Standing Steele

Pulling a cigarette out from the front pocket of his uniform, the young GI placed it between his lips and without lighting it turned to squint into a hazy yellow sky. Two other soldiers, sitting in the scant shadow of a tool box, rose to similarly focus on a distant point above the horizon. Their hearing had sharpened during their tour of duty in Viet Nam. They sensed the chopper long before its sound materialized into the heavy thwacking blades that blew dust and dry foliage into a funnel of debris swirling about them.
The three quickly tossed the box and their duffels through the open door of the aircraft before agilely leaping in after these. Settling themselves in the doorway, scuffed boots dangling, the three saluted the beautiful yet terrifying landscape they left behind them. While no marking on their uniforms or on the helicopter which carried them away betrayed them as American, there would be little doubt to any who saw them as to where they were bound. They had survived. The journey stateside would take several more days, but they had survived.

Fifteen Years Later

A crisp red, white and blue American flag snapped in the breeze. A man of perhaps thirty sat leaning against the flagpole. He stared unblinkingly at a photograph of six or seven children grinning and clutching bowling balls nearly as big as themselves. Brilliant azure seas stretched out endlessly far beneath the man. The roar of the waves was muffled this far above the surf. A slight click was easily audible. The harsh, sudden sound of a single gunshot jarred the landscape. The man's hand fell to his side and lay still.


"Good morning, Mildred!" Steele sang out cheerfully as he strode into the suite of offices which bore his name. "Miss Holt in?"
Steele proceeded automatically toward his associate's office rather than his own, and with his hand poised above the doorknob, was abruptly stopped by Mildred's frantic motioning.
"Mr. Steele!" Mildred hissed in a stage whisper. "I wouldn't go in there if I were you. Miss Holt's on a terror this morning - I don't think she's gonna appreciate you interrupting."
"Not to worry, Miss Krebs! I'm certain no matter how busy Miss Holt is she will be delighted to find that I have arrived to lend my expert assistance." Steele returned to Mildred's desk, leaning over to rest his elbows on its surface as he fixed his guileless blue eyes on the receptionist's face. "I hope you realize that Miss Holt's work ethic is primarily self imposed. It is never my intention to have either you or Laura work your lovely fingers to the bone."
"I kinda figured that, Chief. Miss Holt's a real self starter. Today, though, I think something arrived in the mail that sent her into all out attack mode. My personal feeling is that at moments like this the best thing to do is lay low and stay outta the way!"
"Mildred, Miss Holt and I have forged a close personal relationship during the time we have worked together. Hours spent side by side on stake outs, unraveling complicated mysteries, placing trust in one another for our very lives. Look at our most recent cases! Facing treacherous gangsters while safeguarding the children we transported to Arizona! Protecting Miss Holt's brother-in-law from a deranged bullion trader! Miss Holt and I are perfectly matched, two detectives, hurling ourselves into the fray! "
"Whatever you say, Boss," Mildred offered doubtfully.
Steele's good humor had Mildred's vote, but there was little Steele did that she didn't find utterly charming. She was less certain about Miss Holt's reception of his effusive cheerfulness. She shrugged and braced herself for the explosion she was sure would follow Mr. Steele's disruption of Laura's work process.
"Ah Miss Holt!" Steele boomed before the door swung closed behind him. Mildred shook her head, smiling, and returned to typing the files Miss Holt had already brought out for completion this morning.
Upon entering Laura's office Steele received no reply to his greeting, other than an upraised open hand, bidding him wait. Taking full advantage of that invitation Steele leaned back against the agency file cabinets, arms crossed, and pondered his lovely associate.
Laura's thick, long hair draped her delicate shoulders. Steele smiled slightly as he thought of burying his hands in those chestnut locks and pulling Laura's face close to his own. Her skin was smooth and soft, lips only lightly colored. Though he was sure she used cosmetics the application was terribly understated compared to the women he had once kept company with. Dark lashes lay against the faint blush of her cheek, her brown eyes intent on the document across which her left hand pushed its even looping script.
Sitting at work Laura was the picture of artless feminine charm, an image which belied the strong, swift and determined detective Steele knew to lie coiled within Laura's lithe frame.
It had now been well over a year since Steele had entered Laura's life. The fascination he held for this complex woman had only increased during the time they had spent together. They had fallen into a pattern of easy companionship, especially in the year since Laura's co-worker Murphy Michaels had moved to Denver.
