hers routinely. Now she pulled up the internet and quickly looked up the location of Woodlawn Cemetery, printing out driving directions.
Miss Blacks information was just a little too neat and tidy, too convenient. She wanted to view the graves for herself and verify that both father and daughter were dead as reported. It wasnt that she mistrusted her employee, but information could be planted in order to lead someone down a wrong alley. It was a Descoine trademark.
Snatching up her purse and grabbing the directions, she headed for the door.
Shall I call for the limo? Miss Jones asked as she approached. It should be back from taking Mr. Steele home.
No, thank you, Miss Jones. Ill take the Rabbit.
She was smiling as she climbed into the car and started the engine. It coughed once, twice and then sputtered to life. Poor Remington, Laura thought guiding the car out of the parking lot and onto the street. Hed looked like a French aristocrat getting into the cart that would take him to the guillotine when hed left shortly before noon. He had promised Holly a driving lesson that afternoon since her school was not in session that day. It had taken some doing, a lot of cajoling on Hollys part, but it was Michael who had administered the coup de grâce, cheerfully reminding his father that hed taught him to drive, why not Holly?
Laura laughed aloud at the memory, pressing the accelerator to the floor as she merged with traffic. To be betrayed by the child that looked and acted the most like him must have been a severe blow to Remington. Hed been downright sulky for the rest of the evening, and it was only her tender administrations once the lights were out that had improved his mood.
The drive to the cemetery was uneventful and reasonably quick, but the search for the Descoines graves was not. Why hadnt she thought to get a map? Or at least call the cemetery caretaker before embarking on this adventure? Her legwork skills had obviously become rusty, and as a result, she was forced to tramp up and down each row in the newer section of the cemetery, looking at each stone. She had never seen so many Whitakers and Applegates in her life. Three wholes generation of them shoulder to shoulder or rather casket to casket.
In the end it was sheer dumb luck, a trip over a low lying headstone that brought her face to face, literally, with the Descoine graves. Struggling up on her hands and knees, she looked down and saw the name Major Percy Descoine engraved into a flat, metal plate. The dates read 1943 to 2006. Nearby was a similar plate with Lily Descoine, dates 1967 to 2006.
She stared at them. Eyes couldnt lie, could they? Their graves were here and clearly marked yet something inside of her simply wouldnt believe that one or both of them were dead. There were still the lilies. How did they get into her office and why lilies?
The cleaning crew had been cleared. According to Marvin, they didnt clean the office on the weekends and when they did clean, they did so in teams of three, making it impossible for someone to bring in that many flowers without the other two noticing.
Also the list of employees holding keys had proved disappointedly short. Besides her and Remington, Miss Jones and Marvin were the only other key holders. Of course, she mused, a key would not be needed if the bearer of the lilies possessed a pick and the skill to use it.
Shed even had Miss Jones call around to every florist shop within a 50 miles radius. Yes, lilies had been purchased, but not in that amount and the florists who remembered the purchasers described people of varying appearances. Dead ends, all of them.
And it looked as though shed stumbled onto another one.
Frustrated Laura returned to her car. She considered putting up the top because of some dark clouds overhead but decided against it. Besides as Remington had pointed out, it leaked. Whether it was up or not, shed still get wet. She got in, slammed the door and started the engine.
She was traveling for several minutes before she noticed the black sedan behind her. It was crowding her bumper. Rude driver, she thought, pressing on the accelerator. Why didnt they just go around her? She thought that was exactly what they planned on doing when they pulled into the left lane. However, instead of zipping in front of her, they hovered beside her, and then with a sharp jerk to the right, the car slammed into her side.
The Rabbit wobbled precariously as Laura struggled to keep it on the road. To her far right was a steep embankment, protected only by a guard rail. She stomped on the accelerator and the little car shot forward, momentarily out-sprinting the sedan, but within seconds, it was back, banging into her bumper. To make matters worse, fat drops of rain began falling like drops of water from a leaky faucet, annoying but not overwhelming.
The sedan once again pulled up beside her. Well, Laura thought, her fingers tightening around the steering wheel, two could play this game. She jerked the wheel to the left. The Rabbit careened into the black car, sending it further into the left lane. It barely missed a silver car traveling in the opposite direction before it returned to its following position.
Laura pressed the accelerator to the floor, but the Rabbit had nothing more to give.
That is not how you drive. Remington said sternly as the black sedan narrowly missed them. Put your windshield wipers on. Its beginning to rain.
But Holly wasnt listening. Her eyes were on the rear view mirror. Wasnt that moms Rabbit?
Remington considered for a moment, and then turned in his seat, squinting through the raindrops on the back window. Both cars were out of sight, having disappeared around a curve, but now that Holly had mentioned it, the car had looked like Lauras. After all how many Rabbits were still on the road in 2007? Not many.
It looked as if that black car was following her. Holly added.
You might be right. Remington said grimly. Pull over here and well
But his words got stuck in his throat for Holly had just sent his Mercedes Benz SL65 AMG into a teeth-jarring U-turn, spraying gravel and dust into a wide plume behind them. Horns blared and he waited for impact but none came. He raised his head. They were sprinting down the road at full throttle, the engine growling throatily. With turbo charged power under the hood, the AMG had no problem closing the distance and soon they were on the tail of the black sedan.
He glanced at Holly. She was grinning like a Cheshire cat, obviously enjoying herself immensely. He didnt know which was more frightening, the treatment his car was receiving or the fact that his 15 ½ year old daughter was intent on joining a car chase. When she moved into the left lane, pulling even with the black sedan, he finally found his voice. It sounded petrified even to his ears.
Holly, honey, this is not a good idea.
Still grinning, she jerked the wheel to the right and Remington heard the screech of colliding metal, and he suddenly found himself trapped between a demented daughter and the demented driver of the black sedan. The other car pushed back, ramming into Remingtons door. Not to be outdone, Holly returned the favor and before Remington knew it they were bouncing back and forth like ping pong balls down the highway.
It wasnt until he saw the semi-truck bearing down on them that he snapped out of his shocked horror and took control.
Holly! He yelled at the top of his lungs.
That startled the girl long enough for him to get control of the steering wheel and in just the nick of time he was able to jerk them back in their lane. The momentum of their speed and his jerk sent them skidding through the dirt and gravel lining the shoulder of the road, sending up a terrific cloud that obscured their view for several seconds as they slid to a stop. When it settled the black car and Rabbit were out of sight.
He jumped out of the car, ran around to the drivers side, threw open the door and said fiercely, Out!
But, Dad, Holly protested, what about Mom?
Your mother is experienced in car chases. He growled. Now get into the passengers side or so help me you wont get your license until youre eighteen and no longer my legal responsibility.
Reluctantly she slunk over the gear box and Remington took possession of the drivers seat. He gunned the car, pulling it back onto the road. The rain was coming heavier now, and he was forced to put on the wipers. As before the AMG had no trouble catching up to the other two cars. Unfortunately it did so just in time for them to see the Rabbit go sliding off the road, disappearing down an embankment. The black car sped on.
He slammed the car to a halt and he and Holly tumbled out. The Rabbit lay on its top at the bottom of the embankment, wheels still spinning.
Laura! He called frantically as he scrambled down the steep bank.
Mom! Holly echoed, following him.
They reached the car, got on their knees, trying to see if Laura was trapped underneath or worse. Rain soaked them within minutes. Holly whipped out her cell phone, her fingers fumbling on smooth, wet surface as she tried to dial 911. Water poured down her face, and she impatiently brushed it away. She was just getting ready to hit the send button when a voice came from somewhere above them.
Thats your mothers voice. Remington said, getting to his feet and surveying the bank around them. Thank God, shes alive.
There she is! Holly cried, catching sight of movement further up.
Together they scrambled through the mud and scrubby grass to where Laura was trying to disentangle herself from what looked like a very uncomfortable bush. She was scratched up pretty bad with a cut above her left eye but wonderfully alive. Remington seized her by the waist and pulled her free. Immediately Laura was engulfed in a family bear hug as Holly joined the group, throwing her arms around both parents.
What happened? Remington finally asked when he could talk without his voice shaking. Why was that car chasing you?
I dont know. Laura said. I left the cemetery, and there is was.
The cemetery? Remington asked blankly. What were you doing at a cemetery?
Checking on the Descoines.
You go to the weirdest places, Mom. Holly declared.
Ill take that as a compliment. Her eyes went to the Rabbit. There goes another piece of my youth.
Remington put an arm around her shoulders, turning her toward the road. It had to happen some day, Laura, and to my way of thinking, Id rather see it lying on its top than you. Come on, lets get you out of this rain and see to those cuts.
Those murmurs of comfort quickly evaporated when he got a good look at the AMG. He left Laura at the side of the road and circled the car, his expression becoming thunderous. He glanced up, his blue eyes lasers of fury, and Holly quickly dived behind Laura.
Holly Frances Steele! He bellowed, hands on hips. Look at this car! Theres at least $15,000 worth of damage here!
Holly peeked around Laura. Its all part of the chase, Dad.
If you had pulled over when I told you to none of this would have happened. His growl sounded very much like the AMG when hed gunned it early. How am I going to explain this to the insurance company? I doubt theyll look favorably upon a fifteen year old taking part in a car chase.
Fifteen and a half. Holly corrected.
Youll be thirty and a half before you get this paid off.
Paid off? She echoed.
Yes, paid off. Remington stated, opening what was left of the passengers door and helping Laura inside. The repairs are coming out of your allowance.
Holly quickly calculated the amount in her head. But that would take years!
Then I suggest you get a job to help it along.
A job! Holly squeaked, scrambling into the back seat. Rick and Michael didnt have to get jobs.
Rick and Michael didnt destroy my car. Remington snapped, sliding behind the wheel. Besides, its about time all the Steele children learned the value of money. You and Michael both will be looking for work starting Saturday morning.
But what about school? She protested.
Shes got a point there. Laura interjected quietly. We dont want their grades to suffer.
A couple hours working at the agency wont do any damage to their grades. They spend that much time texting or watching TV every night. Remington said, pointing the car towards home. I suspect Miss Jones can find some filing for them to do.
Filing? Holly exclaimed, sinking into the back seat like a deflated balloon. Itll ruin my nails.
Itll teach you responsibility. When this statement was met with silence, Remington glanced into the rear view mirror. What are you smiling about?
Well, if I have to ruin my nails and be in debt to you for forty billion years at least it was worth it. She sank further into the seat, her expression blissful. What a ride!
Laura, this is getting serious. Remington said as he applied disinfectant to her scrapes and cuts. Someone attempted to kill you this afternoon for looking at a couple of graves. Thats deranged, which leads me to believe this isnt about the bloody Lavulite.
