Remington walked down the flagstone walk with a spring in his step. The morning was bright and sunny, the air fresh and clean and hed just had one of the best Egg Benedicts that hed ever created. The Hollandaise sauce had been buttery with just the right hint of lemon. Delicious. The only fly in his ointment was that Laura had taken one look at his masterpiece, beautifully arranged on a white china plate, and went running for the bathroom.
He slid into the waiting limo, closing the door behind him.
Morning, Fred! He said cheerfully.
Fred glanced back at him. Mrs. Steele not coming this morning, Sir?
Feeling a little under the weather, Fred. Remington replied. Shell drive herself in later.
The car glided down the driveway, and Remington settled himself more comfortably against the seat cushions, his thoughts returning to Laura. Maybe he should have made something lighter, an omelet perhaps. No, he mused with a frown, hed made that last week and had had the same reaction. Maybe it was the eggs. Hed heard of people being allergic to such things. Tomorrow he would try something egg-less like fruit compote over yogurt.
That settled he picked up the newspaper that Fred stocked the car with every morning and spent the remainder of his ride perusing the art & culture section. Hmm, the Castile Madonna was on exhibit at the Getty Center. Hed tried to steal that once, in the early days when he hadnt quite perfected his talents. His attention wandered on. The L.A. Ballet Company was performing Carmen. He made a mental note to purchase tickets for Saturday night. Laura would enjoy that.
He had their entire weekend planned by the time Fred eased the limo up in front of the office. Tucking the newspaper under his arm, he got out, straightened his tie and entered the building, catching the elevator just before it closed. So far the day was going splendidly. Life was going splendidly, he reminded himself. He had a beautiful home, a beautiful wife and a successful career that one could be proud of. Yes, there was a murder now and then but a man couldnt outlook such things. Besides, it kept Laura happy, and when Laura was happy, he was happy.
He left the elevator, a smile on his face, the spring back in his step. Pushing open the doors of Remington Steele Investigations, he breezed in, ready to greet Miss Trout with a morning, morning, morning. But such intentions died in his throat as he got his first look at the office.
It was full of people. Good Lord, surely they werent all clients. One or two murders were acceptable, but he quickly did a mental count of the occupants ten was a bloody epidemic.
He sidled over to Miss Trouts desk. Ah, good morning, Miss Trout.
Good morning, Mr. Steele.
He leaned toward her slightly. Who are all these people?
Applicants, Mr. Steele.
Applicants. He echoed. Applicants for what?
Applicants for the position of staff investigator. She told him in a tone that clearly said he shouldnt have had to ask. Mrs. Steele was scheduled to start interviewing them at nine oclock.
Remington glanced at his watch. But its ten oclock.
I know that, sir. Theyve been waiting for an hour.
Theyve been waiting for an hour? All of them? He asked incredulously.
Remington Steele Investigations is a highly desirable agency to work for. Agnes pointed out. However, we did lose two about fifteen minutes ago. She glanced behind him as though looking for something or someone. Was Mrs. Steele delayed downstairs?
Mrs. Steele is feeling under the weather this morning.
Again? The secretary asked, her thin gray eyebrows rising into her equally gray hair. Thats four times in the last two weeks. Thats highly irregular.
Stomach virus. Difficult to shake. He said as way of explanation, his eyes surveying the crowd. Well, Miss Trout, seeing as how Mrs. Steele wont be in until later, I guess the only thing to do is interview them myself.
You, Mr. Steele? Agnes asked, her eyebrows completely disappearing into her hair.
Remington looked at her, his blue eyes taking on a hard gleam. Over the past month or so its come to my attention, Miss Trout, that you dont quite trust my ability to perform simple administrative tasks. Am I right?
Agnes didnt flinch. She returned his gaze boldly and fearlessly. Its been my observation, sir, that Mrs. Steele makes all administrative decisions. Its as though the company were hers rather than yours.
It is ours, Miss Trout, and dont forget it. Remington retorted coldly. Ring Mildred and tell her to meet me in my office and then start sending in applicants.
Without waiting for a reply, he stalked across the room, opened his door and then shut it behind him with more force than completely necessary. Really, the women around this place were getting decisively uppity, he thought as he tossed the newspaper on the desk. That Trout woman was as bad the Wolfe woman. No respect whatsoever. Now Mildred, he sighed wistfully, was a woman whod known how to kowtow to the boss. Until Laura had told her the truth and ruined a beautiful working relationship.
You rang, boss? Mildred asked, appearing through the connecting door to Lauras office.
Were you aware that Laura was scheduled to interview for a staff investigator today?
Yeah, sure. Mildred said as though it were common knowledge. Its been so busy since we returned, and shes been feeling so tired lately. She said she had mentioned it to you in Ireland. I thought you knew.
Remington thought for a moment. Yes, she had said something to that affect, but he hadnt quite believed that she would follow through so soon after getting back. He figured he would have to remind her of it again and again before she loosened her grip on the cases coming into the office. For the first time since his run in with the dragon at the door, he smiled. It was encouraging to see Laura taking the initiative to decrease their workload.
Well, Mildred, Remington said, seating himself behind his desk, get your notepad and whatever else we need because its up to us to interview those people out there.
Mrs. Steele isnt coming in?
Shell be in later. He replied as he rooted around in his desk for a pen and pad or anything that might give the illusion that he cared about the interview process. Touch of that stomach virus again. Cant seem to shake it, poor thing.
He glanced up. Mildred was not obeying his instructions. She hadnt even made a move to retrieve her notepad. She just stood in the doorway, a speculative look on her face as though she knew something he didnt. What was wrong with the women around here? Their lack of respect was disgraceful.
Mildred. He prompted, his tone impatient. Theyve been waiting for an hour already. I think it would behoove us to get a move on. I, for one, dont want to be here all bloody day looking at resumes and asking silly questions like where do you want to be in five years time. Make haste. Vite, vite. Chop, chop.
The first four applicants were female. Remington listened with a suitably interested expression on his face, did a lot nodding, and allowed Mildred to ask all the appropriate questions. Then politely but firmly he shoved them out of his office.
That last one, Mrs. Brooks, sounded right up our alley. Mildred noted, glancing through her notes. Mrs. Steele was particularly impressed with her resume. Graduated from Stanford, two years with the LAPD and seven years experience with Jansens Investigations in Santa Barbara.
Remington buzzed Miss Trout. Send in the next applicant.
The door opened and a young man of about twenty four or five entered. He had blonde-brown hair with dark-rimmed glasses and wore a three piece suit. Remington stopped doodling on his pad and looked up. Finally a male applicant.
Mr. Steele, he said, coming forward and extending a hand, its a pleasure to see you again, Sir.
Remington exchanged glances with Mildred and then asked, Do I know you?
I interned here. Marvin T. Slottman, Jr. I helped with the Platinum Air case. He glanced over at Mildred with a tentative smile. Mrs. Krebs tutored me for a while after we resolved our differences.
A wide grin spread across Remington face, and he rose to his feet to shake Marvins hand vigorously. Why, yes, of course, Marvin. I cant tell you how glad I am to see you again, my boy. Please sit down, sit down. Tell us what youve been up to since we last met.
Marvin seated himself. I graduated from USC a couple years ago, and Ive been working with the Solomon Detective Agency in San Francisco, but when I saw that Remington Steele Investigations was looking to hire an investigator, I couldnt believe my luck. I sent in my resume right away.
Have you got his resume there, Mildred? Remington asked.
Mildred was shuffling through a stack of papers that shed taken from Lauras desk. Ah, no, I dont see it here. Perhaps Mrs. Steele misplaced it.
Oh, thats ok. Marvin said, opening his briefcase and extracting a crisp white piece of paper, which he pushed across the desk to Remington. Ive got another one.
Remington glanced at it. Hmm, a little light, but he was young and eager and male. One had to start somewhere. Somebody had to give the kid his first big break. He was a piece of clay that needed to be mold by a masters hand. Why not by Remington Steele himself, the boys founder, his inspiration?
He smiled broadly, getting to his feet. Youre hired.
Marvin gaped at him. But but dont you want to ask me any questions?
I already know all I need to know.
But what about all those other people out there?
I know a gem when I see one, Marvin. Remington said, clapping the young man on the back and leading him toward the door. Diamonds in the rough as a specialty of mine.
Aint that the truth. Mildred muttered.
Remington ignored her. Be here bright and early at eight tomorrow morning. Mildred will show you what do if Im not here yet.
Uh, boss Mildred interjected.
Yes, Mildred? He asked, turning to look at her.
What about Mrs. Steele? Dont you think you ought to consult her before making any permanent decision?
Our thoughts are so entwined, so perfectly in tune that I know she would hire Marvin on the spot. He told her, his expression clearly saying to shut up and let him handle things. Besides, I wouldnt want to bother her when shes feeling so poorly.
Marvin brightened. I meant to congratulate you on your marriage, Mr. Steele. You know, I had a feeling about the two of you.
I did too, Marvin. I did too. Remington assured him, opening the door. Now remember. Eight oclock sharp.
Ill be here.
Thats the spirit. I like my employees to have enthusiasm.
Remington closed the door, resumed his seat and buzzed Miss Trout. The position has been filled, Miss Trout. Be so kind as to tell the rest of the applicants.
He picked up his newspaper, indicating to Mildred that she could depart. She didnt. He raised it higher, but still she remained. Finally he lowered it and looked at her, his expression one of grim inquiry. What?
Youre going to be in big trouble when Mrs. Steele arrives.
Remington shrugged, returning to his paper. Its not the first time Ive withstood Lauras wrath. Besides, Mildred, its your fault.
My fault? Mildred exclaimed. What did I do?
You hired that dragon in the front office, which forced me, in the interest of self-preservation, to take immediate action. I hired Saint George.
Laura stepped off the elevator and walked wearily to the office. Her stomach was still queasy but at least it wasnt heaving like an ocean during a hurricane. One sniff of Remingtons Eggs Benedict has sent her running for the bathroom. Shed felt badly about that because she knew from experience that his culinary creations were always delicious. Not like her burnt toast and underdone spaghetti.
Good morning, Miss Trout. She muttered as she passed the secretary.
Good afternoon, Mrs. Steele. Agnes replied.
Laura frowned as she entered her office and shut the door. Miss Trout was a very efficient secretary, but her manner was abrasive. She had too much starch in her girdle, and her attitude toward Remington bordered on insolence. She needed to have a talk with her about that. Remington, after all, was the boss.
A rueful smile touched Lauras lips. When had she started thinking of the agency as theirs rather than hers? She no longer resented the accolades he received for her work. Maybe if she started treating him as an equal when it came to decision making then Agnes would start giving him the respect he deserved.
She sank into her chair with a sigh. She was so tired these days, and her back ached at times. She pulled a container of saltine crackers out of her purse, hoping they would help calm her stomach. The intercom buzzed.
Yes, Miss Trout?
I was wondering whether or not you want me to send out rejection letters to the applicants that showed up this morning.
Yes, the applicants for the job of staff investigator.
Laura gasped, nearly choking on a cracker. I forgot all about them. Do you think theyll reschedule if we call them?
Theres no need. Agnes replied, her tone disapproving. Mr. Steele has already filled the position.
Mr. Steele filled the position? Laura echoed.
Yes. The young man starts tomorrow.
Control yourself, Laura, she told herself, taking deep breaths. Remember what you had decided to do just a minute ago. As far as Agnes was concerned, Remington must appear to be an equal. But when she got her hands on him behind a closed door, shed
Very good, Miss Trout. Im sure Mr. Steele hired the best applicant. You may go ahead and send out those letters.
As soon as Agnes buzzed off, Laura got to her feet and marched into Remingtons office. He was sitting in his chair, feet propped up, glancing through a newspaper. He smiled when he saw her, tossing his paper aside and coming over to greet her.
Laura, my love, he murmured, tipping her face up so he could give her a kiss. His lips lingered and despite her annoyance, she felt herself responding. Feeling better?
Agnes says you hired a new investigator this morning.
What had happened to her anger, she wondered. That had sounded more like a statement than an outraged accusation. Where was her energy, her pep, her spirit?
I see the dragon didnt waste any time reporting me to the boss. He muttered.
I know you dont care for her, but must you call her a dragon?
Remington cast a surly look at the door. I could think of a few other things to call her, but I thought youd find dragon the least offensive. Unrepentant harpy comes to mind.
Oh, never mind, her. Laura said, touching a hand to her forehead as though it was hurting. She was just too tired to discuss dragons and harpies. Who did you hire?
Remington brightened. Marvin T. Slottman, Jr. You remember him, dont you, Laura? He interned here, helped out with the Platinum Air case.
Wasnt he the one that caused Mildred to quit?
But they patched up their differences, remember? She tutored him.
And it cost us more money in the end since Mildred demanded a raise to come back. Laura sighed, rubbing her back as she began to pace. I had really hoped to hire Mrs. Brooks.
Too much experience. Remington said dismissively. As Dolly Levi says: Money, pardon the expression, is like manure. It's not worth a thing unless it's spread around, encouraging young things to grow.
Laura frowned. What has that got to do with anything?
Remington thought for a moment as though not sure himself and then said with fresh enthusiasm, But just think, Laura. Imagine the possibilities. Marvin is like clay. He can be molded and shaped, formed into a first class detective by just the right person. You could be that person. While Mrs. Brooks, shes already been fired in the kiln, set in her ways by someone we dont even know. Wouldnt you rather start a fresh, encouraging that young thing to grow? He smiled, pleased with himself for coming back to his Dolly reference. He knew it had relevance somewhere.
But she could have started working on cases immediately. Laura protested. We wouldnt have to waste time molding and shaping her. She was a completed product.
There was a pause as Remington debated the wisdom of making his strongest objection known. Finally he decided to take the bull by its horns. Shes also a woman.
And you have a problem with that?
Quite frankly, Laura, theres too many women in this office.
What? Laura exclaimed, incredulous.
Its true. Remington insisted. I feel like an endangered species.
Ok, I feel like a pasha with a harem. Its disgraceful, appalling, especially for a married man.
Laura shook her head. Where did he come up with these things? She sighed, rubbing her back again. What energy shed had was rapidly deteriorating and she wished shed never come into work. That Queen Mary bed of theirs was looking pretty good right then, and she didnt care whether Remington was in it or not. Any anger she had originally felt had been replaced with an overall weariness. If Remington wanted Marvin, he could have him.
Ok. Laura said, throwing up her hands. You hired him. Hes yours. Good luck with the clay.
She turned to leave but Remingtons hand on her arm stopped her. She looked up at him, and she could see the concern in his eyes. He was frowning.
Laura, are you ok?
She reached up a hand and touched the side of his face. Im just tired. Its been busy around here.
Maybe you ought to go home. He suggested. Get some rest. Mildred and I can handle anything that comes up.
I know. She reached up and kissed him lightly on the lips and then went into her office, closing the door.
Remington watched her go with a puzzled frown. Hed been expecting a bigger fight, more yelling, more accusations, more outrage. Shed conceded the battle far too easily. For the first time, he began to worry. Something was wrong with his wife, and suddenly life didnt seem as splendid as it had earlier that morning.
Youve been ill a lot lately. Mildred commented from the doorway.
Laura looked up from the paperwork on her desk. She grabbed the crackers and hastily shoved them in a drawer. Just a stomach virus. Nothing serious.
Its not like you. Mildred continued, coming into the office and taking a seat in the chair across from her. You havent been sick a day since I came to work here.
Im not Wonder Woman. Laura snapped.
I didnt say you were.
Laura sighed, rubbing her forehead. She shouldnt have snapped. Im sorry, Mildred. That was uncalled for. Its just that Ive been busy, and my immune systems down. Ill get a bottle of vitamins. That should help.
Mildred studied her for a moment and then asked, Would you mind if I asked you a personal question, honey?
I guess it would depend on what it was. Laura replied, her tone cautious.
Whens the last time you had uh had well you know
Lauras brows came together in frown. Mildred, I think youre great, youre like a second mother to me, but Im not going to discuss Mr. Steele and my personal habits with you.
