- Steele on the High
- by Dawn Engle
- Part 1
- "Hello? Anybody here?" A man pushed open the frequently
painted and now peeling door to the South Side Salvage Yard gate
building. The office he entered was no bigger than a single stall
garage, and dimly lit, due to the grime on the one window. A
desk, piled high with receipts, old phone books, boxes of small
metal parts, and a several discarded fast food containers, stood
facing the door. Stacks of salvaged car radios, and hub caps
circled the perimeter of the room. A single door led to what
might be either a closet or a toilet. Looking around the empty
office the man called out again, "Anyone here?"
- From behind the door a husky arm brought a large lug wrench
down on the back of the man's head. He crumpled to the crowded
office floor and lay still.
- Looking at her watch one more time, and then glancing up
at the clock on her office wall as well, Laura shook her head
with frustration and hit the intercom button to speak to Mildred.
- "You haven't heard from our illustrious leader by any
chance, have you Mildred?" Under her breath Laura continued
"I thought we had made progress on arriving at the agency
before morning coffee break."
"No Miss Holt, and it's not like him to be late. At least
not this late." Mildred sounded concerned. "I've got
that file for you with the information on Mr. Steele's eleven
o'clock. Why don't I bring you a cup of coffee and you can take
a look at the file in case Mr. Steele doesn't get here in time."
- "What a good idea, Mildred." Laura's jaw was tight
and she kneaded the tension out of her forehead, knowing Mildred
really believed Mr. Steele, rather than she, Laura, was prepared
for their next client meeting. As Mildred walked in the phone
rang, and Mildred moved to answer.
- "I'll get it Mildred...Remington Steele Investigations,
Laura Holt speaking." barked that personage crisply, pulling
the phone away from her ear as Steele barked back.
- "I've been waiting outside for the limo for nearly an
hour. Really Laura, this is unconscionable. My time is valuable."
- "Yes, Sir, Well of course Sir. I can't
imagine what might have happened. Fred has always been completely
reliable. Perhaps he's had some car trouble. Can you call for
a cab?....."Putting her hand over the phone, Laura turned
to the agency's dedicated new secretary. "Mildred will you
see if you can reach Fred? Try the limo, and if he doesn't answer
there, try his home. Maybe he's ill."
- "You got it Miss Holt." Mildred responds, all business
as she turned and hustled back to her desk in the reception area.
- "Now, Mr. Steele."
- "I'm not sure there's any point in my coming in at all
now today. Why, half the day is gone already, and my nerves are
simply shot. I'm not sure my mood will tolerate any further...."
- "MR. STEELE!" Laura cut in finally, "I need
you here. Mr. Carlson of the Reef Yacht Club is due at eleven
to discuss the vandalism of several of their yachts over the
past six months, and he insists on meeting you in person. Gather
yourself together, and get in here, Fred or no Fred."
- "Miss Holt." Mildred burst back through the door
just then. "We just got a call from Fred's brother, Mitch.
Fred never showed up last night to help with some work he'd offered
to do on Mitch's car, and this morning Mitch finally went over
to Fred's house to check on him. According to the brother, Fred
never came home last night!"
- Part Two
"I had Mildred arrange for us to meet Mr. Carlson at the
Yacht Club later this afternoon. Meanwhile, I thought maybe we
should check out Fred's place and see if we can track down a
lead on where he might be. I've known Fred for over three years
now - disappearing with out letting anyone know his whereabouts
is completely unlike him." Laura stood leaning against the
wall of Steele's entry way, arms crossed as Mr. Steele prepared
for the second time that morning to leave his apartment.
- "I agree. He's quite close to Mitch too. Can't imagine
him failing to follow through on plans with him." Steele
mused, tightening the knot on his tie, shrugging into his suit
coat, and taking a final look at his appearance in his hall mirror
before gesturing for Laura to proceed him out the door.
"He's talked about his brother to you?" Laura asked,
looking at Mr. Steele in surprise as she pushed the button for
- "Well, we have the occasional moment of waiting together.
Bit of conversation helps to pass the time." Steele drew
his eyebrows together and looked down, then up to meet Laura's
questioning eyes. "Younger brother. Had some trouble early
on, got in with the wrong crowd, that sort of thing. Fred's parents
are gone. He's been watching out for the brother, helping him
get on his feet."
- "When he called the agency Mitch mentioned Fred had
planned to work with him on his car. Fred hoped to find a part
to salvage off a wreck in a junk yard to would get it running
again." Laura and Steele reached the basement parking garage
where Laura had left her Rabbit. "We should have time to
run past Fred's home before we meet Carlson. I got Fred's address
- "Elm and 5th, or there abouts. Take the expressway south."