She shook her head, wincing. The cut above her eye had given her a headache. The Lavulite is still missing, and weve got to find it. Otherwise, our reputation is at stake.
Damn our reputation. He muttered, crouching down until he was eye to eye with her. He winced as he saw the dark ring around her eye. Shed have one hell of a shiner in the morning. Dont you see, Laura? Its all a diversion, a slight of hand, the old magicians trick. Divert everyones attention while something else goes on in the corner. The Lavulite is just bait to lure you into the trap.
Which is precisely why I have to solve this thing. Laura told him. If theyve after me, then they wont stop until they get me whether Im working on the case or not. My only chance is to find the person or persons behind this.
And you still think its the Descoines.
The lilies make no sense if its not.
Remington got to his feet, turned his back on her for a moment as he struggled to keep his panic at bay. It was ridiculous. She was basing her whole case on a delivery of flowers. He turned back, a rueful grin touching his mouth. You do realize that youre building your whole case around a flower.
I know. She said, throwing her hands up. I know it sounds crazy, but my gut tells me
Where did you start relying on your gut?
It happens occasionally.
Laura, you saw their graves. Remington persisted.
Graves have been empty before.
Good God, Remington exclaimed as a thought struck him, dont tell me youre going to have them exhumed. Dont we have enough dead bodies following us around without you going and digging some up?
Laura laughed, amused by his expression of outrage. You neednt fear. I havent suddenly discovered a passion of grave digging. Im just going to do some legwork. Ill start with the Major and make sure hes really dead. If he died from cancer, then there should be plenty of witnesses. As for the daughter, her expression turned thoughtful, shes the wild card if you ask me. Miss Black produced a newspaper article, which says it was presumed that Lily Descoine committed suicide at the acid bath. But how can they be sure it was Lily? Acid is pretty disfiguring and doesnt leave much DNA evidence. I dont think we can say with any certainty that Lily is dead. She might have stolen a body from the morgue like her father and tossed it in.
Remington sighed, dragging a hand through his salt-n-pepper hair. I dont like it, but if you insist on pursuing this, then Im coming with you.
You cant. You have to find Jamie and the jewels.
Laura, Ive told you before, Jamie doesnt have the Lavulite. Ive stake my honor as a thief on it.
You neednt go that far. She assured him. I believe you. But he may have some useful information. If he was going to try for the stones, he would have done a careful study of the gallery, right? Youve always said that a thief doesnt go in blind. He should know it up and down, backwards and sideways. Hell know every exit and every entrance. We need that information because the delightful Ms. Anderson is refusing us entrance.
Sounds like shes afraid well find something.
Exactly. Why else would she be so uncooperative? It would be in her best interest to let us find the jewels, but shes more interested in destroying our reputation. If your theory is right and the disappearance of the jewels is a diversion to a larger plot then Ms. Anderson must be involved somehow. She did after all request that I, personally, oversee the security. She was none too pleased when I declined, and only accepted Mindys offer because it was the only way she would have gotten Remington Steele Investigations.
Remington felt all his arguments slipping away under the logic of Lauras analysis. She did it to him all the time. Hed protest but somehow they always ended up doing things her way because she always had some logical reason for it up her sleeve. Blimey, he couldnt wait until Rick took over and they could retire. Hopefully theyd both live long enough to see that day. Just another five years, he promised himself, just another five years.
I agree to this on one condition. He said as sternly as he could. You have to take Mindy with you. Our detectives work in teams, remember?
She considered this and then said, That sounds fair, but youve got to find Jamie.
Ive got the word out on the street. If hes in town, hell show up.
Laura got to her feet, wobbling a little bit. Remington caught her in his arms. Youd better take it easy for a few hours. He said, studying her closely. Youre going to have a magnificent shiner in the morning. If Rick were here, hed be proud. As it is youll have to settle for Michaels admiration alone.
As if on cue Michaels voice rang out from the bottom of the stairs. Dad! When his father failed to answer, he jogged up the stairs and poked his dark head into his parents bedroom. Holly tells me, he stopped, looked at his mother and then grinned, thats a gorgeous shiner, Mom. How many bad guys did you have to beat up?
You were saying Remington prompted.
Oh, yeah, Michael said, returning to his original complaint, Holly tells me I have to work at the agency with her because she wrecked your car. Is that true?
Michael frowned. Thats not fair. Why should I have to suffer because of her terrible driving?
Life isnt fair, Michael. Get used to it, my boy. Remington declared, walking over and closing the door on his son. He turned the lock. Now, Mrs. Steele, he said, returning to his wife and taking her into his arms, where were we?
Talking about shiners.
Surely not. He murmured, his eyes going to her lips, which had thankfully avoided any abuse from the Rabbits demise. Im sure we were discussing what you could do while youre recovering from your unfortunate accident. How about this? He brushed his lips across hers. And this? His hands burrowed beneath her sweater.
With the children in the house?
There are locks on the doors.
Locks wont keep your children out.
Then I guess well just have to take our chances.
The Sorcerers Apprentice
Well, Mindy said as she and Laura left Ward & Bugles Funeral Home, I think we can safely assume that Major Descoine is definitely dead and in his grave. Weve visited the prison, his physician and the nursing home where he was before he died. And now Mr. Ward has given a fairly detailed description of the funeral. One mourner at a grave side ceremony. What a sad commentary on a persons life.
Major Descoine was a rather sad personality. Laura sighed, rubbing her forehead. A headache still lingered from yesterdays accident. He became obsessed over the death of his darling Lily. I often wondered if he ever accepted his own role in her suicide or just continued blaming our agency.
If this current situation is any indication, Mindy said as they crossed the parking lot, Id say not. If the daughter is alive as you believe then hes passed his obsession on to her. Otherwise, she wouldnt be trying to kill you.
It must be her. Laura concluded. Theres a grave with her name on it, but there is no evidence other than a letter found by a worker at the acid bath that she committed suicide. So the question is who is she and where is she. Having learned the art of disguise from her father she could be anyone.
My first guess would be Lilith Anderson. Mindy put in.
Shes the likely suspect. Laura agreed. But how can we prove it? Weve got to catch her with the jewels in her possession, which really wouldnt be a crime since they should be in her possession, or shes got to make a move, come out in the open and reveal herself. So far she hasnt done that.
What about the accident yesterday?
No evidence it was her. The windows were tinted and in the excitement of the chase neither Remington nor Holly got a license plate number. I suspect if they had it would belong to little old lady in Sausalito.
Thats odd. Mindy muttered as she attempted to open the door of her car. I could have sworn I locked the doors.
They are locked. Laura pointed out, trying her own door.
Mindy shook her head. I hit the key bob as we were walking across the lot. If the doors had been locked, they should be open now. She peered inside the car. Look! Theres a box on the passengers seat. She hit the key bob and the locks thudded open.
Should we open it? Mindy asked, looking at Laura from the other side of the car.
I think thats the idea.
It could be booby-trapped.
With what? Laura asked, her expression skeptical. A poof of poisonous gas?
Anythings possible. Diamonds are Forever. Sean Connery, Jill St. John, United Artists, 1971. Knock out gas in the elevator.
I see your uncle has been lending you his collection of Bond movies again.
Laura picked up the box. It was long and thin like those used for flowers and tied with a silky green ribbon. She untied the ribbon and carefully pried off the lid just in case there was a poof of gas inside. There was no gas but it did contain something that caused a gasp of surprise. Two pieces of the Royal Lavulite collection were nestled amid a bouquet of lilies. A plain white card with 107 Augustine Road typed across it was also tucked inside.
I guess Remington was right. Laura said, picking up the translucent purple jewels and holding them out to show Mindy. The Royal Lavulite is just bait.
Expensive bait. Mindy noted dryly.
Laura placed the jewels back into the box and took out the card. 107 Augustine Road. Obviously an address. I guess were supposed to go to this address.
Is that wise? Mindy asked as they got into the car. Sounds like a trap to me.
It is a trap. Laura agreed with no hesitation whatsoever. But if weve going to solve this case, we have no choice. Weve got to follow the clues and hope Lily Descoine will reveal herself.
Well, Mindy said, starting the car, as the poets would say Carpe Diem.
She hit the air conditioning button and suddenly an explosion of white powder engulfed them. Coughing they flung open the doors and tumbled out.
Now what do you have to say about poisonous gas? Mindy asked as they struggled to their feet, brushing fine, white powder from their hair, face and upper bodies.
Laura rubbed the powder between her fingers. Itd say its flour with a drop or two of essence of Lily of the Valley mixed in for fun.
Mindy scowled, climbing back into the car and gunning the engine. Just what I need. A psycho with a sense of humor. Wonderful.
Its a fun house. Mindy exclaimed as she pulled the car to a stop in front of 107 Augustine Road.
A very old fun house. Laura noted as she stared at the two story building.
It was large and sprawling and decorated with images of sorcerers holding wands and performing various acts of magic. One had just changed a man into a frog and another was directing a dance of white rabbits. Following the example set by other fun houses, it had probably been painted in bright, gaudy colors at one time, but now the building was faded, a mere shadow of its former glory.
I dont like the looks of this. Mindy muttered as they got out of the car and approached the entrance, which was guarded by a huge sorcerer in pointed hat and starred robe, his hands on either side of the door as though ready to crush whoever entered. Behind him, stenciled across the second floor was The Sorcerers Apprentice in large, jagged letters.
Interesting name. Laura noted.
The house was dark and smelled old and musty. Mindy got out the flashlight shed carried since she was a kid and shone it on the walls and floor. Nothing but dust. They followed the corridor, walking steadily upwards until they entered another corridor that had jagged door frames painted on the walls that grew smaller and smaller.
Its like Alice in Wonderland. All thats missing is the bottle with drink me on it. Mindy remarked as they reached the final doorway and came up against a wall. To the left was wall but to the right was an opening, leading into another hallway. They stepped inside.
Immediately as if theyd tripped a sensor or wire a loud groaning like that of machinery coming to life filled the space around them. Lights flickered on and the carnival music, loud and obnoxious blared from hidden speakers. The floor beneath their feet began to pitch up and down and from side to side. If it hadnt been for the railing of either side, they would have fallen flat on their faces.
Oh, hell, Mindy yelled above the music, its alive!
Lets go back! Laura yelled.
But almost as if the house had heard her a loud, reverberating slam came from the direction of the entrance.
I dont think thats an option now! Mindy shouted.
Grimly Laura faced the pitching floor. They had no choice but to go on, exactly what their tormentor wanted. Well, so be it, she thought, taking a deep breath and throwing herself forward, clinging to the rail, Mindy on her heels. She was beginning to feel sick and memories of the boat ride to the castle, pregnant and in pain, flooded her memory. It was with relief that her feet finally met stable ground. They were over the first obstacle.