Mildred laughed nervously. I didnt mean that, honey. Although it has a lot to do with it. She added. What I meant to ask was when was your last monthly period.
Laura thought for a moment. Im not sure. Like I said its been busy and I havent really paid attention to such things. I suppose it was shortly after returning from Ireland.
Thats several weeks ago. Mildred pointed out. If I were you Id make an appointment to see a doctor.
You cant mean that you think Im Im She glanced at Remingtons door and then lowered her voice to barely above a whisper, pregnant?
Thats exactly what I think.
But thats impossible. When Mildred gave her a dubious look, Laura quickly revised her statement. Well, its possible. Of course, it is. Were married. Its what married people do. We havent been taking any precautions, and weve been overindulging. It was such a relief to get five years of frustration resolved that we been a little over enthusiastic.
Look, theres no need to explain to me, honey. Mildred said. I understand. Really I do. I sat out there and watched the two of you for four years. The office fairly crackled with sexual tension. But now youve got symptoms that point in a certain direction, and if I were you Id see a doctor. Pretty soon the boss is going to start noticing, and hes going to start worrying and you know what happens when he worries about you.
Ill call the doctor today.
Laura glanced at Remington from beneath her lashes as she set the table in the breakfast nook where they took their meals. The dining room was too grand for such informal occasions. He was putting finishing touches on a Béarnaise sauce.
I saw the doctor today. She began.
Remington felt his heart leapt. Hed known something was wrong. Still he kept his response nonchalant. Glad to hear it. Youve been tired and nauseous for a while now. He stirred the sauce, adding a little more white wine. What did he have to say? Just a touch of the flu, eh?
No, its not the flu.
He added a pinch of tarragon. But its not serious, right?
Laura kept her eyes on the silverware she was arranging on red cloth napkins. It depends on your perspective.
His head came up. He was no longer able to control his anxiety. You not trying to tell me its life threatening, are you?
Well, Laura said, reaching for the wineglasses, it was life threatening a few hundred years ago but today its not very dangerous at all.
That was it. He couldnt take it any more. He removed his pot from the burner, put down his whisk and came over to her, taking her by the shoulders and turning her to face him. Laura, he said with barely contained panic, tell me what it is. Youre going to be ok, right?
I think youd better sit down.
Oh, God, he groaned, sinking down on a chair, a dazed expression on his face. I knew it. Just when everything was going so well something like this happens. For once in my life I can touch what my heart used to dream of no, no, thats a song, I think.
Hes babbling, Laura thought. Its time to put the poor guy out of his misery. Of course, she wasnt quite sure if she was taking him out of the frying pan into the fire, but he had to know.
She took his hands in hers. Remington, youre going to be a father.
He stared at her, wide-eyed, lips slightly parted. A father? He seemed to have trouble understanding. You mean youre going to have a baby.
She nodded. Yes. Im pregnant. Thats why Ive been so tired and so nauseous. When he didnt respond immediately, she continued, somewhat anxiously, I know its a shock for you. I mean you just became a husband a few months ago, and before that you were one of L.A.s most eligible bachelors, but these things happen
She didnt get to finish for Remington suddenly came alive. He leapt up, pulled her into his arms and spun her around. Oh, Laura, baby, thats wonderful! He kissed her everywhere. Her nose, her eyes, her forehead, her cheeks, her mouth. Over and over. It reminded her of the time he thought shed been shot dead.
Youre she managed to get out between kisses, youre not angry?
Angry? He exclaimed. Why would I be angry? It takes two to tango, and weve been doing a lot of tangoing lately. To tell you the truth, Ive been expecting it. I just didnt put two and two together and figure out what your symptoms meant.
Then youre ok with this? She confirmed.
Of course. He said with a laugh. I couldnt be happier. Then concern came back into his face. What about the nausea and the fatigue? Will it go away?
Eventually. He gave me something for the nausea if it gets too bad, and some vitamins and iron pills to help with the fatigue.
Wonderful! He said cheerfully. Do you feel up to beef tenderloin with béarnaise sauce?
I feel up to anything right now. She admitted. Ive been living on saltine crackers.
She watched him returned to his sauce, a smile on his face, a spring in his step. Was he actually whistling? Well, she mused, he was taking it much better than shed expected. Actually he was taking it much better than her. He was overjoyed, delighted, while she just felt incredibly anxious. She had recovered from the initial shock, but she was still struggling to accept that she was going to be a mother.
What in the world did she know about being a mother? All she knew how to do was solve murders. Remingtons question from months before had quickly replayed through her mind as shed driven home from the doctors office. Supposing you had children, just supposing, would you keep working or would you give the little tykes breakfast in the morning and then rush off to a nice juicy murder? I mean would you call them up at school and apologize that you couldn't pick them up because you were being held hostage? She had dismissed those questions before as being irrelevant, but now they suddenly had meaning, and she didnt know how to answer. What would she do?
She picked up the bottle of wine and opened it, filling Remingtons glass before moving on to her own.
Laura, Remingtons voice drawled from behind her.
She jumped, spilling a bit of red wine on the white tablecloth.
What? She snapped, irritated with herself for being so nervous, so jumpy.
He took the bottle from her. No alcohol for you. Its not good for the baby.
Then what am I supposed to drink?
Milk? She asked, making a face. I hate milk.
Its very nutritious. He told her, retrieving a carton from the refrigerator and filling her wineglass with it. Lots of calcium and minerals.
If it has so many fine qualities why dont you have some too?
He looked at her, obviously not expecting her challenge. His eyes went to the milk as though calculating the risk involved in its consumption before he squared his shoulders and nodded. Very well. If you insist. Whats good for the goose is good for the gander, eh? He retrieved another wineglass and filled it.
She picked up her glass. Cheers, Mr. Steele.
Cheers, Mrs. Steele. He took a gulp and barely managed to hide a grimace of distaste before smiling valiantly. Mm, delicious!
She laughed, taking a seat at the table. You lie beautifully. You dislike the stuff as much as I do.
Nevertheless, its good for you. He insisted, placing a plate of braised asparagus tips and beef tenderloin drizzled with béarnaise sauce in front of her before taking his own seat. And if its the only way I can get you to drink it, Im willing to sacrifice myself and drink gallons. We must keep mother healthy.
Mother, Laura thought, rolling the word over and over in her head as she tried to tamp down the fear it generated within her. The thought of facing ten murderers with hatchets wasnt nearly as frightening as the thought of taking care of a baby. It was an odd thing for Laura Steele to feel out of her element, unable to handle a situation, but thats exactly how she felt. She felt totally unprepared for the task ahead. How in bloody hell was she going to cope?
Morning, morning, morning! Remington crowed, bursting into the office the following morning.
He stopped at Agnes desk. Here you go, Miss Trout. Enjoy. He handed her a cigar. When she just stared at it, her face wrinkled up in a disapproving scowl, he took it from her. Pardon me. Forgot you dont smoke cigars. Or do you? He asked, cocking an eyebrow.
No, I do not. Miss Trout retorted crisply.
Not a problem. Im prepared for all contingencies. He reached into his breast pocket, pulling out a cigar made of bubble gum. Just dont chew it at work. Very unprofessional.
Marvin, carrying a manila folder, wandered out of Lauras old office. Mr. Steele, he said with a bright smile, Youre in a good mood this morning.
I am, my boy, I am. He handed him the cigar hed taken from Agnes.
Whats this for?
Congratulate me, my boy, Remington said, clapping the young man on the back, Im going to be a father.
A father? Marvin echoed.
Yes, you know, like Spencer Tracy in Father of the Bride, MGM, 1950. Remington smiled broadly, staring off into the distance as though picturing something delightful. Soon therell be the pitter-pat of little Steele feet around the office. Im sure Miss Trout can barely contain her excitement at the thought.
The secretary sniffed and turned back to her typewriter. The thought of little versions of Mr. Steele making wisecracks and beating on her desk every morning left her cold. Just what the office needed. More window dressing.
Did I hear you right? Mildred asked, poking her head around the corner of her door. Did you say youre going to be a father?
Remington rushed forward, pulling Mildred from her office. Yes, Mildred, yes. Mrs. Steele, as our French friends would say, is enceinte. Everything sounds better in French, doesnt it? He considered that for a moment before continuing, Shell be in later. Still feeling a little tired, poor dear.
Marvin who had been studying his cigar suddenly asked, Arent you supposed to hand these out after the birth?
Remington turned to him, his smile flagged a bit before instantly recovering to its former sunny proportions, Astute, Marvin, very astute. Im impressed you caught on so quickly. I was testing you, my boy, testing you, and youve passed with flying colors. Hes as sharp as a tack, isnt he, Mildred?
As a tack. Mildred agreed.
I see a great future for you at Steele Investigations. Remington continued.
Marvin beamed, pocketed his cigar and then opened the folder. If you have a moment, Mr. Steele, Id like to discuss the Veenof case.
That was solved ages ago. Mildred pointed out.
Ive got Marvin studying our former cases. Remington explained, herding the young man into his office. So hell get an idea of how we work, how we delve into every detail, analyzing it carefully, thoroughly massaging every theory before arriving at a brilliant conclusion.
There was a snort from the direction of the typewriter but Remingtons door was already closed. Mildred, rolling her eyes, returned to her own office.
The boss sure was floating on cloud nine this morning. Mildred commented, entering the office Laura now shared with Remington. Where is he by the way?
Out showing Marvin the ropes. Laura answered, her eyes on the paperwork before her. Whatever the ropes are.
Knowing the boss its those velvet ones at the movie theater.
Mildred studied Lauras bent head. She was acting fairly subdued for an expectant mother. No happy smiles, no rosy glow, nothing but business as usual. She had barely acknowledged their congratulations when she had come in. Instead of stopping and discussing the happy event, she had made a beeline for the large corner office, closing the door firmly behind her.
Pardon me for asking, honey, Mildred ventured, but you seem a little down. Is there anything youd like to discuss?
Hows the Kellogg case coming along?
Thats not what I meant. Mildred said. And its coming along just fine. I expect to have the bum behind bars in a couple days.
This was going nowhere fast. Mildred decided to take the direct approach. Putting her hands on Lauras desk and leaning forward in her best intimidating manner, she demanded, Ok, spill it, honey. Whats wrong? I didnt expect you to be as chipper as the boss, but I thought youd at least be happy. You look as though youve just been sentenced to life at the Rock.
Laura attempted to ignore her, keeping her head down and eyes on the paper in front of her, but finally she gave up, tossing aside her pen and leaning back in her chair with a sigh that seemed to hold the weight of the world.
I am happy. She insisted. But
But Mildred prompted.
But its all so overwhelming. Laura seemed to be struggling with her thoughts and then burst out, And Remington as happy as a lark. I was expecting him to be the one scared out of his mind and here its me. I mean hes only been a husband for a few months and now a father and it hasnt even fazed him. Was he or wasnt he the one with the commitment problem?
I think it was a little on both sides.
How can a man become so domesticated so quickly? Laura demanded, not even hearing Mildreds response. It makes no sense. Its its annoying.
Believe me, honey, he may be on cloud nine right now, but reality will eventually hit him. It always does. But well worry about him later. Right now Im worried about you.
Im worried about me too. Laura said grimly. Thats the problem.
What do you mean?
Laura sighed, getting to her feet and pacing around the office, hands on hips. I mean that I dont know the first thing about being a mother.
No one ever does. Mildred assured her. Its a learning process.
How can I possibly work and take care of a baby at the same time?
Plenty of women do.
But most women arent in my particular line of work. Laura pointed out. I mean what are we doing to do? Put the baby in the back seat while were chasing crooks all over Los Angeles? Wed be arrested for child endangerment.
The obvious solution is to send your employees out to do the dirty work.
I know, Laura said with a sigh, staring down at her brown suede pumps, and I planned to do that eventually. The problem is I dont know whether Ill be able to give it up. The chase, I mean.
Mildred came over to her, took her by the arms and looked at her with eyes that Lauras thought terribly wise for someone whod never been a mother. Once you hold that baby in your arms, I dont think itll even be an issue any more.
Laura suddenly had an image of a smaller version of Remington, blue-eyed and dark-haired, mischievous grin with an unerring tendency to get in trouble, and she knew that Mildred was probably right. There would be enough adventure keeping that little devil out trouble to satisfy any need she might still have for the chase.
Youre probably right. She conceded. But that doesnt solve the problem of my lack of mothering skills.
I told you, honey, you learn as you go along.
But I cant even cook a meal.
Mildred shrugged. You wont have to. The boss seems pretty content to remain in possession of the kitchen.
Mildred, do you know what we had for dinner last night?
Not a clue.
We had braised asparagus tips and beef tenderloin in a béarnaise sauce.
It was. Laura confirmed. Mr. Steele is a superb cook, but what kind of kid is going to what to eat asparagus and beef tenderloin?
Oh, Im sure theyll eventually develop a taste for Peking duck and Coq Au Vin, but when youre a kid you want food like macaroni & cheese, hamburgers and pizza. Can you honestly see Mr. Steele preparing such things? It would rake against his culinary pride.
Mildred considered the question, and then said, I think the boss would make them whatever they wanted to eat. Sure, he likes the finer things of life, but hes been on the other side of the track. He hasnt forgotten his roots even though he likes to pretend he has.
But Laura wasnt listening. She was staring out the window, hands on hips, one foot tapping against the carpet. Mildred waited patiently. She had no doubt that Mrs. Steele would bounce back, would overcome her initial anxiety. She always did.
A cooking course. Laura said, suddenly whirling around to face her.
What? Mildred asked blankly.
If I cant cook, Ill take a cooking course. Laura declared.
Laura suddenly felt much better, light-hearted even. Doing something positive always made her feel better. Why sit around and worry about being a mother? Get out there and do something about it. That had always been her motto. If she didnt know something, then learn it. Shed stop at the bookstore on the way home and pick up a few books on child-rearing, and then shed sign up for a cooking class. She buzzed Agnes.
Agnes, get me a list of places offering cooking classes.
Ill have it for you within the hour, Mrs. Steele.
Laura gave Mildred a triumphant smile. Problem solved.
Laura had labored over her macaroni & cheese with the loving care of a mother, and now she removed her creation from the oven with the pride of accomplishment. The delicious aroma of cheddar filled her nose and she carefully inspected the breadcrumbs on top, looking for any burnt or overdone sections. None, she thought with satisfaction, it was a blanket of golden perfection. She set her dish on the counter along side the dishes of her fellow students and then waited for Gaston Rousseau to enter the kitchen.
Mr. Martin, the schools owner, had made it clear to them what an honor it was to have the great Gaston Rousseau teach their course in Classic American cuisine. He was a very busy and important man in the world of gourmet cooking. Not only was he executive chef and manager of the famous Maison dAndre restaurant but he also had his own cooking show on cable TV. As a personal favor to Mr. Martin, Rousseau had agreed to teach the class with the stipulation that it would be taught at the studio where Gourmet Galore was taped in an effort to converse valuable time.
Yet despite his fame and reputation or maybe because of it, Laura had taken an instant dislike to the man. She had found him arrogant, temperamental and far too eager to take liberties with her fellow students, all of which were more than willing to allow him a pinch or a cuddle and even encouraged it. She guessed that that is what is meant by the term desperate housewife. Fortunately with all the willing females to choose from, he had thankfully kept his hands to himself as far as Laura was concerned.
There was a little twitter at the far end of the room, which indicated Rousseau had entered. Laura had learned early on that someone was always twittering around the man, although for the life of her, she could not determine why. He was short for a man, barely taller than Laura, with coal black hair and eyes and a neatly trimmed goatee, which he liked to stroke when in conversation. He was attractive in an oily sort of way, but nothing to warrant all the palpitations experienced by her classmates.