Steele offered easily.
Laura looked at Steele. "You've been to Fred's house?"
- "Just once, maybe twice. Once we picked up a tool Fred
needed to effect some repair on the limousine. Another time we
enjoyed a drink after one of our chats."
- "Mr. Steele, you never cease to amaze me." Laura
shook her head, smiling. "I didn't even know Fred had a
brother, much less anything about him. And I'm the detective."
- "Men bond more easily over certain interests Laura.
Automobiles, sports." Steele pounded his chest several times
with one fist, stopping when a fit of coughing overcame him.
- "Easy Mr. Steele." Laura smirked, looking at her
partner. "You can use those male bonding skills to impress
Mr. Carlson this afternoon. First let's see what we can do about
- "Have you ever thought about what would inspire someone
to want to be a chauffeur, Laura?" Steele pondered as they
walked around Fred's small home, searching for some clue as to
his whereabouts. "I mean, they have unpredictable, often
late hours, long waits, odd requests from their employers....all
for relatively low wages."
- "Exactly what odd requests have you been making of Fred,
Mr. Steele? Besides, Fred is paid quite well for his work. I
felt it important in light of just the kind of things you mentioned."
Laura bristled a little at the implication that Fred had reason
to be dissatisfied with his job. "Fred does have a lot of
time to himself, but I had the feeling Fred was happy with that."
- "Of course." Steele fingered the pieces of a chess
set, apparently mid way through play, set up on a stand with
a turntable so that the person sitting in the wing chair could
easily play both sides. Fred's home was modest, four rooms, kitchen,
living room, and two bedrooms. Each was perfectly ordered, uncluttered,
with a masculine feel, deep colors, and simple lines to the furnishings.
Fred used one bedroom as a study. It contained a computer, television
and a small table covered with automobile parts, neatly arranged
on clean rags, apparently awaiting reassembly. A bottle of cleaning
fluid sat capped on a plate where it wouldn't damage the finish
on the table. Nothing appeared to have been disturbed, and was
as tidy as its owner had left it on Wednesday afternoon when
he left to pick Steele up at the Towers to drive him home.
- "Fred referred to chess when I interviewed him for his
position." Laura joined Steele in the front of the chess
set, and reflected back on that day. "I think he mentioned
it in relation to detective work, the careful steps one set up
in the course of play, just as an investigator does in solving
- "So where does that leave us Miss Holt?" Steele
looked questioningly at Laura.
- "I'm not sure Mr. Steele. There doesn't seem to be anything
here that points to where Fred might be. Not even an address
book, and the only photo an old one of his family. Let's call
Mildred and see if she's heard anything more. We don't have a
lot of time; we need to be at the Reef Yacht Club at two."
Laura strode purposefully into Fred's kitchen and dialed the
- "Miss Holt! I'm so glad you called. I didn't know how
to get in touch with you. Is the boss with you!? Mitch Schillman
called again and...." Mildred was clearly upset. "Oh
Miss Holt, I've got good news and bad news! Can you put Mr. Steele
on the phone?"
- "Mildred, I'm in charge, remember!? What did Mitch tell
you?" Laura's face showed her exasperation with Mildred's
insistence on dealing with 'the Boss.' Smiling ruefully, Steele
leaned close to Laura to listen to Mildred's news.
- "Miss Holt! Fred called Mitch, and he's o.k.!"
- "That's wonderful Mildred! Where is he? What's the bad
- "Fred's being held at the Tenth Street station. He's
under arrest! The cops think he killed a man! They found Fred
leaning over a body at a salvage yard!"
- Part Three
- "Fred, please don't give it another thought." Laura
rested her hand reassuringly on Fred's shoulder. "Mr. Steele
and I know only too well how law enforcement officials can get
the wrong idea. As soon as the paper work is complete we'll get
you out of here."
- "That lump on the back of your head is pretty graphic
evidence that you were the victim of some sort of foul play,
not the perpetrator." Steele assured their chauffeur, then
whispering quietly to Laura, "Isn't it?"
- "Thanks Mr. Steele, Miss Holt. One minute I'm looking
for car parts, and the next thing I know I'm looking into the
face of a ...."
- "Stiff, corpse, dead man, cadaver, carcass....?"
Steele offered helpfully.
- Fred turned an odd shade of gray, his demeanor suggesting
to Laura that the man was at risk of losing his lunch.
- "Mr. Steele, can I speak to you over here for a moment?"