They stood for a moment facing the next corridor. It looked innocent enough, but at their first step, a rasping sound like metal against metal stopped them. Suddenly a huge blade swung forward in front of them, followed by similar blades further down the passage.
Its like Edgar Allen Poes The Pit and the Pendulum. Laura murmured, studying the swinging blades.
Or Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. Mindy suggested. I hope there are no snake pits. I hate snakes.
Its an illusion. Laura suddenly declared. The first one is real enough, but the others are created by cleverly placed mirrors that reflect the first one at varying angles. Once we get past the first one, we ought to be ok.
Ought to be? Mindy echoed. Id prefer a bit more confidence, Laura.
But Laura had already plunged forward, jumping across when the first blade was on its upward journey. She stood on the other side, unscathed as the other blades slashed back and forth. Encouraged Mindy followed her example and then they were running down the passage only to finding themselves in another corridor, which spun beneath their feet.
Just run! Laura called out. You dont notice the spinning so much.
Nevertheless, Mindy fell halfway across, skinning her knees, and rolling about like a towel in a dryer. Finally she managed to drag and roll herself to the platform where Laura waited. They stood panting for several minutes, getting their bearings.
I think were on the second floor. Laura managed between gasps. She straightened up, looking around. God, that music is annoying. I expect to see demented clowns at any moment.
Dont say it. Mindy advised. Or we just might.
Are you ready to go on? Laura asked.
Just give me another moment. Mindy said, placing a hand against the wall for support.
Wrong move, very wrong move was her next thought as the floor gave way beneath her and Laura.
I knew there were going to be snakes involved! Mindy yelled.
They fell, landed with a thud and then began to slid, around and around until they shot like corks out of a bottle into a pit full of plastic balls, not snakes. Mirrors, distorting their size and shape, ringed the room.
They lay for several minutes among the balls, afraid to move in case it would set off another round of tricks and torments. The music wasnt as loud now. It seemed to be fading until it finally dwindled away to nothing. All was silent. Having devoured its prey, the house had went back to sleep.
Laura stared up at the ceiling of the pit, her eyes running along its beams and boards. It was made of wood, old and rotten in places. It would go up like a tinderbox if a fire ever started. Now what had made her think of that? She wrinkled her nose. There was a smell she jerked upright.
Mindy! She yelled, struggling through the balls to her niece. Were on fire! Come on! Weve got to find a way out of here!
But how? Mindy cried, obviously reaching the limit of her endurance.
Laura was staring at the mirrors. Such things were commonly used for creating optical illusions. Through the looking glass. She breathed.
What? Mindy demanded.
Through the looking glass. Laura repeated. Just like Alice in Wonderland. Weve just got to find the opening. She waded through the balls and began running her hands over the mirrors, thumping against them.
The smell of smoke was becoming overpowering and above them they could hear creaks and thuds as though fire-weakened beams were beginning to fall and cave in on each other. She had nearly given up hope when her hand left solid glass and slipped into a narrow crevice about two feet wide.
Mindy! Over here!
Coughing and gasping, they squeezed through the crevice, entering a dark space, which seemed to encircle the pit. They followed it, running and stumbling, and then climbing a flight of stairs. Only to come up against a door. Light shone beneath it and through a knot hole Laura could see outside. She tried the knob. It turned by the door didnt open. Someone must have barred it from the outside.
She felt for Mindy and found her huddled on the step behind her, her head in her hands.
Come on, Mindy. She shook the young womans shoulder. Were going to have to break it down.
Whats the use? Her niece muttered. She brought us here to die.
Holts dont give up. Laura told her sternly. I need you, Mindy. Just think of all youve got to live for and help me break down this door.
Mindy sat for a few more seconds, unresponsive, and then she picked herself up, giving herself a shake like a terrier and said grimly. Marvin isnt getting rid of me that easily.
Good girl. On the count of three, ok?
Their first attempt merely made them think theyd dislocated their shoulders, but the second attempt brought the sound of wood giving away. Finally on the third attempt, they burst through, tumbling onto the ground. Behind them the house collapsed with a roar, sending up a shower of sparks, which singed their clothes and skin.
The Sorcerers Apprentice was no more.
Mindy! Mrs. Steele! Marvin exclaimed as they entered the office. What happened to you?
Laura was not surprised at his question. Covered with soot and remnants of flour, smelling like a bonfire and dotted here and there with burn marks, they must look like something the cat had dragged in and left. From Miss Jones screwed up expression she must have been thinking the same. She looked as though shed like to pick them up by the tail and throw them in a trash bin.
We were trapped in a burning fun house. Laura answered when Mindy seemed incapable of doing so. The girl had flung herself into a chair upon entry and there she remained, staring sightlessly at the fica tree. Poor Mindy. She just didnt have Remingtons endurance yet. One day out with her aunt had done her in.
Did you say fun house? Marvin asked, incredulous.
Yes, fun house. You find them at carnivals. She cast a glance at Remingtons door and then mouthed to Marvin, Is he in?
Marvin shook his head. No, he left a few minutes ago. Got a call from that guy that pops in here now and then. Im surprised you didnt meet him in the parking lot.
They probably did, but he hadnt recognized them. Fate had finally smiled on her. Now she could pop home, take a shower and change without him being any the wiser. Sure, she might have to bribe the kids if they were home from school, but so be it. Anything to keep this little adventure from Remingtons knowledge. Otherwise, hed lock her in a closet again and throw away the key.
Good. She said cheerfully, turning to Miss Jones. Call the limo, will you, Miss Jones?
Im afraid I cant. That honorable woman said. Mr. Steele took it.
Drat. Shed forgotten about their shortage of vehicles. Two in one day had been quite a blow. Annie had needed the van for errands and the Auburn only left the garage on special occasions. So theyd been forced to take the limo in that morning. Shed have to bathe in Remingtons executive bathroom and send out for some clothes. Asking Mindy for a lift home was a hopeless endeavor.
Uh, Marvin, Laura said, glancing at her niece, could you drive Mindy home? She hasnt recovered yet. Its the first time shes been out on a case with me.
No problem, Mrs. Steele. Be glad to. He moved over to Mindys chair. Come along, Ms. Piper, its time to go.
Go where? She asked blankly, still staring at the plant.
Im taking you home.
Oh. Thats nice. She remained seated.
He glanced at Laura as though she held the answer to his dilemma. She shrugged. He seemed to consider his options for a moment or two, studying the situation from all angles, and then reached down and swept Mindy into his arms.
When the door had swung closed behind them, Laura turned to Miss Jones with a smile. Would you be so good as to send someone out for a size 10 ladies suit, Miss Jones? Ill be in Mr. Steeles office freshening up. She started for the office and then stopped, her hand digging through the contents of her purse. Coming back, she placed two purple gems in the middle of the secretarys desk. Two pieces of the Royal Lavulite recovered. Three more to go. Please put them in a safe place, will you?
Laura was still at the office when Remington returned two hours later. She was the only one in the office except for one or two other hardy souls working on cases or research. Miss Jones had left an hour ago and Marvin had never returned, which to Lauras way of thinking was a hopeful sign. Perhaps he was soothing Mindys fevered brow.
Still burning the midnight oil, Laura? Remington asked from the doorway.
Waiting for you. She answered, closing the file shed been making notes in. She wanted the person taking over the case to be well informed. Ever since returning from San Francisco, shed been systematically depleting her caseload. Working on cases that didnt interest her wasnt going to bring back her youth.
That anxious to discover what Ive gleaned from Jamie?
No, she said simply, you had the limo.
Mindy couldnt take you home?
Ah, no, Laura said, suddenly interested in the file once again. She flipped it open and then shut it again. she had to go home early. Fell ill all of a sudden.
He moved into the office and settled himself in the chair across from her. Thats odd. He murmured. Mindy has always displayed the robust Holt constitution. Not a sniffle, not a cough since shes been here. She seemed fine this morning. Came on suddenly, did it?
Laura turned her head to reach a particularly annoying itch. Yes, as a matter of fact, it did. Must have been something she ate at lunch. Stopped at Bernies Dogs. Having satisfied the itch, she turned back to him, her expression like that of an over bright light bulb. So how was your meeting with Jamie? Is he keeping himself well?
Yes, very well. Remington said, his eyes on her. Didnt you have a navy blue suit on this morning?
She glanced down at the taupe suit she was now wearing. Leave it to Calvin Klein to notice the color of her suit. Youre right. It was, but poor Mindy, well, she couldnt, she shrugged, offering a smile, well, when one gets sick, one gets sick. She was terribly embarrassed about it, but I assured her it was ok and I sent out for another suit.
I see. He didnt look convinced but he allowed the subject of her suit and Mindys illness to drop and said, Jamie assured me that he didnt steal the Lavulite.
I know. She said. I ah ran across two of the stones today. Theyre in the company safe.
Remingtons brows rose. Oh really? How did that happen? Did they just appear on your seat with a ribbon tied around them?
As a matter of fact, they did. Before he had a chance to think too long and too hard on that astonishing occurrence she hurried on, Jamie cased the gallery, didnt he?
Of course. Remington automatically answered. Hes a professional, but he doesnt have any idea how the jewels could have disappeared in the manner in which they did. He suggested a midnight excursion inside the gallery tomorrow night.
Why not tonight?
He had a previous engagement. A redhead. He assured me that she is too promising to stand up on so short notice.
Well, Laura said brightly, getting up, we might as well go home then.
Theres burn marks on your purse. Remington noted as she slung the bag over her shoulder.
She glanced down, studying the leather in question. Huh. I must have gotten to close to someone with a cigarette. Are you ready?
He got up, allowing her to past, but as she did, his arms suddenly snaked out, catching her by the waist. He pulled her back against him. She could feel his nose in her hair. Your hair smells like a bonfire. She searched for a plausible explanation but before she could formulate one, he swung her around to face him. What happened today, Laura?
Mindy and I confirmed that Major Descoine is definitely dead.
Thats only part of the story. He said with grim resignation. Something else happened that caused you to change clothes, burn your purse and smell like Guy Fawkes Day. It also shook the indomitable Mindy Piper enough to send her home. The thief didnt just hand over those jewels for the hell of it. They were bait, werent they? And you snapped it up like a rainbow trout.
I wonder if this is how Dr. Frankenstein felt. Laura mused. I taught you the art of investigation and now Ive been caught by my own trap. When his expression didnt lighten, she knew there was no use but to confess. Ok. Youve got me. The box that held the gems also held a card with an address on it. We went there and found an old fun house.
And? He prompted when she stopped.
We ended up in a pit of plastic balls with the house on fire above us.
Look, she said, throwing up her hands as though to ward off any recriminations he might chose to fling at her, we got out, ok? Both of us are fine. No harm done.