He walked slowly down the counter, surveying every casserole, before returning to the far end of the room and picking up a spoon, which he thrust into the first dish with the force of a Hawaiian spearfisherman. He sniffed the macaroni, eyed it carefully and then put it in his mouth, chewing thoughtfully. Then after a brief word to its cook, resulting in another rash of twitters, he moved on to the next dish and repeated the process.
Down the counter he came until he stood in front of Lauras dish. He nodded to her then picked up a clean spoon, shoved it in the macaroni & cheese and put a portion to his mouth. He chewed, chewed again and then with a little gasp promptly fell forward.
There was a silence as the students stared at him, face down in Lauras macaroni & cheese. Then a wail came from Moira Castle. Oh, my God, hes hes not dead, is he?
Laura quickly took charge of the situation. She felt for a pulse.
Somebody call for an ambulance. She said grimly. Hes dead.
Remington entered the office and was surprised to find no dragon at the door. He glanced around. It seemed strangely quiet. Tucking the cricket ball he was carrying under one arm, he checked first Mildreds office and then Marvins. Empty. How odd. Did they all decide to take a vacation and not tell him? No, he remembered, theyd all been working diligently when hed popped out for lunch an hour or so ago. Of course, Laura had been gone, but shed gone to her cooking class.
He tried valiantly to control the grimace that came to his face but gave up when he remembered there was no one to see it. He had tried, he honestly had, but for the life of him he couldnt understand Lauras sudden desire to learn how to cook. After all, she had him, didnt she? Didnt he make her the most delicious meals a woman could wish for? And did he complain about slaving over a hot stove? No. He enjoyed it.
Nevertheless, he had done what all good husbands do. He had supported her endeavor. He had been particularly supportive this morning because it was D-Day, the day she presented a finished product to the chef for grading. Before shed left, hed taken her into his arms, given her a long, lingering kiss, which hed been loath to end, and wished her a hearty good luck. She ought to have been back by now, he thought with a frown as he opened his door and ran smack dab into the lost tribe. Trout, Marvin and Mildred were all hovering around Lauras chair like a pack of groupies at a rock concert.
Whats going on here? He demanded from the doorway.
The groupies parted to reveal his wife, sitting in the chair, her eyes red and swollen. His heart squeezed at the sight of her. Laura had been crying! It was such a rare occurrence that he immediately shifted into his over protective mode. What had happened? Had that rat Antony returned? If someone had dared hurt her, hed hed tear their bloody heart out. Then a thought struck him like a sledgehammer. Had something happened to the baby?
Laura, he murmured, coming over to kneel beside her chair, whats wrong, baby?
Hes dead. She said simply.
His first thought was of the baby. Dead? he rasped, clutching her hands in his. How? Why?
He took one bite of my macaroni & cheese and dropped dead.
Remington blinked. Hed missed something here. Who?
Gaston Rousseau. When he stared at her blankly, she added, my cooking instructor.
Relief poured over him and he responded more cheerfully than the occasion called for. Poor chap. Sorry to hear that.
Poor chap? Laura exclaimed, jumping to her feet and staring down at him with hands on hips. Is that all you can say? A man died after tasting my casserole, my macaroni & cheese and all you can say is poor chap?
Remington glanced at the faces around him, searching for guidance. Agnes, always glad to see him on the rack, merely sniffed, Marvin, wanting to help but not daring, shuffled nervously from foot to foot while Mildred, good ole reliable Mildred, his friend, his ally, simply shook her head sadly. Obviously no one was willing to risk Mrs. Steeles wrath. Hed been thrown to the wolf, and she was licking her chops.
Well? Laura demanded.
He tried a smile. Dont take it too hard, Laura. My first Peking duck didnt turn out too well either.
She stared at him for a moment, eyes blazing and then suddenly, unexpectedly her face crumpled and she went running from the office.
Excellent reply, Sir. Agnes murmured as she returned to her desk.
For what its worth, Marvin offered, I didnt think you had much of a chance no matter what you said. Ill Ill just go and review that Premium Insurance case.
Remington looked at Mildred, bewildered. What did I do?
Its not your fault, boss. Mildred said with a comforting pat on his shoulder. Pregnancy tends to make them overly emotional. But, if I were you, Id get off that floor and go after her. Now. The longer you wait, the longer you sleep on the couch.
But where did she go?
Try the womens restroom.
A few minutes later, having located the womens restroom, Remington stood outside the door, wondering how in the world he was going to extract his wife. Several people passed, giving him an odd glance, which he returned with a smile, nodding and saying hello. Finally when the coast was clear, he knocked on the door and said a hopeful, Laura?
No answer. He tried again. Still no answer.
A woman with blonde curly hair and a tight skirt was passing. He put out a hand, stopping her. I wonder if you would do me a favor.
The blonde looked him up and down and then said with a coy smile, Sure, honey. Whatcha got in mind?
I was wondering if you could go in the womens restroom and tell me if theres a woman in there with dark hair, red, swollen eyes and wearing, Remington squinted, trying to remember what Laura had had on, a dark green suit and brown leather pumps. Alligator, I think.
She looked a little disappointed but complied, reappearing a few seconds later. Yeah, shes in there, honey.
Was anyone else?
No, just her.
Remington took the womans hand, shaking it vigorously. Thank you. Thank you very much, Miss
Miss Carroll. I work down the hall at Regency Insurance.
Im forever in your debt.
Ill remember that, honey. She said as she sidled off, hips swinging.
Remington straightened his tie, squared his shoulders and walked into the womens restroom. Laura whirled around.
You cant come in here. She exclaimed. This is a womens restroom.
You gave me no choice. He told her grimly. If you wont come out, then I have to come in. He glanced around with interest. So this is what a womens restroom looks like. I expected something a bit more decorative.
What do you want? She demanded, sniffing into a handkerchief. It looked suspiciously like one of his. He patted his breast pocket. No, his was safe. She must have raided his dresser drawer when he hadnt been looking. Married only a few months and shed already rifled through his personal belongings. It was so so wife-like, he decided with masculine indignation.
I want to know whats going on. He said, coming over and taking her by the arms. This isnt just about Romeo dropping dead in your macaroni.
Rousseau. She corrected.
Dont prevaricate. I want to know whats bothering you.
Its silly. She said, refusing to meet his eyes. Really it is.
What is? He demanded, giving her a little shake.
I took that class in order to learn how to cook so Id be a good mother, and look what happens. The man takes one bite and dies on me.
Laura, he drawled, forcing her chin up so he could look into her eyes, it wasnt your cooking that killed him. He probably had a tricky ticker. All that butter and eggs and salt will do that to a person. And besides, he said, his voice becoming as soft as a velvet glove, being a good cook doesnt make you a good mother. I think youre going to be a wonderful mother whether you can cook or not.
She finally looked at him, her eyes wet and more vulnerable than hed ever seen them. No, I dont suppose it does, but I worked so hard on that casserole, and it was beautiful, simply beautiful, and it was very disheartening for a man to drop dead in it.
Remington pursed his lips, thinking for a moment. Do you trust my expertise in the culinary arts, Laura?
Then you cook a macaroni & cheese casserole for me, and Ill give you my honest opinion of it.
She looked at him suspiciously. You wont drop dead, will you?
I promise to do my utmost to remain alive.
Laura considered his proposal and then smiled. Youve got yourself a deal, Mr. Steele. She slid her arms around his neck intending to seal their agreement with a kiss when something hard jabbed her in the side. She looked down. What is that?
Whats what? He followed the line of her gaze. She was staring at the cricket bat hed been carrying around with him ever since entering the office. No wonder people in the hallway had looked at him oddly. Oh, this? He asked, holding it up for inspection. Its a cricket bat, of course.
This may seem like an odd question, Mr. Steele, but why do you have a cricket bat?
Its for the baby. When Laura stared at him as though hed gone mad, he hastily clarified. For when hes old enough to use it. Every proper Englishman knows how to play cricket, Laura. Its a national tradition.
Shes going to be an American, and Americans play baseball.
He put the cricket ball on the sink counter and then took her in his arms, pulling her close. With his lips a breath apart from hers, he said, I tell you what, Mrs. Steele. You teach her to play baseball, and Ill teach him to play cricket. I think thats a fair compromise between nations, dont you?
She slid her arms around his neck. Sounds better than the Treaty of Paris, and I didnt even have to fight a war. Youre much more reasonable than King George.
I try to be, Mrs. Steele, I try to be.
Their lips touched, clung and lingered.
Oh, my, I beg your pardon! I didnt realize
Their heads turned. A woman in brown tweed with a pair of glasses on her nose was staring at them, wide-eyed. Without another word, she hurried out.
Remington shrugged and went back to kissing his wife.
Oh, my, God, theres a man in here! A voice screamed from the doorway.
Once again their heads turned. This time a young woman with very high heels and an equally high skirt stared at them, horror on her face. She looked like a squirrel caught in the middle of a road with a car coming, not quite knowing which way to go. She finally made a decision and fled.
Remington looked at Laura, and Laura looked at him. He nodded toward a stall, and she nodded in response. Slipping inside and closing the door firmly behind them, they resumed their kiss. He had just gotten his wifes jacket unbuttoned, exposing a delightful view of lace-trimmed bosom, when another voice ventured forth.
Feels like old times, doesnt it? He asked with a sigh as he opened the door and poked his head outside. Yes, Mildred?
She didnt seem at all surprised to see them in a restroom stall. Instead she smiled broadly and said, Ive got good new and bad news. At Remingtons lifted brow, she continued, The bad news is Rousseau was poisoned. Good news is it wasnt Mrs. Steeles casserole.
Splendid. Remington said, starting to shut the door. If youll excuse us, Mildred
You might want to think about getting out of here. Theres talk in the hallway that the police have been called to get a pervert out of the womens restroom.
Remington glanced at his watch. Itll take them at least ten minutes to get here. Itll take me a minute to escape so that leaves me nine minutes to spare. If youll excuse me, Mildred, I have to make the most of the time Ive been allotted.
No problem, boss. Ill stand guard at the door so no one else will disturb you.
Youre an invaluable asset, Mildred. Simply invaluable.
Were so glad that you could meet with us on such short notice, Mr. Steele. Felix Martin said as he took a chair in front of Remingtons large desk. We are most eager to find out who committed this heinous crime against one of Los Angeles most revered chefs.
It was no trouble at all. Remington replied. I have a certain interest in finding the murderer as well. After all, it was my wifes casserole the man expired in. He glanced at Laura who was seated nearby. Now tell me about this Chef Rousseau, and how hes connected with the two of you.
Gaston was an old, old friend of mine. Felix began. We were in cooking school together and then later worked at the same restaurant in San Francisco. I knew him in those days as George Rodgers. When he obtained the sous chef job at Maison DAndre, he changed his name to Gaston Rousseau.
That was my idea. The second man of the pair chimed in, leaning forward to shake Remingtons hand. Im Walter Plum, Rousseaus agent. He leaned back in his chair with a wide smile. I met George at a cocktail party, you know, one of those little trendy things the Hollywood crowd like to throw, and I said Georgie, baby, you got to dump the name. Nobodys going to want to eat French cuisine made by a guy named George Rodgers. Its all about image, baby, image. So he changed his name and look at the publicity. Plum said, spreading his hands for emphasis. Skyrocketed right to the top after he landed that executive chef position.
And when was that? Laura asked.
Plum thought for a moment. Oh, I think it was about a year ago. The former exec left and George moved into the position. Became manager of the whole joint. The Andre family even gave him the rights to use the Maison DAndre name for marketing purposes. Thats what burns me up about this whole thing, Steele. Plum declared, leaning forward in his chair. I had a honey of a deal all arranged to market a line of Maison products. Frozen dinners, bottled sauces, the possibilities were endless, and here he ups and dies on me. Not only that but Im in breach on contract with that cable network. George had one more episode to tape. Ive lost a hell of a lot of money, Steele, a hell of a lot of money.
Well, Laura thought, we can probably cross him off the list of suspects. You dont kill the goose that lays the golden egg.
And what about me? Felix exclaimed, bursting into Plums tale of woe with one of his own. My reputation is at risk. This could ruin Martins Classic Kitchen Cooking School. Who wants to take classes at a school where the instructor dies of poisoning? Im having a hard enough time keeping the current class under control. Half of those women have demanded their money back and the other half are threatening breach of contract because theres no instructor to continue the course. My God, he moaned, sinking into his chair and looking very much like a wilted stalk of celery, I dont want to see the cancellations when the media gets a hold of this. Ill be ruined.
You mentioned an Andre family. Laura said, steering the conversation back to Plum. Who are they?
Before Plum could answer, Remington said, They own the Maison DAndre restaurant, Laura. The father, Gerald Andre, was the founder. He immigrated to the United States from Cannes around the turn of the century, I believe.
He wouldnt happen to have anything to do with art or jewelry, would he? Laura asked, surprised at Remington knowledge. Usually he only stored information on jewels, art and movies.
Remington smiled, fully aware of the reason she was asking. No, not jewels. He was just the finest French chef in Southern France. He came over here and immediately set up the finest French restaurant in Los Angeles. I believe his daughters own the restaurant now.
Thats right. Plum confirmed. Two little old spinsters. They gave full managing authority to George, and as I said, rights to the Maison name.
Laura continued her questioning. Do either of you know of anyone that might have wanted Gaston Rousseau dead?
Plum laughed, leaning back in his chair once again. It creaked under his considerable bulk. Plenty, Mrs. Steele. George wasnt popular. He had the typical Prima Donna complex. Most of my clients do. Temperamental, rude, arrogant. He rubbed practically everyone he met the wrong way. He paused and then said, almost enviously, Except the ladies. Oh, they loved the guy. Cant understand it myself, but Im just an average Joe or at least thats what my wife tells me. He eyed Remington. You must know what I mean, Steele. I bet the women just throw themselves at you like cats against a screen door.
Cant say Ive noticed, Plum. Remington replied. I only have eyes for my wife.
So what are you going to do about it, Mr. Steele? Felix piped in, obviously weary of the interview.
Remington glanced at Laura. Im sure my wife has a plan.
Then by all means, Mrs. Steele, lets hear it.
We go undercover.
Undercover? Felix echoed.
Laura nodded. It seems the logical solution for everyone. We get the opportunity to investigate while providing you with an instructor to complete the current cooking class and Mr. Plum a guest host to tape Rousseaus last episode.
Both Felix and Plum looked interested.
And do you have someone who could perform this role convincingly? Felix asked. He or she must know something about cooking.
Remington felt a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach. He knew what was coming. Whenever Laura got that look in her eye and that complacent grin on her face he knew he was going to be called upon to play a role, to step into another mans shoes just like he had Remington Steeles. Sometimes he hated his ability to play the chameleon. It got him more conks on the head than he cared to remember.
Mr. Steele happens to be an excellent gourmet cook. Laura was saying.
But wouldnt he be recognized? Plum asked. After all, he is a famous detective. His face is everywhere.
A set of colored contacts, a mustache, some gray at the temples ought to do the trick. Laura said as though it were the easiest thing in the world to change his appearance according to her specifications. Made him feel like a Mr. Potato Head. Dont like his eyes. No problem. Weve got another pair. There would be just enough difference that no one would even think of making a comparison.
Sounds like a plan to me. Plum said, getting to his feet.
When Felix got up and followed him out of the office, it was apparently agreed upon by everyone but the lead actor that a deal had been struck. Remington remained in his chair, fuming inwardly, as Laura saw their clients to the door.
It didnt happen to occur to you, Laura, he said as she re-entered, that I might not want to play the role of the Galloping Gourmet.
I thought youd relish the opportunity to show off your culinary skills. She said, coming over and sitting down on his desk. She crossed her legs, giving Remington a delightful view of silk-clad knee and calf. He felt himself weakening and quickly moved to shore up the castle wall.
And what happens if were dealing with a maniacal killer that gets his jollies poisoning gourmet chefs? He asked dryly. I could be the next in line.
Laura slid off the desk and into his lap, draping her arms around his neck. Well get you a taste tester. Besides, she murmured, dropping kisses along his jaw, Ill be right beside you. Next weeks lesson is meatloaf.
