Steele Scared
By Gilmoradict
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Explores the time just after Laura lost her home in the explosion, and the miraculous renovations to the loft which are seen in Altared Steele.

A siren wailed in the distance. Lights occasionally flashed across the filthy, opaque windows as cars, going where and from where Laura had no idea, rumbled through nearby streets. She shivered a little bit. The light comforter she'd purchased for her new bed was lovely, but the night was cool, and there was no heat as yet in the loft. Truth be told there wasn't much of anything in the loft. A beautiful grand piano. Laura smiled a little as she thought of the piano, with it's huge red bow, along with Nero on top, waiting for her when she walked through the heavy sliding door that first night here. Several keys plinked forlornly in the echoing silence of the loft.

"Nero, come here buddy." Laura called out softly. Two more plinking notes, a gentle thump, and a comforting purr sounded in Laura's ear. Nero walked over her bundled shape, and then nosed the quilt, looking for a way in to curl up next to his mistress. "All right Nero, I could use your body heat. Come on in."
There was comfort in the presence of Nero purring and kneading the thick flannel of her nightgown, but only days away from her loss, Laura had difficulty pushing away the vivid images of her house consumed in flames, the roaring sounds of the blaze, and the acrid smell of things that shouldn't be burning but somehow were. Laura's professional life had ripped open her safe, perfect personal life when client RJ Stonewell's enemies had become her own. She glanced around at the brick walls of the loft she and Mr. Steele had rented for it's view of Greg Keever's doorway across the street. So different from her little bungalow, the loft had possibilities. Once the kitchen was finished, and the flooring went in, she would paint the whole thing white, lose the dim dinginess. Her thoughts a whirl of images real and imagined, it was sometime before Laura's eyes drifted shut.
Gasping, Laura jerked awake, with the odd sensation she had just fallen from a great height. Breathing rapidly she tried to get her bearings. The plinking sound of cat's feet walking on the keyboard echoed again in the cavernous room. More startling were the orange, yellow and reddish lights dancing on the far wall, as if flames were leaping just outside the windows. Silhouetted against these lights was the Nero's gigantic shadow. When Laura turned to the window the cat was sitting on the sill, tail twitching as he watched with agitation the events transpiring outside the building. Glancing over at the piano, whose sound had awakened Laura, no Nero walked the keyboard. Her brow furrowed as she struggled to make sense out of the incongruity of sight and sound, Laura drew the covers back to climb from bed. Her feet recoiled at the cold plywood of the loft's bedroom platform and slowly descending the stairway, Laura found that floor even colder. She walked quickly to the window where Nero sat, expecting to look out and see flames erupting from the building across the way. Instead, all outside appeared silent and dark, an almost velvet curtain of nothingness.
Laura reached out to stroke Nero. The cat growled menacingly, certainly not at his mistress, but rather at some unseen threat outside which held his attention. No matter how hard she peered through the grimy glass, Laura was unable to discern what troubled the feline.
Turning her back to the windows, Laura found the firelight on the wall had changed to the silver of reflected moonlight - surprising on a night so black. Eerily, whatever clouds had obscured the moon seemed to have drained away from that orb, and it shown brightly now. The shadows that danced on the wall were not Nero's but those of some flying creature - a bat perhaps? Laura felt the hairs on the back of her neck rise as she turned once more to look out. Wisps of cloud were floating down toward the street below, wafting through the black grate of the fire escape. A distant dog began howling, and was soon joined by another, and then several more.
Laura wouldn't have guessed there were so many dogs in the neighborhood. Shaking off the chill that was creeping down her spine, Laura reached for a light switch to bring to life the bare bulb hanging from the ceiling, but stopped, choosing the moonlight her eyes were becoming accustomed to over allowing the light to reveal her presence in the loft. Instead she padded slowly back to her bed by way of the moon's soft glow. The newly installed phone was on the floor next to her bed. She picked it up without removing the receiver, and cradling it in her arms crept thoughtfully back under the covers. Who would she call? Mildred? Mr. Steele? She didn't really know Mildred all that well, and Mr. Steele already thought she was crazy to live here; she didn't want to give him any more reason to question her choice. She was just allowing some odd lights, and sounds to rattle her. Still hugging the phone, she lay in the dark, listening and watching, and trying to relax.