Laura gestured to a spot within Fred's line of sight but not
hearing. "Perhaps you could avoid reminding Fred quite so
graphically of the events of the past eighteen hours. He's been
through a rather distressing trauma."
- "Of course Miss Holt." Turning back to Fred Mr.
Steele soothed him with "My apologies Fred. I forget that
you are not prepared for the seamy side of life in quite the
way seasoned professionals like Miss Holt and myself are."
- Laura exhaled audibly and silenced her partner a withering
glance. "Mr. Steele, would you please check with the desk
and see if Fred will be freed to go soon?"
- When Steele had left Laura turned once more to Fred who sat
with his head in his hands. "Would you mind if I ask you
a few questions Fred? Do you remember hearing or seeing anything
unusual when you got to the salvage yard? Was the ....victim
already on the floor of the office when you went in?"
- "I don't think so Miss Holt, but maybe it was the knock
on the head. I don't remember much about what happened after
i dropped Mr. Steele off last night."
- "No problem Fred. We'll get you home. I think you could
use an afternoon off. With your head injury though, you shouldn't
be alone - do you think Mitch could stay with you?"
- "If it's all the same to you, Miss Holt, I'd kind of
like to see this through. I'd like to help track down whoever
attacked me." Fred looked up at Laura, as Steele strode
purposefully back to them.
- "Good news Mate, you're cleared to leave. Just need
to sign for your personal items at the desk and we'll be out
of here." Steele and Laura helped Fred to his feet, and
watched him walk slowly to the desk. "Laura, what do you
make of this?"
- "I'm not sure Mr. Steele, but Fred's the gentlest man
I know. I can't imagine him hurting a fly. The person who attacked
Fred, may very well be the murderer. Now, what in a salvage yard
might be worth killing for?" With another glance at her
watch, Laura continued, "MEANWHILE, we've got 30 minutes
to make our appointment at the Yacht Club. Guess we'll take Fred
along for the ride."
- "Ahhh Fred, here you are now. Have a seat in the back,
and leave the driving to 'Hot Foot Holt.'" Smiling winningly
at Laura as she took Fred's arm, he followed them out of the
police station. "Make sure you buckle up!"
- "Good - you made it!" Excusing himself from another
conversation, a man in a captain's cap reached to shake Steele's
hand as soon as the detective climbed from Laura's Rabbit. "I
recognize you from your photos in the local papers!"
- "Mr. Carlson I presume?" Steele greeted the man
warmly, and turning drew Laura forward. "My associate Laura
Holt, and... this is our chauffeur, Fred."
- Fred, unfolding himself gingerly from the back seat of his
employer's convertible looked somewhat the worse for wear, whether
due to the effects of his head trauma of the previous evening,
or Laura's vigorous attack of the streets of LA it was hard to
say. He nodded grimly at Mr. Carlson.
- "Has there been a problem with your vehicle?" Carlson
asked with curiosity.
- Laura stopped and turned to look at Fred as a thought suddenly
occurred to her. "Where is the limo, Fred?"
- "I drove it last night to pick up the part I needed."
Fred answered tersely.
- "We shall make that our next stop. Now, Mr. Carlson,
how can we assist you?" Steele deftly turned Mr. Carlson
toward the docks of the yacht club, giving the man the full effect
of his megawatt charm. "Please show us around your marvelous
- "Wait here, Fred. We'll head over to the salvage yard
as soon as we've finished. I'm sure the limo will be waiting
there, safe and sound. One of us will drive it back to the agency
garage.... You o.k.?" Waiting for Fred's nod, Laura gave
his shoulder a comforting pat and hurried to catch up with Mr.
Carlson and Steele.
- Part Four
- "You know Laura, by almost anyone's definition this
could be construed as a romantic setting, fraught with wonderful
- The sounds of the oceans gently rolling waves, anchor chains
clinking musically, the muted dock lights and twinkling stars,
along with sweet sea breezes combined with the slight rocking
motion of the boat to lull the pair of detectives into a state
of perfect contentment. Steele and Laura sat shoulder to shoulder
on the fly bridge of a fifty-two foot Grand Banks cruiser in
the harbor of the Reef Yacht Club. They were alone in the quiet,
moonless early morning hours, facing opposite directions, ostensibly
in order to see the yachts to either side of them, Laura's lips
tantalizingly close to Steele's.
- "We're working, Mr. Steele, remember.?" Laura cautioned,
even as she allowed Steele to briefly silence her with a soft,
slow kiss. "We need to keep our eyes open, and our thoughts
- "I'm doing both, Miss Holt." Steele grinned lazily
as he ran one long finger gently along the curve of Laura's cheek,
his thumb cradling her chin.