I have never made a meatloaf in my life. Remington said with as much dignity as he could with Lauras tongue doing delightful things to his ear.
I have the lesson plan, Mr. Steele. She said with a coy smile. Ill be happy to let you review it.
The castle wall came tumbling down. He never had been able to resist her or her ridiculous plans. Besides, if he didnt do it, shed probably recruit Trout for the position, and he was not about to allow that woman to be the only thing standing between his wife and a maniacal killer.
Very well, Ill do it. He sighed. But on one condition.
And what would that be?
His hand slid up a silk-clad knee until it came to rest on a silk-clad thigh. Putting his arm around her shoulders, he tipped her head back over his arm until her mouth was in just the right place for kissing.
That this is the only and last meatloaf I ever make.
Im glad all of you could be here this afternoon. Felix Martin was saying. Its been a trying time for all of us, Chef Rousseau will be sorely missed, but Classic Kitchen is dedicated to providing its students with the best customer service and classroom instruction available. As a result, we have gone out and secured a new instructor for our American Classics course. May I introduce Paul Fabrini?
Laura joined the polite applause as Paul Fabrini stepped forward. Not a bad job, she thought, running a critical eye over the dark-eyed man dressed in white chef coat, apron and hat. The silver at his temples was distinguishing and the mustache small and neat. Only Laura knew the lines of his body and features to be pure Remington Steele. Any other person would think him to be exactly what he appeared ~ a handsome, distinguished-looking gourmet chef.
Chef Fabrini comes to us from Seattle, Felix continued, where he is executive chef as well as sole proprietor of Cuisine Acier, a small but exclusive restaurant serving French cuisine. I hope you will join me in making him welcome. And now without further ado, I will leave you in the capable hands for Chef Fabrini.
Oh, la, la. Laura heard one of the women nearby murmur. Im sure his hands are very capable. Quite an improvement over Gaston, eh, Moira?
Laura casually turned her head. It was Leann Scarlett talking, a busty blonde of about forty-five who lived in Burbank. According to what Laura had picked up from the other women in the class, her husband was a banker, and Leann was a bored society wife who amused herself her collecting young artists to help. It appeared that chefs were her chosen artist of the month for Laura had noticed her rather intimate behavior towards Gaston Rousseau.
Her attention was diverted from Leann by Remington greeting the class and immediately throwing himself into the part of instructor. He did it rather well, she thought as she listened to his instructions, which he pronounced with a French accent. If it wasnt for the fact that half the women were already swooning over him, practically salivating into their sauté pans, she would have been proud of his performance. Remember its only an act, she reminded her. He was just playing the role shed assigned him. It wasnt his fault shed thrown him into a pack of she-wolves.
She threw a couple pats of butter into the sauté pan, adding mushrooms and stirring.
Very good, Mzee Steele.
She glanced up. Remington was standing at her elbow, looking very prim and proper in his white attire, hands clasped behind his back.
Uh, thank you, Chef Fabrini.
But I think you dont have zee proper sauté motion. Here let me show you. He put his hand over hers, guiding her stirring. Good. Good. He murmured, his mouth close to her ear, much too close for her comfort. Not too forceful or youll bruise zee mushrooms. Lightly. Yes, thats it. Here, he reached his other arm around her to pick up a bottle of white wine, just a touch to add zee favor. Excellente, Mzee Steele. You are zee woman after my own heart.
He moved on but not before trailing his fingers tantalizingly across her backside. She sent him a glare but he was already leaning over Mrs. Radcliffes pan. Unlike with Laura, he did not offer any special assistance. He merely mentioned that her mushrooms looked a wee bit limp.
Arent you the lucky one? A voice said nearby.
She glanced up. Leann Scarlett was standing across from her, stirring her own mushrooms. Why do you say that?
Youve caught Fabrinis eye. She sent a sultry glance in Remingtons direction. What I wouldnt do for a few private lessons with him. Gaston was nothing compared to that delicious French morsel. I prefer them tall, honey.
Did you know Gaston well? Laura asked.
Leann laughed. You could say that. But I think Gaston knew a lot of women well. I really dont know what we all saw in him. He really was an oily sort of creature. Im not surprised he got himself poisoned.
Men like him have a lot of enemies. Leann said offhandedly. Jealous husbands, jealous lovers, professional rivals.
Laura would have liked to question her further, but Remington had returned to the front of the classroom and was discussing spices and their various uses. She was only half listening for her mind was on Leann Scarlett and what she might know about Gaston. The woman was going to have to be pumped for information. She looked at Leann and then at Remington. He was the obvious choice, for the woman was obviously lusting after him, but she was loath to suggest it. She didnt want that woman within a yard of her husband. But business was business, and one couldnt let ones personal feelings get in the way of solving a murder. There was simply no other option. Someone had to do the dirty work.
Absolutely not. Remington declared as he sat in his chair, arms crossed, his expression one of inflexible determination. Ive just spent the entire afternoon been chased around a kitchen by a pack of sex-starved females, and Im not going to encourage even one of them. Ive been propositions by two housewives, pawed by a spinster and cornered in the pantry by a large busted blonde that offered to rotate my cabbages. He paused, shooting Laura a look of wounded indignation. Frankly, Laura, Im appalled that you would even suggest such a thing. Im your husband, and you want me to encourage this woman?
Do you think I liked watching her undress you with her eyes? Laura demanded, slapping her hands on his desk and leaning towards him, When I saw her follow you into that pantry, I wanted to go in there and rotate her cabbages.
Remingtons expression perked up considerably. You did?
But business is business. Laura declared, turning away and stalking across the room. Somebody has to pump the woman for information, and youre the logical choice.
Not any longer.
Laura whirled to face him. What do you mean?
I told her I was gay.
Gay? Laura exclaimed. Why in Heavens name did you do that?
Because it was the only way I could escape with my cabbages still intact.
Smart move, boss. Mildred interjected from the sofa across the room. Shed been called in for a brainstorming session, but so far the only storming shed seen had come from her two kids.
Thank you, Mildred, Im glad somebody understands the gravity of my situation.
Laura snorted. Im surprised she believed you after that lovemaking scene over the sauté pan.
Whats this about a pan? Mildred asked, leaning forward, her expression eager. Did I miss something?
Ok. Laura said, struggling for calm. Her stomach was beginning to roll, and she longed for the saltines in her desk drawer. Lets approach this logically. If youre gay, who are we going to get to pump that woman for information?
There was a silence as all three considered her question. Then Mildred said, Marvin?
Lauras head came up. She rolled the idea over in her head. He was a bit young and inexperienced, but as Remington had said all he needed was a little molding. Besides, they werent paying him to review past cases. It was time to put the boy to work.
Call Boy Wonder, Mr. Steele. Weve got an assignment for him.
But, Laura, Remington protested, the boy is young, innocent, a malleable lump of clay unsoiled by corruption and vice. Do we really want to expose him to the rampant lust of Leann Scarlett?
You were the one that said he needed molding, Mr. Steele. Laura reminded him. Well, get molding.
Remington reluctantly pushed the intercom button. Marvin, my boy?
Yes, Mr. Steele.
Would you be so kind as to come into my office?
Right away, Mr. Steele. There was a pause. Should I bring the Courtney Doll file?
No. Just bring yourself.
Within seconds, Marvin appeared at the doorway. Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, Laura thought, walking towards him. A tasty treat for a she-wolf.
Come in, Marvin, she said, taking his arm and pulling him inside, Mr. Steele has an assignment for you. She looked at Remington. Dont you, Mr. Steele?
Yes, it appears that I do. Remington agreed grimly.
Marvin sat down in the chair opposite Remingtons desk. Great. What do you want me to do?
Laura had placed herself behind Remingtons chair, her hands resting lightly on his shoulders. Mr. Steele and I are currently working on the murder of Gaston Rousseau. He was poisoned while instructing a cooking class at Classic Kitchen
Hes the one that died in your Marvin began.
Yes, thats the one. Laura confirmed, cutting him off before he could remind her of that ill-fated day. Well, as you can see from Mr. Steeles appearance, hes been working undercover. Hes replaced Rousseau as the instructor, and wed like you to pose as his assistant. Do you think you could do that?
But theres more to this assignment than being my assistant. Remington explained, his expression grave as he stared at the young man across from him. We believe that Gaston Rousseau was intimately involved with a student called Mrs. Leann Scarlett. Do you think you could insinuate yourself, snake-like, into this ladys confidence? Pump her for information. Find out if shes heard anything, if she knows of anyone that might have wanted to kill Rousseau, if she saw anything odd on the day he was murdered. Do you think you can do that?
I must warn you, Marvin, this woman is somewhat dangerous.
Do you mean she might try to kill me? Marvin asked eagerly.
No. Remington said, tapping his fingers together. But she may be he searched for the words, sexually aggressive. Do you understand what I mean?
You mean Im to play Dustin Hoffman to Anne Bancrofts Mrs. Robinson.
Remington smiled broadly. Ah, Marvin, I knew you had a great career ahead of you. Only a select few understand the subtle relationship between solving mysteries and the silver screen.
Laura rolled her eyes. Despite your rather fanciful way of describing it, Marvin, yes, thats the role youre to play.
Great. When do I start?
The day after tomorrow. Classes are every Tuesday and Thursday. Laura told him before turning to Mildred. Where you able to get any information on how Rousseau spent his morning on the day he died?
Mildred flipped open her leather portfolio and extracted a typewritten sheet. I tracked down his personal assistant, Jeremy Andrews, and got his entire schedule. At first he didnt want to cough it up, but I threatened him with the IRS, and he came across. They usually do.
Laura quickly scanned the sheet of paper. This is interesting. He visited the Andre sisters that morning before coming into the studio. I think that warrants a visit to the sisters, dont you, Mr. Steele?
By all means. Remington agreed. After those women at Classic Kitchen, two little old ladies will be a refreshing change.
It was such a dreadful thing that happened to Mr. Rousseau, Helene Andre said as she poured out a tea of cup, which she passed to her sister, Marie, who in turn passed it to Remington. Marie and I were most dismayed to hear about it. And poison of all things, him being a chef and all.
Remington smiled, accepting the tea cup. The delicate cup, decorated with tiny pink and yellow roses, felt small in his hand, but he took a sip, sighing with pleasure. These were his type of women. Not only could they brew a perfect cup of English tea but they were exactly what they ought to be ~ two little spinsters, prim and proper, living in a large, brick house on a highly respectable street in Brentwood.
He glanced around the parlor in which they were seated. With satisfaction he noted the straight-backed chairs and sofa covered in maroon brocade, the oriental rugs over shiny hardwood and the large fireplace surrounded by heavy, dark wood. His eyes ran over the mantel, noting two very ornate candlesticks, a large, gilded mirror and a crystal wine decanter. Suddenly he frowned. There was something vaguely familiar about the scene, but he quickly pushed his momentary unease aside, turning his attention back to Helene who was still discoursing on the untimely death of Chef Rousseau.
And such a nice man. She was saying, handing her sister a cup of tea before putting down her pot. He stopped by every month like clock work, didnt he, Marie?
Oh, yes, her sister agreed, nodding her curly gray head, he always managed to find time to stop by despite his busy schedule.
Helene took a sip of tea. He had the most wonderful idea about marketing Papas products. At first we werent too sure that Papa would want such a thing, Papa was so protective of his reputation, but when Gaston explained to us that everyone should have the opportunity to sample Papas creations, not just the people of Los Angeles, we were convinced. He promised that the marketing would be very discreet and dignified, just like Papa would want it.
He visited you the morning he died, didnt he? Laura asked.
Yes, indeed, Marie answered, unfortunately he couldnt stay very long because of some appointment he had, but he did stay long enough to have a glass of our elderberry wine.
Remington whod been in the action of taking a sip of tea choked.
Oh, dear, are you ok, Mr. Steele? Helene asked as he coughed violently.
Yes, yes, just fine. He assured her, wiping his face with his handkerchief. Recovered, he stuffed it into his pocket and asked, Did you say elderberry wine?
Marie smiled, getting up to retrieve the wine decanter from the fireplace mantel. Why, yes, we make it ourselves. Its an old family recipe, straight from Cannes. Would you care for a glass?
To Remingtons horror, he heard Laura say, Id love one, Miss Andre. My grandmother used to make it.
Ah Laura Remington quickly interrupted, its a little early for wine, isnt it? He watched Marie pour a small amount into a crystal wine glass.
Perhaps. Laura admitted, accepting the glass, but a small amount wont hurt.
She raised the glass, but Remingtons hand stopped it from reaching her mouth. In the ensuing struggle for control of the glass, a small amount of wine spilled out, straining the white tablecloth.
Whats wrong with you? Laura hissed as she tried to sop up the spill with her napkin.
Have you forgotten the baby, my dear? He asked before flashing a quick smile at the sisters who were watching them with a somewhat perplexed stare. Mrs. Steele is expecting our first child.
Oh, how, lovely for you. Helene breathed, clasping her chubby, white hands together. I do so like babies. You wouldnt think an old spinster like me would, but I do. They are so soft and cuddly.
Laura reluctantly set down the glass.
Undeterred Marie looked at Remington. Perhaps youd like the wine, Mr. Steele?
Ah no, thank you allergic to elderberries, Im afraid.
How odd. Marie said, replacing the decanter. Our youngest brother, John, was too. You remember, dont you, Helene? He would get those nasty hives. The poor boy would itch himself to death.
So, Remington asked as casually as he could, Rousseau had a glass of wine when he visited a few days ago?
Of course. Marie said, returning to her seat and passing a plate of tea cakes to Laura. He always had a glass.
Laura accepted the plate eagerly. She was famished. Now that her morning sickness was subsiding she found herself as hungry as a horse. Despite the large breakfast Remington had prepared for her that morning she was still hungry. The tea cakes, sprinkled with powdered sugar, and still warm from the oven beckoned her invitingly and she transferred three to her own plate before passing them back to Marie.
There was a slight noise from beside her, something between a gasp and a squeak. She glanced at Remington and was surprised by the stricken look on his face. If he hadnt been behaving so oddly, she would have found his expression comical. He looked as though hed just pulled back the sheets and found a cobra in the middle of his bed. And they said expecting mothers acted oddly! What about expecting fathers?
She opened her mouth, eagerly anticipating the warm sweetness that awaited her, when a noise from the nearby stairwell caught her attention. A rotund little man dressed in a black and wearing a bowler appeared. He had the most beautiful moustache shed ever seen. It was waxed and curled upwards like a smile.
Hows the case coming, Hercule? Marie called out.
Merveilluex! The little man declared, striding into the parlor. Every day brings me closer to capturing the assassin. It is only a matter of time now.
Helene leaned over and whispered, Thats Henry. Hes our oldest brothers son. He likes to pretend that hes Hercule Poirot. Its harmless enough so we just play along.
Remington nodded mechanically. Of course. Why not? Instead of Teddy Roosevelt, weve got Hercule Poirot. It all fits. There was even a window seat across the room.
Well, I must be off. Hercule said, tucking a black walking stick under his arm and pulling on a pair of gloves. Every minute I delay allows the assassin more time cover his tracks.
He departed through a door leading into what must have been the kitchen.
Hes going out into the garden. Marie explained. Thats where he usually apprehends his assassins.
There was a loud clanking of metal objects followed by terrific clash of shattering glass. The sisters jumped up. Oh, dear, hes done it again. Helene exclaimed. Do excuse us for a moment, Mr. Steele, Mrs. Steele. We must disengage Henry from the buttery. We wont be a minute.
The moment both sisters disappeared into the kitchen, Remington leapt up and hurried over to the window seat where he lifted the lid and looked inside.
What is the world are you doing? Laura demanded.
Looking for a dead body.
A dead body? She exclaimed. Are you mad?
Remington returned to his seat, glanced around to make sure no one was listening and then said in a low, urgent voice, Arsenic and Old Lace. Gary Grant, Priscilla Lane, Warner Bros., 1944. Two loveable old ladies poison lonely men with elderberry wine and bury them in their basement.