"Miss Krebs, have you spoken to Miss Holt this morning?" Steele leaned in toward the Remington Steele Investigations' receptionist/secretary so that his words would not carry into his partner's office. "What do you make of her?"
"I don't know Boss, she certainly doesn't seem her usual chipper self." Mildred responded conspiratorially. "She looks a little peaked too."
"Exactly what I thought, Miss Krebs. I suspect that despite her protestations to the contrary that she's experiencing shock over the loss of her house."
"Makes sense, Mr. Steele. She seemed happy with that loft she's moving into, talked about it all the time for a couple of days, but now, bupkis!"
"Yes, well, let me know if she confides any troubling thoughts to you. Meanwhile, perhaps a little lunchtime pick-me-up is in order."
"That sounds like a winner, Boss. Your new client Mr. Hewlah is due at eleven. That's the last thing on the calendar today."
"Make a reservation for us at L'Ornate for one o'clock - no, better yet, I'll take her up the coast and we'll go to that little place with outdoor dining...Do you remember the name?"
"The Vineyard? You got it Mr. Steele."
"Good girl, Mildred! With luck, I can persuade her to take the afternoon off to shop for new linens, or clothing or something else for her new place."
"I don't know. Miss Holt doesn't exactly strike me as the retail therapy kind'a gal, but you're heart is in the right place. Good luck Mr. Steele."
"Miss Holt?" Steele peered around the door to her office, testing the water so speak before jumping in. "I trust I am here in time to meet with our next client?" When Laura turned to respond Steele was shocked by her appearance. Peaked didn't begin to describe the paleness of her skin. Her beautiful brown eyes, which usually sparkled or sparked, depending on her mood, were now listless and dull, and circled from beneath with dark smudges.
"No need to trouble yourself Mr.Steele, I handled this one myself." Laura said in a tired voice. "Mr. Hewlah owns a warehouse in my neighborhood - next block over, near where I park. I met him when I was coming home just after you and I signed the contract on the loft for our surveillance. He had several large packing crates shipped to him, and one was lost. It was a matter of some urgency to him that the crate be located quickly, and the police gave him the usual run around. Didn't seem important to them, so I offered to track it down for him. Piece of cake. He's coming by to settle his account."
"At the risk of your taking this the wrong way, you look rather tired this morning Laura. Are you sure you're feeling up to meeting with Hewlah?" Steele came around the desk to stand close to Laura, and to hold her left hand in his. Her hand was as cold as ice. He rubbed it briskly between his own to warm it, while he continued to gaze at her with concern.
"REALLY. Thank you." Laura replied icily, pulling her hand back to continue jotting notes on the document in front of her.
"Laauura." Steele's voice was soft, and he reached to turn Laura's face toward his with two gentle fingers. "At least agree to come with me after this meeting for lunch - a bit of fresh air will do wonders for you - put some roses back in your cheeks."
Before Laura could reply, Mildred's voice came over the intercom. "Mr. Renfield is here for your eleven o'clock appointment Miss Holt."
"Renfield? What happened to Mr. Hewlah?" questioned Laura briefly, then "Oh well. Send him in Mildred." The door opened slowly, and a man stepped tentatively in, stopped, took a few more steps, turned sideways to glance at Steele, then turning to Laura smiled and said,
" are a very pretty lady and you look very intelligent and extremely capable. You have such beautiful eyes, and such lovely hair. Mr. Hewlah said you were handsome. You musn't pay any attention to me, but I wouldn't work for Mr. Hewlah any more if I were you." Renfield fawned over Laura, completely ignoring Mr. Steele, as he alternately peered avidly into her eyes, then turned to stare at the doorway. "Such a lovely lady. Such a shame, such a shame."