- "We need to watch for thieves...or vandals... boarding
yachts that don't belong to them...and absconding with electronics...
and engine parts ...that render the boats... unusable."
Laura's words were punctuated by the light kisses Steele placed
on her eyes, her nose, her cheeks and her lips.
- "We're always watching for someone, or something Miss
Holt." Steele murmured softly as he gazed fondly into Laura's
- Laura seemed to be staring hard at something in a slip several
boats down from them. "I felt SO bad for Fred yesterday
when we arrived at the salvage yard to find the limo stripped
of it's tires, radio and, well everything. It was as if vultures
had descended on carrion."
- Steele sighed and reluctantly pulled his hand away from Laura's
face. "He WAS rather upset. I thought you were extremely
understanding Laura. Allowing Fred to install the replacement
parts himself will go a long way towards making him feel better
about the whole incident."
- "It was so important to him to make things right . I
really wasn't angry that he'd driven the limo there. By all rights,
it should have been a 30 minute stop on his way home from work.
How was anyone to guess he'd spend the night there, unconscious
on the floor?" Laura turned back to Steele, a frown creasing
her forehead. "I haven't come up with anything to explain
a murder either. Even assuming there are literally hundreds of
wrecks in the junkyard, there isn't anything on ANY of them worth
more than about twenty-five dollars. Doesn't seem to justify
killing a man."
- "Money isn't behind every crime, Laura. What about crimes
- Laura looked a little bemused. "According to the police
sergeant, the man killed was a frequent consumer of some of California's
less notable vintages, hadn't bathed in weeks, and was missing
a number of his teeth. Not exactly the likely focus of a crime
- "Are you telling me Laura that in some forty odd years
I'd better have all my teeth and an acceptable hygienic routine?"
- "You may be on the right track, Mr. Steele. None of
the thefts here at Reef Yacht Club are particularly costly. The
goal seems to be more one of aggravating boat owners, leaving
them unable to get out on the ocean when they arrive ready for
an afternoon's outing, and putting Mr. Carlson and his staff
in the position of appearing to be lax in their care of the yachts
Carlson is responsible for; humiliating him, discrediting his
abilities. Perhaps something on the same order happened at the
South Side Salvage Yard!"
- "Laauurra, there's absolutely nothing similar...."
- "Come on, Mr. Steele. The sun's coming up. Let's regroup
at noon at the agency. I need to make some phone calls. I think
we can safely say nothing has happened here tonight. "
- "Not for lack of trying." Steele muttered as he
stood to follow Laura off the fly bridge.
- "Good morning, Mr. Steele. I'm impressed that you're
meeting me at the curb!" Laura rolled down the window of
the agency limousine as she pulled up in front of Steele's Rossmore
- "Yes, well, I am too." Steele opened the door and
slid into the front seat next to Laura. "As much as I like
the idea of spending nights with you, we've got to stop meeting
like this. You look lovely though - and the limo looks splendid!
I didn't realize Fred had completed the repairs."
- "He dropped it off last night. I actually think it looks
better than it looked before it was stripped. It seems our Fred's
an amazing mechanic as well as reliable driver."
- "Speaking of Fred, where did you say we were meeting
- "He called about two a.m. from the Tenth Street Station
again. I figured you wouldn't want to me to handle this alone,
despite the long hours we've been putting in on the Carlson matter
over the last few nights." Laura pulled away from the curb
with her usual confidence behind the wheel, and pealed off toward
- "No, no, you're absolutely right, Laura. Wouldn't miss
it for the world. Must to talk to Fred, however, about the hours
he keeps." Steele buckled up securely, then closed his eyes
and settled back against the plush leather seat, draping his
coat over his shoulders like a blanket.
- Laura smiled at him. He looked exceptionally appealing when
he was drowsy and a little unkempt. Steele's hair fell across
his forehead with childish carelessness. His chin was dark with
stubble, and a half smile rested on his lips. Briefly she pictured
stopping the limo to tuck herself in under that coat next to
him. Swallowing, Laura focused instead on driving slowly and
allowing Steele to continue his nap on their route to the police
- "Fred, mate, there you are." Steele said somewhat
blearily, having only recently re-awakened when Laura shook his
shoulder after pulling up at the station.
- "Miss Holt, Mr. Steele, sorry to drag you down here
at this hour of the morning. Everything worked out pretty much
the way we planned, and since it's agency business thought you'd
better be here. Mitch and I have been taking turns watching the
salvage yard each night since you spoke with the owner. Tonight
I saw some men skulking around in the dark. I activated the automatic
door locks and alarm I set up earlier. Trapped these goons with
another poor homeless man they had dragged along with them, planning
to leave him, just like the fellow I was accused of killing.