Spending days on casework, often dining together in the evening, watching films or attending LA's social events on weekends; little about their partnership was defined in so many words but rather in the way words were not always needed. A meeting of their eyes over a slow smile, leaning in for a lingering kiss at their partings, sitting close in the limo and enjoying the electricity as their bodies touched.
And though they had yet to move to the deeper physical intimacy both had known in previous relationships, there was in a sense a deeper intellectual intimacy that came from constancy. Laura's quick wit and insight were oddly stimulating Steele mused as he waited for Laura to acknowledge him. These elements, along with his powerful physical attraction to her, defined his relationship with her. Steele's thoughts found focus in film.
"Holiday." Steele finally stated firmly.
"What?" Momentarily distracted, Laura's brow puckered as she processed Steele's single word. "Holiday?"
"Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant - Columbia pictures? - 1938. A charming movie in which Hepburn and Grant find themselves inexplicably drawn to one another…" Steele offered, looking up as if somehow to pull these details out of the ceiling as he recalled them for Laura.
"Mr. Steele," Laura interrupted, "I have work to do here. If you aren't going to help with that work would you mind reliving the films in your own office?"
"Laura, really. Picture it! You as Katharine Hepburn, myself as the dashing Cary Grant, seizing the pleasures each day brings. What better than to take a break from your labors and join me in a midday stroll in the sun, perhaps taking an early lunch before returning to meet clients this afternoon. What do you say, Miss Holt?" Steele strolled closer to Laura as he spoke, leaning back against the inside edge of her desk to smile at her, obstructing her view of the document she had been so industriously working on.
Pushing Steele firmly aside Laura countered with "I'd say you've taken leave of your senses. I've got three more files to finish this morning before preparing for a meeting with prospective clients at three. Could you please find something useful to occupy yourself with until that meeting?"
"What are these?" Steele asked with curiosity, picking up several photographs which had been shoved partially beneath the blotter on Laura's desk.
Laura pulled them out of Steele's hands precipitously. "Nothing important. Frances volunteered to send new pictures of her children and they arrived this morning. "
Steele gently took the photos back once again, standing just behind Laura's shoulder so they could look at the pictures together. "Ahh. Then these are your nieces and nephew."
"Yes. Mindy…" Laura scowled a bit as she pointed to each, "is almost eight, and little Laurie Beth is four. And that's Danny. You'd think Frances would send photographs where the children are actually smiling, or aware that they're having their pictures taken. Mindy looks as if she's just sucked on a lemon in this one and here Laurie Beth has her finger…"
"Yes, well, none the less a handsome group!" Steele turned to smile at Laura. "Danny looks a bit like you."
"He looks like Frances." Laura said flatly, taking the photos back from Steele once more. "All right, Mr. Steele. Give me two more hours to work and I'll join you for a quick lunch break so I can fill you in on our three o'clock. Perhaps you could call and check on the Pillsbury Gallery opening?"
"Excellent! And I'll make a reservation at Cleo's for one, and order ahead. We'll walk right in and eat." Steele leaned in to place a triumphant kiss on Laura's cheek before walking to the door between their offices.
Pushing the pictures under the blotter, Laura was immersed in her work again when Steele turned before entering his office.
Was there sorrow in Laura's eyes, a slight droop to her usually crisp posture? Eyes narrowed, Steele stroked his lower lip with his index finger before striding into his office and reaching for his phone.
Tucked into an out of the way corner at Cleo's, having briskly briefed Steele on their 3 o'clock meeting Laura responded incredulously to Steele's determined interest in a motor home trip.
"You can't be serious about wanting to travel in a camper?! That hardly comes close to your usual standards! You told me you make a point of always moving UP in your expectations!" Laura exclaimed in laughing disbelief.
"Well, as you pointed out, a camper has the advantage of being self contained - no exposure to strangers, and one can explore the wide open spaces of your country's spectacular wilderness. Believe me, Laura, I've spent nights in far worse places." Steele answered. He looked up with a smile as a waiter approached with a dessert he'd taken the liberty of arranging for when Laura had left the table briefly.
"Cha, cha, choc…" Laura stuttered as her deep chocolate brown eyes widened.