Rousseau hardly fits that description. Laura pointed out. He wasnt lonely. On the contrary, by all reports, he had a very active love life.
I wish I could get a look in their basement. Remington muttered.
You watch too many movies. Laura told him. There is nothing to indicate that these old women poisoned Rousseau except your overactive imagination. They liked him. Hed sampled their wine before with no ill affects. There is absolutely no reason for them to kill him.
Ah, but thats how the criminal mind works. Remington said. They want us to think they liked him in order to throw us off the scent.
Laura placed a hand against his forehead. No fever. You must just fall into delirium whenever the moons full.
She was saved from any more of Remingtons panicked imaginings by the sisters returning. They settled themselves in their chairs.
Now, where were we? Helene asked, selecting a cake for herself.
You mentioned an older and younger brother. Laura said, finally getting to eat her tea cake. It was delicious. Do you have any other siblings or relatives?
No, there were just four of us. Marie said. Weve had no children, of course, and youve met Gerrys son. As for John, weve had reports that hes had children.
You dont know for sure?
He and father had a falling out. Helene explained, her round face becoming sad as though the memory disturbed her. They were always arguing about the restaurant. John had all kinds of ideas, but Papa refused listen to them. You see, Papa was very traditional. He didnt like change, and John wanted to change everything, even the napkins. Finally, one night, he and Papa had a terrible row, and the next day Johnny was gone, packed up and left for New York, Papa said.
Several years later, Marie said, taking up the tale when her sister fell into silence, we heard from a family friend whod been in New York City that John had married and had children, a son and daughter, but we could never confirm it. Papa had forbidden us to have any contact with John, and when he died, he left everything to Gerry, Helene and I. Gerry was executive chef and managed Maison DAndre, but when he died about ten years ago, Helene and I had no choice by to hire someone since we had no experience or desire to do so ourselves.
And how many managers have you had since Gerry died?
Lets see. Marie cocked her head to one side. She looked very much like a little brown and gray sparrow. There was the funny little man from San Francisco. He wore the most outrageous jackets. Bright yellow, looked like a very fat canary. He only stayed for two years, thank goodness. You cant fire a man for bad taste in clothing, can you?
I could. Remington muttered into his tea cup.
And then there was Louie. He came from Chicago, and we liked him so well. Hed bring us bouquets of daisies whenever he visited. Daisies are my favorite. She added with a girlish smile. But he opened his own restaurant in San Diego and left us. He managed Maison for five years. How fast those years flew by. She murmured somewhat wistfully.
Helene, seeing her sisters revelry, jumped in. Then Francois joined us. He came straight from Paris, but he must have missed the Eifel Tower or something because he returned after only two years. Since Gaston was the sous cook, we decided to promote him. So much easier than all that tiresome interviewing.
Who is the chef now? Laura asked, finishing her cakes. There was one left on the larger platter, but she decided to restrain herself. She didnt want to look like a glutton. This eating for two was turning out to be an endless pursuit of food.
We promoted the sous chef again. Helene said simply. Her name is Justine Green.
I say the old ladies did it. Remington declared as they left the large, brick house and climbed into the Rabbit.
I know you do. Laura replied, sliding behind the steering wheel. But we cant arrest someone just because they resemble characters in a movie.
She started the engine and pulled out into traffic. Her stomach rumbled. She was hungry again. How about lunch at Maison DAndre? Id like to have a word with this new sous chef.
Remington glanced at his watch. Its only 11 oclock.
Ill take the freeway. By the time we get through the traffic, itll be noon.
They arrived five minutes after noon, parked and walked up the sidewalk leading to the white-washed stone building that had once been a house but had been converted to a restaurant by Gerald Andre in the mid-20s. Its shutters and awnings were black. Maison DAndre was written in a scarlet lettering across the awning and discreetly above the door.
The maitre d was standing behind a sleek black podium when they entered. He looked up, a thoroughly bored expression on his long face.
Table for two. Remington said.
Do you have a reservation?
Remington glanced into the dining room. Only five tables were engaged. Do we need one? It doesnt appear too busy at the moment.
You always have to have a reservation for Maison DAndre. The maitre d intoned.
Very well, he replied, his voice becoming annoyed, Id like a reservation for two.
The maitre d head came up like a cork shooting out of a champagne bottle. Oh, Mr. Steele, I didnt realize. Please forgive my oversight. The man reached for two black leather menus and led them across the dining room to a table overlooking the street. Please enjoy.
I didnt know your name garnered that much respect. Laura commented, opening her menu and scanning its contents.
It doesnt. At least not in restaurants Ive never eaten. Remington murmured, glancing through his own menu. But something tells me that were getting special treatment because they know were here to investigate them. Suspicious, dont you think?
A waiter appeared. What can I get you to drink? We have a very fine house red.
Milk. Remington said.
For both of you.
Yes, for both of us.
Would you like wineglasses for that?
Remington sent the waiter a steely look. Yes, please. When the waiter had departed, he glanced across the table at Laura, The impertinence of these people is appalling. Im changing my theory, Laura. The old ladies didnt do George in. These people did.
At least that theory is more plausible. Laura remarked, closing her menu with a snap.
The waiter returned, setting the wineglasses of milk before them with something that sounded suspiciously like a sniff. Are you ready to order, Monsieur?
Ill have the Pecan Crusted Salmon. Remington said.
And you, Madam?
Ill have a cup of the Lobster Bisque, the Gingered Calamari, Maple Glazed Veal Tenderloin and for dessert the Crème Brule. And a house salad on the side with Strawberry Balsamic dressing.
Both Remington and the waiter stared at her.
Im eating for two.
About an hour later, as Laura was finishing off her dessert and Remington was watching, arms crossed with two fingers against his cheek, he remarked, I dont think Ive seen you eat that much food in the entire six years Ive know you.
I know. She acknowledged, making a face. Im going to be 200 pounds by the time this baby is born. Im glad I didnt get rid of those running shoes.
The waiter appeared, handing Remington the bill. He turned to depart, but Laura stopped him.
Excuse me. She called.
He turned, lifting an eyebrow. Is there anything else Madam would like?
Laura frowned. It sounded as though he were asking whether shed be requiring a whole side of beef and five gallons of pistachio ice cream next. Remington was right. The impertinence of these people was appalling.
Would it be possible to speak with the executive chef?
Was your meal unsatisfactory?
No, Laura retorted, not liking his tone which seemed to apply that anyone eating that much food couldnt possibly have a complaint. Id just like to ask her a few questions regarding Gaston Rousseau.
I will let her know youd like to speak with her.
He disappeared and a few minutes later a woman dressed in white kitchen garb was seen weaving her way through the tables. Her expression was no friendlier than the wait staff. She stopped beside their table, standing ramrod straight and said. Im Justine Green. Kirk indicated that you wished to speak with me.
Wed like to ask some questions about Chef Rousseau. As you probably already know, were investigating his murder. Laura eyed her, standing so straight and rigid, Would you care to take a seat?
I prefer to stand.
It was a belligerent response, but undaunted, Laura waded forward. Can you tell what kind of man he was?
What kind of man? Justine asked blankly. She was clearly not expecting such a question. I dont know what that would tell you.
Quite a lot actually. Laura said. Knowing what he was like gives us an idea who might wish to kill him. When Justine just continued to stare at her, she asked. For instance, was he a good manager?
He was very efficient, and he knew his job.
Was he liked by his employees?
As liked as any executive chef can be. Justine retorted. You see, Mrs. Steele, a kitchen in full of Prima Donnas all vying for the limelight. We dont take direction very well, and there are bound to be resentments. Im sure there are many in the kitchen right now that dont like me.
That I can believe, Laura thought, eying the woman with dislike.
How long have you been with Maison DAndre? Remington asked, taking up the questioning.
About eight months.
And where were you before coming here?
New York City.
You must be very good to be promoted to executive chef after only eight months. He observed.
I am. She allowed them to digest that bit of arrogance before saying briskly, I really must get back to the kitchen.
Yes, of course. Remington said with a smile. Were sorry to have detained you for this long.
Why did you let her off so easily? Laura demanded as the woman turned and wove her way back to the kitchen. Whenever someone is obstinate it means theyre hiding something.
Remington paid the bill and rose, helping Laura to her feet. You cant get blood out of turnip, Laura, no matter how much you squeeze. Weve made an attempt to be forthright, cordial and superlatively polite. Now we have no choice but to unleash the dragon.
Dragon? Laura echoed as they left the restaurant.
The formidable Miss Trout. Remington explained, sliding into the passengers seat of the Rabbit. Im sure she and her trusty computer can rake up everything we need to know about Ms. Green. Trout looks like the type of woman that would relish the opportunity to prance through a persons dirty laundry.
Calling her a dragon isnt going to make her like you any more. Laura pointed out as she put the car in motion.
No. Remington agreed cheerfully. But I believe in making lemonade out of lemons, Laura. If I must put up with her as you and Mildred say I must, then I might as well have a wee bit of fun tweaking her tail now and then.
Well, Laura said, sitting on the side of Remingtons desk, what do we have so far?
She looked at the faces grouped around her, Mildred and Miss Trout across the desk, and Remington, leaning back in his chair, arms crossed, an expression of absent attention on his face.
His mind was wandering elsewhere as it usually did during these power sessions. Today it was contemplating whether they had enough property at 7700 Totenham Court to lodge a polo pony. The lad must be taught to play polo. It had come in handy during the Bing Perret case. He estimated his odds of convincing Laura and smiled cheerfully. He always relished a good fight with his lovely wife. Making up was such a pleasant consequence, and somehow he managed to get his way in some shape or form.
Laura looked at Mildred. Ok. Lets start on the beginning. What kind of poison was used on Rousseau?
Mildred looked at her notes. Digitalis. Its a heart medication derived from foxglove, a highly poisonous plant. It can be fatal if 1) you dont have a heart condition or 2) you take too much. Sends the heart into ventricular fibrillation. According to Rousseaus medical records, he had no heart condition. Therefore someone must have given it to him. The amount found in his bloodstream suggests that he would have had to receive the dose 30 minutes before sampling your macaroni & cheese.
What did his schedule have him doing 30 minutes prior to the class? Laura asked.
He should have been at the studio.
Any witnesses to verify that?
A cameraman and a producers assistant named Mrs. Nora White report seeing him in the building.
Which means the digitalis couldnt have been administered by the Andre sisters.
Well, Mr. Steele, it appears your little old ladies are not harboring bodies in their basement. Laura said, glancing at her husband. But her taunt fell on deaf ears. Remington was staring off into space, a grin on his face, which indicated his thoughts were on something much more pleasant. Daydreaming, Mr. Steele?
Merely contemplating the case, Laura. He answered, not missing a beat.
Laura turned back to Mildred and Miss Trout. Do we have any suspects?
Well, Mildred said, Id say Martin and Plum are clear since they lost the most on the deal, and theres no reason for the old ladies or batty nephew to pop him off. They could have just fired him.
So who does that leave?
Miss Trout seemed to gird herself as though entering battle and said gravely, The only possible suspect at this point is Justine Green. Shes the only one thats gained anything from Gaston Rousseaus death.
What have you found out about her?
That got Remingtons attention. He leaned forward in his chair. Did I hear you right, Miss Trout? You were unable to find anything on Ms. Green.
Agnes lips firmed but she said, Justine Green did not exist until eight months ago.
Nothing in New York City? Remington prompted.
Nothing. Agnes confirmed. It would appear that she assumed a fake name when she moved to California.
There was a brief silence as everyone contemplated this information, and then Laura slid off the desk and began pacing, For a man that Mr. Plum and Mrs. Scarlett said had a lot of enemies, were strangely light on suspects. She stopped in mid-stride, Speaking of Scarlett, where is Marvin? I havent seen him for four days.
Hes on assignment. Remington said, looking up at the ceiling as though it held the answer to all questions. Assignments of this sort can be highly sensitive, Laura. Takes a clear head and cool mind. Cant rush a thing like that.
How sensitive can romancing a barracuda be?
He shrugged. Ive forgotten. I havent had the honor since Nadine.
Laura was just about to tell him what she thought of Nadine and his subsequent romancing, which had cost the agency thousands of dollars when the door of the office flew open and Marvin staggered in. His clothes were rumpled as though hed slept in them, swam in them and did who knows what else in them. To put it bluntly he looked like something the cat had drug in.
Speak of the devil. Remington murmured.
Marvin, Laura exclaimed, where have you been?
On assignment, Mrs. Steele.
And did you learn anything in the past four days?
Remington who had gotten up at Marvins entrance began circling the young man, looking him up and down, his expression one of critical appraisal. What happened to your socks?
Marvin glanced down at his feet. He blinked as though surprised to see them missing and then said, Huh. What do you know? I must have lost them on the beach.
You know the beach scene in From Here to Eternity
Remington nodded, fascinated. Burt Lancaster, Deborah Kerr, Columbia Pictures, 1953.
Well, Marvin said with a complacent smile. Need I say more?
I think youre enjoying this assignment far too much, my boy. Remington said, grinning broadly and clapping the young man on the back.
If youre done with this revolting display of locker room camaraderie, can we get back to the issue at hand? Laura asked. What did you learn, Marvin?
Marvin instantly snapped to attention. Leann, I mean, Mrs. Scarlett witnessed a heated exchange between Rousseau and another chef named Helmut Mueller. During said exchange, Herr Mueller threatened to use his chopper on, shall we say, certain parts of Rousseaus anatomy. The animosity arose when Rousseau and Mueller were competing for the same cable cooking show. I guess the producers thought thered be more interest in French cuisine than German. Mueller owns a restaurant called the Rathskeller, which Leann claims serves the best schnitzel this side of the Alps.
Finally a possible suspect. Laura murmured thoughtfully. She paced for a step or two, and then turned back. Did you learn anything else from the delightful Ms. Scarlett?
Marvin shrugged. Just studio gossip. Rousseaus assistant is having an affair with Nora White. That sort of thing.
Well, Laura said, going over to her desk and picking up her purse. I think Herr Mueller deserves a visit, dont you, Mr. Steele?
Ah, yes, Remington sighed, following his wife out the door, theres nothing I enjoy more than immersing myself in bratwurst and schnitzel.
Oh, and Marvin? Laura called, popping her head back through the door. Good work. Clean yourself up and you can have Fulton case. Hell be arriving around three this afternoon.
Laura and Remington were ushered in the kitchen of the Rathskeller where Helmut Mueller was overseeing his workers with the authority of a general over a corps of soldiers. The kitchen was spotless, well organized and hummed with efficient energy as each chef performed his specified duties to perfection. Mueller, dressed in white jacket, apron and hat, stood at a cutting board, pounding schnitzel. Well, at least he didnt have a chopper, Remington thought as he and Laura sidled up to the man.
Herr Mueller? Laura asked, raising her voice above the pounding of the mallet. Im Laura Steele, and this is my husband, Remington Steele. Wed like to ask you a few questions about your association with Gaston Rousseau.
The mallet came down with a ferocious blow, which caused both of them to jump, and then went silent as Mueller turned to look at them, his sand-colored eyebrows pulled down low over a large, red nose. Under the nose was a bushy, walrus like mustache that put Henry Andres to shame. It seemed to quiver with indignation.
Vell, you find out about our little disagreement, ja?
Hardly a little disagreement. Laura said. You threatened a man, and then that man ends up dead. You must have known there would be questions. Your confrontation was fairly public. At Barbarossas Bistro, wasnt it?
Terrible restaurant, this Barbarossa. They serve the most disgusting Turkish coffee, like syrup it is, but Frau Mueller likes so I go. He sighed heavily and then said, It was no secret that Rousseau and I did not like each other, Mrs. Steele. But if I had killed Rousseau I would not have used poison. It is too cowardly. A German would not do such a thing. We would use a warriors weapon.
And what would that be, eh? Remington asked. Swords? Pistols? Tanks at dawn, perhaps?