You could have been killed.
I think that was pretty much the idea. When Remington opened his mouth to respond, she hurried on, Im convinced that Lily Descoine is alive and intent on carrying out her fathers revenge. The problem is I cant prove it. So I have to keep following the bait until she reveals herself. Thats the only way to stop all of this and recover the Lavulite.
Remington whirled away from her, turning his back as he struggled to control his frustration. I wish Id never heard of that blasted Lavulite.
Dont blame the Lavulite. Laura said quickly. Blame me. Its my past thats caused all of this. She chuckled as a thought struck her. All those years I worried about your past coming back to haunt us and here its mine. My past brings us to end game. How ironic.
End game? He echoed, turning back to face her. What do you mean?
She smiled. It was time to tell him. She had known since San Francisco, but she had delayed telling him because she knew that once she did there would be no going back.
She placed her hands on his shoulders and looked up at him. This is going to be my last case. Youve wanted to retire for a long time, probably since the moment you stepped into Remington Steeles shoes. Now Im ready.
She had expected him to be glad, ecstatic even, brimming over with jubilation, but he just stared at her, a look of worry on his face.
Are you sure, Laura? He finally asked.
He still seemed unable to accept what she was telling him. She could see the war of conflicting emotion on his face. Part of him wanted to believe it very badly, but the other part told him to be cautious, go slowly. His past experience with her had conditioned him to accept the agency as a permanent part of their lives. She might work less, but shed never completely give it up.
I really mean it. She insisted. We wont take any more cases. Well come in until Rick takes over, but Marvins capable of managing day to day business. With all the extra time on our hands I dont see any reason why we shouldnt jet off to Tahiti or Bermuda or Timbuktu. Wherever you want to go. Once the Descoines are put to rest once and for all, Im all yours. Exclusively.
There was a pause as his eyes searched her face, and having obviously found what he was looking for, he pulled her to him, hugging her tightly and burying his face in her smoky hair. She hugged him back, smiling, glad that she could finally give him the promise hed always wanted but had never expected to receive.
As long as youre sure, Laura. He breathed against her ear.
Still holding her, his eyes went around the office, touching on the familiar walls, furniture and décor. I suppose someday I might miss the old place. His gaze went to the white couch that could be seen through the connecting door. I know Ill miss that couch.
She pulled back, looking up at him with a twinkle in her eye. Why not give it another whirl before we say goodbye to it forever?
An excellent suggestion, Mrs. Steele.
The Last Case
Gaining access to the Lilliputan Art Gallery had been ridiculously easy. Any amateur could have done it, Remington thought as he followed Jamie out the ventilation shaft. But of course, what professional thief in his right mind would want to steal the stuff displayed in this gallery? Hideous. All of it. It wouldnt fetch more than a few thousand. A complete waste of time and effort.
He grunted as he dropped to the ground. Crawling along ducts and scaling buildings no longer agreed with his body, and he was glad that tonight would be his last official act of breaking and entering. Laura had finally declared their investigative days at an end, and he could retire his picks for good. Well, he thought, maybe not for good. A pick was always a handy item to have around, sort of like a flashlight or pack of breath mints.
I recommend starting with the display case. Jamie was saying. If the jewels disappeared as you described, it would have to involve special equipment. Mirrors or secret compartments. No human hand is that quick.
This was a side of Jamie that Remington had never seen before. There was neither flippancy nor mockery in his voice or actions. He was all business, creeping along the darkened lacquer and silk corridors on feet as quiet as a cats. Remington followed with just as much skill and single-minded purpose. They would have made a lethal combination, an unstoppable partnership had they met before Laura.
They entered the main gallery. Moonlight poured through a skylight, which Remington hadnt noticed the previous night, illuminating various pieces of art, a ceramic vase here, a sculpture of welded metal pipes there. It had been very sloppy of him not to have noticed the skylight, Remington decided, looking up at that structure with considerable annoyance.
Do people really buy this stuff? Jamie asked, circling a sculpture made of garden rakes and wheelbarrows. They want $3,500 for this this abomination. The mystery is not in how she made the Lavulite disappear. He concluded. The true marvel is that she can actually sell this garbage. What fools people are. My, my, my, what fools.
Remington had zeroed in on the display case, which had held the Royal Lavulite. He was surprised to see it setting in the same place it had been the night of the disappearance. Granted, Lilith Anderson had not allowed them back into her gallery, but surely she would have disposed of the means in which she performed her magic trick. He glanced upwards. The skylight was directly above the case yet it had been completely dark in the hall that night. Someone would have had to cover the skylight.
You noticed that, did you? Jamie asked, joining him in his upward study. I was going to use that skylight. Very easy to slither down on a cable, cut open the case and remove the gems. Its done in the movies all the time. Im sure your people would have noticed it.
Very likely. Remington agreed. If it hadnt been covered. There was no light in this room the night of the disappearance. She would have had to have total darkness to make the switch.
Yes. Jamie nodded, his eyes on the display case. All magicians relied on distractions and illusions to perform their tricks.
They spent a good twenty minutes going over the display case, taking it apart and inspecting it closely with pocket flashlights. It was a superbly made magicians prop, but they finally noticed the finest of lines around the glass pedestals where the jewels were displayed. Upon closer inspection, they discovered panels which dropped inward into a compartment built into the base of the structure.
She must have had the light switch rigged. When it was switched off, it triggered the jewels to drop into the compartment. Or, Remington murmured, looking up at the skylight, maybe theres a sensor inside that reacts to light. Sort of like those solar calculators.
How clever of you to discover my little trick, Mr. Steele. A voice said from the surrounding shadows. But I was betting on your curiosity to lead you right where I wanted you. I had to get you out of the way. You have an unfortunate tendency to ride to the rescue whenever your wife is in danger. Therefore, I must eliminate you.
Jamie and Remington slowly stood up and turned toward the voice. Lilith Anderson had stepped out the shadows and into the moonlight. She was holding a gun in one hand while the other held a translucent blue stone, which she moving back and forth in her fingers, allowing it to shimmer tantalizing before she suddenly tossed it at Remington. He caught it.
Your reward. She told him with a smile. I would give you the other two, but Im afraid they're in use right now. They're in the process of leading your dear Laura to her death.
Remington started forward but Jamie quickly restrained him with a hand on his arm. Keep your head, mate.
Better listen to your friend, Mr. Steele. Lilith Anderson advised. Im going to use this gun, but Id prefer not to have to kill you. Id rather just put you out of commission. You see, unlike my father, I realize that its not you who put him in prison and killed my mother. You just stepped into the shoes that Laura Holt created. You were an innocent pawn in the game. That was my fathers mistake. He didnt do his research thoroughly. It was Laura Holt he was after, not Remington Steele.
Laura was only doing her job. Remington pointed out in a hopeless attempt to reason with the woman. Your father and mother committed a crime. It was Lauras job to uphold the law.
Did she uphold the law where you were concerned, Mr. Steele? Lilith asked, her voice as biting as acid. She overlooked quite a few crimes committed in your past, didnt she? Oh, yes, I know all about your previous life. I did my research very well, which is fortunate for you. I know you were busy stealing art and jewels when she put my father in prison and drove my mother to suicide. And because of that Im going to spare you no matter how misplaced your loyalties. She glanced at her watch. Im afraid your time is up, Mr. Steele. Its time to bring this interview to a close.
She lifted her gun, pointed it at Remingtons right knee and pulled the trigger. The shot was loud and echoing in the dark, empty gallery, but no one noticed. Remington was too busy fighting the excruciating pain radiating up and down his leg as he crumpled to the floor and Jamie, shocked to the core, could do nothing but gaped at the sight of his friend writhing on the floor in agony, dark blood quickly staining his pant leg. By the time hed regained his wits, the woman had vanished.
He bent down and attempted to lift Remington upwards. Come on, old man, Jamie said briskly, Ive got to get you to a hospital.
No. Remington said, his voice tight with pain and something else that Jamie couldnt define. Give me your belt.
My belt? Why?
Just do it. Remington ordered.
Jamie removed the belt and handed it to Remington who quickly wrapped the leather above his knee and twisted it tight, creating a crude tourniquet. Find me something to lean on.
You cant mean to follow her? Jamie demanded, incredulous. You need to get to a hospital. Face it, mate, shes taken you out of the game. This is the end of the line for you. The hellcat will have to fight her own battle.
Never! Remington gritted. Not as long as I have air in my lungs and strength in my body. His eyes roamed the gallery, falling on the sculpture with the rakes and wheelbarrows. Hand me one of those rakes.
This is madness, Jamie thought, pure and utter madness. The man had a bullet in or around his knee, was bleeding like a stuck pig, couldnt walk worth a damn and yet he was determined to rescue his dear, precious Laura. No woman was worth this kind of devotion, Jamie assured himself as he retrieved the rake.
Im a bloody fool for helping you. Jamie muttered, hauling Remington to his feet and shoving the rake under his arm. But youre a stubborn enough bugger to drag yourself there if I dont so come on. Lets go and get this bloody farce over with.'
The package arrived about two hours after Remington had left to meet Jamie. The doorbell had rung and since Annie had retired for the evening in the suite theyd built off the side of the house for her, Laura had gone to answer it.
A courier who looked no older than Michael held out a box tied with a green ribbon. Package for Mrs. Steele.
Im Mrs. Steele.
Please sign here. He said, handing her a pen and indicating on his clipboard where she should sign. Then having fulfilled his duty, he disappeared into his truck and put-putted cheerfully off into the darkness.
She closed the door and carried the box into the kitchen where she placed it on the counter. It looked very much like the one in Mindys car except this one was square like a hat box. Unlike the time before she had no urge to open it. Actually dread filled her at the thought. She had the uncanny sense of impending doom. Yet she had to open it. She had to complete this case.
Her fingers pulled the ribbon loose and then lifted the lid. Inside sat a replica of a plane, its wings and fuselage carefully constructed and delicate to the touch. Dangling from its hand-carved wooden propeller was another blue gem. Laura reached inside and lifted it out, turning it from side and side. Across its fuselage, painted in black letters was the name of a small, local airport. Obviously a hint to where she was supposed to go. The trap had been baited again, but this time she didnt want to go.
This is going to be my last case. The words shed spoken to Remington echoed in her head, over and over again like a tolling bell. She shivered and abruptly dropped the plane onto the counter as though it burnt her fingers. Was this going to be her last case in more ways than one? If she followed the bait, there was a good chance it would be. Her instincts were telling her not to go, that this would be the most dangerous situation shed ever faced.
Yet Lily Descoine had to be stopped. Otherwise, she would continue haunting their lives as she sought to carry out her fathers revenge. Laura considered calling Jarvis, but what could he do? His hands would be tied unless the woman committed a crime. There was really no other option but to confront the woman and rely on her experience and skill as an investigator to see her through.