Reaching across to place a tiny bit of the sweet confection on his fork, Steele held the bite close to Laura's mouth as his own lips slid sideways in an amused grin. "Donald and I had time to swap anecdotes while you and Frances were visiting. It was quite illuminating. I heard quite a bit about the Holt curse…"
Laura's eyes dropped to her lap, where her napkin was suddenly twisted into a knot. The bit of double fudge brownie hovered untouched near her lips. Steele drew the fork back to his own plate. Laura seemed lost somewhere far from the crowded dining room.
"Holt curse, hmmm?" Laura murmured at last, not really speaking to Steele.
Steele sat quietly, waiting as Laura wrestled with whatever demons his words and morsel of chocolate had unleashed. Shadows flitted across her lovely face as her eyes focused on the hapless napkin in her hands. Leaning in toward Laura, Steele rested an arm on the back of her chair.
"You and your lovely sister are quite different, Laura, even if you share certain qualities." Sliding his hand under the thick hair he had admired earlier in the day, Steele's long fingers found the nape of Laura's neck.
Laura seemed to recover herself at his touch. Turning to Steele with an unsteady smile she said quietly, "Frances and I are more alike than I care to admit. We both avoid talking about the things and the people who hurt us most."
Steele's gaze never left Laura's face. His fingers found a determined curl hiding under Laura's well-tamed tresses, and he twined that curl pensively around one finger as he waited for Laura to continue.
"Danny is a carbon copy of our little brother, Teddy, Mr. Steele." Laura finally said. "Frances never says it, I never say it, and neither does my mother."
Laura turned to look at Steele head on.
"Teddy drowned when he was nine years old. He was terrified of the water. Teddy was terrified of a lot of things. I think my father thought if he could encourage Teddy to play with the waves he could help him get over his fears. Frances and Mother were reading under an umbrella on the beach. My father and I were in the ocean with Teddy, diving through the waves, enticing him to join us. And then at one point we came up, looked back around, and Teddy had just disappeared." Laura's spoke so quietly Steele had to lean in to hear her.
"Danny looks like the brother I lost."
There had been little conversation between the detectives following Laura's revelation at lunch. Steele had hardly known what to say, and had simply stayed close to Laura, keeping one hand comfortingly at the small of her back as they left the restaurant. He had never known either brother or sister. How could he know what it felt like to lose one?
Following their return to Suite 1157, Laura had resumed her competently professional demeanor as soon as she began questioning their new clients.
"So, Mr. Milton, you, Mr. Bishop and Mr. Jamison have been meeting every five years since you served in Viet Nam together?" she asked.
"That's right. We spent some of the worst days of our lives together. Forms a sort of a bond, you know? We wanted to keep up with one another after we got home…thought it was important somehow, to stay part of one another's lives," Jeff Milton explained to Steele and Laura.
"Those must have been trying times indeed," Steele said to the two men, watching Laura as he spoke. "Comrades become essential in such times."
"It's been fifteen years since our tour of duty…but you don't forget that time. No one else really understands what we went through. Our meetings are important to all of us. Only Skeeter - Steve Jamison - seems to have just disappeared. Phone disconnected, letters come back 'address unknown.' Last heard from him a little over a year ago, a quick phone call around Christmas," Will Bishop said gruffly.
"Skeeter never married, and his folks are both gone now. Tried the Veteran's Administration, but they don't have a line on him. Not sure where else to turn." Jeff shook his head.
"Mr. Steele is very resourceful, gentlemen. Though we can't promise anything," Laura cautioned as she rose to take Milton's and then Bishop's hand, "if you'll give us a few days, we'll have a better idea of whether we can be of any help."
"Oh, here's a picture of the three of us back in sixty-nine. Don't want to lose it - we each have one. That's Skeeter on the left. He looks pretty much the same; hasn't put on a pound," Will said patting the sight bulge of his own stomach ruefully.
"Let's have our secretary make a copy." Steele smiled comfortingly at the men as he ushered them through his office door toward reception.
"'Apocalypse Now'? Frances Ford Coppola - 1979," Steele offered speculatively. "Or perhaps 'Coming Home' with Jon Voigt and the controversial Jane Fonda, 1977 or 1978? The trauma of war and the difficulty of fitting in to life back home when one returns."
"Mr. Steele, let's not jump to any conclusions about Mr. Jamison's post Viet Nam experiences. Mr. Milton and Mr. Bishop said Jamison worked with his father and mother at a Pasadena bowling alley. That sounds peaceful enough." Laura paused to look at Steele intently. "You didn't by any chance serve in…"
"No, no - didn't have that honor myself. Never cared for guns. Nasty things. Tend to hurt people." Steele shook his head slightly with distaste. "Besides, can you see me in fatigues?"
