Steele Searching
Suzy Steele

Laura was furious. Hardly a surprise. And if he hadn't been so exhausted, mentally and physically, he might have tried to counter her diatribe. But he'd been literally at tether's end, so he tried to relax on the threadbare bed and let her vent weeks of accumulated anger in monologue as she bustled about the cheap bedsit. Because he knew Laura Holt. And he knew that this anger was really just a front that enabled her to keep more heartfelt emotions at bay. Fear was certainly one of them, and she'd every right to be frightened. He hoped there might be another emotion at play, but he wasn't going to risk asking. Certainly not now. And given what she had said several weeks earlier, maybe not ever.
"If you weren't such a pitiful wreck, I'd clobber you," she groused and he suspected this wasn't an exaggeration. Thank heavens for small mercies. "No word from you, not a note. Not a collect call. Take off your shirt." That wasn't how I hoped she'd say that line to me. She doused the rag of a washcloth from the basin and ewer. "What kind of a relationship could we have if every time I turned around and - bingo! - you were gone! Lift up your shirt." He didn't have the energy to obey. Or to argue. But he just had enough energy - and desire for self-preservation - to try and explain. Maybe I've scared her enough that she'll finally listen?
"Laura, you're the one who said we needed time apart."
"So you decided to spend it a continent apart?" No, she wasn't really listening. Wasn't hearing that he was swinging for honesty rather than glib. Laura, please listen to me. Just this once.
"I needed to find something."
"What?" He knew what she expected him to say. A painting. Gemstones. A chalice. But he was after something far more precious than any mere tangible.
He looked up from his misery and finally met Laura's gaze. "Me." The moment hung in time. He saw in her expression the anger. But also puzzlement. Empathy.
And then the thread snapped and Laura was back to her safe, emotional distance. She wrung out the thin washcloth that she had wetted with cold water from a chipped ewer. "You were in Los Angeles last time I looked." She knew damn well what he meant, and she wasn't going to let him know it. Okay, maybe he deserved it. A little.
"What's the major stumbling block between us? Hmm?"
"Your aversion to leg work?"
I suppose I can't blame your anger. Or your fear. But you're the one who complains that we don't communicate.
"My name. My real name. I knew how you'd feel if I couldn't give you that. And I knew we couldn't be honest about other things." Hear me, Laura. This is as close as I dare come.
But she didn't hear it. "I don't care what your name is! Make one up. It'll be all right with me."
There'd been a time when, if she'd said those words, he'd have been thrilled. But this Laura wasn't impressed with his attempt at honesty. She was lying. She did care and had insisted on his real name from the first. That she now pretended that it wasn't important? Or worse, truly didn't care? Are we really that far gone? You've always cared. Until now. Aloud he said, "Perhaps. But when it seemed our time together had come to an end, I realized that Remington Steele was just another name I borrowed. And if I was going to give it back, I was going to have to replace it with a name that was truly mine."
As he spoke, she stopped distracting herself to listen, frozen in mid-motion with the now-blooded washcloth still in her hands. And at the words "give it back", her expression froze as well, anger replaced with an icy stillness. He'd struck a nerve. Was she finally listening? Finally 'getting it'?
And so he told her about his search, and about Kevin Landers, and of the joke that the universe had played, that his father was quite possibly an Earl. And if he hadn't been so utterly exhausted, he would have noticed that, as he spoke, her anger and ice gradually melted. To be replaced by an expression foreign to their relationship. A mixture of pity and compassion.
The cheap door of the cheap lodging house closed behind Laura and moments later came the soft snick that told him she'd locked the door. She hadn't done it to lock him in - even in his exhausted state he could pick that lock, as he'd heard an experienced old gent once describe it, wearing boxing gloves and using a strand of spaghetti. No, she'd done it to keep intruders and interruptions out. The police, as if that cheap door might stop them. But mostly to let him sleep and mend. For the first time since leaving LA, he felt really and truly safe, and, there was no denying it, it was because once again he had Laura protecting his back. With a deep sigh that came straight from his marrow, he relaxed back on the first clean pillow - well, reasonably clean - that he'd encountered for several nights, too exhausted to martial his thoughts. Instead, he closed his eyes and let those thoughts flow wherever the current drifted.