"Steele here, Mr. Renfield." Steele offering his hand to the odd little man, taken aback at Renfield's strange torrent of words, and having a troubling sense that the name Renfield ought to mean something to him. "I am Miss Holt's associate. Who are you to Mr. Hewlah, and why is he not here himself this morning?"
"Mr. Hewlah doesn't go out much. He is most grateful for Miss Holt's help, but asked me to settle his account with the lovely lady detective.. And that's what I must do." So saying Mr. Renfield produced a thick vellum envelope with a heavy wax seal on the back. He handed it to Laura with a deep bow.
Upon reaching for, and grasping the envelope Laura drew in her breath, and color suddenly appeared on her cheeks. A slow smile of deep contentment crept across her face, as she caressed the wax seal on the envelope with her thumb. Laura closed her eyes and with a slight shiver, sighed, almost as if recalling an extremely pleasant dream or memory.
Dumbfounded, Steele stared at his associate. For a long moment no one moved, and then Renfield bowed once more, this time to Steele, and backed out of the office.
"Good Day, Good Day. It is a good day. Not so nice nights, but a good day. Good Day." With that Renfield turned and scurried away.
"Miss Holt... Laura - may I have the envelope?" Steele gently pulled that item from Laura's hand. Her eyes flew open, she paled once more and a look of confusion came over her face. Steele opened the thick flap, and pulled out an extremely ornate check made out to the agency for five thousand dollars. Staring at it for a moment Steele struck his head with his palm. "Hard to believe, but that has to be it! Bela Lugosi, 1931 - a classic! Miss Holt - I will explain later, but please trust me, do NOT leave this office!"
Running from Laura Steele hollered, "Mildred!! I need the Hewlah file. Then stay with Miss Holt! Don't leave her for an instant - and don't let anyone else in."
With profound apologies to Bram Stoker for any vague similarities to his most esteemable work.

Laura leaned back against the door to the loft, pulling Steele's kiss with her. The eager joining of their lips rendered Laura weak kneed, her hands clinging warmly to Steele's shoulders. Steele was more than willing to hold Laura up, pulling her even closer in his arms, one hand tangled in locks of her thick, softly curling hair. Moaning faintly, Laura finally pulled reluctantly away, drawing in a long shuddering breath, keeping the rest of her body tenderly pressed to Mr. Steele.
"Mr. Steele, you are amazing."
"In what sense?" Steele whispered, continuing to press kisses to Laura's face and neck, working to replace the unhealthy flush Hewlah's letter had placed in her cheeks with an altogether different glow.
"You've given me a wonderful afternoon I didn't even acknowledge needing, an excellent lunch overlooking the ocean, a walk along the beach shops, this beautiful necklace, my favorite Chinese take-out for dinner and now bouquets of flowers outside my door! Whatever they are they're exquisite by the way - the smell has me reeling!"
"Just the way I love you!" Steele smiled down at Laura as he held her firmly in his arms. "The flowers are monkshood - used for centuries for medicinal purposes. Don't bring them inside - poisonous if Nero should decide to nibble. The necklace is a small remembrance of a lovely lady on a perfect afternoon. I hope you will wear it all the time."
"Shades of your Catholic schooling, Mr. Steele?" Laura said curiously, fondling the ornate cross they had found in a small boutique they had wandered into on their walk.
"I'm afraid my thoughts tonight are more carnal than celestial, unless we're talking about the heavenly body in my arms."
"All right, I think you just went one step over the top." Laura said dryly, though she continued to smile at Steele. "I confess I haven't been sleeping well since the...since I lost my home. I feel so relaxed now though, that I'm sure I'm going to drop right off, and sleep soundly all night. "
"Is that my invitation to come in?" Steele grinned boyishly at Laura, head tipped just enough to look utterly charming.
"No Mr. Steele, though you're testing my resolve. I really need to sleep - thank you for everything." Planting a kiss on Mr. Steele's waiting lips,"It was a perfect afternoon, one I look forward to emulating soon - very soon." Laura turned reluctantly, but firmly away from Steele, and pulling the loft door open, closed it firmly behind her. Steele sighed, standing alone on the outside.