Laura smiled up at Steele as she thoughtfully straightened his impeccable lapels. "No, and besides, your tailor would never forgive you."
Steele and Laura climbed out the open door of the limo to look up at a dusty, unlit neon sign reading 'JAMISON'S BOWLING & BILLARDS.'
"Well, it certainly doesn't look as if Jamison's been here in awhile," Laura said.
"A little quieter than most bowling alleys." Steele glanced about before using a pick to dispense with the lock. Opening the door cautiously, he walked through it just ahead of Laura.
Laura's eyebrows rose as she walked past Steele. "You frequent bowling alleys?"
"Billiards is more up my alley, so to speak." Steele smiled briefly at Laura before his eyes swept the room they had entered.
The old fashioned bowling alley was clearly deserted. Ball racks stood empty behind faded plastic chairs. What little light filtered in through high narrow window along the room's edges illuminated the dust particles floating languidly above the quiet lanes.
Steele and Laura walked slowly past the alleys and behind the tall counter. Tired looking shoes were shoved into cubbies under the counter. Steele picked up a monthly calendar of local events from well over a year ago, abandoned next to an open and empty cash register.
"Familiar?" Laura asked as she turned from the counter to gesture at a framed photograph hanging on the wall. A beaming older couple stood proudly on either side of a uniformed Steve Jamison. "That's Jamison - newly returned from Viet Nam, I'd guess. He looks more like a student than a soldier."
"Likely could have been," Steele said as he stepped into a small glass walled room just beyond the counter.
The office held a small desk, dusty, but neatly organized. A narrow shelf on the wall behind the desk displayed several bowling trophies and more photographs of Jamison and his parents at various ages.
The outside door creaked loudly. Laura pulled Steele down next to the desk. They crouched in the small space, barely breathing, as cautious footsteps approached.
Just as Steele loosened Laura's grip on his arm, preparing to meet whoever was approaching, a child's voice called out tentatively, "Skeeter?"
Steele and Laura peered around the corner of the desk. A young boy of about twelve stood in the doorway, clearly as startled at the sight of them, also. Steele recovered first and rose swiftly, reaching for Laura and helping her to her feet.
"Yes, dear, you were right. Your ring must have rolled the other way." Seeing the boy, Steele turned to him and said, "Always fiddling with her wedding ring."
"I told you so," Laura scolded, quickly joining Steele in his ruse. "Harry here thought he saw it roll under the desk. Sorry if we scared you."
The boy looked disappointed. "I was hoping you were Skeeter. Thought maybe he was back."
"Skeeter? Oh - Mr. Jamison?" Steele asked the boy.
"Yeah - the guy in that picture. He used to let me and a whole bunch of us kids bowl for free." The boy looked down at the ground as he kicked at a wadded up piece of paper. "Then he just sort of disappeared. Place has been locked up until today, when I saw the car out in front. Hey, how'd you guys get in?"
"Uhh, we live near here. Mr. Jamison gave us a key to check on things while he was away." Laura cringed, uncomfortable lying to a child. "You say Mr. Jamison lets you and your friends hang out here? That's awfully nice of him."
"It was. Haven't seen him in a long time now - maybe since right after school started." The boy's shoulders drooped. "Guess I better get going."
"Of course." Casually Steele the questioned the boy "Say - 'Skeeter' didn't happen let you know he was going away?"
"Nope. But he didn't talk all that much. We knew he'd been in Nam and tried to get him to tell us war stories, but he didn't want to - said he didn't really do much fighting."
Steele and Laura walked the boy to the door. Once outside he pulled a beat up bike from where it leaned against the bowling alley.
"So long," The boy offered sadly as he threw his leg over the bike.
"What's your name?" Steele asked. "When we see Steve, we'll tell him to look you up."
"Name's Andrew," the boy threw back over his shoulder as he raced away. "Hope you find your ring."
Steele turned back to Laura. "A bright lad. Don't believe he bought our story for an instant. It would certainly be nice to reunite Skeeter with his young friends again."
"IF we find Jamison, Mr. Steele. I'm afraid we didn't make much progress here. Call Mildred from the limo and see what she can find out about the deed on this place," Laura said as she began to stride purposefully toward the next door in the strip of storefronts. "I'm going to call on a few of our neighbors."