He was still astonished that Laura had found him. No, that's not the right word. Gobsmacked. Of all the gin joints in the world, and she had to walk into mine. Of all the people he could've cornered in that alley, grabbed an arm in restraint. Their simultaneous, "What are you doing here?!"
Or, maybe he did know it was Laura flying ahead of him into that alley. Surely he had recognized her figure? Lord knows he'd chased it too many times before. When he'd heard that lilting voice as familiar as his own, he thought it a hallucination. He'd done a lot of hallucinating about Laura recently. Leaving her behind had made the hallucinations more frequent, not less.
And then she'd bloody found him again. Correction. Found me bloody again. A hysterical hiccup escaped him. How in the hell did she do it? The woman was an unnatural witch. In the entire metropolis of London, millions of people in countless districts and suburbs, and she found him in his own gin joint. Maybe we are connected by an invisible thread?, he asked himself, to which he added automatically, Orson Welles to Joan Fontaine, Jane Eyre, MGM 1941. Okay, it wasn't hard to figure out how she deduced that he was in London. He hadn't exactly covered his tracks through Australia, Rome, Paris. Why hadn't he? Was there a secret hope that she would track him? It was child's play for a detective of her caliber. Hell, Mildred could have done it. Had he just assumed she would follow in pursuit, as she had time and again before? Like a homing pigeon. Or those swallows at the Capistrano Mission they had once visited. Was that a movie? His mind asked automatically. He was too tired to remember.
The last thing he remembered Laura saying, before he had left L.A., was that she wanted time apart. Yet again. And then the roaring in his ears had made further listening impossible. God, how easily you can hurt me, Laura. Wanting her made him vulnerable, and with a just a few words she had wounded him far deeper than had those damned iron spikes on the railing round Felicia's Kensington flat. But is this really love that you feel, Mr. Steele? he asked himself angrily. Or should I be asking Douglas? Paul? Richard? You lot wouldn't know what love is, he informed them. You've never known it. Real love is what Richard felt when he saw Ilsa again. Saw Laura again, staring up and into the alleyway's darkness to see him hovering above her, dripping blood onto her suit jacket. Her look mixed of horror and relief hadn't been faked. With Laura he alternated between wanting to make passionate love or shake her, but mostly the former and never the latter since he never once was violent with a woman and had no intention of starting now, so he usually settled for exacerbation. And in return she'd present that gorgeous, withering gaze and those disapproving lips that he desperately wanted to kiss.
There had been one terrifying moment. That instant when, after spying him, suspended and vulnerable, she had called out to Chief Inspector Lombard. And he had assumed, however briefly, that she was going to turn him in to the police. How could you believe she'd do that? Even now, he flushed with the hot shame. For a moment, you doubted her. Is that a sign? That we're too far gone? Too far apart? I couldn't bear that, Laura.
But if I can't have her…? All she had to do was look at him and he dissolved, utterly defenseless. She'd no idea of the power she held over him. Was she really that blind to it? Just seeing Laura tonight, hearing the lilt of her voice, and the joy had surged through him so forcefully that he nearly released his hold on the pulley where he'd hidden from the police.