Thus resolved, she picked up her purse, grabbed the keys to the van and headed for the door, but she stopped as her hand touched the cold metal of the doorknob. A sudden, overwhelming urge to say goodbye to her kids consumed her. It was silly, she told herself as she turned and walked down the hallway to the theater room, shed see them again. This was not the time to start thinking negatively.
Hey, kids, she said brightly, coming into the room, Ive got to go out for a while.
Ok, Mom. Michael said, his eyes on the TV screen.
Holly, however, glanced up from her cell phone where shed been engaged in her favorite activity ~ texting. Will you be gone long?
I dont know. Hopefully not.
What should we tell Dad if he gets back before you?
Tell him Im tying up a loose end. Laura said cryptically.
Holly frowned. Mom
Hey, look, Ive got to run. Laura said quickly, leaning over and giving her daughter a kiss and hug. She glanced at Michael. He hadnt liked kisses and hugs since he was ten. But it could be the last time, a voice reminded her so, much to his shock, she reached over and did the same to him. Then she was gone.
Holly stared after her. That was so weird.
Yeah, I know. Michael agreed, his hand on the cheek where his mother had kissed him. She hasnt done that since I was ten.
I wonder whats going on. Holly murmured, getting up and looking out the window. The vans taillights were just disappearing down the road. It must have something to do with that doorbell.
The doorbell rang a couple minute ago, dorky.
Holly left him and wandered into the kitchen where she found the plane sitting on the counter where Laura had left it. Picking it up, she carried it back to the theater room.
Whats that? Michael asked as she took a seat beside him on the couch.
Its a toy plane. Cant imagine why it would make her take off so quickly. She turned the plane in her hands, noticing the name painted on the side. River Valley Air. Isnt that an airport around here?
Yeah. Michael said. Its about twenty miles south.
I bet thats where shes going. Holly declared. She sat thinking for a moment or two, chewing on her bottom lip and then she sprang upright. Why dont we follow her?
Now whos being dorky? Michael said with a roll of his eyes. There are no cars in the garage. Mom took the van, Dad took the Auburn, the Rabbit is finally dead and the AMG is in the shop thanks to your wonderful driving. How are we going to get there? Hike?
What about that junker of yours?
Oh, no, Michael said, shaking his dark head vehemently, youre getting nowhere near it. And dont bother batting those baby blues at me. I know all the tricks. I use them myself frequently.
Then what should we do? Holly demanded. Mom was acting really weird. It was almost as if she didnt expect to see us again.
Michael stared at the TV screen for a moment or two and then said, Call Dad. Hes got a cell.
Itll probably be off again. Holly muttered, pulling out her cell and hitting the speed dial for Remington. He only carries one because Mom forces him to. There was a pause and then, Dad? Its me Holly Are you ok? You sound funny Yes, its important. I wouldnt have called if it wasnt I know I called about a spider once but I was only nine Look, Mom just took off and she was acting really weird. I think shes going to the River Valley airfield because, Holly said with a roll of her eyes, she got a package and it had this toy plane inside with River Valley Air painted along the side she left about fifteen minutes ago ok. She slapped the phone closed and looked at Michael. He sounded weird too. Sort of frantic.
Hes always frantic when Moms missing.
Shes not missing. We know where she went. She thought for a moment, again chewing on her lip. I think somethings going on. Something big. We ought to do something.
Well, Michael said, flipping through channels with the speed of an experienced TV surfer, do what everyone else does. Call the police. Try that Jarvis guy. He seemed cool.
Holly flipped open her phone and started to dial.
The drive to the airfield wasnt long, only twenty minutes, but Lauras sense of dread grew with every mile. By the time she pulled the van into the empty parking lot, it felt like a two hundred pound weight around her neck. It was all she could do to force her legs to walk to the largest of the three hangers whose door sat open invitingly as though welcoming her inside.
She approached cautiously, her senses on high alert. All was quiet, eerily so. Stopping at the edge of the door, she peered into the shadowy interior. Planes of various shapes and sizes loomed out of the darkness. She stepped inside.
Suddenly, as if her step had triggered it, the door came crashing down, banging against the cement floor with violent speed only inches from her. Laura stood in the darkness, trying to catch her breathing, and then just as suddenly as the door, a spotlight snapped on, illuminating the center of the hanger where another toy plane sat. She stood for a moment, staring, and then inched forward, keeping close to the planes for cover. When she got near enough she could see the glint of another blue gem.
Ok. Enough of this. She was tried of playing games.
Feeling like Gary Cooper at high noon, she braced herself and called out, Lily? I know its you. Show yourself.
There was a scuffling sound like someone dropping lightly to the floor and then the woman she knew as Miss Black emerged, stopping at the edge of the ring of light. Her white blonde hair gleamed starkly. There was also something else that gleamed starkly, a gun pointed straight at Lauras heart. Well, Laura thought for one crazy moment, at least Cooper had had a gun when hed met his old enemy. All she had was a purse and a cell phone.
I suspected something was not quite right about Miss Black. Laura noted dryly. But I put it down as bad management skills. I must be slipping in my old age.
If you were going to survive this night, I would recommend talking to Mr. Slottman about the thoroughness of his background checks. Miss Black said. But, of course, he really cant be blamed. By all intends and purposes, Miss Amy Black has an impeccable record. She was exactly what I was looking for when I drugged her and tossed her into the acid bath. Her experience in research provided me a way into Remington Steele Investigations.
The wolf among the sheep. Laura murmured. How clever.
Yes, wasnt it? She agreed with a smile. Most of my work was performed under Miss Blacks identity. It was she who put the lilies in your office. Your husband was good enough to provide me with a key to the office. At Lauras look of confusion, she explained. Mr. Steele has the unfortunate habit of leaving his key in the top drawer of his desk. I made an impression of it and had a key made. Not that a key was needed. I can pick locks as well as any of you. But it seemed poetic justice somehow to use the key of the great detective Remington Steele. She paused, a thoroughly evil smile spreading across her face. But, of course, we both know that hes not a detective, dont we, Laura Holt? Hes just a two bit thief that fortune smiled upon. He ran into a lady detective guarding the jewels he was after and convince her to fall in love with him.
Which is where the Royal Lavulite comes in. Laura concluded. More poetic justice?
Bravo, Miss Holt, you figured it out, but of course, I knew you would. She said, reaching up and pulling off the blonde wig, which she tossed into the ring of light. I knew youd immediately suspect Lilith Anderson so I had to have Amy Black to perform all the dirty work. She was the one driving the black sedan and who set fire to the fun house.
All those trips to the courthouse.
It must have been frustrating for you to keep seeing me return.
Her mouth firmed as though Laura had hit a sore spot, but she said grimly. Its better this way. Id rather kill you face to face so youll know why youre dying.
And why is that? Laura asked, buying for time. Her eyes searched the hanger for a means of escape. Why must I die?
Because you killed my parents. The woman declared loudly and fiercely. It was you, Laura Holt. You were the one who put my father in prison and forced my mother to commit suicide. It was you. All along it was you, not Remington Steele as my father thought. Until his dying day he remained fixated on Remington Steele, but I knew the truth. I knew it was you. All the time he was slowing dying, I was plotting how to kill you. I planned it every second of the day, and now here we are. Major Descoines revenge is nearly complete.
She pointed the gun at Laura, holding it with both hands, her face a mixture of hatred and madness.
They killed themselves. Laura stated with brutal honesty. Keep her talking, keep her distracted. It was your fathers choice to embezzle that money and it was your mothers choice to throw herself into that acid bath. The responsibility lies with them and their actions. I merely upheld the law and solved the case I was hired to do.
Yes, Laura Holt, she sneered, so honest, so squeaky clean. Yet you married a thief. A thief! How is a thief any different than an embezzler? Her scream echoed off the walls of the hanger. She paused as though waiting for the echo to die down and then, once again composed, she smiled that evil smile again and Lauras blood went cold. But Ive taken care of him. He wont be riding to your rescue this time.
Laura felt as though her heart had just fallen to her toes. Remington. What had this maniacal woman done? Had she killed him as she had Amy Black?
What have you done to him? She demanded.
Im not going to tell you. Lily declared. Itll be more agonizing for you to simply wonder.
Why you Laura hissed, starting forward.
Goodbye, Miss Holt. Lily said almost mechanically. She squeezed the trigger.
Laura waited for the impact, but there was none. Instead she found herself slammed into by a hard, dark object, which sent her sprawling sideways across the cement floor. The gun sounded, loud and echoing, and Laura watched in horror as the dark object crumpled to the floor. She heard someone screaming and looked up to see Lily wrestling with Jamie Caulfield.
Jamie, her mind repeated. What was Jamie doing here? Then the awful truth occurred to her and she looked at the dark object lying a few feet from her. Frantically, she scrambled over to it on her hands and knees. There was no mistaking that silvered dark hair. Remington. Grabbing hold on his shoulder, she rolled him over onto his back. His eyes were closed and blood was rapidly wetting the front of his sweater.
Oh, God, she gasped, Remington, talk to me come on Remington
His eyelids flickered, revealing a hint of blue. Dont cry, Laura. He breathed, seeing the tears on her cheeks. He made an effort to raise his hand to brush them away but couldnt. His strength was rapidly leaving him. I prefer it this way. My life for yours. There was a pause as he struggled for breath and then he whispered, I I couldnt bear it without you
You said you werent going anywhere. She reminded him fiercely.
Somehow he managed a smile. Im not going far. Ill always be in your heart
Then his eyes closed, his head rolling to one side.
Remington, dont you dare Laura shook him. No response. Remington! Still no response. Nooooooooo! She screamed, throwing herself across his body.
And then arms were pulling her off and she was struggling, fighting against them, clawing to get back to Remington.
Laura! Stop it! Jamie shouted.
Let me go! She rasped. Ive Ive got to
Listen to me! Jamie insisted, his mouth against her ear as he wrapped his arms around her, clamping her arms to her sides so she couldnt hit him. Let the paramedics do their work. You cant save him this time.
That seemed to deflate her, draining all the strength from her and she collapsed against Jamie. He turned her around in his arms and held her as she sobbed into his shoulder, her fingers clutching the shoulders of his jacket. Slowly as the worse of the sobs subsided, she became aware of people running here and there, of orders being shouted and flashing lights. At some point the police and paramedics had arrived. She hadnt even heard the sirens.
Where did they come from? She asked.
I dont know. Jamie said. But thank God theyre here. At least he has a chance now. It would have been too late if wed made the call.