Looking up at the sign for the bakery next to the bowling alley, Steele called out, "Something in chocolate, Laura?"
The plump, pleasant owner of the bakery was pleased to have someone to visit with as she cleaned out the display case.
"So you didn't really know Steve Jamison?" Laura asked her.
"No, not really. I knew his mother pretty well. She used to stop over to pick up rolls for the hot dogs they sold at the bowling alley and then have a cup of coffee with me." Her smile grew broader when Steele came in to join Laura. She held out a tray of the things she had removed from the case. "Care for a muffin? Can't sell them day old."
"Thank you." Steele pulled off a piece of muffin, popping it into his mouth. "Delicious!"
"The Jamisons were real proud of their son, especially when he served in the army," the woman continued. "He'd only been back a year or so when she got sick. She and her husband both passed away the same year… Care to take some with you?"
"No, no. Couldn't possibly," Steele assured her even as she began filling a paper sack with baked goods.
"How long ago was it that the Jamisons, uh, passed away."
"It's been a couple of years now. Tell you the truth, I'm kinda glad the place closed down. There were a lot of sketchy types coming and going after Lois and Bob died. Wasn't really a safe place for the kids who hung around." The cheerful little woman handed a bulging sack to Steele, winking at him. "Here you go, Handsome. You could stand to put on a pound or two."
Steele drummed his fingers against his ribs self-consciously as Laura rolled her eyes.
"Thank you, Mrs. Kuchen. You've been very helpful," Laura said as she steered Steele out of the bakery.
Once outside, she unfolded a crumpled piece of paper that contained a phone number. Waving it in the air between them with a conspiratorial look, she said, "Picked it up as we were walking your little friend Andrew out of the bowling alley. It was the only thing out of place in Skeeter's office - other than us."
"Tell me again why we're heading off to the middle of nowhere, Laura?" Steele asked as he and Laura sped along Highway 5 north of the city, Steele gripping the armrest lightly to stabilize himself against Laura's rapid maneuvers.
"It's simple detective work. The phone number from the paper on Jamison's office floor belonged to a real estate agent. This agent sold Jamison a little piece of property with an ocean view. We're heading up to check out that property - it should be just ahead here," Laura explained crisply to Steele. "Jamison still owns the bowling alley, but none of the utilities have been paid in over a year. The city's getting ready to foreclose."
As Laura and Steele pulled off onto a short drive that led toward the ocean, a gunshot rang out. Brown eyes met blue, widening in alarm. Laura wrenched the wheel, dirt flying as the Rabbit groaned to a stop. Slipping quickly out of the car, Laura and Steele bent low and ran in the direction of the shots, taking cover in the sparse foliage along the road.
A small rundown house came into view. Steele and Laura cautiously approached the house from the back and staying close to its sun bleached, peeling wall, cautiously crept around the corner. Between the house and the ocean stretching out far below was a flagpole. Leaning against it, a revolver in one hand, a liquor bottle in the other sat a man, staring out over the water.
Steele and Laura looked at one another just as the man raised the revolver. Laura reached out her hand and began to form the single word "NOOO…" when another shot rang out. A tin can, sitting in a line with others, jumped into the air and lay still. The man took a swig from the bottle.
"Mr. Jamison?" Steele called out, preventing Laura from moving out from behind the scant protection of the small building.
There was no immediate response from the seated figure. Groggily the man turned his whole body, looking puzzled.
" 'Lo? Who's there?" Jamison, for indeed it was he, slurred his words and peered blearily back at the spot where the detectives stood watching him.
"Could you possibly put the weapon down, Mr. Jamison?" Steele requested politely.
"Wha? Oh, sure. Sorry." Jamison put the revolver down and stood up awkwardly. "Just shootin' cans. Who are you?"
"Remington Steele." Steele strode forward firmly, moving the gun safely off to the side with a subtle movement of his foot. "And my associate, Laura Holt."
"So wha'cha doin' here?" Jamison asked, clearly confused at the arrival of company.
"Miss Holt and I are private detectives. Two of your comrades in arms, Jeff Milton and Will Bishop, hired us to locate you. You seem to have dropped out of sight and they're concerned about you." Steele explained.
"Oh. Yeah." Jamison's face fell. "I suppose it's about time for me and Jeff and Will to meet."