Mueller glared at him with cold, blue eyes. I do not like you, Mr. Steele.
Ill keep that in mind.
We do not make jokes in Muellers kitchen. Food, murder, they are serious subjects that should not be taken lightly.
Laura hurried back into the conservation before Remingtons wit provoked the man further. We understand that your falling out with Chef Rousseau occurred because you were both vying for a position on the cable food network.
Fair brows jutted down further across his nose if that were possible. That is correct. Everywhere there is French food. You turn on TV, French food. You go to bookstore, French food. Why does everyone think gourmet food is a French invention? We Germans, we are gourmets too, but our food is hearty. It sticks to ones ribs. Sausages, sauerbraten, knodels, strudel. This is good food, ja?
Lauras stomach growled. It had been a while since breakfast.
He must have sensed her hunger for he suddenly said, his mustache lifting in an upside down smile. Would you care for a plate of schnitzel, Mrs. Steele, with a little strudel on the side? Carl makes beautiful strudel, so light and airy. It melts in your mouth.
Well the thought of sweet, flaky strudel tempted her, perhaps to go?
The mustache lifted higher. I will have Rudy prepare a box for you. He snapped his fingers and a chef with slicked back blonde hair appeared at his elbow. Prepare a box for Mrs. Steele.
Its very kind of you, Herr Mueller. Laura said with a smile. I just cant seem to eat enough with this baby
If possible the mustache went even higher. Youre going to have baby? Frau Mueller loves babies. He snapped his fingers again. Two boxes for Mrs. Steele.
I insist. Mueller told her. Now, you wish to know about argument, ja?
Mueller pulled himself to his full height as though facing a commandeering general and said grimly, Contrary to what people have told you, I did not start it. My wife and I were having dinner. I have seen Rousseau there before. He likes that dreadful coffee they serve. Ive even heard he drinks it at home, at the studio, everywhere. But that evening I was not aware he was there until he came up to our table, very angry, very red in the face, and accused me of sending him threatening letters. Again, a German would not do such a thing. I would confront him face to face, not send note like a lover.
A poison pen and a poisoned chef. Remington noted. How appropriate.
Did he say why these letters angered him? Laura asked.
Nein. Mueller said, throwing out his hands in a gesture of frustration. He just ranted and raved at me, accusing me of harassing him. Naturally I became upset, especially when he said German food was for peasants. Before I know it, everything is out of control.
And thats when you threatened him with the chopper. Remington remarked.
Ja, I did. He admitted, looking rather shame-faced. My temper, it gets the best of me. But, he said recovering his self confident bluster, he threatened me with a basting fork first. I bet those people who pointed finger at Mueller didnt tell you that did they?
No, they didnt. Laura agreed before saying with a smile, Herr Mueller, youve been very helpful. We were not aware of anonymous letters until we spoke with you. Thank you.
Mueller waved aside her thanks. No need to thank me. I just tell truth about argument. Nothing grand in that. He took the boxes that Rudy had left on the counter and thrust them into Lauras hands. You come back when you put murderer behind bars, and I make you beautiful sauerbraten. He sent a sullen glance at Remington. You can even bring him.
I think thats one of the few people not impress by your charm, Mr. Steele. Laura said as they left the Rathskeller and climbed into the back of the limo.
Remington settled himself against the seat cushions, arms crossed. Its not hard to understand, Laura.
Hes still sore about losing the war.
Remington slid the pick into the lock of Gaston Rousseaus penthouse apartment, felt the subtle movement of the springs and gently pushed the door open. Laura slipped inside, followed by Remington who quietly closed the door.
Very modern. Remington commented as he strode through the apartment, taking in the stark black and white décor, the functional furniture and abstract art. He stopped in front of a painting of red and yellow squares dissected by purple lines. I never could understand the fascination with abstract art. I always preferred the old masters.
To look at or steal? Laura asked as she passed him on her way to the bedroom.
Both. Remington said, following her. What exactly as we looking for, Laura?
The letters, of course.
Remington watched her rummage through the dresser drawers before heading for the bedside tables. When that produced nothing she headed for the adjacent bathroom and started opening closets and vanity cupboards.
I dont think Id keep them there if I were Rousseau. He commented.
Laura stopped, straightened up and looked at him, hands on hips. Ok, Sherlock, where would you put them?
Remington thought for a moment, hands in pockets, rocking back and forth on his heels, and then said, I wouldnt put them anywhere. Id get rid of them unless I intended to take them to the police. Threatening letters arent like love letters. You dont tie them up with a pink ribbon and put them in the underwear drawer. You either take them to the police or you destroy them.
Laura considered this. Ok. Thats plausible. So how does he dispose of them?
They always burned them in the movies. Usually in a wastepaper basket or a fireplace.
Theres a fireplace in the living room.
They left the bedroom and returned to the living room. Remington sat himself on a rather uncomfortable black sofa, bouncing a few times to test its elasticity, while Laura got on her hands and kneels, digging through the ashes in the grate. She finally sat back on her heels, a half burnt piece of paper in her hand.
Its got pasted letters on it. She said, holding the paper up to the light coming through the large windows lining one side of the room. Not newspaper though. Looks like they were cut from a book or something.
Remington looked over her shoulder. He frowned as a memory of something flickered around the edges of his mind. Like a dream thats not quite forgotten. Ive seen those letters somewhere before.
Laura looked at him. Where?
Im not sure. He murmured. But Im sure it was recently.
Its rather hard to read. Laura said, pulling the letter closer for a better look. Some of the letters are missing and most of its burnt. But that looks like the word stop and ruin the name of. She frowned. Andi?
Remington took the scrap of paper from her. Thats Andre, not Andi.
So it has to do with the Andre family. Laura said. Or at least the Andre name.
Maybe somebody was upset about the frozen dinners and bottled sauces. Remington suggested. You have to admit its a cruel destiny for a name thats meant excellence and quality for over forty years. I mean, how would you feel about the name of Remington Steele being slapped across a box of frozen chicken?
Laura rubbed her chin. Hm, I have to admit its an interesting thought. Kentucky Fried Steele. Its got a catchy ring to it, doesnt it? Maybe I should give Plum a call.
Laura Remington drawled warningly.
Ok, ok, she said, laughing, I guess theres no room for jokes in the Steele kitchen either. She turned her attention back to the letter. But the only ones that would care about the reputation of the Maison DAndre would be the Andres themselves, and the sisters were the ones that originally gave permission.
You dont suppose old Henry has snapped, do you? Remington asked. Its the kind of thing youd find in a Poirot mystery. Poisoned pens and poisoned soups.
Poisoned soups was Ingrid Bergman, remember? She thought for a moment and then said, What about John Andre? There were bad feelings when he left. Could this be his revenge? She got up. I think well have Agnes see what she can dig up on John Andre.
More than she dug up on Justine Green hopefully.
Youre not going to let her forget that, are you?
Never. Remington agreed cheerfully, following Laura to the door. You dont know how empowering it is to have something to hold over the dragons head. Rather like the sword of Damocles.
As soon as they got into the limo, Laura called the office. Agnes? Ive got a job for you. See what you can find out about John Andre.
Yes, Mrs. Steele. Agnes said primly. If youll hold the line, Mrs. Krebs would like to speak with you.
Laura tucked the phone against her shoulder and opened one of the boxes holding Muellers schnitzel and strudel. Although no longer hot, a delicious aroma assailed her nose. She picked up the plastic fork included in the box.
Honey? Mildreds voice came over the line.
Yes, Mildred. She said around a mouthful of strudel.
We had a phone call about twenty minute ago from Nora White.
You remember. Mildred said. The producers assistant thats having the affair with Rousseaus assistant.
What did she want?
She wants you to meet her at the studio tonight around eleven oclock. She said everyone should be gone by then, and itll be safe to talk.
Did she say why? Laura asked, shoving another piece of strudel into her mouth.
No, but if you ask me, shes scared. Had that shaky whisper in her voice like she didnt want to be overheard.
Ok. Well be there. She hung up the phone. You know, this is really delicious. She said, popping the last piece of strudel in her mouth. Do you think you could teach me how to make one of these?
Do sparks fly upwards?
Her head turned, a puzzled frown on her face. I suppose so.
Then I can teach you how to make strudel. Remington took hold of her chin, turning her head first one way and the other. Youve got soot on your face. He took out his handkerchief and wiped her cheek. He studied her again, his eyes touching every feature, eventually settling on her mouth. And strudel.
Where? She asked, lifting a hand.
Allow me. He murmured, pulling her close. His lips touched hers, nibbling off the residue sugar and cinnamon.
Youre crushing my schnitzel. She breathed, her eyes locked with his.
Has it come to that, Laura? He asked wistfully. Have I been replaced by schnitzel?
She pretended to consider his question for a moment or two and then said, Its just pounded meat. How much thinner can it get? And with that she launched herself at Remington, her weight propelling him backwards so they landed against the corner of the seat, half-reclining, the schnitzel box crushed between them.
Its a good thing Fred is a very discreet chauffer. Remington noted when they came up for air after a long, lingering, strudel-flavored kiss.
He ought to be. Laura replied. Hes paid enough.
The parking lot of the studio was dark and empty when they pulled up in the Auburn, its headlights gleaming on the wet pavement. It had rained earlier, leaving puddles here and there and a fine dampness in the air.
Remington pulled up under a security light, cut the motor and quickly slid out of the car, going around to the other side to assist Laura. Theyd had an early dinner and then went to a reception at an art gallery so both were still dressed in evening attire, Laura in a black sheath with sequined jacket, which to her dismay fit a bit snugger than previously, and Remington in tux.
We should have driven the Rabbit. She said, struggling out from under the Auburns cloth top. I told you it was going to rain.
Laura, you do not attend an art reception in a Rabbit. Remington informed her, taking her hands and pulling her out onto the pavement. She fell against him and he steadied her with an arm around her waist. Have a told you how lovely you look in that dress?
I feel as though Im busting at the seams.
Remingtons eyes dropped to her chest where she had indeed grown plumper. I cant say Im completely disappointed with the effects of this pregnancy, my dear. Theres much more of you to admire.
Laura pushed away from him, not knowing whether to be angry with him or flattered that he could still find her attractive in her rapidly plumping state. Uncertain, she responded irritably, Are you going to carry that cricket bat around with you for nine months?
Remington shrugged, taking her arm and guiding her toward the studios glass doors. I havent decided. Besides, it could come in handy someday.
Thats odd. Laura remarked as she tried the door. Its locked. If she were expecting us, wouldnt she have left it open?
Maybe someone locked it on their way out, not knowing she was still inside. Remington suggested as he removed his pick from his breast pocket and quickly sprung the lock, holding the door open for his wife to enter.
The studio was dark except for an occasional security light or exit sign that glowed an eerie red in the shadows. Their footsteps echoed along the tiled corridor.
Where do you suppose shed be? Laura wondered, her voice sounding loud in the stillness.
On the set? Remington answered.
They turned down the hallway leading to the set where Gourmet Galore was filmed, but Laura stopped as she noticed a hallway branching off to one side, which was lined with doors. Several of the doors had the names of people hosting various TV shows filmed at the studio. Gaston Rousseau still graced one of the doors.
Lets check Rousseaus office first. She suggested. We still have a few minutes before eleven.
She tried the door and it opened easily beneath her fingers. Slipping inside, they closed the door quietly behind them and switched on the light. The room was neat and orderly. A vanity/make up table and mirror sat to one side. It held various tubes and containers of makeup, which Laura opened and sniffed suspiciously while Remington went to inspect a closet full of white chef uniforms. Finally they turned to a small kitchenette, which contained a sink, burner and cupboards.
Mueller was right. Laura commented as she opened cabinets. Rousseau liked Turkish coffee. Hes got everything here to make his own. She pulled out a container of coffee beans, a mortal with pestle and a small brass pot with a long handle.
Remington picked up the pot, studying it. An ibrik. Its also called a cezve by the Arabs.
Im continually amazed at the vast store of knowledge you possess on the most obscure things. Laura said as she stood on tiptoe to reach a sugar bowl pushed far to the back. Wed better take a sample. Digitalis could easily be hidden in something like this.
But would the murderer be foolish enough to leave the evidence behind? Remington asked, setting down the ibrik and turning his attention to the sink where a coffee mug sat upside down, as though its been rinsed. He then inspected the mortal and pestle. Clean. Certainly the murderer would have pre-crushed his poison.
Having secured her sample of sugar, Laura turned to survey the room once more. Rousseau would have had to consume the poison 30 minutes prior to death so its reasonable to conclude that the easiest way to do so was through his coffee. Only he seems to have had a taste for the stuff, and it was something he frequently drank. The cup in the sink seems to indicate that he may have had some that day.
Meaning the murderer would have to be familiar with his habits and access to his personal belongings. Remington concluded.
It seems that a lot of people knew about his fondest for Turkish coffee. Mueller confirmed that. Laura pointed out. And anyone at the studio that day could have slipped in here unawares. She tapped her cheek thoughtfully. Perhaps thats what Nora wants to talk to us about. Maybe she saw something.
Theres only one way to find out. Remington said, turning off the light and opening the door. We have a rendezvous to keep, Mrs. Steele.
They left the room, continued down the hallway and then turned following another corridor, which from experience they knew led to the studio set. In three days times, Remington, as Paul Fabrini, would film the final episode of Gourmet Galore, and the cooking class would end two days later with the display of everyones meatloaves. It was Remingtons fervent hope that the killer would be caught before that fateful day. He had no desire to end up face down in a meatloaf. How undignified. A gourmet chef should expire in a Cheese Soufflé or at least a Quiche Lorraine.
The studio kitchen was silent and dark, and the filming equipment loomed out of the shadows like prehistoric creatures.
Nora? Laura called out.
Laura moved around the marble-topped counter and nearly pitched forward as the toe of her heel caught something hard and immovable. Fortunately Remington had been right behind her and managed to get an arm around her waist just in time. They stared down at the dark shape on the floor, starkly outlined by the white tile.
Do you suppose Laura whispered.
Im afraid I do. Remington said against her ear.
With his arm still around Laura, he backed toward the light switch, bringing her with him. The overhead pot lights came on, clearly illuminating the body of a woman. She was laying face down, the ash blonde hair at the back of her head soaked in blood. Beside her lay an ornate candlestick.
Mrs. White in the kitchen with a candlestick? Remington asked incredulously.
There was a silence and then Laura demanded. Where in the world do you get a candlestick in a kitchen?
Remington left Laura and knelt down beside the dead woman. He took out his handkerchief and picked up the murder weapon, studying it carefully. Ive seen this candlestick before.
He looked at her, his expression grim. On the mantle in the Andre sisters parlor.
So the little old ladies did it after all?
Movies never lie, Laura. Remington said, replacing the candlestick. He got up, turning to face her, smiling for the first time since entering the studio. When will you finally accept that?
Mr. Steele, Mrs. Steele, Helene Andre said, smiling pleasantly, how lovely to see you again so soon. Wont you come in? She held the door opened, allowing them to enter.
Marie! She called out. Mr. and Mrs. Steele have come to visit again.
Her sister appeared at the entrance of the parlor, wiping her hands on a pink dishtowel How delightful! We did so enjoy your last visit. Shall I make a pot of tea? Weve just made a lovely plum cake. Its still warm from the oven.
Lauras stomach said yes, but her head said no. This was business, very serious business. Thered been another murder, and these little old ladies were prime suspects due to a very ornate candlestick that according to Detective Jarvis had their prints all over it. Of course, she had argued, a killer would naturally wear gloves, preserving anybody elses prints while concealing theirs. Jarvis had reluctantly agreed, allowing the Steele agency time to prove their innocence before he hauled them away.
Im afraid we dont have time for tea today. She said as kindly but as firmly as possible. Were here on official business.
Oh, dear, that does sound ominous. Helene said, wringing her hands. Shall we go into the parlor? Or would you prefer the living room since its more formal?
The parlor will be fine. Remington told her gently.