Together they watched the paramedics work feverishly over Remingtons body, their movements quick and efficient. It was a good sign, Laura assured herself. They wouldnt bother if he wasnt still alive. Finally he was stabilized enough to load onto a gurney and then into the ambulance, which took off lights flashing and sirens blaring. Jamie and Laura followed in the Auburn, which, to Lauras horror, was stained with Remingtons blood.
She shot him in the knee. Jamie said in brief explanation. She should have hit him in the head if she wanted to stop him.
It was the longest night of her life, and she shared it with Jamie who sat next to her looking nearly as haggard as herself. How odd that it should be this man to provide comfort and support at the worse moment of her life. Theyd never been fond of each other. She thought him a bad influence and he thought her headstrong and unmanageable, a hellcat was what Remington said he called her. Yet despite their differences they had one time in common, Remington, and that created a bond between them as they sat there, longing for news yet dreading it.
What happened to Lily? She asked at some point.
He was silent for a moment and then said dully, She shot herself.
In front of you?
He nodded. She got away from me in the hanger and ran outside. I followed. There was one of those ultra light planes waiting, her getaway vehicle, I suppose, but when she saw the police, she must have felt the game was up and shot herself. He rubbed his eyes. Thats something I never want to see again.
Laura placed a hand on his shoulder. Im sorry.
Ill get over it. I always do. He muttered before suddenly jumping up and stalking across the small waiting room, hands on hips. Whats taking them so bloody long?
They fell into silence once again and the hours ticked by. She had called Annie, explaining what had happened but asking her not to let on to Holly and Michael how serious the situation was. She would do that herself once she knew Remingtons condition, but in the meantime, she didnt want them to worry. That was the only phone call she made. Everyone else she left in blissful ignorance.
Finally at about four in the morning a surgeon in green scrubs entered the waiting room. Fear gripped her as she looked into his tired face. She unconsciously clutched at Jamies jacket, pulling him close as she braced herself for the news.
Mrs. Steele? The surgeon asked.
Im Dr. Kessinger, Brian Kessinger. He added. I wish I could have informed you sooner, but there were complications that needed our attention. As the color drained from Lauras face, he quickly continued. Dont worry, Mrs. Steele. Your husband is alive, but we nearly lost him a couple of times. As a result, hes in a coma right now. Weve patched him up. The knee will need additional surgery. The bullet took a large chunk out of it, but that was the least of his troubles. The other bullet missed his heart but nicked a major artery as well as penetrating a lung. Its a damn good thing the medics arrived as quickly as they did or Im afraid he wouldnt have made it to surgery. Hes in ICU and his condition is listed as critical, but I think he has a good chance if he comes out of the coma within a few days.
So we wait. Laura concluded.
Pretty much. Kessinger agreed, nodding his sandy head. Hes in fine physical condition and theres every reason to believe that if hes made it this far, hell recover, but right now its a waiting game, Mrs. Steele. I wish I could promise you more, but I cant.
I understand, Doctor. She said, not liking the situation but resigned to it. Can he have visitors?
Ill let you see him now, but anyone whos not immediate family should wait a day or two. After that Id encourage as many visitors as you can find. Theres evidence that coma patients can hear so Id encourage talking him back, so to speak. Now, if youll follow me, Ill have Nurse Pryor take you to his room. He glanced at Jamie. Is he immediate family?
Laura looked at Jamie. His brother.
Satisfied Dr. Kessinger turned and led them out of the waiting room and into the ICU unit where he left them in the efficient hands of Nurse Pryor.
Come Back to Me
Laura was sitting by Remingtons bedside when Marvin and Mindy entered the room. They must have come directly from work for they were still in business attire. Their expressions, although grave, were hopeful as they eased up to the bedside. She knew the medical equipment surrounding Remington must look scary and intimidating. It had certainly given her a fright when shed first seen it. Thank God, Jamie had been there to hold her up.
How is he, Mrs. Steele? Marvin asked quietly, looking down at the man that he called Chief, a title hed picked up from Mildred. Is he is he going to make it?
The doctor thinks so but hes cautious. He wont give any guarantees until he comes out of the coma. She looked at Mindy. How are you, Min? Have you recovered from our little adventure?
Was that blush on her face due to embarrassment over her subsequent reaction or was it due to what had happened after Marvin took her home?
Uh, yes, Laura, Im fine, just fine.
Seeing them together bolstered Lauras spirit considerably, and she talked easily with them for several minutes, explaining in more detail the events for the past 24 hours and then discussing routine every day business. Finally Marvin moved toward the door and Laura followed him. There was something she wanted to discuss with him in private.
You coming, Min? He asked from the doorway when Mindy remained beside Remington.
In a minute or two. Mindy called back.
Marvin looked puzzled, but Laura diverted his attention by taking him by the arm and leading him into the hallway. Theres something I want to discuss with you, Marvin.
Theres no need to worry, Mrs. Steele. You take as much time as you need. He hurriedly assured her. Ive got everything under control. The staff is aware of the situation, and the Royal Lavulite is safe and waiting to be retrieved. Ive also alerted the papers. That should take care of any damage Lilith Anderson did to our reputation.
No, its not that. Laura said. Marvin, you should know that this was our last case. Mr. Steele and I intend to go into semi-retirement, and I want you to take over every day management of the agency. When Rick graduates, start him as a junior investigator like everyone else. No favoritism. Youll be the manager until youre ready to retire or leave. After that, Rick can take over.
Youre not going to come into the office at all?
Well come in when we can, but for the most part, its yours to run.
I dont know what to say. Marvin said, somewhat stunned.
Laura smiled. Remington had good judgment when he hired you. Youve become a first rate detective and an excellent manager. I think youre the best person to run the agency until our son can take over. She paused, glancing at Mindy through the door. I only have one concern.
Oh, I assure you, Mrs. Steele, that theres no need to worry. He said, his ears turning a bright red. Mindy and I are only colleagues.
Thats what Im concerned about. His deer caught in the headlights look was so comical that she hurried to his rescue, saying, I came very close to losing Mr. Steele last night, Marvin. I still could if he doesnt come out of this coma. Looking back I regret all the years I kept him at arms length because of worries that never came to be. Life is short. Dont waste any more time worrying about something as insignificant as fifteen years. In the end, it doesnt matter.
He was speechless for a moment, his mind obviously trying to put her advice in its proper place, and then his eyes went to Mindy. Ill keep that in mind.
Mindy, however, did not notice his glance or have any interest in the conversation going on outside the door. Her attention was on her uncle.
Hey, Uncle Remington, its me, Mindy. Its been a long time since I called you uncle, got too old for it, I guess. I know mom and dad will be in later, Dan and his wife and Laurie Beth too. All of them were devastated to hear about your your accident. Im sure theyll tell you in their own way, but I just want to say how glad we are that your part of the family. Mom would get all fussy if she knew Id told you this, but she used to tell dad that youre the best thing that ever happened to Aunt Laura. She paused, her eyes on the white bed sheet. When she lifted them again, there were traces of tears. And if you ask me, youre the best thing that happened to our whole family. Mom and Laura get along so much better these days. Maybe they have more in common. I dont know. I just know that all of us want you to come back. She stopped again, swallowing hard. Marvin told the staff today and everyone is pretty depressed, even Miss Jones. You know, Laura might be the brains behind Remington Steele Investigations, but youre its heart.
Mindy, Marvin called, are you ready to go?
Ive got to go now. Mindy told him. But you come back to us, you hear? Marvin will need your helping in picking out an engagement ring. She leaned close, whispering. And there will be an engagement, Uncle Remington so get well soon. The quicker you do, the faster well get Marvin down the aisle.
With one last look at Remingtons still face, she joined Marvin in the hallway.
Do you want me to go in with you, Millie? Virgil asked as they stood outside Remingtons hospital room.
It was dinner time and the halls were empty of visitors. Even Laura had been persuaded to go and get something to eat, leaving the room unguarded. It was exactly what Mildred had hoped for. She would speak with Laura later. Right now the boss needed her.
No. Mildred said. Id prefer to go by myself.
Ok. He agreed. Ill go have a coffee in the cafeteria.
Once Virgil was gone, Mildred entered the room, her steps tentative. The sight of the boss, always so full of life, looking pale and unresponsive nearly broke her soft heart. The tubes and wires and blipping machines irritated her but she squared her shoulders and marched up to the bed rail. Mildred the tax fraud investigator was back.
Got yourself into a real pickle this time, didnt you? She asked him. Ive seen you in a lot of jams over the years but this one takes first prize in the county fair. You werent kidding when you said youd miss me. I retire and the minute my back is turned you go and get yourself in trouble. You should have thrown Mrs. Steele over your shoulder and gone to Tahiti with me and Virg. Oh, how you would have loved Tahiti, boss. Its just your kind of place. Sand, sun, grass skirts, drinks with little umbrellas. She paused and her tone softened, I probably never would have gotten to Tahiti if I hadnt come looking for your tax return all those years ago. You and Mrs. Steele changed my life. It went from boring to exciting overnight. I gained two kids and eventually three grandkids not to mention a career straight out of a detective novel and a husband thats a lot more interesting than the first one, I can tell you. Her voice trailed off as memories flooded into her mind. But of all our adventures I remember the day you left us the most. It was awful. It was like the sun had gone out. But Mrs. Steele and I came and got you. But this time we cant do that. Her voice broke, and she searched in her pocket for a tissue. Youve got to come back to us.
Holly stood by the bedside two days later. It wasnt the first time shed been there, but this was the first time she had her father to herself. Itd taken a lot of planning and she supposed it really wasnt right of her to lock her mother in that broom closet, but mom had strong lungs. Someone would let her out. She had to speak to dad alone.
Hi, Dad! She said brightly. Youre looking better today. Guess what? Mom says Im a hero. Can you believe it? It was me who called the police and sent them to the airport. Of course, Michael is trying to claim credit. He always was a glory hound. I suppose he had something to do with it, but I was the one that figured it out. She looked down at her hands, clutching the bed rail. Look! She said, waving her hands in front of his face. I cut my fingernails. Ive resigned myself to working at the agency. She dropped her hands back onto the railing and said quietly, Im really sorry about the car. I should have listened to you. And I promise I will if youll only open your eyes and come back to us. She brushed a tear away. I miss you. But mom misses you the most. Shes been so sad since youve been here, and theres nothing Michael and I can do to cheer her up. Youre her smile, dad, so please come back and make her smile again.