"I hope this works." he muttered to himself, rearranging the flowers to more completely block Laura's door. Turning he ran down the three flights of stairs to find Mildred lurking near the doorway. "Ah Mildred! Good evening. Were you able to sprinkle the crates in Hewlah's warehouse with Holy Water as I asked?"
"You bet, Chief," Mildred answered as Steele led her around to the fire escape, "but you know I'm not exactly Catholic."
"No worries, Darling, shouldn't matter. Up you go now. There's a girl." Steele helped Mildred reach the stairs that followed the outside wall up to Laura's third story loft window. "Here's a blanket, make yourself comfortable. You know what to do if you see anything suspicious?"
Mildred gave Steele a thumbs up, and continued her careful ascent. As she climbed the strains of a Bach fugue began floating out from Laura's loft. Steele's face softened as he thought of Laura playing the piano that replaced the one lost in the explosion. She had known too much distress in the last weeks. He determined he would stop anyone who tried to harm her, and resolutely ran up the interior steps to watch the loft door.
Laura played her new piano for almost an hour, the music building on the contentment of her afternoon with Mr. Steele. The anxieties of the past weeks were now pushed aside. She looked around the loft, imagining it finished. The kitchen was nearly completed, the bathroom done. She hummed the Bach she had been playing earlier as she readied herself for bed, Nero crying occasionally, as if joining in her song. Laura smiled as she bent to stroke him from his ears to the tip of his tail, which she straightened with a gentle tug. "Come on Nero, let's call it a night. I think I'm ready to sleep soundly tonight." Slipping the warm flannel nightgown over her head, she crawled under her covers and was immediately lost in her dreams.
"Plink, plink, bum." The piano echoed in the silence. Laura's eyes shot open. The moon was apparently obscured by clouds, as the loft was lost in eerie black.
"Nero!" Laura called softly.
"Mrrrp?" came the sleepy reply from the warm spot under the comforter near her knees. Laura's pulse quickened and she felt her heart pounding in her chest. She searched the dark room, straining to see anything out of the ordinary. How many nights in a row did this make that she was awakened in the middle of the night? Was there any plausible reason for the haunting sounds and lights she kept seeing?
"Plink, plink, plink." Fully awake now, Laura could no longer persuade herself she imagined the piano playing itself. Nero and she were both accounted for. She slowly, soundlessly pushed the comforter back and slid her feet to the floor. Nero shot out of the bed, streaking across the floor away from Laura. 'Coward' Laura thought grimly. She glanced once more at the spot on the floor where she knew the phone sat, and debated calling Steele. As quietly as possible she dialed his number, and held the phone in both hands to steady them as she waited. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten...No matter how soundly he slept, surely if Steele were home he would have picked up. Damn him. Laura sighed. Once again she was in this alone. She straightened her spine.
As Laura began walking tentatively down the stairs toward the piano, silvery light spread across the loft's wall. A shadow flew across the light, and Laura jumped involuntarily. Scittering noises broke the silence, then a sudden small shriek! Nero raced across to the windows and landed on the sill with a thud. Laura more cautiously followed him, picking up a work rag the workmen had left as she moved slowly toward the window. Using the cloth to clear a peephole in the milky, dirty pane, Laura then pressed her nose there.
A broad white face was pressed against the glass immediately outside where Laura stood. It opened it's mouth in a soundless scream just as Laura did, mirroring her terror! A second scream found voice, and split the night, sending Nero once more streaking across the loft, this time to hide under the bed. A hand began pounding forcefully on the door as Laura and the face outside continued screaming together.
"Laura, the door." Steele's demanding voice repeated from the hall. "Laura - what is it!? Let me in- MILDRREED!"