And who exactly had Laura found suspended in air? Was he really the illegitimate son of an Earl? Was there finally a name that he could offer her? Who was this man she had pursued around the world? Was it the chap who was half-asleep in this wretched bedsit? Was it her perfect creation, Remington Steele? Or was it someone else? Quintaine…Fabrini…O'Leary…He started humming to himself. "Around the world I searched for you. I traveled on, when hope was gone, to keep a rendezvous…" David Niven, Shirley McClaine, Cantinflas. United Artists, 1956. Around the World in Eighty Days…
A sharp pain in his side jolted him awake and he realized that he must have drifted off. Sleep. Yes, he could sleep now. He had hoped for a kip at Felicia's. But once he'd spotted the man's jacket folded casually across her bed, which she hadn't bothered to conceal, and when she didn't push him into the shower to "clean up", he'd intuited it wasn't safe. What had she said? 'A little unrequited lust can be very tedious'. She was still so beautiful. So Felicia. A simple and uncomplicated tumble. He might've given it more than fleeting consideration had he been capable of any activity more vigorous than fleeting consideration. But he had sensed that her flirting hadn't been serious, and that was a warning, too. Thank god a week of sleeping rough had revived the old sixth sense that had always alerted him to possible dangers. He was glad to find it still there, like an old friend. It had awakened him when her visitors had arrived. Their voices had been low but it was their unexpected sound that had alerted him. And with that realization came a feeling of release, as if a taut string had been cut. I can no longer rely on Felicia. We've let each other go.
No, Felicia couldn't be trusted. He trusted Laura. Laura had his back. And his lips. His arms. His…Well. That was another of those hallucinations. Hallucinations…He let himself drift in them. Into well-traveled routes that his physical and mental exhaustion could no longer hold back. Making love with Laura. In his bed, in her bed, on his office desk, before his fireplace…He'd imagined them all, a hundred times. Imagined exploring the curve of her graceful neck with his lips. Roving his hands beneath those sexy teddies she liked to wear. If she once gave way, then he knew he would disappear into her. Powerless. He was bewitched, like Jimmy Stewart for Kim Novak in Bell, Book and Candle. There was even a black cat.
If she'd let me. It was always complicated with Laura. What was it that she wanted? His name? His identity? She said she didn't care, but he knew she didn't mean that. If she thought it through, she'd discover that she already knew him as well as he knew himself. How could she not see that? It was all he could do to keep her from reading his thoughts.
And there were plenty of times when he was certain she could. If she could read them now, would she resist? Or would she reject him? He knew he couldn't handle her rejection again. He wanted to make passionate love with her like he never had with anyone before. But wanted more than that. He wanted to hold her close… bury his breath in her hair…fall asleep in her arms…
He finally slept.
Even in the deepest sleep, noticing irregularities were part of his DNA. He was vaguely aware of movements in the thin-walled pre-war building, of people moving in the carpeted corridor. Soft voices. Stopped at the door. Not moving on.
In an instant he was alert. He rolled out of bed and was moving toward the window and the fire escape. Or he should have been. Instead, the dull throb in his solar plexus flared into angry life and sent him stumbling against the bedstead with a cry of agony.
An unfamiliar male voice. Fumbling at the door lock. He picked himself up, ungraceful, using the bed for support. Tried to clamber to his unreliable feet.
Then another voice. Laura's. Thank god.
"What are you doing there!"
He looked up at her from his prone position, half on the bed, half on carpet. "Haven't we overused that line by now?"
Then he registered that standing beside her was an older gentleman in a dark mackintosh and holding a leather case. "Good lord!" the visitor expostulated.
"That bad, eh?" Steele asked from his position across the carpet.
Laura swore and ran to his side. She put a strong arm under him. "You were supposed to stay in bed! Can't you stay put just for once?"
"Sorry," he gasped. "Old habits die hard," He winced as Laura and the stranger practically lifted him back onto the bed.
"You are going to be a dying habit if you don't let me help you!" she snapped. "I leave you alone for an hour and look at you!"
The stranger had folded his coat on a chair and now leaned over Steele. "I'm a physician. I'm going to pull away these towels and look at you." His touch was gentle as he lifted away the hand towel that was Laura's improvised bandaging. His breath drew in with a hiss at the seeping blood and bruises that surrounded the wounds. "Bloody hell!"
"Right," gasped Steele, "on both counts."
"How long ago did this happen?"
"Earlier this afternoon. There's an iron railing in Kensington that took a dislike to me."
"Filthy things. Heaven knows how many years of pigeon droppings are now inside you. You need to be admitted to casualty."
"No! Too dangerous!"