I didnt think Id ever ditch them. Michael muttered, coming up to his fathers bed. Do you believe it? Holly locked mom in a broom closet yesterday. Too bad I didnt think of that. He said almost regretfully. But Aunt Frances and Uncle Donald arrived just in time. Theyve cornered mom in the waiting room and you know what Frances is like. Blab, blab, blab. Shes crying like a watering pot and shes not even married to you. He leaned his elbows on the bed railing. Sure wish youd wake up though. I mean what would I do without you? You understand me. Mom tries but she just doesnt understand that Im not cut out for college like Rick. I want to see the world, to walk the rooftops like The Cat. I want to consider the possibilities. He fell into silence for a moment, his eyes on his dads still face. Youre my hero, you know. I just wanted you to know that, ok? Hey, Id better go now. I hear Aunt Fran coming. Geesh, does that woman ever stop talking?
Hey, Dad, Rick said, bursting into the hospital room, Im not supposed to be here so dont tell Mom, ok? She told me to stay at Stanford, but I had to come and see you so Jonas and I took the bus. Jonas is my roommate, remember? Dont worry. Holly has no idea were here. If she did, shed broadcast it from the rooftops. That girl never could keep a secret. He dropped into the chair beside the bed. Hey, I cant stay long. The bus leaves in a couple hours, but I had to see you, even for only a few minutes. He looked down at his hands. Dont leave us, Dad. Im not ready to be the man of the house. Theres a lot I need to learn, a lot you still need to teach me. Oh, I know responsibility has always been my middle name, at least thats what Michael says, but I need you, Dad. We all need you. Come back to us.
This is the fourth day. Laura noted as she and Jamie sat at Remingtons bedside. The doctor says his body is healing, but he needs to wake up. I dont know what Ill do if She dropped her head into her hands. She was so tired, so stretched thin.
He will, Laura. Hell come out of this. Jamie assured her. He wont leave his Laura.
Its my fault, you know. She told him, sitting upright again, her face full of self loathing. One last case I said. Just one last case and then well retire.
Lily Descoine had to be dealt with. Jamie said. She wasnt going to go away.
If I hadnt put her father in jail all those years ago
Hey, Jamie interrupted, its not your fault. People are responsible for their own decisions and actions. Descoine just happened to be a certified loon that couldnt accept his role in his dear Lilys death. He paused and then said quietly. And it was Remingtons decision to give his life for yours. Nothing would have stopped him. Believe me, I was there. He would have crawled to that airport if I hadnt driven him there. Stubborn bugger.
They fell into silence for a few minutes and then Laura abruptly got up. Im going to go get a cup of coffee. Do you want one?
He shook his head, and Laura left the room, her footsteps echoing down the hallway.
Jamie stared at the man in the bed. So like himself, he mused. Yet so different. Different because of Remingtons love for one woman. Never had any woman generated in Jamie the desire to give his life for her. Remarkable. It was truly remarkable that such a love could exist. They were like the ying and the yang, two halves of a whole, inseparable except by death. And death was calling.
He buried his face in his hands for a moment as emotion passed through him and then he raised his head and spoke. Im no good at things like this, old man. You know me. I prefer skating on the surface. Light and flippant, thats Jamie boy. But it seems to me that at a time like this I ought to tell you what youve become to me. Youre the brother I never had. You and your family are the only family Ive got. Never minded before but now I do. Ive lived a sort of empty life. You know better than anyone what its like chasing jewels all over the continent. Oh, I loved it, but it was emotionally empty. You see, I never ran into my Laura. Maybe I didnt let myself. Maybe they broke the mold when yours was created. Saved a lot of fingers, eh? He flashed a tired smile. But whatever happens I want you to know that you can count on this rather long-in-the-tooth jewel thief to look after them. Ill do my best, but I dont know anything about raising teenagers and that hellcat of yours is a bloody difficult woman. It would make all of us a lot happier if youd find some way to come back to us.
It was well past midnight yet Laura remained by Remingtons bed. Shed gotten little sleep over the past four days and her strengthen was beginning to fail her. Itd been hard to be strong for the children and all the others, employees, family, ex-clients, everyone who had come to visit. Why did she always have to be the strong one? It was wearisome. Who was going to be strong for her? Remington had always been the shoulder to cry on, the inspiration to keep going, the one with all the possibilities, but now he was silent.
She pulled the chair over to the bed and sat down. She stared at him, her eyes touching the familiar features. Everything just as it had always been except for the blue eyes. They were hidden, lying beneath dark lashes that refused to open. She raised a hand and brushed a dark swath of hair from his forehead. He didnt move, didnt respond. She sighed, dropping her head into her hands. Tears began rolling down her face and she quickly wiped them away.
I know you said you preferred it this way, she finally said, her voice sounding choked, that you couldnt bear it without me. Well, did you ever consider that I couldnt bear it without you? There was a pause and then she laughed, humorlessly, bitterly, Oh, I know. Im the strong one. Laura can handle anything. Thats what everyone thinks, dont they? Well, its not easy being strong. Ive got to smile while everyone else weeps. Ive got to remain standing when everyone falls down. Ive got to go on because everyone else is counting on me to drag them over the finish line. She paused again, swallowing hard.
She shouldnt be complaining. She should be encouraging him to return, but she wanted him to know that just because she was strong didnt mean she didnt need him as much as he needed her. Strong people just like eagles needed the wind beneath their wings to lift them. Otherwise, they never got off the ground.
Remington, I need you. She said quietly, humbly. Youre my smile. Youre the song in my heart. Youre the sun to my moon. She swallowed hard, laying her forehead against the bed sheet as strength seemed to leave her. Please come back to me.
Hear my voice where you are. Take a train, steal a car. Hop a freight, grab a star, come back to me. Catch a plane, catch a breeze. On your hands, on your knees, Swim or fly, only please, come back to me!
COME BACK TO ME!
The conscience of the man known as Remington Steele groaned. First Daisy Gamble, now Dr. Marc Chabot. Was he going to spend his entire life being tormented by the cast of On a Clear Day You Can See Forever? Hed been hearing that phrase over and over again in his head, but unlike Daisy Gamble, it wasnt one voice saying it. It was many voices, some young, some old, all familiar, and the last one the most compelling. It had caught hold of him and dragged him forward.
He grimaced, trying to remember that voice. He knew it belonged to someone precious to him, someone hed given his life for, but who? A image began to appear, hazy at first but then coming together into a face. Dark, flowing hair, dark eyes, freckled shoulders, a smile that dared and promised at the same time. Laura! The name burst into his consciousness, and he nearly gasped.
Laura was calling him. He had to get back to her. She needed him. Hed promised her he wasnt going anywhere. He had to keep his promise. He struggled against the darkness, wrestling with it, pushing it aside. Open your bloody eyes, he commanded himself. His hands curled into fists as he fought his way through layers of darkness.
Laura, her head against the bed, felt something. It was really no more than a twitch, but it got her attention. She turned her head to the side and then jerked upright. Remingtons fingers had moved. She stared at his hand, waiting breathlessly. Yes, there is was again. Her eyes went to his face. It was still but somehow she sensed a battle going on beneath its calm surface. She reached for the nurses bell. It sounded more like a buzzer than a bell, but the man on the bed must have heard it differently.
Every time a bell rings an angel gets his wings.
What? She asked, incredulously.
Its a Wonderful Life. Jimmy Stewart Remingtons voice trailed off as though he was too tired to push the words out.
He still hadnt opened his eyes, but he was talking! Joy exploded through Laura. He was back! Hed come back to her!
I know. I know. She told him, taking his hand in hers. She grinned foolishly when his fingers weakly returned her squeeze. Donna Reed, RKO, 1946. Its Mildreds favorite movie. We watched it every Christmas when she and Virg came over. She paused and then said stupidly. Remington, youre awake.
Was I asleep?
Yes, youve been asleep for a long time.
He grimaced. Feels as though Ive been sleeping at the bottom of a rugby scrum. Hurt all over.
Thats ok. She assured him. Youll feel better in time.
Hope so. He mumbled. Cant go to Tahiti like this.
Laura laughed. She laughed so hard and so long that the nurse that came to answer the ring thought shed gone quite mad. The stress had finally gotten to her, Nurse Cranston thought with a shake of her head. They should have made her go home and sleep.
Mrs. Steele. She said, touching her shoulder. Are you alright?
Im fine. Laura said, leaping up and hugging the startled woman. Hes awake and quoting movies. Isnt that wonderful?
Growing Old Together
'Mom! Holly gasped, charging down the stairs like the hounds of hell were on her heels. Guess what I just saw from my bedroom window! Its the coolest thing I ever saw! Its
Her babble stopped. It was as though someone had shut off her words like faucet. Remington had sent his daughter such a look of displeasure that shed swallowed her words in a gulp. She stood in the doorway of the living room, twisting her fingers together and studying the ceiling as though it held the mysteries of the world.
Laura looked up from the laptop where shed been typing. What was that, honey?
Um, nothing. I just thought I saw something from my bedroom window. The girl said, swinging a foot back and forth as though unconsciously performing an Irish clog dance. It was a a yellow-bellied sapsucker.
Laura frowned. I didnt know you were into birds.
Suddenly another set of feet pounded down the stairs, and Michael burst into the room. His face was lit up like a Christmas tree.
Dad! Thats the coolest thing I ever saw!
Are you into birds too? Laura asked dryly.
He stared at her. What? Heck, no, Mom, Im talking about the
Remington sighed, getting slowly to his feet. His knee, which had undergone a second surgery two weeks ago, was still stiff and sore. He picked up a silver-handled ebony cane and limped over to Laura. I see my offspring are bound and determined to ruin all my carefully laid plans. Children take all the surprise out of surprise. He took Lauras arm, urging her to her feet. Come along, my love, lets go see this yellow-bellied sapsucker. It must be quite remarkable to garner such attention.
With the cane in one hand and Lauras hand in the other, he led the procession down the hallway, Holly and Michael crowding close behind, nearly dancing in their excitement. All this fuss over a bird? Hardly. Remington was up to something, but she didnt protest. Let him have his fun. He deserved it after what hed been through. With meekness unusual for her, she followed him onto the front porch.
The yellow-bellied sapsucker. Remington declared, flourishing his cane at the white Mercedes Benz SL550 convertible.
Laura gaped. Whats that?
Its a car. Remington said cheerfully. And its yours.
Yours. He confirmed. We cant have the intrepid Mrs. Steele driving everywhere in a van. Dashiell Hammett would be appalled.
Laura circled the car, her eyes running over the sleek, elegant lines, the luxurious interior, the promised power, and then she looked up, wide-eyed. Its its absolutely gorgeous!
Remington grinned, clearly pleased with himself. He limped forward. Would you like to take it for a whirl, Mrs. Steele?
Would we? Holly exclaimed, bounding down the steps. Michael was close on her heels.
Just your mother and me. Remington told them sternly. Since I got out of the hospital, weve hardly had a moment to ourselves so you two can find something else to amuse yourselves. I hear bird watching is an excellent hobby for teenagers.
Their faces fell, but they stepped back, resigned.