His instincts were telling him that hed been wrong about the old ladies. He had allowed an overactive imagination and an overabundance of movies colored his judgment. Unfortunately, Laura was now on the trail, and she would be harder to dissuade than he. Still, he thought, looking at his wife, he had a feeling that she didnt want them to be guilty any more than he did, and Laura was very good at sticking by someone who she believed innocent. Hadnt she stuck beside him under similar, if not worse, circumstances?
When they were all seated in the parlor, Laura took a deep breath and said, There was another murder last night at the studio where Chef Rousseau was filming his cooking show.
How dreadful! Marie murmured. Not another chef?
No. It was a woman named Nora White. She was a production assistant. She had asked to see us, but before we had an opportunity to speak with her, she was killed.
All these murders are most distressing. Helene declared. Such things never happened in Papas day.
Laura ignored her comment and said bluntly, She was killed with a severe blow to the head by a candlestick. She looked at the mantle. How long has one of your candlesticks been missing?
The sisters exchanged glances.
It was our candlestick, wasnt it? Marie asked, her voice quiet but controlled. Helene had begun sniffing into a delicate lace hankie that shed pulled out of her sleeve.
Yes, Im afraid it was.
She sighed. We had hoped Henry would be able to find it before something terrible happened, but it appears he didnt.
What are you talking about? Laura asked, frowning.
Two days ago someone broke into our house and stole one of our candlesticks. I know it sounds incredible, Mrs. Steele, but its quite true. Both of us sleep very soundly, and Henry sleeps on the third floor. When we woke up, the candlestick was gone. Nothing else. Just the candlestick. We were most distressed, but Henry assured us that he would investigate.
Miss Andre, Laura said as gently as possible, you do realize that Henry just thinks hes Hercule Poirot. Hes not a real detective.
Helene suddenly looked up from her hankie and said earnestly, Oh, Henrys a very good detective, Mrs. Steele. Hes found lost things for us before, and he recovered the neighbors cat a year ago. He may be a little confused about his identity, but he does have an excellent mind for detection.
So, let me get this right. Laura said, rubbing the bridge of her nose. Youre claiming that someone broke into your house and stole the candlestick. Only the candlestick.
The sisters nodded.
For the first time in her life, Laura wondered why shed ever chosen a career as a private investigator. She had two little old ladies claiming someone stole their candlestick in order to kill a woman and their loony nephew was on the case. Had she ever heard such a bizarre tale? Her eyes went to Remington. Yes, frequently, and oddly enough, his bizarre tales always turned out to be true.
Ok, she said with a sigh, wheres Henry?
I believe hes in the garden. Marie said.
Could you call him? Id like to ask him a few questions about his investigation.
Oh, no, we couldnt do that, not when hes working. Helene interjected. He gets very annoyed when hes disturbed.
Then perhaps if we went out and talked to him.
The sisters exchanged worried glances, and then Marie finally said, Well, I dont suppose it would do any harm. Just remember that he might be a bit snappish.
Dont worry. Laura said, getting up. Im feeling a bit snappish myself.
The sister led them through the kitchen and then a buttery to a door leading out into a large, well-maintained garden. Hibiscus blooms of multiple colors greeted them as they opened the door and stepped onto a flagstone path, which wound its way through a profusion of bright vegetation. At the end of the path, near a stone wall, Henry Andre was on his hands and knees, studying the ground with great interest.
Excuse me, Mr. Andre. Laura began.
The little man ignored her.
We hate to interrupt you in the middle of your important investigation, Monsieur Poirot, Remington said, crouching down beside the little man, but we could certainly use your invaluable expertise on a small matter of murder.
Henry sat back on his heels and looked at him. A murder, eh? So that is what they wanted the candlestick for. I was afraid it would be used for an evil purpose.
They? Remington echoed.
There are two sets of footprints. The little man stated, motioning toward the ground. Last nights rain washed much of them away, but fortunately, Id already inspected them yesterday. I would say one is a man and the other a woman.
Laura drew closer, looking down at the ground. He was right. Two sets of prints were recognizable in the dirt and mulch lining the wall.
Have you found any other clues, She glanced at Remington, frowned and then said, Mr. Poirot?
Mais oui. Henry nodded. He reached into the pocket of his black frock coat and extracted a small plastic bag, which he handed to Remington, not Laura. I think you will find that the flakes inside are Hollandaise sauce. I scraped them off the rug in the parlor. Most likely came off a shoe.
Hollandaise sauce! Laura exclaimed, throwing her hands in the air. Thats ridiculous. How could you possibly know that?
I tasted them.
You tasted them? Laura demanded, incredulous. Weve already had one person poisoned, and you taste a suspicious substance?
Poirot shook his head. They do not want to murder us. But, he held up a plump index finger, but they may want to frame us.
Who are they? Remington asked.
Ghosts. The little man murmured mysteriously.
The mans a lunatic. Laura hissed in Remingtons ear. Dont encourage him.
Remington held up his hand as though to still her momentarily. Ah, Monsieur Poirot, who are these ghosts? Are they flesh and blood or are they, He searched for word and settled on, something else?
Poirot stood up and looked at Remington gravely, They are flesh and blood. They are Johns children. I see you are surprised, Mrs. Steele. You did not think I knew about my uncle John, the youngest of grand-perés children. Mais oui, I do. I know quite a lot about him, more than ma tauntes or mon peré. I made inquiries when they did not. Grand- peré had not forbidden me, you see. John did go to New York City, and he started a restaurant there called Mon Maison. It was successful, but it never gained the fame and notoriety of Maison DAndre. He married a woman named Vivian Green and had two children, a daughter and then a son.
And their names? Laura prompted.
Henry smiled. Ah, that is for you to find out, Mrs. Steele. I cant give all my secrets away. You are great detectives, non? He turned and started to walk away then he stopped, turning back. I think you will find that that particular Hollandaise sauce is only made at Maison DAndre. Grand- peré Andre had a secret ingredient that will only be found in that sauce. Bonne chance, Mr. and Mrs. Steele.
We need you in the office, Miss Trout. Laura said as she and Remington burst through the agencys glass doors. Bring your research on John Andre.
She flung her purse on her desk. How could a lunatic like that solve this case before we did?
Just because he likes to pretend hes someone hes not doesnt make him stupid, Laura. Remington pointed out, sauntering over to the windows behind his desk. Rather than taking his seat as he normally would, he remained standing, staring down at the street below.
Miss Trout came in, grim and resolute as always. She took the chair in front of Remingtons desk while Laura settled herself on the desk.
Well, Miss Trout, what do you have?
Agnes opened her file. Everything was well organized and neatly typed. John Andre left California in 1946 and reappeared in New York City. He opened a restaurant in Greenwich Village named Mon Maison. It did well, especially among the artistic crowd of the Beat movement, her voice became disapproving as though she smelled something particularly unpleasant, but it never became as popular as The Four Seasons, Le Cirque and restaurants like that. In 1955 he married Vivian Green, a so-called painter. A year later in 1955, a daughter was born named Justine, and five years later, a son named Jeremy. Both children attended cooking school although Justine obviously excelled the most, eventually attending the prestigious Ecole du Cordon Bleu in Paris. Vivian died in 1974 from breast cancer, and John Andre recently died in 1984 of congestive heart failure. She paused for breath and then continued, shortly afterwards, Mon Maison was destroyed by a kitchen fire. There was insurance but for some reason the children did not chose to rebuild. Early this year both Justine and Jeremy simply disappeared. There are no further records for them under their birth names or social security numbers.
Do you know what kind of medication John Andre was taking for his heart condition?
Miss Trout flipped through her typed sheets. Digitalis, Mrs. Steele.
Laura looked at Remington still staring at the window, hands in his pockets.
Mr. Steele, the packet.
Remington reached into his breast pocket and extracted the plastic bag Henry had given them. Laura in turn handed it to Miss Trout. Send that to the lab and have it analyzed. I want to know what it is and whats in it. Tell them I want it ASAP.
Very good. Agnes got up and turned to go.
Ah Miss Trout? Remington suddenly called out.
Miss Trout paused, seemed to square her shoulders and then turned. Yes, Mr. Steele?
Her lips twitched as though she was trying to control some kind of emotion and then she nodded. Thank you, Mr. Steele.
Laura slid off the desk and joined Remington at the window.
You just removed the sword of Damocles.
Remington shrugged. I never cared much for myths anyway.
She slid her arms around his waist, looking up at him. So tell me, Mr. Steele, how do we trap them?
He thought for a moment, head cocked to one side, his arms snaking around her own waist. The Thin Man, William Powell, Myrna Loy, MGM, 1934. Nick and Nora reveal the murderer at a dinner party featuring all the suspects.
Laura nodded. How do we get everyone to attend? Justine was not exactly friendly. I doubt she would accept an invitation to dinner at Domicile Steele.
Well, Nick had the police round them up for him, but I think we wont have to go to those extremes. Well just rent Maison DAndre for the night. She would have no choice since shes executive chef. As for Jeremy, weve not talked to him at all. He has no idea hes on a suspect list. Therefore, hed have no reason to decline. He smiled, pulling Laura closer. Well say its a celebration in order to announce the forthcoming birth of baby Steele. Who wouldnt want to attend such a happy event, especially when Remington Steele Investigations is footing the bill?
There goes our expense account.
And I think we should have a very special bottle of wine for the occasion. Remington added, his expression thoughtful.
Do you remember what Marie said about John and elderberry wine?
That he was allergic to it and broke out in hives.
Most parents pass on such things to their children. There will be little doubt that Justine and Jeremy are Johns children if one or both of them should react in a similar way. We could then force them to admit their true identities and possibly wring a confession out of them. If its all handled very skillfully, of course.
But if they know its elderberry wine, they simply wont drink it. Laura pointed out.
Ah, Remington said, smiling devilishly, but what if they didnt know what they were drinking. What if someone took the label from a bottle of common red and put it on one of the Andre sisters bottles of elderberry wine?
And who would do such a fiendish thing? Laura asked, lifting an inquiring brow.
Have I ever told how skilled I am at removing labels from wine bottles?
I am continually amazed at your repertoire of useful skills, Mr. Steele.
Im glad to hear it, my dear. He said, sinking into the chair and pulling her down on his lap. Because I have many more Id like to share with you.
Ive always considered sharing a highly desirable activity. She said against his lips.
Me too, Mrs. Steele, me too.
Remington surveyed with pleasure the long table that had been set up at Maison DAndre for his dinner party. It was set with white china rimmed in silver upon a pristine white tablecloth. Blood red napkins sat in the middle of each plate encircled by decorative silver rings and crystal wine glasses gleamed in the candlelight. At evenly spaced intervals bouquets of red and white flowers adorned the table. A very special bottle of wine sat beside his chair at the head of the table, waiting for the toast.
It had been difficult to convince Ms. Green to allow them to rent the entire restaurant for their celebration. She had pointed out that the Maison had a perfectly good banquet room, but after much persuasion in the form of cold, hard cash and a personal phone call from Marie Andre, she had reluctantly agreed. She and her staff were busily preparing the meal of Seared Herbed Chicken with Morel Sauce, Rice Pilaf, Honey-Glazed Baby Carrots and Pêches Louis. Since Ms. Green had insisted on pre-payment, he had judiciously decided to delay the reveal of the murderers until dessert. They might as well enjoy their meals. Laura was readily agreed with his logic.
He glanced at Laura as she stood near the entrance giving Mildred and Marvin last minute instructions. She looked lovely in a new dress of sapphire velvet, diamonds gleaming at her neck and ears. Shed been far from pleased when she had had to go up one dress size, but after his assurances that she was still beautiful to him, she had resigned herself. Mildred and Marvin had been invited to camouflage their true intent and to provide back up in case things got out of the control.
Glancing at his watch, he motioned to Laura. Their guests should be arriving at any moment. They took their places at the entrance to greet their guests.
First through the door was Walter Plum, smiling broadly.
Steele, baby, He exclaimed, shaking Remingtons hand vigorously, congratulations! I didnt know you were in the family way. He leaned close. Ever think of franchising the business?
Ah, we tried that once. Remington admitted. Didnt work out. I died.
Probably bad PR. Plum stated. You call me. Well talk.
He moved on, zeroing in on the cocktail bar while Remington turned to greet Felix Martin and two studio producers named Collins and Hardin.
Im so glad this dreadful business is nearly over. Felix said as the producers joined Plum at the bar, leaving him alone with the Steeles. You posing as Paul Fabrini saved my business. Would you consider teaching a class in Italian classic cuisine next month? The ladies were very taken with you.
Desperate housewives immediately flitted across Remingtons mind, and he quickly declined. Im afraid I cant spare the time from the agency. Murders popping up all over the place, you know. Epidemic proportions, I assure you.
What a shame. The man said before leaving them.
Next the Andre sisters, dressed in lace and gray silk, and escorted by Henry Andre, dapper in black tails, entered. They tittered happily to Laura and Remington before being herded out of the way by the arrival of Leann Scarlett.
She took one look at Remington and said, You remind me of a man.
The man with the power?
The power of voodoo.
She stared at him as though he were mad and then hurriedly escaped into the dining room, making a beeline for Marvin, who although less attractive was at least sane.
You really shouldnt do things like that. Laura commented. Someday one of these crackpots is going to recognize your obscure movie references.
I had to stop her from penetrating my disguise. Remington explained. Otherwise she might want to rotate my cabbages again.
He was saved further comments from his wife by the arrival of Mueller and his wife. Mueller must have forgotten his dislike for he shook Remington hand vigorously, congratulating him profusely on his expected fatherhood while his wife made Laura promised to bring the new baby to the Rathskeller so she could see the precious little liebchen.
Finally Jeremy Andrews strolled up the steps. He was a slender young man who looked more like a musician than a murderer. His features as well as his hands were delicate, and it was clear to them that the force behind the murder of Gaston and Nora White was his sister. He was the type that could easily be manipulated by a stronger personality.
Well, Mrs. Steele, Remington said, watching Jeremy joined the other guests, it would appear that all our guests have arrived. The trap is set, so to speak. Shall we go spring it?
Ready when you are, Mr. Steele.
Taking her arm, they made their way to the long table. After making sure Laura was comfortably seated beside him, he picked up his spoon and tapped his glass. All heads turned in his direction.
If everyone will be seated, dinner will be served.
Dinner was a genial affair with much talking and quiet laughter. Remington and Laura as well as their associates, Mildred and Marvin, conversed politely with their neighbors but kept a keen eye on their guests and what was going on in the kitchen. From time to time they could see Justine striding around the kitchen, barking out orders and keeping food flowing in a smooth, organized fashion. For a moment, Laura felt a pang of sadness. The woman really was an excellent manager. She had had no reason to resort to murder.
Finally the last dinner plate was picked up and Remington rose to his feet. He smiled, allowing his eyes to rest briefly on each one of his guests. My wife and I would like to thank you for attending our little dinner party and sharing in our happiness. He opened the bottle of wine. I hope you will all join us in a toast. Rather than handing it to a waiter, he began making his way around the table, splashing wine into each glass. Lauras he skipped, but it was soon filled with milk by a hovering waiter.
Would you be so kind as to ask Ms. Green to join us? He asked a waiter. Tell her that I insist since shes worked so tirelessly on this excellent feast.
They waited for several minutes but finally Justine emerged, looking far from happy at the invitation. Remington filled a glass and handed it to her.
Returning to his seat at the head of the table, he raised his glass and said, May I propose a toast to my lovely wife and unborn child? We all wish you and the child good health and an easy delivery.
Four sets of eyes watched as both Jeremy and Justine drained their glasses.
It was such a tragic circumstance that brought us altogether, Remington noted, seating himself as Justine disappeared into the kitchen to retrieve their dessert, but I can assure you that before this night is over, we will have much to rejoice over.
What do you mean, Steele? Plum called out from down the table.
I mean, Remington said as Justine re-appeared rolling in a cart with the Pêches Louis, that the reason you were all invited was not just to celebrate our childs upcoming birth. You were all brought here for the purpose of revealing the murderer of Gaston Rousseau and Nora White.