Suddenly Mildred, for it was she who screamed outside Laura's window, was pulled away from the glass. A darkly clothed figure held her securely about the neck and began shaking her. Laura looked again, and recovering her composure realized who she had been facing through the window, and at the same moment who was outside her door. "Go help Mildred, Mr. Steele! Someone is attacking her on my fire escape!" Laura leaped to the counter below the window and began struggling with the window latch. Finally wrenching it open she slipped outside and pulled at Mildred's attacker's arm. In mere moments Steele had joined them on the grate, and helped Laura free their secretary, who collapsed to the stair, holding her neck, whimpering and gasping for air.
"Mildred, are you all right?" Laura cried dropping to kneel at her side, and pushing Mildred's hair back from her face to peer into her eyes by what little light the moon provided.
"Look who we have here!" Steele declared in confusion. "Renfield!"
"Oh, Boss, I dropped the Holy Water when Miss Holt stared at me through the window. I'm sorry!"
"What is going on?" Laura asked in bewilderment looking between Mr. Steele, still holding the mournful looking Renfield and Mildred who looked equally mournful as she sat on the step.
"Not so nice nights," Renfield crooned sadly, "Not so nice nights at all."
"So you convinced yourself I had been bitten by a VAMPIRE?" Laura couldn't decide if she was more amused or annoyed by Steele's movie driven deduction. She, Steele, Mildred, Renfield, and Mr. Hewlah, who had come to collect Renfield, were huddled around the patch of light cast by a bare bulb, on whatever they could find to sit on in Laura's loft sharing tea that Laura made on a hotplate.
"When I saw the check had been written by DRAKE HEWLAH, and he had sent his assistant RENFIELD to bring it to us, in combination with your pale, listless demeanor, it was an entirely logical conclusion." Steele said defensively.
"Oh dear, I'm afraid I contributed to this confusion." Mr. Hewlah added with amusement. "The irony of my odd name, and my connection to Mr. Renfield has occurred to me before. Mr. Renfield is a rather unique individual, and while he may have some odd mannerisms, is devoted to me, and I to him. He runs errands for me on days when my arthritis is particularly painful. Because Arthur knew I was concerned about Miss Holt living in this warehouse area, he determined to look out for her. Apparently he saw Mildred on the fire escape and thought she meant to harm Miss Holt."
"Such a pretty lady here alone in this old building." Renfield shook his head sadly.
"Miss Holt really wasn't sleeping well, Mr. Steele - you got that part right." Mildred comforted him.
"It has been pretty unsettling to lose all my things," Laura admitted. "I do think the loft is going to be great, but it's definitely different. Oh, and I think I need an exterminator." She looked down as Nero proudly sauntered up with a mouse dangling by it's tail from his mouth. When he opened his mouth to "mew," the mouse skittered away.
"There's a nest of mice in the strings of the piano. When they move around they make the plinking sounds I hear at night." Laura said ruefully.
"What about the letter with the wax seal?" Steele asked. "You looked positively entranced when Renfield handed it to you."
"My grandfather sent me a letter like that each year on my birthday, inviting me to come have lunch with him and my grandmother. They were such perfect grandparents, always making me feel like a princess. Now I've lost all those letters." Laura shrugged resolutely. "I guess I still have the wonderful memories though."
"And Miss Holt, you're going to make new memories in this home." Steele smiled, reaching to pat Laura's hand. "This really is a very interesting space."
"Thank you all for caring so much about me - I can't believe how much trouble you all went to to protect me." Laura looked at each of them, "Arthur, watching from the corner; Mildred, sanctifying crates of antique furniture, and staying out on my freezing cold fire escape and nearly scaring us both to death! And you Mr. Steele. Wolfsbane in the middle of Los Angeles?"
"That wasn't as hard to come by as the Holy Water - had to visit three churches to secure enough." Steele shrugged and his eyebrows twitched. "It was the least I could do to play John Harker to your Mina. Speaking of the movies, Miss Holt, care to join me for the Halloween screening of Dracula tonight?"
"Arrghh!" Laura shrieked and began pushing the group out the door. "That's it - time to say Good Night!"
The End

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