Laura slid behind the drivers wheel and Remington eased himself into the passengers seat. She turned the key. The engine roared to life and then purred throatily, waiting for her every command. Grinning with childish delight, she pressed the accelerator and then they were off, zipping down Totenham Court Drive, heading for the freeway.
She headed toward the coast. There was nothing like seeing the ocean via a convertible. The car purred along, and Laura nearly purred herself. She had the wind in her hair, a powerful car beneath her and the man she loved alive and well. Its a wonderful life, she thought. How could she have let a few gray hairs cause such angst? As long as she had Remington to old grow with, what did it matter? Theyd creak and wrinkle together.
She pulled onto a buff overlooking the ocean and turned off the engine. The sun was beginning to sink beneath the waves.
Do you like the car, Laura? Remington asked after theyd sat in silence for several minutes, listening to the waves crash against the sand and gulls cry overhead.
She glanced over at him, smiling. Of course, I like it. Its beautiful. The most beautiful car Ive ever owned.
I did try to find another Rabbit. He assured her. But Im afraid that remarkable car has passed into the annuals of automobile history.
Ive outgrown Rabbits. She said. This is more suited to my age.
He touched her hair, letting his fingers slide through the thick stuff. Still worrying about those gray hairs?
Not really. She caught his hand, bringing it to her lips. You cured me of that. They seemed a very small, insignificant worry compared to the agony I experienced when you were lying in that hospital bed so still and quiet. She laughed. I never thought Id be overjoyed to hear you quote a movie, but I was. I danced Nurse Cranston around the room. She thought me quite mad, and I was. Mad with joy that youd come back to me.
He grinned. I had to come back. You and your cohorts wouldnt let me go. I was mercilessly harassed by a constant litany of voices telling me to come back, but it wasnt until I heard your voice that I started fighting the darkness.
Laura took his face between her hands. Dont ever do that to me again.
I cant promise that, Laura. He said with simple honesty. Id give my life a thousand times for you if needed.
I know. She said, knowing that nothing she could say would stop him from what he had purposed in his heart to do. But Im counting on it not being needed. No more cases. Remember?
Glad to hear it. He said, opening the glove compartment and pulling out an envelope, which he handed to her. Otherwise, these would be of no use.
She opened the envelope and pulled out two first class tickets. Tahiti?
According to Mildred, its just my kind of place. Sand, sun, grass skirts, drinks with little umbrellas. He paused, turning his head to one side as though puzzled. I wonder where that came from. I know I havent discussed her trip with her. Shes been too busy threatening to come out of retirement to keep an eye on me. Her loyalty is amazing. Its like having my own St. Bernard complete with brandy keg under the chin.
Maybe you dreamt it.
Maybe I did. He shrugged. Ah, well, doesnt matter. Are you ready and willing to go, Mrs. Steele?
Whenever you say, Mr. Steele. I cant wait to see you in one of those grass skirts.
That was embarrassing. Remington commented as they left the elevator, headed for the limo waiting for them outside the office building. He still carried the walking stick even though he barely had a limp. He said it added to his image and bemoaned the fact that he hadnt thought of getting one sooner, especially since the hidden stiletto in the handle would have come in handy.
Laura glanced at him. Dont try that fake modesty on me. You loved it. You soaked up all that adoration like a great, big sponge. They hadnt seen you in over a month, and it showed. Im surprised they didnt throw roses and roll out the red carpet.
Remington grinned, straightening his tie. Their appreciation was quite overwhelming. I was touched, sincerely touched. We have an incredible staff, Laura. Ill miss them.
Im surprised that you didnt start singing Dont Cry for Me Argentina.
Come now, Laura, you know Im a dreadful singer, but I admit that the thought did cross my mind. He glanced at her, one dark eyebrow arching upwards. Youre not the tiniest bit jealous, are you? They got you a lovely semi-retirement gift.
Just what I always wanted. She said dryly. A gold framed picture of my husband accepting the key to the city from the mayor.
You were in the picture.
Somewhere behind your left shoulder, I believe.
Yes, well, he murmured, stretching out his cane to hit the handicap door opener button, Marvin has promised to deliver that couch in my office to our house by the time we return from Tahiti. That ought to raise your spirits.
After you nearly wept for it.
It has sentimental value, Laura. He protested. Its very possible our daughter was conceived on that couch.
Dont tell her that or shell never sit on it.
They slid into the limo.
Airport, Fred. Remington said.
His name is Phillip. Laura pointed out. Fred retired five years ago.
Why break with tradition, Laura? He asked. He doesnt mind being called Fred II so why should you?
Laura sighed, sinking back into the seat cushions. It did no good to argue with him, and did she really want to? Not really. His wit had always been one of his most attractive features, and she was glad to see his near death experience hadnt sobered him or turned him introspective. She wouldnt know what to do without his cheerful banter to keep her smiling and on her toes.
The ride to the airport was uneventful, but as they approached their boarding gate, a surprise was waiting for them in the persons of Jamie, Holly and Michael, still dressed in their school uniforms.
Arent you supposed to be in school? Laura, the mother, immediately asked.
Uncle Jamie talked the principal into letting us leave early. Were only missing one hour. Holly added as though that made everything ok. Who needed chemistry anyway?
Remington glanced at Jamie, obviously impressed. How did you manage that one, old boy? These schools are dreadfully fussy about security these days.
The principal was a lady. Jamie said as though that explained everything and it did. The day Jamie boy cant convince a woman to do anything he wants is the day he turns up his toes. Im having dinner with her tomorrow night.
And I suppose youre proud of yourself? Laura interjected. Youve caused her to break all kinds of rules and regulations. Youve youve corrupted her.
Oh, surely not as bad as that. Jamie said, flashing a grin. Its just dinner.
Redhead? Remington asked, quickly diffusing the situation.
Laura, having decided to take Remingtons cue and let the matter of the principal drop, eyed Jamie before asking, Are you sure you want to do this? Annies fully capable of watching after Holly and Michael for two weeks.
They might have called a truce since Remingtons near demise, but she still had concerns about a man of Jamies background and profession looking after her children. Though what he could teach them that their father, at her insistence, hadnt already, she couldnt guess nor did she want to. Remington had already taught them the fine art of picking locks, cracking safes and walking rooftops. The only concern was that Jamie would encourage them to put such skills to bad uses rather than good.
I wouldnt have it any other way. Jamie declared, placing an arm around both Holly and Michaels shoulders. I want to get to know my niece and nephew. Well have a simply smashing time, wont we, me buckos?
You bet! Holly exclaimed, obviously as taken with Jamie as her principal.
Looking forward to it. Michael agreed, grinning.
Youre becoming positively domesticated, mate. Remington noted. Not only have you purchased a condo but now youre immersing yourself in family life. Better be careful. Principals are the respectable sort.
Not to worry on that score. This old heart is impregnable. As for the rest, he shrugged, a bloke has to settle down eventually. The joints are getting a bit creaky to walk the rooftops any more.
The intercom suddenly blared, announcing that flight 127 was now boarding. There was a frantic round of hugs, back slaps and handshakes and then Remington and Laura were hurrying through the gate.
Have a good time! Holly called out. Dont forget to bring me back a T-shirt!
Well, kids, are you ready to go? Jamie asked when the plane carrying their parents had taxied down the runaway and took off.
Go where? Holly asked as they wove their way through the airport.
I was thinking that a trip to the museum would be in order.
Oh, weve been to the museum lots of times. Holly declared, unimpressed.
Granted. Jamie replied with a twinkle in his hazel eyes. But youve never been with me. I guarantee you an experience of a lifetime.
Michaels eyes lit up. Planning a heist, Jamie?
Oh, no, your mother wouldnt like that. Jamie told him as he hit the key bob to a bright red Jaguar. But one likes to keeps ones skills up to date.
Can I drive? Holly asked, her eyes running hungrily over the Jaguar.
Ah, no. Jamie said. According to your father, youve been enrolled in driving school so I think well just leave that to the professionals.
Nobody trusts me. Holly muttered, climbing into the back seat as Michael took the front.
Its not a matter of trust, poppet. Jamie assured her. Its a matter of finance. Youre already working off a $15,000 debt. Imagine if you had to work off another one. Youd be filing cases for the rest of your life. Your manicure bills would be frightful.'
I definitely think the grass skirt looked better on you than me. Remington murmured against Lauras temple as they lay on the king bed in their bungalow. A fan rotated above them, cooling their damp skin. You dont have as many scars. I look like a bloody patchwork quilt.
Theyre beautiful scars. Laura breathed, tracing said scars with her lips. Scars of valor.
Well, when you put it that way he reached for his wife.
The cell phone on the bedside table rang.
Let it ring. Remington ordered.
It could be the kids. Laura fumbled for the phone.
Remington opened his mouth to protest but closed it again. Her present position of leaning over him provided a delightful view of bare breast that he was more than willing to occupy his time with while she got rid of the caller. Interfering bugger.
Hello Holly what are you calling for what Remington, stop it no, no, your father is just being your father what do you mean, wheres your dads grappling hook no, I wont let you talk to him hes busy Remington Holly hey wait a minute let me talk to Jamie what do you mean if I wont let you talk to your father you wont let me talk to hey! She looked at the phone and then at Remington. She hung up on me.
She always was a smart little nipper.
I knew we should have never left them in Jamies care. She started to redial. Hes an unrepentant reprobate even if he is your so-called foster brother. Wait until I get my hands on him.
Suddenly the phone was snatched from her fingers and flung out the open window of their bungalow. An ominous plop followed. Theirs was an over water bungalow.
That was a Blackberry! Laura declared, trying to scramble over him to get to the window. Do you know how much those things cost?
Who cares. He said. Invention of the devil, if you ask me. Give me the good old days when you were out, you were out. Now, stop worrying. He told her, pulling her down and rolling her unto her back. The kids will be fine.
Theyre fine. He insisted. They were trained by the best, werent they? Theres nothing Jamie can teach them that they dont already know. Now, he murmured, lowering his mouth to hers, lets get serious about this growing old together thing.
CONTINUED IN 'AS STEELE GOES ON'
On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, music by Burton Lane and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner. Although I dont care much for the reincarnation theme, the music was great and seems to fit into this story beautifully. Maybe it was because I was listening the Siriously Sinatra channel while writing this and Eydie Gorme does a great rendition of What Did I Have That I Dont Have and Sammy Davis, Jr. does a great Come Back to Me.
From research I did on Royal Lavulite, its my understanding that its purple rather than blue. However, I stuck with the color originally shown on the Dreams of Steele episode.
On the original episode 'Steele Trying' where Remington & Laura goes to San Francisco, Marty's Restaurant did not appeared to have a dance floor. However, in 20 years, I figured they could have added one, thus the discrepancy.