The man turned to Laura. "Explain to your friend how dangerous sepsis is, please?"
Steele tensed and met Laura's gaze, read the unspoken communication. Please, not until we solve this. Trust me, Laura.
She said, "I agree with you, Doctor. Unfortunately, my friend is right." Steele could see the courage it took for her to admit that. He fell back against the pillow, releasing a fear that he didn't know he had. She's still on my side. I'm not going to die. Not now. Not now that Laura's here with me.
She continued, "The wrong people are looking for him. Going to an emergency room would be too exposed. I promise you we'll go to a hospital as soon as we can."
"Hmph," said the physician, clearly unhappy. Then he offered a thick hand to Steele. "Name's Shapiro, by the way."
"Johnny Todd." He was grateful that Laura had the intuition to let him pick his cover.
"Well, Johnny, this is going to hurt rather a lot. These wounds need to be cleaned. And since I don't have access to my proper instruments or anaesthetics, this will hurt rather more than it would in my surgery."
"Just do it, Shapiro," said Steele tersely. "And thanks."
"What do you need?" Laura asked the doctor. "Can I get you anything?"
"I brought enough materials, I suspect; your description was accurate. To a point where I'd wonder if you'd done this before?" Laura's expression remained blandly innocent. "In which instance, I suggest you do your best to distract your friend while I work."
"I can think of a distraction," said Steele. He waggled an eyebrow.
She managed a smile. He realized it was the first time she'd seen her smile since she'd found him. It felt like heaven. "Do you never stop?" she asked.
"Never. Not with the most beautiful woman in the room." Then he gasped and cried aloud as Shapiro applied a healthy splash of peroxide to the open wounds. Laura's face paled with sympathy; she was feeling everything he was. "Go wait elsewhere," he said.
"And have you run out again? Not a chance, big guy."
"Can't hurt to try-Ah!" Another healthy splash.
She reached out and clasped his hand tightly. "I'm here."
"I know. And amazed. How?"
"Mr. Blaine left pretty clear directions. As did Mr. Fabrini. And the Messers. Morrell and Quintaine." She considered him with a look that left him defenseless. "A detective would think that perhaps they wanted to be found."
"A detective might be right," he said through gritted teeth.
Shapiro had returned to rummage through his leather bag. Laura started to move away as well, but Steele grabbed at her arm and pulled her back to his bedside. "How in the hell did you find a doctor? You're in a strange city that you've never before visited and you locate a physician who makes house calls after midnight!"
"I'm a detective, remember?"
"You're bloody brilliant!" And he pulled her into long and vigorous kiss. Which, he was quick to notice, she didn't protest. Far from it. This was promising. Particularly since his last change of clothing had been…well, best don't go there.
There was a round of throat clearing from the foot of the bed. "I charge by the quarter hour," Shapiro said dryly.
Reluctantly, Steele let her go. But he kept his gaze firmly fixed on Laura. She wasn't getting away that easily. Not anymore.
Shapiro returned to Steele's side with another brown bottle in one hand and paper-wrapped gauze pads in the other. "This is going to hurt almost as much. Since I can't use my nice NHS toys, its needs must with the local Boots," he said, mentioning the chain of chemists' shops.
"How about another distraction? That last one worked pretty well."
"I don't think the good doctor's interested in a menage a trois." But she relented a bit. "I'll hold your hand again."
"Then tell me how you found our good Doctor."
"I represent an American newspaper. I'm researching charitable work. Medical care for street people. I wanted to visit a night clinic. The concierge at the hotel on the corner was most helpful."
"And your young lady," and here Shapiro pressed an iodine-soaked bandage against the open wound. Steele gasped and clenched Laura's hand tightly. "You're okay," she said gently.
"-Your young lady," he continued, "Found me working with a roomful of prostitutes, dispensing antibiotics and condoms. She chatted up the old girls till I finished and then she convinced me to pop around and look at her dear, badly injured friend. I run a clinic near St. Paul's. One more round, Johnny." This one didn't hurt quite as badly. Or maybe his nerves were finally being dulled. "Your friend tells a very convincing story."