"Mr. Jamison," Laura said as she reached out to rest her hand on Jamison's shoulder. "What are you doing here? You abandoned your business and friends and neighbors who care about you. Why did you leave Pasadena?"
Skeeter Jamison paused and looked up at the brilliant colors of the flag snapping at the top of the flagpole that overlooked the Pacific Ocean. Slowly, he slid back down the flagpole to sit at its base once more.
"Ya' know," he began as he picked up a photograph that lay near him, "when we were over in Nam, there was always someone telling us what to do, where to go, when to move. It ain't that simple back here."
Laura gingerly picked up the revolver as Steele lowered himself to sit near Jamison.
"Sometimes it can help to talk to someone," he offered, looking over at Jamison.
"See, that's the thing. Don't know who to talk to. Folks are gone now. I never had to run the business side of things. Then there were all these kids coming to the bowling alley ev'yday and some of 'em just not the right sort, types that use bad stuff - drink, drugs - bad stuff. Couldn't stop 'em. I'm not exactly a model citizen myself." Tears began to slide down Jamison's sun burned face.
"Didn't want these guys, getting into trouble, so I just packed it up." Jamison held up the picture of a group of kids, "Bought this place and come up here. Figured with the alley closed the kids would be better off - safer, ya know? Miss 'em, though."
"Ran into one of your friends yesterday, Mr. Jamison." Steele's voice was steady and reassuring, and he looked the photo in Jamison's hand. "This lad right here - Andrew I believe."
Laura half kneeled in order to speak to Jamison. "Perhaps your friends can help you. Would you consider coming back with us and meeting with Bill and Jeff?"
Jamison shook his head violently and took a deep pull of the amber colored liquid in the bottle he held. "Nope - can't do it. It'd be better if I just stay gone."
"Mr. Jamison," Steele began slowly, reaching out to touch Jamison's shoulder as he spoke. "One needn't be perfect to be important in the lives of others. Many years ago, a man who lived a bit on the edges of propriety became my friend and mentor. Although certainly less than perfect himself, he taught me right from wrong. Without his friendship, my life would be far different."
Steele turned to look steadily at Laura as he continued. "Even so, I found it easier to reinvent myself as someone new whenever my problems seemed insurmountable. I rather enjoyed the excitement of meeting new people, exploring exotic new places. Then I found something worth staying in one place for..."
A slight smile played around the edges of Laura's mouth. She gently took the photo of the children from Jamison's hand. "It looks as if these boys enjoy spending time at the bowling alley, Mr. Jamison."
Steele stood up and stretched his long limbs, reaching lazily to pull Laura up to stand beside him. His gaze shifted reluctantly from Laura to Jamison. His back to the panoramic view, Steele's eyes perfectly matched the blue of endless ocean and sky. "This is a beautiful place Mr. Jamison. Bit solitary for my tastes but lovely, none the less. A wonderful place to come for holiday."
"Good try, Miss Holt." Mildred called out encouragingly as Laura spun a battered blue ball down the alley at Jamison's Bowling and Billiards. "Don't worry; you'll get 'em all next time."
Laura sat down with a smile. "You're up, Mr. Steele."
Steele rose and, with the grace of a man who had spent most of his life fitting into new places and situations, picked his ball up off the ball return and sent it sliding smoothly down the polished wood to send all ten pins flying.
"Way to go, Mr. Steele!" Mildred's eyes sparkled as she gave Steele a high five on her way to her turn at the lane.
"Mildred's a real pro - using her bowling connections to get this place up and running so quickly. And look!" Laura directed Steele's attention behind them to where Skeeter Jamison was talking to his buddies Jeff and Will. A trio of boys entered the bowling alley and waved at Skeeter on their way to get shoes and a lane.
"We did it, Mr. Steele. Skeeter's back with his army buddies," Laura said, patting Steele on the shoulder. "And the boys have a place to hang out after school again."
"I didn't have anything to do with it, Miss Holt. YOU arranged for the plain clothes police presence here every afternoon to safe guard the kids who come here,"
Steele replied. "You convinced Mr. Jamison's creditors to work with him in re-opening this establishment, and the Veteran's organization into providing Jamison with counseling."
"Well, the name of Remington Steele carries a lot of weight in this community." Laura assured Steele with a smile. "And it was you who talked Skeeter into coming back, rather than hiding from his problems."