Having that alarm go off pretty much stopped them from doing
him any serious harm." Fred grinned at that.
- Laura smiled slightly, thinking she had rarely heard Fred
utter quite so long a speech. "Excellent work Fred! You've
put your mechanical skills to use in a big way this week!"
- "Can you imagine someone using a human being as a pawn
in their own nefarious schemes?" Steele looked sober as
he processed Fred's report. "And you Fred, could have met
the same fate."
- "My bump on the head led to the agency being involved,
and probably prevented someone else from losing their life."
Fred said quietly.
- "Excellent observation, Fred. An unexpected ploy in
the game - check, and check mate." Steele nodded at Fred
with a smile.
- "Steele, nice to finally meet you." A man walked
up and shook Steele's hand. "I'm Jim Roberts. The South
Side Salvage Yard belongs to me. Miss Holt told me about what
happened to Mr. Schillman, your chauffeur, and convinced me to
allow him and his brother to act to set up a trap in the salvage
yard office. With his help I don't think the police will have
any difficulty tying those creeps to the first murder, and to
the developers who want my land. Hope it's o.k. with you, but
Miss Holt pretty much refused any kind of payment for your assistance."
- "Of course, all part of our plan." Steele assured,
glancing at Laura for further elucidation.
- "As you suggested might be the case, Mr. Steele, it
seems there was a somewhat unscrupulous developer who wanted
to purchase Mr. Roberts' property. He hoped by making the salvage
yard the scene of repetitive crimes he would be able to undermine
Mr. Robert's business, and make the property even more undesirable
to it's closest neighbors than it already is, forcing Mr. Roberts
to sell out, preferably at a rock bottom price."
- "I'm willing to entertain reasonable offers to sell,
Mr. Steele, but it ain't right to be forced to sell, and to have
someone make my business look like a .... well, a dump."
Roberts said grinning a little. He turned to Fred. "Meanwhile,
I could use a couple of capable security experts like you and
Mitch to work at my salvage yards. Do you think there's any chance
I could persuade you or your brother to come work for me?"
- "I'm ready to return to the 'mundane' life of a chauffeur.
Keeping Mr. Steele and Miss Holt out of trouble gives me with
all the excitement I can handle. My brother Mitch lost his job,
though, when his car broke down." Fred offered. "At
least with him working at a salvage yard we'd have access to
spare parts to keep his car running."
- Mr. Roberts laughed. "Have him call me tomorrow, Fred.
- "Good night Mr. Roberts." Steele waved a cheerful
good-by, then put a hand on Fred's shoulder. "Glad to have
you back behind the wheel Fred. As much as I enjoy Miss Holt's
enthusiastic driving, I prefer having her with me in the back
seat to confer on our business affairs."
- Once the three were settled into the Cadillac Laura leaned
forward to speak with Fred.. "You did an amazing job restoring
the limo, Fred. It looks even better than it did before. Thank
you. I'm glad to have you back in the driver's seat again too.
She settled back next to Steele, beginning to feel the fatigue
of a long work week.
- "So in the end both cases came down to money after all,
eh Laura?" Steele broke the silence.
- "Not entirely, Mr. Steele." Laura was thoughtful.
"There's a certain amount of passion that some people bring
to their business endeavors. Not always admirable, but it can
go far beyond simple dollars and cents. This case really was
similar to the Reef Yacht Club matter we just solved. Discrediting
an opponent in a competing business took men beyond the simple
precepts of business - not unlike the Veckmer affair that cost
me my home. Anyway, the Yacht Club case will keep us in dollars
and cents for a few weeks, even if this case mainly served to
clear Fred's name."
- "About our fee, Laura." Steele began jauntily "I
suggested to Mr. Carlson that we would waive our fee in lieu
of a weekend aboard his yacht. We could make it a staff outing
- good for morale."
- "You waived our fee?!?" Laura spluttered, suddenly
stiffening her spine. "What on earth were you thinking of!?
After all of our hard work over the last week?!" There was
an odd noise from the front seat. Laura looked up to see Fred's
impassive eyes in the rear view mirror looking straight ahead
at the road. "Never mind. I know what you were thinking
of. Staff outing, eh Mr. Steele?"
- Laura's mouth remained grim, but her dimples gave her away.
- "I have only the best interests of the agency in mind,
Laura." Steele grinned roguishly, his eyes meeting Fred's
in the mirror.
- The End
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