"On Judgment Day," Steele said, "the Lord God himself will discover the holes in His plans once Laura arrives."
"Thank goodness for that. This world could stand improvement. You've a mild fever and we appear to have caught this just before it wants to go septic. You're damned lucky you didn't perforate any organs."
"It's not as bad as it looks?" Laura asked, not bothering to hide her anxiety.
"Bad enough. I want him on bed rest so that the wounds have a chance to clot and close. That's probably what saved you, lad, letting it bleed."
He couldn't resist. "Bed rest, eh?"
"Heavy on the rest, Johnny," said Laura severely.
Initial needs met, Steele's fogged brain started to catch up with something that Shapiro had said earlier about where Laura had tracked him down. A clinic for the homeless near St. Paul's Cathedral? This sounds familiar. I wonder…? Like a character from Alice in Wonderland, he circled to the last conversation but one. "Near St. Paul's? Martha's Clinic?" he asked the physician.
Shapiro gave him a sharp look. "Not anymore. Lighthouse. We replaced them. That was a long time ago, Mr. Todd."
"Ah. Dr. Klingman was a good woman," he said, suddenly remembering the diminutive, grey-haired woman who ran the medical clinic with the energy of ten.
"Yes, she was. And you are an interesting puzzle. You look and smell like the lads who live rough, but have the teeth and talk of a toff. But I've yet to meet a toff who knew Martha Klingman and her clinic, and even fewer who would care."
"Let's just say I'm a man of experience."
Laura added sweetly, "Mr. Todd is a mystery to us all, some days." Steele winced, and it wasn't from the iodine. So I'm not forgiven yet.
"It's a pity Dr. Klingman is no longer with us," said Shapiro with an insight that surprised Steele. "She took great satisfaction in knowing how her visitors ended up."
"I'm sure she's smiling somewhere," Steele agreed, fully aware of Laura's thoughtful expression as she listened.
Shapiro applied fresh adhesive gauze to the injury site that he then wrapped securely. "I'm sorry. With all that hair these will hurt to remove. You might want to shave your abdomen for a week or two." Then he wrote for a minute and handed Laura the top page torn from his note pad.
"This is a prescription for antibiotics, a sleeping draught, and an analgesic. I'm going to guess that Johnny here doesn't have a substance abuse problem like some of his mates, so I'm suggesting a decent opiate. There's a Boot's pharmacy at the top of the street and I recommend filling it there. But please don't go yourself, Miss Lord. At this time of night, send some else."
Laura's own use of a pseudonym brought a smile to Steele's features. Nice to see they were still mentally joined at the hip. Or somewhere. His brain didn't seem to be working well.
In fact, he was starting to fade out again from exhaustion. He managed to pull himself together long enough to resurrect Mr. Steele and offered his hand.
"Thanks so much, Dr. Shapiro. And especially for your confidence."
"Thank your young American lady. She's remarkable."
"I'm very much aware of how remarkable she is," Steele said quietly, and he saw Laura blush.
Laura left with Shapiro to see him out, again locking the door behind her. Rather than attract attention, she visited the pharmacy herself and returned half an hour later with the prescribed materials. She quietly announced herself before unlocking the door, anxious not to repeat his falling out of bed.
There was no need. He was fast asleep. The beard-stubbled face was relaxed, the pain lines smoothed away. It was the sleep of exhaustion, and she wondered if he had looked this way when he was a young boy. Or if this was how he looked after making love. She pressed a hand against her mouth, moved by the sight of him and surprised at the strength of her own reaction.
"You're safe, now," she whispered to him. "I found you. I'm not going to lose you again. I promise."
She considered him for a long moment, then removed her own jacket and stepped out of her skirt. Her pajamas and gown were back at her hotel, but she'd be damned before she left him alone. So she switched off the overhead light and joined him on the other side of the bed, fluffing the other pillow so that she could sit a little upright. She took his quiet cool hand into her own, and continued to watch him sleep until sleep overtook her as well.