Steele looked down for a moment, pulling on his ear lobe with his long fingers. "Soldiers learn when to stay in the brush - to lay low and protect their buddies by avoiding putting them in harm's way. Jamison and I just talked about when it might be prudent to stay in the open and fight for the people you care about. That's something I'm learning, too."
"I'm glad, Mr. Steele." Laura leaned in to touch her lips to Steele's cheek.
"Woo Hoo!" Mildred cried out triumphantly.
Laura and Steele turned to cheer their secretary's triumph on the alley.
Slim feet, crossed at the ankle, swung slowly back and forth above the chilly Pacific water. Sitting on a fishing dock and watching the sun slip silently into the still blue line that marked the joining of sea and sky, all that was visible in the dusk was the profile of a young woman, shoulders relaxed but square to the horizon line, her body a perfect right angle to the pier itself.
As the fire in the sky faded away to soft blues and finally gray, the woman rose reluctantly to her feet. She paused to slip on a pair of sling backs, balancing with the poise of a dancer. A sigh as soft as the breeze that rose from the sea escaped her slightly parted lips and she used her left hand as a rough comb to pull her hair straight back from her face.
Turning to walk down the pier toward the sand, Laura Holt's skirt swirled softly in the evening air. She shivered and pulled her sweater closer about her. Conscious of avoiding any unevenness of the wooden walkway, her downward focus failed to reveal to her the shadowed figure that waited silently at the end of the pier, his eyes as intent on Laura as hers were on her path.
She jumped. Despite knowing the voice, she had thought herself alone. She stared into the darkness to find the man who waited there for her.
"What are you doing here?" Laura said, finding herself enveloped in a familiar embrace. "We're supposed to follow clients, not one another. This is getting to be a habit. Not one I want to encourage."
"You left before our five o'clock meeting with Mrs. Tracey. I asked Mildred to meet with her." Steele's steady blue gaze met Laura's dismay. "Not to worry, Laura;
Mildred is perfectly capable of handling a client interview. However, as I'm far more accustomed to your working overtime than leaving early, I am concerned about you."
Steele held Laura for a long moment, closing his eyes as he rested his cheek on her hair. Keeping his arms wrapped lightly around Laura's slender frame, Steele pulled his head back and waited for the deep brown eyes he loved so well to rise to meet his gaze.
"I've been visiting with a few ghosts from my past." Laura smiled up at Steele and then turned to look out at the waves rolling incessantly in on the sand, the ocean itself only dimly visible in the dark. "I used to come here when I was a child. I needed to see if it was still the same as I remembered."
"Thinking about your brother?" Steele asked gently.
"Trying to. And about my father, too. Trying to think back on them through an adult's eyes rather than those of a child."
Steele put an arm around Laura's shoulders and the two walked away from the beach together. "Laura, I'm curious. Why is it you've never looked for your father?
Surely it wouldn't be hard for a fine detective like you to find him if you chose to."
"That's just it. I haven't wanted to. I tried so hard to make him happy after Teddy died. He pulled farther and farther away from us, Mother and Frances and me, until he was gone even when he was in the same room with us. It hurt so badly that nothing I did could make up for his losing Teddy. By the time he finally left, a part of me was gone, too - the little girl who adored her daddy. "
"And now?" Steele asked softly. "Is that little girl still missing? The one who loves circuses because her father took her to every circus they could find?"

Laura's cheek was creased with a deep dimple. "I think I caught a glimpse of her diving through the waves just now."

"Ahh. I'm glad." Steele stopped and turned to take both of Laura's hands into his. Looking into Laura's lovely dark eyes, a most beguiling smile slid slowly across his face. "Now, Miss Holt. A few nights ago a double fudge chocolate brownie I attempted to seduce you with was utterly ignored. There's an establishment just around the corner that is not only warm and softly lit, but makes the most exquisite chocolate mousse I have ever encountered."

"That's a bold admission, Mr. Steele. Seduction by chocolate?" Laura gazed speculatively up into the twinkling blue eyes that studied her.

"Any hope I'll succeed?"

"Chocolate mousse?" Laura asked with a lilting laugh. 'I'm not sure I can answer that without tasting first."

Steele leaned in to savor Laura's lips, his hand tangled in her thick hair and gently cradling her head. Laura gasped slightly as Steele broke the kiss and smiled down at her. "How was that, Miss Holt?"

"I think I'd like another taste," Laura whispered, reaching up to once more place her lips on Steele's.
The End

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