There was an awkward silence as everyone digested that piece of information. Justine, however, continued to work with efficient ease, opening the bottle of whiskey and liberally dosing the peaches. She was a cool one, Laura thought, watching her carefully. She gave nothing away. She wasnt even itching. Jeremy, on the other hand, was beginning to shift uneasily in his seat, whether from Remingtons words or the effect of the elderberry wine she could not be sure.
This is a story of ghosts. Remington began, obviously relishing his role as Nick Charles. He leaned back in his chair, steepling his fingers as he watched his assembled guests with hooded eyes.
Ghosts? Leann Scarlett laughed nervously. Are you trying to tell us that a ghost killed Gaston? Why thats thats preposterous. Herr Mueller killed Gaston.
Mueller immediately went red in the face, jumping to his feet, mustache twitching. Thats a lie! I never touched the schwein!
Please be seated, Herr Mueller. Remington said calmly. We know you are not the murderer. His eyes slid to Jeremy. Are you all right, Mr. Andrews? You seem to be itching excessively.
Uh, yes, Im fine. Jeremy said, immediately dropping his hands into his lap.
Rousseau was killed because someone didnt like his deal with Mr. Plum.
Me? The agent exclaimed.
Remington nodded. They didnt like the idea of the Andre name being splashed across bottles of sauce and frozen dinners. They found it demeaning, dishonorable.
It was a damn good deal! Plum retorted hotly. Were in business to making money, Steele, baby. Profit is the name of the game. Honor and dignity dont pay the rent.
Im not disagreeing with you. Remington assured him. Im just explaining the reason behind Rousseaus murder. Not everyone shares your philosophy, Plum.
How can you possibly know that? Felix Martin suddenly piped in.
Herr Mueller gave us the first clue. Laura said, entering the conversation for the first time. Her eyes remained on Justine who was completing preparations to the peaches. He told us that his argument with Rousseau had been over some anonymous letters that Rousseau had been receiving. He accused Mueller of sending them. Mr. Steele and I went to Rousseaus apartment and found a remnant of one of these letters.
And, Remington added, I think you will find that the lettering is strikingly familiar to the lettering on the Maison DAndre menu.
Lauras head swiveled in his direction. He had remembered? His eyes told her everything she needed to know. Yes, he had remembered where hed seen the lettering. Nice of him to let her know, she thought sullenly. She suddenly felt like Nora Charles. Kept in the dark while her detective husband solved the case.
So youre implying that one of the Andres is responsible. Collins interjected.
They are the most likely suspects. Remington allowed. However, the Misses Andre had given Rousseau approval to use the Maison DAndre name so what motive would they have to kill the man? Henry err Monsieur Poirot, He called out. Do you have any objection to the name being used for advertising purposes?
Main non. Henry said stoutly. I concern myself only with assassins, Monsieur Steele.
This makes no sense. Plum complained. If the sisters didnt do it and err Poirot didnt do it then whos left?
There was a silence and then Helene murmured, John.
Who the hell is John? Plum demanded.
Helene sent him an offended glare. John is our younger brother. He and Papa had a disagreement and he left. I wouldnt have thought hed do something like this though. Murdering people.
Remington looked at the old lady, his eyes gentle. He didnt, Miss Andre. Your brother died a year or so ago from congestive heart failure.
Oh, dear. Helene whispered, pulling out her hankie.
Before he died, John Andre took a medication called digitalis. Mildred, will you tell everyone what Rousseau was poisoned with?
Digitalis. Mildred answered promptly.
But how? Marie asked, frowning. If John is dead, then who?
Your brother had two children. Laura said. Justine had just set the peaches aflame. A girl and a boy. Her head suddenly swiveled to Jeremy. Isnt that right, Mr. Andrews?
He stopped in mid-scratch. I I wouldnt know, Mrs. Steele.
Thats a terrible itch youve developed. She noted. Are you allergic to something?
Laura turned to Marie. Didnt you say your brother was allergic to elderberry wine, Miss Andre?
Why, yes, he was. Marie said, nodding. Used to itch like crazy whenever he got near the stuff.
At this point I ought to inform all of you that the wine weve just toasted Mrs. Steele with is elderberry. Remington said coolly. His eyes went to Jeremy. Did you inherit your fathers allergy, Mr. Andrews?
There was an awkward silence, all eyes on the young man. He sat in his chair, his eyes shifting back and forth, his hands clenching on the tablecloth. Then suddenly he cried out, his voice hoarse and tight, She made me do it! It was all her idea!
Who? Remington asked.
Jeremy glanced around wildly, looking for some kind of escape. He took the only one he could. He moved the blame off himself and onto his accomplice. Justine. My sister. She told me to put the digitalis in Rousseaus coffee.
Shut up, Jeremy.
Everybody turned in their seats, heads swiveling. Justine stood beside the flaming peaches, a gun in her hand.
You always were an ass. She continued, staring at her brother, her eyes hard. A weak, miserable little ass that was never good for anything. Her eyes left her brother and focused on Laura, even though it was Remington who had controlled the majority of the conversation that evening. Yes, it was me, Mrs. Steele. I knew you were suspicious the day you questioned me, but you had no evidence. The poisoned coffee was all carefully disposed of. If it hadnt been for my foolish brother and his overactive hormones, my plan would have succeeded. But, no, he had to go have an affair with that woman. She found the bottle of pills and put two and two together.
So you had to kill her before she told us. Laura confirmed.
I had no choice. And if I had to do it, I might as well try to frame my beloved family in the process.
So you and your brother broke into their house and stole the candlestick used to murder Nora White. Laura paused and then asked, Had you been making Hollandaise sauce that day, Ms. Green?
Justine looked momentarily bewildered. Yes.
And does the sauce contain white pepper, a secret ingredient of your grandfathers?
You left some of it on the carpet in the Andres parlor. Monsieur Poirot was clever enough to notice it.
So all trails lead back to me, huh? Justine said with a short laugh. I dont suppose it matters now. I might as well tell you everything. I planned to kill Rousseau. He had to be stopped. He was about to dishonor Maison DAndre, to shame my grandfather and my father, and these silly old women gave him the right to do it. This restaurant isnt theirs. They didnt want it. But my father did, and it should have been his, ours. Originally I was going to take over the place gradually with no one being the wiser. Rousseau would have left as they always do and I would have been promoted. Thats how Rousseau got the position. They, she waved her gun at Helene and Marie, didnt care who ran the restaurant. Just as long as they werent bothered with it. So I waited. I positioned myself. But Rousseau listened to him. The gun moved to Plum. I couldnt let him destroy everything my grandfather and father had worked for. I couldnt let the Andre name by dishonored. It it was a betrayal. He had to be eliminated so I convinced Jeremy to poison him.
You didnt convince me. Jeremy shouted. You forced me. You were always making me do things I didnt want to do.
Justine glared at him. Shut up, Jeremy, you little rodent. If you werent so weak, I wouldnt be able to force you to do anything. Be a man for once in your life. Maybe I ought to shoot you and put you out of your misery. Theyre going to hang us anyway, you know. I hope you go first so I can see it.
Jeremy stared at her wide-eyed, his mouth moving but no sound coming out.
She turned back to Laura. So youve caught me. Youve got your confession, theyve all heard it, but Im not going down without a fight. Her eyes scanned the restaurant, touching tables, chairs, chandeliers, ornate Victorian woodwork. I killed for this restaurant, and if I cant have it, no one else will.
As quick as a flash, she tipped the cart with the flaming peaches over. Instantly the carpet caught fire, and then while everyone was jumping up, screaming and yelling, she caught hold of the candles on the table and went to the curtains, setting them aflame as well. Soon there were several fires around the restaurant, and no one seemed able to stop her rampage because of all the confusion, all the screaming.
Call the fire department! Remington shouted to a waiter as he grabbed hold of the tablecloth, sending dishes flying. He began pounding the flames with the cloth, trying to smother it. Others followed his example.
Laura, who had kept her eye on Justine, ran up to Remington, griping his arm. Dont be a hero! She yelled. Let it burn to the ground if necessary! Just get out before its too late!
Then she was gone, running for the front entrance.
She sprinted down the steps, holding her long dress high, heading for the parking lot. Reaching the Auburn, she grabbed the cricket bat from the back seat. She had seen Justine enter the kitchen, and her hunch was that shed make her escape from the back. As she turned the corner of the restaurant, she saw a white-clad figure come out of the rear entrance, scramble down the steps and run lightly across the parking lot. It stopped at a car, fumbling for keys.
Laura, silent as a cat, crossed the distance between them, raised the cricket bat and brought it down sharply across the womans neck. Justine Green crumpled to the ground.
Footsteps sounded on the pavement behind her and she turned. Remington, his face smudged with soot, tux rumpled beyond repair, stood staring at her, Plum, Mueller and Marvin behind him. She smiled, shouldering the cricket bat.
Mrs. Steele in the parking lot with the cricket bat.
Well? Laura asked impatiently.
Dont rush me, Laura. Remington said. This is delicate work.
She leaned against the kitchen counter, crossing her arms. Plum called today. He said the damage to Maison DAndre wasnt as bad as they first thought. They ought to be back in business in about a month.
Glad to hear it.
I think its a good idea that the sisters put him in charge of finding them a new manager. She made a face. Hes a bit sleazy, but he understands business.
She tried again. That was real quick thinking on Henrys I mean Poirots part, tripping Jeremy as he was trying to escape while everyone was running around putting out the fire. The kid had quite a knot on his head. That cane can be a dangerous weapon when used properly. I still cant believe that little guy figured it out before us.
Laura Remington drawled warningly, please. Must you talk? A task like this requires concentration.
You need quiet to judge a macaroni & cheese casserole? She exclaimed.
He eyed the casserole carefully, noting the appearance. Good color, crispy yet not overdone. He stuck in a fork, bringing out a mouthful of pasta. He chewed thoughtfully. Creamy, cheesy with just a hint of fire?
Thats the cayenne. Just a pinch. She told him.
He nodded, continuing to chew. Interesting. Shows originality. The macaroni still has body but not too hard. He set down his fork, took a drink of milk and declared, Over all Id say you did an excellent job.
You mean it? She asked eagerly.
Of course, I mean it. Remington retorted indignantly. I told you Id give my honest opinion, and I have. I always keep my promises to you, Laura. When I told you I wouldnt steal the Lavulite until it was out of your jurisdiction, I didnt. If I kept my promise when I barely knew you, I can certainly be trusted to keep my promise now that Im married to you, and youre carrying my child.
She smiled, sliding her arms around his neck and pulling him down for a kiss. He resisted at first but soon he had forgotten his annoyance and was returning her caress enthusiastically. She pulled back, looking up into his eyes, which were dark with passion. When do we start on the strudel?
Tomorrow. He promised. Right now I can think of something else Id rather be doing.
He swung her into his arms and carried her up the stairs to the master bedroom. He was a little out of breath when he got there. His wife was indeed putting on weight.
Im glad to see that the morning sickness is no longer bothering you. He commented as he pulled her sweater over her head. Her hair came cascading down, landing in a delicious tangle around her face and shoulders.
Whats the supposed to mean? Laura asked, somewhat hotly.
Nothing. He assured her, unzipping her jeans and pushing them to the floor. Im just noting that youre eating well these days. Thats a good sign.
You mean Im getting fat.
Oh-oh, Remington thought. He could hear the sound of a thousands voices, male voices, screaming Landmine ahead! Steer clear! Steer clear! Abort! Abort!
No, I didnt say that. He pointed out, his hand coming to rest against her lower stomach, which was just beginning to show the slightest of bulges. I distinctly remember saying that I was glad you were no longer sick. My culinary ego was suffering terribly. It endured a nearly fatal blow when you ran for the bathroom whenever I set Eggs Benedict before you.
She didnt look convinced but at least she wasnt tearing a strip off of him.
He cupped her breasts in his hands. They were nearly bursting out of her lacy white bra. Im particularly impressed with these. They were lovely before, but theyre a nice handful now.
Theyll get even plumper before this is over. She muttered.
Splendid. I cant wait.
He picked her up and placed her on the bed, following her down.
Do you really think Im attractive like this? She asked as he as right in the middle of a delightful exploration. Really the woman was much too talkative this evening.
He raised his head and looked at her. Not attractive. Beautiful. I cant imagine anything more beautiful than watching my child grow within you, Laura. There was a pause and then she saw his legendary grin flash in the darkened bedroom. And you can make a bloody good macaroni & cheese. What more could a man ask for?
Laura woke with a start. The room was dark except for a faint glow of moonlight filtering through the window. She glanced at the clock. 1:23 AM. She rolled over and was surprised to find the bed beside her empty. Usually when Remington got in bed he stayed there. Puzzled, she got up, grabbing his pajama top that shed commandeered shortly after moving into the house and went in search of her missing husband.
She reached the bottom of the stairs and paused. She could hear the sounds of a movie. He was in the room hed converted into what they called his movie theater. She found him sitting on one of the black leather couches, his feet propped up on the coffee table. She sat down beside him. He didnt move, seemingly unaware of her presence.
What are you watching?
Another Thin Man. William Powell, Myrna Loy, MGM, 1939. Nick, Jr. is added to the household. There was a pause in which the characters in the movie filled the silence, and then he said, casually, almost too casually, If Nick and Nora could be detectives and still have a baby, Im sure we can too.
Laura smiled inwardly. So that was the problem. Reality was finally interfering with his cloud nine.
Mildred said this day would come. She commented, resting her head on her hand as she studied him.
He looked over at her, his expression puzzled. What day?
She said that reality would finally set in, and it would hit you like a ton of bricks. When his head turned back to the movie without answering, she asked gently, Youre worrying about being a father, arent you?
Perhaps. He admitted after another long pause in which the antics of the characters filled the silence. Lets face it, Laura, I havent had much experience. I didnt even much like children until recently. A result of domestication, I imagine. He added, almost sheepishly.
I havent any experience either, but you said Id make a wonderful mother.
At least you had an example to follow.
So did you.
He snorted. Not for fourteen years of my life.
But you had Daniel for twenty years.
And look what he taught me. He muttered. The fine art of conning people out of their money and pinching jewels and art. Thats certainly something I want to teach my children, isnt it? Come here, Johnny, Daddy wants to teach you how to crack a safe. He said, almost bitterly.
Laura shrugged. Those skills have been come in handy many times during the past six years. I quite expect, no demand, that you teach our children how to pick locks, crack safes and plan heists. After all one day our vast investigative kingdom will be theirs. Theyll need to be properly trained.
He looked at her, his expression skeptical. Laura
Im serious. She told him, sliding across the couch until she was shoulder to shoulder with him. Your skills are very unique, and youve been a big part of why Remington Steele Investigations is as successful as it is. Murphy and I would have never gotten this far.
His eyes searched hers as though trying to determine her sincerity. Do you really mean that, Laura?
Do I ever say anything I dont mean? She asked. Even when youve gotten us into an impossible situation, mainly due to helping some unsavory friend, Ive always told you so.
Ah, yes, He sighed, remembering a few of those times when shed stomped on his foot or tackled him on beaches, in no uncertain terms.
Then I wouldnt lie about this. She put a hand on his cheek, turning his face so she could look him in the eyes. The vulnerability she saw squeezed at her heart. It was so rare that he let her see such things. He so often hid his fears behind a mask of sunny cheerfulness. Besides, she told him, her voice husky with emotion, the important part of being a father is being there, and if theres anything youve done well over the years, its being there.
He stared at her for a few minutes, his gaze uncertain but then becoming more and more confident as he saw the love in her eyes. Suddenly his grin broke forth, and he reached out pulling her across his lap. He hugged her tightly, his cheek against her hair.
Well, at least theres one honorable skill I can teach him. Remington said, his voice holding its old cheerfulness.
And whats that?
Cricket, of course. The most honorable and revered sport known to man.
CONTINUED IN 'ALL IN THE STEELE'